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THE SITUATION ROOM
Yemen in Crisis; U.S. Economy Losing Steam?
Aired June 3, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: An attack on the presidential palace injures Yemen's leader. With Yemen on the brink, can al Qaeda's dangerous Arabian branch take advantage of the chaos, take aim directly at the United States? Stand by, huge implications.
A grim jobs report is yet the latest sign that the U.S. economy could be losing steam. Could that take the steam out of President Obama's bid for reelection?
And John Edwards indicted on federal charges. Once, he was serious presidential contender. Today he sat in a jail cell and posed for a mug shot.
Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
An American ally in the war on terror beset by major problems of its own, mast protests, then bloody street battles, and now an attack on Yemen's presidential compound that has wounded the country's longtime leader. And that is raising fresh concerns about al Qaeda's local affiliate in Yemen, which has its sights set, as we all know, on U.S. targets.
Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Brian, lots of concern here. What's going on?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
People who know this country say it could be on the brink of an all-out civil war right now . With Yemen's president now wounded, there are fears the this U.S. ally could soon be without a clear leader and that's the kind of chaos al Qaeda thrives on.
TODD (voice-over): Urban combat in Yemen's capital. President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces slug it out with rivals in a local tribe. Saleh's compound is shelled. A Yemeni official tells CNN projectiles hit the compound's mosque while the president was there for Friday prayers.
Saleh and at least four other top officials are injured. Several body guards and a Muslim cleric are killed. Later, the defiant president speaks to his nation, but there's only audio, no video. And observers say he sounds slurred and distant.
ALI ABDULLAH SALEH, PRESIDENT OF YEMEN (through translator): If you are well then I am well. God willing, our people will overcome this crisis.
TODD: Street battles in Yemen started months ago, Saleh's forces clashing with demonstrators who want him out. But it's now a personal feud between forces commanded by Saleh's sons and nephews and tribal fighters backing a prominent family led by Sadeq Al-Ahmar. His side denies carrying out the attack on Saleh's palace, but it's now family rivalry that threatens the stability of a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.
(on camera): Could this fighting plunge the country into an all- out civil war?
BARBARA BODINE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO YEMEN: I think it could plunge the country into all-out anarchy. To me, a civil war is a little bit more structured. And I don't see this as structured, but certainly different elements deciding that this might be a time to challenge the government, and not quite a Somalia-level of anarchy.
TODD (voice-over): Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine says, with Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi seriously injured in this latest attack, one possible contender to succeed President Saleh may be out of the running. That fuels serious concerns about possible gains by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Based in Yemen, it's responsible for some of the most serious attempts to bomb American targets.
(on camera): If something happens to him, can that al Qaeda branch actually take power there?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: They can't take power in Yemen. It's a group of several hundred people in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. However, you know, the situation doesn't hurt them because essentially everybody in Yemen is involved in the burgeoning civil war.
TODD: Meaning Yemen's security forces are so focused right now on protecting President Saleh that they can't help U.S. and allied forces hunt for al Qaeda there and that group may now have more freedom to plan attacks against Western targets -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we know al Qaeda has been able to penetrate the security services of this Yemeni president.
TODD: That's right. According to a file from Guantanamo recently posted on WikiLeaks, at least one al Qaeda member was a member of Yemen's political security organization. It's the country's intelligence service. This cable says that this man had a prior knowledge of several prominent attacks, including the USS Cole bombing in 2000. So, at least one prominent member of al Qaeda was pretty high up in the Yemeni security chain.
BLITZER: We are going to dig deeper later this hour with Professor Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University who knows a lot about this subject, Syria, Libya. We are going to go through the entire region with him.
Thanks very much, Brian.
BLITZER: There's just not enough work out there. The latest unemployment numbers show an economy stuck in first gear. Only 54,000 jobs were created last month. That's far fewer than expected and that could create problems for President Obama's reelection effort.
Our own Mary Snow is looking into the story for us.
What are you finding out, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a really troubling report, Wolf. And it was just the latest disappointment putting the economic recovery in question.
Republicans wasted no time in using to it target the president's economic policies.
SNOW (voice-over): At a Chrysler plant in Toledo, President Obama touted jobs saved because of auto industry bailouts. But clouding optimism, May's dismal jobs report that pushed the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent. The president spoke of headwinds.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even though the economy is growing, even though it's created more than two million jobs over the past 15 months, we still face some tough times. We still face some challenges.
