Return to Transcripts main page


Terror Money Trail; Afghan President Visits Arlington National Cemetery; Troops Brace for Big Afghan Battle/Puerto Rico May Vote on Statehood/Obama Orders Wings in Buffalo/Bill Clinton Raffles Himself to Pay Hillary's

Aired May 13, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: FBI raids in the Times Square bomb plot, investigators focusing in on the terror money trail. We're learning new details about the arrests and the main suspect, who still hasn't had a day in court, at least not yet.

Also, the Afghan president sees firsthand the price America has paid for nine years of war in his country. How do the relatives of fallen troops feel about his visit to Arlington National Cemetery today?

And a move to expand the United States, with a new push for statehood for Puerto Rico -- what the island's four million people would stand to gain and lose.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Terror raids in three states resulting in three arrests, as the FBI traces the money trail in the Times Square bomb plot. A source close to the investigation tells CNN the focus is on so-called cash couriers funneling money from overseas to finance terrorist operations here in the United States.

We're covering all angles of the story this hour.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, CNN's Jim Acosta, our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, CNN's Deborah Feyerick, all of them are watching what's going on.

Let's begin with Susan Candiotti, though, first.

What do we know about these arrests today, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the FBI fanned out to three states today looking for a number of possible threads to that bungled bomb plot in Times Square.

In Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, agents served search warrants. Law enforcement sources tell CNN the investigation is reaching out in several directions. They're looking at money, how the attempted car bombing was paid for, and where suspect Faisal Shahzad got his money.

One focus is on cash couriers, commonly known as (INAUDIBLE) overseas, that are extremely hard to trace, because they don't leave much of a paper trail. And if that's how he got his cash, did the people who delivered it to him on this end have any direct knowledge of the plot?

In past cases where couriers have been involved, the 9/11 attacks, for example, that's unlikely. I'm also told the FBI is tracking down everyone Shahzad had contact with, friends, associates, e-mails, phone calls, where he went, how he got around. So, that's taken them to a home and a gas station in Massachusetts and another location in Maine.

And on Long Island, New York, at least two homes were raided. At one we spoke with a man who says he's a cabdriver and a friend of another man the FBI wanted to know about. And in southern New Jersey, the FBI searched the condo owned by a man who also runs a printing shop. The man's brother says nothing was seized, and the FBI says no one was arrested.

So all in all, we know the FBI is following leads stemming from the man at the center of the failed bomb plot, Faisal Shahzad, who's still chatting away with investigators, Wolf.

BLITZER: By all accounts, he's still cooperating.

Stand by, Susan.

Jim Acosta's in Watertown, Massachusetts, right outside Boston.

What went down there, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was quite a commotion.

At about 6:00 this morning, FBI agents and agents with the Customs and Immigration Enforcement Service showed up at this house behind me in Watertown, Massachusetts, right outside of Boston.

And within minutes, they apprehended two men described by neighbors as being Middle Eastern, and one neighbor who was living right across the street, he was enterprising enough and his wife was enterprising enough, they grabbed their digital camera and started snapping these images of one of the suspects being loaded into a car by FBI agents, and then led away from the scene.

That resident that we talked to, his name is Vinny Lacerra, he said he basically heard and saw the whole thing.


VINNY LACERRA, WITNESS: There were so many police cars and FBI agents out here. But it was 6:00 in the morning. And, like I said, I was shocked that nobody else was out, because --

ACOSTA: And what did you see?

LACERRA: Well, like I told every -- I was sitting in my living room watching TV. And all of a sudden, I heard a -- a man who said, FBI. Hold your hands up. Get your hands up.

And I looked out my window. And there was, like, 15 to 20 FBI agents lined up from here all the way around there. And they had what looked like machine guns pointed at that at that -- at the white house there.


ACOSTA: Now, according to a lot of the residents on the street that we have talked to, these two individuals who were detained by federal officials lived like ghosts. People in this neighborhood had really no idea that they even lived in this house behind me. And according to neighbors here, this house turns over every six months to a year, with new people moving in, so they didn't know these two men very well.

