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THE SITUATION ROOM

Blizzard Aftermath; Christine O'Donnell Under Investigation

Aired December 30, 2010 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: But there is a very unusual hitch. We're going to talk to the sisters' mother.

Plus, your the New Year's resolution for America's leaders.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, we have seen it all week, heard all the frustrations, New Yorkers mad about the slow response to Sunday's massive blizzard, which dumped two feet of snow on America's largest city. Now seems to be a scandal, allegations that city workers deliberately slowed down the snow removal in retaliation for budget cuts.

Our CNN's David Ariosto in New York is on top of all the allegations.

David, tell us what you are hearing.

DAVID ARIOSTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, thank you.

Yes, a swirl of allegations, a swirl of anger here in New York as residents are just getting out of snow-covered streets since this weekend, what residents and authorities have called one of the biggest blizzards that the city has ever seen, but there are also some allegations regarding improper or potentially improper slowdowns, intentional slowdowns, as you mentioned, regarding budget cuts.

We spoke to one city council member who said that three sanitation workers and two Department of Transportation supervisors came into his office and revealed some startling accusations that if true could breathe a new light into what has been a blizzard nightmare this past week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN HALLORAN (R), NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMAN: They relayed to me that, essentially, the supervisors at sanitation had told them that they didn't need to rush, they didn't need to exert themselves, they would not be checked up on, if they missed streets, if things didn't go as planned, there was not going to be any issues with it, essentially that the administration didn't care about sanitation, didn't care about their work, and so they should be aware of that while they are going out and doing their job. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ARIOSTO: Now, we spoke to union sanitation representatives who categorically deny these claims. They say they are professional workers who are out there effectively doing their best for what was quite a walloping blizzard that experienced very harsh winds and mechanical failures of some of the equipment they were using -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Snow caused major travel delays in the Northeast. In the Rockies, more nightmares and this time caused by two scary plane incidents in two days. Now, first in Wyoming an American Airlines 757 ran off the runway yesterday while trying to land in Jackson Hole. The incident shut down the airport which as you might imagine did not make people so happy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First they said 15 minutes. Then they said 3:30. Then they said that the airport was closed. Then they said we may be out by 6:00. Then they canceled the flight again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get it together, guys. Get it together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Then today, engine problems forced a Delta Air Lines flight to make an emergency landing in Colorado Springs. They even deployed the emergency chutes to evacuate passengers, injuring two of them.

Well, a surprise twist in a controversial case in Mississippi that is drawing praise from the NAACP and other civil rights advocates. Governor Haley Barbour is suspending the sentences of two sisters serving life sentences for a 1993 armed robbery, but there is one major and possibly painful stipulation.

Our CNN's Martin Savidge spoke with the sisters' mother.

Martin, tell us what she told you.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Suzanne.

Well, the whole family is ecstatic. And that is to be believed. But the mother is especially so because she has been her daughters' staunchest supporter. And when you think about it, it took $11 to get her daughters into prison and it going to cost them a kidney to get out of prison. That might be oversimplifying it just a little bit, but it shows you that this story has no shortage of both compelling and even troubling aspects to it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): For years, family and supporters of Gladys and Jamie Scott have pleaded, prayed, and protested for their release from a Mississippi prison.

The two were sentenced to life 16 years ago for armed robbery, a crime that netted $11.

Wednesday, Governor Haley Barbour suspended their sentences, meaning the two could walk free in just days. Their mother got the news in a phone call from a reporter.

EVELYN RASCO, MOTHER: I just went hysterical. I had to stop the car. I was driving at the time when he called me and I got so emotional thanking God that finally this has come to an end.

SAVIDGE: Governor Barbour said he was not releasing the sisters because their sentences were too severe, but because the prison board said they were no longer a threat to society and for medical reasons.

Thirty-eight year-old Jamie needs dialysis three times a week in prison. Her 36-year-old sister has offered one of her own kidneys for transplant. The governor says the operation is part of the stipulation for their release.

But some believe there is more than just humanitarian motivations at work here. Many expect Governor Barbour, a Republican, plans to challenge America's first black president in 2012.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA, ATTORNEY FOR SCOTT SISTERS: I have been asked a lot of questions of, did the governor do this for political reasons? My -- my -- my guess is he did, doing this for political reasons.

But, on the other hand, I want to commend him for a movement which bespoke humanity.

