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Senator Under Fire; Alabama Hostage Crisis Ends; Interview with Sen. Menendez; Interview with Dan Pfeiffer

Aired February 4, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: the sudden end to a hostage crisis, details still emerging about a 5-year- old boy's rescue and his kidnapper's death.

Plus, the mother of an American woman found dead in Turkey shares her grief and her early fears for her daughter's safety.

A decorated Navy sniper shot to death. Did the suspect have post-traumatic stress disorder?

And Senator Bob Menendez speaking to CNN about the sexual allegations against him.

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

Up first this hour, the breaking news, a child hostage crisis being watched all across the nation is now over. A 5-year-old boy abducted from an Alabama school bus is safe. His kidnapper is dead.

Listen to an FBI agent offer the first details about the how the standoff ended.


STEVE RICHARDSON, FBI: At approximately 3:12 this afternoon, FBI agents safely recovered the child who has been held hostage for nearly a week. Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated, and Mr. Dykes was observed with a -- was observed holding a gun.

At this point, FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child. The child appears physically unharmed and is being treated at a local hospital. The subject is deceased. The resolution of this matter is the direct result of the extraordinary collaboration between law enforcement at all levels.

The exhaustive efforts and dedication of this community's law enforcement is truly exemplary. I want to thank everyone in this community that has supported us throughout the past few days.

I know there are several questions that need to be answered, and more questions to come. We will have an opportunity to address these later as more details become available.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Steve Richardson, the FBI special agent.

Let's bring in CNN's Martin Savidge. He's been on the ground for us in Midland, Alabama.

You told us earlier there was an explosion, then some gunshots. What else do we know how this went down?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you heard the FBI just explaining there, that apparently things over the last 24 hours, in their negotiations -- and they have been in constant contact with the subject inside of that building -- they said that they just simply began to get the feeling that those negotiations were falling apart and then as you heard the FBI say there was a gun that was scene and they were worried about the hostage.

So they made their move. That's how we heard about it. It was actually from neighbors in the area that contacted, reached me and said hey, did you hear that? They said there was a loud bang and then there was gunfire and everyone here knew exactly what they that meant, that a move had been made.

The answer to their prayers is that the 5-year-old Ethan has now been transported off and he's being checked out and presumably by now he's been reunited with his family. That's what everybody here had been praying for. The death of Mr. Dykes unfortunate and many would like to have not seen that happen, but he is after all the man accused of triggering all of this nearly one week ago.

Perhaps not the best resolution, but the happiest news for many people is that the little boy is safe and cars have been going by honking and the word is spreading in this small town. They may not be celebrating, but they certainly will be gratified that it has come to an end with the little boy alive and well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Everyone I'm sure is relieved that little 5-year-old Ethan is OK, back in the hospital physically unharmed. There will be work that needs to be done right now, but everyone is relieved he is OK, because, Martin, as you know, you have been covering the story from the beginning. God forbid, it could have been a whole lot worse.

These FBI special agents and local authorities, they deserve a lot of credit for saving the boy.

SAVIDGE: They do and many in this community have already said that. Local law enforcement as well has played a significant role. But in the end we know it was the FBI that was leading the negotiations with Dykes as he was in that he bunker and they also know it was the hostage rescue teams, HRT, I believe is the team that they refer to that went in and made the assault and rescued the little boy.

Federal authorities here perhaps acted, but they were backed up by a significant amount of local authorities. It was always the local authorities that was the spokesperson to the media here and to the community. They would congratulate each other and they worked well together and the best news is that the little boy is home. BLITZER: Best news, indeed.

Thanks very much, Martin, for that.

The Alabama governor, Robert Bentley, released a statement just a little while ago and he says: "I am thankful that the child who is abducted is now safe. I am so happy this little boy can now be reunited with his family and friends. We will all continue to pray for the little boy and his family as they recover from the trauma of the last several days."

"At the same time," the governor said, "we also want to remember the family and friends of the bus driver, Charles Poland Jr. This man was a true hero who was willing to give up his life so others might live. We are all inspired by his courage and bravery."

