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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Information Emerges in Arizona Shooting Investigation; RNC Ousts Michael Steele
Aired January 14, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a minute-by-minute account of what alleged gunman Jared Loughner did before the Tucson shooting. A police timeline shows he was up all night, was very busy.
New revelations about Ronald Reagan's mental condition during his last years in the White House. The claims are stunning, and they're coming directly from Ronald Reagan's own son.
And a Pennsylvania man is in federal custody after allegedly biting two FBI agents. Wait until you see what the agents say they found inside his house.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We are now getting a good idea of what the alleged gunman was doing in the hours leading up to the mass shooting in Tucson. Step by step, authorities have been carefully piecing together Jared Loughner's movements.
Let's go live to our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti. She's got the very latest -- Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
We now have that official police timeline. And here is the headline, if I may. We have known that the suspect Jared Loughner bought the gun in November. But, today, we found out, he bought the ammo three hours before the shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He shot at people and he was last seen headed towards the Walgreens.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Before unleashing 31 shots that killed six and wounded 13 last Saturday, accused shooter Jared Loughner was a man in motion. Loughner heads to Walgreens to have some film developed, then stops at a convenience store before checking into this Motel 6 after midnight.
He pays with a credit card and shows his driver's license. (on camera): No one remembers anything special about the suspect. What they do know about him is held in a plastic room key, like this one. The motel's electronic key system recorded the door to Loughner's room opening and closing, opening and closing several times that night.
(voice-over): At 2:00 in the morning, he heads back to Walgreens to pick up the pictures. By 4:00 a.m., he posts one on MySpace with a two-word title: "Goodbye, friends."
At 7:00, he is on the move again. Loughner has a gun that he bought in November, but needs ammo. A clerk at this Wal-Mart is taking too long, so he heads to another Wal-Mart instead and gets what he wants.
He also buys a black diaper bag. Minutes later, he runs a red light at this intersection and is pulled over by a state game and fish officer. He gets off with a warning.
Loughner arrives home a short time later and won't tell his dad what is up. The 22-year-old leaves his car behind and takes off on foot with the black bag. His dad follows in his truck, but can't find him. Over the next two hours, police believe Loughner drops off the black bag in a dry riverbed. It's later found with seven boxes of .9- millimeter ammo and a receipt for the bag.
At about 9:40, a cab driver picks up Loughner at this convenience store and drives him about six miles to the Safeway. Fourteen minutes later, Loughner's cab driver goes into the store to get change. At 10:10, police say Loughner fires his first shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy -- it looked like he had a semiautomatic pistol. He went in. He just started firing.
CANDIOTTI: The first 911 call comes a minute later -- carnage and a suspected killer captured.
CANDIOTTI: And so we are left with some remaining questions that include these: Did the suspect in this case wait until the hours before the shooting before deciding finally that he was going to go through with it? And did he leave behind that black bag filled with more ammo on purpose? In other words, was he planning another attack? -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Wow. All right, thanks very much, Susan, for that.
Another shooting victim was released from the hospital today. Ron Barber, an aide to Congresswoman Giffords, said in the statement that his healing process is now well under way.
A day after her release, Giffords staffer Pam Simon says that the wounds in the heart go a lot deeper and won't heal for a long time, if ever. Gabrielle Giffords remains in critical condition, but doctors say she is making all the right moves. I spoke in the last hour with a key member of her medical team, Dr. Peter Rhee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. PETER RHEE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER TRAUMA CENTER: It's hard to say what's going to happen in three months. I -- I would say that she's going to continue to get better compared to today. There might be time periods when she takes a few steps backwards.
But what exactly she can do in three months is -- is very difficult to -- to outline.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Other news we are following right now, including some stunning claims about Ronald Reagan coming from his youngest son just weeks before the centennial of the late president's birth.
Ron Reagan, the son, is out with a new book suggesting his father suffered from Alzheimer's disease while he was still in office in the White house.
CNN's Mary Snow has been looking into this for us.
Mary, what are you finding out?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Reagan disclosed that he had Alzheimer's disease back in 1994. That was five years after he left the White House. And doctors have said that he did not develop the disease until he was out of office.
But in his new book, Ronald Reagan Jr. writes about changes he noticed in his father as early as 1984, saying, "Three years into his first term as president, I was feeling the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father."
