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George Zimmerman Apologizes in Court; Secret Service Scandal Grows; Romney Walking Immigration Tightrope; Vice President Poll Surprise; "Springtime Stall" for Economic Recovery; Dozens Die in Syria Violence; Taliban: Responsible for Chopper Crash; Dow, S&P Finish Higher for Week; No Survivors in Crash of Boeing 747; Murder Mystery Gripping China

Aired April 20, 2012 - 16:04   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So, Mitt Romney, the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, delivering a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, going after, not surprisingly, the president of the United States on domestic economic issues, on national security issues, foreign policy issues.

And we will continue to monitor what he has to say. There's been some speculation that he may make some a appeal to Hispanic voters out there and across the country. We will check in. We will see what he's saying, much more on this story coming up later this hour.

A courtroom drama at a bond hearing for the man who shot the unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman took the stand and surprised everyone as he addressed the Martin family only moments before the judge set a $150,000 bond.

CNN's David Mattingly is in Sanford, Florida, for us.

David, it was a surprise to folks with Zimmerman on the stand. What did he actually say?


We went into the courtroom today fully expecting to learn something new about the evidence that the prosecution has against George Zimmerman. Instead, we heard from George Zimmerman himself and an apology.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): With his freedom on the line, George Zimmerman surprises the courtroom taking the stand at his own bond hearing and speaking directly to the parents of Trayvon Martin.

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, DEFENDANT: I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not.

MATTINGLY: But attorneys for Martin's parents call the apology self-serving, saying Zimmerman had many chances to express remorse before now. BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF TRAYVON MARTIN: All throughout, Tracy Martin had tears in his eyes as he watched the killer of his son. And it was devastating that he got to give a self- serving apology to help him get a bond. They were very outraged at that.

MATTINGLY: Challenged by the prosecutor on the timing of his apology, Zimmerman says he told police he was sorry and wanted to talk to Martin's parents, but couldn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you wait so long to tell Mr. Martin and the victim's mother, the father and mother, why did you wait so long to tell them?

ZIMMERMAN: I was told not to communicate with them.

MATTINGLY: Another surprise, the prosecutor's own investigator called to testify by Zimmerman's attorney. He revealed they do not know who threw the first punch during Zimmerman's deadly fight with Trayvon Martin and voice testing has not determined who was heard shouting for help on the 911 calls.

MARK O'MARA, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Did you do any forensic analysis on that voice tape?


O'MARA: Did you or are you aware of any?

GILBREATH: "The Orlando Sentinel" had someone do it, and the FBI has had someone do it.

O'MARA: Is that part of your investigation?

GILBREATH: Yes, it is.

O'MARA: And has that given you any insight to the extent that you're aware of it as to the voice?


MATTINGLY: Zimmerman can go free on $150,000 bond, but safety is a problem. As a security precaution, Zimmerman's father, mother and wife all testified by telephone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you reported that to the police?

S. ZIMMERMAN: No, I haven't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you reported that to my boss, Ms. Corey, or the state attorney's office so that somebody can investigate?

S. ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you keep those threats?

S. ZIMMERMAN: I'm sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you keep that hate mail?



MATTINGLY: And security remains the overriding concern behind Zimmerman's release. He has to somehow get out of jail and escape the notice of dozens of cameras outside the jail waiting to see any kind of movement there and then go back into hiding, Wolf, where he was before he turned himself in.

BLITZER: We have heard from Trayvon Martin's family attorney. Have we heard directly though from the parents and the family?

MATTINGLY: We heard -- we did not hear directly from the family. The parents walked out immediately after the hearing today and they let their attorney do the talking for them. They were very stoic as they were sitting in the courtroom, sometimes speaking quietly to one another, but again when this was over they left quickly and let their attorney express their outrage.

BLITZER: David Mattingly on the scene for us. Thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with legal analyst Sunny Hostin, who contributes to "In Session" our sister network truTV, and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

BLITZER: Sunny, first to you. Were you surprised that he was released, he is about to be released on $150,000 bond?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I was not surprised that he would get some sort of bond package because in Florida, quite frankly, the standard -- the burden, rather, is very high on the prosecution. It's almost beyond beyond a reasonable doubt.

