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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Demands Probe of Chemical Attack Claims; Is Hope for Democracy in Egypt Dead?; Accused Killer's Racist Tweets

Aired August 22, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


JESSICA YELLIN, HOST: And happening now, the United States and United Nations demanding an immediate investigation into claims the Syrian government launched a massive chemical weapons attack on more than a thousand civilians. CNN is live inside Syria with the very latest.

Plus, disturbing new details emerging about one of the suspects behind the shocking death of an Australian student jogging in Oklahoma.

Should he be charged with a hate crime?

And the latest on a mystery rocking Windsor Castle, after one of the queen's prize swans was found barbecued.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Jessica Yellin.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we begin with pictures from Syria that we want to warn you are extremely graphic and disturbing. Women and children believed to be dousing themselves with water and putting towels to their mouths after suffering an alleged chemical weapons attack that opposition leaders say killed more than a thousand people.

These horrifying images are prompting bold new calls today from both the Obama administration and the United Nations for an immediate investigation to confirm that chemical agents were used.

Our Frederick Pleitgen is getting rare inside access in Syria and joins us from Damascus with the latest -- Fred.

FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jessica. Yes, and I haven't had very much time here on the ground yet, but I am trying to get to the bottom of what actually happened during that alleged chemical weapons attack.

What I was able to do today is I was able to go to a government-run hospital. It was very interesting to see what was going on there. It was a hospital that had taken many of the casualties from that alleged attack.

Have a look at what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PLEITGEN (voice-over): These images continue to shock the world. Syrian opposition groups say the videos are evidence the Assad regime used chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb. And many around the world are calling for tougher action.

But here in the streets of government-controlled Damascus, many say they don't believe their military resorted to the use of nerve agents. "The government would never use chemical weapons," this man tells me, "because Bashar Al-Assad is part of the country. He's grown up here. They're Syrians."

"I believe that if anything was hit, it was the Free Syrian Army," this man says.

Those we spoke to confirmed there appeared to be a massive military operation underway early Wednesday, with war planes dropping bombs and artillery firing for hours.

But staff at this hospital say the patients they treated suffered only from wounds from conventional weapons.

(on camera): This is the Mezzah University hospital. They wouldn't let us film inside, but staff members told us they did receive a large number of casualties on Wednesday from the areas where attacks allegedly took place. But they also said none of these casualties had any signs of being subjected to chemicals.

(voice-over): Images like these, however, indicate that some form of chemicals seem to have been used, many experts say. The U.N. secretary-general is calling on the Assad regime to allow weapons inspectors fast access to the sites.

EDUARDO DEL BUEY, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive a positive response without delay.

PLEITGEN: U.N. teams have been on the ground in Damascus for several days. But when I tried to ask the chief U.N. chemical weapons inspector, Ake Sellstrom, if his team would visit the site of Wednesday's alleged attack, he wouldn't answer.

(on camera): And are you going to be able to investigate the chemical weapons claims...

(CROSSTALK)

AKE SELLSTROM, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I cannot talk to you. I'm sorry.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Assad government denies using chemical weapons, a claim many in the international community want to see verified by the U.N. teams on the ground.

(END VIDEO TAPE) PLEITGEN: Yes, Jessica, a lot more questions than answers. Of course, both sides blaming each other for what allegedly took place here in the suburbs of Damascus.

One of the things that I, of course, always have to say, we are on the government's side here. We're in the realm of the government. So therefore, a lot of the people that we speak to, by nature, are very sympathetic to the government. We always have to keep that in mind -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Of course, Fred.

Now, we also know that U.N. inspectors are already there on the ground.

Why haven't they gone to the site to start investigating?

PLEITGEN: Yes, it's very difficult. You know, the site where this happened, some of those sites are less than five miles away from where the weapons inspectors are staying. But their mission here is very sensitive. They went in here with a mandate to be able to visit three places in Syria that have nothing to do with what allegedly happened here on Wednesday. They were sites that have been known for a very long time.

Now the U.N., of course, the U.S., as well, is saying you need to give these weapons inspectors access to the site where this happened immediately.

It's very difficult, though, here in Syria. On the one hand, the Syrian government is very distrustful of those weapons inspectors. On the other hand, simply the Syrian bureaucracy, the way that the ministries work here, makes the going here very, very difficult.

