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President Obama Nominates Defense Secretary; President Obama Nominates CIA Director; Choppers vs. Nukes; Hagel Attacked from Many Sides; Preparing for Nuclear or Dirty Bomb Attack; $10,000 Guitar Squashed

Aired January 7, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama's new choice to lead the Pentagon is on the defensive -- this hour, a heated debate over Chuck Hagel's nomination and the political fight ahead.

John Brennan may have an easier time getting confirmed as the next CIA director, despite what Senator John McCain is doing. He is raising a red flag.

And helicopters flying alarmingly close to the ground, they could though help protect us from nuclear attack or a dirty bomb.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now the confirmation battle begins. Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is vowing to respond to what he calls astounding distortions of his record. President Obama officially announced his choice of the former Republican senator today despite weeks of pushback by Hagel's critics. The president also tapped his counterterrorism director, John Brennan, to become the next director of the CIA.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has much more on the nominations and the controversy -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama said today that Chuck Hagel "represents a bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington."

But Republicans on the Hill are panning this pick and some Democrats have concerns as well.


KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama praised former Senator Chuck Hagel, his nominee for secretary of defense , who, if confirmed, would be the first to have served as an enlisted soldier.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction. He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that's something we only do when it's absolutely necessary."My frame of reference," he has said, "is geared towards the guy at the bottom who's doing the fighting and the dying."

KEILAR: But some Democrats are withholding support for now, and many Republicans on Capitol Hill are slamming the president's choice.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is an in your face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.

KEILAR: GOP critics question Hagel's support for Israel and specifically for unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran.

GRAHAM: Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won't work, but Israel must negotiate with Hamas, an organization, terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel. He also was one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union trying to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

KEILAR: White House officials say Hagel's record on Israel is solid and point to his support of Iran's sanctions pursued by the U.S. in conjunction with other countries which President Obama referenced as he announced the nomination.

OBAMA: He understands that America stands strongest when we stand with allies and with friends.

KEILAR: The president also nominated John Brennan, his top counterterrorism director, to head the CIA. Brennan was under consideration to leave the agency in 2008, but withdrew his name amid opposition from liberals concerned about his involvement in the Bush administration practice of enhanced interrogation techniques, considered torture by critics.

Brennan has said he opposed those practices serving under Obama as they were banned.

OBAMA: He understands we are a nation of laws. In moments of debate and decision, he asks the tough questions and he insists on high and rigorous standards.


KEILAR: But Brennan is expected to be confirmed and much more easily than Hagel. Talking, Wolf, to White House advisers, they feel that Hagel has good answers to the tough questions he will be asked and that ultimately he will be able to get the support that he needs in the Senate.

BLITZER: Brianna, so far three national security nominations for the president's Cabinet. No women yet. What's the White House saying about that?

KEILAR: No women. Jay Carney was asked about this today in the briefing. He said that the president does believe in diversity, but he said these nominees represent picking the right person for the job. He did go on to emphasize women who are serving in Cabinet-level roles, like Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

But the fact is, Wolf, Secretary Hillary Clinton was the most prominent woman in the president's Cabinet. She is being replaced by a man, Senator Kerry. As of now, there are fewer women in the mix.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much.

Kate Bolduan is here with more on the Hagel confirmation process.

what are you hearing first of all about the timing?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The timing in terms of the confirmation hearing, I'm told that the Armed Services Committee hopes to consider Hagel's nomination by the end of this month but simply schedule wise, it could be a little difficult since the Senate isn't in session this week or next and when senators do return, it's customary for the nominee to have a period of time, a week, a couple weeks to meet with committee members before and key senators before confirmation hearings begin.

For more on a little bit of this, we will go to our Tom Foreman, who is joining us a sense of what we can expect when those hearings are under way.

Tom, you're in a place that no one ever gets to go.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're in our virtual center. We can't go on the Senate floor either.

But here in our virtual center, we're going to talk about the first hurdle that he has to hear, the Senate Armed Services Committee. It's comprised of 12 Republicans and 14 Democrats. He needs a simple majority here for his nomination to be pushed on to the entire Senate. So who is opposing it? Over here on the Republican side, the charge is being led by Senator John McCain from Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.

Chief complaints from the Republicans, first of all, Israel. Some years ago, Senator Hagel made some very ill-considered remarks where he said the pro-Jewish lobby was essentially bullying lawmakers into new policies here in Washington that were not good here for the U.S. A lot of people didn't like it and they also didn't like it when he suggested that there should be talks between Israel and the U.S. and Hamas.

