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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama Administration Replies to a Rare Order from a Federal Judge; Unemployment Rate Dropped to 8.2 Percent; Governor Haley Advice to Romney on Women Voters; Muslim Brotherhood's White House Charm Offensive; "Al Qaeda Coming Soon Again In New York"; The Secret Of Mitt Romney's Success; New Images Of Plane Crash Into Grocery Store

Aired April 7, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


JOE JOHNS, CNN HOST: You're in "the SITUATION ROOM." Three pages, single spaced, the administration has it and extraordinary demand from a federal court explaining where the president stands on the right of judges to overturn his health care law.

Plus, Mitt Romney is already running into trouble with female voters. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley tells us what Romney needs to do about that.

And a plane crushes through the roof of a busy grocery store. Somehow everybody survives. When you see the latest images, you wonder how.

Welcome to our viewers around the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Joe Johns. And you're in "the SITUATION ROOM."

The Obama administration gives in and replies to a rare order from a federal judge. The latest round there a legal and political fight over the health care reform law. Things escalated this week when President Obama warned the Supreme Court against overturning himself cherished legislation. Some appeals court judges took offense and demanded a written explanation. They got one.

Let's begin with CNN congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan.

Kate, the administration has answered this request. So where do things stand now?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To use a sport metaphor, I'd say the ball may still be in play, Joe. I wouldn't call this letter a bombshell but it's definitely another strange twist in this political battle that has no end in sight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Three pages single spaced. That was the unusual order by a federal circuit court. Attorney general Eric Holder personally responded saying nothing has changed.

The power of the courts to review the constitutionality of legislation is beyond dispute. President Obama's top law enforcement official saying of course the administration believes the courts have the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, a long accepted pillar of constitutional law.

Still, this seemingly academic exercise is at the center of a testy political dispute over the Supreme Court's review of the health care law.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm just saying that there's a lot of -- I mean, it kind of ridiculous to believe that the president wasn't talking about the context of the case.

BOLDUAN: The White House remains on the defensive with many Republicans happy to continue the fight.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The president crossed a dangerous line this week, and anyone who cares about liberty needs to call him out on it. So I would respectfully suggest the president needs to back off.

BOLDUAN: All of this stems from these comments by the president Monday.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected congress.

BOLDUAN: Remarks some interpreted as challenging the court's authority. In killing the flames, Federal judge Jerry smith Tuesday demanded an explanation. The attorney general in his letter defends the president saying his remarks were fully consistent with the principles of judicial review. Though, don't expect this to mark the end of the controversy.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: He's making it clear to the court that the position of the president of the United States and the executive branch is that the courts basically should keep their nose out of the shaping of economic policy, except in the most dire of circumstances. So, you know, I think there's still quite a bit of tension now between the executive and judicial branches of the government and this is - this is rare.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: And while tensions remain high, this is all political talk since the reality is the final word on the fate of the health care law comes from one place and one place only, the Supreme Court and this public spat isn't likely to have any impact on the justices and their final decision.

And Joe, of course, you know that's coming in June. But to talk about the legal battle versus the politics, those are two very different stories.

JOHNS: It is fascinating though, to see the president of the United States engaged with this public dialogue with the Supreme Court.

BOLDUAN: A lot of people - a lot of commentators, and court watchers they say, this tension may exist in private, very rarely do we see it spill so publicly out there.

JOHNS: For sure. Thanks so much for that, Kate Bolduan.

Wolf got reaction to the show down from senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Take a look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR: The Harvard law school, Professor Lawrence Tribe, who taught President Obama in Harvard, says the president misspoke when he seemingly warned the United States' Supreme Court.

Tribe said President Obama quote, "didn't say what he meant and in order to avoid misleading anyone, he had to clarify it."

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who I believe also studied with Lawrence Tribe among others at the Harvard law school. Correct me if I'm wrong, do you disagree with your former professor Lawrence Tribe?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I revere Lawrence Tribe and I think he's completely wrong here. I don't get what this controversy is about. It's a totally phony, made-up controversy. Barack Obama did not suggest he was not going to comply. He did not suggest the Supreme Court didn't have the authority to overturn the health care law.

