Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Blistering Campaign Attacks; Big Bank Used By Terrorists?; Interview with Former President Bill Clinton

Aired July 17, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

If you think the back-and-forth between President Obama and Mitt Romney has gotten ugly in recent days, just wait. It is going to get a whole lot more brutal during the next 112 days until the election. That's because both of these candidates and their top strategists know that negative attacks work.

Just check out the latest Obama campaign ad against Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am Barack Obama. I approved this message.

NARRATOR: Tax havens, offshore accounts, carried interest. Mitt Romney has used every trick in the book. Romney admits that over the last two years, he has paid less than 15 percent in taxes on $43 million in income. Makes you wonder if some years he paid any taxes at all. We don't know because Romney has released just full one year of his tax returns, and won't release anything before 2010.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what. I have put out as much as we're going to put out.

NARRATOR: What is Mitt Romney hiding?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Obama folks want to define Mitt Romney to the American people in the most negative ways. They clearly know how to attack an opponent and keep him on the defensive.

But don't write off Mitt Romney and his team. They're very good at this game as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Mitt Romney has a plan to get America working. Barack Obama, worst job record since the Depression.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, shame on you, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You want more evidence how tough Romney can be? Just ask Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. The Romney campaign and its allies eviscerated them in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, with millions and millions of dollars' worth of brutal attack ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Some of the attacks on me have been breathtakingly dishonest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Gingrich initially tried to take the high road, but he never, ever recovered.

The Democrats' 2004 nominee, John Kerry, also tried to take the high road and he lost. Kerry waited too long to fight back against charges leveled against him about his Vietnam War record. Neither Romney nor Obama wants to be swift-boated like Kerry was.

There is a silver lining to this brutal campaign battle. At least the candidates are fighting over issues like the economy, outsourcing. You don't hear the Romney folks raising questions about President Obama's birthplace or his religion or his relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

And you don't hear the Obama folks raising questions about Mitt Romney's Mormon religion. So I take a little bit of comfort in that. But it is going to be a brutal, brutal campaign.

Let's check in with CNN's Kate Bolduan. She's watching this, also some other top stories.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's an excellent point.

Former Republican Congressman Tom Davis yesterday it is a race to the bottom, and it's faster than usual.

BLITZER: Just get ready because it's going to keep going.

BOLDUAN: Keep going. We're unfortunately going to have to watch it unfold. Thank you, Wolf.

OK, some of the headlines we want to get you caught up on.

More than half the country is suffering through a drought right now, the worst in a generation. The darker the color, the dryer the conditions you see right there on that map. And even if your state isn't affected, your wallet could be.

This picture I want to show you tells you why, hardly any kernels on this ear of Illinois corn. This farm will produce just 10 percent of what it did last year. And that starts a chain reaction that ends with higher prices at the grocery store. (WEATHER UPDATE)

BOLDUAN: Also, we're watching -- we're just getting new information on a suspect now in custody after a shooting at an Alabama bar. The man who turned himself in is being charged with 18 counts of attempted murder.

Authorities released this surveillance video allegedly showing him with a gun outside the bar where the shooting took place. They say 17 people were wounded, four critically. His bond expected to be set at $2 million.

Also, no new hiring and fewer bonuses at the General Services Administration. The agency is working to clean up its act after that high-profile spending scandal, satirical videos, you see some right there, an extravagant $200,000 Las Vegas conference. They're all part of that scandal that the agency aggressively -- has the agency aggressively rethinking how it operates.

In a blog post, the acting head of the GSA says a review uncovered -- quote -- "clear deficiencies when it comes to performance awards." So now 85 percent of senior executive bonuses have been suspended.

Also, a small plane buzzing around the Penn State campus carries a banner that reads take down the statue or we will. It's referring to the statue of former head of the football -- former football -- head football coach Joe Paterno, rather. Many people want it gone after the child rape conviction of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

A report out last week said Paterno could have helped stop those attacks if he had done more.

And there could soon be a new weapon for people battling their weight. Qnexa, the pill, could get government approval this week. And here's what the scale says about it. Patients in clinical trials went from an average weight of 227 pounds to 204 pounds. But some point to potentially troubling side effects to think about, including increased heart rate and birth defects. Qnexa could be -- would be the second diet drug to be approved in just two months.

