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Iran Claims it Cracked U.S. Drone Secrets; John Edwards Goes On Trial; Secret Service Scandal; Mother Nature Surprises; Pilot Shortage

Aired April 23, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This hour, what did Iran really learn from a spy aircraft it captured last year?

Plus, the secret service prostitution scandal reaches into another federal agency, and the White House caves to pressure to investigate members of its own team.

And proposed rules to improve airline safety might lead to a dangerous shortage of pilots.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: One of the United States's most dangerous adversaries claims its building a copy of one of America's most expected weapons. If Iran unlocks the secrets of spy drone technology, the Obama administration would have very good reason to be worried. U.S. officials, though, insist they are skeptical. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's investigating -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if this war of words started from the moment almost that this drone went down back in December, but the U.S. is saying it malfunctioned and the Iranians claiming they shot it down. Now, experts say they may have exploited some of the features of this drone, but the big question is, could they build their own copy?


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Just four months after it paraded this captured stealth drone before the world, Iran claims it has unlocked the secrets of the classified American UAB.


The general who runs the revolutionary guard's aerospace division says Iran cracked the sentinel software code and knows it flew over Osama Bin Laden's compound and when and where it got maintenance. He says Iran is now building its own copy. But a top U.S. lawmaker told Fox News Sunday he's skeptical. SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (I) CONNECTICUT: I don't have confidence at this point that they're really able to make a copy of it.

LAWRENCE: Aviation experts said the Iran has adopted other American technology like the hawk surfaced to air missile.

BILL SWEETMAN, AVIATION ANALYST: Since I have to be fired on the ground against the aircraft and I actually adapted that and putt it on that tomcat fighters.

LAWRENCE: Bill Sweetman says the sentinel has agreed over the engine that blocks radar waves, it special cody (ph) to absorb radar. Designing a new one goes far beyond just duplicating its smooth edges.

SWEETMAN: You would have to know how every little piece of that aircraft contributes to its radar signature or to its infrared images or to any way in which it can be detected.

LAWRENCE: At the same time it's boasting (ph) to one success, Iran is crying foul over another alleged cyber attack. The world's fourth largest oil producer says, it has detected a virus in its main oil export terminal, which handles 90 percent of its oil exports. Officials say they have been forced to disconnect the oil ministry itself, and some data has already been affected.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): In fact, most of the world's oil is controlled by computers, which just shows you how important technology is in modern warfare. As for the drone, a lot of experts say that when you're developing something like this, it's not just a matter of the Iranians having scientists or a certain number of scientists dedicated to it.

It's the fact that when you develop a drone like this, there's a knowledge base that's built up all along the chain of development, and they say there's no sense that the Iranians have built up that sort of knowledge with the time and investment that would be needed right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Key words right. All right. Thanks very much for that, Chris Lawrence.

So, let's dig a little bit deeper into what's going on. Joining us our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, the former Bush homeland security adviser. She's the member of the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security external advisory boards.

Assuming, Fran, that the Iranians don't have the expertise to reverse engineer, shall we say, this drone, but there are plenty of other countries, maybe not plenty, but a few other countries who might be willing to cooperate with Iran in this area?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's right, Wolf. We know for certain that the Chinese had expressed interest to the Iranians in looking at examining the material that was the drone. And certainly if Iran cooperated with, work joint together with the Chinese or the Chinese and the Russians, they might be able to reverse engineer of the drone.

That said -- I'd share the sort of skepticism you've heard about their ability to decrypt and understand what the collection capability was. That's a much more complicated problem, and I'm skeptical that given the time and the capability that would be required that the Iranians even working with others would be able to do that.

BLITZER: Yes. But if the Iranians decide to, if you will, sell that equipment to China, let's say, or Russia, they could probably get a lot of money for it.

TOWNSEND: Oh, they could absolutely get a lot of money. And, you know, the Chinese, in terms of capability in this cyber area that would be required, the Chinese have a very sophisticated level of capability and might, with time, be able to crack it. Not clear, it would be a big task, but it would be a substantial threat to the United States if they were able to do that.

BLITZER: What do you make of this reported cyber attack on Iranian oil exports, the major oil terminal in Iran right now?

