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Obama Vs. Putin: Syria Showdown; "Death Can Come Any Second"; NSA Leaker Speaks Out in Live Online Chat; FBI Digs For Remains Of Jimmy Hoffa; President Obama's Approval Rating Tanks; Wheat Find Sparks Health and Economic Fears; Super Bowl Ring Caught in Diplomatic Debate

Aired June 17, 2013 - 17:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Jake, happening now, a test of strength as President Obama and Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, face off over Syria. One wants to arm the rebels, the other is still arming the regime.

The NSA leaker may be hiding, but that doesn't stop him from answering questions and making more accusations in a live online chat.

And he's abroad, but President Obama cannot get away from some really poll numbers. Most worrisome for Democrats, is he losing the support of young people?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They don't see eye to eye, and as you see in their body language in this video, they're not spending much time looking each other in the eye. President Obama and Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, in a showdown over Syria. It is dominating the G8 summit of key world leaders, most of whom want Russia to stop backing and arming the Syrian regime.

Before the summit, Putin made it clear where he stands, warning against President Obama's plan to arm the rebels, who he says "kill their enemies and eat their organs." That's a quote.

That -- let's go straight to CNN White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar -- Brianna, not exactly a cold war, but it does seem like there was a chill in the air.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. There was no breakthrough. This was a meeting, though, that did last for two hours between Presidents Obama and Putin. The U.S., the biggest ally of the Syrian rebels, of the Syrian National Coalition. Russia, the biggest ally of the Syrian government.

What the two sides did agree on was to push both parties in Syria to the negotiating table soon in Geneva.

Here's what President Obama said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And with respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an emphasis in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons and ensuring that these are neither used nor are they subject to proliferation and that we want to try to resolve the issue through political means, if possible. And so we will instruct our teams to continue to work on the potential of a Geneva follow-up to the first meeting.


KEILAR: Now, the date is still to be determined. The conditions are still to be determined.

If the two sides sit down, is it under the condition that Bashar Al- Assad will leave and there will be a transition to a new government?

That's certainly not settled. So Presidents Obama and Putin not really moving the ball here, Jim.

But you did comment on the body language there. It did seem a little warmer than some of that rhetoric you mentioned of Putin's yesterday, when he was in London, likening the rebels to cannibals. And if you compare it to a year ago, when President Obama and Putin last met in Mexico at the G20, this was much warmer. That was a very, very icy meeting that they had a year ago.

ACOSTA: It is good to have that perspective, Brianna. But we all remember last year, when the president was caught on that hot mic with Dmitry Medvedev, the former president of Russia, saying this.

Let's take a listen.


OBAMA: This is my last election.


OBAMA: And after my election, I have more flexibility.


ACOSTA: More flexibility, as the president put it -- so, Brianna, they spoke for well over 90 minutes, it seems.

Any signs they now have that flexibility and that they're using it?

KEILAR: Well, that cer -- that had to do with missile defense, the US's European-based missile defense system. And the U.S. has eased some of the tension by foregoing the final phases of that.

You also may notice the body language there seemed to be pretty good. But we're talking about President Obama with then President Dimity Medvedev. And what really matters is Obama and Putin, now the president and very much the one who's always been calling the shots.

This relationship is one, Jim, that has really been tense here over the last year. And a lot of it has to do with Syria.

These two sides are worlds apart on this, not just what Putin said in London about the rebels and that rhetoric, but also the fact that he doubts that -- Russian officials doubt whether the U.S. claim that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons is true.

Russia is providing arms. They've threatened to provide anti-aircraft missiles should the U.S. and their allies try to put in place a no fly zone.

So there are huge sticking points here. And, no, the ball was not moved today.

ACOSTA: Still many differences to resolve between those two leaders.

Brianna Keilar, thank you.

As world leaders grapple with the idea of arming Syria's rebels, we have disturbing new details about al Qaeda's involvement in Syria. The al Nasra Front is now said to be al Qaeda's best equipped affiliate. And may have as many as 10,000 fighters and supporters inside Syria. And one analyst tells CNN the group is making desperate attempts to get chemical weapons.

