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THE SITUATION ROOM

Las Vegas Mayhem; Oscar Pistorius Investigation Continues; Cardinal Questioned in Sex Abuse Lawsuit; Billboard's Surprise #1 Hit; Detroit Could Go Bankrupt; Conservative Senator's Secret Child Revealed; Car Bomb Detonates in Heart of Damascus; 70,000 Dead in Unending Civil War; TSA Apologizes to 3-Year-Old

Aired February 21, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: A brazen shooting leads to a deadly chain-reaction crash all within sight of major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

Also, the lead detective in the Blade Runner investigation is thrown off the case after sensational revelations about his own past.

And a former U.S. senator reveals he fathered a child with another one-time senator's daughter.

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

All that coming up. But we begin with today's new concerted effort to make President Obama withdraw the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary; 15 Republican senators signed a letter arguing it would be -- quote -- "unprecedented," unprecedented for a secretary of defense to take office without a broad base of bipartisan support.

Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's working this story for us.

The critics of Chuck Hagel, and there are many, almost all of them Republicans, they are not giving up.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are not.

And that's really what this is about. This is about Chuck Hagel's harshest critics trying one last aggressive attempt to make clear that they are not happy, trying to torpedo his nomination. It's a big deal certainly that they sent this saying, Mr. President, please withdraw it.

But if you look at these faces, these are seriously the most conservative members of the Senate, so it isn't surprising that they would be this aggressive on what has really become a partisan issue and they know what that what has happened in this recess -- the Senate is in recess -- since the last time they were able to delay Chuck Hagel's vote is that some of their fellow Republicans have come out and said, you know what? We will allow this to go forward.

So they know it's technically not going to be possible for them to stop it with the votes. That's why they wanted to put this out. They said that maybe if there was a bombshell that came out during this time, that would help. They were certainly digging for it. That didn't happen.

But what is interesting is that we are going to see a very partisan vote and that is very different from what we have seen in the past most recent defense secretary votes. Just take a look at this we're talking about. Leon Panetta, who of course is the current defense secretary, 100 to zero. Unanimous. Robert Gates, not much different, 95-2. And Donald Rumsfeld, who ended up being pretty controversial, but didn't go in that way, he was confirmed by voice vote.

That just shows you how unusual this is and that does make these senators' points.

BLITZER: Almost every secretary of defense -- William Cohen, I remember when he confirmed, they were always confirmed with bipartisan lopsided votes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So this would be highly unusual. And I have got to tell you, based on my own reporting, what I'm hearing from some Democrats, some within the Defense Department, some grumbling going on, they are wondering, is this the smartest thing, is he the most effective secretary of defense right now to go forward and do what the country needs, given that he's been so politically tainted and almost all of the Republicans will vote against him?

BASH: There is a lot of concern about that. There's no question about it. There is some private grumbling among Democrats that the president decided -- look, it wasn't a big surprise that this was going to be controversial. The president made a tactical and strategic decision to put Chuck Hagel's nomination forward knowing full welcome that this would happen. He knew it beforehand.

But the fact that he did not do so well, as we have talked about many times, in his confirmation, that didn't help him. It hurt him.

BLITZER: His poor confirmation with the testimony.

BASH: And it made some Democrats a little more than wince.

And that is really the point of these Republicans, even though they are very partisan on this issue, the point of the letter, which is that it will be difficult for him they think to do his job if and when he is confirmed because it is so partisan and he's so bruised.

BLITZER: That vote next week, right, supposedly?

BASH: Yes, Tuesday.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. All right, Dana, thanks very much.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: In Las Vegas, they are still talking about this morning's brazen shooting that led to a fiery multi-vehicle crash.

It all went down on the Vegas Strip within sight of some of the city's top casinos. All three people -- three people are dead and as far as we know, whoever is responsible got away.

Let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's on the scene for us.

What else happened over there, Miguel? This is obviously a source of great concern.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is unbelievable. We are on Flamingo Road right now, Wolf. The entire Strip, Flamingo Road here is completely cut off at the moment, something that Vegas, a town that doesn't shock very easily, has ever seen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Horrific nature, the fiery end to this horrible accident.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): A shocking shoot-out on the Vegas Strip in a city not easily shocked.

