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Major Earthquake Rocks Mexico; Trayvon Martin's Final Cell Phone Call Examined; Gingrich Takes on De Niro

Aired March 20, 2012 - 17:00   ET


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If you want to read more about this, go to my blog, or through our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jack. Thank you.

And you're in 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 the latest developments for you.

A lawyer says he has proof that a Florida teenager was killed in cold blood. We have fresh details about Trayvon Martin's final cell phone call and whether it destroys the shooter's claim of self- defense.

And Newt Gingrich takes on actor, Robert De Niro, and gets a reaction from the Obama campaign. This hour, the controversy over Robert De Niro's remark that America is in, quote, "ready for a White first lady."

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

Let's get right to the breaking news. A powerful earthquake that rocked resort towns in Mexico and in the nation's capital of Mexico City. Authorities are evaluating the damage right now from the 7.4 magnitude quake. Brian Todd is monitoring the latest video coming in from the area. Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some new pictures we're getting in and information about the earthquake, still very early and still assessing the damage there in Mexico City and some of the cities near there, reports of no major damage or injuries, but again, still in the early assessment period. Here are some new pictures we're getting, just fresh video on YouTube from a private photographer shooting, some pictures of his apartment.

You see the tiles coming off their adhesive in the apartment, there's cracking in the ceilings. He's kind of walking around showing you some debris on the floor. Here's some video of a bookcase shaking. I believe this is in Mexico City. That's a short piece of video of a book case shaking. We did get some new video from the Univision offices there in Mexico City where they filmed outside, and you can see the central statue, one of the central statues in Mexico City of an angel shaking.

I believe this is that video. There you see it. It's an angel statue in Mexico City. You can see it just shaking slightly, and then, you see images of people, evacuating people on the streets. I also want to kind of bring viewers up-to-date on some video that we showed earlier, some well-known video by now of that bus that was cracked in half.

According to Televisa, they interviewed one of the officials there who said that there was a concrete barrier that fell about ten feet. This was in the district of Azcapotzalco in Mexico City. The mayor says there were no victims in this accident, but this was a concrete barrier that fell ten feet on to a minibus there. Televisa is also reporting that service is interrupted in sections of Mexico City subway because of deformation of some railways down there, Wolf.

So, that's some early information we're getting about the infrastructure in Mexico City. A Mexican official tells me that buildings in Mexico City and cities nearby have been retrofitted much like the buildings on the west coast of the United States and elsewhere where a lot of seismic activity. They've been retrofitted to withstand this kind of thing, but still, this was a major shake.

You see a lot video here of people pouring out into the streets. One thing that we're told, this is the governor of Guerrero State, Angel Aguirre (ph), telling CNN that the epicenter was near the town of border of Amoltopec, near the border of Oaxaca and Guerrero States. He said multiple houses collapsed in that area, Wolf.

No reports of damage or injuries there, but they're sending government helicopters to assess the damage. Here are some early, still pictures we're getting from getty images. Some damage on the ground and/on the walls in Mexico City and elsewhere. People on the streets, debris, rubble in some places, but again, just minor damage falling, masonry cracking, bricks falling off.

You see video of people being attended to in the streets here, again, getting some initial assessments of just some damage and injuries in Mexico. We're, of course, monitoring this as we go, but just some of the latest pictures and assessments from the affected areas in Mexico.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much.

I want to dig deeper right now. Chad Myers is standing by to take a closer look at this earthquake. What about 150, 200 miles outside of Mexico City, sort of between Mexico City and Acapulco. Is that right, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and very lucky for the people of Mexico City that it was this far away, literally. Here's the 200 mile distance to Mexico City, here's the 120-mile distance to Acapulco. And, although, there are towns and there are, you know, small cities in this area, had this been near Mexico City or near Acapulco, there'd have been so much more damage that occurred.

But let me take you to these towns that Brian was just talking about, and I'll show them to you on Google Earth because the epicenter right there at 7.4, only about 12 kilometers away or about eight miles away. Here's the town of San Juan here. This is a very larger. This is 4,000 people living in these structures here.

