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Newt Gingrich Suspends Campaign; New Details Emerge on Obama's Afghanistan Trip; Romney: Back to the Economy; Price of the New Afghan Plan; Negotiating with the Taliban; Obama Uses Gingrich in Tough New Ad; Gadhafi's Daughter Asks for Investigation; 13 Charged in Death of Band Member; Four Suspended for Bounty Program; Facebook Readies for Mid-May IPO; Why Bridges Are Terror Targets

Aired May 2, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: new details of a trip shrouded in secrecy. We're going inside the clandestine operation that snuck President Obama out of the White House and into Afghanistan.

Also, Newt Gingrich officially drops out of the presidential race, but he's posing a different problem for Mitt Romney right now.

And a group of Ohio men accused of plotting to blow up a bridge. There you see it. Now we're learning the reason why they chose that specific target. It might not necessarily be what you think.

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

He's certainly one of the most visible people on the planet, with global media watching his every single move. So how did President Obama take most of the world by surprise when he showed up in Afghanistan?

We're learning new details of this rather complex and massive operation.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us now.

Brianna, tell our viewers what you are learning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was nothing normal about how this trip was executed, even from the way President Obama entered Air Force One early, early in the morning on Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base.

Instead of taking the normal multistory set of stairs he takes usually, he went on a smaller set of stairs into almost the belly of the plane, near the front of the plane. And in addition, this is a trip that really took a few weeks to plan. It was a few weeks in the works. An advance team of White House and security staff went in the few days before the trip.

And President Obama managed to sneak out of the White House late Monday night to head for Andrews Air Force Base in a smaller motorcade, so as not to raise suspicion.


KEILAR (voice-over): Late Monday night, President Obama snuck out of the White House. Under the cover of darkness, the president and a small group of White House staffers and reporters sworn to secrecy took off from Andrews Air Force Base. It was just after midnight.

JOSH GERSTEIN, POOL REPORTER: There was a cloak and dagger element to it.

KEILAR: Josh Gerstein was one of the journalists on the plane.

GERSTEIN: When we arrived at Andrews, it wasn't the usual way that the press corps arrives. We were given special instructions. We rendezvoused in a certain location. People were using flashlights. We were told we had to give up our cell phones and our computers. The plane wasn't lit up. It was sitting there in darkness.

KEILAR: Back at the White House, an unremarkable day dawned, or so it seemed, with only meetings on the president's schedule.

Late morning, reports of the president's visit surfaced in the Afghan media. White House officials denied the reports, and most U.S. news outlets held off reporting on the trip. At 2:39 p.m. Eastern time, 11:00 at night local, Air Force One made a steep descent and landed at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.

The president and his entourage choppered 30-some miles to the presidential palace in Kabul.

GERSTEIN: On the helicopters, you had gunners in the windows that had live machine guns. I saw them sort of cock the weapons, if you will, as we were getting ready to pull out. And they were concerned that, if we turned lights on, not only might people see us, but the crew on the plane had night-vision goggles.

KEILAR: Back home, news of the visit immediately hit the airwaves.

BLITZER: It's a dramatic moment, and still hard to believe that 10 years after the war in Afghanistan started after 9/11, the president of the United States still can't arrive in Afghanistan under normal circumstances.

KEILAR (on camera): It is pretty hard to hide the president of the United States.

(voice-over): The president signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He spent only an hour on the ground in Kabul, then quickly departed again in the dark.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I should just point out we are hearing helicopters again in the skies over Kabul at the moment, suggesting perhaps some further transportation. I don't know if that's the president leaving the presidential palace at this point.

KEILAR: After rallying the troops...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This outpost is more than 7,000 miles from home.

KEILAR: ... the president addressed the nation from Bagram Air Base and boarded Air Force One just before 4:30 a.m. local time.

GERSTEIN: There was a real stampede to the airplane at that point, because the sun was just, you know, beginning to come up, and they really wanted the president out of there while it was still mostly dark.

So, from the time he finished his address to the time Air Force One actually lifted off out of Bagram was maybe 17 minutes.


KEILAR: Seventeen minutes is pretty quick there, Wolf, when you're thinking of all the people and equipment that needed to be loaded onto Air Force One.