Police say it started at 4:30 a.m. Someone in a black Range Rover with dealer plates fired into this Maserati, killing the driving, causing it to go out of control. The Maserati continued through an intersection and then smashed into this car. Hard to tell, but that is a taxicab. It burst into flames. The driver and passenger trapped inside died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's possible that the cab may have been running on propane. This is -- investigating the engineering and mechanicals of that vehicle.

MARQUEZ: Still on the loose, the black Range Rover with dealer plates, a common vehicle here. Police warning citizens the occupants are armed and dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has very dark tinted windows and is occupied multiple times by black males.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, we expect that Las Vegas police will be holding a press conference shortly, in about an hour, about 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, Wolf. We're going to try to bring that to you live. We hope to learn more details about how this thing played out.

We do know that police have requested video from all of the major hotels on this part of the Strip. So they are hoping that that leads to more clues and they can track down that black SUV and its occupants -- Wolf.

CAVUTO: Yes. We know there are a lot of close-circuit cameras out in Las Vegas. Miguel, thanks very, very much. Now we turn to yet another unexpected and bizarre twist in the murder case against one-time Olympian Oscar Pistorius. He's accused of deliberately killing his girlfriend a week ago. Today, the lead detective was actually removed from the case after it came out he's facing attempted murder charges.

CNN's Robyn Curnow is joining us now from South Africa. She was back in the courtroom today.

Update us, Robyn. How did it go?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there.

Very different today in terms of Oscar Pistorius' demeanor. I know we have had a chat over the week and a few days ago he was slumped over, he was crying, he was uncontrollable, he was emotional. Today, Wolf, the complete opposite. He barely moved. I sat in that courtroom the whole day. I, of course, watched him quite closely. Once or twice he kind of sobbed quietly to himself, but he was like a statue. He was frozen. He was immobile.

I don't know why. I don't know what the difference is. Maybe this is a guy who suddenly realizes he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, perhaps it's all sinking in, the severity of he faces. I don't know. But it was very obvious that there's been a shift in the way that he's dealing with this.

BLITZER: Robyn, if you take a look at what's going on right now, and obviously we're all watching it closely, not only in South Africa, but indeed around the world, especially here in the United States, it seems like the prosecution, they have got -- they have made so many blunders, including now this lead prosecutor. Update us on what is going on, on that front, because a lot of mistakes clearly were made.

CURNOW: Absolutely.

And I think there's a lot of egg on the face of the South African police. You know, it does appear to have been very sloppy, inept police work right from the beginning. We were talking about how this lead detective walked through the house without any protect foot covers, potentially contaminating the scene.

This is the very same man who also we hear now has charges of attempted murder up against him. And what is also interesting is that the police commissioner admits that they knew that this policeman was facing attempted murder charges. So there does appear to be this sort of crazy scenario of blunder and blunder and blunder.

But I just want to remind you that this is what happens in South Africa every day, sloppy police work, an inefficient justice system; 50 people are murdered in South Africa every day and they don't get the benefit of the police commissioner saying, hey, you guys aren't doing a good enough job, I'm going to put the top detective in, as they did today.

I think, all in all, this is also an indication of just how shoddy South African police service has become.

BLITZER: And tomorrow, more testimony, more hearings. Will we know as early as potentially tomorrow whether or not he will be out on prison, out on bail, or whether he will suffer in prison as this process goes forward?

CURNOW: You know, I think we will know tomorrow. I got a sense from sources inside the prosecution team that they really understand that things need to be wrapped up. I think the magistrate knows that things need to be wrapped up.

And I still can't judge which way it's going to go. Legal experts say he probably will get bail. Others say, listen, there's a strong case against him, because despite some of the shoddy police work, the state's prosecution team today really tore into Oscar Pistorius' version of events, his affidavit.

And I think there are some very key inconsistencies within his version of events, even based on forensics and also in terms of what he said, that they will exploit as the trial goes on towards the end of the year or perhaps early next year. It's not over.

And when this trial and I say does come into the high court, I think it's going to be quite a spectacular piece of clashing between these two legal teams.

