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Obama Birth Certificate Released; Obama's Choices as Next Defense Chief; Nine Americans Killed in Afghanistan; Stock Gains After Fed Chairman Speaks; National Security Team Shake-Up; Kids Trained as 'Gadhafi's Fighters'; 'Strategy Session'
Aired April 27, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, behind-the-scenes of the president's decision to release his original birth certificate.
Are conspiracy theorists now satisfied?
We have new reaction, including new comments from Donald Trump.
Also, the president's choice to replace the Defense secretary, Robert Gates. New information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the biggest shakeup to date of the Obama national security team and the likely impact on America's wars.
And Gadhafi's fighters -- the Libyan government proudly showing off military trainees, including young children.
Are they volunteers or are they being forced to defend the regime?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All right, take a good look at this. This is what skeptics of the president's U.S. citizenship have been talking about since his first White House campaign. Now as he begins relic -- reelection bid, the Obama administration is releasing copies of the original long form version of the president's birth certificate.
Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
It was a dramatic move and a surprise coming earlier in the morning.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It really was, Wolf, because White House aides have been working secretly, behind the scenes in recent days, to try and get the actual birth certificate, even though the president himself said this morning in the Briefing Room that he realized there are some people -- conspiracy theorists -- who still won't believe him. He believes this is the best chance to get the focus back on the issues and not sideshows.
HENRY: (voice-over): Aides say President Obama was simply fed up. Long discredited questions about whether he was really born in Hawaii were drowning out his message about cutting debt and growing jobs.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve. And I'm confident we can solve them. But we're going to have to focus on them, not on this.
HENRY: A reversal from the day before, when the president's spokesman seemed to suggest there was no need to release the actual long form birth certificate since conspiracy theorists would always come up with more questions.
(on camera): Is it because he thinks they'll still keep moving the goal post?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, what do you think, Ed?
HENRY: You're the president's press secretary.
CARNEY: Do you think they might keep moving the goal post?
HENRY: You're the president's press secretary.
HENRY: Sir, I'm asking you what you think.
CARNEY: The -- it is a distraction, obviously. This is a settled issue.
HENRY: (voice-over): What Jay Carney did not reveal is that early last week, the president decided to ask Hawaiian officials to release the original certificate, with a letter from Mr. Obama authorizing a private attorney to, quote, "make any necessary arrangements for delivery of two certified copies." Those copies quietly arrived at the White House Wednesday evening, just a couple of hours after the briefing where Carney said it was a settled issue.
Aides say Carney was correct, that the president had simply decided it was time to try and end the political noise.
OBAMA: We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.
HENRY: While the president did not identify any barkers by name, the man leading the charge was gloating during a visit to New Hampshire. DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: Because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.
HENRY: Sure enough, Donald Trump seemed to move the goal post a bit, immediately demanding the president also release his academic records and wondering if the birth certificate was even real.
TRUMP: Well, I'm going to look at it. And many other people are going to look at it.
HENRY: There are signs, however, that some big elected Republicans here in Washington, like Speaker John Boehner, are done with this issue and are distancing themselves from Trump. An aid to Speaker Boehner immediately told our colleague, Dana Bash, that he does believe this is a settled issue, this is the birth certificate and it's time to move on to real issues, like the economy, energy prices, etc. -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It was a settled issue, because the cert -- the other certificate that they released was the official copy recognized by the State of Hawaii.
So it raises the question, why now?
Why today, of all days?
Was it the pressure that he was getting, as -- as Donald Trump was gloating, pressure from Donald Trump that made him do it?
HENRY: Interesting, the White House aides insist they had no idea Donald Trump would be in New Hampshire today, they weren't trying to rain on his parade or do anything in your face. You have to wonder whether they really didn't know.
But they say the bottom line is that the president made this call in private and felt like it was time to finally try and end this once and for all and the president believes that, basically, it was hard for him to conduct business with Republicans, to try to tackle these big issues, when a certain element in the country just flat out didn't believe he was a legitimate president. They think this is the final nail in the coffin. It's a done issue.
BLITZER: Yes. But as the president said, there are still are some fringe skeptics out there now raising other questions.
Brian Todd is going to have more on this story later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Some of these skeptics simply won't go away.