So I suspected that he would be given some sort of bond package. I am surprised at the $150,000 bond. I think that's a bit low considering the gravity of the charge here. I mean, with the bond of $150,000, that means he would have to probably put up about $15,000 in cash. While this is a family of limited means, I think that that could be considered very low. The prosecution asked for about $1 million.

BLITZER: A lot of us were stunned to see he actually was up on the witness stand, Jeffrey. What do you make of that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I thought today was a home run for George Zimmerman and his lawyer.

I thought they really ran rings around the prosecution. They got bail, which is hugely, hugely important, and I think they exposed some weaknesses in the investigation in where things stand with the prosecution, and we will see whether the prosecution can remedy that by the time this case goes to trial, but today this did not look like a very strong case. A long way to go, but today it didn't look that way.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment, Sunny?

HOSTIN: No, I actually don't.

Bottom line is I think the prosecution did a fine job. They didn't want to tip their hand. It's just a bond hearing. You're not going to put out all of your evidence. All of the evidence they relied upon was in the affidavit of probable cause and in that affidavit it says very clearly that it is not a complete recitation of fact.

I disagree with Jeff. I don't think the defense ran rings around this prosecution team. I do think that the defense did a good job, but I think what we saw was two very good attorneys, very skilled attorneys doing what they needed to do for their positions.

BLITZER: You want to respond to that, Jeff?

TOOBIN: I just think the bail issue, for starters, is just so important because this will have implications beyond just the fact that Zimmerman is out.

The fact that Zimmerman is out means that his lawyer can put this case in slow motion. He is going to want to delay, delay, delay because his client's out of prison and he now can ask for every test under the sun. He can let emotions cool and he will not have a client who is in prison demanding a trial, when are you going to get me out of here?

This is an invitation to the defense to slow things down and from everything we have seen so far, that's precisely what the defense is going to do.

BLITZER: Based on what I have heard, Sunny, and you know a lot more about this more than I do, second-degree murder , that is a very, very serious charge, and to be released on $150,000 bond, which really means putting up $15,000 or so, it sounds pretty extraordinary to me, very unusual, but go ahead. Give me your assessment.

HOSTIN: It sounded too low to me, but I have spoken with many of the attorneys in Florida who indicate that actually they thought it was sort of high, that that is a high bond for that charge in that area of Florida.

But I do agree with Jeff in that this is a win for the defense in the sense that it will put this case on the slow track, no question about that. Defense attorney O'Mara said today to me that this means that the stand your ground hearing, if they're even going have one, is several months down the line.

Had Zimmerman remained in jail, that's, I think, a hearing that we would have seen much quicker than that.

BLITZER: Sunny Hostin and Jeff Toobin, guys, thanks very much.

Mitt Romney and Rice, Condoleezza Rice, what's going on? A surprise pick by Republican voters who say the former secretary of state would make a pretty good vice president. What's going on, on that front?

And more Secret Service agents expected to be forced out any moment now -- details of the latest fallout from the prostitution scandal.

New information about the crash of a Boeing 737, at least 121 people killed.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney's campaigning in Arizona this hour. You saw some of his speech live here just a little while ago. He's walking a fine line on an issue that's tripped up more than one candidate in that state. We're talking about immigration.

Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is here with more on this part of the story. It's a sensitive issue for this candidate.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a tricky issue and Mitt Romney's visiting Arizona is giving him a taste of what could be a critical test. After taking a conservative stance on illegal immigration during the primaries, Romney is coming under pressure to hold his ground on the issue.


ACOSTA (voice-over): For Mitt Romney, this event with GOP leaders in Arizona was part of his victory lap, a celebration of his status as likely GOP nominee.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To take the White House, the Senate and to keep the House.

ACOSTA: But a key question has come up over Romney's efforts to win the nomination will cost him in the general election, especially on the subject of illegal immigration. The issue is at the center of a fierce debate in Arizona, home of the toughest immigration law in the country.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I do not believe that laws like Arizona should be a model for the country.

ACOSTA: Republican Senator Marco Rubio one of his party's favorites for Romney's running mate reignited the issue when he weighed in on the DREAM Act, a bill that would put the children of illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship. Rubio was proposing a version of the bill that would not offer citizenship, but some kind of legal status, an idea that could bridge the divide over the issue.