That growing concern comes as Syria's regime is engaged in brutal urban combat with rebel forces.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen got a firsthand look on the front lines.

You have to take a look at some of this video in Frederik's report.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, there's a lot of districts here in and around Damascus that are in the hands of the opposition, but they're hotly contested. And the government is starting pushes in most of them to try and get that back.

Now, Yarmouk is the place that we went. And by many accounts, it's seen some of the fiercest fighting here in the Damascus area.

We went along with a detachment of Palestinian fighters who are fighting for the Assad regime. They took us straight to the front line to see the house to house combat there.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The urban combat is fierce. In Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus close to the city's center, we're on the front line with Palestinians fighting for the Assad regime. Snipers do much of the fighting and death can come any second.

(on camera): This is a pro-government sniper position. And this fighter here just told me he sees the snipers through his scope from here. So we'll wait and see what happens. (voice-over): The man said that shot took out a rebel fighter.

Yarmouk, which was set up as a Palestinian refugee camp by the Assad regime decades ago, bears the scars of war. But the pro-government fighters tell me like on other front lines in Syria, they are now turning the tide, winning back ground. The commander's name is Abu Ihab (ph). I ask him who his enemy is. "They are mostly Islamists from al Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, he says, mostly foreigners from the Emirates, from Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also Syrians and Palestinians.

A lot of the fighting happens inside the houses. And here, only a wall of sandbags separates the two sides. The pro-government militiamen say the rebels knock these holes into the walls when they own this turf and rigged some of the passages with explosives when they fled.

(on camera): So the men tell us they've just recently retaken this house. And, as you can see, the fighters that left here, from the other side, they booby-trapped this entrance here with what looks like a hand grenade or something. So anybody who would have gone through there and triggered that wire there would have been killed.

(voice-over): The pro-government fighters say they're angry at the U.S. after the Obama administration announcement that it will help arm the opposition.

"We will keep fighting until we get rid of Jabhat al-Nusra and al Qaeda," he says, "and all other insurgents in Syria. And we're sure that God will be on our side."

In breaks from combat, the pro-government militiamen sing the praise of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, emboldened by recent gains on the battlefield, but also worried what changes U.S. involvement might bring.


PLEITGEN: And, you know, Jim, you go into these areas and you can just see why this conflict has, according to the United Nations, already killed up to 93,000 people you see the fierce fighting between the two sides. You see a lot of the houses there burned from the inside, a lot of destruction there. And still, even in that area, there are a lot of civilians who are caught between the front lines and have nowhere to go -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Thank you, Fredrik, for that eye-opening report.

Now, forget about leaving notes in a hollow tree or even a secret meeting with Deep Throat in a parking garage, times have changed. The self-declared NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, is speaking out publicly again, this time in an extraordinary live online chat with "The Guardian."

CNN's Nic Robertson is in Hong Kong, where Snowden has been in hiding -- and one thing he did not reveal today, Nic, is his whereabouts, right?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, no clues on his whereabouts, although I guess we can take away from this that he does have decent access to the Internet.

He was online chatting for about an hour and three quarters. He had about 2,000 questions lined up. He got through about 1 percent, 20 of them.

He was asked about whether or not he was a traitor who was going -- whether or not he was going to give documents -- secret documents that he had to the Chinese. And I'll quote from what he said here. He said, "Ask yourself, if I were a Chinese spy, wouldn't I have flown directly to Beijing?

I could be living in a palace petting a Phoenix now."

That was an exact quote of what he said. So knocking down the idea that he's about to give secrets to the Chinese, which is a rumor that's been going around.

And to Dick Cheney, and the former vice president, who's accused him of being a traitor, I'll read you here what he said back to Dick Cheney, as well.

He said, "This is the man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American."

That was what Edward Snowden was saying this evening. He was really hitting back, giving details, but really pushing back and trying to get his narrative across here tonight -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Nic, he really seemed to be playing to his audience, I suppose. If there are a lot of Edward Snowden sympathizers out there, he certainly tossed out a lot of red meat to them, talking about Dick Cheney, although inexplicably, at one point, he talked about the Senate's Gang of Eight, which has more to do with immigration right now than surveillance activities on the intelligence front.

