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Senator Under Fire; Super Bowl Blackout Blame Game; Syria's Bloody War Reaches Damascus; Political Who's-Who at Koch's Funeral; Critics Ridicule Obama Gun Photo; Mitt Romney's Son for U.S. Senate?; Patience Wearing Thin In Standoff; Major Development In Standoff; Child Is Safe: Kidnapper's Fate Unclear

Aired February 4, 2013 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the blame game following last night's Super Bowl blackout. It's raising new questions about New Orleans' readiness to host big events.

An embattled U.S. senator is hitting back at his accusers. New video potentially could support his claim he's the victim of a politically motivated smear campaign.

Plus, the huge scandal in the world's most popular sport.

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

But we begin in New Orleans, a city deeply embarrassed by the power blackout that interrupted, potentially could have changed the course of the Super Bowl. This is much more than a sports story. It's raising very serious questions about the city's readiness to host big events.

CNN's Brian Todd is in New Orleans for us. He's got the very latest on this investigation on what happened during that blackout.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, learning some incremental things about the investigation, how it's proceeding, how they're looking into this.

And what's interesting here is that the two entries responsible for handling the power and the electricity to the Superdome, they're the ones handling it. And at various times over the past less than 24 hours since this happened, both of them have said the they essentially didn't do anything wrong.

This was a dramatic event, starting right as the third quarter got under way in the Superdome last night. We have got video of the lights going out. We have got the video of CBS Sports, which in tandem with Showtime was doing a behind-the-scenes thing. The was for the show "60 Minutes of Sports."

Here's a clip from what they were showing when they were kind of doing this. And they were kind of filming behind the scenes. And this is what they saw in the control room of CBS Sports. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we took that out, put it up there, so that I could see it and let everybody...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost lights.


TODD: And as we have been reporting, the various entities that are handling this investigation have at various times other the past 24 hours said that they did nothing wrong in this situation.


TODD (voice-over): In an instant, at least half the stadium's lights tripped out. Escalators and elevators lost power. Credit card machines didn't work. But no one inside the Superdome panicked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never met so many people that are so hospitable, you know, and it's a wonderful city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked a security guard, does this happen often? He said it happened once -- it happened a few times before.

TODD: The CBS Sports Showtime program "60 Minutes of Sports" was doing a behind-the-scenes report when the outage occurred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost lights. All right, we're going to a manual override.

TODD: A 34-minute delay ensued. And now the Superdome's managers, along with Entergy, the company that provides power to the facility, are investigating.

According to minutes from meetings at the Louisiana Stadium and Expedition District, the group that owns and manages the Superdome, it budgeted hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade electric feeder lines from the grid to the Superdome late last year.

CNN reviewed transcripts of those meetings. At one point, it was called an emergency project. But an official of the group that manages the Superdome told "The New Orleans Times-Picayune" the outrage is not related to that repair work. That official, Doug Thornton, said a machine that monitors power distribution detected an abnormality, which activated breakers, which shut the power off. He put that at the feet of Entergy.

DOUG THORNTON, SUPERDOME SPOKESMAN: The truth is the interruption in service didn't occur inside the building. We could not receive the power from the Entergy volt, the substation that supplies us with the power.

TODD: On Sunday night, Entergy first said it was feeding power to the Superdome normally. On Monday afternoon, in a statement to CNN, Entergy said it's working with SMG to investigate and until the investigation is complete, any statements on possible causes of the outage are speculation.

Could the halftime show featuring Beyonce and some pyrotechnics have shorted out a system in the building? Thornton says no -- quote -- "The halftime show was running on 100 percent of generated power, which means it was not on our power grid at all."


TODD: And CNN has tried to reach Beyonce's representatives to see if they have got anything to say about the power outage last night at the Superdome and we have not heard back from them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, so how damage has this done to New Orleans' chances of getting the Super Bowl back in New Orleans one of these days?

TODD: It's been a huge worry here, Wolf. The mayor has called this an embarrassing moment for the city. A lot of city officials and others around here are saying it was an embarrassing moment for them.

But the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, he was asked about that today. He said, look, we want the Superdome to host events. They want the Super Bowl to be back at the Superdome. They want it back in New Orleans. So he's indicating, the commissioner of the NFL, indicating at least now that they do want the Super Bowl back in this city, Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope it will be. I hope this doesn't overly damage the city's reputation. They certainly deserve to host these kinds of events. Brian, I know we are going to have a lot more on this story coming up. We will check back with you.

Let's get to the day's revelation in the scandal surrounding the U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. The New Jersey Democrat is enduring a political firestorm right now over reports he took free airplane trips to so-called sex parties in the Caribbean. Menendez insists he's the victim of a smear campaign and his supporters now are pointing to a new interview that casts serious doubt on his accusers.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's working the story for us.