But let's move on to some other news right now.
The pieces are falling into place for a major revamping of the president's national security team. The exit of the Defense secretary, Robert Gates, is triggering a plan to reshuffle some key figures, including the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, and the U.S. Army general, David Petraeus.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.
He's watching this national security shuffle going on.
What's the latest -- Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tomorrow, the president is going to nominate the head of the CIA to take over the Pentagon. And he's going to nominate the man running the war in Afghanistan to take over the CIA.
Now, this move comes as the military and intelligence agency are working together closer together than ever before.
But you've got to hear what went on behind-the-scenes to get these two men to this point.
LAWRENCE: (voice-over): Six months ago, Robert Gates recommended Leon Panetta should succeed him as Defense secretary and joked that Panetta wouldn't talk to him for days.
LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: We are involved at targeting the leadership of Al Qaeda.
LAWRENCE: One source says Panetta was happy running the CIA and it took a meeting with the president to persuade him to come to the Pentagon.
Multiple sources say the administration struggled to find the right place for General David Petraeus. They say he didn't want to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs because the job is advisory, not command.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I don't see this bringing major changes in Afghan policy.
LAWRENCE: Former CIA deputy director, John McLaughlin, says it would be different if the president went outside his administration to find fresh voices that could redefine the war. General Petraeus wants to keep as many troops in Afghanistan as long as he can to solidify gains. Sources say he'll stay in Afghanistan through the summer, meaning he could speak up as the president decides how many troops to bring home in July.
MCLAUGHLIN: The one major change here is that the CIA director does not typically make policy. I think General Petraeus will be moving into a job that has a somewhat less prominent policy role than the jobs he's had in the past.
LAWRENCE: Right now, Admiral Mike Mullen, who is also leaving this year, is the Pentagon's point man with Pakistan. But that could change.
MCLAUGHLIN: I can see Leon Panetta taking a more direct role in dealings with the Pakistani military by virtue of his extensive contacts with their intelligence service, which is derivative of the military.
LAWRENCE: And when it comes to running the Defense Department under massive pressure to cut the budget, it's about as much about what you can save as who you can shoot.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: You need to have someone who understands the budgetary process and also has an entree to Capitol Hill, knows the players, knows what they're looking for and knows how to negotiate with them.
LAWRENCE: And that's Leon Panetta.
You know, besides their credential, you know, who started, obviously -- who started his career as a Republican and then later served in the Clinton White House.
Now, besides their credentials, both men bring one key quality to President Obama -- they're confirmable at a time when the last thing the president wants is another fight with Senate Republicans.
In fact, Wolf, Senator Lindsay Graham already called both selections outstanding.
BLITZER: His big job is going to be cutting the -- the Defense Department's budget. He's not going to be a very popular figure with that defense establishment, the contractors, the military, because they have to cut hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with this budget crisis, the national debt.
I assume he's going in with his eyes wide open.
LAWRENCE: That's right. You know, Secretary Gates, by all accounts, really has just started to skim the surface of what probably they will be called on in terms of defense cuts. But Leon Panetta, again, he, at one time, ran the Office of Management and Budget. So he has that sort of fiscal experience there's going to be required when it comes to going before Congress and trying to trim down the Pentagon.
BLITZER: All right, Chris.
Meanwhile, high alert in Afghanistan after the killing of nine Americans. It happened today at an Afghan Air Force compound attached to the airport in Kabul.
What's in dispute right now, whether the Taliban played a role in the attack or not. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining us now live from Kabul with the latest.
What a horrible attack.
What do we know -- Nick?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, simply, I think it's fair to say this is one of the worst single instances in terms of American loss of life in, really, quite some time. And yet again, it involves a member of the Afghan security forces going rogue.
Now, it's not clear whether he definitely was Taliban or not or simply exceptionally angry with his NATO trainers. But what is clear is there's immense pressure now upon NATO to seem to get on top of this issue.
WALSH (voice-over): Outside the Afghan airport's compound at Kabul Airport, all was quiet. But inside, an Afghan pilot who had shot dead nine Americans, eight service men and a contractor, after an argument inside a building close to NATO's main operation center.
"I'm here to ensure security," he says.
