Return to Transcripts main page


President Obama Announced a Halt to Deportations of Illegal Immigrants; Shaharazad Jafari Accepted as Student at Columbia University; Wall Street Businessmen Switching Their Support; Interview with Husain Haqqani; Interview with Janet Napolitano

Aired June 16, 2012 - 18:00   ET



President Obama is getting mixed reaction to his bombshell decision to stop deporting many young illegal immigrants. This hour, the homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano explains the move, and we'll talk about the impact on the important Latino vote in the upcoming fall election.

Also, echoes of the Iraq insurgency in Syria. Stand by for an exclusive look at opposition forces building devastating roadside bombs.

And a new warning that the calcium supplements you're taking to strengthen your bones may actually be hurting your heart.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in "the SITUATION ROOM."

It's a surprise election year, policy change, with major implications for the presidential contest. The Obama administration says it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children if they meet certain requirements. Some Republicans immediately blasted the decision as amnesty.

Here's what President Obama had to say about the change.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Effective immediately, the department of homeland security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.

Now, let's be clear. This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stop-gap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. This is temporary. Congress needs to act. There's still time for Congress to pass the dream act this year, because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano.

Madame Secretary, thanks for coming in on this busy day. You caught all of us by surprise, especially as we went back and looked at what the president had say.

Back in October of 2010, he said, I am president, I am not king, I can't do these things just by myself. We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the executive branch to make it happen. I'm committed to making it happen, but I've got to have some partners to do it. He was referring to comprehensive immigration reform. But now he and you are taking unilateral, executive action to begin this process. Why now?

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, this was a logical progression from series of decisions that we've made over the last several years, to focus immigration enforcement on those who have violated the criminal law in addition to the immigration law, those who are repeat violators, those who are recent border crossers.

We've also been putting unprecedented resources at the border so that illegal immigration attempts at the southwest border haven't been this low since before 1971. But even as we've been enforcing the law, and we have removed a record number of individuals from the country, there is this group, this the group of young people, brought here through no fault of their own, they often haven't been to their country of origin, they don't speak the language. They're in school and they're in the military, they have not been in trouble with the law. We need to, within our discretionary authority, defer action against these individuals. And that's what I'm announcing today.

BLITZER: Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, says the president's decision -- what the president is doing is choosing politics over leadership. Because all of the critics are now insisting this wreaks of politics. Do you want to respond to that?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I would say, no. First of all, this was a decision out of my office, as the secretary of homeland security. And it was a decision made after we looked at what we've been doing over the last three years. And as you know, one of the things we've been doing over the last year is re-examining all 340,000 pending immigration cases and trying to re-stack them in line with our priorities and trying to administratively close cases that are low priority.

But as we've done that, we've now -- we've seen this whole category of young people, and we need to go a step further, and this is the next logical step, and that is to actually defer action.

BLITZER: You're talking about, what, 800,000 potential people who would qualify for this new status?

NAPOLITANO: It's really difficult to stay. There are those who are in removal proceedings now and we will either fine them or we're asking them to help us self-identify. There will be hotlines and websites up over the next couple of days. And then there are those who haven't been in touch with the immigration system, but they've been living under a cloud. And within 60 days, they will be able to go to a CIS office and if they meet the criteria, and they're going to have to demonstrate they meet the criteria, they can be given a grant of deferred action.

BLITZER: What about the parents of these children. Children come forward now, they identify themselves. Should the parents be concerned that potentially they could be deports, they would now be identified as illegal immigrants?

NAPOLITANO: No, we are not going to do that. We have internally set it up so that the parents are not referred for immigration enforcement if the young person comes in for deferred actions. However, the parents are not qualified for deferred action. This is for the young people who meet the criteria that we've set forth.

BLITZER: What social services would these young people be qualified for? Would they be qualified to receive Medicaid benefits, food stamps? School vouchers, stuff like that?

NAPOLITANO: No, no. They won't be -- again, there is deferred action now given in certain cases, and they don't qualify for those types of benefits. The one thing they may qualify for is a work authorization card, if they can demonstrate economic necessity.

BLITZER: Is this a pathway to citizenship for these young people?

NAPOLITANO: Not at all. In fact, that's where Congress needs to act. And we continue to urge the congress, you know, pass the dream act, look at comprehensive immigration reform, the immigration system as a whole.

You know, I've been dealing with immigration enforcement for 20 years, and the plain factor of the matter is that the law that we're working under doesn't match the economic needs of the country today. And the law enforcement needs of the country today.

