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Marines Disarmed For Panetta Visit; Former Exec Slams Goldman Sachs in Op-Ed; Flight Attendant's Meltdown; Santorum in Puerto Rico Bill Maher Firestorm; British Prime Minister David Cameron Visits U.S.

Aired March 14, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now, the defense secretary of the United States, Leon Panetta visits Afghanistan and disarms U.S. Marines. This hour, the surprising request for American troops to leave their weapons at the door. What's going on?

And a Wall Street giant is publicly accused of ripping off clients in a toxic and destructive way. It's a stunning parting shot at Goldman Sachs by one of its own executives.

And we now have cell phone video of a flight attendant's disturbing on-board rant. The images along with 911 calls reveal the confusion and the fear that passengers' lives might have been endanger.




BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, is driving home that these are very, very dangerous times in Afghanistan. His visit today with U.S. troops comes just days after an American soldier allegedly went on a deadly rampage against Afghan civilians, but even hardened marines were taken aback by something they had to do today, apparently, in the name of security.

They had to drop their own weapons. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us now. He's got details on Panetta's visit, the aftermath of the shooting, and more. Chris, what's the latest?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we learned just a few hours ago that the soldier who was accused of killing those Afghan women and children has now been taken out of Afghanistan.

His current whereabouts are not being released, but we were told by a defense official that it was based on two reasons, one, a legal recommendation, and the fact that they felt they did not have a place in Afghanistan where they could detain him for any long length of time any more than he had already been detained. Now, as to what happened in Afghanistan today, it was an eventful day, and it really started before Secretary Panetta was even able to set foot on the ground.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, ticked off a litany of violent events as he spoke to marines in Afghanistan.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The burning of the Koran and of the Islamic religious text. We've had ISAF forces that have been targeted for killings, murder.

LAWRENCE: But Panetta got a personal taste of Afghanistan's unpredictable violence. As he plane was arriving, an Afghan who worked at Camp Bastion stole a British vehicle, ran over a coalition service member, and drove onto the runway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did end up on the runway ramp and ended up in a ditch. Our personnel discovered that he was ablaze.

LAWRENCE: They found no explosives on him, but the secretary's plane was diverted. Coalition troops arrested the Afghan, who was burned over a good part of his body. Bastion is a British base, and word of the incident reached Prime Minister David Cameron here in Washington. He expressed concern for the troops there.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: If there are things that need to be done in the coming hours and days to keep them safer, be no doubt we will do them.

LAWRENCE: After this incident, marines who gathered to hear the secretary speak were told to take their weapons outside. It was highly unusual. Troops had never been asked to disarm for a visit like this before.

A defense official explained that the commander wanted to promote partnership and didn't want armed marines with unarmed Afghan forces, but apparently, his directive didn't reach the unit until they were seated. Panetta urged the marines to stay focused.

PANETTA: Never lose sight of that mission. Whatever the events, whatever the incident.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): And despite all the talk of partnership and the good things that are really happening in Afghanistan, you did have this dichotomy, Wolf, between Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama talking about the ongoing, enduring partnership in Afghanistan, and the first word we were getting that an Afghan had tried to drive his truck onto the runway as the secretary of defense was arriving.

I'm told that it was a British service member who was injured by that stolen truck, and that this truck was able to actually pass at least one layer of perimeter security to get onto that runway. So, this is an egregious breach of security at the time the secretary was arriving in country, Wolf.

BLITZER: Couldn't be more sensitive than that. All right. thanks very much for that, Chris.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now on Panetta's visit and this extraordinary request for United States marines to disarm. We're joined by the retired army major general, James "Spider" Marks. General, thanks very much for coming in. I've traveled with defense secretaries, with commanders. I was in Iraq with the central commander, General Abizaid.

He always went in -- none of the U.S. troops, marines or soldiers, would disarm. The Iraqi troops were forced to come in without weapons. This is pretty extraordinary, don't you think?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, it might be unprecedented, but I don't know that it's exceptionally extraordinary. Clearly, I think this probably has more to do with optics than tactics. Certainly, the secretary was never at personal risk. He travels with a personal security detachment. These are individuals that have weapons.

