Return to Transcripts main page


Anthony Weiner Resigns; Al Qaeda's New Leader

Aired June 16, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in the Situation Room. Happening now, Congressman Anthony Weiner calls it quits. The New York Democrat finally gives in to huge demands that he resign over his raunchy online behavior, saying he's caused too much of a distraction.

Also, al Qaeda's number two is now number one. How big a threat will the terror network pose to the United States under Ayman al- Zawahiri?

And Republican candidate Newt Gingrich lashing out big time right now at those who bashed his wife. Does Callista Gingrich deserve all the heat she is getting?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

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

Anthony Weiner put an end to his political career today at the place where it began, a senior citizens center in New York borough Brooklyn. The longtime congressman was seen as a potential front- runner to become the next mayor of New York, but beset by a scandal over those lewd texts and photos he sent to women online, Weiner announced today he is quitting the House of Representatives.

Watch this.


REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Good afternoon.

About 20 years I stood in this very same room here at the council center and asked my neighbors for their help, to take a chance on me, in electing me to the City Council. Then, some seven years later, I asked those same people to join with people in Queens in sending me to Congress.

There is no higher honor in a democracy than being sent by your neighbors to represent them in the United States House of Representatives. It is particularly humbling to represent this district because the communities and families of the Ninth Congressional District are hardworking, they're patriotic, they're opinionated, they are authentic. I have never forgotten my neighbors, because they represent the same middle-class story as mine. I went to public schools my whole life. My mother was a schoolteacher for 32 years. My father went to law school on the G.I. Bill.

The middle-class story of New York is my story, and I'm very proud of that.

I'm here today to again apologize for the personal mistakes I have made and the embarrassment I have caused. I make this apology to my neighbors and my constituents, but I make it particularly to my wife Huma.

I had hoped to be able to continue the work that the citizens of my district elected me to do, to fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it. Unfortunately, the distraction that I have created has made that impossible.

So today I am announcing my resignation from Congress so my colleagues can get back to work, my neighbors can choose a new representative, and most importantly that my wife and I can continue to heal from the damage I have caused.



MAN: Throw him out! He's not with us.

MAN: Throw him out.

WEINER: To repeat, most importantly -- most importantly so that I can continue to heal from the damage that I have caused.

I want to and thank my colleagues in the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. They come from different places around the country, but fundamentally we all agree.

They're all patriots, and I will miss them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you more than seven inches?

WEINER: Thank you.


WEINER: I also want to express my gratitude to members of my staff. There are young people who are not paid very much. There are people that worked very hard and very long hours. Ultimately, those people define the notion of service.

I want to thank, of course, the many people who have helped me, the people who have volunteered, the people who have given me advice, the many of my constituents who have offered me good ideas.

And, of course, I want to express my gratitude to my family, to my mother and father, who instilled in me the values that carried me this far, to my brother, Jason, and of course to my wife, Huma, who has stood with me in this entire difficult period and to whom I owe so very much.

I got into politics to help give voice to the many who simply did not have one. Now I will be looking for other ways to contribute my talents to make sure that we live up to that most New York and American of ideals. The idea that leaving a family, a community and ultimately a country is the one thing that all unites us, the one thing we're all focused on. With God's help and with hard work, we will all be successful.

Thank you, and good afternoon.



BLITZER: Anthony Weiner first tried to cover up his raunchy online behavior, but as the scandal grew, he couldn't stand up to the chorus of disapproval from his colleagues in Congress.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill. She broke the story early this morning.

Dana, so what's the reaction so far up on the Hill?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A mix of relief and sadness, as you can imagine, relief because of the politics of this.

The reason why the chorus, as you called it, was growing so loudly privately and publicly for Anthony Weiner to resign is because of the distraction that this has been causing for about three weeks for Democrats, but also personal sadness because nobody here likes to see somebody, especially one of their colleagues, go down like this.

And let me just read you one example of the statements, many statements that we got today.

John Larson, he is the caucus chairman inside the House, the Democratic Caucus chairman. He says: "It's difficult to watch the self-destruction of a friend and to witness the breaking of hearts over what can only be categorized as reprehensible behavior and bad judgment."