That's some dramatic pretty weight loss, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. This is for people who are really obese, if you will, they need some help. Just exercising, trying to stop eating is not going to do it.

BOLDUAN: But, as always, you have consider those risks.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There are side effects to any prescription drug, as we all know.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. BLITZER: Kate, thanks very much.

Let's turn back to red-hot attacks in the race for the White House.

Mitt Romney went on the offensive today in Pennsylvania. He's accusing President Obama of trying to make him a scapegoat for his administration's failures.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Well, the president is looking around for someone to blame, and recently I became the reason for all their problems.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Remember that Obama ad I told you about at the top of the hour suggesting Romney might be hiding something in his unreleased tax returns? That ad now airing in Pennsylvania, just in time for Romney's visit to that state.

Both campaigns suspect the state might turn out to be more of a battleground than expected.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

John, let me start with you.

CNN is not saying that Pennsylvania is a tossup state. Tell our viewers why.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We right now, Wolf, count it as lean Democrat. And I will show you exactly what that means on the electoral map in just a minute.

But you asked the question why. Why do we consider it -- right now we consider it a lean-Obama state. Let's back to 2008. It obviously was a President Obama state in 2008. The reason we are reluctant to make it a tossup just yet, history.

Watch the map as we go back in time. Some states will change. 2004, you see some shifts. George W. Bush won. 2000, George W. Bush won. 1996, 1992, you know what? Pennsylvania stayed blue through all of those. You have to go back to 1988 to find a year when a Republican carried Pennsylvania in a presidential election. That was the year when Michael Dukakis won only 10 states.

That's one reason. Another reason is the polls have consistently shown President Obama leading in Pennsylvania. Most polls have shown an eight-point gap. This is brand-new poll out today, 45 to 39, a six-point gap for the president of the United States still in Pennsylvania. It is a state we will watch. Six points is very close. The Romney campaign has it on its maybe list. But as they look, Wolf, at the broader electoral map, I will tell you this. Here is where we are right now, lean-blue Pennsylvania, President Obama with this lead. The Romney campaign thinks it is more likely they can win Florida, more likely they can Ohio, more likely they can Virginia. That would get them right there.

Guess what? If Romney can do that, Wolf, he only needs one more state, just one more state. Pennsylvania is on the list, but it is lower than say New Hampshire, Iowa, even in some calculations Michigan.

BLITZER: That's why Pennsylvania is not yet a tossup state. We will see if that changes, still 3.5 months or so to go.

Gloria, let me bring you into this conversation.

On the whole issue of Romney only releasing his 2010 and 2011 his tax returns, he doubled down on that in an interview at "The National Review," the conservative publication, but then the editors a few hours later released this note.

And I will put it up on the screen. "By drawing out the argument over the returns, Romney is playing into the president's hands. He should release them, respond to any attacks they bring, and move on."

It is clear that these calls for him to release all of those tax returns not just coming from Democrats, but from some pretty influential Republicans as well.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

Wolf, and I just got off the phone with a senior Romney adviser, and asked about that editorial specifically. And their feeling is, look, we have got 500 pages out there. They're changing the subject. They believe that the American public has all it needs to have, and, you know, they're sticking with that line.

They also admit, however, though, Wolf, that these attacks on Mitt Romney as being secretive, for example, and all the attacks on Bain have had some underlying effect in their numbers. You don't see it in the matchup numbers, but where you do see it, Wolf, and you're beginning to see it, is that it will -- it has sort of expanded and affected Mitt Romney's negative ratings.

And what the Romney campaign is saying is we're going to fight fire with fire. The Obama campaign has been out there with $25 million worth of ads a month, most of which are negative, and we're going to start matching them. I think you are going to see the ad wars really get fired up.

BLITZER: John, you and I and Gloria, we have covered politics for a long time. The reason these negative attack ads are out there is because they usually work.

KING: They do usually work. And on the particular issue of Mitt Romney's secretive nature, if you will, the theme the Obama campaign is pushing right now, what helps them at the moment, Wolf, is these calls from Republicans and other Republican organizations. But negative attacks do work.