SAVIDGE: Throughout their trial and imprisonment, the sisters have maintained their innocence, as has their mother, who says one of the alleged victims later came back and asked Gladys out.

RASCO: So, if somebody robbed you, would you come back to try to date them later?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: That's a very good question.

Meanwhile, would should point out it is not just mom who is thrilled about all of this, but their children. And I mean Gladys and Jamie's children. Between them, they have nine children and grandchildren. So it is going to be a major celebration when they come walking finally through the door at home.

MALVEAUX: And, Martin, do we know when they will actually be released?

SAVIDGE: No, we don't. It's estimated that it could take anywhere from maybe seven up to 45 days. The reason for that is because the women now say they will move in with mom in Florida, state authorities in Mississippi say they have to set up a whole protocol with the folks in Florida to make sure that they are aware and that a parole response is set up in some way -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Martin Savidge, thank you very much.

It is an intriguing story for its most unusual case.

For more on this, we are joined by criminal defense attorney Midwin Charles from the firm Midwin Charles and Associates in New York.

Thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MIDWIN CHARLES, LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.

MALVEAUX: I have to say, I just don't understand this. How does the governor, first of all, make the organ transplant, kidney transplant of one sister to another a stipulation for parole or release? Is this legal? Is this ethical? What is going on?

CHARLES: Good question, Suzanne.

This is highly unorthodox, and I have never, ever heard of a governor requiring such a condition. Yes, conditions are often attached to clemency and pardons and such, but never one of this magnitude, but I think perhaps there might be a oversimplification of it.

After all, I believe he may have put that stipulation in after the sister came forward and said that she was willing to volunteer her kidney for her sister. So, I don't think that it is a draconian as it sounds.

MALVEAUX: Is it enforceable?

CHARLES: I don't know believe it is enforceable. Prisoners do not have the same amounts of rights that we do. They don't have the same amount of 4th Amendment rights and what have you, and they have a limited amount of privacy when it comes to prison.

But they cannot be forced or subjected to surgery. And there have been cases about this, particularly when law enforcement has been looking for evidence inside the body of a prisoner. And even then -- this case came up in the First Circuit -- the court had overruled that surgery and said that it was too invasive and not enough proof that the evidence they were searching for would be inside this prisoner's body.

MALVEAUX: So is it fair to say there is no precedents for this, that this has never happened before?

CHARLES: I think it's fair to say that. I have never heard of such a thing. That's for sure.

MALVEAUX: Does this not get frighteningly close to viewing organs, treating organs as currency? CHARLES: It does. It comes close to it, but I think there is something else at play here, also, Suzanne. And I think it is Governor Barbour really trying to make sure that this sister, who really is gravely ill -- I mean, she has gone into renal failure is my understanding -- that she doesn't die under his watch.

After all, much of the calls to release her and her sister, a lot of it has been related to her health condition. So I think this is his way of trying to make sure that she is OK health wise.

MALVEAUX: And that is why we are seeing civil rights organizations say this is a humanitarian gesture. They don't seem to be focusing on this stipulation, is that right?

CHARLES: Yes. I think that's right.

MALVEAUX: If the sister volunteered for this organ transplant, the kidney transplant, why was it put in writing as a part of the agreement here?

CHARLES: Very, very bizarre.

As I have said before, I have never heard of such a thing before. And I think this is just his way of trying to protect himself, at least in terms of how bad her condition has gotten. Remember, it has deteriorated over the years while she was in custody.

She requires dialysis three times a day. And so I think this is just his way of making sure that, ensuring rather, that she gets better and that she doesn't die in the prison system.

MALVEAUX: OK. Midwin Charles, thank you so much for helping us -- helping explain and helping to us try to understand this very unusual, unusual case. Thanks, again.

CHARLES: Sure. You are welcome.

MALVEAUX: Well, she is a Tea Party favorite who lost her Senate bid. Well, now she is under investigation. And she is speaking out about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), FORMER DELAWARE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: You have to look at this whole thug politic tactic for what it is.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, who is Christine O'Donnell accusing of thug politics? We will hear more of what she has to say.

Plus, new details of efforts to repair the Metrodome following that spectacular roof collapse under tons and tons of snow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Former Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell says an investigation of her by the Justice Department is politically motivated. A source with knowledge of the probe confirms to CNN that officials are looking into the possible misuse of campaign funds by the Tea Party favorite.

