Return to Transcripts main page


Mitt Romney Wins New Hampshire Primary; Iranian Nuclear Scientist Killed; Tale of Two Campaigns; Why Is Romney Winning?; Most Dangerous Job In The World; Iran's Ahmadinejad Visits Cuba; Protests Mark Gitmo 10th Anniversary; Study: 100 Billion Planets In Milky Way; First Lady: Not An "Angry Black Woman"

Aired January 11, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: Mitt Romney's rivals fight for their political lives after the front-runner makes it two in a row. The next primary takes on huge importance. The candidates already in South Carolina, where the sparks are already flying.

Like something out of a movie, a speeding motorcyclist places a bomb on a car and kills another Iranian nuclear scientist. Who is behind the deadly string of assassinations?

And the first lady of the United States reacting to a controversial new book about the Obama White House, saying she's not the stereotype of -- quote -- "some angry black woman."

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

With back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has now done what no other Republican incumbent candidate has ever done, once again no Republican candidate except, I should say, for a sitting president. Romney, of course, wants to be sitting in the White House next year, but that road leads through South Carolina. That's the next primary state in 10 days.

His opponents are digging trenches and putting up barricades there in an all-out effort to halt his momentum.

South Carolina has a reputation for rough and tumble primaries and for picking winners, at least potentially.

CNN's Jim Acosta is joining us from South Carolina. He's got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if only the South Carolina primary could be tomorrow for Mitt Romney, it's going to be potentially a brutal 10 days before the voters go to the polls here in the state, but Mitt Romney, no question about it, is coming off a big win in New Hampshire.

His campaign says they have raised $24 million in the fourth quarter. That's fresh ammunition to go to war against these other candidates here in South Carolina and then the next primary state, Florida. But we caught up with one of Romney's main rivals here in this state, Rick Santorum, who is going to appeal to a lot six the social conservatives in this state. When we caught up with him, Senator Santorum said, it's not over yet.


ACOSTA: Hey, Senator, the conventional wisdom today is that Mitt Romney has all but wrapped up the Republican nomination. How do you stop him?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what, this is a long process. Half the people who voted yesterday weren't even Republicans. So the idea that he's wrapped up the Republican nomination because he won by eight votes in Iowa and he won his home state is just silly.

ACOSTA: Are you going to challenge his record down here?

SANTORUM: We're going to challenge everything. It's not just going to be here. It's Florida and beyond.


ACOSTA: Now, during some remarks Santorum made at an event right after we talked to him there, he basically chalked up Romney's victory in New Hampshire to the fact that he's been campaigning in that state for six years, noting the fact that Romney ran for president unsuccessfully in 2008.

So Senator Santorum is ready to go with Mitt Romney. And the former Massachusetts governor will face a lot of critical questions here, Wolf about the time he spent running the private investment firm Bain Capital. Rick Perry is already down here in South Carolina talking about a factory that was closed in this state by Bain Capital, and some of the layoffs that occurred there.

And Romney was asked about this question of Bain Capital and whether he's prepared for these attacks on his press charter earlier today. And he said that, we have understood for a long time that the Obama people would come after us on this issue, but he said he was surprised that Newt Gingrich, and he singled out Newt Gingrich, would be a first witness for the prosecution, in his words.

But let's just boil down why this may not be all that easy for Mitt Romney here in South Carolina. Take a look at the results back in 2008. Mitt Romney did not finish first here. That went to John McCain. He finished in fourth place, Wolf.

Look at these results, John McCain 33.2 percent, Mike Huckabee, you will remember, very popular with social conservatives there at 29.9 percent. Fred Thompson, remember him, he was at 15.7 percent, and then Mitt Romney at 15.1 percent.

But what Romney can really hang his hat on here, Wolf, is the hope that he can be like John McCain in 2012, he could be the front-runner while the others spread out the social conservatives among several different candidates, really split that vote, and that would allow Mitt Romney to come out on top of this state.

And if he does, Wolf, let's keep in mind this state has a pretty good history of picking presidents. This state has picked the eventual winner of the GOP nomination in every presidential contest here since 1980.

That's a pretty good track record, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an excellent track record, 10 days from now. Jim Acosta will be there every step of the way for us, as he always is.

Thank you, Jim.

