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Was Bob Woodward Bullied?; Former Swiss Guard on Popes Benedict and John Paul II; President Obama's Softer Side; Inside Pistorius Murder Case

Aired February 28, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, stranger things have happened, but look at this, the first America to meet the reclusive North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, is former NBA star, Dennis Rodman. We have the inside story.

The softer side of President Barack Obama. From tears to laughter, the president is now showing and sharing some of his emotions.

And for the first time in 600 years, a pope retires. We're going to hear from a former member of the Vatican's elite guard who new Benedict long before he became pontiff.

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



BLITZER: We begin with the improbable, even bizarre images of history in the making right now. Take a good look at this. The controversial former NBA star, Dennis Rodman, in Pyongyang, watching a basketball game with the secretive North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. That would make Dennis Rodman the first to meet with the leader of the Stalinist nuclear armed north.

Rodman is a one-time Chicago Bulls star. Kim reportedly, by all accounts, a huge Chicago Bulls fan, and it's going to be part of a new "Vice" magazine reality show on our sister network, HBO.

Joining us now with the inside story and how this all came about is the "Vice" co-founder, Shane Smith. Shane, thanks very much for coming in. I assume like you -- like me, you were amazed by what is going on right now?

SHANE SMITH, CO-FOUNDER, VICE: It's beyond words, really. I mean, I've been there twice. I know you've been there as well, and it's one of the hardest countries to get in to, especially as a journalist. And so, after my second time, I realized that basketball was the sort of only American past time or cultural pursued that is acceptable in North Korea.

So, we put together the idea along with our producer, Jason Mohika (ph), to go over there with Dennis and the Harlem Globetrotters to have this sort of basketball diplomacy, if you will.

BLITZER: Yes. It's an amazing diplomacy. I will point out that they did invite a few years ago, the New York Philharmonic to come over as well, and they were well-received when they performed in Pyongyang. The New York Philharmonic, Dennis Rodman, the Harlem Globetrotters, obviously, very different, but it does send a message.

So, walk us through. You pitched this idea. Was it your initiative? Was it their initiative? How did it come about?

SMITH: It came about when I went to the Kim Il-Song Hall of Treasures, which is deep down in the mountain, all the treasures that people have given to Kim Il-Song, and there was the famous basketball that was actually given to Kim Jong-Il that Madeleine Albright gave to him signed by Michael Jordan.

So, that -- since then, basketball and the Bulls, in particular, have become sort of, you know, I won't say heroes but, you know, very, very respected within North Korea. So, we came back and we thought, hey, you know, why don't we put together a team, go over there, play some basketball, you know, work with the kids, and, you know, see what comes up.

We thought that Kim Jong-Un would come to the game, but we weren't sure. Then, he showed up to the game, had a blast, was hanging out with Dennis Rodman, and they were enjoying it, and then invited the whole crew, the "Vice" crew and Globetrotters and Dennis back to his palace for a big banquet and a hang and lots of speeches, and apparently, that went great.

BLITZER: You know, it is really amazing when you think about it. We're showing you some pictures of Dennis and the Harlem Globetrotters there. I'll give you -- I'll give them a shout out. The "Vice" correspondent, Ryan Duffy (ph), and then from the Harlem Globetrotters, Moose Weekes, Buckets Blakes, and Bull Bullard. They are all there right now.

By the way, that interpreter that you see there, when I was there, he was the same guy. Very nice guy, by the way. What are you hearing from them? Have you been in communication with them? Are they allowed to make phone calls to you, send e-mails? Have you been in direct touch?

SMITH: I have been, and you know, which, as you know, it's quite a change, because it used to be when you went in, you couldn't take computers or phones. You, for sure, couldn't tweet or send e-mails. But I talked to Ryan, our correspondent this morning. He told me about this speech in which he invited Kim Jong-Un and his delegation to come to America and see how we live.

