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THE SITUATION ROOM
Romney's Rich Guy Image; North Korea Threatens Nuclear Test; Tax Dollars Spent on Clowns, Mind Readers; Is America Divided by Race?
Aired April 9, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Mitt Romney tries to enjoy some regular guy moments, but his rich guy image gets in his way. How that may play out on the campaign trail this week.
Also, new video of Osama bin Laden's widows and children, an eerie look at their everyday life under house arrest in Pakistan.
And North Korea prepares for a rocket launch. We have an up- close look at the launchpad. Could a nuclear test be next? I will ask the former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson why the rest of the world is so worried.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But we begin with the Obama administration pressing hard right now for legislation that would ensure that the wealthiest Americans don't pay a lower income tax rate than the middle class, this drawing its inspiration from the billionaire Warren Buffett, who often points to his own relatively low tax rate.
Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
Jessica, the president getting ready to try to score some political points on this issue.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
Here at the White House, officials insist that this is all about policy, but on a campaign conference call that just ended, they were not shy about making clear there is a healthy dose of politics behind the push for the Buffett rule.
YELLIN (voice-over): It's the front page of the campaign Web site, team Obama pushing the Buffett rule, not for the first time.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule. If you make more than a million dollars a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. It's a very simple principle, the Buffett rule. It says if you make more than a million dollars a year, you should not pay a lower tax rate than your secretary.
YELLIN: This time there is actually a vote on the bill. That will happen Monday. The rule would apply to anyone who makes more than $1 million. Right now, if that money comes from investments in the stock market, they could pay 15 percent or even less in taxes, far lower than the rate on income from a paycheck. Under the new bill, they will have to pay 30 percent.
MARTIN SULLIVAN, TAX ANALYSIS: There's zero chance of it ever passing on a stand-alone basis because of the Republican opposition. And I'm sure some Democrats in swing states and swing districts are not going to be comfortable with voting for a tax rate increase.
YELLIN: So why push it?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's what votes do. They put senators on record and we will certainly see how senators handle that. Perhaps even those who have been opposed to this in the past will rethink their position, consider the fundamental fairness of the legislation, and vote yes.
YELLIN: In other words, get Republicans on record during an election year. Could you imagine campaign ads saying they voted with the 1 percent? Or maybe it has to do with this.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What is the effective rate I have been paying? It's probably closer than the 15 percent rate than anything because my last 10 years, I have -- my income comes overwhelmingly from investments.
YELLIN: And in the same campaign conference call I talked about just a moment ago, a President Obama supporter pointed out that Mitt Romney and his income taxes made clear some of his money is in a Swiss bank account. Warren Buffett was quoted on the call saying he has no money in Swiss bank accounts. He sees nothing wrong with American banks.
Clearly there are some "contrasts" being drawn between the president and Mitt Romney.
BLITZER: Are White House officials responding to the notion that even if the so-called Buffett rule were to going into effect, in the scheme of things, namely deficit reduction, it really wouldn't generate all that much money in the scheme of things? What are they saying about that?
YELLIN: They say that is not the fundamental issue at stake. This is about fairness and this is about making sure that at least the tax base, the tax system is fair in terms of millionaires, what they pay and others play, and that the rest of it, in terms of generating enough income to pay down our deficit, that can be addressed through other means at another date -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica is at the White House. Thanks very much. Mitt Romney tries for a little rest and relaxation at his beachfront home out in California, but taking a little bit more heat for his rich guy image.
Let's bring in Joe Johns and he's working this part of the story for us
Explain what's going on, what the little controversy is all about.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all it took was one holiday visit to the beach and a few family pictures of the campaign front-runner to open up a whole new set of questions about how much Romney with all his money appeals to the regular guy, or even how much he has to.
JOHNS (voice-over): Over the Easter weekend, hanging out with his family, Mitt Romney appeared on the beach in La Jolla, California, with a boogie board, looking like a surfer dude. He talked about it Monday in a radio interview.
ROMNEY: We had 11 of our grandkids staying with us and three of my boys and three of, of course, their spouses. And we had the Easter egg roll over the neighbor's lawn. He has a big lawn we use. We made Easter eggs. We went swimming and surfing in the water. We're in California. It is absolutely delightful.
