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Michelle Obama's Landing Aborted; New Airstrikes in Libya

Aired April 19, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now, breaking news. CNN confirms an incident involving first lady Michelle Obama's plane. The details are coming in by the minute.

Also, fighting intensifies. Fresh NATO air strikes and a growing humanitarian crisis. We're live in Libya this hour.

Plus, the urgent quest to give U.S. troops extra protection from roadside bombs with bullet-proof briefs.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos are straight ahead. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

YELLIN: We are following breaking news this hour, an incident involving first lady Michelle Obama's plane. It had to abort a landing at Andrews Air Force Base on Monday.

Let's go straight to our CNN senior White House correspondent Ed Henry.

Hi, Ed. I understand you have some new reporting on this. What are you hearing from the White House?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jessica, a senior official confirming that Mrs. Obama's plane had to briefly abort the landing yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base, but trying -- they're trying to downplay this a little bit by saying, look, the plane just circled Andrews Air Force Base briefly while a C- 17 that had gotten a little too close to Mrs. Obama's plane landed. Then Mrs. Obama's plane landed after that.

Now, the new detail we have as well is that I'm told by a senior official that Mrs. Obama's plane was only three miles apart from this C-17. That may seem like a long distance, but the FAA maintains that it has to be a five-mile difference. That's what caused this scare.

Mrs. Obama's plane and the C-17 around Andrews Air Force Base, they were only three miles apart, so still some distance, but close enough that it caused some fear. But I'm being told by this senior official that it was not dangerously close, as "The Washington Post" originally reported. They were trying to downplay that, in saying here within the administration they do not believe that Mrs. Obama's life was ever in danger.

In fact, I'm told by a senior official that one White House aide that was on Mrs. Obama's plane didn't even know at the time that there was an incident happening, that there was a landing that was aborted or that there was some sort of a threat or problem because it was all relatively smooth, Jessica.

YELLIN: That's a great detail to know. So smooth experience for Mrs. Obama, but we know she got within three miles of another plane.

HENRY: Still very scary. And important to note as well that I'm told by this senior official, the FAA is investigating this, because the planes were too close. And also, there was somewhere in the process, an air traffic controller's mistake.

Now, our producer Shawna Shepherd has actually dug up some interesting new information that in fact the FAA and federal air traffic controllers actually do oversee Andrews. It's not military officials that are doing that and that this was somewhere along the line an air traffic controller's mistake, maybe not at Andrews itself, but at another airfield nearby that led to this. So the FAA is investigating this, there was a problem very clearly, but they're trying to downplay it here at the White House and suggest that Mrs. Obama's life was not in danger, Jessica.

YELLIN: OK. Thank you. Ed Henry reporting from the White House. Please bring us more details if you get them.

CNN's Tom Foreman is standing by with more on this breaking news.

Tom, clearly a bad week for air traffic controllers. What can you tell us?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, we can break down a little bit more of the details of what Ed was talking about there, Jessica, from our own reporting and from "The Washington Post."

The first lady was leaving New York and she was headed to Andrews Air Force Base. You fly down here, this is where Andrews Air Force Base is. The flight in was being handled by a facility out in Warrenton, Virginia, a radar facility out there. So they're following these planes as they come in toward the actual air base here.

Here's the thing. When we talk about them being this far apart, the issue is not just that they are in this area and that they're this far apart. The issue is that the way they are this far apart. The simple truth is that as they're flying into this facility, the first lady's plane was behind this C-17.

The C-17 is a big plane. It has got a lot of turbulence behind it in its wake. They want planes behind it to be at least five miles away. The simple truth is, what was happening is as they were coming in, the distance between her plane and this plane in front of it had narrowed down considerably.

As that distance narrowed down, she got too close. So, by the time that facility we showed you out in Warrenton told the tower here at Andrews that they were basically handing off control of this, they said it was four miles. When the tower took it over according to "The Washington Post," the tower said, it's more like three miles. So that's how close she was to being behind the other plane as they approach these runways here.

I want to show you very quickly if we can zoom in and show you some -- this is a cargo plane sitting at Andrews. We don't know that these were the ones involved, but you can see there are big planes like this. And then, of course, we have the other planes such as the one the first lady would be on that are nearby in the same facility.

