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Even Interns Got Lavish Trip On Your Dime; Lawmaker Warns "People Will Go to Jail"; Romney's Rock Star Backer: Obama Administration "Evil"; UK Moves To Deport Alleged Terrorist; Lottery Winner Charged With Fraud; Secret Service Scandal; Solar Flares; Pilot Error; Where's the Chips?

Aired April 17, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, sickening new revelations about wasteful spending of your taxpayer dollars, far beyond one costly conference in Las Vegas. We're learning about numerous lavish trips, even for interns, by an agency that's supposed to keep federal costs down.

Will someone from the GSA wind up in jail?

Also, the Secret Service prostitution scandal keeps on growing and growing. We have new details just coming in about what U.S. personnel did behind closed doors in a Colombian hotel.

And the stunning reason why passengers were thrown from their seats during a transatlantic flight. It turns out the pilot mistook the planet Venus for an oncoming plane.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Brussels.


I'm here in Brussels, Belgium for an exclusive joint interview tomorrow with the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. They're here for a ministerial summit on Afghanistan. Tomorrow, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the interview will air.

Right now, though, millions and millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. And as they are, we're learning more and more about how one federal agency has been wasting your taxpayer dollars. Officials, even interns, with the General Services Administration, enjoyed quite a few extravagant junkets to places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, Palm Springs and even the South Pacific. And that's apparently just the tip of the iceberg.

Let's go straight to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's getting new information.

What's the latest -- Dana? DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that, as our viewers probably know by now, the GSA is supposed to be the agriculture that saves them money by make the government more efficient in a lot of ways. But for a very long time, the better part of the day today, Wolf, people who at least used to run the GSA really struggled to answer questions about why they allowed what the chairman of this House committee called "a culture of fraud, waste, corruption and cover-ups."


BASH (voice-over): Not only did this 2010 over the top Las Vegas GSA conference cost taxpayers more than $800,000, it turns out the lead conference organizer, regional administrator Jeff Neely, took eight trips to Vegas to advance it -- for $147,000.

REP. JEFF DENHAM (R), CALIFORNIA: My anger and frustration have finally gotten to a boiling point.

BASH: As tales of extravagant spending unfolded during this five-and- a-half hour hearing, hear why.

BRAIN MILLER, GSA INSPECTOR-GENERAL: We turned over every stone. And every time we turned over a stone, we found 50 more.

REP. TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA: But 44 bucks for breakfast?

I'm a big man. I can't spend $44 for breakfast. Somebody had to say that.

Are you kidding me?

BASH: This is the two story, 2,400 square foot suite where GSA deputy administrator, Robert Peck, stayed in Las Vegas.

ROBERT PECK, FORMER PUBLIC BUILDINGS SERVICE COMMISSIONER: I questioned the organizers as to the cost. They told me that all the rooms were within the government rate.

BASH: It's unclear what the cost really was. The organizer, Jeff Neely, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights for the second day in a row and did not testify. But he was very much the focus -- story after story of allegedly skirting and breaking the rules, maybe even the law, to have a good time on the taxpayer dime.

For example, he...


BASH: -- government rules to spend money for meals and meetings unless awards are given out, like here in Las Vegas. So, they regularly made some up.

DENHAM: It was a running joke in Region 9 that in order to get food you hit -- had to give out awards. One of our witnesses characterized them as, I guess, fake awards and Jack ass awards and things of that nature.

BASH: GSA culture gave nearly remarkable autonomy. The GSA's chief financial officer didn't even know what he spent.


BASH: Crime chair Jeff Denham spent seven straight minutes yelling at Peck for ignoring requests for GSA budgets.

DENHAM: Why are you hiding the information from this committee and from the American public?

BASH: Mind-boggling excess went far beyond Las Vegas -- at least a week in Hawaii for a one hour ribbon cutting.

DENHAM: Would a one hour ribbon cutting justify a seven to nine day trip?

MILLER: Not in my opinion.

