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Face Off Between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Begins; Mitt Romney Was a Bishop in the Mormon Church; Pastor Joel Osteen Speaks Out; U.S. Representative Asked to Stay Out of Afghanistan; Al Qaeda Train Bomb Plot Exposed; Passenger Feared "I'm Going to Die"; Albright Opens Up About Family Secret

Aired April 28, 2012 - 18:00   ET



Mitt Romney and Barack Obama aren't dancing around each other anymore. This hour, Romney's pivot to the fall campaign and direct lines of attack being tested right now.

A U.S. congressman who criticized President Hamid Karzai is asked to stay out of Afghanistan. I'll ask Republican congressman Dan Rohrabacher why secretary of state Hillary Clinton went along with Karzai's demand.

And terrifying al Qaeda attacks plan revealed including an idea to hide bombs in TVs returned to Wal-Mart, the mastermind, an American.

We want to welcome our viewers around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "the SITUATION ROOM."

Mitt Romney's primary sweep this week sounded the death bell for Newt Gingrich's campaign and the Romney versus Obama battle for the White House has shifted up a gear. The two campaigns are firing fresh rounds at each other.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is following all of this for us.

All right, Jim. Tell us what are you seeing now?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with the Republican race now over, there are only two men left standing, President Obama and Mitt Romney and they're already throwing some hard punches, even though it's only April.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Obama's visit with college students in Iowa may have been about financial aid, but it was one more sign that school is in session in the race for the White House.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some suggest that students like you have to pay more so we can help bring down the deficit. Now, think about that. These are the same folks who ran out the deficit for the last decade.

ACOSTA: The president has been doing his reelection homework basically ever since he got in office. From February 2009 on he's made, by CNN counts, 126 visits to 14 battle ground states.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is it easier to make ends meet?


ACOSTA: Mitt Romney was just in one of those swing states, New Hampshire, to declare victory in the Republican race and focus a Clinton-like laser beam on the economy.

ROMNEY: It's still about the economy and we're not stupid.

ACOSTA: With Romney fund-raising behind closed doors over the next couple of days, one of his top surrogates and potential running mate, Marco Rubio, delivered a foreign policy speech in Washington.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Now, put in may talk tough but he knows he's weak.

ACOSTA: That offered a contrast with the president's open mic phone with the Russians.

OBAMA: This is my last election. And after my election I have more flexibility.

ACOSTA: Adding to political overtones --

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: A rising star in the next generation of America's foreign policy leaders.

ACOSTA: Joe Lieberman appeared with Rubio. Reminder, that the Democrat turned Independent senator backed John McCain last time.

And the Romney campaign is trying out a new line of attack on taxes. Consider this column in the "Wall Street Journal" for former George W. Bush turned Romney economic advisor Glen Hubbard. He writes that President Obama's higher spending will require raising taxes for all Americans. The president, who has only proposed increased taxes for wealthier Americans, seems ready for that one.

OBAMA: Now, first of all, these guys ran up the deficit. These are the same folks who voted in favor of two wars without paying for it.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just think there are times when the mountain gets bigger than your ability to climb it.

ACOSTA: Now that Newt Gingrich has all been dropped out, Republicans are eager to combine forces and poke holes in the Republicans' image.

Take Mr. Obama's slow jam of the news on Jimmy Fallon.


OBAMA: I've met him, but we're not friends.


ACOSTA: It's now a new RNC ad.

FALLON: That is how we slow jam the news.


ACOSTA: That ends with the twitter hash tag not funny.


ACOSTA: Gingrich officials say the former speaker will formally get out of the race next week. Gingrich did take a call from Romney that a Gingrich spokesman described as gracious, that used of the word gracious, Wolf, is a sign that the wounds from the bruising primaries, are finally starting to heal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Finally, we will see what happens. Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.

Gloria, let me start with you. And this -- I think it's very effective. Bill Clinton narrated web video obviously in favor of President Obama's reelection, which he talks about the courageous decision the president of the United States took to kill bin Laden.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He had to decide and that's what you hire a president to do. You hire the president to make the call when is no one else can do it.