What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we can tell you that the office of Senator Bob Menendez is pointing to a report from the Spanish-language TV channel Univision to question some of the allegations facing the New Jersey Democrat. One official in that senator's office is calling the video you're about to see damning.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Meet Yaneisi Fernandez, a 21-year-old woman in the Dominican Republic who says she's getting married at the end of the month. Her name is mentioned in a letter sent to the FBI last year from the government watchdog group Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that states she may be a prostitute who once slept with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.

But as Fernandez told the Spanish-language channel Univision, it's all a lie.

YANEISI FERNANDEZ, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (through translator): No, that is completely false. I don't even know that man. Not even through TV have I seen him.

ACOSTA: Outraged, the woman's mother says, "We even have the certificates kept somewhere around here that she's a virgin. My daughter is a virgin and I will have this investigated."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are nameless, faceless anonymous allegations.

ACOSTA: The allegations against Menendez were originally detailed in this e-mail from a man calling himself Peter Williams and later surfaced in the conservative news site The Daily Caller. Officials with the senator have long maintained they're part of a smear campaign orchestrated by Republican dirty tricksters.

Seizing on the Univision report, a Menendez official tells CNN, "I think this is pretty damning to those who continue to peddle Pete Williams' allegations and all this garbage. Real people get hurt."

Over the weekend, the largest newspaper in the senator's home state ran an editorial urging Menendez to break his silence on the matter, but went on to say so far there is no credible evidence to support that accusation of prostitution.

"The Star-Ledger" did raise questions about whether Menendez tried to lean on U.S. officials on a port contract deal in the Dominican Republic that benefited one of his friends and key campaign contributors, Salomon Melgen.

The Senate Ethics Committee is looking into why Menendez took free private trips to the Dominican Republic from Melgen worth nearly $60,000. Menendez, who is now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, appears to have the support of the most powerful Democrat in Congress, Majority Leader Harry Reid.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: So I have the utmost confidence in him as. As to the rest of the investigation, that will have to be handled the way they're all handled around here, in depth. And the Ethics Committee, I read in the paper today they are taking a look at it.


QUESTION: There are some relatively serious allegations here. Are you confident he did nothing wrong?

REID: I have confidence he did nothing wrong, but that's what's investigations are all about.


ACOSTA: And despite that new video, Republicans appear to be gearing up to go after Menendez. The RNC released an e-mail that says Senator Bob Menendez is becoming -- quote -- "a headache for Democrats."

Wolf, in the e-mail they identify Menendez as D-Obama problem, instead of D-New Jersey. So the RNC is jumping on this.

BLITZER: So he's obviously willing to fight back.

ACOSTA: I think it shows his office is now turning a corner. Last week, he was sort of dodging reporters. He was going down stairwells that even many reporters who cover that beat often don't know about. But this suggests with his office e-mailing out this video from Univision that they're ready to fight back on these allegations.

BLITZER: All right, I know you will stay on top of the story for us. Thanks very, very much.

President Obama is in Minnesota today taking his case for new gun restrictions directly to the public. Despite fierce opposition to his call to ban many times of assault-style weapons, the president isn't backing down. And he got emotional today when he urged people to put pressure on their members of Congress.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tell them there's no legislation to eliminate all guns. There's no legislation being proposed to subvert the Second Amendment.

Tell them specifically what we're talking about, things that the majority of Americans when they're asked support. And tell them now is the time for action, that we're not going to wait until the next Newtown or the next Aurora. We're not going to wait until after we lose more innocent Americans on street corners all across the country. Not going to wait until somebody else's father or son are murdered.

Some of the officers here today know what it is like to look into the eyes of a parent or a grandparent, a brother or a sister who has just lost a loved one to an act of violence, to see that -- the pain and the heartbreak and wondering why this precious life, this piece of your heart was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It changes you. You're not the same afterwards.


BLITZER: The president in Minnesota.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. It looks to me and to a lot of other folks this is a major priority for the president. He's shifting, though, his tactics from the way he used to operate during the first term now to the second term.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, you just saw from that clip that this is a president who's going out to the American public using the bully pulpit in a way that lots of folks wish he had done during the first term, particularly to sell health care reform, which people say he didn't do such a great job of selling.

I spoke to a senior adviser at the White House today who admitted, look, gun control was not at the top of their agenda. But sometimes there are moments you have to take advantage of when you're president of the United States. This is a leadership moment for him, they believe, on the issue of guns. Another issue on the agenda, obviously, front and center, immigration reform.

