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Soiled Ship Crawling to Port; Deadly, Dramatic End to Manhunt; Obama Takes State Of Union Speech On Road; When Should Vets Be Eligible for Benefits?; Military Families Impacted By Washington Budget Politics; Pope Speaks Out About Resignation

Aired February 13, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Happening now, a cruise nightmare -- it's not Carnival's first and this one won't end for at least another day.

Also, questions about the dramatic climax of the manhunt for Christopher Dorner.

Did law enforcement deliberately burn down the cabin?

And the Navy SEAL who reportedly killed Osama bin Laden facing some hard times after leaving the military. I'll talk about his future with U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders. He's actually met him.

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

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're tracking that stricken ship in the Gulf of Mexico, the Carnival Triumph, now being towed to port. What started out as a four day cruise has become a week long nightmare. Power is limited. There's no air conditioning and passengers have reported sewage sloshing in the hallways, forcing people on deck. This picture was taken by a passenger on another cruise ship that came to help.

The Triumph is moving at a snail's pace, pulled by tugboats and fighting headwinds. It's now expected to arrive in Mobile, Alabama in about 24 hours. And this is no small ship. We're talking about more than 3,000 passengers and another 1,000 crew members; 1,400 cabins, many of them now uninhabitable because of the heat and the stench and the filth.

It's a massive ship. You can see how many levels are involved.

CNN's Sandra Endo is in Mobile, Alabama for us.

She's standing by -- Sandra, this isn't the first Carnival ship that has had a big problem like this. ENDO: No, it's not, Wolf. And right now, a third tugboat is on the way to help assist the Triumph navigate the waters as it makes its way here to Mobile, Alabama. And a fourth tug is also expected to escort the vessel as it approaches here. And it's expected to arrive here tomorrow afternoon.

And as you mentioned, this is not Carnival's first time. It had to deal with thousands of passengers being adrift at sea.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO (voice-over): How many times can Carnival say they're sorry?

The company's CEO apologized to the more than 3,000 passengers stranded aboard the Triumph.

MICKY ARISON, CEO, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: And we obviously are very, very sorry about what is taking place.

ENDO: In 2010, to the passengers on the Splendor.

ARISON: And we are very, very sorry for the discomfort.

ENDO: A year ago, an engine fire knocked out power on the Carnival's Costa Allegro off the coast of the Seychelles. Also in 2012, 32 people were killed when Carnival's Costa Concordia crashed off the coast of Italy.

In this most recent incident, Carnival said it did not deliver on its promise to provide a great vacation.

ARISON: We try very hard to do that all the time. It's obvious in this particular case, we did not deliver on that promise.

ENDO: And some relatives of passengers are making a vow of their own.

BRENT NUTT, WIFE IS ABOARD CARNIVAL SHIP: I promise you, none of my family members that on there will probably ever, ever take another cruise.

ENDO: The Triumph experienced an electrical problem with one of its alternators about a week ago and another propulsion problem in January. The Carnival says those problems were fixed, passed inspection and had nothing to do with the recent engine fire. Despite all of Carnival's recent troubles, maritime experts still have confidence in the line.

DR. RICHARD BURKE, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK MARITIME COLLEGE: Unfortunately, I think with Carnival, this is a -- just a bad coincidence for them that it's happened on two of their ships in this market. I have no reason to believe that Carnival is in any way not a first class operator.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ENDO: Now, if you're wondering why Carnival can't just offload all the passengers onto another ship, well, maritime experts say that's very dangerous out on open sea and in unpredictable weather conditions. Also, lifeboats are used as a very last resort, so, actually, the passengers are better off where they are right now.

And Carnival says once Triumph arrives to the port here, they've canceled all future trips on the vessel through April. That means 14 future cruises are canceled -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've got a lot of work to do to fix that ship. There's no doubt about that.

Sandy Endo, thanks very much.

Let's get a little bit more now on Triumph's journey to port. It's slow-moving, as you know.

CNN's Chad Myers is working this part of the story for us.

Very slow, indeed.

How slow?

What's going on -- Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There was a headwind today, almost like when it takes you longer to fly to California than it takes you to come home from California on an airplane. This Triumph is just battering now into a 21-knot wind today.

