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Romney's Super Tuesday Sprint; Santorum Stepping Up Attacks; Gingrich Looks Ahead to Super Tuesday; Inside Shooting Suspect's Troubled Past; Fatal Tornadoes Savage Midwest, South; GOP Candidates Banking on Ohio; Crucial Day for Newt Gingrich; Super Tuesday, State by State; U.N.: Syria Death Toll Now Tops 7,500; Possible New Evidence of a Nuclear Iran; New Allegation of a Saudi Role in 9/11; Five Glasses of Beer on the Chancellor

Aired March 3, 2012 - 18:00   ET



The Republican presidential hopefuls are gearing up for their biggest battle yet. Super Tuesday.

Also, horror gives way to heartbreak in an Illinois town devastated by a killer tornado.

And Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attacks. Details of a disturbing new allegation by a former United States senator.

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

It's the final sprint to Super Tuesday and the Republican presidential candidates are crisscrossing the country. They are all hunting for votes.

Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is following Mitt Romney.

Jim, what are you hearing from the Romney campaign? What's their realistic objective come Tuesday?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, their realistic objective come Tuesday is to win as many delegates as possible. And that is what this campaign is about right now. And it's about delegates, delegates, delegates.

We're standing outside of a Romney event in Bellevue, Washington, just outside of Seattle where the Romney campaign put out these flyers instructing caucus-goers in the state on how to participate in their caucuses on Saturday and basically because it's all about winning as many delegates as possible.

The Romney campaign advisers were telling reporters over the last several days that they're not only focusing on individual states, they're looking at individual congressional districts inside those states because as we all know, a lot of these states that are going to be voting on Super Tuesday will be allocating their delegates on a proportional basis and on a basis that is driven largely by these congressional districts.

So in some cases, Wolf, they are campaigning in areas specifically targeting congressional districts where they think they will do well. So it's becoming more clear as every day goes by that this is a race for the delegates that could go all the way to June and beyond -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are they saying specifically about the grand prize on Tuesday, which everyone agrees, is Ohio?

ACOSTA: What is very interesting to see the Romney campaign put all of its eggs, really, in the basket of Ohio because they know that is the big prize of all of the states on Super Tuesday. And primarily, Wolf, it's because he knows he's not going to do well in the south. The southern states that are going to be voting on Super Tuesday are not really positioned for the Romney campaign to win.

They're really looking at states in the northeast, obviously his home state of Massachusetts, but also Vermont, and they're looking out west, Idaho, North Dakota, Washington, even Alaska. The Romney campaign put out an open letter to Republicans in Alaska encouraging them to get out and vote for the former Massachusetts governor. So it's really all about the delegates at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim, thanks very much. Jim Acosta in Washington state for us.

So what's Rick Santorum's strategy heading towards Super Tuesday? Our senior correspondent Joe Johns is following this part of the story for us.

Give us a little insight, Joe. What is Santorum's strategy? What is he realistically looking forward to?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think if you just look at the path, Wolf, that he's taken across this country, especially since the Arizona and Michigan primaries, it tells you a whole lot. He went out to the southeast straight from Michigan to Knoxville, Tennessee. He thinks Tennessee is strong for him because he calls it a conservative state. Went from there, worked Georgia very hard, then took the huge leap all the way across the country to Washington state to try to campaign there a little bit in advance of the Washington state caucuses.

Back across the country again here to Ohio. And like Mitt Romney, Ohio is just critical for this former senator, Rick Santorum, for a lot of reasons. It's a battleground state in the general election. It's right next to his home state of Pennsylvania. There are a lot of evangelicals and conservatives in this state. And he thinks he can do pretty well here. So he's pushing very hard to try to get every single vote he can.

And just like Jim said, the district-by-district issue is very important. They're looking at the delegates also, trying to get every single delegate they can in that long march toward the Republican convention -- Wolf. BLITZER: He doesn't have as much money, I take it, Santorum, as opposed to Romney. You're in Ohio right now. It's an expensive state as far as commercials, attack ads, media concerned. What are you seeing on the ground there?

JOHNS: Well, what's clear is he's got a lot of energy on the ground here, and he's also raised a lot of money compared to the last quarter. Just exponentially more money in this state of Ohio as well. So the Romney campaign feels -- I'm sorry, the Santorum campaign really feels they're on a roll. They think they're doing a great job in fundraising. And they're hoping it will reflect, of course, on Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: We'll know soon enough. But Joe Johns in Ohio for us, thank you.

