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Is Somali Terrorist Targeting U.S.?; Controversy Clouds Homeland Security Nominee; Can Democrats Win Back The House?; Interview With Rep. Tim Murphy

Aired October 18, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new fears that a Somali terror commander suspected in a bloody mall siege is forming an unholy alliance with an al Qaeda affiliate possibly plotting to strike the United States.

Also, Congress wants answers about the Obamacare rollout, but the Health Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has not yet agreed to testify. I'll talk to a key lawmaker involved in the oversight investigation. He wants answers.

And new developments in the case of two murderers who simply walked out of prison. Turns out they have done it again. We have details of how they duped authorities not once, but twice.

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

We begin this hour with chilling new developments involving a top terror commander who managed to elude an elite Navy SEAL team that was trying to capture him. TV 2 Norway obtained these rare images of him, and now, CNN has learned there is fear he could be joining forces with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to plot against America, and it has U.S. officials so concerned, they're taking dramatic action right now to try to hunt him down.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's working the story for us. Barbara, officials are obviously deeply concerned. He could have been involved in that attack on the mall in Kenya. What's the latest, you're learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question, Wolf, is could that mall attack have even happened without the help of this terrorist leader. Does he pose now a much more direct threat to the United States? The images we are about to show can be very disturbing.


STARR: At the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, shoppers ran for their lives when gunmen took over the complex on a shooting rampage. U.S. intelligence is still trying to figure out what behind the scenes role this man may have played. These TV 2 Norway images are rare photos of the alleged terrorist known as Ikrima. He is in America's crosshairs. Just days after the mall attack, two dozen Navy SEALs raided ikRima's compound in Southern Somalia. They failed to capture him, but CNN has learned why President Obama risked so much. U.S. sources tell CNN Ikrima is now seen as a prominent part of the al Qaeda network, with possible information on new attacks being planned. His reach now is far beyond Somalia.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: He's really emerged as a key link figure between various al Qaeda affiliates, between al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, between al Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda central in Pakistan. He's also somebody who has deep connections to militants in the west because of the time he spent in the west in recent years.

STARR: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen is now considered the most dangerous of the al Qaeda affiliates. CNN has been shown encrypted e-mails through a third party that were exchanged with Ikrima. They show contacts between him and the American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. missile attack in 2011.

SETH JONES, RAND CORP.: When Ikrima starts to work closer with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has plotted attacks against the U.S. homeland, that means he's crossed a red line.

STARR: And that worries U.S. intelligence that this video may be just a hint of the types of attacks Ikrima has planned next.


STARR (on-camera): Now, Ikrima's group, the al Shabaab group in Somalia and al Qaeda have been at odds in the past, but all of this now raising very critical questions in the U.S. intelligence community. What are his contacts with al Qaeda? Who's he been talking to? How recently has he been talking to them, and again, what they may have planned next? Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr with the latest, very disturbing information. Thank you.

At the same time, President Obama is tapping the Pentagon's former top lawyer to be the next secretary of Homeland Security. His name is Jeh Johnson. His nomination was followed almost immediately by serious questions about some of his positions, his policies, even his qualifications. CNN's Joe Johns is here in the SITUATION ROOM working this part of the story. What are you learning?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, he wasn't on everybody's short list for candidates for the job but probably should have been. Jeh Johnson has been front and center on some of the toughest national security issues and now has been tapped to take on the enormous problems at the Homeland Security Department.


JOHNS: As the Pentagon's top lawyer, Jeh Johnson played a key role in the legal reasoning for U.S. use of drones against al Qaeda overseas. Controversial because the targeted drone attacks have also killed innocent civilians. Johnson laid out his views in this speech last year at the Oxford Union.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How will this conflict end? It is an unconventional conflict against an unconventional enemy and will not end in conventional terms.

JOHNS: His role may be controversial to some on the left. At DHS, drones are used mainly as eyes in the sky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only way they use unmanned vehicles is for surveillance purposes, and the rules are very different and they ought to be very different.

JOHNS: An issue Republican senator, Rand Paul, famously filibustered over. Johnson's support for National Security Agency surveillance programs and his criticism of military detention of terror suspects could also come up. He's already being challenged as untested in some areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are gaps in terms of immigration, first responders, the other parts of DHS, the component operating parts.

