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French Election Upheaval; Gay Marriage Pressure; Obama, Romney on Attack in Ohio; White House Scrambles on Gay Marriage; Hostage to President: "My Life Is in Your Hands"; Al Qaeda Demands for U.S. Hostage; Election Upheaval in France, Greece; Plot to Blow Up U.S. Bound Jet Foiled

Aired May 7, 2012 - 16:00   ET




JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president said that he was evolving. The president's position well-known. I don't have an update to provide you on the president's position.


BLITZER: The White House under pressure, bombarded with questions about gay marriage, as two top administration officials appear to leapfrog President Obama and seem to be backing same-sex marriage.

Also, a dramatic plea from an American man kidnapped by al Qaeda. He tells President Obama in a videotape -- quote -- "My life is in your hands."

Plus, an election upheaval and a major change of course by a leading U.S. ally, as France elects its first Socialist president in two decades. We're looking at what it means for the United States.

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

It's one of the most politically and socially charged issues in the United States. And, today, the White House is working full-time on gay marriage after two top administration officials came out in support of it in the last 48 hours. The vice president, Joe Biden, said over the weekend he's fine with gay marriage, today, the education secretary, Arne Duncan, said he thinks gay men and lesbians should be allowed to marry, putting both men apparently at odds with their boss, the president of the United States, on this very hot- button issue.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is working the story for us.

Jessica, causing quite an uproar over there. What's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is clearly an unwelcome topic today for a White House that profess to make all pronouncements based on principle, not politics.


YELLIN (voice-over): It sure sounds like the vice president supports gay marriage.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love?

The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.

YELLIN: When asked if he backs gay marriage, the education secretary left no room for doubt.


YELLIN: But the president is vague.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.

YELLIN: This is a flash point issue in an election year, and the Obama campaign is working overtime to argue Biden's comments weren't new.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I think that they were entirely consistent with the president's position, which is that couples who are married, whether they're gay or heterosexual couples, are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties.

YELLIN: The vice president's office even put out a statement attempting to clarify the vice president's meaning. But the message to gay and lesbian supporters is convoluted.

JOE SOLMONESE, PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN TO END DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GAYS: I have heard efforts from within the administration to say that the president and the vice president have the same position. So one could conclude then, therefore, the president supports marriage equality.

YELLIN: All the while, the president has raised millions from gay and lesbian donors, and many believe he would support gay marriage in a second term.

OBAMA: You're fighting for the idea that everyone ought to be treated equally and everybody deserves to be able to live and love as they see it. Now...


OBAMA: ... I don't have to tell the people in this room we have got a ways to go on the struggle.

YELLIN (on camera): What is he referring to if not gay marriage?

CARNEY: Well, I think you have heard him say, and those in the administration like myself who speak for him, that he strongly opposes efforts to restrict rights, to repeal rights for same-sex couples.

YELLIN: These attendees at the president's Ohio rally were there because of his position on the issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter is a gay American. And so gay marriage right now is kind of the biggest thing on my...


BLITZER: Can you -- if you can hear me OK -- I don't know if we have -- if I have connected with you, but where do we go from here in terms of clarifying? Is there any indication the president is going to issue a public statement yay or nay on this issue, clarifying once and for all where he stands?


Wolf, if the briefing today was any indication, the president remains in a state of evolution on this issue. One of the things I was pointing out at the end of that piece is that some of the public polling shows that, certain important constituencies in this election year do not support gay marriage.

So while a majority of Americans now say they do not support gay marriage, key voters, African-Americans, older voters, people over 50, and some non-college voters, a majority of them, do not.

And, so, in a tight election, these are the kind of voters that perhaps a campaign would not want to risk alienating. And perhaps that could be a factor at play in this -- taking such a vague position on this issue right now, Wolf.

But to your question, absolutely no indication that the president wants to wade into these waters any further at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arne Duncan minced no words, the education secretary, at all.

Jessica, thanks very much. We will have more on this story coming up later this hour.

