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Bin Laden Relative in U.S. Custody; Date for Vote on Pope Set

Aired March 8, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: 9/11 justice, a fiery debate about the decision to try Osama bin Laden's son-in-law in New York City.

Catholic cardinals set the date. We will lift the veil on their secret vote for the next pope.

Airport security shocker. How did someone reportedly get past screeners with a fake bomb in his pants?

Air Force brass under fire -- the outrage after a lieutenant colonel convicted of sexual assault walks free.

And you may not know his name, but he's one of the biggest music stars in the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with Kate Bolduan. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin this hour with a surprise boost for the jobs market and for the White House, the jobless rate falling lower than it's been since Barack Obama took office, down to 7.7 percent in February. The U.S. economy adding 236,000 jobs last month. That's almost double the new hires in January and a bigger jump than expected.

The numbers gave more fuel to the rally on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrials closing at an all-time high for the fourth day in a row.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's over at the White House.

So, what is the White House's reaction, Jim, to all of this?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf and Kate, after those positive job numbers came out, officials here at the White House certainly have a spring in their step, but they are well aware of the obstacles that lie ahead that could trip up this recovery.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After the latest jobs report found the nation's unemployment rate had dipped to levels not seen before President Obama took office, the White House wanted to know one thing. Where were all of the questions about the good news? JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I suspect if the jobs news had been different, it would taken less than four people to ask me about them. But that's the nature of our work, I think, here.

ACOSTA: But the Obama administration warns, do not get too excited. This report does not account for the automatic budget cuts that just took effect.

EARNEST: Democrats and Republicans agree that the sequester is going to have a negative impact on job creation.

ACOSTA: Which makes President Obama's latest outreach to Republicans all the more important, a charm offensive that just so happened to coincide with a secret dinner the first couple had with Bill and Hillary Clinton a week ago. The Clintons have their own history of brinksmanship in the '90s.

(on camera): Did former President Clinton mention that as his advice to the current president, that perhaps an outreach might be a good thing?

EARNEST: Well, I can confirm the dinner for you. They enjoyed the meal and they enjoyed the conversation. In terms of the president's bipartisan outreach to rank-and-file members of Congress, that's actually something that started before that dinner.

ACOSTA: But more budget drama could be on the horizon. Republican Senator Marco Rubio told a conservative radio host he may not sign on to the latest temporary spending bill aimed at keeping the government running.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: About a year-and-a-half ago I voted for the first continuing resolution. And then I announced this is the continuing resolution, the last stopgap measure that I'm going to vote for. I will vote from here on, on something serious. And so far, we haven't seen that.

ACOSTA: Asked whether that means Rubio might filibuster the bill, a spokesman told CNN, "We're reviewing our legislative options."

Back at the White House, where officials say the automatic cuts are forcing them to cancel all public tours starting this weekend, visitors are losing their patience.

TERESA KABAT, WHITE HOUSE VISITOR: I just think it's not fair, because it's supposed to be government for the people. And by taking away the tours, they are not letting them see the government.


ACOSTA: Besides the visitors tour, the White House will only offer vague details about where it is cutting its own budget.

EARNEST: Pay cuts, furloughs, and other things. I'm sorry?

QUESTION: The West Wing as well?

EARNEST: The West Wing as well.


ACOSTA: The White House is conducting some of its business in secret these days, holding meetings on subjects ranging from Israel to energy policy that officials here won't talk about until well after they have occurred.

The Obama administration is evolving in this second term, but it is doing so cautiously and quietly -- Wolf and Kate.

BLITZER: I take it the president is still planning on going to Israel around March 20, even though as we speak right now, no new Israeli government has been formed. Do they assume there will be a government by then?

ACOSTA: They have been asked about this all week, Wolf, and they say no matter what is going on in Israel, they're going.

BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Kate is here.

It's an amazing story what's going on in New York right now. Only blocks away from the World Trade Center, from the 9/11 disaster, bin Laden's son-in-law is all of a sudden showing up.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's a really amazing story and something we have followed closely.

He appeared in a New York courtroom today and pleaded not guilty to charges that he plotted to kill Americans. This is a man who made ominous threats on behalf of al Qaeda in the days after 9/11. Listen.


