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Iran Closer To A Nuclear Weapon?; President: "I Meant What I Said"; Mitt Romney's Speech; Couple Survives Isaac; Undecided Voters; Cheating Probe at Harvard

Aired August 31, 2012 - 16:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Happening now, Iran may be getting much closer to a nuclear weapon capability. A new U.N. report shows it's stepping up production of nuclear fuel and hindering efforts to monitor a key military site. Will Israel feel the need to strike soon? What should the United States do? We're taking you inside Iran.

The Republicans have moved on from Tampa as the Democrats move into Charlotte for their convention. CNN's Jessica Yellin sat down with President Obama for a brand-new documentary. She's here this hour with a preview.

And Harvard University draws some of the brightest kids in the country, but now, it's investigating claims that dozens of students, dozens, may have cheated on a final exam.

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



BLITZER: The political fireworks in Tampa now are over, but a spotlight shifting here to Charlotte, North Carolina, where it's President Obama's turn to go on the attack and make his case for another four years in the White House. I'm here at the Time Warner Cable Arena, the site of the Democratic National Convention. They're getting ready for the convention to begin on Tuesday.

The podium has just been unveiled. And only days from now, thousands of Democrats will be gathering from across the country for all the excitement here. I'll be leading CNN's coverage of all the big events, the speakers among them, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, the vice president, Joe Biden, the former president, Bill Clinton, and of course, the president of the United States, himself.

Much more on the political story coming up, but right now, I want to get to the situation in Iran. There are reports it may be getting much closer to a nuclear weapons capability. The united Nations' nuclear watchdog reports Iran has boosted production of high grade enriched uranium which could be used for a bomb and is making suspicious changes to a key military base.

Could this trigger an Israeli attack? And will the Obama administration be forced to act? The "New York Times" David Sanger has reported extensively on this story. His new book is entitled "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars And Surprising Use Of American Power." David is joining us now.

David, thanks very much for coming in. So, here's the question. How close is Iran to having that capacity to produce nuclear weapons?

DAVID SANGER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Wolf, as we've discussed before, to build a nuclear weapon, you really need three things. You need the fuel, you need the knowledge of how to put it together, and you need a way to develop it. What the IAEA reported yesterday in their most recent assessment is that Iran has produced a significant amount of new fuel just in the past three months while the pressure was going on them with the sanctions and other steps.

We think that they have the knowledge to build a crude nuclear weapon, but it would probably take them months to go do it, and they would need to enrich that fuel to a higher level. And then to deliver it would probably take a couple years. But the question is, are the Israelis willing to let them even get to a capability.

And you've been hearing a lot out of Israel recently suggesting that they may be interested in, I guess, what we call an October surprise.

BLITZER: Yes. There's definitely reports, a lot of reports in the Israeli media suggesting something might happen even before the November 6th elections here in United States. Listen to what Mitt Romney said on this very subject last night at the Republican convention in Tampa.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On another front, every American is less secure today, because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We're still talking. And Iran's centrifuges are still spinning. President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.


BLITZER: All right. When you heard that, David, you covered this story extensively, I have as well, what was your reaction when you heard him say those words "President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus?"

SANGER: You know, I was thinking about to what we heard from Ehud Barak who is the Israeli defense minister and has certainly had some disagreements over the years with the United States who said in a TV interview just a few weeks ago that he can't think of an administration that had done more for Israel's security. And while he didn't say what he was speaking about directly -- he wasn't specific, two big things you could think of would be the administration's great ramp up of American forces in the Persian Gulf, including anti-missile forces. And then, of course, as I've reported before in both the times and in "Confront and Conceal," the president's fairly direct role in a covert program called Olympic games.

Not what just ended in London, but the covert effort to undercut Iran's centrifuges with a computer virus, which by most accounts slowed the Iranians down. Both of those and increased sanctions are more than the Bush administration did, although Olympic games began in the Bush administration days to give President Bush his credit.

I think it's going to be a hard case to make that the president has simply talked to the Iranians and not done anything to stop them.

BLITZER: But there seems to be a difference of opinion as far as the time sense of urgency between the Obama administration and the Israeli government on how much time is really left before that line of no return happens.