Meanwhile, a seismic political issue in France with potentially major implications for the United States. The Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, beat Nicolas Sarkozy in yesterday's presidential election. It's a strong rejection of two years of austerity and the kind of uncertainty that usually sparks anxiety among U.S. investors.

But there was little movement on Wall Street today in reaction to the news.

Hollande is something of a mystery to Americans, but we will be seeing a lot more of him very, very soon. Hala Gorani is in Paris. And I just spoke with her.


BLITZER: Tell us a little bit about this new president of France. Most of our viewers here in the United States have never even heard of him.

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And most viewers probably outside of the United States haven't heard of him.

Francois Hollande is not a man who was prime minister. He's never held a ministerial job. He's been around politics his whole life. He's the leader of the Socialist Party, certainly less flashy and bling-bling, as the French like to call the outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He conducted a very safe campaign inspired, by the way, in part by the 2008 Obama campaign. His campaign manager told me a few days ago that they met with some of the campaign strategists from the Obama campaign to get some advice on how to campaign on the Internet and also door-to-door campaigning which the Hollande camp conducted, and it was -- it worked out for them in the end since he was elected yesterday.

BLITZER: He ran on a platform to try to get all French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, as opposed to the end of 2014.

Is he going to be able to deliver on that?

GORANI: Right.

Well, he has promised this. And his campaign is telling us that when he goes to the NATO summit in the United States in a few weeks, that that is going to be a discussion he's going to have to have with President Obama. The question is logistically is it possible for the French to withdrawal all their combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year? That might be an open question, but the intent is there.

And the campaign of the now president-elect is talking us they intend on following through on that, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, on the economic front, his main policy, I take it, was to get rid of all of the austerity measures that Sarkozy implemented and basically go back to trying to raise taxes on rich people; is that right?

GORANI: Well, it's partly right.

I think really what the Socialists are saying today isn't we want to destroy the agreement that was put in place between Nicolas Sarkozy, the outgoing president, and the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. They're saying, we need to add a growth plan to this. The response to the Eurozone debt crisis cannot just be spending cuts, because, otherwise, we're going to suffocate the Eurozone economy and we need to find a way to allow these economies to grow. But that costs money. Where will the money come from? That's where the source of the disagreement might be between Hollande and Angela Merkel. It's going to be his first overseas trip to Berlin the day, we understand, after he's inaugurated on May 15, Wolf.

BLITZER: We are looking forward to seeing him here in the United States as well. Congratulations to him.

Hala, thanks very much.


All right, let's dig a little bit deeper right now.

John Podesta, the chairman of the Center for American Progress, was President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff. And he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

You have actually had a chance, John, to meet with the new president, newly elected president of France. What is he like?

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, I met Mr. Hollande last October, just two days after he won the primary to run for president.

I think he's a pragmatist. He's a practical guy. He's not flashy, but probably what France needs right now is more growth and less bling, as your reporter indicated.

BLITZER: What's going to be the difference, if any, in U.S.- French relations because he's succeeding Sarkozy?

PODESTA: Well, look, I think that his economic program is more aligned actually with what President Obama has tried to do, which is to invest in infrastructure, to put a growth component into fiscal consolidation.

He's pledged to balance the budget in five years in France. But he wants to do it by adding to the competitiveness in that country and in the Eurozone in total. So he's put out things like infrastructure bonds as a way to boost job growth and boost infrastructure investment to get the competitiveness back in the Eurozone and again to put people back to work and to reduce these extremely high levels of unemployment.

BLITZER: He does -- as I pointed out to Hala, he does want to get all French troops out of Afghanistan not by the end of 2014, when the U.S. wants all troops out, another two-and-a-half years, but he wants them out by the end of this year.

PODESTA: Well, the president will have a chance to talk to him about that. I think the president has succeeded in putting the U.S. on a path to reducing and eliminating its combat mission in Afghanistan by 2014.

