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THE SITUATION ROOM
Bomb Suspect's Friend Released on Bond; Boston Suspect Researched Bomb Info; "Terrorist Attack from the Get-Go"; Sanford Tries To Complete His Comeback; Syria: "This Is A Declaration Of War"; Immigration Debate among GOP?; Beyonce and Jay-Z Trip to Cuba; Could Online Shopping Soon Cost More?
Aired May 6, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a friend accused of covering up for one of the bombing suspects is freed on bond and investigators now believe the other bombing suspect accessed al Qaeda bomb making instructions on his home computer.
A U.S. official confirms Israel attacked missile storage facilities in Syria. Syria calls it a declaration of war.
And you may be used to saving money by buying online, but a vote in Congress could soon change that.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A federal judge has released on bond one of the three friends accused of covering up for the Boston bombing suspect, Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Robel Phillipos is charged with lying to federal investigators. The deal to release him was reached today.
CNN crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, was in the courtroom where it all went down.
How did it go -- Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Robel Phillipos walked in here in an orange jail jumpsuit and shackles and handcuffs, and he walked out in street clothes. He's not going back to jail tonight, but neither is he a free man. The judge put him on lockdown at his mom's house. He's accused of lying to authorities in a terrorism investigation at a time when they were looking for that backpack with the expended fireworks cartridges that authorities looked for days to try to find.
His lawyer successfully argued that Phillipos was not a flight risk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN CHURCH, LAWYER FOR ROBEL PHILLIPOS: At no time did Robel have any prior knowledge of this marathon bombing, nor did he participate in the -- any of the planning done by the defendant in this case. He's not charged with, nor is he alleged to have disposed with the backpack, or had any role in what the two other individuals, the two students who are here on visas, did with the backpack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Robel Phillipos has a long list of bail conditions, the most important of which include $100,000 secured bond, electronic monitoring with a bracelet on his ankle, and he has to stay in confinement 24 hours a day at his mother's home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Here's the question I have, did Robel Phillipos know, when he saw the pictures that the FBI distributed that Thursday night, did he know that was his friend that was wanted by the FBI?
And if he did know, did he make a phone call to law enforcement to alert them who this individual was?
JOHNS: This is a question I witnessed him being asked in the hallways here in the courthouse. His lawyers were also asked the very same question and they did not respond. What they say is that the allegations against Robel Phillipos are refutable. What that means is anybody's guess.
We do know, according to FBI affidavits, that he was quest questioned four times before he actually came forward and told the truth of what he did know about the other two men who were present at the time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Because the argument is -- and this is the outrage that's going out there right now -- that if he didn't make that phone call and knew that his friend was wanted by the FBI, maybe Sean Collier, that police officer at MIT, would still be alive right now. That's the outrage that's being leveled at this individual, who was released on bail today.
And I assume his lawyers appreciate that.
JOHNS: I think his lawyers do appreciate that. They say, of course, that, as I said, the allegations are refutable. And they are looking forward to May 16th, when there will be a probable cause hearing for the government to make its case, at that time, to show whether or not it's met the threshold of probable cause to continue going forward with this case. So we'll hear more about this real soon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Joe, thanks very much.
There's new information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev accessed bomb making instructions on the computer in the Cambridge apartment he shared with his wife.
Let's get the very latest from our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.
She's looking at this part of the story -- Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, as we now know, the FBI is looking at at least two laptops that we know of, one belonging to Dzokhar Tsarnaev, and this one that we're talking about right now that belonged to his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, that was recovered, as you said, from the older brother's apartment there in Cambridge, where he lived with his wife and young child.
And now a law enforcement official is telling us that, in fact, they have discovered that there were materials on that laptop from "Inspire" magazine, that talks a lot about al Qaeda, including bomb making instructions. Now, this law enforcement official also telling CNN that they believe that it was Tamerlan who had accessed those bomb making materials.
As to whether he and his wife, did they share the access to the computer, well, the FBI wouldn't comment on that, this law enforcement official.