Iran is another issue. There are a lot of Republicans who feel like he's too inclined to negotiate with Iran, not nearly inclined enough to supply strong military or even strong economic pressure against Iran over their nuclear program. And beyond that, at a time when there's talk of defense spending cuts in the air, a lot of Republicans would simply like to have a much more hawkish defense secretary.

Their bottom line is, they say Chuck Hagel is a wonderful guy but he's just too soft for this job at this time -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Tom, as you were talking about right there, on some of those key issues Hagel says now that his positions are being mischaracterized, that he is for Israel, against Iran, and he will keep the military strong. How are Democrats helping him in this arena? FOREMAN: Well, they're saying that he is absolutely right, that he is being mischaracterized on all of this. Some of them are coming out very strongly. For example, go to Jack Reed of Rhode Island, he's saying emphatically this man is hugely qualified for the job. He will make an excellent secretary of defense, but other Democratic lawmakers are in a bit of a tighter spot.

If you think about it, for example, Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, she has a very large Jewish constituency in her state. She has to mindful as to whether or not some people there have been offended or remain offended. And what about Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut over there one of the few states that allows gay marriage? Chuck Hagel also alienated many gays and lesbians with some comments he made some years ago about that.

He's since disavowed many of those comments and again says that he's simply being taken out of context. But that does make it somewhat trickier for some Democrats who do want to support him because, after all, especially if they have a large liberal contingent in their state, you have to bear in mind they are starting off by being asked by the president to back a Republican for this key post which some Democrats may not like much to begin with.

The bottom line is, Chuck Hagel faces a real fight in this committee and even if he gets out of it with the simple majority that he needs, that's not the end of the fight. And then it just moves on to the entire U.S. Senate where, yes, the Democrats have an advantage in the numbers but all of these issues can be raised once again -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: We will be watching it very closely. Tom Foreman straight from the Senate floor for us or our virtual studio, Tom, thanks so much.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Gloria Borger right now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I want to go to that virtual studio.


BOLDUAN: I have been trying for weeks now to get in.


BLITZER: You need a special press pass. Only Tom Foreman has that press pass.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this confirmation process, opposition from Republicans, and also some Democrats are queasy. I think we can put it that way. What are you hearing? What are you seeing?


BORGER: You have opposition on both sides.

The thing that strikes me about the Republicans, is they don't think Chuck Hagel is a Republican. You say to them, but he's a Republican and they go, come on. He's not a Republican. They believe that he's more liberal, that he's more dovish than President Obama, and they point quite rightly to the surge in Afghanistan which the president called for and Chuck Hagel opposed. So they say, you know what, more liberal than the president.

As for Democrats and as Tom was pointing out, there are lots of Democrats who are uneasy about this nomination and I spoke with a senior Democratic aide in the Senate who said that there are at least 10 Democrats in the Senate who are what he calls undecided or concerned about this nomination.

And he mentioned Senator Gillibrand. Let's read a little bit from her statement. She said, "Considering some of the statements Senator Hagel has made and votes he has cast, particularly regarding Iran policy, tough questions must and will be asked to clarify his views before these hearings are complete."

That's not exactly effusive praise for the nominee of a Democratic president. This doesn't mean that in the end she and other Democrats won't join hands and support him, but at this point they are going to -- I think we should expect some very, very tough hearings.

BOLDUAN: He's kind of a man without a party because he's not a Democrat and Republicans are bucking him. But does that also mean then that all of the pressure lands right on his shoulders squarely?


BOLDUAN: How much pressure is he under to defend himself?

BORGER: First of all, had he to exert a bunch of pressure or lobbying, if you will, to even get the nomination in the first place. He had -- and I'm told he was talking privately to both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill to sort of make it clear that he could actually at some point get this nomination through because the president didn't want to embark on something that was going to be a lot of cause.

I would argue that's why Susan Rice wasn't nominated for secretary of state. And we're at the beginning of this. The White House over the weekend called some pro-Israel groups, tried to give them a heads up that he was going to be nominated and said to them, you know, please try and hold your fire. Chuck Hagel himself gave an interview to the Lincoln, Nebraska, newspaper, and said -- and I quote -- "There's not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one Senate vote that matters that hurt Israel."

So again you see him saying, just wait, wait until my hearings, I can explain all of these votes to you and I am not pro-Iran and I am not anti-Israel.

