Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; IRS Under Fire; Massacre Suspect Bought Ammo in Bulk; Students Kicked Off Airplane; Marine Reservist Kidnapped in Mexico; Should Americans Go to Mexico?; Live Moose Falls for Bronze Statue
Aired June 4, 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 HOST: Happening now, the IRS steps over the line. New details on a conference that produced outrageous videos and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Plus, the search for a U.S. Marine reservist apparently kidnapped in Mexico. Many Americans are wondering if they're safe south of the border.
And more than 100 passengers were thrown off an AirTran flight. Now an Orthodox Jewish school is investigating why its students got the boot.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This hour, the Internal Revenue Service is bogged down even deeper in controversy. A new report by a federal watchdog suggests the agency that monitors our tax dollars isn't spending that money wisely. It details more than $4 million worth of expenses at an IRS conference and a lot of it questionable at best.
Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here to break it all down for us.
What have you learned, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, part of what is so stunning here is that this lavish spending happened at the very same time that the IRS said it didn't have the resources to deal with the influx of those Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status.
And the way the IRS wasted taxpayer dollars is stunning.
BASH (voice-over): Paintings of Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln and even Bono from U2, all made on-site at an IRS conference by an artist hired to perform leadership through art and paid $17,000, taxpayer dollars. It's just one example of IRS excess detailed in this new inspector general report which zeros in on a 2010 IRS conference in Anaheim, California, which cost taxpayers a whopping $4 million. Nearly 2,700 IRS employees stayed at three hotels with no attempt to negotiate lower rates. The problem? Instead of using in-house IRS planners, the IRS hired outside organizers with no incentive to bargain because they got a 5 percent commission from the hotels. In fact, each event organizer got paid $66,500 by Uncle Sam from this one conference.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: They didn't negotiate. They didn't bid it. This was 2,700 folks. So they could have gotten a considerable reduction. Instead, what they said is, we will pay full boat, but we want some perks.
BASH: The hotels threw in 24 tickets to the Los Angeles Angels games, free drinks, and upgrades like this lavish presidential suite. An IRS division head stayed here.
(on camera): The IRS even made swag for its employees to take home, like this tote bag with a special logo made just for the conference. This bag was made in China, by the way. So was this leather folio. They also got notebooks like this, even bottle openers. All of these gifts and trinkets added up to 64,000 taxer dollars. But may be just as outrageous as wasting this money is the fact that the IRS did not appear to follow the very rules it requires each and every taxpayer to follow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attempting to modulate the frequency now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry about the uniforms, Captain. The dry cleaner gave me the wrong order.
BASH (voice-over): For example, this "Star Trek" spoof. The inspector general said this and other videos made for the conference cost $50,100. But the I.G. says no one know if that cost is accurate because the IRS, the agency that requires taxpayers to keep receipts, did not save its own documents to show what it spent. The new acting commissioner says the IRS has already made changes.
DANNY WERFEL, ACTING INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE COMMISSIONER: We must ensure that we continue to have the right controls and oversight in place to prevent wasteful or inappropriate spending.
BASH: One conference workshop should have helped. It was entitled "Political Savvy: How Not to Shoot Yourself in the Foot."
BASH: And, Wolf, here's the kicker. The people who were in charge of organizing this conference which wasted all those taxpayer dollars, they were given a bonus, money and other things that totaled $6,000 to say thank you for their organizing this.
BLITZER: And they were bringing in expensive motivational speakers or comedians or others as well, right?
BASH: Yes, they had somebody to deal with helping people get happier and, apparently, according to a source -- this wasn't in the report, but according to a source on the House side, that cost about $11,000 to make people happier.
BLITZER: Well, being happy is important, I guess. All right, thanks very much, Dana, for that report.
BLITZER: Let's talk about these controversies and a lot more. Joining us now is Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina. What's your reaction? You hear about those numbers --
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not happy.