Did he give any insights during this exchange -- a very lengthy exchange, Nic, what his next move might be?

ROBERTSON: We really didn't get any clues for his next move. I mean he has indicated that he would be willing to sort of follow the justice here in Hong Kong.

We've heard from state media inside China indicating that the Chinese in Beijing think that the Hong Kong authorities here shouldn't hand him back if they were asked by the United States.

But he was asked why he came to Hong Kong. And the journalist who asked him that question clearly had an indication that he might have wanted to go to Iceland rather than Hong Kong.

But the way that he answered this question, Snowden said that, you know, as an NSA employee, you have to give 30 days notice about traveling. So he could only travel at the last minute, only buy a ticket at the last minute. He was afraid of being interdicted on the flight. But he said, I had to go somewhere where I could get my message out. And that was why he says he chose Hong Kong -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And it did seem that, just reading between the lines, that a lot of planning has gone into what Edward Snowden is up to these days and what he might be doing in the future.

Nic Robertson, thank you very much for that.

From the time the news broke at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time here in the United States that Snowden would do a live chat, and for nearly the next four hours, there were over 17,000 mentions on Twitter of the hash tag "asksnowden." That is how they asked people to ask questions of Edward Snowden on "The Guardian" Web site.

According to the Social Analytics Company, Topsy, the United States had the most Tweets, according to that location. The U.K. came in second.

Coming up next, FBI agents dig up a field near Detroit. It's the latest attempt to solve a four decade mystery.

You're probably wondering who -- who exactly could that be?

Perhaps it's Jimmy Hoffa. That's right.

This time, will they actually find the former Teamsters boss?

And ahead, another mystery -- did Russia's President Putin swipe a Super Bowl ring from the owner of the New England Patriots?

We'll get into that, as well.


ACOSTA: FBI agents today swarmed a field in suburban Detroit armed with a search warrant and shovels. They've been digging for the remains of former Teamsters boss, Jimmy Hoffa, four decades after he vanished in a swirl of speculation about mob influence over union funds. CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is digging for details on the scene. Susan, how is it looking? Is this the day they'll find him?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ah, could be. You never know, Jim. We'll see. But all the action right now is going on way back over my shoulder and off in this direction on some private property. The owners were served a search warrant. I am told they are cooperating. And you know what, Jim, I was out in Detroit area, in a very different area back in 2006. They were following on a tip. They dug up a farm, nothing came of it. And just last year, we were out here following on another tip and nothing came of that. But this information, these tips do come in from time to time. The difference this time, according to our source with direct knowledge of the investigation, this time, they are calling the tipster highly credible. That's because the information is coming from a retired mobster, who was himself convicted of racketeering several years ago.

He is now believed to be in his 80s. And he is telling the FBI, according to our source, that he got information from an enforcer, another mobster out here in the Detroit area, who said that Jimmy Hoffa back in 1975 was lured to a restaurant. He disappeared from there. He thought he was going to a meeting, and that they brought him out here to this site where he was killed and his body buried.

That hit ordered by the head of the Detroit La Cosa Nostra, not by what many have said in the past, theories that said that the hit was ordered by New Jersey crime bust, Tony Provenzano. Now, I asked the special agent in charge of the FBI here in Detroir who gave me an exclusive interview, didn't say much because the search warrant is under seal, but I did ask him how much faith he has in the credibility of this source.


BOB FOLEY, FBI AGENT: It reached the threshold of probable cause, which was sufficient to allow us to obtain a search warrant.

CANDIOTTI: If it want fairly solid or believable enough, you wouldn't be out here?

FOLEY: Well, again, using the judicial standard of probable cause, if it didn't rise to that level, then, certainly, we wouldn't be out here because a judge has to move forward on it.


CANDIOTTI: Now, there's no telling how long the FBI will be out here, conducting the search. We know that there are several acres back there, but my understanding is they are assigning their search to one specific spot. So, they may be out here for a few days, but I can tell you this, Jim, not surprisingly, it's attracting a lot of attention, especially in this neighborhood. All kinds of outlooker -- onlookers, people trying to find out what the heck is going on and could it be, this time, that they find the remains of Jimmy Hoffa? Jim.

