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Romney Announces in Crucial State; Lewd Photo Questions; President Obama's Economic Blues; U.S. Officials Hit By Online Hackers; Governor Chris Christie to Reimburse New Jersey; Bloody Clashes in Yemen's Capital; 'Strategy Session'

Aired June 2, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, one of the top contenders in the Republican presidential field makes it official. This hour, Mitt Romney's announcement in New Hampshire, with Sarah Palin on his turf and n his back about health care. Stand by.

Congressman Anthony Weiner says he won't talk about the lewd photo controversy anymore. But a day after he spoke to me and other reporters, a lot of people aren't satisfied with the explanations Weiner has given.

And another break by online hackers. It compromises hundreds of personal e-mail accounts and leaves some top U.S. officials feeling vulnerable. Internet analysts now are warning the bad guys are winning.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mitt Romney's supporters and rivals always knew this day would come, when he formally kicked off his second presidential campaign. After all, he's pretty much been running since he lost the Republican nomination back in 2008. Today, Romney declared he's ready to take on President Obama.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Barack Obama came to office, we wished him well and hoped for the best. Now in the third year of his fourth year term or his four-year term, we have more than slogans and promises to judge him by. Barack Obama has failed America.


BLITZER: Before Romney can have a shot, though, at beating President Obama, he must face his Republican opponents in the lead off primary state of New Hampshire. That's where Romney announced today.

Our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley is there as well.

You listened to the speech. We all listened to the speech carefully. Does he sound like the front-runner for the Republican nomination right now?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Completely, he sounded like the front-runner. Not a mention of any other Republicans that are in this race or thinking about getting in this race, which is not all that unusual, I think, at this stage of the game. They have only had one debate. They will mix it up soon enough.

But the fact is, he was very strong and he came out almost with a totality of his speech, you came away with what really was a broad side against all things of the Obama administration, foreign and domestic. So, this was a very tough speech by a man who was ready really for the season finale rather than going through all of these -- all of these other stages that obviously this contest has to go through.

BLITZER: You had a chance, Candy, to speak with him after he made the formal announcement. Why doesn't he think he'll get the nomination this time when he failed four years ago?

CROWLEY: I think having a chance to speak with him is stretching it a little. We chased him down and he gave us sort of, you know, one-sentence answers. But he -- they basically believe that the campaign is all a matter of timing for anyone and that the time is right, that the economy is bed, that his credentials fit into what the country is looking for at this point -- his credentials as a businessman.

What did he say? I said, look, do you think campaigning this second time around will be lovelier? He said, "I hope so." I said, why do you think that? He said, "Because we're really going to go at it," something like that.

But what they are counting on is that this resume, even up against a president who has been in office for four years will nonetheless look very strong because they believe that a year from this November, Americans are going to go to the voting booth and vote about jobs and nothing else.

BLITZER: We're going to get back to Candy a little bit later.

Candy, thank you.

Sarah Palin, meanwhile, is warning Mitt Romney that he may have a tough time winning the votes of the Tea Party supporters. Listen to Sarah Palin today speaking of Romney's -- in Romney's home state of Massachusetts about a very touchy subject, the mandates in the health care plan he supported as governor of Massachusetts.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: The health care plan, in my opinion, any mandate from government is not a good thing. Obviously, and I'm not the only one to say so, but there will be more the explanation coming from former Governor Romney on his support for government mandates.


BLITZER: Even with those sharp words, Palin downplayed the fact that she's also visiting New Hampshire today, on the same day as Romney's campaign announcement.


PALIN: If he personally would be offended by me stepping foot in a state that he was in, I wouldn't do it. But I don't believe that Governor Romney is offended at all. We happen to have on our schedule a stop to meet some good people and have some good New Hampshire food at the same time not at all.

REPORTER: Try to drown him out.

PALIN: Not at all. No, not at all. And truly, if he were to be personally offended by us being in the same state, I wouldn't do it.


BLITZER: Another big name Republican flurrying with the presidential bid is also stealing a little bit of Romney's thunder in New Hampshire on this day. We're talking about the former New York City mayor and former presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani. He's in New Hampshire also today.

This programming note: CNN's New Hampshire presidential debate less than two weeks away, join us Monday night, June 13th, as the Republican hopeful square off on the issues. You'll see it only here on CNN.

