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Earthquake Hits Mexico; Illinois Votes; Santorum's "Mitt Romney Moment"; Candidates Struggle For Momentum; Romney's Cash Advantage; Student Loan Rate Set to Double; Sentencing Delayed for Watching Protest Video; Kutcher to Take a Space Ride; Jeremy Lin Signs on With Volvo; New Clue in Amelia Earhart Mystery; Defense Lawyer Going to Afghanistan; First Lady to Letterman: "Don't Make Me Cry"

Aired March 20, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: We're following breaking news. A major earthquake rocks Mexico from the resorts to the capital, and sends residents rushing into the streets. We're tracking all of the latest developments.

And voters are casting their ballots in Illinois right now. It's a critical context for the main Republican rivals, but Rick Santorum didn't help his cause with an election-eve gaffe that's being called his Mitt Romney moment.

Plus, 75 years after she disappeared, investigators may have a new clue to help them learn what exactly wanted to the pioneering female aviator Amelia Earhart?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to breaking news out of Mexico, a powerful earthquake felt all the way from Acapulco to Mexico City.

Let's go straight to our meteorologist Chad Myers.

What are you seeing? What's going on?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It has been reduced to a 7.4 earthquake, Wolf, but that is still a very major shake.

About 120 miles to Acapulco and about 200 miles to Mexico City, but there are cities or towns at least much closer to the epicenter. Let me take you to a few because there are about 4,000 to up to 17,000 people in some of these cities and we know that they were right on top of the epicenter.

There you see the towns with the roof, the tile roofs here. A beautiful part of Mexico here. Other towns not that far right over the other side of the hill. This is only about eight miles from the epicenter at a 7.4 shake and now about 12 miles deep. Those towns were hit very hard, and a little bit farther up, Amatepec, there we come right here flying you into this city. Amatepec has about 17,000 to 19,000 residents. They felt the shaking very hard. Now, Wolf, there are 17 earthquakes this size every year between 7.0 and 7.9. There are 17. So they happen a lot, once more than a month, but the story here is how many people lived in this area. This is from USGS. They tell us now that the fatalities may run from about 100 to 1,000 depending on how this shook and where the people were.

A 42 percent chance that between 10 and 100 people died in this fatality -- in this earthquake and a 32 percent chance that up to 1,000 died in this. The other startling number is that there is only a 2 percent chance that no one died. So this was a big shake, although it wasn't in a town and it wasn't over or under Mexico and it wasn't under Acapulco.

There are many towns still in the way. And villagers there did get injured and we know that they're still trying to dig some people out. This is the latest video we have. This is actually part of a bridge that fell off the bridge as this person was driving under it. That's the guardrail that fell off the roadway above and crushed that car.

We assume that there are people in that car because otherwise they wouldn't be working so hard to get that guardrail off, Wolf.

BLITZER: Originally they said it was a 7.9 and then a 7.6 and now a 7.4. It doesn't sound to the layperson out there like that's a huge difference. But it is. Every tenth of a point is a huge difference.

MYERS: It is. I just wanted to say how big a 7.4 really is. I know we kept saying it, and I kept tweeting bringing it down, reducing, reducing and that was great and that reduced the number of fatalities, but a 7.4 is a major quake for any country, and even though this was in a sparsely populated area, 7.4 big quake, only 12 miles deep.

If this had been 300 miles deep, Wolf, there would be an awful lot of padding between where the shaking occurred and where the top, where people were living. So 300 miles of padding would make that epicenter 300 miles away. This was only 12 miles deep, so that epicenter only 12 miles away from on top where all of that shaking occurred were those towns that I took to you on that Google Earth.


BLITZER: All right, Chad, stand by. We will stay in close touch with you.

Brian Todd is also following the breaking news for us.

What are you picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I just spoke to officials at the U.S. Geological Survey. I'm sure Chad has been talking to them as well. We have some of the pictures we can roll to show people just kind of some of the scenes in Mexico City, Acapulco and elsewhere. Chad referring to this van that was cracked in half. Not clear if that is part of a girder for a bridge that came down. There is one caption on a picture that says it is a pedestrian walkway. So obviously we will get some more information on that and as you can see, there is a rescue effort going on or at least there was a short time ago.

Other video we're picking up here, just people evacuating and lots of pictures of people on the streets in Mexico City and elsewhere.