ACOSTA: You just never know. It could be this time. And we know you'll be watching. Thank you very much. Susan Candiotti on the scene.

It is not the first such dig for Jimmy Hoffa. You know that. His fate has captured the public's attention since he disappeared in 1975, and our Mary Snow is looking into that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance has confounded authorities for nearly four decades, and there's no shortage of public fascination with the former Teamsters boss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to do what I got to do! Get the union back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to do what I got to do!

SNOW: The life story of the former union boss and convicted felon with alleged mob ties inspired movies on a big screen. And despite his death, the speculation remains alive about what happened to him. Dan Moldea, author of the "Hoffa War" says it's the mystery that's captivated the public.

DAN MOLDEA, AUTHOR, "THE HOFFA WARS": Jimmy Hoffa was an infamous guy, well-known in an area that he was particularly well-known. And he disappeared from a public place in broad daylight and vanished without a trace.

SNOW: Hoffa was last seen outside a restaurant in suburban Detroit on July 30th, 1975. He was supposedly there to meet with a mob figure and a New Jersey Teamster union head. But the FBI says Hoffa was the only one who showed up. Since then, there have been theories ranging from the concept that he wasn't killed to tips about the whereabouts of his remains.

In 2012, authorities tested soil samples in suburban Detroit after someone claimed they saw a body buried the day after Hoffa disappeared. There was a claim that his body was buried in cement at New Jersey's old giant stadium. The FBI also raised a horse barn in 2006. None of the leads panned out.


SNOW (on-camera): And by chance, Hoffa's middle name just happens to be Riddle -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Mary Snow, thank you.

Coming up, authorities investigate an airline passenger who allegedly claimed passengers onboard were poisoned.

And ahead, President Obama is abroad for a summit, but he can't get away from some really bad poll numbers. Why Democrats may be worried?


ACOSTA: Federal authorities bust an alleged scheme to employ undocumented immigrants at more than a dozen 7-11 stores in New York and Virginia. Our Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Mary, what do you have? SNOW: Well, Jim, eight men and one woman from Long Island are being charged in a scheme which allegedly involved hiring dozens of illegal immigrants at 7-11 they own and manage, equipping them with stolen identities and stealing substantial portions of their salaries.

Now, if convicted, they could face 20 years in prison for wire fraud, conspiracy, alien harboring charges, and multiple counts of identity theft. 7-11 issued a statement saying it's cooperating in the investigation.

The thousands of acres burned in the most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history are now considered a crime scene with federal authorities being called in to investigate the cause of the blaze. The raging Black Forest fire is 75 percent contained and conditions may continue to improve with lower temperatures like winds and rain in the forecast. Almost 500 homes were lost in the blaze. Two people were killed.

Authorities are investigating an incident involving an unruly passenger onboard a United Airlines flight from Hong Kong to the U.S. who allegedly claimed travelers had been poisoned. The flight landed safely in Newark and was cleared by the CBC to park at the gate. An FBI spokesman says the passenger was taken to the hospital for evaluation.

No charges have been filed. At the top of the hour, we'll speak with one person who helped restrain that passenger.

And the blind Chinese dissident, who's dramatic escape from house arrest, landed him at New York University just one year ago. Now says he and his family are being forced out due to fears his presence is affecting the school's relationship with China. NYU denies the allegations saying his fellowship has always been a one-year assignment and has nothing to do with the Chinese government -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Mary Snow, thank you very much.

Coming up next, President Obama goes abroad to meet with world leaders, but he cannot get away from some bad poll numbers.

And ahead, was celebrity TV chef, Nigella Lawson, publicly choked by her husband? We'll show you some very shocking photos.


Happening now, President Obama's approval rating plummets to its lowest number in more than a year.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Our new CNN/ORC poll reveals what's fueling the plunge.

Plus, a tiny plant discovered here in the U.S. triggers growing concern around the world. The frantic search to solve the mystery just ahead. And, a Super Bowl ring now raising questions about international diplomacy?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in the SITUATION ROOM.


