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Jesse Jackson, Jr. Pleads Guilty; Shattering Blast Levels Popular Restaurant; Not Much "Wiggle Room" in Spending Cuts; Playing A Blame Game with Forced Cuts; Death From The Skies In Syria; Allegations of Voter Fraud Hit Ohio; Rats Invade Parts of New York; Tracing $50 Million in Stolen Diamonds
Aired February 20, 2013 - 17:00 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, his future once looked unbelievably bright, now it's almost certain to include prison time. A guilty plea today from former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
A popular restaurant disappears in a shattering blast and a ball of flame. We'll take you to the scene of that devastating explosion in Kansas City.
And masked gunmen rob an armored truck and make off with $50 million in diamonds.
But what can they do with those diamonds now?
We're going to show you what the thieves are up against.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He was once a rising political star, now the former Democratic congressman, Jesse Jackson, Jr. Has come crashing to Earth. Jackson pleaded guilty today to misusing campaign funds. Afterwards, he was contrite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE JACKSON, JR. (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I'm sorry I let everybody down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you say you're sorry you let everybody down?
JACKSON: I'm sorry I let everybody down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jackson spent more than $43,000 on a Rolex watch, $9,500 on children's furniture and more than $10,000 on Bruce Lee memorabilia.
Lisa Sylvester is joining us now.
She's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
You were over at the courthouse most of the day today -- Lisa.
Tell us what happened.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, Wolf, that it's all but certain that prison is going to be in Jesse Jackson's near future. Now, it could be three years, four years or five years. But it was a really somber mood inside that courtroom.
Both Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandy pleading guilty today in separate hearings. They both cried a little bit in front of the judge -- a judge who will decide what happens next.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Jesse Jackson, Jr. arrived at the federal courthouse without speaking to reporters. Later, inside, Jackson told the federal judge, quote, "I used monies that should have been for campaign purposes."
And at the key moment, when the judge asked him, how do you plead?, Jackson looked back at his parents and then dabbed his eyes and said, "Guilty, your honor."
Court documents show Jackson and his wife used campaign credit cards like it was their own personal spending account, paying for everything from home appliances, airplane tickets, restaurants, dry cleaning, fur coats, even a spa outing at the Martha's Vineyard Holistic Retreat for a family member. In this video from HDTV from a couple of years ago, the couple shows off their Chicago home. Prosecutors say the couple bought lots of household goods and other items -- more than $10,000 spent at Best Buy, $15,000 from ABT Electronics and more than $9,000 from all children's furniture.
And then there was the memorabilia -- lots of it, like $8,500 for two Michael Jackson hats and $4,000 for a Michael Jackson and Eddie van Halen guitar.
All told, prosecutors say Jackson misused about $750,000 in campaign money. Jesse Jackson, Jr. now a felon, admitted to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements. He could face up to five years in prison. But his lawyers, in a plea agreement with prosecutors, have said a sentence in the three to four year range would be more appropriate, citing his health issues.
REID WEINGARTEN, ATTORNEY FOR JESSE JACKSON, JR: And those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That's not an excuse, that's just a fact.
SYLVESTER: Jackson was treated at the Mayo Clinic for depression and bipolar disease last year. He has served 17 years in Congress, the son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader.
DELMAIRE COBB, JACKSON FAMILY FRIEND: If you look at the definition or characteristics of bipolar disorder, these were classic symptoms, in that people are compulsive with spending.
SYLVESTER: Jackson's wife Sandy also appeared in court, pleading guilty to separate charges of filing false tax returns.
A hard fall for a family whose very name has been synonymous with justice and righteousness.
NATASHA KORECKI, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES" POLITICAL REPORTER: This name is political dynasty, really, in Chicago, husband and wife, alderman, congressman. It just completely changes the history of their name in our city.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SYLVESTER: Now, sentencing for Jesse Jackson, Jr. is scheduled for June 28th; for Sandy Jackson, July 1st. And she faces the possibility of three years in prison, although the Jackson lawyers, they're going to be pushing very hard for no jail time for her, particularly because this couple has two young children.
And I should have mentioned, again, he didn't say anything on the way out. But on the way coming out of the courthouse, he said, quote, "I am sorry I let everybody down."
That was a quote from Jesse Jackson, Jr.
BLITZER: Any statement from his father, Jesse Jackson, Sr.?
