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JOHN KING, USA
Prank or Not?; Libyan Mission
Aired June 1, 2011 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Thanks Wolf and thanks for joining us. John King is off tonight. I'm Jessica Yellin.
New York Congressman Anthony Wiener says with a name like his, pranks and jokes go with the territory. And sometimes, quote, "a prank is a prank". Well, Weiner's sticking to his story that he did not send a lewd photo posted to his Twitter account last weekend.
Although he has not flatly denying the photo is of him, he says he has hired a firm to get to the bottom of this. So quote, "He continues to insist his Twitter account was hacked by whoever posted the picture". The congressman says he does not want to make a federal case out of it. The congressman sat down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer this afternoon.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Did you send that picture to that college student in Washington State?
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: I did not. She says she never got it and doesn't know me. I certainly don't know her. This seems like it was a prank to make fun of my name. You know when you're named Weiner that happens a lot, got 45,000-some-odd Twitter followers, hundreds of people that I follow. This seems like a prank that has gotten an enormous amount of attention.
BLITZER: This is the picture. I'm sure you've seen it by now. Is this you?
WEINER: I can tell you this. We have a firm that we've hired to -- I've seen it -- it's -- I've seen it -- a firm that we've hired to try to get to the bottom of it. I can tell you this, that photos can be manipulated. Photos can be of one thing, changed to look like something else. We're going to try to get to the bottom of what happened.
Maybe Jon Stewart last night had it right, unfortunately. But we're going to find out. Look, this has turned into this kind of international whodunit. What it really was I think a prank. I'm treating it like a prank and trying to get back to the work I'm trying to do. I understand you want to pursue the story and we're going to try to help you best we can.
BLITZER: Well we just want to resolve it, once and for all. You would know if this is your underpants --
WEINER: The question is this -- I appreciate you continuing to flash that at me. Look, I've said the best I can that we're going to try to get to the bottom of what happened here. But, you know, I just want to caution you, and you understand this, you're a pro, that photographs can be manipulated. Photographs can be taken out from one place and put in another place.
Photos can be doctored. And I want to make sure that we know for sure what happened here. It certainly doesn't look familiar to me. But I don't want to say with certitude to you something that I don't know to be the certain truth.
BLITZER: You would like to get to the bottom of it. So the question is have you asked Capitol Hill police or New York police or FBI or any law enforcement authority --
WEINER: Have I called --
BLITZER: -- to investigate?
WEINER: Have I called the cops or the FBI because someone sent spam? No. However, I did get a firm, a law firm who specializes in these things, who specialized in white collar crime. I've got someone who is -- and they're going to get someone who is an Internet security expert to try to get to the bottom of how we secure my accounts.
BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) questions you've deleted some photos from your Twitter account. Why did you do that?
WEINER: I deleted all -- I have no idea what had happened that night and I was a little bit freaked out by it. I deleted everything --
BLITZER: Have you asked some of your followers to delete photos you --
WEINER: From my Facebook account?
BLITZER: No, from your Twitter account?
WEINER: No, I haven't. I mean I'll tell you what happened that night. I mean it was -- I was literally there tweeting about hockey. For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, my bloody TiVo didn't record enough time so I missed the end of the Tampa Bay/Boston game. I'm a big hockey fan. I tweet about hockey.
And I see this thing pop up. I immediately delete it, OK. I immediately delete the photo. I thought I deleted -- I'm not 100 percent sure -- I deleted the photo. And then this -- without any password or anything, I was able to get into the account where this photograph was hosted somehow and I deleted that and other photographs that were in there as well, although it was nothing very controversial in there, but I deleted everything. And I immediately tweeted (INAUDIBLE) my system has been hacked, you know, darn it.
BLITZER: Are you protecting anyone?
WEINER: I'm protecting my wife who every day is waking up to these insane stories that are getting so far from reality. You know, we've been married less than a year. To watch her watch these stories, gets crazier and crazier about what is essentially a prank, a hoax. You know we went to bed that night not batting an eye. This was a goofy thing that happened. She married a congressman. OK, she knows a little something about living in public life. She knows with that goes a certain amount of, you know, aggravation. I don't think she imagined that it would be this, these bizarre stories about people who are connected to me by eight or nine rings of connection on social media. I'm protecting her the best I can.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to leave it on that note. Just to recap, you didn't send that photo to that woman in Washington State.
WEINER: I did not send it to that woman in Washington State.
BLITZER: But you're not 100 percent sure whether the photo is actually you.
WEINER: What I am going to say is that we're doing everything we can to try to answer that question. But we're doing an investigation --
WEINER: I just want to caution you that you know photographs can be doctored. Photographs can be manipulated. Can be taken from one place and put in another and so you know that's -- and I want to make it clear, this is in my view not a federal case. In my view, this is not an international conspiracy. This is a hoax. And I think that people should treat it that way.
