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Crisis in Syria Continues; Marco Rubio Once a Mormon and now A Catholic; David Axelrod Interview; FDA Panel Backs Diet Drug; Unrest in Afghanistan

Aired February 23, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: a rising star in the Republican parties often named as a possible vice presidential candidate reveals a little known secret. Marco Rubio was once a Mormon.

Also, President Obama under attack by Republican presidential hopefuls and everything from gas prices to national security and a whole lot more. His chief campaign strategist is here to defend him this hour, my interview with David Axelrod.

And, Muslim student under surveillance by New York City police, did they over step their bound?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's an issue that dug Mitt Romney and some said continues to hurt his standing with evangelical and Christian voters is Mormon faith. Now we're learning that a leading contender for the Republican vice presidential slot also has a Mormon background that was largely unknown until now. We're talking about the very popular Florida senator Marco Rubio.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. So Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it appears Marco Rubio did spend some time as part of the Mormon faith as a child. We've contacted Rubio's office. His aides confirm he was baptized as a Mormon when he was 8-years-old.

Rubio's spokesman, Alex Conan, says Rubio's family moved to Las Vegas in 1979, and they joined the Mormon church when Marco Rubio was about 8 years old. But Conan says while still in Las Vegas, Rubio and his family left the Mormon church and resumed attending catholic services. This occurred when Marco Rubio was about 12.

Now, this stories appeared in "the Miami herald" and news Web site today. We also have to say Rubio himself writes about his Mormon experience in his upcoming book "an American son." This of course is significant now because many Republicans see Marco Rubio as a favorite to get the vice presidential nomination later this Year. VP candidates are sometimes selected to provide religious balance to a ticket given Mitt Romney ace status as a Mormon leader that could complicate things if Romney gets the nomination and if he might have the sights on Marco Rubio. You can read more of this on whole story on CNN belief blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Isn't it true that also, Brian, that Rubio dabbled in a third denomination as well?

TODD: Seems to be true, Wolf. Even though he was confirmed, married, had his children baptized in the catholic church, his spokesman says Rubio and his wife began attending the First Baptist Church of Perrine, Florida in 2002. The spokesman said while they were never baptized or registered as members of that church, they did attend regularly. He says around 2005 Marco Rubio began to return to his catholic roots.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Rubio, by the way, tops the lists of Republican vice presidential picks in a recent survey by Farliegh-Dickinson University's public mind poll. Rick Santorum comes in second followed by the New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Rick Santorum comes in second followed by the New Jersey governor Chris Christie. All political eyes right now, Attorney Demishigan (ph), a potential gain changer in the Republican presidential race. Rick Santorum is statistically tide, with Mitt Romney in the state where Romney grew up, and which was once considered to be in the bag for Romney. But now Romney has fresh ammunition. He is unleashing against Santorum.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us from Milford, Michigan. What's the latest on Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rick Santorum was out west today trying to raise some badly needed money, while Mitt Romney was headed east, but not before fire a broad side at his closest competition.


JOHNS (voice-over): In the shrinking news hole between now and primary day, every second is starting to count. Mitt Romney apparently couldn't wait to get to a tea party rally in Michigan to exploit his chief rival's stumble in the CNN debate. So he unloaded on Rick Santorum while still in Arizona. For Santorum's admission that he voted for something he didn't believe in, specifically George W. Bush's no child left behind initiative, which many conservatives don't like, because it expanded the involvement of the federal government in education.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We saw, in this case Senator Santorum explained most of the night why he did or voted for things he disagreed with. And he talked about this as being taking one for the team. I wonder which team he was taking it for. My team is the American people, not the insiders in Washington. And I'll fight for the people of America, not federal interests.

JOHNS: The opening here couldn't have more on obvious especially since Santorum has held himself out as the most principled conservative in the race, and that's explanation under pressure seemingly undercut his rationale that he's the right reliable alternative to Romney.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to admit I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed it, but you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the leader, and I made a mistake.

