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Bin Laden's Chilling New Message; Giffords Moved to Houston

Aired January 21, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: a chilling new message and a new target -- who Osama bin Laden is threatening now right now. We're digging deeper on what his latest tape really tells us about the al Qaeda leader.

And Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is now in Houston. But she's not going straight to rehab. What doctors are saying about her next step.

And stolen nearly 40 years ago, this small painting worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is back in the proper hands. You're going to find out how it was found.

Breaking news and political headlines all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

After several months of silence, Osama bin Laden has suddenly come out with a bloodcurdling new message, the al Qaeda warning of what he calls a green light for killing hostages. The threat aimed at a key U.S. ally.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into the story for us.

Brian, tell us what you're discovering.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a horrible message to hear for the families of those hostages. U.S. officials say it's not clear how much influence bin Laden has with the people holding the two French journalists, but the message has been broadcast throughout the Muslim world, and bin Laden's followers are no doubt listening.


TODD: A U.S. counterterrorism official says his words send a chill up your spine, especially considering there are two lives are at stake.

In an audio message broadcast in part on Al-Jazeera, a speaker claiming to be Osama bin Laden warns the French government, two French journalists being held hostage are in peril because of your actions.

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): The refusal of your President Sarkozy to get out of Afghanistan is the result of his subservience to the United States. And this is considered the green light to kill your prisoners without delay. TODD: U.S. counterterror officials tell CNN while there's no reason to believe that isn't bin Laden speaking, it's not clear how much influence he has over the fate of the two journalists, who were seized by the Taliban in 2009.

Bin Laden's most recent message before this came last October, and, like this one, contained a threat against France.

I asked terrorism expert Brian Fishman while bin Laden singles out France.

BRIAN FISHMAN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: What I think bin Laden sees is that France may be the weak link. In Afghanistan, 80 percent of the French population opposes the war in Afghanistan. And he thinks that he can apply some pressure on the French population and perhaps get them to pull out.

TODD (on camera): But it may not work with the French.

FISHMAN: I don't think it will work with the French at all actually. I think that French population, despite the fact that they are opposed to the war in Afghanistan, the French government is committed to the fight.

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials believe bin Laden is still hiding out somewhere along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They say there's no indication he's directing al Qaeda operations despite his threats.

BIN LADEN (through translator): This position will cost you dearly on all fronts, in France and abroad.

TODD: Fishman says there's still no one on bin Laden's level who can command global attention to jihad like he can, but that he's not as effective on that front as he once was.

FISHMAN: I think this is one of bin Laden's biggest problems, is that he's lost a lot of audience share, frankly.


TODD: He's lost it, says Fishman, to young jihadists like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen. He's a key figure in the al Qaeda branch where some of the most serious recent plots have come from. That's the branch called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Fishman says al-Awlaki speaks more effectively than bin Laden in English to potential supporters in the U.S. and Europe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So do they think, Brian, that the al Qaeda threat from Yemen where as you say al-Awlaki is hiding out is greater than it is from Pakistan or Afghanistan along the border?

TODD: Many experts, including Brian Fishman, think the threat out of Pakistan is still more dangerous, Wolf. He says that's because al Qaeda still has more of a capacity to destabilize Pakistan and because if Pakistan falls apart, with nuclear weapons there and other factors, that's still more dangerous to our security than a destabilized Yemen would be.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper right now on bin Laden's sudden reappearance and what it might mean.


BLITZER: And joining us now, our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. He is the author of an important, hot new book entitled "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda."

We will talk about the book in a moment.

But let's get to the news of the day, Peter, this latest audiotape from bin Laden directly threatening France. Is this a surprise? Do you expect this kind of stuff? What is going on?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, first of all, it's a proof of life that bin Laden is still out there. Secondly, it's a way of him trying to stay in the game and show that he's important. Thirdly, he has critiqued the French before. Last year, another audiotape came out in the fall. He critiqued the French for their recent decision to ban the use of the public -- of the burqa for women in public.

France has a pretty substantial military presence in Afghanistan. Bin Laden would like that to go. So...

BLITZER: Is France likely to respond to this and capitulate?

