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Israel Says Terror Plot against U.S. Embassy Foiled; War of Words at Syria Peace Talks; Interview with Bouthaina Shaaban; War Of Words At Syria Peace Talks; One-On-One With Iran's Foreign Minister; New York Governor Blasts Conservatives; Popular Small Cars Crushed in Crash Test

Aired January 22, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Jake. Thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news -- Israel says it's foiled an Al Qaeda- linked plot to attack the United States embassy and other key targets.

Syrian peace talks begin with a war of words and a tough warning from the United States. I'll speak with an adviser -- a top adviser to the president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad.

Plus, shocking and very provocative comments from Iran's foreign minister suggesting perhaps the U.S. gave away too much in that nuclear deal with Iran. The foreign minister of Iran goes one-on-one exclusively with CNN.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But let's begin with the breaking news out of Israel, where authorities now say they've busted an al Qaeda operated terror cell that allegedly plotted to attack the United States embassy in Tel Aviv and other high profile targets.

Let's go straight to our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman.

He's joining us from Jerusalem.

What's the latest -- Ben?

What can you tell us?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a statement that came from Shin Bet, Israel's formidable domestic security agency, which says they've broken up this ring of three men in East Jerusalem, as well as in the West Bank.

Now, according to the statement by Shin Bet, a man in Gaza recruited these three men over the Internet using Facebook, Skype and other social media. Now, according to this statement, one of the men was assigned to go travel to Turkey, and from there to Northern Syria, to receive military training. He would then return to Israel, where he would get hooked up with jihadis from abroad who would have entered Israel with forged Russian passports. He would provide them with explosives and other weapons and they would carry out a suicide bombing against the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, the convention center here in Jerusalem, which isn't far from the CNN bureau, and would also attack an Israeli bus in the West Bank.

Now, the men were arrested late in December. The Israelis pointing out, among other things, to the fact that these -- sort of this Syria angle, Wolf, the fact that, according to one Israeli intelligence analyst I spoke to yesterday, there may be as many as 10,000 foreign jihadis in Northern Syria. In effect, it's becoming the terror central for the Middle East -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Israeli authorities are suggesting, they suspect this was directly linked to what's called core al Qaeda, the al Qaeda organization that still exists out there?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly, in the statement, it included a graphic that linked Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leader, to the man in Gaza, and from there to these operatives in Jerusalem and the West Bank. So certainly a direct link, according to, at least, this graphic from al Qaeda to here in Jerusalem.

BLITZER: Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, what's left of al Qaeda, right now.

All right, Ben, thank you.

U.S. officials say they're in very close touch with Israel following that announcement of this terror bust.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara, first of all, tell us about security at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, because it's right along the shore there. That building is right off of one of the main streets in downtown Tel Aviv.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. As you well know, it's along the sea. This is a tourist area. There are hotels, very busy urban city streets in Tel Aviv. It's not that it's not protected -- it's got plenty of protection -- but that it's difficult to protect.

This is an embassy that is not in an area set back away from population. People go by it all day long. So there's lots of protection, but it is vulnerable simply from the standpoint of where it is located in a very busy part of Tel Aviv -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So how concerned are U.S. officials about this threat that's just been reported?

STARR: Well, look, Wolf, what U.S. intelligence has to do now is sit down with the Israelis and figure out exactly what has happened here. If -- if, in fact, Ayman Al-Zawahiri is directly behind this, this is extremely significant. It suggests that he still has a recruiting capability, financing, training, organization, an ability to communicate across wide areas, fundamentally, a network. And that is very scary, very dangerous, because they have long believed that while he may inspire a lot of jihadis out there, he's fairly isolated, without the ability to directly communicate on a regular basis.

So what they are going to want to know is, does Ayman Al-Zawahiri have a reconstituted network that can operate, really, between Israel, Turkey, Syria, the West Bank, Gaza, all of that?

Is this a group of people perhaps inspired by him, who've gotten their financing and their organization somewhere else?

Either way, very significant for any al Qaeda-related group to pull off an attack inside Israel against a U.S. target is very dangerous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. Very disturbing information. Barbara, thanks very much.