Our CNN's Jim Acosta has more on this.

Jim, what do we know about this, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, Christine O'Donnell has gone from losing her bid for a Delaware Senate seat to being in the hot seat. The question, not whether she is a witch, but how she used her campaign funds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'DONNELL: We're like, what?

ACOSTA (voice-over): She is back. Christine O'Donnell, the defeated Delaware Republican candidate for the Senate, went on a morning media blitz. The politician who once declared "I am not a witch" now says she is not a crook either.

O'DONNELL: I am very confident that there have been no impermissible use of campaign funds. And I would like the opportunity to set the record straight, at least in the court of public opinion.

ACOSTA: A source with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN FBI agents are looking into her use of campaign money at her Delaware townhouse, which doubled as a campaign headquarters for months. But O'Donnell complains it is all political harassment.

O'DONNELL: There's a vendetta to stop this movement in its tracks, because if the citizen politicians continue to rise up and put the career politicians on notice, we are going to continue to put the political establishment on notice.

ACOSTA: In September, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog known as CREW, pointed to O'Donnell's filings with the Federal Election Commission showing campaign payments going to phone bills and rent at her home.

MELANIE SLOAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: Ms. O'Donnell, who has had no other discernible source of income, seems to have been using her campaign funds for her living expenses.

ACOSTA: During the race, CNN visited the townhouse and found O'Donnell staff members working on the campaign. All along, O'Donnell denied any wrongdoing and pointed the finger right back at CREW.

(on camera): And you never misused those funds? And that's your statement?

O'DONNELL: No, did not happen.

Look at who is making those accusations. CREW is a George Soros- funded front group for the Democratic Party.

ACOSTA: The allegations are based in part on an affidavit from a former campaign aide who was fired by team O'Donnell, she says, for giving people -- quote -- "the creeps."

O'DONNELL: I used that townhome as my legal residency, and I paid the campaign rent in order to do that. I give the campaign money to have that as my legal residency, not the other way around.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, so there are some filings with the FEC that she is going to have to answer to that dispute what she just said there.

But O'Donnell also suggested that a fellow Delawarean in Vice President Joe Biden might somehow also be behind this investigation. A spokesman for the vice president said he had no comment on that claim -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And does she actually offer any kind of evidence or proof where she is coming up with the allegations to back up those allegations against the vice president or against this organization called CREW?

ACOSTA: The only thing that she says is that if you look at the staff of CREW that one of the staff members -- and she is referring to the executive director of CREW, Melanie Snow -- excuse me -- Sloan -- worked for Vice President Biden way back in 1993 as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That is the only connection that she has been able to come up with, with respect to CREW and its staff members. But she also points to the fact that that organization also receives money from George Soros through one his groups. And he is a well-known funder of liberal causes.

However, we talked to Melanie Sloan on the phone earlier today and she says: Soros is one of our funders. He is by no means the only funder of this organization and he's not largest one either -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Jim, thank you very much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

MALVEAUX: Well, preventing a New Year's Eve terror attack -- a massive operation is under way right now in Times Square. We will take you behind the scenes.

And we will update you on a rogue satellite threatening to cause TV havoc.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWS BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, your resolutions for President Obama in the new year -- our iReporters are weighing in on what he should do.

Plus, talk of genocide in Ivory Coast and possible plans to evacuate Americans before it is too late.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: All right. It is that time of year when we all like to reflect on what has happened, look forward to what is ahead.

Well, we have gathered the best, the brightest here at CNN to help us digest all of this.

I want to go around the table real quick here, Lisa Desjardins, CNN Radio's congressional correspondent and host of CNN's new podcast called "American Sauce." That is pretty hot.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Deputy political director Paul Steinhauser, he is here. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Jill Dougherty, she covers foreign affairs over at the State Department. And Jeanne Meserve, she is our homeland security guru.

OK, guys, I'm going to start this off, kick it off here. This year at the White House, there were two poignant moments notably involving two African-American women who helped President Obama evolve in his leadership, Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod, you may recall, who was wrongly portrayed as racist, fired by the administration, and then rehired by the White House.

She taught this president the need to check out the facts, don't shoot at the hip, and take on those tough issues.

