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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Alan Dershowitz; President Obama to Visit Tucson

Aired January 11, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How the shooting suspect's lawyer might use an insanity defense to avoid potential death penalty. I will speak with a Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz.

And President Obama prepares for an emotional visit to Tucson. Will he rise to the occasion, as President Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombing?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: But we want begin with the statement just released by the family of Jared Lee Loughner. He's the accused gunman in the Tucson shooting spree.

Susan Candiotti is outside the family residence where Jared Lee Loughner lived with his parents. They have just received a written statement from the family.

Susan, tell us our viewers in the United States and around the world what was said.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a written statement that was presented through people who came out presumably representing the Loughner family. And they handed out a piece of paper and then walked back inside the house.

Here is what the Loughner family wants the public to know -- quote -- "This is a very difficult time for us. We ask the media to respect our privacy. There are no words that can possibly express how we feel."

It says: "We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better. We don't understand why this happened. It may not make any difference, but we wish that we could change the heinous events of Saturday. We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so sorry for their loss." And it is signed, "Thank you -- the Loughner family" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan, set the scene for us. What is going on at that family home in Tucson right now? This is where this young man 22 years old, Jared Lee Loughner, was raised. He grew up in that home, I take it. What has happened there since Saturday morning?

CANDIOTTI: Well, the family has been holed up in the house ever since. And, as you can imagine, because everyone is -- there are so many questions surrounding this young man and as a consequence their family, so many questions about whether he might have sought psychiatric care, whether they sought care for him, whether he might have been on any medication, what the family is all about and what they think about what has happened.

As a result of that, there have been a number of reporters, naturally, who have been up and down the street naturally trying to make contact with the family, and being that was not successful trying to get a sense for what the neighbors can tell us about the family by way of background, and how they might have intermingled with the other neighbors here.

And for the most part, everyone says they are a family that pretty much kept to themselves, lived here a very long time. As you said, Jared grew up here. The family has been here and from time to time would exchange some words with some of their neighbors in a friendly way. But others talked about glaring looks or angry words over trash or this and that, this kind of thing, until Saturday.

And on Saturday, one of the neighbors said that he happened to be standing outside. It was after the shooting happened and he saw that crime scene tape had been put up around the house. At that time, there were sheriff's deputies that were also parked outside the house. He watched as Mr. Loughner drove up to the house.

And he said that he saw the deputies approach him at a distance. The deputies approached him, appeared to be telling him the news. The neighbors said that because at that point Mr. Loughner seemed very shaken, put his hand to his head, and seemed emotionally distressed at that time.

The neighbor did not approach him, but these were his observations. So right now this is a neighborhood that can be described as equally in shock over what happened -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti is on the scene for us outside the residence of the family of Jared Lee Loughner.

All right, Susan, thanks very much.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Brian, you've been digging deeper into the background of this Jared Lee Loughner. What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in pieces, we're picking up some new information about communications that Jared Loughner had in the hours before the shootings in addition to some information about the family, as Susan just mentioned, and about the Loughner home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Clues to an alleged killer's mind-set may lie in where he came from, this makeshift shrine behind the house where Jared Loughner lived with his parents at the time of the shooting, a skull surrounded by rotten oranges, candles and a bag of potting soil, the photo taken by "The New York Daily News."

It is not clear who put this up or even if it is still there. Inside the house are his distraught, crying parents. Neighbors say they never saw this coming. They tell CNN Loughner's father was an unhappy, angry man before Saturday's shooting in Tucson. One neighbor told CNN affiliate KGUN the family didn't speak with anyone.

WAYNE SMITH, Neighbor of Loughners: They're like mountain men. They wanted to be alone. And -- and they didn't bother me. I mean, he...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole family wanted to be alone, or just Jared?

SMITH: The whole family.

TODD: Also left behind by Loughner, a voice mail to his friend Bryce Tierney just hours before the shootings at the Tucson Safeway. Tierney says police asked him not to let anybody record it, but he described the voice-mail to CBS' "Early Show."

BRYCE TIERNEY, FRIEND OF JARED LEE LOUGHNER: Said: "Hey, it's Jared. We have had some good times. And peace out."

TODD: In a magazine interview, Tierney describes the confrontation he says Loughner had with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a 2007 event. He says Loughner asked Giffords, what is government if words have no meaning? Tierney says Loughner dwelled on the fact that Giffords could not answer his question.

Friends say, in his earlier years, there was not anything dark about Jared Loughner. They describe him as a normal kid who played the saxophone. A neighbor tells CNN good music came from that house and the neighbor believes the Loughners genuinely and deeply loved their son.

