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Interview With Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta; Nuclear Iran; Mitt Romney's New Campaign Strategy; Agents Turning on Each Other?; Delta Makes Bird Strike Emergency Landing

Aired April 19, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: All U.S. options are on the table when it comes to Iran's nuclear program, including the use of military force. We are going to get the latest on the negotiations and what Washington, the Obama administration is prepared to do in my exclusive interview with the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that interview coming up.

Also, the new strategy Mitt Romney is using against President Obama out there on the campaign trail.

Plus, gripping video of a horrific crash. A car plowing into a crowded supermarket, lots of injuries, but amazingly, no one killed.

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

But let's begin with breaking news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now out of Afghanistan, word of a military crash.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, I know there are casualties. What are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a U.S. official tells us a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter has crashed in Southern Afghanistan. At this point they believe it crashed during bad weather, but the official tells us they cannot yet rule out enemy action in this incident.

Sadly, they do believe all four crew members on board perished in this helicopter crash. There were a number of soldiers on the ground at a combat outpost waiting to be picked up by the helicopter, transported to another area, and they report seeing the helicopter go down.

So it could have been significantly worse, but the most terrible news possibly now for four American military families. Again, they believe this Black Hawk went down in bad weather, but they cannot yet rule out enemy action. And if the past is any example, you should expect to see some sort of claims from the Taliban, so the Army, the U.S. military will want to get specific word out as soon as they have all of the facts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Four more American families are about to be notified of a loss of loved ones. Sad story continuing in Afghanistan right now. We will get more information, Barbara, as it comes in.

I spoke about this war in Afghanistan at NATO headquarters outside Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. I spoke with the defense secretary, Leon Panetta, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. They sat down together with me for an exclusive interview in Brussels. Listen.


BLITZER: Madam Secretary, Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are glad to be here with you.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Afghanistan briefly -- $2 billion a week in U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent to maintain that troop level, the assistance to the Afghan people. Is this money well spent right now, $100 billion a year for another two-and-a-half years?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, Wolf, we are in a transition.

And as we transition, the Afghan security forces are stepping up to protect their own people. And as we saw over the weekend with those deplorable attacks, luckily, they were not successful. And that was because the Afghan security forces which our soldiers and others of the NATO alliance have been training and mentoring.

So I think that if you look as we do at the progress that has been made on the security side, but also in other indicators, health, education and the economy, there is definite progress. That doesn't mean it is going to be easy, but we are on the way to fulfilling the commitment that President Obama made about moving toward the 2014 deadline for the end of combat operations.

BLITZER: So this is money well spent, hundreds of billions of additional dollars, is that what you're saying?

CLINTON: I think you can certainly find fault with any kind of war and this has been a war.

You can go back and look at any of the wars that the United States has fought, but if you consider why we're there and the fact that, thank goodness, we have not been attacked again since 9/11, and we have dismantled al Qaeda, thanks to a lot of great work when Leon was at the CIA, before going to the Defense Department, I think there's no doubt that America is more secure, Afghanistan is more secure.

But we're not resting on our laurels. We're looking forward to what kind of relationship we all will have, NATO and the United States, after 2014 to help Afghanistan continue on this path.

BLITZER: You trust Afghan President, Mr. Secretary, Hamid Karzai?

LEON PANETTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: He is the leader of Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Do you trust him?

PANETTA: I have sat down with him. I talk with him. We talk pretty frankly with each other, and, you know, he is the leader and he is the person we have to deal with.

BLITZER: Does that mean you trust him, though?

PANETTA: Well, certainly, you trust the leaders that you have to deal with, but you always kind of watch your back at the same time.

BLITZER: That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement of the leader of Afghanistan.

PANETTA: Well, it's true for any leader we deal with.

BLITZER: But this one has said awful things about the United States.

PANETTA: No, I understand.

And, obviously, that's been a concern, but at the same time we have had the ability to directly relate to him when it comes to some of the major issues that we have had...


BLITZER: When you served in Congress, you were on the Budget Committee, as I well remember -- $100 billion, you know what kind of money could spend in the United States during these tough economic times. And the American public is increasingly frustrated when they see this money is being spent in Afghanistan rather than in the United States.

PANETTA: I understand what you're saying, Wolf, but you know what? The whole purpose of this is to protect the American people. That's what this war is about.