He went on to say, "He made the decision with the best interest in mind of not just himself, but his family, his constituents and the nation."

And it's important to note and to underscore that Anthony Weiner resisted calls from his leadership, really starting the middle of last week, to say, you know what, enough already, you have to go call after call. He was dug in, saying that he simply thought that he could stay the course, saying that he might have done things that were immoral, but not necessarily illegal and not in violation of House rules and laws.

He was insisting privately that his wife wanted him to stay, and also citing some polls in his district showing the majority of his constituents wanted him to stay. But it was just too much for his fellow leaders and even -- ultimately even for the president of the United States, too much of a distraction. And he ultimately realized that that was the case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, his office is now shut down, I take it, up on the Hill? Is that right?

BASH: It is.

Technically, what is going to happen once his resignation is made formal -- and that hasn't happened yet -- is that his office will -- the office of the Ninth District will remain open. The people who work for him, the way tradition is here is, they can stay and they work officially for the House clerk.

And the district will not have a representative actually voting until there is a special election and somebody new is put in there.

But I want -- look at those pictures that you are seeing there. You just saw them, very interesting kind of the macabre nature of this story. It's become a tourist attraction, actually, people walking by there today, Wolf, taking pictures of the nameplate of Anthony Weiner, knowing, as soon as we were reporting, everyone was reporting that he was going to resign, knowing that that would be down soon.

That just gives you a sense -- talk about distractions -- that just gives you a sense of the kind of story that this has become.

BLITZER: What a story indeed.

All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Anthony Weiner today came full-circle, calling it quits as a congressman at the exact place where he first sought local office.

Mary Snow is there. She's joining us now with more on how Weiner made his announcement.

Mary, you are back home in Brooklyn, too. That is where you grew up.


But this exit was a rough one. And like so many moments in these past couple of weeks where -- during this scandal as it unfolded, today, the atmosphere was circus-like.


SNOW (voice-over): He ended his political career where he launched it 20 years ago, at a Brooklyn senior center. In a room packed with reporters and cameras, Anthony Weiner's congressional resignation turned ugly quickly...

WEINER: So, today, I am announcing my resignation from Congress.


SNOW: ... at one point, a heckling over powering his words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not with us.

SNOW: Weiner showed no emotion and took no questions. It was a stark contrast to the news conference 10 days ago where he admitted lying about sending sexually suggestive pictures to women online.

WEINER: And, for that, I am deeply sorry.

SNOW: Then, as now, his wife was not by his side.

But, this time, some longtime constituents did show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe he was sincere. Unfortunately, he tried to resign with dignity, but wasn't allowed to, given the presence of someone in the audience. That hurt even more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel sorry for him, because he brought himself down. And it will go down in -- he will go down in history with what he did to himself and his family.

SNOW: But not everyone in his district was sad to see him or all the media attention go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was long overdue. It's a little bit of a disgrace, what he did. And if a politician can't keep their private affairs in their private spectrum, and bring it out, he should have resigned a while ago.

SNOW: As Weiner exited the place where his career started with promise as a city councilman, he left with an uncertain future, a future that just weeks ago carried the possibility that he would become the mayor of New York.


SNOW: And, Wolf, here in Brooklyn and parts of Queens, where the district is mapped out, constituents were not as quick as politicians to call on Weiner to step down. And some are not completely ruling out perhaps a political comeback.

But, as one woman said, anything is possible, but it's certainly not looking good -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what happens next, based there where you are in the district, Mary?

SNOW: What happens now, the governor will call a special election, and, generally -- I was talking to Jeff Toobin, our legal analyst, about this. He says it's usually about 70 to 80 days that -- when that election will happen after it is called. And, as Dana was just saying, some of the staff members will be staying on, we're told, until that special election happens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Mary. Mary is in Brooklyn for us.

Let's dig a little bit deeper now.

Joining us, CNN's John King. He's working the story as well.

Let's not forget, John, that he was a real rising star in the Democratic Party.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": He had a rising profile.

He was a rising star both in the Congress, some tensions with his leadership because he criticized them sometimes, but he was getting a lot of attention. He was a frequent guest on cable television programs like yours, like mine, because he would take the argument. He was a combative debater.

