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Navy Jet Crashes Into Apartment Building; Violence in Syria

Aired April 6, 2012 - 18:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley. John King is off.

Tonight: a catastrophic mechanical malfunction -- new details about what happened and who was on board when a Navy plane slammed into an apartment complex.

And blood spills in Syria with just six days to go until a planned cease-fire. Can we trust Syria's president to stop the crackdown?

Plus, is the job market getting any better? Depends on who you ask. The bad news and the silver lining in a new jobs report.

We begin with breaking news in the aftermath of today's fiery crash of a Navy jet into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach. At a news conference just now, city and Navy officials say they know of no fatalities, even though the fire after the crashed burned at least 40 apartments.

Also, the city's mayor tells CNN at least nine people, including the two pilots, were injured, and none of the injuries are considered life-threatening. A Virginia Beach hospital just reported it treated seven people, and except for one of the pilots, all have been released. A Navy spokesman just revealed new details of the crash.


CAPT. MARK WEISGERBER, U.S. Navy: Shortly after noon, we had a training flight, a two-seat F-18 Hornet take off from Naval Air Station Oceana.

Shortly after takeoff, initial indications are that that aircraft suffered a catastrophic mechanical malfunction, the specifics of which I don't want to speculate on. However, it resulted in the forced ejection of that air crew. Both of those air crew ejected safely. The front seater was a student pilot. The back seater was an experienced instructor. It resulted in their forced ejection and the loss of the aircraft, which impacted over my right shoulder here.


CROWLEY: The fire chief in Virginia Beach says a primary search of the five damaged buildings turned up no reports of fatalities. A secondary search is now under way. One of the first people to reach the crash scene took these pictures of the plane's shattered tail, but also saw the fireball immediately after the crash.


ZACK ZAPATERO, WITNESSED PLANE CRASH: I was playing tennis when I saw this huge plume of just black smoke coming off. So I dropped my racket, ran over to my bag, grabbed my phone and just started running.

And as we came up on the scene, there's just these large fireballs just coming up. There's ambulances coming in from everywhere. And I actually hopped a fence to go around to on the side of the building where there weren't very many people.

And through the smoke you could see the end of the plane just sitting in a courtyard. So I started taking photos. And buildings were starting to collapse. People -- I did not see anyone running out. And I was told that there was a bunch of senior citizens that live in those buildings, which it worried me a lot.

And it was just unbelievable. Law enforcement was really quick to get on the scene. But the amount of jet fuel that you could just smell on the ground, it didn't seem right. And these planes are flying over the Virginia Beach area all the time. And it seems these past few months they have been getting more and more daring with their maneuvers. Because where I play tennis is only about a mile away and they're starting to fly lower over us. It seems like they're going faster speeds. It seems like they're pushing these planes a bit too far around a residential area.


CROWLEY: But again, we should remind our viewers no fatalities reported. All the injuries seem to be not life-threatening.

Now, retired rescue squad member Pat Kavanaugh says one of the crewmen that ejected from the jet came down in his backyard.


PAT KAVANAUGH, EYEWITNESS: I was in the apartment and I heard this three big, loud booms. So I got up from the couch and went to my back door, and when I looked out, I saw a pilot on the ground, parachute hanging from the building, facial lacerations, so I ran outside to see what I could do to help him. I'm retired rescue.

And I didn't know that the plane had hit the building till I saw the smoke. Then we had to get a bunch of neighbors together to get him out of the area, pick him up and take him to safety.

QUESTION: Was he able to speak at all or was he saying anything?

KAVANAUGH: Yes. He apologized very much for hitting our complex, and I told him, don't worry about it. Everything is going to be fine. Let's just get you out of here and get you to safety. QUESTION: Were you able to move him without any issue? Was he hurt otherwise?

KAVANAUGH: No, I checked him over. Like I said, I'm retried rescue. I did a body survey on him. He was in shock still strapped to his seat. So a bunch of neighbors, we just picked him up and drag him through the other side of the parking lot away from the fire until rescue could get on the scene.


CROWLEY: Virginia Congressman Scott Rigell represents district where the jet went down. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee and has been in touch with both civilian and military officials today.

Congressman, what can you add to our body of knowledge here?

