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War Of Words Between Lawmaker, White House; American Abducted In Mexico; Violation of Child's Civil Rights; New Drone Technology for Hurricane
Aired June 3, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the White House press secretary hit by a partisan slam that he calls amazing as a political controversy takes a very nasty turn.
Also, police, your DNA and your constitutional rights. All of the Supreme Court decision with potentially huge impact.
And storm chasers become storm casualties. The death toll climbs in Oklahoma.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
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BLITZER: A nasty and personal turn in the controversy over the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Republican congressman, Darrell Issa, leading a house investigation, is in a bitter war of words with the White House. The first bombshell aimed at the White House press secretary, Jay Carney. Listen to what Congressman Darrell Issa had to say about him on CNN's "State of the Union."
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REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R-CA) OVERSIGHT & GOVERNMENT REFORM CHMN.: Their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind. He's still making up things about what happens and calling this local rogue.
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BLITZER: President Obama's unofficial adviser, David Plouffe, tweeted this in response. "Strong words from Mr. Grand Theft auto and suspected arsonist insurance swindler and loose ethically today," referring to allegations Issa faced decades ago. Jay Carney says he's staying out of it.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Darrell Issa, over the weekend, called you a paid liar for the administration. I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to that.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I hadn't heard that. That's amazing.
CARNEY: I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth with Chairman Issa.
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BLITZER: All right. Let's get a little back-and-forth here going on with our CNN contributor, Ryan Lizza and our chief national correspondent, John King. You know, Washington politics as all of us know, they can get ugly.
But when you have a congressman who's leading an investigation calling the White House press secretary a paid liar, then a former senior adviser to the president responding with allegations of 20 and 40 years ago of Mr. Grand Theft Auto, that's pretty ugly, even under this partisan atmosphere in Washington. It's getting nasty.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is getting nasty. And remember, it was just a couple of weeks ago, the attorney general of the United States, the nation's leading law enforcement officer turned to Chairman Issa and said his behavior in leading the committee and leading this investigation was shameful. And so, part of it is just nasty partisan politics. Part of it is a continuation of the polarization we can go back to our days covering the Clinton White House together.
We saw this during Monica Lewinsky. We saw it over other issues, and we've seen in every administration since. However, both sides, unfortunately, are using this tactic, Wolf, to try to achieve political gain. Chairman Issa is leading several very important investigations, the IRS controversy, Benghazi, other investigations as well. What he's trying to say is, this is a hack partisan administration that won't be transparent, that won't give me information.
The White House, on the other hand, is trying to say this a hack partisan investigator who, no matter what he says, is not true. What he does is undermines both sides in the end in a sense that Chairman Issa -- you saw what he said yesterday to Candy Crowley, perhaps, out over his skis, saying -- drawing conclusions about the IRS before the information comes in, that gets dangerous.
And what does it do in the end? It denies the American people sort of confidence. Confidence that, at the end of these investigations, they're getting findings, not politics.
BLITZER: You did a really strong and very long article in the "New Yorker" magazine about Darrell Issa, and you rehash yourself -- this is a while ago -- that whole Mr. Grand Theft Auto issue, alleged arsonist, all these allegations that came up 20 or 40 years ago. He's never been charged with anything.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. No, I didn't use the phrase "grand theft auto." That was Plouffe. (CROSSTALK)
LIZZA: Yes. So, all this stuff happened between 1971 and 1982. And Issa as he told me and has told others, he had a brother who was -- you know, went to jail and was a criminal and stole cars. And, a few times Issa got wrapped up -- this is Issa's way of explaining it -- he got wrapped in what his brother was doing. So, there are basically three incidents where he was accused of stealing someone's car.
One was when he was in the military, another was he was accused of a scheme with his brother where his brother allegedly stole Issa's car, sold it, and they were accused of an insurance scheme, and there was another incident where he was pulled over and he had a concealed weapon in the glove compartment, and he was arrested for that.
That all happened in the 1970s. Fast-forward to 1982, he's now a budding businessman out in Cleveland, suburbs of Cleveland. And his factory burns down under very mysterious circumstances, and the insurance company investigates it, and they think that it is arson, and they investigate him and the company pretty thoroughly and wonder about some strange things that happened.