JOHNS: His campaign has worked hard to create glimpses of Romney as a regular guy. The problem is, he's not. He's worth $200 million. He has a home here in La Jolla that's set for renovation after the campaign and another multimillion-dollar home in New Hampshire. Many Republicans don't begrudge him any of that, but say he has to be authentic about it.
ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think the worst thing that Mitt Romney can do is be insincere. Worst thing he can do is pretend to be what he is not. We all know he's a wealthy man, he's a successful man, he's made his money and he doesn't need to apologize about it. The best he can do is embrace it, accept it, and not be awkward about it. It's part of the package deal. And let's face it. We live in America. In America, being successful, being wealthy is a good thing, not something that we resent.
JOHNS: Last month, Romney made it clear he's embracing who he is.
ROMNEY: I have been very successful. I'm not going to apologize for that.
JOHNS: The campaign told CNN they don't foresee any political problems as a result of the weekend pictures showing Mitt Romney out with the family, though a CNN/ORC poll late last month shows that of the top two GOP top contenders, the voters see Rick Santorum as more in tune. When asked which of the top two candidates cares more about people like you, Republicans chose the former senator from Pennsylvania 47-34 percent.
Santorum took Monday off from the campaign trail to be with his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who suffers from a rare genetic condition and had to be hospitalized. In response to the situation, the Romney campaign took down a television ad targeting Santorum.
But the fundamentals of the race remain the same, Santorum in distant second place and Newt Gingrich in third and in millions of dollars in debt. The Obama campaign is suggesting it will try to make Romney's personal wealth an issue, starting with the tax rates he pays. But a former political director for the Republican Party says that is not what will drive the vote.
GENTRY T. COLLINS, FORMER RNC NATIONAL POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Whether Romney's wealth is seen as a positive, because he's self-made and created it himself, he helped other people become wealthy and now wants to do that for the rest of the country, or whether the Obama narrative will stick that this is a guy that out of touch with the rest of us. I don't think that is true. I don't think it will stick.
JOHNS: Gentry Collins makes the case that Mitt Romney can almost be seen as an example setter for people who are suffering financial hard times. He thinks that people are hungry for someone that can be a financial role model, even if he's not exactly everyman.
BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much and thanks again for filling for me on Friday. You did an excellent job, as usual.
JOHNS: My pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Joe.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Joining us, our senior political analyst David Gergen.
David, the president is promoting this legislation, the so-called Buffett rule. How should Mitt Romney deal with this since he made about $20 million in income, but he only paid 14 percent in taxes from his investments? How does he deal with this on the campaign trail?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a good question, Wolf, and I think he is vulnerable on these issues, especially if he goes out and campaigns to lower the tax rates on the wealthy and reduce the safety net for those who are in trouble.
I think that's going to make him more vulnerable. So what should he do? For one thing, I go back to the points you were making. He has to emphasize that the country has serious financial problems. We're running a trillion dollars a year in deficits. And the Buffett rule, as you pointed out, does not make up more than a small fraction of that difference.
The Buffett rule would produce less than one half of 1 percent of what we need to do to close that deficit. That's point one. But, secondly, Wolf, I also think that Mitt Romney and indeed other Republicans ought to take more leaves out of the Jack Kemp playbook.
Jack Kemp made the argument, very successfully, that the point is not to try to punish people who are successful, but to open the doors for those who are toward the bottom and help them get up, that social mobility, the capacity to rise from modest beginnings, and make money in this country is something that's been very precious to our heritage.
It's accounted for a lot of our dynamism. And that social mobility is slowing down, it's stagnating, and Mitt Romney ought to be the guy that wants to make sure that anybody can become successful, not just a few.
BLITZER: You think this will be a big issue against President Obama, the fact that Mitt Romney is worth $200 million and the president? He's not a poor guy either. He's got a few dollars out there, nowhere near obvious as much as Mitt Romney, but he's made a lot of money from his books and other ways.
GERGEN: That's true, but I think the president's tax rates are probably -- are different from Mitt Romney's.
Mitt Romney has, as you point out, only 14 percent taxes on his income. And so he's at a lower end. I think he does need to emphasize that he's also been very generous with his personal contributions to charity, especially to his church, but to other organizations.