SYLVESTER: We haven't as of now. I mean I saw him at the courthouse. I mean he was -- he was very supportive. He was clearly there to support his son. But we haven't seen a statement as such.
But I have a feeling that within a few hours, a couple, even with tomorrow -- by tomorrow we should probably hear something from Jesse Jackson, Sr.
BLITZER: What a fall from grace for...
SYLVESTER: It's sad.
BLITZER: -- for this former...
SYLVESTER: It's sad all around.
BLITZER: -- congressman from Chicago.
Thanks so very much.
We have extraordinary new surveillance images of the shattering explosion, the tremendous burst of flame that leveled a popular landmark in Kansas City, Missouri. One body was pulled from the rubble today at the scene of what was, until about 22 hours ago, J.J.'s, a well-known restaurant. The explosion is being blamed on natural gas.
CNN's Ted Rowlands is on the scene for us -- Ted, you spoke today to the restaurant's owner.
Tell us how that went.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was very emotional, Wolf. Not only the restaurant owner, but the restaurant employees here are going through a very difficult time. This time last night, J.J.'s was open. They were serving happy hour. An hour later, just after 6:00 local time here, it exploded with people inside.
JIMMY FRANTZE, RESTAURANT OWNER: I'm looking at a situation I really can't quite comprehend yet.
ROWLANDS (voice-over): After 28 years, Jimmy Frantze's Restaurant is reduced to rubble. Tuesday's explosion sent 10 of his employees to the hospital. And one of his waitresses, a 35 year old woman named Megan Cramer (ph), is feared dead.
FRANTZE: She was a -- a good employee. We all cared a lot about each other. This is a family.
ROWLANDS: It would have been much worse. Some of the employees and patrons say they were told to evacuate just minutes before the blast. The others, including Cramer, were still inside.
This surveillance video shows the moment of the explosion.
FRANTZE: The wall (INAUDIBLE). The building exploded. It did not just catch fire, it blew up. So that's why she couldn't get out.
ROWLANDS: The cause of the blast is still under investigation. Neighbors say they started smelling gas more than an hour before the explosion.
JESSI HAMILTON, NEIGHBOR: I smelled the strongest gas I've ever smelled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And was it overcoming or like what a...
HAMILTON: Yes. I could taste it. I mean it was very strong.
ROWLANDS: Authorities were called. The fire department actually came out 45 minutes before the explosion. But instead of ordering an evacuation, they left after discussing it with an employee of Missouri Gas Energy, who was already on scene.
The gas company has no comment while they continue to investigate.
CHIEF PAUL BERARDI, KANSAS CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We got a call around 5:15 in the evening. I hesitate to mention that because I'm not looking at my notes. So all of that is under investigation and will come out.
ROWLANDS: Kansas City mayor, Sly James, who stayed up through the night with his fire department, says it's too early to point fingers.
MAYOR SLY JAMES, KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: Everybody wants to blame somebody. Everybody wants to know these details. But let me just assure you, that's not going to happen today.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ROWLANDS: And, Wolf, I received an e-mail from the gas company in response to a question I had as to whether or not an evacuation was ever ordered here. And they said that 10 minutes before the blast, an evacuation was ordered by one of their employees at J.J.'s Restaurant -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ted Rowlands, thanks very much.
A pretty sad story there in Kansas City.
For more coverage of the explosion, by the way, and to see more CNN iReport photos like this one, go to CNN.com.
There's always a chance of a late breaking compromise. But nine days from now, automatic forced spending cuts will sweep across the federal government. Totaling $85 billion, the cuts may cause some serious misery for a lot of people.
But how will these cuts be made?
CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now with a closer look at how it will all fall out.
What are you seeing there -- Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, one of the things that's puzzling about this is no one seems to really know in Washington exactly how this will work. But we're getting an idea that it's not just because there will be these 10 percent cuts across all these different agencies, that the impact may be felt by a lot of people but, more importantly, the way the cuts will probably be administered -- I say probably because we don't know how any given department might be able to handle it.
So let's talk about a department that doesn't really exist, the Federal Bureau of Dog Grooming. And let's talk about the principle of how this would be done. Fed, 10 percent cuts here. You can look at this. Let's say they have $50 billion for salaries, $30 billion for supplies, $10 billion for conferences, $5 billion for administration and another $5 billion for dog rescue.
