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"Stand up and Take Responsibility for It"; Is the Syrian Regime About to Crack?; Air France Crash: Can It Happen Again?

Aired July 7, 2012 - 18:00   ET



President Obama hits the road in battleground states, but the Romney campaign isn't far away.

A stunning new sign that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be in serious jeopardy right now. A key member of his inner circle flees the country.

And re-living a disaster at sea. Stories never heard before from survivors of the Costa Concordia.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Another weak jobs report is raising new concerns about the pace of an already sluggish economic recovery. Only 80,000 jobs were added in the month of June, significantly fewer than economists were certainly hoping for. The unemployment rate is holding at 8.2 percent.

It all comes as President Obama's trying to kick his campaign into a higher gear with a major bus tour through some critical battleground states.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's still tough out there. You know, we learned this morning that our businesses created 84,000 new jobs last month. And that overall means that businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months, including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs.

That's a step in the right direction.


OBAMA: Our mission is not just to get back to where we were before the crisis. We've got to deal with what's been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years. Manufacturing leaving our shores, incomes flat-lining -- all those things are what we've got to struggle and fight for. You know, if you look throughout our history, that kind of top-down economics has never worked. So we've got to have somebody who's fighting for you, somebody who's thinking about how to grow the economy from the middle out, from the bottom up. Not from the top down.


BLITZER: His rival, Mitt Romney, even while vacationing in New Hampshire, didn't miss the chance to pounce.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: American families are struggling. There's a lot of misery in America today. And these numbers understate what people are feeling and the amount of pain which is occurring in middle class America.

Not only is the 8.2 percent number unacceptably high, and one that's been in place now for over 41 months, but in addition, if you look at the broader analysis of people who are out of work or have dropped out of the workforce or that are underemployed in part-time jobs, needling full-time work, it's almost 15 percent of the American public.

The president's policies have not gotten American working again. And the president's going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it. I know he's been planning on going across the country and celebrating what he calls "forward". Well, forward doesn't look a lot like forward to the millions and millions of families that are struggling today in this great country. It doesn't have to be this way.


BLITZER: CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian traveled with the president through Ohio and Pennsylvania this week and has more.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president had been campaigning in mostly big cities, attending fund-raisers surrounded by the rich and famous. But this bus tour took him to small towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania. People who supported him in 2008, and voters he's trying to hang on to come November.

(voice-over): It's a more retail style approach, but unlike the president's other official bus trips last year, this one has campaign written all over it. There's a big presidential seal on the door and the venue in the small city of Maumee, Ohio has been carefully staged -- and white picket fences, a large American flag, and a soft story about his daughter.

OBAMA: And then it was Malia's birthday yesterday.


OBAMA: See, when she was small I could say all these fireworks I had arranged for her birthday. But she doesn't believe me anymore.

LOTHIAN: But his speech turned tough when the president took on his opponent's business experience.

OBAMA: Governor Romney's experience has been in owning companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing -- that's not my phrase -- pioneers of outsourcing.

LOTHIAN: It's a message that resonates with this crowd. Unemployment in Ohio is below the national average of 8.2 percent, but the people in this city have experienced the highs and lows of the manufacturing industry from GM and Chrysler on life support to a recovery and new investments in the region that the president said were possible because of his administration's auto bailout.

OBAMA: Governor Romney said we should just let Detroit go bankrupt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what he said.

OBAMA: I refused to turn my back on communities like this one.

LOTHIAN: And as if cue, although the campaign denies political motivation, the administration is filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization against China for alleged unfair tariffs on some American-made autos.

OBAMA: But we're going to make sure that competition is fair. That's what I believe.

LOTHIAN: While the president was making that case and defending his economic policies, not far away, Romney surrogates were knocking down what Mr. Obama was playing up. Former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are on their own bus tours shadowing the president.

TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His presidency has been a losing hand for Ohio and for America.

BOBBY JINDAL (R), GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA: We know that we are not better off than we were four years ago.

LOTHIAN: The president says the Republicans don't have real solutions and that a full recovery will take time. That's the message he took to his second stop at an ice cream social in Sandusky.