SANGER: That's right. And the Israelis have made the argument that they would need to act before Iran got a real capability. And you have to remember that the Israelis have two factors under consideration that are different from the U.S. They're a lot closer to Iran, missile-range, and of course, closer to the Gulf.

And, secondly, the Israeli military does not have the capability to get into the deepest site in Iran, a deep underground facility that the IAEA reported as getting pretty close to completion, a place where they could enrich uranium. The United States does have the ability, we believe, to get into that site with bunker busting bombs that Israel does not have.

And so, to the American view, the U.S. has got more time to go deal with this, and they're trying to say to the Israelis we've got your back. The question is do the Israelis trust that President Obama when pressed with evidence that Iran was very close would act militarily?

And that's where you're seeing this big behind the scenes tension, frequently not so behind the scenes, between the Israelis and the U.S.

BLITZER: When I was in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, I interviewed Mitt Romney there, but I also interviewed Ehud Barak, the defense minister.

I think you were referring earlier to that television interview he did with me when he praised the Obama administration for the cooperation in terms of dealing with Iran's nuclear programs and the military-to-military connection, the intelligence-to-intelligence connection.

He and Shimon Peres were very praiseworthy. But, I sense there's a split within the Israel government itself. Netanyahu, the prime minister, may be on a different page.

SANGER: Well, Netanyahu is considered to be a little bit more cautious than Ehud Barak. I think as you got a sense from that interview and I think we all did from your interview with Barak, that he's the one pushing the possibility of military action the strongest.

But the talk has gotten so intense that the country's president, Shimon Peres, came out the other day and made the argument that this would be the wrong time to strike Iran, that it would isolate Israel and then would probably drive the Iranian program further underground. A subject, I think, you took up with Mr. Barak and he rejected.

BLITZER: Yes. And Mr. Peres was also very praiseworthy of the Obama administration as well. All right. David, thanks very much. Excellent reporting you've been doing in the "New York Times." Appreciate it very much.

SANGER: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And Iran, this week, has seized an opportunity to try to present its case on the nuclear issue. It's been playing host to dozens, dozens of world leaders attending a summit of non-aligned nations. CNN Reza Sayah is inside Iran.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this year summit, Iranian leaders once again denied they have a secret nuclear weapons program, and they said all the alarm was part of a campaign to weaken the country.


SAYAH (voice-over): The Islamic Republic of Iran, western powers say it's a threat to world peace and suspected developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons. This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was, quote, "unable to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."

Israel says it has no doubt Iran plan a nuclear arsenal and has threatened a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The warning sounds serious, but the non-align movement conference, a summit representing 120 countries from the Middle East, Africa, South America, and Asia, no one seemed more stressed out about Iran.

ENRIQUE ROMAN MORE, PERUVIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I don't qualify Iran as a danger to the region. Danger to the region for me is poverty.

SAYAH: You share the view that Iran is a threat to the region?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I don't say. That's why we are here.

ZELJKO JERKIC, DEPUTY F.M. BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: It is important country. It's a vibrant country. It is country in development. MARIUS FRANSMAN, SOUTH AFRICA DEPUTY F.M.: The fact that South Africa is here, we are saying that is important. We need to be united.

SAYAH: Many of the officials here said Iran's nuclear program was legitimate and heard the nation's supreme leader declare that Iran would not seek nuclear weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I emphasize the Islamic Republic will never seek nuclear weapons.

SAYAH: U.N. secretary General Ban Ki-moon admonished Iran when he told the summit, "Claiming that another U.N. member state Israel does not have the right to exist or describing it in racist terms is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold."

(on-camera) Iranian officials also deny ever calling for the destruction of Israel. They say the now infamous Israel should be wiped off the map comment was a call for the ouster of the government in favor of one Palestinian state.

(voice-over) The view from Tehran is that the west sees Iran as a threat to U.S. influence in the Middle East, both itself and through its allies like Hezbollah and Hamas. Iranian officials say western powers are trying to whip up Iranphobia using Tehran's nuclear program to justify tough economic sanctions that are aimed at weakening Iran.


