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THE SITUATION ROOM

Two Hostages Released From Clinton Campaign Office in New Hampshire; Interview With Elizabeth Edwards

Aired November 30, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, hostages released from a Hillary Clinton campaign office, but their captor still apparently holding a bomb inside. We're going to have a live report on this unfolding crisis in New Hampshire.
Plus, a leading Democrat backs away apparently from his Iraq bombshell. Does John Murtha still think the troop increase is not working? And is the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, forcing him to stick with the party line?

We'll speak with John Murtha.

And the campaign issue close to Elizabeth Edwards' heart. She's joining us to talk about her husband's healthcare agenda and whether his presidential campaign can survive Iowa.

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

But up first this hour, the breaking news out of New Hampshire. A hostage situation at Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, New Hampshire.

Senator Clinton is not there, and as far as we know, she is not in any danger. She was here in Washington, at least most of this day.

Our Mary Snow is following the unfolding hostage drama from Senator Clinton's home base in New York.

Update our viewers who may have just been tuning in, have missed a lot of this coverage throughout the afternoon, Mary, on what we know.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, within the last hour, CNN can confirm that two hostages were released from Senator Clinton's campaign headquarters in Rochester, New Hampshire. We saw video of one woman being led away by an officer. She was clearly shaken.

We also know that in the last hour -- that negotiators were able to get a cell phone into an office where a man walked in claiming to have a bomb strapped to his chest. Now, this all happened around 1:00 this afternoon. And from what witnesses have told us, that when we walked into that office, there was a woman in there with her child. She was able to get out. A witnesses says that woman went to a nearby store and dialed 911.

Now, this is a downtown area storefront, so about 20 to 30 businesses in the area. Many of them have been evacuated, and that includes the campaign headquarters for other campaigns -- Senator Obama's Senator Edwards'. Their offices say everyone is safe.

We are expecting, according to WMUR, our affiliate, we're expecting to hear from law enforcement officials within the next half hour to update us. Senator Clinton was not in New Hampshire. She was expected to be at a Democratic National Committee event around 3:00 this afternoon. She canceled that trip.

The campaign did release a statement saying that it was in constant contact with state and local authorities, acting at their direction. An adviser to Senator Clinton said no decision has been made on whether she will travel to New Hampshire, that she's taking her cues from law enforcement and right now sitting tight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is about 40 miles or so north of Manchester in New Hampshire, a small town of around 30,000 people, but clearly, clearly a dramatic situation with potentially, potentially a bad situation for a lot of people involved.

All right. Stand by, Mary.

I want to go to our Anderson Cooper. He's on the scene for us. He's already in Rochester, New Hampshire, where this drama is unfolding. Anderson is joining us on the phone.

Set the scene for us, Anderson. What are you seeing?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm about a block and a half or two blocks away from the office. Police have cordoned off the area. Originally they had a relatively tight cordon around the street. They've now enlarged that to encompass several blocks.

They're entirely closed off by police lines. There's sort of a media staging area that's been set up, but there are numerous police personnel, law enforcement personnel here.

We see highway patrol, state troopers, fire department personnel as well. We've been told that there is obviously a bomb squad on the scene as well.

We're anticipating some kind of a press conference from -- from Rochester police. That has not occurred.

As you know though, Wolf, and have reported already, WMUR is reporting, two hostages have so far been released. We have not been able to independently confirm that on the scene here, though, but it's obviously a very tense scene. Police have a pretty good cordon around the entire area, but no one knows really the situation of what is happening inside that office right now.

BLITZER: And it looks like S.W.A.T. teams are all over the place. I assume around there they're standing by for something, who knows what.

All right, Anderson, stand by. I want to get some more now on this situation. Joining us now on the phone also is Dan Coulson. He's a former commander of the FBI's hostage rescue team. He's joining us from Ft. Worth.

What do you make of this, Dan? It looks like the hostages themselves have been released, but he's still inside and surrounded obviously by law enforcement.

DAN COULSON, FMR. COMMANDER, FBI HOSTAGE RESCUE TEAM: Well, obviously that's what you want. You want to get all the hostages out. Whoever the negotiators were, they did a good job in doing that.

Assume they have a man in there who still has value, and you want to make sure that you can try to talk him out. There's a lot of things, Wolf, though that you guys aren't seeing. And that's the investigation to try to put together what this man was doing for the last two days, to see if maybe this could be a hoax -- or it may not be.

And either way, it's certainly very helpful for local law enforcement to know that. So there's a huge investigation going on, I can promise you that. I'm sure ATF is there, I'm positive the FBI would be there, assisting local law enforcement to go out and start interviewing people and trying to put together his days' activities for the last couple of days.

BLITZER: When you say this could be a hoax, it looks like the guy, at least in the reports that we're getting, he went inside, claimed he had some sort of explosive device, and we don't know much more than that.

COULSON: That's right. And this -- this is fairly common.

I mean, sometimes it turns out to be the real thing, and sometimes it turns out to be a hoax. I've been involved in both, where an individual claimed he had a bomb and didn't, and another one where he claimed he one and he actually had one.

So it's still a very dangerous situation. And the on-scene commander, his assumption is it's a real bomb. And they'll treat it like that, no differently.

