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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Mitt Romney; Bill Clinton to Speak at Democratic Convention; Mitt Romney in Jerusalem; Black Couple Denied Wedding; Uplifting Olympic Moments
Aired July 30, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Stand by for more of my interview with Mitt Romney on critical foreign policy issues, presidential politics and more.
But, first, let's go to Warsaw right now, where our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is traveling with Mitt Romney and covering this visit.
What's the latest there, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in Poland, Mitt Romney picked up what sounded like an endorsement from the anti-communist hero Lech Walesa, but Mitt Romney arrived from his stop in Israel with a fresh diplomatic controversy on his tail.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney picked Poland for the last stop of his overseas trip to highlight an economy that is roaring ahead of much of Europe. And on the streets of the city of Gdansk, at least one person returned the praise.
The campaign's image of the day was Romney's meeting with the former leader of Poland's Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa. The biggest anti-communist icon gushed over Romney and seemed to take a dig at President Obama.
LECH WALESA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF POLAND (through translator): And hope many other countries will certainly do all the best for the United States to restore its leadership position.
ACOSTA: Romney landed in Poland after a two-day trip to Israel aimed at wooing Jewish-American voters. His stop at the most sacred site of the Jewish faith, Jerusalem's Western Wall, resonated with Binyamin Weinrib, an American orthodox Jew living in Israel.
(on camera): Does that help win your vote?
BINYAMIN WEINRIB, U.S. CITIZEN IN ISRAEL: Yes. That definitely helps with my vote.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But Palestinian leaders are not as pleased. They're fuming over comments Romney made at a fund-raiser comparing the Israeli and Palestinian economies. Romney told his donors, "And as I come out here and look over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things."
A spokesman for Palestinian leaders called Romney's comments racist, adding, "It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision, and understanding of this region and its people."
The Romney campaign complained the comments were being grossly mischaracterized, but Romney hits the same theme in his book "No Apologies" and back in April made a similar comparison between Israelis and Egyptians.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why is Israel such a powerhouse and Egypt so far away?
And then I read a book by a former professor. It was called "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations." And after about 500 pages of analysis, he says roughly these words. He said, if you can learn anything at all from the history of the economic development of the world, it's this. Culture makes all the difference.
ACOSTA: It was yet another distraction for a campaign that wants American voters to focus on Romney as a potential leader of the free world. But escaping the campaign is never easy, even in Poland, where some fans of the current man in the White House chanted "Obama."
ACOSTA: After questioning whether the British were ready to put on the Olympics, this marks the second time that Mitt Romney has offended some of the people in the countries he's visited during this overseas trip.
He will have another chance to get his campaign back on message tomorrow, when he delivers a major foreign policy address here in Warsaw. Then it's back to the states for a nonstop campaign that won't let up all the way to November -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly won't.
Quickly, the Romney campaign is though pushing back on this notion that the use of the word culture at this fund-raiser here in Jerusalem early this morning between Palestinians and Israelis represented some form of racism. What are they saying?
ACOSTA: Well, one of the advisers to the campaign who is on this trip, Stu Stevens, was talking to reporters and he said under no circumstances was Mitt Romney at all offending the Palestinians with those comments. And he says the rest of the world knows that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta traveling with Romney in Poland right now.
Yesterday, earlier today, they were all obviously here in Jerusalem.
Coming up in about 20 minutes, you will see more of my sit-down interview with the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. We talk about Iran's nuclear threat, whether he's ready to take military action and a lot more. That's coming up this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, more of my interview with Mitt Romney.
But now to the Democrats right now and to Bill Clinton's big role at President Obama's upcoming Democratic National Controversial, the first week in September in Charlotte, North Carolina.
We know the former President Bill Clinton will play a major role at the Democratic Convention. He will place Barack Obama's name into nomination.
Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, and she's working the story for us.
Tell our viewers what's going on, Brianna.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, obviously a very visible role for President Clinton, but things weren't always this friendly between President Clinton and Barack Obama.
During the bruising primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, sources tell us that the former president felt very bitterly and in the aftermath of that primary battle towards Obama because he felt that his wife had been mistreated.
