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Iran Could Have Nuclear Bomb in A Year; U.S. Embassy Shelters Americans in Egypt; Florida Primary Just Hours Away; John McCain Interview; Anti-Obama Message In Catholic Churches

Aired January 30, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, a new level of fear in Egypt, not just for protesters, but for United States citizens. This hour, a rare and disturbing move -- Americans taking shelter at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Also, blistering new criticism of President Obama in an unlikely place -- Sunday mass. Many American Catholics got an earful this weekend about a new policy that's being called an assault on religious freedom.

And a highway of death in Florida. Survivors share horrendous details about a series of crashes in a haze of smoke and pure chaos.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


All that coming up. But we begin with a startling new assessment of Iran's nuclear program. The Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, now saying Tehran could build a nuclear weapon within a year if it wants to. He says the United States will do whatever it takes to try to make sure that does not happen.

Iran has repeatedly denied it's developing a nuclear bomb, but the U.S. military seems to be preparing for the worst case scenario.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some of the Pentagon's weapons have been in development for years and don't just concern Iran. But you're right, there is an added urgency now, including going back and asking Congress for more money to make sure the U.S. military has the best possible contingency options if it has to use them. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): As tensions with Iran continue to rise, the U.S. military is expanding its capabilities in the Gulf. And on "60 Minutes" Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated the U.S. will stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: That's a red line for us. And it's a red line, obviously, for the Israelis.

LAWRENCE: The Pentagon is trying to rapidly fix problems with its so-called "bunker buster bomb," to improve its capability to smash through hardened fortifications. Iran has been burying more of its nuclear facilities underground.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: But one thing is clear, if they can bury deep into a mountain, you can always attack the entrance. But it is much, much harder to attack the facility inside it.

LAWRENCE: The U.S. is converting an aging warship into a floating base for special operations forces and small, quick reaction boats.

CORDESMAN: So we're building up a mother ship, in part, because we need to deal with low level asymmetric threats in the Gulf, things like mine warfare, the possibility that they might use their naval Revolutionary Guards to attack offshore targets or to attack critical targets like desalination plants on the coast.

LAWRENCE: Both moves are part of a larger expansion of U.S. capability in the region.

CORDESMAN: We have announced that we're putting missile defense ships into the Mediterranean. Those ships could move to the coast of Israel and provide a much stronger missile defense net against the most probable target of Iran's missiles. We know that we are also building up things like our electronic warfare capability.


LAWRENCE: Now U.S. intelligence officials say they do not believe that Iran has made that decision to go for the bomb yet. But the most devastating sanctions ever imposed on Iran by the U.S. and Europe don't take full effect for another three or four months and no one knows what Iran will do once those sanctions really start to hit home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thank you.

The United States is due to give Egypt well over a billion dollars in military assistance this year. And the U.S. -- and this is what the U.S. gets.

Listen to this right now. Several American citizens apparently felt so threatened by the Egyptian government that they took refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

This is an extraordinary move in response to Egypt's crackdown on groups that support democracy building in the country.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has been doing reporting on this crackdown on what's going on -- Jill, what do you know?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the showdown with Egypt is going from bad to worse. And, ironically, it's happening with the country the United States considers its friend.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A handful of staff from an American democracy support group working in Egypt under investigation by Egyptian authorities have now taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Among them, Sam LaHood, son of Transportation secretary, Ray LaHood. Egyptian director for the International Republican Institute. He and other American staff working for similar groups are banned from leaving the country after Egyptian security forces raided their offices.

In a telephone interview with CNN last Thursday, before going to the embassy, Sam LaHood, said he felt safe, but was concerned.

SAM LAHOOD, INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN INSTITUTE: Well, our attorneys believed that the, you know, the fact that the judge took this additional step of preventing us from traveling is, you know, indicates a more serious -- you know, it's a more serious step along in his investigation.

DOUGHERTY: The State Department calls it a unique situation and says the Americans were invited by the embassy.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: But we do not feel that they are in physical danger at the moment. That is a different matter than whether they are being persecuted in the Egyptian judicial system.