In total, about 27 hours and 15 minutes of travel time for just about six hours on the ground, but, Wolf, you know the White House believes that it is certainly worth it. This was an iconic moment, the first time that a president has addressed a nation televised from a war zone.

BLITZER: Yes. It speaks volumes, though, that the circumstances around his visit have to be as dramatic as they are 10 years-plus into this war.

Brianna, thank you.

One thing jumped out at me dramatically in what the president said during his address from the Afghanistan to the American people. Listen to this.


OBAMA: In coordination with the Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We have made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws.


BLITZER: All right, so how did the Taliban respond to that?

With a suicide bombing only two hours after he left right in the heart of Kabul. It happened while the president was just in the skies, killing at least seven people, wounding 17 others.

Let's go to the Afghan capital right now.

Nick Paton Walsh is standing by.

Nick, how realistic is that these conditions that the president spelled out for bringing the Taliban into a peace agreement could actually take place?

WALSH: Well, it sounded new when Barack Obama said it. It is not new. It's something that's been on the table now for months.

And only in the last few weeks, the Taliban have flatly rejected further talks directly with the Americans, saying that they don't -- they want further clarification about the U.S. position. Now, we have had it clarified by both American and Afghan officials that since that Taliban statements, there have been no talks at all and there are deep concerns there may be none to come in the future.

So, Barack Obama was more, I think, talking perhaps about what they had hoped would happen earlier on this year and outlining conditions which we have heard from various different sides will be tough for the Taliban to meet, particular concerns, too, that U.S. officials have at length asked them to renounce al Qaeda, and they simply haven't been able to make that small concession first, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Forget about al Qaeda. They won't even renounce violence, which is one of the conditions, and they certainly won't accept Afghan laws, which includes equal rights for women, allowing little girls, for example, to go to schools.

The Taliban won't accept that. Is there any indication they have had a change of heart as far as women and girls are concerned, for example?

WALSH: There have been moderated suggestions about the Taliban (INAUDIBLE) that perhaps they're looking to a middle ground. There have been talks particularly today actually from Taliban who announced their spring offensive will start tomorrow.

They were clear they didn't want civilians to be caught up in the violence. They wanted to avoid them. There have been suggestions in some of the parts of Afghanistan that rights for women may be more part of their future agenda. But, really, I think what we heard from Barack Obama was more a tone, an attempt to try and tell Americans that it is safe to leave, that there is a strategy ahead, that political reconciliation is possible, despite all the huge hurdles ahead of them.

And, frankly, we saw a president arriving under the cover of darkness while Afghans were asleep, addressing his nation in the United States, and then leaving. Only two hours after that, as you said, a suicide bomber targeted foreigners here at a maximum-security compound, killing seven Afghans in the crossfire, injuring 10 Afghan schoolchildren, the U.N. condemning them attacking so near a school, so really a very different reality on the ground off the president's departure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very different.

Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul for us, thank you.

By the way, check out my blog about what President Obama did not say last night in Afghanistan. Go to

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The dysfunctional disaster that is Washington, D.C., will only get worse after November's election.

Moderates are quickly becoming extinct in that town. Congressional Democrats and Republicans who represent the middle are headed for the exits. Politico reports on a study by political scientists that shows Congress is more polarized now than at any time since Reconstruction, after the Civil War.

The sad part is, our current political environment encourages these extremes; 24/7 cable news, super PAC money, special interest groups, activist blogs, they all cater to the ideologues. The big losers here, of course, are the American people, with the two parties much too busy fighting to offer any real solutions or look at what's coming on the horizon.

And don't kid yourself. We're in trouble here. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is warning Congress that the Fed will not be able to undo the damage if the economy -- to the economy, rather, if Congress mismanages what he calls the fiscal cliff. This fiscal cliff represents $7 trillion worth of tax increases and spending cuts that will be triggered at year's end if Congress doesn't act, $7 trillion.

None of this is going to get addressed until after the election, oh, no, at which point there will only be a few weeks left to try to do something before these triggers kick in.

And then there's President Obama, who seems more than content to whistle past the graveyard while trying to get himself reelected. Mr. Obama is ignoring all the big issues, deficit reduction, Medicare, Social Security, government spending out of control.