Out of this big budget up here, you would think they could just say let's cancel the conferences this year. There's our 10 percent and nothing really suffers. We're able to take care of salaries and supplies, everything is good, we can still rescue the dogs. Here's the problem, though. Under the rules of sequestration, as best we can understand them, they cannot do this. Everybody we've talked to has said this will be a line by line cut. Each program has to be cut within the department. So what you wind up with is 10 percent off everything. Things that you might be willing to get rid of, you lose 10 percent of that. Things you might really want to hold onto, you lose 10 percent of that. And if
You take this one out, you don't get any credit anywhere else.
That, Wolf, is why some people say these cuts are draconian and really can affect a lot of programs that neither Democrats nor Republicans want to affect. The rules will simply make it be affected.
BLITZER: So -- so the bottom line, Tom, there's just no way to avoid this type of across the board cutting?
FOREMAN: Yes, there actually is a way. You know, you were pushing the White House on this just a little bit earlier. When you're talking to the White House, the way to avoid it is for Democrats and Republicans to actually have discussions now about what parts of all of these they're willing to cut now. They may be able to say there's some program out here that we can take 30 percent away from, or 40 percent away from, and protect the 10 percent somewhere else. But they have to strike that deal. And right now, they're not striking that deal, because Republicans won't bend on the question of taxes and the White House will not bend, as you push them there, to define precisely what they're willing to cut.
BLITZER: They've got nine days. Let's see if they can get a deal. Let's see if there's going to be a meeting between the president and the speaker, John Boehner. Ronald Reagan used to meet with Tip O'Neill when he was speaker in the '80s. They worked out a deal. Let's see if that happens this time once again.
Tom Foreman, thank you.
So are both sides playing these forced spending cuts for political gain?
Listen to what the president said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger -- Gloria, first of all, the political calculation for the Democrats in this -- this last minute fight. GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Blame. Blame, blame, blame. Blame the Republicans. I mean you heard the president just there. The White House calculation is that, in the end, the public, when they figure out what all of these job furloughs are about, 800,000 at the Pentagon alone, they're going to blame the Republicans for not willing to compromise. I mean you heard Dan Pfeiffer in your interview talk about the word compromise.
So they're saying, OK, you know what, we're going to take the case to the American people. We're going to point out exactly what's going to occur. And we think they're going to side with us.
Now this isn't without risk. So take a look at this -- at this poll that was done recently about whether federal spending cuts should take place on March 1.
And you see there, not sure, 32 percent. That's where the White House believes it has its opening. But those people could also turn the other way and say, you know what, maybe some spending cuts would not be a bad idea.
BLITZER: You know, the House speaker, as we've been pointing out, wrote this tough piece...
BLITZER: -- in "The Wall Street Journal," "The president is raging against the budget crisis he created." That's the headline.
BLITZER: Then he says this. He says, "What they might not realize is that it is a product of the president's own failed leadership." That's John Boehner in "The Wall Street Journal."
But Republicans have their own calculations right now, as well.
BORGER: Sure. Blame. Again, blame game. We've heard that in Washington. And they're going to remind us at every opportunity they have, just like the speaker did in that op-ed, that it was the president's idea, that this sequester was the president's idea.
Let's set aside the fact, Wolf, that 174 House Republicans also voted for it. But they're going to point out that this was the president's idea and that the public, they say, wants spending cuts. They already believe they've done the tax side of this issue. And they believe that they can take this to the American public and the public will be on their side.
So, Wolf, they are living in completely parallel universes. There, right now, is no overlap between these two sides.
BLITZER: Yes, because the Republicans are saying they already raised taxes on the rich as part of the deal in December...
BORGER: Right. Right. BLITZER: -- to avoid that so-called fiscal cliff.
BORGER: That's right.
BLITZER: They're not going to raise taxes again now. The president says there's only way to avert this current crisis, raise taxes on rich people and big corporations.
BORGER: That's right. Now, the White House says, when we take this to the American public and they realize the disruption that will occur in their lives, eventually, as you know, it's not all going to happen on March 1, Wolf.
But they say, when we take this to the public, and the president's going to travel, they're going to tell you state by state how this is going to affect you, they believe when the public starts focusing on disruption, that they will say, you know what, we don't want this.
And the Republicans are saying that the public is going to say, you know what, the president ought to compromise because they're not in the mood to raise taxes, they believe in smaller government.
The question is, to me, whether people believe in smaller government more in theory than in practice. And we'll have to see how this plays out.
