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Deadly Power Plant Explosion; Sarah Palin's Tea Time; Fact Checking Palin's Speech; Haitian Lawyer for Ten Detained Americans Resigns; Obama Reaches Out to Republicans on Health Care Reform; Autism Caused by Vaccines; Air Marshals Program

Aired February 7, 2010 - 19:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We have a developing story to tell you about. At least five people died in a huge explosion today at a power plant under construction in Connecticut. The huge blast rocked the countryside and could be heard and felt up to 20 miles away. Residents described it as an earthquake.

Here's what we know right now. The explosion happened just before noon at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time at a gas fired utility owned by Clean Energy. An unknown number of workers were on the site which was scheduled to go online this summer. Now, in addition to the five confirmed deaths at least 12 people were injured and taken to area hospitals.

Our Susan Candiotti at the scene in Middletown, Connecticut. Susan, what's going on there now?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, at this hour urban search-and-rescue crews are going through the construction site looking for any other possible survivors for those who made it and those who didn't. They're also using dogs to do this operation; a very difficult one. It is slow going because it is very cold and windy at that plant construction site that wasn't supposed to go online until this summer.

Here is what the fire marshal had to say about the conditions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been extensive damage to the building. There is a lot of sheet metal that has fallen off. It's quite a tall, metal structure. Areas that have been burned and it is rough going; there's a lot of potential areas that have collapsed that has got some voids that need to be searched by special USAR teams.


CANDIOTTI: It's been very difficult for them to find out exactly how many people may have been at the site. And that is because usually when they do conduct tests there to purge lines, as they said they were doing at this hour, back at about 11:30 or so in the morning when the accident, the explosion occurred, that's because they usually tell people to move away and evacuate the site. They're also trying to figure out how many people are there -- that by contacting various contractors that were in charge of that location. The mayor discussed that, too.

He went on to say that they're trying to contract -- contact all the people that were in charge of the site as well as the general manager.

On a normal day -- on a Sunday, they usually have about 50 different people working there. On normal days Monday through Friday it would have been far more people, up to 200 or so. So they may not have as many casualties as might have occurred otherwise according to the mayor but it will be a long, difficult night for them and they will continue their operation into tomorrow -- Don.

LEMON: All right, Susan Candiotti joining us on the scene. Susan, thank you very much. And Americans will be glad to know the Red Cross on the scene helping out in this situation as they always do.

We turn now to Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano he joins us now by phone. So Mayor, thank you so much. Sorry that we have to meet under such circumstances.

We know now at least five people dead. Are you still searching for possibly others who are injured or may be trapped there?

MAYOR SEBASTIAN GIULIANO, MIDDLETOWN, CONNECTICUT (via telephone): That process will go on nonstop and could go for as long as three days.

LEMON: Do we know how many people were working in the plant at the time?

GIULIANO: That's the problem. Because there are so many different contractors and subcontractors that are working on this project and they all have different floor persons and different personnel offices. And that's kind of a starting point that we need to know. Who was there today?

The simple fact is that, you know, we're trying to figure out who might have been on the job today who right now is sitting home watching the Super Bowl and who might be still under a pile of rubble and everything in between.

LEMON: So -- this is my next question, then. If you are -- have you spoken to any of the contractors or are any of the contractors getting in touch with you or the company saying that there are people who are unaccounted for who were supposed to be working and they haven't heard from them?

GIULIANO: I haven't spoken to any of the contractors. I did speak earlier on today, this morning when I first got to the site, with one of the developers of the project. And I don't think at that time any of us expected that this information would be so hard to come by. LEMON: Yes, Mayor, just stand by.

I just want to update our viewers. If you're just tuning in, at least five people died according to the mayor that we have on the phone, Middletown, Connecticut. At least five people have died from a plant explosion there. It's owned by a company called Clean.

The mayor joins us from the town. He says they're still searching for people who may be trapped there. And this search could go on for five days. They don't know exactly how many people were inside of this plant because of the different contractors they have who work at this plant.

So listen, Mayor, have you heard any voices? And we know they're searching with dogs. Are they using other equipment? Have you heard any tapping, voices, anything like that?

GIULIANO: I really don't know what they've heard or not heard in there. They're searching with dogs. They -- they're digging through there by hand if they have to. Because you also have to secure the site and what you had was a large, basically empty space that was covered with, like, an aluminum sheathing, aluminum siding.