DENHAM: But in some opinion in the GSA, it happens.

MILLER: Well, apparently it happened. I can't see how anyone can condone that.

BASH: A 2010 conference for interns in Palm Springs cost $150,000. Two months ago, after the GSA inspector-general warned the administrator about Neely's extravagant spending, Neely brought his wife along on a 17 day junket to the South Pacific, paid for by taxpayers. And just last month, a conference in Napa Valley wine country cost him $40,000.

One GSA official said she raised a red flag, to no avail.

DENHAM: Ms. Brita, you -- you notified the regional administrator, Ruth Cox, about the upcoming junket and expressed concern, right?

BRITA: I did.


And what happened?

BRITA: I expressed concern and asked her to review the plans and make sure that the...

DENHAM: And that called it off, didn't it?



BASH: Now, that is -- that is what made these angry lawmakers even more furious, that even after they got the inspector-general's report, which explicitly detailed Neely's waste, fraud, and, really, abuse of taxpayer dollars, these leaders of the GSA failed to stop him from spending even more -- hundreds of thousands in more dollars, your dollars and my dollars, Wolf.

And the chairman put it at the end, you wonder why there is so much distrust of the government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's waste and -- and abuse. Fraud, you know, that's going to have to be proven, Dana. But there is a picture -- and they say a picture is worth a thousand words -- that picture of Neely. He's the guy who took the Fifth in testimony before Congress in a hot tub. It looks like he's got some wine there.

Give us the context of this hot tub picture that's obviously causing a lot of heartburn out there.

BASH: Yes, it sure is. This actually came, according to a source, on one of the House committees, came from the Google Plus Web site of Jeff Neely's wife. You know, part of the narrative here is that Jeff Neely didn't just go on these trips, he brought his wife on some of them, one for her birthday, and brought his -- his children on them. So this picture really does, as you say, illustrate the excess, the extravagance. And it was something that his wife thought it was important to put up on the Internet for their friends to see.

BLITZER: Dana Bash watching all of this unfold on the Hill.

Thanks very much.

Obviously, most people would agree that all of that lavish, extravagant spending by the GSA is simply outrageous.

But here's the question, is it criminal?

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin -- this kind of misconduct, Jeff, could it actually lead to criminal charges?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, depending on -- let's just say, based on what I've seen so far, I think it's extremely unlikely that there will be criminal charges. This is government waste. These are conferences that took too long, that were in inappropriate places, that cost too much.

But there does not appear to be the element of fraud, as you just mentioned, that would turn a firing offense into a criminal offense. Nobody was putting money in their pockets. Nobody was stealing government equipment. If it's disclosed that that's what was going on, then I think you could seriously consider this as a criminal prosecution possibility.

BLITZER: Yes, if there were kickbacks or bribes, or anything along those lines, obviously, that becomes a criminal investigation.

But we did hear suggestions that the GSA has referred some of this to the Justice Department. And Neely himself, Jeff Neely, he took the Fifth in his testimony.

Why would he take the Fifth in a situation like this? TOOBIN: Well, given the swirl of accusations and given the anger in Congress, and given the possibility of criminal charges, even if not the likelihood, any lawyer would be well advised to advise a client under this kind of scrutiny to take the Fifth. Certainly, he was within his rights to do it. And -- and I think most lawyers with experience in Washington would give that advice, even though criminal prosecution in these circumstances, as it appears now, seems very unlikely.

BLITZER: Yes. There would really have to be a smoking gun as far as fraud, as we say. And if there's any evidence -- there's been some suggestions maybe there were some kickbacks or bribes.

But I haven't seen hard evidence along those lines, have you?

TOOBIN: No, I haven't. And that is really what would put this into the criminal category. Money into the pocket of government employees, or, potentially, government equipment, computers, something like, that that goes home with the employees.

If they're simply bad at their job, if they're simply wasteful in how they spend the government's money, that is certainly good reason to fire them, but it is unlikely and probably even impossible that that would lead to criminal charges.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, thanks very, very much.