BLITZER: In the scheme of billions of billions and dollars, it is not a lot of money, but it is millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
GRAHAM: I think it's an attitude more than anything else. I mean, put yourself in the shoes of a hardworking American family paying their taxes, trying to run their family business and barely getting by, and they see their government spending the money this way. It's the difference between spending someone else's money and spending your own. And people in government tend to not treat government taxpayer dollars as they would their own. And that's a cultural problem.
BLITZER: You know, we hear these stories coming up all the time. I've been covering Washington, as you know, for years. You always hear about outrageous government -- taxpayer money that's being wasted. So, here's the question, Senator, what can you -- what can members of Congress really do to make sure these practices end?
GRAHAM: Well, just make sure that people that we nominate to do the job understand the difference between, you know, accountability and frivolous spending, put the right people in place. Have oversight, expose it.
You're doing more than the Congress is doing by airing this. I mean, it's good that the House Oversight Committees have dug in and found these abuses. But this is why you need an independent media, to look at the way the government spends people's money. I think you've probably -- your network and other networks have done more to change the habits in Washington by exposing the story than any hearing will have.
BLITZER: Well, thank you for that compliment. We'll continue to try to do our best on these kinds of stories.
Let me get your quick reaction, if you don't mind. Darrell Issa, who is the chair of this investigatory committee on the House side, he was on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley on Sunday and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISSA: Their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind, he's still making up things about what happened and calling this local rogue. There's no indication -- the reason that Lois Lerner tried to take the Fifth is not because there's a rogue in Cincinnati. It's because this is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters, and we're getting to proving it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Did he go too far in calling Jay Carney, the president's press secretary, a paid liar?
GRAHAM: Yes. He's actually done a very good job on Benghazi and all of these issues of trying to find the truth. He's right. Ms. Lerner didn't take the Fifth Amendment because it was some rogue. I don't know where this goes, but it's very disturbing that she would take the Fifth Amendment.
And the prior commissioner, acting commissioner, said he only went to the White House one time that he could remember, and that was an Easter egg hunt, and he actually went 150 something times. But, you know, Jay Carney -- calling the president's press secretary a paid liar doesn't help get to the truth. It's a distraction. It's inappropriate. If somebody called Darrell a liar, I'd be defending him. And Darrell, you've done a good job, but you shouldn't have done that.
BLITZER: Shouldn't have called Jay Carney --
GRAHAM: No, he shouldn't have done that.
BLITZER: -- paid liar, which is obviously harsh, harsh terms.
Let's talk about Syria for a moment. Because I know you're passionate about that, as is John McCain, and he actually visited Syria the other day. The French are now saying they have no doubt that chemical weapons were used, that this red line that the president and others have spoken about has been crossed. Do you? Do you believe the red line was crossed?
GRAHAM: Oh, yes. There's no doubt that chemical weapons in my view have been used against the rebels in Syria.
But let's just put this problem in context. If you provided heavy weapons to the rebel forces, could some of those weapons work their way in the hands of al Qaeda extremists who are now in the fight? The answer is, yes, they could.
But here's the dilemma we face as a nation. If this war goes on six more months or a year, the king of Jordan is going to be deposed, and his kingdom is going to collapse. One of the strongest forces for moderation peace in the Mideast will be silenced. If this war goes on much longer, the radical Islamists that we're worried about giving weapons to are going to be able have access to chemical weapons, and that's a game changer for the world.
If this war goes on much longer and the Russians continue to supply advanced weaponry to Assad, then Israel's national security dynamic fundamentally changes. So, the risk of the war going on longer is far greater than arming the rebels in my view.
BLITZER: What about a no-fly zone? Would you support the U.S. participating in that?
GRAHAM: That's -- yes, I would rather do that, quite frankly. I would rather crater the runways using international forces, American forces to be involved, no boots on the ground, to neutralize the air power that Assad enjoys. You could -- there are four airfields they're using. You could stop flying from those airfields. You could use Patriot missile batteries into the rebel-held areas to give them some breathing room without having to provide the rebels anti-aircraft weaponry that could be used when they -- against us or our allies. I think we could do a no-fly zone without interjecting weapons into the rebel ranks.