As Gloria noted, the Romney campaign feels very good about the horse race as they go state by state through the states. They feel good about that. But they do see, and this is what an incumbent president in a weak economy has to do, attack his opponent, try to disqualify his opponent.

We have talked a lot recently that it is the Romney campaign raising more money. It is the Obama spending more money on negative TV ads at the moment. Governor Romney of course getting some help from his friends in the super PAC community. Look, this is the middle of July. Look how personal this race is now. If they're already this pointed and personal in the middle of July, look forward to August, September, and October, I guess.

BORGER: But, Wolf, what Romney can't afford to have his negative ratings continue to go up, because he is already behind President Obama on likability.

And that's going to be a real issue for him going forward, particularly in a state like Pennsylvania, where he wants to attract suburban women.

BLITZER: That's a good point as well.

All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

A big bank stands accused of helping to fuel the deadly drug war by ignoring money laundering.

Plus, a Romney surrogate apologizes for suggesting President Obama is un-American. We will talk about my interview with the former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu.

And see the catch that saved the life of a little girl who fell out a third-floor window.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One of the world's largest banks is being accused of being a tool for drug lords and terrorists. Executives of HSBC were grilled by a U.S. Senate committee today. They allegedly ignored repeated warnings of extensive money laundering through the bank's accounts.

CNN's Jill Dougherty has more on the Senate hearing, the allegations, which are intense.

Jill, what happened?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Well, if you put your finger on the biggest problem, this Senate subcommittee says that the money laundering controls of HSBC were very weak. And so that exposed not only HSBC, but the entire U.S. financial system to things like money laundering, drug trafficking money, and terrorist financing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): You've probably seen the commercials, one of the world's biggest banks, London-based HSBC, trying to claim a stake in the American market. But before it does, the banking giant is under investigation by the U.S. Senate, accused of turning a blind eye to billions of dollars in money transfers by drug cartels and even terrorist groups.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Why is it that the bank -- the bank that's the group bank that sees this kind of problems just doesn't flat out hold some folks accountable and fire some folks?

DOUGHERTY: At a Senate hearing Tuesday, a senior HSBC official, David Bagley, offered to resign.

DAVID BAGLEY, HEAD OF GROUP COMPLIANCE, HSBC HOLDINGS: Now is the appropriate time for me and for the bank for someone new to serve as the head of group compliance.

DOUGHERTY: The money laundering stretched across the world. HSBC's Mexico unit shipped $7 billion in cash to the bank's U.S. affiliate. Law enforcement officials say the only way to account for that much money is if it was drug money.

PAUL THURSTON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, RETAIL BANKING & WEALTH MANAGEMENT, HSBC HOLDINGS: We've closed branches in areas where there's a high risk of money laundering. We're now in the process of closing all the HSBC Mexico accounts in the Caymans.

DOUGHERTY: A Senate report also found that HSBC worked with a Saudi Arabian bank some owners linked to terrorist groups, including, evidence indicates, al Qaeda.

What's more, HSBC's U.S. affiliate, the report says, handled nearly 25,000 transactions involving Iran from 2001 to 2007, in spite of U.S. sanctions on Tehran. And some bank executives were aware of that practice. Their European unit stripped out information that linked the transfers to Iran.

The bank itself in a review found those transactions totaled nearly $20 billion.

THURSTON: We know that criminals operate globally. And as an international bank, we will be a target. We have to be sure that we have the best and strongest defense in place in every business, in every market in which we operate, regardless of the local challenges. And we're committed to doing this. We know we should have done this better, sooner.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And also, this Senate subcommittee does, we should point out, say that HSBC is cooperating with the investigation.

But the report from that Senate subcommittee says it is also criticizing government regulators who it says were really letting this problem fester for years.

And, Wolf, also, the Justice Department is investigating this as well.

BLITZER: Yes, and these banks, these huge banks, one after another, these financial institutions facing enormous problems right now, raising all sorts of questions about their credibility, their effectiveness, legality.

I know you are going to stay on top of this story for us, Jill. Thank you very much.

It's a big story, Kate. And we're going to be watching it.

BOLDUAN: It is big story. And HSBC stock fell today, following these reports. It is a huge story, and probably just the beginning. That's absolutely right.