And he was viewed by many as a favorite, if not the favorite, to be the next mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg finishing up his term. There will be an election in 2013 for mayor in New York City. And that's the job Anthony Weiner wanted. That's the job he was preparing for. And many people gave him a very good shot at getting it. Not now.

BLITZER: Some of his supporters are really angry at his Democratic leadership for really trying to push him out -- they succeeded in that -- as opposed to the Republican leadership that never really tried to push, let's say, David Vitter, the senator from Louisiana, out after his name appeared on that madam -- that D.C. madam's list.

KING: And liberals get mad about this, because on the Senate side, Senator Vitter is still there, survived a prostitution scandal, if you will, and he is still there.


BLITZER: He was just reelected.

KING: Just reelected in his state.

If you contrast that, Congressman Chris Lee from New York had a photo on the Internet, and the Republican leadership quickly pushed him out. He did resign. There was just a special election in that seat.

So, not all of these play out the same way. When they do play out, they play out in the polarized, partisan environment we are in. So, a lot of liberals are saying, why aren't Republicans held to the same standard in the Vitter case? The speaker would say, he's been pretty forceful in trying to nudge Republicans out in the House when they commit these misconducts.

But it is an interesting point you make, in the sense that Anthony Weiner, had he come clean right at the beginning, maybe could have survived. A poll in his district said a majority did not want him to go.

But that is his individual concerns. What the House leadership, what the White House were looking at is their national concerns, candidate recruitment, fund-raising, message discipline. They want to make the case against the Republican budget priorities that are being debated right now heading into 2012. Not only is the president trying to get reelected.

Nancy Pelosi thinks she can get the speaker's gavel back. The timing of this and then just the scope of this and the subject of this, they decided, from a national Democratic Party perspective, he had to go.

BLITZER: You are going to have a lot more coming up on "JOHN KING, USA." That comes up at the top of the hour.

KING: You bet. You bet.


KING: John, thanks very much.

Rape as a weapon of war. Rumors have been circulating in Libya now for months. Now CNN uncovers disturbing evidence of horrifying atrocities.

Plus, al Qaeda's longtime number-two leader now in charge after the death of Osama bin Laden. Who is Ayman al-Zawahiri? Will he take the terror network to a new level? What is going on?

Plus, she is a prominent part of her husband's presidential campaign, but now some insiders are saying Callista Gingrich is becoming a political liability.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, here's a sobering thought.

A new report from Capital Economics describes the current housing market collapse as -- quote -- "larger and faster than the one during the Great Depression" -- unquote.

Since home prices peaked in 2006, prices have fallen an average of 33 percent. During the 1920s and '30s, home prices declined 31 percent on average.

Analysts point out that one of the reasons we're in worse shape today is that the boom that came before this dramatic downturn was unlike anything the country saw in the years leading up to the Great Depression. This time around, millions more Americans had access to the housing market, and many of those people wound up buying homes they couldn't afford, despite having bad credit or putting little or nothing down.

Foreclosures were actually down last month, but that probably says more about the banks than the people who can't pay for their homes. Banks have been having trouble selling the huge inventory of homes they have already repossessed, so there's little incentive for them to continue the pace of foreclosures.

Additional data in the last few weeks show nationwide prices are now at their lowest level since 2002, almost 10 years. What's more, almost one-quarter of all homeowners are underwater, which means they owe the bank more than their home is worth.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that 48 percent, 48 percent of Americans think another Great Depression is likely to occur within the next year. Sadly, for a lot of people, it has already begun.

There is a bright spot in all of this. It's a great time to buy a home, with rock-bottom prices and mortgage rates near historic lows. The problem is, so few of us can afford one these days.

Here's the question then: What does it mean that the housing crisis is now worse than the one this country went through during Great Depression?

Go to file and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a shocking statistic you bring forward.


CAFFERTY: It's very sad.

BLITZER: And it's sad, too.




Thank you.

All right, we will move on to some other important news.

The story we are about to show you is very disturbing and graphic. It is about rape as a weapon in Libya's civil war and evidence of those assaults that the rebels say are frequently found on captured cell phones.

As CNN's Sara Sidner explains from Misrata in Libya, the videos are so awful, that even the rebels are trying to erase the evidence to avoid humiliating victims and their families.