SNOW: It's not just Americans facing challenges. So is the president, as Republicans hoping to take his job in 2012 pounced on the weak jobs report.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What he did simply was wrong. On almost every dimension, what he did, did not then economy get out of the slide it was in. But instead he extended the downturn and made it deeper.
SNOW: Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney blames President Obama for making the recession worse. But the economy is technically expanding, says economist Diane Swonk. It's just not happening fast enough.
DIANE SWONK, SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR AND CHIEF ECONOMIST, MESIROW FINANCIAL HOLDINGS, INC.: It's kind of like being stuck in a traffic jam. You're moving forward, but you're moving forward at such a slow pace that you actually get more frustrated than relieved that you're actually moving forward.
SNOW: And the unemployment rate isn't expected to improve any time soon. Economists surveyed by CNN Money expect that by the end of this year the jobless rate will be 8.5 percent. History shows that since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a president hasn't been reelected with an unemployment rate over 7.2 percent. That's the rate it was when Ronald Reagan was reelected.
But senior CNN political analyst David Gergen says what helped him was the feeling that the economy was improving.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The theme of his convention was morning again in America. We're back. And he could do that because people were feeling better. Even though the rate was still high, people were feeling a lot better about the future.
SNOW: As for President Obama, 41 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy 58 percent disapprove, according to the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll. And his options to boost the economy are limited, since there's no appetite in Washington for stimulus or bailout plans like the kind he touted in Ohio.
SNOW: And May's weak jobs report was a big drop from the last three months. Now, optimists will point out that one month does not make a trend.
But what's worrying to economists are other recent signs of weakness in manufacturing, home prices, and consumer spending -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Mary, in some respects, the reality behind these numbers is a whole lot worse.
SNOW: Yes, absolutely, because what this jobs report counts is 13.9 million Americans who are out of work. What it doesn't count, in the last four weeks, more than two million Americans became discouraged and did not look for work.
And there's another 8.5 million Americans who are underemployed. They are working part-time, but want to work full-time. So, you add that up, 25 million Americans. And what's really worrying economists is the long-term unemployed, the longer that they are out of work and not finding jobs.
BLITZER: Very depressing numbers indeed. Mary, thanks very much.
President Obama is trying to put the jobs picture in the best possible light, but right now it's casting a shadow on his reelection campaign.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst David Gergen.
David, he was out in Ohio today. He spoke at a Jeep Wrangler plant. He had a little joke that sort of fell flat, but this is how he explained what's going on. I will play the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You know, it's just like if you had a bad illness, if you got hit by a truck, it's going to take a while for you to mend. And that's what's happened to our economy. It's taking a while to mend.
There are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery. We're going to pass through some rough terrain that even a Wrangler would have a hard time with. We know that.
OBAMA: A Wrangler can go over anything, huh?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. They laughed a little bit, I guess.
David, laugh as much as you want, but the fact of the matter is, if the unemployment rate next year is hovering at around 9 percent, that could be a huge, huge problem in the president's bid for reelection.
GERGEN: Well, only a few weeks ago, we began to think he was a shoo-in for reelection, considering the opposition and the general sense of the country.
But the picture has darkened considerably since then, hasn't it, with manufacturing -- as Mary Snow pointed out, manufacturing, housing and now jobs. And the president's statement today surprised me, and that was to call this, as his economic adviser Austan Goolsbee also did -- said today, to call this a bump in the road with these job numbers -- does not seem me to capture the sentiment of the country.
What's really striking in the midst of all of this is that consumer sentiment now has sunk to the lowest levels that we have seen basically going back to the Great Depression. It's even lower today than it was when the recession -- when Lehman Brothers tumbled, the consumer sentiment.
So the consumer sentiment is lower today than when Lehman Brothers went down. What that means is that Americans are feeling pretty blue right now. They are feeling depressed. And I would think the president would have come in today and said, we're very concerned by what we now see happening. We think we're OK. We think we're on the right path. But we are going to watch this like hawks and we will do whatever is necessary to protect jobs and create more jobs in the future, to sympathize and understand and be seen as, I understand what's happening to you out there, I get it, and I'm going make plans to fix it if this continues a little longer.
BLITZER: Yes, but as Austan Goolsbee also told me, he said, one month doesn't necessarily create a trend. Let's see what happens next month and the month that follows. You get a trend going, then that would be very worrisome.