So they're on a very sensitive mission, on the one hand, of course. They have this international outrage saying they need to go there as fast as possible. But they also have to be very careful in dealing with the Syrian authorities.

YELLIN: And, of course, here in the U.S., the White House and the U.N. calling for those investigators to get access to that site.

PLEITGEN: Yes.

YELLIN: Fred, very rare for to you have access to any of this, for you to be there.

Remarkable reporting.

And please stay safe and be careful.

Thanks for that report.

That's our Fred Pleitgen reporting from Damascus.

There are calls now, as you know, for action in Syria that are not just here, but echoing around the world in the wake of all those shocking images we just brought you.

Our own Tom Foreman is now taking a closer look at some of the options we in the U.S. could have -- Tom, are these options extensive or really very limited?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're somewhat limited. I guess they're extensive in terms of how big they would be, ultimately.

But you're absolutely right, Jessica. The pressure, not just around the world, but up here on Capitol Hill and at the White House, is really stepping up in the wake of this video.

Let's look at the possibilities out here, as we bring in a map of Syria.

First of all, there's a question of going on the offense.

Could the U.S. flat out go in there with big time military intervention, with helicopters and planes and bombs and simply join the fight to make this thing come to a conclusion?

That is not likely simply because we all know, ever since Afghanistan and Iraq, the public sentiment for that kind of intervention seems to be quite low. Some people would like to see it. Many would not.

So what about the idea of going on the defense?

What about taking weapons and saying, we're simply going to put some weapons in here and give them to the rebel forces so they can fight back more effectively?

This is all complicated by the fact that big countries like Russia don't want to see any of that happen. But complicating this further is the activity of terrorist groups like al Qaeda and groups like Hezbollah in here.

And if you part -- put weapons into this country, as we've seen many times in the past, there's no guarantee that they stay in the hands of the people you want to put them into. So that's very, very difficult in terms of the defensive approach.

And then we come to what is probably the -- sort of the neither offensive nor defensive, but a little bit of both, the idea of a no fly zone, which has worked in some areas. That would really limit the abilities of the Assad government to strike back against these other forces there. You could talk about small, limited no-fly zones in strategic areas or a big one over the whole country.

But those really are the options right now, Jessica. And -- and, as always, they're complicated by the fact that we don't know which one of them would even work under these circumstances.

YELLIN: It's all so complicated in Syria.

Thanks so much.

Tom Foreman, our own explainer-in-chief.

Thanks, Tom.

For more on this, let's bring in "Time" international editor, Bobby Ghosh.

Bobby, first of all, let's take a look at your magazine cover. It's on our screen. And it's called "Founding Father."

We should point out that "Time" is the corporate cousin of CNN.

We see Martin Luther King there. But we want to talk a little bit about the topic you're so expert in, the Middle East.

And today, we saw a striking new tone from our brand new U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, talking about Syria. Let's look at what she posted on Twitter.

This is a quote. She report -- "Reports devastating. Hundreds dead in streets, including kids, killed by chemical weapons. U.N. must get there fast. And if true, perps must face justice."

Now, Bobby, we all know Power is a fierce human rights advocate. The Obama administration right now, look, critics, and even supporters, say they've been pretty tepid on Syria.

Do you see her Tweet as sort of an effort to prod the White House into action, even the placement of her at the U.N. as a sign they might take more action in Syria?

(AUDIO GAP)

BOBBY GHOSH, "TIME" INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: -- or sort of a...

YELLIN: I'm sorry. We're...

GHOSH: -- a natural disaster.

YELLIN: I'm sorry. We have been having audio problems.

But, Bobby, can you tell us that again?

We were having some technical difficulties.

Do you see her...

GHOSH: Yes, of course. I think, you know, she is well-known as somebody who advocates the international community's responsibility to protect -- the responsibility to intervene in cases like this.

But her Tweet was very carefully weighted. She used words like "reports." She looked -- she used words like "if true." And she says things like "The perps must be punished."

So there's enough wiggle room there.

Are the reports accurate?

We don't yet know.

Who are the perps?

We don't yet know.

Was it the government forces or was it some rogue elements in the army or was it some of -- some people from the rebellion itself that were responsible?

We don't know.