NATO is aligned on that. That's been agreed to in Madrid. I think the French have contributed obviously to the mission there. And I think that further contributions from the French both at the military level and to support stability of Afghanistan are called for and necessary. So I'm sure the president will talk to him about that at the NATO summit and when he meets with him in advance.

BLITZER: You have any sense of how the political spillover, what happened in France could play out here in the United States? Do you think there is any correlation?

PODESTA: Well, it's unclear whether it will be direct, but I think that the proposals that are being put forward, particularly in the Ryan budget in the Republican economic program, are what is not working in Europe. It's caused a double-dip recession in the U.K.

It's caused an increase in unemployment. The Eurozone has had nine straight months of manufacturing job loss. In contrast, in the U.S., we have had 489,000 jobs in manufacturing gained since January of 2010. So I don't know that the American people will draw the direct conclusion, but I think that the prescription that's being proposed particularly by Congressman Ryan and now by Governor Romney have led to more stagnation and higher unemployment.

BLITZER: John Podesta, thanks very much for coming in.

PODESTA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: To Russia now, where Vladimir Putin is officially back in the presidency after stepping down four years ago due to term limits. Putin was sworn in today after winning a controversial election in March.

He won a reported 65 percent of the vote, but independent monitors reported what they called widespread irregularities. The inauguration comes a day after anti-Putin protesters clashed with police in Moscow. Officials say some 250 protesters, including several top opposition figures, were arrested.

Kidnapped by al Qaeda and now seen on video pleading for his life, an American man appealing directly to President Obama.

Also, the president's impact on race relations. Jack Cafferty is next with "The Cafferty File."

And former NBA star Charles Barkley sending a message to Mitt Romney -- and I'm quoting Barkley now -- "We're going to beat you like a drum."

That and more in our "Strategy Session" -- Donna Brazile and former Rick Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart, they're standing by.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, despite the election of America's first black president more than three years ago, this country still has a long road to travel when it comes to race relations. "The New York Times" reports that race remains a powerful factor among a small minority of voters, particularly in poor areas, with a lot of white working class people. That would include places like the battleground state of Ohio where just a few votes one way or the other could make a big difference.

In 50 interviews in one Ohio county, five people raised race as a reason they will not vote for President Obama. That's 10 percent. Some of them said the only reason the president won in 2008 is because many blacks voted for the first time. Others didn't mention race directly, but indirectly, as suspicions of Obama's background and faith.

The president recently described race in America as still, quote, "complicated". He says he never bought into the idea that the country was entering a post-racial period by electing him. Maybe so. But a lot of people did.

More than half of Americans in 2008 said race relations would improve as a result of Obama's election. Fast forward to 2012, that view has changed dramatically. A recent "Newsweek" poll shows only 32 percent now think race relations have improved under President Obama, while nearly 60 percent say the race relations have either stayed the same or gotten worse.

Whites are especially critical of Mr. Obama in this department. Some suggest that racism surfaces during tough times like the recession, high unemployment or the war overseas, and can then serve as an excuse for social anxiety.

Here's the question, how much has America's first black president changed race relations? Go to, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looking forward to the answers to that excellent question, Jack. Thank you.

The battle for the battleground states certainly intensifying right now, with President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney focusing in on Ohio, where the two men are locked in a tight race, according to the polls.

Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is in Cleveland for us.

Jim, what's the latest in Ohio?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we saw over the weekend, President Obama launched his first official campaign rally here in the state of Ohio. Today was Mitt Romney's chance to hit back, and he did on the economy. But earlier today, in a Romney town hall here in Cleveland, Ohio, one of his campaign surrogates and a woman in the crowd got off message and personal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States, Mitt Romney.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Roughly 48 hours after the president's first official rally in Ohio, it was Mitt Romney's turn in the same battleground state.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not enough people have been finding good jobs and a lot of people have lost their homes. That's a promise he wasn't able to keep.

ACOSTA: Romney stayed on message, jobs.