As they come in, she's behind them. What they told the first lady's plane, as we're understanding from "The Washington Post" is they said they here comes the cargo plane, you're too close behind it, do a series of S-turns like this. You can see that would add distance and slow this plane down in effect behind the other one. But after doing that, they still didn't have enough separation. This one was still coming in.

And the worry was that when this one landed, even if there was not a turbulence problem, it wouldn't be able to get off the runway. We know that a 737 can cruise comfortably around 500 miles an hour. It would be slower than that coming in to land. But if you just do the math, Jessica, if this plane hits the runway, another plane is coming in around 500 miles an hour, that means it would cover the distance from the time this landed.

If this is four miles or so, it's going to cover that distance in a half a minute, which only gives us enough time, 30 seconds to, get up here and get off before this one lands. That seems to be the issue here. Obviously as you said, we're looking for a lot more details. But that's what we're talking about, the first lady coming in behind another plane.

Two questions, turbulence, and secondly could that plane get off that runway in time for her to land safely? Obviously, the call was, no, they couldn't bet on that, so they sent it around -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Tom, great visual explanation. Thank you.

And now Jeanne Meserve is joining us.

We have a statement from the FAA now I understand. It seems like the big picture is, it was too close for comfort. But the headline here as they say, the aircraft was never in any danger.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's what they say, but they leave a lot of questions unanswered.

Let me read you the statement from the FAA. It says: "FAA controllers at Andrews Air Force Base instructed an incoming Boeing 737 on approach to runway 19 to perform a go-around on Monday April 18 just after 5:00, because the plane did not have the required amount of separation behind a military C-17. The FAA is investigating the incident. The Boeing 737 landed safely after executing the go- around." And the words you emphasized, Jessica, "The aircraft were never in any danger."

What's unclear here is why they were too close together. If you read "The Washington Post" reporting, they're indicating that it was a controller at a regional facility out in Warrenton, Virginia, that put these planes too close together, didn't separate them.

That is not addressed here in the FAA statement. They just say it was controllers at Andrews who said, go around, go around quickly. We have talked to Kelly Nantel, who is a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

She tells me that the NTSB is at the very early stages here of just assessing what happened. They are pulling the radar tapes and the tower tapes. They're going to be looking at those. They're going to be assessing whether or not the NTSB will take a closer look at what happened in this instance.

They don't expect any decision on that, at least until tomorrow, Jessica.

YELLIN: OK. It sounds a little bit like two agencies trying to blame the other one. We're not sure yet.

MESERVE: It's truly -- I don't think anybody's casting blame. It's unclear to me from these statements who's blaming whom.


MESERVE: NTSB is just saying, it's our job to look at these things. The most dangerous incidents get investigated. We don't know yet if this incident falls into that category.

The FAA giving us a statement, yes, something happened. They don't even mention Michelle Obama was on the plane, I might note.

YELLIN: That's a good point.

MESERVE: And they don't tell us how this happened, why the planes were too close together. So I don't think there's blame between agencies, there are just still a lot of really unanswered questions here.


YELLIN: OK. And the big point to emphasize is they say the aircraft was never in any danger and Mrs. Obama is fine right now?

MESERVE: That's correct.

YELLIN: OK. Great. Thanks so much, Jeanne Meserve and Tom Foreman reporting for us.


YELLIN: We will continue to follow this story about Mrs. Obama's flight and her aborted landing at Andrews Air Force Base, and the other news developments today from Libya and the economy and more coming up after the break.


YELLIN: Welcome back.

We are reporting -- continuing to follow the breaking news about Mrs. Obama's aborted landing at Andrews Air Force Base, which happened yesterday, Mrs. Obama fine at this moment.

And the FAA in a statement says her plane was never actually in danger, but it did come too close to another plane, within three miles, which is too close, and they had to abort that landing.

Joining us now on the phone is Anita McBride. She was chief of staff to former first lady Mrs. Laura Bush and flew on the first lady's plane many, many times.

Anita, in your assessment, based on what you're hearing, you think this is a sign that Andrews did everything right?