And is the U.N. -- asking for U.N. inspectors to go there is very easy. But the deal that the U.N. made when they sent these inspectors was, as Frank said earlier, to go to very specific places and to check if chemical weapons were used. Those inspectors are not even allowed to speculate about who might have used those weapons.

So the U.N. has gone in with both hands tied behind its back here. And for Ban Ki-moon and others to say, well, this is terrible and something must be done, well, the deal they made prevents them from doing anything.

YELLIN: OK. We'll see. I think there's a little more urgency in her tone than we've seen from the White House. But we'll wait and see what evolves.

Let's shift gears a little bit to Egypt, because we saw that Hosni Mubarak, the former leader of Egypt, was today ordered released from prison into house arrest, while the president, who was duly elected by the people after the Arab Spring, Mohamed Morsy, is now detained.

So does this rule out hope for democracy in Egypt?

GHOSH: Well, it certainly is another blow to those hopes. And there have been several over the past couple of months.

The idea that Mubarak is out, in house arrest, but much more free than Mohamed Morsy is -- certainly gives people pause. And those who believe, as some people in this country do, that the military is a force for democracy, will certainly -- if they have their hearts -- their hand to their hearts -- be reassessing that position.

It's important to remember that Mubarak was a military man himself. He took over in, effectively, what was a military takeover of Egypt 30 years ago.

And so we are seeing a full cycle now being completed. The fear is that the hopes for democracy that were raised two years ago with the Arab Spring are suffering sort of a -- are now dimmed very much.

And it will take very little to end those hopes.

YELLIN: Well, wrapping it all together, Bobby, I'd say there's a lot of instability right now in the Middle East. We'll be watching it with you for many, many months, and maybe years to come.

Thanks for your time.

When we come back, just one day after being sentenced in the largest classified leak in U.S. history, Bradley Manning drops a dramatic new bombshell, revealing he now wants to be a woman.

Plus, the queen's goose is cooked. Well, actually, it's one of her swans.

We'll explain just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Disturbing new details in a case making headlines around the world, the shooting death of 23-year-old Australian baseball player, Christopher Lane, by three Oklahoma teenagers who say they decided to kill someone because they were bored. And we're learning one of them. Fifteen-year-old James Edwards, Jr., tweeted these rap lyrics just three days before Lane was gunned down.

That he and his friends were ready to, quote, "start taking lives." And back in April, Edwards tweeted "90 percent of White people are nasty, #hate them." Police list the two alleged shooters, Edwards, and 16-year-old Chancey Luna as Black, and their alleged 17-year-old driver, Michael Jones, as white.

Let's get more with CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin and senior -- CNN legal analyst, Joey Jackson. OK. Jeff, in hearing these two new details, obviously, first of all, a charged issue, a tense topic to talk about. The bigger question legally, should James Edwards, Jr. be charged with a hate crime?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know. It's too early to say. You know, these are isolated tweets some of them months ago. It's obviously something that the investigators in Oklahoma should look into. Remember, though as well, he's charged already with first degree murder, which carries as a possible sentence of life without parole.

So, it's not clear what a hate crimes charge would add to this case. And just one final point. Because he is under 18, he is not eligible for the death penalty. The Supreme Court has said juvenile offenders cannot get the death penalty, so life in prison is the most he can get.

YELLIN: OK. Joey, going to the larger cultural issue, as you probably know, some conservatives have been outraged. They say there's a double standard at play here. Let me read you something that was in the "Wall Street Journal" today in the editorial page.

They said, "There was no saturation cable TV coverage, no press conference featuring Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, and no statement from the oval office. The death of Christopher Lane, while as troubling as that of Trayvon Martin, will not become a national touchstone of racial and cultural debate or reflection."

Now, let me, first of all, point out that this has gotten coverage on television throughout the day today, but more broadly speaking, do they have a point?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. I think, first of all, I don't think only conservatives should be outraged. I think everyone in society, I don't care if you're a conservative, if you're a liberal, no matter what your persuasion, your politics or anything else. I mean, this is a murder that is senseless. This is something that took someone's life. There's no excuse for it.

Whether the motivation was boredom, whether the motivation was predicated upon hate and ethnicity or race or anything else, there's just no place for it. And so, I think that certainly it's something that we need to cover. I think, to the larger cultural question, there should be a larger and broader discussion about this, about what motivates violence, whether it's violence that's Black on Black, White on White or violence in general, it's needs to be condemned and it needs to stop period.

