CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Biden Promises Swift Action on Gun Violence; Can Data from Lanza Home Computer Be Saved?; Backlash Hits Possible Defense Secretary Pick; Fallout from Benghazi Report; Farewell to a Senate Legend

Aired December 20, 2012 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Newtown gunman Adam Lanza's computer smashed, severely damaging the hard drive image. Just ahead, we're going to show you how authorities might be trying to salvage what could be some critical information.

Also, the vice president, Joe Biden, kicks off the White House effort to fight gun violence. We're going to take you inside that meeting where he vowed, and I'm quoting him now, "to take action."

And as many as 100 million U.S. taxpayers could be facing serious refund delays if -- if the country goes over the fiscal cliff.

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

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LILLIAN BITTMAN, FORMER CHAIRWOMAN, NEWTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION: It's an assembly line of wakes and funerals. We -- we can't even figure out which ones to go to. There are so many that we have to divide and conquer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Chilling words to describe the grief that's become all too familiar in Newtown, Connecticut. Another six funerals today for the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims. Three 6-year-olds, two teachers and the principal all laid to rest.

And we've learned that the mother of the gunman, Nancy Lanza, has been buried at an undisclosed location in New Hampshire. Tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, church bells will toll across the region, marking exactly one week since the horrifying shooting massacre occurred.

All of this resonating right here in Washington, driving the Obama administration to get to work on this sensitive issue.

Let's turn now to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

She's got the latest -- what is the latest, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

There are signs of life tonight on the administration's push for gun legislation -- legislation fighting all the gun violence in this nation, an issue that was politically dead throughout the administration's first term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): The vice president is promising to take swift action, moving gun laws and mental health policies at warp speed.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president is absolutely committed to keeping his promise that we will act and we will act in a way that is designed, even if, as he says, we could only save one life, we have to take action.

YELLIN: It was the first meeting of the Biden working group, tasked with making recommendations to the president in January. And it's filled with administration heavy hitters.

Attorney General Eric Holder, focus -- gun policy and background checks.

Health and Human Services' Kathleen Sebelius -- national mental health issues.

Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano -- emergency response.

And Education's Arnie Duncan -- school readiness and childhood mental health.

The White House says they're tackling a complex problem. But injury prevention expert Matt Miller says the cause is clear.

MATTHEW MILLER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: What makes the United States exceptional in the number of people who die violent deaths is not that we are a culture more violent than other high end cultures. We're not. What makes us exceptional is the fact that when we act violently, we're much more likely to do so with guns, and, therefore, we're much more likely to -- to -- to kill people when we act violently.

YELLIN: Sources tell CNN the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun lobby, is not currently working with the White House. Silent since the shooting, the group plans a press conference Friday.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Everyone in America has a stake in doing something to end the scourge of gun violence in our country.

YELLIN: If anyone can forge a compromise with gun advocates, it's Vice President Biden. He won a hard-fought battle to pass the first assault weapons ban as part of the 1994 Crime Bill. And during the 2008 campaign, he spoke passionately about gun violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM JULY 23, 2007)

BIDEN: We should be working with law enforcement right now to make sure that we protect people against people who don't -- are not capable of knowing what to do with a gun because they're either mentally imbalanced and/or because they have a criminal record.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, today, the Biden group met with law enforcement officials. And, notably, these are the same people who helped push the 1994 Crime Bill over the finish line.

But you could expect that, in the future, they will meet with when -- mental health experts, perhaps school officials, educators and other policy experts. Keep in mind, they don't have a lot of time to get their policy recommendations into the Oval Office. The president wants these by next month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he -- he clearly has been visibly shaken by what happened almost a week ago in Newtown, Connecticut. You could see it when he was there and you could see it in his remarks yesterday. He's -- this is going to be a high priority for his administration in the second term, isn't it?

YELLIN: He has made it clear that this is a high priority. One of the challenges is, in interviewing some of the experts, some of the gun policies are clearer steps to take. When it comes to mental health issues and some of these culture of violence issues, the science and the data is more confusing about exactly whether there are clear steps and what the policy would be.