A quick footnote right now. I will interview Rick Santorum live from South Carolina. That is coming up in our next hour. I will ask him if there's any chance to stop Mitt Romney. I suspect his answer will be yes.

While Mitt Romney's Republican rivals continue to attack his record as a financier, is President Obama joining that pile-on? Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want America to be a nation that's primarily known for financial speculation and racking up debt buying stuff from other nations. I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words: made in America. And we can make that happen.



BLITZER: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us.

Jessica, that was really a thinly veiled attack on Romney, wasn't it?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president didn't need to name Romney, Mitt Romney by name, because the attack there, or the criticism is implicit.

Today was all about drawing contrasts, and the president surrounding himself with business leaders who are creating jobs here in the U.S. The big picture for the president's campaign aides is this. They believe that this fight that just happened in New Hampshire, with so many Republicans attacking Mitt Romney's record, damaged Romney's image as a jobs creator in a way that did some of the Democrats' work for them.

But what the Obama campaign is not pointing out is this. Last night, Mitt Romney won the biggest percentage of voters who are concerned about the economy by far. That's very good news for the Romney camp. And the biggest challenge for the Obama campaign is if Governor Romney wraps up the nomination fairly quickly. Let's say if he's able to do it after Florida, and then is able to turn his attention and considerable fund-raising ability to the president, that is what worries them most, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that would be good news for Romney and potentially bad news for the president.

Speaking of fund-raising, though, the president he is doing it virtually nonstop, isn't he?

YELLIN: He's doing quite a bit of fund-raising. I have to say he's spending some good bit of time at the White House, too, but he keeps hitting the trail. And today -- this evening he's in Chicago doing three fund-raisers there tonight.

Let's look at the numbers so far. The Obama campaign together with what they call their Victory Fund has raised $155 million. That's through late last year. And they set a goal of raising another $60 million by the end of the year. They have yet to announce their total, but we will see if they hit that $60 million figure when they announce it shortly, maybe later this week. We will see.

The Romney campaign just said they raised $56 million. That's a lot of money for a primary candidate to raise, impressive and worrying for the Obama campaign. And then the Republican super PACs have raised almost $20 million. So, clearly, Wolf, as of now, the president is winning the fund-raising battle, but Democrats insist they're very worried about competing with the unlimited funds that their opponents will raise from those super PACs, where corporations or wealthy individuals can give unlimited amounts.

You know that Democrats tend to get more from unions, Republicans more from corporate donors, and then again Democrats' biggest fear is that those super PACs will pour a ton of money into negative ads early on, when the president's campaign is saving their money to spend later.

BLITZER: But the Democrats are fighting fire with fire, Jessica. They have created super PACs too to protect the president, to support the president. Bill Burton, one of the president's former deputy press secretaries, and our own Paul Begala, they have got a super PAC.

Presumably, they're raising a ton of money as well.

YELLIN: Two very talented people, by my reporting, Wolf, is that the Democratic super PACs have not been able to raise very much money to date all. The Republican super PACs are raising an enormous amount of money.

Dollar for dollar, in the super PAC world, there's just no competition to date.

BLITZER: All right, we will continue to check that out. Jessica, thank you.

So far Mitt Romney has done what he has needed to do. That would be win. but can he keep it going? A breakdown of his New Hampshire win offers a few clues.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here with more on this.

What was different in Romney's victory last night?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, put simply, he ran the table. He did what every Republican candidate dreams of doing.

Let me just tell you the groups that he won across. He won with Republicans, with people who identify themselves as conservatives, Tea Party supporters, evangelicals, and, of course, those very important independent voters.

Now, Democrats are going to point out, and they do, that Mitt Romney did not win with lower-income people. He didn't win with younger voters. And the turnout, of course, was not as terrific as Republicans had anticipated.

But overall, Wolf, Romney did what is so important to any Republican running for the presidency. He managed to get hits base together and attract those independent voters. And that's the formula for anybody who wants to win the presidency, get your base, get those independents.

BLITZER: Now, we have got 10 days to South Carolina, which in politics is a long time. A lot can happen in 10 days. But can he recreate that formula in South Carolina?

BORGER: It's going to be very, very difficult, as Jim Acosta was pointing out, for him to really recreate what he did in New Hampshire.

