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Obama Meets With Senate Republican Leaders; Blagojevich Guilty on 17 Counts; CNN Inside Syria and Yemen

Aired June 27, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, President Obama meets with the Senate Republican leader and makes a personal investment in a political fight over America's debt. This hour, the prospects for a deal to prevent the United States from being seen as a deadbeat nation.

Stand by.

Republican Michelle Bachmann tries to prove she's in it to win it. The Tea Party favorite launches her long shot campaign for the White House, showing new strength in Iowa.

Plus, blood and gore and free speech -- the makers and sellers of violent video games score big in a brand new U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

But what about your children?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We begin with the standoff over the federal debt. Lots at stake for all of us right now. Democrats and Republicans agree on this much -- something has got to give. This hour -- right now, in fact, President Obama sits down with the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. It's a new and personal attempt to try to break a political stalemate that could have very serious implications for the U.S. economy. Both sides face an August 2nd deadline for Congress to raise the limit of America's debt or the country potentially might not be able to pay all of its bills.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is following the negotiations -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president is now stepping into these deficit reduction talks for the first time, as the clock ticks toward that August 2nd deadline, when the U.S. is expected to default on its loan obligations if Congress doesn't increase the debt ceiling.


KEILAR: (voice-over): As President Obama met separately and behind closed doors with the top Democrat and Republican in the Senate, the White House sounded a positive note on the deficit talks.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A significant deal remains possible.

KEILAR: But White House press secretary, Jay Carney, also ratcheted up the rhetoric on White House Republicans, who pulled out of negotiations Thursday.

CARNEY: The only one that doesn't take a balanced approach has been the House Republican proposal.

KEILAR: Talks have hit a snag over what Republicans call tax hikes and Democrats call closing tax loopholes for special interests.

CARNEY: This is about subsidies for oil and gas companies -- $40 billion; a loophole that allows for the owners of private corporate jets to -- to benefit enormously, in the billions, compared to, say, Delta or American.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We must simplify and streamline our broken tax system, lowering rates and eliminating loopholes so everyone pays his or her fair share, including corporations.

KEILAR: Republicans insist any effort to raise taxes will hurt the economy and has no chance of clearing Congress.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Not only are they counterproductive from the standpoint of an economic recovery, they're also politically impossible, since Republicans oppose tax hikes and Democrats have already shown they won't raise taxes in a down economy, either.


KEILAR: There is this snag, but there may also be the potential for agreement in one area. And that's because Republicans, who normally oppose talk of defense cuts, are indicating a willingness to look at the Pentagon budget for savings, something that Democrats are demanding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar at the White House.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, another Republican trying to oust President Obama from office made it official today. That would be Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite, Michelle Bachmann. She kicked off her campaign in Iowa, a state that's important to her personally, as well as politically.

CNN's Jim Acosta is in Iowa for us.

I think it's fair to say we saw a different side, to a certain degree, of Congresswoman Bachmann today in Iowa -- Jim, what -- what have you seen? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Michelle Bachmann has a reputation of sometimes going off message. But as we saw today, she is certainly getting more disciplined, softening her Tea Party tone, as her staff members are sharpening their elbows.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet the new Michelle Bachmann.

MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to bring a voice -- your voice -- to the White House.

ACOSTA: In her official announcement that she's running for the White House, the conservative firebrand traded her signature tough Tea Party rhetoric for some Midwestern nice.

BACHMANN: This is where my Iowa roots were firmly planted. And it's these Iowa roots and my faith in God that guide me today.

ACOSTA: The Congresswoman from Minnesota recalled how she was born in the town of Waterloo, Iowa; laid out her case to lower the national debt; and made a surprise call for a civil campaign.

BACHMANN: Through the rancor of a campaign, let us always remember, there's always so much more that unites us as a nation than divides us.

ACOSTA: Gone were the barbs of Bachmann's past, like the time when she questioned what she called the president's anti-American views.

BACHMANN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: With a new poll in Iowa showing her a near frontrunner, just one point behind Mitt Romney in this crucial early voting state, Bachmann was careful to stay on message.

BACHMANN: Thank you.

Hi, there.


BACHMANN: Nice to meet you.

ACOSTA: As we made repeated attempts to ask Bachmann a question, her staff...

(on camera): Can we just get one question, Congresswoman?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you knock it off?

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even the candidate's husband shoved us out of the way.

We later tried to catch up with Marcus Bachmann, to no avail.

(on camera): Mr. Bachmann, any chance we could talk to you for a few moments?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you would be my favorite man to talk...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wouldn't it be...