But at some point in high school, acquaintances say Jared Loughner began to turn. His recent writings according to Alan Lipman of the Center for the Study of Violence indicate serious delusion, like this posting believed to be from Loughner on YouTube. "I know who is listening, government officials and the people." And he describes mind control and brainwash methods.

DR. ALAN LIPMAN, FOUNDER, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF VIOLENCE: Classic signs of psychosis, showed clear signs in his writings. Those writings, people were looking for whether he was on the left or the right. He was neither. He was incoherent. Those were signs, classic signs, you would see in a psychiatric unit of formal thought disorder.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And we're picking up more on Loughner's run-ins with the law. CNN has learned from a law enforcement source he was arrested in October 2007 on a misdemeanor drug charge, went through a diversion program with the county attorney's office.

And the Pima County sheriff has said there had been law enforcement contact with Jared Loughner where according to the sheriff he made threats to kill, but the sheriff did not get into specifics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, you are also getting information on where Jared Lee Loughner worked over the years.

TODD: That's right. We have found out that he worked in an Eddie Bauer store we believe in the Tucson area. The company will only say that he did not work there at the time the shootings and that he had not worked there in more than a year.

"The New York Times" has reported that he volunteered at the Pima County Animal Care Center last year as a dog walker, but the manager there told "The Times" that they had to let him go because he ignored their warnings not to walk the dogs in an area of that kennel where a dangerous virus had been detected, so, drips and drabs about where he worked over the last few years.

BLITZER: I know you're continuing to dig. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Let's get the latest developments now. The congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is now able to breathe on her own though a tube -- though a tube, I should say, is being used to protect her airway.

Doctors say they are encouraged that she has done so well -- their words. But her condition remains critical. Five other shooting victims are still hospitalized.

Arizona lawmakers have just passed without objection an emergency bill that will bar protesters from the fringe from getting within 300 feet of funeral services. a controversial church group which has picketed funerals of AIDS victims, gays, U.S. troops, has said it will show up at the funeral of Christina Green. That is the 9-year-old little girl who was killed in Tucson.

And the youngest victim of the Tucson shootings attended the political event with a family friend. Now that friend is reliving the massacre from her hospital bed.

Let's go straight to our CNN's Ted Rowlands. He is in Tucson with more -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the story of Christina Green is probably one the most heartbreaking of all of this. This little 9-year-old was with this neighbor when she went to this event and was killed in the shooting rampage.

Well, now, through her husband, the woman that had Christina with her at the event is recalling the details of what happened Saturday morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Nine-year-old Christina Green was with Suzie Heilman, her neighbor, when she was killed in the Tucson shooting rampage. Suzie Heilman was shot three times and is recovering. Her husband, Bill, says she started talking as soon as she came to after surgery.

BILL HEILMAN, HUSBAND OF SHOOTING VICTIM: The very first thing she asked, she grabbed my hand, she looked me in the eyes, and said, "What about Christina?"

ROWLANDS: Bill says he told his wife immediately that Christina was dead. Since then, she has been able to remember bits and pieces of what happened.

HEILMAN: They heard the bullets starting at the beginning the line. They were a little further away at the time that Gabby was hit, and how she had Christina by the hand and was saying, let's run, let's run. But as soon as they basically said that is when they got hit.

ROWLANDS: Bill says Suzie thought Christina would like to meet Congresswoman Giffords because Christina was part of her school government. Bill says he and his wife developed a close relationship with Christina over the past few years.

HEILMAN: She was a big personality. She was happy to engage you. She was interested. She not put off by things she did not understand. She was curious about them. She was a good little athlete. She had great friends. She was a good sister. She was just a joy to be around.

ROWLANDS: Bill says he is worried about the obvious guilt that his wife may have to deal with, but says Christina's parents have been wonderful, not what people might expect from a couple who just lost their 9-year-old daughter.

HEILMAN: And, yet, we have quite the opposite. And to anyone that is a parent, to me, that is a level of strength that is almost unimaginable. I think the reaction is just too much to expect out of anyone. And it just blows me away, the grace that they are showing.

And I am thankful on behalf of my wife that her healing will be made much, much easier because of their graciousness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: And Bill says his wife had surgery today. She is expected to make a full recovery, Wolf, but obviously will be scarred for life over what happened to little Christina.

BLITZER: What a sad story. All right, Ted Rowlands on the scene for us, thank you.

Will the shooting change any of the laws coming out of Washington?

Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's a debate almost as old as the country itself: whether it's a good idea for private citizens to own guns.