BLITZER: But they got an out-of court settlement.
ISSA: In the end, he went back to them and said -- in the end, he actually won $25,000 from the insurance company. So that's where what Plouffe threw out there the other day. That's where this is all from. It happened in 1971 to 1982. Issa, of course, went on to be a very successful car alarm salesman, and now, of course, he's in Congress.
BLITZER: Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States, there was a story, as you know, in the "New York Times" yesterday on the front page suggesting even some Obama aides in the west wing are beginning to have their doubts if he's really being effective, helpful to the president. Jay Carney responded to that report today.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president feel like Eric Holder is becoming a distraction?
CARNEY: It's important to note that I believe in the article you're referring to that chief of staff was quoted on the record. And in that statement, he spoke for the president and he spoke for all of us. And he said that the president and his team at the White House believed that the attorney general has the intellect, experience, and integrity to efficiently run the Department of Justice and not get distracted by the partisans.
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BLITZER: One thing for some conservatives to call for Eric Holder to step down. It's another thing to see a story like that in the "New York Times."
KING: If you call around on Capitol Hill, the "New York Times" quoted people they say inside the west wing.
If you call around on Capitol Hill and around town, you will find Democrats who say that even those who say Eric Holder is a friend who would say he has not done the best job in the management of the justice department, they would point to any number of question, how the "fast and furious" controversy was handled, now to the AP and the Fox News press investigations, of leak investigations, many other things the attorney general -- however he has many friends in this town and because of the polarized partisan environment we're talking about, even if there were disappointment at the highest levels of the White House, this is not the time you're going to see it.
You will remember, Jay Carney, they're very clearly saying, the chief of staff speaks for the president he has confidence in the attorney general. You remember the day Mike McCurry when asked about Louis Freeh during the Clinton administration said Director Freeh -- the president believes Director Freeh is doing the best job he is capable of doing. He was the most underhanded swipe of press secretary ever taken and the senior official --
LIZZA: On Holder, I think it depends on how these investigations shake out. Look, the main charge against him, the most serious thing that Republicans have alleged, and it's a very serious charge, is that he forged (ph) himself.
BLITZER: That he lied to Congress under oath.
LIZZA: Yes, because he said he had nothing to do with any prosecutions of journalists. That was before we found out that he signed off on an affidavit for a search warrant that alleged that Fox News reporter, James Rosen, may have committed a crime by getting classified information from a state department employee.
Now, to figure out if he forged himself, you have to know exactly what the conversation was inside the justice department about that affidavit. We'll see if the House of Representatives is able to subpoena that information.
KING: Yes. They are trying to say it was about an investigation, not a prosecution, but that will be the question for Congress. They won't stop asking it.
BLITZER: Ryan and John, guys, thanks very much.
Other news we're following, including very important news. Three thousand people injured, yes, 3,000 injured, at least one person killed, anti-government protesters in it Turkey say they've been subjected to, quote, "unprecedented violence by government security forces." But the target of their protests, the prime minister says that's not true. He calls the demonstrators extremists.
Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is joining us now live from Istanbul from the center of the protests. What's the latest, Ivan? What's happening there now? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can see, the scene here is pretty calm. It's a square full of thousands and thousands of people, all of them have come basically to make their voices heard to the Turkish prime minister. And just to give you a sense of place, I've always compared this to being the Times Square of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city.
I have to walk through here every day and back, Wolf, on my way to work. It's full of tourists, full commuters coming to and from their jobs. And for Friday and Saturday, this place every time more than 50 people would try to gather here, the Turkish riot police would blast them with tear gas and water cannons. Now, finally, Saturday afternoon, after 36 hours of this, the riot police pulled back, and this is the scene that you've had ever since.
And the Turkish government requests for the protesters to leave have failed in part because they have come with statements from the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, denouncing a lot of these people, calling them extremists, calling them members of marginal groups. And a lot of the people that I've met here are not affiliated with any political party. Many of them are university educated.
They come here after work and they want to tell the prime minister, we're not extremists. We want you to listen to us next time you try to tear up parts of our city for a construction project. Ask us about it first -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ivan Watson on the scene for us in Turkey. We're going to get back to you more coming up later. Turkey critically important NATO ally in that part of the world.