ACOSTA: Jim Acosta with CNN.

Nice to see you.

Are you just going to not answer questions unless it's a prearranged interview?

(voice-over): Her advisers told us this was Bachmann's day to answer questions from the Iowa media.

(on camera): Hey, Congressman, can we just ask you, how could you possibly get support from Democrats when you've been so hard on this president?

(voice-over): None of that seemed to bother her supporters.

BRUCE MUNSON, BACHMANN SUPPORTER: I don't think the media really knows what or who they're dealing with yet.

ACOSTA (on camera): But we're going to find out?

MUNSON: You're going to find out.

ACOSTA (voice-over): They like the Bachmann who doesn't mind throwing a few political elbows.

CHARLOTTE NIEDERHAUSER, BACHMANN SUPPORTER: I've never been political in my life, but I'm coming out from under my rock. And she's my gal. I want her to beat Obama's butt. Sorry, kids.


ACOSTA: With Michelle Bachmann off to a strong start here in Iowa, she is now headed to New Hampshire and then South Carolina. The trick for Bachmann is to take the success that she has in this state, which doesn't always have the best record of nominating GOP contenders, Wolf. As you know, not everybody who wins in Iowa goes on to win the nomination -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee won in Iowa. It didn't exactly work out the way he had planned.

But -- but she's raising a ton of money right now, isn't she?

By all accounts, she's doing really, really well on the fundraising part of this political story.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, along with the poll numbers, Wolf, the way she has built a campaign up until this point, the organization of this campaign, I think it surprised a lot of people in the GOP establishment. I mean she has some very experienced handlers leading this campaign. You mentioned Mike Huckabee. She has some people who are veterans of the Huckabee campaign in 2008 now working on her behalf.

So by all accounts, not just the poll numbers, she is off to a very, very good start -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. She has Ed Rollins, who was Ronald Reagan's political director, as a lot of us remember. And he worked for Huckabee four years ago. He worked for us in CNN in the years since then.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Now he's running her campaign.

He's a really talented political operative, as all of our viewers know, as well.

All right, thanks very much.

Jim Acosta on the scene for us.

Other news. The guilty verdicts against former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, that left him stunned and possibly headed for prison. A jury in Chicago convicting Blagojevich, just a little while ago, on 17 counts of corruption, including charges he tried to sell or trade President Obama's former Senate seat.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is covering the Blagojevich retrial for us.

He's joining us from Chicago.

He was very sad in his comments after he got the horrible news for him.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Inside the courtroom, Wolf, there wasn't a lot of reaction from Blagojevich. He was trying to make eye contact with the jurors as they came in. And during the reading of the verdicts, none of the jurors would look in his direction.

There was -- you could tell he was upset as the guilties were coming and coming. But his wife, Patti, boy, she was in the front row. She was very upset. She fell back into Blagojevich's brother Robert's arms. And there she sat for the remainder of the proceeding.

He's looking at a lot of jail time. He's a 54-year-old man. And if you look at the counts that he has been found guilty of -- wire fraud, 20 years; extortion, 20 years; extortion conspiracy, 20 years; solicitation of a bribe, five years. Even the low, the minimums on the sentencing guidelines, would put him in jail for pretty much the rest of his life.

Here is Rod Blagojevich after the verdicts were read inside the federal courthouse.

Take a listen.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome. I, frankly, am stunned. There's not much left to say, other than we want to get home to our little girls and -- and talk to them and explain things to them and -- and then try to sort things out. And I'm sure we'll be seeing you guys again.


ROWLANDS: His little girls are seven and 13 years old. Jurors did speak, Wolf, afterwards. They talked to the media. One juror said that they wanted to believe Blagojevich, but the evidence was there. Prosecutors also just wrapped up a press conference, saying that the jury sent a loud and clear message that Blagojevich tried to shake people down.

No sentencing date has been set yet, Wolf. But, clearly, the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, going to prison, likely for a long time.

BLITZER: And he'll be out -- out of pri -- of jail until sentencing, is that right, Ted?

ROWLANDS: Yes. The judge did restrict his travel. He said that if you want to go somewhere, ask me, I may let you go. But he cannot go anywhere outside the Northern District of Illinois, basically the Chicago area, until sentencing.

However, the judge did not remand him to custody. He is at home tonight with his family.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Ted Rowlands reporting for us from Chicago.

Right now, CNN is the only Western television network with correspondents in both Syria and Yemen. Stand by for their reports, including an up-close look at the scene of what the government says was a massacre.