Dennis made a very heartfelt speech that was very well-received. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of clapping. Now, what Ryan said to me was that Dennis had told him, so I can't really confirm it until I talk to Dennis, that, you know, he wished that this would bring North Korea and American relations closer or in a better way. So, for us that was just -- we couldn't believe that. So, I mean, hopefully, obviously, look, there's a lot of problems. You've been there. You understand. It's as diametrically opposed as you can possibly be philosophically to America. But, you know, if you go there and play some basketball and I mean, who doesn't love the Harlem Globetrotters? So, they put a smile on everybody's face.

BLITZER: They certainly do. You know, it's amazing because those of us old enough to remember Ping-Pong diplomacy in the bad old day of U.S.-China relations, that was a bridge. Maybe this will do something. Did you get clearance? Did you ask the state department, the Obama administration for a green light before you went?

SMITH: No, we did not. You know, we put it together ourselves. I had had some contacts from my trips over there. They then sent it here to the United Nations delegation and their team here. We worked a lot with them. They came out to our offices. We ran through the whole program with them and, you know, we actually didn't really know, you know, if we were all going to get in until we got to Beijing.

So, it was a sort of a last minute -thing - not last minute, but we didn't really know until the last minute.

BLITZER: And with all due respect, Dennis Rodman, all of us remember, was a great, great player for the Chicago Bulls and we all love the Harlem Globetrotters. There's only one thing, based on my conversations with North Koreans when I was there, Shane, that would have topped this. That would have been if Michael Jordan, himself, would have gone, that would have blown out the entire place over there, I can assure you. Don't you agree?

SMITH: A 100 percent. A 100 percent. I mean, Michael Jordan is a god, the greatest player that ever played the game, but he's a huge god in North Korea. Michael, if you're watching this, basketball diplomacy, man. Get over there. We need your help.

BLITZER: It would have been amazing if he goes. Let me just point out, I'm happy to go with him. I'd like to meet Kim Jong-Un as well. You know, so many people have gone over there, but it's rare. I think -- is it fair to say this picture -- when I was there with Bill Richardson, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, we were there for six days.

And more recently, Richardson was back with the head of Google. They met with top officials, but certainly, not with Kim Jong-Un. What you're saying is there was no guarantee of this meeting, but you assumed it would take place. They would watch a little basketball together?

SMITH: We didn't assume. We hoped. We hoped it would take place. We thought that because we knew of his love of basketball and his love of the Chicago Bulls, much like his father, that he would come out and he did and enjoyed the game, and then, you know, much to our surprise and reality, asked everybody back to his house and they had supper and a lot of talks.

And so, you know, we're waiting to get the footage back with bated breath.

BLITZER: We'd love to speak to Dennis and the other guys either from there or from Beijing. I know they used to have to fly from Pyongyang to Beijing and then connect back to New York. Would you let him know that as soon as they got some phone contact, we'd like to put him on the air here in the SITUATION ROOM and get their first person eyewitness accounts of what's going on?

SMITH: A 100 percent we'll get Dennis and also Ryan Duffy (ph), our correspondent. They both have some crazy stories to tell, I'm sure.

BLITZER: I'm sure they do. And we're anxious to share with our viewers here in the United States and around the world. And I just want to point out our show, CNN International, listing (ph) the hotel I was stayed at in Pyongyang. We did get CNN International. There's folks who are watching.

They might be watching you right now even as we speak. Shane, give our best to Dennis and the other guys. And we hopefully, the next couple of days, we'll be talking with him. Appreciate it very much.

SMITH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: United States got more deeply involved in another world trouble spot today, promising Syria's rebel fighters a big increase in food and medical supplies. That came at a high-level conference in Rome. Here's CNN's foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's clear at this international meeting here in Rome that there will be a division of labor among the countries trying to help out the Syrian opposition with the U.S. still taking a cautious approach.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In Rome, standing next to the leader of the Syrian opposition's political wing, secretary of state, John Kerry, pledged $60 million in additional aid.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We needed to stand on the side of those in this fight who want to see Syria rise again in unity.