After years of a savage conflict that's claimed at least 100,000 lives, Syria's warring parties actually sat down at a peace table today in Switzerland. They unleashed a furious verbal onslaught before representatives from dozens of other nations. But the shadow hanging over these talks is the ongoing brutality.

And we must warn you, the upcoming report contains very graphic images.

Our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, is in Switzerland. She's covering these there are less just outside of Geneva -- Elise, the U.S. got caught in the middle of these verbal blasts today.

What's the latest?


Well, everybody here -- the U.S.-led the charge, but everybody here at the peace talks in Montreux got caught up in the war of words.


LABOTT (voice-over): The war of words started early, with John Kerry laying down a marker.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: That Bashar Al-Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way, no way possible in the imagination that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

LABOTT: Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, lashed out against the Syrian opposition, Gulf States and Turkey, accusing them all of helping his country fall victim to terrorism.

But he saved some of his most intense bitterness for the U.S. secretary of State.

WALID AL-MUALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): No one, Mr. Kerry, nobody in the world has the right to legitimize a president or a constitution or a law or anything in Syria except the Syrian people themselves.

LABOTT: The UN's usually mild-mannered secretary general tried repeatedly to end the 30 minute tirade.



KI-MOON: -- I'm sorry to -- can you just wrap up, because you...


KI-MOON: -- have spoken more than 20 minutes. No more than 20 minutes.

AL-MUALLEM: Mr. Secretary, you spoke 25 minutes.

KI-MOON: How much do you have left now?

AL-MUALLEM: I think five, 10 minutes.

KI-MOON: Oh, no, no.

LABOTT: But the minister refused to back down.

AL-MUALLEM: You live in New York. I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum.

KI-MOON: Yes, of course. You know, (INAUDIBLE)

AL-MUALLEM: After 30 years of suffering, this is my right.

LABOTT: Syrian opposition leader, Ahmed Jarba, called on the Syrian government to join them in rebuilding Syria without President Assad.

AHMED AL-JARBA, PRESIDENT, SYRIAN NATIONAL COALITION: (through translator): If we have a partner in this room willing to transfer from the Assad delegation to a national Syrian delegation such as ours, I urge them to sign Geneva 1 in front of all of you immediately.

LABOTT: He was armed with images first seen on CNN, which war crimes investigators say shows the regime's torture of prisoners.

If a political solution isn't found soon, he warned, for the Syrian people, time is blood.

The U.S. is seizing on the photos to turn up the heat on the Syrian regime, hoping to convince Assad's inner circle to abandon him.

KERRY: The latest charges are charges with photographs and documentation of mass torture. The questions raised by this require an answer.


LABOTT: And, Wolf, everybody expected the fireworks and rhetoric here today. But the hard work begins tomorrow, when U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, will try and get the two sides, the opposition and the regime, to sit down and talk face-to-face.

But given that the regime refuses to even accept the basic principles of this conference, namely, a transitional government without Assad, members of the opposition tell me there really isn't any point in talking.

BLITZER: Yes, it doesn't look like it's going to go anywhere. But we shall see.

Elise joining us from Switzerland.

Thank you.

Up next, as these peace talks get underway, the U.S. says Syria's president cannot remain in power. I'll speak with a very outspoken top adviser to the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad.

And Iran's foreign minister makes some extraordinary in-your-face comments about U.S. concessions in the nuclear deal with his country. He goes one-on-one with CNN exclusively.


BLITZER: Let's get back to one of our top stories right now, the Syrian peace talks that finally got underway today in Switzerland. But a war of words broke out as the parties to the conflict vented their anger, their hatred, their venom.

Looming over the talks, the continuing savagery of this three year civil war. And we must warn you that some of these graphics you're about to see are very disturbing.

And Bouthaina Shaaban is joining us now from Montreux in Switzerland, just outside of Geneva.

She's a senior adviser to the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad.

I want you to listen to the U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry, because he made it clear today, at the start of these so-called peace talks, that there can be no role for Bashar Al-Assad in any transitional government, that Bashar Al-Assad must simply go away.

Listen to John Kerry.


KERRY: You cannot have peace, you cannot have stability, you cannot restore Syria, you cannot save Syria from disintegration as long as Bashar Al-Assad remains in power.