BLITZER: And the fact that it's going to be dark there pretty soon, Dan, what difference does that make in terms of dealing with this kind of a situation?

COULSON: Not really any. They'll light that place up. They'll have lights in there. If they don't, they'll have -- they'll have night vision capability.

This is going to be a conversational thing now, Wolf. There's -- some negotiator, I'm sure by now, has established a dialogue with him, and what they'll try to do is convince him that all is not lost, you want to make a statement, let's make the statement, but take that device off, and we'll let you make a statement. And that's -- whether it's the hostages or hostage-taker, you try to save everybody's life here. And it sounds like they've made some unbelievably good process in getting those hostages out. They ought to be commended for that.

BLITZER: It certainly does. All right, Dan. Stand by, because we're going to be depending on your expertise as this drama continues to unfold.

Anderson Cooper is still on the phone with us. He's about a block or so away from this Hillary Clinton campaign office in Rochester, New Hampshire.

As you look at the situation right now, that building, I assume, with the exception of the one guy who walked in claiming to have some sort of explosive device, it's empty, is that right, Anderson?

COOPER: We don't know that for sure. Two people, according to WMUR, the two people who were being held have been released. CNN has been able to confirm I believe one of those people has in fact been released, but WMUR is reporting that they have confirmation that two people have been released.

But we do not -- have not heard from the police whether the entire building is empty or not. There had been a report on WMUR that another woman and a baby had been inside the office previously, and they were the first ones let out earlier. And that woman, according to a local witness, wandered into a store, distraught, saying call 911, that someone had got into the senator's office with a bomb strapped underneath his coat.

So, again, we're still trying to collect information on the scene, waiting for this press conference that was supposed to start about 30 minutes ago, has not yet begun. We'll of course, bring that to you as soon as it happens.

BLITZER: We'll be there for that, of course. Anderson, stand by.

We're not going to go very far away from this story. We'll continue to monitor what's happening right on Main Street in Rochester, New Hampshire, a drama unfolding as we've been watching these past few hours.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty though in the meantime. He's got "The Cafferty File."

This is pretty scary business, you know, some guy walks in and claims he's got a bomb.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, and just because it's small town America doesn't mean there's a shortage in nut cases around. It sounds like that's probably what this is.

Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims, many of them armed, rallied in Khartoum today, demanding the execution of a British teacher who allowed her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad." Watch this tape.

These are protesters coming out of mosques after Friday sermons. A lot of them are carrying clubs and knives and axes, chanting things like "No tolerance!" "Execution!" And "Kill her! Kill her by firing squad!"

They swore to fight in the name of their prophet Muhammad. Meanwhile, the teacher's lawyer says she is was moved from the women's prison near Khartoum to a secret location for her safety.

Gillian Gibbons, who says she never meant to offend anyone, has been convicted of insulting Islam. The director of the school says she had asked the children to pick their favorite name for the new class mascot, a teddy bear, and the kids chose Muhammad. They're Muslim kids. Big deal. Big surprise.

These are children. It's a teddy bear. And these Muslims really needs to get over themselves.

Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation, avoiding the more serious punishment of 40 lashes. And, of course, if she had been gang-raped in Saudi Arabia, she could have gotten 200 lashes. These people are unbelievable.

British lawmakers are on their way to the Sudan where they are hoping to be able to negotiate the woman's release.

Here's the question: What does it say about the Muslim religion when someone will put a teacher to death for allowing children to name a teddy bear Muhammad?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Jack's going to be with us obviously for the rest of this SITUATION ROOM.

We're following the breaking news as well on the campaign trail. A hostage-taker still holed up at Hillary Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire. We're going to bring you the latest information as we get it.

Also coming up, I'll speak with John Edwards' wife Elizabeth about the hostage drama and whether it raises new security fears for the other presidential candidates and their staffs.

Plus, passenger and freight trains collide in Chicago. How did they wind up on the same track? It's another breaking news story we're following.

Lots of news happening right now, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Some of the coverage coming in from our affiliate in New Hampshire, WMUR in Manchester. This is Rochester, New Hampshire. There's a drama unfolding at the Hillary Clinton office there, the campaign office in Rochester, a small town of about 30,000.

Our own Anderson Cooper is on the scene as well.

For our viewers, Anderson, who are just tuning in right now, update them on what's happening right behind you in Rochester.

COOPER: Well, the situation is we're about a block and a half or two blocks from the Hillary Clinton office, which is in that direction. This entire area now has been cordoned off by police. You have state troopers, highway patrol, fire department personnel, bomb squads, as well.

A man walked into Senator Clinton's office at approximately 1:00 p.m., opened up his coat and showed what seemed to be some sort of bomb-like device. Whether it's real or not, we have no idea.

One woman and a child were let go about an hour later. She ran into a nearby store. She had been crying, according to the witness, who told WMUR, the local affiliate here.

The woman then said to call 911, a person has gone into Senator Clinton's office and says he has a bomb. WMUR is reporting that two other hostages, the last two remaining hostages, have always been released. We have not been able to independently confirm that.

We're awaiting a press conference which is supposed to take place just a couple hundred feet from where I'm standing now. Again, that has not taken place. It was supposed to occur about 30 minutes ago or so.

