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City Laid to Waste; Libyan Uprising a Stalemate?; "They Shoot on Anything That Moves"; "Time for Assad to Go"; Tornadoes Kill Hundreds in Six States; Gadhafi's Son Killed

Aired April 30, 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: Entire blocks wiped out in one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history. President Obama tries to offer comfort to a region reeling from heart breaking loss.

Plus, Libya's third-largest city now laid to waste this hour. The carnage in Misrata and whether the U.S. can and should do more to bring down Moammar Gadhafi.

A big hole in Donald Trump's argument against unfair trade. It turns out he and his wife are fronting products made in the countries he rails against, China.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This has been a very busy and challenging week for President Obama from a meeting with a crown prince to a visit with tornado survivors, throw in a major shake-up of his national security team, and the surprise release of his original birth certificate.

This president's political and personal skills have been put to the test in a variety of ways. Our Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence are both standing by. Let's go to our White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar first.

Brianna, it's never easy being president of the United States. But with a re-election campaign now beginning, an economic crisis, national security issues, he's juggling a lot right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is. And it's amazing I guess what you can do when you have to choice but to tackle all of these things.

President Obama has had to deal with domestic and foreign issues from the get-go with the economy, with two wars, but certainly this week was busier than most. He also had the escalating situation in the Middle East. He had certainly running for re-election in earnest and really trying to raise money.

And then dealing with a natural disaster that saw hundreds of Americans killed. This is going to be continuing next week from the ceremonial, he'll be awarding the medal of honor to two army privates, Prince Charles will be visiting the U.S. And, of course, Wolf, the economy, always an issue as the president confronts uncertainty over what Congress will do with the debt ceiling. We'll see Vice President Biden convening his first meeting of the deficit reduction commission.

BLITZER: He wasted no time in dealing with the disaster from the tornadoes in the South. I think he learned a lesson from the mistakes that former President Bush made in the aftermath of Katrina.

KEILAR: That is right. Certainly did he learn a lesson. Even President Bush admits that was a mistake flying over in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, instead of really getting on the ground and seeing the damage first off. Especially when this president is traveling for fund-raisers, traveling to Florida, for that shuttle launch that was ultimately scrubbed. Lesson from that is the importance of getting on the ground, talking to the governor, talking to the victims, and really, Wolf, being a consoler in chief.

BLITZER: Quickly on the whole birther issue. He personally made that decision to go in to the briefing room, and release, in effect, that are original birth certificate. Some say that was below the president. He should have had his aides making that statement. Any second thoughts at the White House about how he handled it?

KEILAR: I'm not hearing it anything about second thoughts from the White House. It is interesting when you talk with supporters of President Obama, just average voters. They do say, why did he stoop to that level. But what President Obama said was this is whole issue over his birth certificate was eclipsing what he wanted to talk about.

Certainly the White House and Democrats on the Hill, they want to be talking about different issues. As gas prices are sky high and Americans are trying to make ends meet, they want to be pointing at Republicans and their reticence to get rid of oil subsidies. They want to be looking at Republicans for their recent vote on the Republican budget, which would overhaul Medicare and, Democrats say, end Medicare as we know it.

These are the issues that this White House wants to be talking about. President Obama said he wasn't going to be able to discuss those things that are on his mind, if everyone was concentrating on his birth certificate.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar is our new White House correspondent. Brianna, thank you.

Let's bring in our Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger right now.

Gloria, as far as the politics of all of this are concerned, they say of course, politicians always say they don't pay attention to public opinion polls, but we know they do. His job approval numbers right now not very good. And that other, perhaps, even more important number right track, wrong track, is the country moving in the wrong or right direction? Those numbers are not good for the president right now either. He's got to be worried about that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he is worried about that. Which is another reason I think he wanted to get this is the whole birther thing out of the way because he wants to get back to focusing on things that the majority of the American public really cares about.

And when you talk to people inside the White House, they say look, the president gave a big speech on how to reduce the deficit, which is an issue that people care about. And instead of getting asked about that when he sat down to a network interview, instead he's asked about the birther issue. So that was kind of the final straw for him.