BLITZER: In exchange for peace, is Bashar Al-Assad ready to leave office and give up power? BOUTHAINA SHAABAN, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: I think you should ask a different question, Wolf.

In what right does John Kerry say to Bashar al-Assad, you can't save Syria, you can't stay in Syria?

Can we do that to your democratic country, ask your president not to be there and not to save his country and not to be in power?

Is it John Kerry who should say that?

Or is it up to the Syrian people to decide who should be their president?

Isn't it a democracy?

Shouldn't it come through the ballot box, or through what John Kerry says?

Isn't this colonial, what John Kerry said today?

To me, it's very colonial.

BLITZER: But are you suggesting that there's real democracy in Syria right now?

SHAABAN: Well, do you think there's real democracy in the United States when they deal with countries like this? In Syria, there is a war, there is a horrid terrorism. The Syrian people are suffering a huge deal. There is a lot of bloodshed. But I can say that the interference of countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States, has called the Syrian people, their institutions, their live, their security, their peace of mind. So, I think what we need from countries --

BLITZER: The accusation against your regime, your government, is that more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed, that hundreds of thousands if not millions have been placed in exile externally, internally, and that war crimes are being committed. You've seen these awful pictures that have been released in the past few days. Our own Christiane Amanpour showed the world some of these pictures.

And this international group is suggesting this is systemic torture, war crimes created, created by your government. And I want you to respond because these pictures are awful and I want our viewers -- we'll show the viewers some of these pictures. To be warned, young people should not see these images.

SHAABAN: These are not only pictures for me. These are real people who are being killed by terrorists, who are being kidnapped, who are being raped. I have hundreds of stories to tell you about what's happening to my people. But you really have to be in Syria to know who is doing what. One can't be in Washington, Christian Amanpour, or in New York, and then decide who's doing what.

Remember the chemical? Now, Massachusetts (ph) has announced the study that all what has been circulated about the chemical were absolutely unfounded about the Syrian government. We have to acknowledge that there is a huge campaign against the Syrian government for the last three years and the aim is not the Syrian government. The aim is the destruction of Syria, the destruction of the Syrian people for only the benefit of Israel. That is the true story that is happening in Syria.

BLITZER: But these pictures were collected by war crimes prosecutors, forensic experts, a defector from your government came out with all these pictures saying these crimes were committed by Syrian government authorities.

SHAABAN: This is simply a huge, huge lie. And remember, it was the 21st of August the chemical. Now, Massachusetts announced the study. Wait three or four months, and then you will know the real story. You know, we -- the problem is that the Syrian people have been victims of so many lies circulated in order to justify this horrid war that has affected our lives, affected our country, that horrified our people, that trying to create an ethnic conflict, trying to create a religious conflict in a country that has been a safe haven for refugees throughout its history.

BLITZER: On the chemical weapons, there's negotiations, the U.S., Russia, others have been involved. Are you saying that your government was not involved in creating and storing weapons, chemical weapons?

SHAABAN: I am not -- I am not saying my government -- what my government has, what it hasn't. I'm saying my government has never, ever used chemical weapons. Chemical weapons were used by these terrorists, and we know the countries who have been helping them. It is a terrible crime what's happening against the Syrian people, and it is basically through foreign intervention.

Saudi, Turkey, and unfortunately with the support of the United States. There's one man in the United States who's misleading the United States about what's happening in Syria, and I think you should stop him. You know, it shouldn't continue like this.

BLITZER: Who's that man? Who are you talking about?

SHAABAN: I'm not going to name him. You know him. Everybody knows him.

BLITZER: Everybody knows who? You're talking about the president of the United States? The secretary of state? What are you suggesting?

SHAABAN: Everybody -- no, no, no. I'm not talking about that level. Everybody knows who is trying to manufacture so-called opposition. Those people who we saw today at the meeting room have not been to Syria for the last 30 years. They have nothing to do with the Syrian people. They do not represent anyone from the Syrian people. I don't know whether they represent some kidnappers or some criminals.

I don't know who they represent. I think you should ask who do they represent. If you take them to the Syrian people and try to ask them to go through election, I don't think there are five people in Syria who would know them or who would elect them.