That's a political issue that they knew they could tackle given the fact that Republicans lost so badly with Hispanic voters in the last election. Their problem really is Congress, that, you know, Congress has proven not only that it can't walk and chew gum, but that it can't walk. So they have to try to push all these things with the fiscal issues front-burner. And that's a very large agenda for them, which they have to get done in, say, a year, a year-and-a-half before their window of opportunity closes.

BLITZER: Their strategy is a little risky.

BORGER: Yes, it's very risky. I think the question is, how much compromise will be president be willing to accept or should he accept?

For example, on the gun issue, if they close the loophole on buying guns, the gun show loophole, say if he takes 40 percent of what he's proposing, will he do that? On immigration, there's another issue there he may have to compromise on. He doesn't want the path to citizenship to be contingent on border security, Wolf. Will he give on that? If he does find a way to meet Republicans in the middle, and to not endanger his own Democrats, he could have a legacy in the making here in short order.

But again, the fiscal issues, he has to get through those first.

BLITZER: Listen to this little clip. This is from the CBS interview on the Super Bowl when he was talking potentially more tax hikes. Listen to this.


OBAMA: There is no doubt we need additional revenue coupled with smart spending reductions in order to bring down our deficit. And we can do it in a gradual way so it doesn't have a huge impact.


BLITZER: The Republican leadership saying flatly no more tax hikes.

BORGER: So they're all dug in again on the fiscal issues. If you look at the polls, Wolf, the public wants the president and Congress to tackle those fiscal issues.

Ironically, they may be closer on gun control. They may be closer on immigration reform. But it's still the fiscal issues that are the real problem.

BLITZER: In the next few weeks, they have some major deadlines coming up on those issues as well.

BORGER: Exactly. They do.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

By the way, Dan Pfeiffer, the president's senior adviser, is going to be joining us in our next hour to discuss guns, guns and guns.


BLITZER: The nation's new secretary of state's wasting no time getting down to business. John Kerry spent a busy weekend on the phone with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, plus officials in Japan, South Korea and Turkey. All that was before he officially said hello to the State Department staff today.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Here's the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years. Can a man actually run the State Department?


KERRY: I don't know.


KERRY: As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill.



BLITZER: Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright. He certainly, certainly does.

We're getting new details about the shooting of a bestselling author. You're going to find out why the man being held for allegedly killing "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle had to be Tased in his jail cell.

Plus, the story behind the presidential photo a lot of people seem to have an opinion on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN now has a rare look inside Syria. Throughout the bloody civil war, the capital city of Damascus has largely remained sort of peaceful, but that may not last a whole lot longer.

Our own Frederik Pleitgen is now in the Syrian capital. It's a rare opportunity for a western journalist to be right in the heart of Syria. Fred is joining us now live from Damascus.

Fred, what's going on? What do you see there in Damascus?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that day and night you can hear artillery fire. Even if you're in the center of Damascus. Basically what's going on is that Syrian army is shelling the outskirts where of course the opposition has not taken hold but is still very much present there, has fighters on the ground.

In fact, just a couple of seconds before we went live right here, right now, there was a barrage of activity I could hear just a couple miles away from where we are right now. That is something that we'll hear throughout the day. And, of course, those areas are being pounded very hard. The people in those areas, a lot of them are fleeing them. They're coming here into the center of Damascus.

So what's going on here is that there's a growing internally displaced people problem inside the Syrian capital. We met some of them. Here are their stories.


PLEITGEN: While the streets in central Damascus are fairly quiet, fierce fighting in the capital suburbs can be heard and seen throughout the day.

This one tells us her name is Jamila (ph). He says her house in Aleppo was destroyed during the battles there. She fled to the relative safety of Damascus with her two children, one only a month old. But now, she sees the violence closing in on her again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We are afraid. Sometimes I want to take al my things and sleep outside in the park because it is safer than being indoors.

PLEITGEN: Jamila woman says she depends mostly on handouts from private people to get by. The U.N. estimates that around 2 million Syrians have been internally displaced because of the ongoing conflict and many of those who remain in the government-controlled part of the country try to make it to this part of the capital.

That's where we meet Raida (ph) who left her husband behind in the suburbs of Damascus when fierce fighting broke out, and he hasn't been heard from since. Now she has to support four children on her own. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm not the only one whose life has been destroyed or whose husband is missing. Everyone in this country has a missing person or destroyed home or is displaced. Many, many have gone through this. We have been through so much. We have suffered and have come to hate life because of all these problems.

PLEITGEN: We wanted to show you one of the places where people like Raida are staying. Syrian government agents prevented us from doing so.

