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THE SITUATION ROOM
Girl Needs New Lungs To Live; U.S. Woman Killed In Syria Civil War; Tornado Warnings in the Midwest; IRS Targeting Scandal Growing?; Benghazi Takes Toll on Clinton Approval
Aired May 31, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Sara Sidner, actually, is watching what's going on over at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. We can laugh, we can joke. 3.6 million miles, an asteroid hit 65 million years ago but where you are, these NASA scientists, they're taking this pretty seriously aren't they?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're actually enjoying it, but yes, they're taking it very seriously. Did you know that there are about a thousand what they call near Earth objects, these large, large asteroids that are out there that they are watching, and they've been able to basically see about 95 percent of those? So, they know where they are. And the scientists here actually did a calculation years in advance.
This particular one, the 1998 QE-2, as it's called, it was discovered 15 years ago, and they knew then because of their calculations, calculus by the way, that it would not hit Earth. They've known it for a very long time, but what they're excited about is it's coming very close in scientific terms and they will be able to see it using radar, which means they'll be able to see the properties of this. They'll be able to see its spin.
And what they discovered that they didn't know is that there is a moon that is actually orbiting this 1.7 mile wide asteroid. And so, that was really interesting because they didn't know that. So, this is really all about science, all about being able to see these things. But certainly, the scientists here say there are a lot of asteroids out there.
In fact, we were just talking to one of the scientists and he said basically that he discovered there were three more with the team that had come in to view that they discovered just today. Let me let you hear what he said about this particular asteroid in comparison with the one that hit us in Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: How come you couldn't track the one that actually did hit Russia? Nobody knew that was coming.
PAUL CHODAS, NASA JET PROPULSION LAB: Well, the big ones are easier to see because they're bright and can be seen further away. The one that hit over Russia, in fact, came from the direction of the sun. So, we can't even look in that direction to find asteroids, and it really didn't really pass close enough to the Earth any time in recent history to have been discovered earlier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: So, there you go. That is the scary part, Wolf, that there are a lot of smaller asteroids. And you saw what this did in Russia. It was scary. Broke windows. People were injured. They couldn't see it and they can't see a lot of the smaller ones and don't know exactly where some of the medium ones are. And they can do some serious damage just out of the blue. No one knew it was coming -- Wolf.
BLITZER: An opportunity for the NASA scientists to study this one, to learn from it, and deal with those down the road. All right. Thanks very much, Sara Sidner, reporting for us.
Let's get to some breaking news we're following right now. And what are some pretty alarming weather conditions right now in most of Oklahoma of all places, including the already tornado ravaged city of Moore, Oklahoma. That's right outside of Oklahoma City. The Storm Prediction Center has just issued what it's calling a, quote, "particularly dangerous situation tornado watch until at least midnight."
That means there's an enhanced risk of a major tornado outbreak and it could be, they say, very bad. CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers is not that far away in Norman, Oklahoma right now. He's actually chasing these latest storms. He's joining us. Chad, what can you tell us?
VOICE OF CHAD MYERS, SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: What we are doing now is watching these storms start to fire to our west near I think Landry (ph), maybe even a little further to the west, Wolf, these towers that are now going up in this very hot atmosphere. This is the hottest thing we've had. We've been out here now for three and a half days watching these cells.
This is the latest the cells have fired all week which means it's the hottest that it's been. We are looking at right now where 88 degrees. The last couple of days, we've seen storms fire up at 78 degrees. How does that make a difference? Well, the hotter it is, the higher these storms will go. But if it fires early in the day, if these storms go up at noon, they're not going to be too bad because it's not going to get too warm before it rains.
Today, it hasn't rained yet. There are no (INAUDIBLE). We are going to see the hottest day of the week with the biggest storms of the week today. That squall is over, but this is a very dangerous day for the people of Central Oklahoma. We will be out here keeping you advised, warning the people at home if we see something on the ground, Wolf.
BLITZER: And you know, I've never heard this phrase, particularly, dangerous situation. That's a technical term that they're using. We've heard of tornado warnings, tornado watches, of course, real tornadoes. What exactly do they mean when they say there is now what they call a PDS, a particularly dangerous situation tornado watch?