SULEIMAN ABU GHAITH, AL QAEDA (through translator): We advise them not to fly in planes or live in high towers. The storm of planes will not stop. There are us thousands of young Muslims who desire martyrdom in the path of Allah.


BOLDUAN: For more on this, national correspondent Susan Candiotti is in New York -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, his video messages spewing hatred and dire warnings to Americans after 9/11 have finally brought Suleiman Abu Ghaith to America inside a courtroom.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Suleiman Abu Ghaith entered the courtroom looking and acting much differently than the al Qaeda spokesman so often seen next to his father-in-law, Osama bin Laden.

In New York federal court, he looked older, balding, his dark beard now gray. Gone was the fiery rhetoric. He quietly said yes when asked whether he understood the charges and left it to his lawyer to enter his plea, not guilty.

But behind the scenes, Abu Ghaith is talking to investigators, prosecutors dropping a bombshell, revealing he made a 22-page statement after his arrest, possibly powerful evidence.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Prosecutors always want statements from a defendant, so the fact that he gave such an extensive one has the potential to be extremely incriminating at a trial.

CANDIOTTI: What did he tell investigators? They aren't saying. He was arrested overseas February 28 and flown to the U.S. from Jordan March 1, a full week before his arraignment. Abu Ghaith has mostly been under house arrest since 2002 and experts as you know likely not actively involved in al Qaeda operations.

Bin Laden himself bragged on tape the 9/11 plans were so secretive, Abu Ghaith didn't even know about them.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: He points to Abu Ghaith, his spokesman, and says, we didn't clue him in. So, surely a defense lawyer will be using that in the future case.

CANDIOTTI: Despite ongoing criticism from Republicans that Abu Ghaith should be treated as an enemy combatant and tried before a military tribunal in Guantanamo, the administration stands by its decision.

EARNEST: This is somebody who is going to be held accountable for his crimes and that will be done in accordance with the laws and values of this country.

CANDIOTTI: Some 9/11 families say they are glad someone so prominent in al Qaeda is being prosecuted.

JIM RICHES, FORMER FDNY DEPUTY CHIEF: Let's get these trials in going in New York City. All the people that were affected that day can go see the trials, and that's where they should be, in New York City.


CANDIOTTI: And that's where Abu Ghaith's trial is. We're about a mile away from Ground Zero, where Jim Riches' son and thousands of others lost their lives -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Susan Candiotti in New York, thank you so much, Susan.

A little later on this hour, we're going to be continuing this discussion on whether Abu Ghaith should have been sent to Guantanamo Bay rather than New York City. We will have a debate from both sides of the argument ahead.

BLITZER: It's a serious debate.

Meanwhile, Chuck Hagel took his first overseas trip today as the defense secretary to Afghanistan. The Vietnam War is thanking troops for their service and he's also meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Hagel says he wants to better understand what's going on in America's longest war. It's now in its 11th year. Hagel also says the U.S. will remain committed to Afghanistan as American troops are pulled out.

Leaders from around the world gathered in Caracas today for the funeral of the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. Among those attending, some powerful U.S. adversaries, including the Iranian president, Mohammed Ahmadinejad, who at one point kissed the coffin. The United States, which doesn't have an ambassador in Venezuela, was represented by the embassy's charge d'affaires and a delegation. Chavez's body will be embalmed and laid to rest at a military museum.

BOLDUAN: And news out of Rome. We could see white smoke rising from the Vatican as early as Tuesday. That's when Catholic cardinals will begin their secret election to choose the next pope. The date was set just today.

CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is taking us behind the scenes from Rome.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the cardinals gather inside the Sistine Chapel next week to select the pope, they will be sworn to secrecy, the chapel swept for listening devices, electronic countermeasures deployed to prevent the use of any electronic communication.

But as the cardinals gathered in Rome this week before being cut off from the outside world, word is already leaking about a possible rift between the cardinals from North and South America and cardinals from other countries over timing of the conclave. Those from the Americas wanted to air some issues before the conclave. The others wanted to just get on with it.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: There's this kind of guerrilla insurrection going on among cardinals from other parts of the world, including some Americans, who are very theologically conservative, but very progressive in terms of business management, that really want to shake things up around this place. And I think part of the drama of this conclave is going to be which one of those currents prevails.