DOUGHERTY: A source familiar with democracy groups in Egypt tells CNN the decision for the Americans to go to the embassy was made because there was concern that arrest and trial could be imminent. That makes for a tricky situation for the State Department. The Department's own foreign affairs manual states refuge can only be sought out of concern for safety, not if it is "apparently intended to prevent or avoid the execution of the laws of a host country."

Is this special treatment for the son of a cabinet secretary?

A former ambassador to Egypt doesn't think so. He says it's a way for the embassy to give themselves some wiggle room in the midst of a tense diplomatic stand-off.

DANIEL KURTZER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT: You know, nobody is claiming that these folks will face mortal danger if they leave the embassy and they're there by invitation. So I think it's a -- a clever act by the embassy in order to remove the immediate precipitants to a situation that may get worse while hopefully quiet discussions resolve it.


DOUGHERTY: And all of this is happening just as an Egyptian military delegation is here in Washington, DC. They're meeting with the Pentagon, with the State Department and also will be on Capitol Hill. And their purpose is to give an update on Egypt's transition to democracy. But they're likely to run into a buzz saw over this issue of how they're dealing with these democracy control groups -- support groups -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

And later this hour, we're going to speak to Senator John McCain. He's furious at the Egyptian government for what they're doing to these Americans, trying to promote democracy in Egypt. That interview coming up.

Let's get to the red hot Republican presidential race right now. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are going for the jugular only hours before the polls open in Florida.

Just when you thought the primary season couldn't get a whole lot wilder or uglier, it does.

CNN's Jim Acosta is covering the battle in Florida for us.

He's joining us now -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is getting ugly. But if the polls are right, Mitt Romney may be cruising to a big victory down here in Florida, with a scorched earth strategy that appears to be paying off.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll tell you, with with a turnout like this, I'm beginning to feel we might win tomorrow.

What do you think?


ACOSTA (voice-over): The Florida primary has gotten primal. On the day before the votes are counted, Mitt Romney branded Newt Gingrich a loser after the former speaker vowed to fight all the way to the convention.

ROMNEY: That's usually the case when you think you're going to lose, when you say I'm going to go on no matter what happens. That's usually not a good sign.

ACOSTA: Not to be outdone, Gingrich now routinely portrays Romney as a liar.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we need to run a big truth campaign that beats the big lie campaign.

ACOSTA: Even the surrogates are getting into the act. First it was a Romney supporter, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, going to Gingrich events, getting into the confrontations with the former speaker's press secretary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are following him instead of Romney?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: no. I'm just going to offer a little perspective.

ACOSTA: Then Rick Tyler, with the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, said two can play at that game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was trying to Tweet out the event and I couldn't keep up with the lies. I mean, Mitt Romney seems to have a congenital defect. He can't distinguish the truth from a lie.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Newt Gingrich came to power, after all, preaching a higher standard in American politics.


ACOSTA: Both sides are hitting each other with YouTube. Romney's new ad features NBC's Tom Brokaw reporting on the former speaker's ethics charges in the '90s. Gingrich is pointing to a Reuters interview with the liberal billionaire, George Soros, and his take on Romney. "If it's between Obama and Romney," Soros told Reuters, "there isn't all that much difference."

GINGRICH: Here you have the -- the leading left-wing billionaire in the world saying to the Europeans, look, Romney and Obama are the same people.

ACOSTA: The latest polls, like this one from Quinnipiac, show Romney out to a commanding lead in this winner take all primary, which may explain why Gingrich is back to one of his best tricks -- bashing the media.

GINGRICH: As your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators because you don't need to have a second Obama person on the debate.


ACOSTA: The more disciplined Romney campaign was feeling lucid, allowing their candidate to toss bags of chips at the reporters he normally keeps at more than arm's length.

ROMNEY: Time will tell. And (INAUDIBLE).


ACOSTA: Now, no matter what happens here in Florida, a Romney adviser says the former Massachusetts governor is not putting his campaign on cruise control, noting that you never know what can happen next, Wolf. And if the past is prologue, that's probably a safe bet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, a good report.