BLITZER: But bin Laden is dead.

PANETTA: No, but the reality is that the attack on the United States on 9/11 was planned from where? It was planned from Afghanistan. And our mission there is to make sure that we have an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and it never again can become a safe haven for terrorists who would plan attacks on our country. That's what this war is all about.

BLITZER: Do you know the U.S. intelligence officials have told Congress there are more al Qaeda operatives in Somalia right now than in Afghanistan.

PANETTA: The danger is this, that if we don't succeed in Afghanistan, then there is the real probability that the Taliban will come back, establish the same kind of safe havens that they have in the past. And who will be the first people to take advantage of it? Al Qaeda.

That's what we have to protect against.

BLITZER: Are we asking too much of these American troops who spend three, four, five tours of duty? And now these reports posing once again with dead bodies of Taliban fighters, urinating on dead bodies, burning Korans, one American soldier starts killing 17 Afghan civilians, including children. Is the stress too much to bear right now on these troops?

PANETTA: Well, look, there's no question we have been 10 years at war, and, obviously, 10 years of war takes a toll on people and families, but the reality is that the vast majority of our men and women in uniform have performed according to the highest standards that we expect of them.

And for every one incident that we sometimes read about and the kind of atrocious behavior that we all condemn, there are a hundred incidents where our people have helped Afghans, where they have performed courageously in battle.

So I have been there a number of times, as has the secretary. I have got to tell you that I am always impressed by the quality of our people that are fighting the battle on behalf of the United States.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran.

As you know, these talks with the Iranians are continuing and another meeting scheduled for May 23. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says -- and I'm quoting him now -- when he about that there will be another round on May 23, he said, "My initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie."

A freebie.

CLINTON: Well, I think that is not accurate because what came out of the first meeting was a commitment to a second meeting with a work plan between the two meetings.

We are really getting down to testing whether or not there is a willingness on the part of the Iranians to reach some kind of negotiated resolution.

BLITZER: Are you encouraged by the first round?

CLINTON: I believe that the first round was positive because from our assessment, after having no contact for 15 months, the Iranians came back to the table at a time when sanctions are really continuing to put a lot of pressure on the Iranian government and are willing to talk about their nuclear program, which is an important, positive step.

Now, we have a long way to go. And this has got to be very clearly laid out as to what the international community expects, what is acceptable, of course, to the United States since we are at the table with the P-5 plus one. But there is a chance, and I don't want to oversell it, that between now and the second meeting, we will hammer out what the international community represented by the so-called P-5 plus one requires of Iran and what Iran is willing to do.

BLITZER: And if they do take these measures, will you encourage the alliance to slow down on these economic sanctions?

CLINTON: Well, I can't answer that because it is so hypothetical right now.

I believe in, you know, very clear action for action. We have to see what the Iranians are willing to do. Then we have to make sure they do it and then we have to reciprocate. That's what a negotiation is all about, and right now we are still in the testing stage.

BLITZER: If they don't do what you want them to do, the Iranians, are you, and you're the defense secretary, ready to use military force to destroy their nuclear capabilities?

PANETTA: As the president has pointed out and as I have pointed out, we're prepared with all options on the table if we have to respond.

BLITZER: And is there a plan in place? Because I know the Pentagon -- I used to cover the Pentagon -- there are always contingency plans for everything.

Do you have a specific contingency plan to do that?

PANETTA: One of the things I have found out as secretary of defense is we do one hell of a lot of planning on everything.


PANETTA: So I can assure you that there are plans to deal with...


BLITZER: And if you have to do it, will they succeed? Are you convinced it would succeed?

PANETTA: I don't think there's any question that if we have to implement that plan, that we will be successful.


BLITZER: All right, we have a lot more of this exclusive interview coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including this. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, is it possible she could be vice president of the United States? What she told me, it certainly has a lot of people buzzing right now.

You are going to hear it for yourself. That's coming up in our next hour -- much more of the interview as well. Also, sources are revealing some critical new details of that Secret Service prostitution scandal. We're getting new information. That's coming up after the break.

Plus, a car plows into a public supermarket. We have some dramatic surveillance video, but what happened right after the crash is really, really amazing.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here and he has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Secret Service Colombian prostitution scandal just keeps heating up and it is unclear at this point if resignations of the agents at the center of it will be enough to put out the fire.