YELLIN: But Jeff -- that's a good point, and something the White House is also pointed out. Jeff, you also point out what are the differences between this case and the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case?

TOOBIN: Well, the big difference is when Trayvon Martin was killed, the police said no crime. There was no arrest made. That's what made that case a national story. It wasn't the Black/White nature of it. Here, you have a situation -- there have been arrests immediately. That's not an issue. So, I just think that "Wall Street Journal" point is totally bogus.

It's an attempt to make a political point that is not relevant to this case. We all agree this case is a horrendous tragedy, but to try to use it for politics strikes me as totally unfounded.

YELLIN: All right. Thanks, gentlemen. Interesting discussion. Good to see you.

JACKSON: Thank you.

YELLIN: And coming up, a day in court for a former NFL player indicted for murder.

Also ahead, a bizarre royal crime. Who stole one of Queen Elizabeth's swans and barbecued it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Let's take a quick look at some of the top stories in the SITUATION ROOM.

San Diego TV stations are reporting the city's mayor, Bob Filner, is planning to resign. San Diego City council will just need to sign off on a proposed mediation agreement before it goes into effect. Eighteen women have accused Filner of sexual harassment. Filner has admitted to improper conduct and sought treatment but has previously said his behavior is not bad enough for him to step down.

The son of Vice President Joe Biden is heading home to Delaware after successfully undergoing a procedure and medical evaluations in Houston. It's unclear what procedure he underwent. Beau Biden who is Delaware's attorney general checked into the cancer hospital after feeling weak and disoriented while on vacation last week.

A Massachusetts grand jury has indicted former New England Patriot tight end, Aaron Hernandez, with murder. He's being charged with orchestrating the death of Odin Lloyd who was shot five times with a handgun. Authorities say Hernandez and two other men picked up Lloyd from his Boston apartment before the killing. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty.

And a bizarre and gruesome mystery developing in England. Who killed one of the queen's swans? The remains of the barbecued swan were discovered near Queen Elizabeth's castle in Windsor. And by law, all unmarked swans in England belong to the queen. It's the law that's been in place since the 12 century. Police are asking anyone with information to come forward.

When we come back, President Obama kicks off a bus tour in upstate New York. And one of his stops. An exclusive sit-down interview with our own Chris Cuomo. Chris will be here in the SITUATION ROOM" with a preview coming up.

But first, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta with a look at this weekend's "Next List."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Dr. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This week on "the next list," urban bee keeper, Andrew Cote (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it begins as a hobby and then it might work up into a small business and then it's just an obsession and then there's just no turning back. It's like crack.

GUPTA: And social robotosist, Heather Knight, who brings a human touch to technology.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have this idea that maybe we could come to a world where we replace not people by robots but computers by robots. Like, how about making technology more human?

Their stories on the "Next List" this Saturday, 2:30 eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Happening now --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama sits down for a one-on-one interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day." We'll get a preview.

Newly sentenced army leaker, Bradley Manning, makes a bombshell announcement about how he wants to live life behind bars.

And kidnap victim, Hannah Anderson, speaks out in her first TV interview since her horrifying ordeal.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: They're rare, they're highly coveted and CNN's Chris Cuomo got one, an exclusive sit-down, one-on-one interview with the president of the United States, and you'll see it first thing tomorrow morning on CNN's "New Day." Chris joins us from Syracuse right now. And Chris, we want to know, you've joined the president on the road. First, tell us what is he doing in upstate New York?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN'S "NEW DAY": Hey, Jessica, how are you? Right now he's weathering the rain that is coming through this area right now. But he's spending the next couple of days going through New York and Pennsylvania, going to cities, talking domestic issues largely, trying to motivate the middle class to get behind him and help him with his agenda when he gets back and starts dealing with Congress again.

Now the big ticket item here is college affordability. OK? The president's been giving speeches about it all day. He's going to be giving one at the high school where we are in Syracuse in a while from now. And basically there's two big points he's making. One is that he wants colleges to work off a scorecard, a rating system, where the better your graduation rate, the better the jobs, the better you do as a university to lower costs, the higher you're rated and the more grants and funding goes toward you from the federal and state side.

That's good. The next second prong would be for students, once you graduate, to work and pay off your loan as a function of a percentage of your income, which would help because he pointed out himself, Jessica, there's about $1 trillion in outstanding student debt that most of it will not be repaid because of capacity by graduates. We hear stories all the time where they're just not making enough to pay off their loans.

