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Fight Over Gay Marriage; Mitt Romney and Immigration; Al Qaeda Plane Plot Foiled; Interview with Senior Romney Campaign Advisor; Romney Position on Gay Marriage; Santorum's E-mailed Endorsement; U.S. to Make $15.1 Billion off AIG Bailout; "Where the Wild Things Are" Author Dies at 83

Aired May 8, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: gay marriage in the national spotlight and President Obama trying to avoid it as pressure on him to take a decisive stand grows.

Also, Republicans wince as a party official says Mitt Romney is -- quote -- "still deciding" what his position is when it comes to immigration. It's the latest in a series of campaign stumbles.

Plus, disturbing video of a deadly police beating -- the victim, a mentally ill homeless man who can be heard calling out to his father, "They're killing me."

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

But we begin this hour with the Romney campaign having some trouble staying on message.

Let's go straight to our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's on the campaign trail with the presumptive Republican nominee.

You're in Lansing, Michigan, right now. Tell us what's going on, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, earlier today, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of governing to the left of Bill Clinton and bringing big government back with a vengeance.

It is a new message for a campaign that has sometimes strayed off script in recent days.


ACOSTA (voice-over): In Michigan, Mitt Romney tried to steer his campaign back on message.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America is going in the wrong direction, not forward, but sideways, or worse.

ACOSTA: He not only hit the president's campaign slogan "Forward," but also slammed the fictional character on Mr. Obama's Web site, Julia, who is shown receiving help from government programs all her life.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What does it say about a president's policies when he has to use a cartoon character rather than real people to justify his record?


ACOSTA: But keeping his campaign on script hasn't been easy this week. Take Monday's town hall in Ohio, where a supporter suggested the president is a traitor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do agree he should be tried for treason.

ACOSTA: Romney didn't correct her.

QUESTION: Is there a reason you didn't correct her or say that you wouldn't?

ROMNEY: I answered the question.

QUESTION: OK. But you don't agree with her answer?

ROMNEY: I don't correct all the questions that get asked of me. I obviously don't agree with her.

ACOSTA: Democrats said Romney failed the John McCain test, noting how the Arizona senator handled an unruly supporter four years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is an Arab. He is not...


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.

ACOSTA: Democrats sensed another gift when shortly after Romney's town hall, he claimed credit for the survival of the U.S. auto industry.

ROMNEY: I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy. So I will take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back.

ACOSTA: But just across the street from Romney's event in Michigan, protesters reminded the GOP contender he opposed the auto bailout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how he could take credit for anything.


ACOSTA: Now, the off-script bug may be catching. Just ask the director of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee. She held a briefing with reporters earlier today and when asked about Mitt Romney's position on immigration, she said -- quote -- "To my understanding, he's still deciding what his position on immigration is."

And in that same conference call -- or in that same briefing with reporters, an RNC press secretary said, "We never said that the government -- that the governor is still deciding on immigration," so sort of correcting one of their own officials with the RNC, Wolf.

But there were other off-script moments, moments that did not go the Romney campaign's way in the last 24 hours. Consider the endorsement of Rick Santorum. It came at 11:00 last night, caught a lot of reporters off-guard. And Santorum doesn't get around to endorsing Romney until the 13th paragraph of the endorsement.

But keep in mind, the Democrats have their own off-message man in Vice President Joe Biden. Earlier today, as you are going to report in just a few moments, Joe Biden said, "We were the problem," talking about the United States, when it came to Iran, dealing with Iran.

The Romney campaign blasted out a statement to reporters earlier this afternoon, Wolf, accusing the Obama administration of having a "blame America first" policy when it comes to Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to have much more on Joe Biden and what is going on, on that front.

But, very quickly, on Michigan, where you are right now, do the Romney folks really believe Michigan is in play, given the perception in Michigan that the president saved the American auto industry?

ACOSTA: Well, I think they would like the state to be in play.

And you just mentioned the issue of the auto industry. Mitt Romney, as you saw on that pieced, talked to a local reporter in Cleveland yesterday and basically claimed credit or partial credit for the fact that the U.S. auto industry has survived. He has to take that posture, Wolf, because that industry is so important in this state.

And there's a lot at stake for Mitt Romney here in Michigan. Keep in mind, this was his boyhood home. He is already facing the prospect of losing Massachusetts, where he was governor. He doesn't want to lose this state as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta traveling with the Republican presidential candidate, thanks very much.