BLITZER: It would, though, very quickly, Robyn, be highly unusual for someone charged with premeditated murder to be eligible to be out on bail as the process goes forward. That sounds pretty extraordinary.

CURNOW: I think what is going to happen -- if you remember, the magistrate said he was open to the fact that it was premeditated murder.

And I think what we understand has been happening in the courtroom is that they will probably downgrade that charge to just murder and that's where it's easier, of course, to get bail. What I understand, this has actually all been a rather shrewd trick by the state's prosecution.

They actually upped this murder charge to premeditation because it forced Oscar Pistorius' legal team to show their cards. He had to under those conditions present an affidavit. So we now have Oscar's version of events much sooner than his legal team would have liked. So I think this might have just been a ploy in the end. They know that he really only perhaps fits the conditions for a murder charge.

By upping it to premeditated murder, they have managed to get his version of events, which they can now work on for the next six to eight months and try and break down.

BLITZER: We will see what happens tomorrow. Robyn Curnow, thanks so much for all your excellent reporting. We really appreciate it.

By the way, you can learn a lot more about the victim in the Blade Runner case later tonight on CNN. Reeva Steenkamp's best friend is among tonight's guest on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" 7:00 p.m. Eastern right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, some 60 million people are in the path of a major winter storm. This is the same storm that dumped snow in the Arizona desert. In all, some 20 states, 20 percent of the country's population will feel at least some effects. Emergencies have been declared across Kansas and Missouri and a number of major cities could see record- breaking snow and ice.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

BLITZER: In just a minute, new questions about how one of the most prominent Catholic leaders in the United States handled the problem of pedophile priests.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The nation's most prominent Roman Catholic leader was questioned by lawyers for victims who were sexually abused by priests in Milwaukee. Yesterday's deposition of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan occurred because he was Milwaukee's archbishop when the incidents came to light.

While Dolan says he is eager to cooperate, questions remain about the hard line Milwaukee's archdiocese took to protect its money from victims' lawsuit during Dolan's leadership.

CNN's Ted Rowlands has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FATHER JIM CONNELL, FORMER VICE CHANCELLOR, MILWAUKEE ARCHDIOCESE: Truth. It is a fundamental ingredient for human life.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During a weekday morning mass at Holy Name of Jesus in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Father Jim Connell uses part of his sermon to discuss the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

CONNELL: What actually happened? Who knew what? When did they know it? What did they do with the information?

ROWLANDS: Father Connell was vice chancellor of the archdiocese of Milwaukee until mandatory retirement kicked in last year. Given his rank in the church, he is an unlikely public critic of how his archdiocese has handled the ongoing sex abuse scandal and battled victims over compensation.

CONNELL: You know, there's a sense of secrecy at that top level and I would hope that it's starting with the Holy Father.

The Pope Benedict XVI would tell the cardinals and tell the bishops, talk, open up, let it all be known.

ROWLANDS: Connell agrees with victims here in Milwaukee who say the archdiocese has taken an especially hard line to keep abuse cases secret and to protect its money. Attorney Jeff Anderson represents hundreds of clergy abuse victims from around the country.

JEFF ANDERSON, VICTIMS' ATTORNEY: The archdiocese of Milwaukee has been particularly deceitful because they've been insulated for so long. They felt and believed they could get away with it.

ROWLANDS (on camera): For decades, Wisconsin's state law prevented most victims of sexual abuse from filing lawsuits which protected the church. When that changed, critics say the archdiocese prepared for upcoming lawsuits by moving its money.

(voice-over): Church financial records show $55 million buried here, in a cemetery trust fund. The church says the money was paid by people who bought burial plots expecting perpetual maintenance at eight archdiocese cemeteries.

Marquette University law professor Ralph Anzivino says that if any money was moved to protect the abuse victims, the diocese may have broken the law.

PROF. RALPH ANZIVINO, MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: That's what's called a fraudulent conveyance under the law. You can't, in anticipation of insolvency, transfer assets away from yourself for your own benefit.

ROWLANDS: Abuse victims cried foul about the cemetery fund and other transfers, including a $74 million parish deposit fund. They point to this line from the minutes from a 2003 archdiocese financial council meeting about abuse cases that reads, "We are working on a plan to shelter the parish deposit fund."