But after talking to a law enforcement official earlier this day, Wolf, I can tell you that, yes, as Susan said, they are looking at the financial aspect of this, whether or not money was transferred from these two individuals to Faisal Shahzad, but it's unclear as to whether or not these two individuals actually knew what the money was going to be going to.

Another FBI official here in Boston stresses, these two men are being held on immigration charges right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks. Jim Acosta, stand by.

He's in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.

Jeanne, the individuals, what do we know about them?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Jim mentioned, they are being held on immigration charges. They're all Pakistani. A U.S. official tells me that two of them are visa overstays. The third was in removal proceedings. He had petitioned before a judge to change his status. It hadn't been granted. Neither had he been ordered out of the country, according to this official.

A federal law enforcement source tells me that they are more interested in the two individuals who were taken into custody outside Boston, in Watertown, than the one individual that was picked up in Maine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne, there was some criticism that leaks to the media earlier leading up to the arrest of Faisal Shahzad undermined that, because he almost got away as he was trying to get to the airport, to Kennedy Airport.

Was this raid, these series of raids, I should say today, a tighter operation?

MESERVE: Yes. As someone said to me, Wolf, this is the way it's supposed to have been done. We're told that these search warrants were executed at about 6:00 a.m. this morning. It was quite some time before the media became aware of it. So, there was no tip-off.

They thought that Faisal Shahzad became very well aware of the fact that authorities were after him because of all the leaks to the news media the evening he was arrested.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring in Deborah Feyerick.

Deb, he still hasn't appeared before a judge, has he?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, that's exactly right,. He still hasn't showed up in court. The reason is, is because he's still talking to investigators, something they say he's doing voluntary, that he's telling them what he knows, how he was able to carry out this plan to car-bomb Times Square.

Federal agents have been following leads they got, not only when they searched house last week shortly after he was arrested trying to leave the country, but leads are also coming in from Pakistan that investigators are running down.

Now, I asked the U.S. attorney today who is handling the case whether Shahzad is providing what's known as actionable intelligence. Here's the answer.


PREET BHARARA, U.S. ATTORNEY: Faisal Shahzad is still cooperating. He's being interviewed and questioned by agents, and has been since the day he was taken into custody. And we are doing exactly what I think people want us to do, and that is to make sure that we get all the information we can with respect to any and all associates he may have and other information that would help us to prevent anything further from happening in the United States.

But I want to emphasize, as has been said by other officials today, that the searches that are going on, that have gone on this morning in the places that you mentioned, do not involve any imminent threat and do not involve any active plot that we're aware of.


FEYERICK: Now, I also asked the U.S. attorney there whether the two men arrested are associates of the car bomber. The U.S. attorney declined comment. However, a federal law enforcement source does tell me that the two men were taken in because either of direct or indirect ties to Times Square. They're being held on immigration violations. So, authorities really did want to talk to these guys.

Now, Shahzad remains at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan in FBI custody. And, Wolf, one of the reasons that all of these raids were carried out all at once is because they really wanted to maintain the element of surprise. They didn't want anyone tipped off. They didn't want anyone destroying evidence, and they wanted to make sure they got everybody at the same time. That's why you saw these raids taking place in three states -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, guys, I want all of you to stand by. We're just getting this tape in to CNN right now. The president of the United States is in New York. He's been meeting with law enforcement officials who were involved in the Times Square takedown.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- in coordination with state, local, federal officials. When it comes to counterterrorism, it's the model for the country. It has been for some time.

And I don't think I need to tell you that, given the potential for attack everywhere in the country, we have got a lot to learn from what's taken place here.

Number one, you guys do a great job coordinating with other law enforcement. Number two, you are just professional and exhibit excellence at all times in carrying out your job. Number three, what we saw in Times Square is, we know how to get the community involved and raise community awareness, which is absolutely critical.

And, as a consequence, you know, you have saved an awful lot of lives. And, so, my main message to you is that the country is proud of you. I know your mayor and your commissioner are proud of you. Your president is proud of you.

And we want to make sure that we continue to work with you to get the resources that are needed for you to continue to be effective and to make sure that federal agencies are consistently working with you with -- working on all cylinders, because we want to make sure that you are getting the support you need to protect this great city.

