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Fears of Toyota Owners; Phone Tampering; Jobs in America; State of the Union Address; Gays in the Military
Aired January 28, 2010 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, millions of Toyota owners want to know when their cars will be safe again. The automaker's recall troubles keep growing and growing. We're going to hear from consumers who are very worried right now and they're also angry. We have new information for you.
Plus, the president takes his State of the Union talking points on the road. This hour, the one subject he apparently doesn't want to talk a lot about.
A U.S. congressman is accused of using charitable donations for lavish golf vacations. Did Congressman Stephen Buyer of Indiana have fun at the expense of needy kids?
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's Command Center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a nightmare for Toyota and for people all over the world who bought its reputation for reliability. More than five million of these vehicles, five million, now are affected by two Toyota recalls involving gas pedals. The carmaker says it's closer to solving the problem, but it's still not clear when drivers will see repairs.
Toyota dealers across the United States right now are being swamped with calls from very concerned car owners. Look for the same backlash in China and Europe now that the recalls have been extended there. Members of Congress are talking about holding a hearing on Toyota's troubles next month. Our Mary Snow has been talking to Toyota owners and she's got this report for us. Mary this is a really serious issue.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes and as you can imagine, Wolf, these Toyota owners are very worried as these problems grow. There is a lot of confusion and not many answers.
SNOW (voice-over): At this Toyota dealership in Clarksville (ph), Maryland, technicians look to identify cars in its lot affected by Toyota's latest recall, now affecting millions of vehicles. And like other dealerships around the country management at this one has been hearing from customers.
BENJAMIN MESSIER, GENERAL MANAGER, ANTWERPEN TOYOTA: Curious, apprehensive, they're looking for answers.
SNOW: And that's what drove Ula (ph) Robertson to her dealer in New York.
ULA ROBERTSON, TOYOTA OWNER: I'm concerned, you know so that my car might be affected and I try to find out if it actually is.
SNOW: How concerned are you?
ROBERTSON: Well you know it's a major safety concern. This is wintertime.
SNOW: Issues with gas pedals have led to two separate recalls, this latest one involves unintended accelerations, which could mean your car keeps accelerating even after you've taken your foot off the gas pedal. A recall in November involved gas pedals that got stuck in the car's removable floor mat. As Toyota scrambles to fix the latest problem, it's already lost one customer, a three-time Toyota buyer.
SIMON SALAMON, TOYOTA OWNER: I thought that they would be safe and reliable for many, many years, so that's really why I picked Toyota.
SNOW (on camera): And now?
SALAMON: Now I would not buy a Toyota.
SNOW (voice-over): And he tells us the reason he did buy Toyotas was high ratings from "Consumer Reports". Two of the models that were recalled were on its top picks list last year.
RIK PAUL, AUTOMOTIVE EDITOR, CONSUMER REPORTS: I think Toyota has had a generally sterling reputation in the industry as well as with consumers. I think they have been a model for other automakers over the years, both in terms of how they produce cars and the quality of the cars that they build.
SNOW: But with Toyota's reputation now taking a hit other carmakers are taking advantage. Ford and GM have already announced $1,000 incentives to lure Toyota owners over to their cars.
(on camera): Is this an opening for other carmakers?
JOHN GIAMALVO, DIRECTOR, DEALER INITIATIVES, EDMUNDS INC.: It certainly is. It's definitely, considering that you're talking about these vehicles that are being, you know hoping the sales of them, you're talking about 10 percent of U.S. auto sales, so that's really wide open.
SNOW: And Wolf, some industry analysts say this is especially damaging to Toyota because its sales strength was based on its solid reputation. Now for more information, we want to tell our viewers on the cars that are affected and what Toyota is telling its owners to do. You can check out all that information on our Web site, CNNMoney.com -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very important information, you know a lot of us have rented cars over the years; we've often gotten a Toyota. What are the rental car agencies doing about that?
SNOW: Yes and that is the next ripple effect in this crisis for Toyota. Three rental cars -- companies, Avis, Enterprise and Hertz have had to remove these Toyota cars from their fleet until this problem can be fixed.
BLITZER: This is a huge, huge issue for Toyota, but more importantly for drivers who are really worried about those pedals, those accelerated pedals. They've got to fix this and fix it quickly. Thanks very much, Mary, for that.