BLITZER: Are you talking about Syrian opposition leaders, the rebels as they're called? Is that what you're talking about?

SHAABAN: The one we saw inside the room today are not opposition leaders. There is a genuine national opposition inside Syria and outside Syria of people who would not accept this destruction to go on, of people who care about Syria, who care about the country, who care about the people. But unfortunately, these people were not invited.

BLITZER: well, your meeting -- you're now in Geneva together with these opposition leaders. Are you ready to negotiate, to talk to them, and try to work some sort of ceasefire, if you will, some initial steps to end the bloodshed?

SHAABAN: You know, the United Nations said there are over 240 different groups fighting in Syria. The question is these people, can they stop any of these actions fighting in Syria? They are not opposition leaders. You know, the people who say to you in the United States that these are opposition leaders, they are misleading you. They're not leaders in any sense. Neither in a social sense nor in a political sense.

But what can we do? We want to solve the problem in our country. And it is an expression of goodwill on the side of the government that we accepted to come to Geneva. But truly, the solution for Syria should be made by the Syrian people inside Syria, not in Geneva.

BLITZER: So what do you hope should emerge from these talks in Geneva right now? Because you're sitting down with these Syrian opposition leaders.

SHAABAN: Yes. Well, what we hope for is that everybody would decide that the interest of Syria, that the interest of the Syrian people should be put above everything. And we hope that countries who are supporting will have the -- will have the trends (ph) who are supporting terrorism will stop supporting it. Wolf, listen to me, Wahhabism (ph) is not only a danger to Syria. It's a danger to the entire world.

You don't need Osama Bin Laden to come next time, you know, or somebody like Osama Bin Laden. What we are facing in Syria is a very, very dangerous mentality that is destructive to the modern thinking, to the modern world, to the co-existence, to living together. It is extremely dangerous. The Least thing U.S. can do is to support the Syrian people against this horrible Wahhabi extremist kind of thinking.

BLITZER: And when you hear the opposition say that your government, the government of President Bashar al-Assad, is engaged in systemic torture, war crimes, brutality, crimes against humanity, and that they should be charged with these crimes by the international criminal court in the Netherlands, what do you say?

SHAABAN: My answer to them is come to Syria. Live there, travel there, work there, and you will find out for yourself who is the criminal, who is kidnapping people, who is raping people, who is, you know, trying -- who are -- who are gangsters on the roads and in cities and in towns. I mean, it is really, you know, sad to see some Christians here, the only place in the world who speaks the language of Christ was destroyed by these terrorists.

Eleven nuns are still kidnapped by these terrorists, and yet, you see somebody who's a Christian who's supporting these terrorists. This is truly sad. The world should know the real story, Wolf. Believe me, all what's circulated in the media or most of it to be accurate, most of what's circulated in the media has nothing to do with what's happening in Syria.

I've been living there for the last three years. You know, of course, I've been living there always, but I have not left Syria during this crisis, and I know exactly what's going on. I love my country. I love my people. I only want what is best for my people. I wouldn't stand here and talk to you, unless, I know exactly what I'm talking about.

BLITZER: Bouthaina Shaaban is the senior adviser to the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Bouthaina Shaaban, thanks so much for joining us.

SHAABAN: Thank you, Wolf. Lovely to talk to you.

BLITZER: When we come back, Iran's foreign minister goes one-on-one in an exclusive interview with our own Jim Sciutto. His shocking, very provocative comments about United States and the nuclear deal with his country. The interviews coming up.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We've got some important breaking news, also a CNN exclusive. Stunning and truly provocative comments from Iran's foreign minister only days after the Iran nuclear deal went into effect.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us from Davos, Switzerland right now where only minutes ago you wrapped up an interview with the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif. Jim, tell us about this nuclear deal and what you heard from the Iranian foreign minister.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you, Wolf, I was able to speak with him for about 40 minutes. He's comfortable, he's confident, he's quick with a smile, but he's also unbending in Iran's positions, particularly, when it comes to the nuclear deal. He's saying in effect that the White House has been exaggerating how much Iran give up. Here's what he said about what Iran is doing and is not doing as part of the nuclear agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: The White House version both underplays the concessions and overplays Iranian commitment. And I'm not interested in that. I'm simply saying, why don't we all stick to what we need? Why do we need to produce different techs?

