Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Releases Long-Form Birth Certificate; Trump Takes Credit for White House Move; Tornado on the Ground in Alabama

Aired April 27, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Exactly. Thank you, Jack. To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, an extraordinary development in an ongoing controversy.

President Obama puts out his birth certificate for all the world to see. We'll get reaction from the man lately leading the so-called birther charge, Donald Trump. He's talking to CNN first. Stand by.

Also, two wars under way and now the biggest national security shake-up of the Obama administration. Some well known faces are taking on some top new positions.

And Libya's third largest city, literally laid to waste in more than seven weeks of brutal fighting. We have dramatic new images of the destruction of Misrata by Gadhafi's forces.

Breaking news, political headlines, Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

But first, an extraordinary move more than two years into office. The sitting president of the United States tries to prove his legitimacy.

President Obama released copies of his long form original birth certificate today showing he was in fact born in Hawaii and confronting head-on a conspiracy theory that has dogged him since his days as a candidate.

The so-called birther controversy questioning whether the president was actually born in the United States has revved up in recent weeks thanks in part to potential Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

He's been pressing the issue despite previous proof, hard proof debunking all of those birther allegations. Mr. Obama compared the issue to a carnival side show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Now, this issue has been going on for two, two and a half years now. I think it started during the campaign. I have to say that over the last two and a half years, I have watched with bemusement. I've been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going. We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers. We live in a serious time right now, and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids proud.

I know that there's going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put out this issue will not be put to rest. But 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 got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve. I'm confident we can solve them, but we have to focus on them. Not on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's take a closer look at the president's birth certificate. CNN's Tom Foreman is here to help us dig deeper. Tom, what does this document show that the previous certificate of live birth didn't show?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What this document shows is details. The president referred to this as a side show and silliness. That's framing. Let's look at framing of our own.

Twelve missions from NASA since this controversy began. Twitter went from 300 daily tweets to more than 140 million. Gas prices from $1.60 to $3.88 and the iPhone went through four generations.

All of that has gone on while this debate has raged about whether Barack Obama was born on this island and in this hospital and finally after all this time what we have is details and a lot more of them before.

Details about who the doctor was, specifically where the family was. A lot of things we didn't see in the original document when we saw it, which was a much simpler document in you look at that. Just a few details. This was certification of live birth.

So there are still questions despite this. Despite all these details, for example. Some of the people who are still very concerned about the authenticity of this point out that in the name it says Obama II. They argue it would have been more typical if this is genuine to say junior.

They also point to this. Race of father, African. They say, well, back then you normally would have written Negro even though his father had history in Kenya. The simple truth is at this point they raising these questions again because politically those questions have produced some kinds of results.

Look at this. If you look at poll data along through this process, back in July of 2010, definitely yes. Was President Obama born in the U.S.? 42 percent said yes, probably yes, 29 percent, probably no, 16 percent. Those numbers really haven't changed a lot from July of last year to March of this year. They are still in the same ballpark, but these were still significant weighty numbers for a president in office to have to deal with.

That many people still question whether or not he might even be legitimate. After all of these events that we saw out there, finally after all this time, we have the paperwork that says there is a difference in the detail we can see now compared to what we saw before. Wolf --

BLITZER: Tom, thanks very much. Donald Trump is certainly taking credit for the release of the president's birth certificate. He's been staking out his possible presidential bid on this so-called birther issue.

And now says and I'm quoting him now, I've accomplished something nobody else was able to accomplish. Trump was in the first primary state of New Hampshire today. That's where CNN's chief national correspondent John King is right now.

He landed the first interview with Donald Trump after all of this broke. How did that interview go, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was pretty contentious in part. You know, Donald Trump well. You know he's big in real estate. He's big in reality television and he is big in self- promotion.

He got off his helicopter in Port Smith, New Hampshire this morning and he was bragging and pounding his chest saying I got the president to do this. No one else could get the president to do this.

But as Donald Trump has risen in polls among perspective Republican candidates by focusing on this so-called birther debate, he has said a number of things that don't stand up to the fact check.