Instead, our president's majoring in the minors, focusing on smaller, more politically popular things like the Buffett rule, student loan rates, oil speculators. It might help him win votes, but the country is on a collision course with disaster.

Here's the question: Where is the leadership?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Newt Gingrich made it official today. He's out of the presidential race, but is he still causing some problems for Mitt Romney? Stand by.

And a boat full of tourists swallowed up by a huge barge -- we have new video.

An international spy -- get this -- found dead in a locked duffel bag the key inside. We're trying to unravel the mystery.


BLITZER: When it comes to taking the spotlight, it's hard to compete with the president of the United States showing up by surprise in a war zone, but today Mitt Romney is trying to turn the campaign page.

The -- his former rival Newt Gingrich complicating things a little bit by dropping out of the race for the White House.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by, but let me bring Candy Crowley in, our chief political correspondent, right now.

What does this say? It's sort of a lukewarm endorsement, shall we say, that Mitt Romney received from Newt Gingrich today in his announcement that he's -- quote -- "suspending" his campaign.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And he wouldn't even call it an endorsement. It was sort of a lukewarm, "OK, he's going to be the nominee" kind of thing.

There are things they have to work out. There are raw nerve endings still. Even though this has been rather a long goodbye for Newt Gingrich, you know, it hurts, all right? They have said a lot of ugly things about each other. That takes a little while.

But what takes longer is, negotiations are under way. You know, well, I want you to say this. You know, here's what I'd really like to see in a Romney campaign.

So, stuff has to go on and they're not ready to talk about it until they make the first big decision which is, I've got to get out.

BLITZER: His $4 million, his campaign, Newt Gingrich, in debt right now. How does that play into the immediate period?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, it's one of the reasons why he's suspended rather than just quit because he can still gather money and people can still try to help him out of that debt. He may well say to the Romney campaign I need this guy to show up for a couple of fundraisers for me prior to November to help me, or I need him to somehow help this campaign to get rid of some of his debt. That may well play into it.

I think with Newt Gingrich, it's pretty clear -- by the way, he sort of took the platform of leaving and turned it into, here's what I stand for and here's what I want, here's what I want to see for the future of the party, he wants a say so. So, I think it's important to him at this point, is to have some kind of push into the party platform or into what Mitt Romney decides to emphasize during the campaign, that kind of thing.

BLITZER: Yes, because what he said about Mitt Romney, which wasn't a whole lot today said, basically compared to Barack Obama, yes, he's conservative. But it didn't sound like a ringing endorsement. We haven't heard that endorsement from Rick Santorum yet, either of Mitt Romney.

CROWLEY: Right. And it's the same kind of thing. There are issues that are important to Rick Santorum. Also, you want -- there's so much psychological that goes on when you walk away from something that you've invested so much time, and energy and passion in. And so, they want to have something to show for it. Well, I moved the party here. Or I said to Mitt Romney, you really have to do this.

So there are certain things they want. They may not even know specifically what it is. I think it's the same with Rick Santorum. They're getting together a little later. It has less to do with debt, certainly with Rick Santorum would know very little of it.

But they will work it out because in the end, they said all along, all of them, I'll support whoever the Republican nominee is, because no matter what, that person would be better than Barack Obama. That's what unites them as they all want to President Obama.

BLITZER: Yes. At some point, I probably see them all on the stage, shaking hands and smiling.

CROWLEY: Maybe even at the convention. Thanks, Candy. Thanks very much.

Jim Acosta has been covering the campaign for us.

It's a delicate dance between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and we saw that dance unfold today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I was out with Mitt Romney today, in Chantilly, Virginia. North Virginia was amazing to watch because it was as if the news surrounding the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden had not even happened.

Now that the president has played his trump card and that is the bin Laden death, Mitt Romney wants to play his -- that is the economy. While Newt Gingrich, he's just folding his cards.




ACOSTA (voice-over): It was like a page ripped out of the Mitt Romney playbook on full display, a stop in the battleground state of Virginia geared toward women voters and it was almost all about the economy.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People ask me, well, what would you do to get the economy going? I say, well, look at what the president's done and do the opposite. And I --

ACOSTA: Romney is making up for lost time after the week that was dominated by the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.