BLITZER: It's interesting. The Democrats this time around think national security is going to be an issue in their favor as opposed to the Republicans.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And they also believe that the getting of Osama bin Laden will prove to the country this is a president who has got a back bone, who has leadership. And what Bill Clinton is saying in that ad is very important, which is he talks about the loneliness at the very top. And those of us who reported on the Osama bin Laden raid, we know that that was true, that aside from Leon Panetta, really President Obama was kind of alone in making that call. And it's very, very difficult and lonely.

BLITZER: It's pretty effective, especially narrated by Bill Clinton. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's clearly a positive for President Obama. Whether they can turn it into a negative for Mitt Romney is a different question.

As Gloria said, this was not an easy decision. People in the room said-some said that you could not have even gotten a search warrant based on the evidence they had. So, it was a tough call and I think the country respects that in all amid, a tough call, and it will serve him well in 2012.

It's a little more difficult I think to go the next step and question whether Mitt Romney would make the same call. Because it really had no information on which - makes such a judgment. And I think it will be harder to press that case with the public in the positive case for Obama.

BLITZER: Some of us remember are old enough to remember -- I am, not you guys necessarily, another incumbent democratic president way back, to made a very tough call to send a search and rescue operation to Iran when Americans were held hostage. That would be Jimmy Carter and that mission failed.

BORGER: Right. And that was would argue that was the last thing for Jimmy Carter and that was it. I do think it's --

BLITZER: I mean, no. That, that failure weighed heavily on President Obama's mind.

BORGER: And I do think it was such a hypothetical to say if Mitt Romney were president of the United States, he would not have made that decision. You know, that requires to people to take a large leap and say Mitt Romney just wouldn't be leader enough to do it. I think that's very difficult.

BROWNSTEIN: But I think desert one, which was, of course, the helicopter mission that failed, was in the back of the mind for President Obama and really kind of underscores the risk that he took. I think it kind a works - it underscores how strong the decision it was to go forward knowing that if he failed, the consequence could have been comparable than 1980.

BLITZER: Now, there's another ad I want to play. It's a little web video that American cross roads, the super PAC, pro Republican, anti- democrat super PAC, they got one sort of making fun of the president of the United States as celebrity in chief. Here's a little clip.


CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!

OBAMA: I'm so in love with you


BLITZER: Ron, now it goes on to say at the end of that ad that students are in trouble, they can't get jobs and it's not a good environment to be a college student nowadays. That was the gist of it. He may be a celebrity but he's not doing much to help the economy.

BROWNSTEIN: So, of course, it echoes an argument the McCain campaign used in a very controversial ad in summer of 2008 that portrayed President Obama then senator Obama as kind of a vapid celebrity.

But, look. This goes to and I think a core tug of war in this campaign. Obama right now does very well on personal favorability. People can relate to him, I think, more easily than Mitt Romney at this point in the campaign.

On the other hand, where Republicans want to focus on is, are you better off than where you were four years ago? The economic growth numbers that came out this week on the first quarter of economy slowdown in job growth we may be heading into, that's where they want to keep the focus. Anything that is kind of points in that direction is where they want to tote voters.

BORGER: There's also a question about what the American public wants when it comes to a president. We want to like him and President Obama is very, very well liked. But we also want him to be a little different from us and we want to put this person on a bit of a pedestal.

And so, any president, any political leader walks as fine line. So they all go on letterman. Mitt Romney has gone on letterman. They all do these kinds of funny things and if you like the person, you're going to say, that was funny. If you don't like the person, you're going to say, that was going a little far.

BLITZER: If they're trying to energize that youthful base he had four years ago, the Republicans in this American cross roads ads are probably doing a pretty good job in getting those young people enthused once again.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And look. And again, that's the challenge for Obama with the unemployment rate among young people and all those college people sleeping on their parents' coaches. His challenge is kind a keeping the focus on the connection that he makes with them about personal and policy where he is probably closer than, it's harder for him to argue results with young people.

BORGER: You know, the Romney folks put out a press release taking on President Obama on this celebrity issue. And they said that he spent most of the week slow jamming the news, striking a Heisman pose.

So, again, you can see that this is a theme they're going to use over and over again, the president has a poseur.

BLITZER: Gloria. Thanks very much. Ron Brownstein. "National Journal" the new issue. You have some good things in this issue as well as trial is doing and also on the Hispanic community and their role in this election.