OBAMA: It's not enough just to recover and get back to where we were before the crisis. We've still got to address this basic challenge of how do we build a strong middle class and make sure that the next generation has the same opportunities that we did. And that's a long- term project. It's not going to happen overnight.

LOTHIAN: The president will make a total of six scheduled stops in two key battleground states. (on camera): The Romney campaign says that the president's economic policies are only weakening manufacturing and hurting the middle class. And they accused him of covering it all up with a bus tour -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Dan Lothian, traveling with the president -- thank you.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is using the latest jobs report to continue to hammer away at President Obama. We heard what he had to say just a little while ago.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. CNN's Dana Bash is joining us. She's been covering Mitt Romney out on the campaign trail as well.

This is clearly an opening more Romney, Dana. The latest jobs numbers that came out on Friday.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. That is why even though he has been on vacation all week, we only saw him until Friday publicly once. He waited 90 minutes after we got the bad news from the jobs numbers before coming out, and he used some expressive language, maybe more expressive than he usually uses, to talk about what it means to American voters.


ROMNEY: This is a time for America to choose whether they want more of the same, whether unemployment above 8 percent month after month after month is satisfactory or not.

It doesn't have to be this way. America can do better. And this kick in the gut has got to end.


BASH: Now, Wolf, let's face it, it would be political malpractice for Mitt Romney not to come out before the cameras with the kind of jobs report that came out just a few months before Election Day. And, you know, if you look at years past, if you look at decades past, the Romney campaign knows that history shows that presidents with these kinds of jobs numbers simply don't normally get re-elected. And that is why they are pounding, pounding, pounding away at this issue, even though there are plenty others who have been out there to frankly distract and hurt the Romney campaign this week.

BLITZER: I also noted on Friday, Dana, that he seemed to be responding to some of his critics on the right. The editorial writers of the "Wall Street Journal," Rupert Murdoch, the owners of "The Wall Street Journal," among others, Bill Kristol of the "Weekly Standard". Not only did he say the Obama administration has been a disaster, but then he went on to say, here's what I would do to fix it.

BASH: Yes. BLITZER: They've been hammering away saying, it's not just enough to simply say something bad about Obama, tell us what you would do. He seemed to be doing that on Friday.

BASH: There's no question about it. I noticed that immediately as soon as I heard Mitt Romney say that, as you mentioned, part of the reason why the governor did not have the greatest week is in part because they really muddled his response to the Supreme Court decision and whether or not the individual mandate is a tax, which he had to clean up.

But also because he really had, you know, got it from all sides from big CEOs and really influential editorial pages, like you said, "The Wall Street Journal" and "The Weekly Standard." And what their whole argument was that the Romney campaign is sort of riding too much on the fact that things are really bad and that he needs to say what he's for, and that is why he made a very clear point of talking about his 59-point plan, which you can find on his Web site, the fact that he wants to get the Keystone Pipeline in place about energy and so on and so forth.

There was no way that that was an accident, that that went into that speech.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on that part of the story later this hour as well. Dana, thank you.

Other news we're following, it's being called a hard blow to the Syrian regime. One of President Bashar al-Assad's top generals with deep personal ties to the president has now fled the country.

And a cruise ship disaster. New stories of the night the Costa Concordia capsized.

Plus, more on Mitt Romney. Is he answering his conservative critics? We're going to talk about that, his huge fund-raising haul. Much more coming up. Candy Crowley and Mark Preston, they're both here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: If the Syrian regime is about to crack, this is how it may start. A key member of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle has defected. We're talking about the Brigadier General Manaf Tlass. He's a friend of the Syrian leader. His father served as defense minister to al-Assad's father for three decades.

Just recently, the Israeli deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz told me right here in THE SITUATION ROOM that Bashar al-Assad simply can't hang on for much longer, especially if he starts losing his officer core. He says when the military starts to desert in large numbers, it will be, and I'm quoting him now, "the end of Bashar al-Assad."

Last year's mass uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya led to the ouster of their longtime leaders. We saw Libya's Moammar Gadhafi dragged through the streets, you remember that, and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak caged in a courtroom.