WEDEMAN: All that according to the few church officials who are talking, but asking not to be named.

Come Tuesday, the conclave will begin with a special mass in the morning and a first vote in the afternoon inside the Sistine Chapel, where work crews have been busy preparing the building for its historic role. The cardinals' movement will be closely restricted to between the chapel and their nearby living quarters inside this Vatican residence, the rooms all without televisions, radios, phones or Internet assigned by lottery.

Once voting gets under way, the cardinals will cast ballots in order of seniority and they're not allowed to vote for themselves. They will keep voting up to four ballots a day until the two-thirds majority needed to declare a winner is reached. Each ballot is threaded on a length of string to prevent fraud. After each vote, the ballots are burned, sending up the now famous smoke signals, black for no winner, white for a new pope. The big question now, how long before the white smoke?

ALLEN: They know that if this conclave goes more than three or four days, the drumbeat in the media will be paralysis and crisis in the Vatican. So, they want to get this wrapped up. On the other hand, right now, they don't have a clear front-runner. So they have got about four days to get their act together so this does not become a gridlocked conclave.

WEDEMAN: Whenever it comes, a crowd will be eagerly awaiting just like they did eight years ago, to celebrate a new pontiff to sit on the throne of St. Peter.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.


BOLDUAN: Ben, thank you.

The last two popes, Benedict and John Paul II, were elected in just two days, something that actually kind of surprised me. The conclave for John Paul I was just one day.

BLITZER: We will see how long this one takes. Could be quick, maybe not. We will see.


BLITZER: A busy airport fails a major test of its security, reportedly letting a man get through screening with a fake bomb, yes, a bomb, in his pants.


BLITZER: This is why I love living in Washington. Look at this. Look how beautiful the nation's capital is right now, Capitol Hill, the sun going down. Don't you just love that, Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's absolutely beautiful. Another beautiful day in Washington.


BLITZER: Other news we're following, a report of a starkly new security lapse at a very popular East Coast airport.

BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right. An undercover agent reportedly got past TSA screeners with a fake bomb stuffed in his pants.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow in New York for more on this.

Mary, what is going on here?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it's Newark International Airport that's in question and it's coming under scrutiny after a report of a security lapse last month.


SNOW (voice-over): The test at Newark Airport was to see if a fake improvised explosive device would get past screeners. According to the "New York Post," it did. An undercover TSA inspector with a mock IED in his pants went undetected twice including during a pat down.

The TSA wouldn't confirm the report, but said in a statement, "Due to the security sensitive nature of the tests, TSA does not publicly share details about how they are conducted, what specifically is tested, or the outcomes."

The TSA says it regularly conducts covert testing and this is what it looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slip the inert detonator in.

SNOW: CNN went along with undercover TSA inspectors called "Red Teams" in 2008. The inspector had a fake IED on him when he went through security at Tampa International Airport. A screener failed to detect the device and the undercover inspector then instructed him on what he did wrong.

Just how many screeners fail to detect devices in these drills is unclear, but one aviation security analyst says some failures are to be expected.

RAFI RON, NEW AGE SECURITY SOLUTIONS: There are a lot of very important lesson to be learned in order to improve the program and to increase the level of alert and the professionalism of the people that implement it.

SNOW: Just this week, the head of the TSA talked about IEDs when lifting the carry on ban on items like pocket knives.

JOHN PISTOLE, TSA ADMINISTRATOR: The greatest risk is non- metallic IEDs, whether it's an exclusive, electronic initiator or a chemical initiator, whatever that may be, that's what I want our security officers to focus on.

SNOW: While the TSA wouldn't specifically address Newark Airport, the airport has had problems in recent years. There was a man who became known a Romeo who slipped past security to greet a woman forcing a terminal to shut down for hours.

Last year, roughly two dozen baggage and traveler screener were fired for security lapses and thefts. Former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley says it's unclear why Newark continues to make headlines.

KIP HAWLEY, FORMER TSA ADMINISTRATOR (via telephone): I don't understand why it should be. They have had a lot of problems at Newark, which is probably why they keep testing it.