After all, he had a lot of natural advantages in New Hampshire. Don't forget, in 2008, 60 percent of the voters in South Carolina identified themselves as evangelicals. Those evangelicals may well be skeptical of his Mormonism and Mitt Romney's position on abortion, which has changed over the years.

Also, those Tea Party supporters, they're a little bit skeptical about Mitt Romney. Here's what I guess is going to come up. We haven't heard a lot of talk about the Massachusetts health care plan. Tea Partiers don't like the idea of mandates. That was in Romney's Massachusetts plan. He will have to defend that as well.

And then, of course, you have the attacks coming from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry on Mitt Romney as a corporate raider. That will have some resonance, I believe, in South Carolina.

BLITZER: Rick Perry didn't say corporate raider. He said a vulture capitalist.

BORGER: Vulture.

BLITZER: Not a venture capitalist, a vulture capitalist. I suspect we will here more of that. BORGER: I think we will absolutely hear more of that.

It's going to put a lot of pressure on Romney to respond. As you know, he didn't really respond very well in New Hampshire. He seemed a little flummoxed by it. When he said to people, you know, I know what it's like to be afraid of getting a pink slip, he seemed a little bit unauthentic.

But I would bet money that he is going to have some ads up on Bain Capital, whether it's from his campaign or from the super PAC that can spend an awful lot of money on it defending himself on the corporate raider front. I guarantee you he will do that, because these charges cannot be left unanswered.

However, Wolf, most of the Republican establishment is absolutely horrified that there's a class warfare argument going on within the Republican Party. The question is, does Newt Gingrich care about what the Republican establishment thinks, or does Rick Perry at this point care what the Republican establishment thinks?

I think the answer to that is no. So they will continue.

BLITZER: There's no doubt. And you and I know these Republican establishment type of guys and gals. They are loving Mitt Romney right now.

BORGER: Yes, they are, and they feel that Gingrich and Perry are feeding right into Barack Obama's game plan, not that David Axelrod needs any help with that. They know where they're going to attack, but now they will have clips. As you point out, the vulture capitalist could well be a rerun during the general election.

BLITZER: Yes, and Newt Gingrich calling him a liar, that's another clip that Democrats...


BORGER: And pious baloney. Yes.


BLITZER: All right, Gloria, thanks very much.


So while we watch the candidates, Jack Cafferty is thinking about the running mates, the vice presidential running mates. Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Plus, two planes much to close for comfort. We have details of a near-collision at a major U.S. airport.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Continuing with the theme. With Iowa and New Hampshire in the rear-view mirror, and South Carolina and Florida looking like two more potential victories, Mitt Romney is beginning to seem like he's going to be tough to beat. If Romney goes on and wins the Republican nomination, of course, the next question becomes: who is the best pick for vice president to round out the candidate?

For starters, nominees usually look at their former competitors, although it's very hard to imagine Romney would pick Newt Gingrich to be his number two. A recent column on suggests the Republican winner should look for a vice president with a strong business background, experience and someone who can avoid the so- called Palin syndrome. Translation -- they ought to name some newspapers they read and a couple Supreme Court cases. These could include people like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, my favorite, my governor.

Christie has been campaigning for Romney to standing room-only crowds in New Hampshire, traveling the Granite State as sort of a political odd couple. Christie brings healthy doses of signature straight talk. When protesters at a New Hampshire began yelling "Mitt kills jobs, Christie kills jobs, Christie shouted back with this, quote, "Really? You know, something might go down here tonight, but it ain't going to be jobs, sweetheart," unquote.

Christie would spice up the ticket a lot and might be more willing to go on the attack so Romney wouldn't have to.

As a side note, here's my political fantasy for 2012. President Obama convinces Hillary Clinton to replace Joe Biden on the Democratic side, Romney puts Christie on the ticket, and then a series of debates is scheduled between Clinton and Christie. It will be much more entertaining than watching debates between Romney and Obama. It would be huge.

Hey, we can dream, right?

Here's the question -- if Mitt Romney wins the nomination, who should be his vice president? Go to, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Looking forward to what our viewers think. Great question, Jack. Thank you.

We're learning new details about a close call between two planes at Chicago's Midway Airport.

CNN's Mary Snow is working the story for us.

So, Mary, what are you finding out?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, picture the length of two planes, as roughly how close a Learjet taking off came to striking a 737 on the runway. It happened December 1st. The NTSB is investigating, and, fortunately, there were no injuries.