The explosion shredded that and some of these pieces are still coming down, especially with the wind up there. So you get a rescue crew in there, one of the things you have to do is ensure the safety of the rescue crew, that they don't become casualties as well.

So this is very slow, very painstaking work that they're doing. And I mean, I've seen some of the equipment they have. They have sounding equipment, they've got -- the dogs can sniff and get the scent of somebody, but they have listening devices, they have thermal imaging equipment, they'll bring everything up there.

LEMON: Listen, we said five people -- have you been in touch with any of the families?

GIULIANO: I haven't even been given identities.

LEMON: Ok. So you don't know.

GIULIANO: Yes, so -- I mean, you know, we have gotten calls from people who have said, you know, "I am a relative of so-and-so, I'm trying to find out what happened to him or her." And we really have nothing to tell them.

LEMON: Yes and it's really quite a sad situation, Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, we wish you the best of luck.

And I'm sure we'll be in contact with you over the next -- over the coming days to find out exactly what happened. Let's hope -- let's hope those numbers don't go up.

GIULIANO: I'm hoping that we've heard the worst of it.

LEMON: Thank you. GIULIANO: Thank you Don.

LEMON: Thank you very much. Have a good evening.

Sarah Palin was a smash last night at the Tea Party convention. But was she completely accurate when she went on the attack against the administration and the president? We're fact-checking her speech.

And a lot of plows and snow shovels in the mid-Atlantic today, another blast of arctic weather coming your way, is it? The government in D.C. -- we have some updated information and new information on that.

Also log on. We want to hear from you.



SARAH PALIN, FORMER REPUBLICAN VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is about the people and it's bigger than any king or queen of a Tea Party and it's a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter.


LEMON: Sarah Palin said this morning that she considered running for president in 2012. And if she does she'll probably find a lot of support from Tea partiers.

Last night she gave the keynote speech at the National Tea Party Convention and the audience gave her a rousing welcome.


PALIN: You know, considering the recent conservative election sweep it's time that they stopped blaming everyone else. When you're 0 for 3 you'd better stop lecturing and start listening.

The Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda is going to leave us less secure, more in debt and more under the thumb of big government. And that is out of touch and it's out of date. And if Scott Brown is any indication, it's running out of time.

This is about the people. This is about the people and it's bigger than any king or queen of a Tea Party and it's a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter.

It's one thing to call a pay raise a job created or saved. It's quite another to call the devastation that a homicide bomber can inflict a man-made disaster. And I just say come on, Washington, if nowhere else, national security, that's one place where you got to call it like it is. How is that "Hopey Changey" stuff working out for you?

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Sarah Palin covered the political landscape last night from taxes to terrorism, from national security to the stimulus act, but as with any political figure we found it's always good to run a fact check on these speeches. Speeches like this one especially.

So let's bring in our political editor Mark Preston in Washington. Before we get to that Mark, she's good for the one- liners. I mean, some of those things were funny. And how is that Hopey Changey thing working for you? If she winked that would have made it that much better.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, I know, I mean, really delivers a great speech, she's very engaging, she's very warm, you know and she really can get an audience to its feet.

Don, remember back in 2008 when John McCain picked her to be the vice presidential running mate, she was drawing thousands more people to the rallies than John McCain was.


PRESTON: At one point the McCain campaign decided to have them just do the rallies together.

LEMON: Yes, it's because of things like that. And that's why she appeal -- very colloquial appeal to the, you know as I say quote, "common man." Ok so, listen, she started out really and one of the first things she talked about was Scott Brown, the surprise Republican winner of the Massachusetts senate seat.

Here's how she described him, Mark. Take a listen.


PALIN: Thanks to you, Scott Brown. Now, in many ways Scott Brown represents what this beautiful movement is all about. You know, he was just a guy with a truck and a passion to serve our country.


LEMON: So, Mark, is Scott Brown really just a guy with a truck?

PRESTON: Well...

LEMON: We want to check that fact.

PRESTON: know, Don, he is a guy and he does have a truck and he does have a passion to serve the country but the way that that was presented you would think that he was just a blue-collar worker that really decided to run for the senate, you know, became the Mister Smith comes to Washington.

The fact of the matter was he was a State Senator. The fact of the matter was he went to some -- some very prestigious schools along the way. The way that it was presented I think that it was a little bit of a stretch. That's not to say that Mr. Brown now was coming to Washington, doesn't have the passion to serve the country, but, you know, let's be a little bit more honest when we're talking about him.