SNOW: Now, the issues at Newark Airport have now prompted a call for an extensive security review. New York Congressman Peter King, the former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, wrote to the head of the TSA asking for a top-to-bottom look at Newark's TSA operations and a plan to fix them -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: I sure would hope so if this report turns out to be accurate. Mary Snow, thanks so much, Mary.

BLITZER: A U.S. senator says she's outraged that the United States Air Force let a senior military leader go free after he was convicted of sexual assault. We have the details.



BLITZER: Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law -- actually, his son-in-law, we should say, just blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks. Up next, should accused conspirators like Abu Ghaith be tried in the United States? You are going to hear both sides of the issue.


BOLDUAN: A dramatic turn in the war on terrorism. Osama bin Laden's son-in-law appeared in a federal court in New York today, very close to where al Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

BLITZER: Suleiman Abu Ghaith, an al Qaeda spokesman, pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, plotting to kill Americans and others. He was captured abroad recently and the decision to take him to New York instead of the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is raising fresh controversy.

Joining us now, two guests. Victoria Toensing is a former Justice Department official, and Alan Dershowitz is a Harvard Law School professor.

Alan, first to you. Make the case why New York is a better place to try him than Guantanamo Bay.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR, "THE CASE FOR MORAL CLARITY: ISRAEL, HAMAS AND GAZA": Our Constitution sets out a procedure for trying criminals. This is the procedure. He gets trial by jury. He gets a lawyer.

He is a combatant. He's also a criminal. He's a terrorist. He's an unlawful combatant. The executive has the power to choose whether to treat him as a combatant and put him in front of a military tribunal or simply detain him until the war is over, whatever that would mean in the context of war against terrorism.

But he's also a criminal who did conspire to until Americans. And so they have the option of giving him our full due process rights, putting him on trial, let the public visibly and transparently see how we treat people who try to attack America. Let him be either convicted, which is likely to happen, or acquitted, which is possible. That's the way our justice system operates. We should be proud of it.

BLITZER: Victoria, you disagree?


This is a political decision. To try him in a federal courtroom in New York is just consistent with this administration's erroneous message that because OBL, Osama bin Laden, is dead, the war on terror is over, so let's all be happy and go back to the regular order.

Look, there is a problem when you're trying to get out an erroneous message. And that is that you have to either do falsehoods or do a Jasinsky (ph). And, in this case, it's legal naivete to think that you can try a combat -- a combatant or a terrorist in a federal courtroom.

And there are a couple of reasons for that, very specific reasons. No. 1, the legal landscape has changed since World War II and 70 years ago when FDR kind of tried it but wrote his own rules for a commission. And the rules that have changed are in the defendant's protection. There are many more protections for a criminal defendant. But they were written for bank robbers and fraudsters; they were not written for enemy combatants.

No. 2, we've charged him with wanting to kill Americans. He's a jihadist. Anyone who wants to kill Americans also wants to undo our system, and he will put our criminal trial system -- he will abuse it, he will put it into legal pretzels before it is over. Just like Zacarias Moussaoui did, and I'll get into some of the specifics, to give you an example...

BOLDUAN: Well, Alan, jump in and respond. I mean, Victoria says the legal landscape has changed.

DERSHOWITZ: Of course the legal landscape has changed. But our Constitution is the most enduring constitution in the history of humankind, and it was written for all times. And it was written in flexible language.

And we have the flexibility to take into account the war against terrorism. We have put many, many, many terrorists on trial with a conviction rate close to 100 percent. We've only put a few people in front of Guantanamo. Guantanamo presents the worst face of America to the world...

TOENSING: Alan, we put the Blind Sheikh on trial in New York.

DERSHOWITZ: Our justice system is the best face. And the victims, by the way...

TOENSING: ... got all the intelligence from that trial.

DERSHOWITZ: The victims -- that's right, things have changed. This guy was out of the main loop for ten years. And he probably, according to intelligence experts, is not a source of ongoing real- time intelligence. It's time to get back to the constitutional system which has served us well during the Civil War, during the First World War, during the war against terrorism...


BOLDUAN: We've heard some of these concerns before. And one of them I want to ask you both about. Alan, I'll ask you first. What about the security concern, simply of having a civil trial, having -- having this happen in a civilian court in New York?