BERGEN: No. The French actually have -- particularly the French special forces have actually fought rather bravely in Afghanistan. They have taken some important positions near west of Kabul. They control some of the area there.

BLITZER: Whenever bin Laden releases one of these audiotapes, there's always a suspicion there's some sort of hidden or secret message there triggering some sort of potential action. Do you believe that that's one of his motives?

BERGEN: No. I think these, they're very unhidden messages. Kill Westerners, kill Americans, kill Jews is often the message, and then sometimes very specific.

So the fact that he's talking about France a lot suggests to me that there was a terror alert in France in the fall of last year. There will be some people who will respond to it. But it's not a covert message. It's an overt message.

BLITZER: Compare bin Laden now to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American- born cleric who is hiding in Yemen someplace. Who has more influence among these people in the terror world? BERGEN: Well, Awlaki has influence in the English-speaking world because he's addressing them in English. And that's the big difference.

And so whether it's Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, who was consulting with Awlaki over the Internet, you know, Awlaki does have some influence. But bin Laden at the end of the day is the leader of the global jihad movement. And in the Arabic-speaking world, I mean, that's where -- Awlaki is not communicating with the Arabic-speaking world.

BLITZER: I guess the question is, who is the bigger threat right now?

BERGEN: I think bin Laden is the leader of the global jihad movement. He's the leader of al Qaeda. Awlaki is merely operating in bin Laden -- what bin Laden would like him to do, right? He's -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which Awlaki is part of, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the al Qaeda central organization.

BLITZER: Based on all the research you've done, when was the last time the U.S. had a good lead where bin Laden was?

BERGEN: The best lead was mid-December 2001 at the Battle of Tora Bora.

BLITZER: That long ago? Since then, he's evaporated, he's gone...

BERGEN: He has evaporated. I was in Afghanistan in December talking to some people who are focused on the bin Laden issue. A senior official told me that they had not had information that they regarded as reliable on bin Laden for years. They have a hypothesis that he is in the Northwest Frontier region of Pakistan. That's like saying I think that somebody is in Virginia. It's not a very good clue.

BLITZER: But it raises the question, how is that possible?

BERGEN: It's a very good question, because we spent half a trillion dollars on our intelligence and we haven't answered this question.

But think about the hunt for Adolf Eichmann, Wolf. The Israelis spent 15 years trying to find him, finally found him in Latin America. Finding people is not easy. Bin Laden is not making the sort of errors that get you caught, talking on cell phones, having people around him who are motivated by money.

BLITZER: Here's a line from the new book "The Longest War" that jumped out at me. And I'm going to read it to.

"A U.S. official on the hunt for bin Laden said if al Qaeda's leader were captured, it would likely produce a subsequent significant problem: Americans being taken hostage with the aim to free him."

How worried are they about that?

BERGEN: Oh, I think this is a big worry. I don't think bin Laden will be captured. I think that he has made it clear to his bodyguards, kill me. I don't want to end up in Guantanamo or in an American jail somewhere.

But if he was captured, there would be people being kidnapped around the world in order to spring him from the American jail. That's a very legitimate worry.

BLITZER: This is the longest war. You call it the enduring conflict between America and al Qaeda. How much longer is it going to go on?

BERGEN: Wow. Good question. If we had had this conversation a year ago, a year after 9/11, would we say almost a decade later that it's still going on?

This thing can run and run. Unfortunately al Qaeda has got some viability. I think over time they will fade into irrelevance. But it's not going to happen tomorrow. And it's certainly not going to happen in a year. We're going to be in Afghanistan until December 2014, according to the president. So this thing has got some years left on it.

BLITZER: It's an amazing book. And you're getting fabulous reviews. Congratulations.

BERGEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen is our national security analyst.

Once again, the title of the book, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda."

BERGEN: Thank you.


BLITZER: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is now at a Houston hospital where doctors say she will begin her first rehabilitation session less than an hour from now.

This morning she was taken by ambulance from the Tucson hospital where she's been treated since being shot in the head 13 days ago. People lined the route and a veterans group joined police in the escort as Giffords was taken to a specially equipped plane at a nearby Air Force base.

In a new picture just posted on Giffords' Facebook page, it showed her accompanied on the flight by her husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, her mother and two congressional aides. The plane landed in Texas shortly after 1:00 p.m. local time this afternoon.