TOWNSEND: You know, wolf, we have the sanctions. We're coming up on the deadline where the oil sanctions will come into effect. And so, one has to, you know, sort of question whether or not this is a targeted attack by western governments, whether that would be Israel, the United States.

Others who are targeting, you know, it reminds of you of Stuntex (ph) virus that targeted Iran's nuclear infrastructure. And so, I think it remains to be seen. The Iranians are claiming that it didn't have much effect. I guess, we'll see, but it does sort of look like a state sponsored attack against their oil infrastructure.

BLITZER: I've heard the U.S. analyst suggest to me on several occasions, you could try to get rid of Iran's nuclear program through economic, diplomatic sanctions. You could certainly try with a military operation, but probably the most effective would be what they describe is this covert operations, whether cyber warfare or assassinating Iran nuclear scientist. You've seen all these reports out there. What's your assessment?

TOWNSEND: It's absolutely right. I mean, there's a whole series of ways you can go about covert action. You know, a cyber attack is one of them, human intelligence which enables sort of things, trying to influence people inside the nuclear infrastructure, their propaganda, attacking their financial infrastructure.

There's a whole series of things you can do covertly to try to, frankly, undermine the program and avoid an overt confrontation using the military. And I think most people would say to you, Wolf, if it can be effective and avoid a military conflict, it makes the most sense.

BLITZER: I wrote a blog today on what President Obama announced that the U.S. holocaust memorial museum today that he was ordering the U.S. intelligence community to prepare a national intelligence estimate to fight mass atrocities and genocide. This is a major new development. What do you make of this?

TOWNSEND: You know, Wolf, look, we've seen -- remember -- we all remember President Clinton saying his greatest regret of his presidency was Rwanda. We've seen with President Obama, he'd took action in Libya, but has not -- has chosen not to take military interaction or military action in Syria. And so, these sort of mass attacks, these mass atrocities seem to be a growing problem.

And it's often these governments acting against their own people where the rest of the world feel quite helpless to intervene in an effective way. And so, prevention is the idea. I find it a little bit ironic, however, that President Obama would make this speech having, frankly chosen not to intervene in Syria where the Assad regime continued to kill its own people.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much.

President Obama also announced, though, major new sanctions today to try to stop Iran and Syria from using technology to track down decedents and then torture or slaughter them. He outlines steps to prevent mass atrocities during a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum here in Washington, and he adds some tough comments about the crackdown in Syria, warning that it's, in his words, a losing bet to side with President Bashar al-Assad.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to do everything we can. And as we do, we have to remember that despite all the tanks, and all the snipers, all the torture and brutality unleashed against them, the Syrian people still brave the streets. They still demand to be heard. They still seek their dignity.

The Syrian people have not given up, which is why we cannot give up, and so with allies and partners, who will keep increasing the pressure for the diplomatic effort to further isolate Assad and his regime. So those who stick with us ought to know that they are making a losing bet.

And we'll keep increasing sanctions to cut off the regime from the money it needs to survive. We'll sustained a legal effort to document atrocities so killers face justice in a humanitarian effort to get relief and medicine to the Syrian people. And we'll keep working with the friends of Syria to increase support for the Syrian opposition as it grows stronger.


BLITZER: Let's bring in CNNs Arwa Damon. She's done a remarkable job reporting for us from inside Syria. She's in Beirut right now. Arwa, it sounds like the president is trying to send a message to those military officers around Bashar al-Assad that it's time to go against him. Is it realistic, though, to think that these top military officials, officers will turn against against the Syrian leaders?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not because of anything that U.S. President Obama is going to be saying at this stage, no, and what is becoming increasingly clear is that more than a year on into this conflict, the government of President Bashar al- Assad does seem to be remaining at least on the surface, fairly strong.

We have not been seeing these mass defections, and despite all of the rhetoric coming out from the U.S. and these allies, we have not seen that having a really significant impact on the ground, and what opposition activists are saying is that if the U.S. is really serious when it comes to bringing about Democratic change inside Syria, it needs to stop talking and start acting.