He references President Reagan's poor performance during his first debate with Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale in 1984. Reagan Jr. writes: "Watching the first of his two debates with 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, I began to experience the nausea of a bad dream coming true. My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looking tired and bewildered."
He goes on to say: "I have seen no evidence that my father or anyone else was aware of his medical condition while he was in office. Had the diagnosis have been made in, say, 1987, would he have stepped down? I believe he would have. Far less was known about the disease then of course than is known now."
Now, President Reagan's doctors have said that Mr. Reagan did not begin to show evidence of the disease until 1993. Four of his White House doctors told "The New York Times" back in 1997 that he was mentally sound in office. And they said, while they would not usually speak publicly about the former president's medical history, they did, because they said they didn't cover up any illness. And neither did Mr. Reagan.
Now, some who served in the Reagan administration are dismissing these new claims by Ronald Reagan Jr. Kenneth Duberstein, who served as Reagan's chief of staff at the end of his second term, told CNN's John King: "I think Ron these days is mostly in the business of trying to sell books. That's I think. Day in, day out, from the beginning to end, he was in command. He was fully in command."
And Bill Bennett, a CNN contributor who served as education secretary under President Reagan, says, "In all my interactions with the president, I never witnessed anything in him to give concern."
Now, Wolf, this book is set to be released next week.
BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper now with our senior political analyst David Gergen. He was an adviser to four U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan.
What do you make of these claims by the son Ron Reagan, David?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm sure Ron has written a good book. I look forward to reading it. But I am surprised he has revived these claims.
They have been dismissed by so many doctors, people who worked with him. Howard Baker also came in during those last years, came in concerned that he might be -- he had heard rumors that the president was slipping, but came out and said, I found him just as vital as ever.
What I do think is that there is a -- it has been my understanding for some time that there was a panel of outside doctors whom examined his medical records after he left office and came to the conclusion that, yes, age was catching up to him. He was a man in his 70s and he showed signs of age, but he did not have Alzheimer's. And there is a difference. He was not afflicted.
I must tell you, Wolf, that he did have a sense of humor about all this. He came in with one of his doctors in the second term and said, I have got three things to tell you today. Doctor, first off all, I have been having a little trouble with my memory, but I don't quite remember what the other two were.
BLITZER: So, at least he had a good sense of humor about that.
GERGEN: He had a great sense of humor.
BLITZER: And there's a huge difference between Alzheimer's disease and maybe early states of losing a little bit of your memory. Did you ever see in any of -- I mean, that debate against Walter Mondale, I remember that debate, and I don't -- but I don't remember him showing any signs of early dementia or anything like that in that debate. Do you?
GERGEN: Well, he was stumbling -- he did stumble during that debate, Wolf. And "The Wall Street Journal" I think within the next 24 hours wrote a story asking, is senility setting in?
The understanding that most people arrived at was that he walked into that debate too stuffed with facts, that the White House staff had misprepared him, in effect. And of course the real test came on the second debate, when he faced Walter Mondale.
And in that, as you will recall, he came out of that second debate. He was roaring. He went roaring in there and demolished Walter Mondale, made a joke about his age that was -- and Walter Mondale said as soon as he heard him made that joke, Mondale said, I realized the election was over.
BLITZER: Yes, because I remember that other debate. You're right. He was very, very forceful, very effective, got himself reelected easily as a result, in part, of those debates.
BLITZER: And Ken Duberstein, who worked with him at the very end, when he was the White House chief of staff -- you know Ken Duberstein and I know Ken Duberstein. He was very forceful today telling John King, you know what, if I saw him five times a day, I saw him 25 times a day, I never saw any evidence of Alzheimer's.
GERGEN: And Ken has told me consistently since his time as service as chief of staff, where he did a good job, that he never saw any sign of Alzheimer's.
All of us agree. Early in the '80s, in the beginning of the presidency, he was not a youngster in there, but he did have a wonderful memory. And I think there were times, like all of us who get older, he might forget something.
But Alzheimer's, for everybody who has worked with him, was not an issue during his presidency. And I think Ken Duberstein, Howard Baker, Bill Bennett, and there are so many others who would vouch for that, as well as his doctors.
BLITZER: Yes. And I assume that Ken Duberstein spent a lot more time with the president in that final year in the White House than Ron Reagan, the son, spent with the president. So that is just a little note.