That will be a bigger challenge -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thank you.

The people of Newtown, Connecticut have endured nearly a week of unimaginable pain. And for many, this is just the beginning of what could be a very, very long emotional healing process. Many of them will never be able to be completely healed.

CNN's Sandra Endo is in Newtown.

She's joining us now with more on this part of the story -- such a sad story indeed, Sandy.

But what's going on now?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tomorrow, the governor of Connecticut has designated it a day of mourning. But, really, that's just a formality. This has been a long, painful week for Newtown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO (voice-over): Twenty-six Christmas trees, one for each victim of Sandy Hook Elementary. Twenty-seven guardian angels, representing the lives lost, including the shooter's mother. And marking a week since the tragedy, church bells will toll on Friday.

(on camera): How many times?

REV. MEL KAWAKAMI, NEWTOWN UNITED METHODIST CHURCH: We're going to be ringing it 28 times. We recognize that there are 28 lives lost and that in -- in our faith, God mourns for everyone.

ENDO: And I know part of the faith is about forgiving.

Is it too soon to forgive?

KAWAKAMI: I think for some people it is too soon to forgive. And I think for some people, they need to go through that process, first of all, of grieving and mourning, before there's even room for forgiveness.

ENDO (voice-over): In Newtown, symbols of the holiday season mixed with signs of immeasurable sadness. But there's giving. Young women collect donations and hand ornaments. Coffee and food are free courtesy of anonymous donors from far away.

FRAN MATERO, OWNER, DEMITASSE CAFE: It's really a nice thing and the people that come in really need it. And it's heartwarming.

ENDO: But after a week, the wounds are still so fresh. For many, it's impossible to count to 28.

KAWAKAMI: There is light in the midst of what seems like unimaginable grief and sorrow. And that there is -- on this journey toward healing, there is a healing path.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ENDO: And that journey will take a lot of time here in Newtown. At 9:30 tomorrow, a moment of silence to mark the time gunshots rang out at Sandy Hook Elementary School just a week ago. And churches will be open as places to find comfort and support for residents here. And the pastor we spoke with says that his congregation actually doubled in size since the tragedy. And he says he's seen a steady stream of people come through the church throughout the day just to pray -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It doesn't get any easier for these people out there, including all of the folks just walking around where you are, does it -- Sandy?

ENDO: No, it doesn't, Wolf. Every day is very painful. You can see the grief in so many people's faces. What we do notice, though, so many more people from out of town coming in here just to show their condolences and support for the residents here in Newtown.

BLITZER: Sandy Endo reporting for us.

Thank you.

Almost one week into this horrifying tragedy, authorities are still working to determine a motive. They're hoping a computer seized from Adam Lanza's home could reveal some answers if -- if the information on it can be salvaged.

Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow.

She's working this part of the story.

What's the latest -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, investigators have indicated that a computer was smashed at the shooter's home with extensive damage to the hard drive. And they're working to retrieve that data.

Now, to get an idea of what's involved, we visited a company that specializes in data recovery. It has no firsthand knowledge of the Newtown, Connecticut investigation. But it has worked on cases where hard drives were badly damaged and key information was not lost.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): In the weeks since super storm Sandy socked the East Coast, labs at Kroll Ontrack have been busy trying to restore data from computers and hard drives inundated by water.

(on camera): Can you recover anything from this?

MICHAEL DIOMIDIOUS, KROLL ONTRACK: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. It seems unrealistic to a lot of people, but we can recover it, yes.

SNOW (voice-over): Michael Diomidious says the company has salvaged data from hard drives destroyed on 9/11 in buildings surrounding the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina and even the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

That painstaking work is done in labs like this one, called a clean room.

DIOMIDIOUS: Silt, dust-free, only need to know basis have access in here.

SNOW: Engineers reconstruct hard drives like this one, that can sustain serious damage. What's key for information retrieval are these disks, or platters, are found inside.

DIOMIDIOUS: There are layers. It's like a cake. You damage the top, but the bottom is still good.

