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THE SITUATION ROOM

Colorado Manhunt; Did Syria Use Chemical Weapons?

Aired March 21, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news in THE SITUATION ROOM A possible break in a nationwide manhunt for the killer of Colorado state prison chief.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, President Obama makes the push for Middle East peace personal -- his delicate dance in Israel and the West Bank.

BLITZER: Also, new information coming in about whether Syria fired chemical weapons at its own people. CNN has learned the early results of a U.S. investigation.

KEILAR: And he's free and cleared after more than two decades in prison claiming he wasn't a killer. His lawyer joins us to talk about justice gone wrong and what happens now.

I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Kate Bolduan.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Up first this hour, we're following breaking news in the cold-blooded killing of Colorado's police chief.

KEILAR: Two days after he was shot dead at his front door, there may be a new break in the nationwide manhunt. That leads from Colorado all the way to Texas.

BLITZER: He was Colorado's prison chief. I should correct that.

CNN's Casey Wian is joining us now.

Casey, you have been following a briefing on this. What are you learning?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you both mentioned, this could be one of the biggest, if not the biggest break that officials have received in this case so far.

On Tuesday night, as you mentioned, Tom Clements, the head of Colorado's prison system, was gunned down at his doorstep. Witnesses there reported seeing -- witnesses in the neighborhood reported seeing a dark vehicle described as a late 1980s, early 1990, perhaps a Lincoln, perhaps a Cadillac, a boxy vehicle idling empty near Clements' residence. They have been looking for that vehicle for two days now.

There is some reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, they have found it in Texas. What happened this afternoon? A high-speed police pursuit involving a dark Cadillac with Colorado license plates. The pursuit started in Montague County in Texas, when an officer pulled over the vehicle. A male described as in his 30s, a white male, shot at the officer, shot him three times.

The officer survived. The male then took off in that Cadillac and was pursued into Wise County in Texas, pursued south. He was driving at speeds over 100 miles an hour officers say. He was shooting as he went. Shot at several other officers. No one else was injured. He ended up crashing into an 18-wheeler, exited that vehicle, got into a shoot-out with officers down there and was shot.

He is described as basically being on life support in a hospital in Texas. And officials from here, in El Paso County, Colorado, are now on their way to Texas to see if they can determine whether this is the same vehicle, and perhaps even the suspect involved in the murder of Tom Clements two days ago.

Here's what officials had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know there's a lot of rumors going around, and the one that people wanting to know if this is connected to the Colorado shooting of the director of the prison system. We don't know that it is or it's not. We will confirm and say that Colorado is sending, and should be here this evening, investigators that are working on that case, and other homicide cases in the Colorado area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIAN: And, Wolf, just before the news of this chase, and this crash, and this shooting broke, I was speaking with a lieutenant here at the sheriff's department in Colorado. He said they were preparing for a long investigation, but you never know when one piece of evidence may come about that may break the case, and perhaps this is it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Casey Wian, we will check back with you when more information comes in. He's on the scene for us. What a story that is.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States made a direct and emotional appeal today to the people of Israel to see the peace process through the eyes of Palestinians and to put themselves in their shoes.

KEILAR: He took a new tact. He was face-to-face with young Israelis and young Palestinians in a new attempt to bring the gap between their -- or I should say to bridge the gap between their political leaders.

BLITZER: It's all part of a new focus on a longstanding problem that was on the back burner during much of the first term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): The centerpiece of Mr. Obama's first presidential trip to Israel, a speech carried live on national television delivered to an audience of young Israelis, the president diving back into the stalled peace process.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.

BLITZER: President Obama says as long as there is a United States, the Jewish state will never stand alone.

OBAMA: Israel has the unshakable support of the most powerful country in the world.

BLITZER: The president is focusing much of his message on the next generation, visiting both Israeli and Palestinian young people.

He hopes the entrenched older generation can be influenced by the less rigid positions of the youth and by their aspirations.

