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THE SITUATION ROOM

Flu Epidemic Spreads; U.S. to Reduce Combat Role in Afghanistan

Aired January 11, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In fact, maybe the one entity that's not quite a fan of the D.C. focus in Hollywood is Iran. Tehran is making their own version of Ben Affleck's "Argo."

Wolf, they took issue with its depiction of the diplomats who got out during the revolution. So now they're making their own version.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Not surprised.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Sure.

BLITZER: Happening now: warning signs that could save your child's life as the flu epidemic spreads.

The vice president says there's no silver bullet to end gun violence. Yes, those were his words.

The president reveals a speedier transition for U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan.

A pathologist accused of mistakes that convicted the wrong man.

And one town ruined by superstorm Sandy has a gutsy plan to rebuild 15 feet off the ground.

Also, the treasury nominee's loopy signature is a late-night joke bonanza.

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

Right now, more Americans are coming down with the flu. And some, especially children, may be in danger of dying from it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says 47 states, nearly the entire country, had widespread flu activity last week. The epidemic may be easing a bit in some areas.

The number of states reporting a very severe outbreak is down slightly, particularly in the Southeast. More children have died from the flu, at least 20 so far. Parents across the nation are scrambling to try to protect their kids.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is in Texas, one of the hardest hit states.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, kids are especially vulnerable to the flu. And parents need to be really vigilant. I spent the day yesterday with one mom who got her son help in the nick of time.

(voice-over): Darius Carr is so sick with the flu, he's in the hospital. He could have died if not for the quick thinking of his mother. Robbie Carey was keeping a close eye on her son at home. He didn't seem all that sick then suddenly Wednesday night --

ROBBIE CAREY, SON HOSPITALIZED WITH FLU: He couldn't hardly breathe. He was, you know, gasping for, you know, breath, and that was real scary because I thought he was going to pass out at any minute.

COHEN: Robbie immediately brought her 7-year-old son to the emergency room. It's just a short drive away, but by the time they got there, Darius was incoherent.

(on camera): How did you feel in your heart when your own son didn't know who you were?

CAREY: You don't want to think the worst, but as a parent you can't help it, you know?

COHEN: The flu had struck Darius hard, his asthma making it even worse. Doctors had to give him oxygen. Looking for red flags like Robbie did can save your child's life, difficulty breathing, getting better and then sick again, a sign that a second infection has set in, and refusing to drink. And a red flag Darius' mom noticed extreme fatigue.

(on camera): But kids are usually lethargic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, for a while and then usually, they'll perk back up.

COHEN: If there's no perking up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there's a problem.

COHEN (voice-over): Kids with the flue can get very sick very fast. So when in doubt get your child to a doctor.

(on camera): I can't imagine if you hadn't brought him in.

CAREY: That's what I don't even want to think about and I'm just so glad that I did, follow that mom instinct and bring him in right away, you know, that may have saved his life.

COHEN: Wolf, in the past week, this children's hospital has had more than 400 confirmed cases of the flu. And that's just one hospital in one week. The flu is still out there, and it's not too late to get your child the flu shot, so they won't end up in the hospital to begin with -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Elizabeth, thank you.

Let's go to a place now where children are being exposed to the flu mostly every single day.

Brian Todd is looking at the risk inside America's schools.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we all know by now that schools are some of the most dangerous transmission sites for the flu. What are the most common ways it spreads and how can you stave it off?

To find out some of that, we came here in Patuxent Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, a typical battleground against the illness.

(voice-over): Cynthia Norris knows she's got to great creative. She's got to keep a nationwide flu outbreak from slamming into her school.

And with this small group of kids, ages 6 to 11, it's the visual that counts. She spreads glitter on her desks.

CYNTHIA NORRIS, REGISTERED NURSE, PATUXENT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: And then I'm going to put my hands in it. That's the germs that we don't see, OK? So, if I cone and I touch you, this glitter being the germs is what I would pass on to you and you can potentially get sick. OK?

Now, my phone rings, I pick up the phone, now after I put it down, look at that. What does that represent?

CHILDREN: Germs.

NORRIS: Germs.

TODD: As a registered nurse at Patuxent Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Norris is like a field commander against the flu. Her other tactics, coloring sheets with pledges to sign, demos on hand washing, sanitizer dispensers all over the place.

(on camera): What do you think of this? Does this help you?