Well, coming up, Bill Clinton opens up to CNN about his friendship with Nelson Mandela -- what Clinton says he learned from the iconic South African leader, that's coming up at 6:40 Eastern. You don't want to miss that.

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A top Romney surrogate suggests President Obama is un- American. Now the former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu is apologizing. We will dissect the interview that I had with John Sununu and a lot more.

That is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: A Romney surrogate explains his remark that President Obama should learn to be an American.

Bill Clinton in South Africa shares stories from his visit with a personal hero, 94-year-old Nelson Mandela.

And a 7-year-old man is caught in the middle of an armed robbery, until he pulls out his own pistol.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One of the top men in Mitt Romney's campaign suggested today that President Obama is un-American. Then he quickly backed off, sort of. We're talking about former the New Hampshire Governor John Sununu.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's absolutely right, Wolf.

And here is what the former New Hampshire governor said just this morning.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN SUNUNU, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: The president clearly demonstrated that he has absolutely no idea how the American economy functions. The men and women all over America who have worked hard to build these businesses, their businesses from the ground up, is how our economy became the envy of the world. It is the American way. And I wish this president would learn how to be an American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Just last hour, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Governor Sununu said he was sorry, but he did not change his message. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUNUNU (via phone): Frankly, I made a mistake. I shouldn't have used those words. And I apologize for using those words. But I don't apologize for the idea that this president has demonstrated that he does not understand how jobs are created in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, lots to discuss. Joining us right now, the former congressman, Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida; also, Republican strategist, Nancy Pfotenhauer, who was a spokeswoman -- who is a spokeswoman for the Koch Industries, as well as a former spokeswoman for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Thanks to you both of you for coming in.

Congressman, let me start with you. Play something else that John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor, former White House chief of staff under the first President Bush also told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUNUNU (via phone): People should understand that when they hear that ad, all they're hearing is a campaign that knows that there is no way that Mitt Romney could have done what they're insinuating, and therefore, they're not telling the truth, and the president's not telling the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring to the latest Obama ad which raises all sorts of questions, none of which proven, that maybe that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes, maybe he was hiding money, that he's got something to hide, that's not why -- that's why he's not releasing his tax returns beyond 2010 and 2011.

ROBERT WEXLER, FORMER DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN: Well, the issue is actually, I think, clearer than people imagined, and that is that when Governor Romney was being vetted by Senator McCain to be vice president, he gave Senator McCain and his group 25 years of tax returns.

Governor Romney is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, and he has given the American people two years of tax returns. This is compounded, of course, because this week the Romney campaign has alleged, in effect, that Governor Romney has retroactively resigned from Bain.

BLITZER: Is it appropriate to raise questions about his honesty, not paying any taxes at all without any evidence? Does that ad, in other words, and it's a brutal ad -- it's a tough ad that's released in Pennsylvania, does it go too far?

WEXLER: Who created this problem? Governor Romney. Who can fix the problem? Governor Romney. Disclose the tax return like American presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, have done for decades. Then the issue will be over. And then people will debate what's in the tax records.

BLITZER: Republicans, as you know, Nancy, they say release all those tax returns, take the hit and move on.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, SPOKESWOMAN, KOCH INDUSTRIES: Well, there's two ways to look at it. First, I don't think, no matter how much he gives them, unless he gives every tax return he's ever filed, they are going to be happy. You know what kind of gotcha game this is.

I would rather focus on the tax returns of most of the American people and have Governor, former Governor Romney and President Obama talk about tax policy like the tax increase that the president is proposing on small businesses across the country, adding insult to injury.

Yes, there is an argument. I would say five years and get it over with and move on.

BLITZER: You would support that?

PFOTENHAUER: You know, I -- I might say go for more than two. I would just say this is a little bit ridiculous. But it's never going to be enough. You give them five, and they'll say ten. Then they'll say twenty. Let's talk about how we can improve the economy and create jobs here in this country.