RUBIO: I thought we had to figure out a way to accommodate young people who found themselves in that unfortunate circumstance.

ACOSTA: A spokesperson for Romney who was opposed to DREAM Act put out a statement, saying he will study and consider the proposal.

ROMNEY: The answer is self-deportation which is people can decide to do better by going home.

ACOSTA: Romney had staked out a conservative position on the undocumented, earning him the support of high profile illegal immigration critic and Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want to create a real job for a U.S. citizen tomorrow, deport an illegal alien today. It actually works.

ACOSTA: An informal Romney adviser and co-author of Arizona's immigration law, Kobach told CNN he doesn't expect him to moderate his stance one bit.

KRIS KOBACH, KANSAS SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it would be unusual for a presidential candidate to back away from statements he's made in debates and he didn't show any sign of doing so.

ACOSTA: Kobach says he saw Romney's response to this question on Arizona's immigration law as an endorsement of the measure.

JOHN KING, CNN: Should there be aggressive seek them out and arrest them as Sheriff Arpaio advocates?

ROMNEY: You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona.

KOBACH: He stated very publicly that Arizona's law should be a model for how the federal government enforces immigration laws and he's correct there, too.

ACOSTA: But the Romney campaign said he was not endorsing Arizona's law only, the state's E-verify system that's used by employers to confirm the legal status of workers.


ACOSTA: Romney is under huge political pressure to moderate his stance on immigration. Recent polls show him losing the Hispanic vote by 40 percentage points, which is why Joe Biden said in Arizona this week, he thinks the president has a shot at winning the state. And, Wolf, after this event that's happening right now in Arizona, Romney is scheduled to meet at a Hispanic roundtable. That will be interesting to watch because he hasn't had many interactions with Latino voters so far in the cycle.

BLITZER: Yes. Because they always say, when you're running for a Republican contest, if you're a conservative, to get the nomination you run to the right, but as soon as you get it and he apparently now has it, you run right back to the center. So we may be seeing some of that pivot unfolding right now.

ACOSTA: And that will be the big test for him. The question is whether he ran off a cliff during the primaries instead of running to the right on the subject of illegal immigration. It's unclear whether Latino voters will take all those positions he's had and be satisfied.

BLITZER: If he pivots on this issue, it's going to upset a lot of those on the right. If he pivots toward the center and does a comprehensive immigration reform a la John McCain supported by Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush. That will be a sensitive issue.

All right. Thanks very much. We'll watch it very closely.

Meanwhile, there's growing buzz about who Romney could be choosing as a potential vice presidential running mate.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is taking a closer look -- Joe.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a dance that Mitt Romney actually went through last time around. He was vetted as one of the potential vice presidential prospects for John McCain. And now, as the all but certain nominee, Romney, and one of his closest advisers, Beth Meyers, are at the very beginning of a delicate and potentially risky selection process.

(voice-over): Mitt Romney can afford to take his time on the running mate thing. The Republican convention isn't until late summer.

ROMNEY: I don't have a list for you. I can tell you that we have an embarrassment of riches. There are a number of extraordinarily strong leaders.

JOHNS: But in the latest CNN/ORC poll, we took a look at the early favorites. The biggest surprise on CNN's list of potential running mates is a blast from the past. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came in first, when respondents were asked who would you like to see Mitt Romney choose. And Rice has something in common with a bunch of other potential vice presidential candidates. She's already said she's not up for it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In being vice president.

RICE: In being vice president.

JOHNS: One-fourth, 26 percent of Republicans and independents favored Condoleezza Rice for Romney's running mate, followed by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at 21 percent, even though for the record Santorum who just recently suspended his campaign for president hasn't so much as endorsed Romney, at least not so far.

In the second tier of possible running mate, the straight- talking governor of New Jersey Chris Christie is tied at 14 percent with freshman Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favorite according to the poll. The Cuban-American Rubio who could help Romney in a key battleground state has expressed zero interest in the job so many times some people are starting to believe him.

RUBIO: I'm not going to be the vice presidential -- no, I'm not.

JOHNS: The third tier of potential running mates according to our poll includes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

One of the most prominently mentioned running mates, Ohio Senator Ron Portman who has twice held cabinet-level positions gets an asterisk here because he registered less than one-half of 1 percent in the polling.