Now, the boat that's carrying it or pulling it only does about 12 miles an hour on its own, maybe 15 full throttle. And you hook up a giant boat behind it and it's going to be slow in one way or another. But if you blow wind at it, again, right at the bow, it's going to be very slow.

Still about 90 miles from where it wants to be tomorrow morning, at that buoy just offshore. The winds have been battering it from the north today and they are still blowing in that direction, slowing the entire process down. They will travel through this cut -- that's Fort Morgan right there -- on up into Mobile Bay. This is going to be a long process. It's almost 30 miles from this port up here to that buoy. And they can't go very fast. The width of that channel is only 300 yards wide.

All of a sudden, you start moving that boat one way or the other with the wind, you're going to be running that thing aground. They certainly don't want that. They will have a boat at the front. They will have a boat at the back and tugboats on both sides to make sure that that tugboat stays exactly in that channel, to make it to that location tomorrow. The bow going to the north. They will offload to the port side. And I think everybody will be happy to get off that ship.

BLITZER: I'm always amazed how a little tugboat, Chad, like that can -- can basically bring this huge, huge ship in toward the shore. It's really amazing when you think about it.

MYERS: It truly, it is. It's called the Resolve Pioneer. This thing only has about 6,000 horsepower. You have to understand that the Triumph, when the engines are running, has 46,000 horsepower. So this thing, the Triumph, could go very well by itself. But trying to pull that boat with this ship here at only just over 5,000 horsepower has been a very tough go. We talked to the operators today. They said that that wind has just been brutal right on the bow of those boats.

BLITZER: And you, as you say, the weather is not going to be OK?

That's not going to be a complicating factor?

MYERS: Yes, thank goodness. The wind dies off tomorrow. I was very concerned that even if they got there today, if they got to that channel today with a 21-knot wind, and even if was a little bit to the side, that that boat could easily get pushed to a ground area where the channel is only 300 yards wide. So you don't want that -- 400 yards wide. You certainly don't want the boat to get stuck even farther.

So they're going to have boats on both sides of this thing -- tugboats -- just traveling right up that canal for 30 long miles. They can see land, but they can't quite get off just yet.

BLITZER: Chad Myers, a good explanation, as usual.

Thank you.

And, by the way, we're going to have live coverage of the ship's arrival in Mobile, interviews of the passengers tomorrow, around this time, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The manhunt is over, but the grief continues in Southern California, where a funeral was held today for Christopher Dorner's third victim. There was a huge law enforcement turnout for Riverside police officer, Michael Crain, an 11-year veteran who leaves behind a wife and two children.

Dorner also killed a sheriff's deputy, bringing the toll from his killing spree to four.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in San Bernardino, California right now, where this whole saga ended.

What's the latest -- Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that they are still trying to confirm that the remains that they found in that cabin, as we are trying to understand how exactly it was that Christopher Dorner was hiding in plain sight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have shots fired, four or five shots fired.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The end of the search for Christopher Dorner began in this Big Bear neighborhood midday Tuesday. Two cleaners come to tidy up the house. They find Christopher Dorner. They're tied up, their purple Nissan stolen.

The house on Club View Drive is maybe a mile, one mile from where Dorner's burned out truck was found last Thursday.

Even more shocking, the condo was across the street from the San Bernardino sheriff's command center. It appears Dorner had been hiding right under the noses of investigators.

LT. PATRICK FOY, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE: If he went up the 210, the dirt road, and burned his car up there, I mean if he was coming back down through the woods, this would be the place to hide out.

MARQUEZ: The cleaners free themselves and call 911, reporting their car stolen. The car spotted by Fish and Wildlife wardens. A gunfight ensues. At least 15 shots fired. The wardens are unhurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were so close that he recognized his face.

MARQUEZ: Dorner crashes the Nissan and escapes into the woods. Within an hour, he hijacks a white pickup truck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came up to me with his gun pointed at me. And I stopped my truck, put it in park, raised my hands. And he said, "I don't want to hurt you, just get out and start walking up the road and take your dog," which is what I did.

MARQUEZ: More than 20 miles and two hours after the chase began, Dorner abandons the pickup truck and runs into a cabin. Intense gunfire shot into the cabin where Dorner is believed to be cornered, all captured on a reporter's cell phone. "Two deputies hit."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we have an officer down. Officer down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have an officer down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Medic ships in the area. Medic ships in the area. (INAUDIBLE) officer down.

