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Romney Pushes Back At Bain Criticism; Ad War in Full Swing in South Carolina; Florida A&M Alleged Hazing Death; Being Mormon in America; U.S. Denies Involvement In Iranian Nuclear Scientist's Death
Aired January 12, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the world demands answers from Syria following the brutal death of the first Western journalist in the bloody uprising. Our own Nic Robertson is on the scene with an extraordinary and very rare look inside the destruction.
Plus Newt Gingrich supporters unleash a blistering attack on Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, labeling him, and I'm quoting them now, "more ruthless than Wall Street," in a scathing new documentary. But is it true? We have a fact check.
And why Iran's new threats against the United States could cost you big pain at the pump. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and the around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
First there's a deepening shock and fury here in Washington and, indeed, around the world over this disturbing image, apparently showing U.S. Marines in Afghanistan urinating on dead bodies. A U.S. military official tells CNN two of the men have now been identified by name, but are not being released.
Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's working the story and has the latest -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, you know, it's not very often the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban agree. This time they do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STARR (voice-over): Deplorable, disgusting, some of the words used to describe this video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban in Afghanistan. Outrage in Washington --
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY Clinton: Anyone, anyone found to have participated or known about it, having engaged in such conduct, must be held fully accountable.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What it depicts is -- or what it apparently depicts is deplorable, reprehensible and unacceptable. The alleged action is obviously under investigation.
STARR (voice-over): -- and condemnation from commanders in Afghanistan.
LT. GEN. ADRIAN BRADSHAW, DEPUTY COMMANDER, ISAF: Any acts which treat the dead, enemy or friendly, with disrespect, are utterly unacceptable.
STARR (voice-over): Afghan president Hamid Karzai's spokesman called what the Marines did "simply inhuman. " The Taliban also issued a condemnation. The Marines say the men are part of a sniper team that was in Helmand Province last year. Former Marine Captain Timothy Kudo served in the same area. The stress and isolation of small teams in combat is no excuse, he says.
TIMOTHY KUDO, SENIOR ASSOCIATE, IAVA: Someone that was standing there at the time that this happened should have said no. And they didn't.
STARR (voice-over): As they urinate on the dead men, the Marines joke, saying, "Have a great day, buddy." "Got it on video?" "Yep." "I see you zoomed in on one of our -- " "Golden, like a shower."
KUDO: I wonder how when they're out there on their alone, by themselves, they went down this route. And, frankly, I don't think that it completely an issue of failed leadership. I think part of it is that they have to be held accountable for their actions as individuals.
STARR (voice-over): After the years of anti-American sentiment generating by the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, this time the military moved swiftly to contain the damage. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Marine Corps have launched their own investigations.
Officials say there may be violations of the Geneva Conventions, which requires the dead to be honorably interred.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: And if it is proven that there was a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the questions may be asked, did U.S. troops participate in a potential war crime? Wolf?
BLITZER: I assume the four Marines will be punished for this, but what about their commanding officers, noncommissioned, their other officers, will they be held accountable for this as well?
STARR: Wolf, this is a terrific question. The issue in all of these cases we've over the years of misconduct is command climate. For a commander to say they simply didn't know this was happening is not enough of an excuse to escape a potential for legal action.
Commanders are responsible for the actions of their troops. They're supposed to know where they are, what they're doing and have a management skill, if you will, over their troops that does not permit this type of activity to even remotely be deemed to be acceptable, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you. The fallout over the video could have very serious implications for the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan, for the safety of other U.S. troops in the region, the groundwork for potentially new U.S. ties with the Taliban. Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is here with this part of the story -- Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN REPORTER: Right, Wolf, you know, the timing over here at the State Department couldn't be worse. Taliban spokesperson tells CNN that the video is, as he put it, barbaric, but there are also reports that the Taliban don't believe that ultimately this will stop the talks, and that is a great indication of just how complex all of this really is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): You could hear the frustration in her voice as Hillary Clinton showed her revulsion at video apparently showing U.S. Marines desecrating the bodies of Taliban fighters.
CLINTON: I want to express my total dismay at the story concerning our Marines.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): That comes in the midst of the first glimmers of progress in peace talks with the Taliban. The secret meetings started more than a year ago, brokered by German officials.
Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, talking with Taib al-Agha, aide to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Now Grossman is shuffling to Kabul to get the blessing of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, who's been waffling.
CLINTON: We don't have any idea, standing here today, what the outcome of such discussions could be. I think all of us are entering into it with a very realistic sense of what is possible, and that includes, of course, President Karzai and his government, which, all after ,bear the ultimate responsibility and the consequences of any such discussions.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The U.S. wants an Afghan-led conference, in which senior U.S. officials say the U.S. would participate.
Here's what's on the table as confidence building measures: the Taliban opened a political office for talks in the gulf state of Qatar, a statement by the Taliban that it renounces terrorism and Al Qaida, the transfer to Qatar by the U.S. of up to five Taliban militants who've been held at Guantanamo.
Nothing has been concluded yet, Clinton says. And officials say the key element is getting Karzai to buy into it.
VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The first issue here is can afghans talk directly to each other.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): But a wild card in all of this -- Pakistan. RICK NELSON, AFGHAN EXPERT, NCIS: Certainly internal turmoil in Pakistan is going to be VERY critical to keeping these talks going forward. We have to remember that almost all of the senior leadership resides in western Pakistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: And there could be more talks with the Taliban, actually very soon, Wolf, depending on how those talks go with President Karzai. Ambassador Grossman could be meeting, holding further talks with the Taliban, during an upcoming nearly two-week trip to the region -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty for us at the State Department. Leon Panetta, by the way, the Defense Secretary, getting ready to speak with reporters. We're going to check that out, see what he says about all of this. I know he is outraged as well.
Well, let's go to Syria right now. We're just one day after the first western journalist died in the brutal uprising. There are now new charges the Syrian government is directly responsible. It all comes as Arab League monitors in Damascus are urging the government to end the bloodshed.
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has been granted rare access inside the country. He is not allowed to travel freely. There are strict limits to what the Syrian government wants him to see. He's joining us now live from Damascus. Nic, let's talk a little bit about that killing of that French journalist. Has anyone claimed responsibility for it?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely not. Everyone is running in opposite directions. The government immediately blamed the opposition, and the opposition have swung back very quickly to say they were not responsible, that the government was responsible for doing this, the government, they said, wants to intimidate journalists here.
The government monitors we were with said, no, it's the opposition who want to intimidate journalists. So it's a he said/she said situation. The Arab League is involved in investigating this. They sent some of their monitors to Homs to take a look at the site, to look at the place where those mortar rounds struck the ground, and where Gilles was killed, the French journalist was killed.
So there's supposed to be an interim report already this evening, according to the Arab League at their headquarters in Cairo.
We've heard nothing so far, and according to the Arab League chief here, General Dhabi, who I talked to, heads the monitoring mission, he told me his monitors weren't involved in the investigation, so at the very least there seems to be some internal confusion inside the Arab League about what's going on. This could be unsolved for a long time, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're in Damascus, Nic. Are you seeing demonstrations in the capital and where you are, in the suburbs? What are you seeing?
ROBERTSON: Pro-government demonstrations, in the capital, inside the center of the capital. Outside of the capital, you don't have to go very far to see those anti-government demonstrations, just 15 minutes' drive away. You can see people coming, the thousands of people who will come out on the streets when they feel safe, and protest against the government.
Typically, Friday, tomorrow, is the day when you see the bigger demonstrations. People have the day off work. They will often go to Friday prayers at noontime on Friday, and after they come out of the mosque, then you can expect to see demonstrations. And quite often these have turned bloody in the past.
The opposition, almost every day so far this week, has blamed the government for more than 20 deaths. The opposition also says today, in Homs, some of the army, the Syrian army defected to their side. These are claims we can't verify, but this is the sort of thing that's happening on a daily basis, Wolf.
BLITZER: You say you've been speaking, Nic, with Arab League observers, what are they saying to you about what they're actually seeing on the ground?
ROBERTSON: They're telling us that they find themselves in a very tough position, because the pro-regime supporters here believe that they are just stooges for change in the country. The opposition don't think that they're affected, so that they don't believe them and don't trust them.
