Return to Transcripts main page


Deadly Luge Crash at Olympics; TSA Expands Access to Secrets; Alabama Campus Shooting; Female Suspect in Custody in Connection with Shooting; Where to Hold 9/11 Trial; Snowy Streets, Nightmare Commute

Aired February 12, 2010 - 17:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, GUEST HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- the U.S. says its massive assault on the Taliban should be underway. And it is an assault unlike anything that we've seen in Afghanistan in years.

Plus, get ready for a Congress without Kennedys for the first time in decades. We'll look at the impact on America's most famous political dynasty now that Ted Kennedy's son, Patrick, is calling it quits.

And hop in the car for a nightmare commute through the slushy streets. Many of you across the country can probably our Dan Lothian's wild ride.

Well, Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


So there is nothing secret about this attack. U.S. and Allied forces have had their sights on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah for weeks now. They've been building up, they've been digging in, very publicly preparing for what is being called the largest offensive in the Afghanistan War.

Now, the U.S. military says this operation should finally be underway.

I want to go to our CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

He is in Afghanistan.

He is following this breaking news story -- Fred, tell us how they're going to try to take Marjah.

What are the biggest dangers here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of Marines and soldiers, also, from other nations involved in this offensive, Suzanne.

Basically what's going -- what's going to be going on is that some 15,000 Marines, Afghan soldiers and also British soldiers are going to be involved in trying to take Marjah back from the Taliban.

What you're going to be seeing is, on the one hand, assaults from the air, but also from the ground. You just said, just a second ago, that what's been going on in the past couple of days is that NATO has been amassing forces around that town. There have been so-called shaping operations, where both U.S. Marines, U.S. soldiers and also British forces have been taking strategic roads leading in and out of that town of Marjah, to try and prevent Taliban fighters from getting out of that place and also from amassing fighters into that place.

Now it appears as though the offensive is underway. We have been cleared by the military in Helmand Province of reporting that this operation is, in fact, going on.

The main objective, of course, Suzanne, of this operation is going to be to try and clear out the Taliban of this major stronghold, Marjah. Some 80,000 people live there. Now, it's the last major urban stronghold that the Taliban have in Helmand Province.

The objective is going to be to clear them out of there and get the Afghan government up to speed as fast as possible, because one thing that's at the centerpiece of this whole strategy that the U.S. is following in Afghanistan is to show civilians there that their government is a better alternative than the Taliban government.

So, certainly, that is one thing that is essential, getting this operation going fast, minimizing civilian casualties and getting governance going there as fast as possible when the major combat operations are done -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, how important is this operation to the larger -- the new -- the U.S. strategy that we see on the ground in Afghanistan?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's absolutely essential. I mean one of the things that Stanley McChrystal has been saying time and again that the -- really, the essence of what he's trying to do is to win over the population.

Now, there's major issues at hand here. One of the things that's very important is that in this operation, the Afghan Army is going to be playing a major role. That is something that the U.S. has been trying to do for a long time -- get the Afghan Army up to speed, get them to conduct their own operations. This is essentially the first time where they are going to be bearing a large brunt of what's going to be going on.

The other thing, of course, is to try and win over the sit -- the civilian population. And that is why, in this case, it is so essential and the U.S. has been saying time and again, it is so essential to keep civilian casualties at a minimum.

We've been seeing, in the past couple of days before this offensive has begun, there have been civilians fleeing the Marjah area. NATO and the U.S. has been telling them to please stay in place because they believe they can keep these people safe -- Suzanne. MALVEAUX: Fred, thank you so much.

We're going to get back to you as you have more details on this.

I want to bring in our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Explain to the viewers, because a lot of people are watching this and they don't quite understand, why are we broadcasting this mission?

Why is the Pentagon broadcasting this mission, giving the Taliban a heads-up, giving us all a heads-up that this is happening?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a couple of things here, Suzanne.

First of all, the Taliban are very savvy. They have their own intelligence networks. They know what's going on. They've been watching for days, as U.S., British and Afghan forces have been massing in the area.

But it should also be noted that General Stanley McChrystal had decided some time ago he wanted to broadcast the news that this operation was unfolding -- a real effort on his part to say to the Taliban, it's inevitable, you're going to lose, you need to leave, you need to go away. We are coming in. We will provide security. We are going to take this area.