You know that there are always national security concerns when a high-profile name, someone who's being linked to terrorism, is going to be in New York City.

DERSHOWITZ: We can't let people like this hold the city of New York hostage. We have to show the world that we can try them. We're not afraid of them. We can protect our security.

By the way, many of the same people who opposed the earlier trial in New York, because it was too close to the time of 9/11, now are saying this is the right time. The mayor is saying, "We have no problem."

Many of the victims' families are saying, "We want to look this guy in the eye. We want to have a jury of our peers judge him."

So times have changed. And this is the wrong time to compromise with our Constitution...


BLITZER: Hold on, Victoria. Hold on one second. I want you to respond to what Alan just said. But I also want to put up on the screen three terrorists who were all convicted in New York City, not in Guantanamo Bay. Ramzi Yousef, one of the alleged masterminds of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted in the plot to blow up the United Nations; Aafia Siddiqui, the U.S.-trained scientist were all tried in New York, and they were all -- they were all convicted.

TOENSING: And as I said earlier -- maybe you didn't hear me.

BLITZER: They're serving long sentences right now. TOENSING: And maybe you didn't hear me. That's not the only aspect of the trial, although the acquittal of this person, flimsy evidence here, is another issue.

But in the Blind Sheikh's trial, you can ask all the people who participated in that, including the judge, Michael Mukasey. They had to put out evidence in the public view that Osama bin Laden used to then cover his tracks in the next decade.

BLITZER: So go ahead and respond to that, Alan.

TOENSING: I'd like to -- I'd like to talk about the...


DERSHOWITZ: Nobody's put out information that endangered our national security, No. 1. No. 1...

TOENSING: Alan, are you denying what happened in the Blind Sheikh's trial, that Andy McCarthy, who tried it, talks about it to this day, about how -- that he had to give all kinds of information that al Qaeda used. You can't deny that.

DERSHOWITZ: The one area we agree, by the way, is this is a weak case. I've read the indictment.

TOENSING: Yes, it is a weak case.

BLITZER: Why is it a weak case?

DERSHOWITZ: This is an indictment that, as a criminal lawyer...

BLITZER: Hold on a second, Alan. Explain that. Why is this a weak case? He's on videotape on the day of 9/11, the day after 9/11, a month after 9/11...


BLITZER: ... making all sorts of threats against the United States.

DERSHOWITZ: Absolutely. And the keyword is "after." That is, to the extent that they're indicting him for being a co-conspirator in 9/11, what they say is he recruited some people to join al Qaeda. He joined al Qaeda. And they quickly jump in the indictment to hours after 9/11, where he says, "And we're going to do it again."

They're going to have to demonstrate, if they want to tie him into 9/11, that he knew about it, that he conspired with somebody, that he agreed with somebody, that he was part of the planning. That's not going to be an easy case.

TOENSING: And this brings up...

DERSHOWITZ: This case reads like a mafia indictment. And indeed, the head of the FBI in New York said he's like a consigliore to the mafia. That sounds more like a RICO case than a conspiracy to destroy -- 9/11.


TOENSING: And the means to an end (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And so it's a very weak case, Wolf, and that brings me to the policy issue, which is if he gets acquitted, what next?

DERSHOWITZ: I can tell you what happens next.

BOLDUAN: Victoria, let me ask you this about that...

DERSHOWITZ: If he gets acquitted, he becomes a combatant. He's then held and detained. There's no double jeopardy problem. If he's acquitted of this crime, he can then be detained. He's not going to walk free. He is an unlawful combatant, and he can be held. But it's much better if he's tried and convicted.


TOENSING: Hey, Alan, it's my turn. He then he goes to Gitmo, where he should have been this whole time anyway, getting intelligence information from him rather than to lawyer him up so that he now shuts up for the next three or four years or however long it's going to take to try him.

BOLDUAN: But Victoria, do you think that it changes the calculus, though -- does it change the calculus, though, that from what we know about Abu Ghraib, that he was a spokesman for al Qaeda. But all the evidence that anyone has seen so far is that he hasn't been operational in the organization? Does that change the calculus of needing a military tribunal versus a civilian trial?