They are not necessarily displayed, but they can protect the secretary of defense at a moment's notice, very close-in security. And also, the facility where the secretary was located was inside either a command post or a combat outpost or a forward operating base. So, he was never at risk. It might be unprecedented, but not really a big deal, I don't think.

BLITZER: To me, it seems like a big deal. I'm sure to those marines and the soldiers who were told to leave their weapons outside, it must have been a big deal, because I don't think that's ever happened to them before. But is it -- what is the concern? Some people have suggested to me, you know what, the concern is maybe an Afghan would try to grab one of those weapons to shoot the defense secretary.

Others have said in the aftermath of what happened, when that one soldier allegedly started on that rampage, maybe another soldier under enormous distress could simply open up against the defense secretary. What do you think the concern was in asking these marines to leave their weapons outside?

MARKS: Well, Wolf, I really believe that what we're talking about here is the optics of the secretary of defense in a large facility with maybe 90 marines, maybe 100 marines, and all of them are underarm. They all have their weapons, their individual weapons with them. Their Afghan partners do not. That's standard operating procedure. That takes place all over the theater. It happened also in Iraq as a matter of routine. In this particular incident, I don't think it's a bad idea to ask those marines leave your weapons outside. The fact that they might have been notified five minutes before the secretary arrived, and they all had to get up and kind of gaggle outside, drop their weapons, stack them up, get back inside.

I mean, that's kind of a disruption. That, by itself, is not a big deal. Again, it gets to the optics of the situation. I don't think this is a significant turning point. And as I said, it's certainly had nothing to do with the secretary's personal risk.

BLITZER: You know, it's been 10 years plus since U.S. troops have been fighting, first in Afghanistan and Iraq, no longer in Iraq, but continue in a fight at least for almost three more years in Afghanistan. Some of these troops have served two, three, four, even five tours of duty. The stress is enormous on them. Is it simply too much for anyone to bear?

MARKS: Well, clearly, what we see is that our military can bear it. They can withstand it. They can do a magnificent job. What we saw with this one soldier is the complete activity of a rogue soldier. We'll figure out what went wrong, what went terribly wrong with that individual. But clearly what you see -- clear -- 99 percent of every one of these soldiers and marines, all our service members that deploy are ready for this mission, are prepared for this mission and are focused.

But you're absolutely correct. We've asked these great young Americans to step up repeatedly, and of course, it wears on you. But when you're focused on the task, as the secretary indicated, stay focused, stay mission focused, you're going to be OK and you got your buddies with you. That's the message it comes across. And that's the behavior that you routinely see.

BLITZER: General Marks, thanks for coming in.

MARKS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: President Obama is warning Iran today that the window for solving its nuclear dispute with the west by diplomatic means is shrinking. International inspectors are concerned about possible nuclear activity at a military base south of Tehran. Our own Tom Foreman has been studying the satellite images that are raising some red flags. Tom, show our viewers what you're seeing. What's going on?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, this came out of a report and analysis done by the Institute for Science and International Security. The experts over there who've been studying the pictures of the Parchin military site. This one from 2011 from GOI. You can see this is a big sprawling place here with a lot of different building.

U.N. inspectors did go in and see this some years ago, but they didn't get to see all of it, and now, what these folks are saying as they look at it very closely is that there should have been some very close inspection of this building right out here, just a blur on this older image, but let me bring you something newer here.

This is from Digital Globe, one of their newer images of the very same place. And if you look at it, you can see the building a little bit more clearly right here. What's the issue with this building? The question is, is this a place where Iran has been testing nuclear triggers in effect.

When you set of a nuclear explosion, you have to have a big explosion first to make the nuclear material to start reacting to create a nuclear explosion. That's a tricky procedure. They're wondering if that's what's been going on inside this little building off to the site of the Parchin facility, where U.N. inspectors have never, ever been.

Why do they think that? There's a perimeter fence around this property, which has attracted some attention, keeping people at bay. It's a little removed from everything else. And there -- you can see the shadows here of berms that have been constructed, raised earth areas between this building and neighboring buildings, suggesting that there have been some high explosives going off inside this building.