OBAMA: I'm going off-script here for a second, but before I came here, I met with a group of young Palestinians from the age of 15 to 22. And talking to them, they weren't that different from my daughters. They weren't that different from your daughters or sons. I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they'd say, I want these kids to succeed.

BLITZER: There was a brief interruption by a man heckling the president apparently about imprisoned American Jonathan Pollard, who pleaded guilty for spying for Israel. The president shrugged it off.

OBAMA: Because it made me feel at home.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: He later received a standing ovation. Earlier, Mr. Obama visited the West Bank, meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Obama stressed the need for direct talks. He criticized Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, but he didn't back the Palestinian demand for Israel to immediately halt West Bank's settlement construction as a prerequisite. He said the core issues are Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli security.

OBAMA: If we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved.

BLITZER: Just hours before the president's speech, two rockets fired from Gaza landed in Southern Israel, underscoring the deep divide the president's words alone cannot bridge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's in Jerusalem.

Jessica, you attended the president's speech at the Jerusalem convention center. Talk a little bit about the reaction from the young people who were there.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

The president said in his speech Israelis can be harsh critics, but in that event and tonight, praise for the president here is pouring in. I was sitting around college students, including soldiers as well. And some of them told me they came not because they like the president, but because they wanted to hear, they were curious what he would say. I saw them repeatedly jump to his feet for strong words on Iran, and for repeated emotional language insisting on Israel's right to exist.

This might surprise an American audience. The Israeli crowd was also exceptionally enthusiastic each time the president was critical of Jewish settlements, the buildings in the West Bank. I saw soldiers in particular repeatedly applaud those lines. The one time there were boos was when the president said Israel has a partnership in the Palestinian leadership.

That hints at one of the major problems here, the deficit of trust between the two sides. But pulling back, big picture, Wolf, many Israeli critics of the president have said too often he lectures Israelis and doesn't seem to understand Israel. Tonight, those critics, many of them, are saying they feel he now has conveyed that he does understand Israel in a deep personal way, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin traveling with the president in Jerusalem getting ready to head over to Jordan with him tomorrow. Jessica, thanks.

KEILAR: We're getting new information about claims that Syria has used chemical weapons.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has the very early results of the U.S. investigation.

What is this, Barbara? What are we hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as you said, the U.S. intelligence community has been working on this problem around the clock. Did the Syrian regime use chemical weapons? We do now have some initial results of that investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): With video of Syrians suffering from convulsions and breathing problems, and accusations of chemical weapons attacks, U.S. intelligence agencies have scrambled to determine if the charges were true.

CNN has learned that U.S. intelligence analysts now have -- quote -- "multiple indicators" that chemical weapons were not used. Officials emphasize this preliminary conclusion is in part based on video from Syria.

Intelligence analysts say they see no indication patients are being treated for symptoms of chemical weapons outlawed by the international community. And classified satellite data also shows no chemical-tipped Scud missile was launched that certainly would have caused mass fatalities.

Officials say it's more likely people were exposed to a chemical such as chlorine.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: If they are agents that are used by other societies for civil and accepted purposes, that's probably a bit different than what the president is drawing as a red line.

STARR: But no signs of nerve or blister agents. That, officials say, is President Obama's red line. Syrian regime forces had claimed rebels launched the latest chemical attack. The U.S. is worried about the motivation for that allegation.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We would also warn the regime against making these kinds of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons.

STARR: In an interview on The Charlie Rose Show," the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee insisted Bashar al-Assad's forces have used chemical weapons.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There's a body of evidence, a body of reporting that leads me to believe, as of yesterday, that the Syrians have, in fact, throughout this conflict, that in a small number of times, used some quantity of chemical weapons.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: One more finding by the U.S. intelligence community, senior administration officials tell our Jessica Yellin in Israel that the United States is deeply skeptical of those regime claims that the rebels launched a chemical attack. They say there is no evidence to date that rebel forces have their hands on any chemical arsenal -- Wolf, Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. Thanks, Barbara.

