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Mitt Romney Defends Business Record; Brutal Beating Mystery; Obama Touts Global Leadership; Who Do Women Prefer?; Afghan School Girls Poisoned; Female Drill Sergeant Claims Sexism; HP To Cut 27,000 Jobs; New Images of North Korean Launch Pad; Death-Defying Leap; Colin Powell: "No Problem" with Gay Marriage

Aired May 23, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Mitt Romney defends his record as a business leader and says he'd get the jobless rate down to 6 percent in his first term as president.

Also, as Joint Chiefs chairman, General Colin Powell held the line against gays serving openly in the military. But in a stunning turnaround, he now says he has no problem, obviously not with that, but also with gay marriage -- my in-depth interview coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And a woman lies in the hospital brutally beaten. Police suspect her husband, a prominent scientist, but he says he was out of town at the time. And she doesn't remember a thing. We're digging deeper.

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

He's faced a barrage of attacks on his business record, with Democrats portraying him as a job-cutting corporate raider, but Mitt Romney is now opening up about his time at Bain Capital and he's vowing to cut the jobless rate.

Let's go straight to our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, who has got the latest for us -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the way the day started, it seemed as if Mitt Romney was going to try once again to stay away from the subject of Bain Capital, but then as it turned out he had taken the issue head-on.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a day when Mitt Romney's campaign event, this one being an education speech to a Latino business group, took a backseat to responding to campaign attacks on the Democrats' favorite subject, Bain Capital.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people are interested in not so much the history of where I was at Bain Capital or that I have understanding of the private sector, but, instead, has the president made things better for the American people? Are they better off than they were four years ago? ACOSTA: In an interview with "TIME" magazine, the GOP contender defended his tenure at his former private investment firm, saying that experience of taking over companies that later succeeded or failed has better prepared him for the presidency than the man he would like to replace.

ROMNEY: The fact is that I spent 25 years in the private sector. And that obviously teaches you something that you don't learn if you haven't spent any time in the private sector. The president's experience has been exclusively in politics and as a community organizer.

ACOSTA: Romney is so confident in his abilities, he boldly predicts he will dramatically lower the nation's 8.1 percent unemployment rate if he wins.

ROMNEY: I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we put in place, we will get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, or perhaps a little lower.

ACOSTA: Ever since the Obama campaign started hammering the Bain issue, Romney has been reluctant to talk about it publicly, avoiding the subject on his campaign plane.

ROMNEY: Listen the these guys. They think, just because I walk by, they get an interview.

ACOSTA: But Romney can take comfort in this NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll showing the public is by and large unsure about Bain.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is what this campaign is going to be about.

ACOSTA: So the campaign has released a Web video accusing the president of trying to use Bain to distract voters from the economy.

After seeing some of the surrogates object to the Bain attacks, the president may be ready to move on, directing attention to two new ads featuring some campaign promises to protect Medicare and veterans. Still, the Obama campaign likes to throw a punch, so it released a Web video showing Colin Powell lecturing Romney on foreign policy.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Governor Romney not too long ago said the Russian Federation is our number one geostrategic threat. Well, come on, think. It isn't the case.


ACOSTA: As for Romney's talk of a 6 percent unemployment rate, it turns out the Congressional Budget Office has already beaten him to that.

Earlier this year, the nonpartisan CBO projected the jobless rate will drop to around 6 percent over the next four years, something the president may want to take credit for. And, Wolf, as for that unemployment rate, I also want to point out just a few weeks ago, Mitt Romney said at a campaign event that anything above 4 percent unemployment would be a disappointment, so his 6 percent benchmark does fall short of that.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people would love it to go down as low as possible. Right now, with it being more than 8 percent, we will take 6 percent, but 4 percent would even be a lot better.

ACOSTA: That would be better.

BLITZER: There are a lot of unemployed people out there. Thanks very much for that.

So, is Mitt Romney going out on a limb?

Let's dig deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and the "TIME" magazine managing editor, Rick Stengel. "TIME" magazine has a brand-new interview, as you just saw, with Mitt Romney in depth.