ROMNEY: We need to have a president who understands what it takes to get the economy going again, not with policies of the past that don't work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The economic recovery is slowing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The unemployment rate, 8.1 percent.

ACOSTA: Romney's new speech follows a key spot that zeros in on the nation's sluggish recovery.

In response, the Obama reelection campaign notes the economy was in free fall when the president took the oath of office.

AD NARRATOR: America's economy spiraling down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest point drop that's ever been seen in a day.

AD NARRATOR: All before this president took the oath.

ACOSTA: On a conference call, a top strategist revealed plans to spend $25 million on more ads this month, saying it's the only way to respond to big money super PACs, that they compared to political hit man.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN TOP STRATEGIST: To respond to attacks that you expect to continue from -- not just from the Romney campaign, but from the Karl and Koch brother contract killers over there in super PAC land.

ACOSTA: The hyper charge rhetoric is a sign of just how tight the race has become. Neck and neck, not only in national polls, but in swing states, as well.

With the race this close, it's no surprise Romney is sticking to his focus on the economy. He did not respond to the president's pointed jab at the GOP contenders now well known line.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't care how many ways you try to spin it. Corporations aren't people, people are people.

ACOSTA: Instead, it was one of Romney's surrogates, Ohio state auditor Dave Yost who got personal, slamming the president for taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden,

DAVE YOST, OHIO AUDITOR OF STATE: I'm glad that he has -- is dead. Bin laden, that is. But, you know, it strikes me a little weird, I mean that's like giving Ronald McDonald for the Big Mac you had for lunch.

ACOSTA: Yost also slammed the first family's vacations to Martha's Vineyard and Hawaii.


ACOSTA: Now we should also -- we should also note that during that town hall, a woman stood up in the crowd and asked Mitt Romney if he thought that President Obama should be tried for treason. Romney did not respond to that woman's question. But later on, after the event, he was asked by some campaign embed reporters whether or not he agreed with that woman's assessment, he said he did.

That prompted a response from the Obama re-election campaign, Wolf and I'll read it to you, it was pretty strongly worded. It says, "If this is the leadership he has shown on the campaign trail," speaking of Mitt Romney coming from the Obama campaign, "what can the American people expect of him as commander-in-chief.:" That comment coming from the Obama reelection campaign.

The Romney campaign has also responded to this back and forth over this woman who stood up at this town hall meeting. A Romney campaign official says President Obama does deserve credit for taking out Osama bin Laden and also said that Governor Romney's statements stand on this woman who said that he should be tried for treason, saying looking at Romney's statement -- no, Governor Romney does not believe that the president should be tried for treason -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, the president was very tough on Romney Saturday when he was in Columbus, Ohio. He's getting very specific in his attacks. Listen to this.


OBAMA: He doesn't seem to understand that maximizing profits by whatever means necessary. Whether it's through layoffs or outsourcing or tax avoidance or union bussing, might not always be good for the average American or for the American economy.


BLITZER: I wonder if Romney is responding to those accusations by the president.

ACOSTA: Wolf, I think it should be noted. It was pretty interesting to watch Mitt Romney today at this town hall, he was not really going tit-for-tat with the president on what the president had to say over the weekend. It was a pretty striking, sort of non- response to the president.

What we heard from Mitt Romney, almost the entire time during this town hall event was going after, zeroing in on the economy, this record during the sluggish recovery that basically started months after President Obama took office, Mitt Romney is saying time and again out here at these campaign events that the recovery would be doing better if President Obama were not in office right now.

My sense is that they feel like that's a winning message. They're looking at those polls right now that show that it's very much neck and neck right now, and they don't want to get off message as some of the other folks did it this campaign event. That surrogate, that woman in the crowd, that's not the direction the Romney campaign wants to go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly did get off message, some of those surrogates. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta in Ohio. He's going to be spending a lot of time there over the next six months.

The White House meanwhile is scrambling to explain comments by two top administration officials that seem to support gay marriage. Does it signal a real shift in the president's views and will we get a clear answer before the November election. We're going to talk about that and more in our strategy session.