All those little tile roof, all those red roofs, all those brick, tiled roofs that are very, very heavy on top of those buildings and then the biggest city that we're worried about here is this here. O- M-E-T-E-P-E-C, Ometepec. This is the area, this is 19,000 people, this was the last census. There may be many more people here in this area and with the epicenter only 12 miles, the shaking only 12 miles below this city.

We know that there was a lot of damage here, and these are the towns we're going to get the information from in the coming days. It's going to be very difficult for us to get most anything out of here for the next couple of hours because the roads are damaged. Power lines are damaged, obviously, so are the phones.

But here we go, Wolf. What are we talking about for earthquakes across the world? Not just Mexico, but the world. From about 4 to 4.9 or 13,000 earthquakes like that. A strong earthquake, 6 to 7, 134. Where we were today? There are 17 earthquakes just like that every year. So, more than one a month, but when you put it into place when people live, that's when it gets dangerous, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I know we're trying to get reporters and producers, photographers to the scene of the epicenter. We'll update our viewers as more information comes in. Chad, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, dramatic new developments in the case of an unarmed Florida teenager shot dead by a neighborhood watch captain.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR SLAIN TEEN'S FAMILY: The dots have all been connected. Arrest George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin in cold blood today.


BLITZER: The lawyer for Trayvon Martin's family says he has evidence that blows the shooter's claim of self-defense out of the water, in his words. He released Martin's cell phone records today and offered an account of the teen's final call shortly before he was killed.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us from Florida right now. John, what have we learned about that last phone call and the young woman he was talking to.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when Benjamin Crump refers to the dots all being connected, he's referring to the16- year-old girl, apparently, Trayvon's girlfriend who Crump says he interviewed at length. He recorded the conversation with her, and during this conversation, she tells Crump that she was on the phone in the minutes, even the seconds before Trayvon was shot and killed.

And during those seconds that she was on the phone, Trayvon tells her that a man is following her, that he's going to run. She tells him not to run. He says, well, he will walk fast, and then, she says that she hears a thud as if Trayvon is then falling to the ground, and all of this, Crump says, blows out Zimmerman's claim of self-defense.


CRUMP: Never in any account other than George Zimmerman this neighborhood association loose cannon does anybody say that Trayvon Martin was up to no good, that he seemed high or anything. And in fact, this young lady details it completely the tone of the conversation and the nature of the conversation and what was happening the last minutes of his life.


ZARRELLA: Now he -- Benjamin says that he is going to turn over this information and this recording, not to the local police in Sanford, Florida, but to the Department of Justice, because he says the family does not trust the Sanford Police Department.

Now, some other information came out as well today, Wolf, that the police report says that Zimmerman sustained a cut on his nose, blood on the back of his head and also that the back of his shirt was wet, indicating that there was some sort of a scuffle and that Zimmerman was on the ground.

Now, we know, Zimmerman has not been charged with anything. He has not been arrested. On another front, the state attorney has said in Seminole County that they will, in fact, empower the grand jury that's going to convene on April 10th to go ahead and look into this and to continue to develop whatever information they can about what exactly happened.

The Department of Justice, of course, also using the Tampa FBI office to spearhead a federal investigation, civil rights investigation, as well. That is getting under way. So, lots of new developments taking place today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Zarrella, we'll stay in close touch with you on this story as well. Thank you.

Meanwhile, there's new reason to believe that deadly shooting spree in a Jewish school may have been caught on camera by the killer.

Plus, a series of deadly bombings in Iraq and why the attackers may have decided to strike today.

And Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, says the president of the United States owes her something. Standby for details of her open letter to President Obama.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Some people, Wolf, just can't stand prosperity. Exhibit A, Rick Santorum. You would think after last week's wins in Alabama and Mississippi, he'd be on his A game in Illinois. Not so much. Yesterday, he said this, quote, "I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me," unquote.

Issue number one for the voters, the economy, doesn't matter? That statement goes beyond stupid. A spokesman tried to do damage control later arguing the campaign is not solely about the economy, but also about returning freedom and restoring the country's greatness. Well, just how do we do that, Ricky, with a $15 trillion national debt and millions of Americans out of work and an unemployment rate north of eight percent?