Here in Washington, Congressman Anthony Weiner's attempt to put controversy behind him doesn't seem to be completely worthy. Some of Weiner's own colleagues, including Democrats, still want answer about that lewd photo briefly posted on his Twitter account.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan. She's got the latest for us.

What is the latest, Kate?


Well, since early this morning and throughout the day, we were trying to track down some answers to many of these lingering questions. But it is clear that Congressman Weiner is ready and wanting to change the subject.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Congressman Anthony Weiner says he's done answering questions about his Twitter controversy and now wants to get back to work.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Yesterday, I think from 1:00 to almost 10:00, I sat down and did interviews with anyone that wanted to answer questions extensively, made it very clear I did not send picture, that my Twitter account had been hacked and is pranked, apparently it's been successful.

BOLDUAN: But it's answers like this in his interview with Wolf Blitzer that have raised even more questions.

BLITZER: Have you ever taken a picture like this of yourself?

WEINER: I can tell you this: that there are -- I have photographs. I don't know what photographs are out there in the world of me. I don't know what things have been manipulated and doctored. And we're going to try to find out what happened.

BOLDUAN: Evasiveness that perhaps not surprisingly drew strong words from the number two House Republican on FOX News.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: The advice would be to come clean and clear it up. I mean, again, perhaps he's trying, but I know there's a lot of explaining going on without a lot of clarity. And, again, the American people are right in saying that they don't have tolerance for this repeated kind of activity going on surrounding their elective leaders.

BOLDUAN: And this from the number two House Democrat who says he has spoken with Weiner. We caught up with him outside of the capital and asked about political fallout.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: He and I had a brief discussion at which point in time I told him he needed to handle this and he needed to give the facts accurately to the public.


BOLDUAN: Now, Democratic aides concede that they continue the tension and ongoing controversy is drawing attention away from what Democrats really want to be talking about, things like the deficit. At the very same time, Republican aides have made it pretty clear that they are happy to stand by and watch Democrats being thrown off their message -- Wolf.

BLITZER: His colleague, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC, later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get her thoughts on that subject and others as well.

Kate, thank you very much.

Before this controversy broke, Weiner was known for his frequent media appearances, providing a feisty Democratic voice on various issues. Still, you may not necessarily know a lot about him.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux fills in the blanks.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anthony Weiner is New York to the core. Born in Brooklyn to a lawyer and school teacher. He went to a state university aiming to be a TV weatherman. When that didn't work, he turned to politics, working for then Congressman Charles Schumer, and hanging out with good friend comedian Jon Stewart.

Six years after college, he mounted a long shot bid for New York City Council. He turned his scrappy nature into votes. And at age 27, became at the time the youngest person elected to the council. Quickly, the coming up thorn in the side of fellow councilman and New York Mayor David Dinkins.

When his old boss Schumer ran for Senate in 1998, Weiner jumped in and ran to replace him in the House.

On Capitol Hill, Weiner cemented his reputation as a liberal's liberal, famously fighting for women's rights and gun control. He's known for his determination and feistiness and above all, his firebrand rhetoric, like the time he took on fellow New York congressman, Republican Peter King, over a bill to provide medical care for 9/11 first responders.

WEINER: You vote in favor of something if you believe it's the right thing. If you believe it's the wrong thing, you vote no. We are following up procedure. I will not yield and the gentleman and the gentleman will observe regular order. The gentleman will observe regular order.

MALVEAUX: But he does have a soft side. Last July, Weiner married long-time aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, and became the only Jewish member of Congress to be married to a devout Muslim, officiating at the ceremony, former President Bill Clinton.

WEINER: She's a remarkable, remarkable woman. She married a congressman, OK? She knows a little something about living in public life. She knows that with that goes a certain amount of, you know, aggravation. I don't think she imagined that it would be this.

MALVEAUX: That is perhaps an understatement.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: Hackers went phishing for information on the Internet and struck gold, hacking into the personal email account of several senior U.S. government officials. We're going to tell you how they did it.

Also, why attacks on the president's economic record are stinging the White House sort of badly right now.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CAFFERTY FILE: To quote a well-known author and dear friend of mine, it's getting ugly out there. Housing prices fallen back to their lowest levels since 2002, before the great recession begun. Back to back discouraging jobs report, a slowdown in consumer spending, take your pick. Not a lot of rosy news on the economy this week -- so much for that whole recovery thing.

Stocks got slammed yesterday on the bad economic data. The Dow Jones Industrial up more than 2 percent and Dow and S&P were lower again today.