And could the flooding in Nebraska lead to a nuclear crisis like the one we saw in Japan?

Brian Todd is in Nebraska right now.

He's investigating.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: CNN is now the only Western network reporting from inside both Syria and Yemen amidst the brutal political turmoil exploding across North Africa and the Middle East.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Damascus for us.

CNN senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in Sana'a, Yemen.

Let's go to Arwa in Damascus first -- Arwa, this has been another tough time, another tough few weeks.

What's going on in Syria right now?

Tell our viewers what you're seeing firsthand.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we did get an opportunity to go up to the highly controversial town of Jisr al-Shugur that has been at the center of the Syrian military crackdown that sent all of those refugees streaming across the border to Turkey. And we hoped that following our trip, we would have a better idea of exactly what it was that transpired there.

Take a look at what we saw.


DAMON: (voice-over): It's unsettling arriving in the town of Jisr al-Shugur. For weeks, we heard stories of brutal attacks by Syrian security forces, of thousands fleeing, of mass graves.

Now the government is bringing journalists to this dusty and very empty town. We're escorted not only by officials, but two truck loads of military. That's for our own protection, we're told. Armed gangs that once controlled all of Jisr al-Shugur are still a threat.

Military officials tell us the crackdown here was unavoidable, to stop terrorist elements whose aim is to bring down the Assad regime and to establish an Al Qaeda-style Islamic state.

Most of the shops are closed. A handful of people wander the streets. This is what is left of the post office, where we're told security personnel trying to surrender were gunned down.

Abdul Rahman Najid is presented by government minders as an eyewitness.

They were pretending to be peaceful demonstrators, but they had guns hidden here, he tells us, gesturing elaborately. Grenades and all sorts of heavy weapons.

It's a version of events fiercely disputed by opposition activists who say security forces gunned down protesters without mercy. Many were reported killed. Thousands more fled to the border with Turkey, but getting independent firsthand accounts of what is happening here is almost impossible. When I approached a group of men, they are clearly uncomfortable.

Some walk away muttering they don't know anything. Others are reluctant to talk. We're then taken to the scene of what the government says was a massacre where over 100 Syrian security personnel were slaughtered. Muhammad Tajo (ph), who owns a shop down the road, tells us more than a thousand gunmen attacked the compound. He says his wife fled to Turkey fearing the shabiha, a ruthless government militia, and she refuses to come back.

The first time she's disobeyed me in 20 years, he says. Saquan Asi (ph) tells us he entered the compound and found it littered with bodies.

DAMON (on-camera): So, Saquan Asi (ph) is just saying that when he arrived into this room back here, he found three bodies. One of them, he says, was decapitated. The others had gunshot wounds to the torso, and he's saying it seemed as if they had been beaten as well. Back here, there's little bit of debris, a shoe and some dark stains on the wall. Hard to tell exactly what it is.

DAMON (voice-over): At the back of the compound, we're shown the location of one of many mass graves. The bodies horrifically mutilated according to the government. Video of the corps is being unearthed was broadcast on state TV. The opposition has a very different narrative, claiming the massacre was a result of a mutiny within the security forces. Whatever happened in (INAUDIBLE), it was enough to drive thousands to flee across the border into Turkey.

For weeks, we heard their horrific stories, and their fear the military would massacre them to punish them for daring to stand up to the regime. Two versions of history that can't be reconciled. The last word perhaps best left to a group of children who say they learned pro as a chants on TV, and then, after exclaiming, armed gangs forced us out, they dissolve into giggles.


DAMON (on-camera): And, Wolf, the government points to scenes like the ones we saw where at least on the surface it appears as if the military and the residents do have a very healthy relationship. It's been trying to encourage other families to return. And while a handful of them have, the majority are staying well away. And when we were on the Syria/Turkey border speaking with refugees, they were saying that there was absolutely no chance, no way that they would ever go back home while the Assad regime was in power.

They simply don't trust the government, and they don't trust the promise that they will be safe if they go home. They believe that the military will detain them or kill them.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It seems, Arwa, like the government in Damascus is going on a more of a public relations offensive right now, allowing journalists like yourself, our own Hala Gorani, to come into Syria for the first time in months. Also, they've let Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio visit. He's meeting with some of the top leadership there. Is there a new strategy unfolding on the part of the Syrian regime?