BLITZER: But you know, Senator, after Iraq and Afghanistan the American public doesn't want to get involved in another war.
GRAHAM: I got it, but I hope the American public doesn't want radical Islamists to have access to chemical weapons, and that's what's going to happen if this war continues to go on. I hope the American public understands that the king of Jordan is a very valuable ally to this country, second only the Israel. And I hope the world understands, not just the people of the United States, that if the Syrian conflict is creating regional instability. And this is a difficult decision to make, but I'm trying to prevent the war from spreading.
And I hate to say this to a war-wary public, there is no substitute for American leadership, and that's just the way it is. And I embrace that. We don't need boots on the ground, but we need to be leading and ending this war because we'll pay a higher price later if it continues to go on. So those are our options.
BLITZER: Options are not good ones.
GRAHAM: They're not good ones.
BLITZER: Very quickly on Egypt before I let you go. Very harsh statement today from the secretary of state John Kerry. Egypt sentenced 43 non-governmental organization workers, including some Americans, to jail today for just doing their job. Trying to promote human rights, if you will, democracy. Kerry saying "this decision runs contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association and is incompatible with the transition to democracy."
You know, some members of the Senate like Rand Paul want to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt right now, about $1.3 billion in military assistance this year alone. Is it time to cut that aid, U.S. taxpayer money going to Egypt?
GRAHAM: Well, they sure harder for a person like myself and Senator McCain who condemned this just as harshly as Secretary Kerry. You know, with friends like this, you really don't need any enemies. Egypt's revolution, the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and spread in Egypt, which is the big prize. It's the largest Arab nation, it is the center of the Arab world. And to see this happen, these organizations have worldwide respect. And to condemn them and consider them criminal enterprises and put people in jail, sentence them to prison for doing what they do all over the world says a lot about Egypt.
But having said that, the Egyptian military is the glue that holds the country together. I wish we could just withdraw from the world, and nothing bad would happen. Egypt has made it so much harder for Lindsey Graham to help them. They made it so much harder to make the case that American aid should be given to the Egyptian government in light of this court decision.
But having said that, we have to do what's best for us. And if Egypt falls apart and it collapses and becomes a failed state, that would be the biggest blow to our national security in Israel's national security short of radical Islamists, nuclear weapons or chemical weapons. It would be a nightmare for the region. As long as we have leverage, there is hope and quite frankly the only leverage we have is our resources.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, we're following some breaking news in Turkey right now, tear gas used by police right now in Istanbul. We're live with the latest in these violent clashes. The stakes for the U.S., Turkey being a major NATO ally, enormous right now.
We also have some dramatic video of a police raid that killed a 7- year-old girl asleep on a couch.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: It had been relatively quiet in Istanbul, Turkey, until just a little while ago, just a little while. Look at these pictures coming in right now, more tear gas, demonstrators being tear gassed by Turkish police in Istanbul. We're watching what's going on because it's been several days now that these demonstrations have taken this turn, kind of turn, especially late into the day.
We're going to go to our own Ivan Watson. He's on the ground right now. We hope he's OK. We're going to join him shortly and get the very latest. He's got an eyewitness account of what's going on, Turkey, a NATO ally, a key ally of the United States, all of a sudden plagued with enormous, enormous demonstrations that have escalated not only in Istanbul, but in Ankara and other cities as well. We will go live there in just a few moments, as soon as we can connect with our own Ivan Watson.
In the meantime, we have learned today the tornadoes hitting Oklahoma are so powerful, they are actually setting records. The National Weather Service says the twister that hit El Reno, Oklahoma, was 2.6- miles-wide. They say that's the widest tornado on record in the United States. Officials also say the storm was an EF-5. That's the most powerful category with winds in excess of 200 miles an hour.
Friday's tornadoes in Oklahoma killed at least 19 people. Our meteorologist, Chad Myers, is in El Reno for us right now, was there Friday when the tornado hit.