And let's also not forget, David, that -- and really to see that unemployment number go down, you have to create at least 150,000 jobs a month, given all the new people entering the job market every single month.
GERGEN: That's exactly right. So when you get -- and that's what people were expecting. Economists were expecting 150,000 net new jobs, and when it came in at only a third of that, that was the big surprise today.
And the challenge for the president, it's not reaching the magic number of 7.2 on -- by Election Day. It's getting a glide path down that is credible to people and gives them a sense that, in fact, the economy is getting better, it's getting stronger. As long as they have confidence in the president and his stewardship, then he will be OK for the election.
But got to get it on the glide path. But, Wolf, one other thing. One month certainly does not make, you know, a trend, but it's also true that in -- over the last couple of weeks, J.P. Morgan and others are lowering their growth forecasts for the entire year substantially. Instead of being in the 3.5 to 4 range, which is where many economists, we're now seeing estimates in the 2.5 to 3 range.
That's a significant drop. And you need to get up to around 3, again, to get that jobs number looking brighter.
BLITZER: Yes, it's all about jobs, jobs, jobs, issue number one.
GERGEN: Jobs, jobs, jobs.
BLITZER: Killing bin Laden seems like ancient history to a lot of folks who are unemployed and worried about their jobs right now.
GERGEN: Well, that's right. There are signs he could -- you know, that Gadhafi is really weakening, and maybe he could have some good news on that soon.
BLITZER: Let's see. Let's see what happens with Gadhafi.
BLITZER: David, thanks very much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards indicted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I have caused to others.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: But Edwards insists he did nothing illegal. We will get the details of the charges he's now facing.
Also, more on the upheaval in Yemen and what al Qaeda stands to gain and the U.S. role in what's going on. We are going to talk about that, the entire region, with Middle East expert Fouad Ajami. He's standing by live.
And a man's role in a high school trip that ended in tragedy with an American teenager killed.
BLITZER: He was a two-time presidential candidate, was the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee. We're talking about John Edwards. He was indicted today on federal charges, including conspiracy, issuing false statements, and violating campaign contribution laws.
The case involves money allegedly used to support a former mistress. It's an amazing downfall for a man who just three years ago was a powerhouse in Democratic politics.
Check out this SITUATION ROOM flashback.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2008)
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Another major endorsement right now for Barack Obama. CNN has now confirmed that John Edwards is about to endorse Barack Obama at an event in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
EDWARDS: There's one man who knows in his heart that it is time to create one America, not two, and that man is Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was a huge endorsement then. But that was then. This is now.
Listen to John Edwards today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: There's no question that I have done wrong. And I take full responsibility for having done wrong.
And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I have caused to others. But I did not break the law. And I never, ever thought I was breaking the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: His daughter standing behind him. The U.S. Marshal Service says Edwards was processed at the courthouse, a mug shot was taken, and he sat in a cell for a short period of time before he was released. Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Is this a slam-dunk case, or is it going hard for the prosecution to win, Jeff?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It is by no means a slam-dunk.
The facts are unusually unpleasant for the defendant, as we -- as we all know. The -- he had this affair. His wife was dying of cancer. She -- the -- Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom we had the affair, got pregnant. He convinced his aid, Andrew Young, to lie and say he was the father of the child.
At the same time, we now know, two of his biggest supporters, Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron, were pooling resources, almost a million dollars, to get that money to -- to Hunter to put her out of commission, to take care of her and get her out of the press and keep the story quiet.
The question in the case is, is -- is that money, that nearly million dollars, an illegal campaign contribution? You're only allowed to give $2,300. They gave nearly a million. Did John Edwards solicit, conspire, agree to have illegal campaign contributions from these two people?
It's a very unusual theory. There's never been case like it. And I don't think it's a slam-dunk.
BLITZER: We will see how the prosecution works this case.
Gloria, but you know what? As we just showed our viewers, how the mighty have fallen.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It's really an amazing story.
And I was watching that clip that you showed, Wolf. I remember being so amazed at the outpouring that John Edwards had gotten. And I remember both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were courting John Edwards, because he had an appeal within the Democratic Party. He was a populist within the Democratic Party. He had done very well.
And don't forget that, when they were having these discussions with John Edwards, there was talk about John Edwards being the next attorney general of the United States in exchange for that endorsement.