(on-camera) That strategy may not be working here in this summit, but it seems to be gaining traction in America. A recent CNN poll showed eight out of ten Americans believe Iran, which says it doesn't have nuclear weapons, is a bigger threat than North Korea, whose foreign ministry bodes it already has a defensive weapons arsenal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah, thanks very much. Reza's joining us from inside Iran. He's been reporting there all week. President Obama tells troops he made good on pledges to end the war in Iraq and to get Osama Bin Laden. You're going to hear those comments. That's coming up next.

You'll also hear a preview of President Obama's interview with CNN's Jessica Yellin from our brand-new documentary "Obama Revealed."

Plus, it was the biggest speech of Mitt Romney's political career. Paul Begala says he utterly failed. We'll ask Mary Matalin what she thinks as well. Both of them are standing by for our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: Just days before taking the national stage here in Charlotte, a fiery President Obama isn't holding back out there on the campaign trail. Among other things, he was rallying troops today at Ft. Bliss in Texas and defending what he considers to be promises kept on the front lines.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two years ago, I was here to mark a historic moment in the life of our nation and our military, the end of major combat operations in Iraq. It was a chance for me to say on behalf of the American people, to you, and all who served there, welcome home. And congratulations on a job well done.

Some thought the end of combat was just word games and semantics. But I meant what I said. So, you kept training up those Iraqi forces. We removed nearly 150,000 troops. And this past December, under General Austin's leadership, the last American troops came home, including the fourth brigade combat team from Bliss.


OBAMA: When I was here two years ago, I told you something else, though. That we had more work to do, including taking the fight to al Qaeda. And there, too, I meant what I said. With allies and partners, we've taken out more top al Qaeda terrorists at any time since 9/11. And thanks to the courage of our forces, al Qaeda is on the road to defeat, and Bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America.


OBAMA: If you hear anyone trying to say that America's in decline or that our influence is waned, don't you believe it. Here's the truth, our alliances have never been stronger. You see, we may be turning a page on a decade of war, but America's responsibilities to you have only just begun. Hey.


OBAMA: I hear you. America's greatest days are yet to come. And that we remain the greatest force for freedom that the world has ever known. So, God bless you. God bless all our men and women in uniform. And God bless the United States of America.



BLITZER: CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, had a chance to sit down with President Obama for a special documentary entitled "Obama Revealed: The Man, The President." Jessica is joining us now. Jessica, you really did get a unique interview with the president. Among other things, you asked him about his cool, calm personality. What did he say about that?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the president said that he believes essentially that his ability to be calm and cool is an asset. Not surprising that he said that, but he acknowledged that some people he thinks misinterpret it. Here's some of that interview with the president. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: Sometimes, Michelle and I not doing the circuit and going out to dinners with folks is perceived as us being cool. It actually really has more to do with us being parents. When we're in town here in Washington, in the evenings, 6:30, we want to be at the dinner table with our kids.

And I want to be helping with their homework. And I think that's sometimes interpreted as me not wanting to be out there slapping backs and wheeling and dealing. It really has more to do with the stage we are in our lives.

YELLIN: If you're re-elected, your girls will be older, they'll probably have their own weekend plans. They might not want to hang out with mom and dad.

OBAMA: It's already starting to happen.



YELLIN: Do you think you might do more outreach, what you call back slapping, with members of Congress?

OBAMA: My hope is that getting past this election, people will have the opportunity to maybe step back and say, you know what, the differences that divide us aren't as important as the common bonds we have as Americans. And, some of that I'm sure will require additional effort on my part. Hopefully, we'll see more effort on the other side as well.


YELLIN: We delve a little bit more deeply into these issues in the documentary, Wolf, the partisanship in Washington, what part of that falls on the president's shoulders, what part of it is the Republicans, to what extent his calm, cool personality has been an asset and a challenge in office, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you had a chance also, Jessica, to interview a wide range of people who know him quite well, including his former personal aide, Reggie Love. What did he tell you?

YELLIN: Well, we learned from Reggie Love that the president does not like caffeine. And we learned a little more. But Reggie says it best. So, let's listen to Reggie. Here's a clip from the documentary.