More resignations are expected now this week in addition to the three we already know about. A total of 11 members of the Secret Service, including 20-year veterans, have been implicated in this. They're accused of bringing at least 20 prostitutes to their hotel in Cartagena, at the last week's visit by President Obama. As many as 10 members of the U.S. military are being questioned about potential misconduct. This includes five members of the elite Army Special Forces.

The whole thing's a mess. It's a bit of a national disgrace and it's a potential security risk for President Obama. So what's being done in Washington? The House Oversight Committee is investigating. There will likely be a review board set up to find out whether this was an isolated incident or part of a broader Secret Service agency culture.

But some people don't think that's enough. At least one congressman, Republican Randy Forbes of Virginia, calling for Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan to be fired. Forbes says it's time for someone else to be in charge to change the culture of that agency.

Mitt Romney said he'd clean house, his words, at the Secret Service. The likely Republican nominee says he would fire the agents involved. But Romney, like President Obama, says he has confidence in the director. Sullivan's been in charge of the Secret Service since May 2006, which means the 2009 security breach at the White House that involved two party crashers getting into President Obama's first state dinner also happened on his watch.

Here's the question: What's the right punishment in the Secret Service scandal?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now on this developing story. Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is getting some new information as well.

What else are you learning, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is a growing sense in the law enforcement community that because two high-level supervisors were involved, at least two, and because this partying started just hours after the group landed in Cartagena, that it is harder than originally thought to believe that this was just an isolated incident.


YELLIN (voice-over): Two U.S. sources tell CNN the Secret Service members in Colombia were part of the jump team that flies in on military transport planes with the presidential limousine and the rest of the motorcade. Sources say investigators have found none of the women involved were minors, and there's no sign that drugs were involved.

At the White House, continued support for the head of the Secret Service.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has not spoken with Director Sullivan in recent days. But I wouldn't read anything into that. I think I said yesterday that the president has faith in the director, confidence in his leadership.

YELLIN: And a wait-and-see approach.

CARNEY: We'll await the results of that investigation before we can talk about broader issues.

YELLIN: One source tells CNN investigators are now likely trying to get remaining Secret Service members to turn on the others. Multiple sources say to date only one has taken a polygraph test. One source says investigators will look through e-mails and texts to see if the partying was arranged in advance. They might visit other Cartagena hotels to see if other members of the U.S. delegation were involved as well.

Already this story is taking a political turn. One Republican tying this scandal to a spending scandal in the federal bureaucracy.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I know that sometimes the presidents they appoint as head of GSA, the person they appoint as head of Secret Service doesn't work for them like they're some independent agency. The president needs to assert discipline, management direction throughout the executive branch and the presidents ought to be held responsible.

CARNEY: That sounds very much like a lawmaker attempting to politicize something that is not at all political.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, CNN has been reporting that the Secret Service plans to name an outside panel to investigate whether this is part of the culture of the service and to take any actions or recommend any actions to change the service if, in fact, it is. Though press on the question, the White House would not say whether the president plans to name any members of that panel and they also won't say whether the president believes in the future, .the head of the Secret Service should perhaps come outside the service just like the FBI has a head who does not come from within the ranks of the FBI -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Jessica, thanks very much.

And we know the head of the GSA under this -- as a result of this scandal, did, in fact, resign and he stepped down.

Jessica, thank you.

Other news, including a plane, a plane crashing into the Gulf of Mexico after circling for hours and hours and what we think might have happened. New information coming in.

Also, President Obama says he wasn't born with a, quote, "silver spoon". Is he taking a direct job at Mitt Romney? Either way, Romney is fight right back.

And a legendary rocker passes away. We'll tell you what happened.


BLITZER: There's been an incident involving a Delta flight coming into the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

Our own Ali Velshi was onboard.

Ali, I take you're on the ground. You're at JFK. Tell our viewers what happened.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Wolf, I was on my way to Los Angeles. We were a few moments delayed from a 3:00 departure. It was Delta flight 1063, fully loaded plane, 172 passengers, seven working crew, lots of other crew on the flight well. It's a Boeing 757.