DOUGHERTY: And for the first time, direct help for Syrian rebel fighters.

KERRY: Given the stakes, the president will now extend food and medical supplies to the opposition, including to the Syrian opposition's supreme military council.

DOUGHERTY: But those supplies will not include what the opposition says it wants. Weapons. Instead, the aid will help the opposition coalition provide basic goods and services in areas liberated from government control, things like sanitation, security, and education. U.S. officials anxious to keep any supplies out of the hands of extremists say it will be given only to carefully vetted members of the free Syrian army.

But other countries are going further. Some gulf states are providing weapons and one European nation wants to give opposition fighters transport vehicles, night vision goggles, and body armor. U.S. officials tell CNN the Obama administration is considering that as well.

KERRY: I am absolutely confident from what I heard in there from other foreign ministers that the totality of this effort is going to have an impact on the ability of the Syrian opposition to accomplish its goals.

DOUGHERTY: The opposition leader, Moaz al-Khatib did not directly respond to Secretary Kerry's announcement, but he did criticize media reports on the opposition saying they pay more attention to the length of the beard of a fighter than to the massacres carried out by the Syrian regime.


DOUGHERTY (on-camera): Asked how quickly this new assistance can get into the hands of the Syrian opposition, Kerry said he'll brief Congress as soon as he gets back from this trip. The sooner we get started, he said, the more lives we can save -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

Up next, the day after the legendary journalist, Bob Woodward, suggested that he felt intimidated by an official at the White House, e-mails have now surfaced raising some doubts about what actually happened. We'll update you here in the SITUATION ROOM.

And Benedict XVI becomes the first pope in some 600 years to retire. We're going to hear from a former Vatican insider and papal guard who once knew him well.


BLITZER: Word just coming in to the SITUATION ROOM, an arrest in the shooting and fiery auto crash that killed three people in Las Vegas. The FBI says Omar Harris (ph) was apprehended by the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department's fugitive task force this afternoon in North Hollywood.

Last Thursday, shoot and killed Kenneth Cherry, an inspiring rapper known as Kenny Clutch. He was driving a Maserati that crashed into a taxi causing a fire that killed two other people.

Word also just coming in to the SITUATION ROOM of other news that we're watching, including new developments on the White House and the appointment of United States ambassadors, the tradition of plum diplomatic posts. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now with details. Jessica, what's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, I'm learning that the president has made some -- all but final selections for some key ambassadorial posts and it looks like some people who have given and raised a lot of money for the campaign will be getting some of the top jobs. Of course, nothing illegal about this, but for the president who said he really wants to get money out of politics, this is definitely sullying some of that brand.

Among those names, Marc Lasry, we are told, is the pick or will likely be the pick to be the ambassador to France. Lasry, a hedge fund manager, helped to raise up to a million dollars for the Obama campaign. Once upon a time, he was a big Clinton backer, but now, an Obama supporter likely headed to France.

Also, Patrick Gaspard is the likely pick to be ambassador to South Africa. Well, he is not a major donor, but he was executive director of the Democratic National Committee. Moving on, Matthew Barzun was the finance chair for the last campaign and also raised close to a million dollars. He was also a major donor in the 2008 campaign and went on to then be ambassador to Sweden.

Another name you'll recognize, Caroline Kennedy. We're told she's being considered for a posting, though, a very good source says she has not been asked to be appointed to any particular country. She has not been vetted for any particular country. So, this is very early stages, but they're looking at her for a posting.

Big picture dialing this back, Wolf. Again, none of this illegal -- not of it even that unusual. This is what presidents tend to do. They reward their political donors with nice jobs like this. Why is this different? Because the president, President Obama, said he would be different, and so, we're pointing out, this really does seem to be more of the same, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's shift gears briefly to those forced spending cuts that go into effect tomorrow night at midnight. I take it the president has just released a statement on his meeting tomorrow with the bipartisan Congressional leadership?

