CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Crisis in Syria; Burial Controversy; Fear of a New Middle East War; Bride, 4 Friends Die in Limousine Fire; Obama Hits the Links with Three Senators

Aired May 6, 2013 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: growing fear of a new Middle East war after Israel bombs Syria.

The body of the Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev untouchable. No cemetery will take him.

And a limousine bursts into flames, killing half the bachelorette party inside, including the bride.

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

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A bloody fight raging for more than two years and now there's new concerns Syria's civil war could explode beyond its borders into a broader Middle Eastern war after Israel bombed military sites in and around Damascus. Israeli officials won't confirm or deny this, but a U.S. official tells CNN it was definitely an Israeli attack, the targets, Iranian-made missiles, ground-to-ground missiles believed bound for Hezbollah.

Huge explosions lit up the night's sky and the blasts could be heard and felt for miles. We're on the story with resources only CNN has. Our reporters are right now in Damascus, in Haifa, Israel, over at the White House. We also have CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria standing by. They're working their sources. They have expert analysis of this increasingly tense situation.

But let's begin right now with a rare report from inside the Syrian capital.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is the only Western journalist there right now. He spoke exclusively with the country's deputy foreign minister.

Fred, what are you seeing, what are you hearing in Damascus right now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Syrian regime is absolutely angry at what happened, and I can tell you, it was a massive blow right into the heart of this country's military power base.

We basically felt this in the middle of the night as all of a sudden these massive explosions started going off, and it was several big explosions to begin with and then just a lot of secondary explosions that went on for more than an hour. So, clearly something very big was hit.

I want you to take a look at the video from last night when this happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The explosions lit up the sky over Damascus. Nearby residents say they felt the pressure waves from the blasts more than a mile away. Syria's government quickly pointed the finger at Israel.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, the deputy foreign minister accused Israel of aiding radical Islamists.

FAISAL AL MEKDAD, SYRIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: This is an alliance between al Qaeda, Wahabism, and Israel attacking together Syria. It shows common interests, and what Israel and its allies have tried to hide for a long time is more clear.

PLEITGEN (on camera): Is it a declaration of war?

AL MEKDAD: When they attack, this is a declaration of war.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations. There's little video of the aftermath to determine what might have been hit. The opposition claims the target was a weapons depot and units of Syria's elite military forces. The Syrian government says it was a military research facility and is threatening revenge.

AL MEKDAD: We dealt with this, I mean, on several occasions, and we retaliated the way we want, and the retaliation was always painful to Israel. And they will suffer again.

PLEITGEN: The strikes could also alter the momentum on the battlefield of Syria's ongoing civil war, where rebel forces, some with an Islamist agenda, are trying to topple the regime of Bashar al- Assad.

(on camera): The Syrian government claims it was gaining ground against the opposition before the incident, but it acknowledges its military was weakened by the attack and that could eradicate any progress its forces were making.

(voice-over): But many Damascus residents, like the Deeb family who witnessed the explosion, say they are simply in shock.

ANNA DEEB, WITNESS: It was really scary, because there's nothing we can do. But it's like either we're going to die right now or just stay scared. I'm sorry, but it was --

PLEITGEN: The incident has put this volatile region on the edge, but ordinary people in Damascus say all they want is never to witness anything similar again. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, of course, this is something that makes the Syrian regime absolutely furious.

As I said, one of the things they were saying is they were making gains on the battlefield in the civil war. Now all of that seems up for grabs again. And one of the things to keep in mind was the place that was hit is an absolutely secretive military area in those mountains, and it's not just a research facility there.

There are elite units of Syria's Republican Guard there as well, some of them headquarters there, so this really goes straight to the heart of Syria's military apparatus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the Israelis have pretty good intelligence on those kinds of matters.

Stand by for a moment. I'm going to come back to you, Fred, for a moment, but I want to bring in our senior international correspondent Sara Sidner. She's in Haifa, Israel, right now, a city certainly no stranger to Hezbollah rocket attacks from Southern Lebanon.

What are you picking up in Haifa right now, Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we can tell you is that the Israeli military, after assessing the situation, has put a couple of Iron Dome systems in place. Those are the anti- missile systems that were used, as you remember, Wolf, just in 2012 to a great fanfare, people saying that they were able to knock out a lot of short-range missiles.