SCIUTTO: OK. Explain then to our viewers what's different in terms of Iran's commitment to what you agreed to and what the White House says you agreed to?

ZARIF: Well, the terminology is different. The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran's nuclear program. That is the word that they use time and again. And I urge you to read the entire text. If you find a single, a single word that even closely resembles dismantling or could be defined as dismantling in the entire text, then I would take back my comment.

SCIUTTO: So, what is it Iran --


ZARIF: No, no. What Iran has agreed is not to enrich above five percent. We did not agree to dismantle anything.


SCIUTTO: Another point he made was that the deal, in effect, is reversible, but he said that that's true for both sides. And, in fact, Wolf, we've heard that from American officials who have said as well that some of their economic relief that has been extended to Iran is also reversible if Iran doesn't live up to its side of the deal.

BLITZER: So, clearly, what he's suggesting is that they've only agreed they're not going to enrich beyond five percent, but everything that they already have, they're not going to dismantle anything. Is that what he's saying to you?

SCIUTTO: That's in effect what he's saying. Now, the White House has talked about that they're dismantling connections. For instance, in these cascades of centrifuges, all these centrifuges connected to each other, which enrich the uranium up higher and higher and closer to weapons grade, they may be disconnecting a connection here or there, he's in effect saying. But they're not tearing anything down, which makes his point.

Listen, if the U.S. and the West doesn't live up to their side, we can turn this around very quickly. It's reversible. We're not dismantling anything. We may just be pulling it back for now.

BLITZER: Certainly going to give ammunition to those in the Senate and the House of Representatives who want a tougher sanctions bill right now.

You also had a chance to speak with the foreign minister about Syria, specifically about Bashar al-Assad. And he made some startling comments on that front as well. Tell us what he said. SCIUTTO: He did. You know, Wolf, I asked him. It's been a tough week regarding Syria. You've got these talks going on in Montreuax, Switzerland where Iran was invited and then disinvited. You have a lot of disagreement being expressed in public there.

But he expressed some hope to me. He said -- I asked him, do you think that these talks without Iran's participation have any hope of moving Syria closer to peace? And he said, yes, I think they can as long as all parties are involved, that this can be a first step and we can get involved at a later time.

But I also pressed him on whether under a political solution to the war in Syria, would Iran accept a solution that does not involve Bashar al-Assad? And here's what he said to that question.


SCIUTTO: Would you accept a political solution that does not include Bashar al-Assad as part of the government?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I will accept a political solution that allows the Syrian people decide. I will not -- of course, it is not for Iran to accept or reject any political solution, nor is it for any other country. It's only for the Syrian people to --

SCIUTTO: So if the people --

ZARIF: But I believe the Syrian people should not be given preconditions. If the people believe, if governments outside Syria are so confident that the government currently in power in Syria is such a disaster for the Syrian people, why don't they allow the Syrian people to go to the ballot box and make their own choice in a free and fair election?


SCIUTTO: You know, it's interesting. I also asked him about this week of contrast, because on the positive side you had this successful implementation of the nuclear agreement starting Monday. On the other side, you have these talks regarding peace in Syria going nowhere. Iran invited, then disinvited. I said how does that contrast with this warming in Iranian relations? And he laughed and he said, well let's see how long that lasts.

He was joking because he went on to say he's confident. I asked him does he believe the U.S. and Iran can reach a long-term nuclear deal. He said he's 100 percent confident if there is trust between the two sides. And he said if there's no trust, then the chances are nil.

But he at least sounded a note of hope there that the two sides can reach disagreement on the most difficult issues even after a very difficult week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very difficult week indeed. Jim Sciutto with an exclusive interview with the foreign minister of Iran. Jim, thanks very much. When we come back, Republicans fight back against critics who charge they're waging a war on women. What conservatives are now saying about abortion on this, the 41st anniversary of Roe V. Wade.

Plus, Virginia voters still reeling over some shocking revelations in the indictment against the former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife. But will the legal case actually measure up to all the headlines?

That and more coming up.