AMIYA BAKER, 6TH GRADER: Yes, because when you clean your hands, you make sure it's clean and you don't get a lot of germs.

TODD: Do you find a lot of this hard to remember to try to prevent the flu?

BAKER: No.

TODD (voice-over): Neillsville, Wisconsin, is in the region of the country at the Centers for Disease Control says has been the hardest hit. School district officials says one out of every five students there has had to stay home recently with flu-like symptoms.

JOHN GAIER, NEILLSVILLE, WISCONSIN DISTRICT ADMINISTRATOR: We are working hard to try to find kids that maybe have symptoms that are in the district and having our nurse looking and checking those kids out, and sending those kids home if need be.

TODD: Cynthia Norris says the most common ways flu spreads in schools, kids touching each other, with droplets from sneezing or sniffling on their hands, sharing of food and other items, and just close proximity to others.

But mistakes are made by parents, too.

(on camera): Do a lot of parents who may have a kid on the borderline or whatever, do they err on the side of sending them to school too many times?

NORRIS: They do. They do. And sometimes the kids say, I told my mama I wasn't feeling good and mom, you'll be OK, and they'll send them to school. And so, a lot of time, they are just not keeping them home that 24-hour period after they have a fever.

TODD (voice-over): A mistake also made Norris says by many teachers who don't stay home when they are sick.

(on camera): Now, as bad as this outbreak has been, in some school districts around the United States, including this one, health officials say they may have caught a break. They say that just before the schools broke for the holidays, they noticed more widespread flu- like symptoms.

And since the kids have come back from vacation, in some cases, including here, they've noticed different flu-like symptoms, at least the holidays may have given them a break and kept the flu from spreading -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you. A flu expert, by the way, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will join us this hour to answer your questions about the epidemic, how you can stay healthy. Stand by for that.

Now to President Obama and his moves to try to end the war in Afghanistan once and for all for the United States. He met with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, at the White House today and he revealed a slightly different timetable for the exit strategy.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, give us the headlines from today's meeting.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is just that. President Obama announced that the U.S. troops in Afghanistan handling security will be handing over control to Afghan troops in a more accelerated manner. This was to happen some time later in the year, maybe summer being the soonest, and now it's happening a few months early.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Come spring, Afghan troops will be in charge of protecting Afghan civilians and the country's border.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That doesn't mean that coalition forces, including U.S. forces, are no longer fighting. They will still be fighting alongside Afghan troops. It does mean, though, that Afghans will have taken the lead and our presence, the nature of our work will be different. We will be in a training, assisting, advising role.

KEILAR: At a press conference in the East Room of the White House, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he and President Obama made progress on several key sticking points on a deal to keep some U.S. troops in his country beyond next year.

Karzai said President Obama agreed to hand over remaining Afghan detainees. And in the clearest indication yet that some U.S. troops will remain after the end of combat in 2014, the Afghan president said he's amenable to the U.S. demand that American troops not be subject to Afghan courts and laws.

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised.

KEILAR: White House officials have considered keeping up to 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after NATO's mission ends in 2014.

Karzai's morning at the White House followed visits Thursday with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The cordial nature of his trip belied the tense relationship the two countries have had in recent years. And some observers are calling it a success.

MARK JACOBSON, THE GERMAN MARSHALL FUND: A lot of experienced U.S. diplomats and military leaders have said President Karzai has perhaps been the most difficult foreign leader to deal with in a generation.

President Karzai was supposed to come with a list of complaints. What I saw today was President Karzai going away with an understanding of what he and his government need to do in order to have a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Just how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014? That still is the question unanswered. President Obama says, Wolf, that he's aiming to have a bilateral agreement with Afghanistan by the end of this year to figure that out.

BLITZER: Brianna, I understand another key member of the president's White House staff is now leaving a week after the president has been under scrutiny, supposedly, for a lack of diversity on his in his Cabinet, in his inner circle. What's going on?

KEILAR: That's right. We have learned that Nancy-Ann DeParle -- she's one of three deputy chiefs of staff to President Obama, one of two female deputy chiefs of staff and obviously a key female adviser to the president -- she is leaving the White House, Wolf, to go to the Brookings Institution, a think tank here in D.C., that confirmed to us by Brookings.

So she will be leaving and it does come amid criticism or certainly questions that the -- questions of President Obama because he has been losing some key women in his Cabinet, including, of course, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We just learned that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is leaving.