JOHNS: During the debate, Ron Paul also took pot shots at the former senator from Pennsylvania.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The senator was for no child left behind, but now that he's running for president, now he's running to repeal no child left behind once again. But - and he calls it a team sport. He has to go long to get along, and that's the way the team plays. But that's the problem with Washington. That's what's been going on for so long.

JOHNS: Romney who has been in a close race in Michigan with Santorum will try to get some momentum going at the state now with a big speech on Friday touting his plans for the economy and his proposal to cut taxes. A plan he released Wednesday that got up stay by the debate.

Santorum kept a low profile today after the debate, but released a new TV ad in Michigan attacking Romney using the governor's own words on everything from abortion to earmarks.


JOHNS: And now Romney economic speech scheduled for tomorrow is going to be closely watched in Detroit Business leaders, economists and others have urged Romney to get out in front of, to explains exactly what he's for when it comes to fixing the economy - Wolf.

BLITZER: He has an issue he has to deal with obvious misdeal with tomorrow. Thanks very much, Joe, for that.

Now, to a growing concern about the crisis in Syria, an international meeting convening in Tunisia tomorrow to plan humanitarian aid for the country. On her way to the summit, the secretary of state Hillary Clinton said and she was in London, that opposition Syrian national council members are emerging as a credible alternative to the Bashar Al-Assad regime, which she said is starting to show signs of spread.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF SATE: There is growing evidence that some of the officials in the Syrian government are beginning to hedge their bets, you know, moving assets, moving family members, looking for a possible exit strategy. We see a lot of developments that we think are pointing to pressure on Assad. It's a fluid situation, but if I were a betting person for the medium term and certainly the long term, I would be betting against Assad.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Syrian opposition grips are reporting 101 people killed by government forces trying to crush critics of the regime. And western journalists trapped in the crackdown are pleading for help.

CNN's Michael Holmes has details of their plight.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tomorrow in Tunisia, dozens of nations are meant to be gathering to discuss the deteriorating situation in Syria or in triad and come up with some sort of way, economic or diplomatic, to apply more pressure on Bashar Al-Assad. But the bombs, the shells continue to rain down on Syrian civilians in cities around the country particularly in Baba Amar, that neighborhood in the city of Homs that has been almost destroyed by continuous bombardment. It was there yesterday of course that we lost two of our colleagues in the attack on the media center in Baba Amar. Well, there were others there who were wounded. Today we heard from them for the first time.


HOLMES (voice-over): Wounded journalist Edith Bouvier lays in a safe house in Baba Amar, the besiege neighborhood of the city of Homs. Her left leg shattered by the shell it is that killed two of their colleagues on Wednesday. A plea for help from a place desperately in need of some.

EDITH BOUVIER, JOURNALIST (though translator): My leg is broken, the length of my femur. I need to be operated on as quickly as possible. The doctors have treated me as best as they can, except they cannot perform any surgical operations, so I need as quickly as possible during a cease-fire, a car with medical equipment, or at least in good condition to take me to Lebanon to be treated as quickly as possible.

HOLMES: On the same video, her colleague, William Daniels, unhurt, but clearly concerned for Bouvier.

WILLIAM DANIELS, PHOTOGRAPHER (through translator): Her more real is good, she is smiling, so I hope the French authorities can help us as quickly as possible, because it is difficult here. We don't have electricity, we don't have a lot of food, and the bombs keep falling. So, I think we need to get out of here as quickly as possible through medical means.

HOLMES: Not long after that video surfaced on the internet, a second one, this time British photographer Paul Conroy, also wounded in the leg during the shelling of the Baba Amar media center, from where so many videos of the (INAUDIBLE)

PAUL CONROY, PHOTOGRAPHER: I currently need to be looked after by the free Syrian army medical staff. They treat me with the best medical aid treatment available and it's important to know that I'm here as a guest and not captures. And obviously any assistance that we can give them by government agencies will be welcome.

HOLMES: During both videos explosions can be heard as the shelling continued. CONROY: Just any help possible and just reassure family, friends in England that I'm absolutely OK.