LEMON: Hey Mark, I want to go check -- go back and check the video here. Because this is what I'm getting on -- let's take it -- I have something from Twitter here. And people have been asking, "Ask him, saying you, Mark Preston, about her cheat notes written on her palm of her left hand. Yes, when is he going to fact check of all that stuff?"

But it says, people are asking about the notes. Did she have notes on the palm of her hand?

I would like to go back and look at that video. Did you see that at all? I didn't notice it...

PRESTON: You know, it's the same thing, you know I've seen some still photos, I have seen the video. I haven't actually been able to dig in and really see what did she have on her hand and what she's looking at her hand.

But obviously it's an issue; it's something that's been popping around the blogosphere. And you know, tune back in maybe at 10:00 we might have an answer for.

LEMON: Yes, I think it was during the first question. And we'll look at it, we'll look at it that's just something you know, I should have had the foresight to look at the video right afterwards to see.

Ok. So listen. Explain the Tea Party convention. Does it really have legs to take off or is it going to siphon people away from the Republican Party, or Republican votes at least?

PRESTON: You know. Here's the thing -- the Tea Party convention, it's more of a movement. What we saw in Nashville was just one part of the movement and it's really not a centralized movement.

The fact is what you have is angry people around the country that don't want to see the federal government coming in, telling them what to do. They want to see less government, less taxes.

Do they skew more to the conservative, more to the Republican side? Yes. But the fact of the matter is I think that there's just as much anger at the Republican Party as there is at the Democratic Party.

Now, Don, within that movement there are some outliers that I'll say. Some people who might use incendiary language, they might use some racial epitaphs, especially when they're talking about President Obama. I don't think that we should characterize the whole Tea Party movement just by the few.

But certainly we saw a little bit of that, Don, in Nashville. But by and large, you're seeing people who are angry at the government and they're trying to take it back. LEMON: Listen, on Twitter there's a hash mark, or a pound telepalmer (ph) by the way -- that's how much this has been buzzing on the social networking sites. So again we're going to check that out.

Another Twitter question says it's 6 more inches of snow on the way. They won't just be partisan politics that brings D.C. to a standstill.

So the government is closed tomorrow. Good question from a tweeter there.

PRESTON: Yes, well, you know what it was, here's the deal. What I find interesting, I got to tell you, I drove in from northern Virginia, it's about 15 miles away. Roads are very treacherous here right now. It's not that the snow is so deep at this point, it's just that there's a layer of ice.

What I find interesting though is that the D.C. public schools are going to be open tomorrow a couple hours late. However, the federal government is going to be closed down. I think that would probably anger a lot of people out there that are watching us.

LEMON: It's D.C., should it snow?

PRESTON: You know, I just wish the snow would go away. Please go away.

LEMON: You didn't get that one. Anyway, it was kind of a snarky remark. Mark Preston, we'll see you tonight at 10:00. Hey, thanks for being such a trooper and coming in all right? Everything ok at home? Family didn't get any...

PRESTON: All's great.

LEMON: All right. Great. We're glad you're okay. Thank you.

Washington D.C. crippled by bitter cold; virtually putting the deep freeze on flights at its major airports. And now we're hearing of a second blast of snow may be on the way.


LEMON: Lots of developing news and this one concerns the weather and our nation's capital; the seat of power in our country. Government offices will be closed on Monday, closed tomorrow. Just getting word from the federal government, all government offices closed tomorrow.

And we shall see after that, because it's going to take days, maybe weeks before they can dig out. The snowfall was so huge. It was record snowfall. Again, it's going to close government offices tomorrow because crews there feverishly trying to clear out major highways and streets there.

The snow suspended all flights as well in and out of Reagan National Airport today. Services at Dulles severely limited. Hundreds of thousands of people from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Virginia have no power right now. And it is cold.

Our Sarah Lee (ph) at Reagan National Airport and she joins us. Sarah, when you pan to the right there, I'm sure I'll see an empty airport. You're probably one of the very few people in there.

SARAH LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Take a look. It is just the folks that work here, some members of the media and some straggler passengers. Here's why. Take a look at the departure board; canceled, canceled, canceled. Arrivals look pretty much the same.

