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Alleged Arizona Gunman in Court; Tom DeLay Sentenced to Prison

Aired January 10, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, caught in the middle of a bloody rampage. They were average citizens, but they became heroes. And they have saved many more lives in that Tucson massacre. I'll speak with a retired U.S. army colonel who helped tackle the gunman.

Also in shackles, his head saved, the alleged shooter makes his first court appearance. And we're going to hear the federal charges against him. He's speaking out as well. Stand by.

And he was known as the Hammer, once one of the country's most powerful Republican politicians, now the former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay facing prison.

Want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Pima County, Arizona, Sheriff's Office just released this picture of the Tucson gunman, head shaves and grinning. Late this afternoon, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner talked during his first court appearance, answering to federal charges, including murder and the attempted assassination of a member of the United States Congress.

Doctors say Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is holding her own. She's being kept asleep by doctors, is in critical, but stable condition. Doctors say they're -- quote -- "cautiously optimistic."

We have all of the angles on this major story covered for you. But we want to begin with Loughner's first court appearance today.

Let's go straight to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He was inside the courtroom, only a couple of feet away from this accused killer.

How did it go, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you see in that mug shot, he came in with his head shaved. We'd seen photos of him with a lot of hair. So that was a little bit dramatic, as he came in a side entrance to the courtroom.

He first was seated with his lawyer. And then, when the judge took the bench, he went up to a podium and answered questions of the judge. When he was first seated, he was looking around a little bit, looked at the ceiling, and then stared straight ahead and seemed to be quite nervous.

But when he got to the podium and the judge engaged him, he answered every question the judge had. He repeated his name for the judge. He had a very strong voice. And then the judge started reading the charges one by one to Loughner, starting out with the first count he was faced with, which was the attempted assassination of a member of Congress.

Counts two and three were attempted murder -- or the murders of Gabe Zimmerman and John Roll. Gabe Zimmerman of course was a staffer of the congresswoman's. And John Roll is a U.S. -- was a U.S. federal judge.

And when the judge in this case read that charge against -- that had to do with the death of John Roll, you could feel in the courtroom he seemed to pause, because he was obviously talking about the death of one of his colleagues, the murder of one of his colleagues.

Then the judge went on and read the two remaining charges, attempted murder Pam Simon and the attempted murder of Ron Barber, also members of the congresswoman's staff. The maximum sentence for the attempted murders, 20-plus years. The maximum sentence for the assassination attempt on a congresswoman is life in prison. And then, of course, the maximum sentence for the other two murders is the death penalty.

Periodically throughout this proceeding, which only lasted about 15 minutes, the judge would ask questions. The judge at one point held up a document and asked the defendant, did you fill this out? Did you sign this? I can't read this signature.

The judge -- or the defendant said, yes, I did. Yes. Then he said, did someone help you with this? He said, yes, Ms. Clarke helped me with this.

Ms. Clarke is his public defender. We just heard the piece about her. She was next to him throughout this entire proceeding. Again, it lasted about 15 minutes. He exited the courtroom. He didn't look around the courtroom. He was focused on the judge. But clearly he understood everything that was going on around him, and he understood every question the judge had. He was articulate, and he had a strong voice with all of his answers.

BLITZER: And you were only a few feet, two feet or three feet away from him, I take it, Ted. Some of his classmates at that community college in Pima County were saying he would stand up, start rambling, start saying ridiculous things. But you saw none of that. He seemed normal to you, well aware of what was going on, not crazy by any means?


When he first came into the courtroom, his eyes were darting back and forth very rapidly and he was walking right towards me as he took his seat. I was in the front row. So we were about two to three feet away from each other. And at that point, I was thinking, well, I wonder if he's going to start in with a ramble or not, because he seemed very nervous. But then as soon as the judge took the stand and as soon as he started to communicate with his lawyer and the judge, it was clear that he was understanding -- he understood exactly what was going on. And he was very clear in all of his answers.

And he had a very strong voice, which a lot of times you don't see in this situation. You see someone up there who is very emotional, has a weak voice. He was stiff and he had a strong voice and answered every question that he was asked by this judge.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands was an eyewitness in that courtroom today.