And the former NBA great Charles Barkley doing some trash talking about Mitt Romney, we're going to tell you what he had to say.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist, the former spokeswoman for Rick Santorum, Alice Stewart.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in.

Here's one of the sound bites from Vice President Joe Biden yesterday on "Meet the Press" that has caused this commotion.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, and women marrying women, and heterosexual men marrying women, are all entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that.


BLITZER: Now over at the White House today, Jay Carney, the press secretary, he was bombarded with lots of questions to explain where the president stands on gay marriage.

We put together some of his responses.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His views on this were evolving.

I have no update on the president's personal views. The president said that he was evolving. The president's position is well known. I don't have an update to provide you on the president's position.

I would just point to you to what the president has said in the past. I just don't have an update for you.

His views have not change and I have no update to give you on them.

The president said that his views on this are evolving. The next time the president has a news conference, if you want to ask him that, you're certainly welcome to.


BLITZER: Donna, reporters did not let up, they bombarded him with question after question after question. You heard some of his answers that went on and on and on. Is it time for the president to come out and say, once and for all, I support gay marriage or I oppose gay marriage?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, I think every American deserved the opportunity to come to these decisions given their own viewpoints. In the president's case, he has been a champion of equality. He has stopped defending Section 3 of DOMA in the courts.

BLITZER: That's the Defense of Marriage Act

BRAZILE: That's right, he's for the repeal of DOMA. He's passed the hate crimes law. He ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I think every American understands that this is a president who is a champion of equality --

BLITZER: He stopped short when it comes to marriage equality.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, I have seen the but and I haven't seen the and. And it's important to get to an and. We strongly support marriage equality.

I know tomorrow in North Carolina there's an amendment, amendment one. President Clinton and others have said that we should vote no on amendment one. because North Carolina already outlawed same-sex marriage.

This would be enshrined in the constitution, bigotry and discrimination, but I know that this president is a champion of equality. And what the vice president said is what we have known all along about his basic views on equal rights and justice for all Americans.

BLITZER: As far as Romney is concerned, there's no ifs, ands or buts. He says flatly, he opposed gay marriage.

ALICE STEWART, FORMER SANTORUM CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: He's for traditional marriage between a man and a woman, but the issue here is this is one of the many issues where President Obama just needs to come clean saying that he's evolving on this issue, that's not coming clean on this.

It's not saying exactly saying where he stands. Is this going to be another issue like he spoke to the Russian president, where when he's re-elected, he'll have more flexibility?

People who are for gay marriage and who are against gay marriage deserve to know where the president stands and what's going to do if he's re-elected.

This is why the American people should certainly not support a president who is not going to come clean on an important issue like this.

BRAZILE: He hasn't flip-flopped. He hasn't backslide. Where he's at is moving this country forward on a very important issue, and that is we should not have any discrimination in our constitution against any American.

STEWART: But this is I believe a trial balloon that the vice president --

BLITZER: What's a trial balloon?

STEWART: They threw this out there yesterday to see how this would stick.

BLITZER: I got disagree with you. I think the vice president was just talking. I'm sure they didn't want this to come out right now as an issue.

Because by and large, the liberals especially the gay community, they support the president. He doesn't to really work aggressively to get their support. He's concerned about the centrists who may be on the fence.

STEWART: But here we are talking about an issue, a social issue when the real issues that people are concerned with are jobs and the economy. And the Obama administration would certainly much rather be talking about --

BLITZER: If you listen to the president's two speeches in Ohio and in Virginia that's all he wanted to talk about was the economy and jobs and where the country is heading. There was a whole lot of reference, a little bit on the whole issue of gay rights certainly nothing on gay marriage.

BRAZILE: But one thing you've got to know about Vice President Biden. I've known him for over 30 years. But Joe Biden has been a championship for women's equality, for gay and lesbian rights.