HOLMES: The trio, were with American journalist Marie Colvin (ph)and French photographer Remi Ochlik (ph) on Wednesday when a series of Syrian arm shells slammed into the media headquarters. Colvin and Ochlick died in the doorway of the building apparently as they attempted to flee to safety.


HOLMES: Meanwhile, Wolf, the French and British governments weighed in on this, demanding safe passage for the wounded journalists and the bodies of their colleagues. That has not happened. And those shells continue to rain down - Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Homes, thanks very much. A powerful report.

It was one of the harshest criticisms of President Obama in last night's CNN Republican presidential debate that he voted in favor of legalizing and fantasizes. We're checking the facts for you.

Also, gas prices there $4 a gallon, what is does the president plan to do about it? I'll ask his chief campaign strategist David Axelrod. He's here this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus the, controversy over a secret New York City police surveillance program targeting Muslim students.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the Cafferty File - Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the national dealt heads north of $15 trillion, now comes word nearly half of all Americans pay no federal income tax which is just stunning. The conservative think tank the heritage foundation reports 49.5 percent of Americans paid no material income tax in 2009, that's a sharp increase from the 14.8 percent of Americans who paid no federal income tax in 1984.

The current number of non-income tax payers reflects, of course, the 2008 financial crisis, and the joblessness that followed. The unemployment rate got as high as 10 percent in 2009. Low income workers slip out at the tax system as they took pay cut or work fewer hours. And there are those who are illegally just don't bother to file a tax return. Experts point out that many of these Americans who don't pay federal income taxes are also on the receiving end of government benefits, things like food stamps and Medicaid.

The Heritage Foundation argues that having fewer taxpayers will ultimately mean more voters who are not paying taxes, voters who will always support higher taxes and more government spending, because it's not coming out of their pocket. Meanwhile, our government doesn't seem to notice any of this.

They just keep spending money they don't have, running deficits of more than a trillion dollars a year. The recommendations of the Congressional Super Committee will virtually ignored. And now, Congress is trying to weasel out the automatic spending cuts that were put in place when that committee failed.

Here's the question, where is America headed if nearly half of us pay no federal income tax? Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

The very word is chilling. We're talking about infanticide, but two, two Republican presidential candidates are accusing President Obama of voting in favor of making the killing of newborn children legal. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has been checking the facts for us on this very, very sensitive issue. Jessica, what are you finding out?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you say, it's a claim that several Republican candidates have made in this campaign. Listen.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think about that. Any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his words, can be killed. Now, who's the extremist in the abortion debate?


YELLIN: Two independent fact checking groups have said that claim is falls. The Pulitzer Prize winning PolitiFact rated it pants on fire false. Now, here's what it comes from. When the president was in the Illinois State Senate, he voted, present, and then, against Senate versions of a born alive bill. That bill said, a live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.

Well, then State Senator Obama opposed those bills saying -- one time he said, they would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, anyway. Later, he said, unlike a federal version of these laws, the state measure, quote, "lacked federal language clarifying that it would not be used to undermine Roe versus Wade."

Now, a federal version of the born alive act was signed in 2002, and there's a dispute over how different the two laws really were, but here's what's important. There was already an Illinois law protecting born alive fetuses. That law required doctors had to give life-saving care if they thought there was a chance of survival after a botch abortion. So, bottom line here, Wolf, independent fact checkers determined the president never supported legislation that in the words of the Republican presidential candidates supported infanticide.

BLITZER: Jessica, what about Newt Gingrich's claim that the mainstream news media didn't pursue this entire question back in 2008?

YELLIN: Well, we found some good video on this. Well, CNN -- we, right here at CNN, covered this in 2008. Here's a video from a piece to prove it. It was also a topic right here in the SITUATION ROOM. Reporter David Brody asked President Obama about it on the Christian Broadcasting Network, and he was a CNN contributor at that time. Here's a piece of that interview.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely and fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported, which was to say that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born, even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion.