And when something like the Tucson massacre happens, that debate roars to life all over again.

It was remarkably easy for the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, to get his hands on a gun in Arizona, the state that has some of the laxest gun laws in the country.

The 22-year-old kid passed an instant background check in a sporting goods store and then bought a Glock 19, a .9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. He also bought an oversized magazine that allowed him to fire 33 shots without reloading, instead of the standard 10. Some lawmakers want to ban these oversized magazines nationwide.

They're already outlawed in about six states, but not Arizona.

The recent law there allows anybody over the age of 21 to carry a gun without a permit. Guns are allowed almost everywhere in Arizona, the state capitol, public buildings, a lot of them, at least, in places that serve alcohol and on school grounds.

Meanwhile, by many accounts, young Loughner is being described as mentally unstable and someone who should never have been allowed to buy a weapon in the first place.

The military rejected him for failing a drug test. Loughner had five run-ins with community college police before he was finally kicked out of school for disruptive activity.

But instead of becoming stricter, the nation's gun laws have actually become more lax in recent years. Examples include the removal of Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban and an amendment that allows gun owners to carry concealed and loaded weapons in our national parks.

Here's the question: Should the Tucson tragedy be enough to change the nation's gun laws?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and share your thoughts.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you -- Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

We are following Congresswoman Giffords' condition. There are some important new developments today. We are going to get the very latest from the trauma surgeon who has been with her.

Also, the accused shooter's legal defense. Can he plead insanity? We will get important insight into this case from one of the country's best-known lawyers, the Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If he's found guilty, the alleged Tucson shooter could ultimately face the death penalty. And that will certainly loom heavily over the type of defense his lawyers will mount.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School.

Alan, thanks very much for coming in.

Based on what you know -- and it's very, very early in this process right now -- is he likely to be executed or get life without the possibility of parole or something else?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR, "THE CASE FOR MORAL CLARITY: ISRAEL, HAMAS AND GAZA": Well, I think it is very likely they will seek the death penalty, because it gives the prosecution an advantage in jury selection to have jurors excluded who are opposed to the death penalty.

This is a very serious crime, so politically they will be motivated to seek the death penalty. Whether they get it or not will depend on the nature of the jury. The jury ironically may be somewhat more sympathetic in Arizona, because Arizona has a strong gun culture, that some jurors might think, gee, we don't want to blame this on guns, we don't want to blame this on the rhetoric. Maybe we just blame it on the fact that he's insane or at least crazy enough so that he does not get the death penalty.

You know, he has a very good lawyer. The lawyer has to play all those angles.

BLITZER: But getting the insanity defense to work, you have to show that this individual could not differentiate between right and wrong.

And at least based on his initial appearance in court, he seemed to answer the judge's questions. He seemed cogent. He seemed relatively reasonable, at least during that 15-minute appearance.

DERSHOWITZ: Well, many insane people and seriously mentally ill people seem very reasonable.

But it is a very daunting defense to raise. He has to show that he did not understand the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his act. And he has the burden of proving it by clear and convincing evidence. Very, very hard to mount a successful insanity defense after the Hinckley acquittal for the shooting of Ronald Reagan.

Much easier to get mental illness as a mitigating factor to reduce the death penalty to life imprisonment. And that may be the strategy the lawyer tries. The lawyer may also try to raise an insanity defense knowing that she will lose in order to soften up the jury for the possibility of a mitigation on capital punishment.

BLITZER: Listen to one of his classmates at that community college speak about him. I will play the clip. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON COOROUGH, FORMER CLASSMATE OF JARED LEE LOUGHNER: The first time I was really struck by him was because he used inappropriate reactions to people's emotional content. He would laugh at things that were sad. He just didn't seem to -- to be aware of what was going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And another one of his professors at Pima Community College said: "Someone's whose brains were scrambled. His thoughts were unrelated to anything in the world. He always was looking away, not out of the window, but like someone watching a scene play out in his mind."

That makes it sound like this was a very disturbed individual.

DERSHOWITZ: The problem is being disturbed or even being seriously mentally ill does not constitute an insanity defense under the federal statute.

The statute specifically says that serious mental illness alone, without the incapacity to understand the nature and quality or wrongfulness of the conduct, is not a defense. So the drafters went out of their way to say, no matter how sick you are or mentally ill you are, you don't get a defense unless you can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that your mental illness affected your inability -- your ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of your conduct.

And the fact that he planned it, the fact that he seemed reasonable will have a great influence on the jury, under the instruction they will get relating to insanity. So I think it is very uphill for him to be able to succeed on an insanity defense, but I think he has a reasonable chance of being able to succeed on mental illness as a mitigating factor.