He's a person who gives away another 10 percent free taxes he tithes every year, and he gives it away to charitable causes. People ought to understand that. It is not just 14 percent. There's another 10 percent that goes into charity. I think that is something he needs to make sure people understand.
Again coming to this, this inequality in the country and his wealth can be a potential liability, a serious liability. He does need to address it, but I do think there are ways to do that.
BLITZER: I think it's even more 10 percent, his charitable contributions, when you add it all out, because he keeps pointing out, if you add up the tax rate that he paid for his investments as well as the contributions he gives to various charities, you're getting 30 percent or so, 25, at least to 30 percent, which is obviously a much more reasonable number, only 14 percent money that he gives away.
GERGEN: Right. Right.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for that, David, David Gergen helping us.
Trayvon Martin and America's racial divide. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File."
Also, embarrassing new video surfaces showing government employees mocking their jobs, their agency, even President Obama. This is new video we're just getting from the GSA. Stand by. Plus, a rare look at the widows and children of Osama bin Laden. We have new video also taken inside bin Laden's secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. You're going to want to see this.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, as the national debate over the killing of Trayvon Martin rages on, a new poll suggests a majority of Americans think this country is rather badly divided by race. "Newsweek"/"Daily Beast" poll shows 72 percent of whites, 89 percent of blacks say the country is racially divided almost four years now after the election of the nation's first African-American president.
The majority of whites and blacks say that race relations have either stayed the same or gotten worse. There continued to be fundamental disagreements about when blacks will achieve racial equality. Whites are much more likely to think that blacks have the same chance as they do to get housing and jobs.
As for the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black Florida teenager, more differences along racial lines. Blacks are more than twice as likely as white to say that Martin's death was racially motivated. African Americans are convinced Martin was targeted because he was a young black man, while whites are divided on the question.
Blacks overwhelmingly approve of how President Obama has handled the Martin controversy, while a majority of whites disapprove. The differences go on and on on this subject. It's a sad statement of race relations in 2012.
Meanwhile an update from Sanford, Florida. The federal prosecutor of the Trayvon Martin shooting case has decided not to take that case to a grand jury. She says she's never used a grand jury in similar cases and the investigation is continuing.
The attorney for the shooter, George Zimmerman, calls that a courageous move. You can bet the decision will fan the racial flames even further. Already thousands of people joining the Florida protests, calling for Zimmerman's arrest.
Here's the question: how racially divided is the United States today?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog. Or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM: it looks like another government worker is in huge trouble for that $800,000 Las Vegas conference. And now, there's even more new video just coming in, has us shaking heads. You're going to want to watch this.
Let's bring our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's got the latest in details.
What is the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is we just learned that the eighth employee of the GSA has been reprimanded. Dave Foley (ph), he was a senior person. He was involved. In fact, in one of the videos that we played last week, he actually was actually one of the people who said that -- he made fun or at least appeared to make fun of excess pending in the government.
We learned when we reported that video last week that there were more to come. Now, we have them.
BASH (voice-over): Hoping to limit the political damage, the Obama administration headed out to selective media outlets, an hour's worth of new embarrassing GSA video over the holiday weekend. Among the see it to believe it clip, government workers appearing to mock the president on his green job initiative.
It's yet another submission for a video award ceremony which CNN first reported on last week. A talent show with a lavish 2010 convention in Las Vegas, that cost taxpayers over $800,000.
But House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa says the administration conspicuously omitted this clip, evidence he says GSA employees were making this video during a taxpayer-funded work day.
JEFF NEELY, ACTING GSA ADMINISTRATOR, PACIFIC RIM: That was amazing. Was there anybody in region 7 that wasn't in that thing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they didn't work on Friday, chances are they weren't in the video.
BASH: Still, what the Obama administration did release is damaging. In this video, a man dressed as an angry clown makes fun of government meetings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think meetings are good to have in between breaks.
BASH: And in this one, government employees appear to destroy government property, to the tune of "Push It to the Limit" from Scarface.
And at the Las Vegas conference where the videos were played, listen to this brazen boasting.
NEELY: I think I pretty much promised to deliver, an over the top, unforgettable team building experience. How did we do on that one?