Let's get to the presidential race right now and the rock star -- yes, a rock star that's who's amping up the rhetoric. We're talking about Ted Nugent. He's under fire by Democrats and others for calling President Obama and his administration, in his words -- "evil."

That's a problem for Mitt Romney right now, because Nugent is one of his supporters.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is covering the Romney campaign -- tell our viewers, Joe, what's going on.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney comes here, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, tonight, facing essentially what a lot of people believe is a real challenge in this state that is going to be absolutely crucial by the time we get to November.


JOHNS (voice-over): Stumping for votes in battleground Pennsylvania, Mitt Romney picked up the endorsement of the state's Republican governor, as well as the two top Republicans in the Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

Romney is honing his message to the middle class and ceding no ground to the incumbent president he's all but certain to take on in the fall.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As we reshape our -- our tax plans, we have to make sure that -- that we're not giving a special break to people who -- who might be at the highest -- highest income level. And I -- I know that Democrats will, day in and day out, say, oh, they're for tax cuts for the rich.

It's like, no. I'm going keep the burden on high income people the same share of the burden it is today. If they pay, you know, X percent of the tax burden today, why, they're going to pay the same X percent tomorrow.

But my focus is not on punishing people. My focus is on getting jobs.

JOHNS: The Romney campaign was also learning something new about how to sidestep distractions, like Ted Nugent's mouth. The rock star and Romney supporter's latest verbal eruption was over the weekend at the National Rifle Association convention, attacking the entire Obama administration as un-American.

TED NUGENT, NRA BOARD MEMBER: But if you can't go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil America- hating administration, I don't even know what you're made out of. And if you're taking offense at that, tough.

JOHNS: Democrats quickly took the bait, putting up a Web video featuring Nugent and demanding Romney denounce him.

The Romney campaign played it off, basically dismissing Nugent for his rudeness in a written statement: "Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil."

Distractions aside, Romney's bigger problem is bringing the Republican Party together. Take, for example, former senator and presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, who, even at this late date, remains a headache seemingly waiting to happen. It's not clear at all that he's planning to endorse Romney, at least from what he said in a conference call Monday.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As far as, you know, involvement with a particular -- with a particular presidential candidate right now, I mean I've -- I've had a chance to talk to Newt. I've -- you know, I haven't had a chance yet to talk to -- to Governor Romney. But we'll be talking to -- to both of them.


JOHNS: Santorum also canceled an appearance here in Pennsylvania with both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Santorum Spokeswoman Alice Stewart has told CNN there's no bad blood between Romney and Santorum and that Santorum simply canceled that appearance here because he expected to spend more time with his family -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much for that.

We're learning right now about the services -- so-called services that were received in connection with that U.S. Secret Service prostitution scandal.

Stand by. New details coming in of what happened in that Colombian hotel.

Plus, dozens of school girls are rushed to the hospital. Officials say they were poisoned. We'll tell you what's going on.

And payback time for a lottery winner who was still asking for welfare checks.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Now, that Mitt Romney is the likely Republican nominee, he may need to begin talking about his Mormon faith. Politico reports a lot of Republicans think Romney should embrace his Mormonism publicly, so people can better understand him. During the GOP primary, Romney got pushback from evangelicals who questioned whether Mormons believe in Jesus Christ.

One Texas Baptist and Rick Perry supporter called the Mormon Church a cult. But these days, it seems like some evangelicals are more open to the idea of voting for Romney, especially when the other option is Barack Obama. Mormonism is a big part of who Mitt Romney is. He traveled to France on a two-year mission for the church as a young adult. He has raised his five sons as Mormons and he's held several church leadership positions.

Nevertheless, Romney doesn't really like to talk about it. In the 2007 presidential campaign, you may recall, Romney addressed his religion both in his "60 Minutes" interview and in a speech called "Faith in America." His aides say that he has no immediate plans to make another formal speech, at least, for now, but maybe he should.