Riddle me that. Call it whatever you want, but Romney is already calling his chief rival an economic lightweight pounced. Santorum says the country doesn't want another Wall Street financier like Mitt Romney as president, but there are reports now that a message focused more on government outreach and wars on pornography than whether or not Americans can get a job is inspiring fear (ph) among Santorum supporters on the campaign trail, and it should.

This isn't the first time Santorum's gotten himself into some trouble. Last month, he said he almost threw up when he read John Kennedy's famous 1960 speech, but declared the president's religious views were private and should not be, quote, "imposed by him upon the nation," unquote.

Once again, he tried to walk it back, but it's said all thing about once the toothpaste comes out of the tube, you know, you're sort of stuck. To quote the great western philosopher, James Carville, it's the economy, stupid.

Here's the question, is Rick Santorum suddenly doing himself in? Here's the answer, you bet, go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

I'm starting to understand why the voters of Pennsylvania threw him out by an 18-point margin from the United States Senate after he'd served two terms. This is beyond the pail.

BLITZER: These last comments he, himself, acknowledges were not well spoken, shall we say.

CAFFERTY: Then, why did he spoken?

BLITZER: He obviously made a mistake.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Huge, huge mistake.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you. You can't accuse House Republicans of playing it safe. In the middle of a fierce election campaign, the budget chairman, Paul Ryan, has released his plan to cut both spending and taxes. Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan, for details -- Kate.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans are calling it a blueprint for American renewal, but it could also be called a blueprint for a major election year budget battle.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) BUDGET CHAIRMAN: We are sharpening the contrast between the path that we're posing and the path that debt and declined what the president has placed this upon

BOLDUAN: House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, unveiled the Republican plan for cutting spending by $5 trillion over ten years compared to President Obama's 2013 budget. One central provision, dramatically changing Medicare, which Democrats pounced on even with campaign attacks before it was publicly announced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans in Washington have a new budget that chooses millionaires over Medicare. It's just not fair and it's not right. We all agree Washington needs to cut spending, but this should be done the right way, not on the backs of seniors.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: They had made it clear. They want Medicare (ph) to wither on the vine to die, and this is an important step for them in that direction. Bless their hearts, they don't believe in Medicare, and they act upon their beliefs, the Republicans do.

BOLDUAN: Specifically, Republicans propose changing Medicare to give senior subsidies to purchase health insurance. It's a politically risky move, one that has hurt Republicans before. Still, Ryan acknowledged the stakes and defended the plan.

RYAN: If we simply operate based on political fear, nothing's ever going get done.

BOLDUAN: The GOP budget would also repeal President Obama's health care law, head off the pending cuts to the defense budget and overhaul the tax code to include only two individual tax breaks of 10 and 25 percent, but bottom line, this isn't going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate making the GOP budget more of a campaign document.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND: If you're Mitt Romney, you're going to love this budget, because what it does is provide another round of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and does it at the expense of middle-class taxpayers and seniors.

BOLDUAN: Ryan dismisses the Democrats' refrain and said the leading GOP presidential contenders are onboard.

RYAN: I've spoken to all of these guys, and they believe that we're heading in the right direction.


BOLDUAN (on-camera): In fact, after it was released, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich released statements praising the GOP plan. We haven't yet heard from Rick Santorum. Now, back here on Capitol Hill, the House Budget Committee is expected to take up the GOP plan tomorrow with the hopes of the full house voting on it next week before they leave for a two-week break. But again, Wolf, it has no chance in the Senate.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what happens down the road, though, see what happens in November. That's when all the action presumably will take place, Kate. Thank you.

We're standing by for the first exit poll information coming from Illinois right now. It's another big primary night for the Republican presidential candidates. Their former rival, Michele Bachmann, she tells me there's a reason she hasn't yet endorsed any of the candidates. My interview with Michele Bachmann coming up.

And Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, sends an open letter to President Obama wondering why he hasn't called her yet. Stand by.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now, including a very disturbing wave of chaos and violence all across Iraq today. What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Dozens of people are dead and more than 200 are wounded in what one official is calling coordinated attacks across Iraq. At least 15 attacks, mostly bombings, took place today over a matter of hours in at least nine Iraqi cities.

