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Unrest in Egypt Continues; Fact-Checking Republican Debate; Russia Threatens to Deploy Missiles; DHS: No Evidence Water Pump Hacked; Cars Stuck in Spilled Sealant in Pennsylvania; GOP Presidential Candidates Rally Behind Israel; Romney's Misleading Campaign Ad; Cities Could Go Dark, Computers Could Fail; Hazing Probed in Student's Death

Aired November 23, 2011 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The GOP candidates do some shooting from the hip in their national security debate here on CNN, but are they on target with their comments? We are going to do a reality check.

The candidates voiced concern about Pakistan, but Michele Bachmann makes a stunning claim that there already have been attempts to penetrate its nuclear sites. I will ask CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend about that and in our next hour we will show you much more of the debate and we will break it down.

Plus, smoke, flames and clouds of tear gas in the streets of Cairo again as police battle protesters. We will take you right into the middle of the clashes.

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

A day after the Republican candidates sparred in CNN's national security debate,Mitt Romney is back out there on the campaign trail. He picked up a new endorsement today in Iowa. But key conservatives have already held secret talks there aimed at finding an alternative candidate to support.

CNN's Joe Johns is tracking all the latest political developments for us -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just six weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, and if you were to take a picture, the race for the nomination, it would about as clear as mud. And perhaps the strangest thing of all in this volatile race is that Mitt Romney, the guy getting the big endorsements and the one most Republicans can believe can beat the president, is not the person they say they're most likely to support.


JOHNS (voice-over): For the anybody-but-Romney crowd, this had to be a rich moment. Senator John Thune, the tall, young, telegenic true conservative from South Dakota, could have been a Republican contender for president, but decided not to run. And now Thune, of a state which sits right next door to Iowa, is supporting Mitt Romney's campaign, joking about whether his endorsement is worth anything given the public's low opinion of Congress.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I guess what I should have said is I will come out either for you or against you, whichever helps you the most.

JOHNS: And, yes, no joke, Romney apparently needs some help. The latest CNN/ORC poll shows Romney is seen by Republicans as the most likable candidate, the one most likely to get the economy moving again. And by a 2-1 margin, he is seen as the person with the best chance to beat President Obama in the general election.

But, almost incredibly, Romney is running in second place behind Newt Gingrich.

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Those who really care about winning the White House are supporting Mitt Romney, while those who really want to stand behind conservative principles are supporting Gingrich.

JOHNS: And it's not just academic for the conservatives who don't like Mitt Romney. Just this week a group of them in Iowa held a secret stop-Romney meeting to see if they could gather their forces and line up behind one candidate, any candidate other than the former governor of Massachusetts.

CNN's Shannon Travis.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: They feel the issue of abortion and the issue of gay marriage are major for them. They feel that Governor Romney, through his record, that he's waffled on both those issues. Democrats and critics have obviously been playing clips of Mitt Romney in past races in Massachusetts, stressing that he was for abortion rights and also gay marriage, obviously, passed in Massachusetts.

JOHNS: The Romney campaign told CNN he's running a 50-state campaign, that he's going to be competitive in Iowa and that he's reaching out to each and every voter. Though while he's running a campaign that stresses his alleged inevitability as the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney still has a long way to go to seal the deal.


JOHNS: A number of social conservatives we have spoken with say part of Romney's problem is he's perceived as having snubbed social conservatives, as opposed to actively reaching out to them. The fact that he's a Mormon may also complicate matters. Romney spent a lot of time campaigning in Iowa four years ago, but got beat by Mike Huckabee, who is a Baptist minister -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much.

In the CNN debate last night, the Republican candidates shot from the hip. At least some of them seemed to be doing that. but were they on target with their claims and comments about national security?

Let's get a reality check from our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, for the most part the candidates were on the mark.

But we did a little bit of digging and found some areas where the facts just didn't add up.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Newt Gingrich suggested the U.S. could sanction Iran's Central Bank, even if that caused Iran to cut off its oil exports, sending gas prices skyrocketing in places like Europe.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here, so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil.