SNOW (voice-over): The question before the National Transportation Safety Board -- how did a Southwest 737 and a Learjet get so close to each other on the runway at Chicago's Midway Airport? A Southwest jet carrying 79 people had just landed and cleared to cross a runway when a Learjet was taking off.

According to an NTSB report, it was the copilot of the Southwest plane who yelled to his pilot to stop, averting a collision. At its closest point, they came within 300 feet horizontally and 62 feet vertically.

A Southwest pilot then radioed the control tower with frustration clear in his voice.

SOUTHWEST PILOT: Yes, we just had a plane take off on 31 right, you cleared us to cross.

CONTROL TOWER: Just saw that.

SOUTHWEST PILOT: OK, you just copied, you cleared us under a runway, there was a plain was taking off.

What technology clears us on the runway when a plane was taking off?

CONTROL TOWER: Contact ground, please.

SOUTHWEST PILOT: A Learjet, or some sort, was taking off. We had to hit the brakes and the thing went right over our head.

CAPT. KEVIN L. HIATT, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, FLIGHT SAFETY FOUNDATION: Where the danger point was or the critical point was right here. The 737 stopped instead of going through here and continuing around, and it was going to continue all the way over here to the terminal.

SNOW: Kevin Hiatt is a former pilot now with the nonprofit Flight Safety Foundation. He says while it doesn't appear the smaller jet was aimed right at the Southwest plane, the question is why the 737 was cleared to cross of runway. The NTSB isn't assigning blame until its report is complete.

But this latest incident follows a recent government report showing an increase in incidents near airports.

Hiatt sees two main factors: an increase in air traffic and new reporting system where air traffic controllers and pilots aren't punished for reporting errors.

HIATT: These are voluntary reports that are being submitted by the air traffic controllers -- in this case, pilots -- and they are disclosing events like this in order to help get the data together to prevent something like this from happening again. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, Wolf, the union for the air traffic controllers declined comment, citing the NTSB investigation. Southwest did the same. A spokesman for the airline said it's fully cooperating with the NTSB -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I would hope so. Certainly it's important. Thanks very much, Mary.

Democrats are wore worried that Mitt Romney will wrap up the nomination sooner rather than later. We're going to talk about why in our strategy session.

Plus, an Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated in a killing that seems right out of a thriller, and he's not alone.


BLITZER: Almost half a million minivans and SUVs are now being recalled.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?


Well, the recall covers some 45,000 Ford Escape SUVs made in 2001 and 2002. The company says leaking brake fluid can cause smoke or even a fire. Ford is also calling recalling 205,000 Freestar and Mercury Monterrey minivans from 2004 and 2005. Those vehicles have a torque converter output shaft that can fail, causing the vehicle to lose power.

And Microsoft says it's investigating reports of a mass suicide threat at a Chinese factory that makes the Xbox game systems. The massive plant is owned by a Chinese contractor Foxconn and employs as many as 800,000 people and made headlines in 2010 following a rash of worker suicides believed to stem from harsh working conditions.

And we are tracking that two-ship convoy trying to bring more than a million gallons of fuel to ice bound Nome, Alaska, before the town runs out. The American icebreaker and Russian tanker are still about 100 miles out. But after cutting through 50 miles of ice on Monday, they only made it 50 feet yesterday. It is the first-ever to supply fuel to the Arctic Alaska through sea ice.

And the company that brings us Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and other iconic treats has filed for bankruptcy. But Hostess brand says the stocks will keep coming while it reorganizes, with no plans to layoff workers or close plans. The company based in Irving, Texas, was founded at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1930 and employs some 19,000 people.

So good news, I know for some folks. The Twinkies will survive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's been a while sing I had a Twinkie, but I remember eating many of them in my day.

All right. Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

A tale of two campaigns in South Carolina. Can Jon Huntsman gain any ground after gambling on New Hampshire? And can Newt Gingrich regain his footing in the conservatives' stronghold? Joe Johns is standing by to join us. We'll assess as well in our strategy session.

Plus, a brazen bombing in the heart of Tehran, who is beyond the latest hit on an Iranian nuclear scientist.