BROWNSTEIN: And it sure was young people. BLITZER: Thanks very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Many voters are taking a fresh look at Mitt Romney as faith. I'll ask the popular pastor Joe Osteen about what he would say to those Christians who are worried about voting for Romney because he's a Mormon. Before he ran to become president of the United States, Romney was a bishop. Bishop Romney. We're taking a closer look, this hour as well, at his leadership role in his Mormon church.

And, details of a bird strike that had passengers on one flight fearing for their lives.


BLITZER: Religion and politics in the spotlight with Mitt Romney poised to become this nation's first Mormon presidential nominee, at least potentially. It's an issue many spiritual leaders, including a renowned Lakewood church senior pastor, Joe Osteen, are being asked to address the Houston church is the largest in the country with nearly 40,000 attendees each Sunday.

He took it over after the death of his father in 1999. His television program is seen by 10 million people every week. And his first book, "your best life now" has sold over four million copies.

Joel Osteen is here in "the SITUATION ROOM."

Good to you have here in "the SITUATION ROOM." Thanks very much for coming in.

JOEL OSTEEN, SENIOR PASTOR, LAKEWOOD CHURCH: My pleasure, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: You know, so many people are inspired by you, you're moved by you. And I know, your congregants, they would come to you with questions.

Here's a hypothetical question. It may have happen that you give an answer. A member of your congregation comes to you and says, Joel, I really want to vote for Romney, but I'm concerned because he's a Mormon. I'm not sure he's a Christian. What do you say to that congregant?

OSTEEN: Well, my personal view, Wolf, is when I hear Mitt Romney say he believes that Jesus is the son of God, that he's the Christ, raised from the dead, that he's his savior, that's good enough for me and I would encourage them in the same way. You know, we don't all have the same views and I realize Mormonism is not traditional Christianity. But, I'm probably a little broader and more open in the fact that when somebody loves Jesus and believes they're the son of God, that's good for me.

BLITZER: Because that November of 2011, PEW poll, 32 percent say they don't believe the Mormon faith is a Christian reasonable. It's the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints. But I hear you saying is, you do believe it's a Christian religion sort of?

OSTEEN: Well, I do. I believe there are things that are the same, but there, you know, obviously there's -- if you get deeper into it, there's things that's not traditional Christianity.

But, I'm looking at more the broadness of when somebody believes that Jesus is their savior and son of God. To me, that -- I believe they're a believer in Christ.

BLITZER: And so, when there are some protests from the Liberal (ph) University now, who, you are familiar with, Jerry Falwell, the late Jerry Falwell's University. He is going to be giving the commencement address there the graduation address. Mitt Romney at Liberal (ph) University, some are saying maybe that's not appropriate. What would you think?

OSTEEN: Well, to me, it would be appropriate. Now, everybody has a right to their own view. Obviously, some people feel stronger than I do. But, again, I'm trying to reach the biggest, broadest group. And, you know, my net may be a little bit wider. When I see somebody that loves the Lord, I try not to exclude them but to rather include them and to realize that we all have differences, you know, when we could look at our faith versus the catholic faith and other faiths.

Mormonism is a little bit different, but I still see them as brother in Christ.

BLITZER: I see - what I'm seeing is, is saying is that you are big tent Christian.

OSTEEN: I feel I am. I don't really want - I don't want to push people to way. I mean, there's -- we could take the scripture and ask ten people that are all from the same denominations and get ten different views. So, I just - I would rather be inclusive and said, you know what, if they believe in Christ, they're my brother, they're my sister.

BLITZER: Another congregant comes to you hypothetically, it may have happens, says, you know, I really want to reelect President Obama but I heard he's a Muslim. And in fact to that, PEW survey that came out, not that long ago, 18 percent of folks say, he is really a Muslim. What do you say to that congregant?

OSTEEN: Well, I would tell them that I have been with the president at the Easter breakfasts not five feet away from him. I've heard him talk about his faith, talk about redemption, talked about salvation. And you know I just believe in all my heart that he's a Christian. He says he is. Again, I wouldn't push people away. I mean, you know, that's just the opposite of what we're supposed to do.