BLITZER: And I know that some White House officials still believe, even at this last minute, because I've heard it from them, that the Republican leadership will blink on the issue of taxes and they will go ahead, when all is said and done, and raise some more taxes.
BORGER: They believe that, but when you talk to Republicans on the Hill, they say absolutely no way on this one.
BLITZER: Yes. And Boehner himself wrote they understand the tax debate is now closed.
BORGER: You know, Boehner is going to end up cutting a deal, I believe, on immigration, but not on this issue.
BLITZER: Yes, all right. Get ready for all those furloughs.
BORGER: We'll see.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Up next, a young Syrian rebel who once fought for freedom now siding with al Qaeda. And he says he's proud to be called a terrorist.
And as if super storm Sandy didn't cause enough misery to New York, it left behind a growing problem -- rats. We have an update.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: In Syria, death raining down from the sky as dozens of people were killed today, many in the capital and its suburbs. This video is said to show the immediate aftermath of an air strike on a neighborhood near Damascus. And these images posted today purportedly show the downing of a Syrian regime jet fighter in the same area.
The rebels are making major games, but there's an ominous shift among them with radical Islamists growing more popular and more powerful. CNN senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is in Istanbul with a closer look.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot can change in a year. We first met Ibrahim Kabani (ph). He was a 19-year-old revolutionary who sang about freedom. Always dressed in the colors of the Syrian rebel flag, he worked with a team of activists who called for democracy and human rights, staging boisterous anti-regime protests.
A year later, Kabani (ph) has fallen in with a very different crowd with a very different message.
WATSON: Kabani (ph) won't talk to CNN now. Friends say he's a member of the Nusra Front. It's the most famous of the many Islamist rebel groups now fighting the Syrian regime. Kabani's (ph) ideological evolution is an example of a broader shift in Syria.
RAFIF JOUEJATI, LOCAL COORDINATION COMMITTEES IN SYRIA: There is an increasing militarization and now increased radicalization of the revolution.
WATSON: Many demonstrators at anti-regime protests now wave what they describe as the black Islamic flag of war, and there's been friction between Islamists and protesters who still carry the original Syrian rebel banner. Part of what's attracting Syrians to groups like Nusra Front this is that they led rebels to several high-profile victories on the battlefield, often, with the help of foreign jihadi fighters. Last December, the U.S. blacklisted
ROBERT FORD, U.S. AMB. TO SYRIA: We blacklisted the Nusra front because of its intimate links with al Qaeda in Iraq which is responsible for the killings of thousands of Iraqis, hundreds of Americans. We know what al Qaeda and Iraq did and is still doing and we don't want it to start doing that in Syria.
WATSON: But with 70,000 Syrians now dead and little sign of American support for the opposition, even peaceful Syrian opposition groups criticize the U.S. move against Nusra.
JOUEJATI: The U.S. designation of Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, perhaps, makes the United States feel better, but it really doesn't change things on the ground for Syrians. WATSON: The Nusra Front has set up a cheap public bus service in rebel held parts of Aleppo, while also distributing food and fuel to hungry freezing Syrians. All of this, perhaps, contributed to why young Ibrahim Kabani (ph) appears to have joined the Nusra Front.
He and other supporters of this staunchly Sunni Muslim group have a chilling message for members of the Syrian president's minority Alawite religious sect. "Just wait, Alawite," the little boy sings, "we will come to slaughter you."
BLITZER: And Ivan Watson is joining us now. Iva, so, how bad is this tension that's emerging between these pro-western rebels, if you will, and those with ties to al Qaeda?
WATSON (on-camera): Well, some secular rebels will tell you in private that if and when they manage to overthrow the Syrian regime that the next battle will be, they say, against the Islamists who are growing so influential, particularly, in the north of the country. And we've seen these tensions flaring up just in past days.
Last week, one of the most prominent of the activists in that northern city of Aleppo, a guy by the name of Abu Mariam (ph) who used to lead protests in Aleppo against the government, he was detained, he says, by Nusra Front fighters who he says flogged him on his back. He even posted photos of this on Facebook as proof.
Just this week, another rebel group that was setting up a court to institute some system of justice in rebel-controlled territories, it says that Nustra front fighters raided its courthouse and beat some of the lawyers there and detained some of their members. That gives you a sense of some of this tension. But Wolf, we have to keep in mind, what could also be driving people to join the Nusra Front and other Islamist groups, sheer desperation.