BLITZER: Congress managed today to avoid the threat of a government shutdown next week. The House gave final approval to a bill to fund agencies through the end of September. They sent the bill to the president for his signature. The measure also softens the impact of those forced budget cuts, especially at the Pentagon.

The Senate, by the way, passed the measure yesterday.

KEILAR: North Korea threatens to attack U.S. military bases in go Guam and Japan. And unlike past threats, this one might be viable.

Plus, a beauty queen with a story so compelling, President Obama asked to meet her. Coming up, she exclusively tells CNN what it meant to her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new round of threats from North Korea. Ominously, the threats come from the country's supreme military command, which regularly parades an arsenal of missiles and rockets through the streets. Today, they claimed they have the capacity to hit U.S. military bases in Guam and Japan.

CNN's Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio getting a closer look at what's going on.

What are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a couple of weeks ago when they suggested they could launch a nuclear missile across the Pacific and hit the mainland of the United States, I think most analysts said this is a fantasy. They really don't have the technology to do that with any reliability.

But this idea of hitting U.S. forces in the Pacific is much more plausible. Let's talk about why. Look at Japan here. From Pyongyang, that's about 800 miles. There are 38,000 American troops there, Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, all in that area. Go down to Guam down here. That's further. That's about 2,000 miles away, only 5,700 American troops there.

But talk about an inviting target for any enemy of the United States. This is one of the most important bomber bases on the planet for America -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What would the North Koreans do? What would they use to deliver any such attack?

FOREMAN: In all likelihood, you're talking about a missile attack in all likelihood here. Remember they had that big launch of that multistage rocket some time back there. This was a big accomplishment for them because it's a hard technology to pull off.

It's still arguably somewhat experimental, not reliable. They can't count on it. But they have lower-grade missiles which they call their Taepodong missiles. And those are somewhat more reliable. They could carry a payload, maybe a nuclear payload, but certainly a conventional warhead. And there is reason to believe they might be able to guide them well enough over enough distance to hit these targets that we're talking about, Wolf.

BLITZER: Aren't these bases, though, protected by U.S. missile defense systems? Couldn't that thwart even a surprise North Korean attack?

FOREMAN: Well, it might be able to. You're right to say supposed, Wolf, because as you know, all the intelligence forces say we don't really know much about what they're planning at any point. They're such an insular society.

But the problem with missile defense systems is they really have not been proven to be overall as reliable as we would like them to be. And they're more reliable the longer the missile is in the air that you're trying to shoot at, because you get more shots at it. This is a relatively small to intermediate range shot we're talking about in either case.

If everything went right for the North Koreans, they might be able to launch one of these, might be able to get past these defenses and actually hit one of these targets. The big quid pro quo here though and the big deterrent is what would come afterward, almost certainly an overwhelming response from the U.S. and its allies back on North Korea.

BLITZER: That would lead to a huge, huge war, presumably. Remember, North Koreans have one million troops just north of South Korea along the demilitarized zone.

Tom Foreman in our virtual studio, an excellent report.

KEILAR: Vice President Joe Biden has a simple message for the doubters and the critics of his push for new gun restrictions. Think about Newtown.

Today, the vice president joined parents of some of the Newtown school shooting victims, hoping to send a powerful message.

CNN's crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, joining us now with that.

What did he say, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the vice president and other supporters of gun control knew from the start that the odds were against them on banning certain semiautomatic rifles. They don't have the votes to pass it.

But today they were calling on Congress to think about Newtown before deciding politically that the issue is too hard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): With a ban on so-called assault weapons all but dead in the Senate according to top Democrat Harry Reid, the vice president said he's not giving up.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to rest, nor is the president, until we do all of these things, all of these things. JOHNS: He told the family of a teacher killed protecting children in the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, that the country needs some political backbone.

BIDEN: You know, it's time for the political establishment to show the courage your daughter showed.