But I (INAUDIBLE) impressed with what you guys do under tremendous pressure (INAUDIBLE) I am impressed. And it makes me proud of the country and proud of the fact that I lived in New York for a while.

So, did somebody want to describe to me how this room is used?


BLITZER: All right, so there's the president of the United States. He's at One Police Plaza, the tape just coming in, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, there, as well as police officers, including some who were directly involved in that botched Times Square bombing incident.

Susan Candiotti is in New York for us.

Susan, this was, I guess you can say, a hastily organized event. The president was in Buffalo earlier in the day, decided to come to New York and say thanks to law enforcement in New York.

He's got a big party fund-raiser, Democratic fund-raiser, later in the evening, but I'm sure the men and women of the police department in New York are happy the commander in chief drops by.

CANDIOTTI: Well, it's certainly not surprising that he would have done that. Certainly, by phone, he's congratulated some of the people that played a direct role in this case, for example, the vendors who first called attention to that smoking car in Times Square.

And I think, by all accounts, everyone has said how impressed they were with the performance of the agencies working together in only 53 hours after that attempted car bomb to track down the key suspect in this case. So, certainly, those congratulations are not unexpected.

BLITZER: Looks like they got a pretty nice command center over there, with the screens showing traffic and stuff coming in to police, One Police Plaza, over there.

Thanks, Susan. Thanks to the entire team. We will stay on top of this story.

Jack Cafferty is coming up with "The Cafferty File."

Then, an Army battle unlike most others -- this time, the enemy is oil.

Also, the biggest offensive of the Afghan war, about to enter a critical, even more dangerous, new phase.

And the new effort to make Puerto Rico America's 51st state, could this one succeed where others have failed?


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Bill Clinton wants to help his wife pay off her campaign debt, so much so that the former president is raffling himself off in an e-mail to millions of her supporters.

Here's what that e-mail says: "How would you like a chance to come up to New York and spend a day with me? Hillary's campaign still has a few vestiges of debt that I know she would like to see paid in full. Will you reach out today to help Hillary this one last time?"

This is the second time in the last few months Bill Clinton has raffled his time to help his wife. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton's not allowed to raise money herself to pay off her campaign debt. The target audience here is not the typical big-time Democratic donors. Hillary relied on them during the campaign, and most of them have already maxed out anyway.

Rather, Clinton's appealing to small donors. You can give as little as $5 online and buy a chance to spend the day with President Clinton. Hillary Clinton still owes a small boatload of money from her failed presidential bid. Records show her campaign close to $775,000 in debt. A lot of that money is owed to Mark Penn, Clinton's chief political strategist and pollster.

It doesn't include the $13 million personal loan that Hillary made to the campaign. She will likely never see that money again. Anyway, here's the question: Would you enter a lottery where Bill Clinton is the first prize?

Go to and knock yourself out -- Wolf.


BLITZER: And I suspect some people will, Jack. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Already have.

BLITZER: I'm sure.

A new attempt to stop the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, this time using what BP calls an insertion method. Crews will try to insert a new section of pipe ringed with a gasket into the riser pipe that's spewing oil. If it works, the gasket will seal the leak and the new section of pipe would carry the crude to ships on the surface. BP says it could happen as early as tonight.

Meanwhile, the military is taking part in efforts to contain some of the four million gallons of oil already spilled, four million.

CNN's David Mattingly is on Louisiana's Elmer's Island with that part of the story.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you got here, this is where the island ended?

LT. KYLE GALLOWAY, LOUISIANA ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: That's correct. You could see the shoreline right there.

MATTINGLY: So, you have built everything from here all the way down to that green spot down there?

GALLOWAY: Yes, sir. It's a about 700-foot breach that we have filled in. We connected it last night.

MATTINGLY: Seven hundred feet?

GALLOWAY: Yes, sir.

GALLOWAY: Hey, watch out for the dump truck.

MATTINGLY: You have got -- you have got a load of rock here. That's going to go on the oceanside?

GALLOWAY: That's correct. The intent of this rock is to break up the surf and keep it from eating away at the sand here.