Giffords was transferred to a medical helicopter for the short flight to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where everyone hopes she will continue what's been a truly, truly remarkable recovery so far.

The doctors in Houston are so pleased with her progress so far that they have scheduled her first rehabilitation session this afternoon at 4:00 Pacific time. That's coming up.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is in Houston. She is standing by with more.

Tell us what we know right now, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What we know is that they say that Giffords is doing great. Now, Wolf, she is still in the intensive care unit.

And I think that's important to point out. She has a -- they are draining some fluid from her brain. And they say with that drain, she needs to stay in the intensive care unit. But they say overall, given the type of injuries that she had, they're very pleased.

And I'm going to let the doctors tell it in their own words, Wolf.

First, we will hear from Dr. Randall Friese, who was one of her doctors in Arizona, and then we will here from Dr. Dong Kim, who's going to be her neurosurgeon while she's here in Houston.


DR. RANDALL FRIESE, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Good afternoon. I am very pleased to bring the news that the transfer of Gabby from University Medical Center in Tucson here to Memorial Hermann in Houston went flawlessly. The trip was well planned, and I asked Mark if I could share with you when we were traveling through the streets of Tucson, there were several times we could hear applause in the ambulance with Gabby, and she responded very well to that, smiling, and in fact even tearing a little bit.

It was very emotional and very special.

DR. DONG KIM, NEUROSURGEON, MISCHER NEUROSCIENCE AT TIRR MEMORIAL HERMANN HOSPITAL: She looks spectacular in all ways. From a neurological point of view, first, she came into ICU, and she was alert, awake, calm. She looked comfortable. I think we were already feeling some interaction, which is important.

She's got very good movement on the left side of her body and was very purposeful. And we were testing her vision, and she didn't like us shining the light in her eye, and wanted to keep them closed. And these are all very good signs.

She also had pretty good tone in her leg.


COHEN: Now, Wolf, Dr. Kim went onto say that Giffords is not speaking. He said that she's moving her lips and that they think she's trying to make words out, trying to say words, but that they're not really sure.

Now, a nurse was there. Her name is Tracy Culbert. And she was Giffords' nurse in Arizona. And she told this very sweet story about how, even without talking, Giffords can make her wishes known. For example, she made it known that she was interested in a ring that Tracy, the nurse, was wearing. And Tracy took it off and gave it to Giffords, and Giffords held it up and looked at it.

And when the nurse tried to take it back, she kept it, like she didn't want to give it back to her.

Anyhow, so that nurse, Tracy Culbert, also spoke to the media today.


DR. TRACY CULBERT, NURSE, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER INTENSIVE CARE UNIT: I have a lot of hope for her. And I know she's going to do great. She's a very strong woman.

DR. JOHN HOLCOMB, TRAUMA SURGEON, TIRR MEMORIAL HERMANN HOSPITAL: I'm happy to share with you that my exact words were, "Gabby, I'm proud to say I voted for before and I will vote for you again."


CULBERT: And she smiled.


COHEN: Now, the real hope here is to be able to move Giffords out of the intensive care unit, where she is now, and into the hospital behind me, which is a rehabilitation hospital.

But they can't do that for at least, they say -- early next week, they're going to reassess. But she's not going anywhere for at least several days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It is an amazing recovery, though. Everybody agrees on that, right, Elizabeth?

COHEN: Oh, everybody does agree on that, that to have a bullet wound to the head and to do this well. They certainly see that happen with other patients. But they're so glad to see so much progress so soon.

BLITZER: We wish her only, only the best, a very speedy recovery.

Elizabeth, thanks very much.

BLITZER: With the Tucson tragedy in mind, police in Massachusetts have seized a dozen weapons from a blogger. Details of what he wrote that has them so concerned.

And a dramatic gun battle at sea with pirates, we will show you video, pictures, how one country's military stopped them.


BLITZER: One country has had enough of its ships being hijacked and crews taken hostage. That led to a bloody five-hour gun battle today between South Korea's navy and Somali pirates. And it all began in the predawn darkness of the Arabian Sea.

Let's go over to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's working this very dramatic, amazing story for us.