DAMON: Well, there's a couple of different theories, Wolf, as to what the thinking of the Syrian government actually is. One is that, perhaps, it does feel threatened, it does feel as if it is losing the propaganda war given the amount of video that activists are putting out on YouTube depicting the alleged government massacres.

There is also the thinking that the government does now feel as if to a certain degree, it has the situation under control, and that it can slightly open up the country to the media because it can control the streets, and it can, at the very least, control the areas that we are allowed access to, because most certainly, when we do travel around, it's constantly in the company of government minders. We have to put permissions in to the various areas that we want to visit, sometimes, that permission is granted, sometimes it's not.

When it's not, a lot of the time the government, again, is trying to blame these armed gangs saying that it's for our own security, but all of this combined, even though we are a country, Wolf, makes it incredibly difficult if not impossible to independently corroborate anything that is happening here.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us as usual. Thanks, Arwa, very much.

And joining us now from Yemen, Sanna, the capital of Yemen, is our own Nic Robertson. Nic, a lot of Americans are deeply concerned that al Qaeda, al Qaeda the Arabian Peninsula could take over that strategically located country and pose a huge threat, not only to the region, but to the U.S. as well. What's the latest in the struggle against al Qaeda in Yemen?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no doubt that al Qaeda in Yemen poses the biggest threat as far as global jihad is concerned because of the number of attacks and type of attacks that they've mounted. In the past, the underpants bomber being one of them and the bombs being another. The government here -- that it is still fighting al Qaeda. There are reports that in (inaudible) was taken control of three weeks ago when President Saleh left for treatment in Saudi Arabia after he was attacked.

They say that that town has been taken over by radical Islamists or al Qaeda. And the government today said they killed five al Qaeda members in that province, wounded many more, arrested six, and they say seven soldiers were wounded in the operation as well. And we're told here that's not untypical of what has been happening recently over the past week. So, there have been clashes with, as the government calls them, al Qaeda, some people here call them pro- Islamists, but there's no doubt that the government here as a country (ph) faces serious threat from radical Islamists, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the return of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Yemen, we know he's been recuperating from serious injuries he sustained, and he's recuperating in Saudi Arabia. Is that realistic? Because a lot of the Saudis thought he was never going to leave. ROBERTSON: I spoke to one Arab diplomat who told me that his injuries are -- President Saleh's injuries were so (INAUDIBLE) he couldn't return. That he had inhaled so much hot air, sort of fire in the air when the explosions were in the mosque where he was injured, that he had burns on the inside of his lungs, and he wouldn't be there in the near future. He's on this huge international diplomatic pressure not to return to Yemen to allow a transfer of power and a transitional government or some steps to get (ph) him from power.

But we've had conflicting messages here. One presidential adviser said President Saleh would be back last few days. Later, he said no. He would be making a speech or some kind of appearance within the next couple of days. And today, President Saleh's most senior spokesman said he wasn't about to make a speech, that President Saleh would address the people of Yemen. So, we're getting mixed and confusing messages from within his sort of presidential loyalists here, but it does -- doesn't seem to change the sort of narrative from them.

The president still intends to come back, and that's, perhaps, the most important thing, this concern about what President Saleh is going to do, and it's leading to a lot of instability here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Yemen. We'll check back with you tomorrow, Nic. Thanks very much.

To the question, could Iran emerge as the big winner in the Middle East despite the huge financial and military sacrifices the United States is making there? Details of a disturbing new report. That's coming up.

And we're also learning surprising new information about the travels of the notorious mobster, Whitey Bulger, during his years as one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: U.S. forces in Afghanistan are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now that the president has laid out his plans to withdraw all surge troops by the end of next summer, the small U.S. outpost on the border with Pakistan. Some American soldiers are pressing ahead with their fight, though, against the Taliban while looking back at their gains and their painful losses. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Afghanistan.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) on Afghanistan's eastern border is as alluring to outsiders as it is unwelcoming. It's a key transit root for militants from Pakistan, confronted by Americans in some of the fiercest fighting of this 10- year war. This tiny outpost call portal king (ph) tests its mortars against an insurgency that they rarely see, but who frequently attack from all sides. Sometimes, they watch the valley burn. Other times, they reach out to build. This neighbor and ally against the Taliban, perhaps, because they built this house on his land.

WALSH (on-camera): While the Americans can build their way into the affections of these people, it's further south down the valley frankly the problems begin. The road pretty much impassable because of the insurgency.