YELLIN: That's right. He has released a statement talking both about the bill that passed today in the Senate, congratulating Democrats on passing their bill, but it failed because it didn't get 60 votes, and then, saying that it's time for everybody to get something done.

He says, quote, "Tomorrow, I will bring together leaders from both parties to discuss a path forward. As a nation, we cannot keep lurching from one manufactured crisis to another. Middle class families can't keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington."

What he doesn't mention is the Republicans also took a vote on their bill. And, a lot of this, Wolf, is political theater because everybody expects that tomorrow's meeting is really just a photo opportunity, and we will enter into this forced spending cuts drama for some time to come.

BLITZER: Certainly will. We'll have more on this story coming up later as well. Jessica, thank you. Coming up next, the day after the legendary journalist, Bob Woodward, suggested that he felt intimidated by a senior White House official, e-mails now surfacing, raising some doubts about exactly what happened. We'll update you when we come back.


BLITZER: The legendary journalist, Bob Woodward, of the "Washington Post" raised some eyebrows right here on the SITUATION ROOM yesterday when he suggested he felt intimidated by the Obama White House in his coverage of those forced spending cuts. Listen to this.


BOB WOODWARD, WASHINGTON POST: They're not happy at all and some people kind of, you know, said, look, we don't see eye-to-eye on this. They never really said, though, afterwards, they've said that this is factually wrong and it was said to me in an e-mail by a top --

BLITZER: What was said? Yes.

WOODWARD: It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this.

BLITZER: Who sent that e-mail?

WOODWARD: Well, I'm not going to say.

BLITZER: Was it a senior person at the White House?

WOODWARD: A very senior person. And, just as -- I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, you're going to regret doing something that you believe in.


BLITZER: Today, CNN did confirm that Gene Sperling, the head of the White House Council of Economic advisers, the National Economic Council, I should say, he is the senior official that had that exchange of e-mails with Bob Woodward that followed a lengthy and pretty angry phone call.

Let me read for the full exchange as reported today by "Politico." This is Gene Sperling first. "Bob, I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall, but feel on the other hand, that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest."

"But, perhaps, we will just not see eye-to-eye here, but I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that POTUS, the president of the United States, asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know that you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand bargain was a mixed of entitlements and revenues, even if there were serious disagreements on composition was part of the DNA of the thing from the start."

"It was an accepted part of the understanding from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs, Republicans, on the Super Committee that came right after. It was assumed in the November and December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial."

"Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner/Obama negotiations were locked in the BCA. The sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues. I agree there are more than one side to our disagreement but, again, think this latter issue is different. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call, obviously. My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize. Gene."

To which Woodward responded, and once again according to "Politico" which got the exchange. Gene, "You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat. There should be more given to the importance."

"I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3:00 p.m. Today. Best, Bob."

So, that's the full exchange of the e-mails. So, let's discuss what's going on in our "Strategy Session." Joining us our two political contributors, Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

Ari, you were a White House press secretary. What did you think of this exchange? Was it intimidating? Was it threatening? What did you think?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. Wolf, you know, I've been there. This is a heated relationship at times and that's the way it always has been, always will be. You know, I think intimidation is in the eye of the intimidatee. If Woodward thought that it was a threatening e-mail, that's how he would take it.

Now, listening to your version and your read through of those e- mails, I can see why the White House says it's not the way Woodward interpret it, but Woodward interpreted it that way. A number of other reporters have come out, including Ron Fournier, former chief White House correspondent for "Associated Press," now with "National Journal."

Lanny Davis said on behalf of John Solomon, a long-time Washington reporter, that they two have received similar type of messages from the White House. It's a rough White House. They are not shy about throwing high and inside at reporters. Comes with the territory, though.