Thank you.

And Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, took a swipe against John McCain today, as well. Up next, Senator McCain's interview here in THE SITUATION ROOM he'll respond. We'll also talk about an international incident that has him really fired up and very angry.

Plus, the Catholic Church versus Barack Obama -- the very strong language parishioners heard against the president yesterday.

And a scene described as pure chaos -- 10 people dead after a massive pile-up on a smoky highway.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could hear tires screeching, another crash occurring, people yelling out for help, but you can't find them and don't know where they're at. It's so dark and so smoky that you're having difficulty even locating where the next crash is.



BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, as the Florida primary comes down to the wire, Newt Gingrich finds himself trailing badly in the polls, but getting support from two high profile Republicans. The question is whether it's going to do him any good.

Former presidential candidate, businessman, Herman Cain, endorsed Gingrich over the weekend. He called Gingrich a patriot who's not afraid of bold ideas. Cain, who pulled of a surprising win in the Florida straw poll last summer, remains popular among grassroots conservatives, but he was forced out of race in the December amid allegations of sexual harassment and marital infidelity.

Then, there's Sarah Palin, while she hasn't formally endorsed anyone, it sure seems like the former governor of Alaska is rooting for the Newter. Palin's calling on Republicans to vote for Newt to shake up the establishment, quote, "If for no other reason to rage against the machine, vote for Newt, annoy a liberal," unquote. Palin has described the establishment Republicans backing Romney as cannibals. A lot of class (ph) there. While Palin said she respects Mitt Romney, she says there are serious concerns about his record as a conservative. Palin says this primary should not be rushed to an end adding, quote, "We need to vet this." I wonder if she means the way Sarah Palin was vetted for the vice presidency four years ago. Maybe not.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich may need all the help he can get in Florida. Four polls in the row there show Romney is opened a double- digit lead over Gingrich. The latest one shows Romney up by 14 points.

So, here's the question, how much will Sarah Palin and Herman Cain's endorsements help Newt Gingrich? Go to and post comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Senator John McCain has been actively campaigning for Mitt Romney. That's making him a target of Romney's main rival, Newt Gingrich. Of course, Senator McCain has been down this road before as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Senator McCain is joining us now in the SITUATION ROOM.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. It probably won't surprise you to hear that Newt Gingrich is now going directly after you as well. Listen to this.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every time we nominate a moderate, we lose. You know? So, 1996, we nominated a moderate, Bill Clinton wins the election by a big margin. 2008, we nominate a moderate, Barack Obama wins.


BLITZER: Talking about Bob Dole in 1996. You four years ago. What do you say about that?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I can only say that, again, his campaign seems to be getting a little desperate. I'm not the opponent, I Think, Mitt Romney is. But, seriously, I do resend a bit comments like that about Bob Dole, a man who left part of his body in the killing fields of Italy in World War II, and by anyone's account who served with him one of the best Republican leaders in the Senate we've ever had.

But, look, my differences with Speaker Gingrich go back to the pork barrel earmark days when they got the majority, Speaker Gingrich put out a memo, get earmarks for freshmen so they can get re-elected, K Street Project, incestuous relationship with the lobbyist, and the earmarks exploded. I fought against them. I said there were corruption. Members of Congress ended up in federal prison, and it's still one of the more disgraceful chapters of our history at that period.

BLITZER: He's really, I talk about Newt Gingrich, stepping up the rhetoric against Mitt Romney, today and yesterday, not just calling him a Massachusetts moderate. He's now a Massachusetts liberal. Listen to this. I'll play this clip.


GINGRICH: The conservatives are going to come together and decide they do not want a Massachusetts liberal to be the Republican nominee. We have a tremendous evident effort under way to reach out to conservatives to get them to see that the only effective vote to stop a Massachusetts liberal from becoming our nominee is to vote for Newt Gingrich.


BLITZER: And today, he went one step further. Listen.