I think Andrews Air Force Base or any air base where a presidential aircraft would be landing, there are always of course safe and appropriate precautions and steps taken to land those aircraft safely.

YELLIN: Describe for us a little bit what it is to be on the first lady's plane. It's very much like the president's plane at times, isn't it? Just...

MCBRIDE: Sure, sure. And you have flown with us, and have flown on Air Force One as well. So you know there are military personnel that, of course, manage the aircraft, fly the planes. There is -- you know, when you are in air, it is a little bit more relaxed. You don't have flight attendants telling you to always be buckled down, because you're working, and you're interacting with the staff and you're getting things done presumably also when you're on your way to an event.

So it's clearly a place where I have always felt the military was in control and that the flight attendants also are military. And you never worried about anything.

YELLIN: I was always surprised we were allowed to use our BlackBerrys in flight, because they have total control, and they don't worry about what we're doing. We're allowed to...

MCBRIDE: That's true.

YELLIN: But does it surprise you, Ed Henry reported, our correspondent at the White House, that people on the flight had no idea that there was a problem, that it was smooth in their experience. Does that surprise you at all? MCBRIDE: That doesn't surprise me at all that no one on the plane, the staff really wouldn't know. The agents may have been told something because obviously they had to change pattern for where the flight was going to land.

So the agents would know. And if the agents chose to tell the chief of staff or one other member of the first lady's team, that would certainly be up to them. But it would be -- any changes like this would be transparent. And we never had an experience like this that I know of, at least in my tenure, but obviously we flew in dangerous zones and we flew into conflict zones when we went to Afghanistan.

And there were other things we had to worry about and be very conscious about, but again always feeling as safe as possible when the U.S. military is managing the process.

YELLIN: I recall being on Air Force One once when I was covering the Bush White House. And there was an extreme delay in taking off. And only many hours later did we find out it's because a tire had been blown and they were worried and there was some fear and then it passed.


YELLIN: In your experience, were you guys up front informed when there were incidents like that that maybe we in the press didn't know about?

MCBRIDE: Well, again I think the first people to know would be the military would tell the agents and the agents would, meaning the Secret Service agents, and they would inform a senior member of either the president's team or the first lady's team if there was an issue to be concerned about. And that's why they're on the air or on the ground.


Anita, I am grateful for your time, Anita McBride, who was former chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, and flew on many flights with the first lady then, knows what it's like.

And I can report also from the White House that they are saying that the plane, the first lady's plane was landing. The pilot himself saw or herself saw that the runway wasn't totally clear, so this pilot decided to circle once and then land, but that the people on the planes didn't notice, that nothing had happened in their experience. And as Ed Henry reported, the flight was a little closer than normal, three miles instead of five. So they circled instead of landing.

But again White House officials asserting that the first lady and her team never felt any disruption and there was really no problem in their experience. Of course, the first lady landed just fine and is doing just fine today, as we know.

And that's the latest on that breaking news. Turning now to Jack Cafferty. He's back with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, tell us about something other than the first lady's plane.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Twenty-seven U.S. states as red as Georgia and Arizona and as blue as New York and California may soon be adding another requirement for those who apply for aid like unemployment or welfare, and that requirement is being clean.

More than half the states in this country are now considering legislation that would require recipients of public assistance to pass a drug test before getting their handout from the government. The details vary from state to state. For example, a bill in South Carolina in the state senate would suspend unemployment checks to any person who failed to get a job because they failed to pass a drug test.

A measure in Arizona would call for random drug testing for all people who get welfare. In Massachusetts, a bill has been introduced requiring random drug tests for recipients of public assistance who have prior drug convictions. If you fail the drug test, you would then be placed into a rehab program by the state because of Massachusetts' mandatory health care program.

Of course, if these measures pass, they will likely be opposed by groups like the Civil Liberties Union. The Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable searches. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that suspicionless searches like many drug tests violate Fourth Amendment rights, unless those tests are conducted for specific reasons like public safety.

On the other hand, I don't want my tax money being used to buy illegal drugs. And that seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Here's the question. Should states require drug tests in exchange for public assistance? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

YELLIN: Thanks, Jack.