That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe versus Wade.


YELLLIN: But still, Wolf, to the National Right to Life Committee and others who share their views, the president's opposition to the bill seemed unseemly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good fact check. Thanks very much. I remember that conversation we had in the SITUATION ROOM with David Brody, the Christian Broadcasting Network on that very, very sensitive subject.

In fact, when Newt Gingrich raised this issue last night at the debate and said the mainstream news media never covered it, never asked the president of the United States about it in 2008, I immediately remembered that exchange in our report in the SITUATION ROOM right here on CNN about that whole issue. Thanks very much for that, Jessica.

The federal government has more than $1 billion in unclaimed money, and you have less than two months to claim some of it. Stand by. You're going to find out if any of it may actually belong to you.

Plus, what if you could lose weight by taking a single pill? There are new details out right now on a drug that controls hunger.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, a billion, with a "B," a billion dollars just sitting out there waiting for someone to claim it. What's going on? LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And the IRS says time is running out. One million people who are owed a tax refund, but who have not filed their 2008 federal tax returns, have until April 17th to do so. The money belongs to the U.S. treasury after that. And, maybe this will light a fire under procrastinators. Half of the refunds are worth more than 600 bucks.

Expectations are on the rise for a new experimental weight-loss drug that suppresses hunger. An FDA panel supports approval for Conexa, which reverses its 2010 recommendations. Regulators previously expressed concern over health problems in those taking the pill. If approved, it would be the first diet drug green-lighted by the FDA since 1999.

And the FBI uncovers a bizarre murder for hire plot that targeted those who wear fur. A self-proclaimed animal rights activist in Ohio is accused of trying to find a hit man on Facebook. Authorities say she asked that a fur wearer be killed at a library, and that she wanted to be there to distribute handouts on animal cruelty after the crime.

The Milwaukee Brewers score with fans who suffer from severe peanut allergy. The club announced that 100-seat peanut-controlled section of Miller Park will be available for a few of the season's game. About half of major league baseball teams plan to host peanut free games this year. I'm sure a lot of parents are going to be very glad to hear that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because you're supposed to buy me some peanuts and crackerjack waiting to buy.

SYLVESTER: I know. I have to buy something else, but peanut allergies are a real problem in this country, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that, Lisa, thank you.

The protests in Afghanistan are turning deadly now. Two Americans are killed after the Taliban urge Afghans to retaliate. So, what's the next move for the United States military?

Plus, Newt Gingrich says President Obama is dangerous on national security, very dangerous. How will the Obama campaign react? My interview with President Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, that's coming up.

And Mitt Romney's wife gets very personal on the internet, even posting a love letter from her husband on a new social media site.


BLITZER: When President Obama took office, a gallon of gas cost less than $2. Now, it's almost doubled what it was then and almost $4 on average. I spoke to the president's chief strategist about what the president is doing to put that money back into your pocket.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And joining us now from our Chicago bureau, David Axelrod, a key adviser to the president's reelection campaign. David, thanks very much for coming in. Let's talk about gas prices for a moment. As you know, because you served in the White House, a gallon of gas when the president took office was under $2.

Now, it's approaching $4 a gallon. What is the president doing to deal with this, because, as you well know, this is almost a regressive hidden tax on all Americans?

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Yes. It's one of the reasons why it was so important that we pass the payroll tax extension, because that's going to help offset some of that cost, Wolf.

I also -- you're right, I was in the White House, I do remember that. I also remember the June before we got there when gas prices were at $4.10 a gallon, really under scores the face that these spikes have been coming on a repeated basis over a long period of time. Not just years, but decades.

And it speaks to the need to have a national energy strategy, such as the one that the president is embarked on, one that is an all of the above strategy where we're drilling for more oil, but also natural gas, where we're promoting renewable energies, wind, solar, biofuels, where we're exploring every potential avenue for energy, because we can't simply rely on oil and be at the mercy of the global oil markets, as we are today, and as we have been for a long time.