GERGEN: Well, yes, Ron Reagan is a good fellow. I think he got this wrong, but he is a good fellow.
BLITZER: David, thanks very much -- David Gergen, our senior political analyst.
Moving to the middle. Is the Obama administration's latest hire yet another sign that the White House is shifting to the center, getting ready for 2012?
And talk of an armed revolution in the midst of the gun control debate. We are taking a closer look at the angry rhetoric about what some are calling government tyranny. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Mired in debt and controversy, the Republican National Committee today ousted the chairman, Michael Steele.
Steele, a lightning rod for criticism, dropped out of the running after he failed to gain support in several early rounds of voting. The committee then picked Wisconsin's GOP boss, Reince Priebus, to take over as chairman. He faces the very difficulty task of retiring millions of dollars in debt from the 2010 campaign and raising a war chest to finance the 2012 effort.
Meanwhile, over at the White House, the Obama administration clearly is moving towards the political center. The vice president, Joe Biden, today announcing his new chief of staff will be Bruce Reed, who was the chief domestic policy adviser during the Clinton administration.
Two other Clinton officials moved into top White House jobs only in the past few weeks. Recently, Reed ran the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and was also executive director of the president's bipartisan debt commission.
All this does seem like a clear shift to the center for the president of the United States.
Let's bring in our political analyst, Gloria Borger.
It follows the hiring of Bill Daley to be the new White House chief of staff, a centrist Democrat, several other centrist Democrats. It looks like they're readjusting, shall we say.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Right.
If you think of it as triumvirate, you have Bill Daley over at the White House, chief of staff now, Bruce Reed, formerly of the Democratic Leadership Council.
BLITZER: The so-called new Democrats.
BORGER: The new Democrats, founded indeed by Bill Clinton. And then you have Gene Sperling now, head of the National Economic Council. Sperling and Reed worked together in the Clinton White House. Bill Daley was commerce secretary.
So, it is like playing six degrees of separation. The important thing to know about Reed not is only that he is a centrist, but he is an interesting strategic thinker, somebody who knows how to get Democrats and Republicans together. He is really a policy wonk, as is Gene Sperling.
So I think this is clearly a shift to the center, a shift to trying to get something done. Liberals are going to be upset about it, but don't forget, our polls show that 72 percent of liberals actually approve of the job Barack Obama is doing. So I think this White House is saying, you know what, we have to learn to work with Republicans, as we did during the lame-duck session, because independent voters really like that, and they are the ones we are going to need for 2012.
BLITZER: It's interesting. Like Bill Daley, like Gene Sperling, Jack Lew, the budget director, Bruce Reed another former Clinton official, more of the Clintonization, if you will, of this second two years.
BORGER: So if you put Bill Clinton in the center and you drew out all these lines out, it would all stem from the Clinton years.
BLITZER: Yes. It's interesting.
BORGER: Very, very.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the new chairman of the Republican Party. What do you think?
Well, I have been talking to some Republicans about it, and they are very happy. As you know, Michael Steele was very controversial, became polarizing in the end, of the Republican Party.
And they said, look, what we need now is someone who understands how to organize at the grassroots. And that is of course -- this new chairman comes from running the grassroots effort in the state of Wisconsin. And they say, look, with Michael Steele, we were looking for a spokesman. And we got somebody who was a spokesman. In fact, maybe he spoke a little too much.
What they are looking for now, they don't need a spokesman now, because obviously they have got John Boehner and Mitch McConnell over in the Congress, Boehner being the new speaker. They will have a presidential candidate. They will have a presidential primary.
They don't want some somebody out there out front. They want somebody doing the repair work to the Republican National Committee. And one Republican said to me, you know, so many people were so angry at the RNC because of Michael Steele. Now all of that has dissipated. And everybody wants to work with the Republican National Committee. And they are hoping that they can also win over Republican control of the Senate next time.
BLITZER: In the world of politics, Reince Priebus not exactly a household name.
BORGER: Reince Priebus.
BLITZER: But he will be.
BORGER: Say that three times fast. Reince Priebus.
BLITZER: Reince Priebus.
BORGER: Very hard.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.
Homegrown jihadists? A Pennsylvania 21-year-old is now in federal custody after biting two FBI agents. Wait until you see what agents say they then found inside his house.