The charged politics of same-sex marriage are certainly playing out today in North Carolina, as the state votes on a constitutional amendment banning gay unions, a measure that's expected to pass. President Obama already under pressure on the issue is trying to stay far away from it in a very literal sense.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is traveling with the president. She's in Albany, New York.

Brianna, the president was supposed to be in North Carolina today. Not exactly happening. What happened?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, he was here in Albany, Wolf, talking about the economy and giving Congress a to-do list on the economy.

He was not talking about his position on same-sex marriage, which is equal rights for gay couples, so civil unions, but not same-sex marriage. It's interesting, though. Had he been in North Carolina, he would have been physically in the middle of this debate over same- sex marriage.


KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama was supposed to speak in North Carolina today as voters there appear poised to pass a constitutional amendment banning civil unions and same-sex marriage. Late last week, congressional offices were notified by the White House that the president would no longer be coming, according to a Democratic source.



KEILAR: ... the president traveled to Albany, New York, to talk about the economy.

OBAMA: The only way we can accelerate the job creation that takes place on a scale that is needed is bold action from Congress.

KEILAR: President Obama has said his views on same-sex marriage are evolving, but, officially, his policy hasn't changed from when he was a candidate.

QUESTION: Define marriage.

OBAMA: I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.

KEILAR: The North Carolina vote and recent comments by Vice President Biden have put his position under the microscope again.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.

KEILAR: That was Sunday.

Then Monday, Obama's education secretary was asked if he believed in same-sex marriage.


KEILAR: Now advocates are renewing their calls for the president to change his position. JOE SOLMONESE, PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN TO END DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GAYS: I would like to hear from the president what I have always wanted to hear from the president and what virtually all members of the LGBT community would like to hear from the president, which is that he supports marriage equality, and it's something we would like to hear sooner, rather than later.

KEILAR: And even in Albany, President Obama couldn't escape a reminder of the issue. He was introduced by current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo...

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Today is a much different day and that your leadership has brought this nation through the storm, and we thank you.

KEILAR: ... who headed up the effort to legalize same-sex marriage here last year.


KEILAR: Now, Wolf, Republicans are very happy to seize on what's become a bit of a wedge issue for Democrats. Same-sex marriage is something that many Democratic voters, including young voters, are very much in support of, but there are other voters like black Democratic voters, Hispanic voters who are not so much in favor of it.

And so therein is the issue. We heard George Pataki, the former governor of New York, today on a conference call in support of Mitt Romney telling reporters that the president needs to decide one way or the other.

In another note, I should mention, Wolf, the White House about this change of plans for the president being here in Albany instead of North Carolina, a spokesman for the White House, Josh Earnest, saying: "Any confusion around today's travel plans is due to an internal miscommunication at the White House. The president will travel to North Carolina again soon" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure he will. He won North Carolina four years ago. It's going to be much, much more difficult this time around.

KEILAR: It sure is.

BLITZER: I think everyone agrees on that. Thanks very much, Brianna.

This certainly isn't the first time the vice president, Joe Biden, has put the White House in an awkward position with his remarks.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

He was speaking before the Rabbinical Assembly, rabbis, in Atlanta today, and he sort of joked at the beginning when he said this.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one's ever doubted I mean what I say. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.



BLITZER: Got a nice little bit of laughter.


BLITZER: He was joking, but there is an element of truth there, obviously.


And I think it's a very difficult transition, when you go from being a senior senator and center of the universe, master of the universe in the Senate, to being a subsidiary to the president of the United States. And you have to learn, as Joe Biden has had to learn -- and sometimes he doesn't learn it very well -- which is that sometimes he's not answering questions for himself, but also answering questions on behalf of the president.

He did not mean to establish a gulf or a division with the president of the United States on the issue of gay marriage, but in answering that question honestly -- and he has had his own evolution -- this is a man who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in the '90s and has come now to believe in gay marriage.

He didn't mean to speak for the president, but he sure created a lot of problems.

BLITZER: A lot of Democrats has an evolution on that.


BLITZER: Bill Clinton supported the Defense of Marriage Act as well.

BORGER: Right. Right.

BLITZER: So there's been an evolving position, shall we say.