And so, I would encourage them in that. I know there's a lot of media that say there's a lot of talk and things. But, I just - I don't believe that of course. My personality, I give people the benefit of the doubt. You don't have to prove to me that you are this. If you say you are from the sincerity of your heart, then I believe you are. BLITZER: And if he's not a Christian. Let's say someone a Muslim, someone is a Hindu, someone who is Jewish, do you have a problem with someone who is not a Christian being president of the United States?

OSTEEN: I wouldn't have a problem with it because I love all people. I think in the United States it would be a, you know, it may be a long time before we would elect somebody -- maybe a Muslim or Hindu or something, just because I think still 90 percent of us are Christians.

But, you know, I spent a lot of time in India with my father. The Hindus are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. And so, again, I'm not trying to, you know, push people down and see them as second class because they're not as my faith. I think when we're electing a president, we're looking at their values, their leadership abilities and their faith is a big part as well.

BLITZER: And you're going to be speaking at Washington National Park here in town. And this may be a huge crowd. Give us in a sentence or two, the most important message you want the folks to leave with.

OSTEEN: I think it that God is on your side. He's a good God. You may have made mistakes, you may have some big obstacles, but you can still become who God has created to you be. Let go of yesterday. Let today be a new beginning and be the best that you can and you'll get to where god wants you to be.

BLITZER: Joe Osteen. Thanks very much for coming into "the SITUATION ROOM."

OSTEEN: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: We're also learning more about Mitt Romney by taking a closer look at his Mormon faith including his days as a bishop inside the church. We'll hear from people who turned to him for advice.

And an American lawmaker kept out of Afghanistan by the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. I'll ask Congressman Dana Rohrabacher about that outrage and why the highest U.S. officials actually went along with it.


BLITZER: As Mitt Romney campaigns to lead the nation, he rarely talks about his leadership experience in the Mormon church. He volunteered for key roles back in the 1980s and 90s, including service as a bishop.

Our Mary Snow talked to people who knew Bishop Romney.


SANDY CATALANO, MEMBER OF ROMNEY'S CHURCH: They might ask that, too, in class, that he labored with his own hands that he might serve the people.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reading the book of Mormon together is now routine for former catholic, Sandy and Ron Catalano. But the couples' clash over Mormonism almost destroyed their marriage. Ron was skeptical when his wife converted in the late 1970s. With nowhere to go, Sandy turned to her then bishop, Mitt Romney.

CATALANO: So, when I went to Mitt, I said it's just so hard, I don't know what to do. And I just I broke down and say I can't do this anymore. Do I love the Lord more than I love my husband?

SNOW: And what happened?

SANDY CATALANO: He said to me you can love both and I'll show you how to do it.

SNOW: Mitt Romney, they say, came up with odd jobs for Ron, an out of work maintenance man struggling to provide for his wife and three sons.

RON CATALANO, MEMBER OF ROMNEY'S CHURCH: What he was doing is he was fellowshipping me and bringing me closer not to the religion but just bringing me closer to him and his family and my family, which is important.

SANDY CATALANO: He really helped change our lives for the better.

ROMNEY: We got work to do.

SNOW: Romney, on occasion, talks about his time as a church leader in the Boston area while he was making his way up to ladder as Bain capital. Romney was a volunteer bishop, similar to a pastor at the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints.

Friends at this church say he worked up to 20 hours a week doing everything from counseling members to balancing budgets.

ROMNEY: And in that capacity, I had a chance to work with people who lost their jobs in some cases or were facing other financial distress, losing their homes. And I found those kind of circumstances were not just about money or numbers and they are about lives and about emotions.

SNOW: So why doesn't Romney talk more about his roles in the church?

GRANT BENNETT, FORMER BISHOP, LDS CHURCH: Mitt really is a great listener.

SNOW: Grant Bennett, a former LDS bishop who served with Romney, says there's a cultural component of humbleness among Mormons. And he says there are political r risks.

BENNETT: There are many, many misconceptions about the Mormon church. I think to dwell on his involvement in the church, no matter how effective he might do it, inevitably would lead to side discussions that may not be very productive.