After a brutal and bloody conflict, could Bashar al-Assad now be next?

Let's go to CNN's Ivan Watson. He's watching all of this unfold.

Give us some perspective, Ivan. The defection of this general, General Tlass, I sense it's a big deal, but what are the folks where you are saying?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He comes from the closest thing that Syria has today to an aristocracy. The Tlass family has been at the top of the Syrian political structure for decades now.

He was a princeling, the son of Mustafa Tlass, who was the defense minister, and one of Hafez al-Assad's right-hand men, who helped lead the way for the eventual presidency of the current president, Bashar al-Assad.

I have interviewed this man's brother, Firas Tlass, who was a powerful and wealthy businessman in Damascus, and Manaf Tlass was the military side of the family, of the younger generation, from the same generation, Wolf, as Bashar al-Assad.

So they likely grew up together. And at the very least, it is a powerful psychological blow and a sign that the inner circle of the Syrian regime, which has maintained incredible discipline for 16 deadly months at least has one very noticeable crack now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because what I'm hearing -- what I'm hearing, Ivan, is there are a lot of efforts, not just by sources in the West, but also in the region, in the Middle East, Arab countries, that are using whatever they can, money, covert operations, to encourage high-ranking generals in the Syrian military to defect, to break with President Bashar al- Assad.

And they're warning them, the international community is, if you don't you could be tried for war crimes, brought before the International Criminal Court, you could be killed yourself. And that effort, that covert effort, if you will, seems to be working to a certain degree.

The question is how much time is left? Because a lot of people are dying in the process.

WATSON: That's right.

According to estimates, more than 16,000 dead in 16 months. And a big question for men like Manaf Tlass, who are so closely associated with the regime is, is there any place for them to go if they defect?

I'm hearing from opposition networks that some people want to prosecute this man for alleged war crimes, for crimes against humanity, which the United Nations has repeatedly accused the Syrian government of. So it may be a case for some of these people who are being wooed by Western or Arab intelligence agencies -- do they even feel like there's a safe haven for them to escape to with the voluminous amount of evidence linking their regime to unspeakable atrocities month after month in Syria?

BLITZER: Ivan Watson reporting for us -- Ivan, thanks very, very much.

Other news we're following -- we're about to go behind those fire lines in Colorado. We're going to show you some unbelievable images taken by the firefighters themselves. It was enough to make grown men cry.

Plus, Mitt Romney trying to refocus his campaign on pr President Obama's weak points and get off the spotlight some of his own problems at the same time.


BLITZER: Little by little, firefighters this week slowly gained control over the most destructive fire in Colorado's history. This is where returning residents found some 350 homes destroyed in a Colorado Springs subdivision. It's also the same place where desperate firefighters held the line, saved many more homes, and stopped the inferno from spreading. You're about to see what they saw as the flames roared around them.

CNN's Jim Spellman has the story from Colorado Springs.


JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting our first up- close look at what firefighters were dealing with when this blaze tore through a Colorado Springs neighborhood.

(voice-over): This is the scene in the devastated mountain shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs now, but this is what it looked like last week as high winds drove the fire down from the hills.

Behind the camera, Colorado Springs Fire Department videographer, Steve Schopper.

STEVE SCHOPPER, COLORADO SPRINGS FIRE DEPARTMENT: You're stunned to smell the smoke, and your heads on the swivel because you're going, OK, we got weather conditions that are really squirrely. We had 65- mile-an-hour winds. I've got sparks raining down all over me.

SPELLMAN: Firefighters converged on the scene. They had to quickly determine which homes to defend and which ones were beyond saving while stopping the fire from advancing.

SCHOPPER: They made that line in the sand, and they said, this fire does not get past us. And that's what they did. They held the line. And they didn't let it get past them.

SPELLMAN: They doused vulnerable homes with water even as properties right next door are engulfed in flames. The camera captures sparks as they jumped from one home to the roof of another setting off a new fire. Schopper and his driver, a rookie firefighter, spring into action. SCHOPPER: We found a hose, garden hose. We're trying to put this roof fire out.