ACOSTA: It all culminated with a speech that included its own reference to domestic concerns back home.

OBAMA: As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it's time to renew America.

ACOSTA: But Romney ignored bin Laden and instead tried to take the wartime president down a notch.

ROMNEY: Who would have thought we would look back at the Carter years as the good old days, you know? It's --

ACOSTA: His new web video accuses Mr. Obama of falling short of his own promise of change.

OBAMA: You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country. We measure progress by how many people can find a job to pay the mortgage.

CROWD: No Swiss Mitt.

ACOSTA: But Democrats have their own playbook to keep Romney back on his heels, pounding his visit to the Republican national committee in Washington with chants of "No Swiss Mitt" right in step with the new Obama re-election web video.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account. I'd be glad to explain that sort of thing.

ACOSTA: The star of the video? Who else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?


ACOSTA: The same Newt Gingrich getting out of the race on the same day.

GINGRICH: Today, I'm suspending the campaign. But suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship.

ACOSTA: The former speaker stopped short of endorsing Romney, but said he would do all he could to defeat the president.

GINGRICH: I'm asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative enough? And my answer is simple. Compared to Barack Obama?

ACOSTA: Gingrich loved to visit zoos during his campaign and while he be the Democrats latest exhibit in the case against Romney, Gingrich says he still has his dreams of seeing his grandchildren walk on the moon.

GINGRICH: I'm not totally certain I will get to the moon colony. I am certain Maggie and Robert will have that opportunity if they want to take it.


ACOSTA: Who knows, he may make it to the moon colony one day. Now, as for Romney, he is getting back to the business of trying out a running mate. He is scheduled to appear with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell at a fund-raiser later tonight and a rally tomorrow. Virginia is a big prize, as you know, Wolf --


ACOSTA: -- in the upcoming general election campaign.

BLITZER: Everybody is fighting for Virginia. It's a key battleground state. The president won it last time four years ago. It's in play this time around, at least if you listen to the president's advisors.

Newt Gingrich, by the way, is going to be joining me here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.

Jim Acosta, thank you.

A must-read for anyone who travels. The list of the best and worst airports in the United States now out. We're going to have it for you and I'm going one-on-one with one of the president's top national security advisers on what President Obama did not say in Afghanistan. It could have some serious implications for tens of thousands of U.S. troops on the ground.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including deadly violence in Egypt.

Mary, what's the latest?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at least 11 demonstrators are dead from clashes outside the ministry of defense in Cairo. They're camped out to protest a disqualified presidential candidate who was rejected because the commission found out his mother was a U.S. citizen, a claim he denies. The military says it will hand over power when the president is elected and witnesses say the attackers were not in uniform.

Here in the U.S., check out this terrifying newly released video of a barge crashing into a boat full of tourists. It happened in Philadelphia two years ago and two students drowned from the collision. Attorneys for the victim's family claimed the video shows the man in charge of the so-called duck boat jumping of seconds before the crash. The case goes on trial next week.

And TSA pat-downs, lost baggage and endless delays all common complaints at U.S. airports. Now "Travel & Leisure" magazine asked readers to highlight the worst airports in America. The bottom three: Philadelphia International Airport, Los Angeles Airport or LAX and New York's LaGuardia.

There's good news, though, if you fly through Minneapolis St. Paul -- that airport gets the nod as best, followed by Charlotte and Detroit.

And, Wolf, I can't say I'm surprised that LaGuardia was on there.

BLITZER: Yes. That's the main terminal at LaGuardia. The marine air terminal where the Delta shuttle, by the way, that's very good. It's small, compact, very efficient, you don't have to walk very far. Usually the lines aren't too long.

SNOW: Exactly.

BLITZER: And that's different from the main terminal. Marine air terminal very good at LaGuardia. I fly there all of the time.

Thanks, Mary.

Closely read, the arrangement, the partnership agreement that President Obama signed with Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan last nigh, one thing jumped out at me. It could impact the war on terror. I'll speak with one of the president's top national secure advisers, next.

Also, terrorists possibly targeting bridges for a reason which may surprise you.