Also, you have four out of 10 Republicans out there, doubting whether the president was born in the United States. So I think they felt, you know what? We just have to get this off the table. Because they want to turn that right track, wrong track number around. They want people to see that he's working to reduce the unemployment number. And so this whole thing was getting him off message at a time when he needs to convince the American people he's working on their behalf.

BLITZER: I wonder what the reaction was in the president's inner circle to when Donald Trump came out gloating after that release of the original full-form birth certificate, taking personal credit for forcing the president to do something that no one else could force the president to do.

BORGER: They probably shrugged, Wolf. That is kind of Donald Trump, every story is about him. So this was one more story that was about Donald Trump. And, you know, it came out there.

By the way, the president said that this is not going to convince the real doubters out there. And it won't. There will still it be people out there who want to continue to talk about this issue, as a way to delegitimize the presidency. That's what people inside the White House where is also worried about. That essentially, there are people out there who want to annul this presidency. And they kind of wanted to change the conversation a bit.

BLITZER: Yeah, and as far as looking ahead right now, you know, when you juggle national security crisis, you got a debt ceiling issue coming up, the budget issues, the national debt. And then, at the same time, he's going out there and he's doing a lot of fundraising. How do you do that without looking a little bit awkward?

BORGER: Well, it was awkward. Because he goes and does the birth certificate press conference, then gets on an airplane. Flies to some fundraisers and actually makes a joke about it. Which a lot of people thought, perhaps, he shouldn't do. But you know, presidents have to do a lot of things at the same time, particularly when they're running for re-election.

And there's sort of a fine art in managing this, while your president looking like you're doing the business of the American people, which you are, while you are also running for president, which you are. Sometimes the president's under a microscope all the time, but he does have to run for re-election. Although inside the White House, they understand that the thing that's going to help him the most in winning, is getting the economy back on track.

BLITZER: Yep, that's issue number one right now. Thanks very much. The pieces, meanwhile, have fallen into place for a major revamping in the president's national security team. The exit of the Defense Secretary Robert Gates triggered a big reshuffling of some key figures, including the CIA Chief Leon Panetta and General David Petraeus.

Let's bring in our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence. He's trying to figure out what all this means for the national security puzzle-- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, the president has nominated the head of the CIA to come here and take over the Pentagon. And the general who's been running the war in Afghanistan will now replace him at the CIA. You know, both of these men are already in the loop. But now they're going to be looking at completely different pieces of the puzzle, especially when it comes to a time of trying to make hard recommendations to the president about whether the strategy in Afghanistan is working and how fast the troops should come home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice over): Six months ago, Robert Gates recommended Leon Panetta should succeed him as Defense secretary and joked 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, FMR. 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 can 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: When it comes to running the Defense Department under massive pressure to cut the budget, it's as much about what you can save as who you can shoot.

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. 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, knows how to negotiate with them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: That's Leon Panetta, who started his career as a Republican and later worked in the Clinton White House. Besides their credentials, the one key quality that both men bring, they're confirmable at a time when the last thing President Obama wants is yet another fight with Senate Republicans. In fact, within about an hour of this announcement, Senator Lindsey Graham came out and called the selections of both men outstanding, Wolf.

BLITZER: You are absolutely right. Neither should have any problem getting confirmed. Appreciate it, Chris. Thank you.

A spending cuts versus jobs. The debate hits home for the House Speaker John Boehner. He's fighting to keep open a tank factory the Pentagon wants to shut down.

And oil companies earning huge profits, while getting huge tax breaks, as we pay near record prices for gas. What is going on?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jobs versus spending, it is the argument raging in Washington. And now it is reverberating in House Speaker John Boehner's home district, as he fights to keep open a plant the Pentagon actually wants to shut down. Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now with the latest.

What's this all about, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we want to take you to a factory floor in Ohio, where the Army says it doesn't need any more of what this plant's making. And it could result in job layoffs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice over): The Army has made tanks in this Ohio plant since World War II.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last tank plant we got. STARR: But now place is caught in a political battle, and at the center, none other than John Boehner of Ohio. In Washington, the Speaker of the House Boehner talks about cutting spending.