Super Tuesday will also be critical for Newt Gingrich. If he has a poor showing, it may guarantee a two-man race between the frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.


BLITZER: Who do you feel more comfortable with, Romney or Santorum?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't approach it that way. I've been out here talking about a totally new generation of ideas, different from either Romney or Santorum. I prefer a much bolder approach to saving Social Security than they do by giving younger people a chance to have a personal savings account.

I have a proposal for American energy that leads to energy independence from the Middle East and leads to $2.50 a gallon gasoline. I have a proposal for very dramatic tax reform including a 15 percent flat tax which is very different from theirs.

I'm actually trying to create sort of a new solutions market that doesn't compete with either Romney or Santorum in terms of, you know, right-left, that competes as being the ideas of the future, the solutions that will work. And I hope to take votes away from both of them.

BLITZER: The super PAC that supports your campaign is out with a new ad. It's playing right now. Let me play a little clip from it. I want to discuss it with you.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I looked at Mitt Romney's record. I can't figure out what he stands for. It changes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't relate to Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't know if I can trust him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't have the strength to stand up against Obama.


BLITZER: That ad is running in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Oklahoma, four of the 10 states with contests one week from today. If he does turn out to be the nominee, can he beat President Obama in November?

GINGRICH: Well, I hope so. I'm going to support the Republican nominee, but, you know, you have to admit, having somebody who invented Romneycare debate somebody who has Obamacare, it's going to be pretty hard for them to make a difference between the two of them. And I think that that's something -- the Republicans have to look seriously at who can debate Obama and win? Who could stand on the same platform, draw a sharp distinction, and win?

And I think every time people ask that question, I start moving back into being the leader. Twice now I've nationally been leading in the polls. Every time it's based on new ideas, new solutions in a sense that I'm the one person who could actually debate Obama successfully and win that debate.

BLITZER: What's the minimum number of victories for you next Tuesday that you really need to keep your campaign going?

GINGRICH: Well, I think we have to pick up delegates in a number of states. And we unequivocally have to win Georgia. We have to gain delegates in a number of states, and I think we will. I think we have very good opportunities, as you pointed out, in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio. Also I think we'll have a chance to pick up some delegates in Idaho, in Vermont, and a variety of -- North Dakota, for example.

So I'm looking forward to next Tuesday. And we, frankly, made a decision that we'd put our resources into next Tuesday and beyond and recognize that we weren't in a position to compete head to head in Michigan.


BLITZER: Newt Gingrich speaking with me earlier.

Meanwhile, disturbing new details emerging about the alleged gunman in that deadly Ohio shooting. Up next, what his juvenile record is revealing about his troubled past.

Plus heart-wrenching stories of death and destruction after this week's devastating tornadoes across the Midwest and south.

And new satellite images of the place Iran may be holding some of its most critical nuclear secrets.


BLITZER: T.J. Lane, the accused gunman in this week's stunning Ohio school shooting, has officially been charged with six overall counts including three of aggravated murder in the deaths of three students. And we're now learning disturbing new details about his family's troubled past.

Here's CNN's Martin Savidge.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Late Wednesday afternoon in court proceedings, CNN won access to accused school shooter T.J. Lane's juvenile record. It shows in 2009 he was involved in an assault, putting another boy in a chokehold, and punched him in the face. Lane pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of disorderly conduct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three down in the cafeteria. We need an ambulance, too.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Three officers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three students down. We need an ambulance.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: OK. Hold on. Let me fix that. Do we know where the --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all in the cafeteria.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Where's the shooter?


SAVIDGE: Since Monday's rampage at Chardon High school, this small, tight-knit community has been asking one question. Why? Authorities say Lane hasn't given them any reason for the attacks.

DAVID JOYCE, GEAUGA COUNTY, OHIO PROSECUTOR: He chose his victims at random. This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs.

SAVIDGE: On Tuesday, when Lane first faced a judge after his alleged killing spree, neither his mother or father were in the courtroom. It was a telling sign. Documents show T.J. Lane had a troubled home life and that his parents often led by violent example. Police reports obtained by CNN show officers were frequently called to the home to break up domestic fights.