He simply said the court, in his opinion, should not do it. Presidents express opinions about the constitutionality of laws all the time. He signed this law. Of course he thinks it's constitutional. So the idea that there is some challenge to the court seems to me completely absurd.

BLITZER: But, Jeffrey, the president said it was unprecedented if the Supreme Court were to overturn a law passed by the house and Senate signed into law by a president of the United States, that's what the U.S. Supreme Court has been doing for a couple hundred years.

TOOBIN: Right. Since Marbury versus Madison they have the authority to overturn laws. Nobody is challenging that. What's unprecedented in the president's opinion is, a ruling saying this law is unconstitutional because the president believes the law, the precedent of the court itself justify what Congress did in passing the law. I don't see how you could be so willfully, you know, looking for a fight to say that the president was somehow defying what the Supreme Court has historically done here.

BLITZER: Yesterday right here in the situation room, you remember this, Jeff. You accused that appeals court judge, fifth circuit, of what you called a judicial hissy fit by demanding this three-page letter.

Eric holder, though, the attorney general, he formally responded with a very serious legal opinion. What do you make of the response and what do you make now that you've had a chance to digest this whole exercise between this fifth circuit court of appeals judge and the attorney general of the United States?

TOOBIN: Well, I thought over what I said to you and then I decided to say it again on CNN.com in an opinion column. I think this was completely outrageous on the part of the fifth circuit. The president is entitled to his opinion on any number of matters, including the constitutionality of laws.

The attorney general of course had to respond. When a judge makes an order and you had better comply, especially if you're a litigant before that judge. I did think it was interesting that even though the order was for a three-page, single-spaced letter, the way I look at that letter, it basically two and a half pages.

BLITZER: Yes. But it was on three pages. The third page was not complete.

TOOBIN: Wolf, I think you'd make a good lawyer there. It was on three pages.

BLITZER: It was on three pages. I'm going to play the clip of what Lawrence Tribe says the president misspeaking on Monday. Lawrence Tribe, well known, a liberal law professor at Harvard. These conservative justices -- judges from the fifth circuit, they seem to agree with Lawrence Tribe. Here's what the president said. Let's talk about this a little bit more.

TOOBIN: OK.

OBAMA: I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected congress.

BLITZER: All right. That's the clip. As you know, since 1803 Marbury versus Madison, that's exactly what the Supreme Court has been doing and now he's saying a Lawrence Tribe points out, this would be unprecedented?

TOOBIN: He is saying it would be unprecedented in this context. Remember, this is a president who is asking the courts to overturn the defense of marriage act. It's obvious that the president knows the courts can overturn laws. The courts have been doing this for many, many years. I mean, you don't have to be a lawyer to know that the United States Supreme Court has the power to overturn a law. I don't know how you could be so willfully obtuse, with all due respect to my beloved professor Tribe, to think that the president is saying it is outside the power of the Supreme Court to overturn a law. That clearly is not what he was saying there.

BLITZER: I think what Lawrence Tribe was saying and what I say as well is what the president did on Tuesday gives some context, some perspective he should have done on Monday instead of just speaking the way he did because he could leave the wrong impression, not only with his critics, conservative judges down in the south, but also with someone like Lawrence Tribe. I think the context would have been much more important on Monday. But that's just me.

TOOBIN: You're in good company with Lawrence Tribe, that's for sure.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, thanks very, very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Political fallout from a disappointing jobs report. What does it mean for President Obama and for the Republican candidates who want his job?

CNN senior political analyst David Gergen is standing by.

Also, South Carolina governor and Mitt Romney supporter Nikki Haley talks about his problem with women voters in critical swing states.

Plus, extraordinary images of an unfolding tornado disaster.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The latest employment figures show a sharp showdown in hiring last month. Employers added only 120,000 new jobs in March, half as many as in February. The unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent. But that maybe due to people leaving the job market.

Let's turn now to CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen.

David, this is certainly worse news than expected. CNNmoney.com's forecast was for more than 200,000 jobs. So, apparently it's seen as a disappointment to the Obama administration. How bad do you think it is?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it was such a surprise, Joe. Everyone expected over 200. To come in at 120, which is such an anemic figure, I think it was the surprise element of it and the fact that oh, my goodness, is this thing slowing down like beyond. Is the economy slowing down?