However, they are saying when we asked, is she cooperating, we are told that they won't say one way or another, although her lawyer says that she is continuing to talk with investigators about what she knows -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me ask you the same question I just asked Joe.
If she recognized her husband in those photos that were released that Thursday night by the FBI, did she make a phone call to anyone saying, that's my husband?
CANDIOTTI: Boy, isn't that what we would all like to know, Wolf?
We don't know the answer to that question. But we do know this. One of the things they're looking at is a phone call that our sources tell us was made from the wife to her husband, Tamerlan. But we don't know the nature of it. We don't know whether there was also texting going on. This is also part of this very important investigation.
BLITZER: Susan Candiotti on the scene in Boston for us.
And let's dig a little bit deeper on these legal questions.
Joining us now, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin -- Jeff, are you surprised that anyone linked to this terrorist bombing investigation has now been freed on bail?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when you're talking about bail, there are always two questions a judge asks -- is the person a risk of flight and are they a danger to the community?
Here you had the U.S. attorney's office satisfied that this young man, who is an American citizen, was not a risk of flight and not a danger to the community. Once you have the U.S. attorney on board, the judge almost always is going to follow their advice, thus, he was released with these pretty strong bail conditions.
BLITZER: What are the chances that these other two friends, the students from Kazakhstan, might be given the same opportunity to go out of prison on bail?
TOOBIN: I think much more remote, for the reason you point out, they're not American citizens. And when deciding who is and who isn't a risk of flight, American citizenship is usually a huge factor to both the judge and the prosecutors. And you also have a situation where they are accused of actually disposing of the backpack which, regardless of how the precise charges play out at this early stage in the process, that's a more serious allegation. And I think the U.S. attorney's office, as well as the judge, may have a different view with regard to them.
BLITZER: I have asked you this before, but I wonder if you've thought about it a little bit more, because I've been reading a lot about this, especially if you read what's going on in Boston right now.
Would the prosecutors, the U.S. attorneys in this particular case, go after any of these three as an accessory, if you will, or the widow, Katherine Russell, because they failed to make a phone call that potentially could have averted the death, the killing of that police officer at MIT?
TOOBIN: You know, I think the chances of that are really remote. The law finds -- it's always been very difficult to punish people for failing to act. There have been a lot of cases, for example, when bar owners don't stop people from driving drunk, from other people who don't stop other people from driving drunk, there are certain circumstances where you can make those charges stick. But it's very difficult in these circumstances. The failure to call the police is not a crime in most circumstances. And unless there are facts that I'm currently unaware of, I think charges along those lines are very unlikely to be made.
BLITZER: But the argument could be made, though -- and I'll make it right now and see what you think, that, yes, they failed to act. They didn't call law enforcement, even though they recognized, they knew who these two guys were. They failed to act on that front.
But they did act, if you believe the allegations, on other fronts. They either tried to destroy evidence or they lied to federal authorities. So there was an act of commission, if you will, not just an act of omission.
TOOBIN: Well, federal prosecutors can only prosecute violations of federal law. It's a violation of federal law to lie to prosecutors. It's a violation of federal law to obstruct justice. It is not, as far as I'm aware, a violation of federal law to fail to call the authorities when you think you recognize someone on television. That's just not a crime, at least as I understand it, or at least as I understand the facts here.
So it's morally reprehensible. It's appalling to all of us who are following this story. But whether they can be prosecuted and jailed for it, at least at this stage in the process, I don't see it.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see if that changes over the next several weeks as this process goes forward.
Thanks very much, Jeffrey, for that.
Up next, Republican investigators have found another whistleblower who now says the Benghazi consulate attack seemed like a terrorist attack from the get-go.
And can disgraced former governor, Mark Sanford, complete an extraordinary comeback or will his past be too much to overcome on Election Day?
BLITZER: The events before, during and after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya last September 11th remain under intense scrutiny. House Republican investigators have found a new whistleblower who is expected to offer some harshly critical testimony later this week.
Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been watching what's going on -- Dana, lots of new developments.
What's the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I just talked to a Republican Congressman who's on this committee, who insisted that they are going to have a blockbuster hearing this week, with lots of surprises that they're saving for the big event.