GINGRICH: I don't believe the Republican Party is going to nominate a liberal who is pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, pro-gay rights.


BLITZER: He knows you support Romney, but this is getting pretty personal and pretty heated.

MCCAIN: Tomorrow, he'll be a communist.


MCCAIN: It's too bad. It's too bad, because that kind of rhetoric harms our eventual chances in challenging President Obama. It's driving up the disapproval ratings, and that's why, I think, the debate should come to an end. In all due respect to your line of work, I think the debates should come to an end and let's get down to the regular campaigning.

Obviously, Mitt Romney is going to win tomorrow, and hopefully, that will put him on the road to getting this thing over with so we can -- the real fight can begin.

BLITZER: Well, you think if he wins tomorrow decisively in Florida, it's over?

MCCAIN: No, but I think he's certainly well on the way. You know, I don't think -- I think some of these candidates may hang around for a long, long time, but you know how big and important Florida is. BLITZER: Florida, Florida, Florida, as my old friend, my fellow Buffalonian, Tim Russert, used to say. It's obviously very, very important in a presidential election year. Let me get to some foreign policy issues, because I don't know about you. I suspect you're as outrage as so many Americans are, first of all, about what's going on in Egypt right now.

They're forcing, in effect, American citizens who are trying to promote democracy in Egypt to go hide out in the U.S. embassy in Cairo because the Egyptian military is cracking down on these folks, including the son of Ray Lahood, the former congressman, now the transportation secretary. You're in charge of this Republican institute designed to promote democracy in other countries. What do you say about this?

MCCAIN: I say what I said in a letter to the leaders, Egyptian leaders and Mr. Tantawi that this can affect our whole relationship, particularly, our military aid. It's terribly disappointing. These organizations have been in many, many countries many times. They don't sway anybody's public opinion. They help them with the fundamentals of democracy.

It was a Reagan idea, by the way. And I'm proud of the work that NDI and the International Republican Institute have done under the national endowment for democracy. We've done great work and why they're doing this, I don't know. And by the way, Sam Lahood was doing a great job over there.

BLITZER: Because the United States, as you know, provides Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid a year. The U.S. is providing Pakistan with billions of dollars in assistance as well, but other Pakistanis say they're going to go ahead and actually try this physician who is helping the CIA locate Bin Laden in Pakistan, trying for treason. He could get the death sentence as a result of that. What do you say about that?

MCCAIN: I say that there is enormous political turmoil in Pakistan, and we have to base our relations on them with the full and certain knowledge that the ISI is assisting the Haqqani network who are killing young Americans. And, we have to approach our relationship from a much more practical side.

And by the way, we should be calling for the overthrow of Assad. America should be saying, it's time to end his brutality as well.

BLITZER: When you say United States should be calling for Bashar al-Assad to go, hasn't the Obama administration done that?

MCCAIN: Not as vociferously as I would like for them to, and we should be broadcasting and announcing -- I'd love to see the president give a major speech about, not just the Arab spring, but especially this situation. You know, these people in these countries that are struggling for freedom, they look to America. I'd love to see the president much more vocally involved.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks for coming in. MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Many Catholic Americans got more than a sermon in church yesterday. They heard a very strong condemnation about President Obama accusing him of declaring war on religion. We'll tell you what's going on.

And investigators have been hunting for millions of dollars missing from bankrupt MF Global. Now, they fear the money may be lost forever.


BLITZER: President Obama certainly is used to harsh political attacks but not necessarily like this one. Inside a number of catholic churches yesterday across the country, a letter was read accusing the president of an assault on religious freedom. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. Dan, what's going on here?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is all about the healthcare law that requires employers to provide a contraceptive no-cost coverage for employees. And this also would require universities, catholic universities or also catholic hospitals as well. And for those that are currently not doing that because of their religious beliefs, they have a year to comply.

Now, because of that, what we saw this weekend priests, across the country, were outrage, some of them in protest, began reading a letter, and this is what you're looking at here is a church in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In this letter, they were condemning actions by the Obama administration. I should point out that there are some exceptions including churches, but these priests don't believe that this is broad enough and, in fact, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went after the Obama administration in a video on its website.