At a Romney event in Ohio earlier this year, I asked Portman whether he's interested in the job. He said no.

(on camera): What do you think of running as vice president with this guy?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: I'm happy representing these folks in Ohio.

JOHNS (voice-over): This is essentially a name recognition question right now of some people who may be considered for the number two slot. The main thing the running mate's got to be is, well, no big secret.

ROMNEY: The one quality that comes to mind immediately is that you want someone who without question could lead the country as president if that were necessary.

JOHNS (on camera): And there's a long list of other names of potential running mates, including Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, even former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

In vetting the candidates, the Romney people are expected to use a questionnaire similar to the one the McCain campaign used in vetting candidates, which Romney actually had to fill out four years ago when he was being considered as a vice presidential running mate -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much.

And sources close to Romney had told me on several occasions Rob Portman is someone they are very, very seriously taking a closer look at.

Look what Portman told John King last night.


KING: A lot of people say the traditional school was get someone who locks you up a state and they think Rob Portman would lock you up Ohio. No Republican has won the presidency in the modern age without winning Ohio. Smart pick, right?

PORTMAN: Well, I'll help him in Ohio, as we get in the primary. I think he's going to win Ohio. I think he's going to win because the top issue in Ohio is jobs and the economy. It's true in Lorain County where, by the way, there's 8.7 percent unemployment and people are looking around for some leadership. And so, I think Mitt Romney has a good opportunity to win in Ohio.


BLITZER: He's being coy, though. He's not saying yes and not saying no.

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


BLITZER: Yes. Portman is obviously someone that is I think on the short list. We won't know. I don't think Romney himself knows yet. They're going to be extensive vetting.

They've got -- they want to avoid the mistakes that McCain made the last time.

BORGER: Oh, absolutely.

Look, I think Mitt Romney faces some of the same problems that John McCain faced, for example. He faces a huge gender gap, a gender gulch. He faces unenthusiastic conservatives. He's got to unite the conservative base.

But this is a very different environment from 2008. It's a better environment for Republicans. Mitt Romney is facing an incumbent president in a very iffy economy and the Republican Party will be a parody in terms of money. So, it's not as much as they would need a Hail Mary as the McCain people felt they did in 2008.

BLITZER: You wrote a good column this week,, quoted Steve Schmidt, the campaign manager for McCain four years as saying this. And I'll put it up on the screen. "Mitt Romney will run a very tight, very disciplined, very focused search process which will result in someone indisputably prepared to be president of the United States."

And we obviously know Steve Schmidt was necessarily --

BORGER: Right. That is clear --

BLITZER: -- qualified to be president of the United States. But go ahead and explain.

BORGER: Well, it was his clear implication there, and I spoke with him again. He also made the point that the Romney campaign's a different campaign from the McCain campaign. The McCain campaign was a bit chaotic, it was a bit dysfunctional. It was looking for a secret weapon in Sarah Palin.

And then after Sarah Palin, there is a new threshold question, and I think Mitt Romney himself said it in Joe John's piece, which is the American public will not accept a vice presidential nominee whom they do not believe to be qualified to be president of the United States. And that may be the result of what occurred in 2008. That really might be.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very, very much.


BLITZER: We'll watch it unfold and I think we're not going to know who the vice presidential running mate will be for months -- months from now. Stand by, though. We'll watch it very closely.

Get this -- almost half of the American households out there pay zero federal income tax. Is it fair to raise the tax burden on millionaires? That's coming up in our strategy session.

Also, an international murder mystery. We retrace the steps and take you to a hotel where a British businessman was found dead. An intriguing spy story potentially under way.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us the Democratic strategist, our CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist, the former McCain campaign adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

Guys, thank you very much for coming in. Donna, I got up this morning and I read "The Wall Street Journal." I read the first line because it has major political ramifications going forward.

It says this under the headline, economic reports fan fears, rising layoffs, falling home sales and slowing manufacturing activity are sparking fears that the economic recovery is headed for a string time stall for the third year in a row.

If that's true, if the economy's going to stall out over the next several months, issue number one is the economy and jobs. That's bad political news for the president.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's bad political news for voters. It's bad political news for consumers and bad political news for everybody.