They're looking to the Arab League monitors to remove -- to remove Bashar al-Assad's army from the streets, his tanks, get those removed from the streets. And the monitors simply say we're only here to observe and see what's happening. It is almost, if you will, a situation that's hard to see a positive resolution.
I talked with the head of the Arab League today about the injuries to 11 of his monitors that have been reported by the Arab League this week. He denied it's happening. There seems to be an effort by the leadership of the Arab League on the ground here to simply play down anything that's happening.
And, indeed, that's led this week to at least three Arab League monitors leaving, criticizing his leadership, criticizing the mission, saying that they are witnessing people being killed by government forces, and they're unable to do anything about it.
At the same time today, we've seen more Arab League monitors, new monitoring arriving here to take up the expanding -- to take up the expanding role that they have here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Damascus, be careful over there. We'll stay in very close touch with you. It's taking him a long time to -- taken all of us a long time to get into Syria. Fortunately, Nic, is there right now. Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, getting hit hard by rivals today in South Carolina, but do the attacks simply go way too far?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's counter-pressure among the elites about raising questions, but, let me tell you, the American people have the right to know.
And people who are going to run for high office have an obligation to be transparent and available to the American people, because, without that knowledge, how do you really have a free society?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Turning now to the Republican race for South Carolina where scathing new documentary slamming the frontrunner, Mitt Romney's days in the private sector is raising news concerns inside the party that the tax maybe crossing the line. CNN's Joe Johns is joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina. What's going on there, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Newt Gingrich today gave a speech here about bailouts and bankruptcies and the need to get information on stuff like that out in the open. It comes at a time when many Republicans can't decide whether to have the battle over Mitt Romney's business practices right here, right now in South Carolina or to kick the can down the road.
JOHNS (voice-over): Mitt Romney's days at Bain Capital on trial in South Carolina. Was he a layoff specialist, stripping companies of profit, or just doing what good businessmen do?
GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a real difference between a venture capitalist and a vulture capitalist.
JOHNS: The idea that Republican contenders would go after the presumptive frontrunner in the race using something like free market capitalism as the whipping stick looks almost like heresy to some in the party, because belief in free market capitalism has been one of the baselines in Republican politics for decades.
Newt Gingrich never mentioned Bain Capital by name during the speech in Columbia, though, he said he's pushing for transparency.
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's some counter pressure among the elites about raising questions, well, let me tell you, the American people have the right to know, and people who are going to run for high office have an obligation to be transparent and available to the American people.
JOHNS: After the speech, I asked him about Bain Capital.
Are you attacking Bain or just asking question?
GINGRICH: I'm just asking questions and I'm shocked at how defensive they are.
JOHNS: But the questions are viewed by some as so out of bounds it's gotten to the point that even some of the other hopefuls in the race almost sound as if they're defending the guy they're trying to defeat.
JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, if you have creative destruction in capitalism, which has always been a part of capitalism, you know, it becomes a little disingenuous to take on Bain Capital.
JOHNS: The reason why some Republicans don't like this line of questioning is because, if Romney gets the nomination, it's the kind of issues that Democrats and the president that seemingly sink their teeth into. Congressman Jim Clayburn is a member of the House Democratic leadership. He attended this bipartisan event on home ownership with the former speaker.
Do you expect this to be something that the Obama campaign would take up against a nominee like should it be Romney in the fall?
REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: Oh, absolutely. I think that this while notion that you question the capitalism, the people know better than that.
JOHNS: Which is precisely why some Republicans think it's better for Romney to get hit with this now so that if he's the nominee, the Bain Capital question is asked and answered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's a good opportunity for Romney and other Republicans to figure out how to explain free enterprise to the American people.
RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICANS STRATEGIST: It's not the ideal conversation that Republicans want to have, but if they're going to do it, they believe that they should do it right now. You know, Mitt Romney has a chance now to figure out the answers to these attacks, and inoculate himself in preparation for the general election.
JOHNS (on-camera): And to that end, Mitt Romney has been stepping up his defense of his days at Bain, making the case that he was there to make businesses better, not to lay people off and not to destroy their jobs. Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: The campaign really heating up in South Carolina where Joe is. Thank you.