SNOW: While Diomidious has no firsthand knowledge of what investigators in Newton, Connecticut are finding, he says recovering data depends on how badly those disks inside are damaged.

DIOMIDIOUS: If some of them are smashed and some are them are intact, we can get data out of the ones that are intact. There are cases that we have done in the past, that out of four disks that are inside the hard drive, we were able to recover one. And that would be a tremendous help for the -- for the -- for the customer and the investigators in this case.

SNOW: But physical restoration has its limits. Eric Venema, with the company's forensic crime lab, says if the hard drive is erased or written over before it's destroyed, data cannot be retrieved. Reformatting a hard drive is a different story.

ERIC VENEMA, KROLL ADVISORY SOLUTIONS: The sake of a reformat, where somebody reformats a drive thinking that they're preventing anybody else from getting the data that they had, that, actually, we can recover.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW: Now the company's most difficult job, it says, was reconstructing that hard drive from the Space Shuttle Columbia. We were told it came in a pile of rubble and that almost all of the data was recovered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Approximately how long do you think it might take?

SNOW: You know, in the case of -- of the shuttle, that hard drive that we were talking about, you know, the company said it was done within weeks.

What they do is reconstruct these hard drives, take them apart piece by piece. They have to clean them with chemical solutions and treat them and then reconstruct them. But it -- it can be done within weeks.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, let's see what happens.

Thank you.

Millions of tax returns potentially in danger if the country goes over that so-called fiscal cliff. Just ahead, why you could see some serious delays. Stand by.

Plus, a disturbing sign of the times -- bullet-proof protection for children -- bullet-proof protection for children in the form of a backpack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Widespread criticism forced the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, to withdraw her name for consideration as the next secretary of state. Now, there are questions about President Obama's possible choice for secretary of defense. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us with more on what's going on. Give us some background, Barbara. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the rumored frontrunner to take over at the Pentagon is out there, former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, but the nomination hasn't been made, and so, the question is, is Hagel about to face the same fate as Susan Rice?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is rumored to be President Obama's pick as the next defense secretary, but even with no announcement yet, Hagel's opponents are taking aim against this decorated Vietnam veteran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option.

STARR: Pro-Israel groups like the one that is running this ad in the Washington area object to his Middle East views.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R) NEBRASKA: The Israelis and the Palestinians are going to have to sort some of this out.

STARR: Supporters say it's a classic independent Hagel. Much of the opposition centers on a 2007 interview Hagel gave to Aaron David Miller for this book where Hagel said, quote, "The Jewish lobby intimidates lawmakers." Miller says while it may have been a poor word choice --

AARON DAVID MILLER, WILSON CENTER: That doesn't mean that Chuck Hagel is an enemy of state or anti-Semitic (ph). I think those charges are really, really, really off the mark.

STARR: Some of the other criticisms --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hagel voted against labeling Iran's revolutionary guard a terrorist group.

STARR: A fact sheet circulated by Hagel's supporters says the then senator voted against the resolution, in part, because it had little impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama says he supports sanctions on Iran. Hagel voted against them.

STARR: Supporters say he favors some sanctions and believes Iran sponsors terrorism. Former defense secretary, William Cohen says if chosen, Hagel will have to fall in line.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Keep in mind, it's not Senator Hagel who decides whether there'll be discussions with Hamas or whomever. It would be President Obama.

STARR: With no official nomination, the White House is saying little.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have made no personal announcements, and I'm not going to engage in that. What I can tell you is that Senator Hagel fought and bled for his country.

STARR: Hagel's experiences on the battlefields of Vietnam shaped his views.

HAGEL: The horror of it, the pain of it, the suffering of it. People just don't understand it, unless, they've been through it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (on-camera): And, you know, Chuck Hagel and his brother, Tom, actually served together in Vietnam on the battlefield and saved each other's lives under combat fire. To this day, Senator Hagel carries shrapnel from Vietnam in his chest. This is a man who was a very tough warrior on the battlefield and many will tell you very tough on the battlefields of Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thanks for that report. Let's see what the president of the United States decides whether or not to go forward and nominate Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense, succeeding Leon Panetta.