BLITZER: And I think in his response when he's asked these sensitive questions, he will make that clear and you will see he will be pretty strong in his support of Israel, yes.

BORGER: And then you will see some Democrats falling in line.

BLITZER: Unless there's something we don't know or there's a huge blunder in his testimony, I suspect he's going to be confirmed relatively easily, relatively.

BORGER: Relatively. It's going to be -- it's going to be an interesting...


BOLDUAN: There's always a little fire before they get to the votes.



BLITZER: Senator John McCain says he has some very tough questions for the president's choice to be the next secretary of the CIA, John Brennan.

Should Brennan be worried?

And a surprising helicopter mission and the threat of a dirty bomb.



OBAMA: Today, I can say to the men and women of the CIA in Director John Brennan, you will have one of your own, a leader who knows you, who cares for you deeply and who will fight for you every single day.


BLITZER: President Obama praising his new choice to be director of central intelligence.

Let's bring in our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She's the former Bush homeland security adviser and member of the CIA's external advisory board.

Fran, what does John Brennan, for example, bring to the CIA that General Petraeus didn't bring?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, both General Petraeus and before him General Mike Hayden took off the uniform at the four-star rank, having been very accomplished in the military and had to lead a civilian organization which is very different.

You know, John Brennan comes out of that culture. He spent 25 years at the CIA. He's been a station chief. He understands how intelligence is gathered, how it's analyzed, and how it's best utilized by policy-makers and now he's been at the other end of that spectrum, if you will. He's been a user of intelligence, a consumer.

He's set the requirements at the White House. And so he understands all aspects of the system. And I think, you know, the CIA has been through a very difficult time. Remember, you had the CIA officers killed in the coast bombing in Pakistan and now you have got him coming back home, if you will.

Mike Morell stood there and very graciously welcome home to John Brennan at the announcement. I think that's right. I think that's how he will be viewed by the work force after a very tumultuous time, especially the circumstances under which General Petraeus left.

BOLDUAN: That's actually what I wanted to ask you about. General Petraeus left under such a cloud of controversy. How does that impact how John Brennan moves in? Does he have to smooth any edges?

TOWNSEND: I think by virtue of his background and his experience, it does that without him really having to try very hard. It's not like he has to learn the institution or the people. He doesn't have to learn the business of intelligence like anyone else coming from the outside would.

It's actually a pretty smooth, easy transition for him. And on top of that, he actually enjoys the confidence of the president. And so especially in the area of covert action, which is really an extension of a president's policy, he has the confidence and trust of the president to be able to tell the president what they are capable of, what they can and can't do and what will be most effective.

So frankly at a time that's been filled with sort of chaos and controversy for the CIA, he comes in and can be a very solid, sort of calming force and provide the leadership I think the agency needs. They love most their mission and they want to get back to their mission and not the sort of controversy and politics of Washington.

BLITZER: He was a CIA analyst for more than 20 years, a former station chief in Saudi Arabia. He obviously knows the agency quite well. Four years ago, after the president was elected he was considering to be the director, but eventually withdrew his name because there was some controversy over his role during the Bush administration with those enhanced interrogation techniques, as they were called.

He wrote a letter to the president-elect at that time on November 25, 2008: "It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics."

But those issues are going to come up and John McCain making it clear he has got some serious concerns.

TOWNSEND: Well, that's right, Wolf. Those are legitimate questions by Senator McCain, but I would say to you, during the period of the enhanced interrogation techniques, first of all, I was in the White House from 2003 forward and I wasn't read into that program. John was over as the deputy director of the CIA and would have had no role in those policy debates, regardless of what he thought about them. And, in fact, it is true. John did disagree with a number of the Bush administration policies and had been interested in a number of more senior positions which he didn't have the opportunity to have because of those disagreements.

And so while those are legitimate questions now, I think that you will find -- the public and the Senate should find that it shouldn't prohibit John from beginning the director of the CIA. I think he will be quite a good director.

BLITZER: All right, Fran Townsend, thanks very much. I suspect he's not going to have any serious problem getting confirmed -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, global troubleshooter Bill Richardson is now in North Korea talking about his mysterious trip back to the country.

Also, Hillary Clinton suits up for her return to the State Department.



BLITZER: Don't go too far away, much more coming up on our top story. Chuck Hagel, he insists he's not anti-Israel. Stand by, though, for a heated debate for his nomination to be the defense secretary and how it might affect U.S. policy in the Middle East.