Those have been put in place here because the military deems this is where they are needed at this time on the northern border, both in this area and also the border with Syria near the Golan Heights. What we can tell you is that for the most part, we're not hearing anything officially from the Israeli government.

They are not confirming or denying that they had anything to do with the strike that the U.S. now has confirmed that they believe Israel did perform. That would be the third strike this year that Israel's accused of hitting targets inside of Syria. Time and again, Israel has said that it will not allow any kind of weaponry, whether it is dangerous conventional weapons or whether it is chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction, to be moved from inside Syria into the hands of its longtime enemy, Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and exists in Lebanon.

What we can also tell you is that the mayor here in Haifa, who is here in 2006, when the rockets became -- flying over this border and crashing into his city, he has taken another step and he's basically said, we want to make sure that everyone is prepared and we have put the city on high alert.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) YONA YAHAV, MAYOR OF HAIFA, ISRAEL: 2006 the war started here, the war started here. And this was something which was very unexpected, because this city was never under war, never under shell of rockets.

And during a full month, we were under shell of rockets. About 300 or 400 missiles were shot at us. The distance from Lebanon to Haifa is 15 miles, which is nothing. And, actually, I can see the citizens of Lebanon from here. So, I decided that I'm not giving any chance to play around with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: Now, while you're hearing his concern about the heightened tensions here, we did hear from a major general, who is the commander here in the northern part of the country, and he talked about the fact that you are not hearing the winds of war, and so trying to tamp down on some of those concerns about tensions rising.

We do know, though, that there have been two mortars that have come from Syria that have landed in the Golan Heights area. We know that the Israeli military has made complaints, as they normally would, to the U.N. about those mortars coming over, but we also know from the military that they do not believe that Israel was actually targeted with those mortars, but, indeed, it was because of the fighting going on between the rebels and the Syrian regime, which is so close to the border that oftentimes you will find that some of those mortars and some of those missiles will spill over into Israel -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I remember when Haifa was on lockdown during that month back in 2006 when those mortars were coming in, those rockets coming in from Lebanon.

Let me go back to Damascus right now.

Fred, as you know and all of our viewers probably know by now, back in 2007, the Israelis did launch an air strike that destroyed what was then a Syrian nuclear reactor and the Israelis knocked that out. I assume the Syrian military is bracing for more Israeli strikes, if, in fact, the Israelis determine that there are weapons being shipped from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah, which could further threaten Israel in the north, including Haifa. Are they bracing for more of this?

PLEITGEN: Well, they certainly are.

They certainly expect that some of this could happen again. That's certainly one of the things that the deputy foreign minister told me as well. But the sense that I got from my interview with him and also talking to other officials that, at this point in time, the Syrians don't really want to pick a fight with the Israelis. And certainly, the Israeli government, if it is true they were targeting, for instance, Iranian weapons that were in that facility that potentially were bound for Hezbollah, they definitely sent a clear message to Hezbollah, to the Syrians, and to the Iranians as well that they are not going to take any of this.

And neither of those three sides, at this point in time, seem to be wanting to pick a fight with the Israelis, because, of course, they have so much on their hands here in the Syrian conflict itself. At the point in time that this big attack happened, the Syrians believed that they were making gains on the battlefield.

There was a big offensive that was going on here last week by the Syrian government against the opposition forces. They took back some areas here in Damascus. They took back areas in Homs, and now they say all of that is up for grabs again, because so much of their arsenal and a lot of their -- the headquarters of their elite units were wiped out by this airstrike and they need to regroup now.

So, certainly, they are bracing for more of this, and it stands to believe that potentially they will alter their tactics to either if they are trafficking weapons to try and do that in a more secretive way or to potentially stop that, at least for awhile.

But, certainly, they seem to know that there is very little that they can do to stop the Israelis from striking here in their country. And one of the things that, of course, is quite significant is that when that strike was going on, the Syrian air force did not launch any planes to try and prevent it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right. Stand by, both of you. Excellent work, Fred Pleitgen in Damascus, Sara Sidner in Haifa for us.

My own suspicion is the Israelis, among other things, were trying very anxiously to send a message, not just to Syrian President Bashar al- Assad, but probably even more importantly to both Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The White House, of course, keeping an anxious eye on all of these developments. And the world is watching to see what President Obama plans to do about all of this.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is working this part of the story.

What are you picking up over there, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is not backing away from that red line on the use of chemical weapons inside Syria. In fact, White House spokesman Jay Carney today insisted that the president never said that if X. happens, then Y. will happen.