Court documents also show T.J.'s father, Tom Lane, suffered from anger management issues and oppression. At one point, even attempting suicide. He spent time in and out of jail. A court document from 2002 describes a particularly violent attack by Tom Lane on another woman. It reads, "He strangled his ex-wife by the throat until she lost consciousness for several seconds. Also held victim's head over a washing machine and poured cold water from a utility hose over her nose and mouth preventing free breathing." Tom Lane was convicted of felonious assault and sentenced to four years in prison but was released after only nine months.

Such was T.J. Lane's unstable family background. Even prosecutor David Joyce seemed to him that it could be an argument for the defense. JOYCE: This is someone who's not well and I'm sure in our court case we'll prove that to all of your desires, and we'll make sure that justice is done here in this county.

SAVIDGE: Martin Savidge, CNN, Chardon, Ohio.


BLITZER: There also may have been warnings online that the 17-year- old suspect was headed for trouble.

Lisa Sylvester has been looking into some of the disturbing elements of this part of the story.

What are you finding out?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the suspect reportedly told authorities that he chose his victims randomly. On Facebook, though, T.J. Lane had postings that could only be described as dark. And now some are wondering why weren't these warnings taken more seriously?


SYLVESTER (voice-over): On the Facebook page of T.J. Lane, a haunting post. Quote, "Feel death, not just mocking you, not just stalking you, but inside of you." The 17-year-old ends the post, "Die, all of you." He posted that message in late December. Some students reported Lane wrote about his intentions on Twitter in the days before the attack. If Lane had a Twitter page, it has since been taken down. Three students are now dead. Among the questions, were there missed warning signs?

Stephen Balkum is with the Family Online Safety Institute.

STEPHEN BALKUM, THE FAMILY ONLINE SAFETY INSTITUTE: If they're talking about death either to themselves or to other people, it is absolutely a red flag to bring that child in or that teen in and sit them down and talk.

SYLVESTER: School shootings often have an eerie pattern, a student who feels isolated and alone. Maybe he is picked on. In many cases, the student expresses angst before the incident. Like in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter who left behind a trail of disturbing essays. Some schools try to head off problems by monitoring their students.

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: Where you supposed to be? Hurry up.

SYLVESTER: Steve Perry is a CNN contributor and also the founder and principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. He and the teachers regularly friend and follow their students. Perry says it's something parents should be doing as well.

PERRY: Parents need to take the time to know their children's passwords. They need to know all their children's passwords and all their accounts. And they need to take great liberty to go in and take a look at them. You want privacy? Get a diploma and then a degree and move out.

SYLVESTER: But a study out of the University of Wisconsin found it's common for young people, as many as 30 percent of them, to post on Facebook about being depressed or expressing some angst.

So when should a comment be taken seriously? I asked psychologist Dr. Jana Martin.

JANA MARTIN, AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION: The risk is if you just discount it as teenage angst, then a tragedy could occur. To me, it's always better if you overreact and you're wrong, isn't that a better situation than to not react and have some tragedy occur?


SYLVESTER: And so the bottom line is, don't dismiss a threat, particularly where someone is posting about harming themselves or others. And parents should talk to their kids. And if it's a student who sees a tweet or a Facebook post that is worrisome, they should talk to an adult immediately -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And good advice from Steve Perry. Know your kids' passwords and monitor what they're tweeting, what they're doing on Facebook, social media, it's really important.

SYLVESTER: I know a lot of parents who will say, look, if you want to have a Facebook account, then I want to know the password. And that's a condition for allowing their kids to be on Facebook in the first place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very good advice. All right. Thanks very much. Good report.

The horrifying sights and sounds up of this week's deadly tornadoes up close. Just ahead, we'll go inside the desperate struggle to try to put the pieces back together.

Plus, the unimaginable crisis in Syria escalating to a whole new level.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Fatal tornadoes ravaging much of the Midwest and south this week. Here are some of the emotional stories of loss and survival.


BRIAN NORTON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Sounded like a train. She headed to the basement. I headed to grab our daughter who was in bed. She's handicapped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was down in the basement. And I'm screaming at him, "Grab her, grab her. Just grab her."

NORTON: Then we went down in the basement. And all the water starts running through the floor and flooding the basement. So then we came out through the cellar door and noticed the church was all gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just wanted to try. I was just so thankful.