Chad, give us some context for the enormity of this tornado. How big was it?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, I talked about this the past couple of days, thinking there's no way EF-3 was going to hold because this was the widest tornado I have ever seen, 2.6 miles across from one side of the damage to the troops side of the damage.
But the damage is very spotty in between that 2.6-mile swathe. Think about this. Think about a carousel, a merry-go-round with horses going around. The horses going around are the small tornado vortices going around the main tornado itself. And then think of this carousel moving down the road and the horses, as they spin, hitting things as they go, a 2.6-mile wide tornado.
We took some pictures today. We went back to Moore to kind of see whether it was getting cleaned up. And it is, but it's slow. It's going to be years before everything gets put back together. Then we went to the 2.6-mile area, side by side. There's nothing on the one side except basically just farmland, some wheat down, but on the right, think about what a 2.6-mile wide EF-5 tornado could have done to this.
The damage in Moore would have been twice as wide and probably twice as bad in some spots, because even though the National Weather Service did not find EF-5 damage, there's these mobile radars that go around very close to the storm, scientific researchers, storm chasers, but they're doing science again, and they found that the wind speeds near the surface, Wolf, were near 295 miles per hour in some of these small horses going around the main carousel, 295 miles per hour.
I can't imagine what that would have done to a city. I can see what it's done here in El Reno, but what it would have done to a major metropolitan or even residential area would have been catastrophic.
BLITZER: That's pretty depressing information, Chad. Thanks very much for your excellent work out there.
MYERS: You're welcome.
BLITZER: We're also watching dangerous flooding right now in Missouri. Today, a second levee was breached near West Alton, where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi north of Saint Louis. Up to 30 homes, as well as some businesses, could be affected. People in the same vicinity were told to evacuate yesterday after the first levee breached.
Still ahead, America's military brass out in force up on Capitol Hill today, they faced off with lawmakers who are very angry about sexual assault in the U.S. armed forces.
And a new ruling in the case against Colorado massacre suspect James Holmes. CNN is investigating how he was able to buy a massive stockpile of ammunition.
BLITZER: America's top military brass faced Congress today and the problem of sexual assault within the armed forces center stage. The hearing was unprecedented and at times very, very emotional.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, reports.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The entire Joint Chiefs of Staff faced the Senate Armed Services Committee, including its seven female senators. The chiefs are under unprecedented pressure to deal with rising sexual assaults in the ranks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's shameful, it's repulsive.
GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: We're failing our efforts to fully protect our people from sexual assault and sexual harassment.
STARR: Many senators believe it's time to change the law.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: This isn't about sex. This is about assaultive domination and violence.
STARR: One proposal, take the decision to prosecute away from commanders.
ODIERNO: Removing commanders, making commanders less responsible and less accountable will not work.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you will actually bring justice in these cases. They're afraid to report. They think their careers will be over.
STARR: Air Force Captain Dustin Kouba, a victims advocate, says they do fear retaliation.
CAPT. DUSTIN KOUBA, U.S. AIR FORCE: One of my clients was involved in an unprofessional relationship, and there's concern that there's going to be repercussions regarding her training and her future in the Air Force.
STARR: Another proposal, commanders will no longer be able to overturn guilty verdicts. Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson's sexual assault conviction was thrown out by his commander. His alleged victim?
KIMBERLY HANKS, ALLEGED VICTIM: I was just shocked. I was stunned. I asked why, and they told me that the convening authority doesn't have to give a reason why.
STARR: The chiefs insisted crimes are being investigated and prosecuted.
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: It's a crime demand accountability and consequences.
STARR: But Congress still has those who see it differently.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, that's -- the level -- the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.
STARR: But it was the committee chairman who reminded everyone of the risks when troops cannot trust each other.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Discipline is the heart of the military culture, and trust is its soul. The plague of sexual assault erodes both the heart and the soul.
