Return to Transcripts main page


American Prisoner Pleads to Obama for Help; NTSB: No Sign of Brake Problems; Bill Clinton On Hillary's 2016 Plans

Aired December 3, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, breaking news, new revelations. Investigators have just announced they found no signs of problems with the brakes in the deadly train derailment. CNN has learned what the engineer said about his state of mind only seconds before the accident. Could it have played a role?

Candid Clinton -- the former president talking to CNN about the next race for the White House.

Will it pit Hillary Clinton against Joe Biden?

Red kettle robbery -- heartless thieves steal Christmas from needy families, swiping thousands of dollars from the Salvation Army. But how did they do it?

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

All that coming up. But we begin with an American held captive in Cuba since 2009, now begging President Obama to personally intervene. Sixty-four-year-old Alan Gross says his country, quote, "abandoned him," after he was imprisoned for bringing communications equipment to Jewish groups in Cuba.

Joining us now is our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, with the latest -- Jill, what are you learning?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, well, Alan Gross says that he is in a small cell with two other inmates. He gets about an hour a day outside in a very small courtyard. And he says other than a few phone calls and visits, he is completely isolated from the outside world.



DOUGHERTY (voice-over): At the gates of the White House, the wife of Alan Gross pleads for the president to help her husband.

JUDY GROSS, WIFE OF ALAN GROSS: Please, Mr. President, don't leave Alan to die in Cuba.

DOUGHERTY: Today marks the fourth anniversary of Alan Gross' imprisonment in Cuba. Arrested while working as a contractor for the U.S. government, bringing Internet connectivity to Cuba's Jewish community. He was accused of trying to subvert the Cuban revolution and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Gross's family just released a letter from the 64-year-old to President Barack Obama, begging the president to personally intervene. "With the utmost respect, Mr. President, I fear that my government, the very government I was serving when I began this nightmare, has abandoned me," the letter reads.

Gross's wife says his life is in danger, that he's lost more than 100 pounds in prison.

One year ago, Gross spoke to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a phone interview.


BLITZER: What the Cuban government would want in exchange for releasing you?

ALAN GROSS, PRISONER: Yes. I think they want something that's completely unrealistic. I think they want -- since I'm not really a prisoner, I'm a hostage -- I think that they took me with the idea of trading me.


DOUGHERTY: Secretary of State Kerry says the Obama administration still is trying to secure Gross's release.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are currently engaged in some discussions regarding that which I'm not at liberty to go into in any kind of detail. But the bottom line is that we have raised these issues.

DOUGHERTY: Former president Bill Clinton tells CNN Gross's imprisonment is halting improvement in relations with Cuba.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't expect us to do much more now unless there's some resolution of some of these human rights issues.


DOUGHERTY: Now the State Department says that U.S. officials visit Alan Gross monthly. They say the last visit was November 27th. The next one that they're asking for is December 26th. And they insist that he remains a top priority and they are working it diplomatically -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty with that background.

Thanks, Jill, very much.

Joining us now is Judy Gross, the wife of Alan Gross.

Judy, thanks very much for coming in. JUDY GROSS: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Four years.

How emotional is this for you, four years, your husband being held in Cuba?

GROSS: It's emotional. It's very, uh, it causes me a lot of anger, I have to say right now. I'm angry at the U.S. Government. I'm angry at the Cuban government, totally frustrated for this lack of action that Alan is still in the same situation he was for four...

BLITZER: I understand...

GROSS: -- four years...

BLITZER: -- your anger at the Cubans, but why are you angry at the U.S. Government?

You just heard John Kerry, the secretary of State, say they're doing whatever they can to get your husband out of there?

GROSS: This is something that I've heard for four years. It hasn't changed. I don't know what that means, doing something. We have not been told what they're doing. So at this point, we feel that we have to step it up a notch. And we are asking President Obama to get personally involved in the situation and do what needs to be done to get him out.