GEMMA COLLINS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: All of the stuff that is right here and there was on top of me. I was inside that bathtub. I couldn't move. It was just really rough.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What was going through your mind?

COLLINS: I swore we were going to die. All I could do was pray.

DENA (ph), MOTHER DIED IN TORNADO: I wasn't just heartbroken for my mom. I was praying for everyone that had lost a loved one because, I mean, this is just -- you don't imagine something like this happening and hitting so close to your family. I mean, you just -- you see it on the news. You don't -- you don't ever think it's going to happen to you.

DARRELL OSMAN, MOTHER DIED IN TORNADO: The only thing that's getting me through this is knowing that she's in heaven with god, and Jesus Christ has given me the strength to be able to endure all of this.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I can't imagine. It's so sad to see.

OSMAN: Forgive me.

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry.

LYNDI BOWMAN, GRANDMOTHER DIED IN TORONTO: It was chaos. There were -- there were men from all over town, and not just emergency crews, but men, women, children all here trying to find anybody. We dug for two hours at least before they found her body.

DANNY MORRIS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: The lives that was lost. That's the main concern right now. Everybody down here was just kind of like a family. So --

O'BRIEN: A tight-knit group.


O'BRIEN: You knew everybody personally.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was standing at the back door looking out. I had just gotten out of bed. The sirens were going off. My husband was in the bathroom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then I felt the trailer shaking. And I woke up underneath the trailer.

STEVEN VAUGHT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Me and the two dogs I have and the trailer started rolling down the hill. And you can see what's left. And after I rolled five times, I mean, I can remember everything about it. I was -- once it hit the ground on the fifth time, everything just -- I saw daylight. And I was sitting up against the stove down there just leaned up with my back against it like I was sitting in a chair. I don't know how I'm here.


VAUGHT: No doubt. The good lord just didn't call me is all I know. It wasn't my time.



BLITZER: Let's get back to the Republican race for the White House. Of the 10 states holding Republican contests this coming Tuesday, Ohio may be the biggest prize. The latest Quinnipiac poll from the state shows a dead heat virtually at the top. Rick Santorum holding a slight lead, 35 percent. Mitt Romney trailing at 31 percent. But that's within the margin of error. Newt Gingrich is polling at 17 percent, Ron Paul 12 percent.

Let's discuss what's going on with our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "National Journal."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

And, Candy, we look at these numbers. If Santorum wins in Ohio, that's a pretty significant setback, once again, to Mitt Romney, I would say.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S STATE OF THE UNION: It is but I think anytime Mitt Romney loses something big as we go forward, probably into June, we're going to say that. I mean, he's just -- he has never been a steady frontrunner. He's always been the weak frontrunner. There's always going to be a state that we're going to look at it and say he needs to win the state.

BLITZER: I say that because no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio in a general election.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In November, no question. The Republican nominee has to win Ohio to win. Not necessarily for Romney in the primary. Look, the reason he's been a weak frontrunner is because there's been a very clear demographic and ideological divide in this race. Romney has done well consistently with what I call the managerial class of the Republican Party, college educate, more affluent, somewhat more moderate, somewhat more secular.

He struggles on the other side of the party, the populist side of the party, with blue-collar voters, evangelical Christians, strong conservatives. When he gets to states that tilt in that direction, he runs into trouble. And Ohio is two or three clicks in that direction than Michigan. A little more evangelical, a little more blue-collar, and also without the home-state advantage.


BROWNSTEIN: So thus -- so thus a little tougher for Romney than Michigan was.

BLITZER: Because Ohio sort of between Michigan and Pennsylvania, Santorum's home state. Romney does not do well -- he did well in Florida, obviously, but he usually doesn't do well -- he won't do well in, let's say, Georgia, Tennessee, maybe Oklahoma. What do you think?

CROWLEY: No, he probably -- he's likely not going to, if we're to believe the polls. Listen, Georgia, we heard Gingrich say he's got to win that. That's where he's put, you know, all of his pennies is into Georgia because that propels him into the next southern primary.

BLITZER: Because if he loses, Georgia, Newt --


CROWLEY: Well, he's pretty much said it.