And CNN's Nic Robertson has an extraordinary firsthand look at Syria's crackdown.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This is an antigovernment rally barely 15 minutes from Syria's capital. They've come to bury a 32-year-old man they say was killed by pro-government gunmen.



BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Here are some stories we're working out for our next hour:

Cameras were rolling when a French journalist was killed in the violence in the uprising in Syria. It's the first death of a Western reporter.

Also, Rick Santorum joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about his disappointing finish in New Hampshire and his strategy in South Carolina. He's joining us live.

Dozens of bus crashes all the caught on videotape. And the video has just been released, raising serious concerns about public transport in a major U.S. city.

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: New Hampshire is already history for the GOP candidates. A new battle is under way in South Carolina. As Mitt Romney tries to roll up the opposition, some of his rivals are fighting to survive and they're fighting hard.

Let's go live South Carolina. CNN's Joe Johns is already on the scene for us. Joe, what's going on?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jon Huntsman having his first event here on the campus of the University of South Carolina, Wolf, making a bit of news, talking about the controversy over Bain Capital and Mitt Romney.

Coming down pretty much on the side of Mitt Romney, quite frankly, saying in his view some of the rhetoric needs to be cooled down when talking about Bain Capital. Investment banks, he says, you can't be for free market capitalism and against the banks at the same time.

Again, as I said, his first event coming off that third-place showing in New Hampshire, he was greeted by a large standing room only crowd on the top floor of a business school here on the campus and received very well.

Nonetheless, it's a real uphill battle for him here in South Carolina because there are so many Evangelicals, so many value voters, and others, including Tea Partiers who don't seem to be really in the Jon Huntsman wheelhouse.

On the other hand, there is Newt Gingrich who actually flew out to South Carolina last night after his final event in New Hampshire. He hit the ground running this morning in Rock Hill, South Carolina, up near the North Carolina border. He was banging away at the issue of Bain Capital. Listen to this.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Criticizing specific actions in specific places is not being anti-free enterprise. Crony capitalism where people pay each other off at the expense of the country is not free enterprise and raising questions about that is not wrong.


JOHNS: Now if that is not enough, he also has a new web ad out that's going after Mitt Romney once again this time hitting the issue that Gingrich has talked about before in New Hampshire and in other places, suggesting that Mitt Romney would not be a good match against President Obama in a debate. Listen to this web ad.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What were you thinking? This is a completely airtight kennel mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself. He was in kennel at home a great of time as well. We love the dog. It was where he was comfortable. We had five kids inside the car. My guess is he liked it a lot better in the kennel than he would have liked it inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHNS: Some of the toughest kinds of web ads are the web ads that use only a person's words against him. So you see that. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich has one more thing out there, that would be a fundraising letter to people here in South Carolina.

Stressing the urgency of the moment, telling people there's no more time for talking about Mitt Romney and making the case that if it doesn't happen next week in South Carolina, Romney is almost certainly going to be the nominee for the Republican Party.

So Newt Gingrich really going after Mitt Romney here in South Carolina on his first day of campaigning after New Hampshire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: His next 10 days are going to be critical. They're probably going to very, very ugly. I wrote about that on my blog post today as well. Thanks very much, Joe.

Let's dig a little deeper right now on our "Strategy Session." Joining the Democratic strategist, Jamal Simmons and the Republican strategist, Alice Stewart, former spokeswoman for Michele Bachmann.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Alice, let me start with you. Romney is a little more moderate than several of the other Republican candidates.

Here's the question -- since the Tea Party and other more conservative members of the Tea Party and elsewhere were doing well, why is Romney doing as well as he is?

ALICE STEWART, FORMER BACHMANN CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: Well, that's a great question. One thing to your point, things are going to start getting really dirty in South Carolina.

Politics is a blood sport there. Things are going to start getting dirty. But as we saw in New Hampshire, this is the home of the live free or die state. They're a little bit more independent thinking.

As things transition into South Carolina, we're going to get down into the bible belt. As I learned working with Governor Huckabee in '08, the message changes dramatically.

You come down to the south and you're talking about Gods and guns, but still Romney is doing well. There are several reasons behind that.

First of all, money. You can't deny the fact that money is a big factor in being able to put ads on there and also helping with staff and organization, but also he's got the money and the momentum from doing well in Iowa as well as New Hampshire.