The big employment report for the month of May comes out tomorrow morning. Economists are hoping to see 185,000 new jobs. Ain't going to happen. And if it doesn't, it could be another wild day for the markets.

Talk of a possible double dip recession is now heating up among experts and economists. Earlier this week, hedge fund manager Mark Mobius told a foreign correspondence club in Tokyo that another financial crisis is just around the corner, because little has changed to regulate what caused the last economic crisis, the derivatives market.

New rules to regulate derivatives are scheduled to roll out later this year. Gee, what's the hurry? And others are in the pipeline.

But Wall Street-friendly lawmakers are putting up a fight and keeping that thing as slow as possible. It all comes at a time when Washington is trying to figure out how to cut spending in order to lower the deficit while playing chicken with the debt ceiling.

Moody's investor service today threaten to slash the U.S. credit rating if our lawmakers don't make significant progress on budget talks by the middle of July out of fear the U.S. could default on its loans. It's going to be a very long, very hot summer.

The question is this: Do you believe that another financial crisis is around the corner?

Go to, post a comment on my blog.

The storm clouds are gathering.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people are really worried and for good reason, the reasons you point out, Jack. Thank you. I'll be interested to hear what our viewers think as well.

President Obama and members of his economic team are holding their collective breath right now. And as Jack just mentioned, the government's May jobs report comes out 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. We'll all be eagerly awaiting the number, and the White House is eager especially. Some might say desperate for the good news. They are hoping for good news, especially as the presidential campaign heats up.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by.

This is it. The economy and jobs, issue number one.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's the critical issue, Wolf. And while there's a lot of uncertainty in the economy still, the White House is trying to focus on what has been done to this point, how far things have come.

But nonetheless, the numbers show that there are still a lot of Americans out there having a hard time finding work.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Wall Street depends on various indicators to measure the health of the economy. At Dress For Success, the clothing indicator offers a fitting view at Main Street.

MEGAN GOFFNEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DRESS FOR SUCCESS: A lot of our clients are women with many degrees, have been working for 25-plus years and are now laid off. So it's not the same type of client that we've seen in the past.

LOTHIAN: This nonprofit organization provides clothing --

GOFFNEY: They get their three suits.

LOTHIAN: -- and counseling for women looking for work. Agine Fabian Maduakolam has been on the hunt for six to seven months.

AGINE FABIAN MADUAKOLAM, UNEMPLOYED: You know, I'm still waiting. So I know something is going to happen.

LOTHIAN: But the economic news isn't rosy and landing a job isn't easy. New unemployment claims stayed above 400,000 for the eighth week in a row last week, worse than economists had expected.

Sensing an opportunity, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney launched a verbal attack on President Obama and his economic policies, as he announced his own bid for the White House.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama has failed America.

LOTHIAN: Responding to that attack, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the president was not ready to engage in 2012 politics, then touted steps the administration had taken to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president took dramatic action. We have now experienced 14 straight months of private sector job creation, 2.1 million jobs created.

LOTHIAN: But many people are still skeptical. The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll shows 58 percent of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling the economy. White House aides admit there is still a long road ahead and that unemployment remains unacceptably high.

GOFFNEY: We want them suited from head to toe.

LOTHIAN: They know that, too, where referrals have jumped from under 150 earlier this year to more than 200 per month now.

GOFFNEY: We have ladies that are frustrated and they come here day after day applying to numerous jobs each day and just not hearing anything.


LOTHIAN: Now, again, everyone will be paying attention to those job numbers tomorrow. All of this taking place as lawmakers, Democrats, Republicans, and this White House are engaged with discussions on deficit and debt reduction. And, of course, there's this big concern that if there is not quick action, that the fragile economy could be further impacted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: With the job -- the unemployment number coming out tomorrow morning, Dan, are we expecting to hear directly from the president tomorrow?

LOTHIAN: No word yet on whether we will hear from the president, Wolf. In times past, though, we have gotten either releases from the White House or the president himself has come out depending on what those numbers are.

The bottom line is, is this White House, this message will continue to be the same. That even if there is some improvement, that there's still a long way to go.

BLITZER: Yes. My suspicion is that if the numbers are bad, we'll hear from Austan Goolsbee or Gene Sperling. If the numbers are good, we'll hear from the president of the United States.

