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Country Music Star Dies; Gun Tragedy; McCain: "Massive Cover- Up" on Benghazi; Leaky Oil Line Caused Fire; Obama's Very Private Golf Getaway; Danica Patrick Makes Racing History; Meteor Fragment Hits Lake; Lennon Assassin Had Other Targets

Aired February 18, 2013 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Deb, thanks very much.

Happening now: A teenager's excitement at seeing the president speak about gun control is marred by tragedy. Only hours later, her sister became a victim of gun violence.

Music fans shocked at the death of a troubled country star. We're now learning new information about Mindy McCready's apparent suicide.

Plus, an explosive look at letters from John Lennon's assassin to the police officer who arrested him. It turns out the music star wasn't his only target.

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

An epidemic of gun violence getting deadlier by the day. Chicago saw more than 500 killings last year, up 15 percent from the year before. And there's no letup so far this year. Among the latest victims, the sister of this teenager. While she was listening to President Obama call for gun control, she had no way of knowing that in a matter of only a few hours, her family would become the latest in Chicago to be ripped apart by a gunshot.

Her 18-year-old sister, Janay, was shot and killed while walking with friends, one of whom may have been the intended target.

CNN's Ted Rowlands has more on the story. He's joining us now.

What are you finding out, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is just another tragic story coming out of Chicago. Another teenager loses her life. And as you mentioned, a 14-year-old girl who was up on stage with the president, listening to him talk about gun violence, would soon find out that her sister was also shot and killed.



ROWLANDS (voice-over): When President Obama returned to Chicago last week to talk about gun violence, 14-year-old Destini Warren was one of the high school students standing behind him. A few hours later, Destini's 18-year-old sister, Janay, was shot and killed in this alley in north Chicago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All this gun violence that's going on out here, you never think it will be your child. This is the hardest thing for me in my life.

ROWLANDS: According to family members, Janay wasn't the intended target of the gunman. The same was apparently true in 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton's murder. Her parents also attended the president's Chicago speech, where he said this about the Hadiya's death.

OBAMA: What happened to Hadiya is not unique.

ROWLANDS: The Pendletons say they were heartbroken to find out that another Chicago family is now dealing with the loss of a child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just knowing how devastated this mother actually was just because I can relate now, my heart it just feels totally different. It's just -- I was devastated for her.

ROWLANDS: The Pendletons say they called the McFarlane family to offer their condolences. Janay McFarlane, according to her parents, had talked about Hadiya Pendleton's murder a few days before she herself was killed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was like, momma, that's sad. I feel so bad for that little girl. Every time she saw kids on TV, she was like, momma, that's so sad, I feel so bad for these people that got to leave their kids.

ROWLANDS: Janay had a three-month-son who will now grow up without a mother. Her parents say they will raise him and try their best to keep him safe.


ROWLANDS: And, Wolf, sadly, she was not the only teenager to die last Friday night after President Obama's speech; 18-year-old Frances Colon, a senior in high school here in Chicago, was also killed. Her family said that she saw the president's helicopter flying over the city of Chicago. She went to a corner store to get a pop and some chips and was caught in gang crossfire. A senior in high school, her family said she wanted to be a lawyer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it on track now, the gang violence, the deaths, the senseless killings that are going on in Chicago right now, potentially to be even worse this year than last? Because last was awful.

ROWLANDS: Yes, it was.

And, yes, the answer to your question, if things continue as they have already this year in the month of January, 42 murders, that's the most in the month of January since 2002. If it continues at this pace, unbelievably, Chicago will have more murders this year than even last. BLITZER: Ted Rowlands, thanks very much.

And this important note to our viewers. I'm going to be speaking with Janay McFarlane's mother about her family's tragedy later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I will be filling in for Anderson Cooper on "A.C. 360." That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight.

Shock at the apparent suicide of country star Mindy McCready. Her life sounded like the lyrics of a heartbreak ballad, including drug abuse, domestic violence and mental illness and a very public effort to overcome it all.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joining us now from Arkansas, where McCready lived.

Ed, what are you hearing there? What's the latest?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The investigators here in Heber Springs, Arkansas, continue to investigate this case.