Of course, that -- that never occurred. But that was a huge get, if you will, for Barack Obama. And, you know, now look at him. It's a very, very sad story. And clearly there is no political career ahead for John Edwards. BLITZER: I was sort of surprised, Jeff, he didn't accept some sort of plea deal, so that there wouldn't be a trial, he pays a fine, whatever, because this is going to cost him a fortune. Greg Craig, as we all know, the attorney and all the other lawyers, they are not cheap.
TOOBIN: No, they are not cheap. But I think there were two really roadblocks to a plea deal, one, prison time. He wants to avoid prison time. And perhaps even more importantly, he wants to keep his law license.
He said -- he has said through other people that he wants to become some sort of public interest lawyer. Again, he was very successful lawyer before he got into politics. This is what he does for a living. He wants to do it again. And, apparently, keeping his law license was a major stumbling block in a plea deal, so he has decided to roll the dice in a trial.
There still could be a plea, but it sure does look like this case is going to go to trial.
BORGER: And that -- and, Wolf, that might have been way for John Edwards to try and rehabilitate himself, is to do this kind of public interest law. And without a license, of course, you can't do that.
But when you look at this indictment -- and Jeffrey and I have spoken about this -- when you read this indictment, which is, after all, about campaign finance in the end, was these -- were these contributions legal? or illegal, was there a conspiracy to cover up illegal contributions?
But when you read the indictment, it reads like a bad novel. It's all about John Edwards' personal life and how he was covering up this affair, covering up the pregnancy., so he could remain a bona fide presidential candidate. And, clearly, that's what trial is going to be about.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we got to leave it there. But I think you convinced a lot of people to go online and read that indictment.
BLITZER: It does read like a cheap novel.
All right, guys, thanks very, very much.
Yemen on the brink -- weeks of protest and now an attack on the president's compound. We're taking a closer look at the very high stakes for the United States right now.
And the congressman swept up in controversy over a lewd Twitter picture cancels an official appearance. Stand by. We will update you on that.
BLITZER: Let's get back to one of our top stories.
Several people are dead, and Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is among those hurt after attackers shelled his presidential compound. The attack comes amid fears of all-out civil war in Yemen, where Saleh is under pressure to end three decades of rule.
A key concern, of course, al Qaeda's dangerous Arabian affiliate. It could benefit from the chaos. The United States is watching very, very closely.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, who is working the story for us.
How concerned is the U.S. military about this escalating violence in Yemen, a strategically important country right now?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, officials here are telling us that they are watching this very, very closely.
They have got two main concerns. One is the fact that there are American troops in Yemen right now. They said they are keeping a close eye on the violence and taking precautions, although no decision has been made yet to pull those troops out of there.
They are not giving us an exact figure, but we have heard from other officials that they had about 100 troops rotating in and out of the country, doing training there. And that brings the Pentagon to its second concern, the conduct of Yemen's security forces, specifically its counterterrorism team.
You know, what are they doing in that country as the opposition grows? Take a look here at a statement from Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan. He said, "We have no evidence the counterterrorism forces that we have trained are being used against protesters."
Now, he says, "We have seen reports they have engaged with armed forces, and we're looking for more information on that aspect."
So, again, the Pentagon keeping a very close eye on this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What does this all mean as far as the U.S. effort? We know there have been drone attacks against al Qaeda elements in Yemen. Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric, he is based there. Probably more al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen right now than there are in Afghanistan, for that matter.
So, what -- the question is, what does this mean for the U.S.?
LAWRENCE: You're absolutely right. President Obama's counterterrorism chief called Anwar al-Awlaki a greater threat to the homeland here in the U.S. than Osama bin Laden himself. Intelligence officials have told us that the al Qaeda group based in Yemen is its biggest strategic threat right now when it comes to terrorism.
The U.S. has -- and the U.S. military have banked a lot of money and effort into Yemen, a new $75 million program to beef up Yemen's counterterrorism forces, giving them four helicopters to reach some of those more remote areas and extend their reach.
Now, with Saleh in trouble, you know, a lot of that remains in flux, if perhaps the government there changes. And with his forces occupied to such an extent with the opposition, a lot of people, including at the State Department, are wondering how much effort is now being expended to go after these terrorists.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARI VILLAROSA, STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Obviously, the political uncertainty right now makes it difficult for us to do very much, but we had been working to train the Yemeni security forces again to exercise more control. And, as I mentioned earlier, we had a lot of success in 2009 and 2010.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: But now, obviously, the big question, it's 2011, and how much of that effort is still being made, Wolf?