JOHNS: Congressional reaction to the nomination has been favorable on the left, but Republican Texas senator, John Cornyn, said he had grave concerns and questioned Johnson's management and law enforcement qualifications. "Rather than selecting someone who knows the unique dynamics of our southern border, President Obama has tapped one of his former New York fundraisers."


JOHNS (on-camera): And that could be a problem for Johnson, too. The Center for Responsive Politics labels him a bundler in fundraising for President Obama. Meaning, he helped the president raise big money by calling on friends to help. By the way, no word tonight from Republican senator, Rand Paul, the drone critic, on what he thinks of this nomination.

BLITZER: I'm sure we'll hear sooner rather than later. All right. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Up next, Republicans badly bruised by the government shutdown. Could that give Democrats a shot at retaking the House of Representatives in the next election? We're breaking down some key races for you.

I'll also speak with a Republican lawmaker who says the rollout of Obamacare is not just a bumpy road. He says, the bridge is out. Congressman Tim Murphy is part of a team holding hearings next week. He's here in the SITUATION ROOM this hour.


BLITZER: The Republicans are feeling more of the fallout from the government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis. Polls show more Americans blame them than blame the Democrats. That has many political minds wondering, can Democrats actually win back the House in the next year's election? Our chief national correspondent, John King, takes a closer look -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Some democrats are dreaming of the return of Speaker Pelosi in the wake of the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate. Is that possible? Could Democrats do so well in 2014 that they change this map? The results after 2012, possible, yes. Probable? That's a different question.

But let's look at some of the factors as we head into the midterm election season. The current balance of power, Republicans with a 32- seat advantage in the House. There are three vacancies but assume those seats stay with the party that last held them. That means the Democrats would need a gain of 17 seats next year to put the gavel back in Democratic hands.

There are some factors, no question, favoring the Democrats right now. The shutdown damaged the Republican brand. We see that in every poll. Democrats say as a result, their fundraising is way up in recent days and the Tea Party says it's going to challenge Republican incumbents who voted yes. It's possible they could knock off some incumbents and make those districts more open to Democrats.

We'll watch that one in the months ahead. However, there also are a number of factors that would make you think no, this year will favor the Republicans. Why? Well, it's more than a year to Election Day. So, will the dynamic in play now be in play next October or November? We can't answer that question. But we do know the president is well under 50 percent in approval rating.

That is a telltale sign that his party would be in trouble in the midterm election. If that number stays in the 40s, the Democrats will be in trouble next November, especially because it's the six-year itch election. The second term midterm election, on average, the president's party loses more than 19 seats.

So, history says that it's the Democrats will be on the losing end, not the winning end, in 2014. Let's take a look at a couple of the races we'll watch just to see if Democrats do have a prayer. One of them down here in Southeast Virginia. Democrat Scott Rigell elected in 2010, won in 2012 by eight points even though the president narrowly won his district, but he voted yes on the budget compromise.

The big question here, will the Tea Party try to knock him off with a more conservative primary challenger, and if they're successful, would that then perhaps open that district to the Democrats. We'll keep an eye there. To get to 17, Democrats are going to need a few surprises. Another place to watch is another race that could involve the Tea Party.

Charlie Dent, first elected in 2004, elected by -- re-elected by 14 points in 2012, you would say that is a safe Republican district. The question is, because he voted yes, will there be a Tea Party challenge that could cause enough turmoil to put a seat like that into play. Democrats need seats like that to have such a big year.

Wolf, you look at the map, you see all this red across the country, a lot of watching. Watch primary filing deadlines, watch fundraising deadlines, watch recruitment. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not.

BLITZER: John King, thanks very, very much. Good analysis. Let's get some more, though with our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine along with Molly Ball of "The Atlantic." What do you think? Is it possible the Democrats, Ryan, could take over, become the majority in the House of Representatives?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I pretty much agree with everything John King just said. We did cross a tipping point in the wake of the government shutdown. We crossed a point where there are enough seats in play where it's theoretically possible this far out, and remember, this is pretty far out, over a year out, for the Democrats to pick up those 17 seats.

Charlie Cook, one of the best house prognosticators in Washington, he moved 14 seats this week towards -- in the Democrats' direction. And he said that things have moved from Republicans likely to take between two and seven seats to Republicans likely to arrange where it could shift five seats towards the Republicans or five seats towards the Democrats.