Up next, a deadly chase in Oklahoma. Tornado researchers among at least 17 victims of the latest storms.
And Supreme Court justices deciding whether police need a warrant to get your DNA.
BLITZER: At least 17 people are now dead and rescuers are still combing through the rubble for another six people missing after a second monster dose of tornadoes pummeled Oklahoma State Friday night. This time, in a rare turn, seasoned professionals who track these storms up close were among the victims. Three legendary storm chasers died, Chris Young, Tim Samaras, and his son, Paul, all perished in action.
Twisted metal is pretty much all that's left of the mangled truck found at the intersection where authorities believe they were killed. CNN just obtained this amazing video from National Geographic showing some of the other powerful tornadoes Tim has hunted down in his career. But, to be clear, this was not the one he died in.
CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers, was on the ground not far from that very location Friday night. He's joining us now with the very latest. Chad, what makes them do this, these professional scientists, and I think fair to say these are scientists, the ones who go out there and risk their lives to get this kind of information.
CHAD MYERS, SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: Wolf, we still don't know enough about tornadoes to get big enough, long ahead enough warnings for everybody to survive a tornado. And what these men were doing, they were getting research, they were getting more data to help the National Weather Service, the severe prediction center, do better forecasts, maybe even an hour in advance, if that's possible, when we get the right radar signature.
And this is all about -- it's all about the science for these guys, and it's estimated that Tim had, in fact, 125 tornado intercepts under his belt with never being injured. And, in fact, you know what? The science is still very important. I talked to Mike Eilts of Weather Decisions Technologies about just that fact today.
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MIKE EILTS, CEO WEATHER DECISION TECHNOLOGIES: From a research standpoint, we still don't know everything about tornadoes, and it's really important to measure because you can't measure it with a radar. You can see things aloft. You can't really measure what's on the ground. And so, very dedicated people that have, you know, risk their life to do that.
There's value created by that. We understand. We'll be able to model tornadoes better. We'll be able to maybe, at some point, warn on forecast, be able to have an hour in advance, give you a warning of a tornado because it's just going to form.
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MYERS: That's exactly right. He's predicting one hour in advance in the coming years if we know the tornado's signature, we know what one looks like, when we know it's going to drop a tornado and we could have data inside of it already. That's the key to saving lives on the ground, saving lives in the city, Wolf, and that's what those storm chasers were doing.
BLITZER: At this particular incident, and obviously, a tragic ending, what do you think went wrong?
MYERS: I don't know what went wrong. There are searchers looking for the camera in fields south of here about three miles. And when they find the camera, if they do, we'll know a lot more. There may have been extenuating circumstances with this because Tim would go back to help chasers that were in trouble. And if that's what he did, he put his own life in jeopardy to go help someone else and may have gotten himself killed.
That's one possibility. Another possibility, Wolf, is this storm made an entire left-hand turn, not 90 degrees but 60 degrees, got much wider and got much faster. And it almost caught our car. We were about a mile away, but that was still too close for me. For a while, we were seven miles away and keeping pace with it. That's how fast this thing just picked up forward speed, and it could have caught them either off guard or maybe even putting down some of their equipment ready to go back up into the cloud hoping to intercept that tornado, the equipment that is, but unfortunately, the car was intercepted, too.
BLITZER: These are very courageous people who risk their lives to get this kind of information. Our deepest, deepest condolences to their families.
Amid all of the horrifying stories of those who lost their lives in Friday's storm, there are also lots of stories of survival. CNNs Nick Valencia has this part of the story.
DAVID STOTTLEMYRE, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We started out and we were just watching the storms out the bay doors right here, and they said it was south in the airport. So, we didn't think a whole lot about it. Then, we started getting debris coming into the shop and the winds picked up, hail. So, we came outside and rounded the corner, and that's when we saw the tornado. And it was just probably a hundred yards from us.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you think? It was so close --
STOTTLEMYRE: -- had to stop and take a picture first. Then, we ran and got inside there. And, it was probably 20 seconds and it was shaking us and moving us around. We were scared to death. This was kind of our best place of refuge, if you will, out of everything else we had out here.