REP. SCOTT RIGELL (R), VIRGINIA: Well, Candy, it's been an extraordinarily challenging and difficult day, but it seems to be also a remarkable day, given that the primary search has indicated that there's no fatalities.

Our prayers, it looks like they may have been answered here. We will know, I think, with more certainty as time goes on. But the Hampton Roads community, Virginia Beach today is the focal point here. It's a remarkable community, the number one district in the country in terms of men and women in uniform, active duty and retired.

So we reach out, we embrace our military community and when something like this happens the outpouring from this community has been remarkable. Pastors have called me and local businesses have called me. Our focus now is making sure the families are OK who have been displaced.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. A lot of people will need a place to sleep tonight.

But I agree with you. We look at those pictures. I know you have seen them up close and personal. But you look at the pictures, and you just can't imagine how no one was killed in this. It's quite the miracle.

Let me ask you. You're a member of the House Armed Services Committee. There are reports out there that the F-18 has been troublesome this year, that there have been other crashes. Can you shed any light on that? Do you know of that?

RIGELL: The F-18 has a remarkable record both in terms of safety and in terms of combat effectiveness.

We believe and I believe the evidence and records and data indicates that it's an extremely reliable plane, a real backbone of our arsenal, certainly on our aircraft carriers. So we will look at the evidence, but it's got a tremendous track record. We're very proud to have them at Oceana. And I'm confident that we will move forward with that aircraft. This very difficult incident today is not going to deter that.

CROWLEY: Congressman Rigell, also we know that the base closing commission had wanted to close this particular base. It suggested it because of, you know, the buildup of so many things around it, obviously worried about the danger of something like this. The safety record has been great, and this is the first incident we know there.

But is that a continuing conversation in that area, or as far as you're concerned are the people there happy to have the base and the base happy to be there?

RIGELL: Oh, absolutely.

The partnership between the Navy and Virginia Beach is extremely strong. So much work has been done in that area over the last several years, including support from the governor, Governor McDonnell. Mayor Sessoms really has led the effort there.

Our focus there today is not so much about encroachment because we have a remarkable track record there, but really on helping the families who have been displaced. So many are without a home tonight, so the Red Cross, my office, local city and state officials are really reaching out to the families.

CROWLEY: Virginia Congressman Scott Rigell, the crash occurring in his district, thank you so much for your time tonight.

We want to bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Just last hour, U.S. Navy Captain Mark Weisgerber said at a news conference that this was a catastrophic mechanical malfunction. Witnesses say they saw flames coming out from the right wing.

Barbara, what could that mean?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think his words about this catastrophic malfunction are very critical here, Candy.

The plane crashed less than two miles from the runway, perhaps just a few seconds after takeoff at a relatively low altitude. The crew didn't even have time to really get the flight under way before it ran into this malfunction. There were reports now of flames coming out from the plane and fuel coming out, and by all accounts this was not a controlled fuel dump.

This was related to whatever catastrophic malfunction the plane suffered. So you're seeing both fuel and flame just seconds after takeoff as it goes into the building. This indicates a very extreme catastrophic malfunction. They're going to want to get to that flight recorder as fast as possible. They're also going to want to secure every piece of debris they can find and do the forensics to see what clues they can get about what happened and what the crew can tell them, one student pilot, although qualified to be in the cockpit, and one instructor pilot.

CROWLEY: And we also know that both of them sustained injuries but not life-threatening and one apparently has already been released.

So let me see if I have you correctly here. What we learned from this news conference is there was not a purposeful fuel dump, and so reports that eyewitnesses say, hey, we saw fuel coming out of that plane is something that might point to this catastrophic malfunction. And we also know that the pilots didn't have time to do much but eject. Does that pretty much sum up what we know?


It was interesting, I thought, that they used the words forced ejection. There was no choice here. The ejection seats were activated, that rocket-propelled charge under the seat lifting them out, the cockpit cover blowing them away. Normally, when you have an injection, you eject at a certain altitude so your parachute lets float down to earth at least relatively safely.

Here, if they did, in fact, eject at a relatively low attitude, it will be very interesting to see how they survived. That in itself could have been a catastrophe. A lot of luck, a lot of skill, a lot of really good wishes apparently all coming together in this situation.

CROWLEY: Pretty amazing.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you, as always.