He has just been for civil rights, for all Americans and this is a man who's always stood on those principles. So I'm not surprised he would come out forcefully and strongly as he did yesterday.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

He says his life is in President Obama's hands, we're taking a look at the emotional video of an American held in Pakistan we believe by al Qaeda.


BLITZER: Disturbing new video of a kidnapped American man pleading for his life, appealing directly to President Obama to meet the demands of his al Qaeda captors.

The 70-year-old Warren Weinstein was abducted in August outside of his home in Lahore, Pakistan. CNN's Reza Sayah is joining us now from Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He's got details.

Reza, in this video, he has a specific message to the United States. Tell us about it.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, officially when he tells the U.S. government, help me get out of here. He makes a direct plea to President Obama.

He says you have two daughters. I have daughters too. If you don't help me, if you don't meet these demands, it's very likely that I'm going to be killed.

Perhaps the most strange moment in this video is at least twice in this video he seems to be eating something. Now we're not sure why he's eating in the middle of plea for his life, but it looks that's what he's doing. Here's a portion of it.


WARREN WEINSTEIN: My name is Warren Weinstein. I would like my wife to know that I'm getting all my medications and being treated well. I want to plea to President Obama, and asking him if he accepts the demands of Mujahedeen.

It's important that accept the demands and act quickly and don't delay. They'll be benefit in delay. It will just make things more difficult for me. But it's very important that you act quickly. I'm now waiting for your response.


SAYAH: Now Wolf, in the video he seems to be in good shape, no visible injuries, but it's difficult to know how he's doing today, because we're not quite sure when this video was shot.

BLITZER: All right, Reza Sayah joining us from Islamabad. Thanks, Reza. I apologize for some of those technical problems that we just had.

But let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our national security analyst Peter Bergen. He's got a brand new book, "Manhunt" that's already a major bestseller.

But let's talk about Warren Weinstein for a moment. The demands that al Qaeda wants for his release are?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, one of the big demands is the blind sheikh, the guy who's the intellectual author of the 9/11 attack who's in poor health in an American prison.

That's when a constant demand of al Qaeda for the last decade and a half and other al Qaeda prisoners. Of course, the United States is just not going to negotiate with al Qaeda like wouldn't negotiate with other terrorist groups.

The way Warren Weinstein may get out, however, Wolf I think it is not been unknown that money changes hands, of course, there's sort of some legal issues because the money of course would then be going to an al Qaeda terrorist organization.

But other hostages have been released, I'm thinking of hostages in Iraq who are American citizens, and I can't believe that money didn't change hands at some point.

BLITZER: So in other words you pay to get the person released. How extraordinary is this video that we saw today?

BERGEN: I think this is very unusual. I can't think of an al Qaeda kidnapping video coming out of Pakistan ever.

BLITZER: What about Daniel Pearl?

BERGEN: Well, Daniel Pearl was sort of execution video. This was in terms of a kidnap demand video, this is unusual. Of course, in Iraq, we saw quite a lot of it.

BLITZER: Your bottom line is why did al Qaeda do this now?

BERGEN: I think they haven't gotten anything through for a long time. This is one of the few things they have. You know, one of the interesting things that the documents have recovered in Bin Laden's compound.

He was very focused on raising money and giving advice to his followers on how to handle the ransom money in such a way that it wouldn't be tracked.

It's sort of a sign of that weakness. The only thing they can pull off is kidnapping a guy who's been living in Pakistan for decades helping the Pakistani people learn the American language.

That's as good as they can get right now in terms of an actual attack on American target.

BLITZER: And did you notice, on that video, just a sheet behind him, they have learned over the years, al Qaeda, that there can be no clues on the whereabouts or where this video might have been taken.

BERGEN: That's right and on the lower left hand corner, the very distinctive gold seal (Al Sahad), which is al Qaeda's video production arm, which means the clouds in Arabic. This is a really authentic video, Wolf.

BLITZER: Peter, don't go too far away, thanks very much for joining us. We're watching what's going on. We'll take a quick break much more coming up after this.


