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Giffords's Husband Shares Experiences; Backup Commander Sought for Space Shuttle; Obama's Speech v. Palin's Video on Shooting; Congressman Concerned about Security

Aired January 13, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Find out why teachers and other students were so concerned about Jared Loughner -- plus, the new clue in the investigation. Stand by for that.

Also, a CNN exclusive: Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes inside Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' trauma room and talks to the first doctor who treated her.

And find out what is next for the heroic office intern who helped save Congresswoman Giffords' life. Daniel Hernandez, he is standing by to join us live.

We would like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But, first, new insight tonight into the Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner's stunning downward spiral. CNN has now obtained these records from Pima County Community College offering a disturbing chronology.

From the start, Loughner sparked concern among classmates and teachers. Last February, a dean called campus police to report Loughner's suspicious behavior in class. He is said to have reacted strangely, reacted strangely, a direct quote, to the reading of another student's poem.

The dean described Loughner as -- quote -- "creepy, with a dark personality," also a direct quote. Police suggested the school -- quote -- "keep an eye on him." There were repeated run-ins. In June, a teacher complained Loughner was disruptive. Police found that the instructor and the students were -- quote -- "afraid," afraid of any repercussions that could exist from Loughner being -- quote -- "unstable in his actions."

In September, the school suspended Loughner.

Now to a new twist in the investigation.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is in Tucson. She's been working all day to confirm the details. She's joining us now with this part of the story.

Susan, tell us what you are learning.


First thing this morning, we were told by police that they found what they believe to be the black bag that suspect Jared Loughner was carrying the night -- or the morning, rather, just a few hours before the shooting. You will remember that his father told police that he saw his son that morning with a black bag and he asked his son what it was.

His son didn't really answer him, and then took off on foot. And his father said he got in his truck and went off after his son to try to find him, but couldn't. Ever since that time, police have been searching for this black bag.

Well, they have found it. We have that confirmation tonight. Here is how they found it. A teenager was walking in a dry riverbed in the area, in the same neighborhood where Loughner lives. And then he picked it up and he brought it over to, we learn, to some workers who were in the area. And the workers in turn called police and the police picked it up.

CNN was there exclusively in the area as authorities were continuing to scavenge that area for clues. We watched as they removed a box and some other items and then left the area. This could be an important piece of evidence, because police say they have now confirmed that it is Loughner's bag.

They describe it as a black diaper bag that resembles a knapsack. And inside it, they said, they found ammunition. In fact, a law enforcement source tells us they found several boxes of ammunition in it, as well as receipts. We know that Loughner bought ammunition for his shooting, according to police, from a Wal-Mart store -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do they know where Loughner was the night before the shooting, that would be Friday night, Susan?


Police tell us that he was staying at a Motel 6. Now, they are not describing exactly which one. And there are several in the area. But investigators found evidence directly linking him to that motel.

Now, as to why he would have been there is pure speculation at this part. Of course, various things police will be looking at is was he putting together the final stages of his plan there? Did he have some of to guns or magazines that he might have been preparing? Pure speculation. They don't know. There are a lot of theories that are possibilities at this point.

BLITZER: All right, Susan, thanks very much. Excellent reporting, as usual.

A new surge of pain for Tucson, as the funerals begin for the victims of last Saturday's massacre. The service for Judge John Roll gets under way an hour from now. The chief federal judge for Arizona devoted his entire career to public service. He leaves behind a wife, three sons, and five grandchildren. Hundreds of mourners attended the service today for the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Green. She was the only girl on her little league team and a student council member who went to the ill- fated event Giffords event because of her interest in politics.

Listen to these moving words from the homily.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her time to die was the tragic day, January 8, 2011. Just 9 years old, she was, but she has found her dwelling place in God's mansion. She went home.


BLITZER: A remarkable sign of progress meanwhile for the congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Less than a week she was shot in the head, she managed to open her eyes with her husband, parents, some lawmakers, personal friends of hers, at her side.

It happened shortly after President Obama and the first lady visited Congresswoman Giffords. Her friend Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who was holding Giffords' hand at the time, calls it a miracle to witness.

And guess what? Doctors agree.


DR. G. MICHAEL LEMOLE JR., CHIEF OF NEUROSURGERY, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Yes, miracles happen every day. And, in medicine, we like to very much attribute them to either what we do or others do around us, but a lot of medicine is outside of our control. And we're -- we're -- we're wise to acknowledge miracles.