Now, once Obama was elected and he appointed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, the wounds started to heal. And now, four years later, President Clinton is one of Obama's most visible surrogates.
KEILAR (voice-over): When Bill Clinton took the stage at the Democratic Convention in 2008, the crowd went wild.
At first, they wouldn't even let him start talking.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am honored to be here tonight. Please. Thank you. Please stop. Sit down.
KEILAR: Four years ago, Clinton's role was to warm up the audience for Joe Biden's speech. This year, he's got a heavier lift, warming up middle-class voters for President Obama as the economy continues to falter.
Despite 27 consecutive months of creating jobs, there are still 473,000 less jobs right now than when President Obama took office. At this point in Clinton's first term, almost 10 million jobs had been added. But the White House dismisses suggestions Clinton's appearance will highlight those differences in a negative way.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: President Clinton's participation at the convention will be a very important way to reinforce President Obama's views.
KEILAR: Clinton is Obama's key messenger, trying to persuade voters that he knows what it takes to build an economy and President Obama is on the right path.
It's a relationship that has had its ups and downs. Just this May, Clinton undercut the Obama campaign's main argument that Mitt Romney's business experience does not qualify him to lead the country.
B. CLINTON: A man who's been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.
KEILAR: And back in 2007, as then Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went head to head in the Democratic primaries, Bill Clinton took aim at Obama's inexperience.
B. CLINTON: I mean, when is the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?
KEILAR: In early 2008, Obama won Iowa and entered an all-out feud with the former first couple.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I'm here. He's not.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: OK. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.
KEILAR: But, Wolf, fast-forward four years and what a difference that makes. Bill Clinton now key not only on messaging, but also on fund- raising. He and President Obama have headlined a number of events together this spring, raising millions of dollars for the president's reelection.
BLITZER: Very important addition to the upcoming convention in Charlotte for the Democrats. Thanks, Brianna, very much.
BLITZER: We got new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on President Obama's ancestry, including a surprising twist in his family history. That's coming up right after the break.
Also, a police officer under arrest. Wait until you hear what he's accused of doing while on the job.
And at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, right at the bottom of the hour, the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, tells me what he considers to be the biggest pain in the neck to the entire world.
BLITZER: A new revelation today about President Obama's ancestry. We're now told his roots go back to the early days of slavery in the United States. But that's not necessarily the surprising part.
Lisa Sylvester is looking into the story for us.
Lisa, what's going on? Is this.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a story that might take some people by surprise, not because the first African-American has an ancestor who may have been a slave, but because the link has been made on his white mother's side of the family.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): President Obama's story is well-known, his father from Kenya, his mother from the United States. But Ancestry.com says it has mapped out the Obama family tree going back 11 generations and came to a stunning conclusion.
Anastasia Harman is the company's lead family historian.
ANASTASIA HARMAN, ANCESTRY.COM: Our conclusion is that President Obama, the first African-American president, is the 11th great- grandson of the first documented enslaved African in what would become the United States.
SYLVESTER: The link is made not from his father's side, but from his mother, Ann Dunham, whose lineage was traced back to an African named John Punch. Records show Punch lived in pre-Colonial Virginia and had children with a white woman. Those children later became known by a slightly different name, as the Bunch family.
The findings of the two-year study is now posted on the company's Web site. So how did the research team figure this out?
HARMAN: As we're going from President Obama to his mom and grandmother and great-grandmother, you're looking for like birth and marriage and death records, all those kind of records.
As we get farther back in time, though, they weren't kept or they have been destroyed over time. The Civil War, a lot of records were destroyed, fires, floods and things like that. So we start looking at what we call surviving records, church records, land records. And so when we get really far back into like here John Bunch III who is born in 1680, from here on out, we're looking at land records.
SYLVESTER: University of Maryland history professor Ira Berlin says all of this is perfectly plausible, because there was a time when white indentured servants and black slaves freely intermingled.
IRA BERLIN, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: They work together, they sleep together, they play together. Eventually, they have children together. The status of those children followed the status of their mother. That is, if your mother is white, then you will be free.