And this comes as in the last couple of weeks he's appointed -- made a number of personnel appointments to the State Department, the CIA, the Defense Department, all of whom, Wolf, are white men. So questions about women and diversity.

BLITZER: Don't forget the Treasury Department.

KEILAR: And Treasury Department, of course.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. Brianna Keilar's our White House correspondent.

The White House is also bracing for a battle with Congress over Vice President Joe Biden's proposals to fight gun violence.

And did a man who performed thousands and thousands of autopsies tell prosecutors what they wanted to hear?

And a flu expert from the CDC is standing by to answer your questions about the epidemic that's now sweeping the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today, Vice President Biden brought video game makers into the discussion about gun violence and how to prevent it. He's warning there's no easy answer to the problem, but he chose a surprising way of saying it.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Jim Acosta, who is looking at the story -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Vice President Joe Biden says there's no one solution for stopping mass shootings, but it's clear the proposals coming out of his task force will be running head on into the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that it is -- there is no silver bullet.

ACOSTA: With Vice President Biden's task force closing in on making its recommendation for new gun control laws, the focus is starting to turn to what, if anything, can get passed in a Congress mired in gridlock. But on an Iowa public TV show, the state's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley sounded open to two of Biden's likely proposals, restricting high-capacity gun magazines and tightening background checks.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I also think though we have to do things to make sure the database of the FBI has all of the information so people can't buy guns that shouldn't have guns.

ACOSTA: The vice president laid out some of the ideas emerging from his task force on Thursday, but he did not mention a new assault weapons ban, stirring speculation that the White House is dropping the proposal, but the White House says that's not so.

An administration spokesman told CNN avoiding this issue just because it's been politically difficult in the past is not an option. That's despite what will be fierce opposition from the nation's top gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.

DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: I do not think there's going to be a ban on so-called assault weapons passed by the Congress.

ACOSTA: The NRA group can simply point to what happened in 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the last assault weapons ban into law. Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress to Republicans.

NARRATOR: He's become the only Republican candidate in Indiana with an F rating from the NRA.

ACOSTA: Last year, the NRA proved it was willing to go after the GOP as well, running this TV ad against former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar, who lost a primary battle to a more conservative challenger.

(on camera): Are Democrats as nervous about the NRA as they used to be?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: No, they are not.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Maryland Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen says voters are eager for new gun control laws after Newtown.

VAN HOLLEN: If you look at most of the contested congressional races across the country, they are in the suburbs, and in suburban areas, I think the weight of public opinion is on the side of commonsense gun safety provisions.

After Biden spent days meeting with different interest groups, the latest being video game makers, the vice president doesn't seem to be in the mood to take on the entertainment industry.

BIDEN: There's no measure I'm aware of to be able to determine whether or not there's a coarsening of our culture in a way that is not healthy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: But Democrats say it's up to the White House to make the case. That's why they expect the president to put a heavy emphasis on gun control in his upcoming State of the Union speech next month.

BLITZER: That's going to be February, what, 12, the State of the Union.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: The vice president will make his recommendations next Tuesday to the president, but we may have to wait until the State of the Union to actually get the results, is that what you're hearing?

ACOSTA: I think we're going to get the results and the recommendations before the State of the Union speech. We're starting to hear some of those now, we talked about that in the piece, the high-capacity gun magazines, the background checks. They want universal background checks and a proposal for an assault weapons ban.

It's unclear how hard they will push for it, but interesting to know what Vice President Biden was saying at the very end of that piece. He was asked during this availability whether or not coarsening of the culture might have something to do with violence out there. He said there's no measure out there to prove that. It's an indication they're not really going after Hollywood. They're going after the issue of guns and whether or not those -- those laws should be curtailed somewhat.

BLITZER: Yes, the vice president's been spending a lot of time on this issue. We will see what he comes up with. Thanks very much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

BLITZER: "Star Wars" fans, heads up. You will be interested in our roundup of some of the day's top stories.

Plus, a flu expert standing by to join us live with answers to your questions about the flu epidemic that is sweeping the country.

And thousands of autopsies performed by one man in Mississippi, they are now under investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw that Dr. Hayne had testified that he could tell by the bullet wounds on the victim that there were two hands on the trigger that fired the shot that killed the victim. And I said, that just doesn't make sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: One of our viewers wants to know if the current flu outbreak is really deadlier than those in the past. I'm going to ask an expert from the CDC that question and more. Stand by.