MYERS: Yes. I think this is something the weather service has done very wisely. We have now different categories of even tornado warnings. You hear the word tornado emergency. You'll hear this particularly dangerous situation, which means they believe that there will be large and dangerous tornadoes, EF-3s, of course, possibly even bigger than that all the way up to that 200-mile-per-hour EF-5 tornado potential in any one of these cells that decides to rotate by itself and not link up to another cell.
And the potential -- the PDS watch is the one step above a normal tornado watch and you really need to pay attention because there will be not only tornadoes, there'll be large and deadly tornadoes out there. If you hear the word "tornado warning," that means we've already seen them or Doppler radar has indicated them.
If you hear the tornado emergency, another word, that's just brand new, just out of (INAUDIBLE) there, that means a large tornado is on the ground headed to a city or town. That's the next step up from tornado warning. I know watching one word confusing enough, but I think this added verbiage is going to help people understand what is out there. Today is a big day.
BLITZER: Chad, thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you. Chad is in Norman, Oklahoma.
Our meteorologist, Samantha Mohr, is standing by at the CNN Severe Weather Center. She's tracking the storms not just Oklahoma. I understand in Missouri, there are some actual tornado warnings right now. What's going on, Samantha?
SAMANTHA MOHR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, and Missouri has had the most activity so far today, but we do expect that area to expand as the evening progresses as cool air moves in from the northwest. Very moist air. Dew points here. That major moisture in the atmosphere into the 70s. Incredibly moist and in the heat that Chad was talking about here. So, this is the area that we expect to see for an enhanced risk of development, a tornadic development today.
There's that PDS area over Oklahoma. We have another tornado watch currently in place over Southeastern Kansas and then across much of Missouri and that's where the severe thunderstorm warnings are right now. Well to the north of Springfield here, moving off to the east, and these cells have been moving really quickly off to the northeast around 35 miles per hour.
So, a quick pace. Tulsa, tornado last night. Things fairly quiet for now, but as Chad said, you have breaks in the clouds. You get the solar radiation heating, basically. That adds more lift, more convection to the atmosphere and that's when we can just see things explode here. So, right now, the Oklahoma City radar looking fairly benign, but it'll change and it'll change very, very quickly, wolf, once that cap in the atmosphere breaks. We could see a lot of rapid fire development with some very intense tornadoes.
BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch obviously with you as well. Samantha, thank you. And let's go to the phones right now. Greg Carbin is joining us. He's a warning coordinating meteorologist -- coordination meteorologist with NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center. You're in Norman, Oklahoma. Is that right, Norman? Greg, I should say.
VOICE OF GREG CARBIN, COORDINATION METEOROLOGIST: That's correct, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. So Greg Carbon, tell us about these latest threats that are out there. Where are they most severe?
CARBIN: Well, I think Samantha and chad have summarized the situation quite well. This afternoon, we're seeing a very volatile air mass situated across Central Oklahoma. Very hot conditions, but the cap as Samantha just said, is suppressing development which allows that instability to build. So, when you finally do break through that inhibition and the middle level of the atmosphere, you can see explosive thunderstorm development.
The PDS or particularly dangerous situation watch really stretches from the Red River to the border with Kansas and it's really anywhere in this broad section of Central Oklahoma over the next few hours where we expect to see explosive thunderstorms development and the potential for tornadoes.
And we're seeing that development maybe start to occur now just to the north of Oklahoma City between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Right now in the short term, that looks to be the area that we'll probably see initial developments.
BLITZER: How much warning will folks there get?
CARBIN: Well, once the storms form, it's usually about ten or 20 minutes before they begin to show character in terms of rotation. And hopefully, you know, we won't see too much activity, but there should be plenty of warning. People are in tune to what's going on out here. They know that the atmosphere is trying (ph) for this type of development through the evening, and we're going to keep a close eye on it.
BLITZER: What's the best advice you have for those people who may, repeat, may be in the midst of a tornado in the next few hours?
CARBIN: Well, I think it's really important to emphasize "may" because tornadoes are very small scale. They can be quite violent, but not the whole state of Oklahoma is going to be experiencing very severe weather overnight. It will be just a few isolated locations. So, the advice I have for people is to stay tuned to local TV and radio, on NOAA weather radio from the National Weather Service.