JOHN BOEHNER, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're broke. It's time for us to get serious about how we're spending the nation's money.

STARR: Back home in Ohio, Congressman Boehner is talking jobs.

BOEHNER: I can tell the president and others hey, listen what my constituents are saying. They're asking the question, where are the jobs?

STARR: But the jobs may be leaving here. The Army says it just doesn't need any more thanks right now. It wants to shut production down for three years, beginning in 2013. But Boehner, whose district is nearby, is leading the opposition to shutting the plant. The speaker was unavailable to talk to CNN, but he sent the Army a letter saying it would cause more than 500 Ohioans to lose their jobs. Some are Boehner constituents.

COL. LEE QUINTAS, U.S. ARMY: We know that he's asked us to look into the situation. We also know that we have limited resources.

STARR: Jean Meyer came here eight years ago after losing another factory job.

JEAN MEYER, ASSEMBLY LINE TROUBLESHOOTER: It would be devastating. Everybody is aware of it and everybody talks about it.

STARR: She's glad Boehner is getting involved.

MEYER: I think it's great. The more people that we have aware of it, the more people we have on our side, the better for all of us.

STARR (On camera): It's here on Main Street that you really begin to see that Lima, Ohio is at the intersection of the debate over cutting spending, but keeping jobs.

(voice over): A debate that some say has Boehner flexing his Washington political muscle.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think he would much rather cut spending, say in Illinois, the president's home state than in Ohio, his own home state. If we're going to cut the budget, he could lead by example, here.

STARR: City Mayor David Berger, a Democrat, says he knows spending has to be cut, but with 15 percent unemployment in town --

MAYOR DAVID BERGER, LIMA. OHIO: I think that we should not be shy in asserting that Ohio has real needs and that we depend upon Speaker Boehner to assist us in meeting those needs.

STARR (On camera): How tough is it to get a decent paying job here in Ohio? AL SAAM, PRES., UAW LOCAL 2075: There isn't a decent paying job anymore. I mean, with all the layoffs, all the cutbacks, the recession, whatever you want to call it. There aren't any jobs out there. It's very hard.

STARR: Everybody says cut the budget, but not in my backyard.

SAAM: Well, I hear that. And you're right. I don't care where you go, if it's affecting them, they're going to fight for it. That's the human nature way. It is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Wolf, the Army says it's not really trying to shut the tank plant down. It just doesn't need any more thanks right now. So they want to stop production essentially for three years. But the reality is that likely means the workers in Lima, Ohio, will lose their jobs, Wolf.

BLITZER: They will loose their jobs, taxpayers will save some money in the process though. It's a tough, tough debate. Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

If you've been to the gas station lately, chances are you're feeling some huge pain at the pump. This week, one major oil company is reporting huge profits, while getting huge tax breaks at the same time. What's going on? Mary Snow is standing by with more on this problem-Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this past week, we've heard from the six biggest publicly traded oil companies. They reported their first quarter earnings and combined, they totaled $38 billion. But the standout was ExxonMobil, which reported a 69 percent spike in its quarterly earnings, thanks in part to higher oil prices. And big oil profits are at the heart of a political fight over whether they should be getting big tax breaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW (voice over): Stunned motorists discover gas prices topping $4 a gallon in some places, oil giant ExxonMobil reports it earned an eye- popping $11 billion in just first three months of this year alone. It comes as President Obama wants to cut tax breaks to oil companies amounting to roughly $4 billion a year. Republicans say it's not the time to slap on taxes.

What are these multibillion dollar breaks? We asked tax law expert Professor Michael Graetz, of Columbia Law School.

MICHAEL GRAETZ, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: The rules are terribly arcane. They're terribly complex. You know, I don't try and teach them to my students in a basic income tax class.