JOHNS: The father of a 6-year-old also killed at Newtown said shame on the Congress.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: I'm really ashamed to see that Congress doesn't have the guts to stand up and make a change, and put a ban on these type of weapons and universal background checks.

JOHNS: From New York's Mayor Bloomberg, a call for public pressure.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: If you want to make a difference, you have got to pick up the phone, call your congressperson.

JOHNS: But what happened was no surprise. Conservative Democrats in the Senate up for reelection risk riling up pro-gun forces in an election year if they vote for the ban. Democratic supporters like retiring Michigan Senator Carl Levin are frustrated.

(on camera): Do you think it's worth just having a vote?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Sure. I think it's important that people express their views and have a chance to vote those views. Then their people back home can judge whether they agree or disagree.

JOHNS: Bad for red state Democrats, though.

LEVIN: It's not the politics that I want to get into. The stakes here go way beyond politics.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: All the pressure from gun control advocates appears to be working. Late today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a statement saying he wants to bring a gun safety bill to the floor after the upcoming recess including provisions on background checks. He also wants a vote on assault weapons, an assault weapons ban vote.

So there does appear to be a chance, one last chance for the Senate to vote on the ban after all. NRA told me this evening that they always expected there would be a vote on the ban and say they're prepared for it, and a lot of pressure on senators to pass it. So nothing new, they say, for the NRA.

BLITZER: Yes.

KEILAR: Joe Johns, thank you very much for your report. Released from prison after serving two decades for murdering a rabbi, a crime we now know he didn't commit. His lawyer joins us live, coming up.

Plus, toddlers getting twice as much salt as they should. We have a new report that parents really need to hear.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up here: freedom, freedom for a man who has been fighting his murder conviction for two decades, the moment when his days in prison ended.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: He's out of prison and his murder conviction has been thrown out. We will ask his lawyer about his long fight to prove police got it wrong from the beginning.

KEILAR: And an Israeli beauty queen has dinner with President Obama. She will tell us exclusively about their meeting.

BLITZER: And the music starts -- Chubby Checker twisting his way into the Library of Congress.

KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Kate Bolduan.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

KEILAR: He spent more than 20 years behind bars claiming his innocence.

BLITZER: And now he is finally a free man after a judge called his murder conviction a miscarriage of justice.

His lawyer is standing by to talk about this extraordinary case, what his client is feeling right now.

But, first, let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's outside the courthouse in New York.

Mary, give us the background.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was such an emotional court hearing that even the judge in this case was crying.

Fifty-eight-year-old David Ranta walked out of court a free man after prosecutors sought to dismiss his conviction based on what they now know.

(BE GIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): For David Ranta, it was a moment more than two decades in the making. In handcuffs he again faced a judge, but this time the conviction for a murder he insists he didn't commit was thrown out. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Ranta, to say that I'm sorry for what you have endured would be an understatement. And grossly inadequate. But I say it to you anyway.

SNOW: Ranta mouthed, thank you, to the judge. Overcome with emotion, his family cheered, some cried. His handcuffs were taken off. And the judge made it official.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The defendant's motion to vacate the judgment of conviction is granted.

DAVID RANTA, FREED AFTER BEING WRONGLY IMPRISONED: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The judge wiped away tears as Ranta embraced his family, that included a daughter who was a baby when he was convicted. With a bag of his belongings slung over his shoulder he walked out and faced cameras.

RANTA: I'm overwhelmed. It's just -- I would just like to say thank you to every one of you who support me today on this. As I said from the beginning, I had nothing to do with this case. If you're interested, there will be as much paperwork as you'd like to read on this case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any one thing you'd like to do?

RANTA: Yes. Get the hell out of here maybe.

SNOW: Ranta had always maintained he did not kill Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, a prominent rabbi in Brooklyn's Hasidic community, who was the victim of a botched robbery in February of 1990. A diamond courier was the original target. He managed to get away, and the robber shot Werzberger and took off with his car.