I want to talk about that in a moment.

But you just heard Jim Acosta suggest that Romney is getting pretty specific in that interview with "TIME," 6 percent unemployment. Is he really going out on a limb? Is he being smart right now or is that risky, Rick?

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": I actually don't think it's risky and I don't think he's going out on a limb.

He has used figures like that before. I think it's not a dramatic reduction to go from 8 percent to 6 percent, and I think he is in some ways deflecting talk about Bain by talking about the economy, in fact, by in effect accusing Obama of somebody who -- of being somebody who is so inexperienced on the economy that he won't actually have an effect.

So I don't -- I'm not trying to step on our own story, but I don't think the 6 percent is big news here.

BLITZER: All right, well, let's move on then.

I want to play a clip, Gloria. Listen to this. This is the exchange that Mitt Romney had with Mark Halperin of "TIME" magazine. Listen to this.


MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": You welcome scrutiny of your business record, is that right?

ROMNEY: Well, Mark, what I can tell you is this. The fact is that I spent 25 years in the private sector. And that obviously teaches you something that you don't learn if you haven't spent any time in the private sector.

If you were to say to me, tell me what you learned from your schooling that would help you be a president, it's, like, well, how do I begin going through a list like that? You learn through life's experience.

The president's experience has been exclusively in politics and as a community organizer. Both of those are fine areas of endeavor, but right now we have an economy in trouble, and someone who has spent their career in the economy is more suited to help fix the economy than someone who spent his life in politics and as a community organizer.


BLITZER: All right, so, Gloria, you have got a terrific column that you just posted on about whether or not all of the president's attacks on Romney and Bain Capital potentially could backfire. What do you say about this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you look at the current polling, Wolf, at this point, half the public doesn't have really much of an idea.

What the campaign is trying to do is to say, we want to disqualify him on the business issue because, in fact, his experience has been bad, and they're also trying to turn it into a values issue by saying that Mitt Romney, given his experience at Bain Capital, does not have the proper values to run the country.

I would argue that there is a danger here for the Obama campaign, and that is that the president is really well-liked. One of the reasons over half the public likes him is because they see him as a generally genial person sometimes above the fray, sometimes the adult in the room. And when you get down to the nitty-gritty of campaigning, you know, the likability issue could potentially suffer.

BLITZER: You know, someone, Rick, who thought I knew a lot about Romney, I learned something in this new cover story you have in "TIME" magazine.

I want to put the cover, first of all, up on the screen. There you see a 23-year-old Mitt Romney with his mom. Now, a lot of folks probably don't know that she once ran for the U.S. Senate as well and she had a huge impact on his life.

Talk a little bit about what you guys at "TIME" magazine have now learned.

STENGEL: Yes, It's a great story, Wolf, by Bart Gellman.

And, of course, a lot of people know that Mitt's father, George, was a three-time governor of Michigan, a hard-driving guy who never liked to be told no. In 1970, after his father left his last term, he basically put forward his wife, Lenore, who had actually been a Hollywood actress in her youth.

And she was just not really cut out for the arena of politics. And unlike her husband, she deflected attacks, she was very gracious and very quiet, and yet she was obliterated on the campaign trail. And one of the things that Mitt learned, according to our story, is to avoid error, to not get into circumstances where a single remark or an (INAUDIBLE) remark will get you in trouble, like it did with his mother and once upon a time with his father as well.

BORGER: Yes, he also learned that from his father, as you point out, because, of course, when his father ran for the presidency, within a nanosecond, his campaign evaporated after his father said we were brainwashed in Vietnam.

And that was sort of the end of his father's presidential run. So the candor really hurt his father. So, that's something that Romney clearly keeps in mind every day on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: A terrific interview in "TIME" magazine.

Our friend, Mark Halperin, did the interview for "TIME" magazine, our sister publication.

This note -- there's the cover. I want our viewers to take -- take a look at last week's issue as well, the cover story on Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel.

Rick Stengel went to Israel.

Rick, you spent a lot of time with Prime Minister Netanyahu there and you have written a really terrific piece on him.