SYLVESTER: Lineage has become a fascinating side topic of this political season, from Mitt Romney's Mormon roots to the president's ancestry. But what matters, says CNN contributor Roland Martin, is not so much the past, but the future.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is not going to mean anything when it comes to voters. This is simply a matter of what his personal history is. Keep in mind, you can be Clarence Thomas and you can have a very clear African-American background going back generations, but do the policies that you articulate today, do they resonate with black voters?
SYLVESTER: Now, in our 4:00 p.m. report, we said that Ancestry.com has ties to the Mormon Church. It actually doesn't. So we want to clarify that.
But on the larger question, do we know for sure that their conclusion about President Obama is true, well, no. But all of this is like putting a puzzle together. There may be a few missing pieces here and there, but there's enough there to get the overall picture.
And the research was reviewed by a third party. A historian, previous president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, took a look and gave her stamp of approval saying the research met the highest standards -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.
Let's go to Kate right now. She's got some other news that we're watching.
What are you finding out, Kate?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.
I want to get viewers caught up on what's trending right now right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Number on our trending list tonight, dash-cam video from a police officer's patrol car leads to his own arrest. The Florida cop is accused of picking up prostitutes while on the job. Police tell our affiliate WESH the officer has since been fired.
Number three trending tonight, a life-sized version of Noah's Ark built in Holland. A wealthy Dutch businessman says he used the dimensions outlined in the Bible to build that huge wooden boat. Inside, he packed it with a lot of animals, but the catch is that they're all made of plastic.
Stay with us -- the top two trending stories of the day coming up next.
BOLDUAN: Let's get back to our list of what's trending right now here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We told you about number four before the break, a Florida police officer arrested and fired after his colleagues say he picked up at least four prostitutes while on the job. Number three trending tonight, a wealthy Dutch man built a life-sized replica of Noah's Ark and filled it up plastic animals and opened it up as a Bible museum.
Now time for number two on our trending list tonight, at least 14 people killed this month alone in what appears to be a new Ebola outbreak in Uganda. International experts are working to find out the source, as well as anyone who may have made contact with the patient. Ebola is highly contagious.
And number one trending tonight, a sad story coming from the NFL. Tennessee Titans player O.J. Murdock apparently killed himself this morning in front of the Tampa area high school where he was a football star, a track and field star as well. Murdock was just 25 years old.
Wolf, he had not even played a game in the NFL because -- due to injury, and then this very, very, very sad turn, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very sad story, indeed, only 25 years old, a young guy indeed.
BLITZER: Thanks, Kate.
BLITZER: Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM: spending an historic amount of money to win the White House. I will ask Mitt Romney about the millions and millions of dollars his supporters are spending -- my interview with Mitt Romney, that's coming up next.
And a little bit later, why an African-American couple was denied a church wedding in the United States.
BLITZER: Happening now: Mitt Romney tells me whether he actually thinks Russia is an enemy of the United States.
John McCain and Dick Cheney in a war of words over Sarah Palin.
And judging Michelle Obama's touchy-feely Olympic performance.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Mitt Romney says he came here to Jerusalem to deliver an important message to the people of Israel and to the leaders of Iran. The Republican presidential contender is promising to support any and all measures -- a direct quote -- any and all measures to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
I asked Romney about that and much more in our one-on-one interview here in Jerusalem.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran, because you've been very robust in saying that you will not, as president, accept Iran with nuclear weapons. So be specific. What would you do to make sure that would never happen?
ROMNEY: Well, I spoke about five years ago at the Herzliya Conference and laid out seven steps that I thought were necessary to keep Iran from pursuing their nuclear folly.
One of those steps, of course, was crippling sanctions. And it's taken a long time for those sanctions to finally be put in place. They could be, I'm sure, even more punitive relative to Iran. But that's a positive step.
There are other steps that have not yet been followed. One other step, of course, is to make sure that we have credible military options that are available to us if no other of the initiatives is successful.
Clearly, we all hope that diplomatic and economic pressure put on Iran will dissuade them from becoming a nuclear capability nation. But if all else fails, we, of course, have to keep a military option available.
BLITZER: But just to be precise on the Iran point, if the sanctions, the political sanctions, the economic sanctions, diplomatic sanctions don't work and Iran is about to develop a nuclear bomb, you, as president, would authorize a military strike?