Remember, we had in the last two years each time in the beginning of the year there was a false dawn, there was a sense the economy has finally turned the corner, we're finally going to see more robust growth and that happened again this year. I don't think we should read too much into this but if you have two, three more months of these kinds of anemic numbers that would be political trouble -- serious political trouble for the president.

JOHNS: Now, the reactions are already coming in. This is what Alan Kreuger, the chairman of the economic adviser says about it, "there's more work to be done but today's employment report provides further evidence the economy is continuing to recover from the worst economic downturn since the great depression."

Mitt Romney came out with this statement, "this is a weak and very troubling report that shows the employment market remains stagnant, millions of the Americans paying a higher price for President Obama's economic policy, more and more are dropping out of the labor force all together. "

David, what are the voters supposed to make of this at this day?

GERGEN: I think this will give the voters pause but I don't think it's going to be determinative. One month's number should now -- we shouldn't read too much in this. There are seasonal factors in this. We may have had more jobs in the last three months when we got over 200,000 a month because it was warm weather. It was unseasonably warm and that caused people who hire more. So we're going to have some ups and downs.

But from the president's point of view, politically what he had opened for was a steady climb out, slow but steady out of the trough. If we stall or things seem to be slowing down, that is bad news for him because it tells the voters, you know, that dawn you thought you saw out there is not there yet, it's still illusionary.

And people are going to be making up their minds over the next six months about which way they're going to vote in this election. This strengthens the Romney argument, yes, it's a recovery but it's a weak recovery, a wimpy recovery as "Time" magazine called it. You know, it's not there. We are having growth without the share prosperity. So many Americans are continuing, especially working people, are continuing to have really tough times.

JOHNS: So, your feeling is that Republicans will really be able to make hay out of this that is of course unless next month's report is a little bit better?

GERGEN: Yes. It gives them more of an opening. If this thing starts climb being back out again, this lab little speed bump. It won't amount to much. But if it becomes a trend, watch out.

JOHNS: I wanted to ask you also about the issue of Mitt Romney's gender issues, if you will, with the American public. And the -- also, the issue of the Augusta national golf course and membership, women are still not allowed to go there. The chairman of IBM is not allowed to actually be a member at Augusta national, even though she's a woman. President Obama's weighed into it. The Republicans have weighed into it.

Is this something that will help the Republicans if they get on board and behind women?

GERGEN: I think Mitt Romney got sucked way too far to the right by Rick Santorum on health issues, women and contraception and the like. He now has to make a very serious effort to show that he would be a good president for all Americans, including women, who would advance. His wife is an asset on this but he needs now in effect a cabinet or advisory board of leading women and people like Meg Whitman and others who are very much for Romney. He needs an agenda that really addresses the issues surrounding women.

President Obama had a woman adviser when he ran. It was a smart thing to do. There are issues in our society that have particular relevance to women, and Mitt Romney has to show he not only understands those issues, he understands their concerns but he actually sees a way forward, so that more women can have jobs. They can have balance in their lives. Their kids are going to be protected. Their kids are going to have a chance to compete in a 21st century economy. Those are all things that he needs to address and address in a serious play. Because right now he's doing fine among men but among women there's almost a 15-to-20 point gap between President Obama and Mitt Romney. That's a very big challenge. Mitt Romney comes in a 20-point gap among women, he'll lose the election.

JOHNS: And one of the thing, I know you've been following the excesses at the general services administration. Well, a huge controversy out there and the question I think is whether there's going to be any blowback for the administration as seen as not accountable, since this has been going on for a while.

GERGEN: I'm not sure about that. I mean, this the fact that three heads did roll right at the top pretty quickly once the facts came out I thought was smart. They cleaned it up as fast as they can. It really, what you look for in this kind of thing, Joe, as you well know, you're such a pro, you look for patterns. An isolated incident doesn't cost you very much. But you see two, three of these things, that costs you a lot.

JOHNS: All right. Great. Thanks so much.

GERGEN: Take care.

JOHNS: It's always great to see you, David Gergen. Talk to you soon.

GERGEN: Thanks.

JOHNS: Egypt's Muslim brotherhood launches a major charm offensive at the White House. Will the strategy ease concerns here in the U.S. that Egypt could be taking a dangerous turn one year since the historic revolution?