BLITZER: What did you think, Donna? Because you know Gene Sperling. You obviously know Bob Woodward as well. What we don't know is how angry the phone conversation was that preceded this, I think, relatively tame exchange of e-mails.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm sure Ari understands that when you're in that moment when you have to try to get across the administration's point of view, it's important that you push back, and of course, journalists have every right to push back and sometimes it becomes heated. The Bush White House was tough. The Clinton White House was tough.

The Reagan White House was tough, and I'm sure the Obama White House is tough when it's trying to get out the facts and not just get into all of superficial conversations around real policy matters. We spent now about 24, 48 hours talking about whether or not someone using the word regret is a threatening word. I live in the real world.

So, I know there are more -- there are some words that really do threaten. But I do believe that Gene Sperling is a professional. He's done a terrific job as head of National Economic Council. I've known him for over 25 years. He's a humanitarian. I'd like to consider him sometimes as my boo (ph). He's always collegial, ready to give up information.

But, whenever you see a misdeed out there, something that is printed wrong, perhaps, not as you believe it to be, I think reporters as well as those who are on the inside have every right to push back and push back very hard.

BLITZER: Because the White House says, Ari, that when he said you will regret this -- you will regret it, they say, because they think he was factually wrong. It wasn't they were seeking to intimidate him, you wouldn't get access, you wouldn't any kind of cooperation down the road. They were -- he was -- he was suggesting he'd regret it because he will have been proven factually wrong. Do you buy that?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think in this isolated case it's fair for the White House to read it that way. I also think it's fair for Woodward to interpret his way as well. Neither you nor I know about the conversation. We weren't privacy to it, we weren't affected by it. We're just reading e-mails.

But there was something else in there that's indicative. And that was Gene having to apologize for the way he went after Woodward orally. In a phone call. Not -- I'll bet you, Wolf, 90 percent of the reporters in the White House briefing room can't get access to Gene Sperling, don't get to have lengthy conversations or even any e- mails with the Gene Sperling, but what they do get is yelled at by White House officials.

And particularly for younger reporters who were cutting their teeth, who don't have the stature of a Woodward, that can intimidate and especially if they only have access to a few people on the inside at the White House. They are not willing to burn bridges. They take the intimidation and don't hit hardback the way a Woodward would. That's the problem we're worried about here.


BRAZILE: Ari, what world -- what world do you exist in?

FLEISCHER: I do think there are other issues where the -- I do think there are other -- I do think there are reporters here --

BRAZILE: My god.

FLEISCHER: -- who would tell you very similar stories about feeling intimidated by the staff.

BRAZILE: You know, this is -- this is unbelievable because, you know, the right-wing and the right-wing echo chamber, you know, they have this narrative that this is a tough Chicago-style White House. Now I've dealt with a couple of White House in -- over the last 20- plus years. They are like everybody else. They like to get their point of view out there. They want to get their story out there. And if you're some, you know -- you know, young reporter and you're afraid to pick up the phone and call Jennifer Palmieri, a Gene Sperling, call me first. I'll try to get them on the phone with you.


These are -- these are good people. These are people who are working hard every day and yes, Bob Woodward had his story told, and I'm glad that the e-mail exchange now revealed as something else. But let's get back to the policy, the personalities really don't matter. I respect both men. They are great human beings but let's talk about what the policy is and that is sequester is a bad thing. It's going to hurt a lot of good people, a lot of great Americans, a lot of government workers. And we all need to get -- we need to brace for that and not worry about these e-mails.

BLITZER: All right, Donna, Ari, we're going to leave on that point right there. Unfortunately we got -- up against a break right now. But we're going to have more on this story later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Gene Sperling, by the way, will be Candy Crowley's guest on "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday morning 9:00 a.m. Eastern. I think you'll want to tune in.

Coming up here next in THE SITUATION ROOM, they're the soldiers responsible for protecting the Pope. A former Swiss Guard takes us inside that experience and opens up about his relationship with the now former Pope Benedict XVI.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: An historic moment the world hasn't seen in some 600 years, Pope Benedict making what was likely his last ever public appearance before officially stepping down just a few hours ago.