Let's take a closer look now at that controversial new documentary that's airing in South Carolina and the blistering allegations being made against the frontrunner, Mitt Romney. Our Brian Todd has been doing a fact check for some -- Brian, you've had a chance -- you've watched this nearly 30-minute documentary. You've gone through it.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
BLITZER: Tell us what's going on.
TODD: Wolf, this is the most detailed scathing attack yet on Mitt Romney's private record of that private equity firm, Bain Capital. We took a look at some of the videos key claims and how they stand up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.
TODD: It's 28 minutes of daunting music, dark narration, and stories of hardship that are hard to watch.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are times, you know, you skip a meal so your kids can have something to eat.
TODD: A new web video just released in its entirety depicting Mitt Romney and his former company, Bain Capital, as predatory corporate raiders, buying up respected companies, stripping them of assets, killing off jobs, make monstrous profits. It's distributed by a group called Winning Our Future, a so-called Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich.
The Gingrich campaign technically had nothing to do with it. One of the key claims is about a Florida laundry equipment manufacturer Bain purchased called Unimac which eventually shut down. Workers gives testimonials about losing their jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've met with everybody, called everybody together, and told us we were being sold to Raytheon, which in turn, turned out to be Bain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back in his Massachusetts headquarters, Romney had found his target. Bain took control of Unimac.
TODD (on-camera): But according to "Fortune" magazine, it was only Raytheon that bought Unimac at the time and Raytheon didn't sell Unimac to Bain until four years later.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney and Bain up into the company and gutted the workforce.
TODD (voice-over): Not true says Dan Primack, a "Fortune" editor who's covered Bain for more than a decade. He says Bain held on to Unimac until 2004, then sold it to a Canadian pension fund.
DAN PRIMACK, SENIOR EDITOR, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: The real gutting of the workforce in Florida is when the Florida factory gets shut down and that's done by the pension fund up in Canada which is the people Bain sold it to.
TODD (on-camera): Contacted by CNN, an official at the group, Winning Our Future, said the documentary is thoroughly researched, and they stand by the material, but there are other claims in the video that are in dispute, including one about a Bain deal that did go very badly.
(voice-over) That was Bain's purchase of the toymaker, KB Toys, which led to the company shutting down, thousands of jobs lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney and Bain bought the 80-year-old company in 2000, loaded KB Toys with millions in debt.
PRIMACK: This is a poor deal, but Romney wasn't at Bain anymore. He left at the end of 1999 to go run the Salt Lake City Olympic games.
TODD (on-camera): An official at Winning Our Future points out that even after leaving, Romney benefited from those bad deals, that he still has holdings in Bain that generate him a share of Bain's profits from those deals.
And to be fair, Dan Primack believes the part of the documentary which deals with another Bain deal, it's purchased and gutting of the paper company, Ampad, is mostly accurate. Romney's campaign has pointed out, he's also been part of a lot of successful job generating turnarounds as well at places like Domino's Pizza and Staples among other companies -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This Super PAC, Winning Our Future, pro-Newt Gingrich, where does it get its money?
TODD: Well, according to various reports, Winning Our Future got a $5 million donation from a casino magnate name Sheldon Adelson, but there are, of course, other people who contribute to it, and some of those are in disclosure forms as well. So, you can find out --
BLITZER: In the documentary, is there any mention at all of any of the success stories that Bain helped to create?
TODD: Absolutely not. No mention of staples. No mention of Domino's Pizza. No mention of sports authority, which is a very successful venture that Romney led at Bain, and Bain still continues to lead, we believe. But no, no mention of any of that. Any of the successes, you don't see them anywhere in here.
You have a lot of very heart-wrenching interviews from people whose jobs were lost from some of these ventures.
BLITZER: So just to give you some perspective, you hear nothing from the tens of thousands of people who work in the sports authority or Staples or Domino's Pizza who love their jobs and are grateful to Bain for helping them keep those jobs.
TODD: You hear not one word in that documentary from those people, and of course, Romney claims that he's generated over hundred thousands jobs.