VALENCIA: When you guys are in here, you know, you're hearing the storms, you're hearing the winds. What are you guys saying to each other?
STOTTLEMYRE: Called my wife, said, baby, tornado is on us. I love you. If we don't make it, tell the babies I love them. And about that time, of course, I lost signal. We were hold on to each other and then it started -- it picked the building up, started moving it around. And, that's when we really freaked out.
VALENCIA: So, you saw this tornado coming. You knew you were going to take a direct hit.
VALENCIA: How long did it feel like --
STOTTLEMYRE: It felt like it was ten minutes that it was just sitting here on us. We got done and we didn't have cell service to where we could call out, and so, we started texting people. I texted my boss. And, he told me he was going to come get us. Our trucks were totaled. And, he texted me about five minutes later and said, you all need to hunker down, there's another one coming. VALENCIA: This is a pretty small space and doesn't seem like there's much keeping that door from blowing open or you guys maybe getting sucked out. You think about that?
STOTTLEMYRE: Yes. We keep hearing the doors -- I mean, the doors were shaking pretty violently. You know, on top of everything else, hitting the building. Whenever the crane -- I guess, it was a crane that did it. Something fell on top of the building and then water just started pouring in here. Oh, no, here we go. It was something else.
I've always wondered, you know, what those people thought when that stuff went on, but when you come out of it, you really know.
VALENCIA: Does your family believe like, I mean, like, you go back to the story and show them the pictures, have they seen what you went through?
STOTTLEMYRE: My wife said, really, you took a picture of the tornado?
STOTTLEMYRE: Well, babe, you never know, might be a photojournalist one day.
VALENCIA: And Wolf, David has been able to keep his sense of humor, but he's lost a lot of sleep. He said it's just starting to hit him now. But he told us that he was able to think so fast, because a few years ago in West, Texas, one of their satellite offices took a direct hit from a tornado, and there, in that incident, the control room didn't suffer any damage so that's why he had his co-workers go into this control room. He says he's lucky to be alive. He's very happy he made it out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Certainly is. All right. Thanks very much, Nick Valencia, on the scene for us.
Coming up, can police take your DNA without a warrant? A divided U.S. Supreme Court says yes to what one dissenter calls a terrifying principle.
Plus, a senator's death has big implications for a state, for the Senate, possibly, possibly for the next race for the White House.
BLITZER: Happening now, police, your DNA, and your constitutional rights all in a U.S. Supreme Court decision with potentially huge impact.
Plus, a longtime U.S. senator passes away while still in office. Why the task of naming his temporary replacement could be a major test for the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie?
And time is quickly running out for a 10-year-old girl in desperate need of a new pair of lungs. Now, her family wants the government to get involved.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
All that coming up, but this just coming into the SITUATION ROOM. New developments in the kidnapping of an American in Mexico, a U.S. marine reservist and war veteran. The FBI is now asking the public for help with this case. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty is working the story for us from the state department. What are you finding out, Jill?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they are. The FBI is looking for any help that they can get from any person who knows anything about this kidnapping. It happened May 14th. The person that we're talking about is Armando Torres III. He is a U.S. marine in the ready reserve, and he also is a veteran of operation Iraqi freedom.
And the FBI says that when he drove over the international port of entry bridge at Progresso, Texas, he was trying to visit his father's ranch in La Barranca, Tamaulipas, and as soon as he arrived at the ranch, armed gunmen entered the ranch, took all of the three Torres, there are actually three people involved, by force and they have not been seen or heard of since.
Now, the other two people are Mexican citizens, that is his father Armando Torres II and his uncle, Salvatore Torres, both of whom, as I said, are Mexican citizens. So, again, the FBI is reaching out for information, and just a couple of minutes ago, I did get a statement from the state department saying that they are aware of these reports about an American citizen kidnapped, that the U.S. consulate in Matamoros is working with Mexican authorities to try to get more information.
But they said because of privacy concerns, that they can't provide any more information -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We've got to get more information, obviously. This is an important issue, a U.S. marine being held somewhere, we assume, in Mexico. As soon as you get more information, Jill, let us know. We'd like this individual freed as quickly as possible.