John Bellini, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, I just spoke to him a while ago and he talked to me about how they revised this downward to 7.4 but he says there's potential for real some damage near the epicenter and obviously get ready for a lot of aftershocks in the 5.0 range in the several days.

There you see picture of a crack in an overpass that might have been under construction and not exactly clear if that was facilitated by this earthquake or not, but there is some cracking going on there and some plaster and stuff coming off of the side of that. John Bellini says one thing to keep in mind here. Mexico City he says is on an ancient lake bed.

That means this amplifies the shaking in Mexico City. He says it's like a big bowl of Jell-O. Whatever is felt in other places, it might be amplified in Mexico City because of the fact it sits on an ancient lake bed. So you will see aftershocks there and aftershocks other places maybe in the 5.0 range for the next several days.

I also spoke to an official at the Mexican Embassy here. He's been in close contact with colleagues and friends of his and family in Mexico City. Here actually is some other good video that we picked up of an office shaking there. You can see this, it's fairly significant. No one is panicking there, but you can see the shaking going as the camera moves around.

An official I talked to in the Mexican Embassy, important to note here, he says there is an early warning system in Mexico City and in a lot of other major cities in Mexico stretching down the Pacific coast toward the Guatemala border. There are sirens that go off. He tells me that at least in Mexico City this was operational, that the sirens did go off he says because he talked to his family members who said they heard the sirens going off just seconds before this happened.

So there's an earthquake warning system, he says, in Mexico City and also in Oaxaca state, Guerrero, Chiapas, those states toward the Mexican border where they have a lot of seismic activity. There is an early warning system, he says, and at least in Mexico City, he believes that was working. His family members told him they heard it. People got out in the streets and you can see people there, they are distraught and they're obviously shaken by what happened, but they did get out in the streets and stayed there and are heeding a lot of warnings.

But just some of the things that we're picking up now from Mexican officials and from officials at the U.S. Geological Survey along with the pictures we're getting that are starting to form a more...


TODD: ... picture, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And we're getting new iReports and a lot more pictures. Stand by, Brian. I know you will be monitoring that.

CNN's Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN Espanol is monitoring Mexican television for us right now.

Juan Carlos, the president of Mexico spoke out just a little while ago. First of all, what did he tell the people of Mexico?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He called this earthquake, Wolf, a big scare. He says so far the government doesn't have any reports of deaths in Mexico.

He also said there were many scenes of panic throughout the affected states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and the Mexican capital, but he says that power lines and communications are functioning as usual. So a big scare for Mexicans, but they're well-prepared for this type of event and so far according to the Mexican president no fatalities.

BLITZER: Are they in breaking news, non-stop coverage on Mexican television, Juan Carlos, right now?

LOPEZ: Yes, Wolf, it's a big scare in Mexico City. Over 20 million people. And I was they were very prepared because in 1985 they had a huge earthquake and over 10,000 people died and so this is something they follow to the minute and very seriously. And this is another event, the first of the year, at least this magnitude, and they're paying a lot of attention.

BLITZER: We're getting some reports that multiple houses have collapsed in Guerrero state. That is I guess near the epicenter, right, Juan Carlos?

LOPEZ: Yes. That is the epicenter, which is about 80 miles from Acapulco, from the resort. And obviously, these are the parts that will be most affected. The reports from Acapulco and from Mexico City say it's a big scare, and maybe cracks in buildings so far and no major events to report, but the reports are going come in from Guerrero from these parts where people really felt this quake.

BLITZER: We will stay on top of it with you. We will stay on top of what's going on and you will monitor Mexican television for us.

Chad, I want to bring you back into this conversation. What else are you picking up right now?

MYERS: I want to get to this earthquake warning system because I don't think people understand what it is. It's a fantastic system they have. They have sensors all over Mexico and when one sensor senses shake at the speed of light because that's the speed that electricity goes through wires, warning sirens are off -- just sent off all over the place as you get around this earthquake because the speed of light is faster than the speed of shaking.

So it may only be a few seconds, but the few seconds that the people had to get maybe out of the way, into a doorway or even outside the building may have been enough to save some lives for sure. Just because the shaking occurs, the sirens go off immediately at the speed of light, the speed of electrons flying through wires and then the shaking gets there just a few seconds later, but sometimes that second is all you need.