BLITZER: Chris, thank you -- Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.
Let's dig deeper right now on this potentially very dangerous fallout from the Yemen conflict.
Joining us once again, Professor Fouad Ajami. He is the director of Middle East studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington.
Fouad, thanks very much.
How concerned should we be that al Qaeda could take over Yemen?
FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, Wolf, I think you said it well when you were -- when you compare Yemen with Afghanistan, I mean, look, Yemen is Afghanistan with a coastline. It's the most dangerous country in the region.
If you talk to Saudi officials, Wolf, they will tell you there are two things they are concerned about, Egypt and the prospects for Egypt and Yemen. So, the stakes in Yemen are very huge. And I think we, the American -- the American presence in Yemen is, I think, unprepared for the games that Ali Abdullah Saleh is playing. Saleh has played the Americans and the Gulf states for a fool. He has promised that he will -- he will relinquish power. He intends to do nothing of the kind.
BLITZER: Here's what concerns me, Fouad, a lot. We saw Tunisia. It was a little violent. Basically, peaceful overthrow of the regime there. Similarly, in Egypt. But since then we've seen horrendous violence during Libya, Syria, in Yemen, in Bahrain. It looks like these rulers have learned a lesson that they're going to fight to the bitter end. And hundreds, if not thousands, of people are going to die in the process.
AJAMI: Well, you're absolutely right. There has been a Syrian document leaked out from Syria from Syria intelligence. What they end up saying is that the lesson of Egypt and Tunisia is never to relinquish power. It's to use the armed forces to hunker down and kill as many people as you can.
So, in fact, that you're absolutely right. You have Egypt and Tunisia as one story, and then you have Syria, Libya and Yemen. And Yemen itself is interesting. Because Ali Abdullah Saleh was always a brigand. He was a rogue but he was not a killer. And now I think with the -- with the complications in Yemen, I think now there's more blood on his hands, and there's greater reluctance on his part to relinquish power.
BLITZER: And in Syria right now, Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary-general, he himself says at least 1,000 people have been killed over these past several weeks in Syria. And I fear many, many more are about to die, because they don't want to give up. They don't want Bashar al-Assad to stay in power, but he's getting even more bold in his crackdown.
AJAMI: Well, you know, there's something very ironic, Wolf, which is that the violence now has come to Hamad (ph). This is the closing of the circle. This is Bashar al-Assad meeting the ghost of his father, since his father wreaked vengeance on Hamad (ph) in 1982. Here we are three decades later, almost, three decades later, a year short of three decades, and violence has come to Hamad (ph) in a big way. Children are being killed. The innocent are being killed.
And the only thing that's on the horizon is the Syrians have begun to think of a future beyond Bashar al-Assad. And here's a quotation I like. It's the quotation from our own secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, where she said Bashar Assad's legitimacy has nearly run out. It ran out a long time ago. The word "nearly" doesn't belong there.
BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people are wondering where is the Obama administration on Syria right now? Why isn't it doing towards Bashar al-Assad what it did toward Muammar Gadhafi and basically say he must go?
AJAMI: Well, I think it's very interesting, and I have some sympathy for the Obama administration. I'm not usually friendly to them. When they say the Arab League, for example, which broke from Muammar Gadhafi, is still backing the Syrian regime. I saw a placard, you know, somewhere where the Syrian protesters are saying may God set free and loose the tongue of the mute out of the League of Arab States.
The League of Arab States has not yet broken with Bashar Assad. And indeed, you can -- you can pardon the Obama administration for saying we had a mandate to intervene in Libya, and we have no mandate from the Arab states to intervene in Syria.
BLITZER: So this killing of this 13-year-old boy...
BLITZER: ... in Syria, he was tortured. You saw the horrendous pictures. Mutilated. Is this going to be the symbol, though, that will eventually result in Bashar al-Assad's overthrow?
AJAMI: As we say, may this be from the tongue to the -- to the ears of God. We don't know. We would love to see the end of this regime, all human beings. When you think that UNICEF is now worried about children, that this regime is killing children, you want it gone. But the regime has tenacity and has staying power and has the Alawi (ph) intelligence barons and the Alawi (ph) brigade and their Alawi (ph) goons. There's a group called the Shakiyawa (ph). These are goons, like almost the Basij in Iran, who go everywhere and sew death and destruction. So the regime has hunkered down.