The simple truth is, when these folks looked at this from ISIS, they said if you look at these pictures closely enough and amid reports that there's been more activity around this area, simply put, if U.N. inspectors do get back in as Iran has suggested they will, one of the places that they suggest needs to be looked at very carefully is this building at Parchin, because it's a big spurling (ph) facility.

If you just look at part of it, you might miss something very important, Wolf, a lot of buzz about this building here in Washington today.

BLITZER: But tom, if something untoward was going on there and the inspectors are coming back in and they'll be allowed to go there, don't you think the Iranians would clean it up and get rid of any damaging evidence?

FOREMAN: That's one of the big questions, too, Wolf, is the longer this is delayed since there's no date set for when inspectors would be allowed to go here. The question is, can they change things around, reconfigure things inside so it looks simply like normal weapons testing, not the building of a nuclear trigger.

Experts would know what the differences between the two, but to give them enough time? Maybe it won't look that way anymore -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report, tom. Thanks very much.

We've heard a lot about terrible things being said about Wall Street firms, but I don't remember anything like this. A Goldman Sachs executive calls it quits with a scathing farewell in the "New York Times." Standby for that.

We now have the closest video yet of a flight attendant apparently having an on-board meltdown and terrifying passengers.

And critics says the comedian, Bill Maher, has crossed the line again. Standby.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, here's something that ought to make us all count our blessings. Nearly 1.5 million American families live on $2 a day or less per person. Two bucks a day. The numbers include 2.8 million children. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. The National Poverty Center reports households living in extreme poverty surged 130 percent in the last 15 years.

It's estimated more than half of these families are run by a single woman. More than a third are headed by a married couple. Almost half are headed by Whites, one quarter by Blacks, and less than a quarter by Hispanics. The center used the $2 a day measure since that's one of the world bank's main indicators in poverty in developing countries.

Sad commentary on the state of affairs here in our own developed country. Researchers didn't include food stamps in these numbers. If you factor in food stamps as income, the number of households in extreme poverty drops by almost half to 800,000. Overall, a record 46.2 million Americans are living below the poverty line.

The federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on programs to feed and house and clothe the poor. It's estimated one in six Americans rely on public programs with food stamps and Medicaid being the largest. Mitt Romney recently came under fire when he said he's not concerned about the very poor, quote, "there's a safety net there," unquote. It's not exactly the voice of a compassionate conservative.

Here's the question, what does it mean when 1.5 million American families live on less than $2 a day per person? Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Shocking -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Shocking indeed. A heartbreaking. Thank you, Jack.

Meanwhile, a longtime Goldman Sachs executive is calling it quits, but not before ripping the corporate giant to pieces in a scathing op-ed on his way out the door. Let's bring in our own Mary Snow. She's in New York. And Mary has the explosive details. Mary, tell our viewers what happened here.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is really seen as unprecedented, a PR nightmare for Goldman Sachs might be an understatement. The firm had no choice but to respond to a very public attack by one of its own who charges the company has lost its way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All these activities involve clients and all involved risk.

SNOW (voice-over): Goldman Sachs is known for being shrouded in secrecy with rare public glimpses into the firm at Congressional hearings like this one on the financial crisis. And that's why it's so unusual for a Goldman Sachs insider to resign from the firm through a blistering "New York Times" op-ed piece. Greg Smith, an executive director quit after 12 years, writing "The environment now is as toxic and destructive as I've ever seen it."

He writes the company puts itself first ahead of its clients, saying, "It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months, I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as muppets."

Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, fired back, sending a memo to his staff of 30,000. "We were disappointed to read the assertions made by this individual but do not reflect our values, our culture, and how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm."

William Cohen wrote a book about Goldman Sachs, "Money and Power," says for an insider to do this is unheard of, but he's not surprised by the content.

WILLIAM D. COHEN, AUTHOR, "MONEY AND POWER": Much of what he's written about was familiar to me and it's also familiar to their clients who know that Goldman does this. They don't like it, but they know that Goldman tends to put itself before its clients.