American taxpayers plunge deeper into debt today. The Senate voted to increase the limit on a federal debt putting the government on track to owe $14.3 trillion, trillion. You can see how much the debt has skyrocketed in the past decade. Democrats were able to push through the measure because they still have a 60 vote supermajority in the Senate. Scott Brown has not yet been sworn in as the Republican Senator from Massachusetts. That's why they still have that supermajority. This is an issue that's clearly important.
Also today, senators voting to confirm embattled Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term. The vote, a resounding 70-30, yet that's still (INAUDIBLE) closest confirmation votes ever for a federal chairman. It's usually even much more lopsided. At least a half a dozen Democrats, including several up for reelection voted against President Obama's nominee. He will now serve a second term as the Federal Reserve chairman.
Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana sent a stinging message today to one of the four men accused of trying to tamper with the phones at her New Orleans office. Lisa Sylvester has been following this story for us, and Lisa, you're getting some new information.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are definitely learning new details about what might have been the motivation and why senator Landrieu's office was targeted. The four men, Joseph Basel, Robert Flanagan, James O'Keefe and Stan Dai, you see them here in their mug shots, well O'Keefe, you might recall him, he was the man who became known for his video sting of the liberal grassroots group, ACORN.
Jay Garrison Jordan's (ph) office, he's one of the attorneys involved, he said their idea was not to intercept or wiretap Landrieu's calls, what they wanted to do was to get embarrassing video of her staff handling constituent calls. And the back story behind this is that conservative critics for weeks have been complaining about not being able to get through to the senator's office to voice some of their views.
BLITZER: I understand Senator Landrieu has just issued a statement responding to this.
SYLVESTER: We do have a statement and we want to share that with our viewers. She said quote -- or her office rather said, quote, "senator Landrieu believes this feeble explanation is a clear and calculated effort to divert attention away from the fact that his client stands accused of a federal crime that could land him in prison for up to 10 years. The fact remains that they perpetrated a false identity scheme on building security by posing as telephone workers and attempted to manipulate the phones in her office. The only people these four individuals have embarrassed are themselves and their families."
BLITZER: You're also digging into the backgrounds of these four.
SYLVESTER: Yes. You know, there seems to be a common link. There is a Virginia group called The Leadership Institute, and this is a group that actually grooms young conservatives. O'Keefe -- James O'Keefe he taught there in 2006 and the beginning part of 2007. Another one of the individuals, Joseph Basel, he -- when he was a student at the University of Minnesota, he actually received a $500 grant to start a conservative newspaper on campus there. Stan Dai also received money from the leadership council to start a similar paper at George Washington University. Now the Leadership Institute, though, interestingly, though it's distancing itself from these men saying that they don't condone anything that would break the law.
BLITZER: You also heard from O'Keefe's family; is that right?
SYLVESTER: Yes, we did. This was pretty late in the day, but we actually got an e-mail. It's an exclusive from Amanda O'Keefe who is James O'Keefe's sister and we have a quote that we want to read for you.
She said, quote, "We, the people have a responsibility to seek the truth, to try to see through the corruption of the government, the legal system and the media and reveal what is going on" -- that coming from James O'Keefe's sister. You know this is a fascinating story, Wolf, and I'm sure that as this goes on we're going to find even more details.
BLITZER: Yes and O'Keefe was tweeting about this early on, right?
SYLVESTER: He was, and he said something very similar to his -- to what his sister said, which is you know he said the truth will set me free.
BLITZER: Yes and he says I'm a journalist...
SYLVESTER: I'm a journalist...
SYLVESTER: The truth will set me free.
BLITZER: Here's some advice for a young journalist from an older journalist. Before you get involved in these kinds of investigative journalism projects, speak to a lawyer, make sure that everything you're about to do is legal -- just a little advice. SYLVESTER: Very, very good advice.
BLITZER: Good advice -- this advice was given to me a long time ago, and I've tried to stick by it as well.
President Obama is pushing Congress for a new bill to boost employment. Jack Cafferty is up with that and Dan Lothian looks at something critics say was missing from his State of the Union address.
Republican Congressman Steve Buyer's charity is supposed to fund scholarships, but is it really just funding expensive golf outings? We have information for you.