BLITZER: The Cubans have made it clear to me, I'm sure to you and to others, they want Cubans who are being held here in the United States, convicted of crimes, to be released, and there would be a sort of trade. Your husband goes back to the United States, they go back to Cuba.

Is that what -- is that's what -- is that what's holding up this freedom for Alan Gross?

GROSS: Well, you know, I have never heard the Cubans actually say that. I don't know if they've actually come out and said we want the Cubans for in exchange for Alan Gross.

I met with the Cuban foreign minister the last time I was in Cuba, with other officials. And what they have said is they have been asking over and over and over again for the administration to send an envoy, to sit down with them, to start talking about these issues and there's been no response...

BLITZER: Because...

GROSS: -- from the government.

BLITZER: -- the -- when you say an envoy, the U.S. Does have a diplomatic interest section in Havana, so there are U.S. Officials there who are working on behalf of your husband. GROSS: They're not considered envoys, though. What we're talking about is somebody who could really go in and start negotiations with the Cubans.

BLITZER: Well, I remember it wasn't that long ago, Bill Richardson, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. He went to Cuba hoping to bring Alan Gross out of Cuba with him. They wouldn't even let him see Alan Gross.

GROSS: That's right. That's right. And he -- they got very upset with some of the words he used when he spoke. And so that was an excuse for him not to visit Alan.

BLITZER: So let's be precise.

What would you like President Obama to do?

GROSS: I think you'd have to ask him what it takes. I want Obama to take Alan seriously, to take the situation seriously. He's the leader of the nation. He's the one who can go to the State Department and go to the Justice Department, whatever department is involved, and say, let's make this work. He could do it tomorrow if he -- if he wanted to.

BLITZER: But they all have issued statements that they would like Alan Gross freed, they're doing what they can, but they're not about to release those four Cuban prisoners in the United States, if, in fact, that is the Cuban demand.

GROSS: We don't know if that's the Cuban demand and as far as I'm concerned -- and excuse me for sounding angry -- but all of those statements have nothing behind them.

BLITZER: Now, the Cubans have accused your husband of what?

They say he came in and surreptitiously was distributing illegal communications equipment to the Jewish community in Havana?

GROSS: His charges were interfering with the sovereignty of the government. You can take that whatever way you mean it. Raoul has...

BLITZER: Raul Castro?

GROSS: -- Castro, sorry -- has said in public that he knows Alan was not a spy. So Alan is a hostage.

BLITZER: How often do you go there to see Alan?

GROSS: I saw him last in June.

BLITZER: In June of this year?

GROSS: Yes. And I hope to go again this winter.

BLITZER: And when -- and you meet with Cuban officials when you're there, as well? GROSS: They're very cordial about meetings.

BLITZER: And what do they say to you?

What do they say it will take to get Alan free?

GROSS: They don't. They just say we want to talk with your government and this has been the mantra over and over and over again, that they want to talk with our government.

BLITZER: Because there's not going to be an improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations as long as Alan Gross is being held captive.

GROSS: Well, that's -- that's what I hear.

But how can you improve any situation without sitting down and talking?

It just doesn't work that way.

BLITZER: So what's your final thought on this fourth anniversary of your husband's imprisonment?

GROSS: My final thought is that he stays healthy. He's not really that healthy. That he can hold onto hope. He's almost hopeless at this point. That he doesn't suffer. Those are primarily the most important things.

And I hope that President Obama will make this his personal responsibility, to get on this case and get Alan free.

BLITZER: Well, we hope he is free. We hope he's back here with you very, very soon.

Judy Gross, thanks very much for coming in.

GROSS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck.

Up next, the breaking news we've been following -- what investigators have learned about that deadly New York train derailment and what the engineer has revealed about his state of mind. A briefing has just concluded.

Our own Nic Robertson is standing by with the latest.

And will she or won't she -- CNN asks Bill Clinton whether his wife will run for president again in 2016.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Federal investigators have just revealed that they found no indication of problems with the brakes on that Metro North train that derailed in New York City, killing four people and injuring dozens. They say they're continuing to interview the engineer this afternoon and that he and the rest of the crew tested negative for alcohol use.