They come on the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion to bring down Saddam Hussein's regime and nine days before Baghdad hosts the next Arab league summit.

And to Syria now where people remain defiant amid the intense violence. Meanwhile, human rights watch is siding abusive by rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The group says there is increasing evidence of kidnappings, torture, and executions.

The group's letter to the opposition came as the death toll continues to climb. Activists say at least 46 people were killed in today's violence.

And the University of Southern Mississippi is punishing five students who admitted to yelling a derogatory chant during this NCAA basketball game. The five had been removed from the pep band, lost their scholarships, and they will now have to complete a cultural sensitivity course. During last week's game, they chanted quote, "where's your green card to a Puerto Rican player?" A lot of people were really upset when they saw that happen.

BLITZER: I hated that. All right. Thanks very much.

If Israel were to attack Iran, what would that mean for the United States? A new report describes what happened when the U.S. military simulated the attack, and the consequences for Americans are very dire. I'll talk about that and more. Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman, she's just back from Israel.

And the gunman brazenly attacks a school and shoots three students and a teacher at point-blank range. Did the killer record the murders on camera? We have details.


BLITZER: So, what would happen if Israel decides to preemptively attack Iran's nuclear sites? The Pentagon recently conducted an exercise, a so-called war game to plot out how Iran would react and what that would mean for Americans.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, the former Republican presidential candidate.


BLITZER: Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.

BACHMANN: Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: You're just back from Israel. You met with the top leadership there, including the prime minister and the leadership of the intelligence community in Israel. You're a member of the House Intelligence Committee. You saw the story in "The New York Times" talking about war games and potentially what would happen if the Israelis launched a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

A classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecast, but the strike would lead to a wider regional war which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead according to American officials. That from "The New York Times."

Is that the impression you have as someone who studied this and met with Israelis? Are they close to doing this?

BACHMANN: Well, of course, they're going to keep those cards fairly close to the vest, but I think that Israel has made it very clear. Iran has continued unimpeded for decades in their quest to have a nuclear weapon that they have announced repeatedly they will use to wipe Israel off the map. And it's very simple. All Iran has to do is accede to their quest by the U.N. and stop enriching uranium. They refuse to do that. They really should do four things. They should stop enriching uranium, they should surrender the uranium that they have now, then they should close their facility at Fordo, their nuclear facility, and they should agree to continuous inspections, which they refuse to do.

BLITZER: But they're allowed to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

BACHMANN: But there is credible evidence right now that at Parsheen, for instance, which is southwest of Tehran, that there is a military facility that is being used right now potentially for nuclear work, and they refuse to open this facility up to the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

They need to open that up. The world needs to know that this is peaceful. If Iran is telling the truth that this is peaceful, then they need to be transparent and accountable to the world community and open up their facilities. To this point, Iran has been unwilling to do that.

BLITZER: You know about the debate in the U.S. intelligence community whether or not there's evidence that the Iranians are actually, right now, trying to build a bomb.

BACHMANN: Well, that's something where there is a disagreement of opinion, but I think where there is agreement as the fact that Iran does have capability. They proved they know how to enrich uranium. They can take it up fairly quickly once they get to a 20 percent level of enrichment.

It takes very little to take it up to plus 90 percent. That can be done. It appears they have the means and the capability and they've said repeatedly what they will do with that weapon. The question is they're unlikely to issue a memo so that we can all see when they're about to begin that process.

And that's a risk that Israel doesn't know that they can take because Iran, it appears, is now moving its work into a deep, underground facility where no one can get to it.

BLITZER: Based on all the information you got when you were in Israel, how much time, realistically, is left?

BACHMANN: Well, I think, really, it's a matter of when Iran wants to start the clock, when they make that decision, and as I said, no one suffers under the illusion that Iran will make a public announcement. Now they're going to make it into weapons.


BLITZER: Do you think the Israelis are any time soon, within the next few weeks or months, are going to launch some sort of strike?

BACHMANN: They'll make that assessment on their own what they need to do. I think they've been very clear that if -- they will act independently if they need to to protect their sovereignty, their safety and the security of their people. Again, remember, it is a much shorter flight to go from Tehran to Jerusalem than it is from Tehran to Washington, D.C., and so I think right now Israel's looking out for their people and for their sovereignty.