(on camera): There are many internally displaced people here in this area of Damascus. Most of them stay in the lowest-cost hotels they can somehow afford. We tried going into some of these hotels and talking to these people but most of them were afraid. Which is also is due to the fact that there's a heavy presence of plain-clothed security forces that are shadowing us. We went into one hotel and it took only two minutes for two officers to show up and say we have to stop working, even though we have permission to film in all of Damascus.

We can't go into the hotels?

(on camera): When we asked for an explanation, the undercover agent said we need additional permission to film in hotels, and then he disappears.

Meanwhile, the shelling and clashes in the suburb of Damascus continues. Leaving more and more people fleeing for areas they hope are safer, at least for a while.


PLEITGEN: And so, Wolf, of course, we have to be clear that what we have is an official journalist visa from the Assad government. That, of course, brings with it a lot of restrictions on our reporting. Most of those restrictions are really on movement.

So, what we have is a piece of paper that says we can film in Damascus but nevertheless, everywhere we go, there are these plainclothes government agents who tell us we need additional permissions, we're not allowed to film in certain places. We're not allowed to film military or police installations.

And, of course, one of the things that also brings with it is that a lot of people are afraid to speak to us when those government agents are around and they're usually around everywhere we go, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's pretty unusual, though, even to get one of those visas to get into Damascus. It's been a long time since we had anyone there. How did you do it?

PLEITGEN: Well, basically what happened is that we applied for this visa and a couple of days later, they told us they would consider letting us into the country. Then we got approval. There was a process where we had to tell the Syrian government when exactly we wanted to come here. Then they issued the visas.

What we had to do then is we had to get here, into Syria. It really is a very long process.

One of the interesting things that you see on the ground here when you're in Damascus is that it seems as though the whole situation has become more and more restrictive. There's more and more a presence of military forces here on the ground in Damascus. There's a lot checkpoints on the road. We counted six or seven checkpoints just on the road that we took into Syria. And we traveled around today a little bit, and there is traffic jams everywhere.

So, it really seems as though the Syrian government is trying everything it can to really keep a grip on central Damascus. But nevertheless, as we showed in our report, you can hear, you can see all the time that there is fighting going on in the suburbs. And, of course, the people here in the capital notice that going on. There's a very, very oppressive feeling to all these people who feel the fighting is getting closer. Most of all, Wolf, who feel the social fabric of this country seems to be coming apart -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen on the ground for us in Damascus. We'll check with you, Fred. Thanks for that report.

The Romney family may not necessarily be through with politics. We're about to tell you who's being discussed potentially for a high- level race.

Plus, the funeral where Bill Clinton told stories. The organ played "New York, New York". And the congregation applauded.


BLITZER: Troubling new details about a horrific and deadly bus crash. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, this is really sad.

The crash left eight people dead and at least 42 injured. Safety records show the company has been cited repeatedly for brake and tire issues. The bus rear ended a sedan in a mountainous area east of Los Angeles.

And there's the bell. Well, the Dow didn't enjoy much time above 14,000. The index closed below that mark today at 13,880 after closing above it Friday for the first time since October of 2007. Analysts blame Europe for most of the pullback. Corruption allegations against Spain's prime minister and a banking scandal in Italy frightened skittish investors.

And check out the front pew here. New York Mayors Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani, David Dinkins, and former President Bill Clinton with Andrew and Mario Cuomo in the pew behind. They're among the who's who of politicians attending today's funeral of the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We were told not to speak long. This is not my speech. These are the letters, just the letters, that I got from Ed Koch when I was president.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY: Ed will be buried at Trinity Cemetery in Upper Manhattan. Just think about it. A Polish Jew in an Episcopal graveyard in a largely Dominican neighborhood. What could be more New York or even more Ed Koch?


SYLVESTER: Ed Koch who served three terms as mayor, he died last week of congestive heart failure. He was 88 years old.

And people say he was that perfect combination of funny but also tough and that is how he's being remembered. And, clearly, there was a lot of humor today at the service as well.

BLITZER: That's the way he would have wanted it. I interviewed him ion many occasions, even when he was a congressman, before he was mayor, just a great guy. What you saw on television, that's what you saw behind the scenes as well.

SYLVESTER: Yes, just seems like one of those amazing guy. So, I was wondering if you happened to interview him, but I kind of guessed you did at some point.

BLITZER: I love the obituary in "The New York Times" -- very long, went on and on. You know, he never got married. He had no kids. At the end, said basically, Ed Koch, he is survived by the city, by New York City.


BLITZER: Which is true because in the '70s when he became mayor, he helped save that city.


BLITZER: Ed Koch is survived by the city of New York, I'm paraphrasing that, Lisa.