SNOW: Some on Wall Street question Smith's parting words.

JOSHUA M. BROWN, FUSION ANALYTICS: And I think that this whole epiphany concept is a little bit hypocritical, because odds are things are not very different now than they were in 2000 or 2001 or whenever he began his career.

SNOW: The CEO of Goldman Sachs did address the company's image in an interview with CNNs Christine Romans in 2010.

LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: We'll survive only by putting our clients first and the interests of the broader community first, but there certainly is a rise in the suspicion that something is broken here, and that we just don't have those all standards.

And the industry and Goldman Sachs have a lot of work ahead of itself to make the kinds of changes, not just to convince people, but to make the kinds of changes that the -- that are warranted from the lessons of the last several years.

SNOW: The question is, what impact will this have? One client is the state of California. Goldman Sachs helps the state sell bonds. A spokesman for the state treasurer says there are no plans to alter the relationship, but says, "The state of California is not a muppet when it comes to bond sales and a relationship with banks." (END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on-camera): And California treasurer's office adds that even though it's a Goldman Sach's client, it hires independent financial advisers to make decisions. In the bigger picture, though, former Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, said there's been a dramatic transformation on Wall Street with banks focusing on profits and away from clients --Wolf.

BLITZER: I think this story is going to resonate for some time. There should be a lot more fall out, Mary. Thank you.

New signs Iran could be to blame for a sophisticated cyber attack unleashed on a major media company. We're going to have the latest for you.

And it's been a key -- it's been a key to inquiring knowledge for more than 200 years. Why the era of the encyclopedia, at least the printed version, is now coming to an end.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now, including new information on that horrific bus crash in Pennsylvania. What else do we know, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at least one person has died after a packed school bus collided with a semi-truck trailer in Southern Pennsylvania. As many as 70 students may have been on that bus. Medical helicopters are transporting six students to the hospitals, and two other school buses are assisting students with less serious injuries. We will provide more information as we get it.

The BBC says it appears Iran has unleashed a sophisticated cyber attack on its Persian service. The head of the BBC says it isn't the first time the Iranians have tried to jam their satellite feeds, but says they may be widening their tactics. All BBC Persian staff work outside Iran, but the BBC chief is also accusing Iran of arresting employees' family members who are living in the country.

The Staple of Academia older than the United States is coming to an end. After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica will stop printing books to focus solely on its digital encyclopedia. The company usually printed news (ph) every two years, but the 2010 edition will be the last. That's almost hard to believe this, but Britannica was first published in Scotland way back in 1768. the end of an era there.

And they say every dog has its day. Well, that definitely applies to at least one dogsledder, too. Twenty-five-year-old Dallas Seavey is the youngest musher to win the famed Alaska Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He completed the thousand-mile race in nine days, four hours, and 29 minutes. Sledding is in Seavey's blood.

He beat both his father and his grandfather to the finish line. So, congratulations to him. That is pretty cool. He certainly is going to have bragging rights in that family, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good for him, congratulations. Good work.

Bill Maher is under fire again, and he might want to blame Rush Limbaugh this time. It's a new shot in an election year war of words.

And a new onboard set of recordings during a flight attendant's apparent meltdown. Passengers clearly feared they were in the midst of some kind of 9/11 attack.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're talking about crashing our plane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Who is talking about crashing your plane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The attendance over the P.A.



BLITZER: Rick Santorum is making good on his promise to campaign everywhere with a new blast of energy from his southern victories last night. The Republican presidential candidate is now in Puerto Rico, trying for another upset win against Mitt Romney. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is traveling with the former Pennsylvania senator. What's going on in Puerto Rico, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are following Rick Santorum. He is here in Puerto Rico, looking for some support before this Sunday's Puerto Rico primary and it goes to what you were just saying a few moments ago, Wolf. Every delegate counts in this race for the GOP nomination. Rick Santorum was defeated pretty soundly in some of the other (INAUDIBLE) territories that have weighed in the last couple of weeks.