So, read this week's issue, but read last week's issue as well.


STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: I learned -- I thought I knew a lot about that subject, as well, but I learned some stuff in the course of reading that article, which was terrific.

All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: resident Obama reminds Air Force Academy grads that they have one less enemy to face.


OBAMA: Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our country.


BLITZER: President Obama gets a chance to tout his own global leadership to the next generation of military leaders. And Mitt Romney told me that our main, the U.S.' main geopolitical foe right now is Russia, but Colin Powell thinks he's dead wrong on that. My interview with General Colin Powell, that is coming up in our next hour.

And a well-known scientist is suspected of brutally beating his wife. But he denies involvement. She doesn't remember what happened.

We're digging deeper.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Biden, Wolf, his recent gay marriage gaffe is only the latest example of the vice president stepping in it.

We all love it when he does that. Some are beginning wonder, though, if Biden is the best running mate for President Obama in what is shaping up to be a close contest against Mitt Romney.

Republicans have made a strategy out of targeting Biden. They're following him on the campaign trail, hoping he is going to slip up.

A source close to Romney tells Politico Biden is -- quote -- "a ticking time bomb. Who the hell knows what he's going to say?" -- unquote.

Another Republican describes the veep as -- quote -- "the chink in the armor," someone likely to commit unforced errors.

Biden's off-script remarks are legendary. Remember when he called Obamacare a -- quote -- "big F-ing deal" on microphone, back to the last campaign when he described then candidate Obama as clean and articulate in an interview? Lovely.

But Democrats insist Biden is the best surrogate for the president. They might be right . He connects with working-class voters in a way that the sometimes aloof president just can't.

Also, Joe Biden is a great attack dog who goes after Romney in a way that Mr. Obama might not want to.

Just yesterday, Biden said that Romney's time in private equity didn't qualify him for the White House any more than being a plumber would. Got to love it.

Meanwhile, if you listen carefully, the calls for a Vice President Hillary Clinton, they're out there. You can hear them.

Clinton's approval numbers are through the roof, and some suggest that with Romney possibly closing the gender gap and gaining among women, President Obama should dump Biden for Clinton on the ticket.

It seems like a very remote possibility, probably won't happen, but, hey, stranger things have happened. It's politics, you know?

Here's the question -- Joe Biden: asset or viability for President Obama?

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

I love Biden, but I can see where he probably makes the president's people nervous.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They get a little nervous. Even the president said he was ahead of his skis a little bit on the whole issue of gay marriage and had to force the president to accelerate.

I think the president was going to endorse gay marriage at some point, but he obviously accelerated the timeline because of that -- you know, in that recent interview he gave the vice president, he made it clear he is definitely on the ticket. He's not going anywhere.

You know what else is possible out there? At least I hear it from sources at the White House is and elsewhere. He isn't even thinking potentially in 2016, running for president again. That would not necessarily be out of the question, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You know what? He might even be electable. He's the only human being, for want of a better phrase, on the political landscape. The guy speaks in plain English. You ask him a question, he'll give you an answer. He doesn't couch it in positions and political speak.

He's -- to quote a phrase -- the guy I'd like to have a beer with.

BLITZER: Yes. And I have over the years. I've known him for a long time and he's a great guy and he's going to be around for a while.

CAFFERTY: Yes, good.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

They're still talking in Baghdad. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what do you have?


Well, Iran and six Western nations, including the U.S., are meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, hoping to come to terms over the Islamic republic's nuclear program. Tuesday, the head of the IAEA said he would sign a path with Iran soon, signaling to Iran's possible openness to broader inspection of its nuclear facilities and officials tell CNN the talks will continue into Thursday.

Iran's economy has been crippled by Western sanctions. Israel wants it to end all uranium enrichment. And Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

And the Pakistani tribal court has handed down a 33-year sentence to this man, a doctor accused of helping the CIA track down Osama bin Laden. Shakil al Fredi, helped the CIA use a vaccination campaign to track bin Laden to a compound where he had been hiding. The al Qaeda leader was killed there/

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators issued a statement, calling today's sentence shocking and outrageous.