Here is what Mrs. Sherrod told me she believes the president needs to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICIAL: I do think, whether it is from him or some other way with his administration, we do have to talk about race. We need to talk about race in this country, so that we can move beyond where we are now, because we are not in a good place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: A month later, President Obama encountered Velma Hart at a CNBC town hall meeting. And she said what so many were thinking. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELMA HART, TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And despite the president's initial reaction, tossing his head back and laughing, Ms. Hart showed him the need to pay attention to the frustrations of his supporters and to really empathize with those who are suffering.

And you can bet that next year, he is going to continuing to push for jobs, jobs, jobs, get out of the White House more to show people that he gets it.

So, I want to go to the movers and shakers who cover the big stories here in Washington for the headlines and the hopes for next year.

Let's start off with you, Lisa.

The headline, obviously, for Congress, we saw some very messy situations.

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN RADIO: Unbelievable year, that is the headline I picked, a historic, but also very messy year.

When you look at this year with the Democrats in charge, they had some huge achievements. We're going to look at this graphic here, health care reform, Wall Street reform, also don't ask, don't tell. But they also had some huge losses, climate change, no energy legislation passed. So they aimed high. Sometimes, they hit; sometimes, they missed.

MALVEAUX: Any resolutions for those on the Hill?

DESJARDINS: Yes, absolutely.

Let's start with the new speaker of the House. John Boehner, the one everyone will be watching...

MALVEAUX: Big challenge...

(CROSSTALK)

DESJARDINS: For John Boehner, the resolution I have for him at the start, cut spending. Obviously, everyone has to talk about jobs, but for him more than anyone, his base wants him to cut spending.

He also has to keep his troops intact, Suzanne, because now he has within his caucus some revolutionaries who want to make revolutionary change. And he has old-school old guard as well.

One other word of advice I have to say, a resolution to Senate Leader Harry Reid, still in charge of the Senate, he needs to woo the moderates. He needs to be spending some time in Maine with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. He needs win over the people in the middle. MALVEAUX: Paul Steinhauser, our guy for all politics all the time, what is the headline here?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think the biggest headline of the year was those midterm elections, historic 63- seat pickup by the Republicans, the biggest by any party in a midterm election or any election since 1948.

Now, how did that happen? The other headline I guess you could say helped it. And that was the Tea Party movement. We got to know them in 2009, when they first formed, but it was 2010 when the Tea Party movement had some big victories, starting in January, helping Scott Brown win that historic election in Massachusetts.

And they were a big factor in the Republicans' win in the midterm elections.

MALVEAUX: Resolutions for anybody specifically?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, let's start with Michael Steele, the head of the Republican Party, the RNC chairman.

MALVEAUX: That's a good one.

STEINHAUSER: His resolution, I guess: Keep my job. He has got an election in about three weeks. He's got a big debate on Monday. That is his resolution.

Let's talk about the next presidential election, because you will see that campaign starting soon. And I guess four -- we're keeping our eyes on about 10 or 15 people who may want to run for the Republican presidential nomination. And for all but one of them, I guess the resolution is to stand out, because most of these guys are pretty close on the issues.

And for the third person, it is that one person who does stand out. That is Sarah Palin. Everybody is talking about Sarah Palin. Will she run for the presidency or not? That is her resolution, I guess, to decide in 2011.

MALVEAUX: That is a big question, obviously.

We are getting some iReporters who also have some suggestions for the leaders here.

This one is coming in. It's Cameron Harolson (ph) from Baxley, Georgia. I want you to take a look to what he has to say, resolution for the Republican Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My New Year's resolution for the new Republican-controlled Congress is this: Just stick to your founding morals and beliefs. Stick to the Constitution. Stick to the things that this country was founded upon many years ago, because it is obvious that the people of America have trusted you to do that, so I hope that you will not let us down.

For CNN iReport, I'm iReporter Cameron Harolson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DESJARDINS: That is going to be the test for these guys. It's going to be easy in the first month to do the things they promised, to post the bills online, all of those things.

But as this Congress goes on in the middle of the year, let's say when they start voting on the debt limit, it is going to be very tough for them to keep those promises. It's going to be very tough for them to really come across as genuine and not play politics.

MALVEAUX: Are the expectations too high, you think, Paul?

STEINHAUSER: They may be very high.

And one other thing, our polls indicate that most Americans want compromise between the Democrats and Republicans. They want things to get done. They like what happened in the lame-duck.