So, the bottom line is, the fallout from the shutdown has moved things in the Democrats' direction and given them the possibility of taking back the House. We're a long way out --

BLITZER: I was just about to say, Molly, we're still, you know, a long way away from the midterm elections in November of next year.

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. Political scientists will tell you these events tend to be short. However, I sat in on a focus group of swing voters the other night and it was amazing how betrayed they felt.

BLITZER: Betrayed by whom?

BALL: Betrayed by Washington and betrayed by the politicians and betrayed by the squabbling that they saw going on. These were moms and a lot of them compared the politicians to their toddlers or to kindergartners. They were really, really let down. At the same time, people already were pretty disappointed in Washington. Congress already had a pretty low approval rating.

Could it really get any worse? Are they really going to start to see their own individual representatives as part of the problem? I thought the interesting thing about this group was that instead of saying they were so turned off, they were going to tune out, they were saying they needed to get more involved. They needed to do more to have a say in the political process.

BLITZER: Because usually, Ryan, the argument is that when you ask Americans, do you like Washington, you like Congress, they all say no, no, no, no, but they like their individual member of Congress.

LIZZA: And that's the usual -- that is normal. That number, do you like your guy, is at an all-time low. So, even your own congressman, even the question of, do you like your own congressman is reaching a low point. Look, midterm elections are usually referendum on the president. What Obama and the Democrats need to do is to turn this into a referendum on House Republicans. And the House Republicans gave them a little bit of ability to do that the last few weeks.

BLITZER: Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, gave an interview to Univision that's going to be out this weekend. He was asked what he thought about Senator Ted Cruz. I'll read to you what Harry Reid said.

"In an effort to help him run for president, he has done some stuff that's really damaging to our country, and who has he hurt? He's been attempting to raise money and who has he hurt? He has hurt average Americans. What he has done to our country will go down in the history books as one of the most negative approaches to try to change America that we've ever seen. What he did was absolutely wrong."

That's Harry Reid on the Texas senator, Ted Cruz. Usually, the senators are a little more polite and gentlemanly, but he's pretty blunt in those blistering comments about Ted Cruz. Is that normal right now?

BALL: Well, comity in the Senate is out the window when it comes to Ted Cruz. And we've seen a lot of his other fellow senators, even on the Republican side feeling freed. They just tee off on the guy because they feel like he's the one who sort of breached decorum and broke some of the rules in some of the tactics that he's employed.

You can also see in Harry Reid's comments how happy he is to sort of have a foil. Part of the problem Democrats have had is they're good at campaigning against a specific Republican like Mitt Romney, but none of the Republicans in charge of Washington have given them that polarizing figure.

LIZZA: No, I was going to say, what Harry Reid just said about Ted Cruz is nothing compared to what Republicans have been saying both in private and public --

BLITZER: Republican senators.

LIZZA: Republican senators, who are furious at him for -- you know, this guy's a freshman. Most the times when freshmen, they come in their first year, they don't do what Ted Cruz does. They kind of laid low. They worked the system and Ted Cruz is operating completely different.

BLITZER: Normally freshman senators are supposed to be quiet. I remember when Hillary Clinton was a freshman senator from New York State, you know, barely heard from her. She was learning. She was a little bit talking, but she was very, very polite, very, very quiet. That's usually the normal operating procedure when a freshman comes --

LIZZA: And they certainly don't push the House of Representatives into a course that the rest of the party doesn't want to go down.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the president's nominee, Jeh Johnson, to be the next secretary of Homeland Security. Do you anticipate there's going to be a big confirmation battle or will he sail through?

LIZZA: You know, I think there might be some concern over a speech he gave after he left about drone policy. Now, remember, he was the general counsel at the Pentagon. When we think about drones, we talk about CIA operations. So, he wasn't really in charge of legal policy and drones when he was in government.

But he did make some comments afterwards defending drone policy and basically saying the tool doesn't matter. We have a resolution that allows us to go to war. It doesn't matter if you kill that person with a rifle or a drone. The war resolution is what matters. That's his position on drones. Lot of senators don't agree with him on that.

BLITZER: That's the president's position, too.

LIZZA: That's the president's position.

BLITZER: He targeted assassinations in effect involving drones.

LIZZA: He specifically said these are not targeted assassinations. This is just using the Congressional war resolution to kill the enemy. That's his argument.