SNOW: One goes back to 1916 that Graetz says allows oil companies to deduct roughly 70 percent the cost of creating a well that produces oil. A more current one came in 2004 called the domestic manufacturing deduction. A tax break for manufacturing at home rather than abroad, eliminating it says the left leaning think tank Center For Progress, would save the government $1.7 billion a year. Another tax break says Graetz dates back to the Cold War era when President Eisenhower was trying to sway Saudi Arabia into the U.S. camp rather than the Soviets. The U.S. allowed an accounting change so U.S. driller no longer paid royalties to the Saudis, but taxes which they could claim as tax credits at home.

GRAETZ: By treating them as taxes, they offset U.S. taxes, dollar- for-dollar, whereas a royalty would only be deductible against U.S. taxes and saved the company 35 cents on the dollar.

SNOW: Bottom line? U.S. companies can claim a 100 percent deduction. With oil companies making billions, do they really need tax breaks as incentives? We asked Brian Johnson with the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the industry. He says the tax breaks encourage production and create jobs. And he says if the government wants more revenues it should allow more production and drilling.

BRIAN JOHNSON, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: That's really where our focus needs to be is on increased access, not nitpicking these little issues to try and raise money in the short term, and using political rhetoric. We need to focus on increased access.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And Wolf, as ExxonMobil reported its earnings, it also fired back at critics. It said it paid $9.8 billion in U.S. taxes last year. And here's how it's broken down. It amounts to $1.6 billion in income tax, $6.2 billion in sales taxes, and $2 billion in other taxes such as property taxes.

As for anger about gas prices, Exxon also says it makes relatively little money on gasoline. Most of its profits this quarter came from its overseas operations, Wolf.

BLITZER: I guess, if you're making $40 billion a year in terms of strictly federal income tax, federal income tax, only paying $1 billion or $2 billion, that's a very, very small percentage and it will rile a lot of folks out there.

SNOW: Right. Exxon is saying, though, it pays billions. Last year it was $9.8 billion. The amount of income tax, as you pointed out, is relatively small when you compare let's say the taxes it pays overseas. But this is certainly a big center of debate.

BLITZER: It's going to be a huge issue, I'm sure. Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

Iran's nuclear program allegedly targeted for the second time in a year. Who's behind this latest cyber attack.

Plus, it's the face of some of Libya's most brutal fighting. Just ahead, dramatic new video showing extent of the devastation in Misrata.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning about a potential threat to Iran, a silent attack that could hurt the country's controversial nuclear program, without dropping a bomb. Our Brian Todd has been looking into it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The race between Iranian officials trying to build their nuclear program and outside forces trying to stop it looks like it's getting more intense.

An Iranian facility has been targeted for cyber attack. The second time it's happened in less than a year. That, from the official in charge of defending Iran's nuclear sites, who spoke to the country's semi official news agency.

This worm is called Stars and follows a destructive cyber attack last year on Iran called Stuxnet. I'm now with Sam Visner, he is a former NSA, signals intelligence official. He is now a cyber security expert with the firm, CSC.

Sam, could this particular virus disable any kind of a nuclear program?

SAM VISNER, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT, CSC: Don't know at this point. I don't know anyone who's done real forensics on this, Brian.

Here's what I would say. It probably speaks to an emerging class of problem we call industrial control system problems. The ability to get into an embedded system that controls a turbine, that controls a centrifuge, that controls an engine.

TODD: Visner and other experts say this attack, like the Stuxnet virus that hit the Iranians last year by a so-called zero-day exploit. Like a patient zero case, it means the Iranians may not have had any warning, hadn't seen anything like it before, and didn't know what to look for.

Iranian officials haven't said exactly what was hit this time. But last year the Stuxnet worm infected centrifuges at a key nuclear enrichment facility. I asked nuclear weapons expert David Albright about that.

TODD: Here's a satellite photo of Netans (ph) Nuclear Enrichment Facility. How badly did the Stuxnet virus affect that facility?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, NUCLEAR WEAPONS EXPERT: The idea was to take control of the computer systems inside this facility. And the parts you worry about is here underground, about 25 feet underground, are two very large structures or buildings. And in those buildings or sites were the centrifuges that were targeted by Stuxnet. About 10 percent of the centrifuges were destroyed by Stuxnet.