But, you know, the committee is strategically releasing teasers from their star witness, teasers that Democrats call partisan, but Republicans call proof of the Obama administration's misleading acts in this incidence.
BASH (voice-over): Four military personnel were ready to board a plane from trip Tripoli, Libya to Benghazi to help American citizens under fire at the consulate there, but were ordered by superiors not to go. That's what Gregory Hicks, chief of mission in Libya at the time, told House Republican investigators.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT & GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: At the point that this plane was being loaded, it was between the first attack that killed two, and the second attack, that killed two more. They may not have arrived in time to save lives, but at the time the decision was made, the decision was wrong.
BASH: Who made that decision?
ISSA: We're -- we want to find out who made this decision.
BASH: The Pentagon has not yet responded to Hicks' claim. House GOP chairman, Darrell Issa, calls hicks a Benghazi whistleblower, saying Hicks will testify this week that he believes the Pentagon made a mistake by not scrambling F-15s to fly over, arguing it would have scared the attackers and might very well have prevented some of the bad things that happened that night.
Hicks told GOP investigators then defense secretary, Leon Panetta, argued by the time military response could have arrived, the attack was over.
LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is not 911. You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place.
BASH: Hicks will also bolster GOP claims that Obama officials knew from the start it was not what they publicly suggested, a spontaneous demonstration. "I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning," Hicks told investigators, saying slain ambassador Chris Stevens' final report to Hicks was, "Greg, we are under attack."
Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton snapped at Republicans for dwelling on questions about what sparked the attack.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The fact is we had four dead Americans. What difference at this point does it make?
BASH: Hicks told investigators it made a big difference because U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, called it a demonstration on television minutes after Libya's leader called it an attack, offending Libya and making it harder for the FBI to investigate.
Greg Hicks' testimony that it is simply his opinion.
ISSA: Weeks later in New York, the president of Libya was still upset about being essentially called out as either misinformed or lying on national TV here in the U.S. So, I think suffice to say, it had an effect on our diplomatic relations.
BASH: The committee's top Democrat argues they were iced out of the investigation, calling it a, quote, "partisan report was reckless and false accusations." How do you answer the charge that what you're doing is partisan?
ISSA: Well, I think that changing the talking points from the truth to an untruth is certainly partisan and likely for political reasons. But I think the better question is, why are the Democrats not just as upset that we didn't do all we could do to save American lives?
BASH: Now, Issa's Democratic counterpart, Elijah Cummings, says that they are as interested as Republicans in finding the facts, but that what Issa and his fellow Republicans are doing are engaging in, quote, "investigation by press release," which he says does a disservice to our common goal of finding this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hovering over all of this, as you know, Dana, is the assertion, the allegation, that those talking points that Ambassador Susan Rice received that took out any reference to al Qaeda, for example, or a planned terrorist operation as opposed to some sort of spontaneous protest demonstration which apparently occurred in Cairo, that that was all part of the political objective of avoiding any references to al Qaeda only weeks before the reelection of the president of the United States.
That could have undermined his stature, if you will. And I suspect we'll be hearing a lot of those kinds of suggestions that this was done for political partisan reasons.
BASH: No question about it. The Republicans have been saying this really since maybe a few weeks after this attack that this is all part of an effort by the Obama administration to sort of tamp down on the concept of terror threats being out there still. And that's the kind of the culture that led to what they say are some of the misleading comments that came from the Obama administration.
And there's no question that will be one of the themes that we've heard before, but we'll hear a lot more of in Wednesday's hearing.
BLITZER: Yes. We'll have extensive coverage of that hearing on Wednesday. Thanks very much for that, Dana, reporting from the Hill.
He left the governor's mansion in disgrace, but on the eve of a special Congressional election in South Carolina, Mark Sanford still has a chance to complete an extraordinary comeback. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now from Charleston, South Carolina, with the very latest. What is the very latest, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you believe the polls, Mark Sanford just might pull off what was once considered an unthinkable political comeback, but then again, it's the former governor and his past that are making this race too close to predict.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Mark Sanford has been to political hell and back after his extramarital affair became synonymous with the Appalachian trail, the former South Carolina governor knows redemption is in sight.