We took off. It was seconds into the takeoff and there was a loud grinding noise and the plane started shaking a little bit. Much more of a shake than you would typically hear when they're retracting the landing gear. Moments later, the cabin started filling with smoke.

It was unclear what was going on. The captain then came on a few minutes later and it appears that there had been a bird strike and he then turned back and it looked like we did a fly bye for the inspection and we were landing back JFK, not much longer after we took off.

I then spoke to a passenger sitting in the first row who for some reason was using his iPad to film the takeoff, and he's filming it and all of a sudden, he heard -- we're in the air and these birds fly by on the ride side of the plane and seconds later, not seconds later, within a second this grinding noise starts.

There are a whole bunch of people inspecting the plane. It's on the ground at JFK. They are looking at that right side engine. So, it does appear that something struck it, created that smoke, but a very smooth landing. No panic on the flight. The crew was fantastic about it. Got everybody -- they were ready and clearly at the ready to do whatever was necessary, and whatever degree of evacuation was necessary. They're on the ground.

As we got there, it was one of the warm well Christmas you get, lots of EMS, fire, police purpose they were ready to spray the plane down to ensure there wasn't going to be a fire from that engine. No need to do so in the end and I would say, about 15 to 20 minutes later, we were off the plane.

I'm now on a bus pulling back to the terminal. Who knows what happens next? But I'm going to be a little nicer to everybody for the rest of the day, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the fear factor as far as you were concerned, Ali? You fly a lot. Did you get nervous?

VELSHI: Wolf, as you know, not only do I fly a lot, I've been trained as a pilot. And I have never heard that noise in my entire life. I've heard a lot of noises and they've been all sorts of problems you hear when you take off, sometimes the landing gear doesn't come in, retracts half way, sometimes it doesn't all of the way out. Never heard a noise like that in my life.

But, you know, sometimes on a plane when things go wrong, your reaction has a lot to do with what everyone else's reactions are. I happened to be in the seat right across from the jump seat from one of the flight attendants and you read their faces. They know a lot more about these things than you, and the flight attendant looked like she might have been meditating. She looked so calm.

So, I decided, you know what? I'm not going to look like a sissy in front of the flight attendant. I'll stay calm, too. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned that this wasn't normal and wasn't going to end normally.

BLITZER: What about the other passengers? And you said it was a full flight, were there visible? Or let me rephrase it? Audible signs of nervousness?

VELSHI: Oh, yes. Absolutely audible. Everybody knew when that noise started that they never heard that kind of noise before. Everyone knew something was wrong.

Again, my first instinct was that it was a landing gear problem. That the landing gear got stuck going up and was grinding its way back into the plane and it never occurred to me that it was a bird strike.

The guy I talked to who's got the video and as soon as we get a chance, we're going to send it in. He knew it was birds because he just saw the birds flying into the engine seconds before, but not knowing what it was. And then the smoke that came into the cabin and that's what gave everybody pause.

But like I said, the flight crew went into action and had a sense that they got extinguishers and the one thing she said fairly loudly, the one that was sitting in front of me, the crowds around, saying, "Smoke's not a problem. Fire's a problem." And all we saw was smoke, no fire.

So, there was nervousness and audible concern, but there was a real sense that we're not far from where we took off. We were over land most of the time. Obviously, there's always that concern and there was land to land on? There was land.

We circled around and if we definitely had a sense that if we landed, no matter how that would be that there would be crews on the ground to take care of things.

BLITZER: Yes. The first thing I thought of when they told me during the commercial break just before we spoke, Ali, I thought about the miracle on the Hudson, Sully Sullenberger and the birds that were involved in that tragedy which, fortunately, turned out to be okay. The plane had that miraculous landing on the Hudson.

Did that go through your mind?

VELSHI: Absolutely went through my mind. That's the first thing I think went through a lot of people's minds when they heard bird strike and what you saw was everybody looking at the window. They wanted to see where if this plane had to go down, was it going to go down. And what started to look out the window was land and I think that made everybody happy. And the flight attendant actually quipped, she said usually these things land well and even the time it didn't end well, it still landed OK. And she said, I don't want to get wet.

So, there was a bit of humor about the whole thing. I think that's what everyone resorted to. knowing that there was a captain in the front and he's flying the plane and none of us can do anything about it anyway. So, that sort -- that was the mood. It probably took about an hour from the moment we took off to the moment we got off the plane and generally, it's been an hour and a half now, but generally speaking, everyone is in good spirits, happy to be back on the ground. And like I said, I'll take all the close calls life will throw you as long as the plane didn't actually go down.