LAWRENCE: But Iran produces four million barrels a day. Most analysts say the U.S. can't provide for its own energy needs, much less Europe's. Sanctions would take effect immediately. But any sizable jump in American production would be years away. Even though the U.S. does not import Iranian oil, the world supply is one big pool where everyone feels the shortages.

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you talk about attacking Iran, it is a very mountainous region.

LAWRENCE: Herman Cain said he could support an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites, but felt such a mission was unlikely to succeed.

CAIN: Given the terrain, the mountainous terrain in Iran.

LAWRENCE: But any modern jet can easily avoid Iran's highest mountain at 18,000 feet. There are plenty of reasons not to launch an attack, environmental damage, Iran's retaliation, and inspiring new terrorist attacks, but the mountains, not a problem.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Israel has 200, 300 nuclear missiles.

LAWRENCE: There's no hard evidence of Israel's nuclear stockpile, but the Federation of American Scientists, citing U.S. intelligence sources, puts the number much lower at closer to 80.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget, which just happens to equal the trillion dollars we're putting into Obamacare.

LAWRENCE: Governor Mitt Romney is talking about cuts from anticipated budgets well into the future. President Obama is cutting more than $400 billion from the Pentagon's budget over the next 10 years, but the other $600 billion kicks in because Congress could not reach agreement on a deal to reduce debt.


LAWRENCE: Now, Governor Romney is right if he's saying that the total cost of President Obama's health care plan is about $1 trillion. But the Congressional Budget Office also says that that plan includes spending cuts and tax increases that would actually reduce the federal deficit by about $200 billion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thank you.

As much as they are divided on many of these national security and foreign policy issues, the Republican candidates clearly share a deep concern about Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal. That was certainly the source of a stunning allegation in last night's debate.

I'm joined now by CNN's national security contributor Fran Townsend. She serves on the CIA and Homeland Security external advisory boards.

Fran, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Let's a little bit talk about what Michele Bachmann, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said last night and I will play the clip.



REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: has been the epicenter of dealing with terrorism. They are, as Governor Huntsman said, there are al Qaeda training grounds there. There's also the Haqqani network that can be trained there as well.

And they also are one of the most violent, unstable nations that there is. We have to recognize that 15 of the sites, nuclear sites are available or are potentially penetrable by jihadists. Six attempts have already been made on nuclear sites.


BLITZER: Now, that was news to me. Six attempts already have been made on Pakistan's what she says 15 nuclear sites? Do you know about that?

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, let's start with the 15 number.

Whether it's 15 or 50, the real concern here is that we know the intelligence service has been penetrated and sympathizers with al Qaeda and Taliban.

BLITZER: The Pakistani intelligence service.

TOWNSEND: There have always been concerns that there are sympathizers also in the military among both active duty and retired. There was a recent article in "The National Journal" that talks about Pakistan dispersing its nuclear arsenal. It's not clear where she got the 15 from or whether it's 15 or 50, quite frankly. In terms of the six attempts, that was news to me too.

The one we heard about was the attack in Karachi, where there was a sustained battle between Pakistani forces and an al Qaeda cell that had very dramatically entered and held the base for a while. We know that this is an issue. We know the vulnerabilities in Pakistan of the nuclear arsenal. But one has to ask, how does she have the 15 bases with six attempts other than from her time on the Intelligence Committee?

BLITZER: She obviously gets classified briefings as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. It would be appropriate if she released classified information like that. We don't know if this is classified, if it's public. She may have read it in a magazine or someplace else.

It was news to me, and if it's news to you, I assume it's news to a lot of our viewers out there. But that would be pretty significant, six attempts, because every Pakistani official I have interviewed from the president on down, they have all said -- the president of Pakistan -- they have all said that those nuclear facility sites in Pakistan are secure, the military has them under control and there's no need to worry.

When I have interviewed U.S. officials, including the president of the United States and the secretary of state, they have also said they are confident those nuclear facilities are secure. You were President Bush's homeland security adviser. Are they secure?