YELLIN: And Wolf Blitzer joins us now. Wolf, it was a riveting interview and the rest of it can be seen online, I should point out. He was so frank with you. Yesterday, he seemed to be obfuscating. Such a different atmosphere, would you take us inside the room? What was he like right before and right after your sit-down?
BLITZER: He wanted to give his side of the story and he -- you know it was -- he did one interview with each of the networks.
BLITZER: And it was basically one after another. Everybody had a little time to set up their own crews, their lights. We went in. We told them we were going to do it live and he said fine, originally it was supposed to be five or six minutes. We went closer to 20 minutes. He didn't complain at all.
He wanted to get his story out. We asked him all the tough questions. Not easy, as you know, Jessica, for a reporter to ask those kinds of questions. But, you know, he's a congressman. It comes with the territory. And he answered the questions. Left some of the answers vague I should say. But he did the best he could.
YELLIN: But he really did reveal more to you and answered more directly than he had in the past --
BLITZER: He denied flatly that he sent that lewd photo to that woman in Washington State.
YELLIN: The most compelling part of the interview to me was when he spoke about a woman, his wife, whom both you and I know and respect. It seemed to strike a nerve.
BLITZER: Look, they've been married for less than a year, as he himself pointed out and all of us who know Huma, she's a wonderful woman. She's been working for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a long time, worked for her earlier up on the Hill. Certainly in the Clinton campaign and it must be so hard for her to read these stories. You read "The New York Post," the "New York Daily News," you read some of these stories and it must be awful for her. So my heart goes out to her. And clearly, it struck a nerve when I said who are you trying to protect, and he said I'm trying to protect my wife.
YELLIN: Instantly I was surprised. I didn't expect that. And you forget these are public people but private people too.
BLITZER: Yes and especially if you know his wife as we know her --
BLITZER: We've known her for many years, you know, heart goes out to her.
YELLIN: Yes. On social media, you know, you have almost half a million followers on Twitter which dwarfs -- I think he has about 53,000. Do you think this will be a turning point for how public officials use social media?
BLITZER: I think it better be. I think that -- he was very active. I followed him on Twitter @repweiner and you know he was sending out all sorts of tweets. Nothing, you know risque or provocative or anything like that, but just telling us what he was doing (INAUDIBLE) hockey games or whatever. And you know you tweet. I tweet. We all tweet. But you know there -- when you send out -- when I send out a tweet to my 450,000 or almost half a million followers, you know a lot of them think I'm directly sending something to them. And they establish a little personal relationship with me. And then they'll send me back replies. Some of them, you know, I noticed you were wearing that tie. I think that's a sort of --
YELLIN: And you write back -- BLITZER: Well sometimes I do but I try not to get into anything personal or anything like that.
YELLIN: Right, you never know.
BLITZER: You know you don't want to you know make people crazy or anything like that. So, but I -- you know I try to use it as a way to tell my followers on Twitter what I'm doing. What they can expect to see behind the scenes in "THE SITUATION ROOM", who's going to be on the show. Give them a little advance word on that and they seem to like it.
YELLIN: I know, but everybody's going to be a little more careful --
BLITZER: I think members of Congress have to be really careful right now, especially in what they call the direct you know replies, the direct messages, to some of their followers.
YELLIN: Yes. All right, Wolf, thanks so much, a great interview.
BLITZER: Thank you.
YELLIN: That was Wolf. You heard a very different tone from Congressman Weiner than in his press conference yesterday. Today, he even admitted that he might not have handled things as well as he should have when he first spoke about this story. So here to talk about crisis management in the age of Twitter and 24 hour cable TV, Chris Lehane, a former assistant counsel to President Bill Clinton and Terry Holt, who was a senior strategist for the 2000 and 2004 Bush/Cheney campaigns.
Gentlemen thanks for being with us. You are both used to helping candidates, right and left basically extricate their feet from their mouths during tough times. I have to say, I thought that Congressman Weiner was refreshingly candid in this interview. He admitted that he didn't handle it so well yesterday and that's why he was talking to Wolf today. So Terry let me ask you first, do you think by speaking fairly frankly to Wolf he answered questions he hadn't answered before, he put the story to rest today?
TERRY HOLT, HDMK: But not soon enough and not directly enough. You only get one real chance to set the record straight. And honestly it's got to be at the very front end of this. And you have to make enough news that you've satisfied some of the tough questions. Ultimately, in this case, it's tough because he has an emotional attachment to the story. But you can't think that you can control a story like this, especially not in the age of Twitter. You've got to be honest and straightforward. Rip the Band-Aid off and tell the truth from the beginning. That's the best way to handle it.
YELLIN: Too late. Chris, in your view, did it happen too late? Has he hurt his political career?