BLITZER: In a CNN exclusive, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, got some access to the trauma room where Gabrielle Giffords was first treated. And he spoke with her physicians.


DR. RANDALL FRIESE, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: And the first thing I did was walked in the room. Some things were occurring. And I think I have said this before, but my first response was that I grabbed her hand, leaned into her and said, Mrs. Giffords, you are in the hospital. We are going to care for you. Please squeeze my hand. And she did.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, did she have a wrap on her hand? Can you see the wounds at this point?


GUPTA: So, you know, you have some idea what the obvious wounds are, but you look at the rest of the body to make sure, for example, she doesn't have another gunshot wound, right?

FRIESE: Well, that is part of the trauma workup, that is part of the trauma evaluation, is that you never assume that just what you see is all that is present.

So, I saw the severe head injury. I saw some blood loss. Her eyes were closed. She did have a blackened right eye and swollen right eye. And she was grunting a little bit. I got the impression she was trying to communicate, but was being frustrated by the fact that she could not.


BLITZER: Sanjay is still over there at the hospital. As soon as he walks out, we will be speaking with him live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by. We will go the Tucson and speak with Dr. Gupta.

One of the heroes of the Tucson shooting is certainly Daniel Hernandez. He's the 20-year-old office intern who rushed to the aid of the fallen congresswoman.

Last night, Hernandez spoke movingly at the memorial service in Tucson without any teleprompter, without any notes, but with an incomparable bit of modesty. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are grateful to Daniel Hernandez...


... a volunteer in Gabby's office.

And, Daniel, I'm sorry, you may deny it, but we've decided you are a hero, because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and help keep her alive.



BLITZER: Let's hear directly now from that extraordinary young man, Daniel Hernandez, who is joining us from Tucson.

When the president of the United States calls you a hero, Daniel, what was going through your mind?

DANIEL HERNANDEZ, GIFFORD'S INTERN: I think I was just completely -- there is really no words to describe it, to be 100 percent honest.

It is very humbling to have anyone refer to you as a hero, especially when it is the president of the United States. But I'm afraid I have to still disagree with the president of the United States. I still don't think that I am a hero, because, like I have been saying for days, I think the real heroes are the people that are the public servants, the people that are the doctors, the congresswoman herself, her staff.

They are the people that have dedicated their lives to public service, so I think they are the real heroes.

BLITZER: Daniel, for those viewers here in the United States and around the world who might not know, tell us what happened Saturday morning and what you did.

HERNANDEZ: On Saturday morning, I was helping at an event called Congress on Your Corner, where the congresswoman was having a chance to speak one-on-one with her constituents.

I was at the end of the line helping check people in about 30 to 40 feet away when I heard shots were fired. When I heard that the shots were fired, my first instinct was to go see how the congresswoman was doing, because I assumed if there was indeed a gunman, she would likely be a target because of her position.

Once that did indeed happen, and I got to where the congresswoman was, there was a few people who had been hit. I started checking for pulses, started checking to see who was still breathing.

I got to two to three people, however, when I noticed that the congresswoman was the one who had been most severely injured. Her brain -- her head injury was just traumatic. So the first thing I did was pick her up off of the ground, because in the position she was in, she was a little bit vulnerable, because she was breathing in her own blood.

And I wanted to make sure that I got her upright. So, I propped her up against my chest to make sure that she was in an upright position, so that she could breathe. Once I did that, I started applying pressure to her wound to try and stem some of the blood loss.

BLITZER: And you had some training as a first-responder, even though you are only 20 years old, is that right?

HERNANDEZ: Just the very basic training that you could have in first aid and in triage.

I did in high school a course in certified nursing assistant, as well as phlebotomy. So I just knew the very basics. I never even took my certification test, because I was actually interning for her congressional campaign in 2008.

While you were doing this, while you were in effect potentially saving her life, was the gunman still shooting or was that part of the episode over by then?

HERNANDEZ: I don't know if the gunman was still shooting, because my only concern at the time was making sure the congresswoman was OK.

I tuned everything else out, because that was my only priority when I saw the severity of her injuries.

BLITZER: So how long were you propping her up, holding her, removing the blood from her mouth, and dealing with her before the medical personnel showed up?