But as someone who is charged with enforcing the immigration system, we're setting good, strong, sensible priorities, and again, these young people really are not the individuals that the immigration removable process was designed to focus upon.

BLITZER: One quite final question. Is the department of homeland security, I.C.E., immigrations and customs enforcement, are you ready for what's about to happen? Because presume apply you're going to be swapped with phone calls, appearances, these young people that want to get some legal status.

NAPOLITANO: You know, we're cautioning people, we need to take it, you know, kind of incrementally. Instructions have gone out to I.C.E. and C.B.P. today that they are not to put these young people into removal proceedings. We will begin the process over the next weeks of identifying those already in removal or who have received a final order of removal to consider them for deferred action and there will be phone numbers and a public advocate that these individuals can actually call, beginning next week, if they think they qualify.

And then for those who haven't been in the immigration system yet, they haven't been put into any kind of a proceeding, but they want to come forward, that will have to be to a CIS office, and that will be 60 days.

And again, we are posting on initial information, initial frequently asked questions, but we're going to have to work together with the community, with the country, to do a smooth enough implementation as possible.

BLITZER: Janet Napolitano, thanks so much, the secretary of homeland security. Good luck.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney also weighed in on the Obama administration's immigration policy change. Here's what he had to say.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis, so they know what their future would be in this country.

I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution, because an executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents.

I would like to see legislation that deals with this issue. And I happen to agree with Marco Rubio, as he considered this issue. He says that this is an important matter and we have to find a long-term solution, but that the president's action makes reaching a long-term solution more difficult.

If I'm president, we'll do our very best to have that kind of long- term solution, that provides certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country, through no fault of their own, by virtue of the action of their parents. Thank you.


BLITZER: Let's can dig a little bit deeper now with our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, host of "STATE OF THE UNION."

Candy, a lot of people think that politics all over this dramatic announcement Friday by the Obama administration.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, it was 3 1/2 years into his administration when he was under big fire from the Latino community, and has been for some time, saying, your immigration/deportation policy is much harsher than previous presidents. I think there was a pew poll late last year almost 60 percent of Latinos said they disapproved of the president's can deportation policies.

Now, here we are and it's June and it's five months until an election, and he goes, the most sort of innocent group here we're talking about, those who came in with their parents, had no say-so, 16 and under, they're under 30 now, and says, basically, let's do the - you know, some rendition of the dream act, of course it's political.

Even if he didn't intend it to be, and probably did, he's a smart guy, you know, the effect will be political. Does it mean that Latino voters were not going to vote for him in the first place? No, they're largely a democratic voting group at this point. But they weren't all that revved up about it. This is a base revere upper.

BLITZER: And a lot of people are already pointing out, next week, earlier scheduled, the president and Romney both supposed to address this major Latino group. So the timing for the president is presumably pretty good.

CROWLEY: How do you think they'll greet him?

BLITZER: I think they'll like this decision, at least most of them.

CROWLEY: They will. Absolutely, they will. And so, you know the timing, when he announced that he had personally evolved on the whole issue of gay marriage, he then afterwards spoke with and two some gay and lesbian and transgender folks.

So, look, of course it's political. But it's smart politics. We look at Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, this could make a difference because what's been a problem with Latino voters, they register, but many of them don't come up to vote. They voted in sort of a small proportion to the registered numbers. This is something that, obviously, the re-elect committee hopes will get them to the polls.

BLITZER: Don't forget Arizona, but even states like Virginia and North Carolina, a large Latino population there. And I think the president would like to really solidify that base of the Latino vote going ahead to November. You'll have much more on "STATE OF THE UNION"?

CROWLEY: Indeed.

BLITZER: 9:00 a.m., Sunday morning, and noon eastern Sunday.


BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

A campaign slugfest in a battleground state, details of dueling speeches by President Obama and Mitt Romney in Ohio. Also, coffee, red wine, mammograms, and more, are they good for you? Are they bad for you? Seems like the recommendations keep changing and changing, so what's going on?

And growing signs of Iraq-style insurgency in Syria, we have an exclusive look.


BLITZER: It may be the most crucial of the battleground states, and this week Barack Obama and Mitt Romney turned Ohio into their personal battleground. The slugfest took the form of rival speeches, but one candidate started swinging even before the bell.