BLITZER: How deep underground was this earthquake, the epicenter, Chad?

MYERS: It was 12 miles, Wolf, and that means there's not a lot of padding between where the shake occurred, where the fault ripped and where the shake occurred at the surface, the epicenter above the shake itself.

That 12 miles is about what we had in Haiti. We had a much bigger quake in Haiti. But, because of that lack of padding, because of that shallow quake at only about 12 miles, a lot of shaking, violent shaking occurred in the areas near the quake itself, where only rumbling occurred at the 200- to 300-mile mark, what you see here in Mexico City.

BLITZER: Because in Haiti, refresh my memory, it was a 7.0 earthquake, right?

MYERS: I believe it was bigger than that, Wolf. I can't remember, but I remember how short it was and how close it was to the surface and at some point seeing about only six miles to the surface and a major metropolitan area that was never made to take that kind of shaking as building cracked and crumbled, but you could be at 7.0.

You know, here's another deal. We have these conflicting numbers that came out all day long and Mexico saying 6.6, but think about like the speedometer in your car. The speedometer in your car is saying you're going 62 miles an hour and it's also saying you're going 100 kilometers an hour. It's just a different scale. It's not different shaking, but because the scales are different in Japan, in Mexico, in the U.S. and in Europe, it's like miles to kilometers. You can't compare numbers to numbers across country lines.

BLITZER: All right, Chad. I know you're going to be working this story. All of us will be working this story and we will stay on top of it and update our viewers as more information comes in.

But right now, as of the latest information, a 7.4 earthquake struck somewhere between Acapulco and Mexico City. We will get you more information as it becomes available. We're also following other important news here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including Election Day in Illinois. Voters are casting their ballots right now and it's a critical contest for the main Republican rivals. But Rick Santorum didn't help his cause with an election-eve gaffe that is being called his Mitt Romney moment.

Also, a Republican budget in sharp contrast to President Obama's. We're getting details of one Medicare provision that already has Democrats pouncing.

Plus, a picture sparks a new effort to solve the 75-year-old mystery of Amelia Earhart, why Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, is now getting behind an upcoming search in the South Pacific.


BLITZER: A 7.4 earthquake hit Mexico in between Acapulco and Mexico City.

CNN producer Nick Parker is on the phone for us now. He was in Mexico City, not that far from the epicenter.

About how far, Nick, are you from the epicenter in Mexico City?

NICK PARKER, CNN PRODUCER (via telephone): Mexico City is around 200 kilometers approximately from the epicenter, and about a four, four and a half-hour drive, say. And you know, it's something that was truly felt by most of the residents in Mexico City despite the sort of a relative distance from the main epicenter of the quake.

BLITZER: Were you in a high-rise building? If so, how high were you? What did it feel like?

PARKER: And I was in apartment at the time, which is sort of on the hill. (INAUDIBLE) It was slightly tense moment. The tremor itself lasted between about I'd say 10 or 15 seconds or so, and the room obviously shook, and another (INAUDIBLE) and it was very obvious we were in an earthquake, so to speak. And --

BLITZER: And how are people reacting in Mexico City based on your eyewitness account?

PARKER: I just drove now from my apartment which is right in the center of the city. And it doesn't seem to be, you know, a sense of much panic here in Mexico City. Quite a few of the buildings are being evacuated, as well, and the people are lined up along the streets, but there is a feeling of some acceptance and familiarity with the situation.

Elsewhere in the country, President Felipe Calderon has described seeing some panic in places of Oaxaca and Guerrero, which was also affected and certainly closer to the epicenter. But here in Mexico City, there hasn't been much sort of public distress. Traffic is still relatively light and minor damage.

There has been minor damage to buildings and a bridge collapse. But beyond that there is no talk of death at this stage in Mexico City or even injuries. And at the epicenter itself, which is a town called Ometepec, which was some -- it's the nearest population center some 16 kilometers or so from the epicenter with the population of 55,000. At this stage, there have been no reports of death, but we're actually leaving very shortly. We're going to travel down there.

BLITZER: All right. Nick, we'll stay very close touch with you. Nick Parker is our CNN producer in Mexico City. He's going to be driving 250 miles to the epicenter. We'll stay in close touch with you. We'll also stay on top of this story.