But one compelling possible clue has emerged. Two senior New York law enforcement sources telling CNN the engineer told investigators at the crash scene that he was, quote, "in a daze." That's a quote, "in a daze," just before the disaster.

CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us now from Yonkers, New York, outside of New York City.

He was at that NTSB briefing.

So what else did we learn -- Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we learned that the NTSB has now looked at the signaling. They say that they found no anomalies in the signaling.

But if we remember, the engineer was quoted as saying, right after the accident, that he had applied the brakes, nothing happened.

The NTSB say they've had an examination of the brakes and they feel that the results have come back showing that there were no problems with those brakes. This is what they said.


EARL WEENER, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: We've determined that the Metro North mechanical department performed a proper brake test prior to the accident train leaving the station and there were no anomalies noted. Based on these data, there's no indication that the brake systems were not functioning properly.


ROBERTSON: Well, the other thing that we learned from the NTSB is through their discussion with the engineer, William Rockefeller. They say that he was working a normal shift, that he was on the second day of a five day shift; each shift lasts nine hours, that he runs this route on the track two times a day. He's been working this same route since the middle of November, that he's been a driver for, in fact, ten years now.

And they say that as far as they're aware, he would have had adequate time between his shift the previous day and when he showed up for work four minutes past 5:00 on Sunday morning before driving the train away another 40 minutes later at 5:54 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They also say at the briefing that they have not yet completed the investigation into whether or not there was any evidence of drug use and they haven't completed the investigation whether he was using his cell phone texting or talking in the seconds leading up to that investigation. They're still looking into those two aspects, right?

ROBERTSON: They are. They say that alcohol was not an issue, but they also say that they don't have the results back from the toxicology tests to determine whether drug use was involved with the engineer or any members of the crew. That's still something under examination here at the moment.

They have now begun more details analysis of the train, itself, but a lot of attention does now seem to be focused on the engineer, William Rockefeller, to try to determine the explanation for what he's described now as being in a daze and not knowing what happened.

A lot of attention during this NTSB press conference focused on trying to discover if the engineer, there was a specific reason why he would have gone into a daze, and it did become clear that the last station that he'd stopped at was 14 miles before that curb, perhaps, as much as 15 to 20 minutes prior to the incident taking place, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic, thanks very much. Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with Peter Goelz. He's the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. Peter, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: All right. So, let's not forget this train was going, what, 82 miles an hour around this dangerous curve and the speed limit was really 30 miles an hour. And yesterday, Earl Weener from the NTSB told me that it had actually accelerated from 60, to 70, then 82. So, clearly, it couldn't handle that. If the brakes, if there are no anomalies with the brakes, Peter, it looks like human error. Is there any other possible cause out there?

GOELZ: Boy, I can't think of one. Clearly, this investigation is zeroing in on human factors and on the actions of the operator. The brake systems on rail trains are robust, and they're redundant. It would have been highly unusual for them to fail. They're looking at the operator. What did he do?

And they're going to be checking into that in-depth, particularly, his sleep patterns over the last three days, any medication he's taking, whether he's suffering from sleep apnea, those kinds of things. And then, of course, as you mentioned, they're checking his cellular records and whether there's any indication that he was distracted from the use of a personal handheld device.

BLITZER: Because there is evidence that there have been other train accidents because of an engineer was distracted using a cell phone. What's taking so long, though, you know, you could go to Verizon, AT&T, check the records. It's now been, what, 48 hours more and we still don't know whether or not that cell phone was being used in those seconds leading up to the accident? Why does it take so long?

GOELZ: Well, I think there's two things going on. One is the NTSB is just naturally methodical. Secondly, there very likely is a parallel criminal investigation taking place. My guess is the Bronx prosecutor is looking at this very carefully.

BLITZER: Because, if, in fact, if he was distracted, we don't know if he was, obviously if he was distracted by using a cell phone, that would be a criminal activity? That would be a crime? Is that what you're saying?