And very low-flying helicopters on a surprising mission across the nation's capital.


BLITZER: Happening now, the backlash against the president's nominee to lead the Pentagon. Both parties and two key voting groups are ready for a fight.

Helicopters buzzing low over the nation's capital, it's new protection against a possible nuclear or dirty bomb attack.

And an airline luggage horror story -- the vintage guitar that got checked and then got squashed.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BOLDUAN: Criticism of Chuck Hagel is coming from many sides now that the former Republican senator has officially been nominated as defense secretary. That will likely make his confirmation hearing contentious and pretty darn interesting, to say the least.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, has been tracking the reaction.

Hey there, Jim.


Chuck Hagel may be a former senator, but it's not clear how much deference he will be getting from his old colleagues up here on Capitol Hill. From issues like Israel to gay rights, he will have to make his way through a political mine field to get confirmed.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House is already playing defense when it comes to Chuck Hagel, a former two-term GOP senator from Nebraska. President Obama's pick for secretary of defense is running into resistance inside the Republican Party.

Indiana Senator Dan Coats who was once on the short list for secretary of defense himself said Hagel is in for a fight.

(on camera): Have you made up your mind one way or the other on this?

SEN. DAN COATS (R), INDIANA: I want to give Chuck Hagel, a former colleague, the opportunity to come and go face-to-face, to answer these questions, these allegations -- what I think are some serious questions that do not perhaps qualify him for this position.

ACOSTA (voice-over): One big battle to come, a comment Hagel made in 2006 about pro-Israeli groups and their influence on Capitol Hill, when he said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here." Hagel has since apologized for the comment.

But that hasn't stopped the criticism. The head of the Anti- Defamation League released a statement saying he hopes Hagel will clarify and explain his comments about the Jewish lobby that were hurtful to many in the Jewish community.

Hagel made the remark to Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst, who says the comment is being twisted.

AARON DAVID MILLER, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: Those comments have been hijacked in an effort to make a case frankly that, in my judgment, isn't well-deserved.

ACOSTA: Still, some Republican senators say Hagel's comments fit a pattern.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history.

ACOSTA: Some in the White House believe that GOP ill will stems from the Bush years, when Hagel aligned himself with then-Senator Barack Obama as a critic of the Iraq war.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I don't know how many United States senators believe we have a coherent strategy in Iraq. I don't think we've ever had a coherent strategy.

ACOSTA: Noting Hagel's two Purple Hearts from Vietnam, a senior administration official brushed off the GOP criticism saying, "It's one thing to posture on a talk show. It's another thing to look a two-term senator in the eye and say, I'm going to vote against you because you turned against the war in Iraq."

But there are other political landmines looming. Gay rights groups are slamming Hagel for once opposing the nomination of a U.S. ambassador because he was homosexual. And neoconservatives point to Hagel's stance against unilateral sanctions on Iran. In principle, Hagel only supports multilateral sanctions.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: I think it'd be a lot of tough questions of Senator Hagel and -- but he'll be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate.


ACOSTA: Earlier this afternoon, one of those Republicans, Senator John McCain, released a statement saying he has serious concerns about Hagel's nomination but the White House appears to be ready to do some political combat to save this nomination. One official told me earlier today, Kate, that he was pointing out some of the statements that were made praising Chuck Hagel by Republican senators when Senator Hagel left the United States Congress, and they are wondering what's happened to those senators now, why are they making dramatically different statements now.

But, Kate, keep in mind, Chuck Hagel was a maverick up here on Capitol Hill for many years and that sometimes leaves you without as many friends as you might think you have in this town -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: But may also make you a good secretary of defense. We will see.

Jim Acosta, thanks so much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's bring in two guests right now. U.S. -- former U.S. congresswoman, Jane Harman. She's now the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. Also the former Bush White House press secretary and CNN political contributor Ari Fleischer.

Ari, what's wrong with Chuck Hagel?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, I think he's outside the mainstream of both parties when it comes to our history of Middle East policy. Now he voted against declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. He wants to have negotiations with Hamas and Hezbollah, and groups that we've never negotiated with because bipartisan we label them as terrorists.

And he was against sanctions against Iran to the point where he would even put a hold on sanctions. Not letting America unilaterally sanction Iran. He's too hard on Israel and too soft on Iran and I think that's the big problem.

BLITZER: He said in an interview today, "There's not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one Senate vote that matters that hurts Israel."