MATTINGLY: You want to make sure everything you put down here stays here?

GALLOWAY: Exactly.

MATTINGLY: Now, the plan is that, since you have filled in this breach, if the oil comes this way, it's going to stop right here.

GALLOWAY: Exactly.

What we have back here between Elmer's Island, which is what we're standing on, and Grand Isle, is -- I like to call it an estuary. It's a vibrant ecosystem. And it's also an important breeding ground for shrimp, so it's ecologically and economically very important to the local community.


BLITZER: David Mattingly reporting for us.

We're also learning, by the way, details of another sunken rig, this one drilling for natural gas in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. Venezuela's state-run energy company says the rig began listing -- lifting last night, and that all 95 workers on board safely evacuated before it sank. The company says safety valves cut off the flow of gas, preventing a leak.

The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, first broke the news of the rig sinking on his Twitter account.

New information about the young boy who's the sole survivor of that plane crash that killed more than 100 people, that's coming up.

Plus, thousands of U.S. forces prepare for the next phase of a critical military offensive in Afghanistan: taking on the Taliban.



BLITZER: Afghanistan's president visits what some people call the saddest acre in America. How will he react to his firsthand view of the price that the U.S. has paid for nine years of war in his country?

Also, is the United States about to get bigger? Puerto Ricans may get a chance to vote on becoming the 51st state.

And Japan's prime minister has plenty of political opponents, but now he's facing criticism for his most unusual fashion sense.


BLITZER: A somber interlude pushed aside politics and diplomacy as the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, saw firsthand the price the United States has paid for nine years of war in his country. He visited Arlington National Cemetery and the graves of some of the almost 1,000 Americans who have died in Afghanistan.

CNN's Barbara Starr is standing by over at the Pentagon.

But let's go to Brian Todd first. He's over at Arlington National Cemetery and can tell us what happened there -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Karzai and his hosts have not exactly been on the same page in the weeks leading up to this trip. Still, President Karzai did make the effort to come here and took a walk through a section of this cemetery that couldn't have been very easy for him to see.


TODD (voice-over): In the midst of a trip that almost didn't happen, the Afghan president stops at what's called the saddest acre in America, Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, the burial ground for some young American servicemen killed trying to stabilize Hamid Karzai's country.

(on camera): This is not President Karzai's first visit to Arlington Cemetery, but it is first stop here at Section 60. This is where the majority of the U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan who are laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery are buried.

President Karzai paid particular attention to this headstone, the stone here, the flowers. This is the grave of Justin Ray Davis, a private in the Army. He was only 19 years old when he was killed in Afghanistan in June of 2006. We're told that Private Davis' mother is a frequent visitor here.

Nicki Bunting and her two boys are also regulars here.


TODD: Connor and Cooper have no memory of their father. Connor, who likes to build rock and dirt piles by dad's grave, is not yet 3. Nicki was only four weeks pregnant with Cooper when her husband was killed.

February 2009, Army Captain Brian Bunting, in a convoy moving through Kandahar Province, died instantly when an IED blasted apart his Humvee. Bunting was only 29 years old when he arrived at Section 60.

Nicki says she's gratified that Hamid Karzai came here, but she is not oblivious to the fact that U.S. officials considered calling off this trip. There have been serious tensions recently between Karzai's government and the Obama administration.

(on camera): Given that, given the problems and instability of his country --

BUNTING: Yes. TODD: -- are he and his government and his country worth the sacrifice that you and your husband have made?

BUNTING: You know, it's a really tough question to answer. And I don't -- I don't think that I can answer it.

TODD (voice-over): But she does think Karzai should follow the lead of American presidents when U.S. servicemen die in his country.

(on camera): You want him to write letters to American families?

BUNTING: Yes. I think so. And you know, some people -- it might not be well received by some families, but I think that would show his support.


TODD: Is that something President Karzai would consider? Well, we called and left messages for a spokesman at the Afghan embassy here in Washington with that very question. We've not heard back yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd at Arlington National Cemetery, thanks very much. An intriguing idea, indeed.

Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO forces are preparing for the next phase of the largest anti-Taliban military offensive of the Afghan war. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr's, getting some new details. Barbara, what are you picking up?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, General Stanley McChrystal says it may take until the end of the year for him to know whether the way of taking Kandahar back is really going to work. But the Taliban already has their own plans in the works.


(voice-over): At Arlington National Cemetery, General Stanley McChrystal stayed in the background as Afghan president Hamid Karzai paid respects to the fallen. A short time later, in a solo Pentagon press conference, the top commander of NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan spoke openly about the battle for Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold in the south of the country.

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. COMMANDER, AFGHANISTAN: We're not using the term "operation" or "major operations" because that often brings to mind in people's psyche the idea of a D-Day and an H-Hour and an attack.

STARR: Initial operations have already begun. Covert U.S. military forces, along with the Central Intelligence Agency, are training the Kandahar Strike Force, a local militia. Operatives have been in the city scoping out targets and carrying out other operations, according to U.S. government officials. Kandahar may be thick with Taliban, but McChrystal insists it's not controlled by the insurgents. MCCHRYSTAL: They certainly do not control Kandahar city. They can contest parts of Kandahar and they could create acts so there's not sufficient security in Kandahar city, but the Taliban do not control the city.

STARR: In the coming weeks, thousands of U.S. and Afghan forces will pour into Kandahar province, according to a senior U.S. military official. U.S. forces will try to control Taliban movements inside Kandahar city and will begin attacking Taliban strongholds in the surrounding Punjwayi and Arghandab districts, where the Taliban have been getting ready.

MCCHRYSTAL: In some cases, they've reinforced. In some cases, they've brought in additional weapons. In some cases, we've seen additional fighters come in.


STARR: Now, who really controls Kandahar? We've spoken to officials here who say it all depends how you define "control." General McChrystal, in an interview with the "PBS NewsHour" before he left the Pentagon, said that he believes the insurgency momentum has been stopped, but he doesn't think, he said, that he can define which side is winning. In fact, he said, right now, he doesn't think either side is winning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's not very encouraging, is it, Barbara?

STARR: Well, it may be the reality right now on the ground. The big goal is to try and make it look right now like the Taliban have lost the momentum. But in some places, Wolf, it is undeniable the Taliban remain in control, and they remain very strongly in control, according to many commanders we've spoken to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr's our Pentagon correspondent.

It's been half a century since the United States last expanded. Now some people are saying the time has come again.


REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI (D), PUERTO RICO: There are four million American citizens in Puerto Rico. We've been a U.S. territory for over 110 years. As such, we do not have the same rights and privileges and obligations as citizens.


BLITZER: Statehood for Puerto Rico, out of reach in past efforts. Will a new drive this time succeed?

Plus, President Obama. He's in my hometown, sampling Buffalo's favorite foods. So how does he like those wings?




BLITZER: There's a possibility the United States could get bigger -- a possibility. A bill approved by the House of Representatives last week gives Puerto Rico a chance to vote on whether it wants to become the 51st state in the union.

Let's bring back Lisa. She's got the details for us. It's intriguing, Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Wolf. You know, residents of Puerto Rico do not have the same rights as people in the 50 states. They can't vote for the U.S. president. They have no senators in Congress and only one representative in the House, who can't vote on the floor. But they also don't have to pay federal taxes. If Puerto Rico became a state, it would mean big changes.


(voice-over): Thirty-five hundred square miles, beautiful beaches and a vibrant culture -- Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth of the United States for more than a century. Congressman Pedro Pierluisi represents the island in Washington, D.C. He says it's time for things to change. Today, we meet at his favorite Puerto Rican restaurant in D.C. RICO

REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI (D), PUERTO RICO: Those are plantains. They are good. I know it.

SYLVESTER: Pierluisi introduced legislation in the House that could pave the way to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. Puerto Ricans have held local votes on statehood three times in the past, the last time in 1998. All three times, it was rejected. But Representative Pierluisi believes since then, things have changed. Puerto Ricans have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sonia Sotomayor of Puerto Rican heritage is now a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. And in the United States, Latinos now make up the largest minority group.