Now to politics and the fallout from a job reports indicating the U.S. economy still isn't recovering quickly enough for anybody's tastes. The nation's unemployment rate is at its lowest point in three years, 8.2 percent. But employers created only 120,000 jobs in March and that's half as many in February and the lowest total in five months.

As President Obama was quick to point out, it is still an increase.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy's now created more than 4 million private sector jobs over the past two years, and more than 600,000 in the past three months alone.

But it's clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way, and that we've got a lot more work to do.


CROWLEY: A statement from Mitt Romney calls the job report weak and very troubling and proof the Obama economy is not working.

Romney goes on to say: "After three years in office, the president has -- the president's excuses have run out."

Still ahead, we will speak with Virginia's governor as we continue monitoring developments at the scene of today's Navy jet crash in Virginia Beach.

And next, the deadly countdown to what's supposed to be a peace deal.


CROWLEY: Reports from Syria say government troops battled rebel forces in cities across the country in what's become a deadly countdown to Tuesday's scheduled troop pullback by the government.

In the last 24 hours, almost 3,000 Syrians fled to Turkey, joining more than 20,000 refugees already there. One woman that crossed the border tells CNN there's been a massacre in the Syrian city of Taftanaz. That claim is apparently backed up by this chilling video posted on YouTube Thursday showing dozens of corpses laid out in a mass grave.

Joins us now to talk about this dire situation, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," Fareed Zakaria.

Thanks for joining us.

We're coming up to a Tuesday deadline for Bashar al-Assad to pull back his government troops, as the U.N. has requested. Can we trust him to do that?


But it appears to me what he's trying to do is to inflict as much damage as possible before that date, because clearly at that point he will at least try to make the pretense of drawing back, or there will be some pullback. And what is clearly happening is they're trying to inflict as much damage as they can.

Now, past Tuesday, if there were to be another uprising, another -- the rebel, the government -- the opposition forces were to mount some kind of challenge, I have no doubt they would beat it back. A U.N. cease-fire is not going to stop them from what appears to be a dedicated and brutal campaign to destroy the opposition.

CROWLEY: I talked to a couple of people in and around this particular situation today who said, listen, you know, in the end, the U.N. can put in some monitors to make sure that a cease-fire holds. But, eventually, they have to go home, and they believe that President al-Assad will start up over again, that he will just wait them out.

ZAKARIA: I think he will wait them out. It's also a big country, and you can't have observers everywhere.

Also remember, whenever you have any of these kind of cease-fires or freezes, you're freezing in place a highly unequal balance of power. On the one hand, you have the government, the intelligence forces, their informal informants and their paid informants. There's this network of repression that Syria has. That all stays in place. On the other hand, you have a ragtag opposition movement. So a cease-fire at this point is not going to do much more than kind of preserve the status quo, which is essentially in the government's -- to the government's advantage.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you and turn you to another place in the Middle East, and that is Egypt. There was a meeting this week between U.S. officials and officials from the Muslim Brotherhood.

What does that tell you about that relationship going forward?

ZAKARIA: It tells us that the Muslim Brotherhood is serious about governing, that they're trying to reach out to the United States and to provide some assurances about the kind of government they will have, that there will be elements of continuity.

They have made clear on several occasions that, for example, they intend to abide by the treaty with Israel, the treaty that established relations and ended hostilities between Egypt and Israel, which is seen in some ways as the cornerstone of stability in the Middle East.

The fact that the Brotherhood, which has long campaigned against that treaty for decades, would come up and privately assure and publicly it has made statements to the same effect, that it would adhere to that treaty, that tells you that they understand that there is a difference between being an opposition party in a dictatorship and being what is likely to be the single largest party in a new democratic Egypt.

CROWLEY: And does the U.S. have any realistic way they could go, other than to accept this? There has been some hesitation, as you know, and to say, OK, we accept on the face of this that you all could certainly move forward and rule the country. We know the Muslim Brotherhood has put forward a presidential candidate.

They said at first they wouldn't, but now they have. How would that relationship likely shape up, and is that what we're seeing the beginnings, an anticipation of a major role for the Muslim Brotherhood?