If you get a warning that a tornado is in your location, you take an action. You've got an action plan to take cover and take shelter. Put as many walls between you and the tornado and get down low. BLITZER: And you're actually worried about an EF-3 or an EF-4? The one that hit Moore, Oklahoma nearly two weeks ago. That was actually an Ef-5 which is 200 miles an hour.
CARBIN: Yes. A lot of this depends on what is struck. I mean, these ratings are based on damage that the tornado inflicts on structures. So, many times, we'll see tornadoes form in open country that cause very little in the way of damage. So, it's the unfortunate circumstances when people and structures come in the way of these tornadoes that you see the higher EF-ratings.
And you know, if we're lucky, we'll get through this without much in the way of damage, but that potential is going to exist through the evening hours, especially across central and Northern Oklahoma. Another threat overnight just to emphasize this, very heavy rainfall will evolve from this system. Flash flooding and flooding is quite likely as we go into the weekend, especially for Northeast Oklahoma into parts of Missouri.
BLITZER: Greg Carbin with NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center. Thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you. Obviously, deep concern. We're going to stay on top of the tornado threats right now. They're happening in the Midwest especially in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas. We'll remain on the ground. Chad Myers is actually chasing this storm right now.
Also coming up, an American woman killed in Syria's civil war. Her emotional family tells us how they found out and what she was doing there.
BLITZER: A 10-year-old girl's fight to stay alive is reaching the highest levels of the Obama administration. We'll get to that in a moment.
But take a look at these pictures we're just getting in from Oklahoma. There is a tornado warning in effect in parts of Oklahoma and between Oklahoma City and Tulsa We just heard also in Kansas, also in Missouri. We're going to have much more on this dangerous situation. That's coming up as well. Stand by for that.
There's other news we're following, including this 10-year-old girl's fight to stay alive. She has only weeks to live, unless, she gets a lung transplant. But under current rules, her chances are very slim. The family talked to CNN's Brooke Baldwin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRAN MURNAGHAN, DAUGHTER NEEDS LUNG TRANSPLANT: We're taking it -- her lungs have deteriorated significantly. And, we're saying a few weeks. So, if we don't receive a pair of lungs in the next few weeks, then she will die.
SARAH MURNAGHAN, AWAITING LUNG TRANSPLANT: I used to go to school before I got oxygen. I got to go to school and at least try and act like all the normal children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What a story. Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is working it for us. Elizabeth, what are you finding out here?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's take a step back actually and talk about Sarah's situation. The reason why, as you said Wolf, that she has a slim chance of getting a lung is that she's a child. There aren't a lot of pediatric lungs out there for transplants. And so, what her parents want is to put her on a list for an adult transplant and that lung would be modified to fit her smaller frame.
Now, that's possible, but here's the hitch. She will be at the bottom of the list. So, that adults who are healthier than her and aren't near death the way she is, they would get those lungs before she would. So, today, the news is that secretary of Health and human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, sent a letter to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and asked them to review this policy, asked them to take a look at it.
Let me quote exactly from her letter. She said, "I ask that you pay particular attention to the age categories currently used in lung allocation and review the policy with the intent of identifying any potential improvements to this policy that would make more transplants available to children." So, she is reaching out and saying, review this policy. Let's see if it makes sense.
BLITZER: So, what does it mean for Sarah in the immediate future?
COHEN: You know, I wish I could say that this will mean a lung for her, you know, quickly, but, unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. The OPTN, the Organ Transplantation Network, they don't have to do what she's asking them to do. They can choose to say, no, we don't want to review this policy.
We reached out to this group and they said they would have a response. They haven't sent it to us yet. And even if they do choose to review it, sometimes, these reviews can take a while. And as we heard from her father, she doesn't have long to live.
BLITZER: What a story. All right. Let's wish her the best. Hopefully, she'll get this transplant. Appreciate it very much, Elizabeth.