In December, a bankruptcy judge stated that the parish fund transfers were fishy but legal.

Father Connell says the archdiocese should have been more open about the transfer.

CONNELL: The motivation for the moving of the money, I'm not sure. I -- but it -- it needs explanation, right back to our same word, explain why we are doing this. The cemeteries we talked about with moving money out of the -- that ought to have been explainable.

ROWLANDS: Who could explain? New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, now arguably the most powerful Catholic in the U.S. He was archbishop of Milwaukee when the cemetery trust fund was established and when the $74 million parish deposit fund was moved.

ANDERSON: Archbishop Dolan, now Cardinal Dolan, made a conscious decision to secretly and in a quite sinister way move funds into parishes and transfer funds into other corporations to avoid having to pay the survivors.

ROWLANDS: Ridiculous, says the cardinal. This was his response in February of 2011 when the allegations of sheltering the money first surfaced. TIMOTHY DOLAN, NEW YORK CARINAL: To think that there was $130 million in hidden funds, like Dolan's got some offshore account in the Cayman Islands or something? This is -- this is just ludicrous.

ROWLANDS: Cardinal Dolan declined an interview with CNN and the attorney representing the cemetery trust fund says the obligation to maintain the cemeteries never ends. No one knows for sure how much is enough.

An ultimate win for the victims could open up not only the 55 million in the cemetery trust but future cemetery earnings.

A win for the church could provide a blueprint for other diocese going through bankruptcy and could propel Dolan's reputation in the eyes of the Vatican as the guardian of the American church.

Meanwhile, the archdiocese is spending millions in legal fees to protect its money and reputation which Father Connell believes needs to stop.

CONNELL: It's the love of money that translates into greed that is the root of all evils and that's what I see playing out in this situation.

What's under the lid? What is being hidden? How embarrassing can it be?

ROWLANDS: For now, the position of the church is pitting potential obligations to living abuse victims against the care of the dead.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Milwaukee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Cardinal Dolan will be among those who will choose a new pope to replace Pope Benedict XVI although he himself has been mentioned a candidate a. British book maker lists Dolan a 33 to 1 long shot for the papacy. Good reporting from Ted Rowlands.

A former U.S. senator makes a stunning admission. We're going to tell you the 30-year-old secret that New Mexico's ex-senator, Pete Domenici, has now revealed.

And "Billboard" changes the way it tracks popular music and the result is a surprising number one hit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A deadly pair of explosions today in India.

Kate Bolduan is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What happened?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is really horrible, Wolf. More than a dozen people were killed and more than 50 others injured in two bombings in southern India. The city's police commissioner says explosives were planted on bicycles parked in a crowded spot. He isn't ruling out the possibility that terrorists were responsible for the blasts but refused to identify any group as a suspect as of now.

And a 34-year-old Navy SEAL is missing after getting separated from his unit off the coast of Hawaii. The Navy says the U.S. Coast Guard and Honolulu Fire Department are assisting in the search effort. The Navy is notifying the sailor's family about his disappearance.

And there's more evidence today that the housing market is rebounding. The National Association of Realtors says that home sales remained strong last month and prices saw their biggest gains since January of 2005. Home construction is also improving. Last month, builders filed for the largest number of building permits in more than four years. So, some good news there for you.

And what started out as a viral solution holds the very top, top, top spot on the billboards music chart.

(MUSIC)

BOLDUAN: I'm sure you already know what this is. This is the "Harlem Shake" and it has soared to number one on "Billboard" top 100 singles list because the magazine is now counting YouTube views in its tracking of songs. The "Harlem Shake" is a soundtrack for numerous, as you can see, viral dance videos and I dare to say, I'm going to make a version of that in the coming days.

BLITZER: Would you start that for us?

BOLDUAN: Well, I can start for you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I will produce it behind the scenes.

BOLDUAN: Oh, what?

BLITZER: I will be in the control room watching.

BOLDUAN: Oh, no, no, no. Oh, #fail. You will be the star of that.

BLITZER: I think you definitely -- you know how to do it, right?

BOLDUAN: Well, I have great dance moves, that's obvious. But you will be part of it.

BLITZER: Thanks.