Joe Biden, what's the sense over at the White House, Jessica? Has he helped the president, hurt the president? Give me a little flavor.


And I can report to you, Wolf, that right now some of the president's top advisers are struggling with sort of how to clean up or deal with the president's position on gay marriage now that Biden sort of went further on the issue on Sunday...


BLITZER: This wasn't a trial balloon.



BLITZER: They weren't happy he was saying this.

YELLIN: This was not planned.

But, on the other hand, on balance, he's far more help -- he's perceived as far more help than hurt, because let's look at it. The president not known for his strength in building relationships, for example, on Capitol Hill. Joe Biden, the vice president, has historic great relationships on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

The vice president, because of his history on the Foreign Relations Committee, has relationships with foreign leaders. The vice president also is known as a contrarian in the room. When they're having debates, he's the first one to say, you all have the obligation to speak up and tell the president what you truly believe.

And then he's also known to have a soft touch with staff. When people really need sort of a shoulder to cry on or somebody to come to, Joe Biden is the guy that really you can turn to sometimes.


BLITZER: I know he's a very smart guy. And he is going to play a significant role as a strategist, shall we say, in the reelection campaign.

BORGER: Right, as a strategist and as a spokesman for the president, when he gets it right, or...



BORGER: I think Joe Biden sees himself as literally the warmup act for the president, because he plays to those blue-collar audiences that the president may have some difficulty with.

He's been assigned six or seven battleground states to appear in, most notably Ohio and Florida. He's also going to be very important in about a half-a-dozen Senate races. So the White House understands that they can use Joe Biden very well, it's just that sometimes he does cause these headaches. And I'm told that he hasn't yet spoken with the president directly about this, but you can bet they will some time soon, wouldn't you say? BLITZER: What's the -- what are they -- how are they reacting, White House officials, Biden officials, to this criticism from Romney and Republicans on Joe Biden that he's once again blaming the United States first when it comes to Iran?

YELLIN: Oh, they're -- they're not bothered by that at all. They believe that Joe Biden was delivering the president's message today, that he was on message.

And on the point that Jim Acosta raised, perhaps they said he doesn't say it quite as cleanly as he did in a speech to NYU earlier, but what the vice president had said then is that when the president originally took office, the pressure to -- pressure on Iran was stuck at neutral, and that President Obama understood -- this is quoting Joe Biden -- "that by seeking to engage Iran in the first place, by going the extra diplomatic mile and presenting Iran with a clear choice, the U.S. would demonstrate to the world that Iran, not the U.S., was the problem," in other words, showing that the president means business, all options on the table.

BLITZER: Yes. And there's no doubt that Biden delivered a very strong speech today.

On Iran, he said, if the Iranians don't cooperate, by July, their economy will be in shambles. He also predicted that Ahmadinejad would not be in power within two years. He was flat on that.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

BORGER: OK, we will hold him to it.

BLITZER: Yes. We will see what happens.

We're going to find out what the Romney campaign is saying about all of this and more. The senior adviser to the campaign, Brian Jones, is standing by. He will join us live this hour.

We will also have the latest on that foiled al Qaeda bomb plot to try to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are outraged, but perhaps for a little bit for a different reason than you might think.

And courtroom video that is so hard to watch. The judge had to pause -- pause it to let some people leave the court. We are following this case of a deadly police beating.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. When it comes to presidential campaign ads it's getting ugly out there. Very ugly. A new study shows negative campaign ads in the race for the White House have skyrocketed since 2008.

According to the Wesleyan Media Project, 70 percent of presidential campaign commercials run so far have been negative. That's 70 percent. That compares to only 9 percent at this point in the 2008 campaign.

Experts say part of the reason for all of the negativity is the skyrocketing involvement of interest groups. Their activity is up a stunning 1,100 percent from four years ago. We'll tell you the reason in a minute. It's not just the interest groups going negative, though. The campaigns are also to blame. The study shows that more than half of the ads have been negative as well as 86 percent of the commercials put out by independent groups like super PACs. All in all, that's a lot of trash talking.

These groups are dominating the airwaves, accounting for about 60 percent of commercials and campaigns just 36 percent of the spots so far. Compare that to 2008 when virtually all of the ads in the White House raised 96 percent came from the campaigns.