Whether that strategy works and what price the young troops on the line may pay in the meantime in terms of IED attacks, ambushes, sniper attacks, that sort of thing, remains to be seen.

MALVEAUX: So, clearly, there's very much a propaganda aspect to this mission -- to this operation?

STARR: Oh, absolutely. You know, the Pentagon likes to call it information operation, messaging. It really is propaganda. They hope that this pressure -- this public pressure will work against the Taliban. That sure remains to be seen.

MALVEAUX: All right, Barbara.

Thank you so much for your insight.

I want to zero in on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. It's in Helmand Province. That's about 380 miles southwest of Kabul. Now, there are some 80,000 people who live in this farming community. And a major crop is -- is poppies. As you know, it's used for this lucrative -- very lucrative opium trade that actually helps fund the Taliban.

Now, Marjah is the last major town that is under Taliban control, with up to 1,000 militants that are holed up there.

And this offensive really is going to be a critical test of the Obama administration's troop surge in Afghanistan.

I want to bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

She is the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" -- and, clearly, Candy, we're looking at this and this is a risk for the Obama administration. He rolled out these 30,000 additional troops, this new type of strategy.

What's at play here?

What's -- what is the risk for the -- politically for the administration?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Politically. We set aside the real risk here, which is to these young...


CROWLEY: -- young men and women. But politically, you're right, there is a huge risk for the president here. And, actually, in the State of the Union this year, he set up the risk this way.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And in Afghanistan, we're increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011 and our troops can begin to come home.


OBAMA: We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption and support the rights of all Afghans, men and women alike.


CROWLEY: The bottom line here is this is now Barack Obama's war. We all know that it began under President George Bush. But it is President Obama who increased the troops, President Obama who set a deadline for the beginning of withdrawal of those troops.

So there is so much at stake in this initial move, and that is, what are they trying to do?

They're trying to oust the Taliban where they can, to try to stabilize the country, which is the only way U.S. troops can begin to pull out.

So politically speaking, he -- he does own this war at this point, because he has sent in all of the troops -- or not all of the troops, but the majority of the troops that are now there were sent by President Obama. And he set himself a deadline and that's -- that's tough.

MALVEAUX: And he's claimed this war, really, kind of reluctantly. But it is his war now.

How does he win over the American people to support this, because a lot of people, as we know, on the left, they -- they don't want any parts of this.

CROWLEY: And it's not just on the left. The majority of Americans now in our polling are opposed to this war in Afghanistan. Nothing succeeds like success. If this can be a success, if there can be some movement on the ground that shows that we are, in fact, making inroads into the hostile Taliban forces.

But, also, there has to be some diplomatic success here, because so much depends on Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. He's got to stabilize that country and get a government in place.

MALVEAUX: And tell us about the diplomatic efforts. Obviously, you have a very important guest this Sunday that you'll be talking to regarding that.

CROWLEY: General Jim Jones, retired General Jim Jones, who is, as you know, is head of the president's National Security Council, just back from Pakistan. We think he's going to have a -- a lot of interesting things to say about this ongoing effort in Afghanistan and a lot of other places that we want to talk to him about.


Thank you so much.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: We really appreciate it.

And we want to remind our viewers to please watch Candy Crowley's interview with national security adviser, General Jim Jones. Join Candy every Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. for CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".

Two more breaking stories.

There are new comments from President Bill Clinton. That is just ahead. We're just getting that tape in.

Also, we're getting brand new pictures from Haiti into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, as we mark the one month anniversary of the quake. Now, just hours before the Winter Games begin, an Olympic athlete has a deadly accident.

What went wrong in the luge?

We're going to have a live report from Vancouver.


MALVEAUX: On Capitol Hill, a lot of people are asking, what was the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, thinking?

He suddenly switched positions on a bipartisan jobs bill yesterday. And some believe that the fate of the bill now is in turmoil, along with hopes that Republicans and Democrats might be able to work together.

Well, our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, she's here to make sense of all of this.

You know, you've got to ask what's happening to the bipartisanship and what is happening to this jobs bill?

The president thought, hey, this is something we can get done in fairly short order.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and on -- and on bipartisanship, it seems just when we thought the Senate was taking a few steps forward, they take a few steps back.