Yes, it will have an impact on the presidential election, but this president can point to 25 months of consecutive job growth, 32 months of manufacturing growth.

He can also point to the fact that he's working to try to modify houses and loans so that people don't get under water so they can get relief from the banks.

He can point at some of the other job investment policies. So I think the president will have a credible answer if the economy stalls this spring, but nobody wants it to stall.

BLITZER: Nobody wants it to stall, but we're just talking about the political fallout if it does, if it's not improving because the right track, wrong track numbers, political pollsters.

Take a look at our CNN/ORC poll. How are things going in the country right now in 43 percent say well and 57 percent say badly. But if we take a closer look and take a look at the trend, 43 percent say things are going well now.

In February, 40 percent, back in December 30 percent, last August it was 24 percent. So you see, people are becoming more encouraged right now, and that could have a positive political spill over on the president if those kinds of numbers continue.

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The president would very much like to have this election be forward looking. He says it's going to be about his vision. The reality is it will be about his record and there are few Americans employed now than when he took office.

No president was ever re-elected with unemployment rate about 8 percent. Sixty percent of Americans believe were still in the recession in some polling.

And there's a consistent pattern where if you ask them about the policies and you ask about the record, the policies are unpopular.

And so his challenge is to somehow change that conversation from his record to the future, but it's going to be hard to shake.

BLITZER: There's going to be at some point he'll have to say, look, I've been president for almost four years. You can't just blame the Bush administration for all of the bad things that are going on right now.

BRAZILE: Well, the good news is that he doesn't have to say the name George Bush name. People know it. They know exactly how we got here, but they're still feeling the pains of the great recession of 2007.

What the president needs to do is to offer his economic vision and contrast it with that of Governor Romney, and he will see the American people -- they want to hear what can we do together.

BLITZER: It's part of his economic vision. You're an economist, Doug, as part of his economic vision is that if you make $1 million or more, pay at least 30 percent tax, income tax if you make more than $1 million, and the polls all show 60 percent, 70 percent, 75 percent of the American public think that's fair.

EAKIN: Yes, but when people dig inside it and they look at how they get to the numbers and if your income goes up, your affected tax rate does go up and that the average millionaire does pay 30 percent and ultimately, this which is a poll-driven.

Empty policy doesn't create a job, doesn't solve the deficit problem and doesn't roll the ball with real tax reform and I don't think that it's going to help in the end.

BLITZER: People also look at the Republican nominee and they say he made $20 million and he paid 14 percent or 15 percent income tax on that.

EAKIN: Well, I mean, certainly the policy was designed to try to make Mitt Romney look bad. That's exactly what the president's up to. But I think people want more from the president. They want some real progress.

And I think what you're seeing there in the political landscape is the recognition that there's a problem. You saw Joe Manchin, senator from West Virginia say he wasn't sure he'll vote for the president.

You saw John Tester who tried to distance himself from the president and you saw on many fronts, the health care bill, Democrats walking away.

The Keystone pipeline voting with the Republicans so his policies, the things that actually get done, not what he talks about on the campaign trail are not popular and are a problem.

BLITZER: On the other side, Donna, you know this. You've heard this from Republicans and conservatives and some Democrats as well. They say is it fair that the top 1 percent earners in the country wind up paying almost 40 percent of all of the federal income tax every single year.

And almost half, about 45 percent of American households, they don't pay any income tax at all. They pay zero every single year. So they say is that fair?

BRAZILE: You know, first of all, it's not fair for them to pay zero because they're paying --

BLITZER: We're talking about federal income tax, and withholding Social Security, but in terms of federal income tax they pay zero.

BRAZILE: Earned income tax credit just like Mitt Romney was able to benefit from the current tax code.

BLITZER: Almost half of households pay zero in federal income tax.

BRAZILE: Wolf, we have been talking for 30 years about trickledown economics, about rewarding those at the top and not making sure that we level the playing field that every American can benefit from the tax code.

So this is about, you know, income inequality. It's about the wealthy having disposable income and making sure that we have a sound, common sense balanced plan.

BLITZER: It is fair that richer people should be paying more because they can afford it.

EAKIN: Americans always supported a progressive income tax and we have a progressive income tax. Half of the people pay nothing and if you look at the actual data, as income goes up, the average tax rate does go up.