And disturbing questions about autopsies performed by a very busy pathologist and whether innocent people went to jail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you died in Mississippi of any sort of suspicious circumstances, chances are Dr. Hayne was going to be cutting you open.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: A flu expert answers your questions about the epidemic and whether you should get vaccinated even at this late moment right now.

Did a man who performed thousands and thousands of autopsies help put innocent people behind bars?

And the surprising invasion of the squids.

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

It's the worst flu season in years. People across the United States are suffering and health officials admit they have no way of knowing how bad it will get. We do know that, as of last week, the outbreak was widespread in every state in the United States, except California, Hawaii, and Mississippi, and that in parts of the Southeast, the flu isn't as severe as it had been.

We're now joined by Dr. Joseph Bresee, the chief of the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctor, thanks very much for coming in.

DR. JOSEPH BRESEE, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: My pleasure.

BLITZER: We asked our viewers on Twitter to go ahead and ask us specific questions. We have got a whole bunch of questions.

Let's get right to them, this from Jeff on Twitter. He asked this. "Why should we actually be worried? Isn't this just another flu season, maybe a little worse, but not worth panic?"

Go ahead, Doctor. BRESEE: Well, we don't know how severe or how long the flu season's going to be. But we know that flu seasons can be severe. Even in a mild year, we get thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of hospitalizations.

In a severe year, we get tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations. And so flu is a severe disease. And so I don't know whether this year is going to be more severe or less severe than the average flu year yet, but I know that flu is a disease worth taking note of and getting vaccinated to prevent.

BLITZER: We don't know how deadly this season is going to be?

BRESEE: We won't know quite yet. At really the end of the season, we look back and tell, to be honest.

BLITZER: What is this shaping up, though?

BRESEE: It looks like we're in the thick of the flu season. We're seeing intense flu disease really in all of the states in the nation right now. The good news is, we have a vaccine that works against it and it is not too late to get vaccinated if you haven't already.

BLITZER: Here's another question from Mary on Facebook. She asks: "With every corner drugstore having flu vaccine available, why is this season so bad?"

BRESEE: Well, it's so bad for a variety of reasons, some of which we know and some of which we don't.

Part of the severity of a flu season depends on what strain circulates. Some are worse than others. Part depends on how many get vaccinated. We have had a lot more people vaccinated in the last few years, but still fewer than half of Americans get vaccinated each year. We'd like to change that.

BLITZER: We have heard the statistic that this current flu vaccine is, what, 60 percent effective. So, does that mean 40 percent of the folks who get the vaccine are not going to have any benefit from it?

BRESEE: It's not that they won't have any benefit, but they still may get the flu.

But what this means is that -- and, again, a disease which hospitalizes hundreds of thousands of people, if you get it, you're 60 percent less likely to get sick from flu, and therefore suffer the consequences.

BLITZER: If you get the vaccine, are you more likely to have less severe symptoms, shall we say?

BRESEE: You might be. We hope that's true. There's very little data to support that, but it certainly makes sense. BLITZER: All right. Here's another question. We got this from Dana Weinstein. In fact, let me play the clip about parents who are worried about the downsides potentially for their young kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA WEINSTEIN, MOTHER: For me, I'm just always nervous about putting things into our children's bodies. They're just so young and still developing, but, you know, the fear of autism and other things like that that I know there's reports back and forth on. If it's connected or not connected.

But because there's nothing definitive, it makes me nervous. But I really thought about it and, between the odds of her having a bad reaction versus catching the flu, I felt like the flu and having her down and out and possibly risking her health or her life wasn't worth it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you -- what do you say to someone like Dana?

BRESEE: I think we hear that a lot as pediatricians. And I'll say that flu vaccines, whether it's the injection or whether it's the nasal spray are very, very safe vaccines. Hundreds of millions of doses are given each year, and we've given it for 70 years. We know a lot about the safety of these vaccines, and they're safe.

If you get an injection, you'll get a sore arm, for the most part, for a couple of days. But severe reactions are very, very rare with either of the vaccines.

BLITZER: And you say that children over 6 months old should get the vaccine. What if a child is 5 months old, shall we say, in day care?