America has seen its share of political dynasties. Is one of Mitt Romney's sons ready to run for an office his father couldn't win? Also, the controversy that started with one photo of the president.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Ana Navarro, they're both CNN contributors. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Let's talk about the photo, the photo of the president, Camp David, skeet shooting, there it is, causing a little bit of a controversy out there. David Axelrod, the president's former senior adviser, he was on "Morning Joe" on MSNBC this morning, Paul, and he said this --


DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: They should put the picture out earlier. I don't know why they waited five days or -- to put that out because it just rekindled the whole story.

You know Washington you guys, this thing was cascading and conspiracy theories. Guys like Joe snickering. You had to do something, but I just think they should have shut it down earlier.


BLITZER: What do you think, Paul, they should have released that photo right away, shouldn't have the released the photo at all? What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I give them more slack. I mean, Axelrod tougher on his former colleagues than maybe me. It probably takes a little while. They have a pretty big government to run. They got their hands full. They're trying to confirm a defense secretary.

They're trying to actually pass important gun safety laws. Maybe they didn't have enough time to rummage around for old photos. It's not big enough to be a disgrace, but it's an embarrassment frankly for the right wing crackpot.

Even for many in the media who operated from the presumption that our president was lying. Now, he wasn't talking about WMDs. He was just talking about a shotgun he used at Camp David. In fact now, we have proof he was telling the truth. It's an embarrassment for the people who were trying to dig into this I have to say.

BLITZER: This wasn't media. It was Marsha Blackburn, the Republican congresswoman from Tennessee who said, well, if he is doing it, why isn't there a picture? She was the one that raised the issue.

BEGALA: An absurd long piece in "The Washington Post" allegedly fact checking. It was really an embarrassment to a great paper.

BLITZER: What do you think?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he should invite Marsha Blackburn to Camp David to see if she can, in fact, can beat him. I think he should laugh this off, he should play with it. I don't understand why they released the picture.

I'm not sure what the purpose of releasing the picture. It certainly doesn't give him, you know, change the gun policy debate. It doesn't change the rhetoric. And I don't think anybody thinks he's more of a hunter just because he's shooting inanimate objects.

BLITZER: Does that look like a realistic picture?

BEGALA: It does. In fact, if we can put it back up --

NAVARRO: Paul's from Texas so we believe --

BEGALA: I have 17 guns. In fact, here, he's looking, wearing air protection, very important for safety so you don't go deaf. Eye protection, it's really rare, but you know, there's some risk always. He looks great to me.

He's balanced. He's level. It looks like he's a guy who knows what he's doing. I would not confuse him with a hunter. I don't think he pretends to be. But it really is kind of --

NAVARRO: We're not in the campaign season anymore. They don't have to put out everything that the press asks for. This was unnecessary.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on. Republicans are right now they seem to be having a hard time finding a U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts. Hold on for a moment. I want to bring in our congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan. Kate, tell us what's going on in Massachusetts.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As you well know, Wolf, with John Kerry moving over to the State Department, it sets up yet another high profile, a lot of attention on the special election in Massachusetts to fill his Senate seat.

But in just a matter of days, it really seemed to be a one-two- three punch against any Republican chances of trying to once again turn a Massachusetts Senate seat from blue to red.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): First, it was former Senator Scott Brown seen by many as the Republican's best shot to win the seat vacated by John Berry. Brown announced he's sitting out.

Then Richard Tesay, the former Massachusetts state senate GOP leader. He said Saturday he's out as well. Quickly following suit, former Republican Governor William Welt announcing Monday he's also not running.

JOHN BERG, SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY: They're kind of running out of top-flight potential.

BOLDUAN: Now with few high-profile prospects and little time left to find a candidate, some Republicans are floating an unexpected option. Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney's oldest son. Tagg Romney was a key adviser during his father's presidential bid, and he lives and works in the state. John Berg is with Suffolk University in Boston.

BERG: It's kind of a mark of desperation as I said. First they tried to get his mother. She made it clear she didn't want to. The joke being around is it will be the horse next.

BOLDUAN: A source close to the Romneys tells CNN Tagg Romney is thinking about it, but it's unlikely. Even if he runs, could he win in a state his father lost by 23 points last year?

BERG: I think he would have a real uphill struggle. From the point of view of the Republican Party, it does get a name in there and, you know, with some visibility and might be better than nothing for them. But I think that his chances of actually winning are pretty low.

BOLDUAN: Still, the speculation isn't going away. Even some of his own family have suggested in the past that Tagg would be the next Romney to run.

BLITZER: Who wants to follow in your grandfather's footsteps and in your dad's footsteps and be a politician? Raise your hand right now.

TAGG ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S SON: I'd like to follow my grandfather's and my dad's footsteps, just not the political part.