Plus, mudslides leave hundreds of tourists stranded in the mountains of Peru. Americans are among them. They're waiting for helicopters to take them to safety. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, jobs was one of President Obama's top priorities in last night's State of the Union address. The president wants a jobs bill from the Congress on his desk right away. Specifically Mr. Obama wants to give a tax break to companies that hire workers, to get rid of capital gains tax on small business investments, and he wants $30 billion of TARP money to help local banks lend money to small businesses.
The president also wants to put more federal dollars into green jobs and infrastructure projects and to extend unemployment benefits to Americans who are still out of work -- there's a lot of those. Economists say fixing the jobs thing won't be easy, it won't be quick, it will take a strong economic expansion to get that thing going again full steam. The national unemployment rate is 10 percent.
It was seven percent when President Obama took office. Today the government reported last week's first-time claims for unemployment fell but not nearly by as much as was expected. Meanwhile, a new poll suggests Americans agreed that it's hard to land a quality job. Gallup poll shows only nine percent of Americans say that now is a good time to find a quality job. That number is down sharply from January of 2007 when 48 percent were optimistic about being able to find a quality job.
This bleak outlook on finding a quality job consistent across all ages, incomes, genders and all different parts of the country, which means not only does the Obama administration need to worry about lowering unemployment and increasing the quantity of jobs but the quality as well. So here's the question this hour:
How confident are you in the government's ability to create jobs? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile; post a comment on our blog. How did we get started saying jobs, jobs, jobs? Why do we say it three times? BLITZER: I don't know. It's like location, location, location.
CAFFERTY: Yes, but I mean I just -- everybody says jobs, jobs, jobs.
CAFFERTY: Once is enough.
BLITZER: If you're buying a piece of real estate, you know what they say.
CAFFERTY: Yes, location.
BLITZER: Location, location.
CAFFERTY: I'll see you later.
BLITZER: My dad was a home builder. That's what he used to say. Remember you're buying a house...
BLITZER: ... location, location, location.
CAFFERTY: Yes, they all say the same thing.
BLITZER: Yes, all right...
BLITZER: Jobs, jobs, jobs.
CAFFERTY: That's it.
BLITZER: All right Jack, thanks very much. We're also focusing on the economic stimulus package and the impact on creating jobs. Only CNN could and would do this -- the network aside -- hundreds of journalists have tracked down what happened to the stimulus money. At the hub of it all, our "Stimulus Desk" is checking the facts. Our senior correspondent Alan Chernoff is on the trail of money that's been spent on transportation contracts. Stand by, that's coming up.
We heard quite a lot about the economy from President Obama last night. His domestic agenda was jam-packed, but critics say something very important was missing -- missing. Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian who is working this part of the story for us. What's going on, Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know what you saw today is the president continuing that jobs push that he unveiled last night at the State of the Union. This time he was in Tampa, Florida where he talked about how a job creation would be the top priority for this administration this year. The president and the vice president together unveiling this $8 billion in funding for high- speed rails across the United States and saying that this would be one big way to create jobs. What you're seeing, though, the president last night saying, and then again today in Tampa, is that he's heard the frustrations of the American people. He's listening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to rest until we've rebuilt an economy in which hard work and responsibility are rewarded and businesses are hiring again and wages are growing again and the middle class can get its legs underneath it again.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: We will not rest until we build an economy that's ready for America's future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: Now, his Republican critics seem to be generally pleased with his big push on the jobs front, but there is a lot of skepticism about the details. Meanwhile, the president hits the road again tomorrow, pushing jobs in Baltimore and then next week in New Hampshire -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lot less time spent talking about national security in this speech; is that right?
LOTHIAN: That's right, and you heard criticism from Rudy Giuliani, the former presidential candidate, the Republican who said that he felt like the few minutes that were given just for national security almost made it appear as if it were a footnote, an afterthought, but White House spokesman Bill Burton (ph) said that listen this is something that's very critical to the president, that he wakes up every morning thinking about how he can keep Americans safe.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian thanks very much. Dan Lothian is our man at the White House. The ratings, by the way, are in for the president's first official State of the Union address. Nielsen reports about 48 million viewers watched the speech in the United States last night on 11 TV networks. That's seven percent lower than President George W. Bush's first State of the Union back in 2002, but it's five percent higher than the ratings for Bill Clinton's State of the Union debut back in 1994.