On any given day about 700 flights on average fly in and out of Reagan National Airport. Since the storm nothing has moved around here and it's pretty much the same story up in Baltimore, like you said, Dulles International Airport has had some limited service because they were able to clear out one of the runways.

Take a look downstairs at the terminal here also wide open. Part of the challenge is that Reagan National is a relatively smaller airport for being in a major city. So the crews, if you can take a look at some of the video from earlier today when the sun was up, you can see the crews were working really hard to get the snow out of the way. They can't just push it here, though, because they don't have a lot of land. They have to actually pick it up, put it into dump trucks and then haul it away.

Out at Dulles the reason they were able to open a runway was because they had a lot more acreage so they were able to actually push a lot of that snow out of the way.

Again, it looks wide open behind me. It's going to look a lot different once they re-open this airport which they hope to do tomorrow. But there's going to be a lot of backup, a lot of residual effects after that. As you can imagine, Don, plenty of domino effect regionally if not nationwide.

LEMON: Yes. In and out of that airport, there are a lot of people. It would be great when we were trying to run to our flight that it was that empty. Sarah Lee joining us from Reagan National Airport.

Our meteorologist Bonnie Schneider has been watching the weather there in the Washington D.C., area. Bonnie, is it true they may get another blast this week? Last thing they needed.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's true. Not as much. Because look at this, Don, it doesn't happen too often where you see almost 3 feet of snow in the city of Washington, D.C. over 2 feet; Dulles 32.4 inches and Philadelphia -- not too far away, 28.5 inches of snow. These are two-day storm totals. Yes, many of them did shatter the records.

The National Weather Service folks that I spoke to said they were having trouble tabulating the snowfall totals because of the strong wind. It took a while to kind of get it all together because they kept fluctuating. We had spotters all over the region that giving different reports as well; very useful and very helpful. All right. Here's the way it shapes up right now. No snow -- at least not falling from the sky. It's just a little lake-effect snow into upstate New York. But don't get used to that because we're looking at some very big changes in the weather.

We have a winter weather advisory that's been posted for the D.C. area, also for Baltimore. It's not in effect right now, but it will be in effect 6:00 p.m. Tuesday night into Wednesday. A winter storm watch means, "Get ready." We're expecting 5 inches of snow. Some computer models say 8 inches.

We're watching the storm closely because it actually looks like it's going to be worse for northern New England than what we're going to see further out to the west.

Here's what we're looking at just to show you quickly: a slight chance for snow; 50 percent Tuesday and on to Wednesday. I think we have a better chance of seeing heavier snows in northern New England -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Bonnie Schneider, thank you very much.


LEMON: New problems for those ten American missionaries in Haiti. They remain behind bars on kidnap charges and now their Haitian attorney tells CNN he has quit.

Federal air marshals were supposed to be the first line of defense against terrorists on a plane, but CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin finds an agency in disarray.


LEMON: You want to get up to date? Well, let's do it right now with some top stories here on CNN.

At least five people were killed today when a gas line blew up at a power plant under construction in central Connecticut. Search crews will continue through the night to look for survivors. The mayor says it could be three days before they finish looking.

It's not known how many construction workers were on the site at the time. They're not sure but the mayor says at least 12 people were injured. The blast at the Clean Energy Plant in Middletown rocked the country side for miles.

The Haitian lawyer for ten detained American missionaries tells CNN he has resigned. The Americans face kidnapping charges for attempting to take 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic without proper documentation. Court hearings scheduled tomorrow and Tuesday and it is not clear who will replace him.

President Obama is reaching out to Republicans for a way forward on health care reform. The White House has scheduled a half-day meeting for February 25th in which the president will meet with Congressional leaders on both parties and, in his words, will go through systemically all the best ideas out there and move it forward.

Prosecutors say charges relating to Michael Jackson's death are to be filed tomorrow against his personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray. Police have disclosed in previous court papers that they were investigating the doctor on charges of involuntary manslaughter.

Murray's lawyer and prosecutors have been negotiating to have Murray turn himself in. But those negotiations reportedly have broken down and it's not clear how he will end up in custody.