TOENSING: I don't think he could get a military tribunal. I never recommended that, because I don't think conspiracy to kill Americans is tryable as a military tribunal.

BOLDUAN: What would you do?

TOENSING: Put him in Gitmo.

DERSHOWITZ: Hold him there without any semblance of due process?

TOENSING: No. Because you can have -- no, you have a process that goes through a much lower standard to hold him...

DERSHOWITZ: Let me ask you one question. If you were in the Justice Department and they asked you whether they should have killed him with a drone instead of arresting him, would you have said yes?

TOENSING: Well, I'd like another option. I'd like him to go to Gitmo.

BLITZER: All right.

TOENSING: I don't like this whole drone thing, because it ruins the intelligence that we need to continue this fight on terrorism. But this administration is pretending there's no Gitmo and there's no war.

DERSHOWITZ: That is if we have an option to capture him. But if we have no option to capture him, the drone may be the only approach.

TOENSING: ... a third one, when back in my days...

DERSHOWITZ: I think we can satisfy our Constitution and have the world see that we are the greatest legal system of the world and we're not afraid of terrorism.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. A good, serious, strong debate.

Victoria Toensing, thanks very much.

Alan Dershowitz, thanks to you as well.

I'm sure this debate will continue.


BLITZER: They both make valid points.

BOLDUAN: They do.

BLITZER: They know what they're saying. You know, there's no -- the U.S. has not sent a new terrorist to Guantanamo Bay, what, since 2006.

BOLDUAN: And even the statements that we're receiving from the heads of the intelligence committee in the Senate and the House, they were making very similar arguments. People are very much -- very passionate on this issue. I mean, it's a very serious conversation to be having.

BLITZER: Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee...

BOLDUAN: She applauds this.

BLITZER: ... said the administration did the right thing. Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee...

BOLDUAN: You treat enemies like enemies. They should not be going through the U.S. court system.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's get them on.

BOLDUAN: That's a great idea.

BLITZER: Let's do that.

BOLDUAN: The next hearing, I believe, is in April? We'll be following it closely. Good debate.

So ahead, it's the video that we honestly could not stop watching all day today. Hundreds of North Korean soldiers and their families rushing toward the water, waving and screaming. You see it there. Find out what it's all about.


BLITZER: Take a look at this. A very, very strange scene coming in from North Korean TV. Kim Jong-un's troops running toward him in a frenzy during his visit to the front line with South Korea.

The communist regime is stepping up its propaganda war and its nuclear threats this week. And now the United States is deeply concerned about a potentially dangerous weapon.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's been doing some reporting on this.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, we've all seen this very ominous rhetoric out of North Korea before. But the question now is, what happens if and when the rhetoric turns to a real threat?


STARR (voice-over): Almost hysterical North Korean troops greeted their leader, Kim Jong-un, during his made-for-TV inspection tour of military border facilities. Kim wants the world to see this as he has dramatically stepped up his dangerous rhetoric.

He's even threatening a nuclear attack on the U.S. as he faces tough U.N. sanctions for his recent nuclear test. The Obama administration isn't backing down.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We're also going to continue to increase the pressure if they don't make the right choice.

STARR: On his way to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made clear how closely the U.S. is watching.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The United States of America and our allies are prepared to deal with any threat.

STARR: CNN has learned the U.S. has recently stepped up surveillance, using aircraft, radars and satellites already nearby. Military officials say so far there are no signs of unusual military moves by the North.

But there is a disturbing new weapons program, the KN-08. U.S. officials say this missile, shown in a North Korean military parade, last year is now undergoing engine testing. It's a three-stage ballistic missile with a potential 3,000-mile range.

That's not as far as the rocket North Korea launched, which could hit Alaska or Hawaii. So why does the U.S. think it's so dangerous? The North Koreans can drive the KN-08 around on a truck launcher.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: They would hide a bunch of these in an underground bunker in a garage and possibly under cover of darkness, they would all leave the garage and start driving around at random. And within a few hours, you could have a really hard time figuring out where they'd all gotten off to.


STARR: And U.S. surveillance once again is showing activity at a North Korean missile launch site. Vehicles, personnel and electronics leading to a lot of worry that the North Koreans once again are getting ready for another missile test -- Wolf, Kate.