MARK SANFORD, (R) S.C. CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I don't know whether I win or I would lose. But I'm at peace with sort of where I am of that larger notion of you go out, you try as best you can and then the final verdict is in the good Lord and the voters' hands.
ACOSTA: Locked in a tight race for an open Congressional seat, he argues voters are more interested in solutions than the salacious details of his Argentinean mistress-turned-fiancee who showed up at one campaign event or his legal battles with his ex-wife.
Do you think the voters are over it when it comes to your past? SANFORD: I don't think the media will ever be over it. And to a degree goes with your job -- been about my personal failings are all well-chronicled. They're out there. People know about them.
ACOSTA: Sanford has tried to change the subject, warning his loss would be a victory for House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi.
Wasn't that kind of goofy to be out there debating a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi?
SANFORD: People got it. People got it. It was totally serious.
ACOSTA: Because of Sanford's baggage, his opponent, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, has a shot at winning this conservative district. The sister of comedian, Stephen Colbert, she insists she'll be an independent voice in Washington.
ELIZABETH COLBERT-BUSCH, (D) S.C. CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: No one tells me what to do except the people of South Carolina's first Congressional district.
ACOSTA: Colbert-Busch says that means she may vote against the president, even on Obamacare.
COLBERT-BUSCH: Well, it's problematic if we need to look at it. I mean, when we're looking at --
ACOSTA: Would you vote to repeal it?
COLBERT-BUSCH: We need to repair it.
ACOSTA: But when asked about a recent vote on gun control, she appeared to draw blank on the senators backing the measure.
Yes or no, would you have voted yes or no on Manchin-Toomey? On the background checks.
COLBERT-BUSCH: Oh, my goodness.
ACOSTA: -- the amendment that would have --
COLBERT-BUSCH: OK. I am a defender of the Second Amendment, but we should expand background checks.
ACOSTA: Democratic interests across the country have poured money into this race, endorsements have followed, from top House Democrats to bouzer from the 1970s band, Sha Na Na.
ACOSTA: With a race this weird, it's no wonder Sanford is cautious about his chances.
Are you the kind of politician who makes predictions in this business?
SANFORD: No. I leave that up to you.
ACOSTA (on-camera): And that's a safe bet at this point. You know, Wolf, over the weekend, the local newspaper here in Charleston, "The Post And Courier," endorsed Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, calling her the tonic for what it calls, quote, "Sanford fatigue," just how tired the voters are of the former South Carolina governor. That will play out tomorrow when the voters head to the polls -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Usually, these special elections, the voter turnout is not necessarily all that high. What do they expect this time?
ACOSTA: You know, Wolf, I asked Mark Sanford about that, because this is the third time he's been in front of the voters over the last couple of months. There was that first primary with 15 other Republican candidates, then the run-off, and then this general election. But because this race has been nationalized with so much money being poured in their ads everywhere, Mark Sanford believes that the turnout actually could be higher tomorrow because the voters finally have a big contrast between the two final candidates in this race, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see how that winds up. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta. He'll be hanging out there tomorrow as well.
Just ahead, Syria says Israeli air strikes on missile storage sites near Damascus amount to a declaration of war and that anything is now possible. We'll have the latest. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a U.S. official confirms Israel did, indeed, attack missile storage facilities in Syria. Syria now calling it a declaration of war. Is it time for the United States to act?
Plus, it may soon cost you more to shop online. We have details on a Senate vote just minutes from now that could affect the price you pay.
And the pop star, Beyonce, responding to critics who slammed her for her recent trip to communist Cuba.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
Israel may be keeping mum, but an American source confirms the explosions that rocked areas near the Syrian capital over the past couple of days did, in fact, come from Israeli air strikes. The target said to be storage sites for missiles. Syria's not keeping quiet at all. Officials there saying the action amounts to what they call a declaration of war. Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's been on top of this story from the start. She's the first one who reported about these Israeli actions. Barbara, what's the latest?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we now know, indeed, it was Israeli war planes pounding targets inside Syria from Lebanon, flying over Lebanese airspace. And as you say, Wolf, the question now is, could the U.S. be next to act?