BASH: That's Jeff Neely, an acting GSA administrator for the Pacific Region. Here he is on the event's red carpet. Yes, a make believe red carpet at the government conference.
NEELY: I am wearing all Armani. I think what I would like people to take home is to dispense with the notion that what's done in Vegas stays in Vegas and to really leave with, what's done in Vegas needs to be shared with everybody.
BASH: And what is this government employee's talent?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a talent for drinking margarita.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, how is it the GSA gave you that talent?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my commitment to our go-green initiatives.
BASH: And in response, the GSA released the same exact statement as last week that, the videos re-enforce the complete lack of judgment at the 2010 conference and the agency, quote, "continues to be appalled" by this in defensible behavior.
Now, when it comes to excess spending at the GSA, the administration is pushing House Republicans to investigate not just the Obama years, but also the Republican Bush years. A spokesman for Chairman Issa insists that he does intend to expand his probe to include the Bush administration.
And, Wolf, no doubt that will be what the Democrats seize on the slew of congressional hearings we're already hearing about. They're going to happen when they come back from spring break.
BLITZER: Now, this is hugely embarrassing, not only taxpayer money wasted for something like this, but the GSA -- a lot of folks don't really understand what the GSA, the General Services Association, what kind of government bureaucracy is it. What are they supposed to do?
BASH: It adds to the irony of this, because the GSA's sole purpose is effectively to make sure that the government is operating correctly, and that includes with the budget, with the money. So, this is an agency that is absolutely supposed to be focusing on money and they're spending way too much money.
BLITZER: Now, Darrell Issa, the congressman from California who has this oversight committee, he says that his hearing is going to take place a week from today, next Monday. And he's going to go in depth on this. Obviously, you know, he's a Republican so he's going to be looking at what the Obama administration allowed under its watch to be going forward.
But as you say, he's under pressure to make sure that they go back and look what happened during the Bush administration as well. Was this a continuing travesty in other words, or was this something that was created in recent years?
BASH: Exactly. And I have spoken many times to Darrell Issa's people about that. And what they say is that they don't have any evidence right now. There are no red flags right now specifically with the Bush administration, but they promised because they are investigating from Democrats that they are investigating the Bush years, too. But as I said, this is probably going to be a big line of attack or at least questioning from the Democrats when we see those public hearings.
BLITZER: So, eight heads are basically off right now at the GSA. But more expected?
BASH: It's impossible. I mean, if you look at these videos, you look at the senior people here, like Jeff Foley (ph), I mean, you know, it's hard to imagine that it's not going to get worse. But if again, early last week, the GSA administrator was already fired. Effectively she tendered her resignation.
BLITZER: She was an Obama administration political appointee.
BASH: She was an appointee.
BLITZER: Not a career civil servant.
BASH: Exactly. But others were career civil servants. Many of those who made those videos, unclear if the people who were asked to make the videos, the low level employees, are going to be reprimanded. But certainly the people who were in charge of others are already being reprimanded.
BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much. You'll stay on top of it for us.
BLITZER: You'll cover those hearings next Monday?
BASH: I'll be there.
BLITZER: You promise?
BASH: I promise.
BLITZER: OK, thanks.
The bloodshed in Syria spills beyond it's borders. Details of two deaths in two neighboring countries.
Also, the Mormon Church (INAUDIBLE) new temple amid a growing controversy. We get a rare inside look. Our Brian Todd went there.
BLITZER: Let's go right to our strategy session, joining us right now are our CNN political contributors, Democrat strategist Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist Mary Matalin.
Ladies, thanks very much for coming in.
Let's talk a little bit about Senator Chuck Grassley, referring to what the president of the United States said last week about the Supreme Court deliberations on the Obama health care reform law, when the president said it was an unprecedented, extraordinary step it would be if the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. Chuck Grassley, the Republican senator from Iowa, and he's a big Twitter follower and he does a lot of tweeting.
He says, "Constituents asked why I am not outraged at President Obama attack on Supreme Court independence. Because American people are not as stupid as this ex-professor of constitutional law." Stupid -- that was the word that Chuck Grassley used in that tweet, to which David Axelrod, the president's senior campaign advisor, said on his Twitter account. He said, "Heads up, Senator Grassley, I think a 6- year-old hijacked your account and is sending out foolish tweets just to embarrass you."