BOLDUAN: Well, on that point, Governor Romney said today -- I think even Governor Sununu said that they are not going to release -- they're not going to release more tax returns. I think Governor Romney said he doesn't want to give them hundreds of thousands of more pages to go through, Democrats, to distort and lie about. But if there's nothing to hide, if there's nothing wrong with them, is that really a smart defense? PFOTENHAUER: Think of it tactically, if not strategically. You're going to make -- the next three months, the conversation is going to be about 2010 or 2009, page 300 of the tax return, instead of focusing on how to create jobs here. And at the same time, you've got the president of the United States advocating a tax increase when we're in the third -- the third month of the slowest job growth and the worst recovery since the Depression. How can that be a good conversation?

BOLDUAN: When you talk about the conversation that's continuing if they release more tax returns, but are you surprised -- you follow the campaigns; you've been on campaigns. Are you surprised at how long it's actually been going on already? It's not going away, despite Governor Romney coming out on Friday, saying, "Look, nothing is wrong with it," and hoping to kind of put it to rest.

PFOTENHAUER: And you know, they're going to keep punching as long as they can get a reaction. And that's why I think most of us would have said, you know, give him five years, and then be done with it. But again, the Obama -- if you're in the Obama campaign, why would you stop smacking?

BLITZER: Because you make a fair point. It's obviously a sensitive issue. You try to keep it -- in the Obama campaign, you try to keep Romney and his campaign on the defensive.

But the Republicans now, congressman, they're trying to throw it back. Listen to Mitch McConnell, he's the top Republican in the Senate, when he was asked about Romney releasing his tax returns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I wish the president would let us know what he knew about Fast and Furious. He is in office. That's directly related to his re-election, his performance. Those are the kinds of disclosure issues, if you will, that I think the American people are really interested in. The campaign can speak for itself on its strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, the attorney general of the United States has been held in criminal contempt by the House of Representatives, the body you used to serve, for not releasing all the documents that they want in this botched investigation.

WEXLER: The administration, the White House and affected agencies have issued thousands of...

BLITZER: Not all of the documents Congress wants.

WEXLER: And that will be litigated, and that will be. But nobody can say anybody is hiding the essence of what...

BLITZER: The Republicans are saying that. WEXLER: Fine. But the point is that Governor Romney and the presidential race, it's not about how the Obama people would respond, or how the Democrats will respond. This is about the American people's right to know.

A legitimate candidate for president ought to release his or her tax returns for a reasonable period of time. One or two years is not a reasonable period of time. In the case of Governor Romney, his major claim for being prepared to be president is his experience at Bain, experience as a businessman, and that is directly related to his taxes.

BLITZER: You worked for McCain. Were you involved in the vetting process four years ago, why he picked Sarah Palin, for example, as opposed to Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, for that matter?

PFOTENHAUER: No, that was a tight process, as you remember. If fact, I did the first kick after they announced Governor Palin, and literally seconds before I go on, I have three different bios in front of me, not knowing which one was going to go. It was very tightly held.

To get back to the congressman's point, I think there's a fundamental difference about whether he needs to release private tax returns whether or not the president of the United States and this government should reveal to the American people what they did that arguably violated the law and caused the death of at least one U.S. citizen.

So I think it's very, very different. One is about your public office and how you exercise that role. The other is about your private tax returns. If the man has not -- if the IRS has approved his return and has not gone after him, then I don't see how you can assume that he has violated something.

BLITZER: It's a serious charge that the Obama camp made. Look, the Obama campaign has to answer some of those charges because of Romney campaign making serious charges about them. My only point -- my only point is that it is ugly now. It's going to get a whole lot uglier. Have to leave it there.

PFOTENHAUER: We agree on that.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Bill Clinton is opening up, the former president of the United States. He's talking about an international hero, whom he calls his wonderful friend. Stand by. The interview with the former president, Bill Clinton, exclusively to CNN. That's coming up.

And at 55 past the hour, two robbers storm into an Internet cafe without knowing there was a 71-year-old action hero inside that room.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss. And sometimes it turns into a campaign photo op. The Obamas' big-screen smooch ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama is calling South Africa's black president an inspiration, and wishing Nelson Mandela a very happy 94th birthday. The anti-apartheid icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner is celebrating his big day with a fellow former president. We're talking about Bill Clinton. Clinton visited Mandela at his family's homestead in a remote village.