Plus, giant tractor trailers tossed through the sky like little toy. Just ahead, amazing images capture in this week's devastating Texas tornadoes.

You're in "the SITUATION ROOM."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Parts of Texas still feeling the wrath of this week's vicious tornadoes. Look at these unbelievable images, giant tractor trailers being tossed in the air like toys and hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed.

Our Lisa Sylvester is looking at all the extraordinary video captured just as the twisters hit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tornado down. Tornado on the ground. There it is right behind the tree. Tornado on the ground. LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Up close, way too close, tornadoes barreling down on Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Debris is file -- flying. Oh! Holy Molly. Oh, my God! Holy Holy!

SYLVESTER: The national weather service says this was more than just a couple of tornadoes. It estimates that six to 13 twisters touched down in north Texas Tuesday.

JONATHAN COOK, WITNESS: A girl that was taking shelter with us pointed up with two fingers and said look up there. And when we looked up, we saw two tornadoes at the same time touch down about an eighth of a mile up from us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all standing out here taking pictures of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is coming our way, all. I swear to God, it's coming our way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is coming toward us, all. Get in the building!

SYLVESTER: Amazingly no deaths were reported but thousands lost power and hundreds of homes were destroyed. The Schneider National Trucking company reposted about a hundred pieces of equipment damaged in that store. Trucks and trailers tossed around.

MARIA ARITA: The poor city of Lancaster has been -- it just took it on like a blender going through some of these structures and it's just been devastating in that city.

SYLVESTER: Houses were chopped up, roofs ripped off, residents say it was over in about 30 seconds. But, boy, were those movies terrifying.

COLIN LAWRENCE, WITNESS: It sounds like a bomb went off. It was scary. I felt that the house start shaking, I start crying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was so scary. It was so scary. It remind you of "the wizard of oz" when the tornado hit and everything was going round and round.

SYLVESTER: We received the statement from the Schneider National Freight company. They said despite the exempts of damage to their equipment and trucks, all of their employees are safe and accounted for. Like many others in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the attention is now shifting to recovery and the rebuilding effort.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Growing up brown in a black-and-white world. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is here to talk about her new book, "The GOP Presidential Race" and much, much more.

Also, the leader of the controversial Islamic party likely to lead Egypt's next government launched a charm offensive here in Washington.

Plus, details of an ominous internet posting warning, quote, "al Qaeda coming soon again in New York."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: When you talk about the GOP vice presidential nominee her name frequently comes up but this week, South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, flatly says she's not interested. However, that doesn't mean she's not closely following the race for the White House and strongly backing her candidate.

Wolf talked with her when she visited "the SITUATION ROOM" this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I'm with the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, is joining us here in "the SITUATION ROOM."

Governor, welcome.

NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: Thanks, Wolf. I'm thrilled to you with you.

BLITZER: You've really written a powerful book. And you really get into your life. Can't is not an option in my American story. I want to get to it in a moment. Let's talk politics a little bit.

You want Mitt Romney to be the next president of the United States.

HALEY: I absolutely do.

BLITZER: But, you know this. The recent Gallup poll shows he has a significant problem with American women voters in swing states, the key battle ground states that would determine who the next president is. Fifty four percent in this poll say they support the president, 36 percent support Romney. Why is he suffering among women voters right now?

HALEY: You don't look at what the issue is, you look at where your problems are. And so, obviously, it's Governor Romney is not related to women. He needs to get out there and talk about the issues they care about. They care about jobs in the economy and raising their families and all of those things, but they obviously are not relating to him as much as we want them to. So, that means, he has got to work harder. He has got to continue to do that and he needs to bring that one golden bullet he has got which is Ann Romney.

When they see how strong she is, the fact she's a cancer survivor, MS survivor, great mom, great wife, strong supporter and hear her talk about him, I think that he'll do a lot better.

BLITZER: She is a terrific asset. I've met Ann Romney. She's a wonderful woman. Here's my analysis and tell me if you think I'm wrong.

A lot of women out there are afraid if he's the next president of the United States, he will work to take away their rights to get contraception, birth control pills, abortion rights that he's going to take all that away like a lot of the Republicans on the right are suggesting. And they're scared.

HALEY: Well, I think women are more thoughtful than that. I think they actually look at those issues as well as other issues and I think they need the ability to ask him those questions. I think he needs to look them in the eyes and give them the answers.