BLITZER: Ali, we're showing the viewers the plane and specifically the engine and it looks like there's some extraneous material in that engine, some sheets there. We've got these pictures inning in and these are live pictures our viewers are seeing here in the United States.

And it doesn't -- you know, I've seen a lot of engines and certainly looks like there's stuff in there that shouldn't be in there right now.

VELSHI: There's definitely foreign material in there, and again, I immediately saw the video that this guy had taken. It was interesting because it was someone who follows me on Twitter, he saws me on the plane, so he tweeted just before we took off that he's on the plane and immediately sent me a message and said I've got video. I've got the whole thing and I saw the birds.

And I looked at it, you see a flock of birds, not a bird or two, a flock of birds fly right by and he was on the right side of the plane and --

BLITZER: I think we may have lost our connection and our cell service with Ali. Ali, are you still there?

VELSHI: -- the remains of birds.

BLITZER: We lost you for a few seconds, Ali, but we got the point and we're showing your viewers these live pictures.

You say from the time that the birds struck that engine until you actually landed, it was a full hour? That's a long time to be nervous.

I guess it is a long time and we've lost our connection with Ali and we'll reconnect with him.

But for viewers who are just tuning in, an incident involving birds being sucked into the engine of this Boeing 757 Delta flight 1063. Ali Velshi was reporting, it just took off from John F. Kennedy Airport, a full flight. And there was smoke coming in as a result of these birds in the jet engine. We're going to have more on the story.

Fortunately, it ended well and now you can see these live pictures. They're inspecting that engine right now on this Delta flight.

You could call it the battle of the silver spoon. President Obama and Mitt Romney, they're taking jabs at each other over Romney's wealth. Stand by.

Plus Romney's wife is trying to soften his image. We're going to tell you what she's saying in our strategy session, Paul Begala and Mary Matalin, they're standing by live.

And the miracle baby, thrown dozens of feet when his stroller is hit by a car with only a bump on his head to show for it.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney is hot on the president's heels on the campaign trail, visiting Ohio today only 24 hours after President Obama visited that key battleground state. Romney was deploying his latest campaign strategy.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now.

Jim, what's going on with Governor Romney?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mitt Romney's campaign is doing something called bracketing and the goal, as one Romney official put it, is to step on the president's message, but Democrats say Romney is just tripping over his own two feet.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney seized on an Ohio drywall factory that shut down during the recession to hammer home the point in the "Obama isn't working" banner hanging over his head.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has not created more jobs for the American people. He hasn't, and I will.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Romney came to Ohio one day after the president visited the battleground state and sounded like he was calling the likely GOP nominee out of touch.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, Michelle wasn't, but somebody gave us a chance.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president, Romney said, is playing divide and conquer, attacking people, not problems.

M. ROMNEY: Why does he continue to attack fellow Americans, to find someone else to blame?

ACOSTA (voice-over): But Romney was doing some blaming of his own, laying this empty factory at the president's feet. The only thing: it was closed in 2008, when George W. Bush was president.

M. ROMNEY: It was closed in 2008 at the beginning of the economic downturn. Had the president's economic plans worked, President Obama's plans worked, it would be open by now.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The Romney campaign defended its stagecrafting, pointing out the president had stopped at this very same plant in 2008, with promises to improve the economy.

OBAMA: We need a president who is working as hard as you are to make sure that our families have opportunity in this country, and that's the kind of president that I intend to be.

ACOSTA (voice-over): All week, Team Romney has tried to stay on offense, engaging in what it calls bracketing around Mr. Obama's message. Bracket one came before the president's Ohio speech, as Romney went on a Cincinnati radio talk show to slam Mr. Obama for playing golf during the recession.

M. ROMNEY: You know, I would think you could kind of suck it up for four years, particularly when the American people are out of work. ACOSTA (voice-over): Then at the factory came bracket two, when Romney said his own golf game will be on hold as he makes it to the White House.

M. ROMNEY: I can tell you I will use every ounce of my energy, not to improve my golf handicap, but instead -- but instead to go to work to help the American people go to work.