BLITZER: Remind our viewers who may not remember what happened at Pama (ph) back in 1982, because it seems to be happening again right now.
AJAMI: Well, absolutely. I mean, basically in Hamad (ph), in fact, a Sunni city -- we have to really say it's so. A Sunni city rebelled against Hafez Assad and his brigade and his army and his rule. And a fight broke out in Hamad (ph) and basically leveled the old city, killed tens of thousands, more than -- there's a controversy. Was it 10,000? Was it 20,000? The numbers may have been as high as 30,000. And this was what really put the fear of the regime in the Syrian body politic. After that, in fact, Syrian society opted for acquiescence. And now, 30 years later, it conquered its fear and went out in some way to hold a son responsible for his crimes.
BLITZER: An ophthalmologist, studied in London, but he seems to be following in his dad's footsteps, Bashar al-Assad. Professor Ajami, thanks very much.
AJAMI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: A check on the day's top stories, that's coming up next, including the death of a TV star. We'll tell you what's going on.
And Congressman Anthony Weiner takes heat from fellow Democrats over a lewd Twitter flap and apparently cancels an appearance. We'll tell you what's going on on that front, as well. And a high school trip ends in real tragedy as an American teenager is shot dead in Costa Rica.
And "Impact Your World." Members of TV's Dugger family take action after tornadoes rip through Missouri.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL DUGGER, REALITY TV STAR: Hi, I'm Jill Dugger.
JOSH DUGGER, REALITY TV STAR: And I'm Josh Dugger.
JILL DUGGER: And we can make a difference with search and rescue...
JOSH DUGGER: ... and tornado relief in Joplin, Missouri.
So we were here in Arkansas where we live when the tornado hit.
JILL DUGGER: You know, thoughts started coming looking what? What can we do to help?
JOSH DUGGER: So basically, we packed everything up, and we got water bottles, Gatorade. You know, I've been around emergency situations, and, you know, working as a volunteer firefighter.
Being that Jill, Janna and John have -- they're active duty volunteer firefighters, they were able to plug right in. Giving them hope by being there, I think really inspires them to continue on. Join the movement.
JILL DUGGER: Impact Your World.
JOSH DUGGER: Go to CNN.com/impact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We now know the outcome of the Unabomber situation. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's the outcome?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, Wolf. Well, an auction of items that once belonged to convicted Unabomber Ted Kaczynski brought in more than $232,000. The U.S. Marshal Service says the biggest money makers were Kaczynski's journals. No surprise there. They went for more than $40,000.
And his infamous hooded sweat shirt and sunglasses featured on wanted posters, those sold for $20,000.
The money will be used to compensate his victims. Saudi Arabian women's rights activists are calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to support their right to drive. The movement has been gaining steam since a young Saudi mother was arrested for driving. The activists are asking Clinton to make a public statement in support of ending the de facto ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia.
And first lady Michelle Obama will make an official visit to South Africa and Botswana later this month. The White House says it is part of her ongoing effort to engage young people in South Africa. She'll give the keynote address to the Young African Leaders' Forum. Her daughters, Sasha and Malia, will join Mrs. Obama on her trip along with her mother, Marianne Robinson.
We're sad to report the star of the popular long running TV western "Gunsmoke" is dead. Actor James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years. In real life, Arness was a World War II hero who received the Purple Heart. Arness left a letter to his fans on his Web site, thanking them and saying he had a wonderful life. James Arness was 88 years old -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I remember "Gunsmoke." A popular, popular show.
SYLVESTER: Yes. Did you know that he was over -- he was 6'6", actually over 6 feet tall?
BLITZER: Big guy.
SYLVESTER: Yes, very, very tall guy.
BLITZER: Yes. Good combination (ph). Thank you.
A high school trip abroad turns into real tragedy as an American teenager is shot dead in Costa Rica.
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JOSH SWANSON, STUDENT: We don't really know what to think right now. Being told -- he was one of my good friends. He's a very good kid.
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BLITZER: Not just the news media pressuring Congressman Weiner about a lewd picture sent over his Twitter account. Fellow Democrats are now urging him to put an end to the controversy, which one Democratic source is calling painful.
Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill. Dana, what's the latest on this whole Congressman Weiner saga? What's going on?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a member of the House Democratic Leadership told me today, Wolf, that Democratic leaders have talked to Anthony Weiner and told him that they really want him to stop what they call this political distraction.