We have a CNN exclusive right now. The embattled New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who has been under fire for allegations he slept with prostitutes in the Caribbean has just spoken out to our own chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

The first public comments in detail of what's going on from his perspective. Dana, what did he say?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I should give you the context here in that Senator Menendez clearly now wanted to talk.

He came out off of the Senate floor to talk to reporters in an area where cameras are not permitted. But he wanted to talk to us apparently. We had a camera down on the floor where we could have one. I asked him to come with me. He walked all the way from the second floor of the Capitol to the first floor of the Capitol to answer questions and here's how it went.


BASH: Senator, if you can explain why it took so long to pay back almost $60,000 in flights that you took with your friend?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, I was in a big travel schedule in 2010 as the chair of the DSCC, plus my own campaign getting ready for a reelection cycle, and in the process of all of that, it unfortunately fell through the cracks that our processes didn't catch -- moving forward, and making sure that we paid.

When it came to my attention that payment had not taken place, I personally paid for them in order to meet my obligation.

BASH: Because that's a lot of money, and as chair of the DSCC, you do so much traveling -- you know the rules. That's a pretty big chunk of money not to pay back.

MENENDEZ: Well, it's certainly the responsibility of myself, when it came to my attention to do so. Now, if it had come to my attention before, I would have in fact, done it before. When it came to my attention, I did what was right, and I paid for it myself.

BASH: And you, of course, understand the perception that when you say it came to your attention, that you didn't pay for it until you got caught.

MENENDEZ: Well, that's not the case. The bottom line is, when it came to my attention, I paid for it.

There are a series of flights that were alleged. Several of them were shown not to be the case. But after the election, when I got to look at the allegations, and I did my own self-inspection, I ultimately came forward. As a matter of fact, one of those flights, I self-reported. It wasn't even anybody raised it.

BASH: One last question. Can you just answer the allegation that has been out there that you were with prostitutes...


MENENDEZ: The smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election and that is totally unsubstantiated.

It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a Web site can drive that story into the mainstream. But that's what they have done successful. Now nobody can find them. No one ever met them. No one ever talked to them, but what's where we are at.

So, the bottom line is, all of those smears are absolutely false. And that's the bottom line.


BASH: And, Wolf, as we were walking away, I also asked him about the allegations that he was trying to help his friend, Dr. Melgen, who is now somebody who is the owner of a potentially lucrative contract with the Dominican Republic, trying to help him to get that contract enforced.

And his answer was that he was just trying to do -- whatever he did was not because of a friend, but trying to do what was right for the policy of the United States with regard to his influence and position as then as a subcommittee chair overseeing that region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He was obviously very anxious to try from his perspective to set the record straight. He had been mum over these past few days, a short written statement from his office, if you will. This is the first detailed conversation he has had with a journalist, right?

BASH: That's right. He also talked to some of his reporters who he knows well from New Jersey. But, yes, this is the first detailed conversation that he has had in general. Not just that, Wolf. He has been actively avoiding reporters. One of the great things about this beat is we can talk to the people we cover pretty much every day. He knows his way around the Senate. He can avoid people like me and other reporters. He did not do that in this case. Just the opposite. He sought us out and he wanted to talk to us. Again, I told you he went all the way from the second floor of the Capitol to the first floor of the Capitol, where we had a camera permitted to be so he could talk to us on camera and that's what you saw.

BLITZER: Dana Bash doing excellent work for us. Dana, thanks very, very much for that. I know you will be following up.


BLITZER: Questions about post-traumatic stress syndrome and a specific type of therapy. Did they play a role in the shooting of a famous military sniper?

Plus, a heartbreaking search comes to an end and now the parents of a New York woman found dead in Turkey, they are speaking out.


BLITZER: We turn now to a story we have been following here in THE SITUATION ROOM for several days. An American woman who had been missing in Turkey, unfortunately, tragically, she has now been found dead.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Today, her family and a friend spoke emotionally about the young woman -- young mother of two and what they might have done to keep her safe.

Our Mary Snow has been following this story from New York.

Mary, what a sad ending to the story we have been following so closely.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Such a tragic story.

Sarai Sierra's family here in New York is struggling to come to grips with what happened. Sierra's body was found nearly two weeks after she went missing. According to the police chief in Istanbul, she died from a blow to her head.