ROMNEY: I think I've said it as clearly as our president has. Again, I don't want to make foreign policy on foreign soil or say something different than our nation. Our president has said and I have said that it is unacceptable for Iran to become nuclear.
And that would mean that if all other options were to fail -- and they have not all been exercised; they've not all been executed at their most extreme level -- but if all other options, diplomatic, political, economic fail, then a military option is one which would be available to the president of the United States.
BLITZER: The last time you and I spoke in an interview, you told me that Russia was America's number-one geostrategic foe. Do you still believe that?
ROMNEY: Well, there's no question but that in terms of geopolitics, I'm talking about votes at the United Nations and the actions of a -- geopolitical nature. Russia is the number one adversary in that regard. That doesn't make them an enemy. It doesn't make them a combatant. They don't represent the number one national security threat.
The number one national security threat, of course, to our nation is a nuclear Iran. And time continues to pass. They continue to move towards nuclearization. This is more and more disconcerting and dangerous to the world. But Russia -- particularly looking at a place like Syria, Russia has supported the Assad regime even as it has been attacking its own people. Russia likewise has been slow to move to the kinds of sanctions that have been called for in Iran.
Russia is a geopolitical adversary but it's not an enemy with -- you know, with -- missiles being fired at one another or things of that nature.
BLITZER: I'm glad you clarified that. On a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. troops, the other day at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, you said you support bringing back all U.S. troops by the end of 2014, which is what the Obama administration negotiated, as well. But earlier you seemed to say that you wanted to consult with commanders. You didn't want a hard timeline or a deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan to announce what was going on.
Do I sense there's been a change in your position?
ROMNEY: No, it's the same posture I've had all along which is that I believe that the right target for us is to withdraw our troops by the end of 2014. At the same time in the speech I gave at the VFW, I said I would however also want to consult with commanders on the ground to make sure that that timeline was still the appropriate timeline and that is something, which I will continue to point out.
BLITZER: As someone who organized and ran the Winter Olympic Games and all of us know you did an excellent job at that, should there have been a moment of silence at these -- at the opening ceremonies for these summer games in London in memory of those Israeli athletes who were killed in Munich in 1972?
ROMNEY: I expressed my belief actually before the games that there should have been a moment of silence on the 40-year anniversary of the brutal massacre of the Israeli athletes in Munich. I think recognizing the sacrifice and the horror of terror even at the Olympics is something which should not be lost on the people who weren't around or may not remember those terrible events.
BLITZER: Is -- on a political question, getting ready to wrap it up, but all this money that's coming out being raised in super PAC money, we're here in Jerusalem. One of your big supporters, Sheldon Adelson, is here. He has said he's ready to commit $100 million to super PACs to help defeat the president of the United States.
All this money coming in. Is this appropriate? What do you think about this?
ROMNEY: Well, I must admit I think I made very clear in my campaign in 2008 that I felt that the fundraising regulations and rules that exist in our country don't make a lot of sense. In fact, as you know, a candidate is able to raise a maximum of $2,500 for his or her campaign. A federal candidate. But there can be a super PAC on behalf of that candidate that takes millions of dollars.
This doesn't make a lot of sense to me. And I think we need to revisit. I hope at some point we're able to revisit our campaign finance laws and to have candidates responsible for the advertising of their own campaign as supposed to having advertising and the message of a campaign oftentimes being spoken of more loudly by outside groups than by the candidate him or herself.
But what we've done is -- by limiting what a candidate's campaign can receive at $2500, we've now only opened up a way for people to -- that want to make a difference in a campaign to give to some outside group that can't be coordinated by the candidate. So the candidate gets the benefit of the money but the disadvantage of not being able to, if you will, control the message and make sure that what these outside groups say is consistent with their beliefs.
I think we got it backwards. I'd rather see contributions going to candidates and having candidates take responsibility for what's said.
BLITZER: Because a lot of people are concerned if he's going to put in $100 million on his personal -- of his personal wealth and I think "Forbes" says he's worth about $20 billion, a lot of those billions he earned obviously legally at casinos not only in Las Vegas but in China, in Macao, China. And people are a little antsy about that if you get the drift of the question.