DESJARDINS: I'm going to sneak in one quick one. The media has also got to step up this year big-time. It's going to be a tough year for us, and we have got to really read the bills.

MALVEAUX: All right, we will be reading lots of bills. And you know how those big those bills are.

DESJARDINS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Barbara at the Pentagon, give us a headline for 2010.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Beginning of the year, middle of the year, end of the year, it was Afghanistan, of course.

The war has been very tragic in some cases this year, record casualties for the United States, 30,000 more troops on the ground, and a shudder for the war in the middle of the year, when General Stanley McChrystal got fired by the president as the top commander.

They regrouped. They put Petraeus in there very quickly, but still, that has really, along with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," have been the two major stories this year.

MALVEAUX: What should the Pentagon be focusing on next year?

STARR: Well, they've already got their marching orders, July 2011, start finding a way to get some troops out of Afghanistan and bring them home. And looking further down the road, I mean, let's not forget, 9/11, this year, 10-year anniversary. It could become a political football. Osama bin Laden hasn't been found. All of this could rear its head again in the political season.

MALVEAUX: I know the White House, as well, obviously looking at that ten-year anniversary. I mean, they want to be able to say, "This is successful. This is -- we're fighting terror. We're keeping those terrorists back." And so very important for the president.

I want to go to one of our iReporters here, Scott Melvin from Rockport, Missouri, and he writes, "Get our boys out of the Mideast. Put about 30,000 of them on the Mexican border so you can fight a battle that you can win (securing our southern border)." Makes an interesting point.

STARR: Well, you know, I think one of the things that we're going to see emerge is that politics and the military will become the same story to some extent. Barack Obama ran on the mantra he would bring the troops home from Iraq. Now his opposition, whoever that is, might be running on the slogan, he'll bring the troops home from Afghanistan. It's always a tried and true mechanism for attention in a presidential campaign. Obama may be on the receiving end this time.

MALVEAUX: Jeanne, what do you think?

MESERVE: Well, certainly, you're hearing from Capitol Hill, people like Peter King, who's coming in as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, talking about we need more immigration enforcement, but I'd be curious, Lisa, on getting your take on where we're going on immigration reform? Is that just totally dead in the water?

DESJARDINS: Completely dead in the water. I think we'll see some rallies. We'll see a lot of outside groups trying to make their case, but it's completely dead in the water. There's no room for any comprehensive issues at this time. It's all money and spending right now.

DOUGHERTY: And yet, they wimped out. They wimped out with that bipartisan commission.

MALVEAUX: All right. Well, the one who's accusing the wimps is Jill Dougherty, foreign affairs, State Department, give us the headline for this past year.

DOUGHERTY: There are so many, because Hillary Clinton, of course, is in charge of the world when it comes to policy, and she has to deal with a lot of stuff.

But I think it boils down to, you know, the Mideast is probably one of the top ones. They staked at the beginning of the Obama administration their -- their wager on settlements, stopping the Israeli settlements. That didn't work. It's been through many permutations, and now we're kind of back to the same thing. It just hasn't worked, and they're looking for another strategy. So not a lot of progress on that, although there was a lot of action.

MALVEAUX: And you learned a lot about -- from WikiLeaks, as well?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, you did. And, you know, that all plays together, but I think that so many people believe that's key to solving so many issues around the world, if you could do that, but it's really very difficult.

The second thing I think you'd have to say put North Korea and Iran together in the sense of nuclear weapons. One is to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and the other one would be this highly- dangerous situation of North Korea, which has about a dozen nuclear weapons, keep them from using them, and keep peace on the peninsula.

MALVEAUX: Now, you -- do you have anything specifically in terms of resolutions for Hillary Clinton?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I would say Mideast peace, find a strategy, get tough and try to bring it together, because it continues to bedevil them. North Korea, I think it's short-term, long-term. Short term is make sure -- making sure the place doesn't blow up with some type of conflict between the north and south.

(CROSSTALK)

STARR: You see, this is where the Pentagon comes in, because they would like the State Department to succeed. The last thing the U.S. military wants is one more thing on their to-do list in 2011, and they would be happy for the State Department to take care of this.

MALVEAUX: And Jeanne, obviously, that relates to homeland security, as well?