MARQUEZ: One later dies, the other critically injured.

Police converge by land and air. Then the fighting stops, Dorner surrounded. Police move in on the cabin. They begin tearing down the walls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Steve. We're going to go -- we're going to go forward with the plan -- with the burn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have fire in the front. He might come out the back. MARQUEZ: Soon afterwards, within minutes...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One shot fired from inside the residence.

MARQUEZ: Still unknown whether Dorner had shot himself or died in the flames. Some six hours after it all started, the cabin engulfed in flames.

But did law enforcement mean to burn the cabin down?

This from a reporter who recorded the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burn that (OBSCENE WORD OMITTED) down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burn that God (OBSCENE WORD OMITTED) down!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy, one-two, corner of Randolph.

MARQUEZ: Inside, the sound of ammunition exploding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I see more ammo going off.

MARQUEZ: The cabin smolders for hours. 11:00 p.m. -- charred human remains found in the cabin. San Bernardino ends its search for Dorner, a long, horrible nightmare seemingly over.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MARQUEZ: And we hope to have some answers to many of those questions that have been raised by everything that transpired up there on the hill in Big Bear shortly, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, 4:00 p.m. local. We hope to carry a press conference here in San Bernardino with the sheriff live -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And do you think it's possible we'll get official confirmation of the body?

MARQUEZ: Well, we certainly hope so. Given the high profile nature of this. You know, they have dental records, if there are scars or tattoos on the body that they can identify, then that is possible that we can get a very quick identification. They may want to do genetic identification, which would take longer.

But certainly I would think we would get some sort of identification or some sort of sense of how certain they are very soon.

I can tell you, on that mountain, the search for him is over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stand by for that news conference.

Miguel, thanks very much.

There are questions about the dramatic end to that standoff that do continue. Did law enforcement, for example, torch the cabin on purpose?

Plus, the State of the Union Address by the president -- we're taking a closer look at how it could impact President Obama's agenda.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama back in full campaign mode today on the heels of the "State of the Union" address, attempting to sell his proposals and keep the pressure up on Republicans especially in Congress. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is over at the White House. She's standing by with the latest -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: hi, Wolf. Right now, President Obama is inside the White House meeting with senators on immigration reform, but earlier today, he was about 400 miles away, talking jobs in North Carolina. It's just a sign of how jam-packed he'd like the agenda to be in his second term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama took his "State of the Union" message on the road, pivoting to jobs at an auto parts plant in North Carolina.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe in manufacturing.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I think it makes our country stronger.

YELLIN: This Canadian company brought 160 jobs to the U.S. and found a town with trained workers and incentives to lure it. A success story the president wants to copy.

OBAMA: We innovate, we adapt, we learn new skills.

YELLIN: Many of the proposals the president outlined on the trip are likely to run into Republican opposition, $1 billion for institutes that would help bring new jobs to hard-hit areas, a $6 billion tax credit for companies that set up shop in depressed towns, and new taxes on U.S. companies that take their business offshore.

OBAMA: I need Congress to do their part.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I need Congress to do their part.

YELLIN: That's not all. He also wants to raise the minimum wage and reform Medicare. Democrats say the president should be ambitious.

(on-camera) He's taking on a lot. TOM DASCHLE, (D) FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He is. And I don't blame him for doing so. You know, when you get elected second term, you realize this is your last opportunity to have a huge impact.

YELLIN (voice-over): But first, he needs his cabinet in place. The latest? On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee questioned Jack Lew, his pick to be treasury secretary. Republicans have questioned Lew's past investment in a fund that's housed in an offshore tax haven. Democrats hammered Mitt Romney for parking his money in the same Cayman Islands building. So, on Capitol Hill, Sen. Chuck Grassley quoted the president calling it --

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R) IOWA: The largest tax scam in the world.

JACK LEW, TREASURY SECRETARY NOMINEE: I reported all income that I earned. I paid all taxes due. I very strongly believe that we should have tax policies that make it difficult, if not impossible, to shelter income from taxation.