The Pope gave a final blessing to the thousands who gathered at the summer papal residence outside Rome. All this after an emotional farewell at the Vatican to senior church staff followed by a helicopter ride out of Rome.

The Swiss Guards assigned to protect the Pope ceremonially closed the doors, ending their service to him at the exact moment his resignation was official.

Our Brian Todd spoke to a former Swiss Guard member who knew Pope Benedict well. Brian is joining us now with more.

What did you find out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this former Swiss Guard, Andreas Widmer, has known Benedict XVI since the then future Pope was rising through the ranks. He says he's convinced that Benedict simply did not want to go through the next decade as what he called an infirmed Pope. Didn't want to wait for others to call for his resignation. This man who stood so close to this Pope and to his predecessor offers fascinating insights into their personalities.


TODD (voice-over): In Andreas Widmer's opinion, this is a man who was simply worn down and now has the weight of dealing with the public demands of his job finally lifted.

ANDREAS WIDMER, FORMER SWISS GUARD: When you're an introvert, you lose energy by being with other people.

TODD (on camera): Did he lose energy?

WIDMER: I think he lost energy by being with people.

TODD (voice-over): For two years in the late '80s, Widmer was a member of the elite Swiss Guards, the men who protected the holy father for more than five centuries. He guarded John Pope II but also knew Benedict when Benedict was Joseph Ratzinger, a rising cardinal.

(On camera): These are two really incredibly different men.

WIDMER: Yes. John Paul was somebody -- who could really work with a huge crowd and really get to -- you know, with his experience in theater and in -- in poetry and everything, he could really reach people like that. Benedict is brilliant at one-on-one, in small group interaction.

TODD (voice-over): Widmer, an author who now teaches at Catholic University, says as a Swiss Guard you never spoke to the Pope or a cardinal unless he addressed you first but he says he and Benedict would chat when Benedict was waiting to see Pope John Paul. WIDMER: Completely open like I can talk to you --

TODD (on camera): What was he like to talk to?

WIDMER: Very -- very other directed. So he would -- he would ask me what my interests were and how I felt and how I saw things.

TODD (voice-over): And with a sense of humor, like when Benedict offered to sign Widmer's copy of a book Benedict had written which Widmer says was pretty thick.

WIDMER: And when I gave it to him he says, so you're really reading this?


And I said, well, I'm trying. And he says, well, it helps to do it in small -- in small steps.

TODD: But he also had a personal crisis as a guard, spending his first Christmas away from home. It was John Paul, he says, who helped him through that.

WIDMER: And I sort of had a meltdown and right at that moment he comes out of his apartment and he noticed and he reached out to me and he thanked me for being there and he gave me courage.

TODD (on camera): What were you doing? Were you crying? Or --


TODD: You were?

WIDMER: I stopped crying when --


When he showed up and he noticed my -- he noticed my red eyes.

TODD (voice-over): As for what's to come, Widmer says the top job isn't what we think.

WIDMER: The Pope is the end of your -- end of your life. You have to give up all privacy. You're basically locked in. You can't go where you want to go. Everything is -- you lose your friends, you lose your family. You're a prisoner. Not one cardinal wants to be Pope.

TODD (on camera): He didn't want to be Pope?

WIDMER: No way. He wanted to go back home and write books. They are walking into the Sistine Chapel like this. Don't make eye contact.


TODD: Really?

WIDMER: Yes. Nobody wants to be Pope.


TODD: I asked Widmer about the so-called Vatileaks episode which led to an internal review and reports of sexual scandals and mismanagement which the Vatican has denied. I asked him whether that might have driven Pope Benedict out. He said no. Benedict has been at the Vatican for more than 30 years, Widmer said, and nothing would shock him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report. More on the Pope's last day as Pope in our next hour.

Up next, he used to seem a bit cold but now President Obama is showing a softer, more emotional side. Stay with us.


