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THE SITUATION ROOM
Jeb Bush Endorses Mitt Romney; Hezbollah Threat in U.S.?; Romney: Etch A Sketch Candidate?; GOP Rules Could Force out Gingrich; Tebow to Jets; AAA: Gas At $3.86 Per Gallon; Online Dating Sites Target Sexual Predators; Tax Refunds Stolen By Millions; Little Rock Airport Named for Clintons; Boehner Weeps at Capitol Luncheon; Broken Toilets Lead To 2-Day Layover
Aired March 21, 2012 - 16:00 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: Happening now: Mitt Romney and the Etch A Sketch. An aide's offhand remark goes viral and gives Romney's rival some new ammunition.
Also, the Hezbollah threat inside the United States. One U.S. lawmaker now says an A team of international terrorism is right here in the U.S. and the possibility of an attack, he says, is real.
And broken toilets turn a 13-hour flight into a two-day odyssey, leaving hundreds of passengers trapped in Alaska.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Major new backing and a brewing new controversy for the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. He's picked up one of the most sought-after endorsements of the campaign, but a remark by one of his top aides is now threatening to overshadow it.
Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is with Romney, who is holding a town hall meeting outside Baltimore.
Jim, what happened?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you just mentioned, Mitt Romney is about to hold a town hall meeting just outside of Baltimore.
The Maryland primary is coming up in about a week-and-a-half, but Mitt Romney can take comfort in the fact that Rick Santorum's path to the nomination looks sketchy today, but as the Romney campaign knows, this race for the GOP nomination is not etched in stone.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It was as if one of the biggest names in Republican Party politics was listening to Mitt Romney's call for unity after the Illinois primary.
ROMNEY: Join us. Join us. ACOSTA: About 12 hours later, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush released a statement announcing his endorsement of Romney. "Now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney," Bush said, "and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall."
But Bush's endorsement comes less than a month after he warned a crowd in Texas the current Republican field was alienating centrist voters. He summed it up this way to a local station.
JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I think, though, it's important for the candidates to recognize though that they have to appeal to primary voters and not turn off independent voters that will be part of a winning coalition.
ACOSTA: But text from Bush's speech that day sounded more urgent. "I used to be a conservative," Bush said, "and I watch these debates and I'm wondering. I don't think I have changed , but it's a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion."
Erasing Bush's comments may be easier than what one of Romney's longtime aides, Eric Fehrnstrom, said on CNN's "STARTING POINT" when he was asked whether the GOP front-runner has tacked too far to the right to win the nomination.
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. And everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.
ACOSTA: That blew up on Twitter. Internet researcher Andrew Kaczynski posted an Etch A Sketch of Seamus the dog on top of the Romney family car. An aide to Rick Santorum tweeted out a picture of the former Pennsylvania senator doing his own Etch A Sketching.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That should be comforting to all of you who are voting on this primary.
ACOSTA: But Santorum said the comments are a signal to voters that team Romney plans to run as a blank slate in the fall.
SANTORUM: Remove all trace of any kind of marks and be able to draw a new picture, maybe a picture like similar to when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, not as a conservative.
ACOSTA: Newt Gingrich offered his own Etch A Sketch to a toddler in Louisiana and said politics just might be in her future.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She could now be a presidential candidate.
GINGRICH: She has her very own Etch A Sketch.
ACOSTA: And the DNC piled on with a new Web video that says there are some things you can't shake off.
ACOSTA: Now this afternoon Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom sketched out a response to this controversy and here it is -- quote -- "I was talking about the race," he says, "as we move from the primary to the general election. The campaign changes. It's a different race with different candidates and a focus on different issues."
That is not enough, obviously, for the Santorum campaign. Just before this event got started, Wolf, Santorum's press secretary, Alice Stewart, was hanged out these Etch A Sketches to reporters out in the parking lot.
We all got one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A quick question about Jeb Bush. As soon as I heard the endorsement, major endorsement for Mitt Romney, my mind immediately raced to the possibility of a Mitt Romney/Jeb Bush ticket in the fall in the general election if Romney does, in fact, get the nomination. What are they saying, if anything, about that?
ACOSTA: They're not saying much about that kind of speculation.
This afternoon, Wolf, Mitt Romney released a statement welcoming the news that Jeb Bush is endorsing their campaign, but it would be a potent ticket for the Republican nomination and for the fall general election campaign. Obviously, Jeb Bush, coming from Florida, that is a key swing state that President Obama would likely have to hang on to in order to get reelected in the fall.