FLEISCHER: I didn't say anti. Now he's soft on Iran and that hurts Israel. He's hard on Israel and that's the heart of the problem. And you know when you look at how his voting record is so isolated on these issues, Democrats don't -- vote with him. Republicans don't vote with him. So why is President Obama picking him to be our representative at the Defense Department.

To step back, Wolf, I think this move is part of really the breakdown of the country when it comes to Israel. Conservative Republicans, according to Pew, are for Israel, and not the Palestinians by 75-2. Pew just found that liberal Democrats are increasingly neutral, 33 percent favor Israel, 22 percent favor the Palestinians. Not very much support for Israel.

BLITZER: Let's --

FLEISCHER: I think President Obama is moving in the direction of neutrality.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Jane, get into that. Respond to what he's saying.

JANE HARMAN, DIRECTOR, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, Chuck Hagel isn't running for the Republican nomination for Senate from Nebraska, and he isn't asking permission to be in the Republican caucus in the Senate. I think he was nominated by President Obama because he trusts him and because he's worked with him for many years.

I worked with him for many years when I was ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. He served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I remember very cordial trips on congressional delegations to the Annual Munich Security Council where a number of the people who were criticizing him now were his dear friends.

I don't know what turned this but I think the president has a right to nominate the person he wants. I think that the questions on the Armed Services Committee should be vigorous in the Senate and I'm sure that they will be and there may be a floor debate. And he should have to answer but I certainly think his independence -- I maybe know a little bit about that, too -- is to be applauded and if you think about it in a team of rival sense, I think maybe the president in his second term wants a very strong muscular national security team that pushes back a little and maybe there'll be a debate on some policies.

I think the president will have his way. He should have his way. But I don't think we're -- this is a nomination of someone who is anti- Israel and I don't think -- I accept his apologies on the gay and lesbian issue. I surely, strongly differed with him 14 years ago on that issue.

BOLDUAN: Well, let me ask you -- obviously, looking at it from kind of the inside out because he still needs to go through his confirmation hearings and that will be -- there'll be vigorous questioning as you said. But look at it from the outside in as well. When you look at kind of bickering back and forth, both sides attacking the president's nomination for the secretary of defense, what does that say to our allies or even our enemies when there's so much controversy about this person?


HARMAN: Well, I'm glad the president fought for this nomination. You know, roll back the tape on Susan Rice and John Kerry.


HARMAN: I think John Kerry is extremely qualified, but he didn't fight for that one. He needed to fight for this one. Otherwise, I think it would be a target zone for anyone being considered for a nomination by this president because the Senate wouldn't respect that he was going to fight for people. So I'm proud of that.

But I also think that Hagel is a sound choice. It doesn't mean I agree with him on everything. I don't. And I do think vigorous questions should be asked. But let's understand that he will be a -- strong bipartisan secretary of defense. That's what Leon Panetta was, after all. No one is mentioning that aspect as a Panetta record.

Panetta used to be a Republican and having someone come from Congress and then interact with Congress, I think is a plus. And finally on the defense budget, I represented a defense dependent part of Los Angeles for 17 years in the House. I think that the defense budget has to be scrubbed again. I think it's important that we consider every expenditure we make and we may need to cut things and I think Chuck --


BLITZER: Ari, go ahead and respond.

FLEISCHER: Well, Wolf, when you're bipartisan what happens is people from both parties agree with you. When you're so far out there on a limb, you find that nobody agrees with you. And that was the history of Chuck Hagel's votes as a senator. And that's the policy pattern that he showed and you add up that -- that pattern, it was, as I said earlier, hard on Israel, soft on Iran. And that's why hardly anybody ever voted with him.

BLITZER: Here's why the president --



FLEISCHER: -- when you're isolated.

BLITZER: Here's why the president picked Chuck Hagel in large part because he knew him when he -- they were both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he agreed with his skepticism about going to war 10 years ago against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And Chuck Hagel, on that particular issue, Ari, when he said there were no weapons of mass destruction, al Qaeda was -- there was not really an Iraq, had nothing to do with 9/11 and the U.S. painted enormous price for 10 years in Iraq. And the question that Chuck Hagel and other opponents of that war asked, what did the U.S. get out of that? And I suspect the president agrees with Chuck Hagel's position on that war position and that's why he picked him.

HARMAN: But I think Hagel voted for the war.


FLEISCHER: Well, Wolf, he voted --

BLITZER: He voted for the authorization of the war but he opposed it.