HERNANDEZ: The entire time that I was with her seemed like an eternity, because, in that situation, two seconds seems like an eternity.

However, it was a matter of minutes. When the EMTs arrived, I no longer saw my job as helping with the medical aspect of it, but instead trying to take care of her emotional needs. So I made sure that I stayed with her and I held her hand and I let her know that she wasn't on her own.

And I traveled with her in the ambulance while also trying to comfort her and letting her know that we were going to try to get a hold of her husband, Mark Kelly, as well as her family here in Tucson.

BLITZER: Did you ever worry about your own personal safety during those critical moments?

HERNANDEZ: I didn't even think about that, because at the time the only concern was trying to make sure that those who had been injured were being treated to the best of my ability, but also making sure that those who had indeed been hit got attention, even it was not directly from me. So at no point did I actually stop and think that the gunman was still active.

BLITZER: Tell us, Daniel, how this has changed your life.

HERNANDEZ: I think, if anything, this has really made me kind of have a passion for public service, because people like Congresswoman Giffords, Gabe Zimmerman, Ron Barber, and Pam Simon have dedicated their lives to it.

And, unfortunately, some of them have lost their lives or been severely injured. But I think this is definitely a call to action for public service. So instead of shying away from public service, I think this should be a call for people to go into public service and doing things for the greater good.

BLITZER: So, you are going to finish the University of Arizona. What year are you?

HERNANDEZ: I'm a junior. I'm studying political science.

BLITZER: And so, you will graduate and then you want to go to law school. What do you want to do? Five, 10 years from now, what would you like to be doing?

HERNANDEZ: Right now, I'm not thinking that far ahead. The only thing I really am concerned with is making sure that we have our thoughts and our prayers going to those who are injured, because there are still quite a few of them who are still in the hospital, but also that our thoughts, prayers and support go to the family members of those who actually lost someone.

I know that a memorial just wrapped up for one of the victims, but we need to make sure that they are the focus. Once we kind of settle down from the grieving, I think I will start thinking about that, but, right now, the only concern is them.

BLITZER: Start thinking about this, Daniel. If you want an internship here in the Washington bureau of CNN this summer, we will be happy to consider you if you want to apply for that internship. I think I can help you.


HERNANDEZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Daniel Hernandez.

I don't care what he thinks. I think he is a hero.

And we thank you for what you did Saturday morning, Daniel Hernandez, a student at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta just spoke to Gabby Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. And Sanjay is heading out to our live shot location right now. He's getting ready to join us in a few moments. I think you will want to learn what Sanjay has learned inside the hospital.

Plus, were there warning signs in Tucson? A close look at mental illness, the signs everyone needs to look at for help to prevent a similar tragedy.


BLITZER: So, how well did President Obama do last night as he tried to heal the emotional wounds inflicted last Saturday?

Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It was one of President Obama's finer moments, I believe, speaking to a full auditorium in Tucson and a wider television audience of a grieving nation.

The president told Americans we can be better. In light of the massacre of innocence and a country more divided than ever, Mr. Obama said it is time to talk to each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

As he eulogized the dead, the president said, while we may not be able to stop all the evil in the world, how we treat each other is entirely up to us. Mr. Obama spoke at length about Christina Green, the little nine-year-old girl who was killed. He said that he wants our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.

The president walked a fine line as he tried to stay above the partisan blame game that has evolved since this tragedy. He said -- quoting here -- "The forces that divide us are not as strong as the forces that unite us."

Many think the speech was just what the doctor ordered for a country reeling from the shootings and weary of years of divisive politics. But in the long run, how much will it really matter?

There's still a very dark side to what happened in Tucson, a very dark side.

An aide to Sarah Palin says there are a record number of death threats against her since the Arizona shootings. And Palin's aides are looking to step up her security.

This stuff is ugly and scary and very much begs the question of exactly what we are becoming in this country.

Here's the question, then: Will the Tucson massacre change the tone of the political debate in this country?

Let's hope so. Go Let me know what you think -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope so, too, Jack. Thank you.

Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner behaved so strangely at his community college, instructors and other students alerted campus police. The school was so worried, it demanded he get a mental health evaluation.

So what can be done to prevent another tragedy like what happened in Tucson?