We should tell you that we have blurred a lot of the video to make it possible for Sara to file this report.


SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the front lines of Libya's war, rebel fighters say they are finding a lot more than weapons on captured or killed pro-Gadhafi soldiers.


SIDNER: They say they have confiscated cell phones that contain videos showing Gadhafi loyalists torturing and raping Libyan citizens.

(on camera): After weeks of hearing of these cell phone rape videos, we for the first time have a copy of one. This was given to us by a source who does not want to be identified for fear of being punished by this very conservative society.

To be clear, we have been unable to verify its authenticity. We don't know where it was taken or when or by whom. All we can do is watch it and listen to it.


SIDNER (voice-over): In this video provided to CNN, from what rebels say was the cell phone of a Gadhafi loyalist, two men in civilian clothes stand over a naked woman who was bent over with her face on the floor. The man standing behind her is sodomizing her with what appears to be a broomstick.

"I can't bear it. I can't bear it," she says.

A male voice off camera says, "Let's push it farther."

"No, no, that's enough," the woman begs.

One of the men puts his sock-covered foot on her face. In this culture, it's considered the ultimate insult. But, in this case, it pales in comparison to what the victim is already enduring.

(on camera): We blurred this video because it's extremely difficult to watch. Arabic speakers who have examined the video say the voices in the video are distinctly Libyan with clear Tripoli accents. There's no date on the video, and the men in the video are not wearing military uniforms. The victim's face is barely seen, so we have not been able to identify her.

It's been extremely difficult to get anyone to talk about this video on camera because of the cultural sensitivities here.

(voice-over): We asked Abdallah Al-Kabeir, a spokesman for the opposition in Misrata, whether rebels have found many of these kinds of videos -- his answer, yes. ABDALLAH AL-KABEIR, SPOKESMAN, MISRATA MEDIA COMMITTEE (through translator): We were able to confirm that rape was used as a weapon of war, because it was systematic.

SIDNER: The International Criminal Court in The Hague says the allegations are credible. It is investigating.

But, in a surprising admission to CNN, spokesman Al-Kabeir tells us some of the evidence of war crimes prosecutors want may have been destroyed.

AL-KABEIR (through translator): There was a commander here at the eastern front in Misrata named Muhammad el-Habus (ph). He ordered all the revolution's fighters to give them the rape videos they found on Gadhafi soldiers' cell phone. I heard that he used destroyed every rape video he got.

SIDNER (on camera): Why in the world would you destroy video evidence of rape that could be used as evidence of war crimes against your enemy, against the Gadhafi regime?

AL-KABEIR (through translator): Because, aside from being a heinous crime, rape is perceived here in our culture as damaging, not only for the girl, but also the whole family.

SIDNER (voice-over): Rape is such a taboo in this culture, even some of the victims' families would rather erase potential evidence against the attackers than risk living with the shame.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Misrata, Libya.


BLITZER: And this just coming in: The Gadhafi government has not responded to CNN's numerous requests for comment, but the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has just released this statement on the situation.

And let me read it to you in its entirety: "Gadhafi's security forces and other groups in the region are trying to divide the people by using violence against women and rape as tools of war, and the United States condemns this in the strongest possible terms. It is an affront to all people who are yearning to live in a society free from violence with respect for basic human rights. We urge all governments to conduct immediate, transparent investigations into these allegations and to hold accountable those found responsible" -- strong statement from Hillary Clinton, the use of rape as a tool of war in Libya.

So, is al Qaeda's new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as obsessed with attacking the United States as Osama bin Laden was? We are getting new analysis and information.

Plus, Newt Gingrich's wife, how she is helping and possibly hurting her husband's presidential campaign.


BLITZER: A month-and-a-half after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda has a new leader. A statement posted on jihadist Web sites makes it clear that the terror group's longtime number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is now number one.

Our homeland security, Jeanne Meserve, takes a closer look at the man who is already one of America's most-wanted terrorists.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the killing of several top al Qaeda members, the Arab spring, possible fractures in the organization, all challenges for Ayman al-Zawahiri as he takes the reins of al Qaeda.