ACOSTA: President Obama may be focusing on a summit abroad but he cannot get away from some dismal poll numbers. Look at this. In just the past month our CNN/ORC poll show as complete reversal of the president's approval rating, now at 45 percent down from 53 percent. And 54 percent now approve of how Obama is handling his job up from 45 percent.

Joining me now to talk about this, CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and CNN political analyst and Democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher.

And Cornell, you were a big part of the president's reelection team as polling unit. Let me guess, these are bad numbers.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, here is the thing. In the context of things, of course, they have been better, they actually aren't that bad. I mean, the time poll had him at 48, Bloomberg at 49. If you give me the fact that is on Washington right now, how America think Washington is broke right now, and look at Congress with a 10 percent job approval, I think these numbers aren't great but aren't as bad as they could be.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think the problem for the president right now is the people always saw him as something separate from official government, they trusted him more than they trust government, they still do but his trust number is down.

ACOSTA: They liked him more.

BORGER: They liked him more. And now, I think, they're conflating President Obama, Washington, government, you got the IRS controversy, the NSA surveillance controversy, controversy over drone, leak investigation, all kinds of things that are government controversies and now he's associated with it.

BELCHER: But I think, this is -- to the point, if you go back to '07/'08, Gloria, I which I know you remember well, the primaries, part of our pillar was this idea that the ways of Washington must change. That Washington is broke. They don't solve any problems the ways of Washington must change. I remember that over and over in my head because that's what we beat Hillary Clinton over the head with, the ways of Washington must change.

All right, these scandals aside, what's going to be problematic for the president long term is that, you know what, Americans are really ticked off about Washington and things being broken in Washington and the ways of Washington haven't changed. All these scandals -- BORGER: But he's in charge of it.

BELCHER: I know. That's the sort of thing eroding his poll numbers.

ACOSTA: Let me jump in there because, you know, that was the frustration in 2008 and that is what partly swept the president in office. But the voters who embodied that, the voters who embodied that feeling more than anybody else, 18 to 29-year-olds, the youth vote. And according to this latest CNN/ORC poll, let's put this up on screen, 18 to 29-year-olds, they went from 65 percent approval rating to 48 percent in just one month. And I want to ask you about that, Cornell.

BELCHER: Now, that's a dramatic shift.

ACOSTA: That's a dramatic shift. Coming from the president's pollster?

BELCHER: One of his pollsters. In fact, you don't -- you seldom see that sort of shift going on. But again, it's all coming that sort of this coming out about what the NSA is doing. And by the way, I don't think the president has done a good job about that.

ACOSTA: I want to ask you that because 18 to 29-year-olds, more than any other voting black would probably care most about the government looking at their internet --


BORGER: And older people care less because they worry more about the terror attack. And they presume we have no privacy, where for some reason younger people still think there's something called privacy. So this is suddenly the president's terror policies played better with older people than with younger people.

BELCHER: And by the way, it's not necessarily the president's terrorism policy, but it's the policies taken up by Bush and now by this president.

ACOSTA: Speaking of, that didn't change though. But you're saying they wanted change and they didn't get change in this department.

But let me ask you, because Gloria, you wrote a great column on this and I want to touch on this. Let's put this up on screen talking about how the president has handled this from a public relations standpoint.

"The president has rightly called for a public debate about the proper balance between national security and privacy. But the debate can't happen without him. In fact, he needs to lead it. That's what the president is supposed do when the country is having a national conversation. It's part of the job description."

And Gloria, I mean, do you think this is the time? I mean, the president is doing an interview with Charlie Rose tonight. We know that. BORGER: He will have an interview with Charlie and he came out couple of Fridays ago and sort, you know, spoke him. Glad we are having this debate.

Well, he needs to be the person out there leading it because it is a conversation that is going on in this country and if he wants direct it, he needs to lift the veil a little bit. They're going to start declassifying some information about the way this surveillance helped thwart terror attacks. That's great. And maybe he needs to let the people know how his thinking changed from when he was a senator on the floor railing against President W. Bush to this point in the oval office and just open up a little bit to the public because they can't decide about something until they feel they really know enough about it. Now, you don't want to get into sources and methods and the rest of that but you do. Don't you think he has to come out and speak to that? BELCHER: But, I would argue that it's pillars to that conversation. You saw the head of the NSA coming out and saw at the congressional hearings to know more information --

BORGER: But they've worked for the president.