WALSH (voice-over): It was here the unit experienced its worse losses. A roadside bomb ripping through their armor, killing four soldiers. Lieutenant Ryan Peterson saw the blast that killed the men he led and loved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I walked up to it, there was a pair of legs like leaned out, like kind of crossed over, and they were hanging out of one of the doors. And that's always stuck with me. When I get by, if I ever think about it or dream about it, that's the first thing that comes to my head.

WALSH: Private Seth Blevins began dying in his arms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The blood is up, and as were point him out (ph), he was upside down, he was in my lap, and so, that was when the whole -- the whole smell was the most intense -- that's probably the point that everything was the most intense was when I was trying to hold him and make sure his head was, like, stable, like a child, you know. I was holding his head trying to make sure he didn't hurt his neck anymore.

At that point, he was still alive. I felt like maybe he got at least maybe hear me a little bit. and give him a little bit of encouragement that we were going to make sure he got out of there. He was -- he was a little older. I think he was 24. I can't even remember his birthday right now.

WALSH: Death may become routine here, but grief does not. A memorial service for another loss nearby and a pep talk for the general. But still, growing disillusion at home and in America and a clear timetable for departure, some glad it's ending.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My gut feeling right now is that it's good. That it's time to be done. I think that we've done as much as we can. We've done what we've done here. It's time to be done.

WALSH: A few days after the losses here, the unit dropped $3 million worth of bombs in just 24 hours. That stopped the attacks for five days. The massive cost of this war, its blood, its treasure, that is speeding it to an end.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Kunar, Afghanistan.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, deep concerns about Iran's growing influence as the U.S. moves to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, for that matter. We're seeing some disturbing new evidence that officials in Tehran are reaching out aggressively to the leaders of Afghanistan, the leaders of Iraq, and Pakistan. We're joined now by CNN's National Security Contributor Fran Townsend.

Fran, by the way, along with more than 100 members of Congress, some other former senior U.S. national security officials, has publicly advocated the United States take the Iranian opposition group, the MEK, off the State Department's list of terror groups around the world; just as the European Union has already done.

Fran, let's talk about what is going on. In recent days the leaders of three nominal U.S. allies, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, they all went to Tehran to meet with Ahmadinejad, amidst growing concern. I must say, at least I'm hearing-from some U.S. officials that when all is said and done, the dust settles in that part of the world, despite all the heavy U.S. investment, Iran could emerge as the big strategic winner. What is your thought on that?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this has been a concern quite frankly, Wolf, throughout the Gulf Region. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, have been increasingly concerned about the growing influence of Iran through -- across this region, especially it started in Iraq. Iran was clearly supporting the movement of parts to make explosive devices that were killing U.S. troops. And our allies in the region couldn't understand why we were reacting more forcefully.

Now we have seen them expand that. You mentioned, Pakistan and Afghanistan, both places Iran has been very aggressive. Because they want to be a counterbalance. They want to be a counterweight to U.S. influence throughout the region. It is very, very concerning. It should be here in the U.S., as well as in the region.

BLITZER: Because given the enormous investment over a decade, in liberating first Iraq and then Afghanistan, you see President Jalal Talabani show up in Tehran, the president of Iraq. You see President Karzai showing up there, after all the U.S. has done for him. And President Zardari, now, of Pakistan, going to Tehran as well to give Ahmadinejad this support, if you will, by their mere presence there. It must be so infuriating to top U.S. officials.

TOWNSEND: Oh, absolutely. It is not only infuriating, it is concerning for intelligence and national security officials who watch this very closely. Make no mistake, when you see tensions between the U.S. and countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iraq, they use Iran as a lever. They know it is a sore point with us. They know that it will increase our anxiety about that relationship. And they -- this is not an accident. The timing of these trips, the building of these relationships by these countries, because they're looking to send a message to the U.S. That, look, we have alternatives.

Remember when it started, our relationship with Pakistan began to get rocky, there was the visit of Zardari and Pakistani officials to China. And they will look for other sponsors, other people who will fill their coffers in the event that the U.S. doesn't do that.

BLITZER: It looks like they're hedging their bets. TOWNSEND: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: Once the U.S. pulls out of Iraq and then Afghanistan. Let's talk a little bit about this International Criminal Court, now issuing an arrest warrant for Moammar Gadhafi and others in Libya for war crimes, crimes against humanity. Update our viewers on what is going on here.

TOWNSEND: You know, Wolf, it is very interesting. In the end of April, we understood from the international criminal court they were conducting this investigation. In talking with European officials it was clear that European officials in Italy and across that region were trying to convince the International Criminal Court to hold off issuing the warrant because, of course, once the warrant issues, it becomes much more difficult to see the path for a potential negotiated settlement.