And this frustrated member of the House Democratic leadership team, as you said, told me -- he described the performance that Weiner had this week as, quote, "painful" and said that they told Weiner he's got to, quote, "put a period at the end of the sentence." Either clear things up with this lewd photograph, allegedly sent from his Twitter account, or to stop talking.
And other rank-and-file Democrats I talked to agreed.
BASH (voice-over): Walk the halls of Congress and hear this from some of Anthony Weiner's Democratic colleagues.
REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), NEW JERSEY: I like Anthony Weiner. I think he's a great public servant. But only Anthony Weiner can clean this up, and it's becoming a distraction. There's no two ways about it.
BASH: Democrat Bill Pascrell telling CNN on the record what several others told us privately.
PASCRELL: These things don't go away. They hang on like a disease. I mean, you can't make this stuff up. But Tony is the only one that can clear it up. And I hope he does as soon as possible.
BASH: Earlier in the week Weiner came to the cameras but didn't answer questions about a lewd photograph sent from his Twitter account.
(on camera) Can you just say why you haven't asked law enforcement to investigate what you are alleging is...
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Dana, if I was giving a speech to 45,000 people, and someone in the back of the room threw a pie or yelled out an insult, would I spend the next two hours responding to that? No.
BASH (voice-over): Then he raised more questions in an interview with Wolf Blitzer.
BLITZER: Have you ever taken a picture like this of yourself?
WEINER: I can say 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 try to find out what happened.
BASH: Now Weiner's strategy: try to completely avoid reporters' questions.
WEINER: I don't have anything more. I spoke to a lot of press in the last few days, and I don't have anything more for you.
BASH: He even abruptly cancelled a Friday night speech at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention, a party spokesman telling CNN they were told under the circumstances he's going to New York to be with his wife, longtime Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin.
Some of Weiner's Democratic colleagues are careful not to be critical.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: I really think it's a personal matter, that it's something that Anthony Weiner needs to deal with himself.
BASH: But others disagree.
PASCRELL: It's a personal matter, but for crying out loud, he's a congressman. And anything that affects one of us will affect all of us.
BASH: Now, Weiner, of course, said he was hacked but never asked law enforcement to look into it, deflecting questions about why not? He said that he has hired his own law firm to do his own investigation into why, allegedly, a lewd photograph went out on his Twitter account. But Wolf, we called that law firm several times today to try to get a status report. We never heard back.
BLITZER: Dana, stay on top of this story for us. Thank you. Thanks very much.
A school trip to Costa Rica turns into a tragedy when a gun is drawn and an American student, a teenager, is shot.
BLITZER: A trip that should have been a high school highlight instead turned into real tragedy when the death -- with the death of an American teenager in Costa Rica. CNN's Martin Savidge is working this story for us from Atlanta. Martin, what do we know about this?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've been speaking with local journalists in Costa Rica, as well as investigators and members of the U.S. embassy. And here's pretty much what we know so far.
Sixteen-year-old Justin Johnston was among 12 students from a local high school Spanish class from McLouth, Kansas. Along with two chaperones they were staying in a lodge near the Arenal Volcano, a very popular tourist spot in the north of the country. And they were all part of a larger group of about 40 students staying at this hotel, Wolf. Boys in one building, girls in another.
Authorities say that Wednesday night Johnston and three other boys left their room shortly after their 10 p.m. curfew to go visit with the other kids in another building. Six hours later, 4 a.m., they're headed back to their rooms, crossing through a wooded area off the main path when they're spotted by a security guard.
The guard, according to investigators, mistook the boys as thieves, apparently because they had backpacks. He reportedly told them to stop. He fired a shot into the air, according to police. The boys apparently were only frightened and started running toward the guard. And that's when he fired a second time, hitting Johnston, killing him.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): The news of the 16-year-old's tragic death has left the small town in McLouth, Kansas, shaken and in tears.
SWANSON: It's heart breaking. You don't really know what to think right now. He was one of my good friends. He's a very good kid, did -- always did good, loved sports. Just all around a good kid.
SAVIDGE: At the town's school where all grades, K through 12, fit under a single roof, officials were in shock.
STEVE SPLICHAL, MCLOUTH SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT: Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Johnston family, as well as the many students and staff and families that are affected by this tragedy.
SAVIDGE: People gathered at a church across the street from the school for a prayer service.