CROWLEY: He said it's a must-win. Otherwise I'm not a credible -- you know, so he set his own stakes there. You look at Oklahoma, that's Santorum territory, should go to him.

But let's remember, winning the state is important, but we are now down to the delegate count, we really are. We're at that point where we eventually got in Obama versus Clinton, which is this is now because there's so many of these states that are parceling out the delegates that were, you know, if you will lose a few here and you pick a few up here, you can come out looking better than it sounds.

BLITZER: And remember, Obama versus Clinton went until June. We're only in March.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, that was the first time since 1984 we had a race go all the way to June. You know, both sides of this equation you have to look at, though.

Clearly, Romney is going to struggle in states with a big number of Evangelical Christians like Oklahoma, like Tennessee, like Georgia and probably that makes Ohio tougher as well.

But the reverse, Wolf, I think is true, too. Rick Santorum has not yet demonstrated that he can win in states that are not dominated by Evangelical Christians and that he can expand broadly beyond that base.

BLITZER: Is Ohio dominant? BROWNSTEIN: No, it's about 45 percent. It's a little higher than Michigan which is about 39 percent. It's not as high as Oklahoma or Tennessee.

The thing about Santorum is that he is appealing to one faction of the party, the most conservative wing, strong Tea Party supporters, Evangelical Christians, very conservatives.

He hasn't proven that he can reach out more broadly even into that blue-collar constituency we think should be his stronghold. He lost, for example, Catholics in Michigan. He has not yet won Catholics in any state.

BLITZER: Even though he himself is a devout Catholic.


CROWLEY: And we should also add that one of the things, particularly when we see these polls in Ohio, in particular, begin to close, is it still an advantage to have a structure in the state?


CROWLEY: Santorum still -- I mean, that's what hurt him in Michigan. He didn't have the kind of structure that Romney had in Michigan.

While Romney, it may not be his home state, he's got plenty of folks getting out the votes and making phone calls and he's got more money.

Santorum raising some significant bucks in February, but nonetheless, when you've got a race that close, you almost have to advantage Mitt Romney just for the structure he has.

BLITZER: If Newt Gingrich loses in Georgia, you know, it's possible he could -- and he drops out, who gets his support?

BROWNSTEIN: I think on balance slightly more to Santorum than to Romney, but not overwhelmingly. Gingrich has been a strong candidate with a more conservative wing of the party earlier.

But he's pretty much been eclipsed by Santorum. Santorum is already consolidating that. The question will remain whether Santorum can become a full-spectrum candidate.

Where he is now, he can irritate Romney. He can hurt him. He can wound him, but in the end he doesn't have a broad enough coalition right now to beat him.

BLITZER: Because if he drops out, Gingrich, effectively, there's still Ron Paul, obviously but effectively, it's Santorum versus Romney.

BROWNSTEIN: Right and we finally have the Romney versus not Romney race we've been talking about for a year. But yes, absolutely, I think Ron's right. Yes, Mitt Romney has not been able to make huge inroads except in Florida, but Santorum also has his problems, and it keeps getting on display because the conversation, he can't seem to get off the economy or won't -- can't or won't, right.

BLITZER: We'll see you tomorrow on "State of the Union," 9:00 a.m. Eastern only here on CNN. And we'll read you in "The National Journal." Excellent article, cover story.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: You didn't write it, but it was a very good article.

BROWNSTEIN: I read it. I read it.

BLITZER: Thanks, guys.

Rick Santorum certainly making charges of backroom intrigue in the Republican race, alleging that Ron Paul is protecting Mitt Romney from the kind of sharp attacks Paul has unleashed on his other rivals. It's a charge that Paul strongly denies and likens to a conspiracy theory.


BLITZER: I want you to respond, if you will, Rick Santorum keeps suggesting, and his supporters, his strategists keep saying you're in cahoots with Mitt Romney.

You're trying to help Mitt Romney secretly behind the scenes in order to, for whatever reason, and that's why you're running ads going after Rick Santorum.

Earlier, you ran ads going after of some the other candidates. But you never say anything or do anything critical of Mitt Romney. Go ahead, talk to Rick Santorum. Tell him why you think you're not in cahoots with Mitt Romney.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, if anybody comes to any of our meetings or our rallies, I talk about issues, foreign policy and civil liberties and the economy and federal reserve.