But behind these barriers, NATO's top officials were reeling from another case of an Afghan in uniform turning on the NATO personnel they're meant to be working with.
The gunman has been named as Ahmad Gul. He was 48, described as religious. He'd been a pilot for 20 years. The Taliban has claimed he was their sleeper agent. But his relatives deny that. His brother told a local TV station that Gul had mental and financial problems.
Even so, the Taliban has declared inflating the Afghan security forces as a priority and used police and army uniforms like these seized in raids around Kabul this month.
(on camera): Well, here you can see the scale of the problem. These were all seized in just one raid alone. And the police are telling us they have three more container loads, all of original army and police uniforms that have been stolen.
(voice-over): NATO showed us their efforts to weed out insurgent imposters from the Afghan police -- a biometric system, fingerprints, for a country where documentation is shaky, at best, and even retina scans.
But even here, there's a problem. There are 181,000 police in this Afghan database, but only 125,000 in reality. A third of the records are inaccurate.
NATO were helping the Afghanis re-vet every policeman in the country in the next eight months. But with four attacks by men in Afghan uniforms in just a fortnight, it can't happen fast enough. (END VIDEOTAPE)
WALSH: Trust is absolutely vital between Afghan troops and their NATO counterparts. And it's not just in their day to day operations on the ground. It's really in terms of the larger strategic picture, NATO wanting to build them up so they can hand over to the Afghans as soon as possible and begin to go home.
But really, that plan is, to a certain extent, hamstrung as the clock ticks incredibly loudly here on when are American soldiers going to begin to get their plane home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. A lot of families are wondering.
Nine Americans killed on this day. And, as you say, the last two weeks, there have been several of these incidents.
Do we know whether they are Taliban or Al Qaeda?
WALSH: Well, I think it's almost certainly going to be Taliban, if there is an element of infiltration here. The actually broader question, interestingly, if you talk to NATO officials about this, 44 ISAF personnel killed in incidents like this, when Afghan security forces have fired upon them in the last two years. Of the 16 they have investigated, they say about eight of them are related to what they call combat stress. So that's some sort of personal issue with the Afghan security service member against the NATO people he's working with.
The Taliban claim the majority of these really are a result of their sophisticated infiltration program. And to be honest, it's hard to believe that not a single one of those attacks have had some kind of -- not had any Taliban involvement at all.
But really, this issue is taking on a mantle (ph) of its own, frankly. Each time it happens, the Taliban says (INAUDIBLE). And that's undermining the trust between NATO soldiers who, quite often, don't have a huge amount of trust or respect for their Afghan colleagues.
And, Wolf, really, we have to see how this is going to play out in the next few months.
BLITZER: Yes. Certainly from the U.S. perspective, looking at it from Washington, it looks like the whole situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating big time on a day to day basis, which raises questions about General David Petraeus.
We're going to have more on his role in what's going on and the decision to promote him now after what's going on in Afghanistan. That's coming up later this hour. David Ignatius and Fran Townsend will be here for that.
Nick, thanks very much.
Be careful over there in Kabul. The Federal Reserve chairman is trying something new to try to take some of the mystery out on the Fed and its influence on the economy. We'll find out if it's working.
And this very deadly tornado season is getting much, much worse right now. Stand by for the latest.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is looking ahead to the next presidential race, which is already underway. He's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The 2012 run for the White House will be upon us probably a lot sooner than most of us would like, and when it gets here and gets going full bore, it has the potential to be one mud-ugly contest.
As a nation, we have seldom been more divided and that division comes at a time that we can ill afford it. Our problems are huge, threatening our very way of life. We can't afford to remain as divided as we are, but there are no indications -- none -- that things are going to change any time soon.
In an interview on MSNBC, PBS host Tavis Smiley said that the 2012 presidential race is, quote, "going to be the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive and the most racist in the history of this republic," unquote.
Smiley says it's because some members of the Tea Party in particular are willing to do anything and say anything to make sure that President Obama is not reelected.
He points to the renewed interest in the birther movement, all the attention Donald Trump has gotten for questioning the president's birthplace, questioning his ability to get into college and law school, and calling him the worst president ever.
Smiley also points to the fanaticism at some Tea Party events were members have showed up carrying guns. Remember that?