Coming up: Violence flairs as would-be political candidates are barred from seeking office and protesters clash with police.

Also, wildfires are now burning in every county in Texas, except two, an area the size of Rhode Island now in flames.

And a different kind of protection for U.S. troops: underwear that could help save lives.



YELLIN: And a new wave of NATO airstrikes on the Libyan capital, as fighting and the humanitarian crisis intensify in one besieged city.

Plus, an e-mail mocking President Obama has one GOP official facing calls to resign, even from some fellow Republicans. We will show you the picture critics say is dripping with racism.


YELLIN: Now to Libya, where fighting is intensifying. Rebels are pleading for more help and NATO is dropping more bombs on the capital.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in Tripoli for us.

Frederik, hi.

NATO forces have targeted several locations there. Do you have a sense, what exactly did they hit?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly, NATO is saying they have targeted locations south of Tripoli as well as around the town of Sirte.

Now, the interesting one is a site around 10 kilometers south of Tripoli. And that they say is the headquarters of the 32nd Brigade here in Libya. That's the infamous Khamis Brigade, which is commanded by one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons. They say that from that headquarters, Gadhafi's forces were conducting strikes against civilian targets both in Misrata, as well as on the eastern front. The Khamis Brigade is the best-equipped and the best-trained of Gadhafi forces and also the most loyal to the regime.

Now, the other big sort of cluster of airstrikes happened around the town of Sirte, which is of course the town where Gadhafi was born. And what NATO is saying is that they struck telecommunication installations there. Gadhafi's government is telling us that it was both landline, as well as mobile telecommunications installations to try and stop Gadhafi's forces from communicating with their people on the front line, who are of course fighting and advancing towards the rebels -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Tell us a little bit, also, if you would, about what's happening east of Tripoli in Misrata, where we understand the violence is getting worse.

I know that you have been there. How important is Misrata for both sides?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's certainly very important for both sides.

It's important for Gadhafi, because is it is of course the last or the final rebel stronghold in Western Libya. So it really is a thorn in his side, really. And for the rebels, it's very important, simply because people are trying to stay alive in that place. The latest that we have gotten, as you said, is that violence there continues unabated. What we're hearing is that one person who was in a hospital there said he saw at least 20 bodies in that hospital of people who were killed in the fighting. We have heard from some rebels that at least 24 people were killed since the beginning of this week.

The artillery strikes that Gadhafi's forces are conducting there seem to be centering around the center of town as well as the port area. And of course he's still using very heavy weapons in that very, very important town -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right, Frederik Pleitgen reporting for us, thank you so much.

Well, the European Union says it would be willing to put troops on the ground to help with the humanitarian crisis if the United Nations requests it.

CNN's Brian Todd has that part of the story.

Brian, it seems to me that could be a meaningful shift in strategy. What do we know?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, we know that the E.U. has at least drawn up plans to go in on the ground. Now, how strong their force would be and exactly what they would end up doing in Libya is still very unclear.


TODD (voice-over): In Misrata, the shelling is relentless. There are horror stories about conditions, and the humanitarian crisis may only get worse in the days ahead.

Now the European Union has drawn up contingency plans to put forces on the ground in Libya. But an E.U. official tells CNN this would only be to guard humanitarian aid operations. It would only come if the U.N. asks for it, which it hasn't. And it would be purely logistical with no plans for any combat. Is that realistic?

COLONEL ROBERT MAGINNIS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: It's totally unrealistic to expect that if you're going into a combat arena and you're driving a truck, think of Iraq, Afghanistan, driving through Pakistan, all of these U.S. soldiers and even contractors have been fired upon, involved in combat, killed.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Maginnis is an analyst who served in four infantry divisions. He says there are positives to sending E.U. forces into Libya. They could help secure ports and other areas, and give hope to local residents and rebel forces.

But experts say these operations can turn chaotic and bloody very quickly. The British are now planning to send military officers to Benghazi to advise rebel forces and help with humanitarian aid. Robert Maginnis says there's a good chance those British soldiers will be targeted by Moammar Gadhafi's forces. Could there be a perilous repeat of history? Somalia 1993, U.N. forces went in to feed the hungry, but got drawn into a fight between warlords. It ended with "Black Hawk Down," 18 American Rangers killed in the streets of Mogadishu.