YELLIN (voice-over): Reggie Love knows the president as a strong, mid-range shooter.

REGGIE LOVE, PRESIDENT OBAMA'S FORMER PERSONAL AIDE: Take his mid-range jumper and he'll attack the basket. He'll knock down open shots when he's got them.

YELLIN: The kind of guy you want on your side. And Love has been on the president's team since the campaign days

(on-camera) What's he like when he's just hanging out?

LOVE: He's like a guy, you know? He likes the Bulls. He likes the Bears. He likes sports. He likes cards. Like most guys that I know, which I think can sometimes be hard for some people because they're taking aback by it because they're like, oh, wait, he's like me. but he's the president.

YELLIN (voice-over): As his personal assistant and confidant, Love's seen the president as few others have.

LOVE: He's very much a person who enjoys the simple things in life, you know, enjoys watching a good game, enjoys a good cocktail. He's competitive at everything he does. If it's bowling or pool or shuffleboard, there isn't anything I think he'd be OK losing at.



YELLIN (on-camera): Even shuffleboard. So, Wolf, we also interviewed secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, most members of his former economic team. A lot of people sat down with us to give real insight into the president's three and a half years in office.

BLITZER: I'm really looking forward to seeing the documentary. Gloria Borger did an excellent documentary. "Romney Revealed" that aired last week. That was terrific. I'm sure "Obama Revealed: The Man, The President," your documentary, will be excellent as well.

And I want our viewers to know it premiers Monday night, this coming Monday night on the eve of the Democratic convention here in Charlotte, 8:00 p.m. eastern, only here on CNN. Jessica, thanks very much for doing this. I know you worked really hard to get this ready.

The pundits have now weighed in. And now, we're also sampling some of your opinions on the message the Republicans put out during their convention in Tampa.

And we'll also take a closer look at what's in your fruit and vegetable bin. Guess what, we have a major recall to tell you about.


BLITZER: A major earthquake strikes off the coast of the Philippines. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, wolf. Well, the 7.6 magnitude earthquake generated a small tsunami. It happened during a heavy rain and it triggered a landslide that killed a 50-year-old man and injured a young boy. Officials said that earthquake was centered in the Western Pacific Ocean and it was felt in the east of the Philippines.

And a 23-year-old gunman killed two of his co-workers before killing himself early this morning in central New Jersey. It happened at a supermarket. The Middlesex County prosecutor said the gunman had an AK-47 assault rifle and a handgun. The gunman fired 16 rounds during the attack. An 18-year-old woman and 24-year-old man were killed.

And up to one million mangoes from Mexico are being recalled because they may be contaminated with salmonella. The mangoes were sold at a number of stores, including Costco, Kroger and some Whole Foods stores. Health officials are now investigating 103 cases of salmonella infection. Most of them in California.

And baseball season, well, it may be winding down, but it's just the beginning of corn maze season. And an Ohio man, well, he's combining his love of both. CNN affiliate, WXIX, reports that it took Bill Irons (ph) two weeks and a GPS to cut this 12-acre-maze honoring, yes, the Cincinnati Reds.

He did it at the Reds' requests. Although he's been doing mazes for 13 years, Iron says this one was especially important to him, and it's pretty amazing when you see that bird's eye view. That quite some work, but hats off to him. Looks really cool, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Looks very cool, indeed. Baseball season in my mind not winding down, Lisa, at all. I think it's just getting going now that we're getting ready for playoffs, World Series. I got really high hopes for my own Washington Nationals.

SYLVESTER: Yes. I don't know. Did you just see that screen? You could see the two sides essentially has map of what he used and then actually seeing the result. That's unbelievable to think that that's actually corn maze that you see there. But that's a very, very intricate design. So, pretty cool stuff.

BLITZER: Very intricate, indeed. He loves the Reds. Go Reds.


BLITZER: All right. I say go Nationals, too. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Offense or defense, now that the convention is behind him, should Mitt Romney go on the attack like his campaign commercials? Should he focus on sticking up for his record, what he wants to do? Paul Begala and Mary Matalin are standing by live in our "Strategy Session."