A bullet riddled car shown on Syrian state television and we now know a Michigan woman was inside fighting alongside rebels, that according to the regime. Her death is bringing Syria's bloody civil war closer to home for the White House as well. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now. Jim, what are you picking up over there?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House officials are being very cautious about the death of this American woman who was killed in Syria, but as one important player in any potential military conflict in Syria told CNN, and that is NATO secretary general, President Obama is looking at all of his options on how to deal with the crisis.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary of NATO --
ACOSTA (voice-over): When the president offered some brief remarks about his meeting with NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Mr. Obama made no mention of Syria. And as the secretary general told CNN, the ongoing crisis was very much on the agenda.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We discussed Syria and agreed the best way forward is a political solution.
ACOSTA: Rasmussen says that could get complicated if Russia follows through with its plans to provide the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad with new anti-aircraft weaponry.
RASMUSSEN: I would urge all actors to reframe from steps that could be a potential obstacle to finding a political solution.
ACOSTA: Another troubling development, the death of an American woman, Nicole Lynn Mansfield (ph), who was apparently killed in Syria by forces loyal to Assad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Loved her. Loved her dearly. Dearly.
ACOSTA: Reacting to the heartbreaking news, Mansfield's family said she had converted to Islam in the last few years and was lured to Syria by militants in the conflict.
TRIANA JONES, DAUGHTER OF NICOLE LYNN MANSFIELD: There are people calling her a terrorist. There are people calling her a CIA agent. She was neither. She was just an American woman who was mislead -- like misguided by people who had bad intentions.
ACOSTA: Both the White House and the state department reacted with extreme caution.
(on-camera) What would the White House say to other Americans who are thinking about getting involved in that conflict on either side of the equation?
JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's the state department's responsibility to offer advice to Americans about travel to foreign countries.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But another trip by an American to Syria might actually have its benefits. NATO's secretary general says Arizona senator, John McCain's surprise visit with the free Syrian army this week could be helpful. RASMUSSEN: I think it also helps to engage with the opposition. I mean, the opposition is split. There also extremist elements within the opposition. So, to engage with moderate forces within the opposition might be very helpful.
ACOSTA: So, not necessarily a bad thing?
ACOSTA: Might be helpful?
RASMUSSEN: It might be helpful.
ACOSTA: Both sides could be digging in for a long fight as Syria's leaders said in an interview, he may run for re-election.
PRES. BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA (through translator): If there's a need for putting my name, my candidacy for the election, if they want, I will not hesitate to put my name.
ACOSTA (on-camera): NATO's secretary general also said U.N. inspectors must be allowed into Syria to investigate whether that regime has crossed that red line outlined by President Obama and used chemical weapons. For now, Wolf, though, the secretary general says while the White House is saying that all options are on the table when it comes to dealing with Syria, it seems the political options are the ones gaining traction now.
BLITZER: In our next hour, we're going to speak live with the daughter of that American woman from Michigan killed in Syria. All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
When we come back, most of Oklahoma right now under what the National Weather Service is calling a particularly dangerous tornado watch, at least, until midnight. We're on the ground there. We're tracking the storms. We'll bring you the latest. Our own Chad Myers is in Norman, Oklahoma.
Also, a small plane plunges right through an apartment roof here in suburban Washington, D.C. We're going to tell you how it happens. Stay with us.
BLITZER: All right. Look at this. Look at these pictures from Independence, Kansas right now. Look at how ominous those clouds, dark clouds look. What, it's 4:25 p.m. central time in Independence, Kansas. And it looks pretty gruesome. We know there's a particularly dangerous weather watch that we're watching in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri.
Samantha Mohr is joining us from the CNN Weather Center right now. These pictures in Kansas right now, they look ominous and I know they're all on tornado watches even as we speak, Samantha. MOHR: Yes. They are. This is a watch that we have here, actually, a warning that we have here north of Independence, Wolf. You can see that, in fact, we're going to query it for you so we can show you exactly where this is moving, but it's moving to the northeast at around 30 miles per hour. So, the cities of Cherryville and Independence, those are the areas that are under the gun right now.
And, that is until 4:30 local time here. And as you mentioned, we do have that PDS, particularly dangerous situation here across much of Oklahoma that we are concerned about. But here's the cell we're talking about that has the tornado warning on it. It is moving off to the northeast and about 30 right now, so that means it will -- this tornado will likely arrive in Independence at 4:34.