MONICA WISE, TEACHER: He was just -- just the class clown, you know. He loved making everybody laugh. He was one of the -- one of the guys that all the guys wanted to be and all the girls wanted to be, you know, wanted to date him.
SAVIDGE: Just days before, students talked excitedly to a local TV station about the trip. Among those interviewed, a charismatic Justin Johnston.
JUSTIN JOHNSTON, SHOT IN COSTA RICA: My name is Justin. I like cute girls. And my telephone number is 913-70 ...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no.
SAVIDGE: The trip that was to be the highlight of the summer ended tragically only days after it began.
SAVIDGE: Meanwhile, the Costa Rica attorney general says that the 34-year-old security guard was not licensed to carry a weapon. He had a .38. The man, who was from Nicaragua, has already now been charged with, as they call it, simple murder, which in this country we would say manslaughter -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Costa Rica is a very popular destination for American tourists. Here's the question. How worried should we be about this incident?
SAVIDGE: Well, you're absolutely right. Costa Rica is considered to be one of the safest and tourist friendly countries in all of Latin America. This doesn't change that, at least according to officials I spoke with at the U.S. embassy. They say, look, it's horrible. It's terrible, but it was a tragic accident.
By the way, in a sad coincidence, Johnston is the second student from northeast Kansas to die while on a trip to Costa Rica. Ten years ago Shannon Martin, who was only a few days from graduating from the University of Kansas when she was murdered there in May of 2001 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A story, indeed. What a tragedy. All right. Martin, thanks very much.
A different take on Congressman Anthony Weiner's Twitter controversy. Jeanne Moos is next.
BLITZER: A story that's inspiring countless puns. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Over Memorial Day weekend, we went from toasting wieners to roasting Congressman Weiner...
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST ABC'S "THE VIEW": Weinergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The answers to him are un-Weiner-like.
CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST, CBS'S "LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON": Weiner is in a bit of hot water.
MOOS: ... leaving those of us in the media searching for the right words to mention the unmentionable.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bulging underwear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bulging underpants.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And sending a picture that aroused -- well anyway...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it might have been my area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His below-the-waist area.
MICHELLE MALKIN, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: It may or may not be his package.
MOOS: And what's being delivered often comes in puns from front pages meant to tickle to editorials.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Weiner is cooked.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "COLBERT REPORT": Is this or is this not Representative Weiner's chief of staff?
MOOS: As "New York Times" reporter John Schwartz tweeted, "All the bad Weiner puns show that America is emotionally a sixth grader."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The long and short of it is over the weekend you discovered...
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: You didn't just introduce that by saying "the long and the short of it," did you, Earl?
MOOS: Congressman Weiner is even punning himself.
A. WEINER: One of the reasons why I was perhaps, if you forgive me, a little bit stiff yesterday.
MOOS: Everything is starting to look Weiner-like. There are Weiner cartoons. "Isn't that Anthony Weiner in the ballet tights?"
The news is coming across as comedy.
GRETCHEN CARLSON, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "FOX & FRIENDS": Do you guys know what your drawers look like?
STEVE DOOCY, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "FOX & FRIENDS": Of course.
BRIAN KILMEADE, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "FOX & FRIENDS": I know what -- I know what I look like in my drawers.
DOOCY: You do?
KILMEADE: I can tell you, I can identify my pelvis in a lineup.
MOOS: Some can identify with Anthony Weiner.
(on camera) So the guy behind the camera, Jamie, what's your last name?
JAMIE WEINER, CAMERAMAN: Weiner.
MOOS: Give me the camera. Just give it to me. All right. Talk to me about being a Weiner.
J. WEINER: Well, you know, being a Weiner is not that bad.
MOOS: Actually, we both know a little bit about being called "Wiener."
(voice-over) Look what my high school nickname was, inscribed even in my yearbook, "Wiener."
(on camera) Because I was so tall and skinny. But no one has -- just watch where you point that thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Oh, I'd love to be an Oscar Meyer wiener. MOOS (voice-over): Anyone named Weiner has a love/hate relationship with that song.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Oh, I'm glad I'm not an Oscar Meyer wiener.
MOOS: These days Anthony Weiner probably wishes he wasn't one. Even old friends are making jokes.
JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": In real life, my memory, this cat had a lot more Anthony and a lot less wiener. This is not...
MOOS: For comedians. Like shooting fish in a barrel, of their pants.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.