KEILAR: (voice-over): As the snow melted in Washington, it seemed partisanship might be thawing, too.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: In many ways, the snow has made us more effective because we were able to concentrate on those things that were in front of us and not able -- not distracted by things that just happen during the normal course of the day.

KEILAR: This week, Republican Senator Bob Corker and Democratic Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd announced a plan to work together on a huge overhaul of the financial industry. Democrats and Republicans stood side by side, pressing for sanctions on Iran.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: The reasons the American people are angry about Washington these days is their perception that we can't agree on anything. But today's announcement stands in stark contrast to that.

KEILAR: And on the big issue of jobs, Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Chuck Grassley struck a deal on an $80 plus billion deal to get Americans back to work.

Was Congress finally coming together?

Maybe not.

Just hours later, the Senate's top Democrat announced the deal was toast, the Senate would take up a much smaller jobs bill and he virtually dared Republicans to oppose it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't know, in logic, what they could say to oppose this. But in -- we've seen, since Obama was elected, they opposed everything. They're the party of no.


KEILAR: So what went wrong here?

Well, this is what we have spent the day unraveling. Part of the reason is Harry Reid wasn't convinced that Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, really wanted to pass a jobs bill and pass it quickly. Republicans say that's not true. They say some Republicans were already on board when Harry Reid simply pulled the rug out from under a bipartisan effort that could have succeeded.

What you have is a lot of distrust here and that is meaning a lot of uncertainly about the jobs bill.

MALVEAUX: And that's going to take some time, obviously, to -- to bridge the gap that the lack of trust with these two sides.

KEILAR: Certainly. And they need to get some Republican support. That is the reality now. They only have 59 votes. They need 60. They have to get a Republican on board.

MALVEAUX: OK, Brianna.

Thank you so much.

I want to tell our viewers, we are waiting for a tape -- to turn around some tape fairly quickly. We have new video that is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. It's of former President Bill Clinton at his Chappaqua, New York home -- right outside his home.

He has been speaking for the first time since that procedure. As you know, yesterday he had been complaining about chest pains. He had a procedure done -- two stents put in to open up a clogged artery.

He is in good spirits, in good condition. He's back at his home after being released from the hospital and he is now commenting.

And as soon as we get that tape, we're going to turn that around and bring that to you.

But I want to talk, as well, about this apparent meltdown on the jobs bill. It is only adding to speculation that the state of the Obama administration, that it is struggling, perhaps. And some are even suggesting that it's descending into crisis.

Now, I want to bring in our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

And I don't mean to be dramatic about that, you know, crisis or anything, but what do you make of the fact that something that the administration thought they could get in rather short order is now deteriorating?

Does it say anything about what's taking place inside of the White House?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I'm afraid it does. It's bewildering on its face, Suzanne. I mean let's -- here's the context.

Gallup tells us today that the highest number of Americans in 27 years are saying unemployment is the number one problem in the country. Six out of 10 Americans think the president is not doing enough to address the economic problems of the country.

Yesterday, the White House issued its -- the economic report of the president, projecting that over the course of the coming year, with $100 billion of the new spending and jobs bills -- which haven't been passed -- even with that, we're only going to create, on average, 95,000 jobs a month.

On average, over the course of the coming year, 100,000 new people each month will enter the job force. In other words, we're going to create fewer jobs over the course of the coming year than there are people -- new people looking for them. That means for the 14.8 million Americans who are currently unemployed, that's not great hope, because that means we're just -- it's flat line.

So you would think, in that situation, that the White House would be at general quarters; that the president, after the State of the Union Address, saying jobs are my number one priority, would be out there talking to Harry Reid, talking to Nancy Pelosi, talking to Chuck Grassley, getting Max Baucus, you know, twisting arms, bringing people in and getting a jobs bill passed that was substantial.

Instead, we have this very, very bewildering situation where the president, once again, seems to be on the sidelines -- at least by all appearances -- and letting Congress go its own way and sort of making a hash out of this.

MALVEAUX: Well, David, let me ask you this...

GERGEN: That is not what I am accustomed to in presidential leadership.

MALVEAUX: Let me ask you this, what about the appearances that the president has been making?