LOTHIAN: That's usually the way it works.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thanks very much.

The New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, is adamant that he did nothing wrong in using a state helicopter for personal trips. So why is more than $3,000 being refunded to the state? Stand by, we'll update you on that.

And hackers use one of the Internet's most popular providers to target U.S. government officials. We're going to tell you what they may have learned.


BLITZER: The woman who made international headlines saying that she was raped by security forces in Libya is being sent back to Libya. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right.

What is happening here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is somewhat troubling, Wolf.

Authorities in Qatar are refusing to say why they forcibly deported a Libyan woman whose was alleged raped by security forces, a case that has received worldwide attention. A military plane carrying Eman al-Obeidi and her parents arrived in Benghazi, Libya. They had been in Qatar awaiting resettlement as refugees.

And U.N. officials say her case was on track. They say repeated requests to authorities in Qatar not to deport her were ignored. The State Department says it is now working with international organizations to try to get al-Obeidi to a country that will offer asylum.

The California couple who abducted 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard and kept her captive for 18 years will likely spend the rest of their lives behind bars. A California judge sentenced Phillip Garrido to 431 years to life in prison today, his wife Nancy was sentenced to 36 years to life. Both pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexual assault. In a statement read by her mother in court, Dugard called the couple, quote, "evil."

Well, apparently not all pyramids last as long as the ones in Egypt. First lady Michelle Obama was on hand for the announcement that the USDA's food pyramid, which was introduced back in 1992, it's being scrapped. Critics say it is confusing and over emphasizes grains in the diet. Replacing the food pyramid will be a new plate icon. It promotes a diet consisting of 50 percent fruits and vegetables and 50 percent grains and lean protein.

And, Wolf, I'm sure you get all of your fruits and vegetables.

BLITZER: I love that new plate. I could go for that every single night.

SYLVESTER: I think it's a really smart idea and it's something that people can relate to. When they actually look at their plate of food, they know what's supposed to be on it.

BLITZER: Fruits, vegetables, a little grain, a little protein, what's wrong with that?

SYLVESTER: All good stuff.

BLITZER: Yep. Thank you.

Imagine losing a 40-year war. Critics say that's exactly what is happening with America's war on drugs. We're taking a closer look at the alternatives, including legalization.

And new battles in the streets of Yemen happening right now. Hundreds of armed tribesman are entering the capital. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We've been seeing one stunning hacking incident after another, and now this -- the target personal e-mail accounts, the victims including some high level U.S. government officials.

Brian Todd is working this story for us.

Brian, who got hacked, where, and why?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, hackers have used one of the Internet's most popular providers to target U.S. government secrets. Google says the personal e-mail accounts of several hundred people have been breached.


TODD (voice-over): Google says hackers tapped into the so-called Gmail accounts of senior U.S. government officials, military personnel, Chinese political activists and officials of Asian countries like South Korea.

U.S. officials are quick to make one distinction.

CARNEY: We have no reason to believe at this point that any official U.S. government e-mail accounts were accessed.

TODD: But Google says the attackers got into personal Gmail accounts. Experts say they could have used a technique called spear fishing, directing users to fake Gmail sites, then when they logged in, the hackers would steal their passwords. Then, experts say, the attackers could have used spear fishing to infect users government computers.

For a demonstration, we went to Anup Ghosh, founder of Invincea, a cyber security company that works with government agencies to prevent attacks. Gosh and his colleagues set up a mock e-mail, a fictitious State Department employee getting a personal e-mail from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

(on camera): So if I'm a government official and this is my personal Gmail inbox, how am I getting spear fished here?

ANUP GHOSH, FOUNDER & CEO, INVINCEA: So what is happening is you're getting an e-mail from it looks like your boss, the secretary. And naturally, even though it's in your personal e-mail, you're going to check it.

TODD: Click on it, right.

Then what happens?

GHOSH: Well, you look at it and it looks like it's an interesting e-mail talking about, you know, China questions. So as a State Department employee, I'm very interested in what is in this document and it's coming from the secretary. So what I'm going to do is go ahead and click on it.

TODD: Click on the download, right. OK.

GHOSH: Now, the Spearfish (ph) is -- this was targeted -- it appeared to come from someone important --

TODD: Who you knew.

GHOSH: -- who I knew. And as part of my job, I'm going to open that by clicking on it, and what is actually happening is, instead of loading this document I think it's going to be, it redirects me to this other site.