But more importantly there's interesting numbers that came out of exit polling last night, Wolf. People were asked of all of the candidates, who would you be most satisfied with if they were the nominee. And given all of that, Romney came out 61 percent far ahead of the others. So they're looking at does he have the money to carry on and take on Obama? Certainly people are satisfied with him even though he is a little bit more moderate than the others. They're still satisfied thinking that he can take on President Obama.

BLITZER: Good point. Jamal, you like James Carville and a whole bunch of other Democrats that I've been speaking these past few days that simply assume that Mitt Romney has it wrapped up?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I don't assume he had it wrapped up, but I think he's got as close to the wrapping as you can get without having to vote on it. He's got the organization. He's got the money.

It looks like he's going to probably get to the finish line, but I will give a caveat here, which is that South Carolina is the place where presidential ambitions go to die for a lot of people.

Remember John McCain in 2000 after winning in New Hampshire, he went to South Carolina and really got smacked around a lot by President Bush. I think Newt Gingrich is in the smacking business right now.

I think he has the ad on abortion that Newt Gingrich has put up, which is not from his "Super PAC," but it's from Newt Gingrich. It's a pretty tough ad on Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: You know, Alice, there's a lot of Republicans, a lot of Tea Party activists as you well know that really don't like Mitt Romney. If he gets the nomination, will they simply sit on their hands, stay out of it? Not energize the base, what do you think?

STEWART: I don't see that. We've had all along throughout this GOP primary. We had basically two campaigns. We've had the Romney campaign and the anti-Romney campaign. All the other candidates are basically in that field.

But at the end of the day, the GOP voters and conservatives out there, they don't want their votes to go to waste. They're going to vote for the person they see will have the means, resources and the message to beat Barack Obama regardless of anything else.

So if Romney is the nominee, we're going to see Tea Party people. We're going to see the faith community. We're going to see all conservatives joined together.

Because they want to the stand behind the candidate that will take Barack Obama on and move him out of the White House and get the conservative message in there regardless of any other thing aside from that. Most importantly they want Barack Obama to be a one-term president.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jamal, make your point.

SIMMONS: I just got back from New Hampshire and I got to tell you, Mitt Romney had a very being night last night. He won that battle, but he's got to be careful because I think he's on the verge of losing a broader war, which is the war to define himself.

He has yet to come up with an answer to the Bain Capital, one percenter, manager critique that we're starting to hear from his rivals as well as from the Democrats.

If he doesn't, he's in danger of happening to him what happened to John Kerry in 2004 when he got swift voted. He really does have to come up with an answer for this.

STEWART: I disagree. I think he did a great job last night defining where he goes from here. He made a very good speech and basically defining his opponent as President Obama and not the rest of the field. He's going directly after President Obama.

And as far as the Bain Capital, that's free market economy. That's how the free market works. There are winners and there are losers. His part in that was to help keep the free market economy going. That's the cornerstone of the Republican Party.

That's why it's not the greatest idea for some of the GOP candidates to go after him for that, and some of them have pulled back and have stopped doing that because basically they're handing talking points to the Democratic Party. But, you know, there's really not a whole lot to explain other than he's participating in the free market system.

BLITZER: Very quickly.

SIMMONS: He needs a better answer.

BLITZER: All right, well, he gave a pretty powerful speech last night. It was a carefully written speech. He delivered it well. He went to President Obama's playbook. He had a teleprompter there, and did a good job of reading from that teleprompter just as President Obama has done over these many years. Guys, good work all around. Thank you.

An Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the evidence points to an Israeli operation.


BLITZER: Israel denies involvement so does the United States. Who carried out this hits that seems right out of a spy thriller? We're going to show you what we know.

And in our next hour, we're going live to Syria. Our own Nic Robertson is there. He's reporting on the death of a colleague, a French journalist killed today as the cameras were rolling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: One by one Iranian nuclear scientists are being killed, the latest killing on the streets of Tehran. A bomb attack by a motorcyclist is like something straight out of the spy thriller.

Iran is blaming the United States and Israel, and says it won't give up its nuclear ambitions. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has more.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another assassination at a time when nuclear tensions with Iran are already sky high.


STARR (voice-over): Assassination 101, a motorcycle speeds up alongside a car in Tehran. An assassin bends down and attaches a bomb underneath. Another Iranian nuclear scientist is dead. This is no movie.