BLITZER: That number is in dispute, but we know that tens of thousands of jobs have been created, thanks to the work of Bain Capital, but none of that is in this 27-1/2 minutes.
TODD: No. Not a second.
BLITZER: OK. Brian, thanks very much.
Mitt Romney fighting back. We're going to tell you how he's responding to criticism over his executive experience.
And what do the Democrats make of the Republican infighting?
Plus, 34 critical miles of water that affect what you, and me and all of us pay for gasoline. We'll explain. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As the Republican primary battle moves south, Mitt Romney is pushing back against criticism over his career at Bain Capital. Romney is under fire, as you know, from his Republican rivals for jobs lost in companies that he helped reorganize. Listen to what Mitt Romney told reporters today in South Carolina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think anytime a job is lost is a tragedy, for the family, for the individual that loses a job, it's just devastating. And every time that we invested in a business, it was to try and encourage that business to have ongoing life. The idea of making a short-term profit actually doesn't really exist in business, because no one wants to buy something by stock in a company that's just going to be a short-term success. You wanted it to be long-term.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's get some more with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. It looks like he's really fine-tuned his response to the criticism.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, he's gone through a lot of stages here. At first, he sounded very defensive about this. Remember, when he said, I know what it's like to be afraid of getting a pink slip, and that seems a little inauthentic to lots of people, then he started to target Newt Gingrich saying, you know, I expected this from Barack Obama's people, but I didn't expect Newt Gingrich to be a witness for the prosecution.
Now, he's decided to talk about exactly what he did at Bain Capital without being defensive and saying, look, we were in it for creating jobs in the long-term. And he's got one other thing going for, Wolf, and that is lots of conservatives now are rallying around him. This has kind of been a way to gather conservatives around Mitt Romney who didn't really Mitt Romney, in the first place, because they say, you know what? We're for capitalism. He's a capitalist. How dare republicans attack another Republican for being a capitalist.
BLITZER: And as tough as Newt Gingrich has been, Rick Perry has been even tougher, calling him a vulture. Now, he's getting a lot of incoming fire on that, but he's getting some incoming fire on other issues as well.
BORGER: And I think the other issues could have a lot of resonance in the state of South Carolina. Sixty percent evangelical. And take a listen to what Rick Santorum had to say about Mitt Romney today on the values issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ultimately, aren't you looking for someone as president you can trust? What would give you the idea that someone who has changed his position on almost every single issue is someone you can trust, that when they get into the tempest in Washington, D.C., that they're going to stand by the principles that they've never stood by before?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: So, Wolf, you know, the rap on Mitt Romney has been that he's been a flip-flopper on a key issue, which is abortion. I would also argue that in addition to the cultural issues, one more issue is going to pop up, and that is healthcare. Massachusetts healthcare reform was based on mandate. Mandates are things that Tea Partiers really don't like.
And I think they'll be going after Mitt Romney on that issue, because he's very vulnerable on it.
BLITZER: Now, the Democrat just sitting back and laughing and enjoying all of this.
BORGER: Well, they are.
BLITZER: Are they doing something else?
BORGER: Sure they are, because there's no doubt, of course, that the Republican Party is teeing this up for them. Not that they needed any help on the Bain Capital issue, but business experience has been Mitt Romney's calling card. And now, they've got an awful lot of tape.
You talk about vulture capitalism there. They've got an awful lot of tape that they can use. But there's one other thing, if he step back, there's a larger problem that they're looking at in the Republican Party. And that is that this party is split, and if the split is something they think they can -- because you've got the more populist blue collar conservatives in the Republican Party, the Tea Partiers who flocked to the party in the 2010 midterm elections. They are very suspicious of the corporate elite.
And whether or not Mitt Romney comes from Wall Street -- he says he doesn't -- that's what he represents to them. And the Democrats think that they can actually use that to their advantage.
BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.
BLITZER: The ad war is in full swing in South Carolina right now. But while candidates are spending millions of dollars on these ads, do they really work to sway voters?
CNN's Tom Foreman is in Charleston, South Carolina.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): South Carolina is under attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, working telling.