SNOW: Not everyone in Bishop Romney's church was a fan, with some of the harshest criticism coming from Mormon women. JUDY DUSHKU, MORMON FEMINIST: This is an issue from the winter of 1986.

SNOW: Judy Dushku was the editor of the feminist Mormon magazine who said she first clashed with Romney when the publication couldn't be distributed at church.

DUSHKU: His attitude is always, I know what's best. I'm the interpreter of Mormonism for all Mormons and you have no right to comment on it and if you do comment on it, you're wrong.

SNOW: Dushku also recalls the story of a friend, a mother of four, who published a letter in the magazine, saying her bishop pressured her to not have an abortion. This, despite a blood clot that put her health and that of the baby's at risk.

The woman who wrote that article confirmed to CNN that bishop was Mitt Romney. The Romney campaign declined comment.

HELEN CLAIRE SEIVERS, FORMER CHURCH ACTIVITY DIRECTOR: I wanted him to look at - hear what the women have to say.

SNOW: Helen Claire Seivers remembers Romney as a lead who is did try to address concerns of women in a church largely run by men. She credits Romney with meeting with about 250 women to discuss issues and make some policy changes.

SEIVERS: I thought he was pretty open and caring to say, yes, we'll do this because I don't think many church leaders would have done that.

SNOW: But note. Seivers' admiration is in the past tense.

What's your reaction when you see him on the campaign trail now?

SEIVERS: I have no idea who that man is. What it looks to me like is he's figuring out what he needs to do to win the Republican nomination and he's doing it.

SNOW: As for the Catalano's, they say they know the real Mitt Romney and hope their former bishop does become president.

SANDY CATALANO: He just knows how to connect with people like us.

SNOW: Mary Snow, CNN. Belmont, Massachusetts.


BLITZER: A veteran U.S. lawmaker barred from Afghanistan by the country's president despite the $2 billion a week the United States is spending in that country. I'll talk to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher about the outrage.

Also, how al Qaeda plotted to get a bomb inside a Wal-Mart store.

And my interview with former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, she speaks candidly about the family secret that changed her life.


BLITZER: It's shocking that a country that receives billions in U.S. taxpayer money can tell an American congressman he's not welcome to visit.

It's also shocking that the highest U.S. officials and even fellow members of Congress would go along with this outrage. But that's exactly what happened when the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai made cleared to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, a key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee would not be allowed into Afghanistan.


BLITZER: Congressman Rohrabacher is joining us now. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. When I heard about, this I was outraged. You were with five other members of Congress getting ready to board a U.S. military plane to fly from Dubai to Kabul when you got a call. Briefly tell our viewers what happened.

REPRESENTATIVE DANA ROHRABACHER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, you have to remember, I am not just a member of Congress, not just a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a senior member.

I am also the chairman of the Oversight and Investigation subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. So I actually think it's part of my job to make sure that I am going into places like Afghanistan and talking to people from various factions.

And getting an understanding of what's going on and whether or not the strategy we have can succeed or not considering it's costing so much blood and treasure on the parts of America. I got on this codel, it was a six-person codel --

BLITZER: That's a congressional delegation.

ROHRABACHER: Right, congressional delegation and Louie Gohmert was the head of it. Well, they already had six people, but two days before it left, one of them decided not to go so I told him I would be happy to fill that slot.

And we flew commercial to Dubai. I might add I had to fly coach for 13-1/2 hours. When we got there we were supposed to go on a military plane to Kabul. We get this call from both the Defense Department, which telling Louie that I'm sorry, the military plane will not take off if Congressman Rohrabacher is on it.

BLITZER: Who called you from the Defense Department? Was it the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta?

ROHRABACHER: I did not talk to Leon, but I think -- yes, the answer is Louie was talking to Panetta.

BLITZER: And Panetta said they wouldn't let that U.S. military plane take off if you were on it, a member of Congress?

ROHRABACHER: And the chairman of Oversight Investigation subcommittee was on it and that's me. When I said that's OK, Louie, I'll look into going commercial, which are there commercial flights from Dubai to Kabul. At that point, I got a call from Hillary.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state.

ROHRABACHER: The Secretary of State Clinton and to be fair about it, you know, we didn't have time to work out these glitches before. It was very short time before when I got on this codel and by the time we were going to have to leave --

BLITZER: Well, what did the secretary of state say to you?