PIERLUISI: There are four million American citizens in Puerto Rico. We've been a U.S. territory for over 110 years. As such, we do not have the same rights and privileges and obligations as our fellow citizens.

SYLVESTER: But opinion is split. Illinois representative Luis Gutierrez grew up in Puerto Rico. He says statehood would erode Puerto Rico's uniqueness, beginning with the language.

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: It's a Spanish-speaking country, with culture, with linguistics, with idiosyncracies and mores. It's a colony. It's Spanish. It's a former Spanish colony, and it hasn't changed. SYLVESTER: Statehood would likely mean changing the official language from Spanish to English. Only a quarter of the people speak English. Other Puerto Ricans worry that they'll have to pay U.S. federal taxes. Statehood is a long shot, says Edgardo Maldomato (ph).

EDGARDO MALDOMATO, PUERTO RICAN: Right now, I don't think that will happen, you know. And I think not only because these people here no want that, but also is people in the USA who do not want to make Puerto Rico the 51st state.

SYLVESTER: But others welcome change. Angel Herrera (ph) was a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He found being from a commonwealth has limitations.

ANGEL HERRERA, PUERTO RICAN: As members of the armed forces, we do not have the right to vote for the president of the United States, the same person who's commanding us.

SYLVESTER: Even if Puerto Ricans get a chance to cast a vote, whatever they decide is non-binding. Congress would ultimately have the final word on any change.


And under Representative Pierluisi's bill, Puerto Ricans will be asked if they want to keep their current political status. If a majority says no, then a second vote, they would pick one of four choices -- statehood, remaining a commonwealth, becoming a sovereign nation associated with the United States, or full independence. This issue, though, now heads to the Senate, Wolf, where a hearing is scheduled for next week.

BLITZER: All right. You'll keep us informed on what's going on?

SYLVESTER: Yes. It is a fascinating and intriguing story. Most people acknowledge it's a long shot, but there's a process here.

BLITZER: And to quote from "West Side Story," it's a lovely island.


SYLVESTER: It is a lovely place.

BLITZER: Puerto Rico. You been there?

SYLVESTER: I have been there several times.

BLITZER: Yes, I've been there, too.

SYLVESTER: I enjoy it.

BLITZER: It's a really nice place.

A leader of anti-government protests in Thailand is shot while talking to reporters. We're going to show you the shocking video. And Jack Cafferty wants to know, would you enter a lottery where Bill Clinton is first prize? Your e-mail, that's coming up, in "The Cafferty File."


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. Well, violence erupted during anti- government protests in Thailand today. A warning now. The images that we are about to show you may be disturbing to some viewers. This shows a key leader of the protest shot in the head while being interviewed by journalists. He's said to be in critical condition in a Bangkok hospital. More gunfire was heard after the shooting, and at least one other demonstrator was killed. More than two dozen civilians and military personnel have died during the ongoing unrest.

President Obama is moving to revive a proposal to help community banks boost lending to small businesses. The White House is working with several lawmakers to draft new legislation to make $30 billion available to small banks for small business loans. A similar plan unveiled in October faced criticism, though, because it would have been funded by the Wall Street bail-out program known as TARP.

President Obama was in Buffalo today. After touring a manufacturing plant, he delivered an upbeat speech on the economy, in which he said his administration's steps to spur growth and create jobs are working. He opened his remarks, though, with a joke about the weather, but it didn't get a whole lot of laughter.


OBAMA: This is my first visit to western New York as president, and so it is just a thrill to be here. I'm glad that it's not snowing. Thank you. Last Sunday, right? You guys still got snow? Sheesh! I thought Chicago was bad. This is worse.


SYLVESTER: Yes. That joke, Wolf, it sounded a little flat there. So what was the deal? What was up with that? Why didn't people laugh?

BLITZER: You know, people are sensitive in Buffalo about, you know, all the snow jokes in Buffalo. I think the president was -- somebody should have said to him, You know what, not a good idea to open up a speech in Buffalo and talk about Buffalo's reputation with all that snow. It might not play well with my fellow Buffalonians. I don't think it did.