ACOSTA: White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked about that silver spoon comment. He accused Team Romney of maybe just being a touch oversensitive.

And I also had a chance to touch base with the Obama campaign. An Obama campaign spokeswoman commented about this factory backdrop, Wolf, and accused Mitt Romney of having what they call an aversion to the truth. So some pretty sharp attacks flying back and forth this week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting from Lorraine, Ohio. He's going to be in Ohio a lot. All the political reporters will be in Ohio a lot between now and November.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. The economy, obviously, issue -- is issue number one, jobs, jobs, jobs. How important is it for these candidates to appear to be regular guys, regular joes?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think -- I think it's crucial. What's important for them is to let people know that they understand their problems. They feel their pain, as Bill Clinton would say, that they're in touch with their problems.

This is not a debate that is new to this campaign. It's been going on for some time. Take a listen to what the vice president said and about what Mitt Romney said about being in touch.


M. ROMNEY: It's enough to make you think that years of flying around in Air Force One surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers, telling you that you're great and you're doing a great job, it's enough for you to think that you might be become a little out of touch with that, and that's what happened.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney calls the president out of touch and anti-woman, by the way, but out of touch. Hey, how many of y'all have a Swiss bank account?


BIDEN: (Inaudible)? No one? How many of you have somewhere between $20 million and $100 million in your IRA?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BORGER: Wolf, lots of presidents and presidential candidates have been wealthy. I don't think that's the point. I think the point is that they're trying to show that they understand and care about your problems.

Mitt Romney has a lot of ground to make up on that point. In the new CBS News poll today, only one in seven Americans believe that Mitt Romney understands their problems.

But I also have to say that if Mitt Romney were to win this election, he's not going to win it because he's Mr. Empathy. He's going to win the election if he wins because people think he can fix the economy and that he's competent. And that should be the theme that he's emphasizing, not that I feel your pain.

BLITZER: And or also, the other reverse of that, if they feel the president can't fix the economy.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: That will help Mitt Romney, obviously.

BORGER: He can't pretend to be something he's not.

BLITZER: And it's now a general election contest. There are no more -- forget about the primaries and the caucuses. It's a two-man battle that's underway right now.

BORGER: And this is the point in the campaign, Wolf, where candidates have to define themselves because -- before the other fellow defines them. And so what you see is the fight for definition.

And the president's campaign is going to try and remind voters of everything that happened during the primaries. They've got a lot of videotape they can go to.

One senior Obama campaign official said to me today, "Every time they try and change a position, we're going to go to that videotape."

And the Romney campaign in the meantime is really trying to push that reset button and say, okay, we're in a different place now, because they have to appeal to those independent voters.

BLITZER: Yes. That's going to be the key right there. All right. Thanks very much, Gloria, for that.

Ann Romney says her husband is, quote, "a pretty crazy guy who loves to pull pranks." But does an awkward Romney moment involving cookies illustrate a larger problem? Paul Begala and Mary Matalin, they are both standing by live.


M. ROMNEY: (Inaudible). I appreciate your work.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the race for the White House. In our strategy session, joining us, the Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Paul Begala, and the Republican strategist and CNN contributor, Mary Matalin.

First let me play a little clip. Ann Romney is a lovely woman, obviously. She loves her husband very much. They've been married a long time. She says he's quite a crazy guy. Listen to this.


ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: He really is a very funny guy and loves to pull pranks, and he is always looking for jokes. It's too bad that people don't know that that's -- there's a side of Mitt that's like that, that I saw it when I was first dating him. He was a pretty crazy guy, even though he never drank in high school, and, you know, that was when I fell in love with him.


BLITZER: How important, Paul, is that for the spouse, the wife in this particular case, to be making statements, showing that her husband is just a down-to-earth, normal kind of guy?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, you know, he's clearly a devoted husband and a great dad, okay? He's got a terrific family. There's no doubt about that, but people aren't worried about that. Here's what they're worried about. And when you get into this question of humor, you don't have to have a sense of humor to be president.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our greatest presidents, famously had no sense of humor, but here's Mitt Romney's sense of humor.

He told a joke recently on the campaign trail in Wisconsin -- the Wisconsin primary -- about how his father shut down a plant in Michigan and moved all of the jobs to Wisconsin. Ha, ha, ha, isn't that funny?