CHRIS LEHANE, FABIANI & LEHANE: Look, I think he definitely took a big step forward today. Really seemed to answer the money question that people were looking for, which is whether he did or did not, you know, send the photo to that particular woman. He answered directly. I agree. I mean if he had answered it that way two days ago, would not be here today even talking about this.
I think he potentially -- the way he handled it at the front end potentially created a mountain out of what may end up really just being a molehill. But at the end of the day this is going to rise and fall on the facts. And assuming and I believe this to be the case that he answered the questions today accurately and honestly, and I think this is an issue that will recede into the background as he moves forward.
Now on the other hand if there are issues that come up that are related to this and people begin to pick away at things and some of the story unravels or does not sustain itself -- and again I believe that he did answer these issues honestly today, but if it turns out not to be the case, then you have an even bigger issue on the other side.
YELLIN: And Chris -- are you shaking your head no?
HOLT: I just -- you know I think he just too quickly embraced this status of a victim. I think that the American people are -- they've seen this story before unfortunately. It confirms what they believe about their politicians. And in his case, not to be able to be direct, to let the story continue to fester, at this point, I believe he thought that he controlled the story and in fact because he said that he was a victim, everybody just throws up their hands and says just one more politician.
YELLIN: Well, do you think he should stop talking now? Is that your --
HOLT: In this case, less is more. The story has run its course. It should have run its course days ago. He just kept thinking he could get on top of it and he can't.
YELLIN: Let me ask you that Chris, because he made the case that the media's made too much of this. And to be honest, he's never been a crusader on social issues so there -- you can't argue that he's been a hypocrite here, you know a morality hypocrite. He apparently for all evidence we've seen, he didn't break the law. So it does raise the question, is this getting too much media attention?
LEHANE: Well, in the grand scheme of things, given what the country and the world is facing it's unquestionable a very, very minor issue. I think he had a basic challenge in the first 24 hours which is that he needed to be able to answer some of these questions but if he didn't have the answers, wasn't prepared to answer, didn't have all the information, take a day, get yourself ready, get all the facts together, and then knock it out of the park when you're ready. I think what has happened is he gave out bits and pieces over a multiple day process and basically threw more flames on the fire. And this became a much, much bigger story --
LEHANE: -- needed to be.
HOLT: We call this death by a thousand cuts.
HOLT: In this case, self-inflicted wounds.
YELLIN: Now, both of you have --
LEHANE: I was going to say, it's the classic example, right, finding yourself in the hole you're supposed to stop digging, not continue to dig.
YELLIN: A lot of people on Capitol Hill tweet. It's a new phenomenon. But it -- this might be a cautionary tale to a lot of people. Chris, do you think this will change the way people on Capitol Hill tweet or use social media or should it?
LEHANE: I do. I think it's going to be a wake-up call for a lot of folks. In particular, and this is an issue that I've been dealing with, with several of my clients in the corporate world, sports world, political world, which is really coming up with a set of established protocols and procedures. How do you friend on Facebook?
What are your rules? How do you go about deciding that? How are you going to handle your tweets? Who's actually doing the tweets? In some case, it's staff, in some case, it's the actual member or person, but I think -- and I'll analogize it to a situation that took place maybe 15 or 20 years ago when people started to run into big issues in terms of contributors and contributors that may have had some problematic issues in their backgrounds and campaigns developed pretty comprehensive vetting processes. So when ultimately you took money from someone that you maybe shouldn't have, you're at least able to point to a process that you tried to stop that from happening. And I think you're going to see a similar type of process --
LEHANE: -- begin to manifest itself and how these people communicate on -- with social media.
YELLIN: Do you think politicians get a private life at all anymore, Terry?
HOLT: No, and they haven't had one for quite some time. The -- in the age of Twitter and Facebook, they've been quick to embrace these technologies as powerful tactics for political organization but they've been slow to understand that they're entering a new world, where their privacy is -- is porous. And they shouldn't have much of an expectation. You know, all of these tactics, Twitter and Facebook and other social networking devices, for companies or for individuals, it has to take place in a proper strategic context. You don't just do the tactics because they're quick and cool. You do them because they fit into a broader message, a broader point about what you're trying to achieve. And if they don't, then you have to be really careful about what they can do, the unintended consequences.
YELLIN: And as Chris is saying everybody is now just beginning to develop their own strategies I guess --
HOLT: That's right. That's right.
YELLIN: Interesting to follow. Thank you so much Terry Holt and Chris Lehane for being with us.
There is troubling news from Libya tonight. Pro-Gadhafi forces may have started using one of international terrorism's most devastating weapons. But there are also worries about the rebels who are battling Gadhafi. If NATO gives them weapons, could those weapons end up in the hands of terrorists? That's next.