The sheriff's department was the ones that were called out to the House here -- near just a few miles away from where we are. They say they were called out because a neighbor had heard two gunshots around 3:30 in the afternoon yesterday. When authorities arrived on the scene is when they discovered the body of Mindy McCready on her front porch. They also discovered -- they'd also gotten another phone call just shortly after that initial 911 phone call from a friend of hers saying that that person had gotten an urgent message from a family member of McCready's.

So clearly someone must have known that something was going on or not everything was quite right because they had two calls to race out to the scene and when authorities arrived at the house, they found McCready's body on the front porch. Authorities and the sheriff tells me they also discovered McCready's dog, that she had killed her dog, and that that dog was also on the porch lying next to her.

And the sheriff tells me that this is a dog that Mindy McCready and her fiance, David Wilson, who died just a month ago here on that very same porch, that this was a dog that the couple had bought together after they had moved here back in November of 2011.

So a tragic situation all around. And the sheriff hopes that people will remember her for her music, not what has happened here in the last 24 hours.


MARTY MOSS, CLEBURNE COUNTY SHERIFF: I know that she's had her issues in the past. I'm not here to talk about those. But I would hope that there could be some compassion for the family in this difficult situation, because it is a difficult situation, any time someone's life comes to a tragic end at the age of 37 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, of course, a lot of people also concerned about her -- Mindy McCready's two boys, a 6-year-old boy and a 10- month-old boy. We're told by people close to Mindy McCready that those two boys are currently in foster care and being well taken care of at this point. She's involved in a custody battle with the father of her oldest child as well.

We're also told by representatives of Mindy McCready that they're planning a memorial service in Nashville, Tennessee, in the coming days to honor her as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: No evidence of a suicide note or anything along those lines, Ed?

LAVANDERA: We asked the sheriff about that. He said he couldn't talk about it because it's still an ongoing investigation. We haven't gotten any indication that anything like that might have been left. But it was clear that there was something going on with people close to her because of that second 911 phone call that authorities here in Heber Springs say that they received shortly after that initial phone call. The neighbor saying they had heard two gunshots.

But they say that everything so far seems to be consistent with this being a suicide and no other foul play suspected at this point.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera on the scene for us in Arkansas, thank you.

McCready's suicide could become part of the national debate over gun laws. Government records for 2010, the most recent year available, show three out of five gun deaths in the United States were suicides. That grim proportion has been roughly the same every year for the past decade.

We will have much more on this story coming up. Dr. Drew Pinsky will join me live here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. He recently spoke to McCready. We're going to talk about that conversation, what she said to him and much more. That will happen in our next hour.

Tomorrow, the South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius will be in court. A memorial service will be held for his model girlfriend who he is accused of killing. And we're learning new details about the case.

CNN's Robyn Curnow has more.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A beautiful girl, a beach and a reality TV show, which showed contestant Reeva Steenkamp's romantic side.

REEVA STEENKAMP, MODEL: You fall in love with being in love with love. CURNOW: She died just days before this aired. It will continue to run on South African television for the next nine weeks. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, the double amputee and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, spent the past few days in this jail, charged with her murder.

The charge strongly denied by Pistorius and his family. This is his uncle, flanked by his sister, who struggles to keep herself together as they make a brief statement to the media.

ARNOLD PISTORIUS, UNCLE: As you can imagine, our entire family is devastated. We are in a state of total shock. They had plans together and Oscar was happy in his private life than I have seen him in a long time. We're all grieved about Reeva and our hearts go out to her family and friends. Oscar, as you can imagine, is also numb with shock and grief and total pain.

CURNOW: Investigators who have been combing through his home in this high-security complex are starting to piece together what they think happened early on Valentine's Day. It was in this bedroom that Steenkamp may have expected to spend the night. According to an official close to the investigation, her overnight bag and an iPad was found in here.

Pistorius invited CNN into his room in 2008 when these pictures were taken. And CNN is also being told that Steenkamp was shot four times through a bathroom door. And authorities say afterwards Pistorius carried her down these stairs while she was still alive.