TODD (voice-over): A site, Ghosh says, that can download a virus onto your computer. How can hackers use personal e-mail accounts to get into classified networks?

(on camera): Say I'm a government employee. Ghosh and other experts say what the hackers are counting on is me bringing my work- issued laptop home with me, accessing my personal e-mail. If I open a familiar e-mail, click on a link, that downloads a virus on to my work computer. At that point, the hackers are on to my employer's network and can move around.

(voice-over): They can move around to search for classified information like secret designs, plans, policies, blueprints.


TODD: Google says the attack originated from Xin'an, China, but did not say whether it believed any government did this. Contacted by CNN, a Chinese foreign ministry official said any accusation linking China to this activity is "baseless and with ulterior motives." The FBI is investigating the breach, but no one is saying which U.S. government officials were targeted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, you know, really sophisticated hackers could make it look like it was coming from China, but really coming from someplace else.

TODD: That's right. Anup Ghosh -- a Chinese official told me that. And Anup Ghosh told me that hackers can mask any attack to look like it came from anywhere. You would never be able to tell where it came from.

It could have come from organized crime, it could have come from so-called "hacktivists," or it could have come from maybe another government entity. We may never know in this case.

BLITZER: Hacktivists?

TODD: Hacktivists. These are activists who may not like a certain company or government agency, and they are very sophisticated. They can get in there and create havoc if they want to.

BLITZER: Bottom line is don't share your password with anyone.

TODD: Try not to. Right. BLITZER: In New Jersey right now, it's payback time for the governor, Chris Christie. The popular Republican is taking new action today to try to move past the controversy over a helicopter ride.

Let's go to New York. CNN's Mary Snow has been following this story for us.

So what's the update, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Governor Chris Christie is saying that is he going to reimburse the state for -- it turns out to be -- two chopper rides. And it comes just a day after coming under fire from state Democrats who called him a hypocrite for using the helicopter at a time when he called for deep budget cuts.

Now, the criticism came after Christie was photographed Tuesday arriving at his son's baseball game in a state police helicopter. Christie, though, is not apologizing. He defended his use of the chopper, saying he's trying to balance his work as a governor with being a father.

And he also had some harsh words for the media, blaming them for harping on the story. So today he wrote a check to the state treasury. It totals more than $2,100. And Christie is saying that he wrote the check so this wouldn't be a distraction.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I've got a lot of important work to do. I've got a $54 billion pension underfunding I'm trying to solve, a $67 billion health insurance problem I'm trying to solve. And if me writing a check for $2,100 and a $1,200 check from the state committee to pay for these two helicopter rides will allow us to focus on the really important issues to the people of the state of New Jersey, then I'm willing to do it.


SNOW: Now, the governor, you just heard there, said that he wrote a check for more than $2,100. He split the bill with the state Republican Party, and that's because after he left that baseball game on Tuesday night, he had gone to meet with Republicans from Iowa at the governor's residence. So the total bill, Wolf, came out to a little bit more than $3,000.

BLITZER: All right. So I guess he's doing it to make it look better. Thanks very much for that.

Mary Snow, reporting.

Three may have been a crowd in New Hampshire today. For Mitt Romney, the newly announced presidential candidate, here's a question: Is he being upstaged, though, by Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom are in New Hampshire as well?

Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And the shock and the damage from the deadly tornadoes in the heart of New England.


BLITZER: An outbreak of a rare string of E. Coli first detected in Germany has killed 16 people in Europe, causing new concerns there. Thousands of people are sick. Three people have actually been hospitalized in the United States. They are likely to have been stricken by the same strain, according to the CDC.

Let's go to our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, first of all, what do we know about these three patients here in the United States?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we know is that all three of them have recently traveled to Hamburg, Germany. Germany is the epicenter of this outbreak, and that's the reason why officials think that these are likely cases.

They have come down with something called Hemolytic-uremic syndrome. This is the dreaded complication of E. Coli. It can devastate kidneys. People often die from it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How concerned should we actually be? Are we seeing more cases of what is called this HUS strain in Europe?

COHEN: You know, I think it's really important that Americans know that there is no reason for panic. This strain -- this bacteria has not been found in the United States. These three people contracted it -- if they do indeed have it, they contracted it in Germany. And this disease rarely spreads from person to person.

This is going to be something that we see that people get in Europe and then travel here.

BLITZER: So what can doctors do to fix this problem if you come down with it and deal with this bacteria?