BLITZER: Is it possible he might plead guilty and just beg for mercy to the court? Is that at all realistic? And would the prosecution, the federal prosecutors in this case accept a guilty plea for something less than the death sentence?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, you don't plead guilty to the death sentence. You plead guilty only to the crime. And if he were to want to plead guilty, the prosecutors would have no choice but to accept that.

But then there'd be a trial essentially on whether he gets the death penalty. His lawyer may want him to plead guilty. That may be a good tactic. But he may not want to plead guilty. There is a recent case in the Supreme Court where a defendant did not want to plead guilty. And essentially the lawyer said, he did it, he did it, don't doubt he did, but just spare him the death penalty, and then he took it to the Supreme Court, saying his lawyer hadn't done a good job. And the Supreme Court said, that's OK. The lawyer can really concede that he did it and just plead for mercy. That's OK. And that may happen here.

BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School, thanks very much for helping us.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jan Brewer is over at that sort of makeshift candlelight ceremony at the memorial for the -- outside the hospital in Tucson.

Ted Rowlands is there as well for us.

Ted, we see a lot of commotion, we see a lot of activity. The Arizona governor I take it went inside the hospital just a little while ago to see some of the victims who have survived. I don't know if she went to see the congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, but tell our viewers what we are seeing right now.

ROWLANDS: Well, you're seeing the governor basically making a second trip here to the hospital. We were told that this was likely. She is obviously coming back to take a look at this memorial which has grown over the past few days.

And there are a ton of reporters out here, a ton of cameras, but there are also a lot of local folks here who just happen to be at the memorial at this time. As you can see, she is just sort of looking through the different notes, cards, and mementos left here on the lawn of the Arizona Health Sciences Center at the University Medical Center.

She was inside the hospital for some time. We don't know exactly who she talked to. Presumably, she talked to all of the families, the victim families. But we haven't been able to get details as of yet about her visit.

But clearly, she spent a considerable amount of time inside the hospital and now she is taking a few moments here outside the hospital as well.

BLITZER: To pay her respects and to see that little area outside the hospital. Do we expect her to go to the microphone and make a statement or anything, Ted?

ROWLANDS: Well, it looks like right now she is making herself available. We are trying to get some audio over there to listen in to her. We do have a camera over there. Let's listen and see if we can hear her. BLITZER: It looks like she is walking over. They are getting to ready to walk her over to some microphones, but maybe not. She is sort of behind those police officers.

(CROSSTALK)

ROWLANDS: I think, Wolf, she may be walking back to her vehicle.

Oh, no, she is going past her vehicle. Yes, so she looks like she is making herself available. They're try to just organize this in a very tight space, because there are vehicles basically wedging all of these people that you see up against the memorial and the curbside here. So it is very tight quarters, so it will take a couple seconds for her to get settled, but it looks like she will say something.

BLITZER: Yes. It looks like she is talking to some folks over there. Maybe she will go to the microphone and make a statement. But she's talking.

If she makes a statement away from the main microphone platform over there, we will get it and we will bring it, certainly bring it to our viewers. But let's see if she does walk over to the microphones right now. We see her aides. We see police officers with her. She is talking to some folks as she walks by.

The governor has clearly been shaken like everybody else by what happened in Tucson Saturday morning. We saw that very emotional statement she originally made right after that, but it is something that has shaken up the entire country and we know that President Obama is getting ready tomorrow to fly to Tucson and participate in the memorial service.

We will continue to watch what is happening with the governor outside the hospital. We will take a quick break. We will continue our coverage, including this. Could the Tucson massacre have been prevented if -- if ammunition magazines that hold a lot of bullets were simply banned?

Lawmakers right now renewing a key part of the gun debate.

And Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is breathing on her own right now. We will get the very latest on her condition from a trauma specialist, one of the first on the scene, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The shooting at Tucson which left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded hit lawmakers here in Washington painfully close to home. But they are staying pretty restrained in their calls for new restrictions on lethal weapons.

Here's CNN's Allan Chernoff.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Tucson tragedy unfolded, New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy flashed back to a shooting on the Long Island Railroad when a gunman killed her husband, Dennis, and wounded her son Kevin 17 years ago.

REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK: When you hear about it, it hits at home and you go back to where you don't want to go.

CHERNOFF: In spite of her pain, McCarthy has no plan to call for a limit on gun sales. Instead, she is proposing a ban on the sale to civilians of so-called extended magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, the type of gun magazine that Jared Loughner allegedly used in Tucson.