We're talking 70,000 people killed in Syria in under two years. Millions of people displaced and people just don't know where else to turn. If these groups are winning big victories, that's a big reason that is drawing them to somebody that they think could, perhaps, hasten an end to the Syrian government.
BLITZER: And I've heard it repeatedly, Ivan, from administration officials, this is one of the main reasons why President Obama rejected the U.S. directly arming those rebels, because he feared that the arms might go to a good group right now, relatively speaking, but that could turn out to be the al Qaeda front like al-Nusra the day after tomorrow. So, he's reluctant to even start pouring in some pretty sophisticated weaponry to these groups.
You don't know where the weapons are going to wind up was one of the main reasons why he decided to reject the recommendation of arming the rebels to begin with. I know a very controversial decision that he made. Ivan Watson reporting for us and doing an excellent job as he always does. In other world news right now, tens of thousands of Greeks poured into the streets today protesting wage cuts, tax hikes, and belt- tightening measures. Look at these pictures. Mass demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at police who fired tear gas in return. The clashes came amid a nationwide strike which close schools, halted transit, and left hospitals with reduced staffs.
Coming up, $50 million worth of diamonds stolen in a brazen heist. Could they be added to a jewelry store near you? We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Preliminary autopsy results are now in on country star, Mindy McCready's cause of death. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. So, what happened?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we thought this and now we know for sure. An Arkansas sheriff's offices now confirming that Mindy McCready died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The troubled country singer who struggled with addiction for years was found Sunday at her home in the same spot her boyfriend died five weeks earlier.
A friend says it was a perfect storm that hit her in the days before her death with a nail in the coffin being a proposed court order which would have taken away her children.
In another news, an eastern European gang of hackers is reportedly responsible for a string of recent attacks on Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. Sources tell Bloomberg the hackers appear to be looking for research, intellectual property, or other private information that could be sold in the underground market. Facebook and Apple say no user data was compromised, but 250,000 Twitter accounts may have been hit.
But take a look at this. Wow! Dramatic pictures showing a massive 150-foot chunk of pavement buckled on a major interstate in Arizona. According to the state transportation department, parts of the road were forced to close after it happened. Weather isn't believed to be the cause but rather some kind of geological event.
And the White House has unveiled the official portrait of the first lady, Michelle Obama. What do you think there? It was taken last week in the green room. The first lady, who just recently debuted on new bangs, is about to begin a national tour celebrating the third anniversary of her signature "let's move initiative," inspiring children to grow up healthy. And I, for one, love the picture. I love everything about it.
BLITZER: You like the bangs?
SYLVESTER: I love the bangs. I love the backdrop. I love the, you know, pearls. It's very classic --
BLITZER: Beautiful picture.
SYLVESTER: Beautiful, beautiful picture.
BLITZER: Here's a question I asked Kate Bolduan yesterday. What about you in some bangs, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: You know, I haven't done bangs since I was a kid. So, I just - you know, I'm --
BLITZER: I try to imagine Lisa Sylvester with bangs.
SYLVESTER: Michelle Obama, the first lady, said she was doing it as part of a -- some kind of a mid-life crisos. So when I hit my mid- life crisis --
BLITZER: You've got a long time to go, Lisa.
SYLVESTER: -- maybe I'll try for the bangs, too.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester, very young. Thank you very much.
Just ahead, a new ad featuring some big-name Republicans in favor of same-sex marriage. That's coming up. Our Strategy Session is next.
BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story. We're just getting new information. The former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds for personal gains. Federal authorities are now speaking out about the case.
Lisa was at the courthouse all day today. Lisa, what did they say?
SYLVESTER: Well, what we are hearing a few minutes ago, there was a press conference with the U.S. attorney's office. And we have some sound that we can play for you.
But just to set this up, it was earlier today where Jesse Jackson Jr. walked into a federal court and pled guilty. He is accused of using some $750,000 in campaign money for personal use. Buying all kinds of things, including Michael Jackson memorabilia, buying appliances for coats. It is a long list. In fact, the U.S. attorney's office said it was some 3,100 transactions that he used, essentially charging things on a campaign credit card as well as using some checks.