It would help clear up some lingering questions about Mormonism, a religion that still seems odd and insular to many. Mormonism has a tainted past that includes racism and polygamy. A CNN/ORC poll taken last October showed 17 percent of Americans say they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who's a Mormon. That's not a small number. Eighty percent said it would make any difference.

Of course, religion and politics have always been a difficult equation. A lot of Americans thought JFK would never get elected president way back in 1960 because he was a Roman Catholic, and we've never had a catholic president.

Here's the question. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. How much will it matter? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks very, very much.

Lisa Sylvester is standing by. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now, including the arrest of an accused terrorist who may have inspired one of the 9/11 hijackers. Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, British authorities say Abu Qatada (ph) is a radical cleric with links to al Qaeda, and they can deport it back to Jordan under British law. Jordan says he'll be tried before civilian judges, but the European court of human rights fears that he will be tortured. He came to the UK claiming asylum on the grounds that he was tortured by Jordanian authorities.

And this just into the SITUATION ROOM. We are learning that billionaire, Warren Buffett, has been diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer. The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway says it's not life threatening, and he'll undergo radiation treatment.

A volcano near Mexico City may be ready to erupt. Scientists are seeing activity at the volcano nicknamed Popo, including a tremor lasting 40 minutes of a visible glow inside the crater. Falling ash has been reported, and people are being advised to stay indoors, and officials say there's an intermediate to high threat of a lava eruption.

Michigan is sending a message to lottery winners. You can't receive welfare once you win. Amanda Clayton will be charged with fraud after collecting thousands of dollars even after winning $1 million. Now, she says she thought it might be OK because she's not working, but Michigan law says people on welfare must report changes in assets within ten days.

And say goodbye to the classic shaken, not stirred martini for James Bond, at least, in one scene. The studio behind the British spy's latest film has cut a deal with Heineken to show Bond drinking a beer, but actor, Daniel Craig, defends the decision saying it had to be done because the film, quote, "costs a lot of money to make." So, clearly moving in the direction of product placement to raise some funds for that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Love those James Bond movies all of the time. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

At least 140 female teachers and school girls allegedly poisoned. Up next, we're going to tell you why authorities say they were targeted.

Plus, sounds almost too bizarre to be true, but it is. A handful of airline passengers injured after the pilot nosedives to avoid the planet Venus or at least what he thought was planet Venus. What's going on? We'll tell you.


BLITZER: Let's go to Afghanistan right now where at least, at least, 140 school girls and female teachers have been hospitalized after drinking what health officials are calling poisoned water. The attacks are being blamed on extremists who oppose women's education and any rights for women and all in Afghanistan.

Pretty shocking ten years after this liberation of Afghanistan began. Let's go to Mohammed Jamjoom. He's on the scene for us. Mohammed, first of all, how are these young girls and these teachers doing?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're told by health officials in Northeastern Takhar province that the victims ranged in age from 14 to 30. Thankfully, no deaths have been reported. Although, we're told over half of them suffered partial loss of consciousness, some dizziness, some vomiting, that they've been taken to a hospital up there.

Now, the health official told us that a water tank in that school, they believe, was contaminated. They think that the people who contaminated this were extremists, insurgents against female education. Now, we must remember that although it is shocking that this would happen in Takhar province, in 2010, in different parts of Afghanistan, over 100 women and girls were poisoned under similar circumstances.

Water being poisoned at girls' schools even though it's ten years after the launch of the war here, after the Taliban was -- after the Taliban was taken out of power here in Afghanistan, girls' schools started to reopen. Still, in remote parts of Afghanistan, abuse of women and girls still happens quite frequently -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. If the Taliban had their way, they'd like to see that expanded. Mohammed, you're also getting new information on the -- in the past couple of days, these strings of pretty sophisticated attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan. What are you learning?

JAMJOOM: Yes, Wolf. Over 18 hours just here in Kabul, there were attacks going on, very close to where we are in the center of the city. We heard those the other day. Now, today, new details, merging. We spoke with the spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid. He said that the fighters who carried out these attacks were very, very well prepared.