And Harvard University draws some of the brightest young people in the country, but now, it's investigating claims of a major cheating scandal involving dozens of students.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get straight to our "Strategy Session". Joining us now our CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Paul Begala. He's a senior strategist for the Democratic fundraising groups Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action (ph), also joining us Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Paul, you wrote a very, very tough piece on "The Daily Beast" today about Mitt Romney's speech last night. Among other things you said this, I'll put it up on the screen, "let's be blunt, he failed. Romney never an electrifying presence couldn't generate enough wattage to power a refrigerator light." What was your biggest problem with Mitt Romney's speech last night because I thought he showed emotion. He showed compassion. There were some tears in his eyes when he spoke about his family, his mom and his dad, certainly his wife and kids.


BLITZER: What was so bad about it?

BEGALA: I think that -- first off, that's a very good point. And it is -- it was my usual totally non-bias, non-partisan perspective. There's probably not much he could have done frankly that I would have loved just to be completely candid, put my cards on the table. You are right, when he talked about his parents especially, his throat caught, he's just clearly a good family man.

But you know lots of people are good family people. It doesn't mean they ought to be the president. The question is not is he good to his own family, he is. Will he be good to your family? And here's where he failed, Wolf, the most important thing he had to do was chart a course. Tell us where he wants to take America. What will he do that is different frankly from the failed Bush orthodox? He would also (ph) obviously different from President Obama. He didn't do that. He needed to give us new ideas for the economy and jobs and he didn't do it. It was a huge missed opportunity for Governor Romney.

BLITZER: Was it a huge missed opportunity, Mary?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I cannot tell you how really moved all across the board conservatives were and they have a very high bar. They are a hard lot to please. I'm proud of Paul for admitting he's hardly an undecided independent objective voter here or observer. Not only did Mitt Romney do everything he needed to do, the whole convention -- the whole of it was greater than the sum of the parts. It showed who Mitt Romney was. It showed where the party wants to go, who the party is, which is in stark contrast that the demonic demagoguery that the Democrats have caricatured (ph) the party about, so I could -- I don't -- everybody was really moved with every speaker from Artur Davis (ph) to Ann Romney, to Rubio, everybody including Clint Eastwood. I think of the 10 conventions I've been to it's been my favorite so far.

BLITZER: I think there were a lot of excellent speeches there --


BLITZER: Clint Eastwood -- Clint Eastwood I strongly disagree. But Paul, go ahead and respond.

BEGALA: Look, the best speech of the convention wasn't given by Romney. It was just given by Ann, not by Mitt. Mitt wasn't terrible. He really wasn't. But he didn't do what he needed to do. It was Ann's job to humanize him and my goodness did she do a wonderful job. She took this sort of animatronics robot, which is most people's image of Governor Romney and made him into a dad, a husband. It was just -- it was a terrific speech by Ann Romney. But Mitt didn't then have to do that. He didn't have to humanize himself further, and he's not very good at it. He needed to chart a course. What is he going to do to create jobs for the middle class different from what Bush did, different from what Obama did? He could have been a third-way leader but it's just not in him. Wolf, the truth is he didn't -- he doesn't have any ideas that Herbert Hoover or George W. Bush couldn't have run on.

MATALIN: More demagoguery Wolf --

BLITZER: Instead of speaking Mary -- hold on, Mary. Instead of speaking in general -- generalities if you will, what he wants to do, should he have gone in this acceptance speech into those kinds of specific details what he would plan on doing in a second term as Paul would have liked?

MATALIN: He specifically charted a big contrast from the public sector big government overreach philosophy that the Democrats have tried and as Rubio said, people from all over the world are running away from those philosophies and those policies and said what the philosophy of constitutional conservatism is and he said specifically the five areas that would grow the economy, he would unleash a torrent of jobs and productivity and prosperity just opening up our own energy sector. We have to do debt retirement. We have to incentivize small business that's regulatory and tax reform. We have to get rid of Obamacare. And we have to match skills with jobs.