COHEN: You know, Wolf, unfortunately, they can't do much. They can't actually get to the bacteria.

If you give people with this E. Coli antibiotics, it actually can make it worse. And the reason why is that antibiotics kind of explode the bacteria, and the toxins inside the bacteria actually get sort of spit out and then can get into the person's bloodstream and become very toxic. And so they don't want that to happen.

There's not much they can do. They can give them pain medications. If their kidneys fail, they can put them on dialysis. But not much more than that.

BLITZER: How can people protect themselves? COHEN: You know, there's also, unfortunately, not much you can do. The folks in Europe who are worried about this, there's not much they can do. They don't know exactly what food is causing it, so they don't know what foods to avoid. Everyone should just practice good hand hygiene, wash your hands before and after eating, et cetera, all the things that you should be doing on a regular basis anyhow.

BLITZER: I was in Germany three weeks ago for a few days. Do I have to worry at all? Is three weeks enough time for this to have gone away?

COHEN: Right. Wolf, I can tell you that if you are not sick by now -- and thank goodness that you're not -- that you are unlikely to be sick with this.

BLITZER: And the way you catch it is by eating fruit or vegetables, or whatever?

COHEN: Yes. E. Coli can come from fruits and vegetables that have the bacteria in it. Sometimes it comes from hamburgers. It can come from different sources.

But the origin usually is an animal. Sometimes what happens is that the animal ends up infecting something like spinach, as we saw in California many years ago; sprouts, as we saw in Japan. It can be different varieties of produce.

BLITZER: A good thing I had some beer in Germany and not too many fruits and vegetables.

COHEN: There you go.


BLITZER: All right, Elizabeth. This is serious business, though. People in Europe are very, very worried about this right now, especially in Germany.

Human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed in clashes this week alone, pushing the death toll closer to 900. Opposition activists meeting in Turkey are urging the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to simply step down and leave. The U.S. government is renewing its call for Bashar al-Assad to end the violence or get out of the way.

The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, says it's difficult to rally international support though for tough action against Syria. Listen to this.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Right now the attitude of the international community is not as united as we are seeking to make it. We do not yet have the agreement by some of the other members of the Security Council. We certainly have nothing resembling the kind of strong action the Arab League took with respect to Libya. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to Yemen right now, where increasing violence is being reported in the capital as anti-government tribesmen clash with security troops.

For more on this dramatic escalation, let's go to CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On Thursday, Yemen's capital saw more clashes as fighting between armed tribesmen and government forces intensified. One extremely worrying development for residents of Sanaa, reports from eyewitness that a group of about 1,000 armed tribesman entered the capital of Yemen during the early morning hours saying they are supporting Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, a leader of a tribe that has been in street battles with government forces for over a week.

As fierce fighting continued throughout the streets of the city, it spread to even more neighborhoods. At one point, a security official at Sanaa International Airport said inbound and outbound flights have been halted due to security concerns over clashes near the airport. But the official who wasn't authorized to speak to the media said the airport itself was not closed. Yemeni state television denied any flights had been halted or delayed.

According to eyewitnesses and residents, fear has gripped the city of Sanaa, and many are afraid to leave their houses. Many are also concerned their country is per lousily close to all-out civil war.

A Yemeni government official told CNN that the reason the street fighting in Sanaa has gotten a lot more intense since Wednesday night is because special forces are now involved, adding that elite units of the country's Republican Guard are being utilized in order to minimize collateral damage.

Elsewhere in the country, there were reports that violence in the city of Taiz continues. Eyewitness tell us that yesterday, there were even more clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators. We're also told that tribesmen whom eyewitness say were there to protect those anti-government demonstrators were involved in the clashes as well.

Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


BLITZER: Is Sarah Palin upstaging Mitt Romney on this, the day he planned to grab the headlines? And is there anything he can really do about it? That's ahead in our "Strategy Session."

Also, 40 years after President Nixon declared a war on drugs, a high-profile panel says it's unwinnable. We're going to tell you about the controversial alternatives now being suggested, including legalization. We're going in depth.


BLITZER: Let's talk presidential politics in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, the Democratic strategist, our CNN political contributor, Paul Begala, and the former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Ari, did you think it was unusual that on this day, ,arguably the frontrunner, Romney, announces that he's running for president, Sarah Palin is in New Hampshire, Rudy Giuliani is in New Hampshire? Are they trying to upstage him a little bit?

ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, Wolf, when you're one of about 10 people who is running for president -- and there may be a couple more than that who actually ultimately get in -- I think you have no expectation of domination. There's too many candidates you're going to bump into.

I think all in all, though, Mitt Romney had a very good day today. He was able to be on the cables for a portion of his speech. I think he's going to get the headlines that he's looking for, and he got his case out there against why he would be better than Barack Obama.

So he accomplished what he needed to do today. He won't be able to dominate the weak. He won't even be able to dominate for a few days. That's just the reality of running in a multi-candidate field.

And you have to throw into it the "maybe" candidates like Sarah Palin or Rudy Giuliani. It's all part of the Republican mix that is unusual, but all Republicans have to get used to. This is what happens when you don't have a frontrunner.

BLITZER: It looks though, Paul, like Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, they're poking their fingers in his eye, on this, supposedly the big day for him when he makes the dramatic announcement.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they clearly are. They are upstaging him.

I think that Ari makes a good point. The guy gave a good speech today. Just a great looking guy with a gorgeous family. You know, beautiful -- as we say in the business, strong visuals, and yet, overshadowed by the half a term former governor of Alaska and by Mayor Giuliani. And this is a problem he's going to have.

Should he ever confront Barack Obama, that will be a handful, because President Obama has got a lot of talent. But even before that, he's the frontrunner, but he will have a field that is going to go after him, and I think with some justification, on this question of flip-flops, of political character. Not personal character, where he seems to be an outstanding man, but political character.

Is he the Mitt Romney who signed Romneycare, which had a mandate for health insurance on which Barack Obama based Obamacare? Or is he the guy now who says I'm on the same page with Paul Ryan, on the plan that "The Wall Street Journal" says would essentially end Medicare?

Is he the guy who says he's pro-life, or is he the guy who was the governor of Massachusetts and said he was pro-choice? Is he the guy who is anti-gay marriage now, or is he the guy who debated Ted Kennedy once and said that he would be more pro-gay rights than Ted Kennedy? Which, unless you're involved with a guy, it's kind of hard to be more pro-gay rights than Senator Kennedy was.

BLITZER: The other problem he has, Ari, is the charisma or the electrifying the crowd problem. You know, he gave a good speech, a solid speech. He basically ignored all the other Republican candidates. He went right after President Obama.

But that crowd there certainly didn't react. If Sarah Palin would have been giving that announcement today in New Hampshire, you've got to believe there would have been thousands and thousands of people. They would have been really charged up.

FLEISCHER: Wolf, with all due respect, I think it's the wrong question, because I don't think this is an election that's going to be decided on the basis of charisma. It's going to be based on the economy.

And when it comes to the economy, that's where you're going to see Republicans hone right in, as Mitt Romney did today, as I think you'll see all the Republicans candidates try to do. CNN has a poll out, it just came out this week, that showed that 58 percent of the country disapproves of President Obama's job on the economy. Fifty- seven percent disapproval on health care. Record high 64 percent disapproval on the deficit, and 73 percent disapprove of the president's job on gas prices.

So the president's got economic vulnerabilities that I think you are going to see the Republicans run on. If the issue is who can give the best speech off of a teleprompter? Well, then Barack Obama gets re-elected. But I don't think that's what the focus is going to be.


BLITZER: Let me just bring Paul in with us, because it's fair to say if there is a double-dip recession, if the economy does take a turn for the worse right now, that puts the president in a really, really bad position for re-election.

BEGALA: Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt that Ari Fleischer's boss, George W. Bush, ruined the American economy. It will take us years and years to get out of the disaster. It wasn't Bush alone. He had a Republican Congress doing it.

But the notion that somehow the Republicans, for jobs, for a jobs message, you're going to turn to a guy like Mitt Romney, who did create thousands of jobs, mostly in India, because he shut down factories here, he shut down jobs here and shipped jobs overseas. When he was governor of Massachusetts, by the way, he was 47th. His state was 47th in job generation, ahead only of Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana. Louisiana had been devastated by Katrina. And then Ohio and Michigan were Rust Belt states which have had terrible unemployment for many years.

So he's had a terrible record on jobs. I mean, he is the guy who is the poster boy for outsourcing. And so if that's who the Republicans want to put up in a jobs election, I wish them well.