(on camera) Boots on the ground for humanitarian assistance, that smacks maybe of Somalia in many people's eyes. Is this what we're looking at in Libya?

LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS (RET.), MILITARY ANALYST: Well, very different tribal situation. The Somalis were well equipped with small arms and the like. The tensions aren't quite the same. You know, the loyalists with Gadhafi, you know, are getting to be brutal at this point. That's not totally out of the question, but I don't think we're quite there yet.


TODD: Maginnis says that doesn't mean it can't get to that point and quickly. If western boots are on the ground and Gadhafi turns this into a battle against what he's already called "crusader forces," it could degenerate very quickly -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Thanks so much, Brian.

As we all know the E.U. has sent ground forces into conflict zones before. And NATO says it's flown more than 770 missions over Libya with more than 1,100 air strikes.

Let's get more on all of this with retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan. He's a former supreme allied commander of NATO.

General, thanks so much for being with us. First of all, given everything we've just heard, what is the status of the mission in Libya right now?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think it's confusion, because there's lack of clarity of exactly what is the intended outcome. And until you get that right, you're going to continue to have these bits and starts with people not understanding exactly what the mission is. And I think this idea of the E.U. getting involved is part of that.

What needs to happen, I think, take a step back and say, "What are we really trying to accomplish." And if that is protecting civilians, there are ways to do this on the ground and in the air that I think could help carry on the U.N. resolution. I don't think it will lead to close air strikes that the rebels want in -- in support of what they're doing.

YELLIN: Do you think -- I mean, clearly the E.U. believes putting troops on the ground is necessary to aid the humanitarian effort. Could ground troops actually help end this thing, finally?

JOULWAN: It depends how many. In Bosnia, we had a no-fly zone for three years. That did not prevent Srebrenica. We then put 60,000 NATO forces on the ground under a U.N. resolution, and that ended it.

I don't see a stomach here to put large ground forces on the ground in Libya.

YELLIN: You don't?


YELLIN: Nothing. OK, so now Misurata is overwhelmed. NATO today said that they don't believe there are signs that Gadhafi's going to go. So what -- what can be done next, if not troops?

JOULWAN: Good question. I think what needs to happen is to go back to the Resolution 1973. All necessary actions to protect civilians.

I think what you need to be able to do is give a clear signal to Gadhafi's forces that any shelling of Misurata or any other safe area, we'll not only attack that artillery that's firing, but the ammo dumps, the fuel and the command and control. If that happens, then I think you'll start hurting Gadhafi's forces.

YELLIN: Do you mean stepped-up air strikes by the U.S. as part of NATO, but by U.S.?

JOULWAN: I say NATO, and that will include or should include U.S. aircraft. But NATO has the wherewithal, if the rules of engagement are right, if the mission is clear, to be able to do that. In Bosnia, we put an exclusion zone around Sarajevo. All heavy weapons out or they were subject to air attack.

YELLIN: We looked at how much this is costing, $600 million so far. Hundreds of people are dying, up to 10,000 now. Is this working? Is it worth it?

JOULWAN: Right now I would say it's not working. And I think what has to happen is there has to be some leadership here, and I think the U.S. has got to provide some leadership of exactly what is the intended outcome that we want on the ground. I don't think it can continue to say regime change.

I think what you have to go back and take the protection of civilians, how do you do that? And I think in doing that, you could put pressure on Gadhafi by retreating those forces that are attacking the safe areas.

YELLIN: All right. And finally, do you think the way this has to end is with an exit, discreet exit, for Gadhafi to go into exile? The military options aren't going to do it in the end?

JOULWAN: Let me be very clear, Jessica. He has the momentum now. You have to take that momentum away from him. There are five ways to take this momentum -- indiscriminate shelling of Misurata is a case in point. That's clearly a violation. How do you punish him for doing that? And I think you attack all those other elements of his power that are providing the ammunition, the fuel, the command and control that are killing people in Misurata.

YELLIN: General Joulwan, thanks for being with us.

JOULWAN: Thank you.