BLITZER: As the Arizona shooting rampage reverberates around the country, we are learning alarming new details about another young man now in custody. We are talking about a Pennsylvania 21-year-old allegedly writing that he would like to go down like the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh. And he may have had actually the weapons to do it.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is following this case for us. She's joining us now with what we know.
What do we know, Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 21- year-old Emerson Begolly, a U.S. citizen, was arrested earlier this month.
A criminal complaint alleges that he assaulted two FBI agents who wanted to question him, biting them and drawing blood -- in his jacket, court documents say, a .9-millimeter weapon with the safety off and a round in the chamber.
But prosecutors claim he had something much more serious in mind, possibly terrorism.
MESERVE (voice-over): Fourteen weapons, including three assault- style rifles, several thousand rounds of ammunition, and a grenade found, authorities say, in the search of the Pennsylvania farm where Emerson Begolly lived with his father.
On Emerson Begolly's computer, prosecutors say, a video showing him firing a weapon and chanting in Arabic. Also introduced into evidence, transcripts of e-mail chats of someone called "Abu Nancy," allegedly Begolly: "When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I think about is killing. I think about killing all the time."
Abu Nancy discusses a YouTube video of a bullet being fired into a propane tank. In e-mails and Internet postings, Abu Nancy mentions many potential modes of attack and taking schoolchildren hostage.
According to CNN affiliate WPXI, prosecutors told the court Begolly had murderous intentions, was preparing to strike.
Lawrence Likar is a former FBI terror expert.
LAWRENCE LIKAR, FORMER FBI AGENT: There is a radicalization process that they go through. And if you can catch that process at an earlier time, before they actually have targeted and moved into a tactical phase, then there is a much greater chance of being able to prevent an act of violence.
MESERVE: But let me emphasize here Begolly has not been charged with terrorism. His defense attorney says he has no criminal record, but he is being held in isolation in an unfurnished cell. His lawyers are the only ones allowed to visit. The lawyer says she is worried about him -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: What do we know about his mental health?
MESERVE: Well, we don't know a lot. There are a lot of allegations.
In some of the court documents, they claim, an FBI agent does who is testifying for the prosecution, that the mother was concerned because he stopped taking some medication, that she had signed some paperwork to get him committed, but that the local institution did not have room to take him in.
And the mother eventually cooperated with the FBI in his arrest. However, I will say that the defense attorney counters in court, saying -- questioning the mother's own mental health status -- back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for that, Jeanne Meserve, reporting.
The Arizona shooting a rampage is fueling a raging debate over gun control. Now the talk is getting even more heated. And the hot topic among some is revolution. What is going on?
Plus, courage under fire. Gabrielle Giffords staffer Pam Simon was also wounded. She is now talking to CNN about the terrifying seconds when she was shot.
BLITZER: The Arizona shooting massacre is triggering a firestorm over gun control in the United States. Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas once said that the right to bear arms is not just about self-protection. It is about in his words preventing tyranny, tyranny by the government. Are we seeing equally intense rhetoric right now?
Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Chris Plante's conservative radio show, the discussion is gun control and the phones light up all morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Nazis outlawed guns.
TODD: It is a hot topic in the wake of the Tucson shootings. Plante says many of his callers feel the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, could now be under renewed attack from the left. But a couple of callers put the debate on another plane.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course the left wants to take away high- capacity magazines, because that is the only way that the peasants or the general public can protect themselves against a tyrannical government.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't even understand the intent of the Constitution, which was to allow citizens to form a militia in case the government gets out of control.
TODD (on camera): How intense has the rhetoric been in the conservative media about gun control recently?
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, Second Amendment rights have always a hot button for conservative talk radio show hosts, who are in the business of hitting hot buttons. And their listeners, many of them, feel very strongly about guns because they feel like it is their protection against a tyrannical government.
TODD (voice-over): It is a sentiment that has been voiced since President Obama took office, by politicians...
REP. PAUL BROUN (R), GEORGIA: It is not about the ability for me to protect my family, my property against criminals, which we have the right to do, but it is about -- it is all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States.
TODD: ... and by conservative media stars like Glenn Beck on his radio program.
GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": He will slowly, but surely, take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun.