But the question is going to be raised. Would putting the name Bush on a Republican ticket work out that well for the GOP this time around? Perhaps there might be some in the Republican Party who would say better to wait for 2016.
BLITZER: We will see what happens. Thanks very much.
Right now, Rick Santorum is in Louisiana, which holds its primary this coming Saturday. He's on the offensive, showing no sign at all of dropping out, despite now trailing Romney by more than 300 delegates.
Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is out on the campaign trail with Santorum.
Joe, what's the latest over there?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rick Santorum arrived here in Louisiana looking very much like a guy who is prepared to stick it out for quite a while.
The Santorum people are actually taking the position that this is basically halftime in the race with a long time to go and they say they're going keep going as long as Mitt Romney doesn't have the nomination locked up yet. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JOHNS (voice-over): Leaving no doubt that he's still in the race for now, Rick Santorum arrived in Harvey, Louisiana, seemingly full of fight despite the thumping he'd just taken in Illinois.
At first, Santorum was taking on President Obama for his energy policies, claiming the moratorium on oil drilling after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that the administration actually lifted has been replaced by a regime of excessive administrative red tape. He's trying to connect with voters in a region where drilling means jobs.
SANTORUM: Here in the Gulf, with the moratorium and the permatorium, and of course, what we see in Alaska, the Outer Continental Shelf, federal lands, increasingly trying to lock up federal lands so no minerals can be harvested from there. I'm not just talking oil and gas and coal, but I'm talking a whole variety of different minerals.
JOHNS: Santorum was predicting a strong showing here in Louisiana and still going after the Republican front-runner with about the same amount of vigor he had used to attack Mitt Romney in the campaign for the Illinois primary.
SANTORUM: He will say what he needs to say to win the election that's before him, and if he has to say something different because it's a different election and a different group of voters, he's willing to say that, too.
JOHNS: Santorum was also looking ahead, talking about Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, which his campaign intends to highlight for similarities with the Obama health care legislation that gets its hearing next week before the Supreme Court.
I asked Santorum about Jeb Bush's endorsement of Mitt Romney, which he dismissed as establishment politics.
(on camera): Do you think it is time for the Republican Party to sort of come together?
SANTORUM: I agree. They should all start supporting me, because I'm the strong conservative candidate. And I'm hopeful that as we have seen in every state, all of the endorsers, the establishment, you know, who is comfortable with the status quo go with Mitt Romney, and the folks who want to see the real changes going on in Washington, D.C., support me, and I think that's what this race is coming down to.
JOHNS: All of the states are important for Rick Santorum, but perhaps the most important are his own home state of Pennsylvania which he spent the night in last night and also in Texas in May. He's going to Texas tomorrow, Wolf.
BLITZER: That will be a big battle in Pennsylvania even though it is his home state. I suspect the Romney folks will try to win that state. Joe Johns in New Orleans for us, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
The Jeb Bush endorsement of Mitt Romney, what does that say about where the overall primary season stands?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It says that Illinois was a very convincing win for Mitt Romney and that what you're seeing is the establishment sort of start to coalesce around Mitt Romney, who they think is the likely nominee.
But there aren't any more power brokers anymore, Wolf, who can just come in and say to the Republicans, it's time to end this thing. Let's get on with it and go to the convention all united. Jeb Bush can't do that.
What we are really seeing is a contest that's not going to end with some kind of dramatic flourish, but you probably will see Mitt Romney crawl across the finish line in the end if he can get those 1,144 delegates. But you are going to see a race, when Santorum wins one and Romney wins one, for example, Louisiana this Saturday, likely, that it's not going to be Mitt Romney and it could be Santorum and it could even be Newt Gingrich.
Then on, April 3, Maryland, Wisconsin, D.C., Maryland, probably Romney, but Wisconsin, who knows? If Santorum could win Wisconsin, that would be a huge win for him. And then, of course, as Joe was mentioning, April 24, you have got Pennsylvania, which I would argue Santorum absolutely needs to win.
BLITZER: Governor Romney had a very impressive win in Illinois last night, but he still had some problems with some elements of that Republican conservative base.
Among those folks who call themselves very conservative, they went for Santorum 49 percent, Romney 36 percent. And among those who describe themselves as born-again, Santorum 47 percent, Romney 37 percent. So what can Romney do about that?