All right, Ted, thank you.

The horrific shooting in Tucson did produce several heroes. President Obama says we should focus on the extraordinary courage displayed during the tragedy.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A 20-year-old college student who ran into the line of fire to rescue his boss, a wounded woman who helped secure the ammunition that might have caused even more damage, the citizens who wrestled down the gunman. Part of what I think that speaks to is the best of America, even in the face of such mindless violence.

And so in the coming days we're going to have a lot of time to reflect.


BLITZER: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Bill Badger is one of those citizens turned heroes at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' meeting outside that Tucson supermarket.


COL. BILL BADGER (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I went down and registered and was standing in line. And it was less than two minutes after I stood in line, why, shots were fired.

And it was just one shot right after the other, just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And as soon as I heard the first one, I thought that somebody had threw a bunch of firecrackers. And -- but then I could see that he actually was shooting a gun. And that was a gun.

And he'd already shot the congresswoman, Judge Roll, and a little 9-year-old girl. And then he was shooting right down the line. He was not walking. He was just aiming at the people that were sitting in the 12 chairs. I could see that as he was -- you could see some of them, he was hitting, they were falling. Others were diving for the ground. And I could -- I was at the end of the row of chairs, so I knew I better hit the ground. I turned to my left and went to hit the ground, and I heard -- felt this terrible sting right in the back of my head. And I knew that I had been hit. But I went right on down to the ground.

And he fired approximately, you know, 18 to 20 shots and then stopped shooting. When he stopped shooting, why, I stood up. And when I stood up, I didn't realize that this individual was walking right in front of me with a -- within a foot of stepping on my toes. And he was going to my left.

And he just got past me when some other individual that was there to meet with the congresswoman took one of the chairs that they had been sitting on, folded it, and hit him over the back of the head. Actually, he saw it coming. He ducked and it hit him right on the shoulders. But when he did that, his left hand flew out. His gun was in the right hand. And I had the opportunity to grab his left wrist.

And I grabbed his left wrist, and with my right hand I hit him right, you know, between the shoulder blades. And he was going down. At the same time that this was going on, there was a woman that was -- she was sure she was going to be shot because he was walking right towards her with the gun.

But when he got -- you know, right before he got to her and when he was right in front of me, why, he took the clip, another clip out of his pocket. And she reached up and grabbed the clip and threw it to the ground, just because she wanted to.

And this happened at exactly the same time we were taking the individual to the ground. And so, when he hit the ground, his gun was laying about 6 inches in front of his left hand. And another individual that was there to see the congresswoman reached down and grabbed the gun to take it away from him, to get it away, so he couldn't get it.

And as soon as he picked the gun up, why, I said, drop the gun, drop it quick, because I was afraid that some law enforcement person would see this individual holding this gun and would shoot him. And as soon as I told him to drop it, he dropped it.

The real hero here is the individual that picked up the chair and hit him and the other individual who helped me take this individual down to the ground.

BLITZER: Did he say anything, the gunman, during the time you pounced on top of him and were holding him down?

BILL BADGER: The only thing he said was -- I asked him, I said, what in the world did you do something like this for? And he didn't answer me.

And I had my left hand. I was choking him. And the other individual had his knee on the back of his neck. About that time, the other individual put a lot more weight on his neck. And it pushed his face right into the sidewalk. And he hollered, ow, ow, ow, ow. And that was the only thing he said.

BLITZER: Did you realize at the time that you yourself had been hit by one of these bullets in the back of your head?

BADGER: I knew that I had been hit, but I didn't know how serious it was.

And while I was holding the individual down -- we had to hold him from five to 10 minutes before the first deputy got there with the handcuffs to take the individual. And while I was holding him down, why, there was a massive amount of blood running down the side of my face, you know, down my arm, all over him and all over the sidewalk.

And I -- I really didn't realize that it was coming from me until this woman who had knocked the clip out of his hand said, you're wounded bad, Bill. Or she didn't say Bill, because at that time she didn't know my name. She said, you're wounded bad. She ran into the Safeway, got some paper towels and water and brought it back out and put it on the back of my head and started, you know, treating the back of my head.