Myself included, many never thought a negotiated settlement with Gadhafi was ever a real strong possibility. But now that you've got this warrant, if you wanted to negotiate him out of power, how do you do that? You have to get some agreement from the International Criminal Court about this prosecution. So the ability now, Wolf, for folks to see a way other than a military solution here is very -- much more complicated and much more difficult now.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fran Townsend, working with us. She is in New York.

A major ruling out of the U.S. Supreme Court today concerning those violent video games many kids are playing. We have new details. Stand by.

And that now world-famous Russian spy Anna Chapman, she's back in the headlines. Up next, the person who has been charged with outing her.


BLITZER: Two major rulings out of the U.S. Supreme Court today, both favoring free speech. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM now.

Big decisions from the highest court.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It was a big win for the video game industry. The court, in a 7-2 ruling, striking down a California law which would have banned the sale of violent video games to children, saying it goes too far. Manufacturers argue they provide parents with the information needed to decide whether a particular game is appropriate for their child. But the state maintains it has a legal obligation to protect children.

The court also threw out an Arizona law providing extra taxpayer funded support for political candidates who have been outspent by privately funded opponents, or independent political groups. In a 5-4 conservative majority, the justices ruled the law uses the public finance system to level the playing field and therefore violates free speech. Lawmakers argued it was in state's interest to equalize resources.

A Russian colonel has been convicted of treason in the outing a group of spies that includes the now world-famous Anna Chapman. The colonel was sentenced to 25 years in a penal colony and stripped of his military title. Last August, 11 intelligence officers living and working in the U.S. sleeper agents were arrested and returned to Moscow as part of a spy swap, Wolf.

BLITZER: She became pretty famous out of that deal.

SYLVESTER: Yeah. She was living in New York and a number of them were all living in suburbia. In fact, there was some in the Washington, D.C. area and they were spies. They ended up going back to Russia.

BLITZER: They were sleeper agents, waiting to be used for some mission.

SYLVESTER: Yes, it sounded a little bit like a movie when it all played out.

BLITZER: Like a novel, yes.

SYLVESTER: That's right.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Lisa.

Nuclear fears in America's heartland, could flooding in Nebraska- Nebraska lead to a crisis like the one in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami? Our own Brian Todd is on the scene.

And new information about the money stolen from Citigroup credit accounts by hackers. What the company is saying and not saying now about the massive security breach.


BLITZER: Right now, President Obama stepping up his campaign for political donations. His re-election team is going to new lengths to rake in cash from wealthy supporters and from everyday Americans. Let's bring in our National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin. They're going in these final days before they have to announce how much they raised in this quarter, to look for the so-called small donors, people with give $5, $10, $20. What's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NAT'L. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is the emphasis on those everyday donors, those small donors, Wolf. Because all that attention recently on raising that $1 billion called a lot of notice to the big bundlers, those mega-donors that can give that kind of money. You'll remember last time around, the Obama campaign made a big deal they were energized by regular Americans, those little donors who gave little bits of money to keep them going. You need that money to energize the campaign again, right? They're making a big push in the final days saying give us just $5 and you can get dinner, not just with president Obama, but also with the vice president. Look at what they have put up on the Internet.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So this isn't so much dinner with Barack anymore, as it is dinner with Barack and Joe. And to use one of his favorite expressions, that's a big deal. We're both really looking forward to it. Hope to see you soon.


YELLIN: So obviously this is not so much about the money, $5 a pop, not so much money. It is really about getting those numbers in, getting people energized again. And the campaign is saying they hope to get 450,000 donors total by the time they have to report on Thursday.

BLITZER: Because if they do an average, if they say we have raised $50 million, let's say, over the past few months. And they say, but it was given by tens of thousands of people as opposed to a few hundred really rich guys on Wall Street or whatever, it sounds so much better.

YELLIN: Bigger numbers sound much better. Sounds like they have a bit more energized following, exactly.

BLITZER: So, politically, that sends a powerful message. What are Democrats behind the scenes telling you privately?

YELLIN: So, look, the progressive base, the liberals who are so passionately behind President Obama when he was a candidate last time around, who were the machine of that big movement, are saying, privately, they're not going to get the same kind of energy. They're not going to get the same kind of small donors because so many of them are angry. That's when a lot of the progressive activists are saying now.

But, you know, you talk to some of the old Washington hands, the political operatives and they say, ah, just wait. Wait until you see some of these political candidates out there, some of the Republicans like Michele Bachmann, once some of Democrats start hearing the messages coming out from the Republican Party, they'll get energized, they'll get enraged and those Democrats will start getting in.