BLITZER: Let's talk about politics while I have you. You haven't endorsed any of these Republican candidates yet, why?

BACHMANN: Well, I haven't because I want my voice to be one of the unifying voice within the Republican Party. We have a lot of factions now because of the candidates that are dueling it out, this has been a good process. At a certain point we do need to come together, and I will be happy to back whoever our nominee is, and I may do that even before the convention, but I want my voice to be a unifying voice to pull all factions of the party together.

BLITZER: Is all of this fighting between Santorum and Romney, for example, hurting the party?

BACHMANN: I think that this has been very fruitful up to the Super Tuesday elections. I think at a certain point we do need to come together. No two elections are alike and I think at this point we would be better off if we could unify around a candidate. Whoever that candidate will be, I will back whoever the people choose, but I think it's important for us to unify and unify quickly.

BLITZER: A lot of people think Santorum had a major gaffe this week when he said this.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a candidate who's going to a fighter for freedom, who's going to get up and make that the central theme in this race. Because it is the central theme in this race. I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. There's something more foundational that's going on here.


BACHMANN: Well, there's always a quote that the media likes to pull out from any of the candidates and focus on that quote. The bigger issue in all of this is Barack Obama and what he's been doing with the country, whether it's unemployment or whether it's any other metric. Clearly, the president has fallen far short of what even the president said he would be able to deliver and don't forget, Wolf. The president said if I don't turn the economy around within the first three years I do not deserve re-election.

I think that's pretty clear. He doesn't deserve re-election.

BLITZER: I want to follow up --

BACHMANN: And I will back Senator Santorum, Governor Romney or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul, whoever our candidate is, I will back them.

BLITZER: But when Santorum says he doesn't care about the unemployment rate or the economic growth rate, that's a blunder, right?

BACHMANN: I think it's pretty clear that he does care about the employment rate. And again, I'm not an apologist for any of the candidates or their camps, but I think it's very clear, he wants the economy to grow just as the other candidates do. So, I think, again, that's another example of majoring on minors because the big issue right now is turning the economy around and clearly it's President Obama who's been an abject failure. We have to grow the economy.

BLITZER: So when Romney says this, is this a blunder, too?


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe the economy is coming back, by the way. We'll see what happens. It's had ups and down, I think it's finally coming back.


BLITZER: That's what Romney says.

BACHMANN: Well, I don't think any of these statements are blunders. I think what the candidates are trying to show is that we can turn the economy around if we have the right policies.

BLITZER: Is the economy coming back, though, now?

BACHMANN: But the policies of President Obama are not doing what they need to do to bring the economy back. There are those who look at the current statistics on unemployment and they're saying that we are adding jobs and so that's an indication that we are seeing some growth, but it's certainly not at the level that it should be and President Obama has a lot to answer for.

BLITZER: So you'll be making your recommendation, your endorsement in the next few weeks, before the convention, next few months?

BACHMANN: I will when it looks the most opportune time to try and draw the party together and expand to that crucial independents and Democrats that we need to be able to win in -- in November.

BLITZER: We'll be staying in close touch. Thanks very much for coming in.

BACHMANN: Thank you.


BLITZER: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're getting the first exit poll information from Illinois in the Republican primary. Let's bring in our own John King, our chief national correspondent.

What are you learning, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a big, diverse state, 54 delegates to be allocated tonight. Governor Romney hoping to build on his momentum out of Puerto Rico. Senator Santorum hoping to stop him and have another victory in the Midwest.

Let's take a look at who's voting today and where the vote is. Look at this, this is very significant. Seventy-one percent of the vote today coming in in suburban Illinois. The area right around Chicago, the most important because of the population. Lake County, the Cook County suburbs. That'll be very important to watch tonight, critical for Governor Romney.

The urban area, Chicago's Democratic, but you have Peoria, you have other cities, Springfield as well, 18 percent of the vote today coming from what we would describe as urban areas. This is critical to Rick Santorum, and it's a small percentage of the vote, but 11 percent of the vote in rural areas, rural areas that we've seen in other states, that's where he finds evangelicals, that's where he finds Tea Party voters and conservatives for Rick Santorum.