YELLIN: Coming up, new information on the breaking news, the first lady's plane aborted a landing into Andrews Air Force Base. We're going live to the White House next.


YELLIN: Welcome back. CNN's Ed Henry joins us now with more breaking news from the White House on the first lady's aborted landing at Andrews Air Force Base, which happened yesterday.

Ed, tell us what you've just learned.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessie, I've just gotten new information. I got off the phone with Major Michelle Lye (ph), the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, confirming again for us that there was this incident but adding some new layers to it.

First of all, saying that while "The Washington Post," which broke this story, initially suggested Mrs. Obama's plane, which was part of this scare, was in the presidential fleet. I'm told it was actually a C-40. That is from the Air National Guard. And that there was a C-17, a cargo plane, a military cargo plane that got too close.

And the specific detail we have is that Mrs. Obama's plane in the air was only about three miles away -- three miles apart from this C- 17. They're supposed to be five miles apart. That was the first danger sign.

But then secondly, another new piece of information I'm getting from Major Lye (ph) at Andrews Air Force Base is that, as Mrs. Obama's plane was about to approach the runway. There was a concern among FAA officials that her plane might get caught in what's known as jet wash. What that means is the force of the air coming out of the back of the cargo plane, the C-17. That could be a dangerous situation.

I'm told by this official at Andrews that the FAA then sent the first lady's plane for what's known as a go around. This was essentially the aborted landing very briefly. Then once they cleared the runway, then Mrs. Obama's plane landed safely.

Now, obviously this is now being investigated by the FAA, especially in light of all the other incidents we've heard recently. We're told specifically that there appears to have been some sort of error by an air traffic controller somewhere in the process that led to this chain of events.

But I want to stress that this official at Andrews Air Force Base, Major Michelle Lye (ph) just told me, quote, "It's important to know the FAA made the right call, and at no time was the first lady's life in danger."

So obviously a scare, but officials involved in this are stressing that Mrs. Obama's life was not in danger, Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. No real danger. Thanks so much, Ed.

Ed Henry reporting from the White House. And as he said before, it was a smooth flight for the first lady. She and her cabin didn't even know what was happening until it had already occurred.

And now another story, this one out of California, a little unusual. A GOP official in Southern California is facing calls for her resignation, including from some fellow Republicans. It's all because of a picture she e-mailed that portrays President Obama as a chimpanzee.

CNN's Ted Rowlands has more on the controversy that's pitting Republican against Republican. Ted, tell us what's happening now.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, Marilyn Davenport, a 74-year-old Orange County woman, is at the center of this controversy. People want her to resign, and the pressure is building. But she says this is much ado about nothing. She did nothing wrong, and she says she isn't going anywhere.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): Marilyn Davenport didn't create this photo, but she did send it to a private group of associates and wrote, "Now you know why no birth certificate!"

Davenport, a member of the Orange County GOP Central Committee, issued this public apology which says, in part, "I'm sorry if my e- mail offended anyone. I simply found it amusing, regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth. In no way did I even consider the fact he's half black when I sent out the e-mail. In fact the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people tried to make this about race."

SCOTT BAUGH, CHAIRMAN, ORANGE COUNTY GOP CENTRAL COMMITTEE: I continue to believe that Marilyn should resign, notwithstanding her sincere apology.

ROWLANDS: Davenport was a no show at a committee meeting Monday night. The chairman was one of the people who received the e-mail.

BAUGH: The response I gave to her when I opened the e-mail, I replied to her and I said, "Marilyn, this e-mail drips with racism." Or I said, "It's dripping with racism and is in poor taste and should never be sent again."

ROWLANDS: Davenport isn't the first Orange County Republican to face criticism for sending an e-mail. A local mayor was in hot water two years ago for this e-mail of a White House watermelon patch. Davenport at the time defended the mayor, and in her apology, she argues there's a double standard against Republicans, saying, "We all know a double standard applies regarding this president. I received plenty of e-mails about George Bush that I didn't particularly like, yet there was no cry in the media about them." (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: Our efforts to interview Mrs. Davenport were unsuccessful. At this point the pressure is building, Jessica, but there's no indication that she's going to give up her post in the Republican Party in the Orange County -- in Orange County.