There's a fundamental believe amongst opposition activists whether it is justified or not, that is another question, but to believe it's still there. But if the U.S. truly wanted to bring about regime change, it, in fact, could.

And so, there's a realization amongst the opposition that at the end of the day, even though they do seem to have the verbal support of government's life side (ph) of United States, at the end of the day, they are going to have to figure out this on their own and that most certainly is going to lead to a very long and bloody conflict at this stage.

BLITZER: And how do delay react, those who are opposing the Assad regime when they hear the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton or the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, I interviewed both of them at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week, when they say you know what, until the United Nations Security Council passes a resolution authorizing use of force against the Assad regime, there's a limit to what the U.S. and its NATO allies can do militarily.

What's the reaction to that argument?

DAMON: You know, Wolf, there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of bitterness, there's a lot of frustration, and a lot of the members of the opposition fail to understand why it is when it comes to Syria the U.S. is reluctant along with its allies to push through or at least try to push through the type of resolution that went about to what transpired in Libya, for example.

All that being said, there is no expectation at this point in time amongst the opposition that the U.S. and it's allies are going to be some sort of white knight, charging forward an armor to save them. Again, they do realize that they are in this on their own. They are trying to figure out as best they can how they are going to prepare themselves for the fact that this is going to be a very prolonged and bloody battle.

But at the same time, they are very frustrated and fail (ph) to understand why it is that the international community is failing them when it did at the end of the day, stand by regime change when it came to other nations like Egypt and Libya, for example. So, there is that realization amongst the opposition, and with that, it does come a fair amount of frustration and this true, genuine ingrained sorrow because there is the knowledge that more lives are only going to be lost the longer this drags on, Wolf

BLITZER: Yes. Good point. The major difference, obviously, China and Russia using their veto in the Security Council right now to block any similar kind of resolution. That's why there's no resolution authorizing the use of military force, at least, for now until China and Russia change their minds. Arwa Damon on the scene for us in Beirut, thank you.

A former presidential candidate's fight to stay out of prison officially begins today. We're going to tell you what happen to John Edwards' trial on charges he used illegal campaign cash to hide his mistress.

Plus, the U.S. secret service prostitution scandal keeps exploding. Even more people are under investigation right now.

And people in Western Pennsylvania and Western New York, they are paying for a bizarre spring snowstorm.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Don Meredith (ph) used to sing "turn out the lights, the party is over." Well, the party might be over. We're talking about the Tea Party. The movement that took the country in Washington by storm a couple of years ago appear now to be fading. In the early days of the Obama administration, the Tea Party seemed to spring up almost overnight nationwide.

Thousands of dissatisfied Americans attended town hall meetings, protesting an outsize federal government, higher taxes, skyrocketing federal spending, and of course, Obamacare. In the 2010, midterm elections candidates connected to the Tea Party helped the Republicans wrestle back in full of the House of Representatives.

They were force to be reckoned with, indeed. The fast forward two years and what's left? Though, starters, the Republican Party is on the verge of nominating Mitt Romney. Not exactly a right-wing zealot. Politico reports that a meeting of the Republican National Command this past weekends shows just how little has really changed within the GOP.

Few Tea Party activists have won slots on the Republican Party's governing committee. Even though, somehow, one county chairman chips state positions. And although the Republican establishment sympathizes with the Tea Party's ideas and wants to channel their energy, they see the movement as just one more constituency in the Republican coalition.

Some Republicans describe the Tea Party activists as inexperienced and the movement as not as well organized as it was in 2010. Nonetheless, even if the Tea Party is losing some steam, it's still seen as a boost for Republicans. One state party chairman says the Tea Party has, quote. put a spring in the step of the old lumbering elephant.

Here's the question, is the Tea Party over? Go to and post a comment on my blog. Go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page or write it out long-hand and send it through the post office.

BLITZER: Snail mail. All right. Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: A man once poised to potentially be president of the United States is now fighting to stay out of prison. John Edwards went on trial today, charged with six felony and misdemeanor accounts among other things that he knowingly and willfully received nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to hide his then pregnant mistress from the public.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us from North Carolina right now. Joe, tell us what happened in court today.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the first thing, Wolf, you have to say they got nine men, seven women on a jury finally in the case that really goes all the way back to 2007 or before.