But it was widely viewed, that red line, as a military action that the U.S. would take. And so now there's a lot of pressure on this White House to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): As President Obama searches for common ground on his domestic agenda during a bipartisan golf game, a major foreign policy challenge looms in Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be adequate for him to send a very firm message, perhaps in the form of a few cruise missiles.

LOTHIAN: But Republican Senator John McCain labeled the White House response so far a tragedy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president has avoided involvement in Syria, much to the shame and disgrace of the United States of America.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Is this an accurate or inaccurate portrayal of how the president has been handling the situation --

(CROSSTALK)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We strongly disagree with those comments. The fact of the matter is, jumping to conclusions and acting before you have all the facts is not a good recipe for weighty policy decision-making.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): And White House aides argue the administration has taken significant steps, including tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and assistance to the opposition. But what happens next? Arm the rebels, a no-fly zone to protect them? The president won't rule anything out, except, it seems, U.S. troops on the ground.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, Russia will be a key player in all of this, whether it's in greater intervention in Syria or also, perhaps, persuading Assad to step aside. Now, all of this will be on the agenda as Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Moscow later this night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House, thanks very much.

All right, we're going to have much more on this story coming up, the stakes for the U.S. enormous. Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria, they are going to tell us what all of this means for President Obama, his administration. What are his options in Syria? Stand by for that.

And cash payments, millions and millions of dollars in cash, bag fulls of cash continuing to go to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. I will talk to a U.S. senator who's very outraged by all of this, a Republican senator who actually played golf with the president today, Bob Corker. He's here live this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We will get shortly to Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria on President Obama's options in dealing with this escalating crisis in Syria shortly.

But, right now, there are new developments in the Boston Marathon bombing probe, a law enforcement official telling CNN investigators believe the suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev accessed al Qaeda's English- language web magazine, "Inspire," on a computer found in his home in Cambridge. The Web site has instructions on bomb-making. And the funeral director handling Tsarnaev's body says he can't find a cemetery that will take the accused bomber's remains.

Also, one of the three friends accused of helping Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cover up his alleged crime has now been released on bond. Bail for Robel Phillipos was set at $100,000. He's now in his mother's custody, will have electronic monitoring.

Meanwhile, the father of another young man accused of helping in the cover-up is speaking out and he spoke exclusively to CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To hear Amir Ismagoulov tell it, his son is a scared teenager who never intended to help a suspected bomber escape justice. We spoke with him through a CNN interpreter.

AMIR ISMAGOULOV, FATHER OF AZAMAT TAZHAYAKOV (through translator): It's just my son happened to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time and with the young people.

CANDIOTTI: Tazhayakov's father, who says he's in the oil business in Kazakstan, disclosed exclusively to CNN details of a 40-minute jailhouse meeting with his son. Separated by glass, he demanded answers. Did his son and roommate Dias Kadyrbayev try to protect a suspected bomber? The FBI accuses them of grabbing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's laptop and backpacks with alleged bomb-making materials, including fireworks and Vaseline, and throwing them in a dumpster.

ISMAGOULOV (through translator): I said, "You wanted to help Dzhokhar?" He said: "Dad, if we wanted to help him right now, then we would throw the laptop out, but we didn't want to throw anything out. It's just Kadyrbayev got scared and he threw out just the bag. If we wanted to help him, then we would have thrown out the laptop, too. Then we'd bury the bag in the ground."

CANDIOTTI: After his son and roommate first saw the images released by the FBI post-bombing, his father admits they texted Dzhokhar asking whether he was the bomber, but thought Dzhokhar was fooling around.

ISMAGOULOV (through translator): My son is telling me that it was said to him as a joke.

CANDIOTTI: The next morning, a friend called them in the presence of the FBI.

ISMAGOULOV (through translator): He goes: "Where are you running around? The FBI is looking for you." And my son told him, "Give the phone to an agent" and said: "We're here. This is our address. We didn't go anywhere."

CANDIOTTI: Before long, an army of agents surrounded his son's apartment, looking for suspect Dzhokhar and his friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hands up, Dzhokhar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, you think it's him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands up. No one will get hurt.

ISMAGOULOV (through translator): It was like a movie. It was a shock that they surrounded our house in helmets with machine guns. They walked into the house and right away three lasers were on me. We got really scared. So, they said, "Here's the laptop." Then the FBI asked them for their permission to take their laptops and their phones.