CARDINAL-DESIGNATE TIMOTHY DOLAN, PRESIDENT, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: That's a foul ball by any standard. Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn't happen in the land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the bill of rights.


LOTHIAN: Now, this controversy also popped up on the campaign trail today in Jacksonville, Florida. We heard from Newt Gingrich who accused the Obama administration of being or being engaged in what he called, quote, "a war against religion."


GINGRICH: Their decision last week that they would impose on every catholic institution, every Jewish institution, every protestant institution, the Obamacare standard of what you have to buy as insurance is a direct violation of freedom of religion and an example of the increasingly dictatorial attitude of this administration.


LOTHIAN: To be clear, there are religious organizations that are applauding this decision. In fact, there's an interfaith group of more than a dozen faiths that believe this is the right thing to do and Health & Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, said in a quote, "I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventative services."

She says that before this decision was made, that they carefully looked at a lot of different considerations but, Wolf, clearly, there are a lot of people out there who don't agree with it.

BLITZER: Were there concerns, Dan, about the political implications of this in an election year?

LOTHIAN: Wolf, you know, that is such a good question, because, as you know, Catholics made up about 54 percent of the vote for President Obama in 2008. They are swing voters. But an administration official telling me that that was not a consideration. That what they were focused on was the balance that Secretary Sebelius was talking about.

But what is unclear at this point is, will this outrage grow among the larger Catholic body beyond just a few priests that were protesting with this letter this Sunday, Wolf?

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thanks very much.

Win or lose in Florida tomorrow, Newt Gingrich says he's going to keep on fighting for the Republican nomination all the way to the convention in Tampa late in the summer. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger is here. He says he's in it for the long haul. What does he mean?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Trench warfare. Delegate by delegate. I was speaking with somebody in his campaign today and they believe that when you get to Super Tuesday there are a lot of states that would be advantageous to them, states like Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma.

And as you know, Wolf, these are not winner-take-all. These are states that are now the delegates are distributed proportionally so they believe that even if they don't win, they could go to the convention with a substantial number of delegates.

Think about this. What if Ron Paul had a substantial number of delegates and Newt Gingrich had a substantial number of delegates, and they got together, that could spell some trouble for Mitt Romney. Again, that's their pie in the sky.

BLITZER: Yes, and let's not forget, Rick Santorum said he's in it for the long haul as well.

BORGER: Of course. Of course. That, too.

BLITZER: So what does all of this do to Romney?

BORGER: Well, it's certainly not great news for Romney because Gingrich will continue to go on the campaign trail and he's no longer the Massachusetts moderate. He's now the Massachusetts liberal. This doesn't help you with conservatives. And in talking to somebody in the Romney campaign, the big question is, I think, is can conservatives have enthusiasm for Mitt Romney?

They're enthusiastic about beating Barack Obama. Will that enthusiasm get them to the polls if Mitt Romney is the nominee? Because you know they have been very lukewarm on Mitt Romney. South Carolina, you saw. So I think that could continue to dog him.

BLITZER: Here's a poll that came out, Marist/NBC News poll. The question was asked, if the election were held today who would you vote for, Obama, 49 percent, Romney, 41 percent. The issue of electability for so many Republicans is very important.

BORGER: Right. And that is, of course, in Florida. And if you look at that number in Florida, what does that tell you? Well, it tells you that Romney may be coalescing some conservatives, he's only trailing Obama by single digits. But it also tells you that the economy has really taken its toll on Barack Obama, and that that is going to continue to be a real battleground state on the issue of the economy, on the issue of housing.

One other thing to keep in mind about Mitt Romney if he becomes the nominee and goes into the general election. This question of what do independent voters do? And over the last two months, Mitt Romney's unfavorable ratings with independent voters have gone up 20 points. So that's not good news when you want to win a general election.

BLITZER: What goes up, though, can still come down.