ROHRABACHER: She basically said that she'd been through many -- a lot of many crises there in Afghanistan with the burning of the Korans and our soldiers urinating on these dead bodies and one of them going crazy and killing civilians.

She just felt that another mini crisis, which might erupt because Karzai hated me so much that he would create a crisis and she thought it would be disruptive to our ability to get her job done.

BLITZER: And so a country like Afghanistan that receives about -- maintaining 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan costs American taxpayers $2 billion every week, $100 billion a year. So she would allow Hamid Karzai to dictate that an American congressman cannot visit his country?

ROHRABACHER: Well, I think that she should have stood up for that but, however, she asked me to do that and I complied with her wishes. I thought she was asking me in a respectful way, but she was having to deal with this corrupt prima donna who heads that country.

And realizing that, look, members of Congress should be over there to see if the dynamics are such that we're not just wasting people's lives and money. And there are changes that need to happen for us to be able to succeed.

They have pushed aside those people who defeated the Taliban originally. We need to get the other people that Karzai pass kept out of his government with the Taliban and everybody else, but they won't succeed if they don't have a change.

BLITZER: I write this on my blog today, Congressman. It's, A, an outrage Karzai won't let you visit his country, B, it's an outrage that the secretary of state and the secretary of defense go along with this and tell you, you can't board a U.S. military plane to go and meet with the troops, see what's going on in Afghanistan.

But to me it was also an outrage that the five other members of your congressional delegation went along with this. They decided to leave you behind in Dubai and they went off in Afghanistan.

I called Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and I spoke to her about that because she was on that delegation.

ROHRABACHER: Let me correct that. They actually offered to stay behind with me. They offered to stay. If Rohrabacher's not going, we're going to stay.

BLITZER: You were a gentleman, but to me it was pretty outrageous that they would allow -- they would participate in going along with this.

ROHRABACHER: Well, I don't think -- I would have to say my colleagues didn't go along with it. I suggested for them -- there was a special mission they had to accomplish in Afghanistan, which is why Karzai was so opposed to me going.

And that was we had leaders of the northern alliance, opposition members, political leaders in that country who wanted to talk to American congressmen to make sure that we are not going to leave the Taliban in charge of Afghanistan.

They needed to meet with these people and Louie led that and I wanted him to go and have that meeting and they did. It's just that I wasn't able to be there to participate.


BLITZER: So while Congressman Rohrabacher stayed behind, his colleagues continued with the trip to Afghanistan. I asked Representative Michele Bachmann what it was like. She called the overall situation preposterous, but here's her answer.


REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN (R), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: First of all, we had our mission, which was to visit the constituents, meet with General Allen. General Allen was in my office six weeks ago and invited me to come to Afghanistan.

So I came at his request and number three was to meet with the northern alliance. We decided that we could continue that mission and succeed in the mission. Dana did not want to be an impediment.

There's one other piece, Wolf, though that you left out and it's this, Ryan Crocker, our ambassador, who I can't say enough good about and also General Allen, they were in the process, particularly Ambassador Crocker.

He was at 11:59:59 negotiating the deal for handing off the baton for leadership in Iran from the ISAF, International Security Forces to the afghans to be able to run this conflict on their own and defeat the Taliban.

This agreement was completed while we were there. We did not in any way want to turn an international incident into preventing this agreement from being signed. This was months in the making. So we didn't want to be the ones that would prevent this from happening.


BLITZER: You can read more about all of this on my blog at

An al Qaeda plot to attack an American passenger train. New details coming to light at the trial of an unlikely terror suspect.

Plus the bird strike that had passengers on one flight fearing for their lives.


BLITZER: The federal trial in New York has exposed a terrifying al Qaeda plot to blow up the Long Island railroad. The alleged mastermind behind it, an American. Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got some alarming details. What happened here, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is one of the first times we've heard directly from al Qaeda operatives in court on their operational plans, their motivations, what they liked as ideas for attacks and what they didn't, a blockbuster from this testimony, vivid details on ideas for attacks on the U.S. homeland, which came from an American.