We checked with Senator Grassley's office, Mary, and he did in fact use that word "stupid" referring to the president of the United States. Is that becoming for a United States senator, to call the president of the United States stupid?
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think what's foolisher is David Axelrod drawing attention to an event, an unfortunate event for the president that he had to walk back because it was widely seen as being fundamentally disrespectful to the courts, to our system of checks and balances, the intimidation of the courts. The Fifth Circuit weighed in, questioning this administration's view of the authority of the federal court.
So it was a bad issue for the president. He had to want you back. I'm surprised that a strategist as smart as Axelrod would draw attention to a tweet or a Twitter, whatever.
Donna knows, she made me get one. I think anybody over 30 who likes a glass of wine shouldn't have even a Twitter account. But she made get one.
So, anything that said on Twitter is kind of goofy in the first place.
BLITZER: All right. But you didn't the answer the question -- is it appropriate for a United States senator to call the president of the United States stupid?
MATALIN: No, that would not be appropriate. But in the language of Twitter, it seems clear to me that that could be interpreted as a constitutional law professor should know that it is not unprecedented, in fact it is the duty, the obligation of the courts, particularly the highest court, to overturn laws. There's nothing unprecedented about that. That is their constitutional duty.
So that was a piece of constitutional ignorance, either intentional or intentional on the part of the president. I don't know that he was calling the president stupid so much as a fundamental ignorance of what the checks and balances, and that's the Supreme Court role.
BLITZER: And you know, Donna, that over the years, the eight years that President Bush was in the White House, Democrats were calling him all sorts of name, stupid being, probably, a relatively mild name that they used to call him.
This language is getting obscene. I assume you agree on both sides.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: As you know, Wolf, I think the level of incivility in our society today is just out of bounds, everywhere, not only between politicians but also within the public sphere. So I'm not going to dignify Mr. -- Senator -- the senator's remarks, nor will I comment on what David said.
Look, here's what I think we need to focus on. We need to focus on, you know, the fact that millions of Americans are now benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. People with disables, of course with preexisting conditions, young people who are still able to get access to health care because they can stay on their parents' account.
And of course, women, at some point, we will no longer have to pay more simply because we're female. Senator Grassley has an obligation, I think, to at least explain to his constituents what's in the law, and to get away from all of this vile language.
BLITZER: I think that's a good idea. Everybody should get away from this vile language. You can have a serious debate, you can have a serious discussion, you can express your anger, but you don't have to necessarily start calling people stupid or worse. I know Senator Grassley. I'm sure he is probably reconsidering his use of that word right now.
But you know what, we all do ridiculous things from time to time.
Let me get to this picture, Mary. Mitt Romney, he was out there this weekend, Easter weekend, out in California, outside his home in La Jolla. We saw a picture of him getting ready to go in the water, do a little surfing. Nothing wrong with that.
But to some, including myself, as soon as I saw that picture, you know what the first thing I thought of? It was 2004, during the Republican Convention that summer. I was in New York, and all of a sudden, a picture of John Kerry windsurfing came in -- there he is.
There's that picture of John Kerry windsurfing. It dogged him throughout that campaign. Would you say that the Mitt Romney -- surfing and the John Kerry surfing are equivalent? Or you see a difference with these two images?
MATALIN: They're really not even close. I mean, boogie boarding is to windsurfing as catfish is to cognac or caviar. They're not even close. I don't know anybody that doesn't boogie board and I don't know a single human being that does windsurf. So I don't know what the -- that they're remotely close. I thought that was a good shot and story of Romney, Governor Romney, with 11 of his 16 grandchildren, his sons and their spouses and his wife, having an Easter egg role, enjoying Easter.
He needs to do more of that for his own self, he needs that kind of break, and it's good for the American people to see our nominee as he truly is. He's a great family guy. I thought it was wonderful and I'll say again, there are more boogie boarders than windsurfers this inn this country.
BLITZER: You know, you remember, Donna, you remember very vividly during that Republican convention when John Kerry went out windsurfing off the coast of Nantucket, it seemed like he was out of touch with mainstream America by doing that. How much a problem potentially is this going to be for Romney?