BLITZER: I interviewed him just before the war on several occasions and he clearly was one of those raising enormous questions about why the U.S. should spend that money and risk that -- blood to go to war in Iraq.

FLEISCHER: You can find -- you can find scores of former senators who share that statement about Iraq that he could have nominated who are not soft on Israel and easy on Iran. Hard on Israel and easy on Iran. So Iraq is immaterial in this debate.


BLITZER: But you have to admit, Ari, Iraq was one of the most important military related issued over the past many years and on that particular issue he's proven to be more right than wrong.

FLEISCHER: But that's -- but that's not why this is a controversial nomination.

BLITZER: And I'm saying that's why the president nominated --

FLEISCHER: After all Senator Clinton's nomination wasn't controversial. Senator Kerry's nomination isn't controversial. Leon Panetta's nomination wasn't controversial. They shared those opinions about Iraq. This is controversial for issues having nothing to do with Iraq. And has everything to do with being outside the mainstream on America's bipartisan approach to Israel and the Middle East. That's what this is about.

HARMAN: I think the term soft on Israel is unfair. And I think -- that Chuck Hagel needs to explain himself in a hearing setting and he should be asked all the tough questioning, but I think that questioning our policies is fair game. That's what we should have and I think that John Brennan, by the way, is another strong nominee this morning and I think -- someone else I've worked with over many, many years. I think that he will prove to --


BOLDUAN: Let's talk about that in a second.

BLITZER: You would have been a good nominee for -- for the CIA.

All right, everyone, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. We're going to continue this conversation right after this.


BLITZER: All right. Let's continue this conversation with Jane Harman, Ari Fleischer, debating whether Chuck Hagel should be the next secretary of defense.

He put out a letter, he signed a letter with a bunch of other experts back in 2009, last chance for a two-state Israel/Palestine agreement in which he said this, he supported the letter, "Direct U.S. engagement with Hamas may not now be practical but shutting out the movement and isolating Gaza has only made it stronger and Fatah weaker. Israel itself has acknowledged Hamas as simply too important and powerful to be ignored."

Now that's been seen by some of his critics as saying he's pro Hamas or whatever.

Jane Harman, what do you say?

HARMAN: Well, he wasn't saying negotiate now with Hamas. He was saying depending on circumstances, I'm sure we all saw the pro-Fatah demonstrations in Gaza the other day. That's encouraging. I would hope that President Morsy whom you just interviewed 10 minutes ago, Wolf, in Egypt and got off the plane and came here. You are the iron man.

I would hope that President Morsy -- Morsy could help with reconciliation. We shouldn't talk to Hamas until they renounce violence against Israel, but we shouldn't rule out talking to Hamas, I agree with Hagel, if they're going to change their stripes and if there's going to be reconciliation of the two governments, it is past time to have a two-state solution. I worry that in both -- for both sides, for the future of Israel and for our own respect in the region that if we abandon this cause, it's going to hurt us.

BOLDUAN: Ari, I assume this is where you see one of Hagel's shortcomings?

FLEISCHER: That's right. I mean, again, because the bipartisan American foreign policy for decades in the region is we don't talk to terrorists, we don't negotiate with terrorists. And that's part of a pattern in 2006. Senator Hagel supported direct negotiations with Hezbollah. Also a terrorist organization.

And this is the pattern that I see with him. And issue after issue which Israel has drawn a red line and said this is important to our safety, our security, Chuck Hagel always occupies the other side of that line with hardly anybody else shoulder to shoulder with him. Nobody else is for direct negotiations with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Even President Obama has walked away from direct negotiations with Iran, unilateral negotiations. So, you know, this is where I don't understand what Chuck Hagel's world view is, and it's a troubling world view that keeps adding up to a view that Israel seems to be --


BLITZER: Let's let Jane Harman respond.

FLEISCHER: -- talk to others who wouldn't have that problem.

HARMAN: Ari, he should be asked about all this, he should explain all of this.


HARMAN: I applaud the president, and I'm sure you do, too, for marshalling the entire world to be in favor of these crippling sanctions against Iran. I think Chuck Hagel's position the last I heard it was, he for multilateral sanctions, and I'm sure you are, and I certainly am and he voted for all of those.

I voted for the other sanctions as well but again he'll have to explain himself.


HARMAN: And he works for the president as the president's secretary of defense, he is going to follow the president's direction.