TODD: He explains how the worm gets into a centrifuge where uranium is refined. ALBRIGHT: Inside this aluminum cylinder is a rapidly rotating rotor, spinning very fast. And the idea of Stuxnet was in a sense to take control of a motor that's down in this part of the centrifuge and just make it spin faster and faster, essentially until it breaks.

TODD: Experts say it's a way of crippling Iran's nuclear sites without bombing them. Iran blames the U.S. and Israel for the Stuxnet attacks. Officials from both countries haven't commented on those accusations and we couldn't get comment from them on this latest attack. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Government forces waging deadly attacks in Syria and Libya. What can and should the U.S. be doing? I'll ask the former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, he was chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Plus the deadliest outbreak of tornados in four decades; hundreds killed, thousands injured and billions of dollars in damage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's been the scene of the most brutal fighting in Libya, violence that claimed the lives of two well-known photojournalists only the past few weeks.

The city of Misrata has been under what some described as a medieval siege for weeks now. Now we have some dramatic new video showing the extent of the devastation. Here's CNN's Reza Sayah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two months of ferocious fighting has laid waste to much of Misrata, a city that has become the face of the war in Libya. It's deadliest most brutal front.

Mohammed Tenashi is one of thousands of casualties. His legs crushed, his arms shot in the bloody fight for Tripoli street, the city's main road and for weeks, the frontline in the battle for Misrata.

I had a machine gun, he says. I started shooting, but there was a guy up above I didn't see. He shot me in the arm.

(on camera): The tallest buildings in Misrata are along Tripoli street. Whoever controls these buildings owns the highest points obviously a crucial advantage in any battlefield.

(voice-over): Both sides fought ruthlessly to gain that advantage. Early on, Gadhafi's fighters owned the high-rises. Regime snipers hit on the higher floors the rebels say and picked off their fighters down below.

Last week, the rebel forces still made up of untrained, but unshakeable fighters finally took control of Tripoli Street using makeshift barricades they fenced in Gadhafi's forces then squeezed them.

(on camera): How did they do it?

ISMAEL SABTI, OPPOSITION SUPPORTER: Just by brave.

SAYAH: By bravery.

SABTI: Just bravery, yes.

SAYAH (voice-over): NATO air strikes took care of some of the regime's heavier weapons.

(on camera): This is an incredible scene here. This used to be an old vegetable market and a very large enclosed building. The rebels say Gadhafi forces were hiding their thanks here perhaps thinking that NATO forces would never hit a civilian target.

Apparently, they thought wrong. The rebels say that's the hole made by NATO air strike that destroyed these two thanks in this old vegetable market. A clear indication that rebel forces on the ground are sharing intelligence with NATO.

SAYAH (voice-over): Just days ago, this was no place for children, but the rebels say they now command central Misrata. Their battlefield gains have come at a steep cost. Inside Misrata's Heckma Hospital, volunteer doctors treat a steady stream of the wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no break because all the time, maybe we can't receive any patients.

SAYAH: Many here were clearly not part of the fight, but they're paying for it anyway. Tenashi paid a price too, but he said his tears are not of regret.

I would die for my country, he says. We will not let Gadhafi's fighters set here ever again. Reza Saya, CNN, Misrata, Libya.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the situation in Libya with former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan. He was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He now works for the law firm Bixby and Shapiro.

One of his clients we should say has a direct interest in removing Gadhafi. Let's talk a little bit about a stalemate right now, Congressman. Is that what we're looking at, a prolonged stalemate Gadhafi stays in power at least for now?

PETE HOEKSTRA (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, I think that's exactly what we're looking at, Wolf. It's clear that Gadhafi doesn't have the resources to drive back the rebels or defeat the rebels.

At the same time, the rebels don't have the resources to take this fight and eliminate Gadhafi. So right now, yes, it looks like a stalemate. BLITZER: Ted Koppel, the former "Nightline" anchor wrote a piece in Friday's "Wall Street Journal" following a visit he had to Jerusalem where he met with senior Israeli officials.