BLITZER: So how seriously injured -- how seriously wounded are you right now?

BADGER: Well, the wound is about three inches long. It's about a half-inch across and about a quarter-inch deep.

BLITZER: Do you -- what is the prognosis for you? What are the doctors saying about your recovery, the healing of this wound?

BADGER: They -- they took me in the ambulance and took me to St. Mary's Hospital. And right away, they did an MRI and a CAT scan. And the doctor -- everybody very professional there, too. But Dr. Brown (ph), she read the MRI and she said there was no damage, you know, to the brain or to the inside of this scalp.

BLITZER: Colonel, how are you dealing with this? What are you feeling? What's going through your mind?

BADGER: Well, you know, as far as the head is concerned, it's just numb. You know, I'm taking quite a few aspirin for any pain. But the first 24 hours, the adrenaline was running so much, that it -- you know, I was pretty steady the first 24 hours. I'm a little bit more nervous now than I was then.

BLITZER: Colonel, do you own or carry a gun?


I have got a 21-year-old son. And when he was born, my wife made me get rid of .38. I had one up until that time.

But, you know, if I could say something right now, that something is drastically wrong with what's going on in our United States right now. And when an individual is turned down to get into the military and then can be -- is able to go out and buy a .9-millimeter Glock pistol, and he had one of the -- or his clips were the extended clips that were limited to law enforcement only, and, you know, that -- or somebody has to put a stop to that.

BLITZER: Colonel Bill Badger, retired U.S. Army, thanks so much, not only for joining us. Much more importantly, thanks for doing what you did Saturday morning in Tucson. We appreciate it very much.

BADGER: Wolf, and thank you. And keep up the great work.


BLITZER: A remarkable 74-year-old man.

These are live pictures from Tucson right now, the vigil continuing there, the vigil in memory of those who died, six individuals. Six lives were cut short by this gunman.

The youngest victim was 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. She was born on September 11, 1991 (sic). She was a third-grader, a student council member who was at Congresswoman Giffords' constituent meeting because of an interest in government. She was the only girl on her little league baseball team. Her father is a Major League scout. Her grandfather, by the way, was a Major League manager.

John Roll, 63 years old, was Arizona's chief federal judge who had been speaking with a Giffords aide before the shooting. Phyllis Schneck was a 79-year-old grandmother who had retired to Arizona from New Jersey -- 76-year-old church leader Dorwin Stoddard died shielding his wife from the bullets. She was wounded, but is expected to recover.

Dorothy Morris was also 76. Her husband and high school sweetheart was wounded. And 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman was a Giffords aide and organizer of the event. He was engaged to be married.

She was born in 2001, the little 9-year-old little girl. She was born in fact on 9/11. Just want to make that clear. She was not in 1991. She was born in 2001. That was Christina Taylor Green, 9 years old.

So, what would cause a gunman to go on a shooting rampage at a political rally?

Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, what a horrible story.


Maybe, maybe, it was only a matter of time. For the last two years, the political rhetoric in this country has gotten more hateful and angry and divisive. We have seen guns at rallies and signs with nasty racist slogans. And now we have this tragedy in Tucson. Is there a link between this inflammatory rhetoric and the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others? Bet on it. Several lawmakers from both sides of the isle are now calling for the political rhetoric to be toned down. They say politicians need to cool it and to think about how our words affect people. There's an idea.

This is happening at the same time that some of them are deciding to start carrying guns. We talked about that in the last hour. Many are pointing fingers at Sarah Palin, who makes incendiary and irresponsible comments with some regularity. Palin once tweeted concerning the health care debate -- quote -- "Don't retreat. Instead, reload."

She posted a map online before the midterm showing crosshairs of the kind you would see looking through a telescopic rifle sight over 20 contested Democratic districts, including Giffords'. At the time, Congresswoman Giffords said -- quote -- "When people do that, they have got to realize that are consequences to that action" -- unquote.

Well, since the shooting, Palin has expressed her condolences and says she hates violence. The Tea Party movement, which has also been a cauldron of inflammatory rhetoric, is also distancing itself from the tragedy, condemning what happened.