(on camera): In this particular tragedy, would this have made a difference, the proposal you have?

MCCARTHY: Oh, absolutely. Look at how many bullets he got off. And the majority of those bullets found a way to either kill someone or injure someone.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Only when Loughner had spent his ammunition and tried to reload were bystanders able to tackle him.

But the Gun Owners of America argue, a limit on ammunition a limit on their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

LARRY PRATT, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: People need large-capacity magazines if they have the misfortune of being in a situation where there is more than one attacker.

CHERNOFF: The National Rifle Association refused to address the issue directly, saying only, "At this time, anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate."

McCarthy, aware of the gun lobby's power, expects a huge challenge in getting her limited legislation through Congress, even after the latest horrific tragedy.

CHERNOFF (on camera): So, you are not confident that this proposal will actually become law?

MCCARTHY: I would say that I'm going to have a battle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff reporting for us.

Let's get a closer look right now at the types of guns and ammo clips that are being called into question and the steps Arizona has taken to protect gun owners.

CNN's Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at that -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Let's just look at the nuts and bolts of what people are talking about there. This is a Glock semiautomatic pistol that we're talking about here.

And when they talk about the number of cartridges that you would have inside a magazine of this, you are obviously talking about individual bullets like this. A standard cartridge on one these could hold, you know, 10, 12, something like that, depending on which particular type you have.

So they would be lined up like this. And this is how many some of these critics say, look, this is the most they want in a gun like that. That is what they say.

If you have an extended magazine -- get rid of this one -- then you have a bigger one like this, which would hold many more bullets. So, the simple argument is one side says, look, if you are in a situation where you have to defend yourself, you are going to want all of this protection.

The other side is saying, if you are in a position where you are being attacked, you don't want somebody being able to load up with all of these things here.

So let's look specifically at what is going on in the Arizona case, as I put these aside for a moment here. In Arizona, the law there that has been under such fire and so much concern there is that, first of all, it has one the most lenient gun laws or collection of gun laws in the country. The Brady folks give it really very bad ratings on this, easy to carry a gun, easy to buy a gun, easy to conceal it, do whatever you want in Arizona in many ways.

You can take it into a lot of places. And these high-capacity magazines are legal, particularly when you look at one Arizona law that says, if a gun or its various implements are made and sold in Arizona, that they are exempt from federal law. That is one of the real concerns about what has happened in Arizona.

Now, all of that said, Wolf, you know, I'm sure the question that comes up for the international audience is the Second Amendment, because that really is the cornerstone here. Under the Second Amendment, which is also being argued in this case, it is a fundamental question about the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

And as you know, Wolf, the Supreme Court has, in the last couple of years, had a couple of rulings that basically have said in places like Washington, D.C., where they've tried to step on things that people can do with the handguns, that they can't do that. That's what this court has ruled right now. This, the nuts and bolts of this machinery, what can and can't be done with it, and the debate over how much it can be restricted is the cornerstone of what's happening in the wake of Arizona right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's the debate that's under way. It's been under way for a long time. Thanks, Tom.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords remains in critical condition, but doctors say they're encouraged that she has done as well as she has. Joining us now is Dr. Randall Friese. He's an associate director of trauma at Tucson's University Medical Center.

Dr. Friese, thanks very much, not only for coming in, but thanks for what you're doing there. I take it you were one of the first, if not the first, to treat the congresswoman when she was brought to the hospital. Walk us through what happened, what you saw.

DR. RANDALL FRIESE, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF TRAUMA, TUCSON'S UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Wolf, I just finished up treating the young girl, Christina Green, and was informed -- I had no idea of the identity of the trauma victims and was informed that the congresswoman was in an adjacent room and just arrived. So I walked into the room and assumed the responsibilities for treating her and resuscitating her.

As I said before, the first thing I did was walk to her bedside and hold her hand. I took her hand in mine, and I leaned in close to her and wanted to communicate to her, that she was at the hospital. We were caring -- we would be caring for her. And I asked her to squeeze my hand as a way to assess whether or not she understood what I was saying. I was expecting no response. However, she did give my hand a great big squeeze.

BLITZER: And at that point, you had no idea this was a United States congresswoman. This was just a woman who was in bad -- bad shape?

FRIESE: No, no. I knew -- when I walked into the room, I recognized her, and I was told who she was before I got to her bedside.

BLITZER: I see.

FRIESE: But I didn't know before that moment.

BLITZER: So there's been some confusion on the wound, the bullet, that it went from front to back, back to front, how high it was. Can you update us on what we know?