(voice-over): The ideology of Ayman al-Zawahiri is the underpinning of al Qaeda. He is its strategist, its propagandist, and, with Osama bin Laden's death, its leader.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We have seen the reports. What I would like to say today is, frankly, it barely matters who runs al Qaeda, because al Qaeda is a bankrupt ideology.

MESERVE: Zawahiri is a physician and an Egyptian who in the '70s conspired to overthrow his government. After the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, Zawahiri was jailed and tortured for three years.

He went to Pakistan, where he treated mujahideen fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It was there that he met a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden. Together, they forged al Qaeda, declaring and waging war on America.

As number two in the al Qaeda hierarchy, Zawahiri was often its face and voice, combative, taunting. He once used Malcolm X's derogatory term "house Negro" to describe President Barack Obama.

AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims.

MESERVE: The uprisings of this Arab spring raise serious questions about al Qaeda' relevance, but, in a recent video, Zawahiri embraced them.

AL-ZAWAHIRI (through translator): They need to continue their struggle, their rage and their sacrifices.

MESERVE: Some worry that Zawahiri, now in charge, will change the emphasis of al Qaeda.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: The conjunction of terrorism and weapons of destruction. He has always been interested, to a degree greater than anyone else in the movement, in acquiring such weapons. MESERVE (on camera): Some analysts say Zawahiri is so disliked that he could drive al Qaeda into the ground, but others say he may try to stage a major attack to cement his position at the helm of al Qaeda -- Wolf, back to you.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne.

Let's bring in one of the foremost experts on al Qaeda. That would be our own national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

You spent a lot of time studying Ayman al-Zawahiri. How does he get elected leader of al -- is there some sort of process that he goes through? He was the number two. Is it just automatic?

BERGEN: I think we don't really know the answer to that. I think it's very opaque, what I see happened. The idea that a lot of the al Qaeda senior leaders would have got together for a meeting, I think, doesn't seem plausible. Perhaps there might have been couriers -- we've seen that with bin Laden -- you know, communicated with the senior leaders before he died. But I just think we don't really have a good answer to that question.

BLITZER: We don't have a little caucus or anything like that. Like -- but reviewing those thumb drives, they could start sending around, as bin Laden did.

BERGEN: Right. And that's maybe how this was accomplished. But I mean, I think it's an open question. Have the members of al Qaeda as a group sworn allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri? I'm not sure that that's really clear right now.

BLITZER: You pointed out that Ayman al-Zawahiri certainly doesn't have the charisma of bin Laden. So how does this affect al Qaeda as an organization?

BERGEN: I think it affects it rather poorly. You know, Ayman Al-Zawahiri is almost a black hole of charisma, if you will, compared to bin Laden. He's not well liked, even by his fellow Egyptians.

And so, given the fact that, when you join al Qaeda, you swear a religious oath of allegiance to bin Laden, a binding and very serious oath, if the person who replaces the founder of al Qaeda and the leader of al Qaeda is less sort of charismatic and less effective leader, I think that raises the question not only of the members in al Qaeda, are they all going to swear allegiance to al-Zawahiri? But also to the affiliate groups. One of them has said that they will recognize Ayman al-Zawahiri as the leader, but so far we haven't heard from a number of other groups, are they OK with the decision?

BLITZER: Is there a difference between the strategic goals of Ayman al-Zawahiri versus bin Laden? Bin Laden always wanted spectacular attacks that would kill a lot of people, like 9/11. Is al-Zawahiri on board with that? Because some of the al; Qaeda operatives in Yemen, for example, they want more limited, smaller attacks; just -- they'll kill a few people.

BERGEN: Well, I think that's because those are the only kinds of attacks they can do. I think there's not much distance between bin Laden and al-Zawahiri on this. In fact, it's more bin Laden, who's the guy who pushed the idea of attacking America. Zawahiri has been absolutely obsessed with overthrowing his native Egyptian government. So I don't see in the future there could be much distance between those two, over time.

BLITZER: Everyone believes that Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding out someplace in Pakistan right now, Waziristan. Who knows where he's hiding out? And elements in Pakistan know -- are helping him, are harboring him. Do you believe that?

BERGEN: Well, "elements" is a kind of vague term. I mean, the question is, is there official complicity?

BLITZER: That's the question.