Some are calling it a miracle. Others say it's a record for (INAUDIBLE) survival. A teenage girl was pulled from the rubble in Haiti after 15 days.
Also a stretch of Interstate Florida's Everglades doubles as a landing strip. Wait until you see and hear what happened.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Well a setback for the defense in a trial of a man charged with killing a Kansas doctor who performed abortions. Today a judge ruled a jury cannot consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. This came after defendant Scott Roeder testified he killed the doctor to save unborn children. Roeder has pleaded not guilty to fatally shooting Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of Tiller's Wichita church last spring.
And take a look at what powerful winter storms did in Oklahoma today. It dumped snow, sleet and freezing rain throughout the state and the Southern Plains. Thick layers of ice snapped power lines across the region leaving thousands in the cold and the dark. And we also have a live shot right now from our affiliate KOCO. You can see it's a driving shot there through the snowy roads as the snow continues to come down. The National Weather Service says a winter storm warning will remain in place through tomorrow for most of the state. Meantime, the governor of Oklahoma has declared a statewide state of emergency.
And in Peru, crews continue to rescue hundreds of tourists trapped in a tiny mountain village after heavy downpours and mudslides left them stranded. This is happening at the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, hundreds of visitors have been evacuated by helicopter. Peruvian authorities estimate 10,000 people have been affected by the rain. The mountaintop city of Machu Picchu sits 8,000 feet above sea level. And it is a popular tourist destination drawing tens of thousands of people every year.
And you got to take a look at this next scene on Florida's famous Alligator Alley. This happened this afternoon -- the interstate that cuts through the Everglades doubled as an emergency runway for this single-engine piper. The pilot told officials about engine problems, fortunately the two people on board were not hurt, but the rough landing did snarl traffic there just a bit -- amazing landing on a highway. That's some -- some decent flying there, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm glad that there was no accident on the ground when that plane touched down. Fortunately, everybody is OK, the plane maybe not necessarily all that good, but they'll -- they'll tow it away.
BLITZER: Thanks very much -- get back to Lisa; she's doing good work for us. She's got a big story coming up later this hour as well. It involves a U.S. congressman who is accused of funding lavish golf trips with money meant to be used for scholarships. Lisa investigates big concerns about Congressman Steven Buyer's foundation.
And another American now is in custody in a country that's hostile to the United States. We have new details. Stand by.
BLITZER: It's one part of President Obama's base that felt slighted in his first year in office. Now the president is vowing to move forward on some of the most important issues to gays and lesbians. In his State of the Union address last night he vowed to work to end the ban on gays serving openly in the United States military. He try -- he said he would try to make that happen this year. Today he held (ph) out hope for even more. Listen to this exchange at a town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Hector and I'm a student at U.T.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And my question is last night you talked about repealing don't ask, don't tell. And my question is what are you doing now to put in motion so that same-sex couples and homosexuals are treated as equal citizens of the United States, i.e. same-sex marriages and the thousand-plus benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy after marriage.
OBAMA: Well the -- look, as I said last night, my belief is, is that a basic principle in our Constitution is that if you're obeying the law, if you're following the rules, that you should be treated the same regardless of who you are. I think that principle applies to gays and lesbian couples, so at the federal level one of the things that we're trying to do is to make sure that partnerships are recognized for purposes of benefits so that hospital visitation, for example, is something that is permitted, that Social Security benefits or pension benefits or others, that same-sex couples are recognized in all those circumstances. I think that we've got -- we actually have an opportunity of passing a law that's been introduced in Congress right now, and my hope is this year we can get it done just for federal employees and federal workers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN contributor, Roland Martin. He's here to talk about all of this. What do you think about this -- what the president proposed last night, that this year he would like to see that ban on gays serving openly in the military end?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all (INAUDIBLE) no different than what he actually said last year and also during the campaign...
BLITZER: But last year he didn't say it would happen this year.
MARTIN: Well before the human rights watch...
BLITZER: He said at some point.
MARTIN: He said in terms of what he was working on -- one of the criticisms from gays and lesbians that wait a minute, you have the opportunity with executive order to stop the gathering of evidence which will in essence stop folks from being removed -- moved out of the military. And so they've been saying, wait a minute, you can do that, but he has not decided to actually do that.
BLITZER: In other words, he could do it by an executive order as opposed to waiting for Congress to pass legislation...