But I want to check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Another Tuesday and another Republican presidential primary and if the candidates have their way, well, there could be more of these to come before it's all over. Some GOP heavy weights, though, don't see it that way. They're worried that this long, drawn-out, bare-knuckled bloodletting could wind up hurting the party in the long run for the November real deal.

Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 run for the White House told FOX News, quote, "The scales have moved from being a positive to being a negative." Rove thinks one with of the worst moments of the Republicans have occurred just in recent weeks.

Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about how ugly it can get on the campaign trail, calls this race, quote, "the nastiest he has ever seen," unquote. He's supporting Romney this time around, but that didn't stop him from telling NBC, every day that goes by with these candidates attacking each other is, quote, "a day that President Obama wins," unquote.

It doesn't matter, does it? At this point there's no end in sight. Romney won big in Puerto Rico over the weekend. But who could forget last week's embarrassing losses not just to Rick Santorum but to Newt Gingrich in Mississippi and Alabama?

The pundits say Illinois is a must-win state for him. Hey, they say that about all of them, don't they? They said the same thing about Ohio, and Michigan, where Romney grew up and his father was governor. He won those two states, but just barely.

Santorum, meanwhile, is banking on another big surprise tonight. He's done it before. But if the polls in Illinois are right, it might not happen this time. Oh, and then there are Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, neither one apparently able to read the writing on the wall which gets bigger and bigger and then throw in the towel. It may be March, but to borrow a line from the song, it seems like we've only just begun.

Here's the question: is a long GOP primary good for the party?

Go to, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thank you.

An off-the-cuff remark, will it be prove to be political suicide for Rick Santorum? The controversy over this remark coming up in our strategy session.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be. It doesn't matter to me.



BLITZER: If Rick Santorum ever needed to hold the line, it would be today in the critical Illinois primary. But Santorum may have handed Mitt Romney a generous gift going into today's voting.

Let's go live to our national political correspondent Jim Acosta. He's on the scene for us.

Jim, what happened?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let me tell you first that Rick Santorum will be watching returns from Illinois here in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, later tonight, the Civil War battlefield is just down the road from where we're standing and he's doing this as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, in the Founding Father's home state of Illinois.

But the land of Lincoln may also be remembered as that crucial battleground that Rick Santorum gave away to Mitt Romney.


SANTORUM: Thank you. Thank you very much! Thank you!

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's never a good thing on primary day when a candidate is trying to cash up while cleaning up, but that's what Rick Santorum was doing on conservative talk radio.

SANTORUM: It's about what causes the unemployment rate to go up or down is what I'm focused on. The unemployment rate is a symptom, it's not the cause.

ACOSTA: What's been dubbed Santorum's Mitt Romney moment started in Moline, Illinois.

SANTORUM: I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me.

ACOSTA: A poor choice of words the candidate sensed wasn't playing well in Peoria, Illinois.

SANTORUM: Occasionally, you say some things that you wish you had, you know, a do over.

ACOSTA: Before Santorum had a chance to pull back, Romney was jumping on the comment.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do care about the unemployment rate. It does bother me.

ACOSTA: But keep listening to what Santorum said.

SANTORUM: It's something more foundational that's going here.

ACOSTA: That was good enough for the Republican Party's chairman, who sounded if he had sided with Santorum on CNN.

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: I think that Rick Santorum's right. I mean, this election is about big things.

ACOSTA: But voters in Illinois might feel differently.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States, Governor Mitt Romney.

ACOSTA: Romney knows all too well how gaffes now live forever in a running loop on social media.

ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can I have your attention please? Can I have your attention please? Well, the real Mitt Romney please stand up?

ACOSTA: Consider this soon to be viral musical mash up of Romney's slip ups.

ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people.


ROMNEY: You're fired.

SANTORUM: I'm Rick Santorum and --

ROMNEY: You're fired.

ACOSTA: Romney has something better. His campaign and super PAC are saturating Illinois airwaves with a combined $4 million worth of mostly negative ads, compare that to the half million spent by Santorum and his super PAC, a 7-1 Romney advantage.

NARRATOR: Rick Santorum is called the ultimate Washington insider.

JOHN YOB, SANTORUM DELEGATE STRATEGIST: We still believe that there is a path to 1,144 prior to the national convention.