ROMNEY: Well, you'd have -- you'd have to talk to Mr. Adelson. As I understand it, his contributions are to a wide array of causes but that are generally associated with conservative principles. And don't forget, there'll be hundreds of millions coming in from the CEOs of labor unions. Not directed by their individual members, but directed entirely by the CEO of a union.
And we have a very strange financial system for our campaigns right now where campaigns are highly limited on what they can receive but then vast sums potentially, you know, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, potentially, in contributions are coming by outside groups that can't be controlled by the campaigns. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
BLITZER: Yes. OK. We're out of time. One final thought. You're in Jerusalem right now. You're a religious individual. Give us a little sense of what this city means to you, the Holy Land, as someone who obviously believes in God and has a deep commitment to his faith.
ROMNEY: Well, as you know, I'm running for a secular position, not a religious position but on a personal basis, being in the Holy City is very moving for me. I believe very deeply in the promises that were made in this place. I believe in the mission of Jesus Christ. Believe he walked the very streets that we're walking. And it's very moving and emotional for anyone of deep faith to be in a place which is sacred to my faith, sacred to people of the Jewish faith. Sacred to Muslims.
And it's amazing how many religions count this as a holy place. Whatever your religion, I think being here draws you closer to the divine and makes you recognize that we are all children of the same god. And hopefully coming here, people recognize that we should draw together and not fight like little children but instead act like adults that God created us to be.
BLITZER: Well, said. I felt exactly the same way earlier today. I spent a few hours walking around the old city and I totally appreciate what you're saying.
BLITZER: Good luck. Thanks so much for joining us.
ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you. Take care.
BLITZER: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. So you heard Mitt Romney call the economic sanctions against Iran a positive step.
I also interviewed the Israeli president Shimon Peres earlier today here in Jerusalem. I asked him about the sanctions and whether, in fact, they are working.
PRES. SHIMON PERES, ISRAEL: The sanctions are functioning, are beginning, but they have impacted Iran. We have to wait a little bit more and see if this impact is sufficient enough to convince the Iranians to stop it. This would be the best way. None of us would like to see bloodshed. And the Iranians are not our enemies. Let's not forget it. Historically we have had (INAUDIBLE) good relations. The problem is not Iran, but the Iranian leadership and the Iranian policy, which is a pain in the neck of the entire world.
BLITZER: When you say months, how much time really is there given what's going on right now?
PERES: Look, if the Iranians really get away right away, it can be tomorrow. But it doesn't look like for the time being they're intransigent. So right now there is a parallel effort, one, by negotiating with them that didn't bear fruits and the other by increasing the sanctions. So we have to wait. I think it's a matter of months.
BLITZER: A few months? Six months, 10 months?
PERES: I can't tell it. I can't tell it really.
BLITZER: It's not years?
PERES: I don't think so.
BLITZER: All right. You're going to be able to see more of my interview with the Israeli president Shimon Peres tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that. We'll do that tomorrow. But up next, this hour, first, Dick Cheney called Sarah Palin the pick four years ago. He says that was a, quote, "mistake." Now the man who picked her, Senator John McCain, is firing right back at the former vice president.
And speaking of a so-called mistake, the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opens up about what he saw in Iraq that should not happen in the coming weeks and months in Syria. CNN's exclusive interview with Leon Panetta, that's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is just into THE SITUATION ROOM, we're getting word of a shark attack this afternoon off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It's a story we've been following really for weeks. This time, a man was in the water when the shark bit him on the legs and ankles.
You're seeing some video of kind of the aftermath there. Police say the man suffered lacerations but nothing life threatening, fortunately. He did go to the hospital.
Some people on the beach say they saw a fin in the water before the man was bitten.
And some other stories that we're watching this hour, former Vice President Dick Cheney is getting some pushback for his assessment that it was, quote-unquote, "a mistake," for then Republican presidential candidate John McCain to name Sarah Palin as his 2008 vice presidential running mate.
In an interview on ABC, Cheney said two years as Alaska governor did not make her ready for the post. McCain today bristled at Cheney's remark. The Arizona senator fired back saying this, quote, "I'm always glad to get your -- get comments four years later. I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don't believe we should have. The fact is, I'm proud of Sarah Palin. I'm proud of the job she did, I'm proud of the job she continues to do."