CANDIOTTI: Azamat told his father the FBI questioned him for 10 hours. He was released temporarily and called his dad.

ISMAGOULOV (through translator): I asked my son right away, "Son, are you involved in anything?" He said, "Dad, absolutely not." I told him then: "You need to fully cooperate with the FBI agents. Answer all their questions."

CANDIOTTI: I asked Azamat's father whether his son was naive.

ISMAGOULOV (through translator): He's a 19-year-old guy. I have a Ph.D. and cannot figure out your theory of conspiracy, but a 19-year- old, how is he supposed to understand?

CANDIOTTI: Now in jail and unable to watch the news, Azamat tells his father he's not convinced Dzhokhar is a killer.

ISMAGOULOV (through translator): He says to me, "If he did that, he's a monster."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Well, Azamat's father says his son loves America, wants to be an oil engineer like his father and go back home again. Will he get that chance? Well, the FBI does not buy his version of events and believes that he and his roommate both deliberately attempted to hide evidence in this case. Of course, he all -- this all could come up in a trial. We will have to wait and see, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. All right, thanks very much, Susan Candiotti, on the scene in Boston.

Coming up: After weeks of saber-rattling and threatening rhetoric, North Korea has now taken a step, get this, in the other direction, new information coming in.

And Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, they will take a closer look at President Obama's options right now in Syria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Fear of a new Middle East war after Israel bombs targets in Syria. CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, they are both here.

Plus, a bride's celebration ends in tragedy, half of the bachelorette party, including the bride, killed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following a disturbing twist and the rising tensions in the Middle East right now after Israel bombed Syrian missile depots allegedly containing Iranian-made weapons bound for Hezbollah.

Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria are once again joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Christiane, what's the likely impacts as these Israeli air strikes against targets in Syria on the U.S., on the Obama administration? What will be the impact as far as the president is concerned?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, I think there are two impacts here. Israel laid down a red line and met it once it was crossed. In other words, Israel's red line is that no advanced weaponry goes to Hezbollah from Iran through Damascus. And it's not the first time that it has launched strikes on military targets to make sure that doesn't happen.

Whether it has an impact on the Obama administration remains to be seen, but clearly, people are worried about a wider war. I just spoke to a top former Israeli security official, the head of the Shin Bet, who confirms what other Israeli officials have said today, that A, they needed to conduct these strikes against those weapons and against that military installation; B, they have no fight with the Assad regime, and that is -- that is the message they're sending loud and clear. They're bending over backwards to do that, saying, "We're not trying to help the rebels. We're just trying to protect ourselves." And, C, they don't believe that -- or at least they've calculated the risk, they hope that they will not see any retaliation by the Assad regime.

BLITZER: In your sense, Fareed, does it ease the pressure on the Obama administration to intervene militarily or increases the pressure on them to follow, for example, what the Israelis are now doing, these targeted air strikes?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: I suppose in some sense it increases the pressure, because as Christiane says, Israelis set a red line and they met it. It would be unfortunate if that were the logic that drew us in, because what we now know from very good reporting is that the administration did not intend to set a kind of hard red line about chemical gas. They need to ask the broader question: what are American interests in this conflict? Israel has very clear and legitimate concerns about a transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, which is an organization they still fight with constantly. The United States has no such pressing national security interests.

So the question becomes, what would be the trigger? Why should we get involved in what is increasingly a deep and enduring sectarian war? And I would hope that we would ask that question carefully, without feeling that we fumble into the situation because the president perhaps somewhat carelessly used rhetoric about a red line.

Remember, nobody is going to remember that rhetoric three or six months into it if we have intervened. What we will remember is we're in the middle of a civil war. Are we making things better, or are things deteriorating? And if we can figure out a plan for an American intervention that would actually resolve this, I'd be all in favor. I haven't seen one yet. And I would think the Obama administration would be pretty disciplined about setting that as the test, not whether or not some imaginary red line has been crossed.

BLITZER: That red line, as you know, Christiane, was intended if the Syrians were to use chemical weapons against their own people or transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah or another terrorist group. Then the U.S. would do something.

But now United Nations officials are suggesting maybe it was the rebels who actually used the chemical weapons, as opposed to the regime of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to which Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, today responded with this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are highly skeptical of suggestions that the opposition could have or did use chemical weapons. We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime, and that remains our position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what do you make of the murkiness, Christiane, of all of this?