ACOSTA: That explains why Santorum strategists were on a conference call, making the case that the GOP contender can win the 1,144 delegates need to clinch the nomination. Team Santorum disregards the delegates estimates from CNN and other news outlets and points to its own total that shows the race closer.

Either way, the Santorum campaign suggested it's making plans for delegates for a brokered convention.

YOB: We are talking to them about what the strategies at the national convention will be.


ACOSTA: And the race goes on tomorrow. Santorum will go after conservatives down in Louisiana. Mitt Romney will chase moderates in Maryland. If the 1806s had a war between the states, 2012 has a war with delegates and it all begins or resumes, I should say, after Rick Santorum gives his Gettysburg address, his own version of it here in Gettysburg later tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching. Of course, stand by for that. Jim Acosta, appreciate it.

Despite his big lead, Illinois is another must-win state for Mitt Romney.

Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is with Romney in Illinois today.

Candy, Romney is ahead in the polls heading into tonight, but how big of a factor is turnout likely to be?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, I think we had to look back to Mississippi the last time a primary night in the South where Mississippi suddenly looked like it might be doable for Mitt Romney and then what do we see? We saw that Rick Santorum brought out his folks in sort of the rural areas of evangelicals, but turnout was not good in places like Jackson County, which would have been more favorable, the kind of more urban areas, if you will, and they didn't turn out for Mitt Romney.

Now, obviously, Illinois should be very friendly territory for Mitt Romney, particularly up here in the Chicago area where he's holding his election night gathering tonight. They clearly expect to win. Whether it will be in the kind of double digits we've seen in the polls really depends on whether he can turn out votes in the Chicago area and by that I mean the suburbs and even a little farther than that because up here about three-quarters of the Republican votes are cast. So, it looks like Romney territory.

But if he doesn't get enough to vote, then it doesn't matter.

BLITZER: Candy, no matter who wins tonight, what can we expect in Louisiana this coming weekend and in April in Maryland? These are states that are coming up.

CROWLEY: Listen, if we use the template that we have seen sort of form in these past many elections, you would expect that Louisiana would be friendly turf for both Newt Gingrich and for Rick Santorum. You would expect Maryland which tends to have liberal Republicans or more moderate Republicans to, in fact, turn out for Mitt Romney.

So, they're both, as Jim pointed out, Santorum had gone directly to Louisiana and Mitt Romney is going directly to Maryland so that kind of tells you where they think their votes out.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, we'll be checking in with you throughout the night as well.

The candidates are struggling to keep wind in their sails.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, we're just cast the half-way mark of this primary/caucus battle. The momentum is something that we have not seen a lot of so far. But what's going on right now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the only consistency we've seen, Wolf is that there's inconsistency. Someone wins a race and then they're unable to kind of build that wave of momentum to take them on to a bunch of future races.

I mean, if you look back to Mitt Romney, he won Florida, then he was able to win Nevada but then, Wolf, he went on to lose three states to Rick Santorum. You saw Rick Santorum win in the south and he was unable to capitalize on those wins in Mississippi and Alabama and he lost all 20 delegates in Puerto Rico.

So what Mitt Romney is looking for is a victory this evening in Illinois that he can capitalize and take with him all of the way to get those 1,144, but as Candy pointed out, the next state, Louisiana, does not look like friendly territory for Mitt Romney. So even if he wins tonight, can he capitalize on it?

BLITZER: You know, as Jim pointed out, the pro-Romney force of the "Super PAC," his own campaign, they expect about seven or eight times as much money on commercials in Illinois as opposed to the Santorum "Super PAC" or campaign including the commercial. Listen to this pro- Romney commercial.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who can turn around the economy and defeat Barack Obama? Not Rick Santorum. Santorum's real weakness is the economy. He's never run a business or his state. His plan, economic illiteracy, inexcusable, the worst idea of any GOP candidate. Rick Santorum, another economic lightweight.


BLITZER: Let's just give this Illinois primary some perspective. How critical is the result tonight?

BORGER: Well, it's very critical and ads like this in which Mitt Romney is outspending Rick Santorum seven to one are very important because it is a very large state that Mitt Romney needs to win.

People expect him to win, and when you run this kind of advertising all over the state it has a great deal of impact because the state is so large it can't be everywhere.

You can also target these kinds of ads, Wolf, so you know what voters occupy what part of the state and how responsive they'll be to any kind of an ad.