There is a general nastiness in our tone of our national dialogue in this country that didn't used to be there, at least I don't remember it being this bad. Tavis Smiley says Americans have to rediscover civility.
And, of course, he's right, but we seem to be going, instead, in the opposite direction. And when the stakes are as high as they are in a presidential election, there is a win-at-all-costs mentality that seems to take over.
So here's the question: PBS host Tavis Smiley predicts that the 2012 presidential race will be the most ugliest, most racist in our history, is he right?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog. Strong words, Wolf.
BLITZER: Strong words. That campaign is underway in Manhattan tonight. Three fundraisers from the president, so these will be a little traffic jam in New York City tonight, as you can expect, John.
CAFFERTY: Yes, can't they just mail in the money? He comes up here and messes up my commute home. It's very inconvenient.
BLITZER: Don't go near the Waldorf Astoria or town hall, Jon Corzine's homes, that's where the fundraisers are taking place. They're going to raise a lot of money.
CAFFERTY: I never go around Jon Corzine's house ever.
BLITZER: Sometimes -- maybe you'll be invited one of these days.
Thank you, Jack.
Stocks posted significant gains today after an unprecedented news conference by the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke. The Dow and S&P closed at the highest level since 2008, Nasdaq ended the day at a 10-year high. Investors, apparently, were rather pleased with the Fed's stay-the-course strategy and the way the chairman, Ben Bernanke, spoke about it publically.
Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
You had a chance to watch and listen to that extraordinary news conference that's never happened before.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was jaw-dropping to anyone that has covered the Fed before, Wolf. You know that old saying, question authority? Well, it never used to apply to the Federal Reserve. Trying to get an answer about something that wasn't already in a press release they were about to put out was next to impossible there. They set our monetary policy, but were always loathe to answer our questions until now and it's changing.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are into a recovery.
YELLIN (voice-over): In public, a Fed chairman is usually seen but not heard.
BEN BERNANKE, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: Supported by stimulative monetary and fiscal policies and --
YELLIN: Or heard but not questioned, certainly not by the media.
BERNANKE: It's an institution.
YELLIN: Chairman Ben Bernanke began changing that, granting the rare interview and now doing this --
BERNANKE: Good afternoon. Welcome.
YELLIN: He held the first-ever news conference at the Federal Reserve after a monetary policy meeting.
BERNANKE: The Federal Reserve has been looking for ways to increase its transparency for many years, and we've made a lot of progress. It used to be that the mystique of central banking was all about not letting anybody know what you were doing.
YELLIN: His team calls this an historic step.
BERNANKE: The economic recovery is proceeding at a moderate pace.
Our view is that gas prices will not continue to rise at the recent pace.
Every central banker understands that keeping inflation low and stable is absolutely essential to a successful economy, and we will do what's necessary to ensure that that happens.
YELLIN: And the chairman promised more.
BERNANKE: And I personally have always been a big believe in providing as much information as you can to help the public understand what you're doing, to help the markets understand what you're doing, and to be accountable to the public for what you're doing.
YELLIN: That press conference went on an hour. Some questions delved into very dense financial issues. It was not a rowdy press conference with angry questioners, after all, these are financial reporters who want to know what's behind the decision making of some of the most secretive organization in the nation, Wolf.
BLITZER: I dipped in to some of it, but I got to tell you, it's hard to --
YELLIN: You need a translator sometimes.
BLITZER: So why did he do it now?
YELLIN: Well, there are a couple of reasons. One, as you know, Congress voted to have an audit of the Fed, but also the Fed took extraordinary unprecedented action to stem the crisis, the financial crisis. First opening money, cheap money to the banks, and now pouring more money into the system to keep our interest rates low and setting extraordinary policy to keep our interest rates low.
Because they are taking all of these extraordinary steps, they want to be more transparent, more open to the public so we understand what they are doing.
BLITZER: Ron Paul, the Republican presidential candidate, he's been calling for this for a long time.
YELLIN: He championed this audit. He's very pleased today.
BLITZER: He's happy at least they're doing a little more transparency.
YELLIN: Little more, exactly.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
He's the architect of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan some consider it a disaster. Does David Petraeus now deserve to be promoted, to become the next director of the CIA? We'll assess.