You mentioned the charges there, the false statements also, along with conspiracy and accepting illegal campaign contributions, all in connection with hundreds of thousands of dollars that changed hands, which the government says was used to try and cover up John Edwards' affair and the child that was born resulting from that affair with Rielle Hunter.

Today, the government essentially charging that John Edwards was very good at manipulation, very good at lying and deceit that he broke the law and that he did so willfully. The defense painting a very different picture, suggesting that, yes, Edwards did lie, but basically, he lied to try to avoid self-humiliation, to try to keep that information about the baby and the mistress away from his wife who was then dying of cancer.

The first day's testimony began with Andrew Young. This is the guy who happened to be John Edwards body man for a while, also served, of course, as his North Carolina advance man and was very close to him, even wrote a brook about his experiences after having claimed false paternity for the child. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Andrew Young, there could be potentially, according to some legal analysts, in trouble when it comes to cross-examination. What do they say?

JOHNS: Yes. Well, he actually, apparently, according to the judge and this was kind of extraordinary in the courtroom today, has reached out to at least three witnesses on the witness list in the trial, which is certainly a big no, no. The judge suggested it could also be a criminal offense. So, in a little bit of trouble for that, more importantly, perhaps, it also opens up the possibility of a very strong cross-examination along with all the other information that's going into the record, the defense even alleges that Andrew Young used a lot of the money from big money donors to John Edwards to build a $1.5 million house. So, there are going to be some hard questions for this star witness for the prosecution in the days ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I know you'll be covering it for us. Joe, thanks very much.

An emotional Jennifer Hudson takes the stand in the trial for the man accused of killing her mother, her brother, and her nephew. The Oscar-winning actress and singer's chilling testimony. We'll have details.

And Prince Harry coming right here to Washington, D.C. We're going to tell you why. Stick around, lots more news coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Egypt's state run gas companies have abruptly ended exports to Israel, raising new concerns about the stability of relations between the two countries. Egypt's energy exports were a key factor in the peace agreement between the two countries.

A rift could seriously threaten U.S. policy in the region which has already been hampered by the political turmoil and broiling Egypt in the wake of last year's historic revolution.

Actress and "American Idol" star, Jennifer Hudson took the stand today for the start of the trial in the deaths of her mother, brother, and nephew. The estranged husband of Hudson's sister is charged in the 2008 Chicago murders but is pleading not guilty. An emotional Hudson told the court that none of her family wanted him to marry her sister and didn't like how he treated her. She later said, quote, "Where he was, I've tried not to be."

And Britain's Prince Harry is coming here to Washington. The prince will receive the Atlantic Council's prestigious humanitarian award on May 7th honoring his work with war veterans and serving members of the armed forces. He said to be honored by news of the award which he plans to accept on behalf of his brother, Prince William, and their foundation. So, a little royalty in Washington coming up, Wolf.

BLITZER: That'll be fun. Congratulations to the prince. Thanks, Lisa.

The White House takes a good, hard look at some of its own as the secret service prostitution scandal reaches more people and another agency.

And a proposed rule to improve airline safety could lead to a dangerous shortage of pilots.


BLITZER: The U.S. secret service prostitution scandal is pulling in more people everyday. That's forcing the Obama White House to take a good hard look at some of its own. Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. What do we know about the White House review of this issue?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that starting on Friday, the White House council began this review and concluded it over the weekend. They did a review of some White House staff. These are what are referred to as White House advanced staff. They would go to a location ahead of President Obama. They're sort of like locations scouts. They would set up logistics for an event, essentially making sure that everything looks right and that it runs smoothly. And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was insistent today. He said the White House did not do this because they had any specific reason to believe that White House staff was involved, but it was just a precaution. Here's what he said.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Out of due diligence the White House Council's Office has conducted a review of the White House advance team and in concluding that review came to the conclusion that there is no indication that any member of the White House Advance Team engaged any improper conduct or behavior.


