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Eight of Ten Americans Released; Big Name, Big Trouble; Symbol of Hope or Corruption?; Shooting Suspect's Violent Past

Aired February 17, 2010 - 23:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight: eight of the ten American missionaries coming home from Haiti. We have the latest on how they won their freedom, but also why home is not necessarily the same as home-free when it comes to the child kidnapping charges against them.

And later tonight, is it a case of not being Republican enough? We'll show you why Florida's Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, is now in danger of losing his race for U.S. Senator in the primary to the formerly largely unknown Marco Rubio.

What's going on? Does it all come down to two simple words -- TEA Party?

And was it a warning sign? Evidence from years ago just now coming to light, that the woman who fatally shot her brother and allegedly killed three colleagues had a dangerously short fuse.

But up first tonight, the breaking news: those eight American missionaries accused of kidnapping 33 children, free today from Haitian custody and they are heading home tonight. Two other members of their group though, including their leader, Laura Silsby, still behind bars.

A lot to cover tonight, starting at the Port-au-Prince Airport where CNN's David McKenzie is joining us now. David, bring us up to date.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what's happened in the last few hours is the rapid unfolding of this story. Eight of those ten missionaries were on board a C-130 aircraft from the Port-au-Prince Airport. About an hour ago, they were flown out of here by the U.S. military, expected to be landing in Miami in the coming hours, Wolf.

Before that, at the main police station where they have been held, just about half a mile in that direction, they were bundled out of their cells by State Department officials into a large media scrum (ph). They were put into a van. At first, they looked bedraggled and somewhat like they had had a very long and arduous two weeks.

But once they were in that van and the door was closed, there were some waves and smiles and they were rushed into the secure part of the airport and presumably out of the country and off to the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the plane has actually now taken off and it's on its way to Miami, a U.S. military aircraft, right?

MCKENZIE: That's right. The plane did take off about 50 minutes ago. It took off with other military personnel, as well as what we can assume were Haitian-Americans. It was a C-130 plane, an American military plane. It took off from the Port-au-Prince Airport, which is still actually run by the U.S. military and State Department.

Obviously, been a topsy-turvy few days and the judge finally made the announcement that eight of those ten missionaries will be released. Two of them, Laura Silsby and her nanny, will have to stay in jail, according to their lawyer, be questioned for the next few days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David McKenzie at the airport of Port-au-Prince for us.

Let's bring in John Vause right now. He has more on the group what we've learned about their activities before their arrest as well as some of the strange developments surrounding the case since then.

John, first of all, give us the legal proceedings that took place. Have the actual charges against the eight who are now on their way to the United States been dropped?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, those charges still stand and they are serious charges. They are accused of kidnapping children.

Remember, January 29, they had a bus full of 33 Haitian children that was stopped just short of the Dominican Republic border. They were trying to cross that border; they were trying to take these kids out of the country without the proper documentation.

In fact, they had no documentation at all. And this is despite a number of officials here in Haiti telling CNN that they had told Laura Silsby on a number of occasions that she needed to get that paperwork done, that she would not be allowed to take any children out of Haiti without the proper permission from the Haitian government.

But what we've heard today is that eight of the ten missionaries have now been given this unconditional bail, that's sort of an indication that they weren't really knowingly part of anything to get these children out of this country. They weren't part of this scheme, if you like.

And so they have been given a free pass to leave this country. And all they had to really do was basically give a guarantee, leave their word that if they had to come back, if the Haitian authorities wanted them to come back that they would -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the two other people who are still being held in jail? What about them?

VAUSE: Well, Laura Silsby and Carissa Coulter, the judge wants to know exactly what their role in all of this was. You know, he wants to know why they were here before, on an earlier trip, before the earthquake. He wants to know if there was, in fact, any criminal intent. That's what one of the lawyers said to me today and that is why these two women are still being held in a jail cell tonight.

As for the other ones, because they were basically released on bail without condition, that's a pretty good indication, once again according to the lawyers, that all of these kidnapping charges will, in fact, be dropped -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, is the judge in this case suspicious of Silsby and Coulter in part because of the involvement of Jorge Puello, who acted as a legal adviser to this group and who himself is wanted in El Salvador on human trafficking charges?

VAUSE: Yes, I specifically asked the judge today Judge Bernard Saint-Vil about the involvement of Jorge Puello. And I said is that having an impact on this decision whether or not to release them on bail? And he said, look, if they can be proved that there was a link between Laura Silsby and Jorge Puello prior to the arrest on January 29th, before Puello actually just kind of turned up on the scene, offering help and some free legal advice, then he said that would, in fact, impact his decision.