And a string of deadly tornadoes sweeping across the southeast, it isn't over yet. The latest, that's next.
BLITZER: This is what the Obama national security team is up against as a major shakeup unfolding, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a military operation in Libya, and a violent crackdown on demonstrators in Syria. Sources now say the current CIA chief, Leon Panetta, is the president's choice to replace the outgoing Defense secretary, Robert Gates, and the Afghan war commander, David Petraeus, is expected to be nominated to fill Panetta's job over at the CIA.
Let's talk about the shuffling with CNN's national security contributor Fran Townsend and "Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius. We should note that Fran is a member of both the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security External Advisory Boards.
Thanks to both of you for joining us. Fran, let me start with you.
Leon Panetta moving into the Department of Defense. What do you think about this? What do you make of this decision by the president? He's got a very strong reputation, is he ready to be the Defense secretary of the United States?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I actually think, assuming that he announces the Panetta nomination, it's a brilliant choice. Leon Panetta not only served in Congress, but was the White House chief of staff. He's needs somebody over at the Department of Defense that understands the impact of budget cuts that must be made are going to have. It means impacts on congressional districts, on jobs in congressional districts, it requires good relationships with the Hill.
And, by the way, in his time at CIA, he's developed relationships with heads of state and intelligence chiefs around the world in the many places you point out he's going to have to deal.
BLITZER: Any downside to Panetta moving over to the Pentagon, David? DAVID IGNATIUS, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, he leaves the CIA open. He's won the loyalty and respect of the CIA workforce. Petraeus is an interesting, provocative choice to succeed him at CIA.
What I find fascinating is that, first, in addition to things that Fran mention, I think that Panetta had the trust of current Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Gates really campaigned for Panetta, saw him as the right successor.
In choosing Petraeus, Obama showed us that he really isn't afraid of having strong personalities in his inner circles. There was all that talk of the team of rivals right at the beginning, but Obama really is comfortable with big, strong, sometimes aggressive personalities, and Petraeus can be that. He is a strong leader for an agency that needs one. The CIA really does need strong, tough people to help it move into the 21st century and deal with the problems it's got.
BLITZER: But he's the architect of this decision, Fran, to not only to double down but really triple down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan right now. The whole strategy, at least right now, looks like it's collapsing.
Why promote someone whose strategy, apparently, at least as of now, looks like it's a failure?
TOWNSEND: Well, a couple of points here, Wolf.
As you point out, you're talking about a moment in time. I remember in 2006 and 2007 where people said Iraq was a failure, that turned out not to be right. I mean, I think the jury's still out --
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you about Iraq. The jury is out about Iraq as well. We don't what is going to happen in Iraq over the next several years. That whole -- that whole agreement that the U.S. has with the government of Nouri al-Maliki could collapse, it could become a close ally of Iran, which it already is.
TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. I mean, and so -- look, I think that what we know about Petraeus is, as David points out, is not only his strong leadership, but during his time in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he had developed a very strong relationship in terms of understanding the capabilities and the importance of the CIA in the role it plays in supporting military -- the successful military --
BLITZER: Well, let me ask David Ignatius, who knows more about the intelligence community than most other journalists. He's very well informed.
The question is this: Petraeus is an intelligent guys, has a Ph.D. from Princeton, obviously a brilliant military tactician, but in Iraq, especially now in Afghanistan, were his strategies a failure or a success?
IGNATIUS: Well, I think you'd have to say that the surge did turn things around in Iraq, the long-term success or failure, as you say, is yet to be known. I think it's fair to say that he'll leave Afghanistan without having succeeded with his campaign plan.
What fascinates me, Wolf, is that if you think that the cleanup in Afghanistan is going to require less uniformed military and more paramilitary, more counterterrorism plots, as people sometimes like to say, the key job may well be CIA director both in dealing with Afghanistan and in dealing with an increasingly difficult Pakistan. Petraeus, the president has obviously decided, is the right man for that process.
BLITZER: As we look ahead to the immediate crisis, Libya, Syria, these things are exploding in a breathtaking way right now. Is this a moment for a major national security shuffle, Fran?