And so when I sat down with him earlier today, he did do bragging, but I also tried to press him on a few points. Let's listen a little.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You raised this saying the president should release this --

DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: You raised this.

KING: I didn't call a press conference earlier this week.

TRUMP: Every time I sit down with the press all they want to talk about the birth certificate. I got him to do something that nobody else could get him to do.

KING: You raise this issue of his credibility. If he has it, he should release it. TRUMP: Absolutely.

KING: There are some people who question yours in the middle of this. The other night you went on Anderson Cooper and you said your investigators told you it was missing or it wasn't there.

TRUMP: Excuse me.

KING: What was that based on?

TRUMP: Excuse me, very simple. I have people looking into it. Now I don't have to have the people. I can call them back. I hope. I mean, I haven't seen this. I'm sure that a lot of experts will analyze this.

KING: If serious people told you it was missing or not there, here it is.

TRUMP: Would I pay them? I'll let you negotiate for me. I can say this. Let me tell you, I don't make up anything. Let me tell you something, I have done a great service to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And Wolf, I will say I have a copy of it here. I had it with me the newly released certificate of live birth and Mr. Trump say he wanted to inspect it himself. I tried to give him a copy. He said he didn't want to see my copy. He would look at one himself.

He also has said in a couple of recent interviews one with ABC and one with CNN that if President Obama released his birth certificate perhaps he would release his tax forms. So I asked him if he was ready to that.

And he backtracked a little bit, Wolf, saying that if he makes an official announcement for president then he will put out all the financial records. Not now and not after this. Some retail politics here today.

He's still being a little bit cagey, Wolf, but all indications from all the Republicans he met with here is they're all convinced he's going to run and make that decision in early June.

If he does run, here's a footnote internally. He promised to participate in our debate. CNN has a Republican debate here in June. Donald trump said if he's in the race, he's in that debate, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because a lot of folks skeptics of Donald Trump think he's doing this to promote ratings for his TV show "Celebrity Apprentice" to try to build up especially for the sweeps month of May to get as many viewers out there as possible.

And then he's going to announce, you know what, never mind. You covered politics, John, for a long time. What impression did you get?

KING: He has flirted with this in the past. Promoted himself in the past and then walked away. He is doing more. He's more serious this time. Republicans up here in New Hampshire say he's talking to people about hiring them.

He still has plenty of wiggle room to get out, Wolf. He's flirting more aggressively this time I guess. We'll see in the end. You can count me as one of those skeptics. However, he is doing more this time than he has in the past when he flirted.

BLITZER: And the full interview airs at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA," is that right, John?

KING: That's right, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch it 7:00 p.m. Eastern at the top of the hour, "JOHN KING, USA." Shall we say contentious interview with Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): Let's go to Chad Myers. Amazing pictures coming in. Look at this tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Tell our viewers, Chad, what's going on here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHAD MYERS, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: This is a tornado on the ground. It's been on the ground a very long time. Just north of I-22 there in Tuscaloosa. The storm has been rotating for 100 miles and this video here, this is live video coming out of Tuscaloosa. Might have just froze up a bit there on us.

But it's still on the ground causing damage. If you are in Tuscaloosa including Alabama University, you need to take cover right now. This is at least 120 to 150-mile-per-hour tornado on the ground and it will be causing damage. I'll take you to radar right now as it moves out and up toward Haleyville and there we go back over here to this side right back up there.

We have video on the air? Are we back to it? OK. Let's go back to it. Let's take it live.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MYERS: All right, here we go. WBMA, our affiliate there obviously the camera bouncing due to the wind and this is just moments ago on tape. A large tornado moving into Tuscaloosa.

If you are anywhere near there, you need to take cover, Wolf. This is major tornado and this is a very big night for tornadoes. There will be many more just like this on the ground.

BLITZER (voice-over): What a horrible -- I don't know if it's normal or not normal, but it seems to me that there have been more tornadoes in these past few weeks than in a long time I've been covering these stories, is it unusual or regular? MYERS: It's a very unusual at this point. We started out the year very slow. Not too many tornadoes. And in the past three weeks, we've had a jet stream pattern where tornadoes have formed almost every night.