Cherryville at around 4:46 and should be moving into parsons around 5:19. If you live in these areas, you need to take cover right now, the lowest level of your home. That means shoes on the kids, helmets if you have them to protect your heads, and just stay away from any exterior walls, obviously. You want to put as much distance between you and the tornado as possible.
So, that means the lowest level interior room of your home if you don't have a basement or storm cellar. So, that's the cell we are watching right now. Also, numerous thunderstorm warnings all around the Eastern Kansas stretching up on Missouri.
And then, of course, we're going to be monitoring Oklahoma very, very closely because it's that area, Sean (ph), if you can skip (ph) down there, that's just southwest of Oklahoma City that we're expecting to see things rapidly develop as we head into the next 45 minutes to an hour and a half. That's what we're going to be be watching very, very closely here, Wolf.
BLITZER: One quick question, Samantha, because I don't want to stay away from the story right now. There are a lot of people who are watching. When I was in Moore, Oklahoma last week, if you didn't have a basement, you didn't have a storm cellar, a lot of folks ran to their bath tubs if you will. They put a mattress over them. But some people decided to try to drive as far away as they possibly can.
What's the best advice, stay inside your house and try to hide with a helmet, with a mattress over you in the bath tub, or, do you get in your car and drive away?
MOHR: I would say it's probably best to barricade yourself against any storm debris. If you are going to get into your car, you need to act early enough. You don't want to wait until the last minute because it's very easy to get disoriented when you're in a rain wrapped tornado situation. You don't know which way to go. So, you'd be better off in that situation to stay in your home.
If you do have some lead time, then you want to drive at a right angle away from the tornado to get away from it. But some of these tornadoes can be moving at some 40, 50 miles per hour. So, of course, you have to be able to keep up a pretty brisk pace to out run it. So, I would say barricading yourself, putting helmets on your children, shoes on their feet. You don't want to have them barefoot when the storm hits is probably your best line of defense at the last minute.
BLITZER: All right. Samantha, stand by. We'll take a quick break. We'll resume our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: All right. Take a look at these pictures. On the left part of your screen. Independence, Kansas. On the right, Troy, Missouri. There are what the National Weather Service describes as particularly dangerous storm warnings, tornado warnings not only in Missouri and Kansas but also in Oklahoma.
Chad Myers is in Norman, Oklahoma, he's chasing some of these storms even as we speak right now.
What's the very latest, Chad?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I think the latest, Wolf, is that there was a very early rush hour today. I think people are taking this very seriously. I know we're all shell shocked between how many tornadoes we've had the past couple of weeks but people heard about this and they said, I think we're going home early. Because I have not seen so many cars on the road at 10 after 3:00 as we were driving from Edmund down to Norman.
Now we're back on the road again headed toward Mustang and into I-40. We're going to travel I-40 west a little bit. This is where the storms are going to fire. And the reason why this is important is because these are going to be large tornadoes today. And they are firing west of Oklahoma City.
Now west -- Oklahoma City runs all the way from almost Guthrie nowadays which is Edmund north. I believe some 40-mile populated stretch from north to south between Edmund and Moore. There's very little that a tornado could go through without hitting a populated place. The storms are going to fire to the west of this populated place and travel right in it. We are going to follow the storms at the exact same time that they're coming in from the west and hope that literally something goes north of town, something goes south of town.
But this is going to be like a rake. The tines of a rake will go right across Oklahoma today from the southwest to the northeast. So from the southwest part of the state all the way up toward Tulsa and probably even still keep going after that. But this city is on edge. They're on alert. They know what's coming. And they're getting ready.
They know what happened to Moore. This is not new. This happens all the time. This is Tornado Alley. They did it. But today with that PDS watch, that upgraded watch, particularly dangerous situation watch, everybody is going home and getting their family, and getting to be safe.
BLITZER: PDS, particularly dangerous situation, unfolding right now. The storm warning over there in Oklahoma, in Kansas, as well as Missouri.
All right. Chad, we'll stay in close touch with you. We'll get back as soon as we get more information.
Other news we're following, including some new developments today in the scandal over IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax- exempt status.
Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash broke the story yesterday. House investigators this week and next are interviewing key IRS employees from the tax-exempt office in Cincinnati. Dana is here now with new information.
What else are you hearing?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are told that the IRS has identified 88 employees, 88 of their employees, that they are seeking documents from to turn over to congressional investigators.
Now this is what I'm told, Wolf, that the IRS told Congress, this is from a congressional source. Now Republicans have not seen these documents yet but they are still privately, clearly preparing to seize on this, to say, look, if the IRS is casting this wide net for 90 employees, then the whole concept of a couple of employees going rogue in the Cincinnati office just isn't accurate. When they're talking about targeting Tea Party groups.
Now I ran this by somebody at the IRS. This is information I was told. And their response is that they did cast a wide net but it's just a precautionary measure to make sure they didn't miss anything to try to answer Congress' questions about who was involved and why this happened.
BLITZER: Now as you know there are a lot of reports out there that the former IRS commissioner Doug Shulman, who was a Bush administration appointee but held on during the Clinton -- during the Obama administration, visited the White House during the Obama administration 157 times.
That's a lot of visits to the White House. What was going on?
BASH: Well, let me just give a reality check here. And that is that it appears that it wasn't 157 times that Doug Shulman, the former IRS commissioner, went to the White House. That is a number of times apparently that he was cleared in by the Secret Service. You know how it works. You've covered the White House. Just because they clear somebody doesn't mean that they actually go.
And a White House source I talked to today said that that's exactly what happened. Doug Shulman was cleared in but many times his deputies went. Now the obvious question is well, how many times did he go? And more importantly what did he talk to White House officials about? And who did he meet with?
The White House can't answer exactly how many times he went but they do insist that when he did go to the White House his preliminary discussions were about Obamacare because the IRS has a really important role in implementing Obamacare. So that's the primary reason he was going to the White House to talk to officials there.
The other thing that they point out at the White House is that Doug Shulman testified under oath, a penalty of perjury, that he didn't tell anybody at the White House discussed this whole idea of targeting so the whole idea that he was having discussions about this they say just isn't true.
BLITZER: So why didn't he just say, I went to the White House on many occasions to talk about Obamacare because the IRS does have a legitimate tax related function as far as implementing Obamacare? Instead he was flippant in saying well, there were Easter egg rolls and I would take my kids there.
BASH: That's a great question. I wish we -- we should ask him that question and we haven't been able to, but that's an excellent question.
BLITZER: Because that would have been a legitimate answer.
BASH: It's left to the White House to try to explain and it's been -- it's been clumsy, I think.
BASH: Very difficult for them to do.
BLITZER: Very clumsy. You'd think a smart guy like that would have at least said yes, there were a lot of important work I had to do at the White House in implementing Obamacare.
All right, Dana. Thanks very, very much for that report. Dana working the story.
Hillary Clinton as all of our viewers know, she was a very popular secretary of state but her approval rating has since taken a hit since she stepped down. Take a look at this Quinnipiac University poll. In February, 61 percent of those asked had a favorable opinion of her. Now that number is down to 52 percent while her unfavorable rating climbed six points in the last -- in the same period.
Let's get some more now with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
Gloria, what's going on here?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Crucial, 52 percent is pretty good, 62 percent is the stratus sphere that you get when you're a well-respected secretary of state. She is off that perch now. She is being seen, as you can imagine, Wolf, through the prism of presidential politics. And obviously I think if you look at some other questions that were asked in this poll, there is some spillover from the question of Benghazi.
This poll asked people whether they blamed Hillary Clinton in any way for the events in Benghazi including the death of the ambassador there. And it's about a tie with about 48 percent saying that she bears some of the blame. And in breaking down these numbers even further, here's the real problem for Hillary Clinton, if you do look at it through a presidential prism, and that is independent voters.
Take a look at this. Independents' favorable view of Hillary Clinton is now down 13 points. Of course, Wolf, we all know from the last election that those are the voters you have to get in your camp if you're going to win.
BLITZER: But the polls show she's still a very formidable candidate.
BORGER: She is. She is completely formidable. She is the obvious frontrunner in the Democratic Party. And let me put up another number here that shows you how formidable she is because you've heard of the gender gap, another thing we talked about all during the last election.