You asked exactly the right question at the start, Candy, which is, can the U.S. do anything but accept this? And the answer is really no. This is the outcome of a democratic process that we have applauded, the world has applauded. So far, the Muslim Brotherhood has not done anything that suggests they are going to subvert that democratic process.

Now, they may have policies that they advocate that we disagree with, but that's different than trying to dismantle democracy itself. Democracy doesn't mean we're going to like every law they pass and every policy they uphold. We have to engage with them, because that's our only leverage.

Our only leverage is to in some way try to moderate their behavior by forcing them to govern, by forcing them to be possible. If we were to cut them off in some way, we would lose all our influence. And, remember, they would be able to find other sources of funding. We are now living in a very, very different world than we were, say, 20, 30 years ago.

The Muslim Brotherhood can find money from Saudi Arabia, from UAE, from Qatar, from all -- from Turkey. So it's profoundly in our interests that they have a relationship with us and they view us as a serious, not ally, but at least a serious interlocutor, somebody they can a dialogue with, where we express our concerns and they express theirs.

CROWLEY: You can catch Fareed Zakaria every Sunday morning here on CNN at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

Next, an update on this afternoon's breaking news. A Navy jet crashes into a Virginia Beach apartment complex.

Also, Kansas officials say the holder of a lottery ticket worth $219 million is looking forward to retirement.


CROWLEY: Welcome back.

Quickly recapping this hour's breaking news, Officials say they know of no fatalities in this afternoon's fiery jet crash in Virginia Beach. At least nine people, including both pilots, were injured. A Virginia Beach hospital said everyone except a single pilot has been treated and released. Navy officials blame the F-18's crash on catastrophic mechanical malfunction. We will have more in a little bit.


CROWLEY: Coming up, we will get the latest on that Navy jet crash from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. And a former Navy pilot explains the protocol for ejecting from a plane.

Plus, 120,000 new jobs were created last month. What's the downside? Why this news isn't as good as it sounds, at least to some people.


CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley in this half hour of JOHN KING, USA. Virginia's governor will update us on today's fiery jet crash that burned 40 apartments but, as far as we know, left no one dead or even seriously injured.

Also, the unemployment rate just hit a three-year low. We'll dig into what that means if you're looking for a new or better job.

And a U.S. Marine who criticized his commander in chief may soon be expressing his opinions as a civilian.


CROWLEY: We want to get back to that Navy jet that slammed into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach. This is what's left. The two pilots on board the F-18 ejected from the plane and lived. Rescuers are still searching those heavily damaged buildings for missing people, but so far no deaths and no serious injuries. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is on the phone with us now from Richmond.

Governor, I understand you've been to the scene. Describe to me what it seems. As a big as a TV screen can get, I don't think it compares to having been there.

VIRGINIA GOVERNOR BOB MCDONNELL: Well, no, Candy, I have not been to the scene. We've had a number of our staff, state police, our hazmat teams, some other officials that have been on the scene. I've talked to the mayor repeatedly throughout the day, as well as other officials down there and have gotten first-hand reports.

And I lived three miles from that scene for 21 years and also in the flight path of Oceana Naval Air Station and know that area very well. It is miraculous at this point with that much fire and damage and a heavy populated area like that, that at this point, there's only been some relatively minor injuries.

What we know is that there's still secondary searches going on by police, fire rescue and others. Some of those areas were just too hot and smoky to get into earlier, and there's still more to be done.

But it's incredible, the reaction of our first responders, the bravery and the decision-making of those two Navy pilots that stayed in there until the very end, probably drained some fuel that prevented a larger inferno. It's just great, great work by the Navy in this tragedy.

CROWLEY: Governor, what can you tell us about -- is the state involved now? Are there things that they need on the scene or are they coping well without some state help?

MCDONNELL: You know, all the training and preparation that the Navy, that the Virginia Beach police and fire, that our state police and hazmat teams have gone through has paid great dividends. You saw the scenes today, all of them working in tandem and really phenomenal work by the citizens.

You saw them pitching in, helping with moving fire hoses and a couple of them actually going in and helping residents in the area. One of them actually helped the pilot after he ejected that landed in his backyard. Really was the best that Virginia had to offer today.