BRESEE: Yes, too bad, the vaccines are only licensed for kids over 6 months old. And so for kids, once they're born until they're 6 months old, they can't get a vaccine.

So for those kids, you have two options. One is to vaccinate the mom when she's pregnant. That will confer some protection to the kid and protect the mom, who's also high risk. The other option is to vaccinate everybody else in the family, and so that keeps you from bringing flu into the household to give to the child.

BLITZER: I can't tell you how many adults, though, still think that they're going to get sick from the actual flu vaccine. And you say that's not going to happen?

Just not true. The flu vaccines have killed viruses or proteins of the virus, not even the whole virus, and so the flu vaccine can't give you the flu. BLITZER: Here's another question, from Tim on Twitter, tweeted us, "Do vaccines strengthen or weaken our immune system?"

BRESEE: Well, they strengthen it in the sense it strengthens it against getting a flu infection. I don't know that it has any other major effect on your immune system, but it certainly strengthens -- strengthens it when you see the flu.

BLITZER: Here's another question from Steven on Twitter: "I've heard this strain is invulnerable to the current flu shots. Is this true? Should we get shots?" Obviously, you know the answer to that one.

BRESEE: It's a good question. And it's a question every year. This year, it looks like the strains that are circulating in the United States are susceptible to the vaccine. So we did a really good job of finding strains in the vaccine to look very much like the strains that are circulating now. And we know that the vaccine's effective.

BLITZER: A lot of people have asked if it's dangerous to fly right now. Is it more dangerous -- you get the flu in an airplane cabin, for example. What do you say about that?

BRESEE: I think there's lots of places that people are crowded together that spread germs, whether it's flu viruses or other viruses. Airplanes are one of them. But go into the grocery store, being an elevator, being in a schoolhouse are all places you come in contact with sick people. So I don't know that being on an airplane is terribly more dangerous than -- than other ways to get the flu infection.

BLITZER: You know, we had a story here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a very sad story yesterday. Very healthy young man, 17 years old, came down with the flu, and he eventually died from complications. How extraordinary is this?

BRESEE: It's extraordinary, but it's not -- it's not rare, I would say. I think it's -- we hear about these sad cases all the time, where people don't have known risk factors. They're not elderly; they're not very young; they don't have heart disease, et cetera. But they still can get very sick and hospitalized, or even die from the flu. We see it every year, both in children and adults.

BLITZER: A lot of -- a lot of people asked us on Twitter and elsewhere, when they should go to the hospital? How bad should it be before they call the doctor and say, "I've got to go to the emergency room"?

BRESEE: I think a lot of it depends on the person. But clearly, if you feel sick enough to go to the doctor, go to the doctor. Clearly, if you have trouble breathing, go to the doctor. If you have trouble drinking, you think you're getting dehydrated or your child does, definitely go to the doctor at that point.

Most people who get the flu will do fine and will recover after a few days of feeling miserable. But if you have any of these danger signals, definitely call your doctor or go there to be seen.

BLITZER: If you come down with the flu, they want to know what medicine should you take?

BRESEE: There's a couple of medicines that are licensed and recommended for use in flu. One's called Tamiflu, or oseltamivir, and one's called Relenza or zanamivir. Both these medicines are effective in both shortening the course of the flu and also preventing complications if you do get the flu.

BLITZER: Is there anything you should avoid taking?

BRESEE: You should avoid taking aspirin if you're a child. Back in the '80s, it was clear that aspirin use and flu didn't mix well and caused a disease called Reye's syndrome. We don't see that much anymore, because we don't give aspirin to kids anymore.

BLITZER: Is there ever going to be a day when we actually cure the flu?

BRESEE: Well, we certainly treat it well. Flu's a tough -- (AUDIO GAP) all the time, so we have to keep changing the vaccines to keep up with them. And because they change all the time, there's a risk they'll -- they'll begin to evade the medicines that we use now. We hope that won't happen, but flu's a tricky -- a tricky virus.

BLITZER: Dr. Joseph Bresee, the chief of the CDC's influenza division. You've been extremely helpful with your answers, Doctor. Thanks very much for joining us.

BRESEE: It's my pleasure.

BLITZER: Authorities in Mississippi are examining an alarming number of court cases. We're taking a close look at allegations bad autopsies may have put innocent people in prison.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT EICHELBERGER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We're going to have to go back. And we're going to have to examine just about every case that he had any contact with. And we're in the process of doing that thankfully here in Mississippi now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ballpark, how many cases?