YELLIN: Tonight, Libyan rebels say a huge explosion outside a Benghazi hotel was a car bomb. They call it an act of terrorism that shows the irresponsible and criminal nature of Moammar Gadhafi's regime. NATO has just extended its mission in Libya, even though the mission's goal is still cloudy. And it doesn't help when the top U.S. general in Africa is publicly worrying about weapons being shipped to the rebels ending up in the hands of terrorists outside Libya.
So why does the Obama administration seem to be doubling down on Libya's rebels now? With us CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and national security contributor Fran Townsend, who is on the CIA's External Advisory Board and has traveled in Libya at the invitation of the Gadhafi government in the past. Fran let's start with you. By extending the NATO mission, is the alliance, is the administration doubling down on the Libyan -- Libya strategy and is the mission any clearer now to justify that?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Jessica, look, I mean I think the president was very clear about U.S. support to the NATO mission. The U.S. has got some unique capability that they can provide and then the mission all comes under the supreme allied commander of NATO who is a U.S. Navy Admiral, Jim Stavridis. And all of the forces that are operating, all the NATO, European forces are under his command.
And so the U.S. is in pretty, pretty seriously. Now, the question becomes, you know, what's going on, on the ground and how effective can it be? I will tell you, you know just today there were reports that the oil minister defected to Italy. We heard earlier in the week that eight generals, plus more than 100 soldiers defected to Italy. And so it looks like the inner circle around him is crumbling while the NATO -- NATO continues to pound his installations. And so the question is how long will he survive as the people abandon him, around him (ph)?
YELLIN: Peter, your take, how significant is the defection of the oil minister in particular? Is this just a sign of the crumbling political environment or is this particular minister more significant?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think it's any more significant than any of the significant -- of the other significant ministers we've seen defect.
YELLIN: Even though oil is so crucial there and the ability to refine it could help the rebels if they got that expertise?
BERGEN: Yes, that's true, but I mean, you've also had you know senior cabinet ministers in the past, you know, the closest intelligence minister to Gadhafi defect. I mean that was an even bigger deal. So, you know, I just -- you know defections are never a good thing for these kinds of regimes. I mean that is the beginning of the end.
YELLIN: Right, so -- OK.
YELLIN: It's a help for the rebels, clearly. But Fran, you've met Gadhafi, clearly, a plus for the rebels. But does this kind of defection have any effect on Gadhafi's personal state of mind?
TOWNSEND: No, I mean, look, I've met him, I think he's nuts, he's crazy, and so I don't think he's moved -- this is a man who from the very beginning of this conflict said that he would rather spill his blood on Libyan soil and die a martyr than leave voluntarily. And so the fact is I think the regime is crumbling. What I think that means, Jessica, is that it's more and more likely he's going to end up martyred. There's no good end for him, right. So if he's unwilling to leave, either NATO forces wind up killing him in an air strike, his inner circle crumbles to the point that they assassinate him or it crumbles to the point that they allow the rebels access so that they can assassinate him. But there are no positive potential outcomes for Gadhafi in any of this.
YELLIN: This was startling to me today. General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command added a twist to the NATO mission by saying this. He said, quote, "There is a very real concern for all the regional partners and the United States shares this concern about the proliferation of weapons from Libya to other places, including those under the control of al Qaeda and others." So General Carter F. Ham, in charge of Africa Command, Peter, is saying that weapons going to Libya could be ending up in the hands of al Qaeda. Do you buy it? Do you agree?
BERGEN: I'm very skeptical of that. I mean, we've seen, you know you may recall there were discussions of glimmers of al Qaeda in the opposition.
YELLIN: Right. BERGEN: I mean we still haven't seen the evidence of that. Certainly there is a group called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group which was once allied to al Qaeda. A number of their members have shown up in the opposition. But they have rather publicly rejected al Qaeda's ideology in the past. Anything could happen.
I mean, clearly there are a lot of weapons. It's an area of the world where there are fairly virulent al Qaeda affiliates -- al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operates. But I think, you know, if that is the main concern in this mission, I mean that's is -- it would be really over the top. I mean I think this is one concern of many, many, many and it's not a very large one, in my view.
YELLIN: So if it's just -- if it would be a minor concern, why do you think they would be putting this out there right now?
BERGEN: You know, I don't know. I really don't know. I just -- I don't think -- you know, it will be interesting to see what Fran's view is on this.
YELLIN: Fran, I'm curious do you think a sort of hinting at the threat of al Qaeda is a way to buy public support for more time for this NATO action?
TOWNSEND: You know, Jessica, this isn't the first time we've heard this. I mean, Peter just referenced that line, a glimmer of al Qaeda. I think the exact words came from Admiral Jim Stavridis, the NATO supreme allied commander, testifying before Congress and he talked about the intelligence showing that they were -- what he referred to as flickers of al Qaeda.