MARTIN: If he does -- if he does executive order to stop the gathering of evidence that means they don't any basis to move them out of the military, but what he has been saying is no, it's up to Congress to go ahead and actually change the law to actually stop it from happening and so some folks are saying look, you can do something right now as opposed to waiting on Congress to act overall.
BLITZER: Because the argument against that -- that's been made by some of his supporters, the president's supports is if he were to simply sign an executive order ending discrimination against gays serving openly in the military, a future president could sign another executive order reversing that decision.
MARTIN: Right, some folks have been saying look you sign an executive order now until Congress acts. Also, if you look at that question there, that was really a tortured response by the president. He is on record as saying that he opposes same-sex marriage but he supports unions. So he talked about the providing of benefits, things along those lines, but he does -- but he has been on record as saying he does not support same-sex marriage, so it's very interesting how he danced really around a particular question the gentleman asked in that town hall meeting.
BLITZER: Would you be surprised if he changes his mind at some point down the road and supports same-sex marriage?
MARTIN: Yes, when he's elected (ph) out of office. Look at Bill Clinton. When Bill Clinton was -- when President Bill Clinton was in office he was against same-sex marriage. In fact he was -- you know he signed the In Defense of Marriage Act. Of course, then all of a sudden when he was out of office, when he didn't have any more political ramifications for (ph) his position, he actually changed it. And so I don't think though as long as he is in the White House that he is going to change his position knowing full well what the reaction would be from folks on the right, but also some of his own supporters.
BLITZER: Including in the African-American community which in California some have said were -- voted largely against Proposition 8 or for Proposition 8, which reversed the decision on same-sex marriage.
MARTIN: Actually the initial report was something around 70-plus percent. And they actually went back, instead it was about 58 percent, but a polling (INAUDIBLE) very consistent. African- Americans, by and large, largely (INAUDIBLE) keep telling people African-Americans are socially conservative, but somehow folks don't get that, politically liberal. But African-Americans, overwhelmingly more than any other group, are against same-sex marriage.
And so, you know so he will not get -- an African-American will say we disagree with you on that. Black politicians across the country, Congress, (INAUDIBLE) folks, civil rights activists, some are in support of same-sex marriage but you're not going to see African- Americans as a whole.
BLITZER: What about gays serving openly in the military?
MARTIN: But I think on the particular -- I think that is a different issue, because also when you look at marriage and adoption it's a different response from folks as opposed to this. (INAUDIBLE) wait a minute, here is somebody serving openly; they're serving their particular country. That's probably a different issue because when you talk about marriage, it creates a whole different dynamic when they hear the question of marriage.
BLITZER: Canada, Britain, France, almost all the native allies, they do allow gays to serving openly in their respect active military.
MARTIN: And the president has framed it, why are you moving people out of the military who are serving our country. You need folks actually serving, what's the problem there? So Colin Powell --
BLITZER: He's changed his position.
MARTIN: -- he's changed his position as well, saying over time, we've seen the country move in a different direction.
BLITZER: Thanks for coming out. Roland S. Martin.
MARTIN: On twitter. That's right. I tweet. I say, I'll be hanging out with Wolf. Support my Haiti flagpin.
BLITZER: We'll be tweeting.
Independence believed they're largely responsible for President Obama's victory in 2008. Now some have become disillusioned after his first year in office. Casey Wian watched the state of the union address with a group of voters who had some very strong reactions.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A gathering of independent voters in a Los Angeles suburb. Royce D'Orazio is a comedian disappointed in the president.
Anything you hear tonight make you regret that decision?
ROYCE D'ORAZIO, STANDUP COMIC: Not so much regret the decision. I think most independent voters feel disenfranchised in the last year.
WIAN: Nancy Corradini voted for John McCain, yet likes what she heard from President Obama.
NANCY CORRADINI, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I think the best part is when he said he would use the veto if need. I think that means he'll stand up to his party, if needed.
WIAN: Also a small business owner who has had to lay someone off recently. He talked about jobs, he talked about incentives for small business. Did you hear enough?
CORRADINI: I did like that part as well. I hope they can implement it. I hope the money is there.
WIAN: Philip Geiger protested against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and grew disillusioned with party politics.
Did you see him begin to bridge the gap tonight? Do you think he accomplished that?