On Wednesday the fourth assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in two years, working on Iran's nuclear programs is now world world's most dangerous jobs.

This time the dead man worked at the uranium enrichment plant, a facility the CIA believes is key to Iran's effort to develop nuclear weapons. The number one suspect in the killings -- Israel.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: All the evidence points to an Israeli operation. This has got the professionalism, the persistence, and the effectiveness that has marked Israeli assassination campaigns in the past.

STARR: In January 2010, a hit squad widely believed to be Israeli Mossad agents was caught on surveillance cameras at a Dubai hotel where a top Hamas official turned up dead. Cirincione watches rouge nuclear weapons programs and warns the latest assassinations could spin out of control.

CIRINCIONE: It is likely that these -- this assassination and others are going to increase the paranoia in the Iranian regime. It might backfire. It might convince them they have to accelerate their nuclear efforts not negotiate them.

STARR: The killings are all similar. In January 2010, a bomb placed under a car killed a nuclear scientist. November 2010, another scientist killed when a motorcycle assailant placed a bomb under his car.

The same thing happened in July 2011, top Iranian officials said Wednesday, Iranian scientists become more determined to take steps in line with the aspirations of the Islamic republic in spite of terrorist operations. Iran has long blamed Israel and the U.S. for the killings.

HILLARY CLINTON, STATE SECRETARY: I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of violence inside Iran. STARR: What does Israel say? On the Facebook page, the spokesman for Israel's defense forces said, quote, "I have no idea who targeted the Iranian scientists, but I certainly don't shed a tear."


STARR: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta continues to say there's a red line that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. The question now, of course, is whether Israel or somebody else out there is making sure Iran doesn't cross that red line -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you. Meanwhile, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Cuba. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do we know about this visit, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, Ahmadinejad's 21-hour visit includes a meeting with President Raul Castro, and a speech at the University of Havana.

He's also expected to meet with Fidel Castro. Ahmadinejad is trying to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties in Latin America. He's already visited Venezuela and Nicaragua. His next stop is Ecuador.

Hundreds of protesters outside the White House marking 10 years since the arrival of the first terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They're calling on President Obama to close Gitmo as promised.

At its height, the camp held 680 detainees. Today, there are 171. The administration is timid over what to do with dozens of them deemed too dangerous to be released, but too difficult to prosecute.

And here's a mind boggling discovery. Astronomers are now saying there are at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone. They used the technique called microlensing, which allows them to identify planets too faint to see through a microscope.

The study appears in the journal "Nature." That's unbelievable. A 100 billion planets is what they're saying -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All those planets got to be little people walking around some of those planets, I assume. Who knows?


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

Coming up, a very serious story coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. we have a shocking new video. It's just in, and it seems to show some very horrific conduct by United States Marines on the battlefield. We're checking it out. Stand by. We'll update you on what we know.

The first lady of the United States reacts to a controversial new book about the Obama White House, saying she's not the stereotype of, quote, "some angry black woman." Plus you won't believe what's happening on buses in Washington, D.C. We have shocking pictures. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Jack's back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: We may be getting a little ahead of ourselves, but the question is if Mitt Romney goes on and wins the nomination, who should be his V.P.?

Steve in Illinois says, "I'm not going to vote for the GOP, but Kay Bailey Hutchison would be brilliant. She's a soon to be former senator from Texas, a nod to Perry, understands Congress, a JFK-LBJ for Republicans, and much more qualified than Sarah Palin was."

Fred in Mississippi, "Romney's V.P. would have to be someone who can get conservative votes if Romney's going to have any chance of beating Obama. I believe it should be former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee can get conservative and Evangelical votes that Romney can't get."

Laura writes, "Jon Huntsman. This would not particularly please the true conservatives. If the goal is beating Obama then offering a more seasoned policy person would give the ticket some balance. Just as long as Romney doesn't telegraph the move before hand and does encourage Obama to replace Biden with Clinton."

Chris writes, "Marco Rubio. He's young, conservative, Latino and popular in Florida. He has all the tickets to be a good V.P. candidate. And while he's a freshman, he got elected in Florida by a wide margin. His down side is his Tea Party views, but Romney will straighten out his messaging on that."