We are importing less oil today than we have in the past 20 years. We're pumping more oil than we have in the last decade. We've opened up hundreds of -- thousands of acres -- millions of acres to new oil exploration, including in the Arctic last week, but we have to have a broader strategy if we're going to get control of our energy future.

BLITZER: Who do you think won that Republican debate last night?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, the Republican candidates --


AXELROD: Well, that's hard to say. I'm not a scorekeeper in that regard. I'll tell you who didn't win, anybody who tuned in who was looking for some positive vision for the country, someone who tuned in hoping that they were going to hear about how we're going to rebuild the middle class in this country, someone who is looking for a balanced, measured view of how we move forward. It seemed like such a negative grinding affair going after each other, going after the president, in certain ways going after the country. And that was a dispiriting thing to watch.

BLITZER: What they all agreed on was that this president should not be reelected. I'm going to play a few clips for you and get your response quickly to each one. Here's Mitt Romney speaking about the president and the whole issue of religion.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we have seen in Barack Obama.


BLITZER: That's a strong statement from Mitt Romney, arguably the man you fear the most --


BLITZER: -- as far as Republican is concerned, but go ahead and respond to that.

AXELROD: It's a preposterous statement by Mitt Romney, among many preposterous statements I heard last night. You know he was -- he made a reference to the president's decision and HHS's decision to move forward and require that contraception be part of health care packages for women in the country. The president effected a compromise that protects religious freedom, and it's very much like what's in place in Massachusetts, and was when Mitt Romney was governor, and he didn't say boo about it then.

The fact is that Mitt Romney has proven that he is willing to say whatever he thinks he needs to say to close the deal with these Republican primary voters, and he's moving farther and farther and farther to the right to do it. But it wasn't just that remark, Wolf.

One of the things that struck me was how every single problem and every single question elicited from him and everybody on the panel, comments about how the president's responsible for this and everything that is wrong with America is because of the president and so on. I don't think that's what people believe. And really what they want to hear is how are we going to move forward from here, how are we going to build on the momentum that started, how are we going to rebuild the middle class, how are we going to address the fundamental problems that people see in their every day lives and their communities and so on, didn't get any of that from these guys last night, Romney or any of the others.

BLITZER: Here's Santorum hitting the president when it comes to Iran and its potential for someday getting a nuclear bomb. Listen to this.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's afraid to stand up to Iran. He opposed the sanctions in Iran against the Central Banks until his own party finally said you're killing us, please support these sanctions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right go ahead and respond to Santorum.

AXELROD: Well, Wolf, I know you're a student of that region, so I'm not telling you anything you don't know but the president over a painstaking period of years has brought the world along in the most withering set of sanctions that have ever been administered against any country. The Iranian economy is in disarray as a result of it. The Iranian leadership has spoken to this, so this notion that somehow the president hasn't stood up to Iran stands in contrast to what Iran is saying and what is obvious from the facts.

And what was striking to me is for all of the bellicose talk that you heard on that platform not one person suggested that they would do anything differently than the president is doing right now. They all said we need tough sanctions, well we've got tough sanctions and they're getting tougher all the time. And they said we need to keep all options on the take, and we're keeping all options on the table. So you know we've got a lot of -- a lot of -- you know what they -- what do they say down south? All hat and no cattle?

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich went even one step further, a blistering attack on the president. Listen to this.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is a very sober (INAUDIBLE) and I believe this is the most dangerous president on national security grounds in American history.


BLITZER: The most dangerous president on national security grounds doesn't get stronger than that.

AXELROD: Yes. I'm sure that Osama bin Laden would like to offer a rebuttal if he could. All the leadership of al Qaeda, two thirds of which have been destroyed would probably offer a different testimony to that. You know I don't think the American people buy that and it is a sober moment in our history and it requires sober thoughtful leadership and certainly a comment like that doesn't reflect sobriety.