BERGEN: I have seen no evidence of that.

BLITZER: That elements in the Pakistani government, the military and the intelligence service, that they are helping?

BERGEN: I don't see -- that we have no evidence for that to be the case.

BLITZER: Do you believe elements in the Pakistani government, intelligence service, military helped bin Laden hide out for years?

BERGEN: Again, Wolf, we see no evidence. And I think one of the reasons that that is quite unlikely is both Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden have repeatedly called for attacks on the Pakistani government, starting, you know, several years ago. And not only that, but they -- al Qaeda, you know, tried to kill President Musharraf when he was president of Pakistan on two occasions

BLITZER: Because a lot of U.S. officials have said to me they believe -- I don't know if they have evidence for this or what -- they believe the Pakistani government really wanted to find Ayman al- Zawahiri. They could -- and hand him over and just kill him. They believe that. I don't know if they have the evidence to back it up, though.

BERGEN: That's a slightly different question. Are they really looking in a very, very kind of profound way? Were they really looking for bin Laden? I think the answer is no. Were they hiding him? There is no evidence of that.

BLITZER: Because if they did either kill al-Zawahiri or hand him over to the United States, that would certainly go a long way repairing this very strained U.S.-Pakistani relationship.

BERGEN: Sure. I think you put your finger on it, Wolf. If you were to think about one deliverable above all others, even more than Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, I think Ayman al-Zawahiri would be that deliverable.

BLITZER: Peter, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Republican candidate Newt Gingrich is lashing out at those who bashed his wife. So does Callista Gingrich deserve all the heat she's getting? Stand by.

Plus, looting, smashing and burning. Vancouver fans turn violent after losing the National Hockey League championship.

And it's no secret that he smokes, but you won't see this very often. The House Speaker, John Boehner, he lights up in public.


BLITZER: There are certainly some angry hockey fans in Canada right now. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on?


Well, they are cleaning up in Vancouver from rioting that erupted last night after the city's Canucks lost the National Hockey League championship to the Boston Bruins. Cars were overturned and set on fire, store windows smashed and businesses looted.

Now, similar violence broke out when the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers back in 1994.

A hacker attack on Citigroup credit card accounts last month was bigger than first reported. The company now says more than 360,000 accounts were hacked. Now, that's 150,000 more than it initially said. Citigroup says most of the affected customers were notified by mail and issued new cards, although in some cases, it took three weeks.

Frozen ground beef is linked to a new E. coli outbreak in the northern French city of Lille, where seven children are now suffering kidney failure due to a rare strain of the bacteria. The victims are all in serious condition, but they are expected to survive.

The outbreak comes on the heels of an E. coli outbreak in Germany that killed more than three dozen people. That one was caused by contaminated bean sprouts.

And here is something. Take a look at this. You rarely see something like this in public. That there is House Speaker John Boehner lighting up a cigarette. This was at yesterday's annual congressional picnic at the White House.

Boehner's smoking is no secret here in Washington; it's just something he doesn't like to talk about. He did tell one interviewer earlier this year, quote, "It's a bad habit. I wish I didn't have it, but I have it."

There he goes, puffing away. And President Obama also was a smoker, but...

BLITZER: Yes, he was, but he hasn't smoked in a while.

SYLVESTER: Gave it up.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that.

Newt Gingrich, he's now hitting back at critics of his wife's influence in his presidential bid. Is she really limiting the amount of time he can spend campaigning?

Plus, what President Obama has to say about the Weiner scandal. New information coming.


BLITZER: President Obama just commented on Congressman Anthony Weiner's decision to resign. It came in an interview with ABC News. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish Representative Weiner and his lovely wife well. Obviously, it's been a tough incident for them, but I'm confident that they will refocus, and he will refocus, and they'll be able to bounce back


BLITZER: Certainly hope that will be the case. Let's go to Jack right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "What does it mean that the housing crisis, the current one, is worse than the one this country went through in the Great Depression?"

Steve writes from Virginia, "During the Great Depression, there were far fewer people living in housing that they couldn't afford or living beyond their means. And I bet you could count the number of credit cards issued on one hand. Today's situation was created by the banks, mortgage companies and people who wanted to live the big life before they earned it."