Well, you know, laying people off is not funny. And that's Mitt's idea of a joke. That's how distant and removed he is from our pain. He loves the unemployed because he's created so many of them. He's laid off more people than his father ever dreamed of.

And I think that's the problem, is when you're making jokes about laying people off, then you've really not got the right kind of sense of humor in politics.

BLITZER: You know, Mary, he sort of backed up a bit in the CNN ORC poll that came out this week. We asked who is more likable, likable? President Obama, 56 percent; Mitt Romney, 27 percent. So on this likability, Mary, Romney's got some work to do.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Except that this is not a personality contest. In other polls -- and there were a spate of them this week -- Romney's beating Obama hands down on the issues that factor most prominently in people's lives and what they prioritize in this election, who is better to do the economy? Who can create jobs? Who could do better on gas prices?

Yes, they love Obama, they hate his policies. If Romney is an awkward politician, I'm not sure that doesn't wear better over time than a telepromptered, smooth, too-cool-for-school Obama, who, all he ever does is trash his opponent, as opposed to support his own policies, because he can't. Because people aren't working and they're -- they can't fill up their cars and they can't get groceries.

So this is a referendum on the president. It's not a referendum on Mitt Romney's personality. And the longer that the Obama people run a popularity contest, the less successful is their potential.

BLITZER: Well, Mary, here is an example of that awkward moment. He's out in Ohio, they're bringing him some delicious cookies and he says this.


M. ROMNEY: I'm not sure about these cookies. You know? They don't look like you made them. Did you make those cookies?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those are not (inaudible).

M. ROMNEY: You didn't, did you? No. No. They came from the local --


M. ROMNEY: -- 7-Eleven, bakery or whatever.


BLITZER: That's when he was in Pennsylvania, Mary. It wasn't a 7-Eleven, it was a very well-known, very popular local bakery. They were very upset by what the Republican presidential candidate had to say. Why are you shaking your head?

MATALIN: I'm just in a state of shock. When Hillary Clinton says, I could have stayed home and baked cookies, that's saying something about the character of philosophy. When Mitt Romney is obviously making small talk about cookies that maybe he was saying that because he thought they looked too professional to be home-baked and we're making this into Cookiegate?

That's why people -- the electorate out there think we're all out of touch, Wolf, we're all out of touch. No one is going to be voting on what Mitt Romney thought about cookies in Pennsylvania.

BLITZER: Let's talk about -- let's talk, Paul, about this whole silver spoon issue that the president raised. I'll play the clip of what the president said, and here's the response that Mitt Romney delivered earlier today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Michelle wasn't, but somebody gave us a chance.

M. ROMNEY: I'm not going to apologize for my dad's success, but I know the president likes to attack fellow Americans. He's always looking for a scapegoat, particularly those that have been successful like my dad, and I'm not going to rise to that.


BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, you'd like to rise to that, I'm sure, Paul. Go ahead.

BEGALA: He just rose to it. It reminds me of my old buddy, friend, client, mentor Zell Miller, used to say, a hit dog barks. And this is the problem. It's not that he's rich -- although he's -- has these obscene expressions of wealth, like building an elevator for his car and hiring a masseuse for his horse.

It's not just that he's rich. It's that he got rich by hammering the middle class, by laying people off, bankrupting companies, canceling health benefits and paying himself millions. And guess what he wants to do as president? Give himself more tax cuts, cut Medicare and education, hammer the middle class more.

That's the narrative here, is that what Mitt Romney did in his professional life is what he wants to do in our national life, make himself and other rich people better off by hammering the middle class.

BLITZER: And very quickly on this middle class issue --

MATALIN: Zero sum --

BLITZER: Mary, hold on a second. I'll just put the poll number up in our new poll. Who is more in touch with the middle -- the problems of the middle class? President Obama, 51 percent; Mitt Romney, 33 percent.

Go ahead, Mary.

MATALIN: The American people do not believe that success is a negative. They do not believe in penalizing success. They will not go with this narrative that Paul is -- this is not a narrative, it's a fantasy, it's a myth that they're making up.

Mitt Romney is doing considerably better on this whole attack on his being a successful person. He's earned every penny.