BRAZILE: You know, Governor Romney has committed so many gaffes, you know, just pick your poison and decide which one you'll highlight. For me personally, you know, I know how grueling a presidential campaign can be and I can remember back in the day when I was managing campaigns, I looked forward to Al Gore taking time off with his wife and kids and grandchildren.
So, you know, I'm not going to sit here and comment on his wealth, his house, his -- whatever his poison is. I had my moment over the weekend, I'm so glad nobody took a picture of me in my garden, I really didn't look the part.
BRAZILE: And, Wolf, the clothes I had on this weekend, it would make the people in Walmart, you know, call for a discount.
Donna, I'm sure you looked lovely, you always do, and Mary Matalin always looks lovely as well. Guys, thanks very much for coming.
And we're going to show you something few people ever get a chance to see, a rare look inside a new Mormon temple. Stand by. We'll show you the video.
And we have got some new video as well of bin Laden's widows and children, an eerie look at their everyday life under house arrest in Pakistan.
BLITZER: We're about to get a rare look inside an impressive building that relatively few people will ever get to see. It's a new Mormon temple, and as CNN's Brian Todd reports, it highlights not only the growing influence of the Mormon church, but also the growing controversy surrounding it. Let's go to Brian.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this 32,000 square-foot temple will be dedicated next month. For the next three weeks, it's going to be open to the public, a window for a rare look inside a Mormon temple, and it comes at a time when the church is dealing with significant controversy.
It's unmistakable, rising up like a castle from the rolling prairie, the gold-leafed statue of the angel Moroni adorning its main spire. The new Mormon temple in Kansas City symbolizes a rare pattern at a time when many faiths see their numbers in North America shrinking.
WILLIAM WALKER, ELDER, LDS: (Inaudible) to the church worldwide. About 61/2 million members of the church in the United States.
TODD: And for members of the church, this is the house of the Lord. We were shown around by Elder William Walker, a top church official who oversees the operation of 137 temples worldwide, with 30 more on the way.
How much did it cost to build this?
WALKER: A lot.
TODD: He won't say how much, but it doesn't look like any expense was spared. The chambers are striking.
We saw sealing (ph) rooms, where weddings take place; an instruction room, with a mural depicting Earth as Mormons believe, just after creation, and the pristine Celestial Room, the most sacred space inside, for reflection and meditation, complete with crystal chandeliers. This is the biggest room you'll find in the temple. There's no large sanctuary.
WALKER: The purpose of the temple is not for a big meeting. We have other chapels, and throughout the church and throughout the world, assembly halls and meeting halls. When we come to the temple, this is more for private and individual communion.
TODD: While we were given an extensive tour, the church denied our request to record it and instead provided these pictures. I asked Walker if that doesn't play into perceptions, right or wrong, that the church is secretive.
WALKER: It's not about secret. It's about sacred. And we feel that it's a very sacred and a special place, and therefore is reserved for those worship functions and those ordinances that take place in the temple. It's not about secret.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on in out of the (inaudible).
TODD: But once the temple closes its doors to the public next month, not even all Mormons will be allowed in. Worshipers are supposed to wear white when they come in here on a normal basis. During these visits, we have to wear foot coverings so we don't mess up the carpets. Now once this place is dedicated, you cannot come past this front desk -- what's called the recommend desk -- unless you have a recommendation from your local Mormon church leader.
Inside, the ornate baptismal font, resting on 12 oxen, symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel. But the font also symbolizes controversy for the LDS Church. Here, they'll perform hundreds of posthumous baptisms, specifically for Mormons' ancestors who were not of the faith, an invitation to accept Mormonism as an avenue into heaven.
But some Mormons have used the church's genealogy database to baptize others who are not Mormon ancestors, like murdered Jewish reporter Daniel Pearl, and Holocaust victims like Anne Frank, a practice that has outraged Jewish leaders.
The critics say that this speaks of a theological arrogance and intolerance (inaudible) your faith is the only avenue in which to get into heaven. What do you say to that?
WALKER: Well, I would say that Jesus didn't say this is just for people of a particular persuasion. Jesus taught it's necessary to be baptized to enter the kingdom of heaven.