STARR: Now, Senator John McCain, who is one of the most plainspoken members of the U.S. Senate, went even a step further. He said the sexual assault crisis is so severe that when a mother recently asked him if her daughter should join the military, he said he could no longer unequivocally recommend it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that's pretty shocking to hear that. All right, thanks very much, Barbara.
Up next: a ruling that could affect whether the Colorado movie massacre suspect lives or dies.
And, later, the dispute about why more than 100 high school students were booted from an AirTran flight.
BLITZER: Happening now: missing in Mexico. The sister of a U.S. Marine Reservist tells me his apparent kidnapping. Does she have a reason to believe he's still alive?
Plus, a CNN investigation: how the Colorado movie massacre suspect was able to buy so much ammunition legally and easily.
And a class trip takes a controversial detour when more than 100 high school students are thrown off -- thrown off -- an AirTran flight.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A judge is allowing Colorado movie massacre suspect James Holmes to change his plea to "not guilty by reason of insanity." Holmes was in court today for the ruling. He said no when the judge asked if he had any questions.
As the case moves forward, we're now learning more about Holmes's purchase of huge amounts of ammunition, legally and online. Here's Drew Griffin of CNN's special investigations unit.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here is the plain truth. Even if James Holmes was declared certifiable insane the day before he opened fire on an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater there would have been nothing to prevent him from buying thousands of rounds of ammunition online.
QUENTIN CALDWELL, COLORADO SHOOTING SURVIVOR: That's disturbing. If I can go and fully equip myself that easily, it's ridiculous. You know?
GRIFFIN: Quentin Caldwell had to duck for cover and crawl out of that theater as bullets flew. It would be days, even weeks later, he saw just how easy it was for the "Joker" to amass his arsenal.
All shipped anonymously through online purchases, James Holmes bought tear-gas canisters, tactical gear, multi-round magazine holders, and on June 28, 4,300 rounds of ammunition from a company called BulkAmmo.com.
CALDWELL: I just don't believe that's going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is going to go out and just do it. He's going to say, "OK, I can buy this piece here. I can buy this piece here. I can buy this piece here with anonymity, is the part that kills me; is nobody said, "Why are you buying this much ammo at once?"
GRIFFIN: In most states you can buy as much as you want. In 1986, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which restricted sales of fully automatic weapons but also pretty much deregulated any restrictions on buying ammo. It made it legal to buy ammo through the mail and also removed most requirements for dealers to keep track of anyone who was buying ammunition, no matter how much.
MIKE BOUCHARD, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF FIELD OPERATIONS, ATF: Ammunition sales is -- is not regulated to sell ammunition. You don't have to have a license. No one knows who's selling ammunition. And to buy ammunition, you don't have to provide any identification, at least since 1986.
GRIFFIN: Mike Bouchard, the former assistant director of field operations with the ATF, says virtually anybody can buy ammunition, whether that be an insane college student from Colorado or a radical Islamic terrorist.
BOUCHARD: If you're a felon you can go online. If you're a terrorist you can go online. They'll ask you a question: are you prohibited by law from possessing it? You can just check the box "no," go directly to your shopping cart, put your credit card down, and it will show up at your doorstep as soon as the shipper can get it there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty of 10. That's 500.
GRIFFIN: The ease of buying ammunition is literally celebrated on these YouTube videos called "unboxing."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see here, this is 9,000 rounds of .9 millimeter Luger.
GRIFFIN: We found hundreds of ammo purchasers opening thousands of rounds of ammunition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five hundred rounds of .22 CCI, mini mags.
GRIFFIN: And posting their videos online, mostly to push the speed and ease of their purchases.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fast shipping, good prices.
GRIFFIN: I found out just how easy it was back in 2005 in a report to expose the ease of buying this .50 caliber military-style sniper rifle. Before I shelled out $2,500 to buy this gun, I wanted to make sure I could buy ammunition. That turned out to be as easy as ordering flowers.