Because that's what this is about. You don't go and talk to the people you already have support. You go and talk to the people who have questions. If there are women that are questioning him, they should ask him those questions. That is the power of people's voice to do that.

BLITZER; If he's the next president, he could name one, maybe two supreme court justices who may overturn Roe versus Wade, which allows women to have abortions in the United States. And a lot of women are nervous about that.

HALEY: And they should ask that question and I without question know that during the general election, when it's President Obama versus Governor Mitt Romney, all of those issues are going to come out. And that's where you're going to start to see the shift of women --

BLITZER: Where do you stand on those issues, like abortion rights, contraception, birth control pills? Should the government be involved in helping poor women, for example, have access to that kind of health care?

HALEY: Well, I will tell you I'm strongly pro-life not because the Republican Party tells me to be, but because like I say in the book my husband was adopted. We had difficulty having both our children.

So that is where my beliefs come from. In terms of contraception, I think all -- you're hearing a lot of talk from the media about contraception. What I'm saying is women don't just vote on the contraception issue. They're smarter than that.

They're broader than that. What we're saying is government should not mandate any organization or association to have to have contraception in their coverage. They should be able to have the right to choose that.

That's what we're saying. It's not a matter of whether we believe in it or not. It's a matter of whether government should mandate an organization that doesn't want to have to cover it should cover it.

BLITZER: Let's talk about "Can't Is Not An Option." I was moved by several passages and if you don't mind, I've highlighted a few that I thought were very significant and I'd like you to read those to our viewers and then we'll talk about each one of these sections. Here's one -- the beginning part of the book. HALEY: We were the first Indian family ever to live in Banberg in a time and place that only knew black and white, we didn't fit either category. We weren't dark enough to be black or pale enough to be white. We were brown.

That difference, our difference was an inescapable fact. We cope the only way we knew how. We went into survival mode. We clung to one another tightly. We worked hard. We were respectful to our neighbors. We tried to fit in.

BLITZER: And you looked different because your father -- you come from Sikh family, he had a turban.

HALEY: My father had a turban. My mother wore a sari. We came into this -- I was born in that town, but we lived in a small southern town where they didn't understand us and we didn't know how to fit in with them.

But what we saw, whether it's the story that I talk about because we were disqualified from a pageant because they didn't know to put us in the white category or black category.

Whether it's the fact that my father and I went to a produce stand and immediately two police were called in and we had to deal with that situation.

I mean, all of those stories while they are challenges, while they were hard, what I hope people understand is that same town is the one that took us in, allowed me to be a part of the girl scout.

Supported my brother when he was deployed to "Desert Storm" and that same town now has a sign that says the proud home of Nikki Haley.

BLITZER: And they should be proud. You write about when you were a little girl you and your sister went to this little beauty pageant and read this section to our viewers, if you don't mind.

HALEY: The pageant tradition had two winners. A black queen and a white queen, but before they revealed who the winners were the organizers of the pageant said that they had an announcement to make.

They called Semi and me out of line and said we don't have a place for you. Then they thanked us and handed us gives. I got a beach ball.

BLITZER: Explain why that beach ball was significant. I highlighted another line there.

HALEY: Not wanting either race to get upset, the judges disqualified us.

BLITZER: Because you weren't black and you weren't white. What happened?

HALEY: They didn't want to upset either group, and my mom went to them and said will you at least let her sing her song. She's been practicing. I sang "This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land." BLITZER: And you did well?

HALEY: I did well. I stumbled a little bit. My brother was playing the saxophone right in front of the stage and he was laughing at me. I, at the time, thought they gave me a beach ball because I did so great at my song. Later, my sister already knew, but later, I realized it was because we were disqualified.

BLITZER: All of these must be so etched in your mind. You remember all these moments and there was --

HALEY: And let me just tell you that, you know, it's amazing how things stick with you because my daughter just was in her school pageant a couple of weeks ago, and I was terrified.

And I told my husband, Michael, I said, I know this doesn't make sense, but I'm so worried she's going to be disqualified. He said, Nikki, you know that's not going happen.

And it was such a sweet moment because she got first runner-up and it just reminded me again how far we've come.