BLITZER: So is President Obama becoming a bit more mellow? Did he loosen up once he was locked in for another four years?

Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin takes a close look.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama has been showing his softer side lately, from tears of joy, speaking to campaign workers the day after his re-election.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm really proud of all of you. And --

YELLIN: To tears of sadness after the Newtown shooting.

OBAMA: Beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

YELLIN: He's not just showing his emotions, he's sharing them, too.

OBAMA: I wish I had had a father who was around and involved.

YELLIN: Having some fun here with the Miami Heat.

OBAMA: I think part of the reason they came back today is they wanted another shot at the old guy.


YELLIN: And going off script about Republican tactics.

OBAMA: We're just going to try to shove only spending cuts down -- well, shove spending -- (LAUGHTER)

Shove spending cuts at us.

YELLIN: What a difference four years makes. First-term Obama was known for his cold detached style. Early in his first term he failed the empathy test with this California teacher about to be laid off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got my RIF notice on Saturday and --

OBAMA: You got -- I'm sorry. You got what notice?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My RIF notice which means I'm going to be -- intentioned to be laid off.

OBAMA: A pink slip?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. A pink slip. That's why it went pink.

YELLIN: Now the president's more likely to wear his heart on his sleeve.

OBAMA: This is where Michelle and I met, where we fell in love.

YELLIN: And using passion for political effect, too.

OBAMA: Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

YELLIN: He once saved that kind of emotional rallying call for campaign-style events outside the beltway. No longer. The president's biographer says it all changed after he won re-election.

DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY": I think we've all seen, since the day after his re-election, a more relaxed Barack Obama. Something that took a lifetime for him to get to this point. We've really seen a new Obama.

YELLIN: The new Obama is going where the first-term president generally wouldn't dare. Talking about his biracial identity in a eulogy for his childhood senator.

OBAMA: Here I was a young boy with a white mom, a black father. Raised in Indonesia and Hawaii. And I was beginning to sense how fitting in to the world might not be as simple as it might seem.

YELLIN: Remembering his troubled teenage years, speaking to kids back home in Chicago.

OBAMA: When I screwed up, the consequences weren't as high as when the kids on the South Side screw up. I had more of a safety net. But these guys are no different than me.

YELLIN: In his first term, the president was far more cautious about his past. On most topics, he just didn't go there. Now as the president himself points out --

OBAMA: I've run my last election.

YELLIN: -- he's free of the pressure to woo swing voters so he's using his stories to try to inspire audiences and pitch policies, bringing a more complete personality into focus.

MARANISS: I don't think one ever knows the real him. But I think that it's closer to being the private and the public Obama coming together in a -- in a clearer way.

YELLIN: Don't take our word for it. Even he admits he's changed. Check out his humble brag.

OBAMA: The longer you're in it, the more humble you get and the more you recognize your own imperfections.

YELLIN: Humility he can afford after winning a second term.

MARANISS: President Obama is never going to be the "I feel your pain" like Bill Clinton type of president but he's getting closer.


BLITZER: And Jessica is joining us now along with our chief Washington correspondent and anchor, Jake Tapper, who's covered the president these past four years as well.

Jessica, quickly to you first. Are we going to see more of this? Is that what you're hearing, a lot more openness from the president?

YELLIN: I think we will, Wolf. And I don't actually think it's necessarily a deliberate tactic. I think this is how he functions. He wrote an autobiography early in his life. He likes to use his personal biography to pitch himself and his stories. It's how he ran his 2008 campaign. But he just became incredibly cautious in his first term out of, I think, political fear to some extent and now that he's released of that because he doesn't have to run again, I suspect we'll hear a lot more about his own personal resume, his personal connections to people and his own experiences, how he can connect those to the policies he's pitching -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Jake, you've covered him from day one during his campaign when he beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination and then throughout these past four years. Have you seen a similar kind of evolution?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. First of all, I think Jessica hits it -- the nail on the head in talking about how he's been a reelected and he feels a certain freedom, as his biographer, David Maraniss, referred to.