We had the Supreme Court to thank for this. The outsized role this time of these outside groups, the 2010 Citizens United decision allows for unlimited donations by corporations as long as they're made up of groups independent of the candidates like super PACs. Meanwhile, six months to go until Election Day, get red for an onslaught of negative ads for both sides. That's because even though voters say they don't like the negative campaigning, the ads are effective. The experts say negative ads tap into emotions like anxiety, fear and disgust, and can actually push a voter away from a candidate.

Here's our question: why do you think the negative campaign ads work so well? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

A lot of trash talking, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's going to be a lot more with these super PACs. Hundreds of millions of dollars. George Soros, the Democratic activist, is giving millions now to some of the pro-Obama, pro- Democratic super PACs. Republicans, they have their billionaires as well. So, the ads are going to be flying out there big time, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes. The Supreme Court has taken the system to beyond thinking about it being corrupted. It's completely corrupted now with money. Forty, 50 billionaires can control the outcome of any election in this country if they their mind to it.

BLITZER: As they say, money talks.

CAFFERTY: I've heard that.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: Experts are studying an explosive device which a U.S. official say was made by al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen who designed it to get past airport security and on to a U.S.-bound plane. We got word of a plot almost exactly 24 hours ago and today, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are holding hearings to try to find out exactly what happened.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is joining us now.

Kate, what are they finding out?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one of these intelligence briefings is ongoing here in the Senate, but members of the House Intelligence Committee received a briefing earlier from members of the CIA and more details into how this foiled bomb plot really unfolded. As they emerged, key members of the House Intelligence Committee emerged with bipartisan agreement that they thought this was an intelligent success in their words, but they also emerged with key lawmakers on both sides, blasting what they're saying describing as a potentially devastating leak to the media of information about this sensitive -- this sensitive operation.

Just listen here to two key members from the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Peter King, as well as the top Democrat on that committee, Dutch Ruppersberger.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: The pressing issue right now is how it was leaked and what can be done to make sure this doesn't happen again. I can't emphasize how closed this was, how compartmentalized it was and how create it was. And yet the fact that it could have gotten out in any kind of detail at all, the fact that even a hint it could have gotten out is really, really shocking.

REP. C.A. RUPPERSBERGER, MARYLAND: We have to be vigilant, and strong and have to work as a team. We can't have the stove pops and not cooperate. But when you cooperate, there's a chance of leaks occurring. You can't have leaks. Leaks can kill people. Leaks can deter us getting information. That's not what intelligence is about.


BOLDUAN: Now both Congressmen Ruppersberger as well s Congressman King came out to say that they did not know where the leak came from, but Peter King did note that the members of the CIA is angry about this and also insisted that the leak could not, did not come from Congress because he says members of Congress, key members of Congress were not informed and were not briefed on this until yesterday. That in and of itself has been a source of criticism by some members up here.

But top members of the House Intelligence Committee, Wolf, did say they will be investigating. Obviously, this is where a lot of the focus is at this point -- how and why the information leaked out prematurely and that's where a lot of the focus is from key members on capitol hill today, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kate, thank you.

Next hour, we'll go in-depth on the foiled plot. Could the bomb have gotten through airport security undetected? The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers has seen the device, a picture of it. He's going to share with us some of the details.

And the president says his views of gay marriage are evolving. Where does Mitt Romney stand? I'll ask a campaign senior advise dviser. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: A series of appearance stumbles as Mitt Romney's campaign is falling off message a bit as the general election campaign gets into full swing six months ago.

Let's talk about that and more with Brian Jones, senior adviser to the Romney campaign.

Brian, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: You know, the incident yesterday is getting a lot of publicity, a woman stands out and says to Mitt Romney. Let me play the clip for you, and then we'll discuss, because people are comparing his reaction at that town hall meeting with John McCain's reaction four years earlier.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a president right now that is operating outside the structure of our Constitution, and I do agree he should be tried for treason.


BLITZER: Later in a rope line Romney said, of course, he disagrees. But at the town hall he didn't rebuke her. He didn't say what he said later and some are suggesting that represents a lack of experience, if you will. He should have come out and said, you know, he shouldn't be tried for treason. You can disagree with him, but he shouldn't be tried for treason.

JONES: Governor Romney did ultimately disagree with the woman he said he disagreed. It's a long campaign and I'm sure he'll have chances to make different points, when people say things that aren't appropriate. At the same time, you've only got a finite time to get your message out.