TOWNSEND: I don't think the president has much choice, Wolf. You know, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs job, he can't be renewed, the FBI director, and Gates has said he was leaving. And so there are a number of spots that were coming open beyond the president's control. And so when you fill those, Wolf, you've got look at all of them, because how they work together is incredibly important.
BLITZER: Final thought, David?
IGNATIUS: Well, I think, as you say, we're at a hinge moment in history, in the Arab world and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think the president is lucky to have some people with experience that he trusts. David Petraeus is one of the toughest, smartest generals I've every ever encountered. This is a new challenge for him. It will be fascinating to watch.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see how they do.
Guys, thanks very, very much.
We're following some breaking news across the southern part of the United States, deadly tornadoes destroying parts of the South this afternoon, and it's not over yet. Chad Myers is ahead with where these storms are heading.
And children trained to use assault weapons. The Libyan government is boasting about it.
BLITZER: Deadly tornadoes are causing huge problems right now in parts of the southern U.S. Severe weather swept through within the past few hours. At least a dozen people are dead, and the storms aren't over yet.
Let's bring in our meteorologist Chad Myers with the latest.
BLITZER: A big moment for the United Nations Security Council on the unrest in Syria right now and the government's deadly crackdown. We'll tell you what's happening.
And children being trained to shoot assault rifles and defend Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
BLITZER: A fresh round of deadly violence across the Middle East and North Africa.
In Syria, witnesses say nine people were killed in sniper fire. One group reports that more than 400 people have died since the beginning of the uprising. CNN has been denied access to report from inside the country and we cannot verify witness accounts. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council is holding an openly-televised meeting to address the crisis in Syria right now.
In Yemen, sources say 13 anti-government protesters were killed, more than 100 injured in clashes with security forces, making it one of the deadliest days in weeks in demonstrations.
And in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata, rebels suffering the heaviest bombardment yet by pro-Gadhafi forces. Three people were reportedly killed, several wounded, when shells detonated near a refugee camp.
A startling new attempt to show support for the Libyan government. Gadhafi's fighters, including children, were put on display today by the regime as they got weapons training -- the kids included.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen was taken on the government tour. Let's turn to Fred right now firsthand.
What did you see? What was going on, Fred?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what the government told us, Wolf, is that these people are, in fact, regular people. Obviously, some of them only teenagers. But they said the others were engineers, shopkeepers who wanted to fight for Moammar Gadhafi.
And apparently what's going on is that they're forwarding these pro-Gadhafi fighting forces in some towns. The place that we were taken to is called Tarhuna, which is about 50 miles southeast of Tripoli. And they get about a month of training on things like rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns, assault rifles, and then t hey say they're going to defend Tripoli against what they say is an attack by the NATO crusaders. And they also say that they were willing to fight against the tribes in Misrata.
But one of the disturbing things, obviously, that we saw there is, among these people that were getting training were a lot of teenagers. And later, we also went to a school that we were taken to where we saw girls that we believe were around 12 to maybe 13 also getting training on assault rifles, learning to disassemble and reassemble those assault rifles. So that was something that was quite disturbing.
But again, Gadhafi is saying that these are regular people who are coming to volunteer, to defend him against NATO -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Are these Gadhafi elements so desperate they need little kids, children, to help fight for them?
PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, obviously, this comes at a time when there really hasn't been very much in a show of public support quite recently. I mean, you have pro-Gadhafi demos that are obviously organized here in Tripoli. But one of the things that's going on is that many people here are wondering, if the uprising in places like Misrata, in the east, is really elements that are not Libyan, then where are the Libyans who are standing up against them?
I mean, Gadhafi keeps saying that the tribes in and around the Misrata area are going to go there, are going to speak to the rebels there. So far, that hasn't happened, and some people are wondering where that public support actually is.
So this seems to be somewhat of a show or a campaign to show that, yes, that public support is there. Yes, the people in some places are willing to take up arms for Gadhafi. And it does seem as though there is some support -- or a lot of support -- at least in that area that we were in, in Tarhuna, for Moammar Gadhafi, as well as in other places here in western Libya. However, so far, to many people here and many to people around the world, that doesn't seem as though people are not mobilizing in favor of Moammar Gadhafi -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen, on the scene for us in Tripoli.