BLITZER: One final thing, I was following your tweets last night during the debate. You had this one, and you're @DavidAxelrod (ph). You wrote Mitt Romney, severe reality check, back then Mitt referred to himself as pro-choice and a moderate with progressive views. Is it fair to say that almost all of your criticism of the Republican candidates and like so many other Democrats, focusing on Romney, he's the guy you fear the most?

AXELROD: No, I don't think it's a matter of fearing him. He is the -- he has been from the beginning a weak front-runner for this nomination. He remains a weak front-runner for this nomination. I don't know how it's going to turn out, but certainly he, you know in these kinds of breathtaking leaps from one position to another, you know he almost begs some kind of comment. I mean everybody in Massachusetts can attest to the fact that Mitt Romney ran not so many years ago he was governor up until 2007, as a moderate pro-choice. He said he had progressive views, and now he calls himself a severely conservative governor when he's trying to appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party.

And it does leave the question that we have raised before, which is where is the core, what does he actually believe? And what can we count on from him in the future if he changes his position so radically from year to year and even day to day.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, we'll continue this conversation down the road. Thanks very much for joining us.

AXELROD: All right, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: All right, appreciate it very much. I'm going to have to leave a little bit early right now. Lisa Sylvester is standing by. She's coming up with all the latest news in THE SITUATION ROOM including protests turning deadly in Afghanistan after U.S. troops are accused of burning the Koran. Now new information just coming in on the training those troops received.

Plus New York City police officers keeping a close eye on Muslims who aren't even in their city, the controversy that's causing, and that's coming up next.


SYLVESTER: President Obama today apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Korans at a NATO air base, but that didn't stop angry Afghans, one of whom killed two American soldiers. CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence now joins me with more. I know, Chris, this was a very sensitive issue.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Extremely, and it's one the Pentagon says they're taking extremely seriously, Lisa. The problem is it's not just the Taliban this time. Even some members of Afghan's Parliament are urging Afghans to take up arms against the U.S. military.



LAWRENCE (voice-over): The burning of Korans has ignited a fire inside Afghanistan, one that's proving hard to douse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We understand that emotions are running extremely high.

LAWRENCE: In eastern Afghanistan a man in an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed two U.S. troops, then ran back into a crowd of anti- American protesters who crowded outside their base.

(SHOUTING) LAWRENCE: The Taliban had urged Afghans to retaliate against American soldiers, bases and convoys, but both State and Pentagon officials seem unwilling to make that connection.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: There's no indication that these are anything other than popular expressions of outrage over this incident.

LAWRENCE: U.S. troops sent some Korans to a burn pit at Bagram Air Base this week. A Defense official says they didn't intend to burn the Korans as a religious document, adding this was not Florida, a reference to the pastor who condemned the Koran and burned it last year.

NICK DOWLING, PRESIDENT, IDS INTERNATIONAL: It's terribly distressing. This is about the stupidest mistake you can make culturally in a society like this.

LAWRENCE: Nick Dowling (ph) runs IDS, a company with offices in Afghanistan that gives U.S. troops cultural sensitivity training. It has even developed a program called "Culture Shock", which forces American troops to play the role of an Afghan village elder. Dowling (ph) says one incident doesn't endite (ph) the training program.

DOWLING: Clearly there was a gap in this case, and the investigation will sort of look at that. But as I said, it only takes one idiot to screw something up.

LAWRENCE: What happens to those Americans responsible is still under review. A delegation of Afghans investigating the case said NATO had agreed to bring them to justice in an open trial.


LAWRENCE: But a U.S. official says nothing has been decided. He assures CNN any disciplinary action will be taken by American authorities with due process.


LAWRENCE: And what happens from here on out could be decided, or could take shape tomorrow during Friday prayers if the clerics decide to try to tamp down some of the emotion or simply to inflame it. Now, I've got to say despite what Pentagon officials are saying, I've heard from several rank-and-file troops about this during the day today, and they see somewhat of a double standard. They say while the U.S. probably needed to apologize for this incident, they say on the other hand they see American flags and images of President Obama being burned in effigy, and no calls for apology from the other side -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yes, there are various sides to this story. Thank you very much, Chris Lawrence for that report.