CNN national political correspondent, Jim Acosta has more.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the first round of what will be a knockdown, drag out fight until November, Mitt Romney threw the first punch, beginning his speech ten minutes earlier than scheduled.

ROMNEY: But don't forget, he's been president for 3 1/2 years, and talk is cheap.

ACOSTA: But the president wasn't far behind. In a speech designed to frame his economic message, he landed some body blows of his own.

OBAMA: I have not seen a single independent analysis that says my opponent's economic plan would actually reduce the deficit. Not one.

ACOSTA: Both men duke it out in the swing state of Ohio, where they are both neck and neck in the polls, the president in Cleveland, and Romney 200 miles down the road in Cincinnati.

OBAMA: The private sector is doing fine. The private sector is doing fine.

ACOSTA: Echoing his new campaign ad, Romney repeated his line of attack that the president is out of touch, reminding voters of Mr. Obama's gaffe on the private sector.

ROMNEY: He's going to be saying today that he wants four more years. He may have forgotten that he talked about a one-term proposition, if he couldn't get the economy turned around in three years, but we'll hold him two his word.

I know what it's like to worry whether you're going to get fired.

ACOSTA: A new Obama web video noted that Romney has had his share of tone-deaf moments as well, referring to his GOP challenger as Mr. Romney not Governor Romney, the president seemed to look past his opponent at times, to blame Republicans in Congress for blocking his agenda.

OBAMA: It's the biggest source of gridlock in Washington today. And the only thing that can break the stalemate is you.

ACOSTA: The president could have the upper hand in Ohio, where the unemployment rate has plummeted in the last two years, from 10.6 to 7.4 percent. And a new Gallup poll shows Americans still blame President George W. Bush, not Mr. Obama, for the economy. A matrix not lost on the president.

OBAMA: But, let's be clear. Not only are we digging out of a hole that is nine million jobs deep.

ACOSTA: But Romney's argument is that the president has run out of time to get the country back on track, which is why Republicans are pointing to what Bill Clinton said in 2010, if the nation is still stuck in a hole.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't go back in reverse. Give us two more years. If it doesn't work, you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, when we get digging, don't bring back the shovel brigade.

ACOSTA: There was also a return of aggressive campaign tactics.

Up in Cleveland, the Romney campaign bus was seen circling the president's speech. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign says it will fight fire with fire, with plans to deploy what it calls truth squads to tail Romney's upcoming bus trip.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Cincinnati.


BLITZER: Some things labeled bad may not be necessarily so dangerous and some things thought as good may not be so good for you. We're taking a closer look at a recent string of very confusing health news.

Also, Syrian human rights activists are outraged at Columbia University in New York for admitting a controversial student. We have details of her ties to the Syrian president.


BLITZER: A new study links calcium supplements, which many people take to prevent broken fractures, to an increased risk for heart attacks. It's but the latest in a string of very confusing health studies.

Lisa Sylvester takes a closer look at what's actually good for us these days.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to keep track. Is coffee good for you or bad?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a caffeine addict, so I have to have at least two cups of coffee every morning.

SYLVESTER: What about red wine?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any excuse drinking red wine. Good for you, good for your heart.

SYLVESTER: And should you reach for that chocolate or not?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love chocolate, so no matter what the study says, it doesn't matter.

SYLVESTER: It's the type of conundrum satirized by Woody Allen in his comedy sleeper when he was transported to the future and offered a cigarette.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You smoke this and be sure you get smoke deep down in to your lungs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tobacco. It is one of the healthiest things for your body. Now, go ahead. You need all the strength you can get.

SYLVESTER: OK, a scenario that's a little farfetched. Even still, some things labeled bad may not be so dangerous. And some things thought of as good may not be beneficial.

A government advisory panel now says a daily supplemental dose of vitamin "d" and calcium to prevent bone fractures can cause kidney stones in healthy post-menopausal women.

DOCTOR KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO, U.S. PREVENTIVE SERVICES TASK FORCE: There really isn't any evidence of benefit for the prevention of fractures, and there is also small, but measurable harm.

SYLVESTER: Baby aspirin, a daily dose long thought of as a way to prevent heart attacks and lower the risk of cancer, the new recommendation, take too much of it and it can lead to gastrointestinal pleading.

Mammograms to screen for breast cancer starting at 40, considered standard device. The new recommendation from the U.S. preventative services task force? Women might be able to wait to age 50 and can get screenings every two years, assuming no family history. That same panel overturned conventional wisdom for prostate scans for men. The new recommendation, the radiation and surgery can cause more harm than benefit.