So let's take a listen to what he said because I think it puts it all into context. Here's from the U.S. attorney's office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those contributors were people of modest means, senior citizens on fixed income, auto workers, teachers, plumbers. They donated their hard-earned money so that he could, through his political movement somehow better their lives. He betrayed their trust. He spent their money that was designed or intended to be used to further his elections on items of excess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: So we are hearing some very harsh phrasing coming from the prosecutors in this case, essentially saying, look, he betrayed their trust. That there were people, there were citizens, these were plumbers, these were teachers who wanted to contribute to his political campaign because he believed in them. And this is something that Jesse Jackson Jr. himself acknowledged as he walked out of the courtroom today. He did say one thing, which is that he said he is sorry that he let everybody down. Wolf?
BLITZER: He certainly should be. Thanks very much for that, Lisa. Lisa will have more on this story in the next hour as well.
But I want to get the quick reaction from two CNN contributors, Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist, David Frum, the former Bush White House speech writer. When you hear this kind of stuff, Jesse Jackson Jr., he could wind up in jail for three years, four years, five years right now. What a fall from grace.
DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is worth remembering that there have been a lost questions about Jesse Jackson Sr.'s financial practices over the years. So, the fall from grace may not be as steep a fall as you suggest there.
BLITZER: But Jesse Jackson Sr. was never an elected member of Congress or anything. And certainly has never gone to jail or pleaded guilty to anything, as far as I know.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Or even been charged. I mean, that's not a fair comparison at all.
FRUM: Well, the way his old PUSH movement raised money and -- was often very dubious. It's a storied (ph) history, and he's turned some new leaves. But they would approach local businesses, they would raise money --
BLITZER: He's never been charged with anything.
FRUM: He's never been charged with any form of wrongdoing, and it's certainly not illegal to say I'll protest your store unless -- or your business unless you in some way pay money to the causes that I support and people who are allies of mine. None of that is illegal.
BLITZER: The point you're trying to make, I just want to be precise, you think Jesse Jackson Jr. got into this kind of trouble because of his dad?
FRUM: No. I'm saying when you say it's a fall from grace, I think that some of the reporting suggests that what has happened here is we have a venerable American political dynasty that has somehow been betrayed in the second generation. I think this is a story more of continuity than discontinuity. BEGALA: I can't endorse that. I don't think the sins of the son should be visited on the father. I am struck at the power of the statement from that U.S. attorney. As someone who spent most of my life in campaigns, he's right. It's the enormous betrayal of the trust of the people who invested in the congressman. It's a personal tragedy for that family, and they have young children. And so in that sense, your heart breaks and you pray for those kids.
But it's $750,000. It's an extraordinary misappropriation.
BLITZER: And you see the list - and they itemize the list on the paper that went to the judge who's going to make this decision, how long he goes to jail, how long Sandy, his wife, potentially could go to jail. They have two little kids. This is a story that is really, really wrenching in so many respects.
Let's move on and talk about some other political issues. A new pro same-sex ad campaign coming out from -- including high-level Republicans. I'm going to play a clip from this commercial that's now out there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: None of us don't want to be told that we can't marry the person we love. That's why a growing majority of Americans believe it's time to allow marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: If couples are committed, they ought to have, I think, the same sort of rights that everyone has.
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Allowing them to live together, with the protection of law, it seems to me is the way we should be moving in this country.
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Freedom means freedom for everyone.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.
ANNOUNCER: It's time for marriage!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's a pretty powerful commercial right there. What do you think?
FRUM: This issue is coming to a real crux. We've got some important decisions ahead about the Defense of Marriage Act, whether that's regarded as constitutional or not. And what we are seeing and what that ad symbolizes is a generational shift in America and a generational shift inside the Republican party, led by people from -- people like Dick Cheney. We are going through - we are living through a real national change of mind, and it's a very powerful and sobering thing to see. A great democracy thinking together.
BLITZER: Supreme Court has two cases before it right now on this sensitive issue. They are going to hear oral arguments at the end of March. They are going to make a decision by the end of June, and that could decide one way or the other which way the federal government is moving.
BEGALA: First, the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts as a federal law, signed by President Clinton -- and I'm sorry to say I didn't think that was a good move or a good law, or even a constitutional law. I'm not a constitutional scholar, but first, that will be reviewed.
BLITZER: The Defense of Marriage Act stipulated that marriage is between a man and a woman only.
BEGALA: And that if a state recognizes it, that other states are not obligated to give full faith and credit to that act even though the Constitution plainly says those states must. I think it's plainly wrong and unconstitutional.