BLITZER: President Obama issued a statement today on the 41st anniversary of Roe versus Wade praising the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision. It comes as the Republican Party is also convening for its annual winter meeting in Washington and retooling its message on abortion and women.

Our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is work the story for us. He has the latest details. What is going on.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the politics of abortion and the march for life, even the marchers themselves have changed dramatically in the 41 years since the Supreme Court's Roe versus Wade decision. Though now one of the biggest questions of all is whether Washington should even be the focus because the states are playing such a big role.


JOHNS (voice-over): The cold political climate in Washington and the freezing weather hit the march for life and the anti-abortion movement with a double whammy today. House majority leader Eric Cantor summed up the news in the shadow of the capitol.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Some of you have been marching for over 40 years and have endured many setbacks, including the recent expansion of abortion coverage in Obamacare.

JOHNS: Conservatives are looking to rally the base, using the affordable care act as a proxy in the abortion wars. On the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe versus Wade decision, the anti- abortion movement is revising the message.

JEANINE MONAHAN, PRESIDENT, MARCH FOR LIFE: Our theme this year is adoption. There are sadly 1.21 million abortions annually. There are only 18,000 to 20,000 infant domestic adoptions.

JOHNS: And it's reaching out to the next generation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took (INAUDIBLE) in high school and we talked about abortion and just like the pro-life movement and stuff. That's when I started getting involved. This is my second time here.

JOHNS: Still, Republicans are fighting back against a message that they are waging a war on women and this week the Republican national committee is proposing pushing back on the issue.

MONAHAN: This war on women has wrongly been called the war on womanhood when the real war today is actually a war on motherhood.

JOHNS: James Dobson, a longtime voice of this movement, says Washington is taking a back seat in the conversation.

JAMES DOBSON, FAMILY TALK: I think there has not been receptiveness to that message in a lot of the offices here in this city. And the states are where it's happening.


JOHNS: States now hold the power in 2013 alone, 22 states enacted 70 restrictions on abortion according to the Guttmacher institute which keeps track of trends in reproductive health policy. So, a lot going on in those legislatures.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Joe Johns reporting.

Meanwhile, Virginia voters, they are still reeling over all the revelations in the indictment against their former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, allegations of lavish gifts, favors, and a huge cover-up. But will the legal case measure up to the headlines?

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us. He has got a closer look at this part of the story. What are you seeing, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the breaking news right now, Wolf, is that the governor seem wanted a delay in the arraignment for he and his wife. The court said no, that will not happen. The arraignment will move right along just as this case will, the way it's moved into the headlines and captured attention all over that state.


FOREMAN (voice-over): A $19,000 shopping spree in New York, designer clothing, a Rolex watch, Iphones, shoes, earrings for use of a borrowed Ferrari and $120,000 in personal loans. Not a bad haul and not a bit illegal if you ask former governor Bob McDonnell, who is staring down his indictment with defiance.

BOB MCDONNELL, FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: I come before you this evening as someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused.

FOREMAN: The accusations that McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were given lavish gifts by a company called Star Scientific in exchange for promoting that business are threefold. As former prosecutor Michael Zeldin puts it --

MARK ZELDIN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: They're all crime, each of those things. So, they get attacked on several fronts as a prosecution and he'll have to successfully defend all of them.

FOREMAN: Correct. First question for prosecutors did the governor and his wife received improper gifts? The indictment emphatically says yes. E-mails, receipts and photographs show for example, Star Scientific gave $15,000 to help with the family wedding, almost $13,000 for golf outings. The governor's response?

MCDONNELL: These were gifts that came to me like I didn't ask for.

FOREMAN: Second, did the governor give something in return? Again, prosecutors say yes. He used the governor's mansion, his office, and his good name to push Star Scientific's business and the firm's boss. McDonnell says these are the same things he'd do for any good company.

MCDONNELL: And not one pair of taxpayer money went to him or to Star Scientific during our administration, not one penny.

FOREMAN: And, third, did he try to hide it? The indictment suggests McDonnell and his wife failed to report gifts, tried to disguise the source of money in their bank account and even returned some items to Star Scientific when the investigation became known.