It tells us about the electorate, what's on their mind. This is -- in every state, Wolf, so far the economy is issue number one. It's been higher in several other states, but four in 10 voters in Illinois today say the economy's issue number one and again, as always, the budget deficit issue number two.

We haven't asked this question before, you just played that sound bite from Governor Romney. He says the economy is getting a little better, he says. We asked that of people as they voted today. How do you feel about the state of the economy? Look at this. Forty percent of these Republicans today say the economy is still getting worse, four in 10 voters think the economy is going downhill, not uphill.

Now these are Republicans but that's an interesting challenge for the incumbent president heading into November in his home state. About 36 percent, they feel things are just about the same, 19 percent say yes, we're in a recovery. So this is the defining issue from now to November, interesting to see such a high number, 4 in 10 say the economy is still getting worse.

And Wolf, one last point here, who's voting today in terms of the ideology of this electorate? We know Senator Santorum has tended to do well among very conservative voters. That's a little more than a quarter, 28 percent of the electorate in Illinois today. This has always been a good constituency for Governor Romney, 35 percent of the electorate today. And this has been the tug-of-war. This has been the tug-of-war. In states where Romney wins, he tends to do well here, in states Santorum wins if we look at Alabama and Mississippi, he would do well here, almost 40 percent, 37 percent.

The biggest chunk of the electorate describing themselves as somewhat conservative. And Wolf, that pretty much fits with what we think of as Illinois. Has suburban -- suburban Republicans tend to be more moderate, more conservatives down south, a lot of somewhat conservative Republicans. A fascinating race tonight, we'll break down more of these exit polls in the hours ahead, my friend.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll watch you right at the top of the hour and we'll stay on top of this throughout the night. The Illinois Republican primary. Thank you.

Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol wants something from President Obama. She wrote a whole letter to him online. What is she asking for? We'll tell you.

And Newt Gingrich slams the actor, Robert De Niro, now the raging bull. He is the actor. He's firing right back.


BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has a surprising new target. We're talking about the actor Robert De Niro. It's all part of a showdown over free speech and political correctness that pulled in the president of the United States himself.

Here's our senior correspondent Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a Monday night fundraiser attended by First Lady Michelle Obama, Academy Award- winning movie star Robert De Niro, accompanied by his wife Grace Hightower, made a joke that went viral almost immediately and opened De Niro up as fair game in the Republican race for the nomination.

De Niro was quoted in a White House pool report as mentioning the wives of Republican candidates. "Callista Gingrich, Karen Santorum, Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?"

In the morning, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, trailing badly in the polls and campaigning in Louisiana, seized on the comment and demanded the president himself apologize for what De Niro had said.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What De Niro said last night was inexcusable and the president should apologize for him. It was at an Obama fundraiser. It is exactly wrong. It divides the country and if people on the left want to talk about radio talk show hosts then everyone in the country ought to hold the president accountable when somebody at his event says something as utterly and totally unacceptable as Robert De Niro said last night. And I call on the president to apologize for it.

JOHNS: The salvo by Gingrich launched a free-for-all on social media, Republicans and conservatives blasting the actor and the Obamas for what some construed as racially insensitive remarks while supporters of the first family suggested De Niro's comments amounted to a harmless joke. Especially considering the fact that all other U.S. first ladies except for Mrs. Obama were white. Nonetheless, when we asked if the president would apologize it was the first lady's campaign office that responded with this six-word e-mail. "We believe the joke was inappropriate."

Robert De Niro issued a statement also saying, "My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone especially the first lady."

One of the larger political questions, though, is how Louisiana voters might respond to Gingrich's reaction on this issue.

JEFF CROUERE, NEW ORLEANS RADIO HOST: I think it is good strategy for Gingrich to focus his attacks on Obama as opposed to the other Republican candidates because what Republicans are saying is they're tired of all the infighting and all of the mudslinging in the Republican Party.