BLITZER: Everyone keeps suggesting --

ROMNEY: Someone asked if it was important for my grandfather's legacy for my dad to win. The thing I stress is, my grandfather's legacy wasn't about politics or business. It was about the way you treat people, the way you raise your family, the way you live your life.


BOLDUAN: Very politician-like answer that he gave you, Wolf. But no matter who throws their hat into the ring, they do need to move quickly here in Massachusetts. Any candidate needs to gather 10,000 signatures in the next 23 days to qualify for the ballot and a primary is set for April 30th.

That is of course if there is even more than one Republican running in the state. Then they face off against the Democratic candidate at the end of June. The special election is four and a half months away.

BLITZER: Let the politics begin in Massachusetts. They already have. Thanks, Kate, for that. Let's bring back Paul Begala, Ana Navarro. Ana, Tagg, he is an impressive guy. He would be I think a formidable candidate. What do you think?

NAVARRO: I think so too. I think we shouldn't judge him by his father. Certainly the Romney name is going to have very high I.D. whether it gets approval or disapproval. I think it would be to Tagg.

But now, there are other candidates that are being thought of. You know, there's Kerry Helley, the former lieutenant governor who we haven't heard from. There's also a former Navy SEAL named Gabriel Mendez who I think is considering it. He's in the financial industry. So it's a wide- open field. But Wolf, special elections are special, anything can happen.

They're quick, money helps. Name I.D. helps. I think it's an open race. Remember, Scott Brown wasn't supposed to win his special election and he did.

BLITZER: I don't know if you look closely, the Democrats had Congressman Ed Markey for example. You know, he wants to run for that seat. You think he has the Democratic nomination locked up?

BEGALA: Well, the Democrats are coalescing around him. That's a good thing. Ana's right. If you look at Scott Brown, he actually didn't have the big money or the famous name. The Republicans are looking for love in all the wrong places.

Tagg Romney is impressive man. I supposed hasn't really done very much in the public arena. His father lost the state by 23 points. I looked up, the town of Belmont, not exactly, you know, a left-wing territory. It's pretty liberal.

Romney lost that almost 2 to 1. I would say don't look for a name, look for a message. Scott Brown won because he has a message, strongly anti-Obamacare at a time when even Massachusetts was wondering if it was the right thing to do.

He's a great candidate, great talent. I think they're looking at this in all the wrong ways --

NAVARRO: Tagg Romney looking at it, he's completely entitled to. This is America. We can all aspire to run. You know, he's entitled to do it. If he's got a location for public service, I'd say welcome to the field.

BEGALA: I always thought Ann Romney was a stronger candidate than Mitt would have ever been as well and when she passed on it, I think they -- the strongest talent in their family, when Ann Romney decided not to run.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, we'll see what happens in Massachusetts. Appreciate it very much.

Police face an excruciating wait in Midland City, Alabama. Their priority is saving the 5-year-old hostage held by a suspected killer. Waiting outside the underground bunker, authorities right now apparently have few options.


BLITZER: Let's go to Martin Savidge. He's on the scene for us right now in Alabama where a 5-year-old is being held hostage. What's going on, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is day six of this hostage crisis that's been going on. Jimmy Lee Dykes is the suspect that's been holding the 5-year-old little boy, Ethan.

Now we have been just informed by authorities that there's been a major development in this case. That's about the only way they will classify what's happened. We have noted though that there's been some significant activity that's been taking place on site.

We saw two ambulances go and then leave the property. They didn't have their lights on, but we've also seen clusters of authorities on site as well. All of this of course unusual from what we've been watching over the past several days.

And then we've been told there's going to be a news conference and a fairly significant one in just a few minutes. Now there was a news conference that was held earlier today by the local sheriff.

And he insinuated for the first time there could be a motive to all this. Listen to what he had to say.


SHERIFF WALLY OLSON, DALE COUNTY, ALABAMA: I can't really comment on anything specific. The communications, anything like that, that's been going on. But what I can say generally is based on our discussion with Mr. Dykes. He feels like he has a story that's important to him although it's very complex. We tried to make a safe environment for all for that.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): And that's all Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson would say on the matter. As this hostage drama drags on, authorities have remained extremely tight-lipped, not wanting to say anything that would jeopardize negotiations. Noting the huge public interest in the story, Olson said even his own mother has been asking him about what's going on.

OLSON: My mother told me a lot things that were being said, you know, and I told her, you know, we're doing everything humanly possible can do to resolve this safely, you know, and bring this child home.

SAVIDGE: Another example of how careful authorities are with their answers. Watch what happened when the sheriff was asked whether the child's mother would be able to talk to Ethan, the kidnapped 5- year-old.