FRIESE: Well, I can tell you that I'm not a ballistics expert. I'm not a forensics physician or a scientist. I can tell you that she had two wounds. One was in the back of her head, relatively high, and one was -- another larger wound was in -- was on the left side of her forehead.

BLITZER: And the wound on the forehead, was that a bullet wound, as well?

FRIESE: I assumed it was, yes.

BLITZER: And how is she doing now, based on what you're hearing, because I know you've -- you've followed up over these past few days?

FRIESE: Yes, I am currently involved in her care. I see her daily with Dr. Rhee and Dr. Lemole. I make assessments with them daily, frequently. She continues to make improvements, and we all remain cautiously optimistic. We're hoping for the best. However, we all recognize there's quite a few complications that can ensue. In critical illness and injury, it's not uncommon for patients to take steps backwards. So what we look for and what I tell the family we're looking for are small steps forward, small steps in the right direction, because there will be steps backward at some point.

BLITZER: Did you see any small steps forward today?

FRIESE: Every day, small steps forward every day.

BLITZER: You're seeing little things? She's breathing on her own? Is that the latest information we're getting?

FRIESE: She's on a breathing machine. She has been on the ventilator since her admission to the ICU. When someone in the ICU is on a breathing machine, we always attempt to wean the machine. Basically, weaning means transfer work of breathing from the machine to the patient. We are always doing that. The more work of breathing a patient does, the better. The more negative pressure breathing the patient does the better. So yes, we have been weaning her from the ventilator, and she's making small steps forward.

BLITZER: The whole notion of being in an induced coma. Is she from time to time being put in an induced coma or is that over with?

FRIESE: Well, what Dr. Rhee meant by induced coma was a heavy level of sedation. We use medications that are very short acting so that, when we start the medications, they -- they act very quickly and they put her in a sedated state, not necessarily a coma state but a sedated state.

And the medication we use, again, is very acting so -- very fast- acting so that when we turn it off, the effects of it wear away quickly, so we can get a good exam in the absence of sedative medicine.

BLITZER: So these are critical days right now, but what I hear you and the other doctors saying, Dr. Friese, is that you're encouraged. You think she's moving in the right direction?

FRIESE: Absolutely. We're very encouraged. We remain optimistic, small steps forward every day. You know, again, a myriad of complications can ensue. Our job is to, if we can prevent them or at least identify them early so we can treat them quickly and minimize any negative effects.

BLITZER: Dr. Randall Friese is the associate director of trauma at Tucson University Medical Center. Dr. Friese, thank you. Thanks once again.

FRIESE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: It's a difficult moment and possibly a pivotal one for any leader at a time of national tragedy. Will President Obama rise to the occasion when he attends a memorial service for the Arizona massacre victims?

Also, details of Hillary Clinton's surprise trip to a country where an al Qaeda affiliate poses a very real threat to the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. Looking at live pictures of Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona. She just spoke to our own John King, by the way, just a few moments ago. That interview is going to be on "JOHN KING USA" at the top of the hour. So stand by for that.

President Obama and the first lady will travel to Arizona tomorrow to attend a memorial service for victims of the Tucson massacre. They'll also visit with victims' families.

And there are parallels already being drawn to another president who faced a national tragedy and a very difficult time in his first term. We're talking about Bill Clinton and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Here's the question: Will President Obama rise to the occasion as Bill Clinton did almost 16 years ago?

Let's talk about that our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger and David Gergen.

I know, Gloria, you've been talking to some of those who helped President Clinton at that critical moment in his presidency. And a lot of us who covered it think that that speech he gave in Oklahoma City helped the beginning process of turning his administration around. What are you hearing about the parallels between then and now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And -- and it helped heal the country. I spoke with a speech writer who was very involved in writing the speech for President Clinton.

And of course, Timothy McVeigh is very different from this accused shooter. You know, he was politically motivated. We don't -- we don't think that about this shooter, but the goal of a president remains the same.

And what he was saying to me, and we all know, is that a president at this time has to call for unity, remind us about what's the best in America, now that we have seen what is the worst in America. Talk about the individual heroism that we saw in event to remind us that there are really good people in this country doing wonderful things.

And in this particular case, Wolf, perhaps remind us of the dignity and importance of public service and that what the congresswoman was doing on that street corner is what every member of Congress does, and that democracy cannot be interrupted because of what happened in Tucson.

BLITZER: David, as someone who worked for President Clinton in that first term, what advice would you have for President Obama right now as he prepares to go to Tucson and speak at this memorial service?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: To draw heavily upon the first half of President Clinton's playbook in 1995 at Oklahoma City. Just as Gloria said, this is a moment when a president best serves the country by giving voice to what so many of us feel: the horror at what happened in Tucson, and the sense of wonderment at the senselessness about this, a sense that people in the community have really risen to the occasion.