What walk us through, Tom, what exactly happened.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you pointed out, Wolf, that these are Somali pirates.

Somalia is down here. This is Yemen -- Yemen down here, Oman up here. This is India, Pakistan. Look where this attack is. This is way up here from Somalia. This is where it happened. I want to talk about that in a minute.

The attack happened, as you mentioned, just as dawn was breaking out here. Look at the ferocity of what happened as 300 naval troops descended on this ship which was taken on Saturday. Look at all the damage to the ship, unbelievable damage happening out here. Here they are bringing these hostages out from inside the ship.


BLITZER: Those are from guns, all those holes there.

FOREMAN: And you can tell, this kind of damage, this is from big guns. You know that, Wolf. This isn't from anything small. This is a massive assault on this ship out here.


BLITZER: And these are these Korean fighters.

FOREMAN: Right, South Korean fighters coming in here. Their special forces went in and made this attack, simply saying the ship could not be held any longer to rescue 21 hostages, five-hour battle on this ship.


FOREMAN: Five hours. Eight of the pirates were killed. Five were captured, and all 21 hostages were rescued, only one of them injured, the captain, who was shot, not life-threatening injuries.

BLITZER: And the Korean soldiers?

FOREMAN: The Korean soldiers all came through with no injuries.

BLITZER: Wow. That's amazing.

FOREMAN: An astonishing assault here.

I'll tell you something interesting about this, Wolf. One of the reasons that we don't hear so much about this is because concern conditions have to be met. We're told this by the international center that studies piracy out here. Certain conditions have to be met. They have to have an idea of where the prisoners are. They have to have an idea that the hostages are in some sort of a citadel -- you had heard that term from olden times basically -- where they can be sort of sealed off and are not so much under direct threat right now by the pirates.

So we have seen some of these operations before as they have come in and tried to rescue people, you know, in the past where we have seen raids. This is one by the South Koreans from last year, some video of one of the raids that happened. And of course we have had U.S. forces that have been involved in various types of operations to rescue people out here.

But it's a very difficult thing to do on the open sea. But I'll tell you this, Wolf. It's going to be something that is more in demand. I want you to just look at the numbers here. This is the Arabian Sea right here. This is the attack we're talking about right now.

This is all the pirate attacks this year, this year.

BLITZER: 2011.

FOREMAN: 2011. And here is something that is even more striking.

You notice that it's ranging very far. That's partially because many of the world's great navies are operating out here and trying to suppress the pirate action down here in Somalia. So, what has happened is as they have suppressed it here and up in here, it's moved into much bigger open water.

And they have attacked much further from shore because they think they can make money from it. And here's something that will really shock you. Last year in January there were four attacks in this area, four attacks last year in January. This year in January alone, look at all the attacks that have happened, spread all the way over here.

So, the simple truth is the pirate problem is not getting better out there. Despite the fact that we're putting a lot of pressure and a lot of military pressure on folks out there, they're adapting. And so forces are going to have to adapt with it, just as the South Koreans did by taking the ship back.

BLITZER: Four in January of last year, 31 to date in January of this one. And the month is not even over yet.

FOREMAN: A lot of folks.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Good explanation, Tom. Thank you. Not one, but two Republicans are getting ready to respond to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday. But it's coming as a surprise to the GOP. We will tell you what's going on.

And Vice President Joe Biden is not just focusing in on politics -- how my name -- yes, my name -- came up during a speech he gave today about the war in Afghanistan.



BLITZER: He came up short last time around. Now Rudy Giuliani is giving CNN's Piers Morgan an inside scoop on his possible run for the White House -- what or who he says might determine it for him.

Plus, on the heels of the Tucson tragedy, a possible new threat against all congressional lawmakers, what the feds are now investigating.


BLITZER: Republican rising star Congressman Paul Ryan will deliver the response to the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. But the Tea Party favorite Congresswoman Michele Bachmann will also deliver a separate response.

So who is really, really speaking for the GOP?

Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is here in THE SITUATION ROOM looking into this little dilemma for us.

What are you finding out, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so here's what happened today, Wolf.

Following the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday, it's Paul Ryan that will be giving their official response. That was the announcement today from Republican leaders. He's currently the new chairman of the House Budget Committee. He's the House GOP's go- to guy for cutting the tens of billions of dollars they say they're going to cut.