JOHNS: Today the Gingrich campaign put out a statement from an African-American adviser asserting that if a Republican or a conservative that made an equivalent statement there would have been a lot of criticism in the media but it's also true that four years ago one of the biggest questions asked all over the world was whether America was ready for a black president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Joe Johns, for that.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol is entering the political fray with a direct message for President Obama and she's waiting for the phone to ring with a call from the president.

Mary Snow is taking a closer look at this story for us.

Mary, what does she want to hear from the president?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Bristol Palin says since the president called Sandra Fluke, she should get a call, too. It comes as conservatives accuse Democrats of hypocrisy when it comes to insults aimed at women.


SNOW (voice-over): Bristol Palin asked President Obama in an open letter why she hasn't yet heard from him, writing, "Ever since you called Sandra Fluke after Rush Limbaugh called her a slut, I figured I might be next."

Sandra Fluke is the Georgetown Law school student who came under attack from Limbaugh after advocating that insurance companies should cover contraception costs. The president says he reached out to Fluke after thinking of his own two daughters.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way. And I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they're being good citizens.

SNOW: Bristol Palin seized on that comment, writing, "Your $1 million donor Bill Maher has said reprehensible things about my family and hurt when she came out with the book."

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: Bristol Palin has to admit that the reason she (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Levi over and over until a baby fell out is because she liked it.

SNOW: Bristol Palin accuses the president of only willing to defend certain women, and that's the message of this video linked to Palin's letter.


MAHER: Hi, Bill Maher here. Sarah Palin agreed to do commentary at FOX News, which is actually very similar to her day job, talking to a baby with Down syndrome.


SNOW: The group behind the video is She-PAC, a super PAC to help elect conservative women. It's called on the president's super PAC to return Bill Maher's $1 million donation.

SUZANNE TERRELL, SHE-PAC: If we're going to say that only certain women deserve respect and only certain ideas deserve respect, then we -- a group like She-PAC should stand up and point out your hypocrisy.

SNOW: The White House press secretary was asked earlier this month about Maher's donation to the super PAC, which is not controlled by the president.

JAY CARNET, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are not and cannot be the arbitrator of every statement that everybody makes in the policy and political arena.

SNOW: Democratic strategists, Hilary Rosen, says it's more than just personalities involved.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: If the Republicans are going to -- going to support policies that discriminate against women, it's not that that's -- that that's so much worse than calling women bad names, but it has a significantly longer lasting effect and it has a national effect.


SNOW: Well, one thing women on both sides of the political spectrum agree on is that there's too much degradation of women in the political discourse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I agree on that as well. Thanks very much for that.

A gunman kills a teacher and three young students at point blank range. Prosecutors describe the killer as, quote, "very determined." We have the latest on the investigation to find the person who's on -- who's put a nation on edge. Stand by.


BLITZER: Authorities are warning the killer who shot three children yesterday could strike again. This as news comes the shooter may have videotaped his attack.

CNN's Diana Magnay has the latest from Toulouse, France.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A moment of silence in schools across the country to remember the victims of Monday's attack. A strike at the heart of Toulouse's community, its children.

PRES. NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRANCE (Through Translator): This happened in Toulouse, in a religious school, to children from Jewish families, but it could have happened here. It could have been the same assassin. These children are exactly like you. They are victims for nothing.

MAGNAY: A father and son walked shyly past the cameras to leave flowers. Inside the school the pain of a very private community on public display. Some too young to understand. Others unable to contain their grief or their horror at what they've been forced to witness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): The people who saw this are very scarred. I spoke with kids who were 16, 17 years old who were carrying children in their arms trying to resuscitate them, giving them mouth-to-mouth.

MAGNAY: Mourners shield the faces of the bereaved as funeral cars wait to take the victims away. Then one by one they're brought out, the coffins of the four who died here, shot at point blank range by an assassin who was wearing a camera strapped to his chest, the Interior minister said possibly to record his killing spree.

(On camera): Small coffins which speak of a terrible crime, the youngest, just 3 years old, gunned down alongside his brother and his father. The bodies of all four victims now on their way to Israel to be buried there.