The concern is all the groups that Peter has mentioned, the LIFG, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb clearly they see an opportunity in the chaos inside Libya. And regardless of who, whether it's the Gadhafi's side or the rebels, there's the -- this is an opportunity for them to take advantage of that chaos and try to arm themselves and position themselves to take power there.
And that's dangerous. And I think that that's a legitimate concern. This is -- Carter Ham's statement is not the first time we've heard it. I think we've heard this now more than once from the U.S. military.
YELLIN: So what's the appropriate response? If us arming -- if them getting arms leads to al Qaeda getting arms, how should NATO react?
TOWNSEND: Well I mean I think that's why we've seen the administration, rather than arming -- arming the rebels, what they've chosen to do is to provide support to the NATO mission, in an organized military fashion, with allies that they have confidence in. You know, I've heard Admiral Stavridis speak on this subject and quite proudly he says that the Europeans are executing the mission very capably and that over time he believes that they'll prevail in this mission. But, you know, look, it's not going as fast as I think the military wants it nor frankly as the administration would like to see it.
YELLIN: Yes, time is not on anyone's side right now. OK, Peter, thanks so much. Peter Bergen, Fran Townsend, thanks for joining us.
Ahead, he's known for cutting government spending but why is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie now under fire for using a state-owned tax-payer funded helicopter? That's next.
YELLIN: A lot of Republicans think New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is one of their party's brightest rising stars. He's making a trip to Iowa next month, although he keeps insisting he is not running for president next year. But a different kind of trip landed Governor Christie in hot water back in his home state. Democratic lawmakers are up in arms after learning that Christie took a state police helicopter to his son's high school baseball game.
With us now, Tom DeFrank, who is the Washington Bureau Chief for the "New York Daily News." We brought you here because you have covered Governor Christie. We asked this question -- Mr. DeFrank, first of all, thank you for being here -- because he is the tough talking, budget cutting, austere governor of New Jersey who says we all have to make sacrifices, and then he hightails it out of town to make a tight --
YELLIN: -- son played a ballgame and went off to donors in a state helicopter. Is this going to hurt him politically?
TOM DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: I think it will hurt him politically and it's not about illegality, it's about appearances. I have to tell you, Jessica, when I read about this, this morning, what popped into my head was a very similar instance in 1991 involving John Sununu, who was George H.W. Bush's first chief of staff. Somebody leaked to my colleague, Ed McDaniel (ph) (INAUDIBLE) "Newsweek" that Sununu had used a White House car and driver to drive him four and a half hours to a stamp show in New York City.
And Bush "41" was none too pleased and a few months later Sununu was out of there. And so it's about the appearance of impropriety. This is a -- this is a tone deaf sort of move. Nobody is going to begrudge him going to see his son's baseball game. It's hard to imagine that that -- going there and using state assets to do that had anything to do with official business.
YELLIN: He's saying everybody's got to tighten their belt a little bit.
Let me play you -- I interviewed Assemblywoman Huttle from New Jersey earlier today. She's been a critic of the governor. And this gives you a sense of how the Democrats will go after him for this. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VALERIE HUTTLE (D), NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY: You know, it's all about perception, and reality, and this governor is an example of "do as I say, not as I do." We, right now, are down in Trenton, you know, going through budgetary items, trying to restore funding for women's health issues, for seniors, for tax relief. And this governor takes a helicopter to his son's baseball game, and then to Drumthwacket, to entertain donors from Iowa.
I don't think anyone should be able to have access to a helicopter when there's really no need, there's no policy need, there's no governmental need. It's all about setting priorities, and his own personal agenda.
I, quite frankly, am insulted by that -- as I think the taxpayers of New Jersey should be insulted by this as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Now, you heard her, she said, I think the state police said this cost $2,500. And they would have spent it anyway.
DEFRANK: I've heard that for years. I've heard it from generals and admirals and presidents and vice presidents and cabinet officers. And they all say the same thing because it does have an element of truth to it, which is helicopters and aircraft have to fly a certain number of hours per month so that pilots maintain proficiency in training. So, that is all true.
But that's a dodge that's beside the point. The real point is: is it appropriate for a government official, either federal, state or local, to use a taxpayer-funded aircraft on something that clearly was not a governmental event?
YELLIN: So, I've talked to some of his top aides and their analysis is, look, this is a guy who is a straight talker. And this will blow over because he's going to be doing some pretty big things soon with pension reform and major budgets at the end of the month, and this will be forgotten. There are safety issues, et cetera.
I do see that it will have some legs maybe if the narrative develops. But do you think it effects his national reputation?
DEFRANK: Yes, because it's one of those things that's easily identifiable. You don't have to be a political science major or an academic dome or an Electoral College expert to know that he used a government aircraft to go do something that had nothing to do with the people's business. And so, it's one of those things that you don't have to explain it. It's just sitting there and it's obvious.