BLITZER: That sounds like a targeted assassination to me.

LIZZA: Exactly.

BLITZER: If you're looking for somebody with a specific name and you send a drone in and use a hellfire missile and you go kill that person, what is that?

BALL: Well, that's the objects of dispute here. Look, this has been a very controversial area of policy for this administration, but it's also been one that crosses partisan lines. And that's why you haven't seen a more concerted push back to the administration. We haven't heard anything from Rand Paul yet. He's obviously been the most high profile critic on the Republican side of the administration's drone policy.

And we haven't seen a lot of Democrats willing to rock the boat on this, even though a lot of them do have concerns about the civil liberties aspect of it. So, the administration expects Jeh Johnson not to have any problems and we're not hearing yet that anybody is posing a threat to that.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. LIZZA: The two other things he was involved in is don't ask, don't tell and basically the legal opinion that led to our troops in Iraq coming out after we couldn't get a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. He was deeply involved in that.

BLITZER: We'll go through all those issues. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

LIZZA: Thanks.

BALL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, why the secretary of Health and Human Services won't testify to Congress about the disastrous online rollout of Obamacare?

Also, why authorities let these convicted killers walk away, not once, but twice. We have new details of a truly outrageous set of blunders.

And one lawmaker likens the Obama administration's approach to the rollout of Obamacare to a scene from the movie "Animal House." Congressman Tim Murphy, he is here. He will explain.


BLITZER: Republican lawmakers are taking a new tactic in their fight against Obamacare. Hearings will begin next week on the disastrous online rollout of the insurance exchanges which have been plagued by serious technical problems. I'll speak to one Republican committee chairman in just a moment on that.

But first, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. Brianna, how's the White House dealing with these problems?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really now, they're sort of acknowledging the issues. You saw them putting more of a positive spin on it at first saying that really, this was a reflection of just how much demand there was on the website. There appears to be now, though, very much a recognition that there are structural problems with

We heard President Obama really acknowledged that as well this week. He said there are more glitches than are acceptable and that sort of comes as we've heard from an independent analysis that really only one percent of people who have registered, who have been able to register on or who have attempted to register, I should say, were actually able to enroll in Obamacare. Pretty dismal numbers.

BLITZER: So, how are they going to fix this?

KEILAR: Well, really, it comes to fixing the website. That is number one. President Obama said there are employees working around the clock to get up and running. And after that, having talked to some supporters of Obamacare today, Wolf, they say there's going to have to be another public education campaign, that President Obama as we saw in the first week, he did a couple of high profile events.

There's going to have to be a reboot once the website is up and running. And also, I think there's also this question of a penalty that goes into effect at the end of March. There's this six-month enrollment process. That penalty kicks in at the end of that. Some are raising questions if, perhaps, that penalty time is going to be delayed because the real successful launch has been delayed.

BLITZER: Brianna, as you know, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning on holding hearings next week on the rollout of these health exchanges online. They've asked the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, to testify. They wrote to her. As of right now, doesn't look like she's going to accept their invitation.

KEILAR: No, that's right. An HHS official says she's unavailable. They say because of the government shutdown, they had a very short timeline to respond to this request. In a statement from a spokeswoman that says "We are in close communication with the committee and have expressed our desire to be responsive to their request."

But really, behind the scenes, Wolf, the administration feels that this is not a real investigation, that it's a political dog and pony show. They look at Republicans who have not -- who have really stood in the way of Obamacare from Republican governors choosing not to launch state exchanges, which Democrats point out have been more successful than, the federal exchange.

Even to the shutdown, which of course was Republicans who wanted to -- it started with Republicans wanting to defund and delay Obamacare. So, they don't really see this as a serious thing, Wolf, and they're kind of not eager to give political fodder to Republicans in the House.

BLITZER: All right. Brianna, thanks very much. Brianna Keilar at the White House.

And joining us now, Republican congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. He's the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Thanks so much for coming in. Your full committee is going to be holding hearings next week on these glitches, whatever they're called, the problems of the website.

But when you hear that even some supporters of the overall program are saying maybe delay the penalty for the individual mandate, that part of the program, what do you say when you hear that kind of talk?

REP. TIM MURPHY, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: Well, it's come down to the point we're going to fine people for not buying a product that they can't buy. It's a serious issue. I've been holding a series of hearings since the beginning of this year asking about the cost, the rate shot? Are they ready for the website or business was ready? Are the navigators trained? Is the IRS ready?