AMANPOUR: Well, I just think there's a lot of murkiness because nobody quite knows what to do. And I would say that reporting about whether the president meant or didn't mean the red line is, again, by Jay Carney being clarified today, and he said that wasn't off-the-cuff or ad-libbed, that that red line was something the president intended to set.

Having said that, obviously, there are all these caveats: that they need to be absolutely sure, that they need incontrovertible proof, they need to make sure it was the Assad regime and not some rogue Assad militia or whatever it is. But it appears that that red line, according to Jay Carney, was an intentional marker. You know, what to do, it's unclear. Certainly, the waters are being muddied day by day, and there is a massive, you know, furious argument going on in the United States now about pro and con, should there be an intervention? I spoke to the -- the first prime minister of the Syrian exile groups, and he has basically said that, look, again, "We don't want any boots on the ground, but you guys have to consider and calculate whether you want to shore us up, the moderates," or whether we want to just see the weapons keep going to the jihadis, the al- Nusra Front, and this and that.

So, once again, they're calling for certain things that have been floated that could possibly happen. Give the opposition antitank weapons, give them stinger-like antiaircraft missiles, put up a no-fly zone. I know that's on the outside of the spectrum of intervention, but that's what they are asking for, and they keep saying no boots on the ground.

BLITZER: I don't think anyone anticipates, Fareed, that the U.S. will send troops on the ground, but I think a lot of people would not be totally shocked -- and I wonder how you would react -- if the U.S. were to do in Syria what it did in Libya: start sending Cruise missiles in and going after certain targets, for example; not flying planes over and launching air-to-ground missiles, but just sending some Cruise missiles in, hitting some targets. Would that shock you if the U.S. were to do that?

ZAKARIA: It wouldn't shock me, because there is this pressure building, but I would point out, you know, it sounds very simple and antiseptic, but when sending Cruise missiles in is another way of going to war with a country. You are actually going to war with the country. You are then responsible for what happens in two senses: one, what if the Cruise missiles don't work? What do you do then? You then have to ratchet up the pressure. You have to insure -- once engaged, you have to insure that the outcome is going to come your way.

And that means I wouldn't draw an arbitrary line at that point between boots on ground or anything. If you are engaged in a conflict to destroy and defeat the Assad regime, you need to destroy and defeat the Assad regime. But that's just the beginning. Because the Assad regime will not give up like that.

So I don't think you can -- you can pretend that you can just surgically lob a few Cruise missiles in and kind of hope and see what happens. We would be fully engaged, and we would have to insure the right outcome.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point, Fareed. Thanks very much.

Christiane, of course, thanks to you. We'll check back with both of you, hopefully, tomorrow.

You can get much more from Christiane on "AMANPOUR." That airs on CNN International, Monday through Friday, 3 and 5 p.m. Eastern. Also, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" airs here on CNN Sundays at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. Eastern. Coming up, a powerful fire kills five people on a bachelorette party, including the bride-to-be. Now the limo driver who escaped with his life is speaking to CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now a very sad story. Officials are trying to determine what caused a limousine to catch fire on a bridge over San Francisco Bay, killing five members of a bachelorette party, including the bride-to-be. CNN's Dan Simon is on the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ORVILLE "RICKY" BROWN, LIMO DRIVER: In this situation, you always would feel that you could do more, you know, you could have done more. I don't know, you know, it's just everything happened so fast.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Visibly tired and distraught, limo driver Orville Brown tries to explain the tragic circumstances behind the fire that killed five of his passengers Saturday night. He had a total of nine women in the vehicle, including 31-year-old Neriza Fojas. She was to travel to her native Philippines next month to be married. And the group, all nurses, had come together for a bachelorette party.

BROWN: One of the ladies knocked on the partition. She said, "Smoke," and I figured that she was asking if she could smoke a cigarette.

SIMON: But then Brown begins to smell the smoke and hears a frantic call from the women. He stops his car in the middle of the San Mateo Hayward Bridge.

BROWN: As soon as I pulled over, one of the ladies hops through the partition. I unlocked the door. I opened the door. The lady hops through the partition, and at that point there's two cars, one in front of us, I believe, one in back of us, and these guys are trying to help.

SIMON: Within seconds, he says, the entire car had burst into flames. Brown can only guess what had caused the fire.