He's been going around. He's holding town hall meetings. He's been answering questions. We -- I've been covering the fact that he's been reaching out. And at least he seems to be using the -- the kind of language that people can relate to, saying I understand things aren't great, but we're trying to work on this.

Do you think that that's been largely ineffective?

GERGEN: Well, I think that the president has connected with people in -- in good ways. But at the moment, Suzanne, I believe that people are not looking for more talk, they're looking for more results. They want change. And they're not seeing it come. And after the failure on the health care bill, we're now going to have this sort of -- this conference next week to go back to health care, when most people are saying wait a minute, what about the jobs?

Isn't this an urgent issue?

And -- and I believe the president is going to descend into a crisis unless his people come together and pull this jobs question together and get moving on it. I mean, the jobs bill that's emerging right now -- I give credit to Harry Reid. I like Harry Reid. I respect him. But the stripped down bill that he is introducing is only for $15 billion. "The New York Times" today, in its editorial, said that's pathetic. They said it's puny compared to the needs that we face.

MALVEAUX: All right, David Gergen, thank you so much.

We appreciate your perspective.

We are standing by to bring you comments from former President Bill Clinton. He is speaking for the first time since getting out of the hospital.

We are also seeing, as well, the end of one of America's great political dynasties, perhaps. We'll tell you about the news that will soon leave Congress without any Kennedys and what it could mean to the family's legacy.

Also, China is unhappy with President Obama's upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama. Wait until you hear what China is urging the president to do.

And the TSA moves to help airport security workers spot and stop potential terrorists.

But what does this mean for the traveling public?


MALVEAUX: We're getting new comments from former President Bill Clinton, seeing him for the first time since living the hospital after that procedure from yesterday.

I want to go ahead and turn around this tape and have you take a listen.


WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't really notice it until about four days ago. And then I felt just a bit of tingling -- not pain, no grabbing in my chest. And I thought I ought to check it out.

And it is a fairly typical thing. As you know, Larry King had the same thing done about a month ago and didn't even say anything to anybody. It's miraculous what they do with the stents. You just go in and go out. And I didn't take any sedatives or anything, so I was alert. I wanted to watch it. I got to watch it all on the monitor.

QUESTION: Did they go through your groin?

Did they go through your groin?


QUESTION: If you...


QUESTION: -- having been through what you went through with the surgery, the -- the quadruple bypass surgery, was it a little scary when it was going on, when you -- when you were feeling the discomfort?

CLINTON: No, because I -- they know what they're doing and I felt that it was just a -- kind of a repair job. And I knew when I did it that when you transplant the veins that, you know, sometimes they don't hold up very long.

And the best news about it was that because of the medicine and the other things I've done in the last five years -- the diet and the exercise that I had done, the rest of my heart was exactly as it was five years ago and all my -- you know, the arteries and everything was just as clear.

So, actually, I'm doing very well. I feel very blessed. I was fortunate that I, you know, kind of had a feeling about it.

QUESTION: Terry McAuliffe...


MALVEAUX: Former President Bill Clinton.

We're so happy that he is doing well -- recovering very well -- and, Jessica, can you imagine here, he said he didn't have any sedatives during this procedure?

He didn't want the sedatives. He was able to actually watch this whole thing yesterday.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Pretty remarkable. And they said he was on the phone as he was headed in. It's amazing what they can do with these things these days, you know.


YELLIN: It's truly amazing.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's good to see he's doing really well.

YELLIN: Up and about...

MALVEAUX: And I know...


MALVEAUX: -- I know you're following some other stories, Jessica...



What do you have for us?

YELLIN: Suzanne, China is now urging President Obama to cancel his meeting with the Dalai Lama. The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader is scheduled to visit the White House next Thursday. The Chinese state-run news agency reports that a foreign ministry spokesman says the U.S. should pull out of the meeting as part of its commitment to recognizing Tibet as part of China. The Dalai Lama, as you know, favors genuine autonomy from China.

Suzanne, at least 10 churches set on fire this year in Eastern Texas. Now, federal agents want to talk to these three men. ATF officials released sketches today in hopes that somebody will recognize the faces and speak up. Investigators say there is no theme linking the fires. Churches of different nominations -- denominations -- have been targeted at different times on different days of the week.