BORGER: Not much.
I think the race has kind of established a pattern, and I think it is what it is. Mitt Romney is never going to convince evangelical voters who are skeptical of him, the most conservative voters who are skeptical of him and the most ardent Tea Party voters who are very skeptical of him to support him overwhelmingly.
He did win those people, the Tea Partiers, in Illinois last night. That was a part of his very large victory, but overall they're going to remain skeptical, what I call the base of the base. So in the end, they're going to have to decide whether they want to defeat President Obama enough that they would come out wholeheartedly, if he's the nominee, as seems likely, and vote for him in the fall.
It's not going to be because they're passionate about him. BLITZER: They're passionate about not voting for President Obama. That could be the decisive element.
BORGER: That's right.
BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.
So what about Jeb Bush for vice president? His endorsement of Mitt Romney is fueling some buzz out there about a slot potentially on the GOP ticket.
Plus, the obscure Republican rule that could dramatically change the race for the White House, we will talk about that. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session." Stay with us.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's just about over. While Mitt Romney didn't score a knockout in Illinois, to borrow a boxing metaphor, he landed enough blows that his opponents may soon be unable to answer the bell for the next round.
And it's a bit ironic, I suppose, the Republican primary fight may have been decided in the Democratic president's home state. Romney's win was impressive, double digits and he won just about every exit poll category that was measured except for evangelicals and very conservative voters.
Rick Santorum's showing on the other hand was far from impressive. He got little support beyond his base. But more importantly, he showed again that he's incapable of winning a large Midwestern state. And there simply aren't enough Louisianas, Mississippis and Alabamas to get him the nomination.
Newt Gingrich finished dead last. He's now gone from contender to curiosity to nobody cares. He's toast.
Ron Paul, who may have the best side set of ideas for solving a lot of our big problems, has just never been able to connect with enough voters to make a difference.
Finally, if Romney should go on to win the nomination, and I think he probably will, the Republican voters would have settled for the moderate in the middle, sort of what the vast majority of the country has always been about, and his victory will be a slap in the face to the Tea Party.
Romney's now looking past these tune-up fights toward that big title bout in November, and the rest of the country, I think is starting to do the same.
Here's the question: Was Illinois the turning point in the Republican race?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog. Or go to our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Twitter right now is blowing up with the Etch A Sketch comment made by a top Romney campaign aide. You saw it here a few moments in Jim Acosta's report.
Let's discuss what's going on with the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," "The Newsweek" and "Daily Beast" Washington bureau chief, Howard Kurtz, and Lauren Ashburn, the founder and editor in chief of daily-download.com.
Guys, thanks for coming in. You guys have a new venture that you're going to be announcing shortly as well.
But let's talk, Howie, first of all, it's amazing how quickly when we said this morning on CNN has blown up.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": I watch cable news all of the time, Wolf, and I found out about this from Twitter. Liberal group Think Progress helped push this out. Suddenly, everybody is commenting on it, it's trending.
BLITZER: Is it because Etch A Sketch is so -- you know, everybody knows what Etch A Sketch is?
LAUREN ASHBURN, FOUNDER, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: More than Lite- Brite.
Let's just say that it's probably not the preferred image and I think it's going to be indelible image for the Romney campaign because it makes it look like the principles can be shaken up like the children's game, Lauren.
ASHBURN: Right, but it's not indelible then, right?
BLITZER: It's really amazing what's going on right now, even compared to four years ago, the social media situation has dramatically changed politics.
ASHSBURN: Well, you know, President Obama was the ringleader when it came to social media and engaging those young voters. Well, he's still the king. He has 25 million likes on his Facebook page. He released a documentary 17 minutes long only online. When I went there to his Web site, you actually had to sign in, give an e-mail address so that they then had that and could engage you outside of Facebook.
KURTZ: But, of course, anybody could go on Twitter and journalists do this. They had a following. And who did you see tweeting about this whole Etch A Sketch controversy?
ASHBURN: Oh, I saw everybody. Eva Longoria retweeted Arianna Huffington. And then they're just, you know, your next neighbor who's saying, "Oh, I love Etch A Sketch," or, "This is crazy. Did you see the one with Seamus the dog on the Etch A Sketch, you know"? It's going to be bigger than the dog controversy.