At that medical center, one of the best in the country, the University Medical Center, they've just done a superb job so far by all accounts. But then to give voice to the healing, all of that, I think President Obama should -- should draw from President Clinton.

But it's worth remembering what a lot of conservatives are worried about today, Wolf, is that there was a second half to the Clinton playbook and that is the day after Oklahoma City, he went to Minneapolis. And there Bill Clinton really went after extremism especially on talk radio and the anger on talk radio, and he seemed to be blaming Oklahoma City on the right.

And then we now have evidence from Dick Morris, who has been his pollster and strategist, that just within a couple of days, he gave him a memo about how to exploit -- had a meeting at the White House, how to exploit Oklahoma City for political purpose. I hope that half -- that half of the Clinton playbook is thrown out.

BORGER: Well -- well, in fact, David, I was told today, that Morris was pushing Bill Clinton at that point to be more political in his comments, which he was not. I think that the tricky question...

MORRIS: He was not in Oklahoma City.

BORGER: Right, right.

MORRIS: In Oklahoma City, he was terrific.

BORGER: Right.

MORRIS: He was absolutely terrific in Oklahoma City.

BORGER; Right. And there was a discussion in the White House about that. I think -- about his remarks in Oklahoma City, and how far he should go.

I think there is a tricky question for Barack Obama in this, which is a question of tone. Because the president has talked about ratcheting down the tone of our political debate, and -- and he can't be seen to be political or take one side or another or engage in the blame game in any way, shape or form.

And I don't think they're inclined to do that at the White House, but he can talk about how this is one America. Remember the campaign? Not a blue -- not a blue states and red states, be one country.

GERGEN: Right. I -- I also think, Wolf, there is a -- that possibly, the silver lining here in Tucson is that this does invite us to have a new conversation, a fresh conversation about the culture of violence in this country, and the extremism we do see.

And I think, not in this speech tomorrow, but after tomorrow, I would hope that the follow-up would be some sort of action by the president working with Republican leaders and, I think, perhaps leaders of the movie industry, the Internet, video games, all these other kinds of things that have introduced a culture of violence among our young people that this young man, you know, whether -- somehow, he was triggered. We don't know how. But there is -- we know there is a culture of violence in the country.

BLITZER: Should the president start talking about new steps in dealing with guns, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, in the speech tomorrow, I don't think so. I think tomorrow is not a time for any kind of political discussion about whether or not this could have been prevented if the gun control laws in Arizona were different, for example.

I think that's up to Congress, and the president will certainly weigh in on that at one point or another, and Congress is already talking about different kinds of legislation. But no. I think that tomorrow is the moment to become the national pastor and to minister to the country, which feels so terrible about these events and to talk about, as I -- as I was saying before, to talk about the importance and the dignity of what it was that that congresswoman was doing in that parking lot that day and how important that is to all of us.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much. Good advice from both Gloria and David, as usual.

This important programming note for our viewers. Please join me tomorrow night, 8 p.m. Eastern, for special coverage of the memorial service, the president's visit to Tucson. I'll be anchoring our coverage, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night.

When President Obama heads to Tucson for the memorial, key members of his administration are fanning out across the globe. We're going to tell you who's heading where and why. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New information just released on that doctor accused of lying about the link between autism and vaccines. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is pretty stunning, Wolf. The British Medical Journal released a second part of its investigation, now accusing British Doctor Andrew Wakefield of exploring business deals so he could financially capitalize on the now-debunked study. Last week the journal revealed details of its long investigation into Wakefield, claiming he lied about the link between autism and childhood vaccines. Wakefield disputes the journal's investigation.

Torrential rains in Queensland created what some are calling an inland tsunami. Take a look at these pictures. It has swept away cars and people. Ten people are now confirmed dead, with 78 still missing. Residents downstream are being warned to brace for the worst flooding in almost 40 years, and 3/4 of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone.

Top members of the Obama administration were scattered across the globe today. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in China meeting with top officials, including the country's vice president and defense minister. The visit comes amid concern about China's development of a stealth fighter jet.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden was in Afghanistan where he met today with that country's president, Hamid Karzai. And Biden, while he was there, well, he raised some eyebrows, speaking about the 2014 deadline for U.S. troops to leave, saying, quote, "We are not leaving if you don't want us to leave." Well, senior U.S. officials are explaining that, saying that the vice president was talking about an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, not a military commitment.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Yemen today, paying a surprise visit during a Persian Gulf tour. She met with the country's president and key political leaders, and as she told reporters, the U.S. wants to help Yemen fight al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and at the same time help with social and economic development in the poverty-stricken country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. A lot of travel going on. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

It's one of the perils of public office. And when they trip, everyone seems to see it. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.