And also coming from the Pentagon this evening, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is traveling in the Middle East. In an exclusive interview he tells our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr that even though the U.S. wants Syrians -- Syria president Bashar al-Assad to step down it does not want to disband Syria's military and security forces. The reason has to do with Iraq and chemical weapons. Listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think it's very, very important that we don't make the same mistakes we made in Iraq. And that particularly when it comes to things like the chemical sites, they do a pretty good job of securing those sites. If they suddenly walked away from that, it would be a disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands, hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Panetta is in Tunisia. He's also will be visiting Egypt, Jordan and Israel. He also told our Barbara Starr, Wolf, that he thinks deep down Assad knows that it's just a matter of time before he's going to have to step down. And he said if he wants to protect his family, he should go now.
BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people think so. I've been hearing that for a while. But the fighting in the meantime continues.
I do know Panetta, when he gets here to Jerusalem tomorrow, he'll be warmly received by the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. I know that because that's what Barak told me today that he really appreciates and admires Leon Panetta and what they're trying to do jointly as far as Iran, Syria, other issues are concerned.
Kate, thanks very much.
Hard to believe this is true. But an African-American couple, yes, an African-American couple was denied a church wedding because of their race. You're going to hear from the pastor, that's coming up.
Also, Michelle Obama gets touchy-feely overseas. We'll tell you what's going on.
BLITZER: Let's get a quick check from Erin Burnett in New York to see what's coming up at the top of the hour.
What are you working on, Erin?
ERIN BURNETT, HOST, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: Well, Wolf, you know, you've been talking a lot about the Syria situation. I remember reading an article in "Vogue" about Asma as-Assad, the rose in the desert describing her as glamorous, young and very chic. Describing Syria as a country without bombings, unrest or kidnappings.
This article appeared, well, just over a year ago in "Vogue," and I remember reading it and being shocked. Well, the reporter says that she is frustrated with how this happened and how she was treated, that she was duped. And she's going to be our special guest tonight finally giving her side of the story on this very, very controversial article.
Back to you.
BLITZER: Yes, that was a glamorous photo shoot of the first lady of Syria probably soon not going to be the first lady of Syria, but we'll see.
Thanks very much. Looking forward to that, Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Wolf. BLITZER: Now to a stunning reminder that racial prejudice still exists, very much alive in the United States of America, even in 2012. Even with an African-American president. This is a story of a black couple in Mississippi who wanted to have a lovely church wedding until members of the church said, absolutely not, simply because of their race.
Mary Snow is joining us with more on the story.
Mary, hard to believe this can still happen in the United States. What happened?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, Wolf, you know, this is a headline you might expect to see in 1962, not 2012. A couple changed their wedding plans at the last minute when the pastor of their church said he didn't want to have a controversy within his church.
SNOW (voice-over): Smiles on their wedding day mask the personal pain of Charles and Te'andrea Wilson. This was not the church where they planned to married.
CHARLES WILSON, WEDDING BANNED AT CHURCH: My wife was called and they said that because of the fact that we were black, some of the members of the congregation got upset and decided that no black couple would ever be married in their church.
TE'ANDREA WILSON, WEDDING BANNED AT CHURCH: I was very devastated and in turmoil and just very hurt.
SNOW: Just two days before their nuptials, the couple tells CNN they were asked to change the venue and not hold the ceremony at the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, Mississippi.
Te'Andrea is a member of that church and also knows the church's pastor, Stan Weatherford. She says he requested the couple move the ceremony and ended up performing it at another location.
We were unable to reach Pastor Weatherford or the church. But he told CNN affiliate, WLBT, he made the request after some congregants complained about a black couple getting married there.
STAN WEATHERFORD, CHURCH PASTOR: This was -- had not -- had never been done here before so it was setting a new precedence. And there were those who reacted to that that I didn't want to have a controversy within the church and I certainly didn't want a controversy to affect the wedding.
SNOW: The controversy, the pastor says, he wanted to avoid has new mushroomed into a far bigger one.