And it still has no formal Constitution, but Egypt has taken a step toward democracy that's thousands of years in the making. For the first time in their history, Egyptians are voting in a presidential election in which the results are not preordained. There are 13 candidates on the ballot.

The first round of voting takes place today and tomorrow, and if no winner there will be a second round in mid-June and observers are reporting only minor violations today. So, a historic moment in Egypt, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Lisa, thanks very much.

We're watching what else is going on. And remember, the next hour, my full interview with General Colin Powell. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: President Obama today got a good chance to focus in on one part of his record that gets good grades on voters: his leadership on national security and foreign policy. That came in his address to graduates of the United States Air Force Academy.

Let's go live to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. He's in Colorado Springs, joining us.

Dan, how did it go over there today?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president's address really was a mix of pride and politics. He was talking about the U.S. global leadership and going through some of his campaign themes. He was also seemingly countering some of the criticism from his likely opponent, Mitt Romney.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): A dramatic flyover capped President Obama's commencement salute to more than 1,000 cadets in the U.S. Air Force Academy where he touted their accomplishments and challenged them to become great leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are dismissed!

LOTHIAN: And celebrated the end.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the day you finally become officers in the finest air force in the world.

LOTHIAN: But he spent most of the commencement address painting a picture of the landscape since the cadets arrived here four years ago. The war in Iraq over, the fight in Afghanistan winding down, the killing of Osama bin Laden.

OBAMA: Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our country. We've put al Qaeda on the path to defeat.

LOTHIAN: And when this iconic photo was snapped during the raid to get bin Laden, it was an academy graduate, the president pointed out, who was at his side, General Brad Webb. But big challenges remain each as the president spoke about the spread of democracy and the push to secure nuclear weapons.

OBAMA: Mobilizing dozens of weapons to secure nuclear materials so they never fall into the hands of terrorists, rallying the world to put the strongest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea.

LOTHIAN: The president enjoys strong support among Americans for his handling of foreign policy. In this recent poll, 51 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove.

But his likely Republican opponent Mitt Romney gives the president a much different score, accusing Mr. Obama of trying to make friends with some of the world's worst actors and criticizing defense cuts.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to believe that America's strength is the best ally peace has ever known, that America must have a military so strong no one would ever think of testing it.

LOTHIAN: As predator tones were put on display behind the cadets, President Obama acknowledged they would be leaner, but no less capable of handling conventional and unconventional threats.

OBAMA: Cadets, as I look into your eyes, as you join that long blue line, I know you will carry us even farther and even higher.


LOTHIAN: While the president was addressing the cadets here, he was also speaking to a much broader audience, military veterans. This is an important group that the campaign has been targeting. You heard the president talking about how his administration has been offering help and offering benefits for veterans. They believe this group will be important in the upcoming election, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Dan Lothian in Colorado for us.

Here's a question. Who do women voters like more? Recent polls offer some contradictory results on female voters' choice for president. Stand by.

And a conservative super PAC comes out with a kinder, gentler attack ad. Will that lure voters away from President Obama? Our strategy session is coming up next.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Here are some of the stories we're working on for the next hour. A mountain of hype and then a mighty Wall Street fall. What happened to put Facebook and its key players in a world of trouble right now?

Also what Colin Powell thinks. The former secretary of state opens up about same-sex marriage, the upcoming presidential race and the staying power of al Qaeda and a lot more. My interview with him coming up in the next hour.

And moviemakers delve behind the scene s to tell the story of the raid to take out Osama bin Laden. Some critics complain however they were able to dig just a little too deep.

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session right now. Joining us are two CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, and the former Bush White House speechwriter David Frum.

Guys, you know, I love polls, all of us love polls who are news junkies and sometimes polls are not necessarily precise on being --

HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We like them because they can mean whatever we want them to mean.