BLITZER: I mean, I don't know if it will last that long, but even the DNC wasted no time. They're not always the fast nest reacting, but they got this. I'll play a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question is, if I were elected and Congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it? And the answer is yes.
Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that.
I was a severely conservative Republican governor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The question is, it has a little, you know, few hours' life right now -- but how long does an Etch A Sketch comment like that last?
ASHBURN: I do think it will last a very long time. Someone tweeted which was so funny. They said -- not funny that he died, but Romney when he dies, the first paragraph of his obituary will be the word Etch A Sketch. That it was just a monumental moment in politics.
BLITZER: And, Howie, you guys are tapping into to this whole new social media adventure, shall we say out there. What do two of you up to right now?
KURTZ: We've been tracking this on "Daily-Download," and the campaign has really conducted a lot of sniping and really online warfare through media like Twitter. They exchange snarky e-mails and people chime in and it really ha become -- I think Twitter is the new "A.P.", Wolf. It's become a whole new conversation that takes place in addition to outside of television studios, newspapers and magazines and that's why something like this can become a trending topic and hundreds of thousands of tweets in just a few hours because it taps into the cultural mainstream in a way that pure political coverage doesn't always do.
ASHBURN: Sure, and I come out of Gannett and "USA Today," a very big media company, we decided that we wanted to start "Daily- Download" to really take a look at what's happening on the Internet, how mainstream media companies are adapting to the Internet, whether or not newspapers in print will be able to make the jump and how that's affecting that.
KURTZ: And what about, you know, I follow what Mitt Romney does and sometimes his campaign pushes back at journalists who are on Twitter because they get an advanced look at what they're going to be writing. They may not like the storyline. What about Ann Romney?
ASHBURN: Right. Ann Romney is on Pinterest.
Do you know Pinterest? Probably not. It's mostly a gal thing.
KURTZ: It's because you're obsessed with Pinterest. And the guys don't get it.
ASHBURN: It's where you put all of these pictures together that you like. There's no advertising on it. You can say, oh, this is my flower page, or this is my Mitt Romney page.
KURTZ: Ten million users, Wolf -- 10 million users on Pinterest.
BLITZER: Ten million and one.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, good luck on the new venture. Thanks very much.
Howie Kurtz, we see you every Sunday morning, l11:00 a.m. Eastern on "RELIABLE SOURCES," right here on CNN.
KURTZ: Well done.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
His endorsement is certainly one of the jewels of the Republican presidential season. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, has announced his pick in the race for the nomination. Does have his sights set on the number two spot on the ticket? Is that at all possible? We'll discuss in our strategy session.
Also, a plane bound for China gets diverted for two days. We're going to have the details of the nightmare that unfolded.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Here are some of the stories we're working on for the next hour:
Anti-American sentiment running rampant within Hezbollah than Congress wants (INAUDIBLE). Does the pro-Iran group pose a real, genuine terror threat right here on U.S. soil? Stand by.
In France, the standoff goes on with an accused mass killer who says he wants to bring the country to its knees. We are learning more about a man driven by vengeance.
And Coach Sean Payton suspended, a very hefty fine and more. The NFL deals harsh punishment to the New Orleans Saints for a so- called bounty on opposing players.
Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, along with Republican strategist Rich Galen.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Jeb Bush, popular governor of Florida, endorsing Mitt Romney, saying primary elections had been held in 34 states and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.
Is it at all realistic, do you think, to think that a Romney- Bush ticket in the fall is possible?
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's possible. I mean, any of these are possible.
We were talking about them in the green room before. The great thing about running for V.P. is it's a 10-week sprint. And if you win, you get a house, you get a car, you get your own airplane. You know, I think you don't get as Cheney got one, but usually OK.
But, I mean, for these governors and ex-governors, it's a great gig if they want to do it. The good thing for the campaign is they don't have to make that decision for another 60 or 75 days.
BLITZER: We saw the movie "Game Change," we remember how important it could be. But, you know, for the Democrats, Jeb Bush is very popular in Florida, popular with Hispanics, speaks Spanish. He would do a lot in making sure Florida would be in Mitt Romney's corner if in fact, he were on the ticket.
MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's no question that this is good news for Mitt Romney. Jeb Bush is seen as a heavy weight politically as well as substantively, which is something Mitt Romney desperately needs.