When we come back, I'll speak with Detroit's mayor. His city has a huge financial crisis under way. So dire, in fact, that some experts think Detroit could declare bankruptcy.

And later, a retired senator's surprising revelation. A son he's kept secret for 30 years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One of America's biggest cities is facing a dire financial crisis right now. It may go bankrupt. Detroit used to be America's fifth largest city. That was back in 1960. It's now slipped to 18th having lost half of its population.

This afternoon, Michigan's governor told reporter he's putting off a decision on whether to put a special manager in charge of the city's finances and in a break from the kind of politics we often see here in Washington, the governor went out of his way to avoid the blame game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shouldn't be spending any time on the blame question. This isn't about the last year. This isn't about what's going on since Mayor Bing. This is an issue that's structurally been there for decades. And if you look at the primary issue behind it all, it's this, the decline in population.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A huge decline in population. Let's discuss what is going on. Detroit's Mayor Dave Bing is joining us. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.

MAYOR DAVE BING, DETROIT: Thank you, Wolf. My pleasure.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the governor that the key to Detroit's economic problems has been this depleting population?

BING: Yes. I mean, that's one of the issues, no doubt about it, because your revenue from taxes is based on your population and we've lost over half of our population in the last 20 years or so. And until we can get stable and then start growing again, it's going to be a very, very difficult situation here.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe the city has gone -- the actual city of Detroit has gone from about 1.4 million to 700,000. So why is Detroit now potentially on the verge of bankruptcy?

BING: A big reason. There are a lot of different reasons. I don't think the city was managed very well by its leadership, number one. Number two, there was a huge loss of population so therefore, a huge loss of revenue from a taxing standpoint.

I think the other thing is the state. The state has not been as good to Detroit as they should have been. We lose revenue sharing based on population loss. So there's just (inaudible) things right now and most of it revolves around revenue.

And, you know, we can't cut our way back out of this problem. I think we've cut as much as we can cut. We've got to think about how we can raise revenue again.

BLITZER: So how do you get out of this problem? What's your plan? BING: Well, I think the governor has a plan. I've had two or three different plans that I've shared with the state. They've never told me that they didn't like our plan. So on a going forward basis, to fix the city I think we're going to use a plan that I have in place.

But the governor now is -- has to make a decision whether an emergency manage ser going to come into the city and take the opportunity to run the finances of the city. So we're waiting for the governor to make that choice and once he makes that choice, then we'll figure out what our next steps are going to be.

BLITZER: Some other big cities not far from you have gone through similar problems in the decades. Pittsburgh, for example, losing the steel industry, Cleveland, but they seem to be doing so much better right now. They've got new industries.

They've got new talent that have come in there. Detroit -- we know the automobile industry has suffered, but recently it's come back pretty dramatically. Listen to this commercial that Chrysler put out at last year's Super Bowl.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does a town that's been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well, I'll tell you more than most. You see, it's the hottest fires that make the hardest steel, add hard work and conviction and a know-how that runs generations deep to every last one of us. That's who we are. That's our story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We see the automobile GM, Chrysler, Ford, they are doing well right now. So why isn't Detroit doing well?

BING: Well, you know, none of those plants are in the city of Detroit. At one time, 20, 30 years ago, Detroit had a lot of the automotive OEM plants in the city of Detroit. But as the industry started to shrink, they shut down the plants in Detroit and a lot of the revenue that we were getting from a taxing standpoint or even people paying taxes is no longer here.

I do believe Detroit is going to come back, but we are not going to be the same city that we were 30 years ago. It's going to be a smaller city based on population and we can't be as dependent on one industry as we were for the last 40 or 50 years. We've got to diversify and we are doing that.

The health care industry is growing at a double-digit rate in the last five years. They are projected to continue that growth for another five years. You'd be surprised that just from the theatre district -- outside of New York City, we have the most theatre seats in any other city other than New York.

So we're looking to try to grow that area. So those are things that are starting to happen and we've just got to be a little patient, but at the same time, we can't continue to go down the same road that got us where we are.

BLITZER: It's the home of Motown so there's a lot of history there. One quick question, what are the chances you will file for bankruptcy?