As the legal process now begins against the man known as Blade Runner, all of Oscar's future races have been canceled. He was scheduled to run in Australia, Brazil, the U.S., the U.K. and Russia. And while Pistorius is in court on Tuesday for a bail hearing, Reeva's family says there will be a memorial service for her as producers of her reality show released this farewell message from her, meant to be to the cast, but which now becomes her last words, her last goodbye.

STEENKAMP: I take away with me so many amazing memories and things that are in here that are in here that I will treasure forever. I'm going to miss you all so much. I love you very, very much.


BLITZER: What a sad story that is. Robyn Curnow reporting for us. We will have more on that later here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

Other news we're following, including some painful budget cuts that will be felt by all of us. They're not only days away. They could affect you in some unexpected ways.

Plus, Senator John McCain is alleging a massive cover-up in the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: So it's the State Department's fault? Who would you blame? Who is responsible then?



BLITZER: Senator John McCain's been pressing almost everyone from the military's top brass to the White House for answers about last September's deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. And now he's accusing the Obama administration, and I'm quoting him now, of a -- quote -- "massive cover-up."

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's working the story for us.

Those are pretty stinging and strong words, Barbara.


You know, the whole Benghazi situation has already led to delays in confirming some of President Obama's key appointees -- Chuck Hagel at defense, John Brennan at the CIA. And now, Senator McCain saying he is not ready to call it a day on all of this.


STARR (voice-over): A congressional hearing --

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Then you ought to have your facts straight.

STARR: -- after congressional hearing --

MCCAIN: Who responsible then?

STARR: -- Republican Senator John McCain challenges the White House on its response to Benghazi.

Now, he is going further on NBC's "Meet the Press."

MCCAIN: So there are many, many questions and we have had a massive cover-up.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: You said there's a cover-up. A cover- up of what? I'm just asking you, a cover-up of what?

MCCAIN: I'll be glad to send you a list of questions that have not been answered.

STARR: The White House says it's given answers, conducted 20 briefings for Congress. Officials have testified at 10 hearings, answered how queries. It all adds up to 10,000 pages of documents.

Just last week, McCain himself told CNN recent responses on Benghazi were, quote, "adequate."

So, is this just politics?

When we asked McCain's office what other questions the senator still had, we were referred to this January press release, listing 14 questions. Like this one McCain repeated on "Meet the Press."

MCCAIN: What did the president do and who did he talk to the night of the attack on Benghazi?

STARR: But some answers are already out there. Regarding what Obama knew, Obama's chief of staff said the president was briefed throughout the night, and the secretary of defense told Congress Obama acted soon after the attack unfolded.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: After the initial reports about the attack in Benghazi we received, General Dempsey and I met with President Obama and he ordered all available DOD assets to respond to the attack.

STARR: McCain also wants to know, what actions did the president take?

In this letter to Congress, the White House said that Obama himself called the Libyan president the day after the attack.

McCain also asking, did the president and Secretary of State Clinton know about a cable from Ambassador Chris Stevens warning the consulate that, quote, "could not survive a sustained assault"?

Clinton testified that she did not.


STARR: Now, McCain has some points here. He wants to see all of the administration emails about those infamous talking points. And he strongly believes that the Obama administration simply did not support the fragile Libyan government enough in the early days. That led to a fragile security situation that he believes that, at the end of the day, contributed to this attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you know, Barbara, getting the answers to these questions, part of the issue's involving Chuck Hagel. There's supposed -- by now, there was supposed to be a new defense secretary. Leon Panetta was supposed to be already back in California. But all that has been set back.

What's the latest? What's going on with Panetta? He's staying put, I take it, for the time being?

STARR: Well, he is staying in office and running the Pentagon until Chuck Hagel is confirmed, if he's confirmed. But not necessarily running the Pentagon from right here. He went back to his California home over the weekend. He will travel this week to Brussels for a NATO summit. Hagel was supposed to go to that summit.

And then the big question is, after that, somewhere in the Saturday, Sunday, Monday time frame, will Leon Panetta just go back to California, continue to do the job from there? Will he have to come back to Washington? Tuesday's the big day, Wolf, that's when we may find out Hagel's fate.

BLITZER: As far as Hagel is concerned, how much grumbling, if any, do you hear over there at the Pentagon, that he's becoming such a political, I guess, cause, Democrats supporting him, Republicans opposing him, that if in fact he is confirmed, he probably will be, but if he's confirmed, he won't be an effective representative for the Pentagon in dealing with Congress? Because you really do need bipartisan support.