He spoke to CNN's Robyn Curnow about his friendship with President Mandela, who has been in poor health and is rarely seen in public.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What has Mandela meant to you personally?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, personally, he's been a wonderful friend to me. You know, when we were working together, we were both presidents of our countries, we actually had a lot of business to do. We often had to do it in telephone calls where it was very late in America and very early in South Africa. I always tried to do the late side out of deference to him.

But he didn't call me a single time, not once. When he did, he'd ask about Hillary and Chelsea. If it wasn't too late, he'd ask me to go get Chelsea, bring her to the phone. He'd ask her about her homework, was she keeping up.

You know, so I saw in him something that I tried not to lose in myself, which is no matter how much responsibility he had, he remembered he was a person first.

And then I learned a lot about living through him, about living with adversity, living with setbacks, living with disappointments, and living without anger. So quite apart from all of the magnificent contributions he made to free his country, and to inspire the world, I learned a lot about life from him.

CURNOW: Do you think you taught him anything?

CLINTON: I doubt it. I was a pretty good politician when I met him, but he was a pretty good politician when I met him. I don't know. We did a lot together.

I like the fact that he was loyal to the people who stayed with them, seeing him through all those tough years, and I like the fact that he tried to make every young South African feel that they could be part of the future.

I'll never forget a friend of mine was a minister. He's still around, an American minister who was supposed to shake hands with him in the airport once. And so he was watching him watch across the lobby. He went up to a little girl who happened to be white, blonde hair, blue eyes. He asked her, he said, "Do you know who I am?"

She said, "Yes, you're Mr. Mandela. You're my president."

He said, "You can be president if you study hard." You know, he was always trying to bring people in.

CURNOW: You said when you were with him, you feel like you want to walk a little taller?

CLINTON: You do. The great gift he had was not to be a great person but to make you want to be a great person. He made everybody else want to be bigger. And you're always thinking if he could do this, he could endure all this, and he could still have a smile on his face, a song in his heart, didn't matter what was going on in my life, would make everybody want to be bigger. I think it was an uncommon gift that I somehow hope we'll all find a way to keep alive forever.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I remember visiting Cape Town, interviewing President Mandela. I went with President Clinton back in 1998. One of the most moving experiences I ever had as a journalist.

BOLDUAN: One of the most memorable interviews, I'm sure.

BLITZER: He almost single-handedly prevented a bloodbath after Apartheid. It was amazing.

BOLDUAN: Turns 94 tomorrow.

BLITZER: Great man.

All right. Other news we're watching: a dramatic story. A girl falls from a third-floor window and survives because of a neighbor who's a good catcher. He's telling us now exactly how it all happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This next story gives a whole new meaning to the words "being a good neighbor." When a girl fell from a third-floor window, she was extraordinarily lucky that a local bus driver was very close by. Our own Mary Snow spoke with the man who proved to be a life- saver.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this community here in Brooklyn's Coney Island is grateful tonight for a man they're calling a hero. He says he just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

(voice-over) A 7-year-old girl standing on top of an air conditioner three stories from the ground. Steve St. Bernard, a 52- year-old bus driver, was coming home from work when neighborhood children alerted him to what was happening. He quickly ran underneath the window.

STEVE ST. BERNARD, CAUGHT GIRL: I asked God. I said, "God, let me catch her, please. Don't let me miss."

SNOW: The girl is described by those in the neighborhood as a special needs child. And St. Bernard says she was unaware of the danger she faced.

ST. BERNARD: Really, I was sweating, and my heart was racing. I felt like I was going to pass out before it even happened. Because it's like she is taking too long. It's like everything was like slow motion.

SNOW: St. Bernard says the girl was standing on the window air conditioner for an excruciating seven minutes.

(on camera) What did you see?

(voice-over) In that time, Deborah Reed says she ran up three flights and banged on the door of an apartment.

DEBORAH REED, WITNESS: The mother came to the door, and I asked her, did she have a daughter. She said yes. And that's when I let her know that her daughter was playing on the air conditioner outside the window.

SNOW: But it was too late. The girl fell, but luckily, St. Bernard caught her.

ST. BERNARD: It felt like a ton. A ton of bricks. Like I just -- a whole bag of rocks was dropped on me, boom. And we went down together. You know, she touched the floor, but she didn't -- the impact -- there was no impact on her. It was me and her going down, but I guess I absorbed the blow.