And sometimes we've had a very high probability of tornadoes and that night was yesterday and we had a night of that on Monday and we have another night of this tonight. This will not, certainly not be the last tornado we see.

We're back to live again. We saw just a couple of frames there of live TV before it froze up on us again. You can see a tower there in the foreground. This is a large -- we call this a wedge tornado. You can understand the reason why, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a city Tuscaloosa. Does it look like the tornado is moving right into the city of Tuscaloosa?

MYERS: It sure does. Although I don't have Doppler radar right at my disposal right here as I'm looking at this. It appears to me that it may be moving to the south side of the city. Although right now from this vantage point and this angle and me being blind by radar, I cannot tell.

It is definitely in the city of Tuscaloosa moving in from the southwest at almost 50 miles per hour. You need to take cover now. Get away from windows, inside the building. There it goes. It just moved again. You can even see some of those guide wires there bloos.

And there it is as they pan to the left we see it again live. This is a F-3 tornado at least. Probably 130 to 150 miles per hour picking up things and you can see debris on the sides of the picture there. This is a major problem for the city of Tuscaloosa. Get inside a building. Don't get out and look it. You don't need to be a storm chaser now. You need to be inside and save your life.

BLITZER: Yes, and go to the lowest possible location if there's a bathroom, go into the bathtub they say. That's good advice usually for a lot of folks in the course of these tornadoes, Chad, Right?

MYERS: It is except I sometimes hesitate to say bathroom because sometimes bathrooms have windows. Don't want you near a window. Windows break. When windows break, glass shatters and then you can get cut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MYERS: If you can be inside of a closet, make sure there's nothing heavy above you. Inside of a closet inside of a room, then you put as many walls between you and the outside as possible because when you see a tornado hit a house, the only thing that's left is the middle part sometimes when you get a tornado that's that big.

Here's the radar right here. Here's Tuscaloosa, the rotation. Sometimes we look, Wolf, for the hook on the back of the storm. I'll draw it for you here, the hook here and rotation. Tuscaloosa, the Alabama University right up there. University of Alabama and this has been travelling right in from the southwest to the northeast still there moving. We still have any of those pictures?

BLITZER: We know it's on the Black Warrior River. University of Alabama as you say in Tuscaloosa. This is a city of about 100,000 people. So this is a major city.

MYERS: There's no question that this is a deadly situation for people that don't get out of the way. You can get just as injured by flying debris as by anything else. People typically don't get picked up like going to Kansas in the Wizard of Oz.

That's not how people get hurt or get killed. They get killed because they get hit by something. They get hit by wood or shingles or debris flying outside. That's why it's so important to get inside.

And while we say get to the lowest level, it's because if you ever look at a two-story house and the house gets hit by a tornado, the top story is typically gone. Only the bottom story is still standing.

And then, of course, you always have another layer if you get to the basement, the basement is always, always the safest place in a tornado if you have one.

BLITZER: Yes, we see that video courtesy of our affiliate WBMA. It keeps freezing on us. We're not seeing it live understandably given the weather circumstances. Chad, we'll get back to you. Stay in close touch. Thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Tornado hitting Tuscaloosa, Alabama, right now.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next for "The Cafferty File" and then we'll go back to this other story. Extraordinary day. The birthers are reacting to the release of the president's birth certificate. Are they now convinced he was actually born in Hawaii? Stand by.

A CNN crew makes its way to Misrata and finds a virtual wasteland. An entire city in ruin after weeks of brutal fighting, killing led by Gadhafi's thugs.

And he's held multiple powerful posts in Washington and now Leon Panetta is poised to leave the CIA and become the next secretary of defense.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: Republican Congressman Rand Paul of Texas announced yesterday he's forming a presidential exploratory committee. A possible first step toward officially entering the White House race in 2012.

He joins a small pool of really unexciting Republicans who have done the same thing. These include former Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Rick Santorum, former senator of Pennsylvania and other names like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann.

They all have been tossed around as possible contenders so far it's a pretty weak field. Billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump has talked a lot about running himself. I don't think he will, but he's talking about it.