BLITZER: Certainly have and then there was a kick ball game in your third grade and you had this incident.

HALEY: I was stunned, why I asked? She replied, you can play with us, but you have to pick a side. Are you white or are you black? She replied, I was in a panic, which side could I choose? What was I?

Then I saw the solution, changed the subject. I grabbed the ball from the girl and ran as fast as I could in the field. I'm neither, I yelled. I'm brown.

Before I knew it, we were playing kick ball on the play ground. I had dodged the issue once again, but something told me it wouldn't be the last time I'd have to.

BLITZER: And it wasn't the last time you had to, you spent most of your career sort of dodging that issue one way or another.

HALEY: Until the governor's race.

BLITZER: And now you're going to be governor and you're not going to disappoint the people of South Carolina and become a vice presidential nominee, is that what you're saying?

HALEY: No. They took a great chance on me and I owe them the commitment to be a great governor.

BLITZER: So you are in that governor's mansion at least for this first term.

HALEY: You know, how great does it say about South Carolina that they elected a 38-year-old Indian-American female for governor of their state. It shows how proud we are of South Carolina and how proud we should be in our country. BLITZER: And you told Mitt Romney, don't vet me. Don't talk to me. I'm not interested. Is that right?

HALEY: No cabinet position and no vice president.

BLITZER: No cabinet position either.

HALEY: No, listen, I made a promise to the people of my state. I am so thankful and I love the state of South Carolina and I'm going to finish what I started.

BLITZER: And if you do a good job, maybe 2016 and 2020. There's a long time ahead of you. You're still young.

HALEY: We're taking it a day at a time.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "Can't Is Not An Option, My American Story." It's written by the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley. Thanks for coming in.

HALEY: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming, she's arguably the most important weapon in Mitt Romney's surging presidential campaign.

Ahead, a closer look at the woman some say is the last person you'd want to cross, Ann Romney.

Plus, what's behind some high-level White House meetings with Egypt's controversial Muslim Brotherhood?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Egypt's controversial Muslim Brotherhood launches a charm offensive here in Washington holding high level meetings at the White House and State Department in an effort to ease growing concerns about the country's uncertain and potentially ominous political future.

CNN White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar is at the White House with details.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Joe. The White House is really trying to thread the needle on how it deals with this, yes, controversial, but also very important group that is now the predominant political faction in Egypt.

Egypt is key to the stability in the Middle East, but following its revolution, it's in a very fragile state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): The Muslim Brotherhood is on a goodwill tour in Washington. Abdel Mawgood Al Darderi, an American-educated member of Egypt's new parliament is the senior member of the delegation. ABDEL MAWGOOD AL DARDERI, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD: The specific goal is to build the bridges of understanding between the two democracies, the Egyptian democracy and the American democracy.

KEILAR: The Muslim Brotherhood is a prominent Islamic organization in the Middle East. While Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt, the group was banned. It provides social services like schools, but it also supports fundamentalist Islamic teachings and has at times supported violence. Here's how FBI Director Robert Mueller described the Brotherhood last year as Egypt was in the throes of a revolution.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I can at the outset obviously elements of the Muslim Brotherhood here and overseas have supported terrorism. To the extent that I can provide more information, I would be happy to do so in closed session.

KEILAR: Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood met this week with Bill Burns, a deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and White House officials including Steve Simon, a high-level national security adviser to President Obama.

Amid concerns by some the Brotherhood will turn Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state, the White House defended the outreach.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe it is in our interest to engage with Egypt, in part in an effort to encourage Egypt to maintain its commitment to its international obligations and to maintain its -- to maintain a positive role in the region.

KEILAR: The Brotherhood controls the new Egyptian parliament and could win the presidency. And since Egypt is a linchpin for peace in the Middle East, the U.S. is keeping the lines of communication open.

Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is skeptical the Brotherhood will actually follow a moderate path, but he says the talks are a must.

ERIC TRAGER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: That we sort of have no choice, but to talk to them. We have very little illusion about the possibility that the Brotherhood might actually change.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now these members of the Muslim Brotherhood who met with State Department officials and White House officials, they are not at the top of the organization. They're really spokespeople, very fluent in English, familiar with American customs.