Look, at the end of the day, I think Governor Romney will call people out when they say things that are offensive, and ultimately he did disagree with this woman.

BLITZER: So, you agree, though, he's learned a lesson from this experience. Next time somebody says he's a Muslim, he's not an American citizen, he should be tried for treason, he'll correct that person at a town hall.

JONES: Well, you don't want to guess what a hypothetical would be. But certainly, if people are going to say things that are inappropriate, hateful and not right, I believe Governor Romney will call them out.

BLITZER: I know Governor Romney, I'm sure when he heard her say he should be tried for treason, I'm sure he thought to himself that's ridiculous.

JONES: Of course.

BLITZER: I'm sure if he had a do-over, he would have said at the event, instead of waiting until later. You know what, that's not appropriate language.

JONES: Again, a long campaign and lots of chances I think to -- hopefully this won't happen too often. But when it does, I think the governor will call them out.

BLITZER: But he should be ready. It's probably going to happen.


BLITZER: When he does these town hall meetings, the questions aren't screened in advance, you know that some of these people -- they're going to ask tough questions.

JONES: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the whole with issue of gay marriage. Where, exactly -- we know the president's position is evolving and he's getting some heat right now on that. Where exactly does Mitt Romney stand when it comes to gay individuals, lesbians and gay men getting married?

JONES: Governor Romney has been clear on this and he's been clear on it throughout the whole primary process. He believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. And it's just as clear as that.

BLITZER: So, he opposes gay marriage?

JONES: He opposes gay marriage.

BLITZER: What about civil unions? Does he oppose civil unions?

JONES: You know, in the past, I believe he's been against civil unions, open to conversations about medical benefits and some of that -- some of those issues. I think the real issue here, though, is obviously and it would be a little more and interesting and lively discussion if you had someone from the Obama campaign given what's happened inside his camp over the last few days with what Vice President Biden said.

BLITZER: He opposed gay marriage. He opposes civil unions. Does he support a constitutional amendment though that would ban same-sex marriage? JONES: Yes, he does.

BLITZER: So if he were living in North Carolina on this referendum that's under way today, he would vote in favor.

JONES: He believes states have to decide their own fate basically.

BLITZER: What's his position on the North Carolina referendum?

JONES: I'm not familiar what his position on North Carolina referendum. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he believes -- if he was a resident of North Carolina, he might have an opinion on that. But he believes states should have the right to make their own decisions.

BLITZER: I ask these questions because I studied Governor Romney's positions over the years when he was running for the Senate in Massachusetts, when he was governor of Massachusetts, and I think it's fair to say his position has evolved over these many years.

We have a full screen -- I'll put it up when he said back in 1994 when he was running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy. He said, "I believe we can and must do better if we are to achieve the goals we share. We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern. My opponent cannot do this, I can and will." In other words, he was more supportive of gay rights back in the '90s than Ted Kennedy was.

JONES: Look, Governor Romney was clear about this throughout the primary process. He believes the marriage should be between a man and a woman. That's it.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say his position has evolved or has he always opposed shall we say, equal rights for gays?

JONES: You know, I use the word evolution, and I'm not sure what the correct terminology is on this case. But I can say that, you know, his position is what it is. And again, I would go back to the Obama campaign and they're the ones that seem to have a bigger issue with gay marriage.

BLITZER: What do you think about what he said then, what he wrote then, do you stand by that? Have you discussed that with him when he was running for the Senate in '94?

JONES: I'll be frank with you. I haven't talked to Governor Romney about the 1994 campaign. I know what his position is right now.

BLITZER: It was a letter, by the way, that he wrote to members of the Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts. Those are gay Republicans, October 6, 1994.

Quickly on Rick Santorum, in the middle of the night last night he comes out with an e-mail and he sort of endorses Mitt Romney. I wouldn't say it was really enthusiastic. How did you react to that? JONES: We're really to have the support of Rick Santorum. It was a long, bruising hard-fought primary so we're happy to have his support going forward.

And today, I believe he tweeted saying, he's looking forward to getting out in the road and helping Governor Romney in campaigning for him. So we're excited to have his support.

BLITZER: It was a little strange, though, you got to admit. The way Santorum did it, 13th paragraph out of 16 paragraphs and sort of buried out there. He sent it out at 11:00 at night. It was a little strange.