BLITZER: I suspect when he testifies and answers a lot of those tough questions, Ari, you're going to hear a very, very robust statement of support for a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship. Strong sanctions against Iran. If he does say those things and he says it concisely and clearly, are you willing to reconsider and think he might be a good defense secretary?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm going to be -- I'm going to be fascinated to listen to what he has to say, particularly why he said that use of force against Iran should not be an option, it should be off the table. Will he now changed his position on that because he reports to President Obama?

Wolf, I want to hear the whole thing. I want to hear it in context but I am deeply troubled by the things he said. They really make you think that if he does change now, it's only so he can become secretary of defense, not because he believes in the things he might say at that hearing.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, we're going to leave it there.

Jane Harman, a good discussion.

HARMAN: Thanks. Thanks, Ari.

BLITZER: And it's only just beginning. These confirmation hearings are going to be exciting.

FLEISCHER: Thank you. BLITZER: There's a long way to go until the next presidential election but a Republican who's high on everyone's list of possible candidates is joining Erin Burnett tonight.

Erin, give us a little preview. What are you talking about?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN'S "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": Well, we're going to be talking, Wolf, about the -- there was a poll that just came out this afternoon. Seventy-three percent of people who live in the state of New Jersey approve of Chris Christie. Now, yes, some of that certainly related to Superstorm Sandy but the reality of it is this is a state that has voted for the president the past two elections. This is almost as blue as the state can get.

So what does this mean for Chris Christie in 2016? We've taken a look at some of his most inflammatory, incendiary comments and we'll see whether he has what it really takes.

And we're going to talk about the rape in India, which has captured the hearts and the attention of people around the world.

Wolf, you know, in the U.S. sometimes we look and we say this could never happen here. This only happens in a place like -- well, somewhere else, right? Well, then you think about what Todd Akin had to say this summer about legitimate rape, and you look at the statistics where the United States is still ranks as the number one country in the world for rapes.

We're going to take a look at that with Fareed Zakaria tonight.

BLITZER: We'll be watching at the top of the hour, Erin. Thanks very, very much.

She's got an election show as we know.

BOLDUAN: She does. Every night.

BLITZER: An alarming sight. Helicopters buzzing low over the nation's capital. We're learning new details about a mission that could protect all of us from attack.


BOLDUAN: People who live here in Washington are used to seeing helicopters flying overheard, but not like this. So low, so loud, and kind of scary. Now we know why it could help protect us all from a potentially deadly attack.

Brian Todd has been looking into this one.

What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the government is doing this with a specially equipped very low-flying helicopters as you mentioned. The video showed it. That this helicopter is detecting gamma radiation of all things. It is startling people all around Washington, as Kate mentioned, but that's better than being startled by a terrorist with a dirty bomb later.


TODD (voice-over): It's a head-turner, flying so low over the city that your first instinct is something is wrong. But it's part of a plan to safe guard Washington from a nuclear or dirty bomb attack.

JOSEPH KROL, NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: If some time in the future, you have a reason to be looking for something radiological, it's very necessary to have the original background.

TODD: Specially equipped helicopters flown by the National Nuclear Security Administration partnering with the Department of Homeland Security are looking for naturally occurring radiation.

(On camera): The helicopter flies in a back-and-forth pattern like a lawnmower pattern, sometimes as low as just 150 feet off the ground. The idea is to create a map of the normal radiation levels of the city. Then when there's a specific threat of a nuclear or dirty bomb attack, if there's a threat like that, the government can look at the map, see what's normal, and then see what may be an anomaly.

(Voice-over): The choppers would be sent up again to check out the possible anomaly.

KROL: If we got some indication that something was different from the background, then we'd start narrowing it down with our -- with our investigation on foot and vehicle.

TODD: As for what's normal radiation, homeland security expert Randy Larsen says there's a lot of that in a city.

COL. RANDALL LARSEN (RET.), WMD CENTER: Larson, The asphalt in this road right here puts out some gamma radiation. This building, large buildings like this, built out of stone or granite, put out a certain amount of radiation.

TODD (on camera): What else?

LARSEN: Even here we are in Macpherson's Square, what do you see? The monument, solid granite there. That puts out radiation. That's what we want to see what it looks like on a daily basis.

TODD (voice-over): It's gamma emitting radiation, Larsen says, cobalt-60 and cesium-137 that's used at industrial and construction sites. In hospitals for medical treatment and testing, and can also be used in a dirty bomb.