GOELZ: There very well could be criminal charges growing out of this. If you were using your cell phone, if you were using a personal device, you were not tending to business, that very well could be criminal charges.

BLITZER: And if he was simply tired, he did not get a good night's sleep the night before and he says, according to our sources, he was in, quote, "a daze." What does that say to you?

GOELZ: Well, fatigue is an issue that the NTSB is focusing on in all modes of transportation. Whether it's bus drivers, airplane pilots, I mean, it is a tough issue. And we need to figure out the best way to combat fatigue, particularly, in those hours from about 3:00 a.m. to about 6:00 a.m. And this, you know, operator was just outside the segment, but he showed up for work at 5:05 or 5:04. He probably left his house just after 4:00.

You know, there was a -- he was right in the center of what scientists call the real danger zone for fatigue.

BLITZER: You heard Earl Weener, the NTSB investigator, say at the briefing that as far as the technology required to make sure these kinds of accidents don't occur, that technology is available to prevent derailments, prevent head on crashes, if you will, but for some reason, the technology is not on a popular route like this. Why is that? Is it simply a matter of money?

GOELZ: Well, it is partly a matter of money. You know, these commuter lines are borderline profitable operations if that. Many of them are subsidized. But it's awfully complex, positive train control. In Europe, you have monopolies that are on the rail lines. So, you have one operator, one type of equipment. On the Hudson Valley Line, you have Amtrak, you have Metro North, you have CSX.

At least three different operators, different types of equipment. And then most of all, Wolf, it takes radio band to put positive train control in place. And the FCC has put a road block up on implementing it. Since last May, they have not moved forward on approving applications for upwards of 20,000 new towers necessary for positive train control. It's a real problem.

BLITZER: Peter Goelz is the former managing director of the NTSB. Peter, thanks for your help.

GOELZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM, Joe Biden versus Hillary Clinton. The former president Bill Clinton talks about a potential White House rivalry that would pit his wife against his old friend and ally.

Plus, details of a shameful robbery. Real life grinches targeting the Salvation Army, stealing Christmas from needy families.




BOEHNER: Look at that. Good job.


BLITZER (voice-over): A really beautiful sight here in Washington. John Boehner, the speaker of the House, orchestrating the lighting of the capitol Christmas tree. An annual event here in the nation's capital. Isn't that nice? Beautiful Christmas tree with the capitol dome right behind it.


BLITZER (on-camera): Former President Bill Clinton speaking out about a possible White House Run by his wife and a possible rivalry with the vice president, Joe Biden, should he decide to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Again, let's talk about that and more with our CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political commentators Paul Begala and Reihan Salam.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. I'm going to play the clip, our CNN Espanol anchor, Juan Carlos Lopez, had a sit-down one-on-one with Bill Clinton today up in New York and he had this exchange.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Mrs. Clinton running for president?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. And I think, and she believes, that the country should spend at least another year working very hard on the problems we have. We have very serious challenges in America, and we have responsibilities around the world. I think it's a big mistake this, you know, constant four-year peripatetic campaign. It's not good for America. We need to deal with the business we have before us.


BLITZER: You buy that, Paul? You worked with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton for a long time. When he says "I don't know" whether she's going to run for the democratic presidential nomination, you buy that?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I'm quite sure she hasn't made up her mind nor should she. The reason is same (ph). Bill Clinton is both a pretty good policy wonk and a pretty good politician. And the truth is both --


(LAUGHTER) BEGALA: And a good spokesman. Both the politics and policy argue for just letting that go for a while, setting that aside. This is not a time for political ambition. Let's just try to get our problems solved.

BLITZER: Reihan, do you buy it?

REIHAN SALAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm a little skeptical. Look at it this way. Let's say you're not Hillary Clinton, you're a Democrat who wants to be taken seriously in the next presidential race. You need to get started early, because Hillary Clinton has as much name recognition as you could possibly get. She has much of a head start as you could possibly have.