He went on to say we wanted to demonstrate our power to the enemy that even our safest and securest places can become under our attack, and also, we could target ISAF headquarters from one of those positions, and that was very important for us because ISAF headquarters is the most important military base of our enemy.

We learned later and later into the evening that insurgents in this very safe and very secure part of Kabul called the ring of steel, very heavily fortified part of Kabul, they were in this building. There was overlooking several embassies close to ISAF/NATO headquarters.

Now, the Taliban saying a very deliberate strategy that their fighters were very well trained, and they very deliberately targeted these installations so that they could send a message to the west -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A huge, huge embarrassment for Afghan intelligence, for NATO intelligence, for the U.S. as the major contributor to NATO in Afghanistan right now that these terrorists could launch such a sophisticated series of attacks without anyone knowing about it. We're going to have a lot more on this coming up tomorrow, Mohammed, here in the SITUATION ROOM.

It will be one of the major issues I'll be discussing in an exclusive joint interview with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta. They're here for NATO meetings at NATO headquarters just outside Brussel. My interview with Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta airs tomorrow in the SITUATION ROOM.

The White House, meanwhile, is standing by the director of the U.S. secret service despite the prostitution scandal that exploded over the weekend during the president's trip to Colombia. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's getting new information. What else is going on, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for the moment, Mark Sullivan, the director of the secret service, appears to be faring well. President Obama is still standing behind him.

White House press secretary, Jay Carney, today in the briefing repeated what we heard President Obama say in Colombia that he is reserving some judgment until the investigation is completed by the secret service, but that President Obama will be very angry if these accusations and these allegations prove to be true, but he did defend Sullivan. Here he is.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has confidence in the director of the secret service. Director Sullivan acted quickly in response to this incident and is overseeing an investigation as we speak into the matter.


KEILAR: Now, the other thing to take note of, Wolf, is that up on Capitol Hill, there is no chorus calling for Sullivan to step aside. In fact, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, as you know, Peter King, is defending Sullivan as well. They have a very good relationship.

And he, right now, is also standing behind him. So, an important Republican voice supporting Sullivan as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, in Washington, second chances are rare, third chances even rarer, so how is that going to play into this investigation?

KEILAR: Yes, that's right because remember in 2009 Mark Sullivan was at the helm during the scandal over the Salahis (ph) getting into that state dinner that they shouldn't have been allowed into. The White House did share some blame there, but it was Sullivan who was on the Hill testifying, issuing very much a mea culpa.

I think the thing is as you watch this investigation progress and as we get details on the findings it will depend on just how much -- perhaps, how widespread really this is among the Secret Service if this is something that perhaps people determined that Sullivan should have known about or should have been aware of and if security could have been compromised perhaps in other situations as well. That will determine whether he continues to have the president's confidence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar is our White House correspondent. Thank you. We also have new information about the role U.S. military personnel played in the Secret Service prostitution scandal. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, he is working this part of the story. Chris, what do you know?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we now know that the U.S. military personnel who are being investigated for misconduct are back here in the United States and that military investigators are questioning people from all four branches of service, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. They are believed to be -- at least two of the Marines were believed to be handling military working dogs and also U.S. Navy and Air Force personnel who are involved in explosive disposal.

They are also being questioned for misconduct. The misconduct involves what may have happened behind closed doors, drinking, allegations of prostitution, all of that is being investigated. The investigator from the military arrived down in Colombia on Monday night. He is still conducting that investigation. Some of the charges or some of the possible punishment that these military troops could face include almost a year in confinement and dishonorable discharge although at this point it seems more likely that it would be an administrative punishment unless there was more information that came out during this investigation that perhaps some of the women were under age. There is no indication of that at all right now. So more administrative punishment is more likely at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it the suspicion, Chris, that these military personnel had sex with these prostitutes at that hotel in Colombia?