BROWN: I'm really not sure. I know it wasn't gas related, and the car didn't blow up. It just engulfed in flames. I smelled carpet. I smelled wiring. I smelled plastic. To me, in my opinion, it probably was electrical.

SIMON: Investigators say it will take several days to determine the cause. Meanwhile, the county coroner said this about the victims who were unable to get out.

ROBERT FOUCRAULT, SAN MATEO COUNTY CORONER: I'd like to say that they were getting away from the fire, and that's why they were in the front towards the partition. And you could also probably say that they were trying to get out, as well.

SIMON: Brown says he doesn't know what he could have done differently. He had this message to the victims' families.

BROWN: I'm sorry, personally. And my heart goes out to you. I feel for you. I wish there was something that I could tell you, because I know you guys are grieving, as well as -- as I am.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Now, Brown had only been a limo driver for two months, but prior to that he said he drove commercial vehicles and was also an airport shuttle bus driver.

And one thing that's also noteworthy, Wolf, this particular limousine was only authorized to carry eight or fewer passengers. We know, of course, it had nine. And authorities haven't said whether or not that plays any significance or not into its investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect that was not necessarily the factor, but we'll see. Thanks very much, Dan Simon reporting. What a horrible tragedy, indeed.

By the way, the limo driver will be a guest later tonight on "PIERS MORGAN LIVE." That airs 9 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

President Obama went after a pair of Republican senators today. He took his swings out there on the golf course with them. Republican senator Bob Corker standing by to join us. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama's so-called charm offensive hit the links today. The president took three U.S. senators golfing. And Maryland Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and two Republicans: Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee. Senator Corker is joining us now.

Sounds like a fun way to spend a Monday. How did that go, Senator?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: It was -- it was great. I mean, we had a lot of good conversation, a lot of fun playing golf, and I was glad to be out there.

BLITZER: And the White House later told us that you and Senator Chambliss, thanks to Chambliss's hole in one on the 11th, actually won the match. A hole in one, that's pretty good. He must be a pretty good golfer.

CORKER: It was great, and while we agreed we weren't going to give a read out on the match, we did agree we would talk about that. It was pretty nice seeing the president get the ball out of the hole and hand it to Saxby. A great day. It really was a lot of fun. Of course, that energized the round, as you can imagine.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to some serious stuff right now. Especially, I know you're outraged by the fact that the United States is still handing over bags full of cash, millions and millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Hamid Karzai so he can distribute it to whomever he wants. You wrote a letter to the president. You said, "The alleged arrangements make accountability impossible, promote corruption at the top levels of the Afghan government, as well as break trusts with the American taxpayer."

Did you -- did you have a chance to raise this issue with the president on the golf course today?

CORKER: You know, as I mentioned, Wolf, we all agreed we weren't going to talk about what was talked about from the standpoint of policy and that kind of thing. I am awaiting an answer, and I want a written response.

Obviously, there are multiple agencies involved in dealing with Karzai, and when you have the CIA, which apparently allegedly delivering bags of cash, we just have no accountability.

And you and I were talking a little bit off air, especially with this leader, especially with the corruption in Afghanistan. And when you think about what us going into other countries, hopefully not with boots on the ground, but it affects how we deal with countries like Syria and other places, when they know, in fact, that we have been dealing -- let me put it this way, allegedly, although it looks like it may well be true, but delivering cash to a leader like Karzai, possibly to relatives throughout the country. I mean it's just no way for us to be dealing with other governments.

So I'm disappointed. I do want to understand why. And I want to understand if even other agencies are aware that this taking -- is taking place. I think you know that the Defense Department does certain things. Our State Department does certain things. Here the CIA, allegedly, was delivering suitcases full of cash. And, again, how do you account for that? How do you know that these are working towards an end that's actually in our national interests?

So, yes, I would like to get an answer. I'm sure I will get one soon.

BLITZER: And I just want to point out, based on everything I've heard, Senator -- and I'm sure you've heard the same thing -- this is not just the Obama administration. This goes back for years and years and years.

CORKER: That's right.

BLITZER: During the Bush administration, the CIA was handing out huge bags of cash, millions and millions of dollars going to Hamid Karzai for him to do with what he wants with no accountability whatsoever. But that's just millions. Maybe tens of millions, maybe a few hundred million dollars in cash.