STARR (voice-over): Even after a Damascus suburb was bombed, Israel officially still isn't talking.
DANNY DANON, ISRAELI DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER: We cannot confirm neither deny any activity in Syria.
STARR: But with the destruction so visible, a U.S. official confirms to CNN that Israeli war planes bombed this weapons depot which Syria claimed was a research facility. This was just 48 hours after an initial Israeli strike at the Damascus airport, another weapons storage area, according to U.S. officials.
Israel vows its red line is to strike at weapons it believes the Assad regime is sending to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Weapons that could directly threaten Israel.
DANON: We will not allow Hezbollah to obtain the weapons from (ph) Syria.
STARR: Intelligence showed the airport was housing Fatah 110 missiles. With a range of about 100 miles, that missile can hit Tel Aviv from almost anywhere in Lebanon. Israel's moves are ramping up pressure on the U.S. military to act, some calling for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We can't take on the air defenses of a country like Syria, then we've wasted a lot of the taxpayers' dollars.
STARR: But the Pentagon insists Syria's air defenses are a more significant threat than the U.S. faced in Libya.
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It's five times more air defense systems, some of which are high-end air defense systems, that is to say higher altitude, longer range.
MCCAIN: As in the past, General Dempsey is dead wrong.
STARR: Former air force intelligence officer, Cedric Clayton (ph), says there's a big difference between Israeli and U.S. military options.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Israelis had the advantage of having basically two strikes that they were able to work very carefully. If you have a no-fly zone, you have to have a much more active suppression of enemy air defenses.
STARR: But if President Obama's red line is crossed and it's proven, the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, the U.S. might have no choice but to get militarily involved. But a U.N. investigator suddenly says maybe the regime didn't do it.
CARLA DEL PONTE, UNITED NATIONS INVESTIGATOR: What appeared to our investigation that that was used by the openings by the rebels. And we have no indication at all that the government -- the authority of the Syrian government have used chemical weapons.
STARR: The U.N. later cast doubt on that statement, and U.S. officials say, so far, there's no indication the rebels had or used chemical agents.
STARR (on-camera): And just how emboldened does the regime continue to be, Wolf? Well, consider this. We learned today that U.S. intelligence now shows the Assad regime has fired ballistic missiles against its own people 250 times since December alone -- Wolf.
BLITZER: About 80,000 Syrians have died over the past two years; millions have been made refugees either internally or externally.
What are the chances -- I know the U.S. is not going to send troops in on the ground -- probably they're not going to do a no-fly zone or anything along those lines. Probably not even doing air strikes. But what about cruise missiles? Unmanned cruise missiles going in and knocking out some sites in Syria, which is what the U.S. obviously did in Libya to get rid of Gadhafi?
STARR: This is the big question, Wolf. You're absolutely right. Unmanned obviously. Cruise missiles, precision-guided going right to the target that the U.S. picks.
But here's the question. What would that target be? If you're going to bomb a chemical depot where there is chemical agent, very risky business that civilians in the area could get seriously hurt by that. If you're going to bomb downtown Damascus, essentially, the palace, government ministries, what Assad holds near and dear, you are upping the ante.
But I got to tell you, Wolf, around the Pentagon hallways, every day, it's the question you keep hearing more and more about -- will the White House order the U.S. military to step into the action?
BLITZER: We'll see. I suspect things are happening right now. We'll see where they wind up. Barbara, good reporting. Thank you.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, who's been doing some serious reporting on this as well. The Israeli air strikes, what are you hearing? What impact will that have on President Obama? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Obviously Wolf, politically it puts some more pressure on this administration. Israel had its own red line. And that was weapons being sent to Hezbollah. So, it's a different red line than we have. But they enforced their red line. So, now the political question that's being asked is, okay, we had a red line. Has it been crossed, and if it's crossed, what do we do?