YELLIN: Wow. What a story. Judgment, anyone? All right. Thanks, Ted. Ted Rowlands from Southern California.

And coming up, protecting troops from the bottom up, so to speak, with bulletproof underwear. Yes, the Pentagon is on a very serious mission to get some.

Plus, the lawsuit over Taco Bell's meat has dropped, but no one can agree on why.


YELLIN: British troops have it, and the Pentagon wants it for U.S. forces, too: under garments made of material that can stop bullets and shrapnel and possibly save lives. CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has all the details.

Chris, hey, what do you know about this?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jess. You know, on the surface of it, you hear it and you think protecting privates. A lot of people chuckled when they heard it. But really, this is a serious problem that a lot of U.S. troops are facing. And it's one that's only been getting worse.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ballistic designer underwear.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): You say the words anti-ballistic boxers or bulletproof briefs and people laugh. But look what it does to this bullet. I'll slow it down. A bullet being repelled, in part by new strengthened silk underwear.

British troops in Afghanistan are already wearing it. The Marine Corps put in an urgent request for protective undergarments. The Army is looking at several versions to protect American soldiers, from Kevlar cups to something shaped sort of like a diaper.

COL. BILL COLE, U.S. ARMY: They all basically work to slow down fragments. We're looking to prevent penetration of the -- of the genitals, of the lower abdomen. And all of these work to that effect.

LAWRENCE: You hear the boom when an IED goes off. What you don't see is all the sand, grit, debris that gets sucked into the explosion and shot like a rocket right up at the Marine who stepped on it or any soldiers nearby.

Since there are now more foot patrols in Afghanistan, that debris has been tearing into the groin and inner legs of American troops.

COL. TODD DOMBROSKI, U.S. ARMY DOCTOR: The severity is up, and with that, something we don't talk about as much, for several reasons, is, you know, the dangers to the groin. And they are up, as well.

LAWRENCE: U.S. military officials already feel confident about the silk shorts, because those have been used by the Brits in combat. Various companies have been testing their own versions. But the Army will need to run its own before committing millions of dollars to mass production.

COLE: But I scrambled to get as much ballistic testing done as I can. And to have soldiers, both male and female now, wearing different products and different feedback.


LAWRENCE: A lot of options out there, some of it bulletproof, some not. The version that the U.S. military is looking at also contains some anti-bacterial treatment, which prevents wounds from getting infected.

The Army is going to ship a small number over to Afghanistan in May. The Marines hope to have some of their men and women wearing it by the end of this year -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Fascinating. We should get the very best for our troops. Thanks, Chris, for that.

Should states require drug tests in exchange for public assistance? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

Plus, a surprising ending to the legal beef over what Taco Bell puts in its tacos.


YELLIN: Time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty.

Hey, Jack, what did the e-mails say?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "Should states require drug tests in exchange for public assistance?"

Paul in Ohio writes, "Absolutely. If folks aren't willing to prove that they're helping themselves, why should the taxpayer help them afford a drug habit? If these folks want privacy, they should do it without getting public assistance."

Lane in Illinois writes, "I think Tommy Thompson, the past governor of Wisconsin, did this, as well as requiring that a recipient perform a certain amount of hours of public service. And from what I remember, it worked pretty well. It actually reduced the number of people on welfare significantly."

E.J. writes, "Completely unreasonable, given the unreliability of drug tests. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs show up as a false positive for illegal drugs. Imagine how you'd feel to be taking a prescribed medication and then be forced to go into rehab or be barred from benefits because of a false positive."

Devon in Texas writes, "I'm required to get a drug test in order to get and hold my job for which I receive pay. If you wish to receive your pay from the government, you should have to submit to drug testing, as well. Get off the drug-induced stupor and take care of business, whether kids, school, et cetera. The cost of the testing would be paid by the funds that are not distributed."

Pat writes, "Absolutely. If the state is going to provide assistance, the person getting it should not be using the money to buy drugs or providing money to someone else in the family to buy drugs."

J.D. writes, "I don't want my tax money to be spent on drugs either, but, Jack, how much money will be spent on the tests, the legal action and administration of these laws?"