But even if there's no direct correlation here, people like Palin could bear some indirect responsibility for the mind-set of the shooter and others like him.

Here's the question. What can be done to tone down the hateful rhetoric in this country?

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to hear what our viewers think. Jack, thanks for the question.

The Arizona massacre could have been worse if bystanders hadn't jumped into action. But is there something they should have done differently? And what would you have done?

Also, he was in the hospital with Representative Giffords when she made her first movements. A member of her congressional staff is standing by the join us.

And you're looking at a live picture from outside the Tucson hospital where the congresswoman is recovering. Flowers, candles, balloons, they are all marking the site. We will have much more on the tragedy, the aftermath, and the political fallout. That's coming up.


BLITZER: The slaughter in Tucson may have been even worse, if not for the heroic actions of bystanders who wrestled the suspect to the ground. We just heard from one of those heroes.

But what should you do if you're caught in a violent situation like this one?

Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us. I know you're speaking with experts. What are you learning?


Well, Wolf, one law enforcement expert says for many of us the first reaction in these situations is just to freeze while you process what's happening. The options for protecting yourself they say are limited and responding quickly is crucial.


TODD (voice-over): As he tried to reload, authorities say the suspect was tackled by two men, while this woman, a diminutive 61- year-old named Patricia Maisch, made another critical move.

PATRICIA MAISCH, EYEWITNESS: He was laying right next to me. So I was able to just kneel up and was able to take the magazine away from him. He had pulled it out of his pocket and it was on the ground. He dropped it and I was able to get it before he did.

TODD: Experts say it's clear those actions saved lives. We asked them about the best way to minimize casualties in those crucial moments.

(on camera): What do you do in a public area if you're in a chaotic shooting situation? I'm here with Bill Pickle. He's a former Senate sergeant at arms and was special agent in charge of the Vice Presidential Protective Division of the U.S. Secret Service. He guarded Vice President Al Gore for a number of years.

Bill, let's say we're in this open plaza. There could be a shooter over by where these trees are or beyond them. What's the best instinct, to drop and roll, maybe take cover behind a pillar here, and then take off? What do you do?

WILLIAM PICKLE, FORMER SECRET SERVICE SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Well, I think you have answered part of it. It's instinctive.

Everyone reacts differently, but if you're out in an area like this and you hear a shot or some type of violent action, the most immediate reaction is you freeze and then you want to flee. You either want to take cover and/or flee. Someone without any type of training to handle those situations, it's best to leave the area as quickly as possible. Don't stay there and make yourself a target.

TODD (voice-over): What about protecting yourself with your own gun? In the wake of the Tucson shootings, at least two members of Congress say they will start packing when they return to their home districts.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I was a conceal carry permit holder before I was in Congress. I have continued with that practice. And I will probably make it even more regular in my routine moving forward. It's just a personal security thing for me. I think it's a smart thing.

TODD: And Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler is encouraging his staffers to get their own concealed carry permits.

PICKLE: You're going to have to ensure that they have gun safety, firearms training, and they have to have some kind of training in how to handle stressful or dangerous situations. That's a tall order for a young staff person.


TODD: Congressman Shuler and Jason Chaffetz both say they have received threats in the recent past. Chaffetz is planning to introduce legislation calling for U.S. Marshals to protect members of Congress when they return to their home districts.

Contacted by CNN, an official with the Marshals would not comment on that, other than to say that would require significant funding. Bill Pickle says a lot of these federal agencies just don't have the resources to do that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what do these experts say the best way members of Congress can protect themselves if they don't have Secret Service or U.S. Marshal protection?

TODD: Bill Pickle says there's an even better deterrent than those officers. He says at these events if you take or request a local law enforcement officer, even just one, maybe a couple, to be there with uniforms on with cars nearby, he says that's a great deterrent for a lot of these people wanting to do harm. And this is a Secret Service officer saying this. They have experience in this. The presence of those uniformed officers out there is a great deterrent.

BLITZER: In other words, just have a police officer outside either with a car very visible...


TODD: Have the visual there. That's right.

BLITZER: That's a good idea. All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.