Well, shortly after this announcement was made today, the Tea Party Express announced that Michele Bachmann, a darling of the Tea Party, would be giving her response to the State of the Union on their Web site following the president's address.

So, what we don't know here if this is going to be at the same time as Paul Ryan is doing his nationally televised address or if she and the Tea Party Express will wait, meaning, is she going to be trying to compete with the message that Republican leaders are putting out there?

And really, Wolf, the Tea Party Express, as well as the congresswoman's office, aren't really -- they just aren't responding to our questions on that.

BLITZER: The politicians -- of course, the opposition in this particular case, the president's party, they usually try to speak at least with one voice.

But that's not going to necessarily happening -- happen. There will differences, I assume, some differences, between what Michele Bachmann says and what Paul Ryan says.

KEILAR: And so the real question, is what she is saying is that competing with what Paul Ryan is saying, or is this just another member who's giving a response, and we know that after the State of the Union, a lot of them do that. I spoke to the speaker's office, Speaker Boehner, and I was told just that, that after the State of the Union, there are many members who are putting out paper statements.

They're tweeting. They're Facebooking. They're doing TV interviews. And the way they see that this is just another one of those responses. Also, a spokesman for the speaker said that he understood that this has been set up for weeks. On the other hand, the Democrats are seizing on this response that Bachmann will be delivering.

Harry Reid calling both Ryan and Bachmann extremists. He said that's because Ryan has laid out a plan for entitlement reform. He says that that would essentially destroy Social Security and Medicare. And he said that Bachmann is an extremist really just because she is a tea party darling -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, she certainly is. One of the early supporters of the whole tea party movement in the Congress. Thanks very much for that, Brianna. Let's dig deeper right now with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger and David Gergen. Gloria, let me start with you. What does this signal about what some people suggested was going to happen? A little war among the conservatives and the Republicans between the so-called establishment Republicans versus the tea party movement favorites?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, we've been talking about this, Wolf, since the midterm elections and low and behold, here it is. It wasn't a figment of our imagination. This is the tension in the Republican Party between those who have served and understand the limits of governing and what they cannot accomplish in the real world, and those 73 new Republicans, some of whom have come in promising, by the way, $100 billion in cuts right away.

The speaker of the House is saying 60 billion. Ryan is saying 60 billion, and it's not enough for them, because it's not what they campaigned on. And I guarantee you that Michele Bachmann is going to speak to that.

BLITZER: David, how do you read what's going on in the GOP?

DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Gloria is fundamentally right, but let's wait to see what actually happens on Tuesday night. You know, Republicans are pretty smart about things like this. They know how to get to their -- you know, carve out a uniform message. I imagine there'll be a lot of pressure on Michele Bachmann not to get too far beyond the party line as going to come out of Paul Ryan. And Paul Ryan, they do have one of the young tigers in the Republican Party. A new fresh face.

Some of his ideas, I think, are, you know, pretty far out of the mainstream. He has been an effective spokesperson for the party and has seen as one of the real intellectuals. You know, if you want to use that word in politics, sometimes, it's miscast, but he seems one of the smartest people in the Republican side, on policy side.

BLITZER: He's the new chairman of the budget committee. And Let's not forget, Michele Bachmann, she's in Iowa today. She's thinking seriously, we're told, maybe about throwing her hat in the Republican presidential race.

BORGER: Wolf, that's another part of it. She clearly craves attention in sort of a Palin-esque way, if you will. She may be flirting with the presidency. She tried to become a member of the Republican leadership in the House, and that didn't go so well for her. So, this is clearly about her own personal political career.

GERGEN: Yes, but it's also -- let's make it -- it's also about technologies available now. She's not doing this on television. She's being streamed on the internet. So, they were going to face more of this in the future, I think.

BLITZER: We'll see if the networks of CNN and other networks take her response live.


BLITZER: We always take the official response from the GOP if there's a democratic president, vice versa live. We'll see if what we do with Michele Bachmann Tuesday night. Rudy Giuliani, by the way, says his door is absolutely open to another run for the White House, and the former New York City mayor telling CNN's Piers Morgan he's more likely to run if, if the former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, runs. Listen to what he told Piers.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Would you be more tempted to run if she wasn't?