He said though, he wasn't actively looking for that. It's important to note that Silsby had said she didn't know Puello before he turned up on the scene. Puello has in fact denied it. There's one more point about Mr. Puello, we're told that the families of the missionaries actually wired $40,000 to Mr. Puello to pay the Haitian lawyers.

Those lawyers today told me they have received $10,000 from Mr. Puello. He still got the other $30,000 and no one can find him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I was sort of surprised, John, that the U.S. military is now cooperating, taking these eight Americans home. I was under the original assumption they would simply have to drive to the Dominican Republic and fly out commercially from there. Am I reading too much into the direct role of the U.S. military and the U.S. government in this?

VAUSE: Well, we put this question to a number of officials out at the airport and what's going on here, you know. They didn't want to talk to us about it. And they said they wanted to respect the privacy of the people involved.

All they would say to us though, is that they would render assistance to Americans who are in need and they would judge the assistance as necessary at that particular time.

So, I guess someone made the decision, for the safety of the missionaries -- don't forget, you know, there has been a lot of publicity about this trial here in Haiti and it's seen pretty much as an issue of sovereignty for the Haitian government as well. And so my understanding or my take on all of that is that basically, they wanted to get the missionaries out of here as fast as possible. Maybe it was a safety issue. And look, there are still a lot of logistics problems trying to get people in and of this country. Direct flights resume between Haiti and the United States on Friday.

Otherwise, it would be a very long drive to the border during the night. So, essentially they wanted to get them out and they wanted to get them out as soon as they could -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Vause on the scene for us in Port-au-Prince. We're going to of course be following this breaking story throughout the hour, so, stay tuned. And let us know what you think.

Join the live chat now under way at AC360.com.

Up next, how a big-name Republican, Florida's Charlie Crist, is in the political fight of his life, under fire for perhaps not being Republican enough.

And later, a newly-revealed incident from Amy Bishop's past. Was it yet another warning sign missed about the woman now charged with gunning down three people?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today is the first anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the economic stimulus package. President Obama marking the occasion, saying the measure, while not a cure-all, has certainly saved jobs and helped the economy grow. And the nation's top private economic forecasters agree with him. They credit the stimulus package with adding as many as 1.8 million jobs.

But polling continues to show a majority of Americans simply doesn't buy it and it's turning into a political game changer.

A year ago, Florida's Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, embraced the stimulus and President Obama. Today, he is getting pounded for it by a primary challenger who says he is just not Republican enough.

More now from CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The last thing Charlie Crist would ever have imagined when he was mentioned as a possible running mate for John McCain was that the popular Florida governor might be fighting charges he's not Republican enough. In fact, members of his own party call him a RINO, Republican in name only.

And this guy, Marco Rubio, a 38-year-old outspoken conservative Cuban-American, has all but come out of nowhere and is now within striking distance of beating out Crist for the U.S. Senate seat from Florida. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson says this matchup could change the face of the National Republican Party.

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR, REDSTATE.COM: I suspect that should Marco Rubio get the nomination and win in 2010, that he will be on the short list of vice presidential picks in 2012. The GOP will have a very articulate spokesman with a very compelling life story.

KAYE (on camera): Rubio's personal story makes him a favorite among TEA partiers, who want limited government, lower taxes and more freedom. As he tells it, his father was a bartender, his mother a factory worker. Only in America, he says, with so much opportunity could their son ever dream of becoming a U.S. Senator.

(voice-over): So, Rubio has a great story, but his timing is also perfect; anti-Washington, anti-establishment, entrenched Republican leadership. Many conservative Republicans have had it.

ERICKSON: The Mitch McConnell/Bob Bennett world that they don't resonate with independents who the GOP desperately needs, but a guy like Rubio does. He could be a game changer.

KAYE: A game changer in a race for the soul of the Republican Party. Former Arkansas Governor Conservative Mike Huckabee calls Rubio, the Cuban Obama.

MARCO RUBIO (R), SENATE CANDIDATE: I have never believed that behaving more like Democrats is the way Republicans are going to be successful.

KAYE: Rubio's favorite attack on Crist, the stimulus plan and the notion that Crist would have voted for it, even as a Republican, had he been in Congress.

RUBIO: It's hard to believe that it's been a year since the Obama/Crist stimulus package happened in this very building.

Time flies when you're spending $787 billion.

KAYE: On Rubio's Web site, "The Hug," Crist embracing President Obama during a stimulus rally.