BLITZER: I'm one of those guys who says, you know, the progressive wing, the liberal left, and all of them, they will come to this president when all the dust settles, when they see who the Republican nominee is, assuming there is no third party moderate candidate out there.

YELLIN: That's what the president's campaign is counting on.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jessica.

President Obama's opposition to gay marriage is in question. Is he sending mixed messages to gay and lesbian groups? Our strategy session is standing by. CNN has learned about a new U.S. attack that is part of a secret Pentagon and CIA war against terrorists. We have details.


BLITZER: Right to our strategy session. Joining us, our CNN Political Contributor Roland Martin, also joining us, the Republican strategist, the former Gingrich press secretary, Rich Galen, he is publisher of You were press secretary --

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I was also Dan Quayle's press secretary. Look how that turned out.

BLITZER: That was a long time ago. Long at this, the recent polls. Right now should marriages between gay and lesbian couples be recognized as valid? Right now, 51 percent say yes. Back in 2008, 44 percent said yes. No is gone from 47 percent now, 55 percent in 2008. It looks like, you know, the American public is changing its attitude on this whole issue of gay marriage. Why doesn't the president now, he supports civil unions, he supports equal rights for gay couples, why does he continue to refuse to say he supports gay marriage?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Because he has a right to have his own opinion on the issue. There is an assumption --

BLITZER: But do you really think he does or is he just doing that for political purposes?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, he and I haven't had a conversation on this topic. I do believe, though, that you cannot discount the political reality when it comes to this issue. We can talk about a poll of 51 percent. The only poll that matter for any president is the one with the electoral college, 270. When you look at this next election, you look at Iowa, you look at Virginia, North Carolina, he won by 14,000 votes, Indiana he won by 1 percent, it is a reality that an issue like this could tip -- could shift a number of votes. So he's making a political calculation, there is no doubt.

BLITZER: Yes, and he's also assuming the gay and lesbian community and others that support gay marriage will be with him no matter what when they see who the Republican nominee is. I would surprised-and you correct me if I'm wrong, if he's re-elected, shortly thereafter he comes out in favor of gay marriage, when he doesn't ever again have to worry about some of the considerations that Roland is accurately assessing?

GALEN: I'm not so sure that your original premise is correct, because-

BLITZER: Which original premise?

GALEN: The original premise about the gays and lesbians are going to be with him because of who the Republicans are going to nominate. They may not vote for the Republican, but they may just stay home. They may start voting with governor or senator, and not vote for president, because as we saw yesterday or in Sunday's paper, you know, the president went out and raised $250,000 at a gay and lesbian event in New York and still refuses to come out and-

BLITZER: You think they will just sit on their hands and they won't-

GALEN: Well, I think, at some point you have to stand up for what you think is right, if it costs you a vote or two, well, then it does.

MARTIN: And did the president stand up against "don't ask, don't tell"? Yes. Did the president also stand up when it came to the issue of benefits? Absolutely. So, we can see-

GALEN: He's done enough, you think.

MARTIN: No, no, no, first of all, I didn't use the word enough. What I'm saying is if there are six issues on the table and the president has sided with you on five of those issues, that's -- that's a reality. Now there will be people who say, no, we want you to agree on all six, but we cannot discount what he's actually done when it comes to these issues.

GALEN: He didn't give the gay and lesbian community, OK, tell me the order the that you want me to do this. He chose that. So when you say it's -

MARTIN: No, no.

GALEN: five out of six.

MARTIN: He chose

GALEN: If they would have said, let the other five go, this is the one that we care about and that's the one he's ignoring, I think that's a big deal.

MARTIN: Have they said that?

GALEN: Yeah, I think they have.

MARTIN: No, they haven't. If that's the case they probably would not have been applauding last week when he talked about the things he has done. Look, we can sit here and discount the reality, also there are Democrats who have supported this president who do not support gay marriage. Who do support civil unions. A president has to make a decision, and that is, can I appease one group? Now, a special interest group has the absolute right to fight for their issues, but there are multiple groups.

BLITZER: On the Republican side, I think Jon Huntsman supports civil unions.

MARTIN: The only one.

BLITZER: Do any of the other Republican candidates support civil unions?

GALEN: I don't think so. But we're not talking about the other party. We're talking about President Obama.

MARTIN: I don't think so. Here's a fact. Huntsman is the only one who supports civil unions, the other Republican candidates do not support gay marriage at all.