And John King goes one-on-one the Arizona governor, Jan Brewer. That's coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: Should the Tucson tragedy be enough to change this nation's gun laws?

Stacy in Florida writes, "There are enough gun laws now that aren't enforced. Gun laws and gun stores are for hunters. The bad guys buy guns in the alley, and laws don't mean anything in the alley."

Sarah in Florida: "We ought to take this as awake-up call. A mentally unstable young man, who was thrown out of community college for his frightening, erratic behavior and was rejected by the U.S. Army, walked into a store and walked out with a gun. Put your agenda aside for two seconds and think about that. We should be ashamed of ourselves collectively as Americans for allowing something like that to happen."

David in North Carolina says, "Our democracy ends when people lose their Second Amendment right to own and carry guns. As long as the people own and carry guns, the government is held in check. An unarmed population leads to tyranny and a dictatorship. The Second Amendment is in the Constitution to protect the people from the government and keep potential tyrants and dictators in check."

Cal in Denver says, "Not going to happen either way. The Second Amendment will not be affected. Both sides of the discussion will fight tooth and nail to get what they want, and it will stalemate again in the Supreme Court if, in fact, it ever gets that far. It's both a gift and a curse, but it was done with good intentions at the time. It's just that right now it allows the wrong people the right to bear arms."

B.J. in Illinois says, "The only time anything gets done or pushed through is when it affects someone important, so it's possible."

Dick says, "I think quite the reverse. If everyone had a gun at that event in Tucson, I suspect Loughner would have been full of holes after a couple of shots."

And Lisa in Connecticut: "The Columbine tragedy should have been enough, but the gun lobby is too powerful."

If you want to read more on this, go to the blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow.

A diplomatic trip for Hillary Clinton. CNN's Jeanne Moos is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some "Hot Shots" that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Look at this.

In Sudan, a worker at a polling station helps a blind man vote in an historic referendum on independence for southern Sudan.

In Australia, a fire and rescue truck plows through flooded streets after torrential rains.

In Shanghai, a man looks at cabinet-sized rooms in China's first capsule hotel.

And in India, check it out. Hundreds of visitors watch a chimpanzee at a zoo. "Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Stumbling on the world stage. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it was a foreign trip with a little too much tripping. Her aides say she was OK, unlike the last time she tripped while walking to the White House and broke her elbow. She cited that injury when dismissing talk that her role in shaping foreign policy was being diminished.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I broke my elbow, not my larynx.

MOOS: She's had a lot of practice boarding and exiting planes.

(on camera) Steps are tricky enough, but imagine having a camera trained on your every arrival and departure.

(voice-over) Presidents develop their own style. President Obama prefers to jog. Bill Clinton was more leisurely, and George Bush occasionally clutched the railings, something Gerald Ford should have done. His fall while deplaning in Austria has been embellished with sound effects and lives eternally on YouTube. President Ford even stumbled going up the steps.

(on camera) And it's not just American officials who slip on the airplane stairs while everyone is staring.

(voice-over) French President Nicolas Sarkozy managed to stay on his feet, but just barely.

So far President Obama hasn't lost his footing, but he has lost his BlackBerry while jogging up the stairs, and he bonked his head while boarding the presidential chopper. But then, so did President Bush more than once, and Michelle Obama has banged her head on Air Force One.

(on camera) Even presidential pets know better than to trust those airport steps.

(voice-over) President Bush had to give Barney a push to get him to go up, and he had to nudge Spot to get her to go down. As we learned in a Jimmy Kimmel bit, the only thing more treacherous than using the stairs is having them go nowhere.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": The president was surprised when Air Force One pulled away without him. He suffered only minor bruising.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: I hope the secretary of state was OK. That looked like a nice little trip. I'm sure she's fine.

Remember this important programming note. Join me tomorrow night, 8 p.m. Eastern. We'll have special coverage of the president's visit to Tucson at the memorial service. He will be speaking there; he'll participate at the memorial service in Tucson. Our coverage will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. I'll be here. John King will be in Tucson. We'll have extensive live coverage of that.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. My -- you can go to Twitter at Twitter.com/@WolBlitzerCNN, all one word, @WolfBlitzerCNN. That's me on Twitter.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.