Ranta was arrested six months later, and his court-appointed lawyer says the conviction has haunted him.

MICHAEL BAUM, DAVID RANTA'S FORMER LAWYER: The day that David was convicted, I made a promise to him that I would never forget, that I would do whatever I could in my power to set aside this verdict. To fight this injustice.

SNOW: Michael Baum tried to get the conviction overturned. But a phone call in 2011 raised hopes. A witness named Menachem Lieberman, who was 13 at the time of the murder, called him to say he had been coached by police to pick Ranta. Lieberman said, "A police detective told me to pick the guy with the big nose."

Michael Baum relayed the information to the conviction integrity unit of the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. Their investigation found two other witnesses who admitted lying. It raised questions about the police handling of the case. And ultimately led the D.A. to ask the conviction be overturned.

The lead detective in the case was Louis Scarcella. He's now retired. We reached him at his home. He claims Ranta confessed, but it was never recorded. Ranta denies he ever made a confession.

LOUIS SCARCELLA, FORMER DETECTIVE: I didn't do anything wrong. I stand by my investigation. And I don't know what else to tell you.

SNOW: As Ranta walked out a free man, a family friend of Rabbi Werzberger said the rabbi's family was in shock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rabbi Werzberger is not coming back. The family still feels the loss. They now are reminded again by having David Ranta released in a botch-up of justice and a botch-up of prosecution.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And Wolf, prosecutors are not going as far to say that they believe that Ranta was framed. They said they are not saying that. The truth is, Wolf, that it may never be determined who killed the rabbi -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow is on the streets of New York outside the courthouse. Mary, thank you.

We're joined now by David Ranta's attorney, Pierre Sussman. Mr. Sussman, thanks very much. How is your client doing? What did he say to you once he finally became a free man?

PIERRE SUSSMAN, ATTORNEY FOR DAVID RANTA: One of the things he said, I asked him what he wanted -- he was hungry, what he wanted to eat. And he wanted a juicy chicken parmesan sandwich with a side of fries. So we're trying to arrange that for him.

BLITZER: It shouldn't take so long. What's taking so long to get a chicken parmesan and a side of fries? There's a lot of restaurants in New York. You could do that pretty quickly, right?

SUSSMAN: We're all set. He's taken care of.

BLITZER: When did you realize there was hope he would be released?

SUSSMAN: If you're asking me, you know, what I felt instinctually, I felt many months ago, instinctually, that -- that this was the only result that was possible. You know, based on reviewing everything in the case. When I actually knew on a concrete level that it was happening, I would have to say, in the last seven to ten days.

BLITZER: So what does he plan on doing? What are the next steps besides eating a chicken parmesan sandwich or whatever? What is he going to do over the next weeks and months?

SUSSMAN: So, you know, at this point it's time for some decompression, and, you know, meeting with his family and loved ones, children and sisters. And just getting back into a normal life that so many of us take for granted. But for my client, is a loss, you know, a lost dream. He has every hope that he's going to be able to reestablish these relationships with family, and take care of his children. And we're certainly going to try to facilitate that for him.

BLITZER: Does he get any compensation for this miscarriage of justice?

SUSSMAN: Well, that's certainly the plan. The detective work that was done on this case was, at best, shoddy, and at worst, criminal. And I don't use that word lightly.

But you know, when a closer examination is done of the detective work completed by Scarcella and Shamil (ph), and those around them, it becomes clear that -- that there were so many leads that weren't followed. There were so many notes that weren't taken. And just a general lack of attention to what should have been an investigation that required, you know, nothing but close scrutiny of seeing of witnesses and so forth.

BLITZER: How much money are we talking about? Where would it come from?

SUSSMAN: Well, the city of New York is ultimately responsible for the conduct of their police force and their detectives. So, you know, if a federal civil rights lawsuit is filed, then that's the intention. The city of New York and would certainly be listed as defendants.