BETZAIDA JIMENEZ, MOTHER OF VICTIM: I want to thank the Turkish police and how they went beyond the search for my daughter, even though they didn't know her.

SNOW (voice-over): A heartbroken mother speaks out after her worst nightmare comes true. Her 33-year-old daughter, Sarai Sierra, was found dead in Istanbul, her body hidden behind old stone walls. Her family last heard from her on January 21, the day before she was to return to New York from her first trip abroad. JIMENEZ: Even though I wanted to see my daughter alive, but at least we have closure. At least they found her and there are some people that are still waiting for their loved ones that haven't been found. And I thank God for that.

SNOW: Sierra's husband, Steven, identified his wife's body in Istanbul. He flew there after his wife went missing, leaving their two sons ages 9 and 11 with their grandparents.

Sarai Sierra traveled alone to Istanbul on January 7. Her longtime friend Magalena Rodriguez said she was supposed to go along, but backed out because she was not working and couldn't afford it. They picked January because Sierra was in between semesters getting her undergraduate degree. Now Rodriguez is haunted by what ifs.

MAGALENA RODRIGUEZ, FRIEND: What are if I was more persistent instead of just taking for granted that I will see her when she got back? What if I saved a little more? What if I worked a little harder?

SNOW: Sierra was an amateur photographer and documented her travels on Instagram. She developed followers and made acquaintances with some of them who offered to act as tour guides, says Rodriguez. Rodriguez says that while her friend was typically careful, it made her nervous.

RODRIGUEZ: You never know who is on the other end. And I would tell her, tell me more. I want to know more information. Who are they? How old are they? Where are they from? And she would laugh and she would say -- she would tell me everything that she would know. That's why we have been able to really help the authorities.

SNOW: Rodriguez wouldn't say specifically what names were shared with authorities, but reports in Istanbul say several people have been questioned as suspects.


SNOW: The latest information we do have is that 21 people have been questioned according to the semi-official news agency in Turkey which reports that prosecutors have been given court permission to take blood and DNA samples from all of them.

Sierra's husband is waiting to take home his wife's body. A church here in New York, meantime, is now raising funds for her burial costs. And the family has shielded Sierra's children from the news their mother has died until Steven Sierra returns home to tell his children that tragic news -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tragic and sad, heartbreaking story. Mary, thank you.

A famous military sniper gunned down at a shooting range allegedly by a fellow veteran. Did post-traumatic stress syndrome play a role?


BLITZER: An Iraq war veteran changed with murdering an American military hero is now on suicide watch in a Texas jail.

BOLDUAN: The victim, former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who billed himself as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. We will speak with a friend of Kyle's in a moment, but first our Joe Johns has the latest on this case.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf and Kate, it was an eventful night here at the jail. The defendant, Eddie Ray Routh, had to be placed in restraints. Sheriff's deputies said he became aggressive after they tried to remove eating utensils from his jail cell.

The sheriff says he wants a psychiatric evaluations. However, one of Routh's lawyers contacted by CNN wouldn't comment on that.

(voice-over): On suicide watch and strapped to a restraint chair in his own jail cell, Iraq war veteran Eddie Ray Routh has been charged with capital murder in the shooting of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and Kyle's friend, Chad Littlefield. Now 48 hours after the two men were found dead at a gun range outside of Dallas, police are still trying to find out why.

JASON UPSHAW, ERATH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: I don't know that we will ever know. He's the only one that knows that, but at this point he hasn't made any comments to law enforcement as to why he did it.

JOHNS: Kyle, Littlefield and Routh drove to the gun range together in Key's pickup truck, authorities say. Less than two hours later, police say Kyle and Littlefield were dead and Routh had fled to his sister's house. He told her what happened and she called police and Routh was eventually caught.

Routh left the Marines in 2010 and he is being isolated for his own protection. Authorities say he has been the subject of death threats and some believed to be from military veterans. Kyle served as a sniper in Iraq, claiming to have killed a record of more than 150 insurgents. He wrote a best-selling autobiography about his experience titled "American Sniper."

In an interview with KTVT last year, Kyle talked about the duty he felt he owed to fellow troops.