MORGAN: Really?

GIULIANI: Yes. Maybe the opposite because, you know, my one chance, If I have a chance, is that I'm considered a moderate Republican. So, the more Republicans in which I can show a contrast, probably, the better chance that I have.

MORGAN: So, you've become the acceptable face of the Republican Party? GIULIANI: I don't know if I'm acceptable, but the question is the way I got elected mayor of New York City was not being acceptable. My slogan was you can't do any worse.


GIULIANI: Things were so bad, you need me.


BLITZER: David, he didn't do that well the last time he ran for the Republican nomination, why would he think he might do better this time?

GERGEN: It's such a free for all. There's no frontrunner. You know, normally, the Republican Party has someone who's almost anointed as George W. Bush was when the party heavyweights went to Texas and said you got to be our guy and gave him a lot of money and he had a lot of support and there he was. But this time, it's wide open. And, so you know, everybody is going to -- a lot of people are going to look at it. I don't think as many people are going to run as we probably think.

BORGER: I'm not so sure, Wolf, that moderate is a word you want to say right now out loud in the Republican Party. And I also think if Rudy Giuliani were to run again, he'd have to kind of change his strategy. You guys remember this, but last time he decided to bypass Iowa and New Hampshire, and that turned out not to be such a good idea, so -- and then, he was going to win in Florida, that didn't go so well for him. So, if he's going to run again, he's going to need a new strategist.

BLITZER: Yes. I think Michele Bachmann might run if Sarah Palin decides not to run because they might appeal to the same sort of tea party base out there, which is a strong base in the Republican Party. But she's got a different agenda right now than Rudy Giuliani. Very quickly on Jeff Immelt, the president picking the CEO of GE today to help him create some jobs out there. It seems, David, like this is another effort on the part of the president to reach out to the mainstream, to the moderates, go away from the liberal base, and create some sort of rapport with big business if he can.

GERGEN: Well, that's right. Jeff Immelt is a Republican, but he's also a heavyweight in the business community. People have enormous amount of respect from his great employment, (INAUDIBLE). Look, while he says he's all up for competition, but the number of American jobs at GE has actually gone down a little bit while he's been there, and as a percentage of all of GE's job, the American jobs are smaller. But, Wolf, what it really underscores is the president is moving to a central theme for his presidency and the State of the Union and that's going to be about American competitiveness.

BORGER: And jobs. And Democrats I talk to say that the Republicans have actually given the Democrats an opening here because they've been focusing on things like health care repeal, social issues, so far, and so, the White House is running and to start talking about jobs, competitiveness, innovation. And Jeff Immelt is very much a part of that as his General Electric.

BLITZER: And he had been criticized the president at least in the first two years. He didn't have enough big business, somebody with real corporate responsibility experience helping him. Now, he's brought Jeff Immelt in, at least part time, to help him. We'll see how that works out. Guys, see you Tuesday night. We'll see you Monday before that. We will see on Tuesday for our State of the Union coverage, of course, as well.

On the heels of the Tucson shooting tragedy, a possible new threat against all congressional lawmaker. You heard me right. All congressional lawmakers. Details of what the feds are now investigating.

Plus, a major change in the new congress that it has nothing to do with the Republicans taking control of the House. We'll explain.


BLITZER: A Massachusetts blogger is being investigated for what some see as a threat against lawmakers in the wake of the Tucson rampage. His provocative posting reads that I'm quoting now, "One down and 534 to go." He also had a considerable cash of weapons. Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is working the story for us. It's a pretty chilling story. What's the latest, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, police say they did not hesitate to react because of what was written on the blog and the timing of the alleged comments coming days after the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others outside that grocery store in Arizona. Six of those shot were killed, including a member of Giffords' staff and a federal judge. Here's what police say was written by a blogger several days ago. He refers to 535 members of Congress.


CHIEF FREDERICK RYAN, ARLINGTON, MASS. POLICE: One was one down and 534 to go. He also stated that in his opinion, it was OK to target politicians and their staff, but that non-politicians should be left alone.