The other one could be even bigger. Proposition 8 in California was voted on by the citizens of California and denies equal rights to marry to gays and lesbians. There's a group called Americans for Equal Rights that's taken this case -- a dream team. David (INAUDIBLE), the lawyer for Al Gore in that famous Supreme Court case against Bush and Ted Olson, the lawyer for Bush in that famous case have joined together. That is going to be - pop your popcorn and stand in line for that argument. These are the two greatest -
BLITZER: My little inclination -- and it's just an inclination -- that ad is designed to influence one, but maybe two United States Supreme Court justices. Justice Kennedy, Justice Roberts. They will be the deciding factor on this sensitive issue. We'll see what happens, guys. Thanks very much.
FRUM: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, this woman admits she once - she voted more than once in the presidential election. We have allegations of voter fraud hitting one of the most closely watched states in the United States.
BLITZER: Allegations of voter fraud hit one of the most critical states in the presidential election. This woman, just one of the voters in question, now admitting she voted more than once. Let's bring in our crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns. He's got the details for us. What's going on here?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as far as we know, it's not exactly an epidemic but the -- Ohio attorney general asked Boards of Elections to look for signs of voter suppression and fraud in Ohio and they definitely came up with something.
JOHNS (voice-over): In terms of voting Hamilton County in the Cincinnati area is seen as one of the nation's true bellwethers. Among the most closely watched spots in one of the most closely watched states in the country. So when authorities there indicated they were either issuing subpoenas or referring the names of about 19 voters to prosecutors for allegedly trying to vote more than once, it got a lot of attention.
One of the voters was Melowese Richardson, described by the Hamilton County Board of Elections as a poll workers last election. An Obama supporter who admitted voting more than once. An investigation report said she allegedly voted absentee and also signed the voting book at the polls. But she says she wasn't trying to break the law.
MELOWESE RICHARDSON, FORMER POLL WORKER: There's absolutely no intent on my part to commit any voter fraud. Yes, I voted twice.
JOHNS: In this television interview, she said she voted in person because she was afraid her absentee ballot would not arrive in time to be counted. She did not return CNN's phone calls.
Investigators said Miss Richardson filled out an absentee ballot for her granddaughter who allegedly voted in person as well. The report said three other absentee ballot requests were made in care of someone named M. Richardson and all three were made for the same address in Ohio. All three ballots were returned the same date, handwriting on all the documents was said to be similar.
Interesting anecdotes but in the big picture it would not have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Ohio, says an elections laws expert.
PROF. EDWARD FOLEY, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: You know, what I've heard so far doesn't cause any reason to be concerned. You know, the presidential election, the margin of victory was over 160,000 votes and from what I understand, there are two bad ballots infecting the count, if you will. Another words, there were roughly 20 or so instances of potential voter fraud that are subject to investigation.
JOHNS: Most of the time election officials caught this problem before double votes got counted but there is a lot we don't know. Out of 19 people who allegedly tried to vote twice, nine of them apparently got subpoenas mainly because investigators couldn't get them on the phone to talk about it.
BLITZER: Are there any explanations for this, how this could happen?
JOHNS: Well, yes, there are potentially innocent explanations. For example, the county took no further action on voters who tried to vote in person because they thought they hadn't put enough postage on their absentee ballots. There's going to be a hearing on Friday to talk about it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. They've got to tighten up those rules in Ohio to make sure it doesn't happen again.
JOHNS: And they're pretty tight already.
BLITZER: Yes. But they've got to tighten then p a little bit more to make sure you can't get an absentee ballot then go vote, pass it in, write one for your grandmother. I mean that's --
BLITZER: You know, pretty, pretty shocking, I've got to say. Thanks very much.
When we come back, rats invading parts of New York in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. We have new information. You're going to find out what's being done about the complaints. That's next.
BLITZER: Just the latest horror story to emerge from the widespread Sandy devastation still crippling parts of New York. Rats invading parts of the city.
Let's bring in our own Mary Snow. She's in New York with details -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just looking at that picture there, you know it's the last thing anyone wants to deal with, especially after Sandy. Rats are by no means scarce in this city of eight million plus people, but to hear exterminators tell it, more of the underground world moved aboveground after Sandy, and they're not moving.
SNOW (voice-over): Night descends on New York City and things can get pretty creepy. And after Superstorm Sandy, even creepier.
Terry Riggio says the rat problem in her hard-hit Lower Manhattan neighborhood exploded.
THERESA RIGGIO, NEW YORK RESIDENT: It's crazy. You come home from work, you see a rat. It could be daylight, you see a rat. You walk your dogs past nighttime, you see rats frolicking like they're playing, like they're pets having fun. It's disgusting.