Hopefully, something will come of those sketches.

And exactly what happened?

That's what officials of Washington's subway system are studying after a six car train derailed with 345 people on board. The Metro train was underground when the front wheels of the lead car came off the track just after the morning rush. Now, the fire chief says three people had a few bumps and bruises, but, thankfully, everyone else was OK.

And get this, he may not be a household name, Suzanne, but chances are you have tossed around his famous invention. Walter Fredrick Morrison, who was the inventor of the Frisbee, has died at the age of 90. Now, legend has it that Morrison got the idea in 1937 while playing with a tin popcorn lid. He did not license the idea -- that disc -- until 20 years later. And since then, we're told 200 million Frisbees have been sold. That's according to the company that sells them.

Can you believe there was no such thing as a Frisbee before 1937?

MALVEAUX: It seems like they've been around forever.

Are you going at Frisbee throwing?

YELLIN: I am so bad.

MALVEAUX: I am, too.

YELLIN: But you're...

MALVEAUX: I have never...

YELLIN: No kidding?

MALVEAUX: I have never been good at throwing a Frisbee. I've never.

YELLIN: I'll have to talk to you on that some time (INAUDIBLE).

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Jessica.

To sad news, a deadly accident on the luge just hours before the start of the Winter Games in Vancouver. We're going to have a live report from our reporter at the Olympics.

Plus, a new void in the Kennedy political dynasty. After Ted Kennedy's death, his son Patrick is now retiring from Congress.

And we're following the breaking news from Afghanistan -- a US- led assault on a Taliban stronghold should be underway right now.



Happening now, fears of a possible war with Iran.

What would it look like?

Well, U.S. experts are trying to answer that question as they conduct war games.

Also, a serious illness thought to be mostly wiped out in America. Well, now there is a major outbreak in the Northeast.

Why is mumps making a comeback?

And why do young men seem to be most at risk?

And a new strategy to make math and science cool to students -- zero gravity flights for teachers.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


Tragedy strikes the Winter Olympics -- just hours before the opening ceremony, a luge slider was killed during a training session today.

I want to bring our CNN's Mark McKay.

He is in Vancouver covering the Olympics -- Mark, how did this happen?

MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a tragic mishap, for sure, Suzanne. On the competitor's final training run at the Whistler Sliding Center, 21 year old Nodar Kumaritashvili, Republic of Georgia, the Olympian, he lost control just before the finish line, came off the sled, slammed into an unpadded steel pole adjacent to the track. CPR was administered. He was taken to a local hospital, where he subsequently died of his injuries. A very emotional international committee president spoke with the media, and he had this to say, "The whole Olympic family is struck by this tragedy, which clearly overshadows the game." An investigation is under way to how it happened.

MALVEAUX: Do we know why it happened? Was he going too fast? Were there problems on this track before?

MCKAY: This is a sport that's dangerous in its nature, Suzanne. These luge competitors come down at hundreds of miles an hour. It's both concrete and ice. He did lose control right before the finish line, flew off the sled. That's where he suffered his fatal injuries, the investigation will continue here. The men's luge competition is Saturday. There was concerns about the fast track that the competitors had been sliding on. Some competitors calling it the fastest track in the world.

MALVEAUX: Mark, were there previous complaints about this particular track or problems?

MCKAY: I think there were more concerns. Some of the Olympians, one in fact from Australia had said, what are -- told the "New York Times" are what are we, crash dummies? There was initial concern about how quick and track this track was running.

MALVEAUX: And real quick, will the luge continue? They're going to go ahead with this event later in the Olympics?

MCKAY: There's been no word. The luge competition for the men should start on Saturday. There's been no word to whether that will continue or not. The republic of Georgia, by the way, is considering whether it will keep its team here at the games in light of the tragedy.

MALVEAUX: OK. Mark McKay, thank you so much. Obviously our condolences to the athlete and his family.