GRASSLEY: Well, there's a certain hypocrisy in what the president says about other taxpayers and then your appointment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (on-camera): Wolf, Jack Lew has sold off, long ago, sold off his investment in that fund, and he has been confirmed twice since doing so. So, the administration is confident he will be able to be confirmed without a hiccup. The Senate is expected to vote on Lew in the next couple of weeks. As you know, he has spent most of his life in government service -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly has. All right. Thanks very much for that, Jessica.

With Republicans baulking at moving quickly on Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, filed a motion this afternoon to cut off debate. It will take 60 votes to cut off debate and then move to an up or down vote on nomination. The move is scheduled for Friday, barring a deal to hold it earlier.

All right. So, take a look at our latest CNN/ORC poll. When we asked whether the president's address would lead to more bipartisan cooperation, 39 percent said yes, 53 percent said no. Joining us now, our chief national correspondent, John King. John, does this change the dynamic in Congress at all?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's not the big question after the "State of the Union" address. The president lays out a second-term agenda. But Wolf, in our poll, most Americans who watched the speech liked the speech. They thought it boosted their support for the president's proposal at least a bit, but you saw that skepticism about bipartisanhip.

Well, it's just a little tutorial. Remember, this is how the president won a second term, 51 to 47. If you look at it from this perspective, he won a pretty convincing Electoral College victory, right, 332 for Obama, 206 for Gov. Romney. And you see that here. But let's come over here and take a look at a different perspective.

Remember, last night, he was in the House chamber, addressing the House and the Senate. Well, this is what happened county-by-county across America. So, there are lot of parts of the country, if you take a look here, reliably red. So, are those members of Congress listening to the president? Here's one way we think would be helpful and we have the help here of the Politico report in putting this into context, but look at this.

So, 435 seats in the House, right? Pretty lonely map here. There are 14 Republicans, only 14 Republicans who go home to districts carried by President Obama. The rest of the Republican majority, they go home to districts Mitt Romney won. So, were they listening to the president last night? Were they persuadable?

Again, only 14 Republicans go home to districts carried by the president and only seven Democrats in the House of Representatives go home to districts carried by Mitt Romney. So they might be more impacted by the president's standing of the Democrats if the president is down, might go home and worry they have Republicans.

The Republicans, if the president is up, those 14 of them might go home and worry they have to win votes in their district. But Wolf, one of the calculations and complications in the second term is, yes, the president won, but especially when it comes to getting that agenda through the House, most of those red members, the Republican members, go home to places that are reliably red.

BLITZER: So, what does this do, John, to the president's second- term agenda?

KING: That's the big question. One of the reasons he just noted when president is traveling the country is he's trying to change public opinion. He's trying to put pressure on the Congress. Let's go through some of the issues. The president wants an assault weapons ban. It's a top White House priority, but if you bring that over, especially not only because of Republicans but also because of conservative Democrats, the map today says no.

The president doesn't get his assault weapons ban. That's the map today. We'll see if he can change it. He wants to ban those magazines with high capacity, 10, 20, 30 bullets in a magazine. That's a giant question mark. Most would say today, Wolf, no, the president's not going to get that. We'll see how that and what happens.

The one place where there does seem to be some bipartisan support, the president wants universal background checks for gun purchases. I think to watch how this one plays out. There's a law in Virginia that most people follow. Will he get universal background checks? A question mark. More robust background checks do seem to have bipartisan support. So, that's one thing to look at. What about immigration? The president didn't get into a lot of detail last night, but in his inaugural address, he did. In another proposal, the president says he wants a path to legal citizenship. That's a giant question mark when you get into Congress. One possibility, can you get legal status, something short of citizenship through the House of Representatives?

Can you get enough Republican votes and then would the president sign that? That's one question again because of that dynamic the Republican control the House. Now, remember the dreamers. These are the children of illegal immigrants, the young children who were brought into the country when they were young.

There does seem to be bipartisan support for doing more for them, to not penalize the young children who were brought into the country by their parents. We'll watch that one. Well, last issue. The president talked about this a bit last night. He wants more taxes. He wants more revenues to reduce the deficit.