BLITZER: Well, remember on May 11th through 13th, "The New York Times" and CBS they had a poll, Romney/Obama, women voters. And this is what it showed at the time: 46 percent for Romney, 44 for President Obama. And everybody, at least most people in the White House came out saying, there were flaws in that poll. Even Keating Holland, our own pollster on CNN said there was a basic flaw there and it was not real.

Let's wait for the next major poll to come out and see where it really spins and out in next major poll is out, the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, registered voters choice for president, Obama 53 percent and Romney 38 percent.

Not a two-point lead for Romney, a 15-point lead for President Obama. So what do you make of all of this as a political strategist who has been studying polls for a long time. What should the viewers take from this episode?

ROSEN: You should take that actually there is a 15-point gender gap because this much more accurately reflects what both Democrats and Republicans have been seeing in their polls for the last six or eight months.

And there's all sorts of good reasons for it, but essentially, you know, we have a president who has been speaking to women, not just on what people dismissively call women's issues like reproductive health and other things.

But also women in the economy and other thing, and you know, it's showing his strong support which he had in 2008, as well.

FRUM: Here's the way I always think, my test for these polls that we split women into two halves, married and unmarried. They're 50/50, half are married and half not.

Among married women, Republicans run about neck and neck, sometimes a little ahead. If Republicans fall behind among married women as they did, for example, in 1996 that is a red alarm, you're in a lot of trouble.

Among unmarried women, Democrats have a lead that can be anywhere from 10 to 15 or even more points and then you aggregate those two. The concern for Republicans is that over time the proportion of women who are not married is growing.

Partly on the aged end as our population ages and the men die before the women do. They are more and more older women and also the younger end, people are finding marriage more difficult. That is a core strategic problem and it's driven by things bigger than any one week news cycle.

ROSEN: But it's more than just a problem. It's really an approach, right? So we saw this all through the Republican primaries and we see it in Mitt Romney's rhetoric, which is that, you know, are we talking about all kinds of families?

Are we talking about single women and the fact that one in four children are being raised in a single parent head of household. Those are the kinds of things that Republicans just haven't been very good at that the Democrats pay a lot more attention to.

BLITZER: Women obviously are critically important in this race. Now the pro-Republican "Super PAC" Crossroads GPS, Karl Rove's "Super PAC," they have a new ad that has a little softer touch to it. I think women voters are the key objective here. Let me play a little bit of that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always loved watching the kids play basketball. I still do, even though things have changed. It's funny, they can't find jobs to get their career started and I can't afford to retire and now we're all living together again.

I supported President Obama because he spoke so beautifully. He promised change, but things changed for the worse. Obama started spending like our credit cards have no limit. His health care law made health insurance even more expensive. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, David, that's a softer touch there. It's not a brutal attack ad. What's the objective here?

FRUM: Well, notice that woman is single and single in all kinds of ways. She is a single mother with two children now at home and there is also a little bit of suggestion that she may be Latino.

And that is the element in the electorate that really has to move if the Republicans are going to break through. My question is, I don't know that the debt is the issue to lead with, that that is the thing that is going to be most on their minds.

And the problem there is Republicans are a little bit talking too much about what matters to Republicans and maybe not enough what matters to the woman in the ad.

BLITZER: As a professional, what do you think of that ad?

ROSEN: You know, I liked the tone, and I thought it was right on for them to start focusing with this kind of tone and stop with the attacks. President Obama's first ad that they really spent real money on was the intro ad about President Obama's record.

It had the same kind of tone. People just are -- they don't want this kind of anger and that played into it. The problem I think with it is maybe the debt is also the wrong issue, but it's just kind of quiet complaining.

It doesn't talk about what Mitt Romney is going to be doing or what future this woman has to look forward to if she supports the Republicans. I think that's what President Obama has to be focused on.

Telling people what he's going to be doing and I don't think the GOP complaining about Obama in a big tone, in a quiet tone will be effective.

FRUM: Complaining will be effective. When things are this bad, people are willing to take a gamble on something else being better and to remind people again and again, things are bad. Things are maybe a little better than they were four years ago, but not enough.