CHIEF PETTY OFFICER CHRIS KYLE (RET.), U.S. NAVY: My only regrets are the guys I couldn't save. That is what keeps me up at night. But every shot I took, I felt extremely justified.

JOHNS: When he left the military, Kyle became a vocal advocate for vets starting a foundation to help those suffering for PTSD. Authorities say that may be why Kyle and Littlefield went to the gun range with Routh. UPSHAW: All I know is apparently Mr. Kyle works with people that are suffering from issues that have been in the military. This shooter is possibly one of those people he had taken out to the range to mentor and to visit with and to help him.

JOHNS: Kyle's friend Travis Cox said that's just the kind of man he was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man he was when he came home if I could it in any way, he was a servant leader. He served others. He was a humble, humble man. He had a vision to support veterans and their needs and he was fearless in that. He gave his life doing so.

JOHNS (on camera): No telling when a preliminary hearing for this defendant will be held. The sheriff has said under the circumstances, he is reluctant to move him to a courthouse. Any hearing is likely to be held here in this building or on closed- circuit TV -- Wolf and Kate.


BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much.

We're joined now by Chris Kyle's co-author of the book "American Sniper," and Jim DeFelice is joining us from New York.

Jim, I know you were friends. Our condolences to you. Tell us a little bit about Chris Kyle.

JIM DEFELICE, CO-AUTHOR, "AMERICAN SNIPER": Chris Kyle was an amazing, just an amazing human being.

You couldn't -- if I wrote about him in a novel, if he was a fictional character, he would have been too good to believe. He was all about God, country and family. At times, he struggled to decide which was more important, country or family. But he never, ever put himself above any of those three things.

Everything that you are hearing about him is absolutely true. That's exactly the kind of guy he was. Even before the book became successful and Chris was so well-known, he helped -- he started helping veterans and he was helping disabled veterans and just regular people who had just come back from the war. It's really a tragedy.

BOLDUAN: Being his friend, this must be very difficult for you finding out about his death, especially because you spoke with him recently. Tell us about that last correspondence.

DEFELICE: It was just kind of an off-handed e-mail.

Chris had been in Las Vegas and he had met a mutual friend of ours, and I guess they were talking. And the friend and I are working on a -- well, we have just decided to work on another book together, and Chris sent me an e-mail, as Chris often does: I met so and so, and Craig is a great guy. And I'm going to -- I will help you guys. If you want any help, just let me know. That's the kind of guy Chris was. It wasn't -- he just helped people. Yes, I think every person who met him feels something now. I can't -- the depth, though, that his family -- the depth of loss that his family is going through is just tremendous. He -- they were everything to him and he was everything to them.

BLITZER: Our hearts go out to them. A quick question, though, about the man who's now accused of killing him, Eddie Ray Routh. We know that Chris was involved in helping other veterans. Do you have any idea what his relationship with this individual was?

DEFELICE: No, and the information that I have is really secondhand, so I don't -- I don't want to say anything, because it's -- very possibly, I'm wrong.

I think that a lot of people today, we're -- have been jumping to the wrong conclusions or, you know, working on half-baked information or ideas. Let's wait until all the facts come in.

I can tell you one thing about Chris Kyle, though: he would not put another person in danger. So let's wait and see what all the facts are and find out, you know, what really happened there.

BLITZER: Jim DeFelice, good advice. Once again, our condolences to you, to Chris's family and friends. What a heart-breaking story this is, as well. A guy tries to do some good and see what happens.

New details emerging right now of the Super Bowl power outrage [SIC]. We're going inside the frantic effort to get the lights back on and the investigation to try to figure out what went wrong.


BLITZER: A Super Bowl shocker unlike any we've ever seen before. Everyone wants to know what caused that very bizarre power outage that put America's biggest sporting event of the year on hold for almost 35 minutes.

BOLDUAN: Almost 35 minutes. We're learning more about that investigation and one possible cause that officials seem to at least be ruling out. Our Brian Todd is in New Orleans.

Brian, take us behind the scenes. What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, Wolf, less than 24 hours out, a full-fledged investigation is under way into the cause of this power outage. Now the two entities responsible for electricity at the Super Dome are both handling this investigation, but both of them at different times have said this was not their doing.


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. Cameras were rolling in the CBS Sports control room. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we lost light. All right. We're going to the manual override.