Now here's the problem, and that's why the president's speeches are becoming as much about college as they are about Congress. Because the initiative for the scoreboard and for allowing you to pay as a percentage of your income will both probably need legislative action. And we know what that means, right? Once you get down to D.C., it becomes like this morass of inactivity right now.

YELLIN: What?

CUOMO: So he's talking to people about -- he's talking to people about motivating their lawmakers to do the right thing here. And that's going to be his main message. In the interview, of course, we're going to transition into what's going on around the world, Jessica. There's a lot of issues to get to.

YELLIN: And we're going to talk more about the college debate in our "CROSSFIRE" panel coming up.

Chris, can you give us a little sneak preview of what else you'll cover with the president?

CUOMO: Yes. Obviously, you're going to go with the exigencies that are going on largely in the Middle East region, right? You're going to deal with Syria, you're going to deal with Egypt, and then we're also going to just touch on what Senator McCain was talking about on "NEW DAY" this morning about the perception of the U.S., about the respect of the word of the U.S. government in that region, action.

Is there a need for an investigation before there's a move in Syria? If there's going to be a move, what is it? We've heard about a red line out of the White House, what's on the other side of it. Egypt, and what to do there. What we see in terms of the perception -- relation with Moscow. We're going to deal with that.

And also we want to get back to domestic issues that deal with the president's ability to work with Congress, get through legislation, deal with immigration, big items like that.

YELLIN: OK.

CUOMO: And whatever else you'd tell me to ask, Jessica, when you e- mail me before.

YELLIN: Well, yes. And I give you a tip. He really likes being interrupted so interrupt him a lot. He'll really like that. You'll score big points.

CUOMO: Wait. We got to do what we got to do to get the answers that we need, right? We got to ask the questions, Jessica. It's not a popularity contest.

YELLIN: It'll be great. It'll be great. I can't wait to see it. Have fun, Chris.

CUOMO: Thanks. Thank you very much.

YELLIN: OK. And as a reminder, that interview Chris is about to conduct, a rare interview with the president on the problems of student debt and much more, will be on "NEW DAY" tomorrow morning beginning at 6:00 Eastern.

So let's get more on this issue with two of the co-host of CNN's brand new show "CROSSFIRE," that's Stephanie Cutter and S.E. Cupp.

So let's just throw it up in the air. Is college worth it, ladies?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

S.E. CUP, CO-HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: No.

CUTTER: You tell me.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Yes, it is worth it. Of course it's worth it. Is it for everybody? No. But is it worth is, yes. It actually increases your earning potential by 20 percent. This is historically true, it's still true today. By having people who graduate from college in communities, it actually raises the standard of living for everybody.

So yes, it's worth it. It's also worth it to keep our country competitive. China, South Korea, Finland, they're all beating us right now. So it's important to our national security as well.

CUPP: You know, the salaries for folks with four-year degrees have been steadily declining and the salaries for folks in the manufacturing sector have been increasing. And the problem is that we're not meeting demand. We're not meeting the demand of manufacturers and employers who want people -- who can't just, you know, read Freud and Nicci (ph) and tell me what Subcircle means in his book, but who can actually read a business plan.

YELLIN: I don't even know that.

CUPP: And work in a factory and make something. The trajectory we're currently on is totally unsustainable. We're saddling our kids with debt they can't afford, we're not adequately preparing them for the work force. And we're breaking our economy by subsidizing ever rising college tuition costs. And the problem is that President Obama's plan doesn't change the trajectory we're on.

CUTTER: Well, I agree with much of what you said but not everything. A couple of things, college isn't for everybody.

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: We need a workforce that is diverse, which includes manufacturing. And the president has recognized that since the first day of taking office, which is why he has done a number of things. One, done everything he could to bring jobs back here to this country. Created programs to form partnerships between community colleges and manufacturers, so people are getting trained for specific jobs in manufacturing.

And of course increasing vocational training so that we can get those skilled workers into manufacturing plants. That's actually incredibly important. We have to be a nation that builds things.

CUPP: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: But that -- and that's not --

CUPP: And vocation training is important. CUTTER: Absolutely. I agree with you.

CUPP: The investment has not been there enough.