KEILAR: Now Wolf as you know, we have been hearing from some senators, Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee that this scope should be widened beyond the Secret Service and beyond obviously some of the military service members who have been looked at. So he was calling for that, and then we heard over the weekend, Senator Joe Lieberman who is the ranking or pardon me, is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who identifies very much with Democrats even though he's an Independent echoing what Grassley had said.

Now Carney said today that the White House didn't do this in response to what we're hearing from the senators. He said it was a precaution and Wolf, I asked Jay Carney if the White House is going to be releasing some of that information from their internal review. He basically said only if someone can show that there is a credible allegation against a member of the White House staff.

BLITZER: Some have suggested Brianna the White House is trying to walk a fine line trying to distance itself from the scandal. Tell us what's going on.

KEILAR: I think there is sort of a fine line to walk here, and that's because as you've heard from White House officials that the president is standing behind the director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan. I mean Wolf these are the people who protect him day in, day out and we hear everyday. Jay Carney says that, you know, there is respect for the men and women who on a daily basis are putting you know their lives really at risk to protect President Obama.

But at the same time the White House is being very careful to make sure they don't get lumped in here with the Secret Service and with members of the military, especially since now that you have 12 members of the Secret Service involved, 12 members of the military.

And one, we've just learned from sources not too long ago, Wolf, is a remember of the White House Communications Agency. The White House wanting to make it very clear that that is still someone who reports to the Pentagon, even though they're doing things like following the president very carefully, providing secure communications and even shooting video of President Obama for archival purposes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Usually active duty military personnel detailed from the U.S. military to the White House Communications Agency. All right, thanks very much, Brianna for that.

As the prostitution scandal plays out, our own Candy Crowley has been studying Washington's unofficial rule book for damage control.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is nothing good to say about a scandal involving 12 U.S. Secret Service agents in a foreign country in advance of a presidential trip with 20 prostitutes and too much liquor.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It included two supervisors. That is particularly shocking and appalling.

CROWLEY: Widespread respect for the Secret Service in general blunts the impact and it also helps that the direction, Mark Sullivan seems well versed in scandal handling 101. First rule, the best defense is lightning speed offense.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: They are gone, half of them, and I think others will be going -- leaving shortly.

CROWLEY: Two, whatever you've got put it out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For every indication I have seen, from the moment this scandal broke until now, there's no attempt to cover anything over.

CROWLEY: Three, information is the point of the realm in Washington, keep in touch.

COLLINS: That's an issue that I raised with the director and he told me that at this point there is no evidence of under-aged women.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Well I spoke to Director Sullivan last night and he is doing a thorough investigation. He does not believe that security was compromised in any way for the president or any national leader.

CROWLEY: Don't forget the boss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has confidence in Director Sullivan and the agency.

CROWLEY: It's the worse Secret Service scandal in history, the president's security may not have been but certainly could have been compromised and yet, when was the last time you heard this in Washington.

CUMMINGS: Secret Service I believe they are investigating themselves and they're doing, I think, a very good job.

CROWLEY: Keep in mind this is an election year, congressional hearings are premo (ph) venues for political food fights especially about scandals, but here's the Republican head of the House Oversight Committee.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: It's something that we believe that the Secret Service can fix. Our committees are going to look over the shoulder, make sure it's fixed and then announce as I think Chairman King is announcing that we have confidence that it will be fixed.

CROWLEY: At the least the director with the death (ph) touch has bought himself time.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: I think it's really important Bob that we not jump ahead of the head of the Secret Service. He's demonstrated in many ways that he's on top of this and will get to the bottom of it.

CROWLEY: But a final rule of scandal 101.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: People have said to me it's hard to believe that this was an isolated incident. It just happened all of a sudden in Cartagena out of nowhere. I don't know.

CROWLEY: It ain't over until the last question is answered.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: All right this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from Sanford, Florida, the City Commission is refusing, refusing to accept the resignation of the police chief, Bill Lee who stepped down because of the fallout from the Trayvon Martin case. The commissioners are voting three to two to reject Lee's resignation, so Lee apparently will stay on the job for now. At least until the investigation into the handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting is completed in a few months. It may be April, but that didn't stop Mother Nature from dropping a snowstorm on parts of the northeast and with it some serious safety concerns. Up next, we're going live to one of the areas hardest hit.