PHILIP GEIGER, NON-PROFIT EXECUTIVE: I think he did in being open to the Republicans, the fact they sat on their hands and didn't applaud, you know, for the most part. I liked his little spontaneous thing, wow, I thought I would get an applause out of that. They were all just really stiff and wouldn't. I think he's making the effort, but it takes two to tango.
WIAN: Similar sentiments from Michael Reel who voted for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
MICHAEL REEL, ENTREPRENEUR: I think they blundered in the mistakes his administration made the first year in office.
WIAN: Eric Fulkerson applauds his office.
He almost came out in the end there. I was impressed. The big question from some of our people in this group have raised is can he truly execute? Will he follow through?
Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.
BLITZER: New details of an amazing story of survival, a teenage girl pulled from the rubble alive in Haiti after 15 days. How she lived against all odds.
A photo uproar. Does this picture show a TSA agent sleeping on the job?
BLITZER: U.S. Comfort, a treating hospital, has nearly reached its treating capacity scrambling to set up a temporary hospital on land involving between 3 to 5,000 additional beds. Military officials say the new facility would be located just outside the capital, Port- au-Prince.
She came close to death, but somehow, somehow she hung on to life, trapped in Haiti's rubble for 15 days. CNN's Gary Tuchman has this extraordinary account from Port-au-Prince.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The teenage girl trapped for 15 days in the rubble of her house and successfully pulled out. That's what her rescuers are telling us. It appears to be an amazing story of survival. A French rescue team is brought to the site by neighborhood residents who said they heard a voice in the rubble. She was too weak to say her name, but neighbors say her name is Darlene. The rescuers told us based on her condition, they believe she had been trapped under this house on the university campus since the quake. The head doctor for the French rescue teams says his crew took about 45 minutes to pull her out of this opening, but they say she was in this small crevice behind my foot. That's where the bathroom was. That's where there was plenty of water.
BLITZER: How is she doing, this girl?
TUCHMAN: Darlene is doing very well, Wolf. The latest we hear, she's on the hospital ship right now, and according to authorities, she is eating yogurt, she is eating strained vegetables, she is drinking water. They say she's in amazingly good condition considering she spent half a month underground, and it's really believed at this point this is the real McCoy, that this is a young lady who has been there since the earthquake. It's scary when you think about it, those who have been here since the day after, all these people who survived and are there, and if only we're psychics. It makes you wonder if there really are psychics, why they can't find these people. She's doing really well today.
BLITZER: Good for her. Describe what you're seeing in the area today, Gary, despite the recovery efforts going on.
TUCHMAN: I think it's fair to say, Wolf, that after more than two weeks there is a lot more aid coming. There is food, there is water, there is non-potable bathing water, there are tents. But there are still a lot more need. Today I talked to the assistant general and he got a good look and he saw that distribution is going well, but a lot more is need, so he says he's preparing to send a lot more out there. But today, just to give you an idea, there is more food. A lot of chaos, too. Just behind me here we had a chaotic situation, a line for people getting food, and it got a little scary because it became a mosh pit of sorts. Eventually, no one got hurt, but these are scary situations because people are desperate for food or water. And it doesn't always show up every day, but when it does, people want it.
BLITZER: I can't blame them. They have to survive. On a special edition tomorrow, "CNN heroes, saving Haiti," 11:00 p.m. eastern, only here on CNN.
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the Transportation Security Administration is looking into whether one of its agents was asleep on the job at New York's La Guardia airport. Someone snapped this photo of the resting officer and posted it online. It's unclear, though, if the agent was on a break at the time. Meantime, she's been reassigned to desk duty pending the investigation.
North Korea has detained another American. According to the state-run news agency, the American, who has not been identified, was picked up for trespassing on the border with China. The state department says it is taking this report very seriously, but it hasn't been able to get any details or confirmation. This would be the second time in five weeks an American has been held for illegal entry. Wolf?
BLITZER: We remember Lisa Ling and that whole incident over there. I guess here is the tip. Don't get anywhere near that North Korean border if you're hiking.
SYLVESTER: Very, very scary. In the case of Lisa Ling, they were held for several weeks. Months, in fact. So very frightening situation.
BLITZER: Thanks, Lisa. We're going to get back to you. She's got a good report coming up.