BLITZER: I think that was an effective ad. Don't get me wrong, but that transition of the young woman to the older woman looked a little phony to me, but that was just me being cinematography. Guys, thanks very much.

We want to hear straight from you, the voters on the issues that matter to you in the coming election. Join the I-Report debate by going to and rank which issue you think the I-Report community should discuss in depth. We'll bring them directly to the candidates themselves. Good idea.

More than a hundred girls poisoned. The idea of girls attending school is so offensive to the Taliban right now in Afghanistan that they'll do anything to prevent it.

A shocking act of brutality in Afghanistan. We have full details and we are on the ground. You need to see this report especially coming on the hills of Hamid Karzai's visit to the United States.

He was secretary of state when U.S. troops went into Afghanistan. Did General Colin Powell ever think they would still be there more than a decade later? My one-on-one interview with Colin Powell that's coming up right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Dozens of school girls and three of their teachers came under attack today in northern Afghanistan presumably for simply going to class. Officials say they were poisoned.

CNN correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from Kabul. Was this another attack by the Taliban? What's going on, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems to be, Afghan officials are blaming the Taliban. We can't be exactly sure who did it because no one has claimed responsibility. Obviously it's the work of extremists.

But you can imagine the terror this morning when the school girls went into class, sat down and noticed a strange smell in the air and all began feeling sick. Here are rare pictures of the aftermath of that attack.


WALSH (voice-over): To Afghanistan's most extreme conservatives like the Taliban, girls going to school is so offensive they'll do anything to stop it including poison school girls.

This morning students went into class at the girls school in Northern Takhar Province and noticed a powerful smell. They began to fall ill. In panic, 125 girls were rushed to hospital. There headaches and dizziness set in forcing the girls to require longer treatment.

DR. HABIBULLAH ROSTAQI, HOSPITAL DIRECTOR (through translator): The number of girls age from 15 to 18 were brought from a school to the hospital today. Generally, they're not in critical condition. We are looking after them, but let's see what happens later. We understand so far from the situation that they are mostly traumatized.

WALSH: Amid the distress here, a growing fear that even in the once peaceful north hardliners can strike at will. Police have sent blood samples from the poisoned girls to Kabul to work out what the poison is, but they already know who to blame.

KHALILULLAH ASEER, TAKHAR PROVINCE SPOKESMAN (through translator): Actually the Afghan people know that the terrorists and the Taliban are doing these things to threaten girls and stop them from going to school. That's something we and the people believe. Now we are implementing democracy in Afghanistan. So we want girls to be educated, but the government's enemies don't want this.

WALSH: This has happened elsewhere before, and in this province only a few months ago. They fear a powerful weapon, but not powerful enough yet to stop these girls from wanting to learn.


WALSH: Now whoever is behind this attack and there are plenty of extremist groups across the country offended by idea of Afghan women learning. The message is chillingly clear for females in this country thinking about going on with their studies.

And it paints an even bleaker, more uncertain picture about the kind of Afghan society that will be left behind as NATO troops start to withdraw -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One quick question, Nick. What's the reaction in Afghanistan to Hamid Karzai's visit to Chicago for the NATO Summit?

WALSH: It was quite well televised. I think many Afghans, to be honest, have already begun to consider NATO's days here as numbered and looking for that post-NATO period wondering where they sit between the insurgency and in this decade-long campaign.

Certainly is I think people were pleased to see the (inaudible) signed the commitment from some of the NATO allies, but at the end of the day, the clock is ticking in most Afghans are just wondering exactly how safe they'll be as these NATO troops start to increase their numbers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us in Kabul. Thank you.

Later by the way in THE SITUATION ROOM, I have an in-depth and very candid conversation with the former Secretary of State Colin Powell. We get his take on the Afghan leader Hamid Karzai's comments about the Taliban and what General Powell is calling those comments. I'll give you a hint, he said they are disappointing.

Here's a question, who in their right mind would jump out of a plane without a parachute? Still to come, a former paratrooper does it on purpose. We'll have the video.

Also, some alarming new satellite images coming in from North Korea. We're going to tell you what analysts say the reclusive country is building.