But if that's all he has to talk about, that means he doesn't have much of a platform to talk about. I would think we're supposed to be talking about the issues. But to construct something like that, I mean, he just pulled that out of the air because there's no truth to it.

But if he wants to spend his energy doing that, I just -- you can't do anything about it. But he dreamt that up and I think he should talk about the issues instead. That's what I think. I'm supposed to do.

BLITZER: Well, let me be precise, then. Have you run ads critical of Mitt Romney? He says you haven't, but you know the facts. PAUL: Yes, we have at the beginning. We called him a flip-flopper and any time we're in a debate, you know, I mentioned -- I run against all three of them because they are very similar. They have the same foreign policy.

They're very aggressive in moving our troops around and occupying. They endorse this principle of pre-emptive war. They aren't interested even talking about civil liberties. They don't talk about the Federal Reserve and what we ought to do.

And nobody has provided any real cuts. And I provide real cuts because I think the debt is the problem. We have a debt crisis in this country -- as a matter of fact, it's worldwide, and it's rather serious.

So I see them all in the same category. I think the only difference I've been able to observe is there quite possibly would be management styles on their personalities on how they would do things. But philosophically, there's no difference. And I don't hesitate to point out our differences no matter who it is.

BLITZER: You know, because I've asked some of Santorum's supporters, why do you believe that Ron Paul would be in some sort of conspiracy to help Mitt Romney in and you know what they've said to me, Congressman?


BLITZER: You want me to tell you, right?

PAUL: Well, if you want to. I'm not real curious.

BLITZER: I'm going to tell you. They've got this notion that you would like to see your son, Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, on the ballot with Mitt Romney. And that's why you're supposedly protecting Mitt Romney and going after Rick Santorum. What do you think of that theory?

PAUL: Well, the first thing, it hasn't crossed my mind. The second thing, I don't think it would work. And third thing, I know Mitt Romney would be talking in that language at all.

So I think that's just -- some people are much more into conspiracies than others. If Santorum is an addict on conspiracies, I guess he's going to have to keep talking that way.


BLITZER: Ron Paul speaking with me earlier.

Meanwhile, ominous new developments in Syria including a staggering new death toll.

Plus, a former U.S. senator makes very disturbing allegations about Saudi Arabia and 9/11.


BLITZER: The total death toll in Syria now exceeds a staggering 7,500 people according to the United Nations and the crisis is only getting worse.

Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's following all the events from Beirut right now.

As bad as it is right now, Nic, so many of the observers, so many people watching this very closely think it could potentially get a whole lot worse, not necessarily in the coming months, but in the coming days and weeks.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. When you see what was happening in the Baba Amir neighborhood over the week, what's happened in the neighborhood of Homs, you get an idea of the trajectory here, increased shelling, increased shelling over the past few weeks, longer periods of shelling then this week some of the heaviest shelling.

Wednesday, there were reports of helicopter gunships, ground troops going into the Baba Amir neighborhood. Thursday, you have the Syrian Free Army pulling out, leaving civilians there. Friday, you have the government of Syria promising to let aid organizations, the Syrian red crescent, the international committee for the Red Cross, let them with trucks of much needed medical and aid supplies and blankets go into this beleaguered neighborhood and help the 4,000 citizens there.

Friday, the Syrian government renades on that deal. We've seen Friday as well an uptick in the shelling in other neighborhoods near Homs as well, Restan, 16 people killed, a shelling at a public anti-Assad demonstration there. So this is a sign of the things to come.

Assad will take away from this week the knowledge that he has put down and repressed and knocked onto their back feet the free Syrian army. And that is going to embolden him, and it's going to embolden his troops.

And it's going to worry all those opposition activists around the country who know that in their neighborhoods, they also rely on the Free Syrian Army to keep out Assad's forces. That's where the week has left us -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And unlike what happened in Libya, and you were there in Libya as well when NATO and many of the Arab League countries came to the rescue of those folks who were potentially facing death at the hands of Gadhafi.

It doesn't look like NATO or really anyone else is going to get militarily involved with a no-fly zone or naval blockade or anything along those lines. Maybe a little bit of arming some of the rebels.

But it doesn't look like they're going to get a whole lot of outside support, at least not yet.