(Voice-over): France's ministers of Interior and of Defense left the memorial grim faced, their work cut out for them as the manhunt continues. Many leads our there, one, that the killer may have been a paratrooper himself, dismissed from the army for neo-Nazi leanings. One thing for sure that he showed no mercy to his victims, sought out, the prosecutor said, according to their race or religion.

FRANCOIS MOLINS, PROSECUTOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF FRANCE (Through Translator): All the victims were shot in the head at pointblank and we also found traces of burn marks as well. MAGNAY: There are now 200 special investigators led by anti- terror personnel searching every possible lead in the Toulouse region. Prosecutors say they have almost 8,000 hours' worth of CCTV footage to watch from the three related attacks. The only real point of certainty at this stage, that all were committed with the same gun. But that is small comfort to a community in fear the killer is still on the loose.

Diana Magnay, CNN, Toulouse.


BLITZER: Sad story. All right. Thank you. Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File." Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour is Rick Santorum suddenly doing himself in?

Mack in Michigan writes, "Santorum knows he's not going to win the presidency. He also knows as a loser he can join Sarah Palin making huge money on the hate, paranoia and holier-than-thou speaking circuit, wrapping one's behind in the flag, waving the bible and pooh- poohing the majority is a big money business in this country. And that crowd especially loves their losers."

Dave in Phoenix writes, "Rick did himself in a long time ago, clinging to his guns and religion, he panders to the uneducated and ignorant, yet will only favor the rich like the rest of his hypocritical party. The uneducated and ignorant, meantime, will continue to vote against their own best interests based on a few slogans and a deep hatred for the black man who is our president."

Curtis in Philadelphia says, "No one here in Pennsylvania is surprised. After all he lost his re-election bid for the Senate in 2006 by 18 percentage points."

John in Alabama writes, "Mr. Santorum needs to stay on message and get away from the league of decencies. Stick to the economy. He needs to get his views out of our bedrooms and explain how we'll get our troops out of Afghanistan sooner. The conservatives are already for Santorum but he needs to win independent voters, the very, very high moral ground turns people off. Nobody's perfect, except Santorum."

Biz in Pennsylvania writes, "I truly believe Santorum thinks he's doing God's work and that God is speaking through him directly. He seems to be stuck on telling us how we're supposed to live according to his beliefs. There are many wars started by people who thought God was speaking to them. I don't want my president waking up in the middle of the night saying, I understand, God, and then going out and doing something stupid that will affect the lives of my two grandsons who are serving in the military."

And Karl writes from Idaho, "Saint-torum is more concerned about the church than about the United States." If you want to read more about this, go to my blog,, or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

There was a proposal on the ice at a hockey game but it wasn't what you're used to seeing. Stand by.


BLITZER: A marriage proposal in the middle of a hockey game caught everyone's attention. Jeanne Moos shows us why.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hockey and romance go together like beer and kissing on the kiss cam.

Guys bending their girl over, once in a while someone famous like Tom Hanks smooching his wife.

MOOS: It's all usually very heterosexual, except when pseudo-gay couples ham it up. Or there was a girlie teens. But wait a minute. This is no tease. This is love.

Love on center ice. At the Toronto Maple Leafs versus Ottawa Senators hockey game the other night. It was the Ottawa team's very first gay proposal, complete with lovey-dovey jumbo screen message, "My love for you is a journey starting at forever and ending at never."

They used a ruse to get Alicia Walton, in the blue, out onto the ice. Her girlfriend, Christina Broti (ph), surprised her reaching into her jean's pocket. The crowd cheered, after all, this is Canada, and gay marriage has been legal here for seven years.

Christina, by the way, picked the Bruno Mars song "Just the Way You Are."

(On camera): But no matter where you stand on same-sex marriage, there is something sinful about this union. Something unnatural.

(Voice-over): Alicia is wearing Toronto's jersey while Christina is decked out in Ottawa's. Wearing the jerseys of bitter rivals? These women weren't born dressed this way. That's a choice.

And online comments there was plenty of booing, someone posted, "I would rather have my kid seeing a hockey fight than two lesbians kissing." Well, at this game fans got to see both. There was a fight. Guy on guy, girl on girl, girl on girl on lion mascot?

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations to Christina and Alicia.

MOOS: New York.


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