BELCHER: Right. So, they have come up with information. Now, is the time for the president to step out and have a fuller conversation? Yes, it is. And I think that's what you're going to see.

ACOSTA: And Cornell, we know that the president does not like to do oval office addresses to the nation. I mean, you really can't count that many that he's done since he's been in office.

Do you think from a polling standpoint, from a public opinion standpoint, is now the time for him to perhaps consider that as a possibility? Would that go a long way?

BELCHER: Well, I think, I'm not going to get into the vehicle because I think you see him rolling out doing a blitz, doing different talk shows. I think it's a good idea overall. But I tell you, this will pass. What will not pass is the ways of Washington being broken. This will be a story that is going to pass. But the president will be hit for his brand long term because the ways in Washington has not been fixed. They have not been changed.

ACOSTA: Right. He hasn't mastered the dysfunction of Washington. He still remains frustrated by it.

BORGER: No, no. And he's leading the dysfunction of Washington. That's the problem.

ACOSTA: All right, let me turn to immigration because over the weekend, I mean, there were some pretty fiery things said on both sides of this. Let's take a look at this. Two numbers of the gang of eight were on the same page as far as the importance of immigration reform in the 2016 election. Lindsay Graham and Bob Menendez, let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: And I would I tell my Republican colleagues both in the house and the Senate that the road to the White House comes through a road with a pathway to legalization. Without it, there will never be a road to the White House for the Republican Party.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we don't pass immigration reform, if we don't get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn't matter who you run in 2016. We're in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in the good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is pass comprehensive immigration reform.


ACOSTA: Gloria, is that why --

BORGER: Demographic death spiral.

ACOSTA: Yes, you can almost see that, you know, in your mind. Is this why the president and the Democrats aren't too worried about this or seemingly not too worried?

BORGER: Well, look. I think things happen in Washington when it's in everyone's own self-interest to get it done. And at this particular case on immigration it's in everyone's interest to get it done. So, I still think, at some point, they are going to do something. And I'm not sure long large it is going to be and I know the house Republicans are going to try and block it. I understand all of that.

BELCHER: And Gloria, will the speaker put it on the House floor without a majority of the majority?

BORGER: Well, the speaker called for a vote. I don't know the answer to that question yet.

BELCHER: That's the big question.

BORGER: And by the way, the speakership of John Boehner could be on the line with that decision.

BELCHER: If he calls for that vote without a majority.

BORGER: But, I would agree with Lindsay Graham. It is on their owned self interest.

BELCHER: And has Lindsey Graham the next to the president since those dinners and John McCain. You have to admit it would be nice if the president (INAUDIBLE).

ACOSTA: So Cornell, you want to that death fire continue?

BORGER: Maybe he should have been having those dinners a long time ago.

ACOSTA: But there is a problem for the president here if this does not get passed because I mean, looking at the entire agenda that he has for the next couple of years, this is the one item that has the best chance of being passed.

BELCHER: That's right.

ACOSTA: Gun control and the others don't.

BELCHER: Just from a pure political standpoint and political hat, you know, some Democrats would love to see Republicans continue to fight on this because we can use it as a wedge issue in the midterm as well to next presidential. But long term for the country, it just makes no sense.

BORGER: You know, and if you're thinking about legacy, which everybody in the White House is thinking about and you've got the pillars of health care reform and immigration reform, that's not bad.

BELCHER: And, by the way, economy, an economy that's --

BORGER: And the economy.

ACOSTA: All right, we'll wait and see on that one. It's not quite back yet.

Gloria Borger, Cornell Belcher. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Just ahead, was celebrity TV chef Nigella Lawson publicly choked by her husband? We will show you some very shocking photos.

Also, and why some families worry about the bread their eating and why wheat farmers are worried about losing money.