TOWNSEND: That's right.

Well, they have a very well-understood and well-established command and control capability over the nuclear weapons, as you would want them to and expect them to. The problem is if the services that are responsible for the security of the nuclear weapons get penetrated or willingly transfer such technology, and so that's always been a concern. But the six attempts on 15 facilities is a stunning statistic, if it's true.

BLITZER: That was a surprise to me.

Rick Perry, he also made an assertion last night in the debate, the governor of Texas. Listen to this.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're seeing countries start to come in and infiltrate. We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States.


BLITZER: Was that news to you? Is there any confirmation of that?

TOWNSEND: Certainly, we in the intelligence and national security community has been aware of Hezbollah's activity in South America, Venezuela and the tri-border region.

Yes, Iran and Hezbollah have activity in that region. Could they use their position in that part in South America to come across the southwest border? Sure. I don't know that there's been any proof they have done that. It was always a concern when I was in the White House that al Qaeda would use the southwest border to penetrate in the larger flow of illegal immigration.

What he's pointing to is a legitimate concern. That is the use of terrorists of the southwest border illegal immigration flow to enter the country. But let's remember, Wolf, right now we know al Qaeda's sort of path is to try and recruit Americans, people inside the United States, recruit and training, get them to deploy like the recent arrest we saw in New York.

While I understand the concern, and there's been some activity of Hezbollah in South America, I don't think that's by any means the only concern and certainly not the most recent...


BLITZER: He may have been talking about the Obama Justice Department announced a couple weeks ago a plot allegedly to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, going through Mexico, if you will, using Iranian agents. Maybe he's referring to that.

TOWNSEND: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fran Townsend. Happy Thanksgiving.


TOWNSEND: Happy Thanksgiving.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Caught in the chaos. CNN's Ivan Watson takes us inside the deadly street battles that are rocking Cairo right now.

And we also have new developments in the truly shocking case of an Afghan woman sentenced to jail -- yes, sentenced to jail because she was raped in Afghanistan, a country the United States supports. What is going on? New information coming up.



STEVEN PIFER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Now, just as in America, you're beating up on Russia is always good in politics, Russia taking a hard line between the United States and NATO, plays very well for the record there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A report from our own Jill Dougherty. That story is going to have some serious potential ramifications. We'll stay on top of it.

Meanwhile, a dismal day before Thanksgiving on Wall Street. Lisa Sylvester has an update on that. Some top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the Dow, the Nasdaq and the S&P, all lost more than 2 percent today on a trifecta worries. Chinese manufacturing fell to an almost three-year low. U.S. unemployment claims and those fears combined with ongoing concern about euro zone debt to push down the Dow more than 230 points.

Homeland Security officials say there is no evidence a water pump in the Springfield, Illinois area was cyberattacked. The pump failed this month.

Federal authorities were called in when the utility company thought it spotted suspicious computer traffic from Russia on a system that controls the pump. The Homeland Security Department says it found no suspicious activity from Russia or anywhere else.

And a truly sticky situation for Thanksgiving travelers in Pennsylvania. Last night, a tanker truck carrying driveway seal ant sprang a leak on the Pennsylvania turnpike that spilled the black goo all over the highway. You can guest what happened next.

Hundreds of cars were damaged. Some couldn't even move. They tried to plow the stuff off the road, but eventually they gave up and poured sand on top of it instead. Not a very fun commute for folks in the Pennsylvania area, Wolf.

BLITZER: Messy, indeed. All right, Lisa, don't go too far away. I know you're working on another story involving a college marching band known as one of the best in the country now suspended after the death of one of its members with hazing to blame? Lisa will have the latest on the investigation. That's coming up.


BLITZER: The Republican presidential contenders, slugging it out over a number of critical national security issues at last night's CNN Republican presidential debate.