I don't think it kills his presidential chances. It certainly not Watergate. But I think it's a political problem for him. And I suspect maybe before it's all over he might be -- I don't know and I'm not --
YELLIN: Apologizing or paying back? DEFRANK: He might be writing a little check.
YELLIN: OK. So far, no sign of it, but we'll see. He certainly probably won't be hopping on another helicopter anytime soon.
DEFRANK: Yes. I think this is the last time he does this for a baseball game.
YELLIN: All right. Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
DEFRANK: Thanks, Jessica.
YELLIN: And ahead, President Obama meets with House Republicans about overhauling Medicare. What it means for you. That's next.
YELLIN: Welcome back.
Here's the latest news you need to know right now:
We have dramatic pictures of this afternoon's tornado near downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. It's about 90 miles west of Boston. A little bit ago, officials reported another tornado causing widespread damage northeast of Springfield, in Palmer, Massachusetts.
As of this afternoon in Joplin, Missouri, the list of people missing in the wake of last month's deadly tornado finally is down to zero. Officials say the storm killed 134 people.
In other news, this was the worst day in almost a year on Wall Street. The Dow Industrial Average fell 280 points over worries the U.S. economy is slowing down again, and over new concerns about Greece's ability to pay its debts.
The U.S. debt was issue number one today when House Republicans met with President Obama at the White House. People in that room tell CNN, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan directly challenged President Obama, urging him to stop playing politics with Medicare and start leading on the issue of entitlement reform.
Later, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney characterized the meeting as a, quote, "frank conversation" but, quote, "not confrontational."
Well, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger has been in touch with her own sources on that.
So, let me ask you, Gloria, what did you hear about the meeting?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: What do they say in diplomacy, polite and frank discussion?
YELLIN: Not so friendly? BORGER: Not so friendly. I mean, I know you'll be shocked to hear, of course, that one side was accusing the other side of playing politics on the issue of Medicare and, by the way, both sides are right. The Republicans play politics with the issue of Medicare in the 2010 midterm elections and it cost Democrats control of the House. And, now, the Democrats, remember that, and Paul Ryan's budget has proven to be very controversial. We just did a poll today which said 58 percent of the voters oppose that Republican plan.
And so, of course, the Democrats are now wondering, look, they want to get a deal to get the deficit down and to get this debt ceiling passed but at what price? And what are they willing to do?
That's a debate within the Democratic Party right now.
YELLIN: So, are Democrats -- you know, Democrats are saying they want to reform Medicare. They want to make the necessary changes. But do they really want to take it on before an election?
BORGER: No. They don't want to take it on before an election. When you talk to Democrats in the White House, as I did today, they say, by the way, we have already proposed a plan to change Medicare. We plan to touch providers, not beneficiaries. That was part of the president's $400 billion deficit reduction plan.
But their big thing, Jess, as you know, is you can't talk about entitlement reform until you put taxes on the table also. So, if there's going to be any kind of a grand compromise, they say taxes have to be on the table as well. And they don't see Republicans being willing to do that.
YELLIN: Which for Republicans is a nonstarter. So, one side says this, the other side says that, there's no in between.
BORGER: Well, you know, there isn't. But, you know, Joe Biden has a group of people working together to talk about it. They started talking about the "M" word, Medicare.
But the question is, again, are taxes on the table? We've heard Senate Republicans, some of them, say, you have to put taxes in the mix.
YELLIN: Tax reform.
YELLIN: Not tax cuts.
BORGER: Well, tax reform, but that could mean corporate tax reform, personal tax reform, change the tax rates. That could all be part of the deal.
YELLIN: The other big discussion is over the debt limit.
YELLIN: So, what are you hearing about where that discussion stands?
BORGER: Well, you know, we had a stunt yesterday in Congress where there was a vote and -- to raise the debt limit without having deficit reduction accompany it. And everybody knew it was going to fail. So what was that about? Just a stunt, right?
I think people believe that, in the end, you are going to get the debt ceiling raised, but it is going to have to be accompanied by some kind of deficit reduction. At this point, I don't see any grand compromise in the works of serious entitlement reform, along with serious tax reform, until after the 2012 election, but let's face it -- they've got to raise the debt ceiling. They know it. They'll find a way to do it in the 11th hour, right?
YELLIN: That's the way this town seems to work.
YELLIN: All right. Gloria, thank you.
YELLIN: Coming up: what historic sites did Sarah Palin's One Nation bus tour stop at today? Wait until you hear this one.
YELLIN: Sarah Palin's One Nation bus tour is supposed to be about visiting sites that are important to U.S. history. But after stopping at New York's Trump Tower for dinner with Donald Trump last night, today, Palin only went down the street for meetings with FOX News officials at their offices in midtown Manhattan. At any rate, Palin says now she's off to Boston and New Hampshire.