He writes this he says "each week that passes without the overthrow or elimination of Moammar Gadhafi is perceived in Jerusalem as emboldening the leadership of Iran and North Korea." You agree with Koppel on that?

HOEKSTRA: I would tend to agree with that. I don't think we've got any real good options except Gadhafi does have to go. A wounded Gadhafi is trouble for Europe.

It's trouble for America. It's trouble for all of the world. He has to go and right now, NATO, the Arab League and the United States together can't take out a two-bit dictator.

BLITZER: Stand by, Congressman, because I want to continue this conversation, but I want to move on to Syria right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): New reports this week, hundreds killed in the uprising in Syria, mostly civilian. The government of President Bashar Al Assad launching a brutal new crackdown. CNN has not been allowed to report from inside Syria. We are though getting chilling video, firsthand accounts of the bloodshed. Here's CNN's Arwa Damon.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Since Syrian military tanks rolled into Daraa, eye witnesses say the situation is worsening by the day. And yet as is shown in this Youtube video whose authenticity CNN cannot independently verify, small acts of courage and cries of defiance.

As this group of demonstrators approaches the Syrian military chanting, the army has sold us out, gunfire. The crowd scatters and then we hear another chant. We are not afraid. The death toll in Syria is rising by the day.

(on camera): CNN has still not been granted access to report from inside Syria. An eyewitness in Daraa we spoke to said the death toll there continued to rise. The more recent casualties he says caused by sniper fire saying that snipers had positioned themselves on rooftops and were firing indiscriminately at anyone who dared venture out.

Amongst the casualties he claimed was a 6-year-old child. And he said that relatives continue to be unable to bury their loved ones because he claimed Syrian security forces were still occupying the cemetery.

(voice-over): Nearly halfway around the world, Syria's ambassador to the U.N. rejected calls for an independent investigation.

BASHAR JAAFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: This is too early to decide on receiving anybody. We have our national investigation commission that is -- that has ordered it be undertaken a full investigation about what happened, about all the casualties among civilians as well as among the military. We are doing our homework and don't need help from anybody.

DAMON: Syrian state TV broadcast video claiming to be the confession of an individual part of an extremist terrorist cell. The government blaming foreign interference and armed gangs for the uprising, but videos continue to emerge that depict a starkly different image.

This one said to be shot on Friday. Demonstrations there and throughout the country on Friday quickly turned deadly as activists say Syrian security forces unleashed their weapons on them. It the wounded are carried into what appears to be a narrow alley or walkway inside a house, trying to escape the carnage going on outside.

The Syrian regime seems immune to international condemnation and threats of sanctions. Rather than scaling back their brutal crackdown, Syrian security forces appear to be intensifying it. Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's bring back the former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Listen to what Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Joe Lieberman said in a joint statement on Thursday as far as Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian leader is concerned, Congressman.

They said the escalating crack down by Bashar Al Assad's regime against the Syrian people has reached a decisive point. We urge President Obama to state unequivocally as he did in the case of Gadhafi and Mubarak that it is time for Assad to go. Are they right?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think clearly it's time for Assad to go when you take a look what he's doing to his own people. The real question is not do we want him gone.

What resources or what commitment will the United States, Europe or other parts of the world make to see that that actually becomes a reality?

They said Gadhafi had to go, but at the same time, you know, we're doing humanitarian work in Libya, but regime change is not the goal.

BLITZER: The U.S. hasn't even severed diplomatic relations with the Damascus regime. The U.S. still has an ambassador in Damascus. The Syrians have an ambassador here in Washington. Should the U.S. recall its ambassador at least as a first step?

HOEKSTRA: It should have happened a couple of weeks ago as soon as he started brutally attacking his own citizenship. He's got a terrible record. It was only a few years ago that a nuclear facility was taken out of Syria. Syria has been a much larger threat to the United States, Israel and the world peace than what Libya and other countries ever were.

BLITZER: Put on your hat as a former chair of the Intelligence Committee. How good would you say -- I know you're not privy right now to what the U.S. intelligence committee is getting.