GALEN: But they're not appealing to the gay and lesbian community, he is.


BLITZER: Let me -- let me read to you what Maureen Dowd wrote in yesterday's "New York Times" because she excoriates the president of the United States. "Still, Obama's reluctance to come out for gay marriage seems hugely and willfully inconsistent with what we know about his progressive worldview. And it's odd that the first black penalty is letting Andrew Cuomo who pushed through a gay marriage bill in Albany, on Friday night, go down in history of the leader on the front lines of the civil rights issue of our time.: She goes on and says this, "And worse, the young, hip black president swept in on a gust of change, audacity and hope is lagging behind a couple of old white conservatives, Dick Cheney and Ted Olson."

MARTIN: I'll remind you that Maureen Dowd wrote a number of columns highly critical of then-Senator Obama and but he was inaugurated when it came to 2009.

Here is also what I find to be interesting, that I think Maureen Dowd forgot, also she might want to leave the New York Times desk and go actually talk to a lot of black folks, and realize you can you cite him being the first black president, even this issue among the black community is a huge issue. Dick Cheney, when he sat in the White House, did he give a speech coming out for gay marriage? No. When Ted Olson, when the solicitor general of the United States, did he sand up and say, I will not move any cases before the Supreme Court against gay marriage, no. So --


GALEN: No, no, you are going -


MARTIN: Allow me to finish.

GALEN: You know-


MARTIN: Rich, Rich, President Bill Clinton --


BLITZER: Hold on a second, finish quickly.

(CROSS TALK) MARTIN: President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and came out in support of gay marriage after he left office, a political calculation. That is the reality. None of the people, those conservatives, said a word about it when they had the power to do so.

GALEN: But it wasn't the issue. It didn't come before them.

MARTIN: It was an issue then.

GALEN: That's like saying they didn't say anything about asteroids about hitting the earth. It wasn't an issue then.

MARTIN: It was an issue then.

BLITZER: You guys are not going to agree on this.



BLITZER: But a good discussion, guys. Thank you.

The Japan nuclear plant meltdown shocked and scared the world. Could something like that ever really happen in the flood-drenched United States? Brian Todd is in Nebraska. Stand by for his report.

And a dangerous new front in the war on terror. CNN has new information about secret operations by the same U.S. commando unit that killed Osama bin Laden.


BLITZER: A new front in the war on terror. Risky secret operations in Somalia already under way. Here's CNN's Barbara Starr.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): CNN has learned that U.S. military aircraft conducted a strike near Kismayo in southern Somalia last week, part of a new secret joint Pentagon and CIA war against a terrorist group the U.S. believes is targeting Europe and the United States.

The Pentagon hit a stronghold of Al Shabaab, a Somali-based Al Qaeda affiliate now in the U.S. crosshairs. U.S. military and CIA personnel have gone to Somalia secretly in recent months gathering intelligence and meeting key Somali contacts, according to two U.S. officials. CIA Director Leon Panetta acknowledged covert operations in both Somalia and next door Yemen.

LEON PANETTA, DIRECTOR, CIA: We are doing that in Yemen. It's obviously a dangerous and uncertain situation, but we continue to work with elements there to try to develop counterterrorism. We're working with JSOC as well in their operations. Same thing is true for Somalia.

STARR: The JSOC Panetta mentioned? Joint Special Operations Command, the same covert military unit that killed Osama bin Laden. Retired air force intelligence officer Cedric Leighton ran missions to Somalia in the 1990s. It's still a dangerous place for U.S. personnel, he says.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): It's extremely risky, because if they are captured by Al Shabaab, or similar groups, they basically face death. And it's a very, very difficult environment. They have to be very careful.

STARR: But the White House believes Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda are now hand in glove.

PANETTA: We do have intelligence that indicates that they, too, are looking at targets beyond Somalia.

When this Al Qaeda operative was recently killed by Somali forces, the CIA rapidly stepped in. Al Qaeda targeting plans were found with him, showing targets in Britain, including Eaton College. Think of it all as the war on terror 2.0.

LEIGHTON: Going after high-value targets like the leadership of Al Shabaab, any of the similar organizations that are out there, that is part and parcel of what JSOC obviously does, and really the best kind of tactic for an environment like Somalia. We want to stay away from getting involved in a big land war there.


STARR: And General David Petraeus, who will be taking over for Panetta at the CIA, has already endorsed these types of joint operations between the intelligence community and the U.S. Military, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thank you.