SPELLMAN: It works. The fire is extinguished. Three hundred forty- six homes were lost. Hundreds more saved by the firefighters.

SCHOPPER: Those who lost their homes, they're going to rebuild. This town will rally around them. They'll be OK, you know? Sorry. You know, you can't help but be affected by it. It's hard.

SPELLMAN (on camera): Since that night, firefighters haven't lost another home -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jim Spellman, thanks for that report.

Steve Schopper, by the way, the firefighter who took those incredible pictures that we just met in Jim's report joined me later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He had a very personal and emotional message for the people who lost their homes.


SCHOPPER: I think the first place I came around, a place called Courtney Lane, there were about 15 houses that were already on fire, and I think even in the video, I said, I am so sorry for your loss. I was actually talking to those people who were losing their homes, even though I was taping this for our department.

You couldn't help but be affected by it. I knew that people's livelihoods were going up in flames, literally, and the only thing I could think of is our department, all the rest of the departments that are here, have got to stop this fire and we've got to keep it from spreading. And if I can document that, then I've done my job and hopefully that's what happened. And it did.

BLITZER: If some of those people who lost their homes lost everything are watching right now, is there anything as a professional firefighter you want to say to them right now?

SCHOPPER: I would say, for those of you that lost your home and lost loved ones in this fire, hang in there. This city has wrapped its loving arms around you. Its firefighters will always be here to protect you and we're going to keep doing that until the day we die.


BLITZER: Steve Schopper says he believes the worst is now over in Colorado Springs. He hopes everyone can get back to their normal lives soon. We hope so as well.

Coming up, a tepid jobs report gives Mitt Romney a chance to get back on message, refine his economic message in the eyes of his conservative critics. Also, new video of a frantic escape from a capsized cruise ship. Survivors from the Costa Concordia share their stories from the night of the deadly disaster.

And we now have the final report on the Air France crash that killed hundreds. A big factor: pilot mistakes. Could it happen again?


BLITZER: Mitt Romney faced some scathing new criticism this week, not necessarily from the Democrats, but from the staunchly conservative editorial page of the "Wall Street Journal."

Listen to this. Among other things, the editorial writers wrote, "Mr. Romney promised Republicans he was the best man to make the case against President Obama, whom they desperately want to defeat. So far, Mr. Romney is letting them down."


BLITZER: Campaign senior adviser, the former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu is in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. He's joining us.

Hey, governor, it's one thing for Democrats, for the Obama campaign to be saying tough words about Mitt Romney, but when the editorial writers of the "Wall Street Journal" do so, you've got a problem.

JOHN SUNUNU, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think the governor took care of that issue there with his very strong statement that even though he had hoped for the position of the dissent in the court to be the position that came out, which was based on it not being a tax, that the court has spoken, the court supported President Obama's position as pleaded by the solicitor general for President Obama, that it was a tax, that it was a tax in its own right and a tax adjacent to the income tax. And Governor Romney says the court has spoken, it's the law of the land, it's a tax now.

And I think he's moving on the issue that "The Journal" had some concern about.

BLITZER: Yes, but "The Journal" writes about that switch from Monday to Wednesday, to what Eric Fehrnstrom said on Monday to what Mitt Romney said Wednesday. And they said it underlines a bigger problem for Romney right now, that his staff is simply not up to it. They need some better staff work.

You've heard the same criticism from Rupert Murdoch. You've heard it from Jack Welsh. You've heard from Bill Kristol of the "Weekly Standard." And you're a pro on this.

Is the Romney campaign staff weak?

SUNUNU: No, I think it's a good staff and I think they've demonstrated that in the primaries. They not only can get a message across, but they're pretty tough when they have to respond. And they are going to have to respond. In the last day or two, President Obama and his surrogates have been all over the place, trying to claim that this is not a tax and that they want to go back to their original dishonest claim that it's not a tax. And you have them out there, trying to confuse the American public.

And I think the Romney campaign understands this. They're going to make sure people understand how dishonest that is. And they're going to emphasize the fact that this is a pattern of dishonesty.