If the country is shocked by the Arizona tragedy, you can imagine what Congresswoman Giffords' family and staff are going through right now. Her communications director is standing by to update us on how they are all doing.

Plus, the political shockwaves from the shooting, they're already being felt here in Washington. Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger calls it a test of leadership. She is here to explain.


BLITZER: We will get back to Tucson, the shooting, what is going on, the fallout. We will speak with the press secretary for Congresswoman Giffords. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Their friend and boss is fighting for her life right now. I will ask a key aide to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords how staffers and her colleagues are holding up.

Politics, new information just in to THE SITUATION ROOM on the political affiliation of the accused Tucson gunman, Jared Loughner.

Also new, he was known as the Hammer. Now the man who was one of the country's most powerful Republican politicians faces prison.


BLITZER: Shot in the head during the Tucson rampage, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is now in critical, but stable condition. Doctors say they are cautiously optimistic.

Joining us now, C.J. Karamargin. He is the communications director for Congresswoman Giffords.

C.J., you have been in touch with her and her family, at least as best as you can. How is the family, first of all, holding up?

C.J. KARAMARGIN, GIFFORDS COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: As well as can be expected, Wolf, under circumstances like these.

It's a really tough time for the Giffords family. And by that, I mean the extended Giffords family, Mark Kelly, her husband, her parents and also her professional family, the staffers who have had the privilege of working with Gabrielle Giffords for the past four years. It's a really hard time.

BLITZER: Have you seen her personally, C.J.?

KARAMARGIN: Yes, briefly, the day before yesterday.

And, quite frankly, Wolf, I -- I didn't want to get too close. It's -- it's really hard. I mean, I keep saying that, but it's really true. For people who know and love Gabby, this event really hit close to home.

And we're carrying on as best we can. We're carrying on like the congresswoman would want us to do. This morning, for example, we opened our office at 8 a.m. We wanted to go about our duty as if everything were normal. Of course, things are far from normal, but we know that Congresswoman Giffords would want us to open up our office and function as best as we can. And that is exactly what we did.

BLITZER: I take it you were also there, C.J., when the doctors were inside, and they asked her to have some movement, movement of hand or whatever, and you saw her responding. Talk a little bit about that.

KARAMARGIN: Well, what happened was the doctors asked her to hold up two fingers. She -- the congresswoman held up two fingers. And it was -- as the doctors might have told you already, a very good sign. For us in her office, it was -- sparked a little bit of a discussion. Was she flashing the victory sign or the peace sign? And we decided that it was -- it was both.

BLITZER: How are you personally dealing with this horrible situation?

KARAMARGIN: Well, by staying busy, talking to you and others. We had our office open today. People were coming in to pay their respects, dropping off flowers. There's an impromptu shrine that was set up outside of our office, like there is a memorial here. Candles, photos, notes, stuffed animals. It's really quite touching.

I think if -- if we stay focused on why we do what we do, the public service aspect of our lives, I think it's OK. For me, it's OK.

When we, our mind begins to think about other things, like the colleague that we lost, Gabe Zimmerman, it becomes very hard. I left the office yesterday evening, just past 11. And I drove past the memorial, and it was -- honestly, Wolf, it was hard to keep together. Because this was -- it's surreal. It's a surreal experience. And even two days later, it's still very difficult for us to come to grips with.

BLITZER: C.J., what can you tell us about what happened back in 2007? The accused gunman, Jared Loughner, supposedly got some letter from your office. He came to another event that the congresswoman was holding. Talk a little bit about that. I'm sure you've gone back and reviewed it.

KARAMARGIN: Yes. Well, I can't give you too much detail about that specific event. I can tell you that, if someone attended a "Congress on Your Corner," they are asked to sign in. And if they sign in, they probably got a letter thanking them for attending. And that's standard practice in our office.

We send a lot of thank-you notes at the congresswoman's request. It's very important to her that she close the circle and let people know who took the time out to speak to her, come to her events, write her, even interview her, the reporters sometimes get thank-you notes or thank-you calls or e-mails from Congresswoman Giffords. Our office has a tracking system for thank-you notes, because they are very important to Congresswoman Giffords.