BING: I think they are very slim because, once again, it will really -- when we've got AAA ratings from three -- our state has got a high rating. I think it's probably BBB plus. We've got two of the surrounding counties that are AAA.

And if in fact Detroit were to file for bankruptcy, it would have a negative impact on the counties surrounding us as well as the state. So I don't think anybody want to go in that direction.

BLITZER: Mayor, good luck to you. Good luck to all of the folks in Detroit. We hope you guys come back.

BING: Thank you so very much. We appreciate the support.

BLITZER: Dave Bing is the mayor of Detroit.

A former senator makes a startling revelation. He was long known as a family man, but he's just revealing a major secret he's kept for three decades. That's coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A 30-year-old secret is now out. It involves one former U.S. senator and the daughter of another. CNN's Brian Todd is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got the details of what happened. What's this all about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is something you might find in a Hollywood version of a Washington political drama. Two families, iconic in the Senate, royalty in the Republican Party and infidelity long ago between two members of those families produces a child out of wedlock.

It is a deep secret for decades and because someone apparently about to go public with it all, now it blows up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He was an immensely powerful and influential senator, a Republican icon who voted to impeach President Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Domenici, guilty.

TODD: At the time, New Mexico's Pete Domenici called Clinton's behavior tawdry. He said truthfulness is the first pillar of good character.

MATT COOPER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: I think there's an element of hypocrisy here, no question. TODD: Matt Cooper of the "National Journal" says that now because we're now finding out that while Domenici was blasting Bill Clinton, he was involved in a bit of tawdriness of his own, hiding from everyone, including his own family, that he fathered a child out of wedlock several years earlier.

And it had been with the daughter of another Republican legend, former Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt. Pete Domenici and Michelle Laxalt have just issued statements acknowledging they are the parents of 34-year- old Adam Laxalt, a Las Vegas attorney.

Domenici says his family has been aware of this for several months. Quote, "My past action has caused hurt and disappointment to my wife, children, family, and others. I deeply regret this and am very sorry for my behavior."

(on camera): What do you make about the revelation and the timing so many years later?

COOPER: Well, it seems like someone forced their hands. Someone was going to write about it. So they decided they would come out and be forthright about it.

TODD (voice-over): Indeed, Michelle Laxalt says in her statement, "Recently information has come to me that this sacred situation might be twisted, rewritten out of whole cloth and shopped to press outlets large and small in a vicious attempt to smear, hurt, and diminish Pete Domenici."

Michelle Laxalt and Domenici sent those statements to the "Albuquerque Journal" newspaper, but it's not clear if the journal was the entity that would have taken the information public.

The journal's John Robertson wrote an article on it, but declined an interview with CNN and refused to explain any further. Six years ago, when their connection was still largely secret, Michelle Laxalt appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" defending Pete Domenici. He had been involved in a scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys.

MICHELLE LAXALT, DAUGHTER OF EX-SENATOR PAUL LAXALT: Senator Pete Domenici is a totally honorable man. When you're attacking the integrity of someone who has been in public service for his entire lifetime, great sacrifice, supporting no fewer than eight children and with the many sacrifices and the many contributions Senator Domenici has made not only to the country, but to the state of New Mexico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now Michelle Laxalt calls for liaison with Domenici, quote, "One night's mistake." Domenici retired from the Senate in 2009. Pete Domenici declined an interview with CNN. We could not reach Michelle Laxalt, but their son, Adam Laxalt, e-mailed us today.

Saying, quote, "I have lived my entire life as a private citizen and intend to remain one. I plan to address personal issues privately and will not be commenting or joining any public discussion," Wolf. BLITZER: Did he know that Senator Domenici was his father?

TODD: I e-mailed him back asking him that question. He did not reply. Now Domenici and Michelle Laxalt say in their statements that they did not want to reveal their parenthood of Adam Laxalt.

Michelle Laxalt says that she chose to raise Adam as a single parent and only asking that Domenici, quote -- this is a quote from her, "avail himself for health-related purposes." It is not clear at all whether she let him know that Pete Domenici was the father.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.