LAWRENCE: All of that is part of the investigation, Wolf. In fact, Senator Susan Collins of Maine recently talked to the head of the Secret Service. She says that there were at least 20 women, foreign nationals, who were brought back to this hotel. Part of the investigation is to find out exactly who these women were and what occurred at the hotel.

One thing to keep in mind that the number, the total number under investigation, these 11 agents and then 10 or 11, perhaps military personnel, that number may change because as they question some of the military personnel, some are cleared of wrongdoing and taken off the list. Perhaps others are brought on to that list. So it could be a fluid number at this point as the investigators work through what happened.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us. Thank you.

Huge, huge crowds in awe up and down the East Coast on this day as the shuttle Discovery makes an amazing final journey on the back of a 747. And we're going to tell you what caused a fireball in the sky that was captured by NASA cameras and why did a commercial pilot take passengers on a dangerous nosedive? Investigators reveal he mistook a planet for a plane.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: At first glance it looks like a giant ball of fire, but what you're actually taking a look at and you're seeing right here is an eruption from the sun associated with what's called a solar flare. Let's bring in our meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, explain why this happens. What's going on?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know we are in an 11-year cycle. We're going up to the peak of the 11-year cycle, Wolf, which means that we are going to see more active sun spots and more active solar flares and even the CMEs (ph) or the coronal mass ejection. What we had over the weekend was basically the atmosphere of the sun exploding away from the sun sending gasses and protons and plasma out into the sky.

The good news this was not aimed at the earth. This was aimed to the left. If anything comes at us this could actually affect some of our communications. It could affect some of the satellites. It could affect some of the power outages and some of the power grids because there's a lot of energy. There's a lot of power coming out literally of that explosion coming at the earth or coming either to the left or to the right.

But I just want to give you an idea because I have a different colored image behind me just to kind of give you a sense of scale. The sun right here that would be the size of the earth. You could put 20 earths or so inside just that circle where the explosion occurred. So the size, the enormous size of the sun is something to imagine, but when you put the earth into context you realize how big that explosion really was -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, thank you.

Meanwhile, an amazing scene all the way from the beaches of Florida to Washington, D.C. Crowds and crowds of people in complete awe over this. That's the space shuttle Discovery making its final journey on the back of a giant Boeing 747 to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museums Annex in Northern Virginia just outside Washington. Look at these unbelievable pictures sent into us from our iReporters. This one against the horizon just after leaving Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

This one captured right above the Capitol building in Washington, and check out this one. A jaw-dropping view from directly overhead. And this official photo from NASA on Twitter. The shuttle landed at Dulles Airport (ph) in Washington amid roaring cheers and applause. It will now star as the guest of honor in a four-day celebration officially welcoming it to this Smithsonian collection in Chantilly (ph), Virginia.

Only a few hours left to file your taxes before it's too late. Just ahead, some last-minute tips for those of you scrambling to get in under the wire. Plus, police stand by the controversial decision to handcuff and arrest a 6-year-old -- 6-year-old. We have details just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including one of our own news studios rocked by an earthquake. Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Crews in Chile are assessing damage of an earthquake strong enough to cause mudslides. What you are seeing is video as the quake rattles a newscast on our sister network CNN Chile. The magnitude 6.7 quake knocked out power lines. It could be felt in the capital about 70 miles away. In 2010 hundreds died from an earthquake in the same region of Chile.

And apparently global warming isn't melting ice everywhere. A new study shows half the glaciers in a specific region of the Himalayas are staying the same size or in some cases actually growing. The author of the study says explanations for the increase are still not clear, warning quote "peculiar atmospheric behavior in the Himalayas" isn't surprising.

And the company that makes the popular treat Twinkies may go under. Hostess brands is taking legal action to throw out union contracts which may lead to a strike that management and the unions agree will end the company. Hostess employs over 1,800 people, three-quarters of whom are union members. Some Hostess treats have been around since 1888.