STARR: Well, this is going to be a very delicate political issue. And as you know, Wolf, the Pentagon likes to say it doesn't get involved in politics. Far from true in reality, of course.

The question is that, will Hagel be so damaged by this bruising confirmation fight?

But I talked to his brother last week. His brother says he has not given up. He's in for the long haul, that we will become secretary of defense and fight in all these fronts. But it's still the very fundamental question, will he have the political capital in Congress to make it all work?


STARR: Wolf?

BLITZER: How much damage has already been caused to his potential tenure at the Pentagon by this political battle over these past few months?

All right. Barbara, thanks very, very much.

STARR: Sure.

BLITZER: We now know the cause of the fire that set off that cruise nightmare, leaving the ship soiled with raw sewage, passengers stranded for days.


BLITZER: Today, we learned what caused the fire that crippled the cruise ship the Carnival Triumph.

Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right.

So, what do we know, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have just learned this new information, that it was a leaky oil line in one of its engines. The U.S. Coast Guard says the fire began when a fuel oil return line made contact with a hot surface. The flexible hose pipes are supposed to get regular preventive maintenance. The Coast Guard commander also praised the crew for doing, quote, "a very good job containing that fire."

One of the country's most iconic magazines is in financial trouble. The parent company of "Readers Digest" filed for bankruptcy today. In the court documents, RDA Holding says its $465 million in debt but intends to keep publishing its U.S. magazines while it restructures.

"Readers Digest", which has been around for 90 years and was once the most popular magazines in the country, also went through bankruptcy back in 2010.

And the folks at Burger King are looking for whoever hack their Twitter account today. The hacker changed Burger King's profile picture to a McDonald's logo and send out a tweet announcing the company had been sold to McDonald's because the whopper flopped.

Twitter suspended the account about an hour later. Now, for the record, McDonald's denies having anything to do with this hack.

And Sarah Palin's coming to Washington next month to speak to a prominent conservative group convention. Palin joins a who's who of prominent Republicans on the speakers list for CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. At least six of the speakers are possible 2016 presidential candidates. They are, of course, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

And, finally tonight, we have some sad news for basketball fans. Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss died today. He was 80 years old and had been fighting cancer. He took over the Lakers in 1979. They won 10 NBA titles under his ownership and he made the NBA Hall of Fame.

So we're sad to hear of this loss. But wow, what a remarkable career and what a remarkable. He built this entire franchise. It was more than just a team, it was a brand essentially.

BLITZER: The Lakers, you know, just take a look at what they've accomplished. He was the owner. You've got to give him a lot of credit for that.

SYLVESTER: Yes. He brought in some of those big names like Magic Johnson. You know them, some of your favorite stars as well, Kobe Bryant, made them the superstars, or helped make them the superstars that they are today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Huge, huge operation now in part because -- not only Lakers but all the NBA, spent the weekend at the NBA all-star game in Houston, and you see how it's grown over these past, what, 30 years. It's been an amazing growth. And he played a significant role, there's no doubt about it.

SYLVESTER: Yes. That's right. Our viewers may not know, but you are quite the basketball fan, Wolf.

BLITZER: If they follow me on Twitter, they know. Thank you. America's natural treasures on the chopping block, many of them. We're going to show you how some pretty severe looming spending cuts will impact our national parks.

We'll also take you to a spot where a fragment of that meteor slammed into a lake after Friday's explosion over Russia.


BLITZER: The U.S. once again teetering on a so-called fiscal cliff, a fiscal cliff of sorts. On March 1st, that's the end of next week, some $85 billion in mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts will take effect unless Congress takes action before then. These cuts will impact all of us.

When you shop, you may see some shortages, some higher prices. The Agriculture Department says it may have to furlough some of its inspectors. When you fly, you may see longer wait times at airport security if the Transportation Security Administration has to cut its personnel there. If you have children in school, you might feel the pinch as well. Education could lose $725 million. That means fewer teachers, larger classes, 70,000 low-income children potentially losing Head Start funding. Those are just a few of the examples of what might be in store.