A showdown over the fiscal cliff is only hours away with the House of Representatives set to both on a plan. The Senate is calling dead on arrival and millions of American tax returns are potentially on the line. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us with a little more explanation. Explain, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, as these negotiations go on, everyone says, here comes the cliff. Here comes the cliff. It's not a sudden effect, because it doesn't all happen at once, but it does happen and some people will feel it absolutely more than others. Remember, there are automatic mandatory cuts that will kick in in this circumstance and they'll hit many different departments.

So, for example, if you are unemployed right now, benefits will stop for 2.1 million unemployed Americans if we go over the cliff and just to the point of reference here, if, in fact, they wanted to extend those benefits, that would cost about $30 billion, which is not a whole lot in the federal budget, but nonetheless, this is a group that would feel the cliff and feel it fast.

What about people who are traveling out there in the transportation department? $1 billion in cuts to mandatory spending in the transportation department. What will that mean? Slower air travel and higher fares, and I'll tell you why, because there will be fewer air traffic controllers, customs officers, security officers out there.

That means fewer people to process you through the airport, your luggage and everything else to get you where you're going. And, as that happens, they're going to have to have more overtime from the people who are there. That's what's going to run the costs up. So, that could also have an impact.

But here's the one that can touch virtually everyone in the country. Go to the treasury department here, 100 million taxpayers will be unable to file until late March because they would not have many people as they would normally have to process your tax returns. You know what's coming next? That also means a delay in tax refunds.

The treasury department normally sends out about $72 million in tax refunds in January and February. That would not happen if the fiscal cliff comes. They wouldn't be able to keep up with the workload and there would be unexpected higher taxes for most Americans, because remember, that's another part of the equation here, Wolf.

So, many different groups could be hit in many different ways at many times, but the bottom line is, if these negotiations continue to stall and don't come through and the cliff comes, people will, indeed, feel it all over this country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will. Let's see if the lawmakers can get their act together and make a deal with the president. Let's see. By no means a done (ph) deal yet.

Gun control is certainly in the spotlight with the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. CNN's own Piers Morgan says it is the nation's crucial moment right now, the time to talk about guns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: How many bullets can the AR-15 fire in one second? Do you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think your estimate is high.

MORGAN: It's not.

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Actually, I've spoken to many experts today. It could fire four to six bullets a second. It could fire a 100 in a minute. That could wipe out, as we saw, 20 children in a matter of seconds, if not, within minutes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The season's first blizzard is making a major impact. Lisa Sylvester has that and some of the other top stories in the situation room right now -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, four states are actually under blizzard warnings, including Wisconsin were people face this kind of snow and wind as much as another foot of wet, heavy snow is expected to fall. In Iowa, blinding snow is blamed for this 30-car pileup on i-35 that left two people dead.

Almost 40,000 people are without power in Nebraska. And you can see and hear part of the reason why. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Yes, you can see those electricity lines there. Utility crews are asking customers to brace for a slow recovery.

And well, if I asked you which state had the fastest growing population in the U.S., would you guess correctly, North Dakota? Well, if your answer is yes, you would be right. The Census Bureau today released new estimates of state population changes from July 2011 to July 2012, and North Dakota showed a boost of more than two percent while Texas gained the most people, more than 400,000.

And one of the most popular cars on the road is getting slammed in a new crash test. The Toyota Camry took home a rating of poor from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In this new test, you can see the car travels at 40 miles an hour striking a barrier with a small part of the driver's side front bumper.

Toyota says it will respond to the challenge as they design new vehicles. So, that's a very popular model. A lot of people are driving the Toyota Camry. So, I think a lot of interest in that story.

BLITZER: Yes, lots. All right. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

They were normal kids. They were normal educators. A girl who helped nervous kindergartners going to school for the first time, a teacher who loved her students so much she called them "her kids." Up next, who they were before the world knew them?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A tragically familiar scene repeated in Newtown, Connecticut. Mourners watching the hearse carrying six-year-old Benjamin Wheeler, two other students, two teachers, and the school's principal were also laid to rest, as well as the first victim, Nancy Lanza.