(on camera): Rubio preaches fiscal conservatism, but the reality is just a few months ago, he, too, admitted he would have taken the stimulus money for Florida if he had been governor, as long as that money would not have put Florida in a worse position than it's in today.

(voice-over): Crist doesn't apologize for the embrace.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Well, I didn't endorse it. You know, I didn't even have a vote on the darn thing but I understood that it was going to pass and I wanted to be able to utilize it for the benefit of my fellow Floridians.

KAYE: Rubio's accused Crist of abandoning conservative principles, citing his reputation as a moderate and bipartisan style. Crist has been criticized for supporting higher taxes, offshore drilling, voting rights for ex-felons and for appointing liberal judges.

As primary battles heat up around the country, the more moderate Republicans look to be tacking right and fast. Crist is sounding more conservative. Listen to the governor on CBS.

CRIST: If I'm a RINO, then so is Ronald Reagan. I mean, I'm a less taxing, less spending, less government, more freedom kind of guy.

KAYE: Crist has questioned Rubio's conservative credentials on immigration and taxes, but so far, nothing the governor says has been able to stop Marco Rubio's rise.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: More now on the "Raw Politics" of the TEA Party and its relationship with the Republican Party. For that, we're joined by John Avlon, he's a columnist TheDailyBeast.com. He's also the author of the book "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America."

John thanks for coming in.

Marco Rubio, all of a sudden, he's become a major player. What does this say about what's going on in the Republican Party?

JOHN AVLON, COLUMNIST, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: Well, I mean, I think it's important to say that Marco Rubio is being pushed by something that's a lot bigger than the TEA Party. I think it's an indication of the huge anti-incumbent mood that's sweeping the country this year. And the fact that he is the former speaker of the Florida House is really running on a fiscal conservative platform.

And there's a major backlash against Governor Charlie Crist, not only because he is in the center of the party and in that close a primary, the conservatives are going to dominate but because he's seen as being too close to Obama, having backed the stimulus bill and other things. So, Marc Rubio is running a strong fiscal conservative campaign and right now, he's real competitive and I don't think it's good to be incumbent any place, but especially not Florida.

BLITZER: Is the TEA Party Movement moving toward the GOP or the other way around?

AVLON: That's a great question. One of the things that's happened in the last couple of weeks, we saw at the beginning of the National TEA Party Convention is a declaration by some of the leaders of the TEA Party Movement, granted, broadly a leaderless movement, but some of the self-appointed leaders that they do not want to back a third party. Instead they want to back conservative candidates in Republican primaries.

And then of course, the GOP is reaching out to TEA partiers as well, because I think they can see which way the wind is blowing. So you've got both groups moving more toward each other right now because they realized that's how they're going to be in the best position come November.

BLITZER: Usually turnout in a midterm election is not necessarily all that great as opposed to a presidential election year, so intensity will be critical. I take it a lot of these TEA Party guys they are very intense about what they want to do?

AVLON: They are very intense. No one could take that away from them. And in a closed partisan primary as well, you don't have the independent voters coming in and the centrist voters being as active. So, it's very much a play to the base close primary, the TEA partiers intensity is going to make up a huge portion of this and the absence of fiscal conservatism and combined with the anti-incumbent fervor that's not a good recipe for a guy like Charlie Crist.

BLITZER: In a general election does the TEA Party Movement, looking at it right now, help or hurt the Republican candidate who has to face a Democratic candidate?

AVLON: It's a great question. Right now, I think the Republican Party can find common ground with the TEA partiers and independent voters on the issue of fiscal conservatism, fiscal responsibility and that's the foundation of the movement. You know, one year ago, February 27th, the TEA party started, it began as a fiscal conservative protest movement.

But one of the things that happened over the course of the year is that there's a strain of Obama derangement syndrome that's been baked right into that cake. And I do think that alienates independent voters, the voters in the center, the appearance of extremism by some of those folks.

The more they can stay on the fiscal conservative message it's a win for the Republican Party and the TEA partiers in the terms of bridging ground with center and independents. But if they start being defined by the extremes, that's kryptonite to the independent and they'll look elsewhere.

BLITZER: You've got an intriguing, almost eye-opening piece on the "Daily Beast" that I just read involving the John Birch Society and the conservative movement. What's going on here? I thought the John Birch Society was a thing of the past.

AVLON: You're not alone. They basically have been exiled from the mainstream conservative movement for the last half century, but they're back. They are co-sponsoring CPAC this weekend and it's really the most high-profile thing they've done in a very long time.