But police have cordoned off this entire area. As far as we know, the last we have heard, the man, the suspect with what appears to be some sort of a bomb -- again, real or not, we don't know -- is still inside Senator Clinton's office. That's the last word we have.

We don't know his situation is right now. One witness talking to WMUR described him as being a man in his 40s with salt-and-pepper hair. Beyond that, we really don't have any information about what his motives may be, what his state of mind may be.

Police have obviously been talking with him. They were able to get all of the people he was holding inside that office out. Now it is just him and the police, and we're waiting to see what happens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, we'll be in close contact with you as the developments unfold, the drama continuing there.

Anderson Cooper on the scene in Rochester, New Hampshire.

And as we've been reporting, two hostages have been freed from the Hillary Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire, but the captor inside still apparently, at least according to himself, has some sort of explosive device strapped to him.

And joining us now from Durham, North Carolina, Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Senator John Edwards, Democratic presidential candidate.

As we're speaking right now, Mrs. Edwards, there's a hostage situation unfolding in New Hampshire, and I'm sure you've been informed about what's going on, the ramifications for your husband's campaign up there as well.

What can you tell us?

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS' WIFE: Well, I have been kept informed about what's happening. And I understand that the hostages have been released, which is great news.

You know, these young people who work for these campaigns, it's not that they're interchangeable. They have their allegiances to one candidate or another. But they're young people who get involved because they want to make a difference, and I feel like even though I don't know who these particular young people are, that I know them in a sense.

And I thought so much as it was going on about how terrified they must be and their families must be. And that broke my heart. So I'm really relieved that they're released, and so is John.

Our campaign, most of the people who are working in the Rochester office -- I know just where this is, because I've been in Rochester and been to these -- been to our office, which is not very far. Most of the people who work in our Rochester office were out canvassing.

We did vacate the office, and then it was used, I understand, as a sort of a staging ground because of its proximity to the Clinton campaign. I understand the Obama campaign did the same thing, an abundance of caution, removed everyone from their office, because you don't know what provoked this particular man to do it.

But frankly, that was of less concern to me, whatever his motives are. And honestly, I'm not even interested now in what his motives are. I'm just really relieved that these young people are no longer in that situation.

BLITZER: I think all of us are relieved, because we've all seen these young people, and some not so young volunteers...

EDWARDS: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: ... working for the various presidential campaigns.

Do you think it's going to cause like a security increase? Because that would be sad if we now have to see, you know, security beefed up at the various campaign offices, not only in New Hampshire, but in Iowa and elsewhere.

EDWARDS: Well, you know, if it happened in someplace like Rochester, you know, you have to think that most all of your offices would be vulnerable. But you really depend on people being able to come in all the time.

You have new people coming in all the time -- we do -- new people coming in all the time to volunteer. If a man in his 40s with salt- and-pepper hair walked into the office, it would be our expectation he was coming in to help, and we would want to have that door open for him. So I would really hate to think that that would -- that that would change in our offices or in anyone's.

BLITZER: I agree with you completely on that, but obviously security comes first in these kinds of matters, and they'll have to take whatever precautions are necessary.

Let's talk a little bit about some of the subjects on the agenda -- healthcare. All of our viewers know, of course, that you have cancer, and we're praying for you...

EDWARDS: Thanks.

BLITZER: ... and we hope you're treated with all of the best kinds of treatments out there.

Your husband calls for universal health car, Hillary Clinton calls for universal healthcare. Their programs seem pretty similar. Are there any significant difference between John Edwards' vision for universal healthcare, as opposed to Hillary Clinton's vision for healthcare?

EDWARDS: Well, there are a couple of differences.

I think that Hillary Clinton took -- and happy to have her do it, I think she made the right decision -- a lot of the details of her healthcare plan mirror John's healthcare plan that he introduced in February. That's really fine. That doesn't bother me. There are some differences.

I think because she has taken as much money as she has from the healthcare industries, from pharmaceutical companies, and the like, she's actually the largest recipient of their money of any candidate, Democratic or Republican. It means that maybe she's going to be in a little less good place when it comes to negotiating the best possible deal with these people.

She herself said -- she said it about China, but it's sometimes hard to be tough on your banker, at the same time it's hard to be tough on your donors, too. So that's one big -- one difference.

Another difference is sort of the way they pay for it. One of the ways that Senator Clinton pays for her healthcare policy is to take money that she's saving in Medicare. All of us talk about the fact that the pharmaceutical companies won a big battle on part D of prescription drug benefit under Medicare, and when they got the U.S. government to agree not to negotiate the lowest possible price for drugs, what an outrageous section of the law. But they got what they wanted. But every Democratic candidate says they're going to undo that. The question is what do you do with the money?

John puts that money back into Medicare, tries to close the doughnut hole, and tries to increase the strength of Medicare. She takes the money and pays for universal healthcare.

So some of the differences have to do with things that seem under the radar, but they're going to make a big difference to seniors, actually. The universal healthcare will still exist, and I think pretty much her form is what John had proposed, but how they pay for it and how hard they're going to be able to fight for it are two important differences.