But the victims shouldn't be remembered by moments like these. We want to honor the lives they live. Here's CNN's Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, "AC 360": Daniel Barden was just 7, and was called the spark of his family. Always smiling, he had two front teeth missing which his parents say he earned in his fearless pursuit of fun and happiness.

Daniel's dad is a musician. Daniel followed his lead by playing the drums in a mini band he formed with his older brother and sister. His family describes Daniel as a thoughtful and affectionate boy. Whenever he noticed kids sitting alone in the lunchroom at school he'd always join them. In an interview with Katie Couric, his dad Mark remembers teaching Daniel how to play "Jingle Bells" in the piano last Friday morning before he went to school.

MARK BARDEN, DANIEL'S FATHER: We held hands on the way to the bus. And that was his -- that was our last morning together. He did get up early that morning and ran down the driveway so he could kiss his brother good-bye in his pajamas. It was 22 degrees. He was exceptional.

COOPER: In his obituary his family says that Daniel was a constant source of laughter and joy. He embodied everything that's wholesome and innocent to the world.

Charlotte Bacon was 6 years old. She had a big personality. Her family says she was anything but shy. Instead she was smart, precocious, outgoing. She loved to talk, she could carry on long conversations, they say, with just about anyone -- kids, adults, it didn't matter. She never met an animal she didn't love and talked of becoming a veterinarian ever since she was 2 years old.

Charlotte was extraordinarily gifted, her family says, loved going to school to learn. She also loved her weekly tae kwon do classes with her dad and her brother where she relish kicking and throwing punches.

On Friday morning Charlotte wanted to wear her new pink dress to school. Pink, that was her favorite color. Charlotte's grandmother describes that morning.

IRENE HAGEN, CHARLOTTE'S GRANDMOTHER: Charlotte loved dresses and she insisted on wearing the dress. My daughter said OK. And she got her dress. She had red natural curly hair. And so my daughter braided it for her and she wore it on pigtails and she wore white boots and my daughter said she looked just adorable, mom. She said, now I look back and she said, I think of Charlotte dressed like that and she was getting ready to go see Jesus in her new dress.

COOPER: Her family writes, "The family will forever remember her beautiful smile, her energy for life." Charlotte has left a place in her entire extended family's hearts that will never be replaced.

With her big brown eyes, 6-year-old Caroline Previdi was once nicknamed Boo because of her resemblance to the adorable little girl in the movie "Monsters Inc." Caroline was all smiles and family members also called her Silly Caroline because of the way she tried to make people laugh.

She had this funky side, loved to draw, loved to dance. She was in the first grade and neighbors remember her sitting on the school bus next to a nervous kindergarten boy who was going to school for the first time. She wanted to make sure that he wasn't scared. Her family says her smile brought happiness to everyone she touched.

For Vicki Soto teaching was a passion and a lifelong dream. She was 27 years old. Five years ago she began teaching first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary and she loved every minute of it. Her mom says Vicki loved her students more than life. Always referring to them as her kids instead of her students.

She wanted to be known not only as a good teacher but as a fun teacher. Her students loved her. Many said she was their favorite teacher.

On Friday Vicki died a hero. After hearing gunshots she herded her kids into the closet and tried to shield them from the gunman.

DONNA SOTO, VICKI'S MOTHER: She just loved her kids. She just talked about them all the time with such fondness and caring and she just adored them. And I have no doubt in my mind she did everything she could to protect every single one of them.

COOPER: Vicki was equally passionate about her family. She was known as Queen Victoria at home. The ringleader who organized Christmas every year. Her family said she loved the beach, loved flamingos, and the New York Yankees. In her obituary they write, "Vicki was truly an amazing daughter, sister, cousin, teacher, and friend, and died protecting her kids. We couldn't be prouder of our hero."