Less than two months after a man near nearly allegedly blow up a flight near Detroit, the TSA is taking steps to expand airport security workers' access to secret intelligence. OurCNN Kate Bolduan is following the story. Is there a connection between this Christmas attack and what we're seeing and TSA's reaction?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: According to the TSA, the plans, the idea for this initiative was developed back in July 2008, and these background checks, and these screenings began, then started in 2009, so it's not a direction result of the Christmas day attempted attack, but it's still a very big move in airport security. 10,000 security workers are set to get enhanced intelligence clearance, secret clearance in effort by the Transportation Security Administration to improve its ability to detect and stop potential terrorists. The workers gaining this new access to classified information are not the TSA workers you most often encounter at airports like the checkpoint screeners that scan your luggage. Rather, it's their bosses, people in more senior positions. The people that are getting this -- people we're talking about here are the managers, the supervisors, and the behavior detection officers. These are the people we're talking about here. Now, a spokeswoman for the TSA tells us that providing clearance and corresponding intelligence information to the front line workforce empowers or employees to better execute their mission at the checkpoint and in other areas of the transportation environment. TSA says this effort will help officers spot anything suspicious at the airport, and also, Suzanne, helpful to connect the dots, which we know is a big concern throughout the intelligence community.

MALVEAUX: What does this mean for the traveling public? Is everybody on board with 10,000 of these TSA workers now getting classified information?

BOLDUAN: Very good question. We've had a split response from the people we've talked to. Two intelligence experts we spoke with say this is a good idea, because it gives people within the intelligence community more confidence in sharing sensitive information, and they say it could reduce the chance that information would be leaked, because these people will be trained to treat classified information appropriately. But as I said, the support isn't universal. We also talked to two representatives from airline pilot groups. Both say that pilots and crews are being overlooked, that it's much more important to get this type of information, and they are argue -- and this was very interesting, one person said that the people -- personnel at the security checkpoints, they see passengers for a few seconds, but the flight crews and pilots, they iams in some case are with them for several hours. That's their argument why they should be looped in and should have this kind of classified information.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Kate.

There are new poll numbers that show that most Americans trust individuals in businesses rather than the government to solve the country's problems. Well, could president Obama learn a lesson from a past president?

Also, the only Kennedy in Congress says he's not running for reelection. What might that mean for the Kennedy political dynasty?

And skyrocketing health insurance premiums. Why is one insurance company hiking up rates even as it rakes in huge profits?


MALVEAUX: We have reports of a shooting at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. I want to go directly to Jessica Yellin who has been following all of the developments. What do we know so far?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've learned that emergency workers have responded to the scene at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, where the crime scene is still active. According to our affiliate there WAFF, at least three victims have been brought out. Reporters there with our affiliate believe there is one shooter inside, possibly more. They don't know. They are telling us the S.W.A.T. team has been called in. This site is an engineering building on the campus of the University of Alabama at Huntsville called the Shelby Center, so this is an ongoing active crime scene. What we know is at least three victims in this shooting spree at the University of Alabama. The S.W.A.T. team is on location. Our affiliate WAFF, bringing us that news, and we'll continue to update as we get new information.

MALVEAUX: I understand we're just being handed information as well that CNN has been able to confirm that there is a female that is in custody from this reported shooting, and that this shooting, there's several people that have been wounded according to the authorities. We are looking at our affiliate video, I believe, WAFF, there's a reporter who's on the scene. We know who can at least describe what he sees on the ground, what is taking place, but so far CNN has been able to confirm at least there's one woman who is in custody, as a result of this alleged shooting. I think, Jessica, we're going to take a quick brain and have more information in a few minutes.


MALVEAUX: We have breaking news now, a developing story, a shooting out of University of Alabama, Huntsville campus. Jessica Yellin has more details about what's unfolding. What can you tell us about what's taking place?

YELLIN: So far CNN has confirmed there's one female suspect currently in custody after the shooting at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. We understand the campus remains on lock joined, according to our affiliate. Our affiliate says they've seen at least three victims taken out on stretchers. The site of the crime is an engineering building there on the campus called the Shelby Center, and as you can see from the pictures, it's an active crime scene where there's still an ongoing investigation, but one female suspect in custody, at least three shooting victims, according to our affiliate, and we of course will continue to monitor the story for development.

MALVEAUX: I know we're watching tame from our CNN affiliate WAFF, and I believe there is a reporter that is on the ground there who can describe and has been describing what the scene is like there. Let's listen to what he's reporting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point we have three dead, three confirmed people who are dead. We have one injured. The police have secured the building, the shooter is in custody, and they are sweeping the building to both look to see if there are other victims as well as to get evidence.