Those delegates went to Mitt Romney, so that explains why Rick Santorum is here. And I had a chance to catch up with him to talk to him about how he's feeling after those big victories in Mississippi and Alabama, and also about this Romney campaign memo that came out earlier today, talking about how Rick Santorum is basically mathematically out of the race for the GOP nomination. He laughed that off. Here's what he had to say.


ACOSTA: Hey, senator, how are you doing? Good to see you. I just wanted to ask you, the fact that you're in Puerto Rico does that sort of underline the importance of how every delegate counts now in this battle for the nominee?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, delegates do count. And you know we're -- as I said we're campaigning in every state. The only two states we didn't physically campaign in are Hawaii and Alaska, and I sent my daughter to Hawaii and we did well (INAUDIBLE). I was very pleased.

I mean I don't know if you saw the results, we were up until 4:00 this morning watching them and we were within three or four points, and then the area around Brigham Young (ph) University came in with a large Mormon vote and we got, got sort of shoved out, shut down a little bit, but I think it showed that you know and the rests of the island outside of the Mormon enclave (ph) there, we were very, very competitive on the island of Hawaii.

And I was very, very encouraged by that, that we had real strength across the board in a state that I don't think most people thought we would -- we could be competitive in and I think it shows that, again we finished second, and Congressman Gingrich finished fourth, a distant fourth, and you know I think it shows that we're the alternative. And that's what we're down here -- I think we can do really well here. You know I think top two is certainly possible and might be able -- even though all the establishment is for Governor Romney all the establishment is always for Governor Romney --

ACOSTA: The Romney campaign came out with a memo that said that the delegate matter is still not on your side despite what happened last night.

SANTORUM: It's pretty sad when all you have is to do is math instead of trying -- you know trying to go out there and win it on substance and win it on what Americans want to hear about. And we're a long, long way from over and you know what I suspect if we keep winning state after state after state (INAUDIBLE) be the nominee.


ACOSTA: And Rick Santorum is considered the underdog here in the Puerto Rico primary. That's because Mitt Romney has the endorsement of the governor of this territory, Larice Fortuno (ph), but Rick Santorum and Governor Fortuno (ph) are old friends, Wolf.

As a matter of fact, the governor welcomed Santorum to the island earlier this morning for a photo opportunity and consider this. Rick Santorum is spending two days on this island. It just goes to show you how important these delegates are as this race goes forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll get those results from Puerto Rico on Sunday and Illinois on Tuesday. Jim Acosta in Puerto Rico for us; thanks very much.

The rumbling is growing louder and lower at least among some frustrated Republicans who say Mitt Romney has to change his message and start connecting with voters. Let's bring in our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. She's the anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION". Candy, you've been covering Romney's campaign. Does he need to change what he's doing right now? Is it time for a readjustment?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, you will hear people around him, you know, unofficial advisers, folks with an interest in the campaign, folks that have backed him that say, listen, you just, obviously something has to change because he needs to, quote, "seal this deal", to use the season's cliche.

The problem with this is and I will say that our Peter Heavy (ph) has done some great reporting on this and people should check our ticker on it about people saying he has got to kind of hone in on a single message. The way say Newt Gingrich did on $2.50 a gallon gasoline.

That Romney is too over -- all over the place doesn't have a single message. Here's the problem. And I talked to two or three folks who are not being paid by the Romney campaign, but nonetheless give them advice. And they said at this stage of the game they don't rule out that maybe somebody new would be brought in. There are always rumors to that effect. They say you can't make some major shake-up in "A", who Mitt Romney is, and "B" what his message is which is that he's the guy that can in fact fix the economy.

When I asked whether it shouldn't be a little more specific, they said well he has, you know that multipoint plan that's out there. Is that enough? They weren't sure so -- but they say when you start making major changes at this point in a campaign, it buys into the theory that you're in trouble, and honestly, inside and outside that campaign, again they talk about the math and say we're doing very well. We realize and we wanted to win Alabama and Mississippi, but we still have twice as many delegates as Rick Santorum and we believe we're going to get there, so they don't think that there should be this -- some massive change inside the campaign.