So, if you're someone else who wants to run an insurgent campaign, you need that extra time. So, it makes a lot of sense for Hillary Clinton and for Bill Clinton, as you know, her close surrogate to say, woh, slow down there, other guys. You know, don't get in the middle of this stuff. Let's not get political because that actually just entrenches Hillary Clinton's huge advantage.

BORGER: Well, here's where Bill Clinton is so smart, because what he said is, let's take another year and just kind of let things get done in the Congress, because it is in his wife's interest, I would argue, for President Obama to get some stuff done. Things like immigration reform, for example, maybe some foreign policy successes that she can then say, you know, we started the building blocks toward this, whether it's Iran, for example.

So, you know, and then he sort of said, OK, give us a year and then I'll be able to tell you a little bit more, but let the president finish his work first.

BLITZER: My own sense is she will run. She would still like to be president of The United States. The first woman president of the United States if her health is good. Remember, she had a blood clot in her brain not that long ago. If her health is good, she's got the strength and the stamina, Paul, I believe she will run.

BEGALA: I saw her last week, and I've never seen her look better. Really, she looks terrific. She's been working out. I'm not worried about her health. I'm just, I am, if I can say in Spanish, ohala (ph), she will run, right? We hope and we pray.

BLITZER: You hope she runs.

BEGALA: I hope and pray.

BLITZER: All right. Here's the former president, Gloria, listen to this, Reihan, listen to this as well. This is the former president, another exchange with Juan Carlos, this time, on Joe Biden.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of president do you think Vice President Joe Biden would make if he runs? And if he wins? CLINTON: Well, if he runs and he's a nominee, I'll try to help him win. I think the world of him.


BLITZER: All right, Gloria, if he runs, if Hillary runs, will Biden run?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I do not believe Joe Biden would run against Hillary Clinton. I still believe that to be the case. And as we're parsing Bill Clinton's words, as we've done in the past, when he said, if Biden runs, and if he's the nominee, I will support him. Very careful about that, obviously. He would support his wife.

But, you know, I do think there is a relationship and a real relationship between Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and between Joe Biden and bill Clinton. I believe that to be the truth. I believe they like each other.

BLITZER: I believe they do, too. You do, too, as well.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First, the president, then- senator Biden, bond on issues of crime and violence against women where Joe Biden was a leader in the Senate when Bill Clinton was president. And then now, of course, Biden being the vice president, Hillary being the secretary of state working hand in hand on foreign policy, they're very close.

BLITZER: But Reihan, they're the two Democratic front-runners. Who would the Republicans fear more in a general election?

REIHAN SALAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Hillary Clinton is ultimately the more formidable Democratic nominee. Joe Biden is widely seen as a Democrat who does well with white working class voters. That's one reason why he was seen as a big asset to the Obama ticket. So, that's one reason why he might, you know, prove relatively successful.

But ultimately Hillary Clinton is someone to the surprise of some Republicans who has a lot of appeal with women, particularly moderate income and low-income women including some women who are Republicans. So, Hillary Clinton has surprising crossover appeal. And I'm not sure that Joe Biden has the same crossover appeal particularly because he's been, frankly, so gaffe prone.

BLITZER: Juan Carlos also asked the former president about comments he made saying that the current president, President Obama, should honor his commitment to make sure if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. There seemed to be a little tension at the time. This is how he explained what he said.


CLINTON: I said nothing about this. Not one word until the president, himself, spoke. I don't think you can find anybody in America who's worked harder for his re-election or supported this bill or went out of his way to explain the bill to the American people more than I did.


BLITZER: We get a quick thought from all three of you -- Paul.

BEGALA: He's right, right? Good point. I actually think President Obama should have never made that pledge. But I think President Clinton is saying something different saying just what President Obama said.

BORGER: Yes. I think what President Clinton is saying is I didn't do anything to hurt President Obama. Let me make this very clear to you that I only said that after the president said it and so I didn't step on anything the White House was trying to do.

BLITZER: Reihan?

SALAM: I definitely think that President Clinton's remarks harmed the White House and I think that's why they scrambled all the more.