BLITZER: It was a remarkable speech, but not only for its setting when President Obama addressed the nation, indeed the world, from the Afghan war zone last night.

The details of the new U.S. strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan and the departure of U.S. and NATO forces by the end of 2014, but perhaps just as important as what the president did not say.

Let's talk about that and more with Antony Blinken, the national security adviser to the Vice President Joe Biden. Tony, thanks very much for coming in.

One thing the president did not discuss with the American people, how many billions, in the tens of billions, hundreds of billions this is going to cost the United States to maintain this connection with Afghanistan. What kind of money are we talking about? ANTONY BLINKEN, BIDEN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Wolf, what we do know is that it will cost a lot less in what we're spending now to prosecute the war over the better part of the decade to do that.

We don't know exactly what we're looking at, that remains to be decided and also we'll be looking to other countries, our NATO allies and our ISAF partners and countries around the world to also pick up their fair share.

And indeed we'll be looking to the Afghan government, for example, supporting the Afghan security forces going forward. The Afghan government's committed half a billion on an annual basis to do that.

But we don't know what our share will be and we don't know what other countries will be doing, but we do know it is going to be a lot, lot less than we're spending now in the war. Ending the war will result in very, very significant savings to what we are spending now.

BLITZER: Because right now the U.S. is spending about $2 billion a week maintaining about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan and that will continue or more less, tens of thousands of troops for another two and a half years. As far as 2014, any troops there in 2015 and beyond through 2024, will those American forces have immunity from Afghan prosecution?

BLINKEN: Well, first of all there's no decision about keeping any U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014. That remains to be decided by the president. It remains to be negotiated with the Afghans if that's something they want.

And any mission beyond 2014 would be very narrowly focus and much, much smaller. We're just focused on advising and assisting the Afghans basically training them and counterterrorism.

And if troops were to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, they would have to have the legal protections that troops have around the world.

BLITZER: Which would be immunity from Afghan prosecution, otherwise there would be no troops there. Assuming there will be troops there. I read the document very closely, the long U.S.-Afghan partnership agreement.

One line jumped out at me. The United States further pledges not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries. What does that mean?

After 2015 if U.S. troops are there and they find out where the al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahari is hiding out in Pakistan, they could not launch an operation from inside Afghanistan and go after him?

BLINKEN: No, Wolf, as you said, it refers to other country, launching attacks against other countries and not against terrorists and not against terrorist groups. We would have that right indeed. If you look at the document, the basis for our cooperation with Afghanistan beyond 2014 among other very critical things would be dealing with terrorists and counterterrorism and that's what Afghanistan has pledged to cooperate.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, after 2014 the U.S. could launch drone strikes into Pakistan from Afghan territory and also launch the Navy SEAL teams from Afghanistan into Pakistan if they have evidence that al Qaeda operatives are there.

BLINKEN: Wolf, the reason we're in Afghanistan to begin with is al Qaeda. That's why we went and that's why we're able to end this war responsibly because we've been so successful in prosecuting the mission.

But one thing is for sure, we don't want them to be able to come back and for that matter as we got them on the heels in Pakistan, we don't want them to regain momentum there, either.

And anything we do beyond 2014 is to take appropriate action against al Qaeda and against any of its affiliates to make sure that it can't regroup and can't come back.

BLITZER: So the answer is presumably yes. They can go after al Qaeda in Pakistan, but when you say countries, they could not use Afghan territory to launch a strike into Iran, a neighbor of Afghanistan. Is that what you're saying?

BLINKEN: The president felt it was very important that we sent a number of very clear messages to the Afghan people, to the Taliban and to the neighbors and that is we're not looking to be in Afghanistan long-term, even after the war is over in terms of the military presence.

We won't have permanent military bases and we won't use the country as a platform to attack other countries. It's important that the region understand that, so that they buy in to the efforts that everyone needs to make to stabilize Afghanistan and to help it get on its own two feet.

BLITZER: The Taliban, there was a reference that the president made to negotiations, to working a deal out with the Taliban. I'll play the clip. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They've made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws.