FOREMAN: Campaign ads from Republican contenders are being fired around the clock now --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a moral imperative --
FOREMAN: -- all aimed squarely at undecided voters like Cam Spencer in Charleston.
CAM SPENCER, UNDECIDED VOTER: Thank goodness for the mute button.
FOREMAN: And it's not just the TV. She starts receiving robo calls before she can even make her morning coffee.
(on camera): It's 8:30.
SPENCER: It's 8:30.
FOREMAN: And the phone's ringing.
SPENCER: And the phone is ringing.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a jobs and economic growth plan.
SPENCER: I don't feel like it's more than it is in '08 or in '10.
FOREMAN: Yes, but it's still not down to the wire.
SPENCER: Well, that's true, too. I hate to think what it's going to be like once we do get down to the wire.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Already, she and many others here are finding the onslaught almost inescapable. During her commute to work as a medical researcher, the radio rattles more.
There are also print ads, e-mails, flyers, yard signs. By lunchtime, she's already had her fill.
(on camera): Between the ads that you see on TV and hear on the radio and read and get in e-mails, how many of these are you getting a day?
SPENCER: At least 20 or more.
FOREMAN: And what do you expect next week?
SPENCER: Double that.
SPENCER: At least.
FOREMAN: Will any of these change your mind?
SPENCER: None. None of the ads.
FOREMAN: Are they wasting their money?
SPENCER: Yes, I believe they are.
FOREMAN (voice-over): She may be on to something. This focus group of undecided voters organized by CNN and Southern Methodist University watched several ads, liked some, disliked others, but generally agreed voters are just being hit with way too many.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're seeing a very large increase in ads on YouTube.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a matter of fact, I changed the channel three times and there were different ads, but all political on every channel at the same time.
FOREMAN (on camera): Do all these ads make a difference to you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, they don't make a difference to me. They somewhat annoy me.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Cam Spencer is still making up her mind whom to vote for. But of one thing she is certain.
(on camera): Are you tired of the ads yet?
SPENCER: Oh, I've been tired of the ads.
FOREMAN (voice-over): But she knows from sun up to sundown, until Primary Day, it will only get worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seems like a more honest candidate.
FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Charleston, South Carolina.
BLITZER: And please be sure to tune into CNN one week from today for our southern Republican presidential debate. The candidates will square off just days before the South Carolina primary. It all happens next Thursday night, right here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
The family of the late president Dwight Eisenhower wants to put the brakes on plans for a memorial honoring him here in Washington. We're going to tell you why. That's coming up.
And is America ready to election the first Mormon president of the United States? We're going to tell you what fellow Mormons are saying about Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman in a brand-new poll.
BLITZER: A Florida university student beaten to death on a tour bus. His parents are now suing the bus company for its role in the alleged hazing, but experts say the case may be more complicated than it appears.
George Howell has the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know if he's breathing or not, but we need to get an ambulance ASAP.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Severely beaten, killed on this tour bus, 26-year-old Florida A&M drum major Robert champion died after an alleged hazing incident nearly two months ago. And now his parents' attorney says they are taking legal action, suing the bus company.
CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT, CHAMPION FAMILY ATTORNEY: We want to know what bus employee was assigned to this bus, how did the students get on, how did the bus gut turned on, how was the air-conditioning on, how were they able to stay on the bus long enough to beat Robert Champion to death?
HOWELL: For Pam and Robert Champion, the impending lawsuit is their first step toward getting some answers.
PAM CHAMPION, ROBERT CHAMPION'S MOTHER: Let me make it personal. My son -- what was done to my son was wrong, it was brutal. He had nobody that would help him.
RAY LAND, PRESIDENT, FABULOUS COACH LINES: We take our responsibility towards safety very seriously. That is the number one paramount thing that we provide.
HOWELL: The president of Florida-based Fabulous Coach Lines, Ray Land, says he never saw this coming. And though he admits the bus was parked and running while the driver stepped away --
LAND: We cannot monitor our individual passengers, especially whenever they are part of a preformed group. It is the responsibility of the chartering party that has a contract with us, and we lived up to the contract.
HOWELL (on camera): So where does your responsibility begin and end when you take these big groups on the road?