BLITZER: And that's an issue that the two campaigns can obviously debate, and, of course, the other Democratic presidential candidates, including Barack Obama, they have their own visions as well.

One final question, Mrs. Edwards, before I let you go.

The latest Iowa poll shows it very, very close, Obama 27 in this new ARG poll that just came out today, Clinton 25, Edwards 23. Statistically, that sounds -- looks like a three-way dead heat.

On the question though of who has campaigned the hardest in Iowa right now, in this ABC News/"Washington Post" poll that came out recently, 34 percent registered Democrats think Clinton has. Obama gets 26. Edwards has 25, although I believe your husband has spent more time in Iowa than any of these candidates, visited all the counties out there, yet he sort of comes in third when asked who has campaigned in Iowa the hardest.

How do you assess that?

EDWARDS: I think that television is the answer to that question. Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have spent millions of dollars on television in Iowa.

We have just recently gone up in Iowa on ads. We have depended, instead, on exactly what you talked about, visiting the entire state, rural parts, in addition to -- in addition to the more urban centers, small towns, visiting -- and people's livings rooms, the way traditionally people do, and that takes a lot of time.

Not as much money, but a lot of time. What that means is the Iowa voters who do get to see John, see him not necessarily on television, but get to actually ask him questions. We think in the end that that process is going to pay off for John. That that's what Iowa voters expect.

If he comes in third in Iowa, is it over for him?

EDWARDS: You know, nobody -- nobody in this race can afford to come in third, and that applies to everybody. I don't care how much money they have in the bank or how much press they're getting beforehand. If you come in third, it's a problem for you moving out of Iowa.

BLITZER: That sounds like a yes to me.

EDWARDS: It's a yes, but if I were Mrs. Obama or Mr. Clinton, I would also be giving you a yes if I were honest.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, you are honest. Elizabeth Edwards, we know that.

Good luck to you. And thanks very much for joining us.

EDWARDS: It's always great to be with you, Wolf.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the breaking news we're following, three people released in a hostage siege at the Clinton campaign headquarters in Rochester, New Hampshire. Negotiations are taking place with a man who entered the office with what was said to be a bomb strapped to his body.

We'll go to the scene shortly.

A mission by British officials to pull a jailed teacher from Sudan. Some Sudanese protesters there are calling for her execution. Gillian Gibbons was convicted of insulting religion for letting students name a teddy bear Muhammad.

And calculating the state of safety in the skies, the feds say we're safer than ever. Critics say there are not enough air controllers, air traffic controllers, and there are too many near collisions.

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

Let's get some more now on our breaking news we're following out of New Hampshire.

Some captives are now free after a man took them hostage at Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, New Hampshire.

Let's go back to Mary Snow. She's monitoring this story for us.

Mary, update our views with the latest.

SNOW: Well, Wolf, WMUR, our affiliate in New Hampshire, is quoting high-ranking police officials in the state of New Hampshire as saying that at least one woman may be still believed to be inside the Clinton campaign headquarters in Rochester, New Hampshire. This is different information than what we got about a half hour ago.

All told, police say three hostages had been released. That includes a woman and child who were released early on into this hostage situation, and then another woman after 3:00 p.m. Eastern. We saw video of her earlier leaving the office. And, clearly, she was quite shaken.

This all started, according to police, around 1:00 this afternoon, when they say a man, according to witnesses, who claimed to have an explosive strapped to his chest, walked into the campaign headquarters of Senator Clinton and took the hostages.

Police at the scene -- also, we have seen these reports that negotiators were able to get a cell phone to this man. What we know about him so far, witnesses have described him as being in his 40s, with salt-and-pepper hair. We don't much about him or his motives. This is a downtown storefront campaign headquarters. And there are about 20 or 30 businesses in that area. Of course, there are barricades since there are concerns about these explosives.

Senator Clinton is not in New Hampshire, an adviser saying that she's taking her cues from law enforcement officials. Her campaign released a statement this afternoon say she -- saying she was in constant contact with law enforcement officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, all right. Thank you very much.

And we're awaiting a news conference, a briefing from law enforcement authorities in -- in Rochester, New Hampshire. You're looking at these live pictures. You see the microphones. They're ready to go. As soon as the authorities walk out and start briefing us on what is going on, we will go there live with the latest information. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're expecting new information.

I want to get some more now from Dan Coulson. He's a former commander of the FBI's hostage rescue team. He's joining us on the phone from Fort Worth in Texas.

New information that Mary Snow was reporting -- apparently, Dan, there is still one woman holed up, being held hostage inside that building. Earlier, we had been told the hostages had been freed. This clearly does change the equation, if there is in fact another hostage inside, as opposed to the individual himself who walked in claiming to have some sort of bomb.

COULSON: Yes, that's right.

But one thing to remember, Wolf. And that is, in any crisis situation, the news media gathers information from a variety of different sources, and sometimes information travels at different speeds. So, the information that was reported from the high-ranking official may in fact not be accurate.

But I will tell you this, that -- that, once these hostages started coming out, that police officers began to interview them. And they know right now if there's a hostage in there or not. It wouldn't -- you would get that from the scene, not from somebody at the state capitol or whatever. So, we don't really know that. We -- we hope that's not true, obviously. We hope it's not the case, because, if he still does have a hostage, then that changes everything, and that -- that could -- makes it much more serious and it makes the negotiators -- it puts a lot more pressure on them.