Other news we're following, your DNA and your constitutional rights, they're at the heart of a U.S. Supreme Court decision today with wide- ranging implications. The justices ruled 5-4 that police can take DNA samples from suspects without a warrant, which one dissenter called terrifying.
Our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us. He was at the Supreme Court today getting this latest decision. What's going on here?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, DNA is used as an investigative tool all over the country. And the question has been, how far can the police go? The answer is pretty far. This is one of the most important search and seizure cases in years. The Supreme Court deciding that when police get a DNA sample, it's a minor intrusion to a person who has already been placed under arrest.
JOHNS (voice-over): It's not just CSI anymore. All 50 states have passed laws allowing DNA testing after a criminal defendant is convicted. But the deeply divided Supreme Court decision potentially opens up the floodgates, making it possible for police to take suspicionless DNA samples from suspects without even a warrant signed by a judge.
A cheek swab for DNA is now OK as long as the person being swabbed was arrested for a serious crime. The definition of which is now up for debate. Murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping and arson for sure, but what else?
IRV GORNSTEIN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: The federal government does require DNA testing of anybody who's arrested. I would assume a lot of the states will now follow suit and expand their testing to include all arrestees.
JOHNS: The case is an appeal of a conviction involving a Maryland man who was locked up in 2009 on assault charges. He was later implicated by DNA in a rape that occurred years earlier.
Five justices, including perennial swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, the opinion's author, called a DNA cheek swab a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the constitution's Fourth Amendment, which limits search and seizure. It's about the same as a booking photo or a fingerprint.
STEVEN R. SHAPIRO, LEGAL DIRECTOR, ACLU: It allows the police to search for evidence of unsolved crimes by taking DNA samples from people who they have no reason to suspect have any relationship to those crimes.
JOHNS: Four justices dissented, including Antonin Scalia, who said the court had embraced a terrifying principle. And Scalia wrote, "Make no mistake about it, an entirely predictable consequence of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason."
WILLIAM JAY, ATTY. FOR FED. PUBLIC DEFENSES: I think that's the most important unanswered question after today's decision, because the federal government has the broadest statute. It allows people to have their DNA taken almost no matter what federal crime they're charged with.
JOHNS (on-camera): The conservative Justice Scalia sided with three liberal members of the court on this case, but given the subject matter, it was not that big of a surprise. Scalia has been an outspoken supporter of Fourth Amendment rights and protecting the accused against unwarranted intrusion by police -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, our legal analyst, will join us in the next hour. We're going to have more on this very important decision for a lot of our viewers. Thanks so much, Joe Johns, reporting.
A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday for the Democratic senator, Frank Lautenberg, of New Jersey who died today at the age of 89. He was the last World War II veteran serving in the United States Senate. He'll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. And his death could have some major political implications. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here. He's got more on what happens next. What's going on?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the death of Frank Lautenberg is a reminder of how much influence each individual senator wields. When one of them dies in office, the impact has felt right away, and strictly from a political standpoint, Lautenberg's death could affect New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, more than anybody else.
ACOSTA (on-camera): After bouts with cancer and more recently, viral pneumonia, New Jersey senator, Frank Lautenberg's death did not take Washington by surprise. But there could be twists and turns to come for the man with the task of naming the senator's temporary replacement, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, who gave an impromptu eulogy for Lautenberg.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think the best way to describe Frank Lautenberg and the way he would probably want to be described to all of you today as a fighter.
ACOSTA: Christie would know.
CHRISTIE: We had some pretty good fights over time.
ACOSTA: Christie and Lautenberg had sparred sometimes viciously for years.
CHRISTIE: We're not going to listen to partisan hacks like Frank Lautenberg.
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: He's a persistent liar.
ACOSTA: Christie will, in a sense, have the last word, but that could be tricky. He is running for reelection this fall and perhaps for 2016. As Democratic strategist David Axelrod tweeted, "Fascinating dilemma for Christie. Does he name interim, who reflects his more moderate state, or feed Tea Party for '16?"