When we got to the relationship between United States and Israel, most of them seem to agree. Watch this.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got Syria on the horizon, we have American interests, it's called Israel. We're a friend and ally. They are a friend and ally. We need to remind the world what it means to be friend and ally to the United States. NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If my choice was to collaborate with the Israelis on a conventional campaign or force them to use their nuclear weapons, it will be a dangerous world. If on the sense of being abandoned, they went nuclear and use multiple nuclear weapons in Iran. That would be a future none of us would want to live through.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The right course for Israel is to show that we care about Israel. They are our friend and we'll stick with them. If I'm president of the United States, my first trip, my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about the country and that region.


BLITZER: Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN political contributors, Roland Martin and David Frum. David is also the editor of

David, let me start with you. You notice at the end there, Mitt Romney saying his first visit as president would be to Israel. The current president since taking office has not visited Israel.

That was clearly and I spoke to some of Romney's aides, a dig at President Obama for not going to Israel.

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, President Obama's position on Israel is really strange. He's been in the region repeatedly. He's been to Turkey and he's been to Egypt and he has not been to Israel and that does seem puzzling especially given the generally chilling relationship between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government in Israel.

It's bad news for Canada, my home and native land, which is historically the first presidential visit. Let's just hope that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be the first guest in a Romney White House.

BLITZER: Before you have to worry about that. Romney has to get the Republican nomination and then be elected president. So he still got a waist to go. What do you make of that, Roland?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTORS: Look, obviously, when you look at the New York race, the seat formerly held by Anthony Weiner (inaudible) and talk about that, you know, gave his viewpoint.

There's this whole view that somehow American Jews are not going to be supportive of President Barack Obama, but if you actually look at opinion polls in Israel. They approve of President Obama and his policies.

So it's very interesting how here, somehow, no, he's very cold to Israel. But the people of Israel, do not have the same view of the president. I find that to be very interesting.

BLITZER: Is that your reading of the mood in Israel, David? FRUM: Well, he is -- President Obama does poll well among American Jews who generally approve of his domestic agenda and American presidents are popular in Israel because the United States is popular in Israel.

But I just don't think there's any blinking the fact that never mind the country-to-country relationship. The person-to-person relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu has deteriorated.

And a lot of that is of the president's doing. He dressed down Prime Minister Netanyahu who was presented with various kinds of ultimatums. And it's natural that Republican candidates knowing how broadly popular Israel is in the United States would make an issue.

The fact that President Obama has allowed this relationship to deteriorate, I mean, it's weird. It's weird you go to Egypt and not go to Israel. It's weird you go to Turkey and not go to Israel. Those are America's three closest friends in the region. Why two and not three?

MARTIN: First of all, it's no shock that Netanyahu is very close to President George W. Bush. So you wouldn't necessarily expect the same kind of relationship.

Bottom line is I'm not talking about how President Obama polls among American Jews. I'm talking about how President Obama polls among Israeli, his numbers are very strong there. A different view here from the people of Israel. That's what I'm talking about.

BLITZER: Just to button this up, I want to move on to another subject. The defense minister of Israel, Ehud Barak when he was on CNN this past Sunday in Fareed Zakaria's show, he -- made a point of stressing how the U.S./Israeli security relationship today, during the Obama administration and Netanyahu government is as strong as it's ever been, if not stronger.

That was Ehud Barak, the former prime minister and the current defense minister of Israel on Fareed's show. But let's move on to another issue. This is a day after the controversial Mitt Romney ad came out.

There is a clip in there that clearly distorted what President Obama said four years ago. Here's how it looks in the commercial.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm confident we can steer ourselves out of this race. We need a rescue plan in the middle. It will take a new direction. If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.


BLITZER: All right. You heard the president say in that commercial if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose. Here's actually what the president said four years ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yesterday, Senator McCain's campaign manager said that the reason he wasn't talking about the market was he wasn't sure what to say.

Last week in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the great depression, his campaign announced that they were going to try to turn the page on the discussion of the economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me.

They said if we keep on talking about the economy, then we'll lose.


BLITZER: So there you saw the full context the president was quoting the McCain campaign. Today, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate justified the ad, and he said this.


ROMNEY: So there was no hidden effort on the part of our campaign. It was instead to point out what is sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander.