You have it in the ads. Governor Obama's running an ad claiming the governor outsourced jobs, and yet independent fact checkers have made it very clear that this is not true.

And so, I suggest to folks that when President Obama affirms that ad by saying, "I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message," or when Mr. LaBolt comes on for the campaign and says, this is not a tax, referring to the health care issue, or when Jay Carney comes out and says this is not a tax, or when the White House itself says it's not a tax -- the first thing that ought to come to mind when you hear that dishonesty is the phrase, "liar, liar, pants on fire."

BLITZER: Here's what the editorial in "The Wall Street Journal," among other things, said, referring to this confusion, the reaction coming from the Romney campaign to the Supreme Court decision. "This latest mistake is of a piece with the campaign's insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity. Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years. But Mr. Romney hasn't been able to take advantage, and if anything, he is losing ground."

Now, in the scheme of things, you know the editorial writers of the "Wall Street Journal," you know the influence that this newspaper has among Republicans, the conservative base. When they say these things about the Romney campaign, about the Romney staff, how significant, in your historic assessment, is it?

SUNUNU: Look, everybody in the campaign pays attention to what their friends say, and "The Wall Street Journal" is a friend of free enterprise, and Mitt Romney is the free enterprise candidate in this campaign. So, they're going to pay attention to what they hear from "The Wall Street Journal."

But I can assure my friends at "The Wall Street Journal" that the campaign understands where it is in terms of the pattern of the campaign, the cycle of the campaign, the focus the campaign has to take on the failure of the president's record, and the focus the campaign has to take on what is really a character defect in this presidency, a tendency to exaggerate aggressively and be slightly dishonest, if not aggressively dishonest.

BLITZER: So what is the --

SUNUNU: -- in attacking candidates.

BLITZER: Give the Romney campaign now, and you've got four months before the election, some advice, on national television. What's the most important thing that they need to fix in order to get going? Because, you know, when Bill Kristol and these others are saying there's some serious problems there that Romney is at risk right now of squandering this opportunity, "The Wall Street Journal," Rupert Murdoch, all these others are saying it. What's the most important thing they need to do to fix?

SUNUNU: I think they have to recognize that we're in a campaign mode where simple, tough, declarative sentences are required. This is not a campaign to be won on nuance, but to be won on making sharp distinctions with the failure of the Obama administration economically, the loss of jobs, and the pain that Americans across the country are feeling.

And I think you're going to see that enunciated very clearly by Governor Romney and his campaign, who frankly, I think, has a great asset, because it is in a political sense, quite ruthless in the long run.

BLITZER: Now you know why John Sununu was a co-host of "Crossfire" here on CNN for several, several years.

Hey, Governor, thanks very much for coming back.

SUNUNU: Thanks. Nice to see you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Coming up, new video of the panic and the chaos inside that cruise ship that capsized off the Italian coast.

Also coming up, new details emerging about what caused that Air France crash that killed hundreds. And they raise a critical question -- could it happen again?


BLITZER: Mitt Romney is certainly seizing on the latest weak jobs report. Let's talk about that and more with our chief political correspondent, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley, and our CNN political director, Mark Preston.

It didn't take very long, guys, for Mitt Romney to schedule a news conference following the jobs report that came out on Friday. Only 80,000 jobs added, 8.2 percent unemployment rate, still continuing.

Listen to what he said.


ROMNEY: I've laid out my 59 steps and take a look at them. I think you'll find them very specific. Again, going through them one by one -- taking advantage of our energy resources, opening up federal lands for drilling, doubling the number of permits and licenses to take advantage of oil, natural gas, coal, stopping these extraordinary regulations in energy. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Candy, it seems to me like he's directly responding to some of those critics on the Republican side, the conservatives, Bill Kristol, "The Weekly Standard," the editorial page of the "Wall Street Journal."

Didn't only complain about the president, but he came out with some ideas.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and as far as the Romney campaign is concerned, it's about putting the emphasis on the rights to libel. If all you do is -- and they take the criticism and they understand, they think in part they've been drowned out by the ads that, obviously, the Obama re-elect campaign has just unleashed on Romney.