Christie has already alienated the GOP base with his trips to the Jersey Shore to check on storm damage with President Obama. Still, Christie's selection of a Republican to fill Lautenberg's seat changes the balance of power, eating into the Democrats' slim edge in the Senate. Lautenberg was a trusted vote for his party; despite being in poor health last April, he showed up for a crucial vote to expand background checks for gun buyer.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He came out of his sick bed in a wheelchair to vote on gun legislation.
ACOSTA: Gun control advocates will miss him.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: For years, he really stood up for common sense gun safety laws when many others in his party ran away from the issue.
ACOSTA: But there's more to Lautenberg's political biography. He was perhaps best known for the law banning smoking on commercial airliners. But with the flags at half-staff across the Capitol and the POW/MIA flag outside his door, he was also remembered as the Senate's last surviving veteran of World War II.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think he fought harder for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan because he had been there, in their shoes.
ACOSTA: Law in New Jersey gives Christie a lot of power after Lautenberg's death. Not only does he get to name the senator's temporary replacement, the governor has a big say in when an election will be held for the voters to fill that seat. Could be this year or next. No final word yet (INAUDIBLE). Wolf, we've been trying to find out what they're doing next. They're just not saying at this point.
BLITZER: A lot of names are already being floated, but it's up to Governor Christie and Governor Christie alone.
ACOSTA: And he could name a Democrat. He could name Cory Booker who obviously wants that seat. He could name Christie Todd Whitman, who is a popular figure in New Jersey. There are lots of other figures. Tom Cain Jr., son of the former governor. But at this point, they're not tipping their hand. And I think the silence at this point is an indication of just how critical this decision is for the governor.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, I don't know if you knew Frank Lautenberg well. I knew him quite well over these past 30 years or so, he was -- forget about his politics. Always a very, very decent, honorable guy with a smile. Very helpful if you needed some information. He was almost always available.
ACOSTA: I covered him recently in all this chatter about Cory Booker. And it was interesting. He could be so nice to us in the media, but when it came to political sparring, he was one tough customer.
BLITZER: Yes. He'll be missed.
ACOSTA: He will.
BLITZER: Frank Lautenberg, a very, very good guy. All right, thanks very much.
Coming up, the heartbreaking story of a little girl running out of time. Why she can't get the operation she needs to stay alive.
Plus -- newly revealed pictures of an up-and-coming model who went on to become a cover girl before being shot and killed by her boyfriend, the Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.
BLITZER: This news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The death toll in the Oklahoma tornadoes now stands at 18. A deputy fire chief now reports that an eight-year-old girl was found dead today near a local river. Eighteen deaths now in those tornadoes.
Other news we are following, new pictures surfaced of Reeva Steenkamp, the model shot and killed by the Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, facing murder charges for what he says was a tragic accident. Here is CNN's Robyn Curnow.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was on the beaches of this South African seaside town that a young law student aspired to be a model, posing for these amateur snapshots. That young wannabe model was Reeva Steenkamp. But just a few years later she transformed herself into a cover girl.
She might have looked different. But she didn't change inside, said a student friend, Kerry Smith, who took those pictures on the beach about eight years ago.
KERRY SMITH, FRIEND OF REEVA STEENKAMP: If anything, that's Riva in her natural beauty, not a stitch of makeup on, hair blowing in the wind with the sea behind her, sun setting behind her.
GARETH BARCLAY, PHOTOGRAPHER: This is another one from the shoot.
CURNOW: Riva was a confident, professional model. Ambitious too, says Gareth Barclay who shot these photographs a few months before she was shot dead by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius.
Pistorius says it was a tragic accident, that he thought she was an intruder. The state says it was murder. For now, it is just images of Riva that are left to explain the kind of person she was.
BARCLAY: Most of the photos I took of her aren't even edited. That's just how she is. Skin was always great, beautiful eyes, beautiful features.
CURNOW: Riva asked Barclay to take this photo of the tattoo etched on her neck.
BARCLAY: For her, it was personal to her. She never really spoke about it or anything; she just wanted a personal photo of it. CURNOW: Riva had a tattoo on the back of her neck that says "Only God will judge me" in Italian. Do you know why she had that specific tattoo?
SMITH: That was something her grandfather had always said, was close to her.
CURNOW: Words she felt defined her, while Oscar Pistorius will eventually be judged in a South African court.