TODD (voice-over): They knew how and when to make the most devastating impact, an explosion on a Long Island railroad train as it entered a tunnel. They went back and forth on whether the attacker would be a suicide bomber or would exit the train before a timer set it off.

It was all part of an al Qaeda plan in 2008, hatched by an American. Bryant Neal Venus, testifying at the trial of another alleged al Qaeda operative in a separate case said he presented the idea of attacking the Long Island railroad to his al Qaeda bosses while he was at a camp in Pakistan.

CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank was in court this week when Venus gave the details.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: As an American who often traveled on the Rhode Island system, Venus grew up on Long Island. He knew about New York's vulnerabilities where it could part of the most.

TODD: Bryant Neal Venus subject of a 2010 CNN documentary was born in Queens, grew up on Long Island, the son of Latin American immigrants. He was an altar boy and had a passion for baseball. His happy childhood ended when his parents split up. He eventually converted to Islam and gradually became more radicalized.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Bryant Neal Venus was a Hispanic-American. He was a high school (inaudible). He tried to get into the army. He was unemployed and Bin Laden was saying we should maybe try and recruit some of these defected, maybe minority converts to Islam.

TODD: It was Venus' knowledge of the American commuter systems and popular commerce, which gave al Qaeda crucial insights.

(on camera): Another idea according to Venus, he testified that he suggested an attack on a Wal-Mart in which an al Qaeda operative would buy a TV then return it with a bomb inside.

(voice-over): Neither that nor the Long Island railroad idea was ever carried out as a hard plot, but Cruickshank says this --

CRUICKSHANK: It's on the shelf in Pakistan. They probably still have some knowledge of what Venus was telling them about the way the system was working.


TODD: But if al Qaeda launches that plot, they'll do so with one less American on its side. Bryant Neal Venus pleaded guilty to helping al Qaeda plan that Long Island attack and he's awaiting his sentence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And in the trial, there were other pretty fascinating operational details of what al Qaeda might be up to.

TODD: That's right. Paul Cruickshank said that Venus testified that when al Qaeda recruits got their training in bomb making and everything else in recent years, they didn't do it in these big camps in Afghanistan or Pakistan where they could be out in the open.

You know, inside of the drones, they would do it indoors away from the sight lines of the drones. They've clearly adjusted their strategy and their training to deal with the drone threat in recent years. As the U.S. and its allies adjust their plans, al Qaeda certainly adjusts their defensive strategy as well.

BLITZER: Yes, those drones have had a devastating impact on those al Qaeda operatives. Thanks very much, Brian for that.

Moments of terror for passengers aboard a JetBlue flight. Its windshield was hit by geese sparking an in-flight emergency. CNN's Lisa Sylvester has details.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after take-off, the pilot of JetBlue Flight 571 radios the control tower.

UNIDENTIFIED ATC: JetBlue 571 contact New York departure 120.8.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: JetBlue 571, we got to come back. We hit two big geese.

UNIDENTIFIED ATC: JetBlue 571 roger and standby. JetBlue 571 make right traffic runway 1-6.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: Right traffic 1-6, 571.

UNIDENTIFIED ATC: JetBlue 571, would you like to declare an emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: We are declaring an emergency.

SYLVESTER: You can see the damage here on the plane's windshield caused by two large geese. The flight headed from a suburban New York airport to West Palm Beach had just taken off Tuesday evening and was about 300 feet in the air. Laura Echavarria was one of the 54 passengers on that flight. She feared the worst.

LAURA ECHAVARRIA, PASSENGER: The plane started swerving immediately right after the two hits. He was rocking the plane back and forth and we knew something was going on. I'm going to die. I'm not going to see my family. I'm not going to get home.

SYLVESTER (on camera): Bird strikes are quite common. According to the FAA, between 2006 and 2010, there was an average of 26 strikes reported every day.

(voice-over): Last Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden's plane Air Force Two hit birds as it was coming into the Santa Barbara airport. On the same day, a Delta flight from New York to Los Angeles, birds were sucked into the engine forcing that plane to make an emergency landing.

But the most famous bird strike was the incident now referred to as the miracle on the Hudson in 2009. Captain Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed his U.S. airplane on the Hudson River after a flock of birds flew into the engine.