ROBERTSON: They might get some communications equipment. They might get ways and ideas of sort of defeating the checks and the controls that Assad is putting on them, getting their message out. But that's going to be the extent of it.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia are talking about arming the opposition. Others saying perhaps that's not a good idea. We don't know who's going to get all the weapons, whose hands they're going to fall into. We saw in Libya where you have an untrained, unskilled opposition in terms of using weapons, when you give them weapons, it's disjointed.

It's uncoordinated. They take two steps forward, one step back. And Syria, albeit many of the males have been through several years of military conscription, military service, but that does not make an army. They don't have skills in heavy weapons.

They don't have bases that they could operate from. They don't have territory that they can call their own so the idea that they could get weapons and use them is just -- it's one that's not gaining any momentum.

So the best it seems they can hope for right now is some minimal help in supplies. But the reality is, they need massive injections of cash, communications equipment. They want weapons even medical supplies.

They desperately need medical supplies, ways to get those medical supplies in, motorbikes, small little mobile trucks to move this stuff around the country. Those are the kinds of things they need and these aren't being talked about at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic, thanks very much. Nic Robertson reporting for us, thank you.

Meanwhile, new evidence that Iran might be conducting secret nuclear tests. How close might they be to the bomb?

And more than 10 years after 9/11, a new allegation about who is really potentially involved in the terror attacks.


BLITZER: Iran is raising serious questions about its nuclear ambitions. It's been seven years since an inspector was allowed in a certain facility, triggering suspicions they're hiding something.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been working the story for us. Barbara, lots of stake here. What's the latest? What's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A lot at stake, Wolf. We want to show you some of the reasons the U.S. and Israel are so worried about Iran right now.


STARR (voice-over): This is the place that Iran may be holding some of its most critical nuclear secrets. DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Iran put together a special facility, basically a facility within a facility, where they could conduct high explosive tests that wouldn't be visible from overhead imagery.

STARR: Commercial satellite images show the military base at Parchin, South of Tehran. Experts believe it is here that Iran has tested explosives that would be used in a trigger for a nuclear bomb.

ALBRIGHT: A very sophisticated experiment that Iran is suspected of conducting in that facility.

STARR: International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA officials, hasn't been here since 2005, but do watch it from satellite images. Iran has flat out refused to let inspectors back in.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It was surprising because it raises suspicions. If there is no nuclear weapons program, what does Iran have to hide?

If there is no nuclear weapons program, why are they putting their nuclear centrifuges deep underground? If there is no nuclear weapons program that is intended, why don't they clearly state so?

STARR: It's a critical question as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to meet President Obama next week. Unlike the U.S., Israel believes Iran has made the decision to go ahead with a weapons program.

How close could Iran be to the bomb, the so-called red line? Experts tell CNN by early next year, Iran could have enough uranium enriched to the 20 percent level. If that happens, it would be easy for Iran to further enrich to weapons-grade material to make a bomb.

Turning it into weapons-grade nuclear material could take just weeks, and inspectors might never know about it.


STARR: Right now, those nuclear inspectors want to get back into Parchin, even if they can't find evidence of a test they want Iran to agree that inspectors are allowed to go wherever they wish.

BLITZER: And these next few months are going to be critical.

STARR: Absolutely. You know, U.S. watching, Israel watching, the world is watching to try to determine what Iran's next steps will be.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens on Monday when the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the president of the United States, Barack Obama.

STARR: Some very serious talks upcoming.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Barbara Starr, for that. It's been a source of whispers and fears for a decade since the 9/11 attacks. Now an outright allegation by a former United States senator who says the Saudi government provided critical assistance to carry out Osama Bin Laden 'S terror plot.

Brian Todd has been investigating this story for us. New information is coming out right now, very explosive.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We have new documents in a lawsuit against the Saudi government. In these documents, former Senator Bob Graham who's led the Senate investigation into 9/11 gives jarring detail on the contacts between one man who he says was a Saudi government agent and two of the hijackers.


TODD (voice-over): New allegations that those who carried out the worst act of terrorism on American soil got help from an American ally.

Former Senator Bob Graham who led a Senate investigation into the September 11th attacks says a man who he believes was an agent of the Saudi government gave money and other help to two of the 9/11 hijackers.

Graham identifies that man as Omar Al Bayoumi (ph) who lived in California and the two of the hijacks he allegedly helped as Nawaf Alhasmi (ph) and Khalid Almidar (ph).