MALVEAUX: That was the university spokesman who just made some news there, saying that there were three dead from the shooting, and that the shooter is in custody. I want to go directly to the reporter on the ground from our affiliate. Can you confirm that? This is -- I'm sorry. This is just tape from earlier. Let's listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like S.W.A.T. team members have just arrived on the scene. You can see a couple guys jogging up toward the building right now. I see Ray Garner as well. Hopefully he will come our way. He's trying to get a lot of information, too. Police are trying to do their job, the S.W.A.T. team is trying to do their job, so you can imagine the last thing on our minds is getting the information out here. They're trying to get students out of the building, trying to find out exactly what's going on, is there a shooter? Are there more than one shooter? That's information we're still waiting on.


MALVEAUX: You've been listening to the reporter on the ground there, and we had just learned from a university spokesman on the ground as well, saying that three people were dead from this reported shooting and that the shooter was in fact custody, this at the University of Alabama Huntsville campus. We'll be gathering much more information as the story develops. Right now, a quick break.


MALVEAUX: And breaking news. We're just learning University of Alabama in the Huntsville campus, a shooting that took place, three from a university spokesman, people killed in that shooting, the shooter in custody. Obviously a developing story. Jessica Yellin is monitoring some other top stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have?

YELLIN: More controversy Suzanne from the security firm that was formerly known as Blackwater. Two ex-employees claim that the company hired prostitutes and strippers, then sent the bill to Uncle Sam. They filed a lawsuit against the security firm accusing it of fraudulent activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The company now known by the letters XE, officials there are denying these claims.

Thousands of earthquake survivors are singing and praising in Port-au-Prince to mark a national day of mourning. It's been one month since the catastrophic quake that leveled most of Haiti's capital city. More than 212,000 people are dead, and a million are homeless, but a spokeswoman for the international rescue committee says relief operations are improving day by day.

And how well is the U.S. government responding to the disaster? House speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to know. She is heading to the quake zone to find out as part of a bipartisan 12-member Congressional delegation. They meet with Haitian leaders and will visit aid distribution sites and medical facilities. Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jessica.

Well Massachusetts Congressman Patrick Kennedy announces he won't run for reelection. In today's strategy session, we discuss the political impact of a Kennedy-free Congress and what it will mean to the family personally. Joining me Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Both are CNN political contributors, Paul, I want to start off with you. I understand that you might have an inkling into what's going to happen with the Kennedy clan. What do you make of this?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, of course, there has been a Kennedy in the Congress, my goodness, since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected in Boston as a house member in the World War II, so we have not had an America without a Kennedy in the white house for everybody watching the broadcast. And Patrick Kennedy serving for 18 years and beloved in the state, and no more Democratic state in the union than Rhode Island, and I can't believe he would have a problem. But I understand the need to move on and Democrats across the country understand that and will run on, but will we have a Kennedy-free Congress? I am not sure, because it is an awfully safe prediction, but I think that there will be a Kennedy on the ballot --

MALVEAUX: Just not Patrick.

BEGALA: No. But I have been watching them all my life and service is in their DNA and Patrick is not the Kennedy we see in the Congress, I predict.

MALVEAUX: Do you think it, Ed, a very powerful symbolism here or do you see more of an impact obviously in the kinds of policies from Patrick Kennedy as well. He called attention to autism, and drug abuse and had a lot of issues that he put forward that were important to him.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Obviously, having spent my lifetime and I am old enough, that I was around when there was not a Kennedy in the Congress, Paul, but they have been dedicated to the causes, and I have been on the opposite side of many of them. I think there is a family fatigue with the tragic death of ted Kennedy and the long illness, and he was the Senate giant and Patrick was a member of Congress for a substantial period of time, and I agree with Paul, that there will be another Kennedy somewhere along the line, because it is a big family, but I don't think there is an impact. The losing of ted Kennedy is a giant impact to the Democratic Party and the family, but I don't think that Patrick's will have that impact.