And Joe, it's interesting. The White House is downplaying these talks, especially the level of the officials who met with the Muslim Brotherhood because, for instance, it isn't the head of the National Security Council but still, these are pretty significant meetings.

JOHNS: Brianna Keilar at the White House, thanks for that.

It looks almost like a movie preview except it's a threat targeting New York and the coming attraction is al Qaeda.

Our Mary Snow joins us with the latest on a chilling online post and that's capturing the attention of New York police and the FBI -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, police came across this image on a web site it says it regularly monitors. The question is whether it's anything more than a graphic on a web site.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): At first glance, it could be mistaken for a movie ad. Al Qaeda coming soon again in New York. The message is on a web site known to the New York City Police Department who say it's used by terrorists and jihadists.

Officials say they have no evidence that it's tied to any specific threat to New York, but the web site is being analyzed by the FBI and the NYPD.

(on camera): Is this significant at all?

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE: Well, this is a major forum. It's been in existence for a while. We believe it's used for inspiration, but also it can be used for operational messages. It exists in several different languages and it's been a concern of ours for a while.

SNOW (voice-over): New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says analysts believe it's connected to an Egyptian national based on the language that's used. Kelly says he was struck by the level of sophistication of the graphic and the expensive software used to create it.

But whether there's a credible threat, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen is skeptical.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This is a real piece of propaganda, but is it associated with any real plot? That's not clear at all and my guess is that there's nothing really to this. If there was a real attack about to happen on New York, my guess is al Qaeda wouldn't advertise it on a web site.

SNOW: This isn't the first time threatening messages have appeared on Jihadist sites. Federal authorities and the police department say any threat must be taken seriously.

KELLY: It's sort of in your face. We've seen that before, but, you know, it is -- it is sort of direct confrontation. You know, trying to get our attention. Believe me, they have our attention.

SNOW: But the posting didn't seem to faze New Yorkers who have become accustomed to terrorist threats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's propaganda. They want people to get uptight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is what it is. You have to live your life. You can't be worried. Go about your everyday business.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Joe, New York's police commissioner describes the internet as the new Afghanistan in his words that it's used for radicalization and training. And that's why he says these sites are so closely monitored -- Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks so much for that report, Mary.

She's known as the great protector and the last person on earth you'd ever want to across.

Ahead, an up-close look at the force behind Mitt Romney's surging campaign, his wife.

And shocking images captured inside a grocery store just moments after a plane plunges through.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: They say behind every great man is a great woman. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than the campaign trail, the countless days traveling, the hectic, ever-changing schedule. Someone has to be the glue that holds it all together.

CNN's Randi Kaye reports on Mitt Romney's most important weapon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the Romney household, Ann Romney has a host of titles -- trusted adviser, the Mitt stabilizer, mother, and grandmother. But she's also the great protector of all things Romney.

RON SCOTT, BIOGRAPHER: The last person on earth you'd want to cross would be Ann Romney. That if you go after one of her kids or after her husband, she's going to be there.

KAYE: Ron Scott has known Mitt Romney since 1985 and just wrote a book about him. He says Ann is no pushover.

SCOTT: She got into a tiff with one of her teenage boys. He was being a smart mouth. She was trying to get away to go to the Cape for the weekend and he was going back and forth with her.

Finally, she got in the car and slammed the door and said "see you later," then took off and left him standing in the driveway.

KAYE: Scott says Ann even stood up to her mother who voiced concern years ago when Ann and Mitt started having so many children.

SCOTT: Her mom said, gee, you're over populating the earth and Ann at point said, mom, if you want to see your grandsons on a regular basis, you need to knock this stuff off. KAYE: Ann Romney humanizes her husband calling him her most disobedient child. She often shares secrets about his love of chocolate milk and his, quote, "obsession" with peanut butter and of course, tales of romance.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: We're high school sweethearts, and we still are sweethearts, which is awfully nice. We have five wonderful sons. We have 16 grandchildren.

KAYE: Like Mitt, Ann grew up wealthy in Michigan. Her father manufactured auto parts. She and Mitt fell in love in high school. Mitt proposed when Ann was just 15.

They married while in college at Brigham Young University, a Mormon School in Utah. Ann had converted to Mormonism in high school. Their love affair has been part of the campaign rhetoric, dating back to this ad from Mitt's 2002 Senate run, simply titled "Ann."