Sure, we need a better tax code, but layering another alternative tax on top of the alternative bin mum tax, that doesn't create a better tax code. It's just another complicated mess.

So the president should be pushing for a fundamental tax reform. Bowles-Simpson gave him one and he kicked it into the gutter.

BLITZER: You can't just blame the president. All of the Republican House members on that commission rejected it as well.

BRAZILE: We had many corporations that did not even blame taxes. Once again, we are blaming the poorest Americans and those who can least afford it and taken the brunt of the budget cuts and we're not talking about corporations that essentially paid no money. I think we need to have a broader tax discussion and not just focus on the millionaires.

BLITZER: Tax reform is essential, but unfortunately, I haven't seen the guts on either side so far to take that jump. Maybe they will do it, but they need some political guts to do it. They had an opportunity with Bowles-Simpson and they punted.

BRAZILE: We need a gut check in this country because most middle class Americans are tired of paying all of the taxes.

EAKIN: Have you seen the president talk about it, the Republicans passed it and no one has done it.

BLITZER: I'm an optimist.

BRAZILE: Me, too.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Here's a look at some of the other political headlines making news on the CNN Political Ticker. The West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin says he may not vote for President Obama in November.

According to "The National Journal," Senator Manchin says the first three and a half years, quote, "haven't been that good to his state."

Manchin says, he'll decide based on what's best for his constituents. The former West Virginia governor is known for his independence.

President Obama heads to Jimmy Fallon's couch to talk student loans. The president will appear on the late night comedy show Tuesday at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It's all part of an effort to pressure Republicans to keep student loan rates at 3.4 percent. The GOP worries about the cost of extending the measure estimated at $6 billion.

Matt Damon says he would kiss George W. Bush on the mouth all in the name of AIDS relief. According to "The Atlantic," the factor and activist praises the president's efforts to bring AIDS drugs to Africa.

Damon is an Obama supporter, but says he is disappointed on this president's work on poverty and disease prevention in Africa. For a complete political coverage, be sure to read the ticker, Do it all of the time.

The Taliban claiming responsibility for the deadly downing of the U.S. helicopter.

Also, the latest on the crash of a Boeing 747. Everyone onboard apparently killed.

Also, we go under cover in an international murder mystery that could bring down one of the most powerful men in China.


BLITZER: Another deadly day in Syria. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and other some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Syrian opposition groups say 43 civilians were killed in a government crackdown today. This comes as world leaders call for tough U.N. measures against Syria.

The Syrian government has failed to implement last week's ceasefire. The U.N. Secretary General wants to send 300 monitors to impose the peace plan. As many as 11,000 people have died in the violence that started 13 months ago.

And the Taliban is claiming responsibility for downing a black hawk helicopter in Afghanistan. A U.S. military official says all four crew members are believed to be dead. The official says the helicopter was flying in bad weather, but they can't rule out enemy action.

After a choppy week on Wall Street, both the Dow and the S&P finished higher for the week, breaking a two-week losing streak. The Nasdaq finished lower for the third straight week. Investors were reacting to strong earnings from corporate America and positive news out of Europe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Lisa, thanks very much.

A 737 plane crashes and more than 120 people killed. Was the plane fit to fly? We're going live to Pakistan.


BLITZER: There are apparently no survivors in the crash of a Boeing 737 that went down as it was approaching Pakistan's capital of Islamabad.

CNN's Reza Sayah is there for us. Reza, what's the latest you're hearing about this crash?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This crash happened about five hours ago local time. A few hours ago, Pakistani television station showed what appeared to be live pictures of the black box.

And it looks like they have recovered that important device and you can be sure that aviation officials will get their hands on that as soon as possible to figure out what caused this plane crash.

More than 120 people onboard this plane, all of them feared dead. The first pictures of the plane crash, its aftermath shows a twisted and mangled debris.

Parts of the plane including the fuselage bearing the logo and images that appeared to be personal belongings of passengers, including passports, cell phones and luggage.

This plane crash happened at the border of Islamabad at 7:00 p.m. local time. A lot of residential areas in this neighborhood. It looks like the plane crashed into some buildings, but the good news no reports of fatalities on the ground and hopefully it will stay that way.