Her beloved dog Roxy still waits every day for Vicki to come home from school.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, Newtown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two top deputies to the Secretary of State Hill Clinton were up on Capitol Hill today testifying after a scathing independent report faulting the department for the deadly U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi. Senator John Kerry who's wildly considered to be Secretary Clinton's replacement once she leaves the post seemed to praise her response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: The report makes 29 recommendations in total, five of which are classified. Secretary Clinton has embraced every single one of them. I think the secretary's swift action underscores how determined she is to apply the lessons of Benghazi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now is our chief political correspondent, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley.

Candy, thanks very much. Do you think her image, her reputation, four years as secretary of state, is going to be tarnished because of this Benghazi report? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I do. We know that she's going to testify in January. I'm sure she'll do very well, but it is hard to look at this as anything other than the low point for her tenure in four years as secretary of state. That independent review was scathing. Now it didn't mention names but it talked about, you know, the lack of leadership on a bunch of issues at the State Department.

Well, who's the leader at the State Department? So it's -- certainly is not good for her reputation. Certainly I think it can't help but tarnish it a bit.

BLITZER: And she's ill. That's why she didn't appear herself.

CROWLEY: Right. Right.

BLITZER: She had a severe case of the flu. She fainted, suffered a concussion. But hopefully she'll be back and she'll testify sometime mid-January. Let's talk about something else that's happening on Capitol Hill. Great represent being paid to the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, who just a fabulous, fabulous lawmaker. He just passed away as you know. Fifty years up on Capitol Hill.

You have some personal recollections. You covered Congress for a long time.

CROWLEY: I did. And covered Daniel Inouye. You know, he -- a quiet guy, really unassuming guy with the most amazing background. As you know as a Japanese-American, I spoke with him many, many times. He talked about being a teenage Japanese-American on Hawaii on Pearl Harbor Day and his anger when he looked up and saw the planes and saw the Japanese insignia on it.

And he of course joined Japanese-American Regimental Combat Unit, asked the government to go to war. That's where he lost his arm. He got a Medal of Honor. He comes back to the United States, they asked him where he wants to go for rehab. He picks a place in Michigan, and guess what, he meets up with Bob Dole.

The two of them, of course, nowhere near politics at this point. Just young men, both of them so grievously wounded, talked all the time in that hospital about what they'd do in the future. It turns out they both wanted to be doctors but both so harmed that being a doctor was, at that point, just completely out of the question.

They had to come up with other careers and I talked with both of them about their relationship a while back and they describe that time in the hospital. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB DOLE (R), FORMER MAJORITY LEADER: I used to watch him play Bridge. He was the best Bridge player in the hospital. You know, we sat around and talked about what we were going to do with the rest of our life. SEN. DANIEL INOUYE (D), HAWAII: I said, Bob, what are you going to be doing? And one thing about Bob Dole, he had his life mapped out. Really mapped out. He says, well, when I get back, I'll be a county attorney. Then I'll be in the legislature. The first opening in the Congress, that's where I'll go. I said, gee, that's a good idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Inouye actually beat Senator Dole to Congress, and he said, he called him up at one point and said, Bob, I'm here in the Congress, where are you? And of course Dole joined him a couple of years later, the two of them sort of, you know, both World War II heroes. You know, this is a generation that we're losing at such a rapid pace. Both of them with such great stories, good friends, opposite party. Senator Inouye, you know, has been senator since Hawaii became a state. A lot, a lot of history there.

BLITZER: Anyone has ever said a bad word about Senator Inouye?

CROWLEY: I know. It's just --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He's such a great guy.

CROWLEY: It's awfully hard to.

BLITZER: And look at this picture. I'm going to show Senator Dole was up at the rotunda today saluting his old friend, Senator Inouye. That's a nice picture.

CROWLEY: That's poignant.

BLITZER: Senator Dole right there.

All right, thanks, Candy. Good recollection.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Piers Morgan is certainly never one to hold back. He's outraged over gun rights in the United States. Piers will join us live. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: When the shooter forced his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he was carrying two handguns and a semiautomatic rifle, the AR-15.