Joining us is Michael Crowley -- Crawley -- I always mess it up, "TIME" magazine's deputy Washington bureau chief and a friend. So, I'm sorry about that.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me.
YELLIN: Michael, OK, I know you have covered her. I'm curious. She's acting like a candidate, although it's certainly a new kind of one. Do you think she's going to run?
CROWLEY: I think we can't know. I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't know. I think that she can jump in this race later than other candidates. She has so much name recognition. She doesn't have to spend a lot of money like, say, a Tim Pawlenty, who's trying to introduce himself.
So, I think she's still trying to figure out what she wants to do.
YELLIN: Let me play you a sound bite with her and we'll talk about it afterwards. This was her talking about -- I think it was her New Hampshire visit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: We talked about specific candidates and potential candidates and kind of just what our perception was of each of these folks. It was interesting, yes. We're kind of on the same page there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's dinner?
PALIN: They're special but not just because -- they have a certain date of a primary election, you know? They're special because they are American, and they -- obviously, they want jobs. They want safety in their communities. They want strong national defense. They want the same things everybody else wants.
So, I don't know. I guess it's the kind of nonpolitician in me not looking at a New Hampshire voter any differently just because they have, you know, an earlier primary than somebody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: So, that was her talking about New Hampshire voters after she was visiting with Donald Trump. We'll get to the Donald Trump part in a minute. How does all this attention on her affect the rest of the field?
CROWLEY: Yes. I think it's got to be quite frustrating for these other candidates that have been trying to get some traction for a while now. I mentioned Pawlenty a minute ago. So, Tim Pawlenty announced his campaign early last week. It was his big kickoff. You know, he's been trying to get a lot of coverage and get himself out of the kind of basement in the polls.
A lot of insiders, I mean, Republican Party insiders, think that Pawlenty could be sort of the alternative to Mitt Romney. But he's really not taking off. It doesn't help him to have someone like Palin sucking up all the media attention.
And, tomorrow, Mitt Romney's going to be announcing his own candidacy formally. We kind of known he's been running for a while. But, you know, he's going to be competing with Palin for headlines.
So, I think it's frustrating for these other candidates who say, are you in or are you out?
YELLIN: You know, I heard this counterintuitive logic from a Republican strategist recently, which is that the fact that Palin's getting so much media attention actually helps people like Tim Pawlenty because Tea Party activists will be so angry about the current field of candidates who's already announced like Pawlenty, Romney, Gingrich, and because you have a Palin out there, it means that the Tea Party has a candidate potentially who satisfies them so they won't be complaining about the other guys.
Does that make sense? CROWLEY: I suppose -- you know, these things are so hard to predict. There are so many different scenarios.
But I really think for some of the candidates who are trying to break through, Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, is the other one.
CROWLEY: My own analysis is what they need is a little more time in the sun. They need people talking about them. They don't need -- what Palin does is start a conversation about, gee, this field is lacking, people need something else, something's missing. It needs to be more exciting.
And that all just indirectly reflects really badly on those guys.
YELLIN: But these days, gearing up for Republican presidential campaign looks a lot like just generating a lot of publicity to launch a book tour, get more attention. I mean, do we -- can we know?
CROWLEY: We can. And I think it's a frustrating thing for a lot of Americans is that presidential campaigns have become kind of this grand reality show and you can't tell who's in it for profit and book deals and just name recognition and who's really trying to get elected. And it maybe nowadays, some people join thinking, well, I'll get one or the other. You know, either run the country and have the nuclear codes or I'll have a talk show on a cable network.
And so, maybe that's fine. But you can't quite be sure what the motives are these days.
YELLIN: There was a report today -- and I have to say I didn't see it myself, but that she tweeted out she visited the Statute of Liberty, not statue, S-T-A-T-U-T-E.
YELLIN: Do those things matter anymore? Is it sort of baked in to her image, so it's OK, she has malapropisms and misspeaks?
CROWLEY: I think for the people who admire her and support her, they don't mind that stuff. And, you know, they used to say that George Bush's admirers kind of liked the way he would step on his own syntax because it made him seem like a regular guy.
CROWLEY: But when you look at polls, there are actually not that many Americans who really admire Sarah Palin that much. So, for the majority of Americans who don't really have a lot of respect for her or don't think she's qualified to be president, it doesn't help her. I think she would do well to change her image with those people.
But for her core fan base, think they kind of love it.
YELLIN: All right. Michael Crowley, thank you for being here.
CROWLEY: Thank you so much.
YELLIN: Appreciate it.
CROWLEY: My pleasure.
YELLIN: See a lot more of you this political year.
CROWLEY: Thank you.
YELLIN: Next, the power of a picture -- the images that are shaking one of the Middle East's most brutal dictatorships.