According to the polls, voters are not particularly wowed by any of these possibilities including Rand Paul. It's not the first time that Paul, who is a physician, has thought about being president. He won the libertarian nomination in 1988 and in 2008, he ran in the Republican primaries, but he never got more than about 10 percent of the vote.

Things could be different though this time. Rand Paul has a small, but rabid following. He is capable of raising buckets of money, which of course is a necessity in today's elections. He's an outspoken fiscal conservative and his main message is smaller government, less spending, less debt.

He also doesn't think we ought to be fighting wars half a world away, which makes a certain amount of sense. At his announcement yesterday, Paul said the United States has changed a lot in the last four years and that more and more Americans are subscribing to a smaller government anti-interventionist philosophy.

If he should be successful, what a breath of fresh air he would be compared to the rather disgusting status quo of presidential politics in this country.

Here's the question then. Could the third time be a charm for Rand Paul? Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post comment on my blog.

I like him a lot. He's got some very good --

BLITZER: He's a very intelligent guy. He's outspoken. He's not afraid to say controversial things. Always available to do interviews on television, isn't shy.

CAFFERTY: You know what the other thing about him? I think I'm right about he seems to be honest, which is really refreshing.

BLITZER: His son is now a senator.

CAFFERTY: But the son is -- he ain't the dad. I like the dad.

BLITZER: But the son is impressive. I like him. Rand. Both smart guys. Jack, thanks.

CAFFERTY: Yes. BLITZER: We've now seen the birth certificate, but the conspiracy theorist out there, they are still not satisfied. Just ahead, we'll take the proof to some of the biggest so-called birthers.

Wait until you hear what they are saying now. When Donald Trump arrived in New Hampshire today, he took his conspiracy theories to a whole new level.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: How do you get into Harvard if you're not a right student? Now, maybe that's right or maybe it's wrong. But I don't know why he doesn't release his records. Why doesn't he release his Occidental records?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More now on the president's surprise move today releasing copies of his original long form birth certificate to show once and for all that he was in fact born in the United States.

But even he admits some fringe elements out there will never be satisfied no matter what he does. CNN's Brian Todd is getting reaction from some of those doubters including the so-called Birther Movement activists. What are they saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some of them say it's a good first step, but many of them question the timing of this and some say it's flat out not enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It's been a tortured road of conjecture and implied conspiracy over the president's birth and even with the release of his long form birth certificate, that road winds on.

JOSEPH FARAH, CEO/EDITOR IN CHIEF, WND.COM: I think it raises more questions than it answers.

TODD (on camera): Why?

FARAH: Because this issue has gotten side tracked to the focus of where he was born.

TODD (voice-over): Joseph Farah, CEO of wnd.com is a conservative journalist and Tea Party ally who once launched a public campaign demanding proof of the president's birth place. He says he's gratified the certificate's been released, but it's not enough for him.

Farah now says because Mr. Obama's father was a Kenyan citizen, he might be a dual citizen and not what the founders had in mind as natural born American. He goes even further by questioning whether Mr. Obama was adopted by his Indonesian stepfather, which puts further down on his citizenship.

CNN has found no evidence of either assertion or found nothing that would disqualify President Obama from his office.

(on camera): It might seem the critics of yours that, OK, you get this and you just want other things to nail the president with. Other documents that it's never going to end.

FARAH: Right and that's an accusation I can certainly understand. I can certainly appreciate. But the thing I would point out is we are dealing with an issue of pre-eminent importance.

Because we're dealing with the eligibility of not just a candidate for the president, but now somebody who has been in the office for two years.

TODD (voice-over): The doubters aren't quieted on conservative talk radio either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't put anything to rest for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't trust whatever comes out of his mouth.

TODD (on camera): The bulk of calls to the radio station here really don't question the legitimacy of this document, but it's more the question of the timing, the political reasoning behind it. Why now when it could have been two or three years ago.

(voice-over): WMAL host Chris Plante is not a so-called birther, but he says the timing of the release just raises too many suspicions?

CHRIS PLANTE, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Why today? If it's no big deal releasing it today, why was it a big deal releasing it last week? It just doesn't compute. There's something about it that still doesn't make sense. There's something that seems dishonest about it all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The White House said today, they believed they resolved this issue at least two years ago when they released the printout of the official state of Hawaii certification of live birth.