JONES: Maybe it was a little atypical in terms of how something like this may have been done, but look, at end of the day we're happy we got his support. We're excited to have it and I'm sure you'll see Governor Romney and Santorum out on the campaign trail soon.

BLITZER: Brian Jones, thanks very much for coming in.

JONES: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

JONES: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: A Republican official says Romney is, quote, "still deciding what his position is on immigration." The RNC and the Romney campaign pushing back immediately, but is some damage already done? Our "Strategy Session" coming up next.

And an unbelievable video, a very sad video, I should say, being used against police officers accused of beating a man to death.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us are two CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona and the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos. He's the co-founder of Purple Strategy, a bipartisan communications firm.

I know a lot of folks like to say Castellanos. It's Castellanos. Is that correct?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Exactly, especially when we're talking about Hispanic issues.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You make me so happy when you pronounce it correctly, absolutely.

BLITZER: Let's talk politics right now. We were talking earlier with Brian Jones from the Romney campaign about Rick Santorum's endorsement of Romney in the 13th and 16th paragraph in an e-mail he sent out last night.

I'll put it up on the screen. Above all else, we both agree that President Obama must be defeated. The task will not be easy. It will require all hands on deck if our nominee is to be victorious.

Governor Romney will be that nominee and he has my endorsement and support to win this the most critical election of our lifetime. What do you make of that? The way he endorsed him, the style, the words?

CASTELLANOS: Doesn't exactly bring the words good loser to mind. If I were the Romney people, I would be slightly disappointed that Santorum didn't do this at midnight instead of at 11:00. Rick Santorum doesn't have that much to give Mitt Romney right now.

Romney is the de facto nominee. Santorum waited too late and in fact, I think if he doesn't become a little more enthusiastic he can jeopardize himself, not Romney. Republicans are united as they've never been because they want to beat Barack Obama. And I don't think Santorum wants to be the guy who undermines that in any way.

BLITZER: Michele Bachmann several weeks to endorse Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich did it, but not in a robust, really lively way. The Republicans have to get united if they're going to beat the president of the United States in six months.

CARDONA: Well, there's no question about that, Wolf. But I think what this endorsement did and he actually puts new meaning to bearing the lead is that it indicates he still have a lot of misgivings and I don't think he's alone. A lot of conservatives and social conservatives still have a lot of misgivings about Mitt Romney.

And you saw it, all of the misgivings and the things that he said before about Mitt Romney being the worst Republican to go against President Obama.

The fact that he doesn't think he's principled especially on conservative values and all of that came screaming out in those 13 preceding paragraphs before he actually endorsed him.

CASTELLANOS: Not like a threat from Mars and Republicans do feel that unless Barack Obama is defeated the country is in jeopardy. At the end of the day, you're going to see Republicans I think solid and with enthusiasm in November.

BLITZER: That's the key word, with enthusiasm. We'll see how enthusiastic that is. There was a conference call that the RNC had for Hispanic outreach and Republicans, we all know, they need to do more work to reach out to the Hispanic community.

And the director of the Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee said this, as a candidate, referring to Mitt Romney, to my understanding, he's still deciding what his position on immigration is. That was a little awkward, wasn't it?

CASTELLANOS: An unfortunate choice of words there. You know, this happens with staff and junior staff in a campaign.

BLITZER: This woman is the director -- but that's a director. CASTELLANOS: Of course, meanwhile Barack Obama's been -- Democrats have been attacking Mitt Romney for his firm positions on immigration that he wants to enforce our laws and incredible thing.

Who would have thought anyone would want to do that and secure our border? On the other hand, his position doesn't seem to be clear enough for them. I know Mitt Romney and immigration is an important issue to me as it is to Maria.

We've talked about this and I've never heard him talk about illegal immigration and securing the borders without also saying you know what we have to do? We have to expand legal immigration and we're losing so many great minds and people that we train.

CARDONA: That's not --

CASTELLANOS: That's a very important point.

BLITZER: He does have a position on immigration and illegal immigration. You look at the debates and I moderated three of those debates, but for someone from the RNC to say he's still deciding his position? It suggests that there is potentially an etch a sketch, an evolving position on immigration.

CARDONA: Or it could suggest that Mitt Romney has flip-flopped so much and someone that doesn't know him that well has basically whiplashed not knowing what position he's going to take.