SNOW: When Sandy flooded subways and tunnels, the theory is rats were literally flushed out, forced to relocate and they're staying put. Traps to try and catch them dot streets in Lower Manhattan where construction has only compounded the problem.
Timothy Wong says his pest control company is constantly trying to stock up on supplies.
TIMOTHY WONG, M&M PEST CONTROL: We even have, believe it or not, for these really nice, fancy areas in Manhattan, where they can't use really ugly base stations, they have like rock base stations where, you know, it looks like a rock and you can't tell, but inside, there's actually a hole where the rats can go in, where you can actually put poison in there.
SNOW: Wong says his company M&M Pest Control has gotten more than twice as many complaints about rats and mice compared to a year ago at this time.
That's not what the Health Department says it's seeing. Saying that while large storms can flush out rats, they can also drown them.
JEFF WOODS M&M PEST CONTROL: I'm going to throw some poison up in the ceiling.
SNOW: Growing numbers or not, M&M exterminator Jeff Woods says he sees New York in a whole different light.
WOODS: So it is three years of doing it, you kind of get -- you're always looking over your shoulder.
WONG: It's been keeping us busy. People's nightmare is really, you know, a good day for us.
SNOW: Certainly not a job for the feign of heart. Now one city council member says the problem is so bad, she's calling on the city to hire more exterminators and help clean up. The Health Department, though, says it's significantly increased rat inspections in the last two years and it says it's seen a decrease in complaints. But certainly --
BLITZER: They've got to do something.
BLITZER: Thank you, Mary.
About $50 million worth of diamonds on the loose after a brazen heist. Could they soon end up near a jewelry store in your neighborhood? Find out, next.
BLITZER: $50 million worth of diamonds now on the loose after a brazen heist at the Brussels airport. What are the chances any of those pieces could end up in a necklace or in a ring like these?
We sent CNN business correspondent, Zain Asher, to New York City's diamond district for answers.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't move.
ZAIN ASHER, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Straight from a Hollywood movie. Masked gunman commandeering an armored vehicle during a botched heist. But in this real-life plot, things go precisely as planned.
The thieves have already managed to steal the diamonds. Now they just have to sell them.
JOHN KENNEDY, JEWELRY SECURITY ALLIANCE: You don't just get $50 million or more, however much it is, in diamonds and then say, how are we going to get rid of this? You've arranged beforehand to do that.
ASHER: Usually with the help of fences. Illegal wholesalers willing to buy stolen diamonds for less than they're worth and selling them at a profit.
DONALD PALMIERI, GEMPRINT CORPORATION CHAIRMAN: Whoever thinks they're buying bargain basement diamonds should be careful because we're going to be able to find them sooner or later.
ASHER: Experts say these stolen diamonds might be sold for just 30 cents on the dollar, possibly ending up in a foreign country where controls are nowhere near as strict.
KENNEDY: You're talking, you know, an India, Israel, countries that have very large diamond facilities.
ASHER: But the thieves will have to make sure the diamonds don't get traced.
KENNEDY: They may, in fact, try to conceal some piece of it for some period of time. They may not want to get rid of $50 million at once. It may be too difficult. There aren't a whole lot of people who are -- you know, have the means to come up with payment that quickly.
ASHER: They'll also be up against state of the art technology. Some polished diamonds have a unique fingerprint, allowing them to be matched to stolen diamonds in an international database.
PALMIERI: It's actually very simple. We just place the diamond, table down, on the optical glass, we center it, we close the door, and we run it.
ASHER: Retailers are also strict about the diamonds they buy, demanding a GIA grading report, which lists each stone's unique characteristics, possibly helping identify stolen ones.
(On camera): So you will not accept any diamond from anybody that comes to sell to you diamonds without this report?
PALMIERI: That's correct. It has to have a report showing that it's gone through the right institution. ASHER (voice-over): Though retailers admit that even stolen diamonds can have certificates and thieves will often have diamonds re-cut to make them harder to trace.
KENNEDY: The people they're going to sell it to are going to be corrupt people. They're not going to be selling it in the open market to the normal buyer in due course.
ASHER: And as it is in every jeweler and diamond cutter's best interest if these stolen diamonds are recovered, because if too many stolen diamonds saturate the market, the price of diamonds could fall and that could affect the industry as a whole -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain Asher, thanks very much.