And Lauren in Illinois writes this. "This is a terrible question, because it says so much about us as people. But the hard fact here is that people on public assistance are there for a reason, and substance abuse is frequently a cause. There's a public compact here, and we have to decide whether this type of asocial behavior should be a bar to receiving the support of our community."

You want to read more on the subject, you can go to my blog,

Joining us now is Jeanne Meserve, who has a little more information on the breaking news about Mrs. Obama's plane and the aborted landing on Monday. Jeanne, tell us, what do you have?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, Mike Ollers (ph), our producer, has been talking with a government official who told him that, when the Potomac Regional Air Traffic Control Center handed off control of the plane that Mrs. Obama was on to the Andrews Air Force Base tower, both facilities were aware that these planes were only three miles apart instead of the five miles that's required.

And we're also told that the official -- by this official that the trecon (ph), the regional facility could have slowed down Mrs. Obama's jet. They could have ordered it to turn earlier to avoid the loss of separation, and the reason why they didn't is under investigation, according to the government official.

It was a controlled situation, however. There wasn't danger.

The official also quibbles with the use of the word "aborted" when some people have said the landing was aborted. This official says that the Andrews tower ordered Mrs. Obama's plane to do a go- around. It was not a request from a pilot. If it was a pilot request, that is when you might use the term "aborted landing."

Jessica, back to you. YELLIN: All right. That's a good clarification. So the first lady did another go-around on her flight, and the big message to underscore is she is fine today. There is no harm done to the first lady.

MESERVE: That's correct, but they still want to know how and why this happened.

YELLIN: All right. Thanks so much, Jeanne. Jeanne Meserve bringing us the very latest details.

And coming up, it was the lawsuit that had all of America asking Taco Bell, "Where's the beef?" Now the Bell is off the hook.

And on the day before the first anniversary of the BP oil spill, one of the men who led the response tells CNN why it could happen again.


YELLIN: A lawsuit against Taco Bell about its beef is over, but as Jeanne Moos tells us, both sides are still fighting over who won.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the battle of the beef. In one corner, Taco Bell.


MOOS: In the other, a class-action lawsuit saying their beef isn't really beef.


GREG CREED, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, TACO BELL: I think it's a victory, Jeanne. It's a victory for the truth. It's a victory for our customers, and it's a victory for Taco Bell.


MOOS: The lawsuit has been resolved, the case dismissed. Maybe the superhero Taco Bell calls...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Commander Seasoned Beef.

MOOS: ... had a point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ain't going to get away with this.

MOOS: The lawsuit claimed that the meat filling used by Taco Bell was less than 35 percent beef. Taco Bell retaliated with ads saying "Thank you for suing us" and claiming...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our seasoned beef is 88 percent premium ground beef. MOOS: The other 12 percent?

CREED: Think of it when you're making chili. You add your own recipe of seasoning and spices.

MOOS: But what caused the lawsuit to be dropped like a hot burrito? The Alabama law firm says, "As a result of the lawsuit, changes in marketing and product disclosure were made by the company, allowing us to dismiss the case." To which Taco Bell's president says...

CREED: Jeanne, that's completely misleading, completely incorrect and completely wrong. I can absolutely reassure you, no change to the ingredients, no change to the products, no change to the advertising, no money exchanged.

MOOS: We did notice that Taco Bell seems to have beefed up its description of ingredients on its Web site.

(on camera) Apart from their written statement, the law firm that filed the class action suit clammed up...

(voice-over) ... saying the main attorney on the case was out of town and unavailable for interviews.

When the lawsuit was announced, Taco Bell was the butt of jokes from comedians like Conan O'Brien. Instead of "Think outside the bun," he suggested Taco Bell's new slogan should be "Think outside the cow."


MOOS: Taco Bell says that, down the road, it may still sue those who sued them.

CREED: I'm definitely sure we can sue them for, obviously, all the damage that they've caused to our brand.

MOOS: Taco Bell is sure acting like Commander Seasoned Beef kicked some bun.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


YELLIN: She is getting to the meat of the matter. That does it for me. I'm Jessica Yellin in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts now.