BLITZER: Election upheaval in France and Greece. CNN's Erin Burnett is going out front on the story. Erin, what are the developments in France and elsewhere in Europe mean for the United States?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "OUTFRONT": This is interesting, Wolf. We have been talking to economists throughout the day. You know, this really does matter for the U.S. It matters for American banks and a big a hit, of course, that means there's less money to lend to Americans.

So there are some serious repercussions. We have been focusing on not just what might happen in France where it's important to keep in mind, Wolf, that there are parliamentary elections in the couple of weeks.

It could end up with a socialist president and some of the more conservative parties controlling parliament would be sort of like having a Democratic president and Republican House and Senate.

So it's unclear what will really happen in France. But if you look at Greece alone where he had a neo-Nazi party getting 7 percent of the seats this weekend significant, last time there were issues in Greece.

American household net wealth dropped by $1.2 trillion. Just because of what happened in Greece $1.3 trillion so it just goes to show you how significant this could possibly be.

Obviously, we have seen stocks drop around the world and this could continue. It really is going to come in the form of U.S. banks. If they take a hit because Europe continues to have troubles, Europe spends and if that's not the right thing to do.

Then banks could take a hit. You could see mortgage rates rise in the U.S., but there are some economists who think that spending more, borrowing now is the smart way to go and that this might end up being a much smarter solution for everyone in Europe.

But there is no question, we're at the top of sort of Mt. Everest here at a tipping point and whichever way we go will be very important for U.S. net worth.

BLITZER: We'll be watching a lot more coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Erin, thanks very much.

An intense man hunt is underway in Tennessee as police say they now have a suspect in the case of a woman and her three daughters that have gone missing. We're going to give you the disturbing details.

Jack Cafferty wants to know how much has America's first black president changed race relations. Your answers and a lot more coming up.


BLITZER: We're learning dramatic developments of a foiled plot to try to blow up an airliner on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's death.

Elise Labott, our State Department reporter has got some information for us. I know a whole team of CNN producers and reporters have been working on this. Elise, tell our viewers precisely what we know.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: Well, Wolf, the information is just coming in kind of fast and furious. A senior U.S. counter terrorism official telling our Pam Benson that basically the United States has acquired a terrorist device.

International allies and security partners working together have found an explosives device, that's kind of a little bit of similar to you remember that underwear bomb in 2009. They think this is in connection with the al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula.

That's the terrorist group in Yemen and so they think it's related but as we know, information coming right now --

BLITZER: So they found something that could have potentially been used to try to explode an airline, but it was thwarted way in advance at that.

LABOTT: That's right. No airlines were affected. The U.S. was not in any danger at any point according to this official. What a Yemeni official just told me just a while ago, that the Yemeni and other international partners did receive a warning from the United States around the anniversary of attack on Bin Laden.

That there could be a bomb, they didn't have a very specific target, but there was some information that there could be a bomb attack. There was a lot of talk about a possible body bomb or an airline bomb.

Don't know right now, but they think is in connection with the al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula bomb maker.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen is here, but I want to go to Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. He's doing a reporting on this as well. What are you hearing, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is about to start a press conference with the Chinese minister of defense any minute now.

We hope to get a question to him about this plot and what the Pentagon may have known. I remember right around the time of the anniversary, we reported on a bulletin that went out from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the FBI.

But this bullet included U.S. northern command, which struck as somewhat unusual. They're usually not included on warning bulletins like this, and it specifically mentions that there was an aviation threat element -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, stand by. Peter Bergen, our national security contributor listening to all these developing some sort of new explosive device that may have been potentially used to try to knock out an airliner on the anniversary of Bin Laden's death. What do you make of this?

BERGEN: Well, the bomb maker who's identified Al-Aziri has tried to blow up American planes, but also two cargo planes flying to Chicago in October of 2010. That plot was basically the Saudi's gave us extremely precise information about where this bomb could be found.