TODD: Walker says there's no desire to offend anyone. He says the church used this as a loving kind gesture, but is cracking down on those who violate their policy.
When I asked him how he would respond to those who say the damage is done, that too many people have already been offended by posthumous baptisms, Elder Walker said, maybe we didn't do some things as well as we should have. He said, we would tell them we're sorry, but we live by our word when we say we'll do something about it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd in Kansas City for us. Thanks, Brian.
Pressure, meanwhile, is mounting on some U.S. companies to cut ties to a powerful conservative group. We're going to show you what's going on.
Plus they were married to the world's most wanted terrorist. Now there's new video of Osama bin Laden's widows inside the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he died.
BLITZER: We're learning that several major corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft -- they're now cutting ties to a conservative group that has helped state lawmakers with cut-and-paste legislation on voter identification, immigration and so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws. Mary Snow is looking into the story for us. Mary, what's going on here? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a group that's more than 30 years old. It's not a household name. Good bet that most people probably don't even know about it. But liberal advocacy groups have turned their focus on the group because of the conservative legislation they push and it's extending to corporate members.
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SNOW (voice-over): In the wake of Trayvon Martin's death, Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law came into the spotlight. It's for controversy over the possibility it could shield George Zimmerman from prosecution.
Now a focus on how that law came into place has stretched to corporation, who are involved with an obscure conservative group, called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC for short. The public pressure is being turned up by liberal advocacy groups like Color of Change.
RASHAD ROBINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COLOR OF CHANGE: Our members were asking us questions about "Stand Your Ground" and how did this law not only get in place in Florida, but around the country. And all the fingers kept pointing back to ALEC. It's not just ALEC. ALEC doesn't do its work alone. They do it with some of the biggest corporate brands in America.
Coca-Cola and Kraft are two of the big names that cut ties with ALEC after a barrage of social media. Neither cited the attention over "Stand Your Ground" as a reason. Pepsi and software company Intuit also cut their ties recently.
Companies can join ALEC by paying as much as a $25,000 membership fee. ALEC says its mission is free market and limited government. It helps copy legislation from one state to another. But some of that legislation has little to do with business. For instance, for "Stand Your Ground", 15 states use the exact same language in their bills -- that's according to the Sunlight Foundation.
ALEC itself says while it did not write "Stand Your Ground", it helped spread it beyond Florida.
KAITLYN BUSS, ALEX SPOKESPERSON: It is one of our model policies, but we have a broad area of policy topics and it's really up to a legislator of his or her particular state, what their constituents need and what they find to be the most pressing problem facing them.
Another controversial law ALEC has pushed is the voter ID bill in multiple states. The group caught the attention of Tim Smith, who's in charge of social responsible investing at Walden Asset management. He says he spoke to Coca-Cola last year, along with a trade union, in calling for better transparency.
TIM SMITH, WALDEN ASSET MANAGEMENT: ALEC is out there trying to put legislation into place in states all around the country. And you've got to look very seriously at what that legislation says and whether you want your company to be associated with it.
SNOW: The corporations that are cutting ties to ALEC say they are only involved in issues that have a direct impact on their businesses and industry. But with major names cutting ties, liberal advocacy groups say they plan to continue to turn up the pressure on companies with links to ALEC -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us. Thanks, Mary, for that.
An eerie look -- a very eerie look, I must say, at Osama bin Laden's widows and children. We have brand-new video just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM of their life under house arrest in Pakistan. Stand by.
And Jack Cafferty is asking this question: how racially divided is the United States today? Jack and your e-mail coming up next.
BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots," check them out. In India, the child of a fisherman leaps off into the harbor. Nice.
In Afghanistan, a vendor holds out a rooster.
In India, camels stacked with watermelons are led through the desert to a market.
And in Belarus, I should say, Belarus, farmers gather huge bags of sap from birch trees. "Hot Shots" -- pictures coming in from around the world.
Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File."
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Looks like snow there in Belarus, that last picture. I guess it's still winter in some parts of the world, huh?
BLITZER: Cold over there in -- have you been to Belarus?
CAFFERTY: No, I haven't, Wolf.
BLITZER: I've been there in the winter, it's cold.
CAFFERTY: I probably won't go, either, just for the record.