And I think we're probably just hopefully hours away from being able to confirm a Good Friday miracle here, Candy, that there was no loss of life. It's still preliminary but we're cautiously optimistic that all this great rescue work and the decision-making of these pilots at the very end, ejecting at the very last minute, has saved a lot of lives. CROWLEY: Governor, it sounds like you know that area well, so let me ask you about these reports that the Base Closing Commission actually wanted to shut this down, simply because of the encroaching population.

What is the relationship? I know this is a pretty military area to begin with, lots of retirees, et cetera. But is it -- is this something that has caused any friction there? Is there any feeling at all that they want this place closed? And by the way, this is the first crash we know of that's certainly been of this magnitude.

MCDONNELL: No, I can tell you, we are incredibly proud in Virginia to be at home of the Pentagon, the greatest Navy base in the world down there in Norfolk and the East Coast master jet base at Oceana, where this F-18 took off from. There's a phenomenally positive relationship between the military and the commonwealth and the city of Virginia Beach and the surrounding areas.

Now back in 2005, the last BRAC commission, Candy, did look at moving some of those jets down to Florida, and as a result of several things, that did not happen. But since that time, we've made a commitment, both by the state and by the localities to put significant money -- tens of millions of dollars -- into evading encroachment of houses and commercial space around that base.

In other words, we're moving some of those properties back in the accident potential zone. And so we -- in fact, again this year in the budget that I proposed, I proposed about $7.5 million to buy properties around that area.

So we're working on reducing congestion in the accident potential zone. Right now we know that all these bases over time -- this base has been there over 70 years, in training, leading up to World War II.

And most of the activity takes place outside of the land mass, over the sea. But occasionally there are these touch-and-goes, mechanical qualifications that do circular or oval paths around the base. We don't know exactly what happened in this case, but there's always the sound of freedom. There's always jet noise over that flight path, day and night.

CROWLEY: Yes. Thank you so much for your time tonight. Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, we appreciate it.

MCDONNELL: OK, Candy. Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: What exactly is a pilot supposed to do when a jet is going down? Max Carey is a former Navy pilot. And he explains the split-second decisions that these pilots are trained to make.

MAX CAREY, FORMER NAVY PILOT: They've practiced this so many times. They've drilled this for hours and hours and hours and hours. What do I do in this situation? What's my emergency procedure? What are my cues? What do I look at, what do I touch? And they would sequence that in a matter of seconds. They would go through 20, 30, 40, as many as 50 cues instantaneously to make a decision. Now, in this situation, right after take-off, a very unforgiving environment, they would have had very little time.

What most people don't realize is that jet, when the engines aren't firing at full power, is like a stone. It's like a rock. It drops from the sky. And so I'm sure that they did everything they could to save that aircraft, and then, based on those cues, had to eject.

CROWLEY: Witnesses on the ground say they saw flames coming from under the right wing. Here's Carey's take on what that means.

CAREY: Well, that tells you that they were about to explode, and that's the most frightening thing for a pilot. You're sitting on 10,000 pounds of jet fuel, which is essentially kerosene. They were sitting on 10,000 pounds of kerosene. And so that was the other consideration that would have been pressing heavily as they made their choices.

CROWLEY: Amy Miller saw the pilots eject from the plane. She is joining us live by phone from Virginia Beach.

Thank you so much, Amy. Tell us how you first heard or saw something that made you know something was wrong.

AMY MILLER, F-18 CRASH EYEWITNESS: Well, I was going into work. I work at the cleaners there in the Birdneck Shops, it's S. Raybear Cleaners (ph), and I was standing outside. And my boss and I were talking; we were doing shift change. And we heard the noise. Of course, we didn't think much of the noise, because we hear jet noises here all the time.

However, when he made a comment about the noise, I happened to look up, and I see the plane coming down at an angle to the right. I see them -- I see the flames at the side wing. I see both of them eject, and the parachutes open. And they went off to the right of where the plane actually went down.

CROWLEY: And did they go -- when they ejected, you saw them coming out of the plane. I take it they went up before coming down?

MILLER: Yes. I mean, it just looked like something just shot up out the top of it, which was them, and then the parachutes opened before it finished going down. I mean, it was already pretty low by the time they ejected. I mean, it looked like it was about to hit a rooftop, and that's when it actually went over.

CROWLEY: Yes. Did they seem to be coming down --


MILLER: -- I couldn't see what actually went down.