Dr. Michael Smith, medical director at WebMD says advice can change, as more research is done. The bottom line --

DOCTOR MICHAEL SMITH, WEBMD CHIEF MEDICAL EDITOR: My first advice is to always talk to your doctor, especially with something like supplements. Again, we don't know a lot about them. You really want to make sure that when you take a supplement, it is right for you. SYLVESTER: When these studies come out, you have to see if this advice is pertinent to you. What might be good for a 60-year-old woman might be harmful to 25-year-old male. And family history place a role, too, if you're healthy, no family history of heart disease, you might not need to take the baby aspirin, but someone with a history of it, that's a different story. So, it all comes down to, talk to y doctor.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Echoes of the Iraq insurgency now in Syria. We're getting an exclusive look at opposition forces as they're building devastating roadside bombs.

Also, the dispute with Pakistan that's now costing the United States an extra $100 million a month. I'll talk about that and more with the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

And are Wall Street titans turning their backs on President Obama? Details of growing tensions with huge financial implications.


BLITZER: In recent months, armed resistance to the Syrian government has increased elements within the free Syrian army have begun building rudimentary bombs for use against the regime's military.

CNN has obtained through opposition activists video showing how one so-called brigade of the free Syrian army is building and using these crude but devastating devices. We've chosen to air it as part of the growing evidence that the opposition to the Bashar Al-Assad regime is becoming even more like an Iraq-style insurgency, pushing Syria closer to all-out civil war.

Here's CNN's Arwa Damon.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hardly audible below the swelling Jihadi chorus, a voice says, "this is a suicide bombing mission against Assad soldiers in Idlib." "God is great," the voice declared, as a vent comes into view, apparently approaching the checkpoint. A camera zooms in.

Outgunned by Assad's forces, some rebels have turned to suicide bombs and roadside IEDs, Iraq-style guerilla warfare.

In this video obtained exclusively by CNN, the brigade commander, (INAUDIBLE) shows how the bombs are made. Cylinders are packed with a lethal concoction of explosives, fertilizer, and other chemicals bought locally.

Mahmoud says his men are moderate Islamists, fighting for democracy. We want a democratically elected president and a military that is separate from the presidency, he says. Captain Mahmoud says they're getting no outside help.


DAMON: We're relying mostly on mines and making bombs now, the captain explains. This is how the battle for Syria is now being fought. Protest has become insurgency which in turn threatens to become all-out war.


BLITZER: And Arwa's joining us now from Beirut. All-out war. There were earlier indications the week that already a civil war is under way. What are you seeing or hearing as far as this notion that an all-out civil war has already begun?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, it's becoming something that we're increasingly hearing, just about anyone who has anything to do with Syria, speaking about from United Nations officials, some of whom have declared it an all-out civil war, to opposition activists themselves.

And this is not a scenario that anyone would have wanted. It is going to be an incredibly ugly, bloody, brutal, horrifying, and unconventional battlefield, and it is invariably, because of the dynamics that exist, suck in regional if not global players as well. So it's not a good prognosis for Syria, tragically, but it is one that seems to be utterly unavoidable.

BLITZER: And this notion of Russia providing attack helicopters to the Bashar Al-Assad regime, attack helicopters, they could slaughter a lot of civilians. What's the latest on that front?

DAMON: Well, the Russians are denying that that is, in fact, taking place. And one must also bear in mind that the Assad regime has, on occasion, according to opposition activists, used attack helicopters against the population, but it has not really let loose the full force of its air force. So that's a pretty chilling thought, to think that Assad still has military power at his disposal, that has not yet been used.

But this is also where you begin to see these global dynamics playing out in Syria. We do have a standoff now that is effectively between Russia, China, and Iran on the one side, pitted up against the U.S., Europe, and other western nations, and these global dynamics are all playing out on the Syrian battlefield.

The Russians right now are accusing the Americans, for example, of sending with weapons into the opposition. So it just gets messier by the day, more intricate, more complicated, and eventually going to be much, much more difficult to untangle.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon watching all of this in Beirut.

Arwa, thanks very much. Pakistan is again demanding an apology from the United States before it will consider reopening critical military supply routes from Afghanistan. Millions of dollars worth of military equipment have been stranded since Pakistan closed the routes in November in protest of a NATO drone strike that killed two dozen of its soldiers.

Defense secretary Leon Panetta says that's adding $100 million a month to the cost of the Afghan war.