DERRICK JOHNSON, STATE PRESIDENT, MISSISSIPPI NAACP: We are appalled that a religious institution would discriminate against individuals in 2012. SNOW: We spoke to Derrick Johnson, the president of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP. He says instead of sanctuary, churches can be one of the many remnants of segregation.
JOHNSON: The most segregated time is Sunday morning when African- Americans and other -- and whites attend separate churches. And that has been done and carried out in Mississippi like nowhere else.
SNOW: Outside Sunday services, there were congregants of the First Baptist Church who offered support to the Wilsons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Myself personally, I would like to apologize to the Wilsons, to their family and friends, and the entire black community.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have basically been betrayed as racist church. We are not. We welcome anybody that wants to come through those doors.
SNOW: But Charles Wilson isn't swayed.
C. WILSON: Why didn't those people stand up in the beginning? If it was such a minority of people, why didn't the majority stand up and say, in God's house, we don't do this?
SNOW: Now we have one quick update. We have since heard back from the pastor who declined comment. Baptist leaders today are denouncing any forms of discrimination. Richard Land, for one, of the Southern Baptist Convention said if this couple was rejected because of their race, that he is, quote, "embarrassed, frustrated" and that he apologizes to the couple on behalf of the convention for the hurt and emotional pain they experienced -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a good statement from Richard Land. The pastor, obviously, doesn't want to comment.
Thanks very much for that, Mary.
Other news, something you don't usually see, the first lady in a wrestler's arms. Jeanne Moos is coming up next.
BLITZER: The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, got up close and personal with some U.S. athletes in London.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If there were an Olympic medal for hugging, First Lady Michelle Obama would take it. She hugged every member of the U.S. men's basketball team. They lined up. But even more impressive. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
MOOS: The gold medal for lifting a first lady goes to this American wrestler.
(On camera): What's the weirdest thing you've ever lifted outside of the first lady?
ELENA PIROZHKOVA, U.S. WRESTLER: UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hay bales.
MOOS (voice-over): Five-foot-five Elena Pirozhkova lifting the 5'11" first lady was a first.
PIROZHKOVA: After she gave me a hug, my hand was still kind of at her waistband. And I said, can I pick you up? And she's like, OK. Kind of nervous.
MOOS: Elena says she just wanted to make the moment a little more special. A teammate tweeted out the photo. The White House showcased its own version as photo of the day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think that's weird.
MOOS (on camera): What's so weird?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Picking up the first lady.
MOOS (voice-over): In 2010, Elena came in second wrestling at the world championships. There's a name for this move.
PIROZHKOVA: Just like a front body carry, that's what we call them.
MOOS (on camera): So front body carried the first lady?
(Voice-over): Some conservative Web sites called it undignified.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she's just having fun. It's the Olympics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's awesome that Michelle Obama is the weight that she can be lifted.
MOOS: At 5'9 1/2", I had trouble getting a lift.
(On camera): You couldn't pick me up, could you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could I?
MOOS: Could you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could. I think I'm going to the chiropractor right now.
MOOS: Could you? Would you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I won't, I have a bad back, but I could. MOOS (voice-over): Finally someone could and would.
(On camera): Like a feather, huh?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MOOS (voice-over): Not since Nancy Reagan sat on Mr. T's lap as he played Santa have we seen a first lady in such an usual position. Not since President Bush resisted an Olympian's invitation to slap her backside and settled for a back, have we seen such informality.
As for those who imagine that Elena would be saying, oh, my back after lifting the first lady --
(On camera): Did she present any problem for you to pick up?
PIROZHKOVA: No, you know, after I picked her up and I set her back down, she's like, I'm a lot heavier than I seem, I was like, no, I'm a lot stronger than I look.
MOOS (voice-over): Elena is scheduled to wrestle on August 8th. Until then, she expects to be kidded.
PIROZHKOVA: OK, who are you going to pick up next, the Queen of England?
MOOS: Try wrestling with that image.
Jeanne Moos --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throw (ph) you, too, if I wanted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're picking up the first lady.
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: Remember, tomorrow, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM," my interview with the president of Israel, Shimon Peres. I spoke with him today in Jerusalem.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're reporting today from Jerusalem.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.