Well, when you get over to the Congress, especially among Republicans, that's why we have a big red question mark. Republicans say no, we don't want to give you any more revenues, Mr. President. And he also says he wants modest Medicare and Social Security savings or cuts. There's a blue question mark because many Democrat don't want to do that.

The challenge on this one, Wolf, as you well know, to get the Republicans to sign on to more revenue, he has to cut deeply here. To get the Democrats to sign on to any cuts here, they want to see more taxes here. So, giant question marks because of the partisan divide and while the president may have gone over well with that speech out in the country, we don't know if he changed any votes in Washington.

BLITZER: We certainly don't. Excellent report, John. Thank you.

The first interview with Bin Laden's reported killer raising some questions about how the federal government treats war veterans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New indications the Syrian regime may have moved some chemical weapons. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories here in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, a senior official tells CNN the United States and other countries in the region are analyzing intelligence reports suggesting movement of Syria's chemical weapons in recent weeks. It's believed this could be an effort to consolidate storage due to deteriorating security conditions, but officials say they don't know the extent of the movement at this time.

And Reuters report prosecutors are urging a federal judge to reject accused mob boss, James Whitey Bulger's claim that he cannot be tried for 19 killings, because former prosecutors gave him immunity in exchange for tips. Bulger who is now 83 years old spent 16 years in hiding and was on the FBI's ten most wanted list until his arrest in June 2011. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

And this year's best in show is hitting Broadway. The "New York Times" reports Banana Joe, the winner of this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is temporarily joining the cast of a popular musical adapted from an unfinished Charles Dicken's novel. And what a cutie pie he is. He's also busy making the rounds, hitting the talk shows, and doing a few interviews as well.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: On Broadway?

SYLVESTER: Yes. A cute little guy, isn't he?

BLITZER: Very cute. Lisa, thank you.

Get back to the top stories right now, including a fiery end to a massive manhunt. Some are questioning if law enforcement deliberately burned down the cabin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was violent, frantic, and dramatic. But now just 24 hours after the end of the manhunt for the fugitive former police officer, Christopher Dorner, there are already questions about the tactics that the police used.

CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is working this part of the story for us. Joe, what are you finding out?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is about how the fire got started. The police have not addressed this issue conclusively, and it is likely to be the focus of a very careful investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Audio on the ground from a CBS 2 KCAL reporter mentioned a smoke grenade. And then in the chaos someone, we don't know who, was heard yelling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burn that god [ bleep ] down.

JOHNS: Real-time police audio transmissions at Big Bear Lake were preserved, and the second guessing started immediately. Though we don't know how the fire started, to the untrained ear, after authorities concluded they have someone in the cabin in the woods, it sounded to some like they could have intentionally set fire to it to try to smoke out the suspect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to go forward with the plan, with the burn.

JOHNS: About 23 minutes later, an early reference to burners being deployed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Control 61. Lincoln. Seven burners deployed, and we have a fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy. Seven burners deployed and we have a fire.

JOHNS: A former U.S. marshal and expert on fugitive apprehension told me that, based on the audio, he does not believe that authorities on the scene tried to burn down the house.

ARTHUR RODERICK, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, U.S. MARSHALLS: At that point it could just be bravado but again, there's no operating plan that calls for torching a home in order to get a suspect out.

JOHNS: The term "burners" heard on the audio was once used as slang for tear gas canisters, though police generally no longer use gas that can catch fire.

RODERICK: Obviously we want to gas the individual out of the house, they are nonincendiary- type devices so they wouldn't have are any possibility of catching the house on fire.

JOHNS: Does it sound like the authorities, the deputies, the police did anything wrong?

RODERICK: I don't -- at this point, no. I don't think they did anything wrong.

JOHNS: The final word come could come from an investigation and autopsy. Former medical examiner Jonathan Arden says a corner has a pretty good chance of determining whether a fire killed the suspect, or if he killed himself to avoid being taken alive.