With just a couple of clicks on my computer, I ordered and paid by credit card for 50 .50-caliber armor-piercing rounds. They were delivered in a week. Shells as long as my hand delivered no questions asked by UPS. According to court documents released last month, James Holmes received six packages from BulkAmmo.com, a company that is continually celebrated by ammo openings on YouTube.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This ran me, with shipping, $212.
GRIFFIN: According to corporate records, BulkAmmo.com is based in Knoxville, Tennessee. The company did not respond to our interview request. The other companies where James Holmes bought his tactical gear, gun magazine, tear gas canisters, also refused comment.
But it is clear, no matter what James Holmes bought or how crazy he may have been, everything James Holmes purchased to carry out his horrific carnage was legal.
BLITZER: Drew Griffin with CNN's Special Investigations unit is joining us now.
Pretty eye-opening report, Drew. Have there been attempts to regulate the sale of ammo online?
GRIFFIN: You know, shortly after the Colorado shooting, Wolf, two bills were introduced -- one in the House, one in the Senate -- to regulate online ammunition sales. Reintroduced again this year. But really uncertain they have a chance of passing.
One senator calls ammunition sales -- actually, it's a quote -- "the black hole of gun violence protection."
I'll tell you one thing is for sure, though. The mere mention of possible regulation of ammo sales and a false report earlier this year about the government trying to buy up ammunition, Wolf, it's been great for the online ammo business. Web sites we searched were selling out in certain types of bullets, limiting quantities to buyers, and they're trying to fill lots and lots of back orders -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent investigation. Good report, Drew. Thanks very, very much.
Up next, a Marine Reservist apparently has been kidnapped in Mexico. We're investigating the potential danger for Americans who travel south of the border.
And later, a 7-year-old girl killed in a police raid. The disturbing video played in court today.
BLITZER: In a Detroit courtroom today a jury watched dramatic video of a police raid that went terribly wrong.
A police officer shot and killed a 7-year-old girl who was sleeping on a couch. He's now on trial for involuntary manslaughter. The video, which never has been shown in public, was shot by a crew for the TV show "The First 48."
While the picture is blurry, you will clearly see the flash of stun grenades behind the curtains and hear loud bangs over the sound of barking dogs. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The policeman's defense says the girl's shooting was an accident.
Now to New York. We've all heard stories about students getting kicked off a school bus for misbehaving, but how about a whole class getting kicked off an airliner? Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's got some details.
What happened, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, 109 people were kicked off the flight: eight adult chaperones, the rest all students.
There were different accounts of exactly what happened, but all agree they've never seen this many passengers kicked off a plane at once.
High school seniors from an orthodox Jewish school in Brooklyn were traveling to Atlanta Monday for a class trip. The airline says they were told to leave, because some kids wouldn't stay in their seats and others wouldn't turn off cellphones. But a chaperone accuses flight attendants of overreacting and blowing things out of proportion.
One student tells CNN, quote, "They treated us like we were terrorists. I've never seen anything like it." This student even suggested they were ejected because they are Jewish.
But a passenger on the plane denies religion had anything to do with it. He says a group of 8 to 12 kids were unruly and ignored the flight crew. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were switching seats. They weren't paying attention to them. They asked a few times, went to the pilot. The pilot was nice. Said, "Hey, guys, we're going to try and depart here. FAA regulations are a lot stricter than public -- New York public school detention, you know, and you guys have to listen -- have to listen to me." They did not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Now, Southwest which acquired AirTran, said in a statement when the students failed to comply with requests from the flight crew, including the captain, they were asked to leave the plane, delaying the AirTran flight for 45 minutes. The group was eventually put on other AirTran flights. The school, the Yeshiva Flatbush, says it's now investigating -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let us know if you get more, Mary. Thanks very much.
Up next, a U.S. Marine reservist missing in Mexico. It looks like a kidnapping. We're investigating the potential danger for Americans who travel south of the border.
BLITZER: An apparent kidnapping of a U.S. Marine reservist is raising more questions about the safety of Americans in Mexico.
The FBI believes Armando Torres III was abducted by armed men three weeks ago while visiting his father's ranch. His father and his uncle vanished, as well.