A twist to the story that adds to the tragedy, Wolf, is that this airline belongs to an aviation company that went out of business. Its web site says its maiden flight from Karachi to Islamabad would be on April 20th.

Of course, today is April 20th. Wolf, this could have been the first or one of the first flights of this aviation company as it restarted operations. Can't imagine a worst way to start back up, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are Pakistani authorities suggesting weather could have played the major role, as you point out?

SAYAH: They say it could have. There were severe thunderstorms when this plane went down, but it's important to remember this time in a year, in this region there's a lot of thunderstorms.

And planes regularly take off and land in the Islamabad airport, so officials say it's too early to reach any conclusions and also a lot of speculations about the airworthiness of this airplane.

There are unconfirmed reports that this plane was about 30 years old. A lot of people speculating about the conditions and the upkeep of this airplane, all of these matters will be looked at by investigators.

BLITZER: I assume Boeing will send some investigators out themselves. U.S. authorities might as well to see since this is a U.S.-made Boeing 737. All right, Reza, thanks very, very much.

An international mystery is captivating China. We retrace the steps of a murdered British ex-patriot with a high level tie to the Communist Party.

Also, the latest on a new search on a missing child case more than three decades old.


BLITZER: Power and politics are colliding in a murder mystery that's gripping China and much of the world. It centers on the death of a British ex-patriot and the wife of a former Communist Party official. CNN's Stan Grant shows us where it all went down.


STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I'm walking in the footsteps of Neil Haywood, down this musty hotel corridor, the same hotel where the businessman was found dead last November. It is a world far removed from the high life he once enjoyed as an influential political corporate networker.

(on camera): This is the room itself, one of the hotel rooms here in the hotel that Neil Haywood died in.

(voice-over): This is a hotel that has seen better days. There are dead bugs on the floor, stained walls, skirting boards are busted and the furniture is chipped.

There are exposed electrical wires and rotten old air- conditioning unit. The only decorations here are faded plastic flowers and appropriately enough for this story, a jigsaw puzzle on the wall.

To get to the holiday hotel, we drive through the hills outside Chongqing. A winding road leads past a rundown district. In its prime it was a high-end resort area, and now it is the scene of a murder mystery that has captivated China.

Police cars outside the hotel entrance are a giveaway. We booked in here surprised to be given rooms after several other TV crews were turned away. Over lunch, waitresses here keep their mouths shut. They're well versed in saying nothing.

Yet behind closed doors, this is all anyone is talking about. With each passing day more details are emerging of Haywood's business and personal links to one of China's most powerful families and how it all went terribly wrong.

The Communist Party Chief of Chongqing, a metropolis of 30 million people in Southwest China. Now he's in disgrace, purged from the party leadership and hidden from view. His wife is being investigated for Haywood's murder. Dozens of other people have been arrested.

This local man certainly knows what's been happening. Boshilai is under investigation and his wife is involved in the death of the British man Neal Haywood. Haywood was found dead in a villa like this one attached to the hotel.

(on camera): This is the living room, and you can see here the same stains on the walls, the same nondescript furnishings. This is hardly a hotel villa. Plain-clothes police are all over this hotel.

(voice-over): What happened on the night Haywood died? What does it mean for Bo Shi lay and his family? For now the answers to the questions are locked behind the hotel walls and we can only peer through the windows. Stan Grant, CNN, Chongqing.


BLITZER: Further complicating the case, they initially said he died from excess drinking or heart attack and his body was quickly cremated without an autopsy performed. British lawmakers are asking whether Haywood might actually have been a British spy.

Critical steps toward a huge airline merger. We're learning new details. Stand by for that.

Also more firings at the Secret Service expected in the wake of the growing prostitution scandal.

And dramatic developments in the cold case that suddenly white hot, the search for a child that disappeared more than three decades ago.


BLITZER: Dozens killed on a Mexican roadway collision. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, 43 people were killed and 18 more injured when a tracker trailer crashed into a bus in Veracruz. Officials describe the early-morning wreck as an unfortunate accident. The government promises support to family members.

Three American airlines union are supporting a potential merger with U.S. Airways. U.S. Airways calls the union support an important first step, but says the deal isn't final yet. American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection last year, and announced 13,000 job cuts in February. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.