SNOW: Both St. Bernard and the girl were treated at a local hospital and released. Child-proof bars now cover the window where the little girl got out.

Her mother told WCBS in New York she thought her daughter was asleep and blamed a defective air conditioner that was installed just days ago.

As for St. Bernard, he injured his arm and can't work.

ST. BERNARD: This is the little garden that I started for the kids.

SNOW: Neighbors say the father of four always stood out, because he helps children. And he's especially being recognized now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a hero, man! You're a hero.

ST. BERNARD: It makes you feel OK. But I know it's something I would hope -- it's an instinct. If you have kids or you love people, like me, it's something you -- you jump into action real quick. REED: I am so thankful everything turned out well. I really am.

SNOW (voice-over): What's unclear is how this little girl was able to get out onto the window on top of that air conditioner. That's something the city's housing authority wants to know, as well -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you. That guy is a hero.

BOLDUAN: My goodness, what a hero. What a wonderful, wonderful, man. Exactly.

Well, Wolf, you were there, and you know this, and you even took pictures. But up next, the story behind the Obamas' smooch.

BLITZER: I was there?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Two men who tried to rob an Internet cafe in Florida probably should have cased the joint first. I guess they learned their lesson.

Check out this security camera video that we have. One of the suspects has a gun. And then a 71-year-old customer suddenly pulls out his own pistol and starts shooting. You see him right there.

The suspects were arrested and treated for bullet wounds and probably learned not to mess with that man or that Internet cafe again.

BLITZER: He's an action hero.

I went to see the U.S. Men's Olympic basketball game last night, an exhibition game against Brazil right here in Washington. The president of the United States and Mrs. Obama were there, as well. And all of us over at the Verizon Center here in Washington got an eyeful of the first couple.

Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you see yourself on a kiss cam, especially if you're famous, like Tom Hanks, you better pucker up or you'll get booed. Something President Obama learned the hard way when he and the first lady kissed their first chance goodbye by not kissing.

(BOOING)

MOOS: But in the second half, they got a second chance.

(CHEERING) MOOS (on camera): Wait a minute. There are no do-overs on the kiss camera. That's not allowed.

(voice-over) But the president got a pardon, and his do-over got rave reviews.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Woo, hot in here!

AL ROKER, NBC'S "TODAY SHOW": Mr. President, get a stadium.

MOOS: On New York's WPIX, they micro-analyzed the body language.

TONYA REIMAN, BODY LANGUAGE EXPERT: Look at how they hold each other, OK? When they look at each other, they gazed before they kiss, which is really intimacy. And then look, she holds his fingers.

MOOS: One of the few people not going gaga was the unsmiling Secret Service agent watching the president's back. Now, Mitt Romney's wife knows how to cuddle up against her husband and warm up both him and his image. But it's tough to compete with the lovey- dovey Obamas.

That's why what one Web site called the kiss-cam whiff was so surprising. Michelle Obama resists Barack's advances, to which the White House replied, "Reports the president was rebuffed are false." A spokesman says the first couple didn't realize the screen they were on was the kiss cam.

(on camera) Boo!

(voice-over) They didn't realize until halftime, when their daughters who arrived late, asked why they hadn't kissed.

The press pool had already been taken out of the arena to wait for the president to leave.

ELIZABETH TRAYNOR, PRESS POOL REPORTER: And then the doors to the van opened, and they said, you know, "Is anybody interested in going back in and watching the game?"

MOOS: The White House says the press pool was not brought back in to record the second chance at the kiss cam. But the pool sure did return conveniently in time.

Love may not last forever...

(on camera) ... but kissing on camera does. We're still dragging out that old Al and Tipper Gore lip-lock, the one reenacted on Jay Leno's show.

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": What are you doing?

MOOS (voice-over): While many were smitten by the Obamas' belated public display of affection...

REIMAN: And this is true intimacy.

MOOS: ... one critic noted, "I have something else he can kiss."

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

(MUSIC)

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Nothing else to say. Let's leave it alone.

BOLDUAN: Let's leave it there.

BLITZER: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.