CUTTER: Well --

CUPP: If you look at countries like Germany --

CUTTER: Historically, absolutely.

CUPP: -- and Switzerland and Austria.

CUTTER: Over the last four years there has been a pretty big increase. Now of course --

CUPP: If you look at other countries is where majorities are enrolled in vocational training, their youth unemployment is between 5 and 8 percent. Ours is between 20 percent.

We need to invest more and we need to keep the government out of the private sector. Private sectors in states are innovating just fine. The University of Texas is offering $10,000 degrees. More and more people are learning online and making those kind of choices that work for them.

CUTTER: Right. So in terms of increasing the investment --

CUPP: Government subsidies are increasing the cost of college tuition.

CUTTER: Will you -- will you talk to your friends on Capitol Hill and talk about that increase in investment at community colleges.

CUPP: I don't have friends on Capitol Hill.

(LAUGHTER)

CUTTER: Because we do need it. We do need that increased investment, absolutely. But I do think we also need some innovation and competition in the higher education market. And I think that's what the point of the president's speech was today. This is a market that's not working. The costs are too high. The value is not there. We need to increase the value and we need to increase the transparency.

CUPP: But it's not a market when the government is dipping its finger in it every five seconds. I mean --

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Let me give you an example.

CUTTER: By giving people like a student loan?

CUPP: No. Let me give you an example. The president today, at one of his big new plans, one of his big new ideas, is financial literacy for college students. That sounds like a great idea. But did you know there are already 56 federal programs for financial literacy? How many times do taxpayers need to pay for the same thing over and over again?

CUTTER: Well, I think that you're making a slightly different point here besides what college students need. I think college students need to know when they're signing on the dotted line what type of debt they're incurring. I think that's the point of what the president was saying today. That's not increase government intrusion into the college market place. That's ensuring that student goes in there with their eyes wide open.

CUPP: When the government --

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: And ensuring that there's accountability --

CUPP: That seems like a government intrusion.

CUTTER: -- in the college market place. Because right now there is none. So you know we have this student loan --

CUPP: It's not a marketplace. It's a fake marketplace.

CUTTER: We have students -- we have student loans --

CUPP: The government is subsidizing private and public colleges.

CUTTER: Right. Because not everybody can pay out of their own pocket for college --

CUPP: Not everybody should pay. Not everybody should go to college.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Absolutely. Right. Excuse me for one second. So for people like me who needed a loan to go to college.

CUPP: Yes.

CUTTER: Thankfully I was able to get one. Now I'm paying taxes I want to make sure that my taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently. So I want to know that if somebody else is getting a student loan, they're not getting trapped into debt, not graduating from college, because the incentives weren't there. I want to make sure that those taxpayer dollars are being used wisely. I want that kid to graduate from college. I want them to contribute to the economy. If they're going to take on that debt anyway, you want them to be able to pay it back.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Absolutely. We want them to get jobs.

CUTTER: Right. That was the point of the president's -- CUPP: And unfortunately our colleges are not adequately preparing our kids --

CUTTER: Right.

CUPP: -- to get the jobs that pay back the students loans.

CUTTER: Thankfully the president is talking about that today.

CUPP: So now taxpayers have to pay back the student loans because they're not getting prepared for the jobs that they need. That's not -- that's not changing under the president's plan.

CUTTER: I think that you and I are not disagreeing on what the problem is.

CUPP: Yes.

CUTTER: I think that there's one person who is trying to address it and that's what the president did today. It would be great if he had some partners to be able to do that.

YELLIN: S.E., how would you propose low-income people get help to go to Ivy League colleges if they --

CUPP: You know --

CUTTER: Or any college.

CUPP: No, I'm glad you brought that up.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Any college. Any college.

CUPP: Because there's a -- there's sort of an affirmative action thing going on here, and it's not race based. It's economic based. And there's this idea that we want to send inner city and rural kids, kids in rural communities, to really Tony, Ivy League or top 10 schools.

YELLIN: I take it back. Any college.

CUTTER: Any college. A community college.

CUPP: A great school that they can't afford. There's this -- and that makes us all feel very good, like we're doing something that's good for society. We don't need and we shouldn't pluck kids out of obscurity and foist upon them a new version of the American dream that include as college they can't afford and maybe aren't adequately prepared for.