But here's the real issue. The U.S. is still shelling out, even in the midst of all these forced budget cuts at home right now, $2 billion a week to maintain 60,000 or 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, to build roads, bridges, schools, hospitals there. Can you justify $2 billion a week that U.S. taxpayers are spending in Afghanistan?

CORKER: Well, Wolf, as you know, we're winding down. And I raised questions two years ago when we really began this nation building effort. It was a very different policy -- It was actually three years ago -- than what we had been carrying out. I think the nation- building that we've conducted there has actually led to much of the corruption that has occurred there.

But in addition, Wolf, even after we leave, I think you know we're going to be, obviously, greatly downsized in 2014. Even after that, there will be a huge number of troops on the ground that will be Afghani. We'll have police on the ground that will be Afghani. Our contribution to Afghanistan will go on for years, as it will from allies who helped us in this effort.

But again, we understand that. We understand that, as part of -- as a part of transitioning, that's the kind of thing that is going to occur. But there's a accountability that goes with that. At least we try to have some. Bag-fulls of cash, as you rightly mention for the last decade, there is no accountability. And, again, it breeds the kind of thing that we're really trying to keep from happening there.

One of our big efforts, Wolf, as you know, has been to try to get the government from being corrupt, but yet, it appears that we are participating in that process ourselves.

BLITZER: And I wonder how much of those millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are winding up in Swiss bank accounts or in Dubai or Abu Dhabi or someplace else for some of these local guys.

Let us know when you get an answer from the White House, from the president on this issue, because based on the tweets that I've been getting from my followers out there on Twitter, Senator, the folks are -- the blood is boiling when they hear about this kind of stuff, especially at a time of these forced budget cuts here at home.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

CORKER: Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Thank you.

BLITZER: A 3-D plastic gun has been printed, and now it's been fired. CNN's Erin Burnett is going "OUTFRONT" with that and a lot more at the top of the hour. Set the scene, Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Wolf, you know, fired and able to shoot a .38 -- obviously, that's similar to a lot of handguns out there.

And it turns out that Chuck Schumer thinks that that will be banned. And also we'll have background checks passed by the end of the year. Those expanded background checks that, of course, have been a failure for the administration. He's going to be our special guest at the top of the hour.

Plus, the radical jihadi Web sites, one of which allegedly was part of the radicalization of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Wolf, we're going to talk about what those Web sites really are; how they recruit would-be terrorists. And the most amazing part of this investigation, Wolf, how law enforcement can do so very little about who's on those sites. You can go on it, and they can't seem to watch you. We have a special "OUTFRONT" investigation on that at the top of the hour, as well.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Looking forward to it. Thank you.

Governor Chris Christie is criticized frequently. Comes with the territory when you're a politician. But what he's getting flack for now, hardly seems fair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A governor, a spider and a controversy. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Spiders lost one of their own the other day when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie --

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Where is he?

MOOS: -- in his daughter's class, a fourth grader, who's visiting the governor's office, spotted a spider crawling on the desk. The kids applauded. Governor tweeted out the video and joked, "Earlier today I saved a few schoolchildren from a spider."

Now normally, Governor Christie is smacking reporters who bug him rather than actual bugs.

CHRISTIE: Did I stay on topic? Are you stupid? Thank you all very much, and I'm sorry for the idiot over there.

MOOS: That's probably what PETA thinks about the governor for squishing that spider.

"He probably did it without thinking." "Some people put the spider outside, but spiders are often scary to people, and that can prevent them from pondering their worth."

For what it's worth, Governor Christie called the spider smack-down a fun part about being governor.

CHRISTIE: Any bugs on your desk, you're allowed to kill them and I get in trouble.

MOOS (on camera): The governor isn't the first official to perform a public execution. The president did it not with a swatter but with his bare hands.

(voice-over): On camera during a CNBC interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, where were we?

MOOS: For murdering a fly, PETA said it sent the president a humane bug catcher. PETA didn't have to send one to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because he missed.

(on camera): Actually, what the governor did was almost humane, compared to what one of the kids suggested.

(voice-over): Listen closely as they crowd around the doomed spider.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's staple him.

MOOS: Oh, no he didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's staple him.

MOOS: Whether you call him --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Itsy-bitsy spider --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): The itsy-bitsy spider --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Itsy-bitsy spider --

MOOS: -- he ended up in bits, thanks to the not-so-itsy-bitsy governor of New Jersey.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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