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

(on camera): According to minutes from meetings of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the group that owns and manages the Super Dome, that group budgeted hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade feeder lines from the power grid to the Super Dome late last year. CNN has reviewed transcripts of those minutes. At one point it was called an emergency project.

(voice-over): But an official of the group that manages the Super Dome told "The New Orleans Times-Picayune" the outage 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, LOUISIANA STADIUM AND EXPOSITION DISTRICT: The truth is, the interruption in service didn't occur inside the building. We could not receive the power from the Entergy -- the substation that supplies us with the power.

TODD: On Sunday night Entergy first said it was feeding power to the Super Dome 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 just 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: We contacted Beyonce's representative to see if they have anything at all to say about the power outage. We have not heard back yet -- Wolf and Kate.

BOLDUAN: So Brian, what does this mean for New Orleans' chances of ever getting another Super Bowl back in their city?

TODD: That's been a big question all day today and last night. City officials saying how embarrassing this was. They do hope the league does bring the Super Bowl back to New Orleans. They got kind of a word of good faith today from Roger Caddell, the commissioner of the NFL, who said that, despite everything that's happened, the league does want to see the Super Bowl back in this city.

BOLDUAN: All right. Brian Todd in New Orleans.

BLITZER: I hope it does come back to New Orleans. BOLDUAN: I hope it does.

BLITZER: I love New Orleans.

BOLDUAN: I know. I love New Orleans. This was a tough go. But we'll keep following up. Brian Todd, thank you so much.

BLITZER: The White House igniting a huge controversy with this photo of President Obama skeet shooting. Is it really a huge controversy? What is it? We'll talk about it with one of the top advisers, Dan Pfeiffer, standing by to join us in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama brought his push for new gun control legislation to Minneapolis today, calling for a comprehensive package of steps against gun violence. But there's some growing doubt right now one of the steps he's seeking can actually be passed by Congress. An assault weapons ban.


BLITZER: And Dan Pfeiffer, the senior adviser to the president is joining us right now from Minnesota. Dan, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Everyone seems to think that the president's recommendation and a lot of Democrats like it, as well, to ban the military style assault weapons, that simply doesn't have the votes in Congress right now. Are you ready to continue to continue to push for it or are you basically giving up on it?

PFEIFFER: No, we're going to continue to push for the entire package of initiatives that the vice president presented to the president, everything from banning military-style assault weapons to background checks to ensuring that people have better access to mental health, to giving schools better opportunities to have school resource officers in the rooms. So we're going to push for them all. That's why the president is here in Minnesota today.

BLITZER: Because the argument is, if you go for a comprehensive deal, it could collapse on that part. There's much greater support for expanding background checks, for limiting the bullets in the magazine clips and all of that. If you insist on the assault-type weapons, it could derail the whole thing. Here's the question. Are you ready to break the various components up?

PFEIFFER: Well, we're going to work with Senator Reid, senators -- Democrats and Republicans -- to get whatever we can to get done. We want everything, the entire part of the vice president's package, but we're going to do what we can to make sure we get something. It's been too long. The country's been gridlocked on this issue for over a decade now. We've made no progress. The president's hope is, in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, taking advantage of this new moment in time to get something done. So we're going to -- we want everything done. We're going to work to make sure that something gets done.

BLITZER: So in other words, you're willing to accept whatever you can. If you can get the magazines, if you can get the background checks but you can't get the assault weapons, you'll take -- you'll take what you can get. It's not an all-or-nothing package.

PFEIFFER: Well, look, that's right. In politics, these issues are very hard. If they were easy, this stuff would have got done a long time ago. So we're going to -- the president's going to keep pushing for this. This isn't something that's just about today or tomorrow or the next legislative fight. It's about the next four years.

And so we're going to -- we're going to keep working, and what the president is very pleased with, for the first time, we have some bipartisan momentum around taking some steps to prevent gun violence.

There are bipartisan bills around background checks, bipartisan bills around reducing these high-capacity magazine clips and stuff dealing with gun trafficking. There's -- there's the first progress we've seen in many, many years on dealing with gun violence. That's a positive sign.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of folks out there, I'm sure, in Newtown, Connecticut, especially, where that killer went into that school, killed 20 kids, six teachers with an assault-type weapon, that AR-15. If you can't get that kind of ban through Congress, what do you say to those families who will be deeply disappointed?