BORGER: Can certainly -- absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks, Gloria. Thanks very much.

To Wall Street now where confusion is turning to outrage amid disturbing new revelations about the more than $1 billion missing after the fall of a major corporation once run by the former New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine.

Let's bring in our own Mary Snow. She's in New York with the details -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, officials trying to find out what happened to more than $1 billion of missing customer money from MF Global aren't any closer to getting answers. And there's doubt whether they ever will recover the lost money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): Three months after the collapse of MF Global, the firm run by former New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine, the "Wall Street Journal" reports $1.2 billion missing may never be recovered.

To say David Rosen is outraged is an understatement. He is still missing $50,000 from an account he had with MF Global.

(On camera): Does any of this make sense to you?

DAVID ROSEN, MISSING MONEY: No. It doesn't make any sense at all. Every transaction, every sophisticated entity, at every entity, at every banking entity is electronic these days.

SNOW: How angry are you?

ROSEN: I'm furious.

SNOW (voice-over): Of MF Global's customer money, the trustee in charged of liquidating the company says it's returned 72 percent. Of the rest that's missing a spokesman told CNN, "We understand the frustrations of everybody. Where is the money? Why don't we know the answer to the mystery? This is what happens when a broker/dealer hits the wall. It is chaotic. It is messy. It is complex. And it takes time to straighten it out."

THOMAS AJAMI, AJAMI LLP: When you talk about figures like $1 billion this is mind boggling.

SNOW: Mind boggling perhaps, but Attorney Tom Ajami says he is not surprised. He worked to recover funds following the collapse of Enron and WorldCom.

AJAMI: We just don't have a very effective regulatory system today. We have people who would like to be effective regulators but they're gutted by politicians and certain business groups. They're not funded sufficiently.

SNOW: Following MF Global's collapse in October, investigators have been trying to determine if customer funds were used for other purposes. That's illegal. Former MF Global CEO Jon Corzine testified on Capitol Hill that he did not have any knowledge of any such transfers. Another question before lawmakers is who knew what leading up to MF Global's collapse.

Standard & Poor's says that just days before MF Global declared bankruptcy, it was told by the company's chief financial officer that MF Global's capital and liquidity has never been stronger and MF Global is in the strongest position ever as a public entity.


SNOW: Now a week after that assessment was made about MF Global's capital and liquidity, MF Global collapsed. And just what led up to that and what role rating agencies played will be examined on Capitol Hill this Thursday when a House subcommittee continues its investigations -- Wolf. BLITZER: A billion dollars simply missing or as the "Wall Street Journal" said, vaporized, if you will. Gone. Gone. Gone.

SNOW: It's mindboggling.

BLITZER: Thanks -- yes. Thanks very much.

A missing murderer found just weeks after a controversial pardon freed him from prison. Up next, you're going to find out what happens to him now.

Plus, horror, literally, striking from every direction ahead. The chilling new account from inside that deadly Interstate pile-up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What just happened? I'm at an accident.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What has happened? Tell me what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another accident, another accident going northbound.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Oh, my goodness. That was a truck.



BLITZER: One of the convicted murderers released from prison in that controversial string of Mississippi pardons has now been found.

Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on.


Mississippi's attorney general announced today the man was found at a Wyoming hotel where he was served with papers indicating that it will be up to the court to decide what happens from here.

The last minute pardons granted by Governor Haley Barbour before leaving office this month ignited a national firestorm. The attorney general is charging they don't meet the state's constitution's requirement.

And President Obama is hanging out on Google this hour, literally. You are looking at live pictures. You can see the president there -- the president there, rather. He is participating in a chatroom of sorts on Google Plus. It's a feature allowing users to communicate through video connections.

The president is actually taking some questions from some of the viewers there. It's actually a White House effort using social media to try to connect with supporters. The president has also held town hall meetings on Twitter and on Facebook.

And the famous Kennedy family home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, has a new owner. The historic property was gifted to the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate at request of the late Senator Kennedy and his widow, Victoria. It fulfills a longtime promise he made to his mother, Rose, that the home be preserved for charitable use. Senator Kennedy died in 2009 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to monitor to see what the president is saying and bring you highlights if they are justified.