And now that they're co-sponsoring CPAC it is a sign of something has been happening all year that we've been following, which is that the fringe is increasingly blurring with the base. That is a really interesting and troubling dynamic for many folks. And it's a real thing that the Republican Party is going to have to confront. With a half dozen GOP presidential nominees speaking at CPAC, one of the open and interesting question is going to be do they confront and condemn extremism or do they try to cultivate it?

BLITZER: John Avlon thanks very much for joining us.

AVLON: Thank you.

BLITZER: We normally bring in David Gergen at this point to talk more about the race. Instead, later tonight, he'll be joining us and that's coming up next with a "360 Insider Briefing". What high-level sources in the Obama administration are now saying about the capture of a top Taliban commander and what it means in the war.

And later, more on tonight's breaking news: the departure of eight American missionaries from captivity in Haiti.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting late word tonight that another joint U.S./Pakistani operation has captured yet another top Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Salam described as the shadow governor of Afghanistan's Kunduz Province, that's on top of the recent capture in Pakistan of Taliban's second in command.

Both are being called a setback for the insurgents and a success for the Obama administration. They may also signal a sign that U.S. diplomatic efforts to win Pakistan's trust are in fact, paying off.

Our senior political analyst David Gergen is here, he is in Washington talking to top administration officials. The capture of this number two Taliban leader in Karachi, what does that mean militarily for the U.S.?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, for a president who has been getting a batch of bad news on the domestic front, he finally had encouraging news today when he met with his top national security...

BLITZER: They met in the Situation Room over at the White House?

GERGEN: In the Situation Room indeed -- and to talk about Afghanistan, Pakistan and to update the President. And as you know, Pakistan is regarded as strategically, the more important of the two countries.

And there has been this long history of the United States not -- quite believing they could trust in the Pakistani military. They found the Pakistani military unreliable. Not sure they were really in the fight against the Taliban.

Now, they tell me today, they see signs through this capture that they are getting traction; the United States is getting traction with the Pakistanis. So that's very encouraging news.

BLITZER: It's a real significant development that there was cooperation between the CIA...

GERGEN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... and the Pakistani, not only military but their intelligence services, the ISI as well.

GERGEN: Yes, absolutely.

And the administration, as you might imagine, is very close- mouthed about the intelligence side of this. But it's been also been interesting, Wolf, that there has been a lot of publicity about how important the first guy was, the number two military commander, and so you think he is the guy running everything.

I was told today by one person who was in the meeting, wait a minute, don't go so fast. He said, he's -- he is a top military figure, but he said he compared it to if you captured a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as opposed to capturing a field commander in the U.S. Army. The person in the Joint Chiefs is not running the thing and in some ways, is more easily replaceable than a field commander.

BLITZER: So, based on the briefings that you had today with administration officials, are they convinced they can beat the Taliban?

GERGEN: They are very encouraged and they think that they can -- they are making progress in Pakistan and they think that the offensive, the biggest offensive since 2001 really in Afghanistan is working as well as could be expected.

The Marjah offensive -- it's been tough, but they've done very well. It had some civilian casualties, which they were unhappy about but the president was told today, "Mr. President, basically this is going very well, militarily. This is a big offensive. We will be seeing some more offensives at other districts but they are likely to be smaller. This is likely to be the biggest one." And because it comes early, it really is putting pressure on the Taliban and they are getting signs the Taliban feel under a lot of pressure.

However, they underscore, one person in particular underscored, don't declare a victory yet. We are not at all certain about just how well the Afghan civilians will perform once they come in behind us. We're not going to stay forever in Marjah; we're going to be moving our forces out of there, leaving the Afghans behind. And there is, in particular, a lot of concern about the Afghan police. It's just not very well-trained.

BLITZER: But if this cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan continues at this level, that's encouraging.

GERGEN: Exactly.

BLITZER: Let's move to Iran right now. Some tough talk in the recent -- in the past few days from the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Iran becoming a military dictatorship. Give us some perspective on what's going on now. There was a deadline at the end of last year that has now come and gone as far as Iran stopping its nuclear enrichment program.

GERGEN: There is a sense, one -- a high-level official told me today, that Iran still doesn't seem to be getting the message. They are dragging their heels. They are trying to play games. And the U.S. is at a point now where the -- Iran has risen to the top of the agenda for U.S. foreign policy. The next three months or so are really crucial to see if the U.S. can round up partners for sanctions through the U.N.

So far, the Russians are showing -- you know, they are coming over but there still is no sign that the Russians want to do tough sanctions. They will be -- might want to do sanctions. The Chinese are even more difficult issue.