Well President Obama's apology certainly didn't go unnoticed by Republican presidential candidates. Newt Gingrich posted this statement on Twitter a short while ago. Quote, "It is an outrage that on the day an Afghan murders two American troops, President Obama is the one apologizing."

And a controversy pits New Jersey's governor and Muslims against the NYPD. Chris Christie and Muslim groups are furious at what New York police have done in the name of homeland security. And where is America headed if nearly half of us pay no federal income tax?


SYLVESTER: An NYPD surveillance program focusing on Muslims is drawing fire from top officials in New Jersey. They say police are overstepping their bounds in the name of homeland security. CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti has more on the controversy.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For six months, starting in late 2006, New York police scanned open-access Web sites of Muslim student organizations at several universities in the northeast, including Yale, Columbia, Syracuse and the University of Pennsylvania, looking for any signs that might lead to terror plots a senior law enforcement official tells CNN. As first reported by The Associated Press, New York police also took photos of mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, including dollar stores and restaurants in nearby Newark, New Jersey. After finding out, New Jersey's governor was fuming. He says he's all about helping another jurisdiction, but --

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It's got to be coordinated and the NYPD has at times developed a reputation of you know asking forgiveness rather than permission in certain areas of coming into other states and doing things.

CANDIOTTI: Governor Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (ph) want an investigation of the NYPD. In a statement, Booker (ph) said if the New York police had no specific reason to single out Muslims, it's, quote, "deeply disturbing", adding to put large segments of a religious community "Under Surveillance" with no legitimate cause or provocation clearly crosses a line. But New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg is unapologetic in defending his police department.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: The job of our law enforcement is to make sure that they prevent things and you only do that to -- by being proactive. You have to respect people's right to privacy.

CANDIOTTI: A NYPD spokesman tells CNN it was mapping out places for terror suspects from other countries may try to blend in to avoid detection and the surveillance shouldn't shock anyone, saying Newark police were briefed and even escorted the NYPD. Still Muslim students are livid.

JAWAD RASUL, FORMER STUDENT, CITY COLLEGE: This tactic actually creates more hatred. A better approach would be to take a proactive approach and engage the Muslim youth at a large level. RUBINA MADNI, FORMER STUDENT, YALE UNIVERSITY: I disagree with the way this was implemented, with the way that they went about trying to find terrorist activities.


CANDIOTTI: And tonight, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (ph) from New Jersey is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate. Are Muslim students being singled out without hard evidence or are police just doing what they're supposed to do, protect public safety -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Susan, I hear that you also have reaction tonight from Islamic students at NYU. What can you tell us?

CANDIOTTI: That's right. Well they sent a letter tonight to New York's Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, praising him for all of his efforts but also wondering whether he is simply monitoring students based on religion alone. And they say if that's the case it's a problem. And also stating that some students, Islamic students are wondering about backing out or participating in religious activities at the Islamic Center because they're worried about being monitored saying they might be at risk.

SYLVESTER: Yes, I understand that they've been checking out their Web sites, too, some of these student Web sites, is that right?

CANDIOTTI: That's right, they have and although they have been doing it, say they're not any more, open Web sites because our sources tell us they weren't really yielding any important information.

SYLVESTER: OK. Thank you, Susan Candiotti for that great reporting.

And time now to check back with Jack Cafferty. Jack, what do you have for us?

CAFFERTY: Delighted to see you, Lisa. The question this hour is where's America headed if nearly half of us pay no federal income tax? Jeff in Minnesota writes "as one of those who pays and seems to pay a lot, I'm very frustrated that many people in corporations pay nothing. And a lot of those people in corporations not paying make a lot more than do I and have a lot more wealth than I do. I work hard for my money. It's not given to me. I realize the government needs money to run but why is that burden on such a small few with everyone else getting a free ride? This is what has to change and this is what's driving people nuts."