LAND: Ultimately, we feel that our liability begins whenever we pick up our passengers at the first destination and ends whenever we arrive at the destination wherever they're traveling to.
HOWELL (voice-over): But a case like this may be more complicated than meets the eye, says CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: The bus company, like any company, has to show that it was operated with reasonable care. And that has to apply when the bus is stopped as well as when the bus is moving.
HOWELL: The Champions' attorney also announced they plan to sue FAMU for wrongful death and general negligence. But in this case, they'll have to wait six months after putting the school on notice, because under Florida law, universities are protected from being sued under sovereign immunity. As for the bus company, there are no such protections.
(on camera): To own and operate a fleet of buses like this, Fabulous Coach Lines maintains a high insurance limit. And Ray Land believes that is the reason his business is being targeted. He believes the lawsuit is misguided.
LAND: I understand their mission is to end hazing. Suing my company is not going to end hazing. It's not going to do anything to affect hazing.
HOWELL (voice-over): George Howell, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, the former CIA director, has just been meeting with troops and reporters over at Fort Bliss in Texas. And he was asked about the assassination -- the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran.
You're looking at live pictures from Fort Bliss in Texas right now.
He made some intriguing -- I should say some very intriguing comments. As you know, the U.S. is flatly denying any U.S. involvement in the killing of this Iranian nuclear scientist, but listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We've got to make sure that we are ready for any situation that may develop there. And that means we have to keep all options on the table. All options on the table. And clearly, there are those areas that, for us, are red lines.
Number one, we cannot allow them to develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line.
Number two, we cannot tolerate Iran blocking the Straits of Hormuz.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That was one thing that he said, but he went on, and he was specifically asked about the killing of this Iranian nuclear scientist. And we're going to get that sound bite for you. We're going to place it for you.
Let me just double check.
Is that sound bite ready?
All right. We'll get the right sound bite, we'll play it for you. I want you to stick around. Listen to what Leon Panetta says openly, publicly about the assassination, the killing of this Iranian nuclear scientist.
We'll get back to that in a moment, but let's get some other news in the meantime.
With Mormon Mitt Romney the Republican front-runner right now, there's a fresh look at being Mormon in the United States. And a new poll out highlights feelings of discrimination and anticipation among American Mormons.
Our Mary Snow is joining us live from New York. She has more -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, "cult" is the word most often used to describe the Mormon religion by people outside the religion, and that's according to researchers who decided to get a rare look at how Mormons view themselves as their religion comes more into focus.
SNOW (voice-over): With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, two Republican presidential hopefuls who are Mormon, there's increased attention on a religion seen by many on the outside as mysterious. Outside of politics, the faith has also been thrust into the spotlight with the Broadway musical satire "The Book of Mormon" and TV shows such as "Big Love" about a polygamist family.
Polygamy was officially banned by the Church of Latter-day Saints in 1890, but if the findings of a new poll are correct, Mormons see themselves on the cusp of a significant moment in the United States. But it comes with a mixed picture. GREGORY SMITH, PEW RESEARCH CENTER ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: They feel discriminated against, they feel like they're not necessarily accepted as part of mainstream society. At the same time, Mormons also tell us that they think acceptance of Mormonism may be on the rise, and they tell us they do think that the public may be ready to elect a Mormon president.
SNOW: Gregory Smith is a senior researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which surveyed 1,000 Mormons. Almost all of those questioned identified their religion as Christians, but it is a source of tension. Fifty percent say Evangelicals are unfriendly toward them. Separately, Pew found nearly half of white Evangelicals don't view Mormonism as a Christian religion.
And in Iowa, Mitt Romney didn't have Evangelical support. Fifty-seven percent of caucus-goers were Evangelical or born-again Christians, but only 14 percent of them supported Romney.
It's a stark contrast to the 86 percent support he has among Mormons. Only half have a favorable view of Jon Huntsman.
David Buckner, a Mormon church leader in New York, doesn't mind the questions.
DAVID BUCKNER, NEW YORK MORMON CHURCH LEADER: Presidential candidates generally draw a lot more scrutiny, a lot more questioning. I know when John Kennedy ran, even when Richard Nixon, as a Quaker, those are good questions. Those are questions that I do believe are elevating an inquiring audience.