It was very visionary, very future-oriented. And these are the same people who are complaining about his 59-point economic plan, now they don't like his five-point framework. There's nothing that Mitt Romney could say that would make Paul Begala or his ilk (ph) happy and I'm sure next week when I'm talking about the Democratic Convention, I won't be happy with it as well. But for what we needed to do as a party, Mitt Romney was already up with 15 points per James Carville's own poll of independents before the convention and then Obama won them by eight points. In the last go-around this is going to be a great fall. And he's going to -- Romney is going to win with a mandate for real change. Not hope and change. We're not going to heal the planet. We're going to help your family.

BLITZER: That was a strong line in Romney's speech last night, but --

BEGALA: I kind of like the planet.

BLITZER: -- how does the president --

BEGALA: I mean the Republicans want a moon colony. I just do -- I actually kind of want to heal the planet. I hunt here. I fish here. I breathe here. I raise my kids here. I don't understand --

BLITZER: You're talking about Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich wanted that moon colony --

BEGALA: Right. He did.

BLITZER: He didn't get the nomination. All right, what does the president need to do? I'm in Charlotte right now. Just got here from Tampa. What does the president need to do to get some new momentum, some fresh momentum out of his convention next week?

BEGALA: Actually, I think he's got a similar challenge to Governor Romney. The easy part is attacking Romney just like Romney's easy part is attacking Obama. Right, Democrats don't like Republican (INAUDIBLE). I'll do that. I advise that Super PAC as you pointed out, we're going to keep hammering Romney for his terrible record. The president and only the president can tell us what a second Obama term will look like. Where's he going to take us? And the central challenge -- the president has said this in previous speeches -- I want to hear it in Charlotte when he says this is a make or break moment for the American middle class.

When the president puts the middle class at the heart of his economic policy, that's the most important thing he can do in the speech and then draw those policies out. Here's what I will do to build new jobs for the middle class. That's his most important objective.

BLITZER: I'll give you the last word, Mary.

MATALIN: Well, he has to say what he's doing next, but before that he has to explain why he's been a failure in his first term. As Mitt Romney said last night, only two presidents have failed us in this century. And the last one was Carter and he was beat by Reagan.

BLITZER: That's the last word. Jimmy Carter. When I heard Mitt Romney raise the name Jimmy Carter yesterday obviously it was causing some alarm bells to ring out there. You know Jimmy Carter is going to be speaking -- addressing this convention here in Charlotte, but not personally. He's going to do it remote via video. So we'll hear from Jimmy Carter here in Charlotte next week as well. All the festivities beginning here on Tuesday. Guys, thanks very, very much. We'll continue this conversation.

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: So do you want to know what it's really like to experience the Democratic National Convention from the inside? This coming Tuesday join the "CNN Election Roundtable". I'll be there along with "CNN's Political Team". You can submit your questions, get answers in real-time in this live virtual chat. Don't miss the "CNN Election Roundtable". That's coming up on Tuesday at noon. You can log in -- log onto to get all the information you need to know.

Meanwhile, an extraordinary story of survival, a U.S. Marine veteran and his disabled wife swept out of their vehicle and forced to swim for their lives in the floodwaters from Isaac. And is Mitt Romney upstaging President Obama? The new Republican nominee makes a presidential-looking visit to the disaster zone in Louisiana.


BLITZER: Isaac is moving north over Arkansas soon Missouri bringing heavy rain. It's left behind major damage and a lot of flooding along the gulf. There are homes still with water as high as the rooftops. Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power and in Isaac's wake an extraordinary story of survival. Here's CNN's meteorologist Rob Marciano.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, the rain has stopped here in New Orleans, but in many spots across southeast Louisiana the floodwaters, they are still high. And in some cases flood victims are still cut off. Yesterday we caught up with a couple who has quite the survivor story.


MARCIANO (voice-over): Coast Guard choppers continued the work of rescuing victims of Hurricane Isaac.

JOE BEKERIS, ISAAC VICTIM: We were directed by the sheriff's department to evacuate, but we couldn't get too far down the road before we got swamped.

MARCIANO: Joe and Melanie Bekeris (ph) were caught by the storm surge in Plaquemines Parish.