We asked Brian Todd to take a closer look -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have learned that, in Arizona, it is easier than in some states to force a person into mental health treatment. But there is no indication right now that Jared Loughner came to that crossroads, even though he had been well known to campus police.


TODD (voice-over): The warning signs went back at least a year. According to numerous police records from his community college, Jared Loughner had frequent outbursts that frightened others.

He once reacted to the reading of a poem, according to those records, by saying, "Why don't we strap bombs to babies?" His math teacher said when he turned his back on the class to write on the board, he would always turn back quickly.

BEN MCGAHEE, FORMER MATH INSTRUCTOR OF JARED LEE LOUGHNER: I felt like he was capable of bringing in a weapon and I feel like he was capable of causing harm to the class.

TODD: The college police say they notified the faculty that there might be a mental health concern involved with Loughner. The college suspended him in September of last year and said he would need a mental health clearance to return.

But could he have been forcibly taken off the street before the Tucson shootings? Ironically, it is easier in Arizona than in many places for family members to force a person into treatment.

DR. ALAN LIPMAN, FOUNDER, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF VIOLENCE: They will send out, on the recommendation of that individual, be it a teacher or be it father, be it anyone, a mobile response unit to conduct an evaluation. And if that person is found to be in a particular state, they can be involuntarily committed.

TODD: But CNN has learned Jared Loughner was never in the Arizona mental health system.

Even if someone is flagged, it is a complicated process, according to forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren. It has to be proven by a psychiatrist that a person is a danger to himself or others or is almost completely nonfunctional, the first step in forcing treatment. Then it has to go before a judge. And even then:

(on camera): A person, if they are represented by an attorney, could try to mitigate that.

LISE VAN SUSTEREN, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: Indeed. In our judicial system, in working with the mentally ill, it is looked upon as an adversarial situation. So you have a lawyer who is on one side and has been engaged to protect the rights of the person who may be hospitalized.

After all, depriving a person of his physical freedom is something which needs to be protected and reviewed. On the other hand, you will have doctors and maybe the lawyer from the hospital or treatment facility who will be arguing that this person really needs help.


TODD: So, I asked Van Susteren how that usually breaks down in court. She says it depends upon the judge, but that the courts often reflect a culture that has turned against involuntary treatment because of civil liberties issues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we have any indication, Brian, that his parents knew about these issues, did anything about this? What do we know?

TODD: Right now, it is unclear. Here's what we know from the police records.

The police, the campus police, voiced their concern about his mental health to the faculty. The faculty suspended him. When they suspended him, police went to the home and notified both him and his parents about that suspension.

But it is unclear now whether the campus police or anyone from the campus relayed those concerns to the parents, whether the parents had prior knowledge of any concerns about his mental health, whether they did anything about it.

The school is not giving us a clear answer so far on what they did or didn't do to notify the parents about their concerns about his health. And his attorney, Loughner's attorney, has not returned our calls and e-mail on this.

BLITZER: We still don't know about this story. All right, Brian, thank you.

The astronaut Mark Kelly is slated to command shuttle Endeavour's final flight, but now he's at the bedside of his wounded wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. So, will he still go up in space? We are getting some new details on this part of the story.

And raising a toast to the upcoming royal wedding -- why Britons have even more to celebrate over at the pub. We will tell you what is going on, on that front right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Just ahead, a CNN exclusive: Our Sanjay Gupta spoke to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly. We will check in with Sanjay.

And Sarah Palin's statement on the slaughter is rippling through the Republican Party. Gloria Borger is standing by with that.


BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, just finished speaking to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, in his first interview with a reporter following Saturday's tragedy.

Sanjay is joining us now from Tucson.

So, what did Mark Kelly, Sanjay, tell you first of all about the condition of his wife?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he confirmed a lot of the things that we heard specifically about the eye-opening that took place yesterday, Wolf, significant.

He said he was obviously there at the time. He also talked about the fact that she was able to start a little bit of therapy today, had her legs dangling over the side. Some of that, we heard. Her breathing tube is still in as well. And he said it could come out as early as tomorrow., and it might be in another week. Doctors are sort of trying to decide how to proceed.

You know, Wolf, he was in Houston when he found out and at the time that he found out, obviously, none of this had been in the news. He received a call from Congressman Giffords' chief of -- Congresswoman Giffords' chief of staff, who told him. He's in a different state. He's -- obviously, very startling news to hear. He is a pilot and able to get an airplane and was here in Arizona within about 45 minutes, he said, right around the time that she was being wheeled out of surgery.