But in terms of the Spanish vote, yes, Jeb Bush up until now has had major credibility with the Hispanic community not just in Florida, but I think nationally. But I got to say --
BLITZER: And Republicans need Hispanic support.
CARDONA: And Republicans need it desperately. But I have to say, when you are -- when you are supporting someone like Mitt Romney who has Kris Kobach, the author of the Arizona S.B. 1070 law, which is anathema to Hispanics all around the country, when you have Pete Wilson as your adviser, another one anathema to the Hispanic community, when you seek the support of Sheriff Arpaio, the most anti- immigrant sheriff in the country, not even Jeb Bush is going to be able to help you.
BLITZER: But you can do the Etch A Sketch, shake it up and --
CARDONA: Why not? No question.
BLITZER: You know, Richard Nixon used to say, when you run for the Republican nomination, you run to the right. And then when you get the nomination, you run back to the center.
GALEN: I tweeted that today. This is like someone invented a whole new strategy that none of us have heard before. When you get the general, you run back to the middle. That's what you always do. And if you're a Democrat, you run to the left, by the way.
CARDONA: But right now with social media, you were just talking about it earlier, everybody has really long memories. People are not stupid. Hispanics are not stupid. We will remember.
BLITZER: I remember when you used to work for Newt Gingrich. You remember him, right?
GALEN: I do.
BLITZER: He's running for president of the United States.
GALEN: He was. I don't know if he still is.
BLITZER: If there is a contested convention, there is rule, it's rule 40B that says -- basically says that if you haven't won the plurality of delegates in at least five states, your name can't be put up for consideration at the Republican convention in Tampa in the end of August. I'll read you the rules, a little arcane.
"Each candidate for nomination of president for the United States and vice president of the United States shall demonstrate the support of the plurality of the delegates from each of five or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination."
He's won two states. Can he get three more so that his name can even be put up if Romney doesn't get 1,144 delegates?
GALEN: That rule is one of the least of Newt Gingrich's problems in terms of the nomination. It doesn't make a second to come to that. He's not going to -- he's not going to get the nomination.
BLITZER: Do you think he'll come to a contested convention?
GALEN: No, I do not.
BLITZER: Do you think that Santorum, Romney -- Santorum and Gingrich and Ron Paul can deny Mitt Romney 1,144?
GALEN: I do not. I think as we move through this thing -- I mean last night was a big deal. You talked about it last night, everybody on the panel, on both sides, talked -- that was a huge win, and I think everybody at least, you know, we in Washington, inside the beltway, who we are establishment, but we happen to do this for a living, so we sort of know what goes on. I mean, I really did feel that was very strong (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Do you think it's over as far as from the Democratic perspective, just assuming that Romney is going to be the nominee?
CARDONA: I think most people are assuming that, but I will say this, Wolf. Every time we assume something this political process has tipped that on its head.
So I will say this, Mitt Romney still has issues in trying to track the votes of the most conservative, you know, the Tea Partiers and those who are really looking for moral character as one of their main issues.
And Santorum still has a chance in the upcoming primaries. He also has to put more states on the board, but is it over? We'll see.
GALEN: That doesn't mean you have to win all of the states. I mean, even Barack Obama didn't win them all even after he was going to be the nominee. But what I think to your point, Maria, is that for a lot of conservatives, Mitt Romney may not be their first choice, but Obama is their last choice.
BLITZER: Yes, if it's going to be a decision whether to vote for Mitt Romney for a lot of these Tea Party supporters and conservatives or stay home and not vote, and potentially allow the president to be re- elected.
CARDONA: Right. But Romney's main problem is with independents as well, independents, Hispanics, women.
GALEN: He ran for president of Puerto Rico. He didn't have a single supporter.
BLITZER: That brings me back to Jeb Bush.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do know in that statement he very carefully inserted the word fiscal conservative.
CARDONA: He should run for president of Puerto Rico if he thinks all of those votes are going to help him with the Hispanic community.
BLITZER: A new team for quarterback, Tim Tebow and we now know whose jersey he'll be wearing. Stand by.
And a fiery gas station crash caught on tape. What happened to the driver of this jeep?
Plus, the tax scam so big the IRS can't even keep track of it. Stolen income tax returns. Information you need to know.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How easy is it to do this? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is so easy. It's like the federal government putting crack cocaine in candy machines. It is that easy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We now I think know where Tim Tebow will be next season. Mary snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Quarterback Tim Tebow will be swapping his Denver Broncos jersey for the green and white of the New York Jets.