But there was also some reports that -- from I believe it was "The Sun," that there was some indication that he had strapped railroad flares to his chest and gone in there. So, there's a lot of things in this equation that -- that have to be worked through here.

And the key to this whole thing will be slow it down. When these individuals engage in these type of activities, they're extremely pumped up and hyped up on adrenaline, or maybe even something worse than that. And you want to slow it down, to calm them down, let this thing protract out, and get him to become more rational. And that's when you get -- rational thoughts -- when you get a release, generally.

BLITZER: And they have to work, these -- these law enforcement authorities, the SWAT team, others who are there, they have to work under the assumption that this isn't a hoax, that there's a real bomb.

COULSON: Absolutely. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There's a real bomb that this guy may have.

COULSON: Yes, you know what? They're probably betting on the street that -- they would bet -- they would bet you $50 that it's -- it's a hoax, but they won't bet their lives on that, and they shouldn't.

And that on-scene commander and the people involved, all the bomb techs and all the experts they have on the scene, are -- are -- they believe, they have to believe that it's -- it's the real thing. If not, then you put lives at risk, and we just can't have that.

Another thing to consider, too -- here, too, when you command one of these things, is, what if this guy decides to leave? Suppose he says, I'm walking out of here? That's when you have to make some really tough decisions about, do you let him? And the best course of action, of course, you don't let him walk out, because, if he has a real bomb strapped to his chest, if he detonates the bomb inside by himself, you will have property damage, but hopefully no loss of life, other than his.

But, if he walks out the door, then he -- you put law enforcement at risk. You put anybody that is in the proximity to him at risk. So, that's when -- that's when it gets really dicey. And that's when you earn your money as a commander.

BLITZER: So, what -- what do you do under that kind of situation?

COULSON: In -- in my -- well, no, what the FBI would do, they would stop him. They would neutralize him.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: In other words, they would shoot -- shoot at his legs or something?

COULSON: No, they would -- no. No, they -- they would -- they don't do that.

The FBI, most -- as a matter of fact, I don't know of a sniper team in the world that's trained to shoot to wound. No, they would -- they would shoot to neutralize him, because you can't let him get out of there, because once -- if he becomes mobile with a bomb on his chest, he's extremely dangerous to innocent people and the law enforcement officers on the scene. So, you have to stop him. He cannot come out of there.

BLITZER: And -- but -- and, even if it's a hoax, even if he has no bomb, he has just some kind of pretend bomb out there, this is the kind of situation where he could clearly be killed?

COULSON: Absolutely, yes, because you -- you -- you and I don't know. Nobody knows. The only person that knows if that's a real bomb or not is him -- is him. And he's saying it's a real bomb, so law enforcement has to believe him.

And, remember, he's a volunteer here. He's not a victim. He's the one that said, I have a bomb. And, if he starts to -- to come out of there and approach their perimeter, then, in my view, they have no choice but to neutralize him at that point.

BLITZER: Would the FBI be immediately called in into a situation like this?

COULSON: I'm sure the FBI is on scene here.

They have -- they have bombing jurisdiction. ATF also has bombing jurisdiction. I -- I don't think I have ever been to the scene of a bombing -- and I have been to a few -- where both of them weren't on scene.

And you have also got to remember that the FBI works in that town. There's a resident agency, I know, in that city, or at least in close proximity. So, the FBI agents that are -- that are there, the ATF agents that are there are -- are accustomed to working with those police officers, and they know each other by first names.

So, it's not like the big brother coming in from Washington, D.C. It's -- it's people they know coming in to act as their partners.

BLITZER: I assume -- and I guess all law enforcement, the police on the scene, whether the FBI or the local police, state police, ATF, they have to assume that there are televisions inside. This guy might be watching live television right now, whether the local WMUR station that is bringing in live coverage of this, or he could be watching us right now. COULSON: Could be.

BLITZER: That -- that sort of complicates the situation for law enforcement, doesn't it?

COULSON: It always does.

I have been involved in a lot of hostage situations where, actually, on a couple of other occasions, the news coverage actually compromised what we were trying to do. So, it -- it is a problem.

But you know what? The whole answer to this thing is a really good negotiator. The glamour guys are the -- are the tactical guys. The guys that get it done more often than we do are the negotiators. And they're the ones that you never see, you never hear about. And, very likely, there's -- I think there's a really good chance they will talk this guy out of there.

BLITZER: The -- we see these guys, the SWAT teams there. It looks like they have got some sort of cable that they're rolling out. What are -- what are they doing?

COULSON: Very likely that could be a cable for a throw phone.

BLITZER: For...

COULSON: I'm not -- I don't -- I don't have access to a TV right now, but you often have a throw phone. And, sometimes, they're wireless, and, sometimes, they have cable on them, that it's a -- it's a hardwire phone. And that's what you want. You want a hardwire to get in there, if you possibly can.

BLITZER: Yes. Our affiliate WMUR saying this is some sort of phone line that is being sent in...

COULSON: Yes.