CANDIOTTI: Arlington, Massachusetts police were tipped off to the blog. They say it was written by Travis Corcoran. He is not under arrest nor is he facing charges at this time. Corcoran appears to own an online comic book business. Now, at his home, police seized a dozen weapons including a 50-caliber gun and an assault rifle along with several handguns and a large amount of ammunition. Investigators say Corcoran appears to own the weapons legally. Until federal and local authorities confirm that, they are suspending his gun permit.


RYAN: We're sensitive to his free speech rights and his rights to own and possess firearms. However, you know, target only politicians was very concerning to us.


CANDIOTTI: Now in Washington, U.S. Capitol police say they are aware of the comments, and Chief Ryan in Massachusetts says the investigation is far from over, but because no specific target was named, Corcoran may not be charged. It could take weeks if not months to trace his weapons. CNN was unable to reach Corcoran, and his attorney did not return our messages -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is he cooperating with authorities, Susan?

CANDIOTTI: Well, the chief says that he was in the beginning. At first, he was answering their questions guardedly, the chief says, about his weapons, for example, but then, once he had an attorney, he elected not to talk anymore with police, which, of course, is his right. So, the investigation is going on regardless of that.

BLITZER: You'll let us know what happens. Thanks very much, Susan Candiotti reporting.

Police in California are investigating possible threats against the new governor, Jerry Brown. The investigation started after someone called police to report seeing graffiti that said and I'm quoting now, "We gonna kill brown 2-14-11." The message was scrawled on a wall in Santa Ana, California. A patrol officer noticed the second ominous message. City crews have painted over the graffiti. We'll watch this story as well.

Almost four decades after it was stolen, a French national treasurer has returned. You're going to find out where this pricey painting was found.

And new details on what the first daughter, Sasha, did when she met China's president, Hu Jintao.


BLITZER: Gas prices are high right now. Well, get ready, it could get worse. Lisa is back. She's got that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. How bad could it get?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, if you filled up your car recently, you probably notice gas prices are up. And experts say it's doubtful that they'll come down any time soon. AAA says gas was up 12 cents a gallon in just the last month and up 14 percent from this time last year. It is all about supply, which is stagnant, and demand, which hit a record 87 million barrels a day worldwide in 2010.

There's been a significant change in the makeup of Congress that's gone largely unnoticed. The number of veterans serving in the House and Senate has fallen to the lowest level since World War II. Only 20 percent of the 535 lawmakers have served in the military, 25 of them are in the Senate, and 90 of them are in the house. To put in that perspective, compare that back to 1975 when 70 percent of Congress was made up of military veterans.

And if you are a young American studying Chinese, who better to try out your language skills on than the president of China? The White House says that's exactly what first daughter, Sasha Obama, did during Wednesday's (ph) welcoming ceremony for Hu Jintao. The nine- year-old is learning Chinese in school. No details of exactly what she said to President Hu. But that is pretty impressive. Nine years old learning Chinese.

BLITZER: Kids all over the country right now, all over the world, are learning Chinese because that's a language that could help them down the road big time.

SYLVESTER: Yes. I mean, you know, the language of Spanish, French, they'll still be around, but definitely there is a big time focus on --

BLITZER: And as French, but those languages, you know, they're hard to learn, but can you imagine Chinese?

SYLVESTER: Yes. Start young.

BLITZER: That's why they have to do it. Thanks very much.

A stolen pricey painting just returned to its rightful owner. Wait until you see how it was found four decades after it disappeared.

Plus, a mother's trip to drop off her kids at school is now a learning experience of her own.


BLITZER: An enduring mystery that shocked and baffled the art world has now been solved at least partially, and U.S. officials helped play a crucial role. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is joining us now with details on what happened -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, every so often, a stolen piece of art is recovered and returned to its rightful owner, and today, was one of those days.


MESERVE (voice-over): Ever so carefully the tape is cut, the box is opened, the paper removed. Inside, a tiny, very valuable painting, a painting with a story. Blanchisseuses souffrant des dents or laundry woman with toothache was painted between 1870 and 1872 by Edgar Degas, one of the giants of the impressionist movement. Most famous for his depictions of dancers.