MESERVE: Yes, certainly. But I would say that the big thing for the department and for the Justice Department this year has been the diversification of the terror threat, which is the No. 1 thing. It isn't all about al Qaeda anymore. You had al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that was behind the underwear bomber, the cargo -- the cargo toner plot. You had the Pakistani Taliban behind the Times Square attempted bombing, and then you had this homegrown terrorism phenomenon, which just has exploded.

There have been 50 American citizens charged with serious terror charges within the last two years, and they expect that number is going to keep on going. Innovations in what people are doing. I mean, this cargo toner bomb, nobody would have contemplated that. That was not on anybody's radar screen.

So this diversification, this innovation has really changed the nature of what they're looking at. It makes it much tougher to detect these plots and to put them down so far. Things have gone relatively well, in part because of good investigations, in part, because in some cases, the terrorists haven't known well enough what to do.

MALVEAUX: So what do they put at the top of their to-do list? MESERVE: Well, I'll tell you. This is going to be a heartbreak for Jay Leno, and David Letterman, but one of the things I think we're going to see this year is the end of the color-coded threat system, the famous five colors.

(CROSSTALK)

MESERVE: ... simplify that, I think. It's not the most serious thing they'll do, but something that the public is well aware of.

I think they're going to try to take some of the controversy out of aviation screening. You're going to see them pushing very hard to bring out the next generation of body screening machines that does not show anatomical detail. They're going to be pushing to come up with technologies that mean you don't have to take your shoes off anymore or get rid of your liquids. But that's all in the pipeline.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, everybody, for all of your insights. Have a wonderful new year, and if we had more time we would do personal resolutions, but that's OK. You know, losing the five or ten pounds. I know, OK. All right, thanks guys. Appreciate it.

It is the biggest New Year's Eve party in the country, and tomorrow's celebration at New York Times Square will be a little different.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: As the new year approaches, there's no lack of concern over terrorism, and tomorrow night, when up to one million people gather in New York's Times Square, there's going to be a small army of police that are going to be quietly working diligently behind the scenes to make sure that this celebration stays safe. Our CNN's Mary Snow has the details.

Mary, what do we know about the security plan for tomorrow?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we know that several thousand police officers that include counterterrorism units will be working tomorrow night. The area will be frozen. Things like mailboxes and metal garbage bins will be removed for the night. And everyone going in will be checked.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one -- happy new year!

SNOW: A rehearsal in Times Square of the ball drop to bring in the new year as thousands crowd around it to watch. Behind the scenes, the New York City's police department is gearing up for a massive security operation.

RAY KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: This is sort of a nerve center.

SNOW: New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says the department updates its plan each year to secure crowds who must be within barricades and go through metal detectors. Radiation detectors are also used, and backpacks are banned.

KELLY: We are concerned about a device that someone might bring in on their person. Vehicle-borne device, a vest of some sort, explosives on the body.

SNOW: Cars and sand trucks block side streets to try and prevent car bombs. Manhole covers on the street are being sealed. Armed police officers will be on rooftops. The commissioner says the department is always looking to learn from terror incidents around the world, including the attempted car bombing in Times Square this year.

(on camera) This is also the first New Year's Eve since the attempted bombing back in May.

KELLY: May 1, that's right. Faisal Shahzad.

SNOW (voice-over): Lessons learned from that?

KELLY: Oh, sure. A lot of lessons. We were very lucky. There's no question about it. He was not on anybody's radar screen.

SNOW: One thing that's different this year: cameras like these in Times Square now feed into this nerve center. Authorities say there are roughly 400 private and police cameras just in the Times Square area that can be monitored.

The private sector also works with the police. Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, says people staying in hotels in Times Square are restricted in terms of where they can go.

TIM TOMPKINS, PRESIDENT, TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE: People may think, "Oh, I'm in a hotel. I can just wander into Times Square." Absolutely not. It's a very, very controlled in terms of who gets out into the street. Once the pens are filled, it really is lockdown.

SNOW: Tompkins estimates the crowd could be anywhere from 750,000 to 1 million people.

KELLY: It is a big complex operation. And, you know, you always breathe a sigh of relief when it's -- when it's over.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And now the police commissioner said that recent terror- related arrests in Europe has given the NYPD, in his words, some cause for concern, but he says there are no specific threats directed at New York City -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Mary, I understand this is just one location that you focused on, that there is security in various places throughout the city?