So if you have the money to target your advertising and essential the carpet bomb your opponent, which is what Mitt Romney generally does, you have a good chance of winning.

BLITZER: Why is Newt Gingrich MIA in Illinois?

BORGER: Because he's not going to win. He knows he's not going win. He has limited resources. He's running out of money. He's got a campaign debt and what he's looking toward is his state of Louisiana.

I think in a way and that's on Saturday, Wolf. Louisiana could be make or break for Newt Gingrich. I would argue he has to win Louisiana because he hasn't been winning a lot lately, and if you're going continue raising money and have some credibility in this race, you need to start winning.

If he doesn't win Louisiana, I think the campaign has some decisions to make about whether they just kind of hang in there until the convention or whether they actually get out of the race and endorse another candidate.

I don't think they've decided that yet. They want to win Louisiana.

BLITZER: Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger will be with us obviously throughout the night as well watching Illinois. Gloria, thank you.

If you've got to subsidize student loan, you may have to get red for a big jump in the interest rate. What you need to know right now standby.

And a celebrity in space, not just yet, but he's on the list. We're going to tell you which Hollywood star has signed up.

And basketball star Jeremy Lin signs an endorsement deal. Who will he be make the pitch for? We're going to tell you. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Millions of college students across the country are facing a sizeable financial blow. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this could affect a lot of people. The rate on subsidized student loans is scheduled to jump to 6.8 percent from the current 3.4 percent effective July 1st.

Students last week sent some 130,000 letters to Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to keep it there. The rate had gradually come down since the temporary reduction plan. The pending rate hike is part of the plan up to 8 million college students can be affected.

And sentencing has been delayed for six citizens of Zimbabwe convicted Monday of conspiracy after being caught watching video of Arab spring protests.

They were among 46 people arrested 13 months ago during an academic meeting where footage of events in Tunisia and Egypt was shown. Forty were released, but the government has accused the six of plotting an uprising. They could face up to 10 years in prison or a $2,000 fine.

And Amazon is getting into the robot business. The online mega department store is acquiring Tiva Systems, which manufactures bright warehouse robots that stood around, grabbing inventories and filling orders.

Amazon is buying the Boston-based company for $775 million in cash. Founded in 2002, the sales grew to more than 100 million in 2010.

And Richard Branson has revealed that actor Ashton Kutcher is the 500th passenger to sign on for his virgin Galactic Commercial spacecraft.

The craft known as Spaceship Two is still in pre-flight test so at this point it's anybody's guess when it might blast off for its suborbital tour at 50,000 feet. The price of that ticket, by the way, is $200,000.

And sudden NBA sensation Jeremy Lin has signed an endorsement deal with Volvo. The Chinese-owned carmaker says it has penned the New York Knicks point guard for a two-year contract with a focus on U.S. and Asian markets.

The terms were undisclosed. The undrafted Lin turned pro in 2010 and bursting on to the sports world last month, leaving the bench and leading the Knicks on an improbable winning streak. We all know that as Linsanity, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let see what he can do for Volvo. He's done OK for the New York Knicks and for himself. Let's see what he can do for Volvo. I'm sure it's only the first of many endorsements that he'll been getting.

SYLVESTER: He certainly has a lot of fans. A lot of people have been following, you know, Harvard grad. He's a great success story. So we'll see what happens from here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Great story. Thank you.

She disappeared 75 years ago, but now a new clue is leading experts back to the South Pacific in search of Amelia Earhart. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new clue is prompting a new effort to solve a 75-year-old mystery in the disappearance of the pioneering female flyer Amelia Earhart. The State Department is getting directly involved. Lisa Sylvester once again is back. She's working this story for us. What happened here?

SYLVESTER: OK, Wolf, you know, over the years, lots of theories of what happened to Amelia Earhart and the new one may be the best guess yet. That she and her navigator were able to land in the South Pacific.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Amelia Earhart was attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. She was roughly 20 hours into the trip flying from New Guinea to the island when she and her navigator vanished over the Pacific Ocean.

Now a new clue may solve the decades-old mystery. This picture was taken a few months after Earhart disappeared and it's after the Pacific atoll (inaudible) former Gardner Island. Ric Gillespie has spent more than 20 years searching for Earhart.