So for the next three months, in order to round up -- in order to send Iran a signal, "Hey we mean this, we are serious, we are really going to tighten the screws." You have got to get these other players to come in.

And the administration is working hard on that, one of the reasons Hillary Clinton is in the Middle East.

BLITZER: What are options -- what options does the Obama administration have right now?

GERGEN: The main option is sanctions.

BLITZER: Is that it?

GERGEN: Well, military force is on the table.

BLITZER: What if they don't get -- what if they don't get Russia on board, with really robust sanctions and they don't get China on board, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council can veto resolutions if they like to.

GERGEN: They can, they now have to go with the coalition of the willing. That would be the next step.

BLITZER: What exactly is the coalition of the willing?

GERGEN: Well, you've got other nations; you've got the Europeans...

BLITZER: To just do sanctions on their own?

GERGEN: To do the sanctions on their own.

BLITZER: You're not talking about a military option?

GERGEN: No. No, I'm sorry. The military option is going to remain on the table. They will not take that off the table. The Iranians have to know ultimately that -- because there is a view in the administration that many things happen in the Middle East, but Iran getting nuclear weapons would be a game changer. And therefore, they have got to stop...

BLITZER: And that explains why this is at the top of their agenda on national security issues.

David, thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: A program note for you. Tomorrow night, a special report from the CNN special investigations unit; the U.S. commander in Afghanistan has growing suspicions about what's happening on his base. Somehow, the Taliban have been able to ambush his troops with uncanny success.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Roger Hill was the commander in charge of Wardak (ph) province in eastern Afghanistan for much of 2008. He was assigned just 89 soldiers to cover an area the size of Connecticut.

ROGER HILL, COMMANDER IN CHARGE: The enemy seemed to kind of know where we were.

BOUDREAU: Hill feared the Taliban was tracking his every move. He suspected an inside threat, maybe a spy.

HILL: Out of a 90-man company, you know, we have 30 wounded, to include two killed in action.

BOUDREAU: Hill says his headquarters sent a team to the base to weed out possible spies. It screened cell phone activity to find out which Afghan civilians working on the base were really working for the Taliban.

HILL: It turned out that it wasn't just one, two or three, but we actually had a full dozen, 12 infiltrators, spies, on our FOB.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Well, to Commander Hill, by the way it seemed as if there were spies everywhere. He soon learned that eliminating them and making the threat to his men go away would end his own military career.

We'll have Abbie Boudreau's full report tomorrow, right here on 360. You are going to want to see this report.

Just ahead on 360, first it was defective gas pedals, then brakes. Now, get this, Toyota is facing a new problem, troubles with the power steering in its Corollas.

Plus, a new revelation about Amy Bishop's troubled past. The accused university shooter was charged with assault eight years ago after losing her temper at a restaurant.

Details tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to quickly bring you up to the minute on our breaking news from the top of the program.

A U.S. C-130 military plane departing Port-au-Prince, Haiti; on board, eight American missionaries held for 19 days, charged with kidnapping 33 Haitian children. A Haitian judge freeing them today; the charges not dropped, though and the two group leaders remaining in custody.

More on this story throughout the hour; stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's get the latest on some other important stories we're following. Poppy Harlow is joining with us a "360 Bulletin" -- Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, more problems, if you can believe it, for Toyota. Just as the company announced new quality controls, a first step in rebuilding consumer confidence, the government today, launching yet another investigation. The issue: power steering problems in some 2009 and 2010 Corollas. Despite mounting concerns about that automaker, Toyota's president said he will not appear at a congressional hearing slated for later this month.

And TSA screeners will soon start randomly swabbing passengers' hands at checkpoints and airport gates to test them for traces of explosives. The new airport security program announced today stems from that Christmas-Day bombing attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight.

Former president Bill Clinton, back in action, appearing at a public event on childhood obesity less than a week after having stent surgery to unblock a clogged artery. He says he has no intention of slowing down but also says he will manage his stress better from now on.

And reality television star Jon Gosselin and TLC have called a truce. TLC settled a breach of contract lawsuit against Gosselin, and Gosselin has dropped his counter suit which claimed TLC violated child labor laws in filming "Jon and Kate Plus 8". The terms of that settlement, Wolf, of course, they are confidential.

BLITZER: I'm all over this story. Poppy, you've got to -- you've got to follow the story for us because, you know, a lot of interest out there in this story.

HARLOW: You got it.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a moment. Check this out, Poppy. You're going to like this. Our "Beat 360" winners: it's our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to show up our own staffers by coming up with a better caption for the photo we post on our blog every day.