Also, I think there's a certain extent here of his learning how to empathize with others. On the campaign trail in 2007, 2008, some of his aides, his campaigning aides would cringe when he would express irritation with people who fainted during his rallies, because they didn't have enough wine, didn't have enough food before they came. He has over the years learned to show his humanity a little bit more. You saw that clumsy moment that Jessica showed from the 2008 campaign.

It's hard to imagine he would do the same today. He's much more out of -- out of growth politically. He'll never be Bill Clinton, as Maraniss says, but he's grown politically and learned that when somebody says they're about to be laid off, you don't say, go pink slip. You reach out and --


BLITZER: Bill Clinton would have gone up to that woman and held her hand and made her feel, you know, special.

TAPPER: Right, exactly. And I think he's learned from stumbling in that regard as well. I did see him cry one time on the campaign trail in 2008, and that was right after his grandmother died, the day before the election of 2008, that was the first time I saw him cry. And then we never saw him cry again until the day before election 2012, when he was in Iowa.

BLITZER: And with his re-election, I think there's no doubt he's much more self-confident right now about where he stands and where he's going.

TAPPER: And just more comfortable being who he is behind the stage, behind the scenes, in front of the cameras and having those stories. And I think Jessica is exactly right. I think out of caution, he didn't talk a lot about not having a father, for example, although he did talk about it occasionally on Father's Day.

He would allude to it, but now he's much more open, because he doesn't have anything to lose really when it comes to his own future political prospects.

BLITZER: It's nice to see that, too.

TAPPER: And also it works.

BLITZER: Yes. I agree.

TAPPER: Wolf, I mean it works.

BLITZER: Jake, thanks very much. Very much looking forward to your new show.

TAPPER: Thanks.

BLITZER: That'll be starting in a few weeks here on CNN.

Jessica, as usual, excellent job. Thanks very much for sharing that.

Just ahead, Oscar Pistorius, what the case says about violence in South Africa right now. Also, what it says about what's going on here in the United States. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With the Olympic blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, charged in the death of his girlfriend, "TIME" magazine is going in depth in its new issue.

Joining us, the managing editor, Rick Stengel.

Rick, thanks very much. Man, superman, gunman, Oscar Pistorius and South Africa's culture of violence. You know South Africa well. You spent a lot of time there. What is the culture of violence you're referring to?

RICK STENGEL, TIME MAGAZINE EDITOR: Wolf, I wanted to use a story about Oscar Pistorius, who obviously has been in the news, as a way of probing the South African culture of violence. They have one of the highest handgun rates in the world. They have one of the top 10 murder rates in the world.

There are lots of interesting parallels in fact between South Africa and America. It is a frontier society, where people jealously possess their guns, who are afraid of the government taking away their guns, and in many ways, this culture of violence there, I'm not saying it directly produced what happened to Oscar Pistorius, but, in fact, it set the table for it.

BLITZER: And you referred to Apartheid, which is long gone, but elements of it linger on in South Africa right now, and it was underscored in the Pistorius case. Explain that.

STENGEL: Yes, they have the largest -- the largest economic inequality in the world between basically -- basically between white and black in South Africa. And in a very strange way, the post- Apartheid South Africa, this Rainbow Nation as Bishop Tutu saw it, has in some ways allowed the white elites to indulge what they want and there's been very little income increase among the most downtrodden of South Africans.

And that is a big problem. That's created a lot of dissension in their society and there are fissures in their society that the Pistorius case really points to.

BLITZER: Rick Stengel is the managing editor of our sister publication, "TIME," an excellent, excellent cover story. Several other great articles in there as well. I recommend it to our viewers.

Rick, thanks very much.

STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, in Arizona, there's anger over the release of hundreds of immigration detainees. The governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, she's standing by live, we'll talk with her.