BLITZER: Tense situation on the Korean Peninsula. Barbara, thanks for that report.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, an Air Force colonel is convicted of sexual assault. So why did his boss set him free? It has one U.S. lawmaker furious. You decide for yourself. Coming up next.


BLITZER: An Air Force officer jailed after being convicted of sexual assault is now a free man.

BOLDUAN: And the decision has sparked outrage. And now one prominent lawmaker is taking action. Our Brian Todd is here.

And you've been really looking into this, Brian. This is a tough one. So explain it to us.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is -- it is tough. There's one general who acted on his own to free this convicted officer. And now Senator Claire McCaskill is pressing the Air Force to consider relieving this general of his command.

This has generated some heated criticism of how the military handles difficult cases, especially those involving sexual assault.


TODD (voice-over): He'd been convicted of sexual assault, sentenced to a year in jail and dismissal from the Air Force. But in recent days, with the stroke of a pen, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, an F-16 fighter pilot, was freed from a Navy brig after only four months, his conviction tossed out.

The man who freed him? His commanding officer, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin. Senator Claire McCaskill, a top member of the armed services committee and a former prosecutor, is furious.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO), SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Now, my heart is beating fast right now, I am so upset about this. As we are trying to send a signal to women. Now, the victim in this case wasn't a member of our military. I question now whether that unit that that man returns to, where there's any chance a woman who is sexually assaulted in that unit would ever say a word.

TODD: McCaskill is asking the Air Force to consider removing General Franklin from his post.

But the case is murky. An Air Force official says in the incident almost a year ago outside Aviano Air Base in Italy, there was an impromptu gathering at Wilkerson's home after a night of drinking. The official says the accuser stayed behind after others left and apparently went to sleep. The charging document says Wilkerson was fondling her while she slept.

(on camera): But Air Force officials say Wilkerson and his wife contend that he never left his own bed that night and that his wife got the woman to leave. One Air Force official says the commander, General Franklin, reviewed documents after the trial that the jury never got to see and that he received a letter from the alleged victim. We pressed Air Force officials, but we don't know what the letter says.

(voice-over): Lisa Windsor, a former Army JAG officer who's prosecuted and defended several sexual assault cases in the military, says the commander of any base has the authority to toss out a conviction on their own, but...

COL. LISA WINDSOR (RET.), FORMER JAG OFFICER: I've actually never seen that happen before, that a convening authority would completely overturn the case.

TODD: Windsor says the military justice system is fair, except in some cases with punishments.

(on camera): What is the problem with consistency in punishment in the military?

WINDSOR: Well, I mean, I think you see with this case and a lot of other cases that have come down recently, that officers tend to get a more favorable disposition than enlisted personnel.


TODD: When I asked an Air Force official about that, he said he couldn't respond. He said that's not relevant in this case.

We tried, but we were not able to get either the convicted officer, Lieutenant Colonel Wilkerson, or the general who freed him, General Craig Franklin, to go on camera with us -- Kate and Wolf.

BOLDUAN: It does make you wonder, though, if the general knew the officer personally, could that have played a part in his decision?

TODD: It's a key question. We did ask that of the Air Force. An Air Force official told me General Franklin does not know Lieutenant Colonel Wilkerson, never interacted with him professionally or personally, not on a social level at all.

I get the sense that, whatever the general saw after the trial in the documents was key, especially the letter from the victim. We don't know what was in that letter that she sent the general. I think that might have been the key to freeing this man.

BOLDUAN: You can be sure Claire McCaskill will be staying on top of it. We'll follow up on that.

TODD: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Brian, thanks.

BLITZER: Now to an extraordinary moment in history. Just a short time ago, the remains of two sailors found in the wreckage of a Civil War battleship, the USS Monitor, were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. This, 150 years after they died.

The remains were first discovered in 2002 hundreds of feet below the sea's surface but were never identified. Because the remains are being buried as unknown, the two men will represent all 16 who were lost when the ship went down. More than 30 living descendants of the crew attended the service.

BOLDUAN: That's really beautiful. Really beautiful.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, he doesn't have a household name, but more people have heard his tunes than those of Katy Perry, Adele, and Kelly Clarkson combined. Find out who he is.