BORGER: Right.

SALAM: To backtrack from the pledge.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much. Good discussion, all three of you.

When we come back, an estimate $10,000 in holiday donations stolen from the Salvation Army right here in Washington, D.C., and the whole thing is caught on tape.

Plus, Pope Francis once a bouncer at a bar? The riveting details he has revealed about his past. That's just ahead.


BLITZER: Just days before it's set to expire, the house voted to approve a ten-year extension of the law requiring all guns be detectable by metal screening machines. There are growing concerns about plastic guns made with 3-D machines that raise new questions about the bill.

Let's bring in chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash with details.

What is going on there?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, what is hard to believe, it's almost been one year now since the deadly shooting spree in Newtown, Connecticut. And the burst of activity for new legislation to expand background checks fizzled in the House. But today the House did vote to extend a law making sure metal detectors we go through at airports and courthouses and sporting events, actually work. But the technology has moved so much, the ban might not be effective.


BASH (voice-over): The gun fired here was not purchased. It was print. Yes, printed from a 3-D printer. It is new technology that is legal and could be for a while. Thanks to a loophole in an expiring 25-year-old gun law which today the House voted to extend.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: A loophole can be closed down the line. That is a preferred scenario to no law at all.

BASH (voice-over): At issue, a ban on guns that cannot be detected by metal screening machines like this plastic gun. The last time it passed, Congress intentionally wrote the law to expire after ten years, in order to update it as technology evolved. Then a gun you can print at home was considered science fiction, but now up against a deadline, the ban will lapse this Monday, lawmakers in both parties punted on making any updates.

(on camera): The legislation that the house passed doesn't address the fact that somebody could sit in their house and print out a 3-D gun.

JON LOWY, BRADY CARTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: Exactly. This law was enacted 25 years ago, and technology has advanced to the point where people can make their own plastic guns and this law does not prohibit that.

BASH (voice-over): Some Democrats in the Senate say they'll try to close loopholes and expand the ban on undetectable firearms. But they have powerful, familiar opposition, the National Rifle Association which said in a statement, "the NRA strongly opposes any expansion of the undetectable firearms act including applying the UFA to magazines, gun parts, or the development of new technologies." Lots of lawmakers, mostly Republicans, agree with the NRA.

REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: We need to make certain that the American people are safe. At the same time, we need to respect and appreciate that the second amendment to the constitution is sacrosanct.

BASH (voice-over): Given congressional deadlock on gun legislation, even after last year's Sandy Hook massacre, gun control advocates are thankful Congress is at least on a path to extending the current ban on undetectable arms.

LOWY: Allowing people to slip through metal detectors with guns to get onto airplanes is not a position that I don't think politicians can take particularly after 9/11.


BASH: Now, Senate Democrats will make an attempt next week to close the loopholes and ban new 3-D plastic gun and other weapons that allow people to take metal out and evade metal detectors. But privately Democrats admit that's not going to pass the Senate and they are likely to extend a simple extension of the current law, loopholes and all. BLITZER: But aren't a lot of people concerned terrorists could get their hands on these plastic guns that go through metal detectors and hijack a plane or whatever?

BASH: Absolutely. There's no question. A lot of people are concerned. But as you just saw, there is a very powerful lobby against expanding and extending this ban including new technologies. And so, that's what the people, in a bipartisan way who want to extend it, are up against.

BLITZER: Yes. What a story. All right, thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Let's get to other stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM we are monitoring right now.

Vice president Joe Biden, he's in Japan where he assured leaders he'll talk to China about ongoing air zone dispute between the two countries. China is aggressively staking claims to a large (INAUDIBLE) of contested air space raising concerns that a minor midair incident could spiral into a much larger global conflict.

Pope Francis is certainly living up to his reputation as the Pope of the people. He's now revealed he once worked as a nightclub bouncer in his home country of Argentina, as well as swept floors and ran tests at a chemical laboratory. Unfortunately, he didn't go into details on either job or how it influenced his work as pontiff.