EICHELBERGER: Thousands?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thousands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Mississippi, crimes and court cases long thought to be solved and settled are getting a fresh look. And prisoners, including Death Row inmates, could be set free. It's all because of questions about a doctor whose work load and tactics have become the focus of intense criticism.

CNN's Victor Blackwell has been looking into this very disturbing story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, attorneys have been looking into Dr. Steven Hayne's autopsies for years, but it's a lawsuit Hayne filed recently that is bringing so many new details to light.

EICHELBERGER: If you died in Mississippi of any sort of suspicious circumstances, chances are Dr. Hayne was going to be cutting you open.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): That's Matt Eichelberger, a former public defender, talking about Dr. Steven Hayne, a pathologist who claims to have conducted tens of thousands of autopsies.

(on camera): How many would you say you've done on an average year, late '80s to probably a few years ago?

DR. STEVEN HAYNE, PATHOLOGIST: Somewhere in the range of 1,400, 1,500, that range. Maybe 1,600.

BLACKWELL: That's five to six times what's recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners. For the first time on television, Hayne is responding to claims that an oversized work load and questionable tactics may have led to the conviction of many innocent people.

For decades in Mississippi, there's seldom been a state medical examiner. Counties relied on state-approved pathologists to conduct autopsies. Hayne was one of them, although he has never been certified by the Board of American Pathologists as a forensic pathologist.

EICHELBERGER: He was a prosecutor's best friend. Law enforcement would go to Dr. Hayne with their investigation pretty much complete. They would tell him what they suspected had happened. And nine times out of ten, probably 95 times out of 100, they would get the result they were looking for.

HAYNE: I'm not a friend of -- of law enforcement if a crime has been committed. I'm not -- I don't support a D.A. if he wants to charge a person with a crime and I don't think a crime was committed.

EICHELBERGER: One high-profile case Hayne's critics often cite is that of Tyler Edmonds. In 2003, the 13-year-old boy confessed to pulling a trigger of a gun with his older sister to kill her husband. He later recanted that confession.

Edmonds was tried as an adult, and Hayne testified as an expert witness for the state. Edmonds was sentenced to life in prison. Three years later, the conviction was overturned, and Edmonds is now a free man. Then-Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz wrote a scathing concurrent opinion.

OLIVER DIAZ, FORMER MISSISSIPPI SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I saw that Dr. Hayne had testified he could tell by the bullet wounds on the victim that there were two hands on the trigger that fired the shot that killed the victim. And I said that just doesn't make sense.

HAYNE: All I could say was, if there were two people who were involved in the shooting, I couldn't exclude only one person did the shot. It was not a definitive statement.

BLACKWELL: In 2008, Hayne was removed from the list of state- approved pathologists. Recently, the Mississippi Innocence Project has asked the state Supreme Court to review four separate murder cases in which Hayne was the pathologist, and it expects to file ten additional requests, some of them death penalty cases.

EICHELBERGER: We're going to have to go back, and we're going to have to examine just about every case that he had any contact with. And we're in the process of doing that, thankfully, here in Mississippi now.

BLACKWELL (on camera): Ballpark, how many cases?

EICHELBERGER: Thousands? Thousands.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Hayne sued attorneys for the Innocence Project for defamation, libel, and slander, a case that led to an out- of-court monetary settlement.

But information gathered in that case was also used in the petition seeking reviews of other Mississippi murder cases.

When asked tough questions about his tens of thousands of autopsies, Hayne has a simple answer.

HAYNE: I don't think there are errors in my work.

BLACKWELL (on camera): And we reached out to the office of Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, and his people sent us this statement: "Our office would say this is not and has never been a matter of defending Dr. Hayne. If fraudulent testimony is found to have been given either by a witness for the state or for the defense in any criminal case, this office will investigate and prosecute if warranted. Our office has the singular responsibility to not only ensure that the guilty are punished, but that the innocent are set free.

"As for improving the process regarding medical examiners, this office formed a task force that recommended a complete revamping of the system and full DNA testing."

And there is now a state medical examiner in Mississippi -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Victor, thanks very much. Excellent work. Good reporting.

Frustrated, but determined, a town nearly wiped out by Hurricane Sandy has a bold plan to rebuild.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says 41,000 families in his state are still displaced almost three months after Superstorm Sandy.