BLITZER: There's enormous pressure on him, it's clearly not good enough simply to talk about the math of all this.

CROWLEY: Right. Well that's a problem for him because what has been the ramp on Mitt Romney so far when people are sort of sitting back and analyzing what's going on it's been that he hasn't been able to connect with voters. I think in part that's why you heard him talking about his own wealth today, trying to sort of get that under control.

And the fact is that Mitt Romney does have to do a better job connecting with voters. Why? Because when you connect with voters, be they evangelicals where he's having some problems, be they those that are sort of downscaled economically, $50,000 or less, when you're talking to those folks, they need to be able to trust you. In order to trust you, they need to know you and there is a feeling that a lot of people just don't know who Mitt Romney is so that continues to be a problem for him, but that's a candidate problem. It may not be a message problem or a structural problem within the campaign. That is a candidate problem that he needs to figure out.

BLITZER: Yes, check out my blog post on our SITUATION ROOM Web site today. I write about all of this as well. Curious what our viewers think. Candy, thank you.

Fear and utter chaos on board and American Airlines flight terrorized by an unstable flight attendant, just ahead, you're going to hear the confusion as it unfolded in rather dramatic new just released 911 tapes. And it's been shut down ever since last year's earthquake. Now there are new concerns the Washington Monument could be -- could be sinking.


BLITZER: Shocking new video and 911-calls into CNN are revealing a chilling glimpse of a flight attendant on an eerie rant and the horror and the confusion that unfolded in the moments after it began. Our Brian Todd is joining us now. He's got the dramatic details. Share them with our viewers, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the incident even more dramatic when you see the flight attendant this closely and hear her so clearly, apparently breaking down.


TODD (voice-over): The clearest closest video yet of a flight attendant's apparent meltdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get out of my way.

TODD: This is cell phone video from passenger Kevin Rich (ph), who says he then dropped his phone and helped restrain the flight attendant, but his phone kept recording Friday's incident onboard American Airlines Flight 2332 on the tarmac in Dallas, the attendant's vote chillingly clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has not happened to me since 9/11, and I'm not putting up with this!

TODD: Witnesses say she spoke of union issues and made an apparent threat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody call 9-1-1 security because I'm about to kill passengers before takeoff!



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been highly trained by the FAA.


TODD: Rich, the passenger who filmed the incident says this about how passengers responded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For anyone sitting in first class, there was a lot of empathy for her. It was obvious from her demeanor, the verbiage she used, and just her actions as a whole, that, you know, there was never really a concern with us sitting there that there was something bigger or a terrorist plot or anything like that. It was just obvious that she had issues. TODD: Rich and another passenger say they overheard the flight attendant say she was bipolar and had not taken her medication. Contacted by CNN, an American Airlines spokesman would not comment on that referred us back to a statement they'd previously issued saying they're investigating. I watched the video with Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants, the largest attendants union. It's not the Union for American, but has been in contact with that airline over this incident.

(on camera): If she was bipolar some might argue that even if she was taking her medication she should not be in that particular job. What do you say to that?

SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL V.P. ASSN. OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Here's a 23-year employees, hundreds of thousands of flight attendants performing their job flawlessly throughout the industry. I think we need to take a science-based approach to that and determine whether or not we should be setting policy based on one incredibly rare incident.

TODD (voice-over): In fact experts on employment law say as a general rule federal law allows her to have that job as long as she takes her medication. While Rich was filming the incident up close, other passengers were calling 9-1-1. The calls capture the understandable confusion between those witnesses and dispatchers.

OPERATOR: OK you're a flight attendant?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) little help, a little help restraining her. Restrain her.



OPERATOR: Hello, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like they're physically restraining a flight attendant.


TODD: Sara Nelson gives the passengers and crew high marks for their response. She says flight attendants before every flight go over which member of their team is best equipped to handle a crisis in the cabin, and they place themselves accordingly. Of course, they were not likely ready for one of their own to do something like this, Wolf. We contacted American Airlines for comment on all of this. They will not comment on this yet. They say they're still investigating.