PFEIFFER: Well, those families should know that the president's heart is with them all the time. As you said, that was the toughest day of his presidency. He thinks about those children and those families all the time. That's why he's going to keep pushing for everything he can do to make sure that Newtown never happens again, and he's not going to stop fighting for them.

BLITZER: Here's a clip from the vice president, Joe Biden. Last week he was up on Capitol Hill and there was a gaggle of reporters around him. But he said this, and I'll play it. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing we're going to do is going to fundamentally alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down to 1,000 a year from -- from what it is now.


BLITZER: You want to elaborate on what the vice president was suggesting there? Because it's caused some commotion, as you know. PFEIFFER: Well, what the vice president is saying is exactly what the president is trying to do here, which is we put the vice president, working with our attorney general and other members of the cabinet, put together a package initiative that run the whole gamut from dealing with gun violence to addressing some of the issues about culture and movies and video games, about mental health services and education.

And so, if we can do all of those things, take all those steps, work together as a country, we do everything we possibly can to ensure that what happened in Newtown doesn't happen again. That's what we owe those children.

BLITZER: Because when he says that nothing that we can do is going to, in his words, fundamentally alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting, so the point is, why are you going through all of this, if it's not going to fundamentally alter that possibility?

PFEIFFER: Wolf, the idea here is the idea the vice president put forward, is to do everything we can to ensure that -- that weapons of war, military-style assault weapons, that the mentally ill, the dangerous don't have access to the guns that do violence. So we're going to do everything we can to try and prevent such tragedies as what happened in Newtown. That's -- that's the ultimate goal and the effort here.

Is there always -- is there always going to be a danger of some person doing something? That's absolutely true, but what we have to deal with, as the president said, is look inside ourselves and say are we doing everything we can to protect our children? That's what the president wants to do.

BLITZER: We saw the picture of the president that was released over the weekend, at Camp David skeet shooting, and I'll put it up on the screen for our viewers who haven't seen it. I think it was in every -- everybody's seen it by now. First of all, tell us why did you decide to release this picture? It was taken, actually, on August 4, 2012.

PFEIFFER: Well, we're trying to have a serious discussion about how we reduce gun violence in this country. And too many people were beginning -- there was too much of a distraction about this question of whether the president had been skeet shooting or not. And so we were very clear that he -- so we thought we'd put the picture out, put that to rest and try to get back the debate back to the issues that really matter.

The president never has never -- been very clear. He didn't grow up around guns. He wasn't raised in the culture of hunting. He values that culture deeply and understands why it's important in our country, but he'd never pretended to be -- that that was his background.

But he has had the opportunity to shoot guns at targets up at Camp David and he's enjoyed that experience, and he was asked a question in an interview a few weeks ago, and he answered that.

BLITZER: And then you decided to release it, because I saw your tweet on Saturday. You said, "For all the skeeters, POTUS shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David on August 4, 2012." Were you there at Camp David when he was doing that?

PFEIFFER: I was not -- I was not there, Wolf. The point here is that we've sort of -- this speaks to the larger absurdity of our political debates sometimes. The issue isn't whether the president has been skeet shooting or not. He said he had been, and he went and did that, and we put out the picture. But when they have people from mainstream news outlets treating this like it's some sort of "X Files" style conspiracy theory, we thought we would put the whole thing to rest and get back to the issues that really matter.

BLITZER: Dan Pfeiffer, thanks very much for coming in.

PFEIFFER: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: So we want to remind the viewers, tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern, Piers Morgan has a real special program coming from Texas. He's at a gun range himself out there. You're going to want to see Piers later tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern. I'm looking forward to it myself. I think Piers is going to be shooting a little bit when he's out there. Let's go to Kate. She's got more.

BOLDUAN: That's something we definitely do not want, Wolf.

Also, still ahead this hour, the Boy Scouts of America on the verge of a decision. Will they let openly gay members in?


BLITZER: The Boy Scouts of America are now debating whether to end their ban on openly gay leaders and members.