Every time I've had someone before, my subcommittee, they said don't worry, everything is fine. It's like the scene with Kevin Bacon in "Animal House" all is well, remain calm while people are struggling around them. They're not ready and they have not been up front with this about all these things. Either they don't know or they willfully not telling us.

BLITZER: But do you think they knew that the website wasn't really ready yet and they went ahead and did it anyhow?

MURPHY: They told us it was ready. They told us they were good to go. They told us the navigators were ready and things would be fine. It appears that none of that has been ready. My question is who knew this. Who made the decisions to change --

BLITZER: Should heads roll?

MURPHY: I think somewhere along the line, you have to find out who knew what and when did they know it.

BLITZER: Well, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human services.

MURPHY: She has to answer some questions for us. We've asked her to come before the committee. So far, she's declined. The chairman and others have asked her to come back again. I think it's extremely important. This is $400 plus million just for the website.

BLITZER: It's already cost $400 million? Originally, it was supposed to be a lot less.

MURPHY: It was. It was supposed to be much less. I mean, $94 million started off going to this Canadian company, CGI, and that probably has expanded in other companies as well. So, the data hub and other elements, they're just not ready. It's obvious facts they're not ready.

BLITZER: No. When you have this hearing next week, I assume suppose somebody from the administration will appear and testify, but you're saying nobody has agreed yet and you've invited them, including Kathleen Sebelius --

MURPHY: We hope they do. I mean, clearly someone had to know some things, whether it's people from CMS such as (INAUDIBLE). We've had other people for us Gary Cohen (ph), other people who knew parts of this, but it seems to be a lot of finger pointing without those fingers going directly to someone who made decisions.

BLITZER: What you're suggesting and correct me if I'm wrong, congressman, is that the administration deliberately misled the American people in the months leading up to the launch that when they said everything was fine, everything was ready, you say they knew it wasn't ready?

MURPHY: Well, either they didn't know which makes them responsible or they knew and they were trying to say well, let's hope it gets ready by the time things are there. We were like two weeks before, for example, the navigator is supposed to start and they said everything is fine with them even though the training had been delayed and cut short, et cetera.

So, what I see here, Wolf, is a whole pattern of them repeatedly telling us things were fine on multiple levels and they just weren't ready across the board.

BLITZER: Now, they initially said, you know what, there would be overwhelming response. They got many more people trying to log in than they anticipated. That was the result, that caused the bumpy rollout, if you will. Is it just a bumpy rollout or there something more serious?

MURPHY: This is not a bumpy rollout. The bridge is out. For them to say only they did not expect that many people to log on, I mean, they're trying to provide insurance for tens of millions, hundreds of millions of Americans. It should have been ready for that. Something was fatally flawed in the design. You know, if you want to shop for anything in some local store or any store anywhere in the world, first thing you do is pull up the products. Here, you can't see that. They want to capture all this data first. And so --


BLITZER: Because if you go to any of the airline Web sites, you want to find a flight, all these options available, but you don't have to give them your credit card numbers to check out what's available.

MURPHY: Well, think of all this. Not only that but here, you have Social Security number, lots of personal data.

BLITZER: Just to check out cost.

MURPHY: Just to check -- just to check. Just to pass through the door. You have to go --

BLITZER: Why did they decide that?

MURPHY: Did they want to capture the data? Did they want to hold on to that? Did they not want people to see the prices up front? I don't understand. People should see the prices up front. If this is going to be such a grand bargain, then tell us. And when they have discovered problems, let's not forget, when I asked them about the cost for business, was it OK for business, they said it was fine, they had to hide this into some blog on the Fourth of July.

So even when they recognize there's a problem, why don't they just look us in the eye and say we discovered a problem. So there's no trust here in terms of believing that they can fix this.

BLITZER: Now your job is -- has oversight, to take a look at what's going on in the executive branch of the government. That's your subcommittee. That's your major responsibility. Have they shared with you numbers, how many people have tried to log on, how many people have actually enrolled in the process, any of those numbers been made available to your subcommittee?

MURPHY: No. Haven't seen any of those things. And you would think the biggest rollout that president, this administration has had, or the federal government has had in years, they'd want to keep a careful eye on it, particularly if they know that there's problems.