RIC GILLESPIE, THE INTERNATIONAL GROUP FOR HISTORIC AIRCRAFT RECOVERY: This is the ship that ran aground in 1929 and it was an old wreck then and what struck us is that there's something sticking up out of the water over here. This is the piece of the jigsaw puzzle that fits right in with the other pieces we had, so yes, I think it is the landing gear of her airplane.

SYLVESTER: Forensic imaging specialists say it could be part of her plane's landing gear and there are more clues, items common in the 1930s were found on excavation sites on the island.

GILLESPIE: The artifacts we found on this site are bottles from personal care items that a woman in the 1930s would have. The parts of a mirror and makeup from a woman's compact.

SYLVESTER: Navy planes searched around the island in the days ever she went missing and found no sign of her Lockheed aircraft. Gillespie believes most of it had slipped below the ocean's surface.

At a news conference at the State Department, Gillespie, whose group recovers historic aircraft, announced a high-tech deep water search will begin this summer off the Pacific Island using a small, robotic submarine.

The U.S. government is lending its support. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she's been captivated with Amelia Earhart since her mother told her the aviator's story.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: She embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world. SYLVESTER: Gillespie says the photograph gives them a starting point of where to look.

GILLESPIE: The only thing we can do is make a best effort to go and search and look and see what we can find, and it's the searching that's important.

SYLVESTER: The search for Earhart has been like looking for a needle in a hay stack, but the hay stack may be a lot smaller now.


SYLVESTER: And that expedition trip this summer is privately funded. It will take off from Hawaii. They will spend 10 days on the site scanning the waters off the coast. So fingers crossed that maybe, maybe we'll have new answers, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hopefully after all of these years.

SYLVESTER: Fascinating story. I love and a lot of people do love tracking and trying to figure out what happened to Amelia Earhart.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Hundreds of thousands of people are demanding his arrest, but how much do we really know about the neighborhood watch captain who shot dead a Florida teen? That's coming up in the next hour.

We'll also get our first exit polls from Illinois from the primary there. What's on the voters' minds as they cast their ballot today?

And Michelle Obama goes on late-night TV. You're going to see why she was emotional sitting down with David Letterman.


BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're getting new information from the attorney for U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. He's accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians. The lawyer spoke with our own Ted Rowlands who's joining us now. Ted, what are you hearing from the lawyer?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of interesting things, Wolf, that we haven't heard before and this is after his second meeting with his client Staff Sergeant Bales. John Henry Browne, the Seattle-based attorney, says that his client never confessed.

So while we do know that he turned himself in and there's apparently video of that in Afghanistan, Browne says he never confessed, and he also questions how much pure evidence the federal government really has in this case.

He says he is going to Afghanistan himself, and he's going to do his own investigation in Afghanistan to try to gather more information. He says he expects charges in this case will come down Thursday and he fully expects that those will be homicide charges.

He says that we're talking about his client and a soldier's soldier. He says that his client, Staff Sergeant Bales had a good record. He didn't want to go to Afghanistan, but he answered the call. He says that right now his client is in shock.


JOHN HENRY BROWNE, ATTORNEY FOR STAFF SGT. ROBERT BALES: A soldier's a soldier. He didn't particularly want to go over there, and he could have used reasons not to, but he did what he was told. And he's never asked me anything in the 11 hours of meeting with him about his -- which I get from my clients. His first questions were about safety and security, and the second were a series of questions about his family.


ROWLANDS: Among other things, Wolf, that John Henry Browne said, he said his client never drank. He maybe had two sips of a drink, of somebody else's drink, but the report that he had been drinking, those reports are false.

He said marital strife is not a part of this equation at all. And the neither are the financial problems that his client had. He said, quote, "That the financial problems don't lead anybody to go on a killing rampage like this."

It's just ridiculous to associate those two things, and again, he does expect charges, formal charges against his client to come down on Thursday. John Henry Browne does plan on leaving for Leavenworth where we are now and going back to Seattle tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands on the scene for us in Fort Leavenworth. We'll stay in close touch with you and see what happens on Thursday. Thanks very much.

Coming up, by the way, in our next hour, we have new details of the final phone call of the unarmed teenage shooting victim. What that could mean for the gunman's claim of self-defense.