BLITZER: ... to the office of Hillary Clinton's campaign in Rochester, New Hampshire, hopefully to start some sort of negotiations, get -- get that individual on the phone, talk to him, and make sure that this can be resolved peacefully.

Dan, I'm -- I'm going to have you stand by, because we're going to continue to watch this situation unfold.

We're also awaiting a news conference, law enforcement getting ready to brief us on what they can tell us in the midst of this drama that's still unfolding, the latest on the hostage situation.

We're told that, presumably, one woman is still inside with this individual, who claims to have some sort of bomb.

We're watching the story -- much more of our coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: You're looking at these live pictures.

The microphones have already been set up. The -- with their -- the reporters there on the scene in Rochester, New Hampshire, they're awaiting a briefing from law enforcement authorities, expected to come out shortly and tell us what -- what's going on.

Let's listen in.

CAPTAIN PAUL CALLAGHAN, ROCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Hello. My name is Paul Callaghan -- C-A-L-L-A-G-H-A-N. I'm a captain with the Rochester, New Hampshire, Police Department.

As you all know, we have been dealing with this situation for approximately four hours. It's still ongoing. It's a fluid investigation.

The first thing I want to tell you is, after we assessed this situation, we evacuated the area. There was an elementary school, K- through-eight school, that was in the area of our lockdown. We worked with the school department to get some buses over there and safely transport those students over to another school, so their parents could come and get them conveniently.

We are working with -- we then notified our tactical response team. And that comprised -- a regional tactical response team -- that comprised our agency, which is Rochester, the Durham, New Hampshire, Police Department and the Dover, New Hampshire, Police Department. We then notified the state police explosive unit. And they responded here promptly.

Now, you may ask me why we notified the bomb unit. Because we had information that we felt we needed them there.

What I can tell you now, the situation is still fluid. I want our residents to know that the area is stabilized, that we're very confident that we have the resources available to us to handle this situation effectively and safely.

Again, we're dealing with a lot of cooperation from a lot of agencies, a lot of local agencies. The sheriff has sent us resources. State police have sent us resources. And we have the FBI, ATF and Secret Service.

We followed up a lot of active leads, and we continue to follow up some leads now.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Captain, could you just walk us through (OFF-MIKE)

CALLAGHAN: It's really -- it's really inappropriate to do that right now, because this is a fluid investigation.

I will just tell you that, based on the information we received and how we assessed that, is that we secured and stabilized the area and notified our regional team to respond and notified other resources to assist us in this.

QUESTION: How many people are inside (OFF-MIKE)

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAGHAN: This is a hostage situation.

QUESTION: Who is in the building right now? How many people?

CALLAGHAN: Again, that is information that's inappropriate to release.

QUESTION: But wait. You said this is a hostage situation. That means there are still people in the building?

CALLAGHAN: Again, I'm not going to get into any details.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) is or not?

CALLAGHAN: Again, I'm not going to get into any details on this investigation. It's still ongoing. It's still fluid.

QUESTION: Are there hostages in the building?

CALLAGHAN: Again, I want to explain to you that this is an ongoing investigation, and we're still working on it. Our tactical teams are still here. And we have a lot of resources available to us.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Can you confirm the identity? Can you confirm the identity...

CALLAGHAN: I cannot confirm the identity of the person that has taken these persons hostages.

QUESTION: Is this person known to police? Captain, is this individual taken to police?

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAGHAN: Again, I'm not going to confirm who the person is. I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAGHAN: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: People are talking -- people are talking about flares. Can you confirm whether or not flares are being used in this situation?

CALLAGHAN: Again, I'm not going to confirm that. It's premature and inappropriate to release that information.

QUESTION: Well, you said it's fluid and it's stabilized. So, is there an explosives threat to the people in this area?

CALLAGHAN: Based...

QUESTION: Can they go home?

CALLAGHAN: Based on the information that we received, we notified the state police bomb squad. And, again, we have stable -- when I say we stabilized the area, we have a secure perimeter. That's about four or five blocks.

QUESTION: Are you in communication with the people inside the building?

CALLAGHAN: That's information that it is inappropriate to release at this time.

QUESTION: Could you talk please for a second about -- many press, many people who are residents of this town saw one woman leave with a law enforcement officer. Can you please tell us about her well-being right now?

CALLAGHAN: Again, that's information that I'm not going to discuss at this time.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Has anybody been hurt? Has anybody been released?

CALLAGHAN: There has no -- there have been no reported injuries.

QUESTION: Well, what is the threat level to the people in the surrounding area? What is the danger that (OFF-MIKE)

CALLAGHAN: I'm not going to get into what the specific dangers are. Obviously, we have notified our tactical response team. We have the state police bomb squad here. And we're -- based on the information we received and the information we're following up on, this is still a fluid investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... road flare and not a bomb?

CALLAGHAN: Again, that's information that it is inappropriate to release at this time.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What are you investigating?

CALLAGHAN: We are investigating a hostage situation.

QUESTION: Has Senator Clinton been in touch with you?

CALLAGHAN: We have -- we have been in contact with a lot of various people. As I said, we have followed up on a lot of active leads. And we continue to follow up. So, it's been a lot of different people.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... people were in the building...