I spoke about this and more with the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.


BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in. You've got your own problems, but first on this issue, the U.S./Pakistani relationship, the countries have so much at stake. Why is there this increasing anti-American attitude in Pakistan?

HUSAIN HAQQANI, FORMER PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Wolf, my view on this is very different from that of many people in my country, which is probably the reason why I face the troubles that I do.

I think that Pakistan's policy towards the United States should be based on a realistic assessment on what Pakistan can or cannot get from the Americans. And the American attitude towards Pakistan should similarly be realistic. We've been building unfair and unjust expectations in the past, and I think what we're seeing today is the result of all of that.

BLITZER: Do they hate the United States, because the U.S. embarrassed Pakistan by sending those commandos in to kill bin Laden in Abbottabad?

HAQQANI: I'm sure that that is one of the factors, but let us be very honest. The standing of the United States in Pakistan has been very low for many years. It was 10 percent in 2002. Similarly, in 1979, a crowd burned down the U.S. embassy in Islamabad. So I think what we are looking at is an ideology of hate that is fed by Pakistan's media, Pakistan's politicians, Pakistan's religious leaders. And there is a battle in Pakistan, in which, of course, I'm a protagonist, over what kind of future do we want for Pakistan.

BLITZER: Pakistan, a Supreme Court commission has now released a report, saying you effectively betrayed the Pakistani government by giving a secret memo to the Obama administration, and potentially they could try you for treason.

HAQQANI: Well, let's be honest. I did not need an intermediary of dubious credentials living in Europe to pass on a message to admiral Mullen, with whom you know, I had personal relations.

BLITZER: You mean --

HAQQANI: Admiral Mullen who was the chairman joint chiefs, which is what the allegation is. This was a partisan finding of a partisan and ideologically motivated commission that did not look at the facts, but only wanted to make a political statement.

But here's the problem in Pakistan. The problem is that those who do not want relations with the United States, they do not give reasons for that. They try to blame everybody, like myself, who wants good relations. I advocate a different future for Pakistan. A democratic future, in which the civilians control all aspects of policy, openly and transparently --

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the government there now, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. You were closed to him at one point.

HAQQANI: I have tremendous respect for the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, because it faces many, many problems, but I worry about the future of Pakistan. There are extremist elements in Pakistan whose model for Pakistan is Iran. Where is, my model for Pakistan will be South Korea or Japan.

BLITZER: Is the nuclear arsenal in Pakistan secure?

HAQQANI: Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is as safe as can be. But what is important is that Pakistan as a nation becomes safe, and it can only become safe if it embraces the 21st century and we beat back those who want Pakistan to go back into the 12th century with bigotry as their main belief system.

BLITZER: Now, you can't go back to Pakistan right now. You're afraid if you go back, they'll kill you.

HAQQANI: I of course would not take the risk right now of putting myself in danger. But as you know, many Pakistani leaders have lived abroad and led causes in the country. Been able to being the case in point for many years she was abroad, fought the battle, went back, was killed -- assassinated by terrorists.

I intend to continue the struggle for reform in Pakistan. And that reform, it's important, Wolf, to understand what it is about. It's about changing the mind-set. Pakistan can't close itself from the rest of the world. We cannot become an isolated nation. We cannot just look at the past. And we have to embrace the 21st century like other nations, without the bigotry that has now become a kind of second belief system in Pakistan, next to religious sentiments.

BLITZER: And your wife, Farrah, who's a friend, she used to work here at CNN with me, she was a member of the Pakistani parliament, but now you've brought here back here to Washington out of concerns for her security as well?

HAQQANI: She's a member of the Pakistani parliament, even now. She was elected by the people of sin because they are working for the Pakistan people's party and she was nominated by the Pakistan people's party. She will attend parliament whenever she is allowed. The Supreme Court has suspended her membership right now. We are dealing with that legally as well. I am challenging a lot of rulings in Pakistan and we'll do so. I'll put up a legal fight in Pakistan and a political fight from wherever I am. The objective is to help Pakistan attain the greatness for which it's destined, but we cannot obtain it in the presence of the kind of bigotry that's manifested in the Supreme Court ruling that you were talking about my case.

BLITZER: One last question, you're not teaching, you're not teaching in Boston University. Once again, you are a professor. You can speak openly, as you obviously do.