But they say this has only recently come up as a big story in the media, hence the timing. CNN has done many stories investigating the birth issue. Many of them recently spurred by Donald Trump's repeated assertions.

And we again, have never found any evidence that the president is not a natural born American, Wolf.

BLITZER: These holdouts are skeptics. They also point to this one individual that they think played a significant role.

TODD: One guy they're still holding on to. Everywhere we went today conservatives mentioned what about Terry Lakan, Colonel Terry Lakan.

He's the guy who refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan contending that President Obama was not legally the commander in chief and therefore, didn't have authority to send him there.

He's an army colonel. He was court-martialed and jailed for that. Conservatives say the Obama team let him, quote, "rot in jail." Saying they released this a long time ago. He could have been freed.

But what really happened was, he was jailed for disobeying orders. That was the reason for the court-martial.

BLITZER: Yes, I remember that. All right, Brian, thanks very much. Rightly or wrongly, Donald Trump is taking lots of credit, in fact, all of the credit for the release of the president's birth certificate and true to form, he's not shy about it. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Today, I'm very proud of myself because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish. I was just informed while on the helicopter that our president has finally released a birth certificate.

I am really honored frankly to have played such a big role in hopefully, hopefully getting rid of this issue. Is it real? Is it proper? What's on it? I hope that it checks out beautifully. I am really proud. I'm really honored. I feel I've accomplished something really, really important.

I'm honored by it. You have to ask the president why didn't he do this a long time ago? Why didn't he do it a long time ago? You could have many people looking at it and obviously they're going to have to make a decision because it is rather amazing that all of a sudden it materializes.

Honestly, I'm very proud I was able to bring this to a point. Nobody else was. Are you an intelligent man? Let me ask you? Are you intelligent? Have you been listening? I have a very successful show on television. The number one show on NBC.

A show that even "The New York Times" yesterday said is a very, very successful show. I have a show called "Celebrity Apprentice." I cannot announce until that show is over. Just can't do it. I'd love to do it for you, but I can't do it for you.

When the show is over -- let me explain. When the show is over, and the finale will be on May 22nd. When the show is over, I will then be free to announce. I think you will be surprised at a number of things, but I think you will be surprised at what my announcement is.

I heard at Columbia he wasn't a good student. He then gets to Harvard. How do you get into Harvard if you're not a good student? Now, maybe that's right or maybe it's wrong. But I don't know why he doesn't release his records. Why doesn't he release his Occidental records?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about this with our senior political analyst, David Gergen and Gloria Borger. I know you've been doing reporting, Gloria, on this. Why did the president -- and I think it was the president personally who made this decision -- decide today he was going to release the birth certificate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was the president who decided this, and it was some time last week. The words that came up in my conversations with senior White House aides were "frustrated," "corrosive," this had infected our politics.

The president gave a big deficit speech. He got asked about the birther issue, and that's what led the evening news, and I think that's kind of what got him upset.

I was also told by one senior aide that there's a personal element to this that can't be underestimated. And there's a sense that the birther movement and maybe those who believe that the president is a Muslim is another way to de-legitimatize the presidency itself, and that this was something that got to Barack Obama.

He had to send a personal attorney to Hawaii to look into this, bring back the documents. They came at 4 p.m. in the afternoon yesterday. And they were released today.

BLITZER: Do you understand Donald Trump, David Gergen? You teach at Harvard. The president of the United States went to Harvard Law School and graduated magna cum laude, top 10 percent of his class, president of the "Harvard Law Review." Obviously a very good student.

And all of a sudden he's pointing to, well, when he was a freshman in Occidental in California maybe he didn't have such great grades. How did he get into Columbia and then Harvard?

What's the point? Why is Donald Trump doing this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Donald Trump wants to be larger than life. He builds great hotels, but he's also got a very big mouth. And he wants to -- I have to tell you, Wolf, I think most Americans are sick and tired of this story, and they're right. They think that Donald Trump is doing this only for personal aggrandizement.