And he spoke about the economy being a huge burden for John McCain. This ad points out, guess what. It's now your turn. The same lines used on John McCain are now going to be used on you, which is that this economy will be your albatross.


BLITZER: David, do you buy that explanation?

FRUM: Look, I think it shows the video recall, ads are not good politics because you get bitten in this way. It is true that an incumbent president is going to take the responsibility for the economy.

That point can be made so powerfully in so many ways. You don't have to I think make this misstep. I suppose what Mitt Romney was doing there. I don't imagine he approves every single ad.

I supposed he's showing loyalty to people in his command and taking some of the heat. I think probably you won't see anything like that again.

BLITZER: Roland, in advance of the release of the commercial saying, they knew the quote was taken out of context, but they wanted to do it anyway to make their point about this president's record of the economy.

MARTIN: I'm sorry, David, you're doing the Potomac two-step. Let's call it what it is. It is a lie. It is not a misstep. It's not a mischaracterization. We could try to be nice and it's taken out of context. This was a deliberate attempt by the Mitt Romney campaign to lie. If you want to use something, the president himself said, he was elected in four years, I will be judged by how I do in this economy. You don't have to lie.

So he's not falling on this sword. He's deliberately trying to put something out there. Hoping we won't call them out. I'm sorry, Mitt Romney, don't be a liar.

Don't stand there and say, trust me, take me at my word. I want to be the president of the United States. We don't need someone who blatantly lies in a campaign to be sitting in the oval office.

FRUM: I don't think you need to get quite so exercised about it.

MARTIN: A lie is a lie.

FRUM: It is -- you don't need to call names -- what they did here, they took --

MARTIN: David, is it a lie?

FRUM: No, it is a -- first, it's not something that somebody said. It is a clip. It's a misuse of it. That's a bad thing to do. But you can -- there are a lot of different kinds of bad things to do. When you decide we'll torque it up rather than torque it down --

BLITZER: All right, guys, because we got to leave it right there. Happy Thanksgiving to both of you. We'll continue this on another occasion.

One expert said it could destroy America's capacity to function, an electromagnetic pulse attack. What is that? We're going to show you what could be so devastating and what is going on.


BLITZER: New attention today on a particular type of attack, the Republican presidential frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, labeled a major national security concern in last night's CNN Republican presidential debate.

Our Brian Todd is going in depth with a closer look at how powerful and potentially dangerous this threat really is. Tell our viewers what is going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is called an electromagnetic pulse attack. This is a threat Newt Gingrich has been talking about for at least a couple of years. Many had never heard of it, but experts say this is not some tin foil whacko concoction.


TODD (voice-over): Asked during the debate to name the security threats that worry him, Newt Gingrich lays out three scenarios, a weapon of mass destruction in an American city, a cyber attack and something many have never heard of.

GINGRICH: Electromagnetic pulse attack, which would literally destroy the country's capacity to function.

TODD: An electromagnetic pulse attack or EMP. It's been the stuff of fiction on the Fox show "24," but it's also a real threat, experts say, and it wouldn't look like that.

An EMP attack they say is an intense burst of electromagnetic radiation. It can be triggered by detonating a nuclear weapon at high altitude, a weapon that could be launched by a rogue nation or a terrorist group with access to it.

But detonated miles up in the atmosphere experts say, the main impact is electrical. Energy that doesn't kill people, but spreads like lightning striking any electrical grid or circuitry, feeding into them burning them out. Whole cities could go dark.

Security analyst, James Carafano has written about EMP attacks.

(on camera): In one single event what could be disabled?

JAMES CARAFANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: If you had a large scale EMP event in the United States, everything would be disabled. Because even things that weren't knocked out, let's say your car, which might be okay, but the electrical grid will be gone.

There's going to be no way to do traffic lights, no way to land ships. There's no way to get fuel to the gas stations to refuel your car. The gas pumps wouldn't work.

TODD (voice-over): Think of this fictional attack in the movie "Ocean's 11." We demonstrated electromagnetic interference on a much smaller less threatening scale at the University of Maryland. Showing how magnetic fields from some electronic devices often interfere with other devices.