And families traveling with children are losing another perk just in time for this coming Memorial Day weekend.


BLITZER: The first woman at an elite drill sergeant school said she was suspended from her position just because she was a woman and it turns out she may have been right. CNN's Jason Carroll has the story.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We first met Command Sergeant Major Teresa King three years ago at Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina.

(on camera): What are you looking for? I mean, because it all pretty much looks like everyone is exercising --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm looking for attention to detail.

CARROLL (voice-over): The first woman to lead the Army's elite drill sergeant school, a symbol of physical and emotional strength. That was then.

COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR TERESA KING, U.S. ARMY: I'm going through this devastating situation. It's important for me to set the example. That's where I'm at.

CARROLL: Now King faces the toughest battle of her 32-year military career. She filed a formal complaint against the Army charging her superiors mistreated her because she's a woman.

KING: I'm not in a position where I can say what should happen to my superiors, but I will say they need to be held accountable.

CARROLL: King was suspended following complaints of micromanaging and toxic leadership, factors she says would not have been questioned if she were a man.

Some rank and file questioning her lack of combat experience, but as a woman, King can't go to the frontlines. King who had earned top scores for physical fitness said she was punished for rejecting unfit candidates.

KING: I think drill sergeants should be some of the highest in the Army and that's the only way we can make soldiers.

CARROLL: King submitted a 19-page rebuttal describing her accusers as disgruntled because they faced disciplinary actions. Two of her superiors, Command Sergeant Major John Calpania and Major General Richard Luongo oversaw a six-month investigation.

During that period, King was not allowed to have contact with students and staff, cut off, she says, from her military family.

KING: I think I lost touch with consciousness because it was so painful.

CARROLL: King sought help from attorney and state legislator, James Smith, also one of her former soldiers. Smith said he believed in her then and now.

JAMES E. SMITH, KING'S ATTORNEY: Her suspension is and was unwarranted. Now the point is and what we're asking is for a review of how and why all of this took place.

CARROLL: Earlier this month, the Army found King's suspension was not warranted informing her, your suspension is lifted. Smith said not good enough.

An Army spokeswoman saying neither Calpena nor Luongo could comment. King's reinstatement came just in time for the change of responsibility ceremony, a commandant's final act, the official transfer of power.

KING: There were some days that I didn't feel like I wanted to live, but I believe in hope against all hope.

CARROLL: Supporters surrounded King who says despite everything she'd serve the Army again.

KING: I want to make sure that this does not happen to another person.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.


BLITZER: Good for her. All right, thanks very much. Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Question this hour, Joe Biden, asset or liability for President Obama?

Dan writes from Pennsylvania, "All things considered I believe Biden is a plus for Obama. He has a great sense of humor. He can be self-deprecating and has believability that reaches and resonates with Middle America. His experience in Congress probably helps the president a lot as he works behind the scenes on various issues."

Frances writes, "Joe Biden is valuable. He's an honest man who cares about working people. He's had real tragedy in his life and has compassion for others. What some call gaffes I call speaking his mind and speaking the truth."

Jen in Seattle writes, "Biden is a total liability. He was used by Obama to trick the blue-collar whites who drink too much into voting Democratic."

Emma in Baltimore writes, "He's both. He's a great asset in terms of knowledge and experience, but he doesn't always think before he speaks."

Charles in San Antonio, "I think Biden's neither an asset nor a liability. However, the Democrats are missing a huge opportunity if Biden stepped aside and Hillary was put on the ticket, Obama would win in a landslide and Hillary would be a sure thing in 2016."

Brad in Portland, Oregon writes, "Joe Biden is a good man with an honest heart. I can see how that would trouble the Republicans." And Rich in Texas writes, "Biden is like somebody's crazy uncle. You never know what he'll say, but people tend to give him a pass simply because they think he's nuts and pretty much harmless."

If you want to read more on this, you go to the blog at or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page. I like Joe Biden.