CNN's Poppy Harlow found some of them in the town of Sea Bright, and they're fed up with waiting for help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, this is Sea Bright, New Jersey, known as a small, picturesque coastal town. But Sandy completely wiped out 100 percent of the businesses here, and 75 percent of the homes were either destroyed or severely damaged.

SCOTT KELLY, SEA BRIGHT RESIDENT: Devastated us, to be honest with you. We don't live here anymore. We don't operate a business here anymore.

HARLOW: Both his business and his home destroyed. That's what Superstorm Sandy took from Scott Kelly and many folks here in Sea Bright.

KELLY: This is the area where the -- most of the damage came through. The water was probably about -- it was about 3 feet inside the house.

HARLOW: Ocean Avenue, still shuttered months after the storm. This is how vulnerable Sea Bright is, sandwiched between ocean and river.

DINA LONG, SEA BRIGHT RESIDENT: This is my street.

HARLOW: And this is the woman fighting to rebuild, Dina Long. Don't let the pink sneakers fool you: Sea Bright's mayor is as tough as they come.

LONG: I have reached a point where I am like Governor Chris Christie, in that I am ready to kick butt and take names.

This used to be my living room.

HARLOW: She, too, is one of the displaced, her home ravaged by Sandy. Her plan is gutsy.

(on camera): You want to elevate all of downtown Sea Bright?

LONG: I do.

HARLOW: Really?

LONG: That is a Sea Bright that's built to last.

HARLOW (voice-over): The houses would look like this one, which cost a quarter of a million dollars to raise. She wants FEMA to pay for it. If not, they'll look to private investors, but not elevating is nonnegotiable.

KELLY: We'll knock this building down and rebuild on top of pilings. About 15 feet high.

HARLOW (on camera): Fifteen feet high?

KELLY: If I stay where I am, my flood insurance could go up 600 percent in the next five years.

LONG: We're waiting for the help that's been promised to show up.

HARLOW: Who are you asking?

LONG: I've been asking the state of New Jersey. I've been asking FEMA, and we are waiting.

HARLOW (voice-over): So far, Sea Bright has received about $78,000 in public assistance from FEMA. There are no state funds as of yet, and how federal relief dollars will be allocated is unclear.

LONG: Very often the answer I get is this, meaning ask him, ask him. This department knows. Call the federal government, call the state government, call the county government.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: As a state, I've waited 72 days, seven times longer than the victims of Hurricane Katrina waited.

HARLOW: Scott Kelly is more than a million in the hole between his home and his restaurant, but he's not banking on federal aid.

KELLY: We opened a business with insurance policies. We opened our -- we had our home with insurance policies. In case anything ever happened like this, we'd be covered. And in the long run, you're not. They're going to argue, and it's a game, and you've got to play the game. And that's the part that hurts the most.

HARLOW: He and Mayor Long are tired of people questioning if Sea Bright should even rebuild.

LONG: It is possible to build smart. It is possible to mitigate risk from flood water. It is possible to build hurricane-proof. Look at Florida.

HARLOW (on camera): Just last week, Congress approved $9.7 billion in federal Sandy aid after partisan bickering delayed the vote. Next week, Congress will take up a measure for $51 billion in additional Sandy aid. But we may see more political infighting around that while towns like Sea Bright wait -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Poppy Harlow, thanks very much. That infighting, that political infighting could be intense still. We'll watch it.

President Obama's nominee to be the next treasury secretary is giving some late-night comics new material. Even the president joked about Jack Lew's loopy signature, saying he better make it more readable before it's printed on U.S. dollar bills. Now listen to what some of the professional comics are saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": That's your signature? Or are you just testing to see if the pen works? Hey, Lew, here's a tip, stop signing all your checks on the teacup ride at Disney World. The only way that you're allowed to have that as your signature is if your name is Boing-oing-oing!

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Before he was chief of staff at the White House, Mr. Lew worked at Hostess as a cupcake icer, and now he's...

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": It's good. It's about time our bills look like they were signed by a Roomba.

STEVEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE COLBERT REPORT": Our bills should have nothing ridiculous on it, just old men in wigs and pyramids with eyes.

I mean, is this even a signature? Or did he start drawing Charlie Brown and give up after the hair? Good grief.