Robyn Curnow, CNN, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
BLITZER: Pistorius will be in court tomorrow for a brief hearing. He has been in seclusion since released on bail four months ago. His trial probably won't start until September or October.
When we come back, the clock is ticking for a 10-year-old girl in desperate need of a lung transplant. Just ahead, you'll find out why her family now wants the government to get involved.
Plus, tiny little drones that could be the future for hurricane hunters in a hurricane season expected to be extremely active.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other stories we are monitoring here in THE SITUATION ROOM right. Ten schoolchildren and two NATO soldiers are dead after a bombing in Afghanistan. The interior ministry is blaming Taliban militants for the attack, though the Taliban hadn't claimed responsibility. Separately, a police officer was killed and at least 16 others wounded in a suicide blast at a bazaar in eastern Afghanistan.
Ford is recalling 465,000 of its current model year cars due to a fuel leak that poses a fire risk. The vehicles on the list include the 2013 Explorer, Taurus, Flex, and Fusion, along with Interceptor and Lincoln models. Ford says it's not aware of any actually incidents of fire or injuries related to the defect, but it has received hundreds of complaints from customers.
President Obama kicked off today's White House National Conference on Mental Health, emphasizing his hopes that the event will elevate the national conversation on the subject and bring it out of the shadows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal.
OBAMA: And yet we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions. The brain is a body part, too. We just know less about it.
There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that effect too many people we love. We have to get rid of that embarrassment, get rid of that stigma. Too many Americans that struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Today's event which also included a number of celebrities is part of the president's pledge to explore the relationship between mental illness and gun violence in the aftermath of the deadly shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
And take a look at this. Authorities in Florida were called to a llama rescue. A truck hauling a trailer with four llamas hit the side of a bridge for unknown reasons. Animal control responded. Three of the animals were OK. The fourth had to be extricated on a backboard. The driver of the truck is said to have minor injuries.
Coming up, time is quickly running out for a 10-year-old girl in desperate need of a new pair of lungs. Why her family now says her civil rights are being violated.
And tiny little drones that could be the future for hurricane hunters in a hurricane season that's expected to be extremely active. That's just ahead.
BLITZER: Time unfortunately is running out for a 10-year-old girl desperately waiting for a new pair of lungs. She has been on the list for a transplant for more than a year, but laws prevent children under the age of 12 from being prioritize for adult organs and now her parents are asking the government to intervene.
Here's CNN's national correspondent Jason Carroll.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Murnaghan say this is about fairness for all children, not just their daughter, who they fear could now just have weeks to live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH MURNAGHAN, NEEDS LUNG TRANSPLANT: I lost two teeth.
CARROLL (voice-over): This new video capturing a tender moment with 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan in her hospital bed.
JANET MURNAGHAN, DAUGHTER NEEDS LUNG TRANSPLANT: Let me see.
CARROLL: Sarah has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that attacks the lungs. She desperately needs a transplant and has been waiting 18 months for lungs to become available from another child. Her parents say getting modified lungs from an adult would give her a fighting chance, but federal guidelines prevent her from getting priority on the adult donor list.
J. MURNAGHAN: This isn't just about Sarah. This is about all children. They are not being treated fairly or equally. It's unjust. It's not within the Constitution. My child's civil rights are being violated. As all children are.
CARROLL: The Murnaghans have hired an attorney and today sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, formally requesting her to step in and help. This after Sebelius e- mailed the family last Friday, telling them she did not have the authority to change the guidelines, writing, "I know that this is not the answer you were hoping to receive and I can't begin to imagine how difficult this situation is. My prayers are with you."
FRAN MURNAGHAN, DAUGHTER NEEDS LUNG TRANSPLANT: We were devastated because now we're left with very few options to save Sarah's life.
CARROLL: Sebelius has asked for a review of transplant policy, but a change could take years. Sarah's family says action needs to be taken now, as time for Sarah is running out and she knows it.
F. MURNAGHAN: She followed up and asked us, if I go to sleep, will I wake up tomorrow? As a parent, I'm -- there's nothing more devastating than to have a child look in your eyes and ask that type of question. She's very aware that this is a serious situation.
CARROLL: Despite her situation, Sarah says she still has hope.