Pete writes from Georgia, "Can you say house of cards? Our obsession with everyone owning a home at any cost is what led us into this current disaster. Unscrupulous, dishonest, immoral lending backed by the same kind of Congress that led America off the cliff while padding the pockets of bankers, brokers, and politicians. Sad and pathetic."

Fred in California: "It means this president and his fellow Democrats have failed. The federal government cannot spend its way to prosperity. I'd like to trade all these clunkers in."

Ralph writes, "Government's proper place is to be a referee between big business and the consumer, sort of like in a prize fight. Remove the government by excessive deregulation, and in come the crooks with their no-money-down home loans, et cetera. When they deregulated and did variable-rate mortgages, just like a stock margin call -- a stock market margin call in 1929, the outcome was predictable. This didn't just happen. It was created by bad presidential and congressional management."

Renee in Illinois writes, "It means those responsible were not held accountable. Those who failed to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Never mind.

Tom in New York writes, "Bankers were more moral in the Great Depression of the '30s. They had personal pride and a respectable image they maintained. Today's Wall Street crowd thought that Graham and Bush would let them get away with anything, and they did. Regulations and safeguards have been stripped away to make theft legal."

And David in Florida writes, "I don't know what it means. I just want a list of the soup kitchens in my area."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog: -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thanks very, very much.

A Tiffany's credit line, a Greek cruise, morning appointments at the hairdresser. Is Newt Gingrich's wife causing serious political problems for his campaign?

And the Anthony Weiner saga finally comes to an end. Is Jeanne Moos happy about all of this?


BLITZER: She's a would-be first lady playing a prominent, some say complicating role in her husband's campaign. We're talking about Callista Gingrich, the wife of the Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is joining us now. She's been learning a lot more about Callista Gingrich. What are you learning?

SYLVESTER: Well, before we get to that, we should mention, you know, Wolf, that Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, it got off to a rocky start, including losing more than a dozen key members of his team.

Well, one of the issues that has come up repeatedly is his wife, Callista. Aides say she limits the amount of time he has for campaigning. But Newt Gingrich is hitting back, saying, "Lay off my wife."


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Gingrich 2012 is not about the man who would be president, but about the would-be first couple. By Newt Gingrich's side is Callista Gingrich. She's even featured prominently on his campaign Web site.

Callista is his third wife, married 11 years. Gingrich is 22 years her senior. They began dating while he was still the married speaker of the House and she worked for the House Agriculture Committee.

He may be now playing up his family-man role, but Callista Gingrich has become something of a political liability, according to officials close to the Gingrich camp.

First, it was his credit line of up to a half a million dollars at the upscale Tiffany's jewelry store, where they were frequent customers. Gingrich was put on defense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel like...

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel that you are far more fascinated with that than most Americans. None of them -- normal Americans actually ask about jobs. They ask about energy. They ask about all sorts of things that affect their lives.

SYLVESTER: Earlier this month, more than a dozen of Gingrich's advisers and campaign staffers resigned en masse over, quote, "disagreements on how to move forward." Callista's schedule took priority over Newt's schedule, said one source.

Newt Gingrich on FOX News pushed back.

N. GINGRICH: After all my years in public life, I don't mind people attacking me. I'm the candidate; I'm a big guy. I can take it. But to go after anyone's wife, I think, is pretty despicable.

CALLISTA GINGRICH, NEWT'S WIFE: Newt and I together...

SYLVESTER: friends of the couple told CNN that Callista was reluctant to schedule campaign events in the morning, because she insisted on getting her hair done every day. We asked Newt's communications director, Joe DeSantis, about it.

(on camera) Somebody said that she is obsessed with her hair and that she didn't want to have any campaign events in the morning, because she had to have time to get her hair done.

JOE DESANTIS, GINGRICH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I'm not going to respond to whatever gossip they're putting forward. All I'm going to say is that Newt and Callista have a very healthy partnership. They make decisions together about their schedule, as every other couple does. And ultimately, this campaign is going to be about the challenges facing America and the solutions that Newt is putting forward to those challenges.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): But there were other issues. Aides, many of whom later quit the campaign, repeatedly asked Gingrich to put off a luxury cruise to the Greek islands with his wife, given that they were already feeling the heat from the Tiffany's story, but he refused. In Iowa, a key state, where it's all about aggressive retail politics, Newt worked the crowds and was a great communicator, meeting everyday folks. But his former campaign adviser there resigned, because he said he needed more of that from Gingrich to move the political needle. But it was challenging getting Iowa on the schedule.