The Jets announced today that they've agreed on a trade with the Broncos for Tebow one day after he was displaced by former Indianapolis superstar Peyton Manning.
In what was one of last season's Cinderella stories, Tebow led Denver to the playoffs. He will backup the Jet's Mark Sanchez who signed three-year contract extension this month.
Fuel prices just keep rising. AAA says the national average price of a gallon of unleaded regular went up almost 2 cents to $3.86. That's the 12th straight increase. AAA reports the highest prices are in Hawaii, the lowest in Wyoming. Gas prices are up almost 18 percent so far this year.
Some of the top online dating services have entered an agreement aimed at screening out sexual predators. Match.com, E- Harmony and the parent company of Jdate and Christian Mingle issued a joint statement of principles aimed at better protecting their members.
They include checking subscribers against sex offender registries. The pact stems from a California lawsuit by a match.com client who was raped on a date with a repeat sex offender.
And finally, take a look at this dramatic surveillance video. It happened in Miami Beach, Florida yesterday. A jeep rolls into a Chevron gas station and keeps right on rolling into one of the pumps.
The pump and the car exploding into flames, there's panic. Fire fighters rushed to the scene to put out the fire. The jeep was completely charred. Fortunately, the driver was unhurt -- Wolf.
BLITZER: One update, though, on the Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos New York Jets trade or at least the supposed trade. Espn.com now reporting that there could be some contract glitches out there that could either delay or prevent this trade from going forward.
Stand by, we'll update our viewers and see what happens and maybe not so fast for Tim Tebow, Mary, going from Denver to New York. That's where you are. We'll check it out and we'll get back to everyone. Meanwhile, back from the war and out of control. We're going to hear from a former service member now accused of murder. CNN's Erin Burnett looks at the problems with post-traumatic stress disorder. Stand by.
Just ahead, a CNN exclusive. Are you potentially the next victim? Randi Kaye investigates tax refund theft, get this, in the billions of dollars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell me if you know anything about identity theft happening around here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you involved in any of the tax fraud?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So imagine filing your income taxes only to be told that someone else has already done it and they've received your refund. It's fraud so big even the IRS doesn't know how much money is at stake right now.
Law enforcement says though it's in the billions of dollars. That's with a "B." For the first time in our exclusive investigation, you are about to see the fraud unfold in Florida where in some neighborhoods it's become an actual way of life. Here's CNN's Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've just rolled up on what police say is evidence of one of the biggest and easiest frauds in America to pull off, a crime hidden on a piece of plastic, a debit card.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got the cards. He just purchased them it looks like.
KAYE: Those debit cards, police say, are used to take advantage of fast tax refunds from the IRS. Here's how it works. The thieves are stealing those refunds by stealing people's Social Security numbers from insiders at hospitals, doctor's offices, even car dealerships, any place where you have to give your personal information.
They then use the stolen information to go online and file a tax return making up the income the person earned for the year. The IRS then puts the money on a debit card purchased by the thieves.
KAYE (on camera): I'm curious what you do for work that you drive such a fancy car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing about that.
KAYE: You don't know nothing about that? Can you tell me if you know anything about identity theft happening around here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing about nothing.
KAYE: Are you involved in any of the tax fraud?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing about nothing.
KAYE (voice-over): Detectives Craig Catlin and Rocky Festa of the North Miami Beach Florida Police Department will later charge him with buying these gift cards with stolen tax return money.
(on camera): How easy is it to do this?
DETECTIVE CRAIG CATLIN, NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA POLICE DEPARTMENT: The fraudulent refunds are so easy it's like the federal government putting crack cocaine in vending machines. It's that easy.
KAYE (voice-over): The criminals cash in those debit cards as quickly as possible showing off their riches with expensive luxury cars. They flaunt fancy watches, diamond pendants worth $55,000, and other jewelry.
This one inscribed with the words money hungry. Just a few hundred miles north up in Tampa, police estimate the fraud approaches a staggering half billion dollars in the last two years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's over $2,000 in cash.
KAYE: Just one example of what is happening nationwide. Police Chief Jane Caster says the IRS efforts to curtail it aren't working.
POLICE CHIEF JANE CASTOR, TAMPLA, FLORIDA POLICE DEPARTMENT: I don't think that I have ever seen this magnitude of fraud that is just wide open. It's wide open. It just doesn't seem to be much being done about it.