ACOSTA: Questions are swirling about the marriage of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson after pictures surfaced of her husband with his hand around her neck at a restaurant. Her husband is denying any claims he attacked her.

CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in London with the latest.

Matthew, these pictures just look awful.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they do. And they really illustrate as well, Jim, the idea that, you know, if you're a celebrity, if you're famous, it doesn't mean you can escape the risks of domestic violence.

Let's take a look at the images that have been really plastered over the front pages of the British newspapers. Look at this one in the "Daily Mirror". You see Nigella Lawson there, one of world, one of Britain's most famous celebrity chefs sitting there in a restaurant. The restaurant is actually just behind me over there. That's why we're here in this location in Mayfair in central London. So, you can you see, there's a hand around her neck and she's looking very uncomfortable indeed. That hand belongs to her millionaire husband, Charles Saatchi, who has attempted to play down this. He's actually issued a statement to the "London Standard," a newspaper here, saying that there was no grip, it was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific, he says, but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella's tears are because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt. That's Charles Saatchi. He was a prominent advertising executive and big collector of contemporary arts as well basically saying that they were having what he calls an intensive debate about their children when he put his hand on her neck to emphasize a point he was trying to make. That's in his words.

The police so far have not pressed any charges. They say though that they are looking at this carefully to see whether they need to make any formal kind of investigation, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Matthew Chance, so we'll keep an eye that story as well. Thank you very much.

Coming up at the top of the hour, an alleged poison scare midflight. We'll speak with one of the people who helped restrain an unruly passenger allegedly making the claims.

Plus the mystery behind a tiny plant fueling economic and health concerns around the world.

And another international mystery, this one over a Super Bowl ring that ended up on the finger of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. What happened after that? That's the story coming up.


ACOSTA: It's a discovery that has some families concerned about the bread they're eating and some wheat farmers concerned about the money they could be losing. So no surprise, a big search for answers is under way.

Here's CNN's Stephanie Elam.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The discovery of genetically modified wheat in a field in Oregon is a growing concern around the world. That's why officials are working fast to solve this mystery.

(Voice-over): A wheat plant that simply wouldn't die. The revelation struck fear in some farmers and families and brought more negative attention to a company already in the global crosshairs.

PROF. CAROL MALLORY-SMITH, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY: I knew it was going to be an extremely sensitive issue.

ELAM: Carol Mallory Smith was charged with testing the plant in this Oregon State University lab. She found it was a genetically modified organism commonly known as a GMO.

MALLORY-SMITH: All of the tests that we did came up positive.

ELAM: On May 29th, the USDA confirmed the wheat was genetically modified by the multi-national seed corporation Monsanto to resist the company's own popular Roundup weed killer. The modified wheat was never approved for market and many nations that import American grains are leery of GMOs. South Korea and Japan have even gone so far as to suspend U.S. wheat shipments since the discovery.

DARREN PADGET, WHEAT FARMER, PADGET FARMS: It could definitely contribute to a downward spiral if we don't get this fixed or explained.

ELAM: Grower Darren Padget has 3200 acres of what nearly ready for harvest on his family's farm. He says just the fear of genetically modified wheat could impact his bottom line, especially since 90 percent of Oregon's wheat crops are exported, most of it to Asia.

PADGET: You know, your number one cash customer leaves you, that definitely puts you in a bit of a pickle.

ELAM (on camera): For seven years, Monsanto tested its Roundup- resistant wheat in several states. Those trials ended in 2005 and the company says it took precautions to make sure its modified wheat didn't end up in any other fields.

MALLORY-SMITH: You don't have 10-year-old wheat seed in the soil emerging 10 years later.

ELAM (voice-over): Now a professor and crop expert at Oregon state, Bob Zemetra worked on those Monsanto wheat fields studies.

PROF. BOB ZEMETRA, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY: My most likely scenario is it's an accidental mix that something was sitting on a shelf and somehow it went from the shelf into the seed.

ELAM: No matter how it happened, it's a nightmare for moms like Zen Honeycutt who doesn't think that GMOs are healthy.