SYLVESTER: And there were also disagreements on Newt Gingrich's role that he still likes playing the role of the strategist, the educator, you know, the guy talking about the polling numbers. But his former communications director said, no matter how good you are as a strategist, you can't be your own strategist when you are the candidate.

BLITZER: I've spoken to several of those campaign staffers who quit in protest. And a lot of them cited that cruise. He and Callista took to the eastern Mediterranean, to the Greek isles and Turkey only a few weeks after announcing he's running for president. They wanted him to go to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, get on the phone, start raising money, and then all of a sudden, he goes on vacation. I'm sure you've heard that that was a huge issue. A lot of them are blaming Callista, maybe fairly or unfairly, for that decision.

SYLVESTER: Yes. They said that they pleaded with him. They really asked him, "Please don't take this trip right now. We still are feeling the heat from the story of the Tiffany's and then on top of that" -- but they insisted, and you're right, they all point to it was Callista, that it was something that Newt felt that he had to do for his wife. And so they went ahead. They went on this trip. And then you saw that mass exodus of some of his key staffers.

BLITZER: I think it's Newt Gingrich's right. Don't blame the wife. It's his decisions. He's the one who's running for president. He's the one who should be making these decisions. He's made these decisions.

SYLVESTER: He made them, yes.

BLITZER: So you can't blame her. You've got to blame him if they're bad decisions. Thanks, Lisa.

Well, for our North American viewers, "JOHN KING USA" is coming up at the top of the hour. But up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Jeanne Moos gives us her take on Anthony Weiner's resignation.


BLITZER: Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos on Anthony Weiner's resignation.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is light at the end of the scandal. Lights, cameras and maybe too much action. Anthony Weiner himself got bumped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're pushing me. Give him a break.

MOOS: Bumped as he was chased by the press to his own press conference. Later, a hedge gave the media payback. After a moment of stunned silence, the chase resumed. An author in prison stripes added to the circus atmosphere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my book called "Flush the Toilet: Why Men Cheat."

MOOS: Which he had trouble giving away.

At Weiner's Washington office, his plaque became a tourist attraction. With people using both thumbs and tongues while they posed so they, too, could be part of a...

RICH LOWRY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Titillating like this or disgusting.


BLITZER: It's so sordid.

MOOS: And if the story wasn't sordid enough, a couple of crass hecklers looking for attention crashed Weiner's press conference.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: So today I'm announcing my resignation from Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yay! Thank God, pervert.

WEINER: And most importantly, that my wife and I can continue to heal...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the people demand to know.

MOOS: Even the media were enraged, disowning the crashers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not with us. He's not with us.

WEINER: Thank you and good afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you maintain your hot physique?

MOOS: Weiner's resignation may finally plug the slow leak of lewd news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drip, drip, drip.


MOOS: It's a splash of harsh reality for Weiner's staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The door was then locked and the office lights were turned out. MOOS: Only voice mail left on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): Thank you for calling the office of Congressman Anthony Weiner. Unfortunately, there's nobody available right now to take your call.

MOOS (on camera): Even as the word came down that the end was near, the scandal was still arousing passions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd be interested to see if Allen would say the same thing if John Boehner had sent these messages...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I would. Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? I'm skeptical. Call me skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call me a liar. Call me a liar, Steve.

BARBARA STARR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": I don't like to kick a guy when he's down.

MOOS (on camera): Perhaps the most brutally honest reaction to the Weiner scandal came from none other than Geraldo Rivera, reminiscing about his prime.

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I just remember my days, and if there were Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts -- are you kidding me? I would have blanketed the country with every part of my body.

MOOS: At least Weiner's resignation may help purge all those puns. Let's get that word out of our system with the help of Jimmy Kimmel.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC's "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": Which we've taken the liberty of putting to music.















MOOS: And as we leave the Weiners...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think your marriage will survive?

MOOS: Never mind the marriage. Will the press survive?

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.