So I kind of don't blame her. The good news for the Republicans is they can hardly do more damage than what they have done with Hispanics.

BLITZER: Where his position is evolving whether we should support Marco Rubio's version of the dream act. On that, he is still making up his mind.

CASTELLANOS: And I think on that a lot of Republicans are trying to find a way to be, you know, a nation of strong hands, but big hearts and open doors, but a secure border.

And Republicans are working on that to try to solve a problem. Look, Barack Obama has done a lot to solve the immigration problem in this country. He's cratered the economy.

Now more people want to leave than want to come. That's the thing we need to do to get the country back on track again.

CARDONA: The problem with that is that Latinos look at immigration as a filter issue. The way that Republicans have been speaking about --

CASTELLANOS: They don't care about the economy?

CARDONA: Did I say that? No. I said they look at it as a filter issue. The economy is number one, but if they don't like the way you're speaking to them about this filter issue they're not going to listen to you on the economy. CASTELLANOS: Mitt Romney wants to increase legal immigration.

CARDONA: And that's going to fall on deaf ears.

BLITZER: Lopsided Hispanic support for the president in states like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado and maybe even Florida, maybe Florida.

CASTELLANOS: Key swing states.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

A group of police officers caught on tape allegedly beating a man to death. The video is shocking and it had people in the courtroom gasping.

Also, it all started with my exclusive interview with an American imprisoned in Cuba. The Cuban authorities contacted me to respond and now the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is weighing into CNN as well. All of this coming up in our next hour.


BLITZER: Now to some unbelievable video being shown in a California courtroom. We want to warn you, it can be very hard to watch. On it you can see and hear a man pleading for his life as police officers repeatedly beat him. He died five days later.

CNN's Casey Wian is following the story for us -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the first time yesterday in a courtroom prosecutors and public, I should say, prosecutors played that videotape of Fullerton police officers beating transient Kelly Thomas, injuries that led to his death.


WIAN (voice-over): The tape begins with a warning from Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos to transient Kelly Thomas.


THOMAS: Yes, what about that?

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: They're getting ready to -- you up.

THOMAS: Start punching dude.

WIAN: The disturbing video shows Thomas hit with batons. Early in the 8-minute fight, you can clearly hear him saying he's sorry to officers over and over again.

THOMAS: OK. I'm sorry! I'm sorry!

WIAN: Seven minutes in, each after he's been tased and hit in the face with the butt of a taser, you can also hear police saying Thomas continues to resist him.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: He's still fighting.

WIAN: Perhaps most disturbing of all Thomas calls out to his father and from the tape it's very clear he was afraid he was being beaten to death.

His father, who was not at the scene, later told reporters that his son was mentally ill. The video was so disturbing there were audible gasps in the courtroom.

And at one point the judge ordered the playback stopped so some spectators could leave the hearing. A toxicology report found no drugs or alcohol in Thomas' system. The coroner ruled he died of asphyxiation, aggravated by the injuries he received.

Here you can see the pool of blood left after Thomas is taken off in a stretcher. The defense attorney for one of the officers has said his client issued a lawful force to subdue him and there was insufficient evidence for a murder charge.


WIAN: Today, defense attorneys are again playing that videotape in court and questioning medical professionals about other possibilities, other ways that Kelly Thomas may have been killed.

Of course, they are trying to persuade a judge at this preliminary hearing to drop murder and manslaughter charges against those two officers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's shocking, really shocking video, Casey. What's been the reaction in the community out there?

WIAN: A lot of attention on the Fullerton Police Department. Some folks in the community saying that this department has a very long history of beating suspects so there are been a lot of effort by the local city authorities to perhaps look into alternatives.

People very shocked at the graphic nature of these pictures and the still photos that we've seen for some time and now the videotape that we're seeing for the first time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Truly shocking. I must say awful. Thank you very much, Casey, for that report.

The decision to bailout insurer, AIG is causing a lot of outrage, but a new report says there may be reason to smile about it now, billions of reasons.

And the Cuban government is responding officially to my interview with an American man they're holding behind bars. The way it says Allen Gross could be released surprised me. You are going to hear it. That's coming up in our next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It was a controversial decision by the U.S. government to bail out the insurance giant AIG. Now a new report says the U.S. stands to make billions of dollars in profit from the bailout.