A federal immigration judge is allowing President Obama's uncle to remain in the United States. 69-year-old Onyago Omar Obama has lived in the United States for 50 years even though his student visa expired back in 1970. And he has been ordered deported multiple times. The judge says Omar Obama pays his taxes and meets the requirements for a green card.

During the hearing, Omar Obama testified, and I'm quoting him now, "I do have a nephew, he's the president of the United States."

When we come back, an estimated $10,000 in holiday donations allegedly stolen from the Salvation Army right here in the nation's capital, and the whole thing was caught on tape. You're going to find out how it happened.

And this year, Santa could be delivering your Christmas gifts with fighter jets on his tail. We have details of what the U.S. military is now planning.


BLITZER: This time of year, you'd certainly expect to see those red holiday kettles outside your nearest grocery store but not strewn across the floor emptied of all their contents. That was the scene right here in Washington, D.C. where suspects were caught on surveillance video breaking into a Salvation Army facility, and allegedly getting away with an estimated $10,000.

Our Brian Todd is joining us now live from a collection site here in the nation's capital with the very latest.

What happened here, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that happened not far from where we're standing. You know, this is the iconic image, the bell ringers, the red kettle, the Salvation Army counts on this donations. But this American icon just took a major hit at a time of year when it can least afford it.


TODD (voice-over): Surveillance video shows them moving in, one hooded, one masked. They move around inside for several minutes. One's carrying bolt cutters. They're robbing from an American icon. The Salvation Army.

MAJ. LEWIS RECKLINE, CAPITAL AREA COMMANDER, SALVATION ARMY: Busted out this glass here and ransacked the office.

TODD: Lewis Reckline, commander of the National Capital Area Salvation Army branch, shows where the two suspects forced open several red kettles.

RECKLINE: They had to pry them open.

TODD: It happened early Sunday morning at the Salvation Army office in southeast Washington, D.C.

RECKLINE: They got into the safe, and we had some funds from the Wednesday and Friday. So it was three days' worth of kettle income that was here.

TODD (on camera): How much money?

RECKLINE: We're estimating about $10,000.

TODD (on camera): A big loss for the Salvation Army during the holiday season and the millions it tries to help.

RECKLINE: A lot of these people unfortunately for them we truly are their Christmas. And so what they received from the Salvation Army in some respects is all their children are going to get when they come down the stairs on Christmas morning know that Santa Claus has been there.


TODD (voice-over): That's was the case for volunteer bell ringer Damien Showell who says the Salvation Army helped his kids get presents last year.

DAMIEN SHOWELL, SALVATION ARMY VOLUNTEER: When I lost my job, went to Salvation Army for a little help and I was able to get it. So I'm real destroyed about what they did to the kids for their Christmas.

TODD: Donors nearby equally disgusted. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's someone must have been very desperate to have to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a shame basically that here's people giving money out to help a worthy cause and you have people who decide to make sort of an economic gain for themselves by stealing.

TODD: Stealing from an organization that provides more than a million toys for children during the holidays, provides meals, clothes, shelter for over 30 million people a year. But with its collection methods, is the Salvation Army more susceptible to theft than other charities?

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: How much money are in those kettles? Probably more than people think. And that creates a vulnerability for them. And that's why securing the money is so important.


TODD: Now the Salvation Army is trying to streamline and better secure its donations process. It's moving to Twitter, Facebook and cell phone text message donation programs. And in some cities at least you're going to be able to take your card and swipe it to donate, but these card readers have not made their way to Washington yet.

Major Reckline says they're still not going to get completely away from people just taking cold, hard cash and putting it in these buckets. They're not going to get away from that for a long time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, with the story, thanks very, very much.

Let's go over to the Pentagon now where there's some controversy that is brewing over Santa's Annual Christmas Even Journey Around the World which this say the U.S. Military says will be accompanied by fighter jets.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us with the details.

Barbara, explain.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it turns out that, you know, about 20 million people a year log onto this military Web site or even call the North American Aerospace Defense Command starting on Christmas Eve to track Santa's movements around the world, just to make sure he gets to everybody.