And Michelle Obama goes on late-night TV. You're going to see why she was emotional sitting down with David Letterman.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other political headlines making news in the CNN Political Ticker. A late night appearance by Michelle Obama. She sat down with David Letterman and talked about shopping under cover and of course, her family. That part of the interview made the first lady a bit emotional.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: My father had multiple sclerosis, and I never knew him to be able to walk, but my dad worked so hard and he loved us so much, and I think from him I learned just absolute, complete, unconditional love.

The notion that kids really don't need anything, but to know that their parents adore them and I think that's the greatest gift they gave us, just their constant support and, you know, stability, and that's really what we try to instil in our girls.

I mean, we talk about raising kids. It's just really, you know, we had rules. We had boundaries, but there wasn't anything my dad wouldn't do for us and -- don't make me cry.


M. OBAMA: This isn't Oprah. This is Letterman.


BLITZER: As for Bo, the first lady admits she sees her dog as almost like one of her children.


LETTERMAN: Can he be a handful a bit?

M. OBAMA: No. He's a very sweet dog. I'm not being biased. He is really a good dog. He is very well mannered. He's very even tempered. He has a very busy schedule. Appearances, I'm thinking about getting him an agent.

LETTERMAN: And, again, none of my business --

M. OBAMA: Yes?

LETTERMAN: I have a dog myself. And you can kind of get into a let me say digestive rhythm of the dog.

M. OBAMA: Yes.

LETTERMAN: And when it's time for Bo to -- how does that happen?

M. OBAMA: His business?


M. OBAMA: He goes out. Usually the girls take him out. There are a number of people who are willing to take him out. He usually will tell you, though. I know -- he doesn't talk.


M. OBAMA: But he will come up and he'll put his paw on your leg and kind of nudges you and then you're, like, what do you want and then he gets excited and you say you want to go out and he starts barking. He's very smart.

LETTERMAN: Is this what Biden does?


BLITZER: Very funny.

For a complete political coverage, please be sure to read the ticker of Jack, you liked it, didn't you?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That was one of the Letterman's better quips, I've got to admit. She's delightful, isn't she?

BLITZER: Yes, she's great.

CAFFERTY: We said it before, it's too bad she couldn't loan some of that personality to her husband. She's terrific.

BLITZER: You know, Ann Romney is terrific too. If he's the Republican nominee, there will at least be two wonderful ladies vying to become the next first lady.

CAFFERTY: Maybe we should decide between the two women how to run the country for the next four years. It sounds like a good idea to me.

BLITZER: Ann Romney and Michelle Obama, they're both terrific ladies.

CAFFERTY: Does Biden do that, too? That's great.

The question this hour, is a long GOP primary good for the Republican Party? Al writes, "The issues whether a long GOP primary is good for the country. So far I haven't seen anything the country can rally around to build a better future. It's not the length of the campaign. It's the lack of substance and leadership that's the problem."

Iani in Austin, Texas, "No, but for those of us who want to continue to live in a free country, it is. They all want to restrict the majority in order to please the minority. The sad part is they might win unless more attention is paid to their more extreme views."

Gary in San Jose, "Not in this case, Jack. A long primary might be good for the party if the choice was between Lincoln, Grant, Roosevelt and Eisenhower, but that's not the case here. These candidates are exposing basic unhealthy differences within the party. How can the party expect to be successful when moderates are shunned and the extremists alienate the other extremists?"

Jeff in Minnesota, "Such a drawn-out affair didn't hurt the Democrats in 2008, why would it hurt the Republicans any worse in 2012?" Joseph writes, "No, I think it will damage the party. If this race leads to a brokered convention, Obama will be in office for the next four years. I think it's time to have a nominee so we can focus on Obama and the Senate."

Terry in Virginia says, "Absolutely not, the longer this contest goes on, the more the daylight shines on what the GOP really stands for. Turning back the clock to a time when only rich, white men ruled the country. Come November the GOP will be shocked by how much light will be shown on the dark heart of the party by the number of seats it will lose in Congress and the fact that President Obama will easily win re-election."

And finally, Ken in California writes this, "It's not good for any political party, but more importantly it's not good for our country. Our fate lies in the skulls of hateful, dim witted power seekers. Those running could not qualify to sell previously self- driven automobiles. One candidate doesn't even know where to put his dog, in the car or on top of it."

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.