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAGHAN: That's information that I'm not going to release at this time.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Captain, what is the size of your force here right now?

CALLAGHAN: We have 54 sworn officers.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the alleged hostage-taker inside the building right now?

CALLAGHAN: I'm not going to discuss anything about the alleged hostage-taker.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are there any hostages still in there?

CALLAGHAN: I'm not going to confirm the number of hostages that were taken and how many are in there now.

QUESTION: Is his name Troy Stanley?

CALLAGHAN: I'm not going to confirm any names.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) You said there are number of hostages?

CALLAGHAN: I'm not going to confirm the number of hostages that are in there.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAGHAN: Can people go back in the buildings yet?

QUESTION: Are you still in negotiations?

CALLAGHAN: That area -- that -- there is a large perimeter of Rochester that is blocked off. It's probably about four or five square blocks, the area.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAGHAN: And, no -- and residents are not allowed back into that area.

CALLAGHAN: Are you still in the process of trying to get this individual to come out and give himself up? CALLAGHAN: We are -- again, it's -- it's information that I'm not going to discuss at this time.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you have learned from talking to the (OFF-MIKE)

CALLAGHAN: Again, we have interviewed a lot of people. I'm not going to confirm that information that -- that you have requested.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) cooperation you have had from the Hillary Clinton campaign?

CALLAGHAN: Again, we have had information with a lot of various people. And I will just leave it at that.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Paul, is there any prediction of...

BLITZER: All right, so there you have it, Captain Paul Callaghan from the police department in Rochester briefing all of us on what -- what they know.

Obviously, he has to be very, very careful on what he can say as a result of the sensitivities. This is an ongoing hostage situation. He says it's still fluid. The investigation is continuing, but he repeatedly said, this is a hostage situation, which suggests that the individual who walked in claiming to have some sort of explosive device or bomb strapped to his body, that there apparently is still a hostage inside the office of the Hillary Clinton campaign in Rochester, New Hampshire, a small town of about 30,000, some 40 miles north of Manchester, New Hampshire.

Captain Callaghan says no reported injuries, as far as he knows. It's still, though, a very, very uncertain situation.

Now, these are -- these are pictures that you're seeing coming in from our affiliate WMUR, the downtown area of Rochester, New Hampshire.

We're going to assess what we just heard with a former FBI hostage negotiator.

But, Mary Snow, our -- our correspondent, has been watching all of this unfold as well.

Mary, you were listening very carefully to what we heard from Captain Callaghan. And there are enormous sensitivities involved, because any word he says could obviously be heard or seen by the hostage-holder inside that building, so they have to be very careful on what they can say.

SNOW: Yes, absolutely. And, Wolf, you know, going into in news conference, there were reports that -- that there may be hostages, plural, still inside. And, when repeatedly asked about that, Captain Callaghan said that he wouldn't confirm the number of hostages either in there or who have been released, and also not confirming if they're -- if the police are in contact with anyone in that room.

What he did say is that the area has been stabilized, and, based on the information that they were given, that the state bomb squad was called in. And, of course, witnesses have been saying that this man claimed to have an explosive when he took those hostages.

Also, Captain Callaghan not answering questions about the picture of a woman we saw emerging from the headquarters, clearly shaken up, after about 3:00 in the afternoon, not really confirming who she was or what had happened to her. And, also, the FBI and ATF, he said, have been called in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.

Let's go to the scene in Rochester.

Anderson Cooper, who was at that news conference with Captain Callaghan, give us your take, Anderson, on what's going on.

COOPER: Well, as Mary was reporting, he's loathe to really give any level of detail, understandably.

This is an ongoing situation. It's happening just a couple of blocks from where the press conference took place, just a couple blocks from where we are standing. They say they have cordoned off about four or five blocks.

They said they have 50 sworn officers on the scene. There are numerous personnel here from various state and federal agencies. He mentioned, the Secret Service, the FBI were on the scene, as well as local and state law enforcement.

But it is a very tense situation here. There's not a lot of information. People are being very careful about what information they are being given by law enforcement. So, it's a very strange situation to be covering, Wolf. We really, frankly, don't know much about what is going on.

From -- from this perspective, I, frankly, don't have much information about what is going on just a short area over there.

BLITZER: That was really the first official word we have gotten from law enforcement in Rochester, New Hampshire, on this situation. It's now dark there.

And I assume that they're going to -- as we heard from a former FBI agent, they're going to try to use some floodlights to make sure that they can see precisely what's going on.

This is a storefront right on the main street in Rochester, New Hampshire. We see some video that we're showing our viewers, Anderson, of the Hillary banner that's in the window of this storefront. It's a relatively small office, I assume, but there are several other campaigns that -- that have their offices right in that vicinity, including the Barack Obama and John Edwards campaigns.

COOPER: That's correct. And both those offices were -- were evacuated and shut down as a precaution long ago.

This is actually a pretty quiet day in New Hampshire in terms of politics. I happened to be with -- with presidential candidate Mike Huckabee earlier in the day. That's when we heard about this. We were about 50 miles away.