TODD (on camera): With all the sentiment on conservative talk radio that the Second Amendment is under siege, Chris Plante here at WMAL says it is a false narrative to think that conservatives who favor guns want to overthrow the government. And he says the angry rhetoric in the wake of Tucson certainly is not confined to the conservative side.
(voice-over): Plante says the mainstream media may use those calls on tyranny and seek to tar conservatives, but:
CHRIS PLANTE, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I know that the news media will not do the same when it comes to, for example, this Web posting that we have on our Web site which calls repeatedly for Sarah Palin to be assassinated, to die terrible, painful deaths in a hundred different ways.
TODD (on camera): And you are getting a lot of these tweets about her especially?
PLANTE: Look, the hatred for Sarah Palin is so outsized, and the obsession with Sarah Palin that some on the left have is really unhealthy at this point. And the fact that we are talking about Sarah Palin in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting is sick.
TODD (voice-over): In the post-Tucson debate, is the left really up for a political fight over gun control?
(on camera): How does gun control play politically for the Democrats right now?
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, right now, congressional Democrats and the White House have really avoided the issue. Going back to 2000, Democrats concluded this was a loser issue for them and really they have steered clear even after the most recent incident.
TODD (voice-over): But conservative callers may soon have new talking points. Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy wants to outlaw high-capacity gun magazines.
And Republican Pete King is pushing legislation banning people from carrying guns within 1,000 feet of federal officials.
Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: People in other countries are simply mystified by the U.S. gun culture and how relatively easily one can get one's hands on a firearm here in the United States. CNN's Atika Shubert start us off in London.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here on the streets of London people read about the shooting in Arizona with one question in mind: why is it so much easier to buy a gun in the United States?
Here in Britain, it is illegal to buy it over the Internet and must be done face-to-face. And it is possible to buy a hunting rifle if you are a member of a gun club, but even then you need a firearms certificate from the local police, and they need to know how you're going to use that weapon and how it will be stored safely.
As for buying an automatic weapon or most types of handguns, that requires another permit from Britain's home office that is extremely difficult to obtain. Many here say that is why Britain has far less gun crimes that the United States.
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fred Pleitgen in Berlin, Germany, and this country actually has big issues with its gun laws. Gun laws were tightened laws in the past years after several devastating school shootings left dozens of children dead. Since then the Germans have tightened up their rules for possessing guns. They've outlawed pump-action rifles completely, and they've made it harder for under 21 year olds to get into rifle clubs. Still, the Germans do acknowledge that, while they don't have as many guns as the United States does, they still have a problem on their hands.
EUNICE YOON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in Beijing, people are just as shocked over the point-blank shooting of Gabrielle Giffords' shooting as Americans are but not quite for the same reasons. People here are surprised at how close Americans can get to their political leaders. Here, in a system where politicians are not directly elected, officials tend to be inaccessible and highly guarded.
People are also talking about America's thriving gun culture. In China, hardly anyone can get a gun, and if it's found that you have one illegally, you can face jail time or even execution in the event of a crime. So while there is some gun violence here, it's very, very rare.
SARA SEIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sara Seidner in New Delhi, India. The Arizona shooting tragedy hasn't really made big headlines here, though it has been reported.
And if you'd ask the average citizen if they know anything about the U.S. gun laws, they'd likely say no. However, they do know about this country's gun laws, which are some of the strictest laws in the world. Though you will see places that sell arms and ammunition here, in order to get a gun you have to get a license, and in order to get that license, you have to have one of two things. Either one, you are involved in a competitive sport of shooting, or that you can prove that your life is in imminent danger.
Generally speaking, these shop owners say that it is nearly impossible for an average citizen to legally get a gun in the country. Though if you ask security analysts, they say, if you want a gun this the country, you won't get it legally easily, but if you have the money, it's not so hard to get one illegally.
Sara Seidner, CNN, New Delhi.
BLITZER: Those terrible moments when the shots were fired. Just out of the hospital, one of the Tucson shooting victims tells us what happened during the massacre. Stay with us.
And mixing things up over at the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill. A look at what it might take to have a new bipartisan seating chart. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: While Congressman Gabrielle Giffords battles to overcome a terrible head wound, two of her staffers who were wounded in the Tucson shooting are now out of the hospital. CNN's Randi Kaye has been speaking with one of them about the traumatic moments that followed that shooting.