We're on the trail of the stimulus money, and it seems some of your tax dollars have been awarded to firms tied to contractors, get this, already indicted for fraud.
BLITZER: President Obama focusing in on jobs and the economy in his state of the address. There are a lot of questions whether the stimulus plan really worked, whether you're money is being well spent. Some investigation into the stimulus plan gives you some points, facts on what's working and what's not working. It will cost all of us about $862 billion. Allan Chernoff has been following the money and has this exclusive report.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kentucky construction magnate Leonard Lawson on trial this week for allegedly bribing a state official during the past decade to win big projects. That didn't stop Lawson family companies from winning $24 million in federal recovery act contracts. Lawson Companies should have been suspended from bidding for stimulus work within 45 days after Leonard Lawson was indicted, according to a department of transportation rule, even though he pled not guilty. It took the department ten months to act after the Lawson firms had won the contract.
REP. EDOLPHUS TOWNS (D), OVERSIGHT & GOVT. REFORM COMMITTEE: When people see folks getting away, getting contracts even after they have been indicted, that to me does not help in terms of getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse.
CHERNOFF: Auditors for the inspector general of the department of transportation warned that there's a perfect storm for contractors intent under fraud in the government. Given the billions in recovery act dollars Washington is doling out. CNN has learned that federal investigators already finding evidence of bid rigging and recovery act contracts for the federal highway administration. Prosecutors are examining cases where contractors appear to have been colluding with each other to win road improvement jobs and new paving and expanding streets and highways. No criminal charges have been filed yet. But the department of transportation inspector general has 25 criminal investigations under way. But dozen of which have been referred to the department of justice for prosecution. Other cases involve what the government calls disadvantaged business enterprise fraud. Companies owned by minorities or women bidding for contracts after taking a cut passing the work to a nonqualified contractor. Inspectors general at all federal departments and agencies are aggressively searching for stimulus fraud. Certain that corruption will affect recovery act spend.
WAYNE MCELRATH, EPA ACTING ASSISTANT INSPECTOR GENERAL: Fraud will occur. Typically we see false statements, false claims, conflict of interests and antitrust violations.
CHERNOFF: Latest stimulus fraud scorecard ten months into the recovery act. 4740 audits and 106 active investigations and 25 cases accepted for prosecutorial review. And investigators say that they are only just beginning. Every department is training federal, state and municipal workers in fraud detection. And anticipating that corrupt contractors view recovery act funds potential gold mine.
CHERNOFF: As one investigator put it, there are lots of eyes watching this money. Wolf?
BLITZER: Allan Chernoff, thanks very much. We continue to stay on top of the economic stimulus plan. Much more coming up here on CNN.
Jack Cafferty wants to know how confident are you at the government's ability to create jobs? Your e-mail. That's just ahead.
And what would you think about a charity that spent more on golf outings than it does helping people? The foundation of one Indiana Congressman is under the spotlight right now, accused of doing just that.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with the Cafferty. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour, how confident are you in the government's ability to create jobs?
Joe in Maryland says, "The government can create jobs by investing in future energy projects, rail, and an improved outlook for the future success of the country. If the world sees America taking the lead business and employment will follow. I should know. I start my new job on Monday after two years of not being able to find a job. Thanks, President Obama, I'm an engineer back at work and paying taxes." Carl in California, "Is there anyone still around who lived through the great depression and can tell these impatience jackasses how many years and how many millions it took to bring us out of the depression and get us back to work? It took many years, many millions and jobs came back last. Roosevelt had the same brand of Republicans we have now, whining incessantly. At least the media wasn't taking a new poll every ten minutes back then to antagonize the situation."
Ralph says, "Not only do I think the government can't do anything to directly create jobs but almost anything they do do will hurt the job market by creating uncertainty and destroying incentives. The best thing is to reduce regulations, stabilize the money supply and cut taxes."
Gary says, "The U.S. government is currently the largest employer in the United States with over 2 million civilian employees. The government's already proved it can, indeed, create jobs. The real question is whether the role government plays in creating jobs is good for the long-term health of the country. And the answer to that question is complex."
Perry says, "Excuse me for not being long winded, but not at all."
Dave says, "You asked on TV, Jack, why they always say jobs, jobs, jobs three times. They say it three times because men won't get the message if you won't see it three times. You always see signs that say girl, girls, girls, would anybody remember Elvis Presley's movie if they just called it girls? I have to go home now."