Local officials tell CNN the kidnapping could be tied to a land dispute involving the father.
I spoke just a little while ago with the wife of Armando Torres III in Texas.
BLITZER: Tell us why you're concerned about our identifying you? We're going to let our viewers know you're Melissa. You're afraid. Why are you afraid of being identified?
"MELISSA," WIFE OF KIDNAPPED MARINE RESERVIST (via phone): Well, mostly, I just -- you know, it's my children that I really want to protect. It's just all this media attention. It can be pretty bad since it's, you know, a kidnapping.
BLITZER: It's a very sad story, and all of us hope that, obviously, he gets out of there quickly. Has anything ever happened to your family similar to this before?
"MELISSA": Never in my life. That is why I'm in shock.
BLITZER: I know you are. When was the last time you spoke with Armando?
"MELISSA": The same day he got taken.
BLITZER: And tell us -- tell us about that. What was -- what was going on? What was he doing in Mexico?
"MELISSA": Well, I didn't even know he was going to go to Mexico. He just sent me a text that he was going out of town.
BLITZER: And then the next thing you knew he was in Mexico. What have you heard? What were the circumstances surrounding his being kidnapped?
"MELISSA": Well, they just basically said he was in the wrong place, wrong time, you know. He had nothing to do with anything that was going on. I'm not really sure on the details of what happened but nothing I can probably speak on either. But...
BLITZER: Has there been any communications with those holding him? Are they asking for something in return for his release?
"MELISSA": No, they have not asked for anything. You know, it would be good to, you know, ask for something, but they don't want anything.
BLITZER: So has there been any what they call proof of life that he's still OK?
"MELISSA": About a week ago some sources that said that, you know, they were alive. So you know, that's what's really kept me fighting, you know, that there's still some proof of life. But they weren't specific as to what proof of life meant. But we haven't gotten any bad news either, so no news is good news.
BLITZER: Tell us a little bit about Armando. What's he like?
"MELISSA": Well, he's your typical Marine, always talking about guns, his Marine brothers, his Marine Corps. You know, I mean, he's funny. Easy to get along with, great father.
BLITZER: Did he often go to Mexico on visits like this?
BLITZER: Is this the first -- you're saying that is the first time he's been there? "MELISSA": Absolutely. He hasn't been there in a long time.
BLITZER: He hadn't been there, but he had been there before. But this was not an often occurrence; he didn't go to Mexico very often. Is that what you're saying?
"MELISSA": Yes, he didn't. He didn't go often.
BLITZER: Now, you must know his father and his uncle. They're gone, as well. They've disappeared together with him. What are they like?
"MELISSA": I've never really interacted with them, you know, on a daily basis. But, you know, that's his dad and that's his uncle.
BLITZER: So we're hoping that they are released, as well. Tell us about your children.
"MELISSA": What about my children?
BLITZER: What are you telling them about their dad?
"MELISSA": Well, my son just kind of wants to hear his voice and I told him that he's working. You know? They cry for him but, you know, I just try to occupy their mind with other things.
BLITZER: Melissa, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck, of course, to Armando. We hope he's out of there ASAP, as soon as possible. Thank you.
"MELISSA": I hope so, too. Thank you so much.
BLITZER: Now let's get to Americans' fears about whether travel to Mexico right now is dangerous, maybe even deadly. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence. He's been looking into this part of the story.
Big picture, what are you seeing, Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a U.S. official tells us that it doesn't appear that the drug cartels or criminal networks are targeting U.S. citizens, but the sheer amount of kidnappings and violence at least begs the question: Should Americans be going to Mexico?
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Americans flock to Mexico for its beaches and bars. But bloody murders have stained the image of all that sun and sand. And some Americans have seen their trips turn terrifying. This Arizona mom was recently released after a week in jail after Mexican authorities accused her of smuggling drugs.