Randi, what did you hear and what did they say?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we spoke with Pam Simon, who is one of the community outreach coordinators for the congresswoman's staff, and she told us today, Wolf, that she was just released from the hospital yesterday. She's doing remarkably well. She was shot, though, twice. Once in the wrist. The bullet actually went through her wrist and once in the chest, and that bullet actually traveled down to her thigh. And it remains there. The doctors thought it was best not to remove that second bullet.
She does have full use of her hand. Her doctor after surgery, she said, told her, "You are one lucky lady." She's a very strong woman. I asked her about the shooting and she told me, "I just knew this was not my day to die."
Here is what else she told me about the shooting that Saturday morning.
KAYE: Do you remember when that shot was fired at the congresswoman?
PAM SIMON, TUCSON SHOOTING VICTIM: It happened, everything happened probably in a matter of seconds. My feeling is that he was whirling. His back was to me. I saw the congresswoman go down. I saw Ron go down. And -- and then I think I must have been one of the next people hit, because from that point on, I was -- I was laying on the ground.
KAYE: Did you ever actually see the gunman's face?
SIMON: No. No, I did not.
KAYE: So you wouldn't recognize him today?
SIMON: I would not.
KAYE: What was that moment like for you when you knew that you had been shot, and you knew that those who you cared about and worked with had been shot? SIMON: Well, you know, it took a few seconds to -- actually for the reality. I think I was on the ground before I thought, "This is actually happening."
KAYE: Were you scared? Did you understand what had happened?
SIMON: I don't remember the emotion of fear at all. I just remembered kind of survival instincts, kicking in. I laid very still and played dead. I didn't know if he was still around.
BLITZER: Randi, what happened after the gunman was tackled? How did she get to the hospital?
KAYE: She did -- she got to the hospital by ambulance, Wolf. To this hospital. And she said that a stranger, a good Samaritan she called him, came to her rescue. He was actually shopping in Safeway, heard the gunfire, came outside, was holding her, was talking to her, held her hand, rubbed her back, made sure she got into one of the ambulances, and even followed that ambulance, Wolf, right here to the hospital.
BLITZER: Does she remember seeing the suspect Jared Loughner before the shooting?
KAYE: She doesn't remember him waiting in line to see the congresswoman, which he did for just a few moments. But she remembers turning around and trying to talk to the couple that the congresswoman was actually speaking with, and at that moment, she says that the suspect then, all of the sudden, appeared in between them. And next thing you know, they were all on the ground.
So she does remember him -- remember seeing him for just a split second, but what's very interesting is before she started community outreach for the congresswoman, Wolf, she actually was a teacher. And she worked -- she taught at the middle school and the high school where Jared Loughner was a student.
BLITZER: All right. I'm very happy she survived. What a story. Randi, thanks very much for bringing it to us.
No more partisan divide? That's a question. Switching seats at the president's State of the Union address. What Republicans and Democrats are now saying about perhaps -- perhaps -- sitting side by side at the address. What's going on, on that front?
And millions of your taxpayer dollars were supposed to help girls in Pakistan get an education, so why are their schools still in ruins? We'll go there. Where's all that money? Stay with us.
BLITZER: The Tucson shooting has left many members of Congress shaken, and that may lead to a seating shake-up when the president of the United States delivers his State of the Union address. There is bipartisan talk right now about perhaps crossing the aisle.
Let's bring in Samantha Hayes. She's been looking into the story for us, and there is new stuff going on. What are you learning, Sam?
SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you right, Wolf. There's no rule that assigns members of Congress a seat. Basically, if you're a member, you can sit wherever you want, but the parties have adhered to the tradition of sitting in blocs, so this is true for the House in normal sessions or joint session like the State of the Union.
HAYES: In some ways the floor of the House of Representatives resembles a high-school cafeteria. There are at least two groups who always sit together. Just take look at the view from where the president stands during his State of the Union address. Republicans to his left, Democrats to his right.
But one lawmaker would like to change that. Senator Mark Udall says it's time to mix things up.
SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: I would think that, by sitting together, we could make a commitment implicitly to work together on an energy policy that makes sense, that's comprehensive, on reforming our immigration system, on making sure we meet this real need to drive down our long-term debt.
HAYES: It's a nice idea, but Matt Wasniewski, the historian for the House of Representatives, says it would be a major break in tradition. Congressional directories like this one, dating back to the 1840s, shows the emergence of a divided House in the 30th Congress.