There's been a second arrest in connection with last week's house party massacre in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Investigators in Mexico say the man identified as Israel Azarte Melendez (ph) was a co- conspirator in the killings. And in a press conference yesterday he confessed to being a hit man for the Juarez drug cartel. He also said he acted as a lookout, as 14 gunmen entered the party and started shooting. Investigators say the gunmen believed their victims were members of a gang affiliated with a rival cartel. Mexican officials just released chilling audio tape of his confession.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me what your name is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Israel Azarte Melendez.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me your alias?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The country in 24th.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which gang do you belong to?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you participate in the killings in (INAUDIBLE) Salvador.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I accompanied 14 people and we crashed the party to executive members of Doble A (ph) , the Artist assassins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How did you participate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator0: I stayed outside to watch so that nobody came to attack us and there I shot a guy who was wearing blue jeans and a white sweater.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Who were you going for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): For a young guy who is for the Doble A (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Who gave the order?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Joe Rama (ph), Number 10 and number 51.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Why did you shoot at the rest of the people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Rama told us to shoot everyone including women.


LEMON: Chilling confession there. In those shootings. Since the shootings community members and victims' relatives have called for the president to resign. Human rights groups also petitioned the U.N. peace keepers to be sent to Juarez.

Prominent British medical journal "The Lancet " has retracted an influential 1998 research report linking vaccines to autism. Britain's general medical council concluded the doctor behind the study, Andrew Wakefield, engaged in dishonesty and misleading conduct. Because of the 1998 report many parents skipped vaccines.

I talked earlier with Kim Stagliano of Connecticut. She has three children, all diagnosed with autism. She is a staunch defender of Wakefield's research. I asked her if she still believes there's a link between the vaccines and autism.


KIM STAGLIANO, 3 DAUGHTERS HAVE AUTISM: I certainly think that there's a link for thousands of families between what happened to their children prior to vaccination. Believe the parents. Trust the parents. They know what's going on with their kids. There are studies going on, as Dr. Wakefield pointed out there are cases in vaccine court right now that have been won by the families where there was proven causation between a resultant autism diagnosis following an adverse reaction to a vaccination. So it's not impossible.

And where the fear comes in for families, your lead-in of the Toyota story really hit me very closely to home. How would you feel if you were told by the federal government that in order to drive your children to school tomorrow you have to do it in a 2010 Toyota Prius? You'd be very nervous. Priuses aren't driving off the road and crashing at an alarming rate, there may be a handful of them that have a problem. Would you want to put your child into the car tomorrow and drive her to school tomorrow and know that if you're not in that car you wouldn't be allowed to go to school perhaps?

That's how the parents feel in the newly pregnant, soon to have baby world. It's not the autism community. We raised the questions. We have the guns pointed at our heads by the pharmaceutical industry, the government. Because nobody wants vaccines to be culpable. Nobody including me (INAUDIBLE) but there are instances where there are problems. And to slam the doors on families and slam the door on science, that's really the bottom line.

Dr. Bernardine Healy, former head of the NIH said very clearly, the science is not complete and we must not fear the science. Take my family. I am a perfect example of the potential for a vaccinated, unvaccinated study. Take us. Study us. That's what families want. More science. Not fear and not a door slammed in faces.


LEMON: I also talked with Dr. William Shatner, head of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School. He says the retraction is the final nail in the coffin for the Wakefield study.


DR. WILLIAM SHATNER, DEPT. OF PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL SCHOOL: There have been 20 studies that have looked at this whole question of vaccines and autisms. Different investigators, different populations, doing it each in their own way and they all have denied this link.

The important thing is for M. Stagliano and other parents, we need to focus our attention on research to find out the real causes of autism. Early diagnosis and also much better treatments for autistic children.

LEMON: But doctor, you heard her. She's concerned that people will not look at this. She thinks that there is a possible link. The study refuted or not, and that scientists should continue to investigate in this part of the story, in this part of the treatment.

SHATNER: Sure, Don, I think science has an open mind. Most of the autism research today is looking at genetic predispositions as well as a whole array of environmental factors that can interact with the genetics.

Vaccines I think largely now for the vast majority of scientists have been looked at very, very carefully and they're now out of the picture. We need to focus on other issues. That's where we need to put our research.

LEMON: Research in what areas? What's the most promising?

SHATNER: As I said, a whole array of genetic predispositions as well as other environmental factors, whether they are chemicals in the environment, things in our food, perhaps. Could they interact with the genetics?

LEMON: OK. What about - I don't know if you heard about this as reported in the "Associated Press" that a new pill is currently being studied to treat fragile x syndrome, a genetic disorder that may cause forms of autism. Do you know anything about that, Dr.?