HAQQANI: Wolf, I used to speak openly --

BLITZER: I know. But you were restrained as an ambassador. Every ambassador is restrained by the government though, that ambassador represents. Do you believe that high officials in Pakistan knew that bin Laden was hiding for years at that compound in Abbottabad?

HAQQANI: Wolf, I honestly do not know and I will not speculate. All I can say is Pakistan has to come clean. We have to find out who did know because somebody must have known, whether they were official or not official.

And the fact of the matter is that there are powerful elements in Pakistan that want to distract the conversation and simply do not want to face that fact. We have a judiciary that will not face this kind of issues, but will create other issues that are not that significant for national life.

We have media that will blame America for everything and not ask the tough questions. And of course, we have people in our security establishment that do not want to answer these difficult questions that the world is asking, not just you.

BLITZER: Husain Haqqani, good luck.

HAQQANI: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: A former aide to the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad is accepted at an Ivy League University here in the United States after getting an endorsement from the veteran journalist Barbara Walters. There's an angry backlash. Details, coming up.

And President Obama had the support of Wall Street four years ago, but now, not so much. Why so many in the business community are jumping ship.


BLITZER: The bloodbath in Syria is hitting a prestigious university close to home, right here in the United States. We're talking about Columbia University in New York, where a former aide to President Bashar Al-Assad has now been accepted as a graduate student after getting an endorsement from the veteran journalist, Barbara Walters.

Mary Snow is joining us from New York right now.

Mary, this has become a huge controversy, way beyond the Barbara Walters connection.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really has, Wolf. And Columbia University is coming under fire. There are calls for the university to take a stand and drop its admission of a daughter of a Syrian official with her own ties to Syria's president.


SNOW (voice-over): Her name is Shaharazad Jafari. Syrian human rights activist in the United States are furious. She has been accepted to a prestigious program at Columbia University. Angry because of her close ties to Syrian dictator, Bashar Al-Assad. Jafari is the daughter of the Syria's ambassador to the United Nations. Leaked e-mails show she appeared to have a close relationship with Al- Assad, referring to him at times as handsome and cute. She provided advice to him on his public image abroad, as Syria waged a brutal crackdown on its people and denied it.

Of course, Haya, who is Syrian and prefers not to give her full name, just graduated from Columbia's school of international and public affairs. She's demanding Columbia rescind Jafari's admission.

HAYA, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND PUBLIC POLICY STUDENT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I was surprised and very disturbed by this decision. Because for me, accepting her is not just a personal thing, it's accepting what's happening in Syria. It is accepting the genocide and saying that we are going to welcome people who are part of this into our school.

SNOW: Jafari emerged in the media after Barbara Walters landed an exclusive interview with Bashar Al-Assad in December. Jafari said, she helped facilitate that interview.

Walters admits in the months falling, she tried to help Jafari. In a statement, Walters said, "I did offer to mention her to contacts at another media organization and in academia, though she didn't get a job or into school."

The media organization was CNN, but it went nowhere. Columbia University tells CNN, its applicants are evaluated solely on the materials submitted, adding, we understand and share concerns about the brutal regime in Syria.

Shaharazad Jafari says she was accepted to Columbia because of her qualifications. As for her relationship with Al-Assad, she says she was an unpaid intern in media circles for three months, not an aide. Saying quote, "I am nothing but a victim for some personal agendas. As any ambitious young graduate student in America, all I was trying to do in this very brief time was to build up my knowledge and to explore ways to successful academic options. What's going on in Syria and to my people saddens me and breaks my heart." Activists fighting for democracy in Syria aren't swayed.

SARAB AL-AJIJAKU, NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR SYRIA: What she represents is an outlet for the Assad regime to basically extend their reach outside of Syria and perpetuate false messages and false realities that are occurring within the country. She is actively taking part in this activity, through her media advice.

SNOW: At Columbia, some students feel she shouldn't be denied admission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I understand a lot of people must be upset about her prior involvement, but I don't think that that's a reason to deprive somebody of having a really great education.

CARLON MYRICK, TEACHER'S COLLEGE STUDENT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: If the evidence isn't conclusive or isn't damning enough, I think it could be potentially discriminatory to not offer her an opportunity to learn here.


SNOW: There are many others who feel strongly that Columbia should rescind her admission. They've organized an online petition, so far, it has more than 1,000 signatures -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Big Story, Mary. Thanks very, very much.

Deep-pocketed donors from the financial sector, so crucial to President Obama's 2008 victory, now many are throwing their cash to Mitt Romney. Just how bad is it for the president?