(on camera): Hear this ringing behind me? We'll show what electromagnetic interference is. Say this television is a car. Car's function is rolling along normally.

Here's a cell phone ringing, when it gets close. You can see how the audio changes. Here's the interference. It's interference with the car's function.

(voice-over): But with a large scale EMP attack experts say computers would fail. Telecommunications cut off. Bank accounts inaccessible.


TODD: James Carafano and other experts say huge segments of the population in an attacked area could even be at risk of dying within a year of an attack not from the detonation itself but from starvation, exposure, lack of medical care.

They say that's because the transformers that power many electrical grids take a long time to manufacture and transport and with transportation knocked out by the attack that prolongs the isolation. It's frightening.

BLITZER: Leave it to Newt Gingrich leaving that to the forefront.

TODD: He's thinking out of the box.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Good report. Thanks very much. We're also learning some outrageous new developments involving Syria and the United Nations. Stand by.


BLITZER: Here's an outrageous new development involving Syria. Lisa Sylvester is watching that and some of the other top stories -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. Well, we're used to seeing deadly protests in Syria these days. Now despite months of alleged human rights abuses, a United Nations watch dog group is reporting, UNESCO, the U.N.'s education arm unanimously elected Syria to a committees including one dealing with human rights. The Arab group within UNESCO nominated Syria for those spots.

A French court has declared the way for former dictator Noriega to be extradited to his home country of Panama. He'll face charges there alleging he ordered the murder of a political rival in 1985. He's been jailed in France since 2007 for money laundering -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you. It's a very sad day at CNN as we lost a long time member of our family. CNN radio anchor, Stan Case was killed in a car crash in Birmingham, Alabama.

His wife, one of CNN's lead writers was injured and remains hospitalized. CNN radio news manager, Mike Jones says Stan Case was in many ways the backbone of this network.

Stan case, a great, great, great guy was 59 years old. Our deepest condolences to his family.


BLITZER: Questions are swirling about the possible role of hazing in the death of a college marching band drum major. CNN's Lisa Sylvester is back with the story.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): They are one of the best with precision and technique. Florida A&M University's marching 100 has stood out. The band program began more than 100 years ago, a proud tradition for the university.

But the entire band is now suspended indefinitely after the death of drum major Robert Champion. Authorities are investigating if hazing has played a role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do want to know what happened because that would give me more understanding. So I can accept what happened.

SYLVESTER: Saturday night after the Florida classic Champion was found on a university bus outside of a hotel. He was reportedly throwing up, and said he couldn't breathe. He died shortly afterward.

The Orange County medical examiner has completed the autopsy, but says more information is needed before determining a final cause of death. The university announced that it's forming a task force to review the circumstances of Champion's death.

JAMES AMMONS, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY: The purpose of this review is not to establish culpability of individual band members in this particular case. But rather to determine, whether there are patterns of behavior, by the band, or members of it, that should be addressed at the institution level.

SYLVESTER: Thirty band members were let go earlier this year because of hazing. Those investigations are ongoing. Marching band members at historically black colleges have been tight knit groups much like a sorority or fraternity.

And hazing has long been a problem. At Clark Atlanta University, the band director says a student handbook spells out it's against university policy to haze another student.

THOMAS WARNER JR., BAND DIRECTOR, CLARK ATLANTA: There's zero tolerance here at Clark Atlanta. We don't condone it at all.

SYLVESTER: And Robert Champion, his band director said he was to have been named the head drum major next year. But he never got the chap to tell him.


SYLVESTER: A mother of a marching band student has come forward to CNN detailing her many concerns with hazing within the program. Even though there is a zero tolerance policy there, she said it still happens. And that her son told her it is a right of passage like a gang initiation.

The quote that she said was you have to be beaten to earn respect and she spoke to university officials about this issue before all of this happened and now looking back, she says that Robert Champion's death could have been prevented.


BLITZER: A sad story, Lisa. Thank you.