And at that time he spoke to Dr. Rhee and Dr. Lemole sort of for the first time and really got an idea of exactly what had happened. So it was just remarkable to hear him talk about how this all transpired for him. He was essentially put in a private room, and then these two doctors came in and told him that, you know, his wife had been shot and here's exactly what they thought was happening.

But overall, he seemed very optimistic. I have to say, Wolf, you know, yesterday we talked a lot about the fact that the president had visited Congresswoman Giffords. And I asked him, I said, did -- "Did she seem to know that it was the president of the United States visiting her?"

And he said, "Well, I think that she did sort of get an idea that this was the president, but she really had no idea why he would be visiting her," and that gives you a little bit of an idea of her state of mind.

Dr. Lemole is the neurosurgeon, Wolf. You've spoken to him. I've been speaking to him all day long. I asked him specifically that question, as well: what exactly does the congresswoman knows at this time? Here's a little bit of what he said.


GUPTA: Do you feel that she understands all that has happened to her?

LEMOLE: I'm starting to think so.

GUPTA: She knows?

LEMOLE: It's really -- I was there when the congresswoman and the senator were in the room. And to see her open her eye and look at them, there's just no question in my mind.

And she's done that for her husband, as well. Those glimmers of recognition, that tracking of the eyes tells you a whole lot more, that she is aware of her surroundings to some extent, coming in and out perhaps, and that she's trying to engage that reality, as well.


GUPTA: That's more detail, I think, than we have heard, Wolf, up to now. We've obviously heard that she was following commands, that she was moving her body spontaneously, even opening her eyes.

But the idea now that -- of awareness of people around her, sort of starting to contextualize the events, Captain Kelly, her husband, told me that he's trying to be very protective of her in terms of what she knows, what she hears, who can visit her and all of that. But I think, you know, his sense is, and I think Dr. Lemole's sense is, as well, she's starting to put some of these pieces of the puzzle together -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It really is amazing when you think about it. Dr. Peter Rhee, who's the chief of trauma over at the hospital, he said earlier now she's keeping her eyes open for 15 minutes at a time. He also says that she can move both of her legs. She can certainly move her left hand, but her right hand, she's having some trouble moving her right hand.

You're a neurosurgeon. Explain what you think is going on right now.

GUPTA: I think that's not -- that's not that surprising, and when I talked to Dr. Friese -- you remember, Wolf, he's one of the first doctors to evaluate all of the patients, including Congresswoman Giffords, and he said at the time that he was asking her to follow commands. He told me specifically she was squeezing well with the left hand but not as well with the right hand.

Wolf, here's the way to think about it. The left side of the brain does lots of different things, one of those things being controlling the motor strength on the right side of the body. So if someone has an injury to the left side of the brain, it would not be surprising.

It's more detailed than that. There are certain parts of the left brain that are going to be more responsible for arm strength, other parts that are more responsible for leg strength, other parts responsible for other parts of your body. But you're absolutely right, this is not entirely unexpected.

The other thing they're going to be watching for carefully, according to all the doctors I spoke to today is her speech. And most people, is it is the left side of the brain that is responsible for speech. Your ability to understand both the written and spoken word, your ability to express yourself in any way, all of that is easily controlled on the left side of the brain. So they can't test that, Wolf. She has a breathing tube in right now, but this is what they're going to be looking for in the days to come.

BLITZER: And we're praying for her recovery. One of the doctors acknowledged there could be a miracle underway. We're praying for that, obviously, as well.

Sanjay, thanks so much.

Sanjay Gupta is in Tucson, checking in with his colleagues at the hospital there.

Congresswoman Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, whom Sanjay just spoke to, is supposed to command the last scheduled shuttle mission, but that now could change. John Zarrella covers space for us, is joining us from Miami with more on this part of the story.

What's the latest -- what's the latest that's going on, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's just precautionary, but NASA has decided that it was going to name a backup commander, Rick Sturckow. Now, Sturckow is a veteran of four space shuttle flights, dating back all the way to 1998, flew for the last time in space back in '09.

Sturckow is also the deputy chief of the astronaut office, so he's extensively qualified to fly the flight. And people I talked with at NASA say, you know, there won't be much of a learning curve, because he has been a commander before, he has been a pilot before, if he should have to take over the Endeavour flight.