BOLDUAN: Powerful people are taking sides on this debate. CNN's Casey Wian is here with more. Hey, there, Casey.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Greg Bourke's son, Isaiah, joined the Cub Scouts in the second grade. Bourke eventually became assistant scout master of his son's Boy Scout troop.

GREG BOURKE, FORMER ASSISTANT SCOUTMASTER: After decades of being out of the closet, the Boy Scouts of America forced me back into the closet with its "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

WIAN: Now in high school, Isaiah is on the verge of becoming an Eagle Scout, but his dad has lost his rank because he's gay.

BOURKE: I pose no harm to anyone. I passed all of their background checks. I go to church every Sunday with my family. Lord knows, we're philanthropic. Now, I just don't know what else they want from us.

WIAN: Scouts and others who support ending the policy of barring openly gay scout masters and scouts delivered what they say are 1.4 million signatures on several online petitions to Boy Scout headquarters.

In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America says it "is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not under any circumstances dictate a position to units, members, or parents."

President Obama told CBS News before the Super Bowl he supports dropping the restriction on gays.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives. And I think that nobody should be barred from that.

WIAN: Rick Perry, governor of the Boy Scouts' home state of Texas, is opposed.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life lessons. Sexuality is not one of them. It never has been; it doesn't need to be.

WIAN: Several groups opposed to the change took out this ad in "USA Today," asking the scouts to, quote, "show courage and stand firm for timeless values."

The Traditional Values Coalition sent an urgent letter to followers asking for $15 donations. The group says, "Christian America is outraged that the Boy Scouts would even consider such an action."

But the Boy Scouts are under pressure from declining membership and from the loss of funding from corporate donors with non- discrimination policies.


WIAN: The national leadership of the Boy Scouts is meeting on the issue this week. Activists -- activists on both sides of the issue say they expect a decision on Wednesday -- Wolf and Kate.

BOLDUAN: We'll definitely follow up. Casey Wian in Texas for us tonight. Thank you, Casey.

Next, clever tweets on the Super Bowl blackout.

Clever, just like you are, clever.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We knew this was coming. The Super Bowl blackout jokes, they're going strong. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Super Bowl loses power...


MOOS: ... leaving fans bowled over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The scoreboard's not working, the announcers ain't talking. What in the hell is going on here? Holy crap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stupid power outage. I'm going to break something if this doesn't get fixed.

MOOS: The blackout inspired a surge in tweets from "How many blackouts does each team get per game?" To "Heck of a job, Brownie," tweeted by a "New York Times" columnist. Even the lights themselves got into the act when "Super Bowl Lights" launched its own Twitter account.

Now next year for the sprinkle system to go off.

(on camera): None of us will ever forget where we were when the power went off. Probably because most of us were in the same place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was on the couch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was on the couch.

MOOS: We in the media couldn't resist lowering our own lights to simulate Super Bowl conditions. On "The View," the lights dipped.

GOLDBERG: Come on, now. Come on, now.

MOOS: Then came up to reveal Joy Behar and guest host Ali Wentworth pretending to make out.

The blackout ignited conspiracy theories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call shenanigans on that power outage. Somebody had a lot of money on the Niners, and there was a mysterious power surge.

MOOS: And while WFAN commentator Boomer Esiason cast suspicion on Beyonce's frenetic halftime show...

BOOMER ESIASON, WFAN: And by the way, Beyonce blew the electric in the Super Dome twice, I'm told, during her rehearsals.

MOOS: ... officials said Beyonce's show was on its own generated power, not the Super Dome's grid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no indication at all that this was caused by the halftime show.

MOOS: Beyonce's husband, Jay-Z, tweeted a teasing, "Lights out! Any questions?"

At least arch villain Bane from Batman has denied any role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I promise you that I was in no way responsible for the Super Bowl power outage.

MOOS: Human fans weren't the only ones featured on YouTube reacting with wide-eyed wonder to the blackout. Remember the scene from "Airplane" in which runway lights go out during an emergency landing?


MOOS: Well, the runway has been replaced by the Super Bowl on an endless loop.

As for Beyonce, if she didn't cause it, maybe she could fix it. "Just plug a generator into Beyonce's hips. Problem solved."

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.