And even if none of that impacts you, this will. Some experts warn the combined impact of all of this could plunge the economy back into recession. Even America's greatest natural wonders like the Grand Canyon will feel the pinch, along with millions of Americans who visit the country's national parks each year. CNN's Emily Schmidt has more on that.


EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If Richard Wood has seen one national park, he's seen them all, or hopes to.

How many parks have you been to?

RICHARD WOOD, NATURE ENTHUSIAST: Well, over 200. 250 approximately.

SCHMIDT: With Great Falls, Virginia, checked off the list, there are about 150 to go.

WOOD: The National Park Service is, you know, there's nothing like it in the world.

SCHMIDT: The National Park Service covered more than 84 million acres in every state but Delaware. And soon may do so with less because of mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration, slated to begin March 1st.

JOHN GARTER, NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION: It looks like the sequester is probably going to happen.

SCHMIDT: John Garter works for a nonprofit group that supports the national parks and he's worried about the looming changes.

GARTER: Five percent is a lot for the Park Service.

SCHMIDT: The National Park Service is preparing to cut $110 million out of its $2.2 billion budget. That could mean shorter park hours, fewer employees and possible closed camping and hiking areas when there's not enough staff.

GARTER: A cut of this magnitude, which would be so damaging to parks over the course of a year, federal spending, would say, 15 minutes.

SCHMIDT: Garter says Yellowstone National Park could lose $1.75 million. The National Mall, $1.6 million. The Statue of Liberty, $779,000. Still, one budget expert says the cuts are not too extreme.

ISABEL SAWHILL, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think almost any organization can sustain a five percent cut in their budget and not have it interfere with their basic mission.

SCHMIDT: Isabel Sawhill says taxpayers may not mind getting a bit less in service to help control government spending. Richard Wood agrees in theory, just not here.

WOOD: I'm a big National Park Service fan. So, I want them to cut programs that don't matter to me personally. I think unfortunately all of us feel that way.

SCHMIDT: The National Park Service says 280 million people visit the park system every year. Their concern is if the picture out of Washington is one of political disagreement, it's going to ruin this view for an awful lot of people.

Emily Schmidt, CNN, McLean, Virginia.


BLITZER: All right, let's talk about what's going on with this forced mandatory budget cuts awaiting the president's return from Florida today. Joining us now is our CNN contributor, Ryan Lizza. He's "The New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent. This is - if you could call it a crisis -- totally made here in Washington.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Totally made here in Washington. This started in 2011 when the Republicans and the White House could not agree to a grand bargain.

And what they did is they decided they needed some incentive to get the long-term deficits under control. And that incentive was a policy that everyone agreed was dumb. And so they wrote this into law this would happen on New Year's Eve that just passed unless they did something smarter and better. Unless they made cuts they all agreed were a better solution. So they actually implemented a ticking time bomb in U.S. law to force them to do something better.

BLITZER: The idea, though, originated in the White House, is that true?

LIZZA: That is true. According to Bob Woodward's book, as many house Republicans like to point out, the very original idea was proposed by a couple of White House staffers up on the Hill. That's where it started. Eventually, both sides agreed to it, voted on it, and the president signed it into law. So, no matter where it came from, both sides supported it and voted on it.

BLITZER: But at the time, they really didn't think it would ever happen. They thought there would be leverage on both sides to come up with a deal. But that deal over these past many months has not happened. They're now increasing numbers of Republicans you're hearing and also some Democrats who are saying, well, maybe this is not that bad.

LIZZA: Yes, I have a piece coming out next week. A lot of the piece focuses on House Republicans. I've been doing a lot of reporting on this, and one of the differences between a lot of the Republicans in the House right now -- or the 2010 class, the 2012 class -- they're not that upset over cuts to the Pentagon. They're okay -- you know, a group of several dozen House Republicans that are fine with cutting the Pentagon. And like most traditional Republicans, they're okay with cutting discretionary spending too. So, that has pushed the Republican conference into the position of you know what, we're okay with this.

BLITZER: If it goes into effect, what's called the sequestration, these forced mandatory cuts as of March 1, how much of political problems -- substantive problem, would this be for the president?