BLITZER: Is there any indication, A, that the Taliban is ready to renounce violence or to accept Afghan laws, which allows little girls to go to schools? BLINKEN: It's a work in progress, Wolf. The Afghans are engaged with some members of the Taliban. We've been trying to facilitate that. We've been having and continue to have our own conversations with the Taliban.

We are seeing some signs that some in the Taliban want to reconcile. We also made it very clear exactly what the president said last night. There are red lines and there are conditions and they have to abide by the constitution.

They have to renounce violence and they have to separate from al Qaeda. It's a work in progress, but it's an important work in progress and it will be an important part of ending this war responsibly.

BLITZER: When I spoke with Leon Panetta, the defense secretary in Brussels the other day. He said, I'm quoting him now, "You have to watch your back whenever you're dealing with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president because he said some awful things about the United States and a lot of U.S. officials simply don't trust him. What do you say about Hamid Karzai living up to this deal?

BLINKEN: I would say that President Karzai has one of the toughest jobs in the world and we worked very closely and very hard with him in recent months to get this strategic partnership agreement concluded.

It was 20 months of negotiation. There were agreements before we signed this partnership agreement on things like night raids and detentions all of which was tough, and I think we worked very well with him in getting those agreements.

And the president clearly had a good day yesterday with President Karzai signing the strategic partnership agreement. He's our partner and he's the elected president of Afghanistan. We have a stake in his success and he has a stake in our success.

BLITZER: One final question on a totally unrelated matter. A lot of media reports coming out of Israel right now that they're mobilizing and activating reserve units, battalions of reservist to go to the Egyptian border with Israel, the Syrian border with Israel and a lot of what's going on. What can you tell us what's going on between Israel and Egypt on and Israel and Syria on the other?

BLINKEN: Wolf, I haven't seen those reports so I can't comment on them. I would say there have been problems as you know with the groups attacking Israel. And that's a problem that has to be dealt with. The Egyptians need to deal with it and we're working with both countries on that, but I haven't seen the reports you're referring to so I don't want to comment on them.

BLITZER: Yes, they're just moving in the last couple of hours, Israel television causing some alarm, I suspect in Israel right now. We're going to follow this story and get more as it develops. Tony Blinken, thanks very much for joining us.

BLINKEN: Wolf, thanks for having me. BLITZER: New developments in an international saga. The blind Chinese dissident the center of an incredible escape speaking now to CNN about how it all went down. Standby for that interview.

And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as a vice presidential hopeful? We'll discuss that and a lot more in our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session right now. Joining us is Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile and David Frum, former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

More importantly right now, he's the author of a brand new book entitled "Patriots," a satirical novel about the workings of Washington, D.C., and politics. Congratulations, David. I'm I haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to reading it.


BLITZER: There are a lot of characters that we might find familiar. But that's another story. Let's get to some politics right now. The Obama campaign came out with a tough new video today. Let me play a clip.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Romney machine can run down opponents with negative ads and it doesn't seem capable of inspiring positive turnout and the result is very, very worrisome if you think about the fall campaign.

BLITZER: Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?

GINGRICH: I think out of the four of us, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?



BLITZER: Using Newt Gingrich to go after Mitt Romney like that. What do you think of that campaign commercial?

FRUM: That would draw a lot of blood if Newt Gingrich were widely beloved and trusted and esteemed figure in American life. Unfortunately, for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, not so popular.

BLITZER: What do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's effective because once again it points out some of the challenges that Mitt Romney had in securing a nomination and Mitt Romney had a very negative campaign spending ten to one against Newt Gingrich especially in Florida. So I think it's effective and I hope they use of it. BLITZER: Did you hear Newt Gingrich today in his speech announcing he is, quote, "suspending his campaign." That was a pretty lukewarm endorsement if it was an endorsement of Mitt Romney.

FRUM: Look, Gingrich is angry at Romney and Rick Santorum is angry at Romney. In a way that these are signals to Mitt Romney, do not worry too much about how you reconcile the fringe and marginal factions of the party. It is time now to talk to America, and time spent wooing Santorum and Gingrich.

BLITZER: You could argue, Donna, that the criticism that he's received, Mitt Romney from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, for that matter, will help Mitt Romney with moderates and independents and the key to the election.