But in your sense, if you've got a history on this, how good would you say U.S. Intelligence on Syria, Libya, elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East really is?

HOEKSTRA: I would say that it's not very good. It wasn't very good while I was chairman of the Intelligence Committee or while I served on that committee. You know, Syria, Iran, you know, the key players in that part of the world were always very difficult to penetrate.

We were never able to get into the inner sanctum and understand the real rationale or what was driving these regimes. History says intelligence in the Middle East has been very poor. Go all the way back to Iraq.

We didn't anticipate this series of events that have unfolded over the last two months. We got a lot of work to get the right human intelligence that will enlighten our leaders as to what's going on so that we can develop better policy.

BLITZER: And quickly, Congressman, are you encouraged or discouraged that General David Petraeus is now slated, assuming he's confirmed to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency?

HOEKSTRA: I'm encouraged. I think General Petraeus, Leon Panetta, the president couldn't have made two better selections to lead the - Pentagon and the CIA.

BLITZER: Pete Hoekstra, thanks very much for coming in. We'll continue this conversation.

HOEKSTRA: All right, thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up close look at the devastation in the south. In the U.S. after a massive and deadly tornado attack and new charges of hypocrisy are being fired at potential Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

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BLITZER: There's shock, grief and destruction on an epic scale across much of the southern U.S. in the wake of a monstrous tornado outbreak that killed hundreds of people in six states. We get a closer look at the devastation from CNN's Martin Savidge in Pleasant Grove, Alabama.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were there.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Grays and the Hudsons have been neighbors for years. Now these neighbors are going back together to see what's left of their homes and the answer is simple, nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just can't believe this.

SAVIDGE: Charisse Hudson didn't even know which house was hers at first then something looked familiar.

CHARISSE HUDSON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I knew this is my house because my car was on top of it.

SAVIDGE: Next door are the Grays, the broken gas line hisses menacingly and the busted water line gushes incessantly. Jeannie and Jeff ignore both too caught up in the shock and awe.

(on camera): Can you believe looking at this?

JEANNIE GRAY, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I can't. I can't. I walked over here last night, and I just -- I -- I just couldn't comprehend it. And then our neighbor's house right there I mean, it --

SAVIDGE (on camera): The Hudsons left before the storm because their power went out.

(on camera): Lucky thing you did.

HUDSON: It was a blessing we did and a couple or one of our neighbors said, well, I'm going to tough it out. I'm going to stay home.

SAVIDGE: Do you know where that neighbor is?

HUDSON: I'm not sure.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Neighbors for years made homeless in an instant. Both just grateful to see the other alive. Martin Savidge, CNN, Pleasant Grove, Alabama.

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BLITZER: Devastating story.

Other news we're following including Donald Trump. You've probably heard Trump rail against China, but guess where the products that bear so much of his name are actually made. You guessed it.

And Larry King, our own Larry King digging deeper on the Alzheimer's epidemic in a new special. He's here to talk about it. That's coming up.

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DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right, breaking news, everyone. Hello, I'm Don Lemon. We have, this is really big news here, one of the sons of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been killed. That's what we're told.

The Libyan government says Saif Gadhafi died in a NATO airstrike. We're told that Moammar Gadhafi and his wife were in the same house when it happened, but both of them we're told are alive.

We're going to go straight now to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen. He is in Tripoli. He is on the phone. Fred, you were in the press conference when they announced that. What have you learned? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Don. Yes, we were in the press conference when all of this was announced and they said the airstrike happened two to two and a half hours ago at a residential neighborhood right here in central Tripoli, right close to a downtown area.

And the building that this happened in was absolutely flattened. I came away from the airstrike site and the building is absolutely -- apparently Moammar Gadhafi and his wife were visiting their second youngest son, Saif Al Arab Gadhafi and they were in the house when the airstrike happened.

We're also hearing on Libyan TV right now that apparently some of the grandchildren of Moammar Gadhafi were killed as well. The spokesperson here for the government is telling us that both Moammar Gadhafi and Moammar Gadhafi's wife are in good health, have survived the airstrike and have been brought to what they say is a safe location.