One of the things he's going to have to do is to probably practice a lot of touch-and-goes. Now, I flew actually a couple of months in some touch-and-goes with Steve Lindsey, who is flying the Discovery mission coming up next month, and it is something that Lindsey said they have to do repeatedly: the landing and takeoff practices from the Kennedy Space Center. So that's going to be one thing that Sturckow will have to do to catch up on the flight.

Now, this would be the last flight of Endeavour, and that's April 19. Possibly the very last flight in the space shuttle program. And you know, I spoke a couple of months back, Wolf, with Mark Kelly about what it was going to be like to fly Endeavour.


ZARRELLA: This is it, your last shuttle flight.

MARK KELLY, ENDEAVOUR COMMANDER: Flying in space is a very difficult thing to give up. I remember after my last flight, thinking, well, maybe this is the last time I'm going to do this. And you know, you get a couple months out, and you're like, "Oh, you know, I really hope I -- this is not the end of my flying in space career."

ZARRELLA: Have you even thought about what that's going to be like, getting off that vehicle for the last time?

KELLY: I have. Well, you know, when you fly an airplane to the bone yard out in the desert, you know, they say you're not allowed -- don't take anything off it; get the brief ahead of time. I'll do the same thing with my crew. You've got to leave -- you know, make sure it all stays intact for the museum. We're not going to be signing our name on anything.


ZARRELLA: So, Wolf, we're just going to have to see how it shakes out, and like everyone else, our thoughts and prayers are with Mark and his family, and hopefully, he'll get to fly that flight. I know it would mean a lot to him.

BLITZER: Yes. Seems like a great guy.

ZARRELLA: Yes. BLITZER: I'm glad you had a chance to meet with him. John, thanks very, very much.

Taking matters into his own hands. In the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, we're going to show you what one U.S. congressman is now doing to protect himself and why Sarah Palin's statement on the Tucson tragedy could -- could -- potentially mark a turning point for Republicans.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama and Sarah Palin both spoke publicly about the Tucson shooting. They had a similar message, but there was a very, very different tone between the president's speech and Palin's recorded statement earlier in the day. And for some fellow Republicans, Palin's simply came up short.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here watching the story for us.

You've been speaking with a lot of Republicans out there today. What are they saying?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITCAL ANALYST: Well, it's interesting. I've been speaking with conservatives who really admire Sarah Palin, and more establishment Republicans who are not fans of hers.

And quite honestly, Wolf, the response that I get is that in her first sort of moment of going up against Barack Obama, she did not do very well. There was a general sense that she undercut herself, in fact, that her defenders had been doing a very good job of saying she had absolutely nothing to do with this shooting, and that they felt that if she was going to give a public statement, which was fine, she needed to take the high road instead of doing it the way she did, which was focusing on castigating the media.

BLITZER: So are some suggesting this is a turning point for her?

BORGER: They -- they are; some of them actually did. Because there was a sense that, if she were to become a presidential candidate -- and again, we don't know if she is, as one Republican said to me, quote, she's too toxic to run.

There's a sense that she doesn't have a politically astute staff, that the speech was not well-thought-out, and that it allowed Barack Obama to talk about unity while she, in fact, spent a piece of the speech talking about herself.

And when you're a national leader, you have to be able to rise above it and tone down the rhetoric, rather than ratchet it up. So there was a great sense: you know what? We may look back at this and say things changed after this speech.

BLITZER: It's one thing for some of her Republican rivals to criticize her in private.

BORGER: Right. They all do. Yes.

BLITZER: It's another thing for someone to have the courage to go out and criticize her publicly.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, that is a really good point, because you talk to people privately, and they will criticize her.

But what they are afraid of is not necessarily admonishing her publicly, but they don't want to lose her supporters. Her supporters are the loyal base of the Republican Party. They feel if they alienate those voters, then they're going to hurt themselves.

But I do think we may have seen a little bit of the cement cracking. You saw Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota coming out, when asked by "The New York Times" whether he would have had that targeted map. He said, you know, maybe he wouldn't have chosen that. He did defend her, though, by the way.

But today, there was an interesting tweet from former Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson. Let me read it to you. He said, and I quote, "Palin's little speech castigating the media was quite effective. Not sure how prudent it was, though."