BRAZILE: It depends on what kind of criticism, immigration, that won't help him with Hispanics. That won't help him with independents. And on health care, that won't help him with the middle as well. So it depends on what kind of criticism. Is it fair? Conservative, maybe, but I don't think it will help him.

BLITZER: You wrote a blog today, and an article in which you said this about Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. Bobby Jindal is a doozy, a brilliant policy mind with an inspirational life story who has run an effective government in corruption-tainted Louisiana.

He can talk data with Rromney and sit at the kitchen tables of the struggling middle class. So that's your recommendation that he pick Bobby Jindal as his running mate?

FRUM: It wasn't so much an entry in the VP stakes. Republicans have to break out as being just the party of white America. They have to play ethnic politics. Everyone knows this and pushes Republicans to find ways to reach out to Hispanic voters with a more relaxed approach to immigration.

But the point that I want to say is two-thirds of Hispanics are Mexican-American voters and they're quite poor and they're not natural Republican voters. Break out from where the votes are.

And the Republicans are doing badly with Asian-Americans and even with the entrepreneurial-oriented grouped like Vietnamese- Americans, although it's a smaller group issue it's a more reachable group. Start there.

BLITZER: You're from Louisiana. I know him. He's a really intelligent guy and doing well in Louisiana. Folks like him.

BRAZILE: I don't think Bobby Jindal will add a lot to the ticket and Louisiana will hold their nose and vote for Mitt Romney because it is a ruby red state at this hour. But I think Mitt Romney will look south, he'll look to someone like Bob McDonald from Virginia and not go that far.

BLITZER: Do you think Romney is serious about the governor of Virginia? BRAZILE: No. I think he's trying to get a few extra local newspapers to cover him. The bottom line is he's going to put somebody who with help him govern. I don't think he'll look for a geographical solution.

BLITZER: Do you think he's serious about any of these guys so far?

FRUM: Donna -- everybody you mention becomes your new best friend and you will have as many friends as possible and this is the best phase of the campaign for him right now where except for Gingrich and Santorum, everyone in the Republican Party now loves Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A key adviser for Mitt Romney has resigned and was it because he is openly gay and was it for his previous tweets and his blog. I'm asking a top Romney adviser and that's coming up in the next hour.

Plus key questions answered on what really happened between Secret Service agents and the prostitutes in Colombia. Stand by.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring the stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including a plea from Muammar Khadafi's daughter. Mary, what do you have?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she wants the International Criminal Court to investigate her father and brother's death as possible war crimes. Aisha Khadafi is a former lawyer and U.N. Goodwill ambassador who fled to Algeria two months before her father was killed by Libyan rebels. This is the second time she's asked for an investigation.

Police are making arrests in the suspected hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion. They have just arrested two of the 13 people who will be charged. Champion died after being punched and kicked by other band members in an apparent hazing ritual. None of the suspects will be charged with murder.

Four NFL players will be suspended without pay for their roles in a New Orleans Saints bounty program, which rewarded players for injuring opponents. They're all between three and eight games except for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma who will miss the entire 2012 season. He received the harshest penalty because he was captain of the defense when the bounty program was implemented.

And Facebook's highly anticipated stock market debut is closed. The company is eyeing May 18th to begin publicly trading that's according to "The Wall Street Journal." That date may change and the amount Facebook plans to raise from its initial public offering, which they said would be $5 billion. Facebook will set its final target shortly before going public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Mary. Let's go back to Jack with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is where is the leadership? Talking about Washington, D.C.

Lisa in New Jersey, "Jack, never in my life have I seen politics so polarized. I'm a moderate and there doesn't seem to be any place in politics for people like me. I truly believe that there are more moderates than there are on the far right and the extremes in both parties though are tearing the very fabric of our nation apart."

J.M. writes from Dallas, "When we elected Obama we shared his vision. We didn't expect the Republican Party's attempted plan to make him a one-term president. It appears to me that this isn't a question of leadership, but rather a lack of support from people who prefer an agenda different from what the majority in America wanted during the last election. The lack of leadership is in the Senate and the House."

V. writes, "It's like the old TV ad, where's the beef? Well, there isn't any. There's a lot B.S., but no real meat in addressing the issues this country is facing."