BLITZER: What kind of -- what kind of money -- what kind of money are you thinking?

SUSSMAN: Well, we haven't taken that step yet, but you can imagine the breadth and scope of this kind of lawsuit. My client had 23 years taken from him. It is a lifetime. It's a generation. And if you look at those before-and-after pictures, before he went in, and now that he's out, it's a different person.

BLITZER: Pierre, thanks very much. Please congratulate David Ranta. Tell him if he'd like to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'd be happy to talk to him, as well. Miscarriage of justice, but at least he's out right now. Peter Sussman, thank you.

KEILAR: You'd expect he would likely get several million dollars.

BLITZER: I would assume.

KEILAR: But you can't really put a price tag on 20 years.

BLITZER: No, you can't. It's a horrible, horrible situation. But I'm glad he's out.

KEILAR: Definitely.

Coming up, the beauty queen that President Obama wanted to meet. Miss Israel joins us for an exclusive interview on her chat with the president and why he's her idol.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Now a CNN exclusive. The story of the president and the beauty queen.

They are from different continents and decades apart in age, but they have one thing in common, the most unusual background and rise to fame of any of their predecessors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Among the Israeli leaders and dignitaries at tonight's state dinner for President Obama in Jerusalem, a surprise last-minute guest, Miss Israel 2013, Yityish Aynaw. She attended the gala after the White House specifically asked for her to be invited just lasted week.

Yityish made history, becoming the first Miss Israel of Ethiopian heritage since the pageant began in 1950. Orphaned at age 12, Yityish relocated to Israel to be with her grandparents. CNN got an exclusive interview with her earlier this week as she prepared for the special event, in honor or President Obama, a man she considers one of her idols.

YITYISH AYNAW, MISS ISRAEL 2013 (through translator): I did a research project about him in high school. And I know he is a very powerful man, charismatic, and he achieved a lot on his own by virtue of the fact that he believed in himself. And this stuck with me.

KEILAR: The 21-year-old beauty queen was working as a sales clerk before a friend entered her name in the Miss Israel pageant. As Miss Israel 2013, there will be appearances galore for Yityish, including the Miss Universe pageant later this year.

Still, she's determined not to let fame get the best of her. She talks of her previous life as a child in Ethiopia, and the changes she found in herself on her first visit back there.

AYNAW (through translator): I stood there as a girl who had finished the Israeli army, as an officer, and thought how much a person can go through in nine, ten years. I learned a new language and culture. I've been to good places. I enlisted and trained people and returned as a totally different person.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Joining me now, Yityish Aynaw, who has just come from the state dinner in honor of President Obama. I know, Yityish, you had the opportunity to speak with him. What did you discuss?

AYNAW: I was very, very excited to meet him. He was a role model for my life. It was unbelievable. And I'm impressed to meet him.

KEILAR: Do you feel any connection, I guess, because of the fact that you are the first black Miss Israel, he is the first black president of the United States? What do you think about that?

AYNAW: When he come to be the first black president of America, he helped me to -- he helped me to be, you know, proud. And, you know, if he did this, I can do this. Yes, we can.

KEILAR: Yityish Aynaw, Miss Israel, thank you so much for joining us. And also, you look very lovely. I'm sure you had a wonderful time at the state dinner. Thanks for taking the time.

AYNAW: Thank you.

BLITZER: She's really -- she is beautiful.

KEILAR: She is.

BLITZER: She's amazing. You know, thousands and thousands of Ethiopian Jews over the last couple decades have come to Israel, have settled in Israel and become integral members of the community, of the country there. And she's now Miss Israel.

KEILAR: Maybe a lot of people didn't know that, but now they do. Because she is Miss Israel. And also, English is actually her third language. But she speaks Ethiopian. She speaks Hebrew. My Hebrew is not so -- not as good as yours. She spoke to me in English, thankfully.

BLITZER: She's lovely indeed. And we congratulate her for being Miss Israel. I know she was thrilled to meet the president.