Look at how women view Hillary Clinton. You know, 27 points more favorably than unfavorably. That is a gender gap that any candidate would like to have because women are so important. She doesn't do as well with men. She is down a little bit with men. She doesn't do as well with Republicans obviously. But women like Hillary Clinton.
And by the way, in all some hypothetical matchups, she beat two potential Republicans, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, of course very, very early. Joe Biden did not beat those two candidates. So I think lots of Democrats would like to be in Hillary Clinton's shoes right now. If they're thinking about running.
BLITZER: Let's point out, still very, very early.
BORGER: Still very, very early. And of course, she's transitioning to kind of be a quasi-private citizen.
BORGER: And that's going to be a difficult job for her. Because she's always going to be seen through this presidential prism until she tells us exactly what she is going to do if it's no.
BLITZER: Either she is or she isn't. We'll find out at some point.
BORGER: I know.
BLITZER: All right, Gloria. Thank you.
Just ahead, an American mother cleared of drug smuggling overjoyed at being released from a Mexican jail. She is speaking out about her ordeal.
Plus a plane nosedives into an apartment. This apparent disaster does have a surprise ending.
And we're keeping a close eye on the storm threats out there in the Midwest happening right now. Look at these live pictures coming in. Ominous clouds. We'll have much more on this story when we come back as well.
BLITZER: all right. Take a look at these live pictures coming in from Kansas right now. Independence, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Kansas. The National Weather Service in Wichita has just issued a tornado warning, yes, a warning for northwestern La Bette County, that's in southeast Kansas, as well as northeastern Montgomery County, also in southeast Kansas.
The warning until the top of the hour. We're staying on top of this story. We're checking in with Chad Myers who is chasing these storms for us. Much more on the tornado warnings. The watches coming up. Stand by for that.
Other news we're following including this. It had the making of a deadly disaster but amazingly no one was seriously hurt when a small plane plunged right through the roof of a Virginia apartment.
CNN's Rene Marsh is joining us now.
Rene, what happened?
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, this pilot was trying to get to Dulles Airport but he was about 20 miles short. And instead ended up right up there.
Imagine being jolted out of your sleep only to see the pilot and a plane in your apartment.
MARSH (voice-over): Disaster narrowly averted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayday, mayday. Engine out.
MARSH: A single engine prop plane crashes through the roof of this three-story apartment building in a suburb just outside Washington, D.C. The pilot, 61-year-old William Larson, desperately calls for help reporting his Cessna Cardinal had engine problems, electrical failures, and low fuel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heading toward Dulles. Emergency requested.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fuel remaining?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fuel, I think that's our problem. We're not going to make the airport.
MARSH: Seconds later, he nosedives through the roof of David Ventura's living room. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard like an explosion and I come out to the door. Fortunately it seems like all the dry wall and wood, you know, right down on the floor. Then I saw two guys come out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden we heard this noise. Kind of like the building shake.
MARSH: Virginia state police say four adults and two children were asleep in the apartment. Only one of the adults was injured but not seriously. Crews used a crane to remove the Cessna.
The pilot is a professional aerial photographer. YouTube video shows him at work with the same plane that crashed Friday. He was taking night time infrared photographs when his plane ran into problems. Luckily, both the pilot, his passenger, and all residents are expected to be OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank god nobody got hurt in this deal.
MARSH: All right. And back out here live, Wolf, you know they're about to start some repairs here but we can tell you that the people who live in this apartment, they had to be evacuated while these repairs are under way. But really, a good thing that that plane was low on fuel. Had it been a full tank, the story may have ended a lot differently -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Rene, thanks for that report. Rene Marsh reporting.
We're just getting this in. Grim news from Houston. We've just learned that four firefighters have been killed battling this blaze. Officials say five other firefighters have been injured. This is a five-alarm fire. A hundred and sixty people called to the scene. It started at a hotel, the Southwest Inn, spread to a neighboring restaurant.
You can see the flames shooting up from the building and the thick, black smoke could be seen over a very wide area.
Once again, four firefighters dead in this Houston blaze.