A big step, at least potentially, toward political reconciliation in the Palestinian territories. Officials of Hamas and Fatah say the rival movements have announced a deal to form a unity government. The move comes amid international efforts to advance the cause of Palestinian statehood.
Donald Trump claims to have a new weapon against President Obama. The problem is, it doesn't exist. We'll talk about it in our "Strategy Session."
Plus, the actor Matt Damon helping provide people around the world with clean water. In this "Impact Your World" segment, we travel with him to Ethiopia.
MATT DAMON, ACTOR/WATER.ORG: We're about 60 kilometers outside Mek'ele, Ethiopia.
This is a hand-dug well. It services about 6,000 people.
The kids behind me, they've come here to gather their water. The bottles you see them drinking, full of that dirty water. That's what they come to fetch to take to school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a matter of life and death.
DAMON: A matter of life and death.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DAMON: It's in people's nature to want to step up and do their part.
ANNOUNCER: Join the movement, CNN.com/impact.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us now, the interim co-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Donna Brazile, also a CNN political contributor. And the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
What do you think, Donna? Why do you think the president decided today of all days to go ahead and release his original birth certificate? A lot of folks have been pressing him to do it for two years.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as you know, he did release his birth certificate two years ago, posted it on his campaign Web site. But, as you know, Wolf, in the last couple of where there's been new allegations that the first -- the short form wasn't good enough, that some people wanted to see the long form.
And so the president had to request, because since the 1980s, the state of Hawaii has an administration regulation that you have to request a live form, the longer form. And so he received it last night and they put it out first thing this morning.
Look, I don't believe it's going to stop the rumors. It's not going to stop the distraction. And it won't stop the birthers from going around making up more things. But at least the president has put it out there. And if you want to know what his sign it, he's a Leo and he was born at 7:24 p.m.
Thank you, Mr. President.
BLITZER: We learned that.
Should this now end this whole birther controversy, Alex? Is it over once and for all?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, we certainly hope so, because there's certainly enough serious issues confronting the United States and questions about President Obama's leadership. I mean, if we're going to release a long form, it would be great to see the longer explanation of how the president wants to spend more in Washington while reducing the deficit, how he's going to stimulate the economy while taking tax money out of it, how he's going to win a war in Libya while he's trying to get out of the war in Libya. There's a lot of other things we could talk about other than something I think the president has put to bed today.
BLITZER: Donald Trump came out boasting he's responsible for getting the president to do this today, Donna. Should Donald Trump be taken seriously as a potential Republican presidential candidate?
BRAZILE: Look, I think you should take anybody seriously, Wolf, who wants to toss their hat in the ring. And, of course, with his money and celebrity, I would take him seriously.
But I want to address what Alex just said, because that's the reason why the president wants to move this conversation out of the Republican caucus and out of the mainstream media, because he wants to talk about how to attack the deficit in a fair and balanced way. He wants to talk about job creation, he wants to talk about giving small businesses the capital they need to go out there and produce the jobs of the 21st century. But you can't have that conversation if all we're listening to is the noise on the far right.
Alex, just quickly, on the Republican field, the presidential field out there, you know, there are a lot of folks in your party, the Republican Party, who aren't satisfied really with any of these candidates. They are looking for someone else from the outside -- Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida; Marco Rubio, the current young senator from Florida; Chris Christie. Now Paul Ryan's name is being mentioned.
What do you think? Is the current field that weak that they've got to find somebody else who isn't even interested in running?
CASTELLANOS: Not at all, Wolf. As a matter of fact, this is generally the way the process works.
One of the things I've learned in hundreds and hundreds of campaigns over the years is that campaigns don't pick candidates. Campaigns make candidates.
They go through this tough process with presidential primaries just like Senator Barack Obama did. Nobody gave him a shot at the start. But they go through this tough process, and it strengthens them.
Some get knocked out. We find out they don't have the strength of character or the vision to lead. But others become presidential contenders right in front of our eyes. The Republican field is going to look very different six months from now because they are going to be tested.
BLITZER: Can't wait to see it all unfold because I love politics, especially presidential politics.
Guys, thanks very much.
BRAZILE: I think Mr. Trump needs to call Alex because he could get some really good advice.
BLITZER: Well, maybe Alex will go to work for Donald Trump if he becomes the Republican candidate.