But as to the specifics of this event, I -- or the incident that you spoke of, I can't go too much beyond what you already know.

BLITZER: Well, tell her family and when she wakes up, tell her we're all praying for her. We're praying for the others who were injured.

KARAMARGIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And certainly, our deepest condolences to all those killed, including your colleague, Gabe Zimmerman, who was only 30 years old. He was about -- getting ready to get married, as well. What a sad story for everyone involved. C.J., thanks very much.

KARAMARGIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst. You wrote a column today about an e-mail that this congresswoman wrote to someone, what, just days earlier?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The day before the shooting, Wolf, on Friday, she had gotten a notice in the mail from Trey Grayson. You may remember him, secretary of state of Kentucky. He ran for the Senate on the Republican side. Did not win. He'd been appointed head of the Institute of Politics at Harvard.

He sent out an e-mailing to his friends, and she wrote him back, congratulating him. Let me quote from this e-mail. She said to him, quote, "I would love to talk about we -- what we can do to promote centrism and moderation. We need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down." She was so prescient, Wolf, about the need to tone this down.

Again, we have to keep saying, as we have all day today, we don't know anything about the politics of this shooter, other than to say, as we've just received word from the Pima County registrar that, in fact, he was registered as an independent. Not Democrat, not Republican. Independent.

BLITZER: The allegedly shooter in this case, Jared Loughner.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: So he didn't register as a Republican or a Democrat; he registered as an independent?

BORGER: That's right. So you can't say -- you can't say where he came from politically. We know -- we know that he's apparently unhinged, but we don't know what his politics are. But we do know it's always good to talk about toning down the rhetoric.

BLITZER: How is the elected leadership dealing with this crisis?

BORGER: Well, you know, I think it's interesting. Because I think they've really risen to the occasion. And you have a new speaker of the House, John Boehner, came out, gave a statement immediately. You haven't seen him everywhere else. Took care of his flock in the Congress. Had an unprecedented bipartisan conference call with over 800 people on -- staffers, members of Congress -- about security.

The moment of silence on the steps of the House -- of the Congress. And also deciding, and I think rightly so not to take up the very contentious repeal of health-care reform this week, rather to put it off.

And again, Barack Obama also speaking to the American public immediately. I would not be surprised, Wolf, if we hear more from Barack Obama about this, either in the near future or in his State of the Union.

BLITZER: A lot of people have looked at the map targeting her districts, some other Democratic districts, that Sarah Palin put out. But I take it the Democrats also had a map showing some targeted districts.

BORGER: Yes. And this has been a real bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans. You see -- see this map up there that was used by Democrats, and I believe it was...

BLITZER: 2004.

BORGER: ... in the 2004 election. It talks about enemies. It talks about targets. It has bulls-eyes.

So I think what we see here, Wolf, is that nobody has the moral high ground here. These are the words we use in elections, OK? And there is nobody -- nobody who's got the corner on saying, "I'm holier than thou, and I've never used this kind of language."

What we can say, though, Wolf, is that I think the test of leadership in the future is going to be the test of somebody who can actually talk to voters and calm down the rhetoric, rather than ratchet it up.

BLITZER: Thanks. Good -- good point, Gloria, as usual. Appreciate it.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty has more on this. He's asking what could be done to tone down the hateful rhetoric in the country. Jack is standing by with your e-mail. I'm anxious to hear what you think.

Plus, a former House majority leader now facing prison time. We have details of the sentencing of Tom DeLay.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the Tucson shooting shortly. But he was once one of the most powerful Republicans. Now Tom DeLay is facing prison. CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now from Texas with the latest.

Ed, what happened?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a short while ago, literally seconds ago, Tom DeLay left the Travis County jail where he has been booked. He was sentenced today by a judge here in Austin, Texas, to three years in prison. Plus, he'll have extended probation time after that. But he has been allowed to post bond while the case is under appeal.

A very angry Tom DeLay as he left the jail here in Austin. Even his attorney extremely angry. Essentially, Tom DeLay was convicted back in November, found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy, essentially accused of funneling $190,000 in corporate money through various PACs into Republican candidates running for the state legislature here in Texas. That's where these charges stem from.