DR. JONATHAN ARDEN, FORMER D.C. MEDICAL EXAMINER: Dies from inhalation of the smoke and the toxic products. So we look for soot down into the airways. We look for carbon monoxide in the blood. And those are the indications of someone who is alive in the fire. And if you have enough of those poisons, basically, somebody who died from the fire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Some law enforcement experts say the way this played out was predictable, that Dorner had expected to go out this way in the proverbial blaze of glory. The question was whether he would be shot by someone, for example, a police officer, or if he would shoot himself, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of questions. I'm sure the investigation will continue, precisely what happened. Thank you very much for that report.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with our CNN contributor, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes. Tom, I'm going to play some more clips from the police scanner, and then you'll make some sense out of what we're hearing. Listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys be ready on the number four side. We have fire in the front. He might come out the back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounds like one shot fired from inside the residence. We have ammo exploding inside the house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any propane cylinders or anything back there we need to be aware of?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not that I can see from my position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to have fire start putting water on it once the roof starts to settle down a little bit, and like it's starting to collapse?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Affirm. Give me some time here. We're not quite there. I still have the two-three corner that is vulnerable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we still have ammo going off in the fire.

(END AUDIO CLIPS)

BLITZER: All right. Tom, can you make some sense out of what we just heard?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Wolf, it's actually very difficult to make sense of it. You have -- you know, we don't know the exact time line of the beginning of the operation to the end. And I'm just not certain of how this fits into the whole picture. We'll probably know more from the sheriffs later, but I don't know if they will want to talk about it in too much detail this soon after the event.

I will agree with the marshal that it's not a normal plan. I've been a tactical commander. I've been in contact with many of my colleagues who are also tactical commanders and at the state and local level as well, and they are just not familiar with this type of plan being used this way. But that doesn't mean that the sheriff may not have a good explanation for deliberately setting the fire, if they did.

Now, I'm speculating, but one possible explanation would be that they may have wanted to start the fire at one corner in order to flush him out the opposite corner, and then have those SWAT team members be the ones that would engage in a fire fight and not have all of the police officers that were surrounding this location all be shooting at once, therefore shooting at each other in a crossfire. That's a possible explanation. We'll need to hear from the sheriff if that's what is occurred.

BLITZER: How troubling is it, if it is troubling to you, that this man was apparently in this vicinity, in this area for several days right, I guess, under the thumb if you will of the San Bernardino police?

FUENTES: I think it's very troubling. You know, the questions that I would have is going back to the very beginning of the incident at that location -- they find the truck last week burnt. They search, we thought they were searching every residence that had people in it as well as the abandoned shacks and cabins around the mountain and the entire tourist area. Now we're getting some mixed information that they may not have bothered to search places that were residential homes occupied or unoccupied. That doesn't make sense.

Also, you have, you know, every police department in southern California, southwestern United States at the state, federal, and local level would be offering -- automatically be offering the sheriff all of the assistance they would need. They were saying at the beginning of last weekend that they only had a little over 100 officers conducting these building searches on the mountain and the manhunt on the mountain. And then shortly after, we hear that it was scaled back to 20 or 25 officers. I don't know what the justification would be, what led them to absolutely know that they could go ahead and scale that back. Now they learn in hindsight that he was holding hostages literally right under their nose.

I think that's a difficult explanation, why the sheriff wouldn't have accepted all of the assistance being offered. And you wonder if they had a lost of six-year-old child on that mountain, how many thousand police officers might have been used to look for him. Here you have a dangerous killer that's murdered people already, vowing to murder more, and it doesn't sound like it was the most intensive manhunt that it could have been.

Now, maybe there was more to that than we realize. I know it was bad weather so they couldn't use aerial assistance last weekend during the heavy snowstorms. So that would have meant the need for more ground personnel to actually do these searches and go door-to-door. I don't understand that lack of using the assistance that had been offered from the beginning.

BLITZER: We're going to learn a lot more. And there's going to be a news conference, we're told, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. And we'll of course carry that. Thanks very much for that, Tom Fuentes.

Tonight, by the way, Anderson Cooper is devoting his entire hour to this story, "Nine Days of Terror: The Hunt For Christopher Dorner." 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Hard times for the U.S. Navy SEAL that took out, reportedly, Osama bin Laden. We're going to talk about his fight for veterans' benefits with a lawmaker who's met him. Senator Bernie Sanders. He is standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The first interview with the former Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden is raising serious questions about how the federal government treats veterans. Esquire magazine suggests this American hero is, quote, "screwed," because he gets no pension, no health care, no protection for his family. But that isn't exactly true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL BRONSTEIN, There is five years of health insurance, free health insurance you can get from the VA. I mentioned that in the story. But he wasn't aware of it because there's no communication. The VA itself complains about this, that the DoD, Department of Defense, does not communicate with these vets that there are some resources available for you.