BLITZER: Brian, you've also picked up other details on how the attendant was behaving from that passenger, didn't you?

TODD: That's right. Kevin Rich (ph), who recorded the cell phone video and helped restrain this woman, says before she was restrained she tried to open doors and get off the plane. He told me that at one point she called the people who were restraining her SEAL Team 6 and yelled at them to back off. So she was going through quite an upheaval there on that plane that day.

BLITZER: She certainly was. Thanks, Brian. Thanks very much.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including activists petitioning the United Nations to save a woman's life. Lisa, what do you have?

SYLVESTER: Yes, Wolf, they're calling for the release of a Pakistani woman set to be hanged on charges of blasphemy. She's a Christian and mother of five, accused of defiling the name of the prophet Mohammed (ph), which can be punishable by death, but the Pakistani government is recommending her release after an investigation found the charges stem from religious hostility. Now it's up to a Pakistani court to reverse the sentence.

And a tragedy in Switzerland, a bus full of children crashed into the side of a tunnel, killing 22 of the children and six adults. Another 24 children are injured. A spokesman for President Obama's National Security Council just said, quote, "the president sends his deepest condolences to the victims and their families of last night's bus accident in Switzerland. The loss of so many young lives is especially heartbreaking."

And several Iranian lawmakers say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't take his appearance in front of parliament seriously. For the first time since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, lawmakers summoned the president. Ahmadinejad spent about an hour responding to questions about the economy, foreign policy and more. He answered most of them, but he also made several jokes.

And you probably can't tell, but the Washington Monument may be sinking. The government is trying to figure out if an earthquake last year caused the monument to sink or shift. Preliminary information shows a two-millimeter different at certain spots since the last survey back in 2009. The monument has sump two inches since its completion in 1884.

And how cool is this? Nissan is unveiling a race car that looks a lot like the iconic Batmobile. It certainly does. The Delta Wing (ph) will compete in the day-long race 24 hours (INAUDIBLE) but it won't count in the final results. The car is meant to promote fuel efficiency, and with it, expected to use half the gas of the other cars in the race, and it weighs half as much as a normal car, too. It really does resemble the Batmobile there and so we'll see if it's actually going to be on the road around here anytime soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's very cool, I must say, very impressive. Thank you.

Right now the comedian Bill Maher has something in common with Rush Limbaugh. We're looking into questions about nasty words, free speech during a heated election year. Stand by.

And President Obama goes to new lengths to accent America's special relationship with Britain.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We Americans and Brits speak the same language most of the time, so let me just say, David, we are chuffed to bits that you are here.




BLITZER: The latest casualty in the firestorm engulfing conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh could be the liberal comedian Bill Maher who is now getting a lot of heat from Republicans and some Democrats alike for his own recent inflammatory comments. Let's bring in our Lisa Sylvester. She's got the details -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Well Wolf, Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh you know they couldn't be further apart on the political spectrum, but these two guys they do share something in common. They're both under fire for comments they've made recently. And it raises the question, when does comedy go too far?


SYLVESTER (voice-over): For Bill Maher there's a thin line between comedy and controversy. Maher used a crude obscenity to refer to Sarah Palin. A tweet during Tuesday's primaries took direct aim at the South quote, "Toothless Tuesday too tight to tally." And Maher has taken on GOP candidate Rick Santorum whose children are home schooled.

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: He wants them locked up in the Christian madrassa (ph) that is the family living room not out in public where they could be infected by the virus of reason.

SYLVESTER: All comedy or does it cross a line? Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus says even for comedy it's out of bounds.

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: When you're making fun of the candidate's children, when you're making fun of someone's religion to the point of being just downright nasty and when you're calling women names that no woman should be called then you've crossed the line.

SYLVESTER: Republicans are holding up Maher as a counter example to Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh used derogatory names to refer to college law school student Sandra Fluke after she spoke out in favor of women's access to birth control.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.

SYLVESTER: Advertisers have since been fleeing Limbaugh's show. And in that controversy's wake, Bill Maher, the comedian recently gave a $1 million campaign contribution to the pro-Obama Super PAC. Now there are calls for that money to be returned. And David Axelrod, a key player on President Obama's re-election team, has backed away from an appearance on Maher's show.