I think that's a very diplomatic way of saying, what was she thinking when she did that? And what I'm hearing, Wolf, is that there are some Republicans who are saying someone like Mike Huckabee, who's well known, has the same constituency as Sarah Palin, this might be an opportunity for him to get in the race and take her on frontally.

Although, as I stress, we're not sure that she's even going to run. And one Republican said to me today, and I quote, "I don't think she's going to run, but I don't know if I just think it or hope it."

BLITZER: We'll study and we'll see what happens.


BLITZER: It won't be too long before we know. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: Balancing access to the public with self protection. The Tucson tragedy has a lot of members of Congress thinking twice about their safety right now. We're going to tell you what one congressman is doing to try to keep safe.


BLITZER: Protection for U.S. lawmakers in their home districts certainly has become more urgent following the shootings in Tucson. Let's go to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. She's looking into this part of the story for us.

What are you learning, Jeanne? JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, surveillance cameras, peepholes, panic buttons, those are the sorts of things members of Congress are now considering for their district offices in light of the shootings in Tucson.


DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND CONGRESSMAN: A little cold out there, right?

MESERVE (voice-over): Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger is a gregarious guy who clearly loves glad-handing with the public. It's part of his job. But threats are part of it, too.

RUPPERSBERGER: We get threats all the time.

MESERVE (on camera): What kind?

RUPPERSBERGER: We get threats that, if Dutch doesn't do this, he's not going to wake up tomorrow. You know, we're -- we don't like who he is or what he is. He's gone.

MESERVE (voice-over): Ruppersberger traveled to Iraq with colleague Gabrielle Giffords and says trips like that put concerns about his own safety in perspective, but the shootings of the congresswoman and her staff right here at home have rattled some of Ruppersberger's employees like caseworker Cori Duggins.

CORI DUGGINS, CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER: We'll all think twice the next time we're doing something outside the office.

MESERVE: To ease his staff's worries, Ruppersberger asked the Baltimore County and U.S. Capitol Police to come to his district office in Timonium, Maryland, Thursday to talk security.

DET. WARREN F. COOPER, BALTIMORE COUNTY POLICE: It's an open society. I mean, you can't go around with a glass bubble.

MESERVE: The big points: keep your eyes open. Communicate with police. And don't escalate confrontations with angry constituents.

COOPER: You want to try and bring them down. You want to try and comfort them to the sense of where you are listening and not to blow them off, so to speak.

MESERVE: There were also specific tips on hostile phone calls, how to handle mail, and whether to allow visitors to bring in large bags that could conceal a weapon.

Police are currently doing an audit to determine if the office needs security upgrades like cameras. County police say they will now patrol around the office more often and will be at the congressman's public events.

LT. ROBERT MCCULLOUGH, BALTIMORE COUNTY POLICE: We will be able to provide an on-duty presence of a uniformed law-enforcement or plain-clothes officers to those locations to just enhance security.

MESERVE (on camera): At every event?

MCCULLOUGH: We will attempt.

MESERVE (voice-over): That might make the public feel more secure, but Ruppersberger worries that a uniformed police presence will intimidate the public, keep them away and, he fears, undermine democracy.

RUPPERSBERGER: You have to continue to communicate. If not, the bad guys win, and we're not going to let that happen.


MESERVE: Ruppersberger says he is concerned about overreacting or under-reacting to the Tucson shootings, but he is making one immediate change. He mentioned a file of threats that have come into his office over the years. Now for the first time, he's handing it over to police so they can decide just how big of a danger they pose.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thank you.

And this just in to THE SITUATION ROOM. An open letter to parents following the tragedy in Tucson. That's the headline from an open letter that's just been released by the first lady, Michelle Obama.

It's a lengthy letter. We'll put it up at, but let me read to you a couple sentences. "We all -- we can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by our families. We can explain to them that, although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it."

She concludes, by the way, after recalling how moved she was by what she saw in Tucson yesterday, specifically mentioning the six individuals who were killed. She says, "We can work together to honor their legacy by following their example, by embracing our fellow citizens, by standing up for what we believe is right, and by doing our part, however we can, to serve our communities, and our country."

A lengthy open letter from the first lady of the United States. An open letter to parents on some lessons learned as a result of what happened in Tucson.