KAYE: For its part, the IRS identified $6.5 billion in tax refund fraud related to identity theft last year.
CASTOR: I'd like to hear the other side of that equation too. An estimation of how much got through.
KAYE: That's what we wanted to know too. Just how much fraud has gone undetected? After weeks of asking, the IRS' Deputy Commissioner Beth Tucker couldn't give us an answer.
(on camera): So just to be clear. You can tell us how much has been caught, but the IRS can't say how much of this fraudulent money has ended up in criminals' hands.
BETH TUCKER, IRS DEPUTY COMMISSIONER: We process 140 million tax returns at IRS on a given year. We're doing a balancing act. Because one thing we want to do is get refunds out to the hands of legitimate taxpayers as quickly as possible and with as little intrusion. But for the actual size of the problem, we probably need to get back to you with a number.
KAYE (voice-over): Law enforcement tells us there's a simple solution to curbing much of the fraud. Don't allow the refunds to be put on debit cards.
(on camera): Why hasn't the IRS stopped that?
TUCKER: Not every taxpayer has a bank account. So the debit cards that are issued by a third party provider is a legitimate way for taxpayers to get their refund.
BLITZER: Good report from Randi Kaye. Pretty shocking information. The man, by the way, that you saw being arrested and charged with the marijuana possession and grand theft. He has not yet entered a plea to either charge.
Police say the victim in the case had her purse stolen, so that's how her personal information was obtained. CNN will have much more on this investigation Sunday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern as part of our "CNN Presents" hour.
Be really, really careful releasing to anyone your Social Security number, just really, really careful especially this time of the year.
A U.S. soldier's alleged massacre of Afghan civilians is calling new attention to post traumatic stress disorder, but soldiers and their families were suffering long before there was such a diagnosis.
CNN's Erin Burnett is digging deeper into a stabbing death three decades ago. Erin, I know you're going to have a lot more later on your show on this, but tell our viewers what you're learning.
ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": It's pretty amazing. Wolf, we talk about the Sergeant Bales' story, you know, 20 percent of soldiers that come home from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD.
And everyone says, well, is it possible that he could have massacred 16 people? Could PTSD explain that? Well, obviously, the jury is still out on that one. But the story we talked about is Gary Hulsey.
He served three tours of Vietnam between 1965 and 1970, came back to the United States and tried to live a normal life and in 1978, he had been married for three weeks when this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GARY HULSEY, VIETNAM VETERAN: The last I remember about 10:00, I woke up and she was in bed next to me, and the knife I kept under my pillow, and I kept a combat knife under my pillow and it was stuck in her chest and I called the authorities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Miguel Marquez talked to Gary Hulsey. It's an incredible story, Wolf, and a very sad one. He kept his knife every night under his pillow, killed his wife. Served nearly nine years in prison and it was after all of that time in the mid-90s when he got diagnosed with PTSD.
He is now out of jail and he's a city councilman in his town. He has been married for 25 years and we have his full story as the nation comes to grips with what PTSD is and what it can do to people who otherwise were very good people and solid members of their community. That exclusive story tonight.
BLITZER: And when you think about what more than a million men and women have served over the past 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. military and the potential for this problem, enormous out there.
I'm really glad, Erin, that you're doing this story tonight. I think it will educate a lot of our viewers. I appreciate it very much.
Used car dealerships allegedly laundering money for Iranian- backed terrorists in the United States. That's coming up in the next hour.
Plus, broken toilets turn a flight to China into an unexpected odyssey in Alaska. We have details of what one passenger is calling the flight from hell.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other political headlines making news on the CNN Political Ticker. The Little Rock Arkansas Municipal Airport Commission has voted to rename the Little Rock National Airport after Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Other airports have been named after former U.S. presidents, but this is the first time a first lady has been included in the title. Mrs. Clinton, of course, is also a former senator, currently serves as secretary of state. The change will take effect in the coming months. Congratulations to both of them.
Presidential contender Ron Paul decided to forego a speech after the Illinois Republican primaries yesterday for an appearance on late-night television. He told Jay Leno why he skipped Secret Service protection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's a form of welfare, you know. You're having the taxpayers pay to take care of somebody. I'm an ordinary citizen, and I would think I should pay for my own protection, and it costs more than $50,000 a day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that what it is?