Take a look at this photo. It's Bo, the first family's pet, playing on the south grounds of the White House during last week's blizzard -- key word, blizzard.

HARLOW: Right.

BLITZER: Out staff winner tonight, Marshall. His caption, "Bo's so lame. Call me Wolf. Yes, Wolf Blizzard."

HARLOW: Perfect. You like that, Wolf?

BLITZER: I like Woof, Woof Blizzard better.

HARLOW: Woof Blizzard. That's a new name.

BLITZER: Woof Blizzard.

Our viewer winner, by the way, is Rodney from Texas. His caption: "The Obamanabull snow dog."

HARLOW: Nice.

BLITZER: Rodney, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.

And Poppy, if you work really hard someday, you might -- you might be able to win a T-shirt like that.

HARLOW: I've been trying.

BLITZER: Keep standing by. Don't go anywhere.

A reminder, you can join a live chat happening right now at AC360.com.

Just ahead, "Stealing Haiti", he promised to fight for Haiti's poor, but now he lives in exile, a symbol of corruption for some. Did Haiti's former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, help wreck Haiti? We investigate. That's ahead.

And the latest on the breaking news we're following tonight. Eight American missionaries are on their way to Miami after being released from a Haiti jail hours ago. We'll bring you their arrival as soon as they land.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Haiti tonight, new figures put the damage from last month's earthquake at between $8 and $14 billion. That's twice Haiti's annual economic output; staggering numbers, indeed. And a devastating news for a country mired in poverty, even before the disaster, where generations of corrupt or incompetent leaders have bankrupted Haiti's poor out of everything but their will to survive. Among the most controversial: the former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. To many, he remains a hero. To others, he's just another in a long list of self-serving rulers caught stealing Haiti. Randi Kaye investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE (voice-over): He was known as "le petit pretre", the little priest, who promised to fight for Haiti's poor. That was then.

Today, six years after being forced out of Haiti for the second time, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically-elected president in Haiti's 200-year history, lives in the shadow of accusations of embezzlement, drug trafficking and bloodshed. Once a symbol of hope, now, to some, a symbol of corruption.

Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban.

IRA KURZBAN, ARISTIDE'S LAWYER: I think President Aristide has clearly been a target of a disinformation campaign.

KAYE: A campaign he says waged by those against Aristide's idea of a popular democracy, including the United States.

Kurzban says Aristide's goal was to take the Haitian people, quote, "from misery to poverty with dignity". That's not how it played out.

Critics say Aristide turned ruthless. Wesleyan University sociology professor Alex Dupuy (ph), who wrote a book about Aristide's fall from grace, says many believed Aristide armed street thugs to enforce his political will.

ALEX DUPUY, SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR, WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY: They didn't do much to stop the violence.

KAYE: The chimeras which in Creole means ghosts or monsters, kidnapped and killed some of Aristide's opponents.

KURZBAN: There has never been any proof that he was arming these gangs. There has never been any proof that he was supporting these gangs.

KAYE: By his second term in 2000, critics say Aristide had become the kind of leader he once despised, which was ultimately bad for the country.

DUPUY: Aristide sought to monopolize political power and to continue pretty much the same practices as his predecessor. That is, to use the offices of the state, public office, as a means of personal enrichment.

KAYE: After he left Haiti, Aristide was investigated by the U.S. and Haiti for stealing $1 million from his country, including kickbacks from a Haitian telephone company. DUPUY: There were some -- some monies that were, you know, unaccounted for in terms of how they were being used by -- by members of his administration; basically, finding ways to use public monies for private purposes.

KAYE: Charges were never filed.

KURZBAN: It's very easy to say he stole money without any proof whatsoever. There are no bank accounts. There's no Swiss bank accounts. There's no South African bank accounts.

KAYE (on camera): Aristide's two terms as Haiti's president which began in 1990 were interrupted by a military coup just eight months into his first term. He was returned to power with the help of U.S. troops and re-elected in 2000, only to be ousted again in a bloody rebellion four years later.

President George W. Bush's administration supplied the plane to hustle Aristide out of his country in the middle of the night. He's been living in exile and teaching in South Africa ever since.

(voice-over): After the earthquake, Aristide told reporters he'd like to return to Haiti.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE, OUSTED PRESIDENT OF HAITI: We feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death.

KAYE: Some supporters remain fiercely loyal and would welcome Aristide back. After all, he developed the country's first literacy program, built more schools than anyone before him, and was first to prosecute human rights violators.