J. BEKERIS: The water was rising inside the vehicle. The dog is getting all anxious. Needless to say we were too. We had called 911. They said stay with the vehicle. We were trying to do that but then the water kept coming over, coming over and then this sort of crack in the front windshield and so we felt that the best thing is trying to get out.

MARCIANO: Melanie's (ph) declining health made it difficult to evacuate before the storm and even more treacherous during the storm.

J. BEKERIS: I had her wheelchair in the back of the bed of the truck and so we were able to crawl through the back window. I broke it out and then set her up on the wheelchair getting her elevated and the water kept coming, kept coming until eventually swept us both off and then we were both in the water estimated 10, 12-feet deep.

MARCIANO: Joe is a retired Marine colonel, a strong swimmer, helping his disabled wife stay afloat.

J. BEKERIS: She said I'm not going to make it, I'm not going to make it and I said, yes, you are. We're going to make it.

MARCIANO: He could now see dry land.

J. BEKERIS: We were only a couple 300 yards from the levee; we you know could see the cattle walking on it.

MARCIANO: They managed to get to some reeds and other debris, something to latch onto.

J. BEKERIS: She was already shivering and obviously getting close to some hypothermia. So I tried to stabilize her best I could on a telephone pole and put another piece of wood debris underneath her head to keep her elevated and I actually climbed over the reeds to get to the levee.

MARCIANO: Having to leave his wife to run and get help was not easy.

J. BEKERIS: That was my biggest decision I ever had in my life to leave her.

MARCIANO: But she was still there when he returned.

J. BEKERIS: Considering her health and (INAUDIBLE) mobility I'm extremely pretty proud of her and her ability to withstand the severity that we went through.

MARCIANO: What are you most thankful for right now?

J. BEKERIS: Well that we're here talking with you.


MARCIANO: Certainly happy to be alive. Joe admitted to me that he had wished he had evacuated before the storm and there are likely many flood victims that may do things differently the next time a storm comes this way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rob Marciano, thanks very much. Our heart goes out to all, all those folks.

More political news coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You've heard all the political pundits, now real undecided voters are reacting to Mitt Romney's speech. You're going to want to see this next report. And the former U.S. Navy SEAL who wrote a tell-all book about the bin Laden raid he may now face a very tough legal battle.


BLITZER: The political pundits certainly have varying takes on Mitt Romney's convention performance, but what matters most is what real voters out there think, particularly those who haven't yet made up their minds. CNN's Tom Foreman talked to some undecided voters.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the things we saw last night in Paul Ryan's speech we saw again tonight when we heard big talk about things like the American dream, about making things better. This audience liked it. Why do you suppose that is? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we all have a dream. We want to see it come true. We've been very disappointed over the past almost four years. And where do we go from here?

FOREMAN: Now, does that turn into action though? There's a difference between saying I have a dream and I trust this person to lead me toward it. Do you feel moved to think that Mitt Romney is the guy to help you get closer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt his strength was his business background as far as evidence of his ability. His five steps were all good ones, but there are a lot of details as to how they happen. We'll have to wait to see.

FOREMAN: How much were you looking for this speech to inspire you, to make you feel energy or how much do you look for that from any candidate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I look for that a lot. You really want to feel like the person that you're choosing to lead your nation is going to inspire you. They're going to lift you up and drive you towards achieving your own goals while you work towards your goals as a nation and as a community. Do you know what I --

FOREMAN: And did you feel inspired tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little bit. I feel like I know him better as a family man and I know that he's worked for what he has so that does inspire me a little bit.

FOREMAN: I want to show you another piece of tape here because it was really very interesting. When he hit that big, big finish, I mean, this is the giant payoff, this group was as flat as if they were watching grass grow. Look at the reaction.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That future is out there, it is waiting for us. Our children deserve it. Our nation depends on it. The peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help, we will deliver it. Let us begin that future for America tonight! Thank you so very much! May God bless you. May God bless the American people, and may God bless the United States of America!


FOREMAN: The crowd was just going crazy in that hall. Why not here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I just felt like it was rhetoric. You expect someone to end with a bang and he did, but it didn't say anything new to me. It didn't speak to me. It was just what I thought someone would say, nothing new at all.