Here is a look at some of the other stories we're monitoring right now in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Extreme flooding in Arkansas has claimed the life of a sheriff attempting a rescue at a home overwhelmed with water. The sheriff apparently drowned. Two people at the home and a wildlife officer said to be with the sheriff are still missing.
And more positive housing news today. Foreclosures have fallen to their lowest level since early 2008. This according to a new report. So-called distress sales accounted for just 21 percent of the total market for the first quarter of this year. At the height of the housing crisis back in 2009 almost half of all homes sold nationally were foreclosures.
Just ahead an American mother cleared of drug smuggling overjoyed at being released from a Mexican jail. She's now speaking out about her ordeal.
And we'll stay on top of the tornado threats happening right now in the Midwest.
BLITZER: An American mother who was wrongly jailed in Mexico on drug smuggling allegations is now a free woman. She's back in the arms of her family after being released.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is joining us now from Goodyear, Arizona, with the latest.
How is it going over there, Stephanie?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Wolf, we do know that she made it back across the border, somewhere late in the night, early morning. And then they had a three-hour drive to make to get back here to Goodyear where their family home is.
We do know that they are scheduling a press conference later on this evening in the 7:00 hour local time to tell us more about that. But overall you're talking about a woman who spent nine days in jail because they believed that she had taken over 12 pounds of marijuana and put it under her seat on a commercial bus as she was coming back across the border with her husband.
Now because of some video that came out, they're saying that -- that surveillance video shows that all she had was some purse, a couple of blankets and some water. And there's no way she could have carried that on the bus. So now she is coming home. And despite all that's gone on, you would think that she might have a grudge against the country of her birth. She is a U.S. naturalized citizen. But that's not the case. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YANIRA MALDONADO, RELEASED FROM MEXICAN PRISON: I love Mexico. My family's still there. So Mexico -- it's not Mexico's fault. So it's a few people who, you know, did this to me, and probably to other people. Who knows? You know? So I probably will go back. Mexico is a beautiful country. Please don't take it wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELAM: So now that she is back on American soil, her legal problems are not completely done in Mexico. But she doesn't need to be there, her lawyer in Mexico will take care of that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So happy she's back in the United States out of jail.
All right, thanks very much, Stephanie, for that. We're following the tornado threats in the Midwest right now. There are several warnings. They are out -- the warnings are out for a possible major tornado outbreak. We're on the ground chasing the storms. Stay with us.
These are live pictures coming in from Oklahoma City. Look at how ominous those clouds are right now. And just what happened only, what, 10, 12 days ago in Moore, Oklahoma, right outside of Oklahoma City. It is terrifying, this situation. We'll stay on top of it and give you the latest. Our own Chad Myers is on the ground chasing this storm.
Also coming up, a new concern at the United Nations right now about what they're calling killer robots on the front lines of war.
BLITZER: Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. Robots on the front lines of combat that can act and think for themselves. But it soon could be a reality. And that's something that has the United Nations talking.
Here's CNN's Atika Shubert.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A futuristic danger in Hollywood films like "The Terminator," now a big enough threat to warrant a United Nations debate. Robotic technology has already advanced to levels that wouldn't look out of place in a sci-fi blockbuster.
These robots developed by the Pentagon can climb stairs, detect, and avoid obstacles, and even correct themselves if you push them around. Robots are getting close to being able to do the physical tasks that we can do and more. It's only a matter of time before they appear on the battlefield.
Machine technology is already being used to kill. We've seen that in drone strikes against the Taliban and other terrorist groups. But behind the drone technology, there is still a human being calling the shots. Giving robots the power to make those life-or-death decisions themselves is what the U.N. is discussing.
A computer's ability to analyze and think is improving all the time. Google has been experimenting with neural networks, a kind of artificial brain capable of teaching itself independently from human programmers.
And that raises a scary question. Will the artificial intelligences that power our robots one day decide to push back?
Atika Shubert, CNN, London.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: A senior U.N. official is calling for serious and meaningful engagement on this issue before these machines are given the power to kill humans.
Happening now, breaking news. Look at these pictures. Tornado warnings and watches in the Midwest. We're live in Oklahoma where forecasters have just issued a special alert that a dangerous situation may be developing.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I looked at her body and her feet and her hands. And her nose and her mouth. And I just -- I knew it was her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)