OLSON: I cannot hear you. Thank you for your time.

SAVIDGE: Meanwhile, in Ozark, the town next door to Midland City where the tragedy began, school resumed for the first time. Extra police were on hand to provide security this morning while anxious parents found it difficult to let go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That safety net we thought, you know, you send your children on a school bus thinking that they're going to be safe, and then situations arise and happen and makes you re- strategize.


SAVIDGE: Wolf, in the past couple of minutes, we have been receiving notifications from residents in the area. They say they heard gunfire and they also heard an explosion. Let me push off and show you in the distance there on the hill.

You'll be able to see -- I think if I get out of the way -- that there are what appeared to be officers, armed officers up there. That's something we don't normally see.

Now, we've also heard that there may have been some sort of movement in regard to the man that's been holding this young boy hostage. Unconfirmed reports say maybe he has been wounded or otherwise. We reached out to authorities here. They said they wouldn't comment because they have not seen him yet.

The wording of that, Wolf, of course, crucial because it would seem to imply there's something to be seen and perhaps something has happened. It could be of course a huge development.

But right now, authorities are being extremely tight-lipped. We're only being told that the federal authorities are going to hold a news conference and they of course have been the ones in charge of this site ever since late Tuesday night, on the day this all began when the bus driver was shot and killed and 5-year-old Ethan was taken as a hostage.

Again, you're looking, if you can, over on the crest of that hill, at the authorities. There is -- I think there's a white Humvee up there. Clearly there's activity. Just beyond that hill that we know is the area where Jimmy Lee Dykes' trailer and where the bunker that he has been sequestered in is.

So we continue to monitor, we continue to watch. Most of all, we continue to wait for word from authorities that perhaps there is some resolution in this case.

BLITZER: The microphones, where the authorities will come to report on what's going on, are they near you, where you are? Are they up on the hill? Where are they?

SAVIDGE: Yes, the microphones -- when the authorities come and give the news conference, literally just 25 feet, steps away from where we are right now. And we hope to be able to bring that to you.

But it's quite clear that things changed here, maybe about 45 minutes to an hour ago. The whole posture not just of the media, but especially of what we've been watching over there, you can just start to see behind me here, a helicopter that's starting to wind up.

One of the helicopters had already been referred to as the potential for a life flight. In other words, to fly somebody out instead, it was two ambulances and they moved without any lights or siren or without any great speed.

Again what you can read of that, I don't know, but there's definitely been a change, Wolf, and we're waiting to find out from the authorities here exactly what it means. Of course, the hope of this community is the fact that it means that Ethan has been saved and that all this protracted ordeal has been brought to an end, but right now authorities are saying nothing.

And that's really the way it has been because for the most part this community and the authorities were afraid if they did speak, it could somehow jeopardize the negotiations. They felt that Jimmy Lee Dykes had a way to monitor, maybe watching news reports, maybe listening in to the police in some way.

So they were always very careful in their words, very careful in how they phrased. Even as you heard the sheriff about two days ago thank the hostage taker for the care he was giving to the little boy, always that consideration that he could be listening. So we wait and we want to hear some words this has been brought to an end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those ambulances, Martin, that you're talking about, were they seen going towards the site, leaving the site? What precisely can you tell us about the ambulances?

SAVIDGE: They went in both directions. That was really kind of one of the first indicators we had. We saw an ambulance that went away from the compound. You see the cluster of vehicles that are here, that have been here that make up the command center, but it went up a dirt road and over the hill.

And that's the first time we've seen something like that. So it was an indication, all right, movement, and a different sort of movement, and then maybe about 45 minutes later. The ambulances returned, again, no sense of urgency. Lights weren't flashing. Sirens weren't going.

They didn't go screeching out of the parking lot or anything like that. But they did head into -- they head away from the site so that's what we know. Now we can see at least one of the helicopters beginning to fire up and clearly getting ready to move.

BLITZER: Is that like a Medevac helicopter? Martin, is that a helicopter that can carry someone who's injured let's say?

SAVIDGE: It could. It's not specifically from a hospital or any life flight that you recognize. This is one of the sheriff's helicopters or state police helicopters. Looks like a bell ranger so a pretty utilitarian helicopter.

In front of it, you see the sleek gold and black sheriff's helicopter. That too is sitting there. Again, it wasn't like you saw crews running to get on board. There has been a very -- I guess you could just say calm demeanor about all of this.

You have not seen authorities rushing about. You have not seen anyone shouting, gesturing or pointing. There's not a sense of urgency here. But there is clearly a sense that things have changed and that some sort of development has taken place. As we say, the authorities have notified us now that the federal authorities on site are going to hold a press briefing. Up until now, they've been very sensitive about the fact that local law enforcement has been the primary spokesperson for the public.