Brad in Oregon writes "nearly half of Americans pay no income tax because they're living in poverty. They have just barely enough money to live on and they're still paying payroll tax, property tax, sales tax, a lot of other taxes. The 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined. If you want to actually generate real revenue you need to go where the money is, and that's not the bottom half of the population."

Jan in North Carolina writes "those of us who pay taxes are going to become more and more resentful of those who do not, especially when we are constantly ridiculed by the administration that we are not doing enough. How much is enough? The president's going to get that class warfare he wants, but it may come as a surprise when it starts from the top."

D.T. in Minnesota writes "I've never understood this concern but maybe it's because I allow myself to see the truth. Half of us pay no taxes. That's true. Half of us also have no money. If you don't want to distribute the wealth evenly how does it make sense then to try and distribute the tax burden evenly?"

And Tom writes "where are we headed, probably China. That's where all the jobs are that we were promised." If you want to read more about this go to my blog, CNN.COM/CAFFERTYFILE or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yes, I know Jack, this is a topic that we've talked about before, also corporations, many corporations are not paying federal taxes and that certainly has a lot of folks out there fuming as well, right Jack?

CAFFERTY: Yes, General Electric they made how many billions of dollars last year. They paid this much, zero.

SYLVESTER: Yes. It is an ongoing issue and something that I know a lot of folks are concerned about. Thanks very much, Jack, for that report.


SYLVESTER: Mitt Romney's wife gets personal on the Internet, even posting a love letter from her husband on a new social media Web site.


SYLVESTER: You may not have heard of it before. Pinterest, it is one of the fastest growing social media Web sites out there. And it began as a way for women in particular to share recipes or interior decorating ideas. But it has now gone mainstream with the Defense Department and now politicians finding a way to leverage this new Internet tool.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's really cute.



SYLVESTER (voice-over): Think of Pinterest as an online bulletin board, a place where you can pin cool pictures and images. It can be organized by categories. It's particularly popular among women.

IRIS KIM, COLLEGE STUDENT: Girls like to read fashion magazines and they kind of fold in the pages of things that they like. And this just like provides it on a Web site and it's a lot easier to navigate.

SYLVESTER: There are more than 11 million active users a month according to the Web site. Like Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest users can build a following, but it differs from those social media sites in that content isn't fleeting, it stays put. One segment of the government leveraging Pinterest, the Pentagon, the Army Pinterest board for example shows family life in the military, boot camp pictures and historical images.

SHAYNA BROUKER, U.S. ARMY CIVILIAN PUBLIC AFFAIRS SPECIALIST: We want to connect America with its Army and to tell the Army's story in whatever way that we can. We think that Pinterest is a great way to do that.

SYLVESTER: Pinterest is also appearing on the political horizon. Ann Romney, wife of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney launched her Pinterest for this week. Her likes range from a recipe for pistachio cake to a love note Mitt Romney left for her when he had just missed her at a campaign stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very clear she's trying to be personal and convey emotion and be very real and to some degree real time with that and that's you know endearing, right, and I think with the kind of user base that Pinterest has right now at this moment, this kind of material is particularly appealing.

SYLVESTER: But Pinterest goes both ways. The liberal group Think Progress (ph) has several boards called "the luxury hotels and private jets of the Romney campaign".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you like, dislike --

SYLVESTER: Tech writer Charlie Warzel criticizes Pinterest arguing it's a dwindling down of the long form content from a full length article to a shorter blog post to a 140 character tweet to finally just a picture.

CHARLIE WARZEL, STAFF WRITER, INTHECAPITAL.COM: Pinterest to me almost feels like the end of the line here where it's, you know there's almost no original content. You just click a button and you share someone else's photo.

SYLVESTER: The site's popularity has exploded. The number of users has increased 145 percent since the start of this year.


SYLVESTER: And in terms of Internet traffic, Pinterest ranks 17th. That is more popular than the Web sites of "The New York Times", Paypal, Netflix and, among others.

And thanks for joining us. I'm Lisa Sylvester in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.