ANN ROMNEY: Our first real date --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The night of the senior prom --

ANN ROMNEY: Mitt pulls up to pick me up in some goofy looking car.

MITT ROMNEY: It was an AMC Marlin --

ANN ROMNEY: He was a little embarrassed about it.

MITT ROMNEY: It was kind of awful.

ANN ROMNEY: It was very romantic.

KAYE: Mitt admits without Ann, he's a bit lost.

MITT ROMNEY: If I'm away from Ann for longer than a week or so, I get off course. She has to bring me back and moderate me down a bit.

KAYE (on camera): Still Ann may not be perfect. In 1994, during Mitt's Senate campaign, she told "The Boston Globe" money was so tight in college, they considered selling stock from their portfolio. Critics painted her as out of touch.

SCOTT: Everybody that read that gasped.

KAYE (voice-over): Ann's greatest challenge, though, had nothing to do with politics. In 1998, she learned she had multiple sclerosis.

ANN ROMNEY: It was a devastating thing in my life. It was very tough. I went from being a very active, involved and hands-on mom to hardly being able to take care of myself.

KAYE: To feel better she turned to holistic therapies and horseback riding, but her battle didn't end there. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Whether it's cancer or the campaign trail, Ann Romney is a fighter. She's beaten two life threatening diseases, but knows with the GOP nomination up for grabs, there are many more battles ahead. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Ahead, in Jerusalem, a doorkeeper closes up church after a religious ceremony. Just one of our "Hot Shots."

And a plane crashes into a busy supermarket. We have the incredible images.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In India, a chariot being pulled during a religious ceremony.

In Jerusalem, a doorkeeper closes a church after a Holy Thursday ceremony. In Moscow, a winter storm blankets the city with snow.

And in the Netherlands, signs of spring as Queen Beatrix helps inaugurate what's billed as the world's largest horticultural exhibition. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

It's like a scene from a disaster movie. We have incredible image of what happened after a plane crashed into a grocery store. Here's Lisa Sylvester.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take a look at this aerial video. That hole you see is where the plane plunged squarely into the middle of the roof of a Publix grocery store in DeLand, Florida. You can hear the initial panic in these 911 calls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Publix, a plane crashed here, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going on at the Publix?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Publix, up at Westgate Plaza. My God, an airplane went into the Publix.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, and you're in DeLand?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right up here in DeLand. I hear the sirens already, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, just relax. They're on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911, where is your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Publix. It's on fire. God, I'm so --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK. What's on fire?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A person's on --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole -- the building's on fire, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, get everybody out --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, we've got to go.

SYLVESTER: Lisa Cordova was in the meat aisle when she says she heard and felt an explosion.

LISA CORDOVA, INJURED SHOPPER: You know, fell down and hit my shoulder and head and jumped back up. And then this other guy came flying out. And his leg was all -- on fire and like skin melted off and stuff. He was just screaming for people to help him. And I was trying to help him, but I had no idea what to do to help him.

SYLVESTER: It was an experimental amateur plane that had just taken off from the DeLand airport. Witnesses on the ground said they could tell the plane was in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Took off really good and got up maybe 1,000 feet or something like that, and then I heard the engine sputter. The pilot tried to make a turn. I guess he felt maybe there was a problem. And when he tried to turn the plane, the engine quit. And the plane just fell into the Publix.

SYLVESTER: Two men were on board identified as Thomas Rhodes and Tim Presby, an Aurora, Illinois lawyer. Both are in critical condition with burns. Three people in the store including Lisa Cordova were injured, one of whom remains hospitalized. The National Transportation Safety Board has been called in to investigate.

LUKE SCHIADA, SENIOR AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR, NTSB: The majority of the airplane was consumed by that fire.

SYLVESTER: The plane crashed head-on into the store Monday night at around 7:30 typically a busy time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's truly a miracle that nobody was killed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: The store had a surveillance camera. Investigators tried to play the recording, but it looks like the tape was either damaged either in the fire or by water from the sprinkler system. So they're still trying to piece together what brought down that plane. Lisa Sylvester, CNN.

JOHNS: And that does it for me. I'm Joe Johns in THE SITUATION ROOM. Be sure to join us every week day from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern on CNN and at this time, everyday on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.