SYLVESTER: Well, maybe they should have talked about -- he should have opened with the new soccer team that's going to be named the Blitzers, right, Wolf?

BLITZER: I don't know if they will be, but it might be the Buffalo Blitzers. Now, that sounds pretty cool!


SYLVESTER: I got to go on line now and vote for you.


BLITZER: Thank you. See you later.

Tomorrow, by the way, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, I'll be sitting down with the former first lady of the United States, Laura Bush. She has a brand-new book entitled "Spoken From the Heart." I'll ask her about the highs and the lows of her years in the White House, a lot more. The interview tomorrow, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 5:00 PM Eastern.

Jack Cafferty's coming up next with your e-mail.

Then, what do you eat when you're in Buffalo? Wings, of course. And President Obama is no exception.


BLITZER: As we noted, president Obama was in Buffalo today as part of the so-called White House-to-Main Street tour. Before visiting a manufacturing plant to deliver a speech on the economy, he stopped by at Duff's (ph) restaurant to sample a Buffalo specialty, spicy chicken wings. Chicken wings were invented, the spicy ones, in Buffalo. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many do you want?

OBAMA: Ten should be enough.


OBAMA: Ten's reasonable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, our medium hot (INAUDIBLE) hot?

OBAMA: We'll go medium. I'll trust you. And you got -- what do you think, fries?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a lunch special right now. You can get fries, chili, soup, salad. Our soup's real good, too.

OBAMA: Yes, but I might be eating while I'm driving.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'll go with the fries.


OBAMA: Yes? Do you think fries or the onion rings?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about both? You are the president. You can do whatever you want.

OBAMA: That's what I'm thinking!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I get you something to drink?

OBAMA: I got something in the car.


OBAMA: Do I pay here or do I pay up there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on one second. I'm not sure --

OBAMA: No, I'm -- I'm going to have to pay.


OBAMA: I insist on paying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, let me ring it up. I'll be right back.

OBAMA: All right? OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you order, Mr. President?

OBAMA: Wings. This is the wing capital.

I'm just told I got to get (INAUDIBLE) I ordered ten -- I'll get five regular, but five extra.

What have we got?


OBAMA: All right. There you go.


OBAMA: You can keep the $5.

All right, we got everybody?


BLITZER: He had the spicy wings, the crispy wings, the fries, the onion rings. Jack, he knows how to eat, this president of the United States!

CAFFERTY: Heartburn city.


CAFFERTY: The two things Buffalo is most famous for, chicken wings and you.


CAFFERTY: Buffalo -- that's your -- that's your right? That's where you're from.

BLITZER: I know. But the Buffalo Bills, they're pretty famous.

CAFFERTY: Well, now, you've been much more successful than they have. Didn't they -- they lost all those Super Bowls. How many --

BLITZER: Yes. Four in a row. Four in a row.

CAFFERTY: -- Super Bowls did the Buffalo --

BLITZER: Four in a row.

CAFFERTY: Four in a row, right?

BLITZER: Don't remind me.

CAFFERTY: Yes. They were horrible. They had that little guy. Marv Levy (ph) was the coach, right?

BLITZER: Yes, he was a good guy.

CAFFERTY: Yes, he's a good guy, but he lost four in a row.

The question -- Would you enter a lottery where Bill Clinton is the first prize? John writes from new Mexico, "I'm a Democrat but deride the idea that President Clinton's our high water mark as a party. Still, the man has a world of experience and anecdotes, and I'm certain he would be good company. I'd rather have a good-natured argument with someone I respect but disagree with than trade platitudes with an ideological clone. Sign me up."

Jack writes from Des Moines, Iowa, "These kinds of raffles were everywhere back in 2008 as a way to raise cash for campaigns. You could have dinner with the Clintons, beers with the Obamas, Metamucil with the McCains. You name it, they offered it." Metamucil with the McCains.

Clint writes, "Sure, I'd love to spend a day with the guy largely responsible for near record low unemployment, a national surplus and low crime rates. Ah, remember those days?"