What does this mean? Who are these folks?
SNOW (on camera): Why is it a mystery?
BUCKNER: I don't think that we're very good as an open people inviting in.
SNOW: Wolf, all told, Mormons make up less than two percent of the U.S. population. Researchers found they're very similar to Evangelicals in two ways -- religious commitment and politically. The surveys found two-thirds of Mormons describe themselves as political conservative -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.
And as I mentioned, Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, he has just spoken out about the assassination of that Iranian nuclear scientist. We're going to tell you what he had to say, right when we come back.
BLITZER: There's been lots of speculation about the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, a car bombing that killed this Iranian nuclear scientist, only the latest in the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists. And just a little while ago the defense secretary of the United States, Leon Panetta, a former CIA director, was asked about it.
He's at Fort Bliss with U.S. troops in Texas. Listen to how carefully he responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PANETTA: On the nuclear scientist, you know, let me state what the secretary of state made clear. And I will state it as firmly.
We were not involved in any way -- in any way with regards to the assassination that took place there. I'm not sure who was involved. We have some ideas as to who might be involved, but we don't know exactly who was involved.
But I can tell you one thing. The United States was not involved with --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You heard him specifically say the United States was not involved.
This is what Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, said flatly. But his intriguing words were, "We have some ideas as to who" were involved in this killing of this Iranian nuclear scientist. But he says he does not know -- he personally, he says, does not know.
We're following up on this story. Enormous ramifications. We'll stay more with -- we'll get you more as it comes in.
We'll take a quick break. Jeanne Moos is coming up next.
BLITZER: Newt Gingrich dogs front-runner Mitt Romney with an old story about a family pet.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like most dogs, Mitt Romney says his dog Seamus liked fresh air. Well, he's getting plenty of airtime all right thanks to Newt Gingrich's anti-Romney ad dredging up the old dog in the kennel on a car roof story.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had five kids inside the car, and my guess is he liked it a lot better in his kennel than he would have liked it inside.
MOOS: There's even a Web site, Seamus 2012, that pretends it's Seamus dog speaking from doggy heaven.
The original story was written by "Boston Globe" reporters back in 2007.
(on camera): I'm trying to think in dog years, how old is this story?
(voice-over): Writer Neil Swidey confirmed details of the story with Romney family members.
Way back in 1983, the Romneys piled into their station wagon for a 12- hour trip to Canada with the dog in his kennel on the roof.
ROMNEY: This is a completely airtight kennel.
(on camera): Keep in mind that Romney had built a special windshield for the kennel. So when they put Seamus the dog up here on the roof, he was protected from the wind.
(voice-over): At some point, one of Romney's sons yelled, "Dad, gross!" A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who had been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.
HOWARD STERN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: To me, Mitt Romney treated his dog like a mattress or a Christmas tree.
MOOS: There were comments from Howard Stern and a parody song on YouTube.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): And he tied me to the roof. He drove down the highway and then I pooped.
MOOS: There's even a re-imagined Hitler parody using a scene from "Downfall."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "DOWNFALL": (SPEAKING GERMAN)
PARODY: What the hell was Romney thinking? Who cares if Seamus is an Irish setter and not a proud German Shepherd of the Reich?
MOOS: Anti-Romney demonstrators have popped up with stuffed dogs on car roofs. But the writer of the original article thinks the most interesting angle has been missed.
NEIL SWIDEY, WRITER, BOSTON GLOBE MAGAZINE: When the dog is in distress, Mitt Romney pulls off the side of the road into a gas station, borrows a hose, washes it down, and then puts the dog back up there.
MOOS: As Neil Swidey wrote, "It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management."
STERN: It's like "The Beverly Hillbillies." And "The Beverly Hillbillies" treated the critters better -- Elly May's critters.
MOOS: Look where Duke the hound gets to sit.
IRENE RYAN, ACTRESS, "BEVERLY HILLBILLIES": I ain't budging out of this rocker. MOOS: And Granny's in the Seamus position for shame.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The news continues next on CNN.