FOREMAN: What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't think it did anything. It seemed like a typical stump speech that he has like out on the campaign trail. It just seemed like it -- just any other speech he had. He had good energy, but it didn't do anything for me, not at all.

FOREMAN: Let me ask a couple of the others a question about this. President Obama is well noted for great, energetic speeches and people respond to him. This was a great energetic finish, but no response?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I feel differently.

FOREMAN: You do? Tell me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel very differently. I was happy to hear him speak as he did. He made himself more human. He talked about family. He talked about the responsibility that we, the people, and not the government, are responsible for what we do. We give the government money. They spend it carelessly.

FOREMAN: All right, so a big change there. All of you were being measured here the whole time by Southern Methodist University, this great system they have for measuring your responses. Now let me ask you to measure yourself by raising your hands. How many of you came in here undecided about who you would vote for even if you leaned a little bit to one side. Put your hands up if you came in undecided. Now put your hands down and raise your hands if you are closer to making a decision now than you were. Not that many and again that is the challenge for Mitt Romney because he has got to get folks like this off the dime if he wants to win in November.


BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very, very much, very interesting reactions from those undecided voters.

It draws some of the smartest students in the United States, but now Harvard University is investigating a major cheating scandal. We've got new information.

And the buzz over Clint Eastwood's rather bizarre appearance at the Republican Convention. We're taking a closer look at why a lot of people are still scratching their heads.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are wondering --



BLITZER: Here is a look at this hour's "Hotshots". In Spain -- look at this -- a firefighter surveys the destruction left by a wildfire. In Ethiopia a man and his donkey wear traditional garb to respect the passing of the country's prime minister. In Malaysia fireworks light up the skyline. And in Germany -- look at this -- a baby kangaroo peeks out of its mother's pouch at the zoo. "Hotshots", pictures coming in from around the world.

Harvard University draws some of the smartest students in the United States and indeed from around the world, but now dozens of them may be involved in a major cheating scandal. Lisa is back. She has been looking into this story for us. Lisa, what have you found out?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well the undergraduate class with more than 250 students was assigned to take home a final exam. Now the university student run newspaper, "The Harvard Crimson" (ph), identified the class as Government 1310, an introduction to Congress. And CNN has obtained a copy of that exam.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The test instructions clearly state it is open book, open note, open Internet, with only one major rule. Quote, "students may not discuss the exam with others". But Harvard's Administrative Board has been investigating whether almost half of the class of more than 250 students inappropriately collaborated or plagiarized on that exam. The review has not been completed, but even the allegations will hurt the university says ethics expert and author Bruce Weinstein.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN, "THE ETHICS GUY": I was appalled by this news and I'll tell you why. You don't want to see the words "Harvard and cheating" in the same sentence. It is horrible when any student cheats or is accused of cheating, but we look to Harvard as being one of the world's leader institutions in education. And as a leader, we expect more from places like Harvard.

SYLVESTER: The alleged cheating came to light after the assistant government professor teaching the course noticed similar answers from students. Ben Samuels is a senior and the editor of "The Harvard Crimson"). He says students in the class they spoke to were dumbfounded they were being accused of cheating.

BEN SAMUELS, EDITOR, HARVARD CRIMSON: I think at this point there's just more confusion than anything else. The students that we've talked to by and large at this point are still trying to figure out exactly what it is that they're being accused of.

SYLVESTER: In a statement, Harvard University President Drew Faust said quote, "These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends." Other colleges around the country are taking note. Andrea Goodwin is the associate director of the Office of Student Conduct at the University of Maryland.

ANDREA GOODWIN, OFFICE OF STUDENT CONDUCT, UNIV. OF MARYLAND: But I think they're probably going to use this opportunity as are many of our campuses across the country to educate students about the importance of integrity, the importance of academic integrity, and making sure that students understand that it is not just about cheating on an exam or a quiz or homework assignment, that it's much more important.


SYLVESTER: Now if it is determined that the students cheated, they could face disciplinary action including being kicked out of the school for a year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.