And police in Georgia are defending their decision to handcuff and arrest a 6-year-old. The school called police because the girl was allegedly throwing furniture, and an officer says she was actively fighting him when he arrived at the scene, but her parents are questioning how school officials handled it saying they shouldn't have called the police.

And you have only a few more hours to file your taxes before you could be penalized. Now for those last-minute filers out there we have a couple of tips. If you have a low-paying job you could save a lot with the earned income tax credit and if you are unemployed well make sure you claim all your job-search-related expenses including the cost of a headhunter if you used one and travel. All good tips there, Wolf.

BLITZER: And if you still haven't done it you can still file for a six-month extension. That's relatively easy to do if you really, really don't think you can get it done by midnight tonight. Isn't that right, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's right. I mean you don't get a free pass on what you pay and essentially if you owe the IRS. You still have to pay that on time by today, but you can file an extension if you are not anticipating that you're going to have to pay the IRS, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks Lisa, thanks very much.

Passengers thought they were thrown from their seats because of turbulence, but now they're learning the pilot made a big mistake when he saw the planet Venus. We'll explain. And the mystery of the missing potato chips.





BLITZER: It sounds almost too bizarre to be true, but it is. A pilot suddenly, suddenly finds out that he's throwing a plane into a nosedive to avoid the planet Venus. Our Lisa Sylvester is joining us now with more on these alarming details. What happened here, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Well Wolf, you know this could have been a major disaster. The airline originally blamed severe turbulence, but now we know it was actually pilot error.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The Air Canada flight was en route from Toronto to Zurich, Switzerland; it was about half way across the Atlantic when this happened. The first officer requested what is called a controlled rest in the cockpit. That's a short nap during the flight which is allowed. It's only supposed to last a maximum of 40 minutes, but the officer slept for about 75 minutes, clearly in a deep slumber.

When he woke up the captain mentioned there was a U.S. military plane in the vicinity. The first officer, disoriented, looks out and sees the planet Venus. He thinks it's the other plane and it's headed straight toward them, so he rams the control stick forward. The plane rapidly nosedives. The captain realizing what has happened pulls the plane back up. Passengers in the back who are sleeping at the time are suddenly woken by this shaking and being tossed around.

LOUISA PICKERING, INJURED PASSENGER: I was literally violently thrown out of my seat and slammed into the ceiling. I was in a window seat. And so I hit the top of the ceiling and fell back to the ground and after that it was just kind of chaos. We had felt that we might have hit something. It was that violent of a push, I guess. It felt like we hit a mountain or another object. It wasn't turbulence. It didn't feel like turbulence. It didn't feel like free falling. It felt like we had hit something.

SYLVESTER: YouTube video shot afterward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His laptop went flying that way. I hit the roof. Everyone is safe but this is part of the damage.

SYLVESTER: Ceiling panels knocked down. In all 14 passengers and two flight attendants had minor injuries. The airline initially blamed turbulence for the January 2011 flight, which ended up landing safely in Zurich. It was only after the release of the report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada this week that we found out what really happened. Aviation expert and pilot Jim Tilmon says it's clear certain policies were not followed, but he sympathizes with the pilot.

JIM TILMON, AVIATION EXPERT: If you've never seen Venus light up like that in a dark sky, you don't know. There's no frame of reference for you to realize that it looks just like the lights, the light on the front end of another airplane.

SYLVESTER: The Air Canada Pilots Association says Trans Atlantic flights are among the most difficult for pilots because flights are overnight and they go against a person's natural body clock. On Air Canada, there are only two pilots on board unlike American carriers where there are two pilots plus a relief pilot onboard.

PAUL STRACHAN, PRES., AIR CANADA PILOTS ASSN.: It's not so much the length of the flight. We do much longer flights than these ones. You know if they're much longer then you would have three or sometimes four pilots, but these ones in particular where you only have two pilots and that time of day consideration comes into play that really makes them, you know, a risk for fatigue.