MATT WASNIEWSKI, HISTORIAN, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: If you'd color code this, you'd see very clearly that this is mostly Whig members. There's a few Democrats scattered in here, but most of Democrats are seated on this side of the aisle.
HAYES: Slavery prompted that division. Now the issues are different, but the visual is the same. And following Saturday's attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, some lawmakers say a new seating arrangement would show solidarity.
Even New York Congressman Eliot Engel, a Democrat who always finds an aisle seat in order to greet the president before the State of the Union address, says he would consider switching sides.
(on camera) And what if the only aisle seat was on the Republican side?
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, I would take it. You know, we've been talking this year about maybe sitting all together and not having one Republican side and one Democratic side. So I thought if that -- that idea of Senator Udall's takes off, maybe I'll get an aisle seat on the Republican side this year instead of on the Democratic side.
HAYES: But it better be on the aisle?
ENGEL: It's got to be on the aisle. That's a prerequisite.
HAYES (voice-over): Some Republicans are showing support, too, listing their names on Senator Udall's online petition. But Congressman Kevin McCarthy says the process doesn't need to become official.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think you're going to find that people are willing to do it and wanting to do it, and not because someone is out telling them to do it.
HAYES: Senator Udall says that the upcoming State of the Union address, he will sit with Republicans even if he's the only Democrat doing it. But check out this list behind me. Seems like he's got several Democrats, as well as independent Joe Lieberman and even some Republicans, too, including Senator John McCain.
Still waiting for more House Republicans to perhaps say that they'll maybe join Democrats on that side of the aisle. Sounds like Congressman McCarthy may do it.
BLITZER: Yes. Looks like there's a little momentum. I've been skeptical from the beginning that this would happen, but you know, stuff happens.
HAYES: Why not?
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right. Thanks, Sam.
New developments from the White House on its policy toward Cuba unfolding right now, and it could mean more opportunities for Americans to travel to the communist island. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is over at the State Department. What's going on, Jill?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, they're calling it reaching out to the Cuban people. And what President Obama is doing is he's changing regulations in three different areas that concern Cuba. One is travel. Two, remittances, and the third one is charter flights.
And the president is making the case that this will help to increase the free flow of information and also help independence of the Cuban people from Cuban authorities.
On the first one, travel, it will be easier for religious organizations, educational groups, universities, et cetera, to travel to Cuba, hold seminars and conferences, and also it will make it easier to have a wider variety of journalistic activities.
Then, on remittances, any American will be able to send remittances up to $500 per quarter, so that's $2,000 per year, to non- family members in Cuba to do what they're saying is support private economic activity. This can't go to members of the communist party or to government.
And then finally on travel, they're going to allow U.S., all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to registered and licensed charters to Cuba.
So all of it, it's an opening up in some cases returning it to what it used to be like, but certainly an opening up. And we checked with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. You know, she is the new chair in the House of the foreign affairs committee in the House, and she issued a statement saying she obviously doesn't like it. She said these changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectors and will brings economic benefits to the Cuban regime -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Looks like the Obama administration reaching out to that Cuban regime right now. We'll see if they reach right back.
Thanks very much, Jill, for that.
American dollars meant to help Pakistani children, but where is the money really going?
And why some are now questioning the conviction of a man who killed three boys almost two decades ago.
BLITZER: Just got an e-mail from an aide to the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, saying he had a good phone call, a very moving phone conversation, with Mark Kelly, the astronaut, the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
He expressed his sadness at the assassination attempt against the congresswoman, recalling the assassination of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, in Pakistan.
The war in Afghanistan certainly took center stage over at the White House when President Obama met with the Pakistani president today. Their talks focused on fighting terrorism and the Taliban and cooperating toward a peaceful and stable outcome in Pakistan's neighboring nation.
The United States has given millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, much of it to rebuild schools, but many of them are still debris and dust. Where did all that money go? Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us with more.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, where you see these destroyed schools, it's clear something has failed, especially when you consider it's been a year and a half since the Taliban were kicked out of Swat.
RIDA SALMAN, STUDENT: The youth should get an education, if it is man or woman.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): First the Taliban threatened Rida Salman.
SALMAN: And the terrorists said to us that if you -- if you go to school, we will kidnap you and we will kill you.