FOREMAN: This is a tragic story in many ways. The indictment makes clear that when the couple took office they were flat broke and it suggests that the wife really pushed many of these deals because she was trying to get out from underneath her financial worries.

One curious part about this, Wolf, is the fact prosecutors were apparently able and ready to move on this but delayed until he left office. It's not clear why. It could simply be they didn't want to disrupt the state government, although there's also suspicion that maybe that's an opening for some kind of a plea arrangement to help everybody avoid a very long and painful trial. But we will have to see when the arraignment comes around pretty soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman with that.

Let's dig a little deeper with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our chief national correspondent John King and our CNN political commentator Ryan Lizzy is a Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine.

Gloria, Matt Berman, writing in the "National Journal," wrote these words. I will put it up on the screen.

The American political system makes it easier for the wealthy to prevail. But the McDonnell case shows that the flip side is also true. In U.S. politics, not having enough money can carve out a path to ruin.

Wealth and money and politics and poverty if you will, they were claiming that they didn't have any money. That could also lead to ruin.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is about impropriety, honestly. You know, there are plenty of people who run for political office who don't have money, who survive. When you go into political office, you understand that you're a public servant. And, yes, a majority of members of Congress are now millionaires. We understand it costs a lot of money to run for congress.

But that's not what this is about. This is about impropriety, whether it's real or the appearance of impropriety. This is about whether somebody who was close to the governor was trying to get more access at a high level for his business and that's what this story is about.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The governor acknowledges doing unseemly things. He says they're not illegal things. We'll see if the prosecutors can prove use of the office, use of his power, use of his name to help the quid pro quo, if you will.

But if the point here were some money were transferred into a bank account and that were used to pay a mortgage or make a car payment, we might have a more sympathetic view to the argument that the family was struggling financially and that is difficult. If you get into public service, people can make a lot more money. A lot of people in government right now do make a lot more money but if they are into private source. But a Rolex watch, Louie Vitton shoes, that's not being used to feed the kids or make a mortgage payment.

BLITZER: Or pay for the catering at the daughter's wedding, if you will.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But this is not necessarily -- I've spoken to some lawyers today, especially criminal defense attorneys. They don't think this is a slam dunk that the federal prosecutor has.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I was going to say that. On the list of these three accusations, one in three seem like a pretty -- they've got a pretty good case, right, he does seem like he accepted these gifts and it does seem that the prosecution has a pretty good case that he tried to hide it.

On two, what this company actually got in return --

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: I think it's a little fuzzier and that's where the former governor is going to -- is going to be able to mount the best defense. And obviously, that's the most serious allegation here, the quid pro quo. But the actual quo, you know, he's line is he didn't get any tax money.

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: That he didn't get a contract from the government, he didn't get something very, very specific and tangible that the prosecution has pointed to yet. And I think that's -- very interesting test case. If this is successful, I think it's going to put some fear in a lot of politicians. BORGER: Well, and this is why you have gift rules.

KING: Right.

BORGER: And Virginia doesn't have very tough gift -- tough gift rules and they're trying to tighten it up now. I suspect that it will be easier to tighten up the gift rules. But this is why they exist for politicians because people do try to buy access.

BLITZER: John, let's move on to the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. He got himself into some hot water with conservatives in New York when he said this. And I'll play it for our viewers. This is a radio interview or a TV interview in New York.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Their problem is not me and the Democrats. Their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York because that's not who New Yorkers are.


BLITZER: All right. Go ahead. When you heard that, you see the uproar that those words generated. What do you say?

KING: Well, he speaks very bluntly and there's nothing wrong with a politician making his case, saying, I disagree with people who are anti, you know, gay rights, I disagree with people who are pro-gun or anti-gun control. It's the tone and how he said it, which is, look, there are a lot of people in New York who are anti-abortion.

It's a big state. There are a lot of people in New York who are pro- gun and maybe even pro-assault weapon. It's the tone for a governor that pushes away some people. And that's part of -- you know, we have that -- there are other examples, too, of our politicians not being, shall we say, respectful of the other side.

BORGER: Look, I think Republicans in the state also want to pick a fight with the governor. He's got $33 million in the bank, he's got two-thirds of the people in the state approve of him, he's about to face re-election. So in terms of politics, it doesn't hurt them to get into a rumble with the governor because their candidate is not that well-known.