SNOW: Yes, you know, in talking to the police commissioner about the massive security in New York, there are several other events going on. There's fireworks in Central Park, for example, and in the other boroughs some other events. But also on the waterways there are dinner cruises, and it's expected about 10,000 people will be in boats around New York, and police will also be patrolling the rivers.

MALVEAUX: All right, Mary. Thank you so much. Have a safe holiday.

SNOW: Thanks. You, too.

MALVEAUX: A light footnote to the New York snow debacle. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is giving his take on his Facebook page. Now, here's what he just posted. He says, "The snow is coming down hard in New Mexico. Joyce says I have to shovel. Told her that Newark Mayor Cory Booker should be here any moment."

Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and you know what? He has gained attention in recent days by personally responding to Twitter messages from people in his city needing snow cleared in the neighborhoods. And he's been doing some of the shoveling himself.

Well, election violence is threatening to boil over. Some are even talking of genocide. Now the Pentagon is keeping a nervous eye on what is happening in this African country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The Pentagon is keeping a close eye on the West African nation of Ivory Coast where there are talks now of genocide following post-elections violence there.

Now the man considered the rightful winner of last month's presidential election is holed up in a hotel, which opponents are now threatening to attack, while the self-declared president refuses to give up power. I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, tell us about plans to evacuate Americans from this -- this country.

STARR: Well, no plans just yet, Suzanne, but make no mistake. The Pentagon is watching this minute-by-minute. In fact, a small U.S. military team has been at the U.S. embassy for the last several days, quietly assessing the situation, trying to determine, if an evacuation is ordered, what it would take to possibly get hundreds if not thousands of Americans out of the Ivory Coast as the violence escalates.

Now, already, the embassy has had family members and dependents leave. They have warned Americans to get out of the Ivory Coast potentially due to the violence before the border shutdown. So if it comes to it, if the violence on the streets escalates and there has to be an evacuation of Americans, how will it happen?

The U.S. is quietly coordinating with French military forces on the ground. All indications are it would be the French military would move in first, get the Americans, the Europeans, the other westerners out, anybody who wants to get out of this very tough situation emerging in West Africa -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Barbara, how bad could the violence get?

STARR: Well, it's what you said, you know, now there is a threat that the U.N. forces at this hotel, who are protecting the man said to have won the election there who are supplying him, who are lending helicopters, they may now be under direct threat from the forces of -- of the man who is determined to hold onto power. And the U.N. secretary-general has called for the U.N. to use all force to keep themselves safe.

MALVEAUX: OK. Obviously, we'll be keeping a very close eye on that. Thank you, Barbara.

A so-called zombie satellite is threatening to cause TV chaos. We have details of a major new development.

And Elton John is the latest celebrity to become part of a growing trend.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A rogue communications satellite that had been threatening to cause havoc with TV broadcasts and other services is reportedly now back under control. Our CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has been following this drama surrounding this so-called zombie satellite.

Chad, tell us what happened. How did it all start? What is this?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Actually, we don't exactly know how all this started, but April 5 Galaxy 15 became a rogue or a zombie satellite. Just kind of flying out there. They couldn't communicate with it. It was an old communications satellite shot up in 2005. It had been working great. It was supposed to work until 2020.

Well, all of a sudden, during a solar storm, we lost communication with this thing. So nobody could talk to it. But there is so much junk out there, so many other satellites, that they were afraid, at least, that it could get in the way of some of the other communications satellites that we actually do use.

Look at all the ones. Spin around. Everywhere you see a name on there, all of those names are real satellites in real orbit. Well, Galaxy 15 is the one. This is a 4,000-pound satellite that they lost communication with. And it was still sending out signals. So they thought, maybe it could get in the way of other satellites that were sending out signals and really kind of disrupt some communication. Well, it never did that. It was always kind of under some control.

Well, the batteries died. That was perfect, because the batteries died. It reset itself. It pointed itself back, and it woke itself back up just a couple days ago. And now we're actually talking back and forth with it, the company that made it is. It's in safe mode right now.

But here's how it all happened. When -- when you get a solar storm or a solar flare, this energy comes flying out of the sun. It's called a coronal mass ejection or CME. Well, back in April, we had one. And it shot this mass or these particles toward the satellite. And as it happened, all of a sudden, the satellite was seeing and hearing so much junk from space it lost communications with what it was actually supposed to be talking to.