Plus a proposed rule could make it harder for some airline pilots to fly, but will it make the skies any safer?


BLITZER: It may be April, but you'd never know looking at parts of the northeast. They got blasted with a major dose of winter, a snowstorm threatening as much as 16 inches in some areas. Our own Brian Todd is in one Pennsylvania town really feeling the blow. What's it like over there, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is cold, wet and very snowy, Wolf, a very, a heavy and wet snowfall here in Penfield, Pennsylvania. I'm standing in about at least five inches of snow. But up the road at a higher elevation, it was much deeper just a short time ago. To show you what people are dealing with here, this is foliage on the trees that's complicating things. It allows more snow to build up on the trees. You can see it down there on those pines and on some of these trees, where the foliage has just you know started to pop-out because it's spring time, but that's causing problems.

You see this limb just above me, this thing may just snap at any moment it's so heavily laden with snow. I'll point to it right up here in this pine tree. It's right above me. That's the kind of thing that's complicating some efforts here at just preventing power outages. Because these kinds of trees are just hanging over the power lines, snapping in some cases and of course knocking out power to many areas. Just one of the things that both local officials and business owners are dealing with as this area absorbs a historic snowfall.


TODD (voice-over): Joanne Alvetro is surveying the damage of what could be a lost season. At the family's landscaping and garden center, this is supposed to be the time of year when thousands of plants are growing, maturing and selling.

(on camera): How much of this do you think you're going to lose?

JOANNE ALVETRO, ALVETRO'S LANDSCAPING AND GARDEN CENTER: They'll have to start over. It won't kill the plant itself. It will take the leaves off and the leaves is what sells it and the flowers.

TODD (voice-over): Alvetro normally sells about $300,000 worth of plants a year, but because of this storm and a freeze a few weeks ago, she think she'll lose about 20 percent of that. She's scrambling to save Japanese maples, Alberta spruce plants and boxwoods, storing them in so-called poly houses (ph). She's one of millions in north central Pennsylvania and western New York dealing with a historic snowfall for late April. It's left tens of thousands without power, stranded motorists, threatened highway traffic. Wayne Wynick supervises maintenance of roads in Manshanna State Forests (ph). WAYNE WYNICK, PA. BUREAU OF FORESTRY: Our concerns are that we may get some of the public back on our roads and end up having trees come down and block them in and leave them stranded in places that they really don't want to be stranded because our state forest land tends to be very remote.

TODD: It's the new spring foliage and its ability to gather more snow that's especially concerning.

(on camera): This is what officials are worried about. Power lines like that being threatened by tree limbs that are so heavily laden with snow that they might bring them down at any moment. We're here outside the town of Penfield at a slightly higher elevation. Snow is almost up to my knees. It's at least six inches right now. It's still coming down.

(voice-over): Back in Falls Creek (ph), Joanne Alvetro watches as her dog Taylor is the only one showing interest in her plants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She will. She'll eat it.

TODD (on camera): You really do seem to love your business, but does this kind of thing make you want to get out of it?

ALVETRO: Well I'm 69 years old and we have had years like this before, but as we get older, they're a little harder to handle.


TODD: Alvetro thinks she can make up some of what she lost by selling supplies to local landscaping companies, maybe some smaller plants to those companies and some others, plants that you can keep inside, but she says she's going to be scrambling to make any kind of a profit this year, Wolf, and she places the blame squarely on this storm.

BLITZER: Brian, what's the record for snowfall, in the area where you are right now for this time of the year?

TODD: We consulted the National Weather Service about that and they said it's only about four inches for the time period past April 15th, that's as much as they have gotten in one snowfall after April 15th. This is going to shatter that record maybe by two-thirds by the time it is done.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us in Pennsylvania, I know western New York outside the Buffalo area, they're getting some snow as well. Thank you.

And a plan to raise the minimum level of experience for pilots could cost passengers; we're looking at what it means for the price of a ticket and airline safety. And after all the protests, all the publicity is the Tea Party over? Jack Cafferty's question, stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: All of us who fly want to make sure that the planes are safe and that the pilots are experienced, but some are concerned a proposed safety rule could create some new problems. CNN Aviation and Regulation correspondent Lizzie O'Leary is taking a closer look into that.