MALVEAUX: Let's tackle a controversial issue. A lot of people are talking about the 9/11 trial and where it will be held, and that this is potentially not happening in new York, and a lot of people outraged they think it could happen there, and what we are hearing from the white house and from the justice department is clearly President Obama involved, involved in a broad way of trying to figure out what is the most appropriate venue to try this alleged terrorist, mastermind of the September 11 attacks. Do you think that is appropriate, that he is involved in this in light of the politics now? This is a political decision and not a practical one about where to move this alleged terrorist or how the try him.

BEGALA: Well, I think that you are right, and at this point he does have to weigh in. It is true under the bush administration, the number I saw in the newspaper was 319 trials were held in civilian courts just like this trial we are talking about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but this is not another 319, this is the alleged mastermind of the attacks. A lot of New Yorkers I talked to wanted him right back there at the scene of the crime to see him, confront him and convict him and many of them want to see him executed. But I do think that the president has to take into account the fears and well-founded fears that others have that not Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is going to break out and hurt people, but it could be a draw for other terrorist acts, and it is a really tough call to tell you the truth. The lawyers just followed the playbook that bush left them which is except for two to three case, the bush administration tried every single one of these terrorists in civilian court and they had a 90% conviction record by the way, and stiffer penalties from the civilian courts than the military tribunals, so the tough on crime approach is to try them in the courts b through is a political problem.

MALVEAUX: Ed, we have top wrap it there, but we have run out of time. I am told you get a quick comment here.

ROLLINS: It should not be in New York City. New York City has had enough. Try him in some other place where it is obscure and put him in Harry Reid's state and have him tried there.

MALVEAUX: We will see how that goes. Ed Rollins and Paul Begala, appreciate it.

We are following news at the University of Alabama, a shooting that leaves three people dead. We are going to bring you the latest on what is happening on that campus.

What would a military conflict with a nuclear Iran look like? War games are painting a terrifying scenario.


MALVEAUX: Well, it is back to work for tens of thousands of federal workers in Washington today, and while the skies are clear, mounds of slushy snow are still clogging many of the street, but it adds up to a nightmare commute. And our own white house correspondent Dan Lothian found himself in the middle of it. Take a look.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am driving along on route 29 heading into D.C. to the white house, and this is pretty much all you will see, just traffic everywhere, but it has been crawling the whole way. And the problem is that these are areas where you would normally have three lane, but here you have virtually three lanes, but this lane here, this third lane is partially obstructed by all of that snow. I am more than an hour into the commute and only a few miles away from home, so that the headache we had a few days ago is still going to be around for a little while.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The outer loop of the beltway in the county has been in a tremendous delay from Georgia Avenue -- LOTHIAN: She is talking about one of the areas I am driving through right now. Is this a mess or what? Look over here, and the sun that has come out has started to melt some of the snow here, and so, this is a low-lying area, and the street has kind of turned into a little creek. How about that, I'm getting splashed. All of these cars are still buried. Obviously, people parked their cars and have not -- have just left them there. Just about ready to pull into the garage, the parking garage down the street from the white house. From the time I got into my car home, it took about 2 1/2 hours. It could have been a lot worse, because as I have been listening to the radio, some people say it took them three hours to get into work. Now the other option would have been to come in by train, the subway, which I use from time to time, but it so happens that the very line I use, the red line, there was a derailment, and it happened right at the stop that I normally get off of. So, all in all, it was a very slow commute, but it could have been a lot worse.


LOTHIAN: Well, Suzanne, it is not everyday I videotape my commute, but it was a special circumstance and so crazy out there and amplified by the fact that the government workers who normally go in earlier in the day were going in later, and of course, I got caught in the middle of it.

MALVEAUX: Well, Dan, you and I don't live too far away from each other, so that would have been my commute, but I stayed in a hotel at D.C. you could have stayed in a hotel.

LOTHIAN: Yes, the big anchors get to stay in the hotel. No, actually, I did stay in the hotel for a couple of nights, because of the difficulty of the snow. But I decided to brave it and go home to check and make sure everything was okay and this is the price I paid coming in this morning.

MALVEAUX: How long did it take you to get in, Dan?

LOTHIAN: 2 1/2 hours. Normally the commute is 30 to 45 minutes, so it was long.

MALVEAUX: Thanks for preview of my commute. It looks like we will brave it again. Thank you, Dan.