But they take the criticisms, and this clearly is them saying, wait a minute, I do have a plan. They were complaining about how many points they had. It doesn't boil it down enough. That's the problem. You can't say, go read my 58-point plan or whatever it is. You've got to at least bring it down.

But you're absolutely right, they are taking in some of that criticism from their friends, as they like to call them, and I think you will see more of an emphasis on the positive.

BLITZER: And, Mark, you got word they're beefing up their staff with some heavy hitters.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, they are. And look, you know, Candy and I were talking about this earlier. The fact is they were so successful in being a lean campaign organization. They weren't bloated. They saved a lot of money during the primary.

However, when they won the nomination or it appeared they were going to win the nomination, they had to stop and look around and say, we need to pull more people in. They weren't able to do it fast enough.

So even though they've been criticized for not having a great message right now, I think you can look back to April and May and say, they didn't have people in place at that time. Certainly not in the national campaign headquarters and definitely not in the key states.

BLITZER: And our old front, Kevin Madden, he's coming back to help them with a more active level with their communication strategy.

PRESTON: Yes. We'll see more of Kevin, we see him here on CNN. But he'll be more as a front spokesman for the campaign.

BLITZER: What about the money? They -- $100 million, they raised last month. That's a lot more than, we don't know exactly how much the Obama and the Democratic campaigns are going to raise. But they're doing well in the fund-raising department.

CROWLEY: They are. And the Democrats are sort of tossing it off in two ways, saying, listen, he's getting the low-hanging fruit. This was a guy who can go now back to his primary supporters and go, hey, he can give for the general campaign, and go back to the people who didn't support him in the primary and say, time to pony up here, because I'm going to be the nominee.

But the blessing for Mitt Romney this week is, he was having a lousy week. He really was. They leaked out the $100 million, and that always takes up air time, and it directs you away from all this criticism that Romney has been taking on.

And he gets this jobs report, which you can't go out and high five people about, because it's a bad jobs report, but you can certainly take advantage of, as he did. So he's ending the week in a way he did not start this week.

BLITZER: And we're looking ahead to the coming week. He's got a big speech before the NAACP.


BLITZER: We're talking about Mitt Romney.

PRESTON: Mitt Romney is going to be going down to Houston for the NAACP annual convention.

Let's put things in perspective. President Obama won 98 percent of the black vote in 2008. And I think we can guess that he will win 95 percent of the black vote in 2012. But what Mitt Romney can do during this speech is he can talk about how the unemployment rate has risen in this latest jobs report for African-Americans by nearly a point. And his audience isn't going to be necessarily the folks there in Houston, his audience will be to those blue-collar workers in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, and all these other states, even North Carolina, and say that, look, I am going to help you get your job back.

And that might help him wash away a little bit of the Bain stain that he has on him.

CROWLEY: That, and I think the other thing you can't ignore is the fact that Republicans have been seen, and swing voters sort of back away from this kind of harsh edge, they think. That the Republicans don't want to talk to other people, that it's this party of white men. It's to the very least, saying to swing voters, "I am here and I am talking. I am at the NAACP. This is an outreach."

So it affects -- he's right, 98 percent of the African-Americans are going to vote for President Obama no matter what happens. But this is a way to say, I am open.

BLITZER: Ninety-five percent of those who show up will vote for President Obama. The question is turnout. Do you energize -- like they had a huge turnout among African-Americans and a lot of other Americans, younger Americans, four years ago, but do you get that energy, that enthusiasm that will force people in North Carolina and Virginia, in Ohio and Michigan, to actually show up. CROWLEY: I think you're absolutely right. You know, the country belongs to the people who show up on voting day. And the question is whether he can make the case -- don't let them get us off course here. Come out and vote. We really need it.

And he has to -- there's no question that there's not the enthusiasm there once was, because hope and change and all those things sort of ran afoul of reality. So I think you can still count on, in many ways, the African-American community, but Mark is right, it has not been --

BLITZER: Both of these candidates are going to have an enthusiasm problem, getting out their base, making sure they show up in four months.