And they think we've been hijacked, that we in the -- we in the press have been -- are complicit in this. We're giving this guy tons of time, letting him run his mouth and, meanwhile, people can't find jobs and America is -- you know, is rich. China is rising beyond us. We've got all these other issues. You know, so I, like most of America, would like to see the end of this today, and they'd like us to move on.

BLITZER: Let's hope that this is the end of it, and we will move on. But you've got to admit, as a presidential scholar, David, when the president of the United States two years into his presidency does something like this, it's obviously worth reporting on and assessing and then moving on.

GERGEN: It's -- I agree with that. I'm glad we reported on it. The president deserves his day in court. We deserve to know he's frustrated. Donald Trump has had his say. And now let's move onto other, more important issues.

On the issue of Harvard, I mean, Barack Obama, as you point out, you know, he was a -- he was a stellar student at one of the toughest law schools in the country. He was the first African-American ever to be elected president of the Harvard -- "Harvard Law Review." That's what made his name. That's what catapulted him and got him a book contract to write a book.

So you know, I do think it's time to move on. I'm glad we gave it the news but I think it's time to move on.

BLITZER: Let's move on right now, guys. Thanks very much.

The horrors of war revealed. CNN's Reza Sayah has managed to get into Libyan city of Misrata, only to find a scene of near total devastation.

And the CIA director, Leon Panetta, now poised to become -- now poised, I should say, to become defense secretary. We have details of a major national security shake-up in the Obama administration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. Let's follow up on these devastating pictures. You see this tornado hitting Tuscaloosa, Alabama, city of about 100,000 people, home of the University of Alabama.

Joining us on the phone right now is Kellen Treadway. She's one of seven or eight people who were in the lobby of a hotel, the Tuscaloosa Econolodge. And what happened, Kellen? Pick up the story when you got word that this tornado was heading your way.

KELLEN TREADWAY, TORNADO SURVIVOR (via phone): Well, it was going to be a couple miles north of us so we were watching out the window and just -- just saw this huge black funnel coming -- bearing down on us.

And we ran for the bathroom. We all huddled in the bathroom until it moved past us some. And when we came out, we were just watching it just -- and it was about, I guess, a couple miles off, maybe. And you could just see the debris, like, you could see it picking up the debris and just throwing stuff everywhere.

BLITZER: What -- how much damage was there to the Econolodge?

TREADWAY: There was none. I mean, there was a trash can out front that got blown across the parking lot and that was it.

BLITZER: Was anybody hurt? Are all the folks who were with you OK?

TREADWAY: Yes. Everybody's fine. Everybody went their separate ways right afterwards.

BLITZER: So you guys were just lucky that it didn't hurt. And as of now we're getting no reports -- at least so far, thank God -- of fatalities in Tuscaloosa. But we'll stay on top of this.

Kellen, thanks very much. Glad you guys got out safe and sound.

TREADWAY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Moving on to other news we're following. A man who's held many high positions here in Washington is about to take another huge job. You're going to hear where CIA director Leon Panetta is heading next.

Also CNN's John King, he gets the first interview with Donald Trump since President Obama's long-form birth certificate was released today. Is Trump ready to put the so-called birther issue to rest? His heated response and more. That's coming up later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following these tornadoes in the south, and now apparently Birmingham, Alabama, right in the eye. Chad Myers is watching what's going on. We saw what happened in Tuscaloosa just a little while ago. Now Birmingham, an even bigger city.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. And Hueytown and Birmingham in the path of a large and dangerous tornado.

We talk about a hook echo. It's easy to find right here. And, in fact, there is the super cell part, so it's now beginning to hail in Hueytown and Birmingham. The cell is moving directly into Hueytown, right up the interstate, and eventually into Birmingham.

This is a large and deadly and dangerous tornado. This is the biggest tornado that we have seen so far today. The tornado would be right there. That's what we call on the radar, that little spot right there, that dark spot, Wolf, we call it a debris ball. It's not rain. It's not hail. It literally is the debris from homes and trees and shingles and cars.