In a court document filed in recent days, part of a lawsuit by families of 9/11 victims against the Saudi government, Graham says when the two hijackers traveled to San Diego, Al Bayoumi held a dinner in their honor, helped them find an apartment, fronted the initial payments for that apartment and provided them continuing financial assistance going forward.

Nearly nine years ago, Al Bayoumi said this about allegations that he was involved with the plotters.

OMAR AL BAYOUMI (through translator): The Saudi investigators also investigated me. They didn't find evidence to connect me to this.

TODD: Senator Graham says at the time graham says he was allegedly helping the hijackers. Al Bayoumi had an unusual number of telephone conversations with Saudi government officials. A lawyer for 9/11 victims' families in this case says Graham's statement raises other questions.

STEPHEN COZEN, ATTORNEY FOR 9/11 VICTIMS' FAMILIES: To what extent has the kingdom of Saudi Arabia through its dominated and controlled charities and banks and other NGOs funded terrorism both with al Qaeda as well as other with international terrorist organizations for the purpose of attacking western interests?

TODD (on camera): An attorney representing the Saudi government in this case said he couldn't comment on Senator Graham's statements because the case is still pending.

We couldn't comment from anyone at the Saudi embassy, but a consultant familiar with the embassy's position on this told us that the commissions and the Saudi government have said all there is to say on the subject.

(voice-over): The 9/11 Commission said it found no evidence that the Saudi government or any senior government officials funded al Qaeda. I asked analyst, Peter Bergen, about Al Bayoumi's alleged aid to the hijackers.

(on camera): Could that translate to the top members a of the Saudi government knowing anything about this?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think so. And at the end of the day, Brain, you know, it fails the common sense test. Al Qaeda's mangles to over thrown the Saudi government. The Saudi government is unlikely to be financing a group that is basically interested in ending the Saudi royal monarchy.


TODD: Bergen also says the Saudi's top leaders also would not have backed such a horrific attack on their strongest ally -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But this is a massive lawsuit that's underway right now.

TODD: That's right. This has been in the works for at least eight years and seeks billions of dollars from the Saudi government not only from the victims' families and from some insurance companies that paid out billions of dollars, airlines and commercial entities.

The Saudis have tried to get out of this lawsuit. They've been let out of the lawsuit once. This firm is now trying to bring them back into it. That's where we are right now.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story and see what unfolds. Brian Todd reporting.

An unexpected shower for a world leader that involved a lot of beer, an embarrassed waiter and a soaked German chancellor.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Yemen, air force personnel demand the removal of military chiefs over corruption allegations.

In Finland, a new president is sworn in, in front of parliament, as the outgoing president reviews the guard of honor.

In Argentina, President Kirchner along with the vice president opens the 130th session of Congress.

And In Jordan, a man builds a snowman on top of a car. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world. A waiter's good deed turned into his worst nightmare when he accidentally dumped a tray of full beer glasses on the leader of Germany and he did it all on camera. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one thing when you spill a drink on yourself -- or when a basketball star collides with a fan who ends up wearing his coffee. But what are the chances of a waiter dumping beer on a chancellor of Germany, not one glass or two, but five glasses of beer?

Germany's leader, Angela Merkel, flinched, but barely in fact her flinch from five beers seemed less pronounced than her crinch the time that President Bush gave her a surprise back rub. A German paper interviewed the 21-year-old waiter who dumped beer on the chancellor and he said that someone behind him shoved him.

One aide clapped her hands to her face. Another passed a dry jacket down the table. But Chancellor Merkel stayed cool and the next thing you know she was toasting.

(on camera): At the moment he dropped the beer, the waiter says he also dropped a curse word.

(voice-over): Dropped it loudly, but the chancellor just grinned at him. At least he didn't try to clean her up like the guy in the movie "Old School".

But what's a few glasses when winning football coaches routinely get doused with entire coolers of Gatorade. The waiter who showered Germany's chancellor says he was still reliving the incident in slow motion like that Carlton beer commercial.

But Chancellor Merkel, there are worse things than beer that you can find dripping down your back. At least when your kid does this to you it isn't cold. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Very funny. It makes me want to go out and have a beer. That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Please be sure to join us every weekday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time every day on CNN International as well. The news continues next on CNN.