PRESTON: They certainly are.

And let's just look at the African-American base. The strongest emotion for humans is fear, and I think what you're going to see as we get closer to election day, you're going to see all these pastors in these inner cities who are going to say, look, we've elected the first African-American president, the first black president, and there's a chance he is going to the lose. He will be defeated.

And I think the fear of blacks and having that pride of him losing is going to be an overriding emotion, which will help drive out that.

BLITZER: Who's can coming up on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday?

CROWLEY: Mitch McConnell, top Republican on the Senate side. We're going to talk to him about in his view of how he thinks the Romney campaign is going. And also, what does the Senate plan to do between now and November?

BLITZER: Nine a.m. Eastern/noon Eastern, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley" -- guys, thanks very much.

A horrible plunge from seven miles high, 228 lives lost over the Atlantic. Investigators largely blame pilot error for that Air France crash. We're taking a closer look at whether it could happen again.

And survivors tell us about their desperate struggle on the night their cruise ship capsized off the Italian coast.


BLITZER: It was a horrible plunge from seven miles high that ended at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Now investigators have released their final report, detailing why 228 people aboard an Air France jet plummeted to their deaths three years ago. A big factor: human error.

So what's being done now to avoid such mistakes aboard passenger jets?

Our Brian Todd has a closer look at the investigation and its impact.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Air France flight 447 was stalling over the Atlantic before it plunged from the sky, the crew was in a state of almost total loss of control, according to the chief investigator. First, the plane's speed sensors malfunctioned. That should not have caused the catastrophe.

But, quote, "poor management" of what's called the startle effect generated a highly charged emotional factor, according to a new report.

(on camera): Are commercial pilots trained on the so-called startle effect? What to do when something suddenly happens like that?

MARK WEISS, FORMER COMMERCIAL AIRLINE PILOT: What I was trained to do is take a deep breath, get control of yourself, and then control of the situation -- because it's startling.

TODD (voice-over): Mark Weiss, a pilot for more than 20 years with the major American carrier, says there are things pilots have to have memorized for startling events. Red box items, he calls them. Events like a stall, which occurred on the Air France flight, or engine fires.

The new report says the crew progressively becoming destructured, never understood that they were faced with a simple loss of information.

Weiss says that shouldn't happen. The cockpit is carefully orchestrated, he says, like a ballet. Everyone knows their roles.

(on-camera): I'm a co-pilot here, you're a co-pilot here, we get the signal that something's wrong, we take a deep breath, and then, what do we do? What do we -- how do I communicate with you?

WEISS: Typically, the person who was in the left seat is going to be flying the airplane. It doesn't make a difference if the co-pilot or the captain. They will generally say, I've got the airplane, you work with the problem.

TODD (voice-over): That may have happened, but other communication broke down.

The report says the crew never understood they were in a stall despite repeated warnings from the control panel. A key question now, are commercial pilots being retrained to make sure these breakdowns don't happen again?

WEISS: This is going to be a textbook case now for when pilots go back through training. You'll either train for it in a simulator, or, they'll at least talk about it. They're going to talk about high altitude stalls. They're going to talk about loss of certain instrumentation, multiple signals, how do you deal with that?

TODD: Weiss says airlines will talk about crew resource management, how to work together and communicate better. (on camera): This new report recommends that. Specifically saying airlines should review training in behavioral responses to surprising events.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Panic and chaos. People are running for their lives, trying to escape the Concordia cruise ship after it struck rocks and turned on its sides. That's what some of the survivors are sharing with us about the night the disaster hit and almost took their lives.

Our senior international correspondent Dan Rivers has been digging into why the ship capsized, killing 32 people.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the order to abandon ship was given, Hector Perez and Sohaim Khan were at a lifeboat.

The crew member with access to the boat told passengers to calm down.

HECTOR PEREZ, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: As soon as he opened the door, everybody ran towards that emergency boat and pushed him out of the way.

Everybody was panicking. Everybody was running for their own lives.

A lot of them didn't realize they were going to let people jump into the boat without an actual seat. Those that realized it, they jumped into the boat and they just stayed standing on the boat. It was way over 150 people limit.