LIZZA: Well, look, the balance of power right in Washington is the president is a whole lot more popular than anyone in Congress. So he starts -- if this goes into effect and there's a big blame game between the White House and Republicans in Congress, he starts it with a little bit more leverage.

Having said that, once meat inspection -- people like CNN start pointing out that national parks are closing, that meat inspectors' budgets are going to be slashed, that payments to doctors are going to be slashed, all sorts of interest groups and all sorts of government spending that people actually care about, the public is going to start to get angry and ask that something be done. And I think two sides will fight about who's to blame for that. I think the president starts at a little bit of an advantageous position when that time comes.

BLITZER: Do you see a sort of fiscal cliff resolution at midnight, three minutes after midnight, in this particular crisis? Or is this going to happen?

LIZZA: Remember this is the second half of the fiscal cliff. On New Year's Day, what they resolved was the tax hike half of the fiscal cliff and they kicked this thing to March 1st. It's not happening that way. On New Year's Eve, the Senate and the White House agreed to a deal, passed overwhelmingly. They kicked it over to the House and the House felt pressure to vote on it. This time, there seems to be no pressure to resolve this in the next 12 days - or 10 days. It seems like the Senate and the White House are not talking. House Republicans are not talking to the White House. Even if there was a deal reached like last time, a Biden- McConnell compromise, most of the House Republican leaders are saying that they are -- they're not going to -- they want the spending cuts. They want the $1.2 trillion over ten years in spending cuts. If the only way to get them is the sequester, they're okay with that.

BLIZTER: It basically, as far as kicking the can once again down the road, the president said just over the past few weeks, if we can't do it by March 1st, let's postpone it once again. I think that's unlikely too.

LIZZA: You know, as we stand here today, there is very little pressure for that to happen, and there's very little -- at least that we know about, negotiating going on to extend this deadline. I mean, all the leadership in the House -- you know, I've interviewed Eric Cantor recently. He basically said this is going to happen.

BLITZER: Ryan, thanks very much.

LIZZA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you see the pictures of President Obama playing golf this past weekend with Tiger Woods? Neither did we. That's because there weren't any officially released, publicly released. We did get some exclusive video of him playing today. That was really hard to come by. Our own Brian Todd is taking a closer look at why there's so little information, so few pictures coming out of the president's golf trip.


BLITZER: President Obama's about to wrap up a trip to Florida that's been shrouded in secrecy. Today, CNN did obtain these exclusive faraway pictures of the president out there on the golf course. But this was today. This video was pretty difficult for our photographer, Peter Morris, to capture, but he did. We've seen nothing of his weekend round of golf, though, with Tiger Woods.

Brian Todd joining us now. Brian, why all the secrecy? Why is the White House not letting reporters, photographers up close to see the president play some golf?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no clear answers on that, Wolf, the situation with Tiger Woods. The White House said media access for his game with Tiger Woods was consistent with other presidential golf outings. But the press corps has complained about this. The political optics don't look great for Mr. Obama.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're the two most high-profile people in their fields. Tiger Woods in golf and President Obama in, well, almost everything else. We know they played golf together this past weekend. But we have more visuals of the president's inner circle reaching a top secret mission the night Osama bin Laden was killed than we have of Mr. Obama and Tiger Woods together during that golf outing.

The media covering the president was shut out. The press corps complained. The White House responded by saying the White House was consistent with previous presidential golf outings.

It's not unusual for President Obama to go golfing away from the media glare. He's golfed here at the Army/Navy Country Club and at other places and the press hasn't been allowed to capture those moments, either. And Mr. Obama's not the only president whose golf outings were sensitive politically.

George W. Bush got slammed politically after this moment in 2002.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive.

TODD: President Bush stopped playing golf when the U.S. went to war in Iraq. CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein says the get-together between President Obama and Tiger Woods could be a similar moment.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not the biggest deal in the world to go golfing with Tiger Woods, but I do find it hard to believe that his staff would have not kind of laid down in front the tracks to prevent this before the election.

TODD: Brownstein says the president golfing with Woods, who was embroiled in a scandal involving multiple counts of marital infidelity, wouldn't have played well with women voters.