But I can tell you, by seeing the house hit by that airstrike it's hard to imagine anyone would have survived in the vicinity of that place because it would seemed to have been hit by two bombs in total. There was one unexploded bomb that we could still see in the site and just one absolutely massive crater where this house used to be, Don.

LEMON: Fred, I have to ask you this as we're reporting this. There are also some reports, and again, this is unconfirmed by CNN. All we can confirm is at the press conference, we're also being told possibly two of his grandsons were there and they were killed. Do you know anything, if at all about that?

PLEITGEN: Well, what they're telling us was that several of the grandchildren have been killed as well. T he way they're saying it is that apparently Saif al Arab was playing with nieces as well as with some of his grandchildren when these bombs hit the compound.

And they said that Saif al Arab as well as several of the grandchildren were killed in that airstrike. We're seeing gunfire here we're hearing erupt throughout the city obviously as this news is spreading here.

But they say that several of the grandchildren were killed as well as he was killed as well. Obviously the government here is very much up in arms about all this, just held a press conference where they obviously ranted against NATO, called all of this an illegal act, a war crime, and are obviously very angry and upset at what happened. Don --

LEMON: OK, so listen, Fred, again as we're reporting this news and I want to tell our viewers, again, this is breaking news here on CNN. CNN has confirmed and we're on the phone with our Frederik Pleitgen now who is in Tripoli that one of Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi's son, Saif Al Arab Gadhafi killed by a NATO airstrike.

That's according to a Libya spokesperson. They announced that just a short time ago at a press conference. Frederik Pleitgen was there. we're also being told as reported by Frederick Pleitgen, Moammar Gadhafi and his wife were also inside the house when it was targeted.

And also we're also being told that possibly two of his grandsons were killed as well and, Frederik, just getting to the political ramifications for the allied forces who were involved, it has been said Moammar Gadhafi is not the target of this operation. It is to help the rebels here.

But again, if homes are being targeted here, this possibly changes this politically because the government is going to say, see, Moammar Gadhafi is being targeted, we told you so?

PLEITGEN: Yes, that's exactly what the government is saying. I mean, they're saying this is an act of a war crime. They're saying this has nothing to do with being anything sort of like a political target.

We're brought to this house and it certainly is deep inside a residential area. The house itself does appear to be a residential house. We're not exactly sure whether or not there might have been some sort of command bunker under the house.

Certainly it seemed to us when we were looking at the crater after the airstrike happened there seemed to be several layers of some sort of basement area under this house as well. It was very hard to tell whether or not this was actually some sort of -- whether or not this target had some sort of military significance or something.

But that's exactly what the government is saying, this is residential area, this airstrike had no military significance whatsoever, but this was aimed at Moammar Gadhafi and obviously failed to assassinate Moammar Gadhafi, but one of his sons who they also say has no military significance.

Sons have military roles in this country, one of them even commanding one of the main brigades of Moammar Gadhafi, but they say Saif was still a student, he'd been studying in Germany, had yet to finish his studies and was, what they say, an innocent victim of these airstrikes.

LEMON: Frederik, thank you very much. Don't go anywhere because we're following breaking news here on CNN and we're also working to try to get our chief international correspondent, Nic Robertson up.

Nic happened to be there when Moammar Gadhafi's compound was also hit by airstrikes and there was controversy there. Again, as we've been talking about does this change the mission here? Does this change it politically?

Because the Libyan government, especially Moammar Gadhafi is saying he's been a target as well, and the allied coalition has been saying he's not a target. He's not the focus of this mission.

Again, we're being told that Moammar Gadhafi and his wife were in the same house when all of this happened, and we're being told by a Libyan leader that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son, Saif Al Arab Gadhafi was killed by a NATO air strike at his home. And again Moammar Gadhafi and his wife were said to be visiting that home. Our Frederick Pleitgen was at a news conference when they reported that, and also we're getting reports that we need to confirm here that his grandsons may also have been killed in this.

More on the breaking news coming up in just moments. Don't go anywhere.

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