CROWLEY: Sorry. Did they seem as though they were coming down really fast? Because obviously, you did need some height for that parachute to open and catch some wind.

MILLER: Oh, yes. When I looked up, I mean, it was already angled to the right and coming down and on fire. I mean, I saw flames. So --

CROWLEY: Wow. Wow. Amy Miller, quite a day there. We, of course, hope, as I know everyone in Virginia Beach does, that it continues to be good news and that no one, in fact, was killed today. So far that's certainly the news we have. Thanks for your time tonight.

MILLER: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Turning now to the American economy, 120,000 new jobs were added last month, and that sounds like good news, right? Well, it depends on how you look at it. It is only half the number of jobs that were added the month before, and Mitt Romney is already using today's report as campaign trail ammo.

We will hash out what this means in the race for the White House in just a minute, but first. CNN business correspondent Christine Romans crunches the numbers.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Candy, since when is a drop in the unemployment rate a negative, disappointing? Well, when you only create 120,000 jobs in the month and you had been creating 200,000-plus for the prior three months. This is the disappointment here.

And some economists are telling us the reason the unemployment rate fell a little bit is because about 164,000 people, many of them white women, by the way, dropped out of the workforce and so that's why the unemployment rate fell.

Let's take a look at where the jobs are or where we started to lose jobs in the month. Retail jobs -- this is kind of interesting, 34,000 retail jobs were lost in the month of March. We've seen retail sales pretty strong in this country, so this caught some people by surprise.

Probably the only place you saw strength at retail was home and garden stores because of the good weather. So a lot of people are watching this to see if it's some sort of harbinger of weakness coming for the consumer. And as you know, the consumer drives two-thirds of economic activity in this country, whether we like it or not.

Let's look at the politics of it, because here is the trend overall. This is that -- wow, that big, big job loss at the end of the Bush administration and into the early months of the Obama administration, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost every single month.

And then here is this painful period, this is stimulus by the way and also census hiring, where you saw job creation here. Then this painful period of wondering whether we were going to have a double-dip recession. And this is the trend since then. And a lot of economists would have liked to have seen this getting bigger and bigger. But you've got a little bit of a slowdown in hiring here. It's something that bears watching. Seven more of these jobs reports until the election, Candy.

CROWLEY: We want to get more perspective on this from Chrystia Freeland, the global editor at large from Reuters.

Chrystia, we were on it this streak, three months of solid job gains and then this. The president says this is typical up and down. Mitt Romney says the president's excuses have run out. We can certainly say for sure it's an election year. But what's the truth here? Can we tell at this point, is this a normal bump in the road, or is the recovery losing steam?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, GLOBAL EDITOR AT LARGE, REUTERS: I don't think we can tell for sure, Candy, but it is generally the case that recoveries aren't always straight-line. They do go a little bit up and down.

I think Christine was exactly right that the real reason there's so much disappointment today is not only that those numbers are weaker than the previous three months, but also the expectation was that there would be 200,000 jobs and 120 is a smaller number.

We have heard from Ben Bernanke, the head of the Fed, you know, a little bit of a premonition that this might be happening. He's been cautioning that the strong job growth was getting a little bit ahead of the strength of the economic recovery of growth in GDP.

So some people had been saying, you know what? The recovery isn't as strong as the job numbers have suggested, and that's what this month seems to be telling us.

CROWLEY: So what do you think of the hit that we saw in retail jobs? What happened there?

FREELAND: I think Christine is absolutely right to pull that number out, and the most persuasive theory I have heard about that is that we are seeing the impact of e-commerce, so the retail sector overall is actually doing better.

People are out buying, but as all of us who buy things online know, you can buy stuff without actually dealing with a sales clerk. So I actually think we are seeing the beginning of a trend, which is a strong retail sector, but not as many retail jobs.

CROWLEY: And when you look at the unemployment rate, it's at a three-year low, 8.2 percent. But we're told, well, that's because a lot of people just stopped looking, so we're not counting them anymore as unemployed, and a lot of them are white women. Why is that?

FREELAND: We don't know for sure, and, actually, that is a little bit of a new trend, because at the beginning of the recovery, you had people talking about how it was a shecovery -- remember that? -- and all of those arguments about the economy today was more friendly for women than it was for men.