Ben writes, "Five dollars for a chance to have Bill be my wing man? Where's my wallet?" Deb writes from Texas, "I'm perplexed and a little embarrassed for him at the same time. Personally, it almost seems like he's prostituting himself to pay off her debts. I guess I expected a little more professionalism and class from a former president."

Becky in Las Vegas -- "If I had that kind of discretionary -- pun intended -- money, I'd enter. However, I wouldn't visit him in New York. I'd rather have him come to my house. I have trees that need pruning, weeding to be done and perhaps a little painting."

Mike writes from New Orleans, "Yes, Jack, I'd love to win an evening with Bill Clinton. I rarely get a chance to wear my blue dress." And Brian in New Jersey, "Five dollars and a dream can get you a day with the former leader of the free world. Only in America."

You want to read more on this -- got a lot of e-mail on this today -- go to my blog,

Did the Bills ever win the Super Bowl?

BLITZER: No, but they made it to four Super Bowls in a row, which is a lot better than a lot of other teams.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but they lost all of them.

BLITZER: They lost, but they could have won that first one against the Giants, just a little bit wide, that field goal. All right, never mind.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. I remember that field goal. All right.

BLITZER: Of course you do.

CAFFERTY: Talk to you later.

BLITZER: Thank you.

He flat-lined for 15 minutes and was pronounced dead. Now one soldier is using his second chance at life to help wounded comrades. His amazing story coming up on "JOHN KING USA." That comes up in a few minutes, at the top of the hour.

And the prime minister of plaid. CNN'S Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


BLITZER: According to a recent poll, Japan's prime minister has only 24 percent public approval. And most unusual fashion sense is doing nothing to help his ratings. CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the plaid shirt seen 'round the world, featuring a total of five --


MOOS: -- different --


MOOS: -- colors --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ugly. MOOS: -- of plaid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's horrific. Horrific!

MOOS: And most shocking of all, that's a prime minister wearing it. Japan's prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, wore it while hosting a Japanese barbecue. And some thought it resembled --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bad tablecloth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are no circumstances where I would wear that shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Not even for free.

MOOS (on camera): Well, what era do you think that is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Depression. It's pieced together.

MOOS (voice-over): One little sartorial slip, and you're the talk of the Web, being compared to a box of crayons, though it might be good if you're looking for attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something called peacocking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That'd be a great shirt to wear because they'd be, like, What's up with your shirt?

MOOS: And speaking of peacocking, remember Bjork's swan dress?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love your dress. Tell us about that.

BJORK, SINGER: Yes, my friend made it.

MOOS: At least Bjork knew she'd laid a fashion egg. And while we're on birds, the Japanese prime minister does a mean pigeon imitation. Lil' Kim's pasty outfit was another famous fashion faux pas that Diana Ross couldn't resist tweaking. And we recall tweaking President Obama for what some called the "mom jeans" he wore. But can you imagine if Barack Obama showed up in this? Not that politicians don't wear plaid.

Senator Lamar Alexander walked across the state of Tennessee in a plaid shirt when he was running for governor. And Bill Clinton wore a plaid shirt that looked like pajamas in the Oval Office. Some wearing plaid approved of the prime minister's shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, maybe he's just fashion forward. Some people are just, like, fashion forward. He pulled it off very well for his --

MOOS (on camera): I see you're wearing plaid.


MOOS: And I'm wearing plaid. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and I would be perfect together, but we would have to leave him at home.

MOOS (voice-over): Hey, the outfit could have been worse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm gonna eat ya! Get in my belly!

MOOS: Prime Minister Hatoyama's shirt could be a political plus.

(on camera): What do you think the message of this is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm my own person. I'll wear what the hell I want.

MOOS: He's the prime minister of Japan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Nice to meet you, Mr. Prime Minister!

MOOS: The prime minister of plaid. Jeanne Moos, CNN.


MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Leave to him.

All right, tomorrow here on THE SITUATION ROOM, a reminder, I'll be sitting down with the former first lady, Laura Bush. She has a new book, "Spoken From the Heart." I'll ask her about the highs and lows of her years in the White House. If you have any questions, by the way, you can tweet me some of those questions on the Twitter@Wolfblitzercnn. I'd love to know what you think.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.