SHATNER: I don't know anything specifically about that. But there are a lot of people now, who are, once again, focused on trying to find out what the real causes of autism are.

LEMON: OK. So what do you say to parents and family members of autistic children? What do you think they should focus on now? Because again, these people are very passionate about it. Many people believe that when they gave their child a vaccine that's when the child started exhibiting, you know, behaviors that are, you know, close to autism.

SHATNER: Yes. And we know why that is. And that's because autism usually manifests itself largely in the second year in life and that's when vaccines are given, right? You have that coincidence. We just like to reassure them, have them talk to their family doctors, and pediatricians who care for them all the time and they will provide reassurance in this regard.


LEMON: Dr. Wakefield now runs a research and treatment organization in Austin, Texas. He released a statement saying "The allegations against me and against my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust. Research into that possible connection between autism and vaccines, is still going on."

After 9/11 we were comforted a bit by the thought of air marshals on U.S. flights. Fast forward nine years and they're back in the news. A CNN special investigation coming up.


LEMON: In the days and weeks following 9/11, the government rushed to beef up a small agency few had ever heard of. The federal air marshals. And just last December President Obama called again for their numbers to be increased following the foiled Christmas day bomber attack.

But our Drew Griffin reports there are real problems within the agency.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Don, what we are hearing from this agency of police officers in the sky is that it is so dysfunctional. The management is so bad that it's actually getting in the way of the mission which is to protect us.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): The federal air marshals mission, protect America's commercial aircraft from future terrorist attacks. With a nearly $1 billion budget, how many attempted terrorist attacks have the federal air marshals foiled? None that we've been told about.

They did shoot and kill one man, a person at Miami's airport with mental health issues who claimed to have a bomb in the backpack. As far as arresting terrorists or anyone else -

REP. JOHN J. DUNCAN, JR. (R), TENNESSEE: I have the statistics for last year that they made four arrests for an appropriation of over $800 million. It came out to more than $200 million per arrest. It's just ridiculous.

GRIFFIN: So what's going wrong? Air marshals CNN talked to for this story describe a federal agency in chaos, where bored and frustrated air marshals focus more on internal squabbles than watching for bad guys. The marshals ask we not show their faces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have managers that provide training or provide leadership or do anything other than produce conflict.

How can you say you're protecting the public when you're playing games?

GRIFFIN: Look at this dry erase board in an air marshal's office in Orlando, Florida. CNN was told managers use the board to keep track of how many minority air marshals had been disciplined. Employees told CNN managers were awarding each other scores for their harassment activities.

The Transportation Security Administration says it's investigating and that all employees are entitled to be treated in a fair and lawful manner. But Orlando's not the only example. All over the country from Las Vegas to Seattle to Cincinnati, air marshals have filed official complaints, claiming age, gender and racial discrimination.

In Cincinnati, alone, 20 percent of the office filed complaints, according to their lawyer. Six marshals say they were then retaliated against in the work place with undesirable assignments. Managers allegedly spent nine months at an unknown cost to taxpayers investigating whether one female air marshal had her car registered in the proper state.

SHANE SIDEBOTTOM, ATTORNEY REPRESENTS AIR MARSHALS: At the conclusion of that she was notified the car in question belonged to a different air marshal so they were dropping the inquiry. My almost one-year-old child would probably be better at picking up the phone and dialing the Driver's License Bureau than these guys are.

GRIFFIN: Then there is the story of this woman. A girlfriend, now wife of an air marshal, who complained to the Department of Homeland Security she was followed, photographed and investigated by the air marshals because her then boyfriend has had a workman's comp claim.

MEGAN, WIFE OF FEDERAL AIR MARSHAL: American safety is being put, you know, at the back burner because, you know, we're 40 miles away from the airport investigating private citizens.

GRIFFIN: Despite repeated requests the Federal Air Marshal Service and TSA declined to give CNN an interview.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee believes the air marshal program put together hastily after 9/11 now needs to be reinvented.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: If we have got those kinds of problems we need to get a ready broom and sweep it out. The only way we're going to ensure the security and safety of the American people is we have staff per excellence and I know they're out there.


GRIFFIN (on camera): The allegations of discrimination of gay men, of lesbians, of minorities is so widespread that Congress now is demanding an immediate investigation. The air marshals, themselves, say they are dedicated to carrying out this mission. They just say the management is getting in the way of it. Don.