CNN's Piers Morgan hosted a special debate on guns in America last night and he focused in on the kind of damage that that firearm can do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT: What is the purpose of an AR-15?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a hunting rifle that cosmetically on the outside looks like a military weapon. But, look --

MORGAN: How many bullets can it fire a second? How many bullets can it fire a second?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to answer --

MORGAN: Answer my question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm answering your first question.

MORGAN: No, answer this question. How many bullets can the -- no. Wait. You will not downgrade what these weapons do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wouldn't let me finish --

MORGAN: How many -- answer this simple question. How many bullets does the AR-15 fire a second?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The point --

MORGAN: It's been used in your last three mass shootings. Answer the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never let me finish.

MORGAN: Do you want to answer or not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to answer your first question and then I'll answer your second question. The first question, the reason why you have a semiautomatic weapon is because take the alternative. If I were to have a bolt action rifle where I have to manually load it and let's say I have two criminals coming at me, what do I do? I can fire one bullet and that's going to take me a while to go and fire the second. It may be too late. What happens if I fire a shot and miss? What happens if --

MORGAN: How many bullets does it fire a second?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The point is --

MORGAN: Can you answer the question or not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will lose lives. People need to be able to protect themselves. The police can't be there all the time. If you want them to have to fire a bolt action rifle so that explains --

MORGAN: Are you going to answer my question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my answer --

MORGAN: It's a very simple question. How many bullets can the AR-15 fire in one second? Do you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think your estimate is four or five.

MORGAN: I see it's not. It could be -- actually, I've spoken to many experts today. It can fire four to six bullets a second, it can fire 100 in a minute. That can wipe out, as we saw, 20 children in a matter of seconds if not two minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a character of all semiautomatic guns.

MORGAN: You never can say the answer to those question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want the --

MORGAN: Because you want people to think they're just harmless old hunting rifles and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't say that.

MORGAN: And that's why they sell so fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look. I've already aid --

MORGAN: And it's a disgrace but you won't answer those questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Piers is joining us now live. Tell our viewers, Piers, why you are personally so outraged about what is going on as far as guns are concerned here in the United States.

MORGAN: You know, Wolf, partly it's because I'm British. I'm not from America. So we come from a very different culture in my country. We had a very similar thing to what happened in Sandy Hook in 1996. I was editor of a newspaper at the time. It's in Dunblane in Scotland, and 16 children, 5 years old, got killed by a maniac with a gun.

And Britain rose up as one, left and right. It wasn't a political issue. And we banned handguns. And there have been no mass shootings like that since and no attacks at all in a school.

I have been completely baffled by what happens here in the aftermath of endless mass shootings. When I first started at CNN two years ago, it was a week after Gabby Giffords was shot and many others lost their lives. Since then, we had the Sikh temple shooting, the Aurora movie theater shooting, and so on, leading up to Sandy Hook.

Each time there's a lot of words, a lot of talk and absolutely nothing gets done. And the last three shootings, the last three mass shootings, I just realized a few days ago, Aurora, the Oregon shopping mall, and now Sandy Hook, all involved young men in their early 20s, all with the same weapon, AR-15.

Now and AR-15 -- my brother is a British Army colonel, I know a bit about guns. An AR-15 is not a harmless hunting rifle as some of these gun guys want to put it. An AR-15 is a very high-powered assault weapon. It is a military weapon and it can fire if you have the right magazines and the right capability with it and you can modify it any way you like. It can fire four to six bullets a second or 100 in a minute.

Now, imagine, this character Adam Lanza that went up to Sandy Hook. He had enough magazines and enough bullets to wipe out the entire school. If he hadn't killed himself, he could've done that. We could've been looking, Wolf, at 600 children killed in a few minutes with these weapons. Nobody can explain to me why these weapons are available to civilians. It makes no sense.

BLITZER: And give us some comparison, because the numbers are pretty shocking. The number of gun deaths in the United States compared to any other industrialized country in the world.