Airports use very techniques to shoo away the birds, including sonic booms. Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: The former secretary of state Madeleine Albright is now talking candidly about the family secret that changed her life. Standby for my interview.


BLITZER: She's one of the most powerful women in the history of the United States not only serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but also is the first female secretary of state and now she's speaking about a family secret that changed her life.


BLITZER: Joining us now from New York, Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state. She's written a powerful new book entitled "Prague Winter, A Personal Story of Remembrance and War 1937, 1948." Madam Secretary, congratulations on writing this book, it really is very personal and moving. And I want to get to some of the highlights right now.

You begin the book by writing this, I had no idea that my family was Jewish or that 20 of my relatives had died in the holocaust. Here's the question, why didn't you know that?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The truth is, I don't know why I didn't know it. But my speculation is that my parents were desperate to start a new life in America when we came here in 1948.

And to put some of the tragedy and sadness behind them and to try to create a normal life for us and not to dwell and make us all feel that we were a part of it. I think my parents did what any parents would do is to try to protect their children.

But I think another reason, Wolf, that I came to as I did research for this book because I found a novel that my father had written about all this. And I think the bottom line is they couldn't find the words to describe what had happened. There were no words.

BLITZER: There were no words, but you have written a lot of words in this very amazing book. And I know you've gone through government documents in Prague.

You began to suspect something was going on, you were 59 years old, about to become President Clinton's secretary of state and people who knew your parents during World War II were all of a sudden writing to you talking about their Jewish heritage and family members who died in the holocaust. When you began to get these letters, what did you think?

ALBRIGHT: Well, the letters in the beginning made no sense. I mean, they basically would say I knew your father when he was in high school in 1915, when he was actually born in 1909. Had all the names wrong or the dates wrong and finally, in the fall of 1996, and I got a letter from somebody, and I was ambassador at the U.N. at the time, Wolf.

A letter from somebody that had all the names and dates and everything right and when I was being vetted to be secretary of state, they asked me all the normal kind of questions. And at the end of it, they said is there anything about you that we haven't asked that you know?

And I said, look, I don't know whether this is true or not, but I have every reason to believe that I'm of Jewish background and so they said so what, our president is not anti-Semitic and so it was not until Michael Dobbs from the "Washington Post" went and did all kinds of research.

And presented me with this horrifying story of the number of people that have died in concentration camps and so here I was secretary of state. I couldn't go and investigate it all myself and I've likened it to being asked to represent your country in a marathon. And being given a very heavy package to carry and unwrap as I ran. So I asked my brother and sister to go to the Czech Republic to begin to investigate the story and they did and I have now picked up the threads in this new brook.

BLITZER: The book is a beautiful book, well researched and documented. "Prague Winner, A Personal of Remembrance and War 1937, 1948" Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state is the author.

I have written a review of it on our blog as well as Madame Secretary, as usual, thanks very much.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.


BLITZER: Congratulations to Madeleine Albright. She's one of this year's upcoming recipients of the presidential Medal of Freedom. It's the nation's highest civilian honor.

President Obama says of the honourees and I'm quoting now, "They've challenged us. They have inspired us and they have made the world a better place.

Madeleine Albright as you know was the first woman to become the United States secretary of state.

The snack advertisement that hit a sour note, that's ahead right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a closer look at an Oreo uproar.


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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's weird. It's just kind of weird. Jarring but it's not evil.

MOOS: You would think it's evil, the way we in the media are redacting the action, and on a fish to hide the baby's fish like puckering. The caption reads milk's favorite cookie. It's not everyone's favorite image.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not good.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oreos are sugar and we need to get off of sugar.

MOOS: Others cite the ick factor about showing breastfeeding, 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 breast feeding ad is pure awesome sauce. 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.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes me feel a little bit weird about Oreo.

MOOS: Does it make you want an Oreo?


MOOS: How about a breast?


MOOS: But long before this ad surfaced, there were videos on YouTube featuring real babies breast feeding and munching cookies. Poor baby, the trouble with that is you can't dunk. It maybe 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: I want one of these Oreo things.

MOOS: Not to be confused ford the technical term for the anatomy at issue. Jeannie Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oreo. I know you, you're funny.

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Jeanne is very, very funny. That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.