ZEN HONEYCUTT, MOMSACROSSAMERICA.COM: We really believe that these GMOs are compromising an entire generation of our children. We used to be able to let our kids just have a burger and eat the bun and now I'm really concerned that we're going to need to stop doing that.

ELAM: She joined thousands around the world from Boston to Belgium protesting Monsanto just days before the Oregon wheat story broke.


ELAM: So far, no other genetically modified wheat has been found, and even though not approved, the FDA says the wheat is safe to eat. Varieties of Roundup-resistant corn and soy are already in use, yet some wheat farmers are suing Monsanto, which called the lawsuits nothing more than lawyers chasing tractors, especially since both the government and the company are still digging for answers. (On camera): And researchers say we may never know how that genetically modified wheat ended up in that field.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Morrow, Oregon.


ACOSTA: When we come back, a poison scare midair. Just ahead at the top of the hour, one of the people who helped restrain the unruly passenger making the claims.

And a Super Bowl ring caught in the middle of an international controversy. That story is next.


ACOSTA: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." Our iReport "Hot Shots." In New York, a man marches in a Puerto Rican Heritage parade. In Chicago, the sky is illuminated by a flash of lightning. Look at that there. In Massachusetts, roller derby athletes race around the track. I've never done that before, and never will. And in the Czech Republic, boulders -- excuse me, builders use five million Legos to assemble this "Star Wars" inspired model. That is actually very cool.

"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from our CNN iReporters around the world. We appreciate it.

A Super Bowl ring is at the center of an international controversy. It started out on the finger of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and ended up in the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Yes, that is right. You may have heard about this story. How it got there seems to be up for debate.

And our CNN's John Berman has more.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, Vladimir Putin is known as something of a tough customer, a tough negotiator. But a jewel thief? You decide.


BERMAN (voice-over): Russian President Vladimir Putin was a KGB expert, martial arts expert, goes topless and has ballistic missiles. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, he has Tom Brady. So it's pretty much a fair fight. A fight between a nuclear superpower and a football superpower over all things -- jewelry.

Not just any jewelry. It's a brewing international incident over a ring. A Super Bowl ring.

ROBERT KRAFT, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS OWNER: I'm tremendously humbled by this great honor.

BERMAN: At a gala in New York City last Thursday, Kraft told the crowd that Putin allegedly swiped his Super Bowl ring back in 2005 when they met in St. Petersburg. According to Kraft, Putin admired the ring encrusted with 124 diamonds and said, "I can kill someone with this ring." Kraft went on to explain, "I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket and three KGB guys got around him and walked out.

Putin, a thief? A spokesmen for the president says, "I was there when it happened, so what Mr. Kraft is saying now is weird. I was standing 20 centimeters away from him and Mr. Putin and saw and heard how Mr. Kraft gave this ring as a gift."

Maybe it's a case of lost in translation. Literally, maybe he lost the ring because of translation. Or maybe there were bigger global forces involved. The "New York Post," which broke the story of Kraft's comments on Thursday, quotes Kraft as saying that White House officials urged him to say the ring was a gift. In the interest of U.S.-Soviet relations.

And now Mr. Kraft seems to be backing off, a bit. The Patriots releasing a statement, "It's a humorous anecdotal story that Robert retells for laughs. He loves that his ring is at the Kremlin and as he stated back in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin.


BERMAN: Jim, the 4.94 carat ring is now in a Kremlin library, which is where they keep all precious gifts given to the Russian government and it seems like that is where it will stay. If it's any consolation to Robert Kraft, his Patriots have won three Super Bowls, so he's got at least two other rings to keep him happy -- Jim.

ACOSTA: He does have a few spares. Thank you very much, John Berman.

But if you think if the story ends there, guess again. Our Jill Dougherty asked the State Department to weigh in on the debate today. Take a look.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: As far as the State Department knows, did Vladimir Putin steal the Super Bowl ring?

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: I think this is an issue between him and the team, or the -- I guess the president of the team, or the owner of the team. Not something I'm going to wade into.


ACOSTA: And there you go. And now ringing in the next hour, my colleague Jake Tapper with THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hi, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Jim. Thanks so much.