It's the debris that is now being picked up in the cell, in the tornado itself, because a metal plate or an aluminum siding is very easy to see on a radar picture. And that radar bounces off that stuff, and it's a completely deadly situation here with at least an F- 3 on the ground, possibly larger. We knew it was that large when it moved just to the south of the University of Alabama about half hour ago. It is now heading into another major populated area.

BLITZER: Let's hope and pray for the best for the folks there in Birmingham. Tuscaloosa just hit. We're watching it closely. We'll stay in close touch with you, Chad. Stand by. Other news we're following, including a major shake-up in President Obama's national security team. Sources telling CNN the president will nominate the CIA director, Leon Panetta, to replace the outgoing defense secretary, Robert Gates, with Afghan war commander General David Petraeus replacing Panetta over at the CIA.

Panetta has held a number of powerful positions here in Washington. CNN's Lisa Sylvester is taking a closer look at Leon Panetta and his extensive resume. What are you learning about this man who's going to be the next secretary of defense?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Leon Panetta has actually served in the Army. He served for two years after law school.

And then when he first went into government service, he was actually a Republican. He left the Nixon administration, became a Democrat, and has since rotated through some incredibly high positions in government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Leon Panetta has worn so many hats in Washington, it can be a little hard to keep track. He came to Washington as a young congressman from California in 1976, serving for nine terms.

As a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, President Clinton tapped him to head up the Office of Management and Budget, playing a key role during the 1993 budget negotiations.

LEON PANETTA, INCOMING DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's a tough budget. It's also a big budget.

SYLVESTER: Panetta also served as President Clinton's chief of staff from 1994 to 1997.

Longtime friend John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress, worked under Panetta at the White House.

JOHN PODESTA, FOUNDER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: He has tremendous respect from people who worked for him because he gives respect to the people who work for him. He expects a lot out of you, but then he -- you know, he -- he gives you respect in return. And I think he'll -- he has the right kind of skills and quality to be a tremendous leader in the Pentagon.

SYLVESTER: Podesta is among those who says Panetta is a good fit for the job as secretary of defense. Knowing how to navigate Capitol Hill among his former congressional colleagues, his experience serving in the White House, having a pulse on the intelligence community, and being an expert on all things budget related.

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO: A lot of people say he really has the perfect resume for this job and especially for what the Defense Department needs to do. In the coming years it's going to be less about fighting wars and more about fighting the bureaucracy, bringing down the Pentagon's budget to meet the sort of overall austerity that the whole federal government is going to have to reach.

PANETTA: ... Central Intelligence Agency.

SYLVESTER: Budget experience, yes, but some in Congress questioned his lack of experience in the intelligence field when he was named by President Obama as CIA director two years ago. But being an outsider at the Pentagon could have its advantages.

TODD HARRISON, CENTER FOR BUDGETARY ASSESSMENT: He certainly comes to the department with somewhat of a clean slate. He has not been part of, you know, the Pentagon bureaucracy. He's not part of the inner service rivalries that exist within the Pentagon and all of the different factions that are competing for the secretary of defense's time.

SYLVESTER: Panetta is also seen as confirmable, key in Washington politics. His friend John Podesta jokes with a resume like this...

PODESTA: There's only one thing left for him to do, which is maybe he should run for president in 2016.

SYLVESTER (on camera): Any predictions there?

PODESTA: I don't think so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Panetta, though, is 72 years old now. So if confirmed he will be one of the oldest people to be secretary of defense. So all joking aside, John Podesta thinks Panetta will want to enjoy time in beautiful Monterey, California, which is where he is from after the stint in government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Beautiful home out there. I've known him since he was a congressman, budget director, White House chief of staff. He's -- as everyone knows who knows Leon Panetta knows, he's a very smart and very nice guy. He's a real gentleman. We wish him good luck over at the Department of Defense.

Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

Can the third run for president be the charm for Ron Paul? Jack Cafferty and your e-mail coming up next.

And coming up at the top of the hour, John King gets the first reaction from Donald Trump to the release of the president's birth certificate. You'll want to see John's interview with Donald Trump.

And Jeanne Moos takes a closer look at what we're now calling the media birther circus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is hour is: "Can the third time be a charm for Ron Paul?" Looks more and more like the Texas congressman is going to take another run at the White House.