BLITZER: He's got the talking points ready for -- Mitt Romney -- in case he's the nominee. There's no doubt about that, Ari.

But, look, the president's probably going to raise by the end of this month already $60 million. He's on his way to raising maybe a billion dollars. He has no Democratic opponent, he could spend all of that money going after the Republicans, all of whom are fighting it out amongst themselves. There's no way they are going to raise any kind of money along those lines.

Is it your belief that money talks in politics and that will be a decisive factor?

FLEISCHER: Sometimes it talks, sometimes it doesn't. The political battlefield is lined with candidates who had more money than their opponents and who lost their races. And the big factor again this cycle is going to be the economy.

So I think he's going to need every penny he can raise because of how bad unemployment has been, how huge the deficit is and the debt. Those are the hurdles that no amount of money can get you through.

He can buy a lot of ads, and it will be an initial short-term advantage, a significant one, for President Obama likely this fall, and into the winter and the spring. But I think the likelihood is, once Republicans have a nominee, the polls come out and show that that person is relatively close to Barack Obama in the polls, Republicans are going to have all the money that they need to compete. It will be a short-term advantage for the president, though.

BLITZER: Is it Romney's nomination to lose, Paul, right now?

BEGALA: I think it is, Wolf. Republicans, they always --

FLEISCHER: It's wide open.

BEGALA: Well, it's Ari's Party. He knows better than I, honestly. I should defer to him.

But as an outsider, as a Democrat, the Republicans usually nominate the guy who lost the last time. Ford beat Reagan, they nominated Reagan the last time. Reagan beat Bush, they nominated Bush the next time. Bush beat Dole, they nominated Dole the next time.

Then we had Bush, Jr., who beat McCain, and McCain got it the next time. McCain beat Romney.

So I could be wrong. I will defer to Fleischer; it's his party. But it does seem to me they always nominate sort of the oldest white guy in line. And I think that means Mitt.

FLEISCHER: Yes, this cycle I think has shown there is really nothing to that. Paul is right about the history of the Republican Party with the exception of 2000, when my old boss, George W. Bush got the nomination. There was no cycle of who the frontrunner was back then on based on previous races.

But this time, too wide open. Nobody moving up in the polls.

This is the perfect time for a candidate to put his head down, do the hard work of raising money, building volunteer networks, do it out of the glare of the press, one step at a time. That's what the spring of an election year like this -- year before an election year should test, your ability to get it organized, to raise money, build networks.

That's what you need in Iowa. That's what you need to spring you forward in New Hampshire. That's the task.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to leave it there.

I just want to alert our viewers, they should get ready. Monday night, Mitt Romney will be a guest on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT," so we're looking forward to that interview as well.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Do you believe another financial crisis is around the corner? A lot of people who know about these things are starting to fear that very thing.

Alex in Washington says, "All bets are off, Jack, if the debt ceiling isn't raised and America goes bankrupt. While the private sector is still showing slow but sustainable job growth, the lack of stimulus money is forcing layoffs by state and local governments. So it looks like we are headed toward a double-dip recession."

Randy says, "With the middle class shrinking and the rich benefiting from that, I say the financial crisis never ended. In fact, the financial crisis began for minorities and poor whites in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan's trickle-down nonsense."

Chris writes, "How can we worry about the next one if we are still not out of this one? Not by a long shot."

Terry in Virginia, "Another? I don't believe we are out of the current one. It seems never-ending." "Our elected officials get an A-plus in things like blaming the other party, increasing corporate welfare, and showing partiality toward the rich, and an F-minus in every subject designed to help Main Street. We don't need Medicare and Social Security reform. We need reforming of Congress. Let's keep throwing them out every election until they finally listen to the majority, the middle class and poor."

Donna in Wisconsin says, "Only if the Republicans continue to tie the debt issue to the deficit. If the debt ceiling is not raised, we will see a catastrophic recession like Greece. The two issues are separate and should be addressed separately. I hope the Democrats can prevail."

Bob in Pennsylvania, "Could be, Jack. I don't know for sure, but here is one thing I do know. If there is, Ron Paul will have newfound credibility as a 2012 candidate."

And Danny writes, "Around the corner, around the block, around the world, yes. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul only works if you're Paul. It doesn't work if you are a government bailing out banks or a country bailing out other countries, at least not in the long term. The Band-Aids are about to come unstuck. Peter is all but kaput."

If you want to read more on the subject, you can find it on my blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.