I would think that's the first call the secretary and others would make, is tell us how many people have actually gotten through. Give us --


BLITZER: You've asked for those numbers. You haven't gotten them?

MURPHY: We don't have anything.

BLITZER: Some people say it's getting better now. There are certain opportunities in various states where it's much better than in other states. You've heard that.

MURPHY: Yes. States who designed their own Web site, it's much better. So some states do not have this problem. So it's possible to do this. But the second wave of what's happening, too, is the actual cost. When I hear from people that they've gone -- in order to keep a plan that's close in price, they've gone from a $1,000 deductible to a $10,000 deductible. Those are other concerns that are going to come out, too. We're going to need to know once they get there, what is the cost.

BLITZER: Now you've been an opponent of Obamacare from the beginning, right?

MURPHY: I'm a proponent of health care reform and I've worked on health care reform myself as a state senator and a federal congressman. But what happens is there's a lot of problems inherent in this in the way it was done.

BLITZER: So are you trying to fix it or get rid of it?

MURPHY: Well, it's sort of like the car that at some point you say it needs such a major overhaul you say this has got to be retooled from the beginning. There's a lot of things we -- I absolute support in this such as making sure someone who is ill gets health insurance or someone who is younger maintains it. There's no reason to cut those people out but the way this has been done with this massive control of it, I think it's making it very costly and it's going to get in the way of health care.

BLITZER: And you voted for the legislation the other day to keep -- to bring the government back into operation?


BLITZER: You were among the minority of Republicans who voted for that. MURPHY: We want to get -- I wanted to get back to regular order. I want to get these hearings going, see what's going on.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens at the hearings. We'll stay in close touch with you.

Thanks, Congressman, very much for joining us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tim Murphy is the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania.

By the way, we have pre repeatedly invited the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. So far she's declined but of course she has an open invitation to join us whenever she's ready.

Coming up, new information about the two murderers who were mistakenly freed -- get this -- freed from a Florida prison. We have details of how it all went down.

Plus, a huge asteroid whizzes past earth. But instead of just letting it fly by, what if we could capture it instead?

Stand by. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Expecting to get some new information on those escaped prisoners on the run after being released from prison because of forged documents. They actually check in with the Florida jail before returning to their lives as fugitives.

You're looking live at officials getting ready to brief the news media on what happened. CNN is there. We'll have details.


BLITZER: There are new developments in the story of two escaped murderers, murderers, in Florida. CNN has now learned the two men who were released from a Florida prison by a court order with forged signatures actually went back to a local jail to register as felons, which they appear to have done successfully before returning to their lives on the run.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us now live from Orlando.

What is going on, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the sheriff, Jerry Demmings, here in Orange County holding a news briefing right now. He is saying that they do believe from information that they have that both of the men are still in the -- in this area, in the Orlando area. They say billboards have gone up with their pictures on them and that a $5,000 reward has been issued for information leading to their captures. And as you would expect, the victims' families are concerned.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Nine years old. He was just 9 when Roscoe Pugh III saw his father gunned down during a home invasion robbery.

ROSCOE PUGH III, VICTIM'S SON: Our lives would be totally different. I said that since I was 9 years old, since I was 9 years old, I said my life would have been different if I wouldn't have saw it. I saw it.

ZARRELLA: Now 15 years later Roscoe is reliving the nightmare.

On September 27th, this man, Joseph Jenkins, serving life for the murder of Roscoe's dad, was mistakenly released from a prison in Franklin County in the Florida panhandle. For Roscoe's mom, it's impossible to comprehend.

CRYSTAL PUGH, VICTIM'S WIFE: It seemed like my whole world came down on me. I thought I would not have to see them ever again in life because they had life sentence, plus 100 years.

ZARRELLA: If one convicted murderer set free by accident isn't enough, there's more. A week and a half after Jenkins went free, so did Charles Walker, convicted of second-degree murder in a different case. And get this. Walker walked out of the same Florida prison.

How is that possible? Forged documents ordered the releases, and on them, the forged signature of Orange County judge, Belvin Perry.


ZARRELLA: Because he's a high-profile judge, Perry says he sees how it's possible no one would question it. And he's not entirely surprised.

PERRY: People, particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenuous ways to beat the system. They have nothing but time on their hands.

ZARRELLA: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was only notified of the mistake a couple of days ago. Corrections officials say they followed department policy and procedures.