Carl writes, "I hope so. We need a true change, not just more words. Something different than those two corrupt political parties that exist today."

Ray in Tennessee: "The GOP nominee's probably going to be a Tea Party Republican. That will draw from Ron Paul's true libertarian base. I don't think that bodes well for the congressman."

Terrence in New Jersey writes, "Try three times and you're out is more like it."

Sean writes, "Probably not, I wrote him in in '08, and I will again in 2012, but the majority of Americans don't seem to realize how much trouble this country is in. Besides, he's honest."

Jay in New York writes, "He's the only person on the right side of the aisle I would even consider voting for."

John in Vermont: "He's certainly much better presidential timber than the rest of the GOP carnival show that will be running. He's the only one with a good dose of integrity, but he won't win over the crazies which now dominate the GOP."

Ben in Ohio says, "If gas prices keep rising, forget Ron Paul. Ru Paul could win the election."

Laine in Illinois says, "Ron Paul has a lot of sensible thoughts on changes we ought to be making. And then, as with most in his position, he suddenly heads off the deep end, just as he has me believing. I think his biggest problem within the Republican Party is he's not flashy, Madison Avenue enough for them. It seems as though you have to be a carnival act to get their full-party endorsement. How sad. We'll see, but I wouldn't bet the farm on him."

And Joseph writes, "Sure, all he has to do is prove today's version of President Obama's birth certificate is a forgery, he's in."

If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

See you tomorrow.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you tomorrow indeed.

Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned where President Obama was born. So what's the potential presidential candidate saying now that the president's long-form birth certificate has been released? CNN's John King finds out during a rather feisty one-on-one interview with the business mogul. That airs at the top of the hour.

But up next, we take a look back at the media circus surrounding the so-called birther movement. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The birther movement certainly has received lots of traction in the news media. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look at the people who love to talk about it with the cameras rolling.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hold 'em high.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Until today...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Additional information...

MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Blockbuster development.

MESERVE: Blockbuster enough for one network to break into its royal wedding coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was the child of...

MESERVE: Could the bells be tolling for the death of the birth certificate issue? We're going to miss hearing Donald Trump bellow...

TRUMP: I want him to show -- there's something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Oh, my God.

MESERVE: The president sure didn't look like there was something he didn't like as he released it.

(on camera) So maybe it's time to hand out eggs. To all the folks who have egg on their face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a doggone birth certificate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Us birthers were right all along.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His behavior shows a guilty mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take that, Obama.

MESERVE: There's one lady who's going to need several eggs for her performance at a town hall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you people ignoring his birth certificate? He is not an American citizen. He is a citizen of Kenya.

MESERVE (voice-over): But Donald Trump wasn't acting like he had egg on his face. He took credit for getting the president to release his long-form certificate.

TRUMP: I am really proud. I am really honored. MESERVE (on camera): How proud and honored was Donald Trump? Let us count the ways.

TRUMP: I'm very proud of myself. I am really honored. And I'm honored by it. And honestly, I'm very proud. I'm really honored and I'm really proud.

MESERVE (voice-over): Then Trump got dumped by the networks going live with President Obama, whose sudden appearance in the briefing room was eerily similar to the one in the movie "The American President."

MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: Good morning.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, everybody.

DOUGLAS: We've got serious problems.

OBAMA: We live in a serious time right now.

MESERVE: Substitute Donald for Bob.

DOUGLAS: This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your 15 minutes are up. My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the president.

OBAMA: We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do.

MESERVE: The award for worst timing goes to the author of the upcoming book, "Where's the Birth Certificate?" due out next month.

TOM DELAY, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Will you ask the president to show me his gift certificate -- I mean his -- gift certificate. His birth certificate?

MESERVE: Gift certificate, birth certificate, what's next on the shopping list, college grades?

TRUMP: Why doesn't he release his Occidental records?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: He was a freshman at Occidental University out in California, then went on to Columbia to finish up his B.A., went to Harvard Law School where he graduated magna cum laude. Was president of "The Harvard Law Review," the first African-American ever president of "The Harvard Law Review."

That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.