We've had a sneak peek at one of Santa's test flights and I want you to take a look at it. It couldn't be more militarized this year because when you look at this simulation video of Santa's test flight, what do you see? He's got a couple of fighters on his tail.

Santa has full fighter and radar escort. Now, you know, it looks very -- very innocuous but some child advocacy groups are a little concerned about this. They say the militarization of this long- standing tradition may have gone just a little bit too far. We have more of the sneak peek of Santa's test flight with U.S. Military. I want to you have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be a test flight for Santa Claus, call sign Big Red One. We will now conduct our cons check.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, intel can't confirm that Jack Frost and the Abominable Snowman will not be a threat during the test flight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Cyber. Anti-cringe fire all is up and we will continue to monitor for threats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santa is most definitely not a threat.


STARR: So the military told us that they did make it a little more realistic, a little more of a military operation this year. They wanted people to see what they really do. But again, some advocacy groups say, look, this is putting too much of a military spin on a holiday tradition and that Santa Claus really doesn't belong just to the U.S. military but he belongs to children around the world who celebrate Christmas. No word if Santa's going to use drones this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Delivers some of those gifts with drones. All right. thanks very much, Barbara, for that report.

Just ahead, we have new details about the engineer of that New York commuter train that hurdled off the tracks killing four people. He says he was, quote, "dazed." The question is why.

And there's new video coming into CNN of the violent crash that killed the actor Paul Walker.


BLITZER: Amazon's wild idea of delivery by drone has inspired a slew of parodies.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No sooner had Charlie Rose expressed his wonder.


MOOS: No sooner had Amazon's delivery drone lifted off in this promotional video when the drone was attacked by mockery. STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Navigating through the parts of the American with no trees, phone lines or buildings. Then landing on your doorstep while your family cowers inside.

MOOS: Is it Amazon prime air or hot air? Will it join the flying taco and the flying cake?

(On camera): Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a publicity stunt?

(Voice-over): The taco-copter was definitely a stunt.

COLBERT: If we can achieve this, perhaps one day I can finally realize my dream of eating a burrito launched from a nuclear submarine.

MOOS: And the Domino's Pizza drone was pie in the sky. Just a marketing gimmick. A flying waitress at a London sushi restaurant is still in its testing phase. Wouldn't want that to happen to one of the high-end cakes that were supposed to be delivered by drone in China. Oh, wait, the "Shanghai Daily" reports Chinese authorities grounded the cake over safety concerns.

(On camera): And then there was the British bookseller that thought it would be a hoot. To do something with O.W.L.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: O.W.L.S. The Ornithological Waterstones Landing Service.

MOOS (voice-over): Waterstones poked fun at Amazon. Substituting owls for drones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: O.W.L.S. consists of fleet of specially trained owls.

MOOS: Just like the ones used to deliver letters to Harry Potter. There were jokes about disguising military drones as Amazon.

Hey, Saddam, do you remember ordering anything from Amazon?

(On camera): And just in case you missed your Amazon drone delivery --

(Voice-over): One joker posted a "We attempted a drone delivery notice. Your package has been destroyed along with the drone after it strayed into restricted airspace."

Amazon drones might want to avoid the town of Deer Trail, Colorado.

PHILLIP STEEL, DRAFTED DEER TRAIL DRONE-HUNTING ORDINANCE: If you don't want your drone to go down, don't fly it in town.

MOOS: An opponent of drones is trying to get the town to issue drone hunting licenses. And we'll never forget the Dutch artist whose beloved cat died. He had it taxidermied and turned into this. What's next? A cat-copter delivering pet food?

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



BLITZER: Happening now, train crash trauma. We have new information about the engineer's state of mind leading up to the deadly derailment. Was he too tired to handle that very dangerous curve?

Plus moment of impact. We have new video that gives us the closest look yet at the crash that killed the "Fast and Furious" actor Paul Walker. The results of his autopsy could be released at any moment.