(on camera): But in the end, the preacher from the slums who portrayed himself as a champion of the poor never delivered. The economy was in shambles. Jobs disappeared, poverty deepened, and the democracy he promised never came to be.

Aristide's lawyer says that's because the international community cut off funding, but as one former supporter put it, Aristide is, quote, "nothing but a political cadaver".

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's Dig Deeper with Dan Erikson. He's a senior associate for U.S. policy and director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue.

Dan thanks for coming in. You say that no single figure has represented the contradictions of modern Haiti as much as Aristide has. How so?

DAN ERIKSON, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: That's correct. Aristide was really a complex, contradictory, and ultimately a tragic figure in Haiti's recent history.

When he first emerged on the political scene in 1990, he was charismatic, a gifted communicator, someone who could speak directly to the poor, and he seemed to represent their interests.

But what you saw over time is he really failed at the task of governing Haiti, which is admittedly never easy, and often relied on the politics of the street to really exercise force throughout the country. And so while Aristide initially held to the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people, he never delivered on that promise and ultimately left behind him a trail of ruin.

BLITZER: After the earthquake, we just heard Randi say he expressed a desire to return to Haiti. Is that even a remote possibility?

ERIKSON: I would find it very difficult to imagine Aristide returning to Haiti. The fact is that his return would be a major hot -- hot potato in Haiti's political system. He is someone who is very polarizing within Haiti's context.

It's true that there are many poor people in Haiti who look back somewhat fondly with Aristide nostalgia, but there are really many more who would be very wary of his return to the country.

BLITZER: What about the current president, Rene Preval? Is he competent? Is he corrupt? What about him?

ERIKSON: Rene Preval is someone who really cuts a very different political figure within Haiti. He's someone who does not exude charisma, does not really manifest a very strong, open leadership style.

But at the same time, he's seen as basically a benign president. He's someone who the international community has worked with successfully in the past. In fact, since 2006, Haiti was actually on a path to greater prosperity and greater security before this earthquake struck.

And Preval is also someone who holds a very unique trait in Haiti's recent history. He was a former president, and he was one of Haiti's only presidents to leave power peacefully after his first term ended in 2000.

BLITZER: Dan, a country so rife with corruption like Haiti, so broken, even before the earthquake, will it be able to do what is necessary to rebuild?

ERIKSON: Haiti is going to have to rebuild. And what's clear is that Haiti cannot do it alone. There needs to be a major role and support by the international community for the reconstruction effort in Haiti. And I think also, it's extremely important that Haiti start to move beyond political personalities, whether they be Jean-Bertrand Aristide or Rene Preval, and much more towards building sustainable political institutions. That includes not only the presidency but, of course, the parliament. The ministries need to be rebuilt, many of which were very severely damaged. And it's only through strengthening Haiti's own domestic political institutions can you have a rebuilding process that's sustainable over the long term.

BLITZER: Not an easy challenge by any means. Dan Erikson, thanks very much.

Up next, "Crime and Punishment": new information about the troubled and violent past of the professor accused of going on a shooting rampage at the University of Alabama.

Plus, new details about that assassination plot that played out like an action movie.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In tonight's "Crime and Punishment" report, yet another twist in the disturbing tale of alleged university shooter, Amy Bishop. Police today revealing that the Alabama professor accused of gunning down her colleagues faced criminal charges back in 2002 after a fight in a Massachusetts restaurant.

That's just the latest sign of the hair-trigger temper police believe exploded last week with deadly force. Tom Foreman has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amy Bishop's troubled past could have, should have, been a red flag for a possibly violent outburst. The latest: a police report from an IHOP restaurant in Massachusetts eight years ago. It describes her raging at a woman and her children when Bishop was told there were no more child booster seats available.

The report says Bishop began to shout and used profanity. And then she came over to the woman's table and punched her in the head, all while repeatedly saying, "I am Dr. Amy Bishop."

Bishop was given probation and ordered into anger management.

ROB DINSMOOR, AMY BISHOP'S FRIEND: So at that point, I knew that some -- you know, she was capable of getting, you know, into fights.

FOREMAN: Rob Dinsmoor was Bishop's friend, and he knew a very different woman.

DINSMOOR: Sort of a likable nerdette (ph). I mean, I just -- she was very, very bright and she was bright on all subjects. A little bit lacking in any sense of tact and diplomacy.