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BLITZER: Joining us to talk about this is, the independent senator of from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders. He's chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, and he met with this reported bin Laden shooter here in Washington this week. How was that meeting.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: It was very interesting.

BLITZER: You believed him that he was the man that actually kill bin Laden?

SANDERS: I suspect so, yes.

BLITZER: You do? He was convincing to you?

SANDERS: Yes.

BLITZER: So, what was the problem - the basic problem that he has? Because by all accounts, he killed bin Laden, who was responsible for killing 3,000 Americans. He should be treated a lot better than he apparently is.

SANDERS: Well, actually not. What we want to make sure is that every veteran in this country, all of whom put their lives on the line to protect America, get the benefits that deserve and the benefits that they are entitled to.

What he has done is put a spotlight on a very serious problem. We're going to do a hearing on this next month. And that is, Wolf, we've got hundreds of thousands of veterans who have not gotten their claims processed in a timely manner.

BLITZER: Whose fault is that?

SANDERS: That's a combination of factors. The good news is that, as a result of the decisions made by the United States government, we have said to soldiers who served in Vietnam, 40, 50 years ago, you are now entitled to benefits because of exposure to Agent Orange. Way back Gulf War, PTSD. We have opened up the process to people who otherwise would not have gotten the benefits.

The bad news is that that number of people coming into the system has caused a backlog. Further more, the V.A. is actually processing more claims now than they have in the past. But so many more claims are coming in. Not just from Iraq and Afghanistan but from Vietnam and elsewhere, other wars, that that has caused the backlog.

Last point, the V.A. is working very aggressively, and I hope that they're going to be successful, in creating a paperless system which would be much more efficient than the current paper system that they have.

BLITZER: Because -- the author of this article suggested that this individual, the man who reportedly killed -- he didn't know he was even eligible for medical benefits because nobody at the Veterans Administration told him.

SANDERS: Well, I can't speak to that case. But this is -- the issue of outreach is a whole other issue.

BLITZER: Communications?

SANDERS: Yes. Telling -- look, the truth is, that in terms of patient satisfaction, the V.A. is high up than any other medical hospital system in the country. They do a very good job. The bad news is that there are a lot of veterans out there who do not know what they are entitled to. That is an issue we're going to work on. There's a new program called TAP, Transition Assistance Program, which says that when you are leaving the military, you are going to go out into the civilian world, you have got to get the training, get the information so that you know what you're entitled to.

BLITZER: Because you said in a statement, it is simply not acceptable for any veteran to wait many months or years for the benefits they are entitled to receive.

SANDERS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. So how are you going to fix it? You're the chairman.

SANDERS: We are working with the V.A. right now. They have instituted a paperless system which will greatly expedite the process. They are rolling that out right now. So we are going to stay right on it. If you are a veteran and you apply for a benefit, it is absolutely unacceptable that you wait years to get that benefit or many, many months. So we're going to see that we speed up that entire process.

BLITZER: He served 16 years in the U.S. Navy.

SANDERS: Yes.

BLITZER: A Navy SEAL, obviously an heroic, young man. Didn't serve the 20. Should there be an exception made so that he could get some pension benefits, for example? He didn't serve the 20 full years.

SANDERS: OK. That's an interesting question. And we did discuss that. And I think it's an issue we want to look into for people like Navy SEALs. I mean, these guys are not just soldiers. These guys carry -- I mean, imagine the stress involved in taking out bin Laden. And they do this type of work all of the time. They don't get much break. They are training, they are in missions. They are not home with their family.

Might we look at a small group of people who are working extraordinarily hard under great pressure in a different way than we'd look at the general veteran population? I think it's something worth looking at them.

BLITZER: Last night you remember the president said -- and I'll just quote him from what he said in the State of the Union address. "We will keep faith with our veterans investing in world class health, including mental health care for our wounded warriors, supporting or military families, giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.

Great talk. Is he walking the walk?