What we have been seeing in the latest job numbers is men getting new jobs more than women are. So maybe what's happening is that women are finding that the job market is quite hostile to them, and are deciding, you know, I'm not going to look.

Part of what could be driving that is one spot of light is the manufacturing sector, right? Manufacturing turns out not to be dead, and there has been a recovery of manufacturing jobs. That has historically tended to be a pretty male space.

CROWLEY: Chrystia Freeland, global editor at large for Reuters, thanks, have a great weekend.

FREELAND: You, too.

CROWLEY: Coming up -- courting the women's vote. President Obama tries to widen the Republican gender gap, including crunching the numbers on who holds the majority in his family.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Women are over half this country, and it's worked for us. Not to mention 80 percent of my household, if you count my mother-in-law, and I always count my mother-in-law.



CROWLEY: An awful lot of closed door meetings this week on the schedule of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. He met with Newt Gingrich supporter Governor Rick Perry in Texas and with conservative leaders in Virginia.

Joining us to discuss what these gatherings may mean, "Time" deputy bureau chief, Michael Crowley; Democratic strategist Penny Lee and pro-Gingrich super PAC senior adviser Rick Tyler. It's just hard to mispronounce my name.


CROWLEY: Rick, let me start with you, simply because you've been running this super PAC for Newt Gingrich. Have you stopped?


CROWLEY: Are you going to put more ads on the air for him? As far as you're concerned, his campaign is moving on?

TYLER: I think the objective would be to get as many delegates into Tampa as possible. We'll do that by advertising. Obviously our fundraising has been a challenge. I mean, that's -- I think it's been a challenge for everybody.

CROWLEY: How do you do that? You're advertising for delegates? I'm sorry. I'm just -- I'm not sure what you --


TYLER: No, you advertise in the states to try to win some delegates. So for instance, California's proportional, maybe, you know, Texas could go. There's lots of -- there's other states where it's proportional, so you can gather delegates here and there.

CROWLEY: So you can do some niche advertising in places that might be friendly to him.

TYLER: Sure.

CROWLEY: So as far as you're concerned, you will not give this up until he does or until the convention?

TYLER: Exactly. And Newt Gingrich is in charge and we follow his lead and we'll stay in as long as he wants.

CROWLEY: Is it over?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think so. I hope it's not.


CROWLEY: Of course you don't. In fact, every time I talk to you, you say, no, let's keep this going.

LEE: Let's keep this going. You know, who knows? But I think it's going to be interesting for Rick Santorum, because I think the question that he has to ask himself right now is, what does he want to get out of it? What does he want this race to become? Does he want to set this up for a 2016 race? That's a very different dynamic that he has to take a look at.

Does he want a position in the Cabinet? Does he want to be vice president? What is it that he wants? Because right now the math just isn't in his favor. It's very, very difficult for him to think of anything else.

CROWLEY: And Michael, does he want to lose his home state?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, "TIME" DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF: No, I think that there's a way to finish this with dignity.

And I think he wants to calculate it so that he, you know, he might want to stay in and show some strength without burning too many bridges in the party, without attacking Romney too hard, but if he kind of sticks his neck out and he loses his own state, he's going to be remembered for having stayed too long, pushed it too hard, flamed out and it's going to be embarrassing.

So he's got to calibrate it pretty carefully.

CROWLEY: Right, right. "The Washington Post" had an article today about Mitt Romney and his wealth, which clearly is going to be an issue. The Democrats just don't think this is a great time for a very wealthy man -- and he would be the richest president we'd ever had, should he be elected. So they are clearly going to play this.

"The Washington Post" had an article about how using ethics disclosure rules, Mitt Romney has been able to hide sort of the real basis of some of his wealth. And we thought this was really interesting. This was a tweet from Barack Obama. And it said, "So what's Romney hiding? Tweet @Mitt Romney to demand he release his tax returns, #whatsRomneyhiding."

I think it's kind of amazing it came from the president's tweet, actually. Does that strike you as -- ?

LEE: We are in a whole new world right now.


CROWLEY: Why not let Axelrod or one of his strategic advisers do it?

LEE: Yes, it is surprising that it came from the president directly, because usually you let those kind of negative attacks come from somebody, even your vice president.