MISTY CASH, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION SPOKESWOMAN: Those inmates were released based on those court orders that we received. The orders were later determined to be fraudulent.

ZARRELLA: It's a snafu that has residents of the area and the Pugh family living in fear.

C. PUGH: And now to have to know that he's free on the streets is frightening, is terrifying.


ZARRELLA: So how did law enforcement find out that these guys were on the lose? Well, they found out from the mother of one of the victims. That's right. The mother of one of the victims. She got a letter from the State Department of Corrections telling her that her son's killer had been released. She went to the U.S. attorney's office to tell them what had happened, that she got this letter. And here what she says they told her.


EVANGELINA KEARSE, SON KILLED BY CHARLIE WALKER: He said, I did not sign an order of his release. He said somebody had been forging names. And when he said that I almost went into shock.


ZARRELLA: Now the state attorney's office then passed the information on to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Department of Corrections, which got the ball rolling, but that wasn't until the 15th of October, Wolf, and of course, the sheriff continuing his news conference behind us there.

And again, showing pictures of the two men and those pictures that he has been showing were the ones that were taken when they showed up here within days of their release to do that voluntary registration. So obviously trying to keep to the letter of the law so that no suspicion would be raised about their whereabouts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You would think, though, that if someone is convicted of murder gets life plus 100 years, someone would have said, are you sure the judge made the right decision? They would have checked and double-checked that kind of decision. What a blunder. What an awful mistake.


BLITZER: It raises questions about what's going on over there and has this happened before, can it happen again.

ZARRELLA: Exactly.

BLITZER: Yes. It's shocking. Shocking story.

ZARRELLA: Exactly. And that's the big question.


ZARRELLA: That's the big question.

BLITZER: They knew he was serving life plus 100 years for murder and they let him go for whatever reason. It's just a shocking story.

All right, John, thank you very much.

Let's get some of the other top stories that are coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. Firefighters in Los Angeles are battling a fire in a 25-story apartment building.

Our affiliate KTLA reports three people have been hospitalized. Check out the video from just a little while ago. You can see black smoke pouring out of an 11th floor window. The L.A. Fire Department tells KTLA the fire is, quote, "largely contained but not fully extinguished."

Tech stocks rallied on Wall Street today as Google soared above $1,000 a share, well above Google's previous all-time high. The stock surge nearly 14 percent after reporting higher than expected earnings and revenue.

It was a big week for all major indices. The Nasdaq finished up 3 percent. The S&P hit new highs, gaining more than 2 percent for the week. The Dow added 1 percent.

Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by Taliban militants, met with Britain's Queen Elizabeth today and gave her a copy of her new memoir, "I am Malala." Take a listen.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: It's nice to meet you and it's a great honor coming here and I wanted to present you my book. And --

QUEEN ELIZABETH: That's very kind. Thank you very much indeed.

YOUSAFZAI: Thank you so much because this is not an invitation. It is an honor for me.


BLITZER: Malala, who met with President Obama at the White House last week, told the Queen she hoped they could work together to make sure all children receive an education.

And sad news coming out of Washington. The former House speaker, Tom Foley, has died. Foley was a Democrat from Washington state who spent 30 years in Congress, serving as the House speaker from 1989 to 1995. He was then appointed U.S. ambassador to Japan. Former President George H.W. Bush said Foley quote, "represented the very best in public service."

Tom Foley was 84 years old, and a very, very good man.

Coming up, imagine the power of a few thousand atomic bombs. That's what it would feel like if a large asteroid crashed into earth. We're going to tell you how scientists think that could actually -- they could actually stop that from happening.

And surprising new revelations from the former vice president, Dick Cheney. It turns out his heart problems were so serious he actually wrote a letter of resignation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM, why we might be spending $18 billion, yes, billion, to capture an asteroid. This after a budget battle that shut down the U.S. government.

Tom Foreman is standing by with that story. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There are now new reports of a huge and very dangerous asteroid zipping close to earth. There are concerns it could strike our planet sometimes in the next 20 years with a force so powerful it would feel like a couple of thousand atomic bombs. So does NASA have a plan to deal with it?

Tom Foreman is joining us in our virtual studio to break it all down for us.