KEILAR: Big deal for her.

BLITZER: It's in almost everything we eat now. Now new research shows the health price we're all paying for too much salt. It may be higher than anyone thought. New studies coming in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: So, Wolf, tell me.

BLITZER: Yes?

KEILAR: What did you have for lunch today?

BLITZER: A little turkey sandwich. A little one. A little turkey. And a little -- a little piece of pretzel.

KEILAR: Unsalted?

BLITZER: No, it was salted. What about you?

KEILAR: I had some soup, which as you know, is high in sodium.

BLITZER: A lot of salt.

KEILAR: That's right.

BLITZER: Sodium is like salt, right?

KEILAR: Yes. So this story is for both of us. Some new medical studies say that whatever we're eating, we're probably getting way too much salt. CNN's Lisa Sylvester joining us now with the details on this.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. You guys have me thinking now about everything that I eat and that I feed my children. Bottom line is, we are eating way too much salt. And mostly from processed foods.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Karen Noodleman (ph) is a healthy cooking coach. She gets lots of practice feeding her 10-month-old daughter, who is a big fan of carrots.

KAREN NOODLEMAN (PH), HEALTHY COOKING COACH: Hummus on what? On regular bread? OK.

SYLVESTER: And she has introduced a range of foods and spices to her 4-year-old son, Ryan.

(on camera): There aren't many moms going out there and spice stores. You know that?

NOODLEMAN (ph): He loves it.

SYLVESTER: Took a 4-year-old to the spice store.

NOODLEMAN (ph): Yes. I'd rather the spice store than the toy store.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): But one seasoning this mom uses sparingly in the family meals is salt. But that's not the case in other households.

A new report by the American Heart Association finds most Americans consume double the recommended amount of sodium.

(on camera): So this is the amount of sodium that an adult is actually supposed to consume, about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. For a toddler, it's about half that amount, about 1,000 milligrams. But most adults actually consume double the amount, or 4,000 milligrams.

(voice-over): Too much sodium causes our body to retain excess fluid and over time raises blood pressure and can lead to hypertension.

The American Heart Association in a separate study found that some of the saltiest foods are being marketed to children. The study looked at salt content in baby and toddler foods and found three quarters of the prepackaged meals and savory snacks found in the baby and toddler food aisle -- like mac and cheese, pizza, and chicken and vegetables -- have too much salt. Defined as over 210 milligrams of sodium per serving. That's not a surprise for Dr. Warren Levy.

DR. WARREN LEVY, CARDIOLOGIST: Anything that comes out of a can, anything with preservatives automatically has high sodium. Anything that's easy for us to make, usually has high sodium.

But we do need to start paying attention to the sodium content of foods we're giving our kids, because high blood pressure is starting at a younger and younger age.

SYLVESTER: But the Salt Institute believes the recommended daily allowance for salt is not rooted in science but politics.

There are benefits to salt. It regulates blood sugar and the body's hydration. Morton Satin says sodium has unfairly gotten a bad reputation as a cause of blood pressure and heart disease.

MORTON SATIN, SALT INSTITUTE: We're simply eating a bit too much. And we're not getting enough exercise.

SYLVESTER: For Karen Noodleman (ph), it comes down to reading food labels and tasting your children's food.

NOODLEMAN (ph): I think they should. I think you should know what your child is eating.

SYLVESTER: Start them young and eat healthy for life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fruit soup.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And we also reached out to Gerber. They said that they use international dietary standards for sodium. And that is a higher level than U.S. standards.

Gerber added that they are working at reducing sodium in the toddler meals, and they hope to have a lot of these new rules in place by the end of this year. So about 80 percent of the toddler meals are looking up.

BLITZER: No more shaking the salt for me.

SYLVESTER: Yes. But you know what they say? Honestly, it's the processed foods. It's not the putting a little of this on your food. It's, you know, all that processed stuff.

KEILAR: You can see it right on the label.