Thanks very much.

A panic and desperation inside a horrific interstate pile-up that cost 10 people their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god, what is going on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. We are getting help out there, OK?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many vehicles have been involved that you've seen so far?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cannot see, ma'am. We cannot see.



BLITZER: We're getting a chilling new glimpse inside this horrific deadly pile-up that crippled a major Florida interstate. The State Highway Patrol just releasing what appears to be the first 911 call coming in as disaster was striking from almost every direction.

Let's bring in CNN's Martin Savidge. He's got the latest on the investigation that's now under way. Really horrific stuff.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is truly horrific stuff. There's no question about it, Wolf. And really what is shocking here is the combination of factors that came into play. One you had heavy smoke. You had dense fog. They descend on a busy highway, you get disaster.

But then there are other questions. Exactly how did the fire start is first and foremost in investigators' minds. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The still smoldering skeletons of semi- trucks and mangled cars hinted at the nightmare that haunted the one mile stretch of Interstate 75 and nearby U.S. 441 south of Gainesville. It began late Saturday night when a sudden mixture of smoke and fog covered the road.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't see. We cannot see. It's like impossible to see. The haze is -- the smoke is like very thick. You can probably see only your hand in front. I do hear an ambulance or police officer coming down the road.

SAVIDGE: The desperate and panicked voices on this 911 call paint a picture of a disaster as it unfolded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another accident.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What just happened, tell me what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another accident. Another accident going northbound.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Oh, my goodness. That was a truck.

SAVIDGE: What followed was a series of accidents as at least a dozen passenger cars and seven semi-trucks plowed into one another in the blind confusion that engulfed the north and southbound lanes. The agony went on for hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here comes another one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my gosh, he's coming too fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's coming too fast. Here comes another one. Oh, yes, see? There he goes. Oh (EXPLETIVE DELETED), that one is a bad one.

SAVIDGE: Sergeant Todd Kelly was one of the first emergency responders to arrive.

SGT. TODD KELLY, ALACHUA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: You hear tires screeching, another crash occurring, people yelling out for help but you can't find them. Don't know where they're at. It's so dark and so smoky that you're having difficulty even locating where the next crash is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hearing people crying on the other side, that is northbound.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please slow down. Please slow down. Please slow down.

SAVIDGE: Only daylight would reveal the scope of the tragedy. For much of Sunday traffic had to be diverted around the scene as authorities worked to recover the dead and try to decipher how the first wreck occurred.

The highways have been closed for a time before the crashes due to low visibility. But then were re-opened. Now in the aftermath, many wonder why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were aware that we had some bad conditions there. We were monitoring it but we don't have a crystal ball. You know, as far as what we could have done, we took a proactive stance and you know we're always opened to taking and doing things better.


SAVIDGE: And, Wolf, authorities say that they are still facing potential conditions like that again tonight. They may have to close the highways, they'll have to wait and see.

As to that brushfire, they say they're not really sure how it started because, first and foremost, there was no controlled burn going on at the time. They hadn't had any lightning storms. So it could have been a cigarette or it could have been somebody setting the fire on purpose. They just don't know but they are investigating.

BLITZER: Yes. It's going to be a major investigation.


BLITZER: Martin, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is asking, how much will Sarah Palin and Herman Cain help Newt Gingrich?

And what's it worth to you to drive around in President Obama's old car? You can put in your bid right now, if, if you have a million dollars.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour is how much will Sarah Palin and Herman Cain help Newt Gingrich?

June says, "Let's see. You have a failed vice presidential candidate and a man who left the presidential race after he was accused of sexual harassment and having an affair. Supporting a man who was having affair with his second wife while married to his first wife, and then having an affair with his third wife while still married to his second wife. Can we say birds of a feather?"

Joy in Texas writes, "The endorsement may help him with the extreme right-wing base. But most Republicans, if they have any brains, know that Gingrich is like a stick of dynamite and could blow at any time. I think Palin and Cain are pretty inconsequential now."