But there are other optics as well. The so-called sequester is looming. The automatic spending cuts that could help a lot of people financially. While that deadline is less than two weeks away, the president is vacationing at a club called The Floridian, where according to "Golf Digest," it costs at least $25,000 to join by invitation only, and $12,000 in annual dues. Not exactly in reach for the middle-class voters Mr. Obama was trying to win over last year. "Palm Beach Post" golf writer Brian Biggane was there recently.

BRIAN BIGGANE, "PALM BEACH POST": Pretty much everything is gated. Security at every turn. It's so private and quiet, I literally drove past it before I realized it was there. They don't really make (AUDIO GAP).


TODD: Contacted by CNN, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, quote, "I don't think the American people begrudge their president spending a rare weekend outside Washington with some friends on the golf course." He also went on to say, "That said, the military aides, White House staffers and Secret Service agents who traveled with him are a reminder that he's never far from the responsibilities of his job." Wolf, the White House pushing back a bit.

BLITZER: They're pushing back. It almost makes it look like they're embarrassed to see a picture of the president together with Tiger Woods. That's why none of these pictures were allowed.

TODD: That's right. It may not be the best image of them to put out there. I think they realize that at the time. We have to point out in the overall scheme things, Mr. Obama vacations much less than his predecessors did, his immediate predecessors. He also does not have a vacation home to go to like the Bushes, the Kennedys, the Reagans had. He's got to go to a place like this. So, you can't really begrudge him that.

The whole thing with Tiger Woods is a little different. I mean, there were clearly some awareness of what the optics would be there.

BLITZER: Thanks, Brian. Thanks very much.

Danica Patrick is talking with CNN about her barrier-breaking achievement in car racing over the weekend. She became the first woman ever to win pole position at the Daytona 500. Patrick tells CNN's Don Lemon she hopes parents and then daughters learn a lesson from what she's done.


DANICA PATRICK, DAYTONA 500 POLE WINNER: I love that to go beyond racing in general, I mean, just to kind of break gender barriers, I feel that one of the coolest things is to be able to think this parents and then kids are having that conversation at home about it.

I've heard stories about a kid, a boy or a girl, saying, but mommy, daddy, that's a girl that's out there racing, and then they can have that conversation to say, you can do anything you want to do. And gender doesn't matter. Your passion is what matters and that's cool.


BLITZER: Cool indeed. The Daytona 500 is next Sunday. Only nine of the pole winners in the first 54 Daytona 500s won the race.

We're getting you more pictures of Friday's meteor explosion over Russia. At least one of the fragments punched a big hole in a frozen lake. We'll take you there and that's next.


BLITZER: People in Russia still are posting amazing pictures of last Friday's fireball and meteor explosion over Siberia. The shock wave from blast injured some 1,200 people and cost $33 million in damage.

As you can see by this hole in the ice, some of the chunks that made it all the way to the earth's surface were pretty big. CNN's Phil Black visited the lake and found that the hole is already starting to freeze over again.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was a point of impact. This is where locals say they saw a fragment of the meteor break off when it was still overhead and plummet down towards the earth, slamming into this frozen lake. The ice here is really thick. This lake is frozen for about six months of the year.

But locals say the impact created a huge explosion of ice and snow high up into the air and a big steam cloud as well. Up on the surface here, scientists have been combing this whole area. And they say that they have found 53 individual pieces of the meteorite. A bigger mystery remains, what lies beneath the ice?

Scientists are pretty sure there are even bigger fragments now sitting beneath the ice, beneath ten meters of water, on the bottom of this lake. Some divers have been in to see what they could find, but they say it was very silty, visibility was poor, they found nothing.

They're going to try again in the spring when this snow and ice melts. Scientists believe that will be the best time to find any fragments that made it to the surface. Not just here at the lake but across the vast snow-covered Siberian wilderness. Phil Black, CNN, on the lake near Chalusk, Russia.


BLITZER: We're hearing reports, by the way, of a meteorite gold rush in the impact area. Reuters reporting that thousands of people are combing through the icy woods, some hoping tiny fragments could bring more than 40 times the current price of gold. But a word of warning, scientists say you should be aware of ads on the internet promising to sell meteorite fragments that may or may not be authentic.