SYLVESTER: An Air Canada spokesman responded to this incident saying, quote, "we sincerely regret that some of our customers were injured and we have taken measures to prevent a reoccurrence of this type of event and improve safety overall." So pretty frightening there, Wolf, for those passengers onboard, but everyone was safe in the end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's good. At least everyone was fine when all was said and done. Thank you, Lisa. Thanks for that report. Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Mitt Romney is a Mormon. How much will it matter? Bruce in New Jersey writes, "Mitt is a strange guy. He's wishy-washy on his political views and he talks himself into trouble about every 10 minutes. He's concrete on his religion, though, and yet he won't openly discuss it. It makes no sense. Is he afraid of what America will think? It shouldn't matter but we'd still like to see him address it or at least not dodge every question about what he believes."

Ed in Texas writes, "Comedian Andy Borowitz nailed this with a satirical news headline that reads 'Potential Matchup Between Black Man and Mormon Poses Dilemma for Bigots'." David in Virginia writes, "Being Mormon is if anything a major plus for someone who is swimming in our political shark tank. I've worked with a number of Mormons and have always found them to be highly honest, moral, skilled business people, hard working, pragmatic, clear-thinking, patriotic and committed to service and family values."

Paul in Colorado writes, "Lots. Religion is the only thing Romney hasn't flip-flopped on and I'm betting his Mormonism will be a big plus for his campaign just like Barack Obama's race was for his. The only thing we Americans love more than our individual beliefs is showing how inclusive we can be. This is going to be interesting." Tom writes, "Romney's faith doesn't matter to thinking people, but it does matter that his own party seems to have so little faith in him." And Rick in Virginia writes, "I'm sorry. When I first read the question I thought it said Mitt Romney is a moron. If he's president I believe he'll put the middle class on the roof of his car and drive us all to Canada." If you'd like to read more of this silliness, you'll find it on my blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Silliness is a good word, Jack. Thanks very, very much.

Ever opened a bag of potato chips only to find out there's more air than snack?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three, four --



BLITZER: The next time you open up a bag of chips, you may not be getting all that you bargained for. Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Poke them, squeeze them, shake them --


MOOS: Pop them --


MOOS: Is your potato chip bag half empty or half full? How about almost completely empty?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's count. Let's count the chips. Three, four, five, and then some crumbs --

MOOS: No wonder this guy has a chip on his shoulder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Lay's. Are you serious?

MOOS: And though his complaint is the most recent to go viral, he's not alone. This guy found only two chips.


MOOS: Poor Lay's. Some are laying it on thick. I love it when I buy a bag of air and the company is nice enough to put some chips in it. Reminds us of that old classic --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's the beef? MOOS (on camera): Where's the chips?

(voice-over): But if you're feeling cheated over your half empty bag of chips, listen to the "Consumer Reports" researcher who wrote an article called "Air to Spare".

(on camera): Empty air is protective.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It absolutely is on many levels.

MOOS (voice-over): Todd Marks (ph) warns of false walls (ph) and too much head space in lots of packaging, but when it comes to fragile, breakable chips, Marks (ph) is convinced the empty space is needed, especially on the assembly line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those rollers can actually damage the chips and turn them into crumbs.

MOOS: They may be called Lay's, but if you lay bags on top of each other during shipping --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there's not enough air to cushion those chips, well guess what, you're going to have more mashed chips.

MOOS: But Marks (ph) says there's no excuse for this.


MOOS: We bought five packages of chips from our newsroom vending machine and investigated the contents of each.

(on camera): Can't complain about that one -- 39, 40, 41, 42 and change.

(voice-over): But the guys whose snack packs were almost all pack and no snack, a spokesman for Frito Lay said "with any manufacturing process, occasionally there's a glitch in the system, and clearly it wasn't filled the proper way. We'd be happy to replace that for him."


MOOS: If you ever find your chips are down, don't take it out on the bag. Call the 800-number on the back. Give them the lot number.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't throw out that bag and then asking for a coupon --

MOOS: Remember that old slogan --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bet you can't eat just one!

MOOS: Unless that's all there is in the bag.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.