Jimmy writes, "The Cain-Palin endorsements will help Newt Gingrich get louder applause from the same group that applauds him now. The debates, ideas like putting poor children to work and colonizing the moon are not helping, Mr. Gingrich. Newt should abandon the futuristic ideas and start proposing some down to earth ideas. How about putting average Americans back to work?"

Steve writes, "Zip, zilch, nada, the kind of voter who is attracted by Sarah Palin and Herman Cain is already in Newt's camp. They like bombastic, over-the-top attack dog rhetoric and Newt is the master of it."

Marcy in Florida writes, "I don't think they'll be of any help. These two need help themselves."

And David in Virginia says, "I really think that if they endorse Newt Gingrich, they should get a thank you note from Mitt Romney. Herman Cain lost his political mojo in South Carolina with the Colbert endorsement antics and Sarah Palin more from hockey mom from hell to TV pundit. And you know where TV pundits sit in the value chain, don't you, Jack?"

If you want to read more -- yes, I do. If you want to read more about this, go to my blog, Or through our a post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Thanks very much.

Stick around, I want you to see the next report.. They look like an ordinary car but it once belonged to the president of the United States. We're talking about President Obama. The asking price goes up, way up to $1 million. Jeanne Moos coming up next.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Spain, archaeologists uncovered a mass grave from the Spanish civil war. In Bangladesh, supporters of an opposition movement march during a protest. In Istanbul, people stroll the streets during a heavy snow fall. And in Moscow, look at this, pigeons fly past the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the tallest orthodox church in the world.

"Hot Shots." Pictures coming in from around the world.

It may look like an ordinary car but with special ties to the president of the United States, at least one person thinks it's worth a whole lot more.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ever wonder what happens to your old car after you get rid of it? Well, when it's President Obama's old car, this guy is trying to sell it on eBay.

(On camera): And you're asking a million bucks.

TIM O'BOIL, RESTAURANT MANAGER: A million bucks. That's a lot of money, isn't it.

MOOS (voice-over): Especially for a 2005 model that would normally sell for under $20,000. It's a top-of-the-line Chrysler 300 C with a powerful V8 engine.

O'BOIL: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically what it is it's like a luxury hot rod.

MOOS: The eBay posting includes the registration for the vehicle. Then Senator Obama leased the gas guzzler, but when he ran for president dumped it for an environmentally correct Ford Escape hybrid.

Restaurant manager Tim O'Boil bought the Chrysler at a Chicago area showroom.

O'BOIL: On the way out, somebody said hey, you've better hang on to that car. I said why's that, he said well, it used to belonging to Mr. Obama. I said yes, right. The guy said no, I'm serious.

MOOS (on camera): For Tim, this is what really brought home the Obama connection, fiddling with the radio.

(Voice-over): He found Mr. Obama's preset favorite stations from rock 'n' roll to country.

O'BOIL: It was like holy cow, you know. This is -- this is the real deal here, you know.

MOOS: Tim says he's absolutely an Obama supporter.

The president has said how much he misses driving. At a factory visit, he got applause for steering a few yards straight ahead. His old Chrysler has fewer than 21,000 miles on it.

You know the asking price is high when you have to write, please understand that the $1 million starting price is not a joke. The eBay ad mentions that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got $2.5 million for charity when his 1977 Peugeot was auctioned off. And it notes that Hitler's convertible Mercedes went for $8 million.

(On camera): Tim says he looked but no, no Obama leftovers under the floor mats, no French fries under the seat.

(Voice-over): Those who have pointed out that they see the check engine light is on in the eBay photos, rest assured. Everything works. But since no million-dollar bids have come in, Tim may consider lower offers. A million bucks for a 7-year-old Chrysler is enough to make a driver lose control.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

O'BOIL: That's a lot of money, isn't it?

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: $1 million. Certainly is a lot of money for an older car.

Thanks very much for watching. That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM." The news continues next on CNN.