And these particles can actually destroy satellites, as well. This didn't get destroyed. We talk about these solar storms all the time. They can do this. Well, this is the first one that I actually know actually could have done something. They're still seeing whether that was the cause or not. But there was certainly things flying around in space, bombarding Galaxy 15, but now it's not a zombie anymore.

MALVEAUX: So Chad, I mean, it sounds kind of elementary, but I guess, you know, when your BlackBerry's not working or your computer freezes up, they just say, "Oh, take the battery out and put it back in." I mean, it sounds like that's what's happened with this zombie satellite, right? It kind of reset itself when the battery died.

MYERS: Yes. They tried to hit "alt," "control," "delete," a number of times, but it didn't actually work.

Finally, after kind of spinning out of control for a while, though never in -- it was never in any danger of actually crashing back to the earth. It finally just reset itself like it was supposed to, and now they think that they can get it back in operation.

MALVEAUX: All right, Chad, thank you so much.

MYERS: You bet.

MALVEAUX: It's really fascinating. And as Chad mentioned, the Galaxy 15, it's one of 3,500 satellites in orbit right now with only about a third of those being operational. But satellites only make up only a fraction -- a fraction of the objects that are circling the earth that are monitored by the Global Space Surveillance Network. And using telescopes and radars around the world, the agency keeps track of about -- can you imagine this -- 22,000 objects that are orbiting us right now. Absolutely amazing.

Well, more and more big-name celebrity couples are taking a page out of one of America's most popular TV shows, ABC's "Modern Family."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Elton John is the latest well-known gay celebrity to embrace parenthood. And it looks like he's joining a trend. Let's head out to Los Angeles. Our entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter's got the story.

Hey, Kareen.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Suzanne.

We're still keeping an eye out for those exclusive first photos of little Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John. He was born on Christmas day. But this high-profile couple, they have a lot in common with a growing number of stars in Hollywood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER (voice-over): They made headlines when they tied the knot in 2005. Now Elton John and husband David Furnish have stolen the spotlight again. They're proud new papas. John and Furnish welcomed a new baby boy on Christmas day delivered via a surrogate.

The Rocket Man and Furnish join a growing trend of gay and lesbian celebs who have launched into the world of parenthood, once a taboo topic in Hollywood. "People" magazine's Joey Bartelomeo said this trend is reflective of society as a whole.

JOEY BARTELOMEO, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: We're seeing this more and more now. Just because the country itself has become more open to gay parents having kids and especially in Hollywood. It really just seems kind of natural for everyone now.

WYNTER: Check out "People" magazine's new cover boys, actor Neil Patrick Harris and his beau David Burtka are featured in the latest issue, posing with fraternal twins Harper Grace and Gideon Scott, delivered last fall through a surrogate.

The high-profile gay couple says they're not getting much sleep these days but have embraced their new roles. Harris tells "People," quote, "I just love the way they smell, and we can use them as an excuse to get out of almost anything."

Another star, Ricky Martin, may have lived la vida loca for years. But he's now settled down a bit. The singer welcomed twins via surrogate two years ago but didn't officially admit he was gay until this year. Martin recently told Larry King that fatherhood has been a dream of his.

RICKY MARTIN, SINGER: I always wanted to be a dad.

LARRY KING, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Yes?

MARTIN: Yes, yes. I have amazing, amazing memories of my father. And I always said maybe, you know what? This is something that needs to happen.

WYNTER: And there are other stars, too, who are making no apologies. Clay Aiken, Melissa Etheridge, Rosie O'Donnell. All publicly gay and lesbian celebrities with children.

And speaking of Hollywood's new modern family...

ERIC STONESTREET, ACTOR: We belong here.

WYNTER: In addition to gay celebrities starting families, GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios says shows like ABC's hit comedy "Modern Family," which features a gay couple in the story line, may also be opening doors to change. JARRETT BARRIOS, GLAAD PRESIDENT: Cameron and Mitchell on "Modern Family," they have a daughter, a story that when America sees it realizes they're not so different from the rest of us. And that's really what I think is ultimately going to bring around the kind of legal changes that everyday couples need.

WYNTER: Changes that will continue evolving with many of entertainment's elite gay stars in the midst of a baby boom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER: And Suzanne, Neil Patrick Harris just tweeted that he can't wait for play dates in the south of France with Elton's new baby. So this has turned into a true Hollywood family affair.

MALVEAUX: All right. Congratulations to all of them. Thanks, Kareen.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.