Syria's bloody civil war made its way into the heart of the capital today. Coming up, the latest details about a car bomb that wounded at least 200 people and killed 53.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A day of terrible atrocities in Syria's civil war. At least three car bombs went off. CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson reports.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a massive explosion ripped through the Mazra neighborhood of Damascus in the heart of the Syrian capital on Thursday. Syrian state media is reporting at least 53 people killed by this enormous blast and more than 200 wounded.

And if you look at the video, the images have that have been posted online and broadcast on state television. You can see the devastating impact where cars were hurled across streets and surrounding buildings, seriously damaged.

Now the blast took place, we're told, within about 20 yards of one of the main headquarters of the ruling Bath Party in Damascus, in Syria. Of course, there were also several schools in the immediate vicinity as well.

And we're hearing reports that children are among the casualties and that the schools called out for parents to come and pick up their kids for safety to bring them home.

Syrian's state media was reporting interviews with some of the survivors and bystanders and they all uniformly condemned Syrian rebel factions, accusing them of the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is terrorism. This is murder. This cannot be endorsed by Islam. This is a dirty work of (inaudible). May God curse them. They come and kill our women and children and then claim that it is in the name of Islam. What kind of Islam are they talking about?

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATSON: Now Wolf, as of Thursday evening, there have still been no claims of responsibility, not even from one hard line Islamist group called the "Musruf Front," which has claimed responsibility for car bombs in the past in Damascus.

Meanwhile, another group that calls itself the Syrian National Coalition published a statement saying that it, quote, "strongly condemns without any reservation the heinous, criminal bombings that justify the fall of innocent civilians or those premeditated and planned targeted attacks on civilians.

Wolf, the battle for Damascus is still far from over. Within minutes of this major car bombing, there were reports of other explosions and clashes with rebels taking place in other parts of Damascus and sadly we're going to see many more civilian casualties before the fate of this ancient city is decided -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson reporting for us. Thank you. I'm joined by Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS. On Syria, Fareed, do you think the president is reconsidering his opposition to arming those rebels?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": I doubt it very much, Wolf. Ivan's report actually highlights just the difficulty of getting involved. Remember, it appears to be that this might have been the work of one of the rebel factions.

So would the United States arm those rebel factions engaging in this kind of terrorism? Would they find cleaner ones that they could support? How exactly do you make sure that you control the factions that you are arming?

These are the kinds of problems that have stayed the hand of the Obama administration plus the fact that at the end of the day, we know so little about what is actually happening in Syria.

We see that there is a kind of free for all. We know that there are many forces against the government, but they do appear to be some supporting the government. In the middle of that, to inject American military manpower, even just advisers, training, or arms is to get the United States involved in something that looks like it could get a lot messier no matter what.

BLITZER: A lot of administration officials have said to me and justified the president's refusal to arm those rebels. You arm some of them, you don't know where those arms, those weapons are going to show up. They are going to wind up in the hands of a terrorist organization.

You've got to be really careful. That's one of the main reasons why the president rejected that. Let's talk about Iran for a second because the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Lawrence, said something intriguing this week.

Quoting the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, that Israel now believes Iran will breach the red line of nuclear progress by early in the summer. They will have enough new centrifuges to really be on the verge of developing a nuclear bomb. What do you make of this early summer red line?

ZAKARIA: I think it's fascinating, Wolf. I'm glad you picked up on it because there is no magic moment here. The Iranians are moving in an incremental fashion. It's not clear what that red line is. It means they will have enough enriched uranium to potentially convert it into fuel rods and such.

So the really interesting question is why are the Israelis publicly putting this out there? My guess is that the Prime Minister Netanyahu recognizes that in his new cabinet, he has very little room to maneuver. He's had to make a deal with people in power who are not in favor of an Israeli strike.

That means his only hope is to have the Americans do the work for him. So he's putting out a red line there, which could force President Obama's hand and could force him into action.

I don't know if it will work but I am as intrigued as you are, why would the Israeli ambassador set this up in a way that by early summer the U.S. administration has to act or seem to be countenancing the Iranians crossing a red line?

BLITZER: It's interesting. The president will be in Israel meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on March 20th, assuming the trip goes off as scheduled. They will have a lot to discuss. Fareed, thanks very much.

ZAKARIA: As always, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a new outrage over airport checkpoints.

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