YANIRA MALDONADO, FREED AFTER BEING ACCUSED OF TRAFFICKING MARIJUANA: It really scared me. LAWRENCE: For weeks authorities have been searching for this young Marine kidnapped while visiting his father. And so-called express kidnappings are on the rise.
DUNCAN WOOD, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Where you'd be picked up maybe in a pirate taxi, taken off to an ATM. They would drain your account as best they could. And then at midnight, they'd go back to the same ATM using your card and take more money out, and then they'd let you go.
LAWRENCE: Takeaway terrorist attacks and troops at war. In the last decade, more Americans have been murdered in Mexico than any other country in the world. And that number jumped from 35 in 2007 to 113 two years ago.
WOOD: There are certain places in Mexico that you would not want to go on vacation.
LAWRENCE: The State Department against just about anywhere in these red zones, including Tijuana and Acapulco. The areas in green, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun, are considered safe spots.
ROBERT REID, TRAVEL WRITER: We're not seeing these things happening if you're in Cabo San Lucas or even Cancun, which has a safer record than Orlando does, actually.
LAWRENCE: Travel writer Robert Reid says you heard right. As recently as a year ago, the murder rate was actually higher in the city considered Disney World's front door.
REID: So it doesn't necessarily mean that anyone should consider canceling their trips because of this.
LAWRENCE: Really, American tourists show no signs of doing that. In fact, one of the reasons that the number of Americans killed in Mexico is so high is that so many of us go there. This year, 20 million Americans will go to Mexico. That's the entire population of New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and Phoenix.
And when you look at the rates based on those kind of numbers, most of the parts of Mexico that the Americans are going are about as safe as Finland, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Good report. Thanks very much, Chris.
Up next, very different story. A lonely moose. Look at this. A lonely moose finds a surprising mate.
BLITZER: The end of an era at an Oregon high school. This coming Friday's commencement at Redmond High School, they'll feature 29 valedictorians. Yes, 29. They all have a grade point average of 4.0 or better. Starting next year, by the way, the district will compute grades differently, hoping to produce only one valedictorian. True love is hard to find, and sometimes our affections can be very misplaced. Our Jeanne Moos discovered that applies to animals as well as people.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Northern Colorado can be a lonely place for a moose. Nothing to do but eat and -- whoa! Who's that hot number?
BOB BALINK, NEIGHBOR TO MOOSE STATUE: This has only been up since last Monday.
MOOS: No surprise that a young moose would be curious about a bronze statue that looks like a moose.
BALINK: The strange thing is trying to mate with a statue. They're both male.
MOOS: Bob Balink's neighbors placed the statue on their property here in Grand Lake, then left town. Ever since, an amorous bull moose has been courting the statue, and by courting we mean the full court press that we can't quite show.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's in love! He's nuzzling, and he kisses and he licks him. And he walks around. And then he, you know, he gets on top of him.
MOOS: How many times has Bob seen them moosing around?
BALINK (via phone): Myself personally, four times.
MOOS (on camera): Wow. This is no one-night stand.
(voice-over): Who knew a statue bought for a couple of thousand dollars 60 percent off at a going-out-of-business sale would be so irresistible?
(on camera): The owners of the statue are thinking of anchoring it down. They're worried the real moose will get carried away and knock it over.
(voice-over): After all, the actual moose is probably twice the statue's weight.
(on camera): But moose aren't the only ones making amorous miscalculations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a deer chasing -- chasing you.
MOOS (voice-over): It's not always easy giving a deer the cold shoulder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is awkward.
MOOS: No more awkward than this. No privacy. Unrequited love. It's enough to make a moose say, "Bull."
Maybe a little Barry White would help. Statue or not, can't get enough of your love, babe.
BARRY WHITE, SINGER (singing): I don't know, I don't know why.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keep it up, Moosie.
MOOS: ... New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jeanne Moos. Not "Jeanne Moose," by the way.
It isn't even moose mating season yet, so wildlife officials say that doesn't explain the behavior.
Remember, you can always follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Please tweet me, @WolfBlitzer. You can always also tweet the show, @CNNSitRoom.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.