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it hasn't garnered much public attention yet but aviation circles are abuzz about a potential change to the rules that determined who is in the cockpit the next time you fly.



O'LEARY (voice-over): Student pilot David Lindh (ph) has 490 hours of flying experience, Jason Herrmann (ph), 720 hours. Kurt Tahara (ph) has more than 1,000 including cross-country flights in this sleek twin engine jet.


O'LEARY: In the past, all three college students would have been hot prospects for jobs at regional airlines after graduating from Perdue University's (ph) highly regarded flight school.


O'LEARY: Learning on the job, much like medical residents do -- not anymore.

(on camera): Did you feel like the rules were changed in the middle of the game for you?

DAVID LYNN, STUDENT PILOT: Absolutely -- absolutely. I mean -- I mean that's just the way it is.

O'LEARY (voice-over): This is why.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My house is out there.

O'LEARY: The crash of Colgan Air (ph) 3407 three years ago. It led Congress to a wholesale revaluation of airline safety and new rules to address pilot fatigue, likely one of the contributing factors in the crash. Now the FAA is proposing raising the minimum flying experience for a new first officer, from 250 hours to 1,500. That leaves David Lynn and hundreds like him across the country in a lurch, graduating with several hundred hours of flying experience, but far short of 1,500.

LYNN: I feel like right now if I were to go into a regional airline job I've been flying a jet. I know exactly what I'm doing now. If I go fly for two years, flying in a small single engine airplane, I'm going to lose a lot of what I have learned.

KURT TAHARA, STUDENT PILOT: We certainly understand where this comes from and concern from the accidents that have resulted. We understand that we want to have the safest air transportation system in the world, and we do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She loved Christmas.

O'LEARY: This is the face of that concern.

SCOTT MAURER, FATHER OF CRASH VICTIM: My life is changed forever and believe me, it's not a good life.

O'LEARY: Scott Maurer lost his daughter Lauren on that Colgan flight.

MAURER: I always wondered, you know these pilots look like they just came out of high school, or certainly they are well in their early 20's. How much experience do they actually have?

O'LEARY: Maurer said he was appalled to find out that a copilot needed only 250 hours though both pilots of his daughter's plane had more. He helped push for the new rule. The regional airline industry and many flight schools say it's the quality of experience that's important, not the quantity of hours.

ROGER COHEN, PRES., REGIONAL AIRLINE ASSOCIATION: Just flying around gaining time, people are going to do that in the cheapest, easiest way possible towing banners over Atlantic City, flying back and forth, back and forth.

O'LEARY: Earning hours but maybe under cutting the sophisticated training of a university flight school. The industry says the new rules could make it harder to hire qualified copilots. America's most famous pilot doesn't buy that.

CHESLEY "SULLY" SULLENBERGER, CBS NEWS AVIATION & SAFETY EXPERT: I think it is really ludicrous on its face to suggest that we shouldn't have reasonably high minimum pilot standards simply because it is deemed by some to be somehow inconvenient. That really doesn't keep our priorities straight.

O'LEARY: The public can weigh in until April 30th and there may be exceptions with the military and some flight schools but it is a charged debate with no easy or cheap fix. In the end raising the standards may mean every flyer pays more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It should mean that we pay more for it. Again we are only as consumers going to get what we are consistently willing to pay for.


O'LEARY: As these aspiring Sully's who dream of being captains know only too well.

(on camera): The students graduating say they knew they were entering an industry facing tough times, but they never expected such turbulence from a rule change that took place even before they got their first job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lizzie O'Leary thanks very, very much, good report. Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT The question this hour, Wolf, is the Tea Party over? Paul in North Carolina "With apologies to Shakespeare, the Tea Party was a phenomenon full of sound and fury signifying nothing. The summer of 2010 was notable for angry mobs shouting at congressmen, carrying misspelled signs and generally making fools of themselves. They then went to the polls, elected a contingent of equally undesirable representatives. Once in Congress these neo-fights y had no agenda, no idea how to legislate and no intention to compromise. They brought the gears of our government already turning too slowly to a complete halt and in the end accomplished nothing. Is the Tea Party over? For all our sakes, let's hope so."