Dargen in Massachusetts writes, "Now that's an open ended question. Let's take a look. In Congress, no, just crooks. Wall Street? No, more crooks. The treasury? Nobody home there, and the executive branch, no, just pitchmen for the military industrial complex."

"What about the big corporations? They're beautiful if you live in China. The fourth estate, journalism has become agendaism in most cases, but there are exceptions and if you're reading this then you're tuned to the right program."

Bill in Orlando, "Good question, Jack. I would say on vacation, playing golf or joyriding on Air Force One." And Rob in North Carolina writes, "What leadership? When was there any in recent memory? Mom and dad are arguing all of the time. The divorce isn't final yet so we're all stuck in the middle. They are quickly dividing the assets, though."

If you'd want to read more on this subject go to the blog, or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

New concerns, meanwhile, about the vulnerability of U.S. bridges. We're taking a closer look at why they could be a terror target. Stand by.

In our next hour, an international spy found dead in a locked duffel bag. We're trying to unravel the mystery.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots." A vendor sells bread in a refugee camp. In Barcelona, a policeman stands guard on a street two days before the European Central Bank Summit.

In India, a nomad boy warms up by a fire? In Cyprus, a tourist leaps off a cliff into the Mediterranean. "Hotshots," pictures coming in from around the world.

New concerns about the vulnerability of America's bridges just a day after the FBI arrested five men accusing them of plotting to blow up a Cleveland bridge. Now we're finding out why they may have chosen that specific target.

Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lots of potential damage when a bridge is blown up, Wolf, and it goes beyond what's obvious. In this case, the alleged conspirators were going blow that bridge up this week according to federal law enforcement officials. But authorities say they had tracked these defendants almost the entire way through their planning.


TODD (voice-over): They thought about all sorts of plots, including blowing up a cargo ship in the Cuyahoga River running through Cleveland. They surveyed the area, planned a Google map search then settled on their target.

The route 82 Brecksville North Field High-Level Bridge, a major artery connecting two interstates near Cleveland that's according to a criminal complaint accusing five young Americans of conspiring to blow up that bridge with C-4 explosives.

STEVEN DETTELBACH, U.S. ATTORNEY, NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO: The defendants planted the explosives at the base of the bridge. The defendants armed the explosives. The defendants left and went to a remote site and they then sitting there entered the codes that they thought would blow up a bridge with innocent people traveling over it.

TODD: But the men, who authorities say are self-proclaimed anarchists with nicknames like "Psycho" and "Scabby" were being duped. Federal officials said they had been tracked for months by an undercover FBI agent and informant. The explosives they were given, according to officials, were fake.

STEPHEN ANTHONY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: That no time during the course of the investigation was the public ever in danger.

TODD: But if they had been successful, they could have brought down a 150-foot high bridge that accommodates around 14,000 vehicles a day.

(on camera): Potential casualties and damage to the bridge in Cleveland were part of what could have happened in this plot, but one Homeland Security expert says American bridges have another important vulnerability to damage and destruction.

(voice-over): I scoped out major bridges in the Washington area with Randall Larsen of the Institute for Homeland Security.

(on camera): We found something under here, right, that's under a lot of bridges.

RANDALL LARSEN, INSTITUTE FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: Many bridges, Brian, have oil and gas pipelines. They have fiber-optic cables. That's how our financial system in America works. That's how we communicate, everything from internet to telephone run beneath bridges. You drop a span, you cut the city off.

TODD (voice-over): We're told by transportation officials in Ohio say there's one utility line on that bridge and at least one fiber-optic line in the area near it.

When I asked Larsen how officials can secure these bridges, he said the only way is better intelligence and law enforcement, and in this case, he says, that worked.


TODD: Now we could not get comment on the charges from attorneys for four of the defendants, but the lawyer for one of them, defendant Brandon Baxter, says he's going to enter a not guilty plea. He says his client has suffered from mental impairments -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like some of America's infrastructure problems are built into this issue right here.

TODD: They are. Randall Larsen says a third of America's bridges are beyond their normal life span meaning they're old. This bridge in Cleveland was built in the 1930s. It was renovated I believe in 1989. These bridges are very old and they can be brought down more easily, they're crumbling in some cases.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.