BRYAN MONROE, EDITOR, CNNPOLITICS.COM: You've got him as now a clear supporter of President Obama. He gave $1 million to the Super PAC that supports President Obama and that makes him a bigger target. David Axelrod, who was supposed to be on his show, suddenly is no longer on his show because he may be a little bit too hot to handle right now from the White House's view.

SYLVESTER: But Maher has shown no sign of backing down and on his March 9th show defended free speech, even when it comes to Rush Limbaugh.

MAHER: He said I don't like it that people are made to disappear when they say something or people try to make them disappear when they say something you don't like. That's America. Sometimes you're made to feel uncomfortable, OK?



MAHER: Thank you.

SYLVESTER: Maher remains a bull's eye for the right, Limbaugh for those on the left.


SYLVESTER: Now we reached out to Priorities USA Action, the Super PAC that received one million -- that $1 million check from Bill Maher and as of now there is no indication that the group plans to return the money -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Lisa. Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is what does it mean when 1.5 million American families live on less than $2 a day per person? Robb writes "it means we ought to stop spending money we don't have overseas and spend money we don't have here instead. No one in America should go hungry or without shelter. It's a crime against our citizens, makes our country a mockery to the rest of the world."

David writes "I'm not ashamed of ourselves. We have a lot of programs in place to help the very poor. We have a deep, long history of helping those most in need. I'm more concerned that we don't do enough to get people who are very poor into jobs that begin to end the cycle of poverty. I'm worried about the institutional poor who have given up and that our response to all of this is to treat the symptoms and not the cause."

Pete in Florida writes "obviously it means that we need more tax cuts for the rich. Patience, poor people, it will trickle down to you some day." Eric in Ohio writes "it means that when charity and schooling fall short government must act. It's atrocious for the richest nation the world has ever known to be so mean-spirited in the name of freedom from government intrusion."

Merv writes "this simply means America is slowly becoming a third world country. Who knew?" Roy writes "the U.S. would rather meddle in other country's affairs, spend trillions on unfunded wars and military hardware than take care of its own people." And Andre writes "what does it mean when you have to ask?" If you'd like to read more on this subject you'll find it on my blog, or through our posts on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you tomorrow. A special relationship seems to be brewing between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will leave America with some new words alley-oops, brackets, fast breaks and who knows, maybe that hoop will be installed in Downing Street after all.



BLITZER: President Obama has been playing host to British Prime Minister David Cameron this week here in the United States and they're starting to look just like long time BFFs. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The cherry blossoms are blooming, and there's bromance in the air.


MOOS: The president and the prime minister worked the rope line together. They posed together, waved together, did an interview together with the president beaming at his counterpart. Barack and David are definitely on a first name basis.

OBAMA: David, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Barack, thank you.

OBAMA: So David, welcome.


OBAMA: David, we are chucked (ph) to bits that you are here.


MOOS: President Obama threw in Briticisms while Prime Minister Cameron dropped Americanisms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alley-oops, brackets.

MOOS: Words he learned at his first basketball game where he tore open mustard with his teeth and he and the president chowed down on hot dogs as President Obama instructed him on the finer points of NCAA tournament play. And when they exchanged gifts, the Obamas gave the Camerons a fancier version of this grill while the Camerons gave the Obamas a ping pong table --


MOOS: -- to commemorate the time last spring when the two got shellacked by a couple of students.


MOOS: The prime minister said the grill and the tennis table should be switched.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you see us standing next to each other, it is quite clear that the person who needs the exercise is the British prime minister and the person who needs the barbecue is the president of the United States.

MOOS: These two even chuckled over the War of 1812 during which the British marched on the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To think that 200 years ago my ancestors tried to burn this place down.


OBAMA: They really lit up the place.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got the place a little better defended today.


MOOS: The president and the prime minister put on their mustard in unison. They even chewed in unison. This relationship sure looks finger-licking good.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --


MOOS: -- New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.