College of all kinds, Ivy League to community, should be available and open to everyone but not everyone is right for the good schools or the best schools or a four-year or two-year school. And we need to stop pretending that everyone should have the same kind of path to educational excellence. Not everyone is right for that.

YELLIN: Who is saying that?

CUTTER: I don't think I'm saying that, I don't think Jessica is saying that. Who's saying that?

CUPP: Well, the president wants -- nearly everyone to go to college.

CUTTER: Why then would he be putting your taxpayer dollars, my taxpayer dollars, into vocational training? Why would he be doubling investments in community college to train people to go into manufacturing jobs? Why would he be doing these things if what you're saying is true? It's just absolutely not true.

CUPP: It absolutely is true. The president himself said he wants everyone to go to college.

CUTTER: He wants everybody to have the opportunity to go to college.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Who's running all the factories if everyone is in college?

YELLIN: I think the question is how to make it affordable, and not the question that everybody is continuing to ask, because we're in a difficult economy right now. So I think we have to keep asking the question, I guess.

CUPP: I think if we don't keep subsidizing with federal money colleges the lower tuitions and then they'll be penalized. We'll have to.

CUTTER: Then I'd be sitting here without a college degree.

YELLIN: It's a fabulous question and I love that we're all asking it.

Thank you, ladies.

CUPP: Thank you.

YELLIN: Just ahead, Bradley Manning says he wants to live as a woman. Can it happen as he spend these decades in a military prison? That's ahead and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: A dramatic new bombshell from ex-Army Private Bradley Manning. Just one day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for the largest classified leak in U.S. history, he's now revealing through his attorney that he wants to be known as a woman, Chelsea.

The gender identity issue is not a new one for Manning who was seen in this photo released by the military wearing a blond wig.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us now with the details. Hi, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jessica. You know, the defense actually used Manning's gender identity issues as an argument for leniency during his case, and Manning himself sent that photo to his sergeant while he was still deployed in Iraq. Now he is coming out publicly. And on NBC's "Today" show his attorney read a statement from Manning saying, quote, "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning, I am a female."

He also asked to receive hormone therapy as soon as possible to help him transition from male to female. Here's his attorney, David Coombs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID COOMBS, MANNING'S ATTORNEY: Well, I don't know about the sex reassignment surgery that Chelsea hasn't indicated that that would be her desire. But as far as the hormone therapy, yes. I'm hoping Fort Leavenworth would do the right thing and provide that. If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: Which means he's going to have to sue the Army because the Army and the military have never provided this to any soldier whether they're in prison or walking into a medical clinic on base.

Now at Fort Leavenworth he will receive psychological counseling from psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, but he will receive no hormone therapy and he will wear the standard prison uniform at the all-male facility -- Jessica.

YELLIN: So, Chris, if he does sue and he is successful, who ends up paying for the hormone treatment?

LAWRENCE: Ultimately most prisoners can't fund their own medical care. So whether it's diabetes or depression or schizophrenia, it's the jailer who has to pay that and ultimately that would be the taxpayer. He has a better shot probably if he's ever transferred to a state or federal prison because there taxpayers have for years been paying for hormone therapy for some of the prisoners and that's been litigated in the courts.

YELLIN: Fascinating case.

Chris, thanks so much for the report.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

YELLIN: Coming up, shocking new and offensive language from former President Richard Nixon in this report in the final batch of his White House tapes which are just being released.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: The final batch of former President Richard Nixon's White House tapes are out, and they contain some shockingly racist and anti- Semitic remarks by the late president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Let me say, Henry, it's going to be the worst thing that ever happened to Jews in American history. If they torpedo this summit, it might go down for other reasons. I'm going to put the blame on them and I'm going to do it publicly at 9:00 at night before 80 million. Now that's it, Henry.

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, I agree with you.

NIXON: OK.

KISSINGER: I agree completely. They'll have brought it on themselves.

NIXON: They put the Jewish interest above America's interests and it's about goddamn time that the Jew in America realizes he's an American first and a Jew second.

You know, it's funny, the little black kids are so uncommunicative, aren't they? Good golly.

PAT NIXON, RICHARD NIXON'S WIFE: Yes, but these were better than most, did you know that?