BLITZER: Just hearing one of the biggest music stars in the world. Thousands of adoring fans can't wait to see him on tour. But guess what? You may not even know his name. He's huge, though. CNN's Tom Foreman caught up with him in Baltimore.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You may not know him by sight. You may not recognize his songs. But you are looking at a musical superstar. More people have heard Chris Tomlin's tunes than Katy Perry's, Adele's, and Kelly Clarkson's combined. Not bad for a humble kid who grew up in Texas just wanting to play guitar.

(on camera): At this moment, you are one of the most-successful songwriters on the planet. Is that even comprehensible to you?

CHRIS TOMLIN, SONGWRITER: No one's ever said that to me.

FOREMAN: But it's true.

TOMLIN: Especially with a camera in my face.

FOREMAN: What do you think about that? TOMLIN: I don't think about that. That's not a motivator to me. Nothing compares to when I hear people say, at my church, "This is a song we sing at my church." And you know why? Because I feel like at that point it's not attached to me anymore.

FOREMAN (voice-over): That is the secret to Tomlin's success. He writes worship music. Wildly popular compositions sung in tens of thousands of churches each Sunday by up to 60 million people, according to the company that measures music usage in churches.

His following, which has slowly built over two decades, has brought everything any pop star might seek. Top-quality videos, a fancy tour bus.

(on camera): How many miles do you think you've covered with your music?

TOMLIN: Oh, gosh, a couple million for sure.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Clearly, millions of dollars, though he won't say how many. And earlier this year, his latest release, "Burning Lights," emerged on Billboard as the best-selling album in America.

TOMLIN: I remember seeing, like, when Garth Brooks was Billboard No. 1. I thought heck, that must be the coolest thing in the history of the world.

FOREMAN (on camera): You really didn't think that could happen to your music?

TOMLIN: No, no, never.

FOREMAN (voice-over): His tunes are successful by most accounts because they are simple, straightforward, and they speak to religious listeners.

TOMLIN: How can I form this song that they can sing it, that it's singable?

FOREMAN (on camera): And that's what you strive for.

TOMLIN: I strive for trying to write something that people can sing, that people want to sing, and that people need to sing.

FOREMAN: And it's a formula that could keep Chris Tomlin's music around long after he has left the stage.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Baltimore.


BLITZER: He's good.

BOLDUAN: He's very good. Did you know Coldplay?

BLITZER: Of course.

BOLDUAN: Didn't that seem like Coldplay a little bit?

BLITZER: I used to -- used to rule the world? Did you rule the world?

BOLDUAN: I do rule the world currently.

BLITZER: He's good, Chris Tomlin.

BOLDUAN: He's very good.

BLITZER: Had you heard of him?

BOLDUAN: I had not, but now we have. Now apparently, we're catching up with what everybody else knows.

BLITZER: But he's good. Nice work.

BOLDUAN: All right. So everybody have a good weekend, but remember, do not forget, Daylight Savings Time begins tomorrow night. I almost forgot.

BLITZER: Spring ahead.

BOLDUAN: Spring ahead, officially...

BLITZER: Fall back. Spring ahead.

BOLDUAN: Let me finish. The changes start Sunday, 2 a.m. And you may recall Daylight Savings Time moved earlier, to March, in 2007. That's four weeks earlier than it used to be. Daylight Savings Time will end on November 3 this year. But don't worry about that. Just remember, we're entering spring, finally.

BLITZER: We lose an hour of sleep.

BOLDUAN: We lose an hour, but only grumpy people think of that.

BLITZER: It's a Sunday morning, sleep a little bit later.

BOLDUAN: Sunday morning, sleep a little later, and it will be brighter longer.

BLITZER: Remember also, you can follow us on Twitter. And I hope you do. You can tweet me, @WolfBlitzer.

BOLDUAN: Half the world does at this point. You can tweet me, @KateBolduan. Only a quarter of the world does at this point.

BLITZER: You can also tweet...

BOLDUAN: I always leave that out.

BLITZER: At CNNsitroom if they want.

And that's it for us. Have a great weekend. Thanks very much for joining us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.