And it got no better when Lew explained his fiscal philosophy, saying, quote, "I describe budgets as tapestry. When it's woven together, the picture amounts to the hopes and dreams of a nation."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That is so funny. Let's check in with Erin Burnett. She's coming up at the top of the hour. I guess you're going in-depth on that signature, Erin?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: I think that signature is -- I don't know, it's sort of reminiscent of a teenage girl's signature, and there's nothing wrong with that, Wolf.

We're also going to be talking about Afghanistan. The president came out and said it's going to be months before we get a decision on troops. We've actually been looking at this over the past two months. All the time lines that they've given, it keeps getting delayed and delayed and delayed, and we need some answers as to why.

Also tonight, we're going to be joined by Tom Teves. His son was murdered in the Aurora movie theater shooting this summer. He was at the pre-trial hearing of James Holmes this week. He says James Holmes is ready to stand trial, and there is no doubt that he is not insane. We're going to talk about that. Plus we'll be joined by Jeffrey Dahmer's attorney, who tried to get the insanity defense and failed to do so, to find out how hard it might be and what the punishment will be for James Holmes if he were seen to be insane.

All that coming up, top of the hour. Back to you.

BLITZER: Erin, we'll be watching. Thank you.

Off the coast of California, this is the year of the squid. The fishing frenzy. Stand by.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There we go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In Bangladesh, Muslim devotees cook at the Muslim World Congregation.

In London, a contestant picks at an ice sculpture at the London Ice Sculpting Festival.

In Hungary, circus dancers ride camels and an elephant during a rehearsal for a show.

And in Japan -- look at this -- a leopard-print Lamborghini is displayed at the Tokyo Auto Salon 2013 Exhibition.

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

You may not be aware that there's an invasion going on off the coast of California right now by an elusive creature of the sea. That's what's going on.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is joining us now on the hunt for a flying squid. Miguel, what's going on?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a very rare event that we saw. And I did go hunting for squid. And Wolf, you can bet your bottom dollar that Miguel Marquez always gets his squid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice one, dude.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): It's a Southern California squid frenzy. Every night fishing boats packed to the gills set off to hunt for 2- to 3-foot long, sometimes bigger, squid. The sea here off Dana Point thick with krill, squid food. The elusive creatures, good sport fishing. They make a fine squid steak. They are bizarre, shooting ink in water as they fight to stay in the sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

MARQUEZ: When out of the water, they change colors, sometimes like a traffic light.

(on camera): This is what the squid hunters have come after, Humboldt squid. Look at that. There's the eye there. Their teeth are right here. If I stuck my hand right there, it would try to grab me. They change colors amazingly. Somebody grabbed ahold of this one, and you can see a perfect hand print on that squid right there.

(voice-over) The Humboldt, or flying squid, makes its home from Alaska to South America. It is rare, very rare, to have so many squid off the coast here for so long, offering such great fishing or squidding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here you go.

MARQUEZ: Todd Mansur, captain of the Some Fun, knows these waters well. Tonight he's the only guy who knows precisely where the squid are. Boats from miles around hover, hoping for a squid bonanza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. I tried to move the boat forward to give room, and I couldn't. There's too many boats in front. It's awesome.

MARQUEZ: 2013 is shaping up to be the year of the squid. A giant squid, a very distant cousin of the Humboldt, was seen for the first time in its natural habitat, 2,000 feet down off the coast of Japan.

Squid isn't just for breading and deep frying anymore. In popular culture, the squid agenda is alive and well and bent on world domination. Did you see Galaxhar in "Monsters versus Aliens?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come in peace. I mean you no harm and you all will die. And that's all right.

MARQUEZ: All hail Galaxhar. Viva la squid.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, the company that took us out, Dana Point Sport Fishing, they're still going out. They're going out tonight. They've taken about thousands and thousands of squid, they say, in the last few days. They say that they have a few days, hopefully, to go. They're not entirely sure how long the squid will last. But once they're gone, they could be gone for a month, a year, or sometimes even three years. Back to the depths -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like you had a little fun doing that story, did you?

MARQUEZ: Good times. It was very sweet, it was a fun time out there. Everybody caught tons of squid. And literally, we were the only boat that caught anything.

BLITZER: Good work. Miguel, thanks very much. Have a great weekend.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter, @WolfBlitzer. Tweet me whenever you want. Thanks very much for joining us.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.