And it's a heist you have to see to believe. Some fearless thieves try to rob a truck while it's moving and the whole thing is caught on video.


BLITZER: Now to Wall Street's influence on the presidential race. There is new evidence that business titans are turning their backs on President Obama.

CNN's Brian Todd has our report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mort Zuckerman is a lifelong democrat. He worked for President Obama's campaign in 2008. His paper, the "New York daily news," endorsed Mr. Obama then. As a wealthy real estate investor, he's tapped into the pulse of Wall Street and the financial sector. His feelings about the president these days may reflect that group, as well.

MORT ZUCKERMAN, CHAIRMAN, BOSTON PROPERTIES: In our system of government, without the leadership of the president, almost nothing happens. That leadership just has not been there. TODD: He says the president's lost Wall Street, alienated the business community. Many cite comments like this --

OBAMA: They want to give banks and insurance companies even more power to do as they please.

ZUCKERMAN: There is rhetoric from the president which he blames them for the problems we have. That is an unfair judgment about the role of finance in this economy.

TODD: Analysts say the president's support for higher taxes for the wealthy and the financial reform law that restricted the bank's trading activity also angered Wall Street. Those who are turned off are now turning away from him. Deep-pocketed donors from the financial sector, so crucial to Mr. Obama's 2008 victory, are now throwing their wash to Mitt Romney.

Bob Biersack in the Center for Responsive politics tracked the money from political action committees that can race unlimited amounts.

The real disparity in fundraising here is between the two super PAC, right Romney is here and Obama is here.

BOB BIERSACK, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: That's right. So we're seeing more than half of his funds coming from the finance and insurance sector of the economy as opposed to the president which is a really small proportion. And it is about almost 50 times as much money, in this context going to support Romney than the money that's supporting the president.

TODD: Kevin griffin, a hedge bond manager who donated to the Obama campaign in 2008, is one who switched, giving big money to the Romney super PAC. He's quoted as accusing the president of engaging in class warfare.

Zuckerman doesn't donate to political campaign. But is he about to turn?

ZUCKERMAN: Obviously, I'm leaning in that direction because of my disappointment with President Obama.

TODD: The Obama campaign is pushing back. A spokesman Ben Labolt e- mailing us this. "Mitt Romney has been actively campaigning on a promise to repeal Wall Street reform, let Wall Street write its own rules again, and pursue risky financial deals that put our economy at risk."

Labolt says President Obama still has support from many business leaders who agree with the measures he's taken to prevent another financial crisis.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: It's a heist for the ages. Thieves attempt to rob a truck as it speeds down a highway.


BLITZER: The phrase it seems like something out of a movie is often an exaggeration. But this highway robbery attempted by thieves in Europe is so daring and crazy, it really fits the mold of a Hollywood script.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here's how not to rob a truck. A vehicle pulls up right behind the target at night, headlights off. Two guys pop out of the sunroof, one holds on to the other as the first guy tries to break into the truck.

Looks like a heist out of the movie "the fast and the furious," only not quite as fast, and definitely not as furious. No harpoons. No driver packing heat and definitely no driving underneath.

But that's Hollywood. This happened on a highway in Romania as the Romanian organized crime unit was monitoring gang suspects.

The video was released after 15 members were busted for stealing about $370,000 worth of TVs, cigarettes and coffee for resale. We went to a New Jersey turnpike rest stop and showed the video to truckers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got to be the two stupidest people I've ever seen. Either one of them falls off, they are both dead.

MOOS: Eventually the thief gets the door open far enough to see inside. And they open the door using tools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've heard of this happening.

MOOS: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen it, but I have heard of this.

MOOS: Nothing as crazy as this after happened with Don, who travels with his dog, Brandy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just can't get her to drive.

MOOS: From the driver's viewpoint, there is a huge blind spot back here. You've seen those signs, if you can't see my mirrors, I can't see you.

And the Romanian trucker probably never seen these guys then maybe he is now see the aerial footage. As for the would-be robber --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is he going to do once he gets inside the trailer?

MOOS: Good point -- tossing stuff back to his vehicle doesn't seem practical. But once he got a look inside, he decided to abandon the mission and crawled back the way he came.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To do that in real life?

MOOS: But this is real life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a lot more (expletive deleted) than I got.

MOOS: Not quite The Fast and the Furious -- more like, The Daft and the Nefarious.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's nuts!

That does it for me -- thank very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.