You don't handle those kind of things. So but this is -- they are putting out the signal early that they are going to be responding to everything and be aggressive in their campaign going forward. So I imagine we'll see a lot more of this.

M. CROWLEY: Candy, in part because I think the president needs to fire up his base, I think he wants to get his supporters motivated and I think there's been a rap against him that he hasn't fought the Republicans hard enough. And I think we've seen some moments already where he's trying to demonstrate, I've got the gloves on, I'm ready to bring the fight. Are you with me, let's go get him.

CROWLEY: So (inaudible) tweeting --

TYLER: I would argue that a lot of people would like to see a presidential candidate, which we haven't seen on the Republican side through this race -- look, you know, what -- can we see someone act presidential?

And the president has a great contrast to make, over what this race that's been going on in the Republican side, which has frankly been about trivia, horse race and all that. And the president has all these opportunities to actually act and be presidential. Sending out a tweet, what's Mitt Romney hiding, that doesn't strike me as very presidential.

CROWLEY: We had today at the White House -- the president had a -- for the White House, had a forum on women, which they've had every year, but it took a distinctly political turn today with the president talking about -- at one point he said, "Is it possible that Congress would get more done if there were women in Congress? Is it fair to say that?

"I think it's fair to say it's almost guaranteed," he said. Is there such a thing as pandering too much to females?

M. CROWLEY: Well, I don't know. I mean, the president probably thinks that he's got a good thing going. And he may want to work it. The gender gap right now between the president and Mitt Romney is enormous, it's quite striking. And I think they want to harden that narrative.

I mean, I think the natural flow of the campaign will even it out a bit, because you're not going to have Rush Limbaugh popping off the way he did a few weeks ago --

LEE: (Inaudible).

M. CROWLEY: -- every week, although you never really know with Rush Limbaugh. But I think they just want to drive it home and harden it as much as they can while they're able to.

CROWLEY: Quick, really, last word, like 10 seconds. They're going to lose some of that women vote over the course of the campaign.

LEE: But this is a gap that is paramount for Mitt Romney to actually have to close to be able to win. Women are a key electorate.

TYLER: I think we would get more done if we had more Republican women.


CROWLEY: OK. Thank you so much. Appreciate you all being here. Come back.

Still ahead, eye-popping 3-D images of those destructive Texas tornadoes. We will dissect what these pictures show.


CROWLEY: Welcome back. Here's Mary Snow with the latest news you need to know right now.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Candy. A Marine sergeant is in trouble for criticizing President Obama on Facebook in various postings. Sergeant Gary Stein calls his commander in chief, among other things, quote, "the domestic enemy and a liar."

A military board is recommending an other-than-honorable discharge for the Marine, claiming he endangered good order and discipline. Stein tells CNN he's entitled to his opinions.

An emotional Hugo Chavez fought back tears on state television, publicly praying for his health. The controversial Venezuelan president spoke at a mass, pleading with God, quote, "Do not take me yet." The 57-year-old is battling cancer, but hasn't announced which type. He returned to Venezuela yesterday after radiation treatment in Cuba.

And check this out. It's NASA's 3-D animation of the monstrous tornadoes that hit Texas on Tuesday. It shows the height of the storms that ripped through Dallas County. Some reached up to eight miles high. The National Weather Service says as many as 13 tornadoes struck the area, damaging or destroying near 1,000 homes. Pretty amazing, Candy.

CROWLEY: Wow. Those -- you know, I've always thought that storms, if they're not deadly, are so gorgeous, just looking at them. But those pictures, eight miles high. That's a pretty tall storm, as far as -- look at that picture. It looks like a great skyline of some sort. Mountains.

SNOW: Right, yes, so destructive. But, yes, eight miles high is really amazing.

CROWLEY: It is. I like that one. I think we could frame that. Mary Snow, thank you so much. Have a great weekend.

SNOW: Sure, you too.

CROWLEY: Time now for the moment you may have missed. First dog, Bo Obama, is gearing up for Easter. He kickstarted celebrations Wednesday, visiting military families with first lady Michelle Obama, but Monday is the big event-- the White House Easter egg roll. Check out what hatched from all his excitement.


CROWLEY: That's all from us tonight. Have a great holiday weekend. I'll see you Sunday for CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.