RIVERS: The boat carrying Kahn and Perez made it to the sea. But even then they were not safe.

PEREZ: I look up and I see the emergency boat A go sideways one way. Suddenly, it went this way again and it fell right on top of our boat.

SOHAIM KHAN, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: If our boat would have turned when we were evacuating when the second boat fell on us, we would have been dead.

RIVERS: Several lifeboats couldn't be lowered and with the ship listing, the problems of evacuating people multiplied.

The Ananias family boarded a lifeboat but were forced to return to the ship when the lifeboat wouldn't launch.

Once back on board --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Screaming. C. ANANIAS: The boat flips.

DEAN ANANIAS, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: It takes another 5/8 degree more roll to its starboard side.

RIVERS: One of the crew told investigators that some officers literally pushed passengers into the water. But the Ananias family turned around and tried to climb across the ship with nothing to hold onto.

VALERIA ANANIAS, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: The side of the ship is now the bottom of the ship. So you're literally walking on the side of the ship.

RIVERS: The speed with which the Concordia tilted first one way and then the other has alarmed maritime experts.

(on camera): This is the "Safety of Life at Sea" rule book, the maritime safety bible if you like, issued by the International Maritime Authority here in London. It specifies that ships should remain stable with two watertight compartments flooded and they should be able to be evacuated within 30 minutes.

(voice-over): But the loss of power, the flooding of the pumps and backup generators had turned the Concordia into a helpless hull. As the water continued to rise, the ship tilted yet further, more than 60 degrees.

GEORGIA ANANIAS, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: And then I remember us all starting to pray and saying our good-byes. And I can remember thinking, oh, my gosh, we are going to die, let's just get it over with.

RIVERS: By now it was nearly 1:00 in the morning. The Ananias family and dozens of other passengers were still trying to climb a metal ladder to reach the outside of the ship. But it was still a mad scramble to escape.

D. ANANIAS: Men pushing women aside, pushing children aside.

V. ANANIAS: I put my foot down and said, this is not going to happen. I'm not going to sit here and watch one other person jump in front of this mother and child to get his way up there. It wasn't going to happen.


BLITZER: That report from CNN's Dan Rivers. For our viewers in North America, tomorrow night CNN presents the definitive investigation into the sinking of the Costa Concordia, why the ship came so close to the shore, the lives lost, how the industry is working to make sure that this could never happen again to prevent the next. "Cruise to Disaster," Sunday night, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Most people wouldn't consider it a dangerous job, but sometimes being a mascot can be brutal.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His critics say that for a winner he sure acted like a loser. Seconds after this French runner won the 3,000 meter steeple chase event at the European championships in Finland, he slapped away a gift bag and then shoved a mascot -- the mascot for Helsinki 2012.

(on camera): It turns out that under that boxy, blue-eyed head was a flesh and blood 14-year-old girl.

(voice-over): Now Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad didn't know he was shoving a 14-year- old, but still --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's he got against mascots?



MOOS: Reaction on the runner's own Facebook page was way worse.

"Bloody, stinky swine."


"What a psycho."

Benabbad has been hot-headed in the past. And since when a competitor head butted him, he came out swinging.

(on camera): This wasn't the first time that the runner has had a run-in with a mascot.

(voice-over): Two years ago, after winning the same race in Barcelona he gave the mascot a big hug, asked him to get down on his knees, then pushed him over.

We've seen mascots assaulted before, most memorably when a Pittsburgh Pirate player used his bat on a passing Italian sausage who fell and took out a wiener.

There have been cases of mascot on mascot assault. And we've seen mascots help run down rowdy fans, in this case with a belly flop.

(on camera): Those who work as characters say something strange happens and you become dehumanized. People do things they'd never do to another human.

(voice-over): It could have been worse for Appy, the Helsinki mascot, with happened to Elmo when he tried to spread cheer among school kids.

"Tickle Me Elmo" became "torture me Elmo" until he managed to dance out of danger.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Don't mess with the mascots. That does it for me. Thank you very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.