FOREMAN: But it was more than that. Bishop wrote three unpublished novels. Dinsmoor says one was dark and violent. "The Boston Globe" which obtained a manuscript, says one book's heroine is a scientist struggling mightily against depression and fear of losing tenure. Haunting words no doubt, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where Bishop, who had recently been denied tenure, is accused of killing three co-workers, wounding three more and where others barely escaped.

DEBRA MORIARITY, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: She looked angry when I first saw her. You know, somebody who just was mad at you and was going to shoot you.

FOREMAN: And the apparent warning signs keep adding up. Bishop shot and killed her brother in 1986. It was ruled an accident but now, authorities are saying they found her hiding behind a car with a loaded shotgun afterward; still, no charges.

She was questioned in 1993 over an attempted pipe bombing, but nothing came of that either.

(on camera): And students at the university say they complained about her ineffective teaching and erratic behavior repeatedly and recently, but she stayed on the job.

The simple truth is it appears that, time and again, no one, not Bishop's employers, police or anyone else, ever connected all these dots and saw the potential for much worse violence.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, Tiger Woods preparing to break his silence. He's getting ready to face the public and the press for the first time since the sex scandal that drove him into hiding.

And the latest on our breaking news: eight American missionaries held in Haiti on kidnapping charges, expected to land in Miami at any moment. We'll have a live report. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to bring you up to speed now on the breaking news we're following. Eight American missionaries are heading home tonight after being freed today from a Haiti jail. They're accused of kidnapping 33 children. Two other members of their group, including the leader, Laura Silsby, are still behind bars.

John Zarrella is in Miami right now. He's waiting for the eight to land.

John, give us the latest. What do we expect to see?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are here at the U.S. Customs enclosure at Miami International Airport, and this is where those eight Americans will have to pass through after they clear U.S. Customs.

Now, it's believed that after they boarded that C-130 aircraft -- military aircraft a couple of hours ago in Haiti, that they will be arriving here in about 20 to 25 minutes, perhaps around 11:15 Eastern Time. And from that point on, it's unclear as to how long it will take for them to clear customs and make their way out here.

There's nobody around here right now that looks like any greeting party, any people who are here to meet these folks once they get off the plane. And it's unclear at this point whether they would be overnighting here in Miami or perhaps they have a charter flight that's ready to take them to other parts of the country from here this evening.

But clearly, Wolf, as you know, at this hour of the evening in Miami, there are no outgoing flights from Miami International Airport that would likely take them out to Idaho, for example.

So Wolf, we're waiting here, but again, very little activity. It is quiet here at the terminal, but we do expect these eight Americans to be on the ground, back on U.S. soil, within the next 25 to 30 minutes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you, John. Thank you.

Let's get a quick check of some of the other important stories we're watching. Poppy Harlow joins us once again with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Wolf, a 360 follow tonight on that shadowy killing in Dubai. Israel's foreign minister today says there is, quote, "no reason to think Israeli agents were involved in the mysterious death of a senior Hamas militant".

Hamas accused Israel of an assassination after the official was found dead in a Dubai hotel last month. Stunning video.

Meantime, the White House and Senate are nearing an agreement on a new overseer of bank risk-taking, that according to the "New York Times" tonight. The Council of Regulators, led by the treasury secretary, would be responsible for preventing systemic risks in the financial system. A treasury spokesperson had no comment on that report.

Tiger Woods will apologize for his behavior in a public statement at the PGA headquarters in Florida, that according to his agent. The appearance is scheduled for 11 a.m. Eastern on Friday and will be the first since the Thanksgiving accident that exposed his serial adultery.

And a Scottish terrier is America's new top dog. Sadie the Scotty captured the best in show title Tuesday night at the Westminster Kennel Club -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Congratulations, Sadie, sweet dog, indeed. Thanks very much, Poppy.

For tonight's "Shot," watch this. A CNN exclusive, a truly bizarre story you won't see anywhere else. Have you heard of Danny DeVito's troll feet tweets? It's a running gag that has the movie and TV star snapping shots of his feet in very strange places, then posting them online. And we really mean strange places.

Judging from the photos, he's bared his ugly toes all over the world, from L.A. to New York to the canals of Venice.

But tonight -- get this -- they showed up in the strangest place yet, on top of Anderson Cooper's desk. No kidding, Anderson. This is the kind of thing that goes on when you're away. You might want to break out the disinfectant before you take your seat again.

HARLOW: When Anderson's away, the toes will play, I suppose.

Wolf, I did see another shot of DeVito's toes. They had proscuitto (ph) on them, and his dog ate them off his toes -- lovely.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there. Poppy thank you.

HARLOW: You've got it.

That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.