In World War II during intense fighting in Normandy, an art museum in Lahab (ph) was destroyed. When it was rebuilt after the war, the Louvre in Paris marked the occasion by lending a painting from its collection, Blanchisseuses souffrant des dents. But, in 1973, it was stolen. Then, last October, 37 years after its disappearance, the painting was spotted in a catalog for the auction house Sotheby's. It's estimated value, $350,000 to $450,000.

JOHN MORTON, IMMIGRATION & CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: Art person in France noticed that the painting was being sold, and Sotheby's called Interpol. Interpol called ICE, and we immediately approached Sotheby's.

MESERVE: These partially obscured numbers on the back of the painting are inventory numbers from the Louvre. They helped investigators from Immigration and Customs Enforcement proved that this was, indeed, the stolen art work. This week, paperwork was signed officially returning the painting to the government of France.

FRANCOIS RIVASSEAU, ACTING FRENCH AMBASSADOR: This painting has an extraordinary story. It disappeared after 37 years, has been re- found and given back to us. Really, in condition which make it unique.

MESERVE: And Friday, in a formal ceremony, it literally changed hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is your painting.



MESERVE (on-camera): But mystery around the painting is not completely solved. The most recent owner was given the painting by his father but exactly how the father got it is still under investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will the most recent owner, Jeanne, get some sort of compensation?

MESERVE: Not from the U.S. government. I'm told that there is a process he can go through with the French to try and recoup some of that money. I doubt, Wolf, it's going to be anything close to that estimated auction cost that we saw, $350,000 to $450,000.

BLITZER: Wow. All right. Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that report.

Usually, parents drop their kids of at school and leave, but one mother is sticking around for a first grade experience of her own.



BLITZER (voice-over): We'll look at some hot shots. In India, a vendor reads the newspaper while waiting for cutomers.

In Berlin, visitors to an agriculture affair are offered produce from Afghanistan.

In Tunisia, mother and child walk through a market. And in the Philippines, look at this, golden rabbits are sold in preparation for the Chinese new year celebration. Hot shots. Pictures worth a thousand words.


BLITZER (on-camera): She's an unusual sight in a first grade classroom not only because she's a female in a country where many girls are denied in education but also because this first grader is a mom. CNNs Reza Sayah has her story.


REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a little after 8:00 in the morning, and we're in the town of Daud Khel here in Northwest Pakistan. We drove four hours to get here from Islamabad. This is Islamabad, this is where we are, in Daud Khel. A lot of the militant Taliban activity you hear about is here in the tribal region, just west of us. And this is Afghanistan.

SAYAH (voice-over): We came here to tell you the story of Rukhsana Batul (ph). She's a 25-year-old mother, and every morning she wakes up, puts on her burka, a full-length Islamic veil, and takes her two little boys to school. That's not so unusual. What happens next is. Rukhsana doesn't leave her kids at school. Instead, she sits right next to them in class and learns. That's because she's enrolled in first grade with her kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to bring my children to school, and I saw them studying, and I thought, I really want to study and learn, too.

SAYAH (voice-over): A teacher here at the school says for weeks, Rukhsana came to class because her kids wouldn't sit still. She ended up liking it. Her parents had never sent her to school, so the teacher had an idea, why not enroll and come to class? And for Rukhsana, the decision was easy.

MUREED FIZZA, RUKHSANA'S TEACHER: She was interested in studying, and I welcomed that. I told her I would teach her, even if it meant taking up break time. SAYAH: Rukhsana gives her husband a lot of credit for encouraging her. Remember, illiteracy is a huge problem here in Pakistan. Where we are, it's rare for little girls to go to school, let alone 25-year-old moms. One study shows only one out of 10 girls go to school in this province.

SABIR HUSSAIN SHAH, RUKHSANA'S HUSBAND: I think women in every country should be educated. If she's getting educated, then my family will be much more enlightened as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My opinion is that one of the main solutions to all the issues we have in this country is the education of women. I think if one woman is educated, her entire family will be educated. SAYAH: Their teacher says one of Rukhsana's boys could be sharper than she is. She strongly disagrees. Some friendly competition between mom and her two little boys in first grade.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Daud Khel, Pakistan.


BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on behind the scenes here at the SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word. You can also follow the SITUATION ROOM on Facebook at to become a fan. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM. "John King, USA" starts right now.