And the chance that Obama and Michelle had was they got from their parents, their mother and their grandparents, and their parents and they got a good education, a subsidized education because people like Mitt Romney's father paid his full freight and then paid taxes so their educations could be subsidized. It's a great country and that's why they got a chance, and will -- and Mitt Romney will continue to make it a better country.

BLITZER: I think we all agree it is certainly a great, great country. Guys, thanks, very much.

Coming up, more of my exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta. I'll ask the secretary of state if we'll going to be calling her Madam Vice President one of these days or even Madam President any time soon. Stand by.

And a car plows into a crowded supermarket. The video is incredible. We'll show it to you. But what happens afterwards is even more amazing.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN HOST: The question this hour is what's the right punishment in the Secret Service scandal? Got some interesting stuff. Some of it we can share with you on the air.

Alex in Nebraska writes, "Secret Service director Mike Sullivan should be fired, if for no other reason than his failure to resign shows that he just doesn't get it."

Frank in California writes, "It's evident that these "wheels up" parties is nothing new to the Secret Service entourage charged with protecting the president. This incident is a terrible mess and it's time to clean house. It will all eventually come out, but in this case, the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater."

B.T. writes, "I could care less what the Secret Service does on their own time. Off duty means off duty. How many of us would like our employer to be able to control what we do or who we're with when we're not at work?

As long as they took care of guarding their weapon, schedules, functions, et cetera, from could-be enemies or blackmailers, I don't have a problem with them using these services, even if I don't personally agree with the wisdom of their choice."

Lou writes, "They screwed up on the job. They should be fired, like anyone else who screws up on the job. Nothing more, nothing less."

Terry in Virginia writes, "Termination, no pension, no benefits. The Secret Service has one job, protect the president at all times. These men and women are supposed to be the cream of the crop who use their best judgment at all times, because one slip could mean the death of the President of the United States."

Peter in Tarrytown suggests, "Ask the wives of the married agents. I'm sure they probably have some good ideas." I'll bet they do. If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page. Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Straight ahead, dramatic surveillance video of a car crashing into a supermarket. The survivors' story are just as dramatic.


BLITZER: This next report contains some surveillance video that's hard to watch. It shows a car plowing into a public supermarket in Palm Coast, Florida. But even more amazing than the video is the fact that no one was killed. Here's Emily Turner of CNN affiliate WJXT.


EMILY TURNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Witnesses say it sounded like a bomb went off and this surveillance video shows something very similar, an elderly driver plowing through the storefront of a Palm Coast Publix. None of the 10 victims from this crash could or would talk on camera, but those who know the driver can't believe it happened.

NEIGHBOR: I know what you guys (inaudible) all the time.

TURNER: She's a good driver?

NEIGHBOR: Yes. Excellent.

TURNER (voice-over): Marie Giamnotis (ph) lives across the street from 76-year-old Thelma Wagenhoffer, the woman who drove her Camry through the Publix storefront. So does this man, who only agreed to speak if we didn't identify him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She never said a word. I don't think she knows what happened, to tell you the truth.

TURNER (voice-over): Florida Highway Patrol hasn't been able to answer that question, either. Amazingly, only one person was seriously injured, 83-year-old Lupo Hernandez. In the top right-hand corner of your screen, you can see store employees and customers lift the Camry off of him. He is now in stable condition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was probably about 10 or 12 guys that actually had the -- you know, had the smarts to actually go over, and they lifted up the car. I mean, a crane couldn't have lifted it up any quicker.

TURNER (voice-over): The 3-month-old baby in this stroller only suffered minor injuries. We've slowed down the video for you. You can actually see the car hit the stroller.

TURNER: Witnesses say the child flew from the stroller after the impact, and we are not allowed inside of the stores with the cameras, but I paced out the distance from where witnesses say the child landed, from the door to the cosmetic aisle, and out here, that's about 27 paces or the width of about six parking spots.

TURNER (voice-over): We tried to track down the driver, but no one was home. Wagenhoffer has been charged with careless driving, but her neighbors they never saw that kind of driving when she pulled out of the neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think she just had a bad experience, a bad day, bad accident, whatever.

TURNER: So, you don't think it had anything to do with her age?



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's WJXT's Emily Turner reporting. A relative, by the way, of the man who was pinned under the car says he's improving along with his wife who suffered a broken leg.