But, as far as I know, there are no other presidential candidates who are in the state at this point actively campaigning, other than Mike Huckabee, who planned to be here and plans to be here through the weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Hillary Clinton has been here in Washington. She was supposed to address a meeting of the Democratic Party, but she canceled that to be able to monitor from Washington what's going on in Rochester.

Anderson, stand by.

Mary Snow is getting some new information, a little bit more on what is going on.

What are you picking up, Mary?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, in terms of who the hostage-taker may be, CNN did speak with the assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Safety, Earl Sweeney. And he is reporting that local police say that they know the hostage-taker, and that he had been apparently upset with the mental health care situation in the United States.

So, that's what we have from the New Hampshire Department of Safety office.

BLITZER: Which seems -- which seems to suggest that there's a problem here with this individual. Clearly, somebody doesn't simply go into a office like this without some sort of grievance. I guess this guy has got some sort of grievance. That's obviously unclear what exactly it is.

All right, Mary, thanks very much for that.

Anderson -- let -- let me bring back Anderson Cooper, who's right there in Rochester, New Hampshire.

When we say this is a small town, this is a very small town, only around 30,000 people, a picturesque -- I have been in that area over the years. And, you know, you don't expect this kind of situation to unfold in a -- really small-town America like this.

COOPER: Yes, absolutely not.

And, clearly, a lot of the law enforcement personnel, for them, this is the first time that they have encountered a situation of this magnitude in their town. Again, it's not really clear what the magnitude of this is.

I mean, clearly, some hostages were being held. As you said, WMUR has reported two have been released, but we don't know the situation right now. But it's a very unusual situation, to say the least.

And, as we just saw in that press conference, police are being very tight-lipped about whether they know who the suspect is or whether they have had contact in the past with this person. There's a number of eyewitnesses here on the ground who have talked to reporters, but a lot of it is -- is secondhand or hearsay information.

We're not going forward with that information, because it's all secondhand. But there's a lot of stories floating around here. We're just going to have to wait and see for -- wait for the facts to -- to emerge.

BLITZER: Anderson, we heard that the Secret Service is involved already. I assume that's because Hillary Clinton, a former first lady of the United States, she gets Secret Service protection. Is that your understanding?

COOPER: That is my understanding.

Obviously, also, as you know, Barack Obama receives Secret Service protection. I believe they're the only two Democratic candidates who do. But, yes, that is my understanding of why the Secret Service would be involved.

BLITZER: And the FBI would be involved, obviously, as well at some point, SWAT teams, local and state.

All right, Anderson, stand by. We're going to get back to you in a moment.

We're going to continue to monitor this hostage drama that's unfolding in Rochester -- Rochester, New Hampshire, at the Hillary Clinton campaign office.

We will take a quick break -- much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're looking at the downtown area of Rochester, New Hampshire. You see law enforcement on the scene. There's a hostage apparently still inside with a hostage-holder. We will go back there shortly and update you on what's going on at the office of Hillary Clinton in Rochester, New Hampshire.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty, though. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, what does it say about the Muslim religion when some want to put a teacher to death for allowing her children, the students, to name a teddy bear Mohammed?

This touched a nerve. We got a huge number of e-mails, people weighing on this.

Bob writes from New York: "Many in Islamic countries are exactly where Christians were during periods of intolerance such as the Inquisition, Puritans in Colonial America, and, to a lesser degree, parts of our own country today. Good jobs, education, exposure to the outside world, and personal optimism are the only solutions. During the cultural revolution in China, books were burned, citizens practically brainwashed. But, once international trade and exposure to the developed world took place, Mao Tse-Tung was relegated to the dark period. Whether political or religious, the pattern is always the same."

Lou writes from North Carolina: "Nothing has changed. After spending a year at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in the 1950s, I see it is same old, same old, beheadings, foot choppings, hand choppings, and the like. Their reference to life totally differs from ours."

Bob writes from Pennsylvania: "I have long been a tolerant multiculturalist who has tried to understand the world from the perspective of others. Not anymore. The mere idea of an arrest for something so innocent by any measure of common human decency is ridiculous. Any suggestion of death is downright scary. Do the neocons really think we can force democracy on these yahoos?"

Eric writes from New Jersey: "We should not be shocked by the recent teddy bear incident in Sudan. These are the same vicious, primitive psychotics who threatened to kill newspaper editors who published cartoons depicting you-know-who in a comical and perhaps disparaging way. I would say "Get a life" to these losers and lemmings, but they value death more than life. The solution is to avoid them like the plague."

And, finally, Bill in Palm Springs: "Muslims complaining about a teddy bear named Mohammed? Why, next thing you know, members of PETA will complain about a newscaster named Wolf" -- Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Stay with us. Don't go anywhere.

I want to welcome our international viewers. They're watching on CNN International right now. We're watching a developing story. Stay with us.

Happening now: the breaking news we're following, a hostage crisis in a Hillary Clinton campaign office. A man claiming to have a bomb strapped to his chest sparks terror in a very small New Hampshire town. We will have continuing coverage of this story.

Also, a sharp turnaround in Iraq -- as the death toll drops, a top critic of the war seems to make a stunning turnaround of his own. I will ask Congressman John Murtha -- he's just back from Iraq -- where he stands now.

And Hillary Clinton gets a warm welcome at an evangelical super- church.

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