CNN's Erin Burnett is out in front of this story. Erin, the bailouts were extremely unpopular, but in this case, it looks like the government and all of us taxpayers may be coming out on top. What's going on?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "OUTFRONT": This is pretty amazing because AIG, I think when you look at bailout politics was the one that was really hated by everybody. Nobody really liked the AIG bailout and it was a cancer in the center of the whole weakness of the financial system, $182 billion.

So this is the single biggest bailout investment by U.S. taxpayers, AIG, and what's amazing, Wolf, the General Accounting Office came out with a 76-page report saying that they think the taxpayers may make about $15.1 billion on this.

So they'll get their 182 back plus another $15 billion. Now AIG is not quite there yet. They still have some debt to repay and they've been doing so steadily. So the GAO was assuming they'll finish that.

But also it's really about where AIG's shares trade. Taxpayers, we the people, used to own more than 90 percent of AIG and it soon will be just over 60 percent. But -- this is the breakeven price.

So if you're a taxpayer and want to know if you're going to make money, this is the price to look at $28.72 and show you where we are right now. We're above that break even. So when the government is selling shares right now, taxpayers are making money.

The big contrast, of course, Wolf, is to look at General Motors, which is the other big question mark out there whether taxpayers will be made whole or not. GM needs to trade somewhere between $54 and $59 a share for taxpayers to actually make any money on that transaction.

And I'll show you where we close today and we're not even close. So we're a long way to go on GM. It doesn't mean we can't get there and obviously, we're not quite there yet on AIG.

But I mean, Wolf, a couple of years ago, even 18 months ago if you had said to experts on Wall Street, AIG would pay America back they would have said no way.

And AIG has managed to do it. So we'll see when they finally get there, but it's a pretty stunning number and I think will shock a lot of people.

BLITZER: And I know you'll have more on this coming up at 7 p.m. Eastern. We'll be watching, Erin, as we do every single night. Thank you. Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, is why do the negative campaign ads seem to work so well?

Bruce in South Dakota writes, "I don't think any of it really works anymore. The truth has long since been lost in all the noise and sadly, it's gotten to the point where I really don't trust anyone who wants the job."

Ed in Pennsylvania writes, "I believe the following quote covers the whole gamut of negative political ads, quote. The lies are so much easier to believe when they were exactly what you were hoping to hear, unquote, author unknown."

Aleda writes, "Negative ads turn me off. They have no effect on me. I understand who the candidates are, what they believe in and stand for and that's what I base my vote on. Get the facts, folks. Make an educated decision."

E.D. writes, "I think the negative campaign works because folks look at what's in front of them with no research. I sure don't want that guy. Plus they're all politicians and therefore tell you exactly what they think you want to hear."

Jason writes on Facebook, "For me negative ads work against those who produce them. It shows me their ideas cannot stand on their own so they resort to criticizing their opponents."

C writes, "To be blunt. It's far easier to destroy a reputation than to build one. People tend to judge others more by their faults than their good traits unless they are family and this is particularly true in politics."

Patrick writes, "Americans love gossip."

If you want to read more about this, go to the blog or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Everyone loves gossip, not just Americans. I've been all over the world. Folks love to gossip. All right, Jack, thank you.

We have new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the latest al Qaeda plot to try to blow up a U.S.-bound plane. One explosive device has been seized, but are there more out there?

Also, coming up next, we remember an author whose books touched the lives of millions of children over the decades.


BLITZER: Sad news for the literary world today. The renowned children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak is dead. He's best known for his timeless classic "Where The Wild Things Are," released in 1963.

It's a true childhood classic that has touched the lives of generations of readers around the world. He won the Caldecott medal in 1964 for the book's unforgettable illustrations.

One critic even called him and I'm quoting now, "The Picasso of children's literature." In 2009, the book was made into a feature film directed by Spike Jonze and Sendak's price book is still making its mark on children today.

President Obama read "Where The Wild Things Are" to a crowd of thousands of this year's White House Easter Egg Roll participants. Sendak illustrated nearly 100 books during his 60-year career and also designed sets and costumes for operas and ballets.

His last work entitled "My Brother's Book" will be published in February of next year. His publisher said Sendak died today in Danbury, Connecticut of complications following a recent stroke. The author and the illustrator, Maurice Sendak was 83 years old.