So, will the Tucson massacre change the tone of the political debate? Jack Cafferty will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. CAFFERTY: All right. The question this hour, Wolf, is: "Will the Tucson massacre change the tone of the political debate in this country?"

Michelle writes: "It's my fear that all sides will find inspiration in this tragedy and that the divide will only intensify. Civility is not a partisan issue. It's a respect issue. And those who continue to disrespect their fellow citizens regardless of where their political affiliation lies will only find fuel for their angry fires."

Peter in Terrytown, New York, writes: "No, it won't. Reasoned, logical and sensible adult conversation doesn't get air time. Loud, stupid, ignorant conversation does."

Jerry in Toronto: "I surely hope so, but I doubt it. Predictably, everything will quiet down for a spell, but as the next election fires up, it will be back to business as usual. For politicians, there is no middle ground when their job is on the line. They will do and say whatever it takes to get elected and then blame everyone else when horrific situations happened like the one in Tucson."

Deb writes: "If it doesn't change -- if this doesn't change it, what will? We react to other countries and their problems, but we're really in denial about the severity of our issues here at home. As soon as all political parties start uniting in the U.S., violence will have less of a voice."

Joe in Florida writes: "No, this event will not have any effect on dampening the sharp exchanges between competing interests. A ribald debate is what was anticipated and expected in a democracy. To expect less is to diminish American democracy."

Karl in Michigan: "It will only happen if the parties involved take an active role in monitoring themselves and their members. This includes the political parties and the media. We can't keep going down the road we're on and not do permanent damage to our society."

And Ken writes from North Carolina: "The odds of winning the lottery, about 1 in 176 million. The odds of politicians changing the tone of political debate in this country, less than that."

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

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thanks very much.

After a week of tragedy and remembrance, we're getting a little levity tonight from Jeanne Moos, thanks to a couple of rodents. Stay with us.


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

In India, a farmer spreads out chili peppers to dry at a market.

In Australia, a man paddles his surf board down a flooded street.

Look at this. In Switzerland, fighter jets practice flying in formation.

And in Qatar, a young soccer fan cheers for Japan in the Asian Cup.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

She's got more Facebook fans than the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Most Unusual" tale of a cross- eyed opossum. And that's not all.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a tale of two critters. One gives folks joy; the other gives them the creeps. Ever wonder what it would be like to wake up with a rat crawling on you?


MOOS: Jeff Ford had fallen asleep riding the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn at 2 in the morning.

JEFF FORD, SHOT VIDEO OF RAT ON SUBWAY: A woman screams. I looked up to see what's going on. I see a rat running back and forth.

MOOS: He whipped out his camera and took these shots of the rat after it jumped onto a sleeping guy's lap, then took off. By the time Jeff adjusted the camera to shoot video, the rat was back.

FORD: He runs up the guy's leg.

MOOS: It's bad enough seeing rats on the track, but in your face? Nobody bothered to rat out the rat to warn the sleeping guy. Amazingly, he remained fairly calm, so calm that...

FORD: He goes right back to sleep, like it didn't even happen.

MOOS (on camera): Maybe thought he was dreaming.

But it's a rare and slow news day when you can cross a rat story with a tale of a cross-eyed opossum.

(voice-over) Her name is Heidi. She lives at Leipzig Zoo in Germany, and her crossed eyes have seduced possum lovers worldwide. She's got her own Facebook page, with thousands of friends added by the hour, making comments like, "What big eyes you have."

A stuffed animal has been modeled after Heidi. Kids chant her name.



MOOS: The German TV station RTL demonstrated how her appeal would be lost were her crossed eyes not so crossed.

She was originally orphaned in North Carolina and raised at a sanctuary. A composer wrote a song and got three young girls to record it, singing lyrics like, "Heidi is so dinky."

The cross-eyed marsupial has even been compared to one of American's best-known anchors.

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, NBC'S "TODAY SHOW": Do I look like that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. You're both adorable.

MOOS: Even the subway rodent photographer has fallen for Heidi.

FORD: That rat was actually kind of cute. I think if I woke up and I saw a cross-eyed marsupial on my lap...

MOOS: He'd lap it up. But in the New York subway, it doesn't pay to play possum.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. I'm @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.


And good evening, everyone.

A lot of breaking news tonight, including talk of a miracle in Tucson tonight. Also, word a missing piece of evidence is now in police hands.