MORGAN: It is scary. And I don't know why more Americans are not as terrified about these statistics as I am. Let me just make one thing crystal clear. This is not about the Second Amendment. It's not about the right to bear arms. I have no issue with an American who wants to defend his family or her family by having a pistol or a handgun at home, and having it there for that specific purpose. I respect that. I believe that's what the founding fathers intended.

But look at Britain, our average gun murder rate in the last few years is about 35 people a year. In America, it averages between 9,000 and 11,000 people murdered by guns. You could add tens of thousands more who die in gun-related incidents like suicides and other forms of death. A hundred thousand Americans a year are hit by gunfire and are either killed or wounded.

And it has to stop. This is an endless slaughter. But you can't get rid of all the guns, Wolf, there are 300 million of them in America. I'm not asking for that. I don't think it's feasible, it's not realistic. But my god, you've got to make an effort. Assault weapons the last three mass shootings, the same weapon with these magazines in Aurora, 100 magazines -- bullets in the magazine, the Sandy Hook, 30, these are weapons of mass military-style slaughter. And it has to stop.

BLITZER: So if the Vice President Joe Biden called you up, Piers, and said, Piers, we've got a commission, we're going to come up with some recommendations, what's the single most important recommendation you would give him?

MORGAN: It's this. You have to wipe out the assault weapon scourge in America. This is not about all semiautomatic rifles. Many of them are comparatively harmless. They fire one bullet every few seconds. It's not about -- it's not about the right to hunt. When you hunt, surely the pleasure of hunting as a sport is you have one bullet and you fire it and you test your skill. Not that you have 100 bullets to destroy some animal in three seconds. That's not sport, that's not hunting.

So I have no problem with professional shooters or hunters who want to use normal rifles. It's these assault weapons, these military -- let's call them what they are. They're military weapons. They have to be eliminated. It is ridiculous, Wolf. I can go to a CVS pharmacy and I can't buy six packets of Sudafed. I can't buy a kinder egg. But I can buy at Wal-Mart an AR-15 assault weapon. I can then load it illegally with 100 bullets in a magazine, walk around and if I want to kill 100 people in less than a minute.

This is the stuff of madness. And the gun rights lobby that the diehard members of these, they will try to position this debate and I have it on Twitter all day long at the moment. Abusing me, threatening me and all the rest of it. I'm sure everybody else that races the -- the (INAUDIBLE) about this gets the same thing. And they all say the same thing, you want to ban our guns, you want to get rid of our guns. No, I don't. I respect your Second Amendment and your constitution.

And by the way, as an American resident, it applies to me, as well. But I respect the lives of young children higher than anything else. And if we don't do anything in America to try and curb this particular style of mass shooting with these particular weapons and particular magazines, and if we don't eliminate this farce that 40 percent of all gun trades in America are untraceable and have no record -- this -- you put it together and you add the fact there's so much mental health in America. Three million people or more apparently suffering from mental health issues.

You put that together with states that have been cutting back investment into exploring mental health issues and providing treatment, and you add these assault weapons, and you add these magazines and you add the ready availability, what do people think is going to continue happening?

I can tell you, more and more young children and adults and other Americans are going to get slaughtered. And that is why I applaud the president for finally saying, you know, enough. There'll be four of these on his watch. Four mass shootings.

How many more before America says, you know what? This has to stop.

BLITZER: Piers, we're going to see you at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Piers is going to have a lot more. He obviously feels very, very passionate about this issue. 9:00 p.m. Eastern "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now. Investigators in Newtown wrapped up the hunt for clues over at the killer's home.

Across the Midwest, blizzard conditions cripple travel, plunge thousands into a frigid, powerless night.

And you've heard of couch potatoes, you're going to find out why these airline seat potatoes may help you have a more convenient flight very soon. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in the SITUATION ROOM.

All that coming up, but we begin this hour with one of the leading critics of the Obama administration's handling of the many crises across the Middle East and North Africa right now.

Senator John McCain has pressed especially hard for answers about the September 11th attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the United States Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.