R. NIXON: Yes, right.

P. NIXON: They're all dressed up and everything.

R. NIXON: Yes, they were nicely dressed.

P. NIXON: Yes.

R. NIXON: Well, they didn't react, though.

P. NIXON: Yes, well, with you they were a little different. They were better, you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: It is bracing to hear that from a former president. OK, so let's talk about what we just heard with former Nixon speech writer Ben Stein.

Ben, I know you're a huge Nixon defender and supporter. What is your reaction to hearing these clips? Did you have any idea, first of all --

BEN STEIN, FORMER NIXON SPEECHWRITER: Well, obviously --

YELLIN: -- that he felt this way about Jews and African-Americans? Let me put it that way.

STEIN: Well, he didn't feel that -- he didn't feel that way about Jews. He felt that way about a certain part of the Jewish lobby that was opposed to him making peace deals with the Soviet Union unless there was a deal involved to let Jews emigrate to the U.S. or to Israel.

So his goal was, first of all, to be a peacemaker. But I agree, the remarks are extremely, extremely unpleasant. But in real life, when it came to action as opposed to words expressed confidentially or what he thought -- I guess he mistakenly thought was confidentially, he was the best friend the Jewish people of the world have ever had.

When the Nazis were killing the Jews of Europe, FDR didn't lift a finger. When the Arabs were threatening to annihilate and overrun Israel, he moved heaven and earth to save Israel. So his remarks, I agree, extremely unfortunate, but in terms of his actions, the best friend the Jews have ever had. An incredibly great guy, had a Jewish secretary of state, Jewish head of the Federal Reserve, Jewish chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, surrounded by Jewish advisers, Leonard Garmin, White House counsel, and when push came to shove, saved Israel.

YELLIN: So you say that he thought this was a conversation in private, but what's striking about this is he knew he was being recorded. So, in some ways, it wasn't entirely private. I'm wondering, did you ever feel like you were treated differently by President Nixon because you were Jewish? It might be country club, anti-Semitism but it was anti-Semitism he was expressing.

STEIN: He treated me great. He treated me great. He treated my father, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, incredibly great. He treated my mother who was a great friend of Mr. And Mrs. Nixon great. He was a great, great guy, and the idea that he was in practice an anti-Semite is nonsense, and I'm not sure there would be an Israel today if it weren't for Richard Nixon. And he was there to save them.

Lyndon Johnson didn't lift a finger for Israel during the '67 war. The United States had complete neutrality during the war of independence for Israel. Only Nixon -- all U.S. presidents have stepped in to save Israel, he's the only one.

YELLIN: He also made some racially insensitive remarks, to say the least, on those tapes. What do you think President Nixon's reaction would be today if he knew there were an African-American in the White House?

STEIN: I think he would be happy about it. I mean people seem to forget, Richard Nixon was the president who inaugurated affirmative action in federal hiring. He was the one who eliminated the last vestiges of the southern school segregation in many hundreds of districts. He had high black advisers and many black friends.

It was just -- I mean, I agree, the comments are extremely unfortunate, but standard comments, and you hear them even now at country clubs all over -- at least country clubs that I am occasionally allowed into in Southern California. And this kind of thing still exists very, very much. But again, when push came to shove, he did the right thing and he did the very brave thing.

YELLIN: All right. Well, you are a fierce defender, and I think you go to some interesting country clubs.

STEIN: I love him.

YELLIN: Thank you, Ben Stein, for joining us.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIN: They won't let me -- they won't let me in, Jessica, but I can occasionally visit.

YELLIN: I hope they have good food.

When we come back, the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM begins with my colleague, Jake Tapper. He will have CNN's candid interview with longtime FBI director Robert Mueller. Before Mueller leaves office, he is sitting down with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a hero in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTOINETTE TUFF, SCHOOL BOOKKEEPER: It's going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you. That's a good thing that you're just giving up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now you can hear it for yourself, the moments when a potential school massacre was defused. Captured in a 911 call.

Plus, the Australian ambassador to the U.S. calls the shooting death of student Chris Lane an unmitigated horror. I'll ask him if he thinks race was a factor.

And he's an outspoken liberal, but actor Ashton Kutcher is suddenly the darling of conservatives.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jake Tapper and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There was a big "welcome back" sign and some lingering fear when students of McNair Elementary went back to school today for the first time since a gunman terrorized the campus. Some grateful parents dropped off gifts for the school bookkeeper whom they credit with saving their kids' lives.