LEMON: Thank you, Drew. Very interesting story.

And coming up we'll have the second part of Drew's report in just a little bit.


LEMON: CNN special investigations unit Drew Griffin has been looking into the federal air marshal program and what's happened with the agency post-9/11. More of Drew's report now.

GRIFFIN: Don, it was an immediate call from the president, from the secretary of Homeland Defense, get more air marshals in the sky. We went to find out if that was happening.


GRIFFIN: On Christmas day of last year, Umar Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a U.S.-bound flight from Amsterdam with a bomb hidden in his underwear. There was no air marshals on board. After this attack was foiled by passengers the president called for -

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... more air marshals on flights.

GRIFFIN: Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano testified before Congress -

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We will strengthen the capacity of aviation law enforcement including the Federal Air Marshal Service.

GRIFFIN: Has it happened? Not according to the Federal Air Marshal or F.A.M.S. as they call themselves, who are supposed to be making those flights. Several spoke to CNN on condition we protect their identities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since Christmas most of my domestic flights, a few of them have involved what we consider RJs or embraer 71s, smaller aircraft. Plenty of internationals from the foreign countries, they aren't doing it. There's really no excuse for it.

GRIFFIN: But there is a reason for it, these air marshals claim. Lots of short-haul flights make the marshal service look more productive on paper even though many of those flights are considered low security risks. As CNN has reported for three years, the odds of you having an air marshal on your flight is so low that air marshals tell us managers use creative accounting to pad the numbers given to Congress. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way they do it is a Mickey Mouse. I mean, they even go to the extent of when you're flying personally they count that as a mission if you're flying armed, if you're going on vacation with your family. That's how they help keep the numbers up.

GRIFFIN: Though the actual number is classified it's been widely reported the number of air marshals covering 28,000 flights a day is fewer than 4,000. Do the math like we did, consider that any trip requires at least two marshals, large international flights require even more, and at best without sick days, without vacations, the air marshals can cover only five percent of flights.

The Air Marshal Service tells CNN additionally high trained officers are being put deployed aboard an increasing number of flights worldwide to keep air travel safe.

PROF. JOHN MUELLER, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: Mostly money down the drain as far as I can see.

GRIFFIN: Professor John Mueller completed a detailed cost- benefit assessment of aviation security in the U.S.. He found of the 20 layers of security used by the TSA to protect air travel, the air marshals have been worthless since 9/11.

MUELLER: We've seen with the underwear bomber, passengers are not going to sit around waiting for somebody else to do something, their lives are at stake and they're going to jump in.

GRIFFIN: What should be done with the air marshals, Republican Congressman john Duncan of Tennessee says get rid of them.

(on camera): The solution seems to be we need to double, we need to triple, we need to triple down on this, get many, many thousands more air marshals.

REP. JOHN DUNCAN (R), TENNESSEE: Well, we may do that, but I sure would hate to see it because it's just a total waste of money. I know that any time you create a federal bureaucracy it just grows and grows and the appropriations just goes up and up. As I said, look at the record. They haven't done anything.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Last week, President Obama asked for an additional $85 million to beef up the Federal Air Marshall Service.


GRIFFIN: In fact, there are some security experts who actually believe air marshals in airplanes may be detrimental to our security. For two reasons, one, you introduce a gun any time you bring an air marshal on board, you bring a gun into the passenger cabin of the plane. That is a gun that potentially could be used by a terrorist if they overtake that air marshal.

Secondly, there is a risk that people believe or have this false impression an air marshal might be on their plane and isn't and they would be less likely to act when somebody acts up on board a plane. Don.

LEMON: All right. Drew, thank you very much for that.

I'm reading your comments, your tweets right after the break.


LEMON: A significant anniversary coming up this week in Iran but it won't be a day of celebration for everyone in the country. Our Ivan Watson has been manning our Iran desk and he joins us now to give us a little context about the date of February 11th, and it's coming on this Thursday.

IVAN WATSON CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. About 31 years ago, the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran and declared an Islamic republic. Every year around this time you get big state-sponsored demonstrations going out, parades, walking through the streets.

It's different this year though because there is a big opposition movement that has been declaring the government illegitimate and they are saying, we deserve to be able to go out into the streets, too, Don. We don't agree with the injustices we see in the system and they're comparing them to the injustices that they say existed under the Shah 31 years ago.