Rex writes, "Romney should seek out some unknown, female governor from an unpopulated state with questionable morals and intolerable ignorance. Wait, we did that. It didn't work. Romney should select that fat guy from New Jersey. Everybody loves fat guys from New Jersey. Well, fat guys anyway."

And Tom writes, "The Donald then we could have a ticket with good hair. Great hair."

If you want to read more on this, you go to my blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I love your followers out there, Jack. They are very clever, very good.

Pictures that a Pentagon official calls, and I'm quoting now, "stomach turning." The U.S. Marine Corps now investigating shocking images said to be from the battlefield.

Also Michelle Obama pushes back against a controversial new book about the White House. And some heart-stopping video that might make you think twice about taking the bus.


BLITZER: Here's a look this hour's "Hot Shots."

In England, the first warship and a brand new fleet of Navy destroyers leave for the gulf.

In Nigeria, thousands of protesters gather for the third day to strike the scraping of an oil subsidy, which has sent fuel prices soaring.

In China, an illuminated dragon decoration is set up to celebrate the lunar New Year.

And in India, goats are dressed in clothes, their owners put on them to keep them warm from severe weather. "Hot shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

The first lady of the United States is responding to allegations in a new book about the Obama White House, and trying to clarify her own image.

Our own Lisa Sylvester has been looking into the reaction. What are you finding out, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, you know, Michelle Obama spoke to her long time friend, CBS' Gail King setting the record straight on the new book.

It's this book here called "The Obamas." The book portrays her as a loving mom, a private confidant of the president and an occasional thorn in the side of the president's staff.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Michelle Obama knows there's a stereotype that has shadowed her, but she says it's not true.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I guess it's more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman and, you know, but that's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced that I'm some angry black woman.

SYLVESTER: The first lady sat down with Gail King on the "CBS Morning" show to discuss a new book by "New York Times" reporter, Jodi Kantor.

It describes tensions within the administration and the first family. Kantor writes that then Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel saw the president's dejection and repeated the first lady's criticisms to others in the White House with an air of indignation.

Asked about it the first lady said there wasn't tension between her and Emanuel.

OBAMA: Rahm and I have never had a cross word. He's a funny guy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have never had a cross word?

OBAMA: I mean, I don't have conversations with my husband's staff. I don't go to the meetings. Our staffs work together really well, so if there's communication that needs to happen, it happens between staffs.

SYLVESTER: Another rift? This one between Mrs. Obama and former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, it was reported in the news that Mrs. Obama told the French first lady that living in the White House was hell.

Mrs. Obama denied that conversation ever happened and she was upset with Gibbs for not pushing harder to correct the record, quote, "she felt neglected by him. He felt criticized by her."

It reached a boiling point in a high-level staff meeting that included White House senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett. Gibbs exploded in anger, f this. That's not right. I've been killing myself on this.

Where is this coming from? You shouldn't talk that way, Jarrett said sounding unruffled. Gibbs, you don't know what the f you're talking about, he hurled back.

Jarrett, the first lady would not believe you're speaking this way. Then f her too, Gibbs reportedly said and stormed out. Mrs. Obama brushed it off.

OBAMA: Robert Gibbs is a trusted adviser, remains so, and I'm sure we could go day to day and find things people wish they didn't say to each other or said. People stumble, people make mistakes.

SYLVESTER: In the book, Michelle Obama is described as a warmed, welcoming first lady who (inaudible) the president's spirits rather than deflating him. The first lady acknowledges there was a learning curve growing into the job, but one she fully embraced.

OBAMA: I love this job. It is it has been a privilege from day one. Now there are challenges, being a mother and trying to keep your kids sane and I worry a lot about that. I mean, if there's any anxiety that I feel, it's because I want to make sure my girls come out of this on the other end whole.


SYLVESTER: Now after the book was released, Robert Gibbs issued an apology saying that he regrets speaking in anger and regrets the disagreement became so public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you. Lisa Sylvester reporting.

You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Happening now, Rick Santorum's fight for the south. Will the next Republican contests be his last stand? I'll ask him about his strategy after Mitt Romney's New Hampshire blow out.

Plus, an unprecedented move to block President Obama by a fellow Democrat. We haven't seen a fight over a judicial nomination just like this one.

Plus, hundreds of videos of crashes and close calls that will make you cringe. Cameras capture scary moments on board buses right in the nation's capital.