Of course, as you mentioned, Wolf, Tom DeLay was once one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, doing work here in Texas to make sure that more and more Republicans would get elected from the state of Texas. He made no excuses for that today when he spoke in front of the judge, saying that he believed in his conservative politics that he does not believe he did anything wrong.

This sentence handed down by the judge came as an extreme shock to not only him but his attorney as well, who had very few words as he left the courthouse here this afternoon.


DICK DEGUERRIN, DELAY'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: If I told you what I thought, I'd get sued. This will not stand. Thank you.


LAVANDERA: And that was all the attorney had to say. We thought that Dick -- that Tom DeLay would have some comments to say after he posted bond here just a short while ago, but he refused to answer any questions.

The prosecutors in this case say they are very happy with the verdict, that they believe it was a fair sentence that has been handed down by this judge. And they say it should send a message to all politicians on how they conduct themselves.


ROSEMARY LEMBERG, TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I think the message of this case is very clear and has been from the very first day. Corporate contributions in Texas are illegal. And you can't give corporate money to a candidate directly, and you can't give it indirectly. That's been the message all along.


LAVANDERA; So, Wolf, an amazing turn of events here today in Austin as -- as once one of the most powerful Republicans in this country, Tom DeLay, now facing the very serious likelihood that he could be spending up to three years in prison.

He will remain out. And his attorneys say that -- they have been saying all along that they believe this is a complete miscarriage of justice, do not feel that this verdict and the guilty verdicts were safe. And they will continue to fight hard on appeal. So it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the months and years ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera. Thanks very much for that update. Tom DeLay facing potentially three years in jail.

We're following the future of another big-name Republican. That would be Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, also a reality television star. But guess what? Maybe -- maybe not for long.

And we're going to show you what happened that left the wife of a White House official dead.


BLITZER: This video just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We want to show it to our viewers. It's the caravan. Inside one of those cars, Jared Lee Loughner. He's the accused shooter in the Tucson massacre. He was there, brought to that federal -- federal court in Phoenix where he appeared.

You heard our Ted Rowlands, who was only a few feet away, say -- saying he seemed cogent, answered all of the questions methodically, was not irate, was not in any means irrational. He seemed normal in responding to the judge's questions.

There it is, the video of the motorcade leaving that U.S. district court in Phoenix.

Investigators here in Washington are certainly trying to piece together a car fire that killed a lobbyist and a former congressional aide. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. This is a very disturbing story.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. Very disturbing and very bizarre, Wolf. Ashley Turton was the wife of White House aide Dan Turton. Firefighters found her body inside her vehicle, which was burning inside the garage of her family's Capitol Hill home around 5 a.m. this morning. The fire did not spread, and Turton's husband and three young children were not hurt.

For the first time, NASA has evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star like our own. NASA's Kepler Space Telescope made the find, which is also the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system. It's just under 1 1/2 times the size of earth. But before you get too excited, scientists say it's too close to its star to support life.

And "Sarah Palin's Alaska" will reportedly be a one-season wonder. "Entertainment Weekly" is reporting that producer Mark Burnett has no plans for a second season of the hit reality show featuring the former Alaska governor and her family. No reason was given, and TLC would not confirm the reports to CNN. But the magazine notes that there could be equal-time issues, you know, if Palin decides to run for president, Wolf.

BLITZER: They'll have to let, you know, Newt Gingrich have "Newt Gingrich's Georgia"...

SYLVESTER: I was going to say. It would go on and on BLITZER: ... and Mitt Romney have "Mitt Romney's Massachusetts" or New Hampshire, where he's living right now. So they'd have to do a lot of those reality shows.

Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is back with your answers on how to tone down the hateful political rhetoric in the country.

Also, having fun with an unusual scene across the South.cn101850.txt


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "What can be done to tone down the hateful rhetoric in this country?"

David writes from Tampa, "I doubt very seriously that things are going to change much. Our politicians have about as short an attention span as the rest of us. By next week, all will be forgotten. We'll be back to stupidity as usual. Partisan rancor, common sense, subjugated by ideological dogma and civility gone right out the window, thus feeding more hate-filled words for the real nut cases to justify violence as a means of attaining their agenda. Where have all the flowers gone?"