LAWRENCE: Then they bombed her school. And nearly two years later, it's still rubble.
SALMAN: Listen! Don't you hear her screams? Pakistan is in intense need of our love!
LAWRENCE: So the 7th grade girl is not happy.
SALMAN: We have to unite! We have to fight! We have to be a great nation!
LAWRENCE: Rida and some of her old classmates go to a new school now. But it's a lot further away and more expensive.
(on camera) Why is it taking the civilian government so long to rebuild some of these schools?
ZAUDDIN YOUSEF, PRINCIPAL, KUSHAL SCHOOL & COLLEGE: This must be the priority of the government, but unfortunately, it's not.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Zauddin Yousef is principal of Rida's new school. He says there are 150 destroyed schools just like Rida's old one, Sangota.
YOUSEF: U.S. has given a lot of money, but still the schools are in rubbles.
LAWRENCE: Nida Jan also went to Sangota. Now, she's out the door extra early. Nida's got to walk more than a kilometer to the local bus stop, and then it's an hour's drive to her new school.
NIDA JAN, STUDENT: We're very lucky, because we have seen that it's just -- it is very long to come to school. But I'm trying to come to school, and I want to become -- I want to make my future.
LAWRENCE (on camera): Her old school was close enough to walk, but is it hard to see your school like this?
JAN: Yes, it's very hard to see our school this much destroyed.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Some educators claim local politicians haggled over contracts, steering them to certain companies.
YOUSEF: Their top priority are their pockets.
LAWRENCE: Zauddin says they raised the bids, then skimmed the profits.
YOUSEF: And everywhere, they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to have some money. How to drag (ph) and extract some monies. LAWRENCE: A Pakistani official says politicians followed the rules. He says it takes time to hire engineers, and the recent floods slowed down the process.
But even Pakistan's military, which pushed the Taliban out of Swat, is getting frustrated with the slow pace.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eventually the civil government has to take over the area from the army.
LAWRENCE (on camera): Do you miss your school?
SALMAN: I miss my school so much. I can never forget education at Sangota, and I miss it too much. There are so many schools, but there cannot be a school like Sangota.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): The school can come back, but the clock is ticking.
(on camera) And if little gets done, international donors will be even less likely to invest in the future -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting for us. Thank you.
Sitting in a maximum security prison in Arkansas right now, a man convicted of murdering three boys in 1993. But now people are questioning the verdict.
BLITZER: An Arkansas man has spent more than half his life on Death Row, convicted of killing three helpless boys. But is it a crime he did not commit? CNN's David Mattingly is following the story for us.
David, what's the latest?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Between the rain and the overcast skies, it looks really bleak out here. Nothing around but farmlands and small towns probably for the last 20 miles.
"Penitentiary area. Beware of hitchhikers." That suggests that people might actually escape from this place, but this prison is the super max of Arkansas. The worst of the worst go to this prison.
(voice-over) And at the time of his conviction, no one was considered worse than Damien Echols. Judged as the leader of a grotesque and senseless ritualistic murder spree, a jury of his peers sent him here to be executed.
But that was 17 years ago. The once cocky and defiant teenager, who horrified and enraged thousands of people, is now pushing forward. Escorted to our interview handcuffed and shackled, the Damien Echols I see appears frail, lonely and eager to tell his story.
(on camera) You know, people are going to be watching you throughout this interview, and they're going to be judging you.
DAMIEN ECHOLS, CONVICTED OF MURDER: Right.
MATTINGLY: How do you think they're going to judge you?
ECHOLS: I don't know.
MATTINGLY: You're either innocent and a terrible victim of a justice system gone wrong, or you're a terrible, cold-blooded killer of children.
ECHOLS: I think you'll probably have people who think both.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): With prison officials listening to our every word, I'm allowed to talk to Damien for almost two hours. Through a thick glass window, I listen as this obviously intelligent and articulate man describes why he believes the justice system failed him and why there's still one question he never gets used to hearing.
(on camera) I'll just ask you the question. Did you kill those boys?
MATTINGLY: It was, of course, an obvious question, and Damien Echols believed the answer should be equally obvious. Find out why tonight at 11 p.m. Eastern and again on Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern for this "CNN Presents." It's called "Presumed Innocent: Murder in West Memphis" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: David, thank you very much. We'll look forward to seeing it.
That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.