John Lennon's assassin had other famous targets in mind and he reveals that in a series of letters to the police officer who arrested him. We're going to get an exclusive look at those letters.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Austria, morning mist floats on the country's national day. In Africa, an elephant stops to pose for a picture with a group on a safari in Zimbabwe. In Denver, hundreds participate in the flash mob event to demand an end to violence against women. Send in your photos to or through Instagram using the hashtag, cnnireport.

The man who killed John Lennon had other famous targets in mind. That's just one of the shocking revelations in a series letters Mark David Chapman wrote to the police officer who arrested him.

CNN's Alina Cho got an exclusive look all of this. Alina's joining us now. Alina, what else do these letters reveal? ALIN CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, great to see you. You know, the most interesting part about these letters actually is they were addressed to the man who arrested Mark Davis Chapman.

Officer Steve Spiro was first on the scene on that night that Lennon was fatally shot. He was the first to put Chapman in handcuffs. Yet oddly, Chapman felt close to Spiro. In fact, so much so, he sent four letters to him and Spiro wrote back.


CHO (voice-over): You're looking at the words of a killer. This is a first exclusive look at the letters Mark Davis Chapman wrote to his arresting officer, Steve Spiro. Spiro was first on the scene on the night Chapman fatally shot John Lennon outside Lennon's home, the Dakota, in New York City, December 8th, 1980.

(on camera): What did Chapman say to you, if anything?

STEVE SPIRO, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICER: The first thing he said was, I acted alone. I thought that was very strange. Then he said, don't hurt me and don't let anybody else hurt me. And I said, no, nobody's going to hurt you.

CHO (voice-over): Once at the police station, Spiro says he spent more than five hours with Chapman.

SPIRO: He was going like this, like with heartburn. I said, what's the matter? He said, I have a little heartburn. I said, you want some Rolaids or something like that? He said, you would do that for me? I said yes. For some he trusted me I guess because I didn't beat him up or something.

CHO: Spiro put him in a holding pen, searched him and took his property including a copy of J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye."

SPIRO: One the first things he asked in a letter he wrote to me, do you know where my copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" is? I wrote back, sure, it's in a district at the attorney's office, it's vouched and it's evidence.

CHO (on camera): You wrote back to him?


CHO: Why?

SPIRO: Why? I think because I wanted to have him admit certain things that never got to trial.

CHO (voice-over): Like this. Look closely in this letter. Dated March 10th, 1983, one of four letters Chapman wrote to Spiro. Chapman writes, Lennon was a phony of highest degree, but there were others who could and would have served the same purpose. (on camera): Spiro says Chapman had a hit list that went beyond John Lennon. Others targeted included Jackie Onassis, Marlon Brando, Walter Cronkite and Jorge C. Scott. Why? Spiro says Chapman thought these people were phony and hated phoniness much like the main character in "The Catcher in the Rye."

SPIRO: He said that these people on the hit list, including John Lennon, were phonies, they were not taking their money and giving it to the charities that he thought they should be giving to.

CHO (voice-over): Chapman writes, Lennon sat in a bed and imagined. Why wasn't he rolling up his denims and getting busy? Steve, it is all in "The Catcher in the Rye."


CHO: Now exactly 30 years later, Spiro is selling those four letters, asking price, $75,000. When I asked him why after all of these years, he said he's 66, he's getting older. He has some medical issues. He wants to use that money to pay medical bills and also donate a portion to charity.

By the way, Wolf, also up for sale is the album "Double Fantasy" that Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman just moments before Chapman killed him. That album could fetch $650,000. Unfortunately, Spiro is not the one selling it. The original owner actually found it in a planter at the Dakota where Lennon was killed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This police officer and Chapman, then had a very unique relationship, expand on that a little bit that, Alina.

CHO: You know, what's interesting, it seems counterintuitive that this man would have felt a closeness to the man who arrested him, and I asked him why, and he said, you know, I think it was about trust and I also treated him with respect. The reason why he said he did that, Wolf, is because of, in one word, professionalism.

He said that he believes Mark David Chapman would never perhaps have admitted to the crime had it not been for that sort of rapport that they were able to produce over that five-hour period that they were together. And, in fact, he would only confess with Steve Spiro in the room -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alina Cho reporting, thank you.

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