This helicopter is equipped with crystal based gamma radiation sensing technology, two pilots, a scientist, and a technician on board. In case of an active threat, they may get an urgent call to scan a certain part of the city.

KROL: We maintain a full array of deployable teams that can deploy during the day within two hours across the United States.

TODD: Larsen says it's critical that the government do this kind of testing because cities are especially vulnerable to dirty bombs.

LARSEN: This is a terrorist attack that we think is one of the more likely ones for them to do.


TODD: These flyovers cover about 70 square miles of the Washington, D.C. area and will go through this week, at least -- Kate and Wolf.

BLITZER: They've done this in other cities as well?

TODD: They have. The NNSA, this agency that's doing this, has done this over New York, Baltimore, and the San Francisco bay area. They have done it -- this is at least the second time they've done it over D.C. They did it once about five years ago and they're updating it now.

You know, the threat of a dirty bomb in this city is always there.

BOLDUAN: Higher than most.

TODD: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Yes. All right.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

TODD: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Brian.

Still ahead, a vintage guitar squashed. Jeanne Moos is next with one airline passenger's travel nightmare.


BOLDUAN: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots."

In Romania, people wait at the edge of a lake for Epiphany Festival to begin. In Turkey, snow falls heavily as two women walk down a street in Istanbul. That's beautiful. And in Serbia, dried oak branches are -- are ceremonially burned as part of a holiday tradition. And in Germany, a giraffe inspects visitors from his enclosure at a zoo.

"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

He's saying, what are you doing here?

BLITZER: Nice giraffe.

BOLDUAN: Nice giraffe. (INAUDIBLE) today.

BLITZER: A musician is doing more than singing the blues because an airline, get this, mishandled his guitar.

Jeanne Moos shows us how he's fighting back. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's bad enough to lose a bag, but when you see the case of your vintage guitar shredded at the luggage pickup --

DAVE SCHNEIDER, MUSICIAN: I let out a couple of amazingly creative expletives.

MOOS: Dave Schneider didn't want to check his baby, a red Gibson ES- 335 from 1965.

SCHNEIDER: I begged, you know, I tried, I told them the value.

MOOS: A little under 10,000 bucks, Dave says, but Delta agents in Buffalo insisted he couldn't carry it on as he had always done before. When Dave landed in Detroit, he took out his phone and shot the guitar being transferred.

SCHNEIDER: Be careful with the guitar if that's possible.


SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

MOOS: A friendly flight crew member even went on to the tarmac, asking the baggage handlers to be gentle, but as Dave waited with the other passengers --

SCHNEIDER: This big tiered, three-tiered metal crate goes up an elevator shaft and all of a sudden it just sounded like a wood shredder.

MOOS: Actually, the case looked way worse than the guitar. It took employees an hour to extricate the instrument, which cost almost $2,000 to fix and Dave says will never be the same. He did not do what another Dave, Dave Carroll, did three and a half years ago.

This Dave got fed up with getting the runaround from United after his guitar was damaged so he wrote a song and performed it on YouTube.

He even ended up writing a book "United Breaks Guitars." The power of one voice in the age of social media.

Well, now there's another voice and Delta is responding. "This is not representative of the great care we take with our customers' property. We have apologized and are working directly with the customer to rectify what happened."

SCHNEIDER: I'm going to ask for $10,000. That's for the value of the guitar, and for -- you shouldn't give people the runaround.

MOOS: From the airline's PR point of view, guitars are a pain in the neck.

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

BOLDUAN: Jeanne, thank you so much.

Before we go tonight, Wolf just returned from a very quick trip to Egypt for an exclusive interview with the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsy.

I know we have lots more to hear of your interview. But what are your impressions of this new and controversial president?

BLITZER: You know, I have been going to Cairo, I've been going to Egypt for many, many years. And we're going to do a bunch of reports throughout the rest of this week here. I spent more than an hour with President Morsy on one of the presidential palaces in Cairo. And, you know, he spoke to me in English when we were walking there during a formal sit-down, he wanted to speak in Arabic to be precise.

He's got a tough job ahead of him, and he explains his positions, I must say, relatively well. We go through a lot of sensitive issues, but I did spend time there at the Nile. You can see Cairo is a major city, Tahrir Square there --


BOLDUAN: You went to Tahrir Square.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more coming up throughout this week. Two days, a nice weekend. That's Ian Lee, our reporter, but we're just going to give the viewers a little flavor of what's going on. That's Tahrir Square.

Let's go to Erin right now. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.