He's also tried to kill the prince, the senior minister of interior official in Saudi Arabia with a similar kind of advice. He's still out there.

Obviously, he's the most dangerous person in this group which poses some kind of threat to the United States. What's interesting about the story right now is that it's not really clear where this device was recovered.

But it looks just from reading between the lines like it might have been recovered in Yemen. Because if it wasn't a threat, clearly it wasn't in Holland or in the U.K. or it hadn't got out of the country, it looks like.

BLITZER: And let's be precise, the U.S. intelligence believe there are a lot more al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Somalia for that matter than there are in Afghanistan right now. Yemen, a hot spot for al Qaeda.

Fran Townsend, our national security contributor is joining us as well. What do you make of this, Fran?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think one, the fact that U.S. officials have the device itself, they are going through this, they're analyzing it now they ought to be able to tell, bomb makers have signatures. So certain ways they construct and advice. As Peter mentions, the Saudis really have worked very closely with U.S. officials against the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula target.

And it's likely the reference of the source to international partners include some participation and assistance from the Saudi services.

BLITZER: Have you heard, Fran, anything over the past few weeks about this kind of suspected plot in the works?

TOWNSEND: No, going back to what Chris was saying, they did make references to an aviation threat around the anniversary. There was nothing specific, we were reassured there was no credible threat to the United States. So we really hadn't heard anything other than that.

BLITZER: Another one of our contributors, Tom Fuentes, is joining us, a former assistant FBI director. What are you hearing, Tom, what do you make of this?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (via telephone): Wolf, what I've been hearing is that these are two separate streams of information. The information that came is regarding possible body bombs and affecting aviation.

And then the in about this specific incident that the CIA had interrupted. It's actually two separate streams of communication that the information came from.

BLITZER: Two separate plots, is that what you're hearing, Tom?

FUENTES: Not necessarily separate plots, but separate sources about the plots.

BLITZER: So let's be precise, one contains some new techniques if you will to put bombs inside the body of someone traveling, is that right?

FUENTES: Well, it's not necessarily a new technique. We had the reports in Saudi Arabia a while back where someone had allegedly put an explosive device inside their body and tried to fly to France and killing himself in the process.

You know, via the underwear bomber where it wasn't concealed in his body, but next to his body inside of his underwear. So the plot that unfolded last week or that was talked about came from another source regarding the possibility that they would attempt to do another similar attack using either secreted explosives or something very close to his body, now on this particular plot, this could be the exact same plot.

I'm not saying this isn't the same threat, it's just that the information came through two separate channels.

BLITZER: Fran, let me go back to Fran Townsend. Fran, because at the time of -- when we heard some warnings out there, some releases that were put out by Department of Homeland Security saying there were no credible threats or anything along those lines.

But just out of an abundance of caution, they suggested everyone be careful around the time of the anniversary of Bin Laden's death. If there was in fact a specific threat out there, those earlier suggestions, no credible threat, those six statements would have been incorrect?

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, it may be, if at that point in the plot, with that statement was issued, they may have had it under control. They may have recovered the plot. They put the warning out there because they knew that al Qaeda was attempting to target aviation.

We don't know the timing of when one plot was disrupted versus when the statement was put out. It is possible that they were accurate when they put it out and we just need more information to be able to assess that.

BLITZER: Peter, how significant are these anniversaries for al Qaeda to do something explosive, forgive the pun, right around the time of the anniversary.

BERGEN: You know, they have also attacked, you know, Christmas Day, I think wasn't a complete accident. It was a Christian holiday. It's also a time when security might be a bit more lax. But it's a certain amount of opportunism on that day.

Certainly that Bin Laden died, and that would be something they would want to mark. But at the end of the day, this, you know, this is the best they can do, something that doesn't even threaten really an airline, is the device is recovered, it goes again to the kind of weakness that these groups have.

BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by. We'll stay on top of the breaking news. We'll go to London, Nic Robertson is standing by. He's collecting information there as well. Stay with us, you're on THE SITUATION ROOM.