SANDERS: Actually the Obama -- you know, I've been critical of the Obama administration but in terms of funding for the V.A., they have been very, very generous. The president understands that many of our heroes coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with PTSD, TBI, and we are appropriating the resources that we need to help address --

BLITZER: What is TBI?

SANDERS: A traumatic brain injury and to help us deal with these very difficult issues, not to mention we've had so many older veterans from World War II and Korea who also are going to need help. Bottom line is, we have a moral obligation to make sure that we provide the benefits to all those who served our country and we do it in a timely way.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in. Good luck.

SANDERS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Imagine saying good-bye to your kids, putting your things in storage and then being told, never mind. That's what's happening to some U.S. sailors right now. You're going to find out what's going on.

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BLITZER: Some U.S. sailors scramble to make major changes in their lives, even said good-bye to their children. Now they're being told, not so fast.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us. She's got details.

What's going on, Barbara? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is all about budget politics in Washington. It's been one of the major topics in the capitol, but out with the fleet, it is young military families that are already feeling the pain.

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STARR (voice-over): For Petty Officer 3rd Class Charity Peralta, Washington budget politics has hit hard on the deck of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman.

CHARITY PERALTA, PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS, U.S. NAVY: I moved everything I own into storage and I signed over custody of both of my children.

STARR: This Navy mother did that because the ship was supposed to leave last week for eight months in the Middle East. The children were sent to live with their fathers.

PERALTA: I cut off my cell phone bill, canceled everything I had, and moved on to the ship.

STARR: But the Navy suddenly changed course. The Truman will stay put, saving millions of dollars during the budget crunch. It means one carrier, not two, in the Middle East, leaving sailors left in port scrambling.

PERALTA: I'm not going to take my children back and pull them out of school and, you know, unsettle their lives.

STARR: Petty Officer 2nd Class Natasha Anderson also sent her son to live with family members. Now she needs to find somewhere to live.

PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS NATASHA ANDERSON, U.S. NAVY: Currently I'm staying on board the ship. When I lost my apartment, I wasn't able to get it back.

STARR: Another carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, is parked right next to Truman. Its fate is also on the line. Lincoln is supposed to be going into dry dock for the next four years, for more than $3 billion in planned maintenance. But until there's a budget agreement, there's no money, so the carrier is sitting.

CAPT. KARL THOMAS, COMMANDER, USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Every month that we delay getting in is a month it will take us to get out. It's not like we've built extra time into this availability.

STARR: The delay will ripple through the Navy's fleet-wide repair schedule for years. The chief of naval operations warns the service is not crying wolf.

ADM. JONATHAN GREENERT, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: We will not be able to respond in the way the nation has expected.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: Some congressional critics think the Navy is up to, in their words, drama with all of this. Drama or not, it is military families, Wolf, as we said, that are beginning to feel the pain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

We're also hearing for the first time from the Pope about his decision to resign.

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BLITZER: Pope Benedict XVI spoke publicly for the first time today about his resignation at his regular weekly audience before leading an Ash Wednesday mass.

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POPE BENEDICT XVI, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH LEADER (Through Translator): I have done these in full freedom for the benefit of the church, but I have prayed for a long time and I have examined before God my conscience, fully aware of the gravity and seriousness of such acts.

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BLITZER: CNN's Max Foster is joining us now from Rome.

What kind of response, Max, did the pontiff receive?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I have to say, it's been a really emotional day here in Rome. I spoke to lots of people coming out of that audience today. It was meant to just be an average weekly audience, but it certainly wasn't that. It was the first time he's spoke since he resigned. And that news has settled in now and people are now responding to that.

And they want you to give a sense to the -- to the Pope that they were very grateful and there was a huge cheer we entered that audience in the morning. And when they came out, they were generally emotional. And then you have this mass, the last mass that Pope Benedict will preside over in St. Peter's Basilica. It wasn't meant to be there, but the crowds were so big, they moved it into there. It was meant to be in a smaller space.

And it was a spine-tingling service. People absolutely gripped by it, not just because they're always spectacular services in there, but the sense that this is the last time, one of the last times he will be in there as Pope. They haven't got their heads really around this idea, that a Pope can resign. But the news is sinking in, I think -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Max Foster, watching what's going on for us. We'll stay in close touch. Thank you.