Johnny in Los Angeles writes "The fact that it is not getting media coverage doesn't mean the Tea Party is over. The darlings of the media are sympathetic to the Democrat's needs to continuously hide the fact that our federal government can't pass a budget nor spend within its means. The latter issue continues to devalue our dollar and makes every American poorer each and every day."

Gary writes "I hope so. They are bumpkins that believe it is 1789. I only hope they're replaced by a group that understands reasonable ways to balance the budget. You can't balance the budget with a meat axe."

Michael writes "We can only hope these morons have faded into obscurity where they belong, on and please take Newt Gingrich with you." Charles in Texas writes "I have respect for the Tea Party and the things they're trying to accomplish. However their my way or the highway attitude has caused their popularity to quickly diminish. If they don't change their ways, the Tea Party is over."

And Larry in Houston "Is the 'pet rock' over? Is the 'Slinky' over? Is the 'Etch-a-Sketch' over? Is the 'Cabbage Patch' doll over? I can go on but I think you get the picture." If you want to read more about this go to the blog or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page and I'm over for today.

BLITZER: I thought Jack, the Etch-a-Sketch recently made a comeback, didn't it?

CAFFERTY: Only in the minds of hopeful Democrats.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Or I guess it was conservative Republicans right now.

BLITZER: It was -- yes, the Etch-a-Sketch pivot, all that kind of stuff. Thanks Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right. BLITZER: Controversy surrounding one of the world's most popular cookies. Jeanie Moos is coming up with an Oreo advertisement that includes some adorable babies, but it's also turning some stomachs.


BLITZER: Here is a look at this hour's "Hotshots". Check them out. First in the Philippines look at this, Marines simulate jungle warfare, a jungle warfare situation. In England a New Zealand theater company performs a traditional dance at the famous Globe Theater (ph) -- there they are. In Turkey children take part in the National Child's Day festivities. And in France a seasonal worker stops to smell sprigs of Lily of the Valley -- "Hotshots" pictures coming in from around the world.

Controversy surrounding one of the world's most popular cookies right now, CNN's Jeannie Moos is taking a closer look at an Oreo advertisement that includes some adorable babies, but also apparently turning some stomachs.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is not just a feeding frenzy; it is a breast feeding frenzy over this image of a suckling baby clutching an Oreo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's weird. It is just kind of weird. He's looking too like isn't it a weird picture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jarring but it is not evil.

MOOS: You would think it is evil the way we in the media are redacting the action with black bars of various sizes and shapes, not to mention a star and even a fish to hide the baby's fish-like puckering. The caption reads "Milk's favorite cookie". It is not everyone's favorite image.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not good.

MOOS: Some say childhood obesity makes this the wrong message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oreos is sugar and we need to get off --


MOOS: -- factor about showing breast feeding which this woman disputes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, what is icky about a mother feeding its child?

MOOS: On blogs where mothers with infants congregate there's tons of praise. "The Oreo breastfeeding ad is pure awesome-sauce".


MOOS (on camera): The maker of Oreos, Kraft Foods, didn't exactly try to milk this ad.

(voice-over): Kraft said we didn't make it. "This visual was created by our agency for a one-time use at an advertising awards program. It was never intended for public distribution."

(on camera): Does it make you want an Oreo?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. It makes me feel a little weird about Oreos.


MOOS: Does it make you want an Oreo?


MOOS: How about a breast?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that could be.


MOOS (voice-over): But long before this ad surfaced there were videos on YouTube featuring real babies breastfeeding and munching cookies.


MOOS (on camera): Poor baby. The trouble with that is you can't dunk.

(voice-over): It may be the Oreo's 100th anniversary, but they were news to this woman originally from South Africa.

(on camera): Does this make you want a cookie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, I want one of these Oreo things.

MOOS: Oreo.


MOOS: Oreo.


MOOS (voice-over): Not to be confused with the technical term for the anatomy at issue.





MOOS (on camera): Oreo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oreo. Yes. I know you. You are funny.

MOOS: New York.




BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for joining us. I am Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.