They're well aware of the sensitivities in this community and elsewhere. Local law enforcement takes the lead. But we also know that it's been the FBI, their hostage negotiators and the hostage rescue teams that have been the primary source of communication with Mr. Dykes inside of that bunker.

There, you watch the helicopter lift off, going overhead. So it's the feds that have really been leaving the negotiations and why we think it's significant. Now they're going to step to the forefront when they've been in the background to deliver what information it is that they will deliver.

So, again, we wait. We watch the posture of security officials, again, looking at the people up on the hill in the distance there. The SUV that's up there or the Humvee, all subtle but indicating something has changed.

We have reports from people in the area who said they heard an explosion. Said they heard gunfire. And we also, as we've reported, have been told that something has happened with the hostage taker, Mr. Dykes.

We queried authorities. Their only answer was they couldn't confirm anything because they have not seen him. Again, maybe reading too much into those words, but that phrasing is very interesting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little about Jimmy Lee Dykes. He is the man who allegedly boarded a school bus and shot and killed a driver, Charles Allen Pollin Jr. before taking this little 5-year-old hostage and taking him to this underground bunker here in Midland City, Alabama. What else do we know about this suspect?

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, he's been estranged from his family according to those who have been neighbors to Mr. Dykes. They say his family hasn't had much to do with him over the past couple of years. He is a military veteran. He served during the time of the Vietnam War.

In fact, he was in the U.S. Navy and he worked in the aviation assets, but primarily we're told he worked doing paperwork and things like that. He was stationed for a while in California not in Japan. So it's not like he was a front frontline combat troop, but he certainly served during the Vietnam War.

And we're also told by neighbors, this something they said he has espoused, anti-government feelings, that he's not real keen on the government. And then we know that of course he built himself a shelter and someone called it a bunker. Some had called it a storm shelter, which is where he has been for past days with the 5-year-old boy.

Beyond that, he's been isolated from the community. He has had run-ins with his neighbors. He was supposed to go to court last Wednesday to answer pertaining to an altercation back in December in which he made threats against neighbors.

So there have been problems in the neighborhood with him. But he has pretty much been a man who kept to himself and seemed to want to be that way until all of this exploded on Tuesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Martin, hold on for one second.

Here's the breaking news that we have. CNN can now report based on what a law enforcement source has told CNN, that the little 5-year- old is safe. He is fine. The kidnapper, the suspect in this case, is dead. CNN can now report that the kidnapper, the suspect, is dead.

There's a picture of him in Midland City, Alabama. For seven days, he was holding a little 5-year-old hostage. We are told Ethan is safe. He is OK, this all according to a law enforcement source, obviously, dramatic developments as Martin Savidge has been reporting, have taken place within the past hour or so ago.

Martin, you were there with us. You hear the news as all of our viewers have heard the news. Ethan is safe. The hostage holder, the suspect in this case, is dead. And you were telling us we're bracing for a formal news conference by federal authorities to report what's going on.

SAVIDGE: Right. Wolf, I have to tell you that is the same information we had received on the ground, although we hadn't had it from an official enough source that we were ready to go to air with it. Probably about 45 minutes ago there were reports of gunfire, an explosion.

It wasn't long after we began to hear reports in fact Mr. Dykes was dead and that the 5-year-old little boy has been, now, rescued and that he is in good shape. You know, I don't think anyone's going to rejoice over this. They're of course very happy that 5-year-old little boy has been saved.

I think many people thought this was going to end far better than it did. We don't know what prompted authorities to act, we really don't know. That's maybe something we're going to get out of the federal officials when they come to talk to us.

Because up until now, it's always been felt that even though this was a hostage situation, that Dykes was not directly a threat to the little boy. In fact, family members and friends and those who say they've known Dykes from when he grew up, that he loved children and he would never do anything to harm the little boy.

So why they moved in this way, we don't know. We'll have to get a full explanation from the federal authorities when they hold a news conference, which we anticipate will be minutes from now. That will explain, Wolf, why we saw the two ambulances. It would also explain why we've seen the change in demeanor here.

If all of this went and played down in just the last few minutes, I think this community is going to be relieved that the ordeal is over, but it's bittersweet because someone has died. They already have the death of Charles Pollin.

Too many in this community, consider him a hero. He is the school bus driver who when Dykes got on that bus and said he wanted children, Pollin reportedly stood up and said no. It's going to happen. He blocked the way of the gunman while the kids went out the back door.

This community will never forget the selfless act that he took. He was buried just yesterday and now the developments of today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Martin, hold on for a moment.