Tom, explain.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the idea is let's go capture an asteroid and see what's involved in that. They've already identified several candidate asteroids out here in the cosmos, and no matter which one they decide on, it will begin like this. A very powerful rocket will launch what they call the asteroid redirect vehicle. This is a robotic spacecraft that will be driven far off into space by the most powerful solar propulsion system that we have ever seen on this earth.

It will be an amazing accomplishment. No, we won't go past the stars, this just gives you a sense of movement, but we will go many, many hundreds of thousands of miles looking for a very small target, because the type of asteroid we're looking for will really only be about this big, about as big as two or three large pickup trucks, although it will weigh as much as two freight train engines, and it will be rotating.

That is a problem. It's because the sun heats it on one side and not on the other, and it starts rotating. All the asteroids do this. We have to stop that before we can capture it and bring it back.

So what happens? Well, let me scale it down so you get a sense of it here. When the asteroid redirects vehicle approaches, it will deploy this very high-tech space bag. And then over a period of hours, slowly envelope this asteroid, and then squeeze down with that bag until all the rotation is stopped. This is one theory of how this could be done. Then the whole shebang would come flying back toward earth and toward the moon more importantly where the redirect vehicle and the enclosed asteroid would go into an orbit about 40,000 miles up above the lunar surface where astronauts could then visit this asteroid and study it.

The whole trip, Wolf, from the earth to the cosmos and back to the moon could take several years. Not sure how many. Maybe four, maybe six, maybe nine, but they're trying to have it ready for astronauts by sometime around 2021. BLITZER: That's not too far down the road. There are some estimates, though, Tom, it could cost about $18 billion, with a B, billion dollars. So that's a lot of money out there, isn't it?

FOREMAN: That is a lot of money, and yet scientists say look, we've learned a whole lot more about deep space exploration, we've learned a whole lot more about how to control asteroids and we've learned a whole lot more about the minerals that might out -- be out there in space. Bottom line is they say, yes, exploration costs money, but that's why you explore because you never know what you will find -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much. A fascinating report.

Coming up, Dick Cheney reveals some stunning news about his time as vice president. His heart problems were so serious, he actually wrote a letter of resignation.


BLITZER: We're learning about even more problems with the Obamacare Web site. It's not just the people applying for it but those on the receiving end as well.

Stand by. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's one thing when airlines lose or damage your luggage, it's another when it arrived in the carousel and find "I am gay" sprawled on your suitcase.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suitcases come in all colors, but have you ever seen one come out, "I am gay"? That's what an Australian blogger says he found written on his bag when he claimed it as Brisbane's airport. That old luggage commercial pretty much sums it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When your suitcase is out of your hands, it's out of your hands.

MOOS: Instead of some gorilla of a baggage handler beating up bags, someone used airline stickers to spell out "I am gay." The self-described straight blogger tweeted out the photo, then wrote about it. He said he was rushing for a connecting flight, so he dragged the bag through the terminal.

"My luggage was a scarlet letter. I got to walk in the shoes of a gay person in a public place. For no good reason I had had a slur marked over my luggage. I was degraded. I was shamed, I was humiliated." (On camera): Some gay people are saying, "I am gay" isn't a slur, it's not degrading, it's not shaming. On the other hand other gay people are saying it was intended to offend, that the suitcase owner should be applauded for taking what was a random act of cruelty and turning it into a teachable moments.

(Voice-over): The airline, Jetstar, apologized and said it's investigating. Others are merely joking. For instance the Gawker Poster wrote, "That's not a gay suitcase. This is a gay suitcase, with Barbara Streisand all over it." Others proclaimed their bags bisexual. "I have a carry-on bag with wheels on the bottom and backpack straps. It goes both ways."

What is it about airports anyway? Remember when Ellen came out in the departure lounge?

ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST/ACTRESS: I'm so afraid to tell people. I mean, I just -- Susan, I'm gay.

MOOS: That luggage carousels, we're always dying for our suitcases to come out first. But when this one came out, it didn't even get a hug.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Happening now, a growing controversy over the rollout of the Obamacare Web site. We have new information on the foreign company that built it.

Plus paying for the shutdown. New signs that Republicans may be hit where it hurts most, in their campaign war chests.

And Dick Cheney reveals a shocking step he took when he was vice president of the United States because he was so worried about his health. He's opening up to CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

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

This hour we're learning more about serious problems with the Obamacare Web site and the enrollment process.