BLITZER: Yes, everybody likes Joe Biden. But what do you think, Jack, do you think if the president's advisers tell him in a few months it's not looking good. You got to do that Hail Mary pass, dump Biden and put Hillary Clinton on the ticket. Do you think the president would do that in order to become a two-term Democratic president?

CAFFERTY: I really don't think he'd do it. I don't think he'd be comfortable doing it himself because it doesn't seem to me that that's the kind of person he is.

But more than that it would be seen for exactly what it would be, an act of political desperation and a bit unloyal and unfaithful to the guy who has been alongside him during the first term. So, no, I don't think he'll do that.

BLITZER: Yes, the only way it would happen is if for some reason Biden decides, you know what? It's time for me to move on. You've got a shot, Mr. President. I don't want you to be a one-term Democratic president like Jimmy Carter. Hillary Clinton could help you if he were to make that decision that would be different.

CAFFERTY: Maybe they'll make him an offer he can't refuse.

BLITZER: Become secretary of state?

CAFFERTY: Who knows?

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

So who would jump from 2,000 feet in the air without a parachute? A former paratrooper does it for a reason. Wait until you see how he did it.

And some alarming new satellite images from North Korea. What analysts now say the reclusive regime may be up to.

And just in time for this Memorial Day weekend, families flying with kids, they are losing another perk.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots." In Spain, a pilgrim plays guitar while taking part in the country's largest annual pilgrimage. In New Delhi, Indian firemen fight a major fire, which broke out at a national bank.

In Beijing, a boy plays the violin as he sits by a river and in Germany, look at this, stork chicks and their parents prepare to leave the region and head south for the winter. "Hotshots," pictures coming in from around the world.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including the prospect of more big layoffs. Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Hewlett- Packard has announced plans to slash thousands of jobs. The tech giant announced a few minutes ago that its new wave of layoffs will involve 27,000 workers.

That's roughly 7 percent of HP's total global work force. In a statement, the company says the restructuring is expected to save up to $3.5 billion by the end of fiscal 2014.

There are new satellite images showing that North Korea is building a rocket launch pad and assembly center. That's according to analysis by IHS James, which calls the construction major.

The defense publication says the facility is similar to one in Iran. The images of the new construction on the country's eastern coast were taken by geo-eye within the past month.

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, no more special privileges for families flying coach for little ones. United Airlines says it's no longer offering early boarding for families with small children.

United joined the handful of other carriers and quietly made the policy shift in late April. A company spokesman said they felt it would simplify the boarding process. Passengers flying business or first class with kids still get to board early -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Some families are going to be pretty disappointed by that news, I am sure. All right, thanks very much.

So what do you get when you put a British stuntman into a helicopter without a parachute? You get a death-defying feat that might take your breath away. Here's CNN's Isha Sesay.


ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No parachute, no problem. On Wednesday, British stuntman, Gary Connery makes his final preparations before jumping from a helicopter 700 meters in the sky wearing a special wing suit.

The 42-year-old plans to glide in for a landing with a massive pile of more than 10,000 cardboard boxes to brake his fall. Connery is an ex-paratrooper who's made hundreds of jumps before, but even he admits this leap has him a little scared.

GARY CONNERY, STUNTMAN: Paranoia, I think for something like this it's a great state of mind and keeps me focused and keeps me aware of what I'm doing.

SESAY: Connery takes off and then moments later, makes his death defying leap. Connery appears as just a speck in the sky with another jumper filming him from above.

He's in free fall for just seconds before he begins to glide. Soaring at a speed of 128 kilometers per hour, his flight lasts less than a minute.

His wing suit slows him down to about 96 kilometers per hour before he lands on the makeshift runway of cardboard.

Connery's ground crew and wife quickly move in and after a few tense moments, the stuntman emerges from the pile boxes unscathed.

CONNERY: It's been an amazing experience and it was so comfortable, by my calculations it worked out and I'm glad they did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is your wife? How is she?

STUNTMAN: There she is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Relieved it's all over.

CONNERY: We have to take the boxes down.

SESAY: Now it's relief and champagne all around, and of course, the cleanup. Isha Sesay, CNN, Atlanta.