The question this hour is how racially divided is the United States today, "Daily Beast," "Newsweek" poll suggesting that we have got just as much racial division as always, maybe more.
Dave in Idaho writes, "Racial tension is the dark side of the land of the free and the home of the brave. The fact that it hasn't torn us apart in 236 years is encouraging. The fact that it won't go away is disheartening. How divided are we? It depends on the day, I suppose." Lou writes, "I just don't buy that we're more racially divided now. I think sometimes the media misses the mark on what their viewers are feeling over events. With most of the folks I have talked with, the Trayvon Martin shooting had more to do with the outrage over the out-of-control gun laws in this country than it ever did about race. A teen died needlessly, doesn't matter what color he was."
Dee writes, "Coming from someone with a small Southern town background, where my city's cemetery has fence that still divides whites from coloreds in the year 2012, I'd say, yes. This country is still racially divided, apparently in my hometown, even in death.
"Our country has come a long way, but whether we want to admit it or not, race is still the final frontier. No one really wants to talk about it honestly or openly because, unfortunately, this is who we are as a nation."
Metalworker in Illinois writes, "Extremely so. After the 2008 election of an African-American president, the country regressed 100 years or more. I am 76 years old, and I don't remember as much hatred as I see now."
Barbara in North Carolina writes, "Well, we have whites, blacks and rednecks. I'd say pretty divided. It's a shame. Some of the smartest, most civil people I know are black; some of the dumbest, most uncivilized are white. It really is a shame. For the record, I'm an old white woman, who knows some from each of the above categories, and then some."
And Bob in Iowa writes, "The same amount as it was yesterday, and all the days before that. When did you think it wasn't?"
You want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, cnn.com/CaffertyFile, or through a post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Jack, stand by, we'll get back to you shortly.
Meanwhile, widows praying while children play. We have new video, and it's giving us a rare glimpse into the family of Osama bin Laden. Stand by.
And coming up in our next hour, CNN gets access to a North Korean launch site, where there's growing concern about an upcoming rocket test
BLITZER: They were the wives of the world's most wanted terrorist. And now for the first time, we're seeing images of Osama bin Laden's widows and children, currently under house detention in Pakistan. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in London. He's got new video of the notorious family.
Nic, when you first saw this video -- and you were there in Abbottabad. All of our viewers remember. What jumped out at you.
NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact that the women, the mothers of these children, seem more intent on praying than they are paying attention to their children.
One of them is reading a Koran, and a child seems to come up to her and wants some attention, and she indicates for it to move away, kept in very, very Spartan conditions there by the Pakistani authorities.
The children have some toys. The interior minister has said that he even gave them a television in that house where they were being held before the trial, but this appears to be very, very conservative women, they're covered head to toe, this exactly what you would expect, the type of woman to be married to Osama bin Laden, somebody who would have stuck out had they set out -- set foot outside that compound at Abbottabad, Wolf.
BLITZER: What else do we know about the wives, the children of bin Laden?
ROBERTSON: Well, there are very few details that we know officially. But reports are emerging from Pakistani officials who have seen the transcripts of the interrogations with the wives, the youngest wife, Amal al-Sadr (ph), a Yemeni, 30 years old, appears to be the one who's done most of the talking.
She talks about going to marry Osama bin Laden in 2000 after 9/11, during the hideout in Karachi. A year later going back to Osama bin Laden, where they had about nine years on the run and four or five different addresses.
Inside Pakistan, at one time, living about an hour from the capital, Islamabad. Four children born in Pakistan to bin Laden, two of them in government hospitals. It really begs that question everyone's been asking, how could these -- his families have gone on living there for so long, Wolf, without anyone knowing?
BLITZER: Has anyone given anyone a really good explanation for that? Because a lot of experts doubt the Pakistani line, although when I spoke to Peter Bergen last week, he's not convinced they necessarily knew.
ROBERTSON: Well, certainly some Pakistanis would have known. But what level were they inside the intelligence services or were they even anything to do with the intelligence services?
That's impossible for us to make a judgment, and there certainly are people or would have been people right after 9/11 who would have been sympathetic to Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. But the bottom line is we don't have a concrete answer on that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson, reporting for us, as he always does. Thanks, Nic, very much.