J. MURNAGHAN: Did you know that everybody sent in prayers for you?
S. MURNAGHAN: Yes.
J. MURNAGHAN: What do you think of that?
S. MURNAGHAN: Thank you for saying prayers.
CARROLL: Pennsylvania lawmakers now weighing in on the issue, including Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, basically saying that he believes Sebelius does have the authority to change the guidelines. Also Senator Bob Casey writing a letter to Sebelius asking for clarification on the current policy on lung allocation and whether or not it's unfair to children under 12 years of age.
Also now, Wolf, many in the medical community saying that this story is an important reminder of how more organ donors are needed for adults and children -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jason, thank you. Jason Carroll reporting. Let's hope something positive happens and this girl can be kept alive.
Coming up, thousands of people injured as antigovernment protests spread in Turkey. We'll take you live to the heart of it.
Plus, hurricane season, it's here. It's expected to be extremely active and weather researchers could soon be getting a new tool that could save lives.
BLITZER: The deadly tornado outbreak in the plains isn't the only severe weather concern right now. Hurricane season officially began over the weekend and forecasters expect it to be, in their words, extremely active. But researchers in Florida are developing a new weapon to better track a hurricane's path and strength.
Here's CNN's John Zarrella.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's expected to be an active hurricane season, which means lots of hurricane hunter flights into storms to gather data, but in just a few years, a fleet of miniature aircraft, just like this, being developed at the University of Florida could revolutionize hurricane forecasting.
ZARELLA (voice-over): If you didn't know any better, you'd easily mistake this for a model airplane club. But the tiny planes being developed here at the University of Florida -- they call them drones -- are more than toys. Some no bigger than a bat.
(On camera): So there's really nothing, nothing to it.
KAMRAN MOHSENI, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: It's nothing --
ZARRELLA: It's got hardly any weight to it at all.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): Could one day save your life.
For decades, hurricane hunter aircraft had been flying into the hearts of the storms, gathering information to help determine a hurricane's path and strength. Science has gotten increasingly better at forecasting the direction a storm will take, figuring out how strong it might get has been problematic. So enter the drones.
MOHSENI: Then you are using hundred of various small, cheap sensors. You could get actually significantly better result than a concentrated larger sensor.
ZARRELLA: In addition to a hurricane hunter aircraft flying the storm, you'd bombard it with dozens of drones dropped over the top of or around the outskirts of the hurricane. They'll be equipped with sensors to measure pressure, temperature, and humidity. Data critical to forecasting hurricane strength. Sounds great, right? But how come these featherweight flyers won't be obliterated, knocked to pieces? Well, guess what? That's kind of how it's supposed to work.
MOHSENI: In fact, most of the flight they will tumble around and they sort of -- they get tossed around like they are debris.
ZARRELLA (on camera): Right. MOHSENI: Once in awhile we tell them that to actually push yourself up a little bit.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): Once in the right spot, researchers say the hurricane does the rest. Its circulation draws the drones to the eye wall. All the time, they'll be relaying back data and most should survive the ordeal.
MOHSENI: Your impact energy is proportional to your mass.
ZARRELLA: Bottom line, if they were big, they'd splat. Because they are small, they won't.
(On camera): It really goes to that very simple saying, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): The drones will have company, too. Miniature submarines under development would transmit back water temperature. The hurricane's fuel source. The drones and mini-subs have military applications, as well. The researchers say some funding comes from the Air Force and Navy, but for now, the enemy is the hurricane.
ZARRELLA: Researchers here say that within just two to three years, they should be ready for the first test flights into the eye of a storm -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John Zarrella in Florida. They are getting ready there. I was just in Florida over the weekend and I know. When hurricane season begins on June 1st, they are ready for it in Florida. We wish everyone, not only in Florida, but all along the U.S. coast, the best of luck with this hurricane season.
Happening now, we're going to take you inside the life and death of three storm chasers. The danger finally caught up to them.
Plus, we're at the scene of a raging California wildfire this hour threatening hundreds of homes near Los Angeles. Crews are trying to launch a direct attack on the blaze.
Plus, violence and unrest exploding right now in Turkey. Could have the same kind of impact as the Arab spring. CNN is on the ground for you.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.