BLITZER: He's a pretty popular governor.

LIZZA: He's -- to me it makes me realize that some of these states that are so blue now, the blue states in this country are getting bluer and the red states are getting redder.

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: And there's just -- there's -- you know, Obama, when he talks about most issues, he's got this on the one hand, conservatives say this, liberals say this, but I believe Cuomo in New York, he just has no -- no interest in sort of giving anything to the other side.

BORGER: He needs to get out his base. Right?

KING: Everything is black and white.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

When we come back, they're some of the most popular small cars in the country, but are they really safe to drive. We're going to show you what a disturbing new crash test reveals.

Plus, the NSA leaker Edward Snowden firing back in a new interview at allegations he was acting as a spy when he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents. I'll speak live with the reporter who did that exclusive interview with him. That's coming up as well.


BLITZER: They're some of the hottest small cars in the country but they're getting crushed in a new crash test.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's got some disturbing information for us.

What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you're seeing more and more of these mini cars on the road. These days they're getting very popular but they perform miserably in a test that simulates how many accidents actually occur. In many of these crashes, the cars collapse right into the occupant's space on impact.


TODD (voice-over): The crashes are loud, violent and meant to be. Eleven of America's most popular small cars getting crunched in, in what's called a small overlap crash test. The front of the car partially clipping a barrier at 40 miles an hour.

The results as disturbing as this video. Of the 11 subcompact and mini cars tested, six got a rating of poor. One was the Nissan Versa, America's top-selling mini car. You're watching most of its front section ripped off in the test. The two worst performing, the Honda Fit and Fiat 500, America's fifth and eighth best-selling subcompact cars.

JOE NOLAN, INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY: These vehicles have just not received the highest priority from the automakers to make changes that are important to improve safety.

TODD: Joe Nolan is with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which conducted the test. He says none of the cars tested got the top score of good and only the Chevrolet Spark did reasonably well with an acceptable rating. The dummies in the driver seat wore seat belts and had frontal airbags available. In the Honda Fit --

NOLAN: The structure pretty much collapsed around the driver. The steering column moved back and away from the driver. And the driver's head slid off the airbag and struck the instrument panel directly.

TODD: And with the Fiat 500 --

NOLAN: The driver's door ripped off at its hinges and opened.

TODD: Creating the risk of ejection, he says.

Other cars getting the lowest grade, the Toyota Prius C, Hyundai Accent, the Mitsubishi Mirage. We saw many of those vehicles on the display at the Washington Auto Show. None of those automakers provided anyone to speak on camera but gave statements about this crash test.


TODD: The carmakers made various points in their replies to CNN. Honda said its model, the Fit, was designed before this test came into existence in 2012. Some said their cars did better on more traditional tests like those side impact, rollover and head-on tests that you sometimes see.

These automakers point out that this test could help them make improvements to their vehicles like Honda promises to do with the Fit for next year. And they say their cars meet government regulations and safety is their top priority -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That video is pretty scary, I must say.

TODD: Sure is.

BLITZER: But there are some other major news on car safety emerging today as well.

TODD: That's right. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today it wants to upgrade the safety standards for children's car seats by making them pass a side impact test.

We're showing you some video of what the test would look like. The seats would be affixed with sled, subjected to a T-bone collision with their car travelling at about 15 miles an hour. The car hitting them, traveling at about 30 miles an hour. NHTSA says if these seats are improved they can cut way down on infant and toddler deaths.

Wolf, crashes still the number one cause of death among children in the U.S. They've got to fix these seats, got to make them better. A lot of them are very good. Part of the problem is the way the parents, you know, fasten the seats on -- seats in the back, they don't do it right. That's a big part of why these seats --

BLITZER: They've got to learn how to do it.

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: They've got to save their kids.

All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting.

Coming up at our next hour, growing concerns, the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, will be targeted by terrorists. So will Russia call on the United States to help keep the games safe?

And new comments from the Toronto mayor Rob Ford about his bizarre behavior in a new video that has surfaced. You're going to hear what he's saying now. That's coming up.