You interested, Alex?
CASTELLANOS: I just lost him.
BLITZER: No, he can't hear me. He just lost us.
BRAZILE: I'll speak for him. Alex will take his call.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks, guys.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're studying the president's newly-released birth certificate line by line. Stand by. Tom Foreman, over at the Magic Wall, to show us the fine print.
And a CNN correspondent has managed to get back into Misrata to report firsthand on the devastation unfolding by Libyan forces.
BLITZER: The first glimpse of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords just months after being shot in the head in that deadly Tucson massacre.
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What do you have, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, you can see her here boarding the plane for Florida where she will attend Friday's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. Her husband, Mark Kelly, will command that mission. Giffords has been recovering from her brain injury at a Houston rehabilitation hospital.
Meanwhile, at the Kennedy Space Center, the site of Friday's scheduled shuttle launch, authorities were dealing with a 50-acre brushfire that broke out just about three miles from the launch pad. Officials say no facilities are in danger and Endeavour's countdown has not been impacted. It's suspected lightning may have sparked that blaze.
Prince William and Kate Middleton are gearing up for their big day. With just two days to go until their wedding, the royal couple headed to Westminster Abbey to rehearse.
Meanwhile, British military troops conducted a dry run of their own. Many of them served on the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. British Prime Minister David Cameron shared the mood of the country with CNN's Richard Quest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's a very exciting time. And as you know, I mean, the British people, we don't always wear our heart on our sleeve. But I think people are genuinely excited.
It's not just that it's a good-looking prince and a beautiful princess. It's much more than that. The monarchy is such an amazing institution. It's been through so many incredible phases. And this is, if you like, the team of the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: It's all very exciting. And you'll want to stay with CNN for the full royal wedding experience. Our special coverage begins Friday at 4:00 a.m. Eastern.
And Wolf, are you going to be getting up early to watch the --
BLITZER: No. No.
SYLVESTER: You're not going to be getting up early?
BLITZER: No. That's why they created DVRs and stuff like that. I don't think I'm going to get up at 4:00 in the morning, but I'm sure millions and millions -- hundreds of millions -- billions will watch around the world.
SYLVESTER: I know. I'm going to get up.
BLITZER: You know, I've got to be strong by 5:00 in the afternoon. I've got to be ready to go.
All right. Let's bring in Jack Cafferty.
Jack, I know you are going to be up at 4:00 in the morning watching that wedding, right?
CAFFERTY: If that wedding was going to be held in my living room, I wouldn't come out of the bedroom. OK?
CAFFERTY: The question this hour: PBS host Travis Smiley predicts the 2012 presidential race will be the ugliest, most racist election in our history. Is he right?
Jamie in St. Louis writes, "It's a moronic statement to think that the upcoming election will be the ugliest in our nation's history. The 1828 election between Jackson and Adams was incredibly personal and ugly. This is just another case of over-exaggeration and over-dramatization from a person that's overly-sensitive to criticism of the person that he supports."
Marsha in Kansas writes, "It's already been the most racists. What do you think this birther thing is all about? And now Trump is hinting that a black man could not possibly be smart enough to get into Columbia and Harvard. He doesn't say black man, but we all know what he means."
Eleanor writes, "Of course he's right. How could it be otherwise? Never before has a candidate's race been a factor in a presidential election. Never have there been so many threats against a president's life. The signs are everywhere. Racism is deep and dangerous in the American psyche."
Jason writes from Hawaii, "He's not even close. Historically, I would say every election within 25 years before or after the Civil War will probably trump the 2012 election. But judging by the obviously racist backlash of last midterm, where almost every southern state sent a conservative white male to Congress, it will be more racially charged than any election since the civil rights movement heated up 40 to 50 years ago."
Bill in Illinois writes this: "There will be those on the left that will vote for the president because of his race, which is also about racism. The PBS host left that part out."
And Ron writes, "I sure hope not. We have much larger issues to contend with other than turning the presidential race into a carnival sideshow."
"How will this look to the rest of the world? How can we expect them to take the U.S. seriously anymore? It's time for us to think and grow up."
If you want to read more on this, go to the blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.
It's 6:00, Wolf.
BLITZER: Exactly. Thank you, Jack.