Lisa Sylvester, thank you for that story.

BLITZER: Good work.

KEILAR: Good report.

Up next, they're doing the twist at the Library of Congress. We'll show you what other classics are joining the nation's playlist.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEE GEES, MUSICIANS (SINGING): You can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man. No time to talk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: You know that song. That is the Bee Gees performing their hit, "Staying Alive." And the entire soundtrack of the film "Saturday Night Fever" is one of 25 new recordings...

Just like that. Just like that.

BLITZER: We're not going there.

KEILAR: You are.

It is being preserved by the Library of Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON & GARFUNKEL, MUSICAL DUO (singing): I've come to talk with you again, because a vision softly creeping...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: That is "The Sound of Silence" that helped launch Simon and Garfunkel's music career. Tunes by Chubby Checker, Pink Floyd, the Ramones -- great as well -- the Neville Brothers, they're also being preserved for history.

You know, this one my parents would play on road trips.

BLITZER: Can you do the twist.

KEILAR: They would play this because they wanted us to go to sleep.

BLITZER: Can you do a little bit of a twist for us right now? That's the best you can do?

KEILAR: You're embarrassing me, because you were dancing. No.

BLITZER: Let's watch Chubby Checker.

KEILAR: He is way better.

BLITZER: Take him full. Take him full.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUBBY CHECKER, MUSICIAN (singing): Take them by the hand and go like this. Yes, twist. Yes, baby, twist. KEILAR: See, I did it.

BLITZER: NBC is taking a beating from one of its own stars, Jay Leno.

KEILAR: He's pretty upset with network execs, and he wants to make sure you know it. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a way, Jay Leno is living a fantasy. You know, when you know you're going to leave a job but before you walk out the door...

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": See you later.

MOOS: ... you unload on the boss. What Jay is unloading are jokes about NBC's ratings. In one case, six jokes in under a minute.

LENO: And the most common thing people are giving up for lent this year, watching NBC, apparently. Yes. The ratings are so bad, "The Biggest Loser" isn't just a TV show anymore. It's our new motto.

MOOS: "The New York times" reported the jokes so offended NBC's entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt that he fired off an e-mail to Jay, and Jay fired back.

When his contract is up next year and the time says NBC executives have promised "The Tonight Show" to Jimmy Fallon, Jay's digs at NBC have critics keeping score. "What did he say this time?" asks Mediaite. Here's what he said Monday.

LENO: St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, and then they came here to the United States and became NBC executives. It's a fascinating story.

MOOS: On Tuesday, he referred to an actual woman with a rare medical disorder.

LENO: And unbelievable. She sees everything upside-down. In fact, she thinks NBC is at the top of the ratings. That's how it...

MOOS: And on Wednesday, more science.

LENO: Things were once thought to be extinct could now be brought back from the dead. So there's hope for NBC. It could turn around.

MOOS: We called NBC for comment but got none.

Of course, comedians always bite the hand that feeds them. Listen to Howard Stern rip apart the chief financial officer of his employer, Sirius/XM Radio, amid contract negotiations.

HOWARD STERN, SIRIUS/XM RADIO HOST: Why the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) would I take a pay cut when I'm the one who's actually performed? You can you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) whoever the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you are. I never even heard of you.

MOOS: Two days later, Howard agreed to a new contract, terms undisclosed.

(on camera): The moral of the story, beware of antagonizing a man with a mike. A big mike.

(voice-over): Taking the cake was Charlie Sheen attacking his by then ex-boss, executive producer Chuck Lorre.

CHARLIE SHEEN, ACTOR: If sad and stupid had a foul odor attached to it, it would you, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Lorre. You picked a fight with a warlock, you little worm.

MOOS: Sort of makes Jay's jokes seem gentle.

LENO: St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

LENO: And then they came into the United States and became NBC executives.

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: From Jay Leno. We're not talking about CNN.

KEILAR: No. Never.

BLITZER: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.