PAUL: That's a lot of money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A principled man, indeed. The interview followed a "GQ" report that candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum go by the codenames Javelin and Petrus respectively. Paul told Leno that if he had Secret Service protection his code name should be Bulldog.
His name may be German, but there's some Irish on his mom's side. Maybe that's why the House Speaker John Boehner got visibly choked up during a Capitol Hill luncheon yesterday with President Barack Obama.
And the Irish prime minister and also featured traditional Irish music, which also seemed to further trigger Boehner's emotions.
For complete political coverage, by the way, at any time, please be sure to read the ticker on cnnpolitics.com.
Jack's back once again with "The Cafferty File" --Jack.
CAFFERTY: Question this hour -- here we are. The question this hour, was Illinois the turning point in the Republican race?
James in North Carolina, "Yes, Jack, that was it. We built it up to a crescendo and now we have a candidate. Of course, we had Newt and Rick to shine a few more minutes before the final vote. It's all about the show. You sell the sizzle, not the stake."
Berlin in New Mexico writes, "The turning point is when Rick Santorum said he didn't care about the unemployment rate. He handed over the nomination at that moment."
Richard writes from Texas, "Well, it was a turning point in my stomach, the thought of Romney actually winning the nomination is sickening."
Riley in Seattle, "The Republican race for the presidential nomination has had more turning points than a porcupine dancing a jig, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Santorum all had their fling, Gingrich twice. Makes no matter. Now that Jeb Bush has come out for Romney, the jig is up. It's Romney's to lose come November."
Terry writes, "It's probably the turning point and probably for the best if you're a Republican. Now maybe the Republicans, independents and disgruntled Democrats can turn their attention and energy to the real problem in this country, Obama."
Annie writes in Atlanta, "No, there are a lot of Evangelicals left in the remaining states to keep Romney from his ultimate goal to be president. Then Sarah Palin can come in and save the day at their convention without having to work for it. It's a Grifter's dream come true."
And David writes, "I hope so. I'm exhausted and it's only halftime." If you want to read more about this, go to my blog cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Congress is trying to sort out if there's a clear and present danger from pro-Iranian terrorists right here on U.S. soil.
Also, why the trial may begin in dozens of used car lots trail -- I should say, the trail might begin in used car lots across the country.
A long journey to China stalled. There you see the plane. You will see what happened to stranded passengers who had to deal with enormous problems in Alaska.
BLITZER: Passengers onboard a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, China, were prepared for a 13-hour journey, but no one could have known that it would be interrupted by a two-day layover, a nightmare that happened in Alaska.
Our aviation and regulation correspondent Lizzie O'Leary has the details of this odyssey -- Lizzie.
LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it began on Sunday. United Flight 857 was three hours into its flight to Shanghai when the captain announced the lavatories weren't working and the flight was going to divert to Anchorage, Alaska, for repairs.
Well, what passengers assumed routine maintenance became anything but, 90 minutes on the tarmac then four hours waiting for an update. Eventually, passengers were told they would be sent to a hotel for the night and a replacement plane would arrive the next day so all 262 passengers mobbed the terminal at 11:00 p.m. at night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN BISHOP, PASSENGER ON UNITED FLIGHT 857: It was just one thing after the other. It was honestly unbelievable. We couldn't believe it. It definitely was the flight from hell been about 300 of us.
And we were kind of in a mob in the north terminal and we walked over to the south terminal and all of the United officials seemed to conveniently disappear. We couldn't find anybody to help us. There was no one there working the United counter. (END VIDEO CLIP)
O'LEARY: The next day the passengers boarded a new plane they thought would be their savior, but then that plane had the trouble, too. What the captain called ironic. That plane never left Anchorage and passengers stayed on for another night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BISHOP: There was no communication. The fact that they wouldn't give us our luggage after it had been almost three days is ridiculous. The fact that they weren't letting people change their clothes and get their medications, et cetera.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'LEARY: On day three, she opted for a red-eye home having missed her meetings in China. Her luggage went on without her. Now we reached out to United and they sent us a statement that reads in part, "We sincerely apologize to our customers for the delays and are fully refunding their tickets. We are also actively reaching out to them to offer additional compensation.
Now, while it might sound like a flight from hell, this is perfectly legal. None of these things violate the passenger bill of rights or the airline contracts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lizzie O'Leary, thank you.