LEMON: You know, tensions are really running high in Iran right now. All eyes are on this Thursday, potential flash-point because of that date. What's the concern here?

WATSON: Well, the concerns here is that the government is saying we're not going to tolerate any opposition demonstrations. And what we've seen before is brutal use of force by security forces. Thousands of people being arrested. We've seen show trials on television. Reports of torture in the prisons as well and the concern is that the use of force could be again used if the opposition tries to get back out on to the streets.

LEMON: Very interesting. And also, Thursday I think it's the anniversary of Nelson Mandela being released from prison. I think it's the (INAUDIBLE) anniversary.

WATSON: I didn't know that.

LEMON: I read something in the paper this morning. So I'm sure we'll be covering that as well.

But Ivan Watson, manning our Iran desk. We look forward to your reports next week. Thank you very much.

WATSON: Thank you.

LEMON: We want to tell you at least five people died in a huge explosion today in a power plant under construction in Connecticut. The huge blast rocked the countryside and could be heard and felt up to 20 miles away. Residents described it as an earthquake. We'll have much, much more on this story on 10:00 p.m. right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And if you work for the federal government in Washington, D.C., tomorrow you will have the day off because of record-breaking snow. You probably won't have time to relax because you'll be digging out and checking your home. They've got record snow in the region there. So lots to talk about on that issue.

And also, the president putting together a bipartisan group to talk about health care. Really putting the Republicans at their word, taking them at their word and he's going to meet February 25th and they're going to talk about that as well as creating jobs. So big weeks to come in Washington.

Now it's time for some of your comments. And guess what most of you are commenting on besides my neck tie and Ivan's hair cut. It says talking about Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin and apparently, according to some of the people on twitter, and some of the viewers, that she had notes on her hand but yet she criticized President Barack Obama for using a teleprompter.

So here's what some of you have been saying. Don, ink on her hand means she's not authentic and that's putting it nicely. Some say lift America's spirits written on hand. Something like that should come from the heart. She is fake. Just a low-tech version of Obama's omnipresent prompters. Teleprompter woman. The ink indicates how Palin had the answer to the prescreened questions in advanced. She is not a genius or even a good cheater.

All right. Guys, you guys are being really tough on her. Also, knowing political dirty tricks, possible someone swiped her notes en route. Maybe so. That could be possible. So what does it all mean? I said it means that Sarah Palin asked the question, what does it mean? Even if she did have notes on her hands, you know, I read a teleprompters. I have scripts, I have notes. What does it mean? Who knows?

Here's what someone says, what does it mean? It means Sarah Palin is a total fraud. That's what they said and the mainstream media needs to expose her. So on and on and on. OK. So we'll figure out what it all means.

We'll get the video cued up for you at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and we'll show it. (INAUDIBLE) means anything. So make sure you go, log on to the social networking sites and we appreciate your comments.

So here we go. For years people had been trying to dispel the myth that New Yorkers are unfriendly. Well, comedian Mark Malcough may have finally, finally proven the point, getting a bit carried away in the process as well. He asked New Yorkers to literally carry him the length of Manhattan. Check it out.


MARK MALCOUGH, COMEDIAN: The world thinks New Yorkers are not nice. What do you think?

New Yorkers are nice, yes or no? New Yorkers are friendly? Yes or no.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we're nice but we isn't stupid.

MALCOUGH: Can you carry me at least a couple feet?

Have you ever carried somebody you don't know in New York City?


MALCOUGH: Can you carry me to the street over there, please?




MALCOUGH: Do you think you could take me another block?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can take you another block.


I found myself really enjoying the chit chat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two children. Married. I work for the state banking department.

MALCOUGH: And how did you do wrestling boys?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I left a bad relationship in Boston.

MALCOUGH: You don't see this every day in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How far are you looking it to go right now?

MALCOUGH: A block.

So tell us about yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're kind of choking me I can't.

MALCOUGH: Oh, goodness.

It seemed as though people actually wanted to carry me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's great. Very lazy but great.

MALCOUGH: Please carry me a block.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I'm not going to carry.

MALCOUGH: I am so tired. Can you carry me a block?



MALCOUGH: You're so big. You carry me one block.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Carry you where?

MALCOUGH: Yes, just a block.


MALCOUGH: You're a big guy, you can carry me.