YELLIN: A new report condemns the Syrian regime's abuse of protesters, saying recent events qualify as crimes against humanity. The report from the group Human Rights Watch says there have been almost 900 deaths, nearly half the total in Daraa -- where the detention and torture of 15 young boys accused of painting anti- government graffiti sparked a series of demonstrations, brutal reprisals, and the picture that may change everything.
Here's CNN's Arwa Damon.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, 13-year-old Hamza was part of a demonstration April 29th with his father when according to activists, Syrian security forces opened fire. The two were separated. The next time Hamza's parents saw him again was when they recovered his corpse. And it was, according to activists, people who had spoken to the family, and video posted to YouTube horrifically mutilated.
Now, CNN could not independently verify the account of what happened to Hamza, nor the authenticity of this video. But it shows the child bloated, face purple. It shows various bruises to his body. Bullet wounds to his torso. And most shocking of all, his genitals were mutilated.
Activists have been saying that the Syrian regime deliberately released the young Hamza's body back to his family to send a message. The message being that there are absolutely no red lines when it came to the length the regime would go to silence voices of dissent.
In response to this video circulating wildly, the regime on Tuesday broadcast a segment where it had a medical examiner refuting the allegations of torture, saying there were no such markings on the child's body, stating that the discoloration and the bloating was due to the body decomposing.
Syrian state TV then aired a statement by a man it identified as being Hamza's father, saying that he had met with the Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. In the statement, the identified man says that the Syrian president is the best president the country has ever had and that he is very happy with the pace of reforms and the statements made by the president.
Activists believed that the man was, in fact, Hamza's father, but that statement came after the family was threatened -- Jessica.
YELLIN: Thank you.
And to discuss this further, CNN's Hala Gorani who has reportedly extensively from the Middle East.
The Australian foreign minister wants Assad referred to the International Criminal Courts. How likely (AUDIO BREAK).
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unlikely at this stage because two permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China, have already said that they would not support a resolution condemning Syria for its crackdown on protesters. And by extension, we can read into that that they would not support either any referral to the International Criminal Court -- Bashir al-Assad's referral to that court.
You have a division here among international members of the U.N. Security Council and you have a division when it comes to China and Russia on the one hand, and Europe, on the other -- that wants this type of resolution voted on at the U.N. Security Council. It wouldn't be the same type of resolution we saw for Libya, for instance, authorizing the use of force.
But it is an effort to further isolate Syria diplomatically, but it doesn't look like that effort will pay off for the Europeans, Jessica.
YELLIN: UNICEF and Human Rights Watch have said that kids have been targeted, not just attacked, but actually targeted in Syria.
How has Hamza's horrifying death impacted the uprisings?
GORANI: It's had a galvanizing effect, Jessica. In the same way, for instance, you'll remember, during those protests in Iran, after the election, Neda Agha Sultan, the image of her dying on the streets of Tehran. Or that fruit salesman in Tunisia, who self- emulated, who ended up dying -- he became the icon for the uprising in Tunisia.
This young boy -- this young teenager, barely a teenager, Hamza el-Khateeb, has become an icon, a figurehead and a galvanizing force. It's important to note, however, that we don't have access to the country.
But from what we're hearing, in Syria, there's a big difference between the protest movement there and the protest movement in Egypt. Not as many people are taking to the streets.
So, even though it has had a galvanizing effect, we're still seeing people out in the streets in the thousands, perhaps in the tens of thousands, not in the millions at this stage, Jessica.
YELLIN: Well, you point out that it is hard to get information from there. The reporting is limited. But we have heard something about an amnesty in Syria today.
YELLIN: Do you know what happened, and was anyone actually freed?
GORANI: Well, we are understanding from activists -- again, as you mentioned, we don't have access to Syria -- that a few hundred were freed today. Some were political prisoners. But that, overall, the thousands that were rounded up over the last few weeks, and I should say the last few months of the uprising in Syria, are still being detained.
This was an amnesty announced through degree on state television that activists say doesn't go far enough, because it's not exactly an amnesty in many cases. It's just a reduction in sentence for people who have been detained for belonging to, say, banned political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
YELLIN: So, do you know what the next steps are to expand that kind of -- that kind of potential amnesty?
GORANI: Well, these are offers of reforms -- again, coming from a contradictory -- a set of contradictory messages from the government. It's an offer of reform on the one hand, but then crackdowns. We've heard yet again today, protesters killed on the streets of various Syrian cities.
So, activists are saying, sure you have a set of reforms: (a), it only goes about a third of the way we'd like, and, (b), when there are protest, we're getting targeted again with live ammunition and we're hearing more reports of deaths on the streets of Syria, Jessica.
YELLIN: All right. Hala Gorani, thanks so much.
Terrifying, terrifying images and stories from the Middle East.
And that is all from us tonight. But "IN THE ARENA" starts right now, so keep it here at CNN.