If you want to read more, it's on my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Working late into the night doesn't agree with me at night.
BLITZER: Not going to last that much longer, Jack. Don't worry. See you back here tomorrow.
Indiana Congressman is trying to explain why his private charity spends tens of thousands of dollars on golf vacation for staff and donors but not a dime on its mission helping needy students go to college.
BLITZER: Republican Congressman Steven Buyer of Indiana under fire right now because of actions or lack of actions of a charitable foundation he founded. Let's go to CNN's Lisa Sylvester, once again digging deeper on this story. I take it the allegations are that the money being raised wasn't being raised for purpose of helping college kids get scholarships, but to, what, play golf?
SYLVESTER: Yeah. And you know what, Wolf, they were being held at some very nice sunny destinations including in the Bahamas and Florida. Now at least one Washington watch dog group is calling him out.
SYLVESTER: Indiana Congressman Steve Buyer is an avid golfer. These pictures from News Com show him at a charity event in 2006. But now the Frontier Foundation he founded is under fire. It has the mission of providing scholarship money to Indiana students, but according to the tax records, the foundation has not given out a single scholarship in six years. The group for ethics and responsibility in Washington says that instead, they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on golf tournaments in the Atlantis resort in Florida and the Bahamas. In 2007, $20,590 was spent on fund-raising travel alone. That was nearly half of the foundation's annual expenses. And in 2008, $22,000 spent on travel, almost one- third of the expenses that year was spent on travel.
MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY & ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: It is outrageous that the representative is pushing this charity and holding lavish golf vacations at the expense of Indiana needy kids who are trying the go to college. Here he is saying that he is there, and he is going to try to help the kids, and what he is doing is going to play golf.
SYLVESTER: Buyer in his defense said to keep it solvent the board decided to raise $100,000 before giving out scholarships, but later upped it to $1 million which is a goal that is not reached yet. That is not unusual practice according to the Council on Foundations.
ANDREW SCHULZ, COUNCIL ON FOUNDATIONS: A lot of organizations start and realize to be greater effective, they need a greater endowment to have a growing concern, but I would say that $1 million as an endowment for a scholarship program is about right.
SYLVESTER: So far, they have raised some $8,000, but spent more than $200,000. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also question the source of the donations. The companies who have contributed to the Frontier Foundation are a list of who's who in the health industry including Eli Lilly and the pharmaceutical giant Phrma who has contributed $200,000, and both who have contributed to his campaign committee. He sits on the house energy and subcommittee on health, the Congressional panel with oversight of the health industry. In a CBS interview, he insisted there is no conflict of interest.
REP. STEVE BUYER (R), INDIANA: The corporations in which provided support where I said were original companies. Please do not assume that if a company contributes to the foundation that somehow that is some sort of influence on what I'm about to do.
SYLVESTER: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed a complaint with the Congressional committee and the IRS asking for an explanation. In response, Buyer's office issued this statement, "This complaint has been filed after the matter is being resolved. Crew is a liberal front crew who has a reputation for using ethics for allegations of political attacks. Their complaint is a rehash of old news articles. After review, I sought guidance from the standards committee, and this matter is already being resolved."
(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER: I spoke to the house standards and ethics committee. They said they could not comment on buyer's foundation. A couple other things to note about this story, in corporation documents list buyer's daughter of the president of the board and his son, Ryan, as a director, though both are unpaid. His son, Ryan, also works for Phrma. Of the donations made to the foundation, quote, we've never add any time asked for anything in return. Eli Lilly says the foundation has a worthy cause of giving out scholarships although a spokesman told me they weren't aware until recently no money had actually been given to students. Wolf?
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester.
Let's close with a look at Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow. Roswell, New Mexico, man walks past an alien as snow blankets the region. Check it out. Cuba, soldiers celebrate the birthday of the national independence hero Jose Marte. Southern Spain, a woman looks out from her home at a cargo ship that ran aground. In china, look at this, giant panda cubs lounge in their new home at the shanghai zoo. Very cute. Hot Shots. Pictures often worth a thousand words.
Remember, you can also follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on twitter. I'm on twitter. Get my tweets. Tweets at twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN, Wolf Blitzer CNN all one word.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.