Bob writes, "Ask FOX News; ask Limbaugh; ask Palin; ask Michele Bachmann, the loony right. Ask the Tea Partier. Ask Engle. Ask Gingrich. Oh, and ask crazy old McCain. He inflicted on America this destructive virus called Palin. Do you want more?"

Jane in Wisconsin, "Instead of pointing fingers at Sarah Palin or the Tea Party, maybe we need to look at the effects of all the violence that our kids are exposed to on TV, in the movies, and in the music they listen to. If we're to believe that kids can't view a cigarette commercial because it will cause them to smoke, what kind of effect does all the sex and violence they see on television have on them?"

Rick writes, "Pull the plug on FOX News, or refer to it as what it is, a watering hole for gun-loving, simple-minded, easily-led Neanderthals who respond to cliches and sound bites designed to keep them in blissful ignorance."

P. in Harrisburg writes, "Journalists and broadcasters need to take the lead and look to offer more light than heat. If journalists and pundits have nothing to say, then just shut up. The yelling and screaming that goes on the various discussion panels contributes to the confusion. Politicians who are extremists should be given less airtime. Folks think if they see it on TV, it must be the standard."

And S. writes, "Hate speech is a cheap way to attract and hold attention. Fear motivates the ignorant and superstitious among us. In the short run, these techniques can be add -- used to add members to a political party, but in the long run, they end in infamy. I long for the return of statesmanship and true leadership in government, intellect, love of country, a vision for a better future. Imagine if these characteristics held our attention and our admiration. What a world that would be."

If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog: -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, and we do, and we'll go there. Thank you.

A day off for millions of people across the South. Jeanne Moos getting ready with a "Most Unusual" look.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots."

In Pakistan, a horse-drawn cart travels through an intense fog plaguing the country.

In Sudan, a woman places her vote in the ballot box on this, the second day of voting on whether to divide the country.

In northern France, a man rides his bicycle through flooded streets.

And in China, students practice walking on stilts during a sports lesson.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

There's some "Most Unusual" weather in the Deep South right now. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's such an oddity down South...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that? Snow?

MOOS: ... that when it happens, some Southerners act like they're flakey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's snowing! And I'm in shorts!

MOOS: It's as if they're witnessing a double rainbow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh, dude, it is snowing in Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're getting snow in Texas, y'all!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the heck?! Georgia?!

MOOS: Perhaps it was summed up best by a little girl playing meteorologist with a cone for a microphone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today we'll be introducing snow.

MOOS: Snow, meet the South. South, meet the snow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of snow, that there's some snow on everyone's boots, where they go.

MOOS: For some, it was their first snowfall ever.


MOOS: And we don't just mean humans. For man and beast alike, it was strange stuff, scary to put a paw on. Even goats in a buried doghouse seemed hesitant to come out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on out of there. Yes, that's awesome. Come on, Lily.

MOOS: Motorists were the ones who shouldn't have come out. This BMW got stuck, and its spinning wheels ignited the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's on fire! Get out! Get out! It's on fire.

MOOS: A WXIA reporter doing weather live shots warned the driver, who did get out.

And while most cars spun out unintentionally, some did it on purpose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to show these folks how to do a proper Michigan doughnut.

MOOS: A Michigan doughnut in snowy South Carolina.

The novelty of snow...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): We've got snow in Georgia.

MOOS: ... inspired this guy to write an ode to the white stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I can't believe I see what I'm seeing.

MOOS: Folks skiing down the streets of Atlanta, a sled towed by a lawn mower in Huntsville, Alabama.

(on camera) But skiing or getting dragged along by a lawn mower, that's kid's stuff compared to the way crazy New Yorkers play in the snow.

(voice-over) We don't recommend getting towed full speed down Park Avenue, but you have to hand it to those Southerners. They're creative.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good-bye, people!

MOOS: Who needs a sleigh when you can go dashing through the snow in a boat? For once, northerners and Southerners are in the same boat.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: Very cute. Thanks very much, Jeanne.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.