The big question is the president keeps talking about establishing this chain of custody about the sarin gas. Who used it, where did it come from, who was it used out? And as Barbara points out in her piece, there's a lot of confusion about that today, coming out from the United Nations. And so we haven't really established a chain of custody. But what we saw from the Israel strikes is, yes, they put a lot of pressure on Assad. That puts pressure on us.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Senator John McCain said yesterday on Fox as far as this red line that the president laid out a few months ago is concerned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The whole situation is becoming more and more expansive. And unfortunately, the red line that the president of the United States written was apparently written in disappearing ink.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, you saw that story in the Sunday New York Times saying that was a mistake, that they didn't really want the president to refer to a red line. Jay Carney walked that back today at the White House, the press secretary. What are you hearing?
BORGER: But in one way or another, of course, the administration has referred to that red line, according to Time magazine about seven times. So, it's not like anybody's walking that back. Jay Carney did not walk that back.
Look, there's no doubt, Wolf, that the president put himself in a bit of a corner here. And what the Israeli raids did, particularly on the safe zone argument, is kind of undermine that argument that it would be too difficult for us to do that because of the Syrian air forces. We now know that's probably not the case. So, that's one argument that seems to be off the table now. So, I do believe that this has affected them inside the White House, as Barbara's talking about at the Pentagon, same way.
BLITZER: Given the horrible experience the United States has had over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's totally understandable this president doesn't want to get involved in Syria.
BORGER: Yes. He's wound down one war, winding down another war. And I'm told that the president remains personally unconvinced that interfering in a civil war is going to do much good, that our military could actually do much good. So, I think you have that personal reluctance on the part of the president.
Don't forget, Wolf, if you do something like try and arm the Syrian rebels, there are some bad guys in there. And there's the possibility that those arms could get in the hands of, say, al Qaeda, which you would not want. So nothing, nothing is really cut and dry here.
BLITZER: No great options in Syria.
BORGER: Right, including the chemical weapons. Who had them, who used them? Still unclear.
BLITZER: Very murky. All right, thanks very much, Gloria for that.
When we come back, it started out as a routine traffic stop. You're going to see the shocking police shootout that came next.
Also, thousands of spectators at an air show. They watch in horror as a plane plunges to the ground. We have the video and a lot more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Mary Snow has got the story and some of the other top stories as well. What's happening?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a federal judge has just sentenced pop singer Lauryn Hill to three months in jail, a year of probation and three more months of possible home confinement for failure to pay three years of federal income tax. Unless she appeals the verdict, Hill has been directed to report to the department of corrections in July to begin her sentence.
There's a shocking police shootout caught on tape. We first want to warn you, though, the video you're about to see is graphic and violent. Our affiliate, WKYC, reports it started out as a routine traffic stop back in March. This happened in Middlefield, Ohio. We're just seeing the video now.
SNOW: Now, the two officers in the car quickly returned fire, killing the suspect. One of them was shot in the hand. The other was hit in the leg with shrapnel. Both have since been released from the hospital and were recently honored for their courage.
In Spain, some horrifying video of a plane crash in front of thousands of spectators at an air show. The plane plunged into a building and exploded into a ball of flames, killing the pilot, injuring several people on the ground. The pilot who was flying a vintage 1950s aircraft with the assistance to the Spanish defense minister. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
And this special programming note. Tomorrow, Chris Cuomo sits down with Amanda Knox to talk about her fight against a new trial in her roommate's death to her new book. "Amanda Knox: The Unanswered Questions," airs tomorrow night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. Wolf?
BLITZER: We'll of course be watching that. Thanks very much, Mary, for those reports.
Just ahead, the battle inside the GOP over immigration reform. Senator Marco Rubio gets some heat from a former colleague he calls his mentor.
And Beyonce responds to the backlash over her recent trip to communist Cuba.
BLITZER: The Florida senator Marco Rubio's proposed bipartisan immigration bill getting slammed inside his own Republican Party by a man he calls his mentor. The former senator Jim DeMint, who now heads a prominent conservative think tank here in Washington, argues that the bill will only make matters worse and wind up costing taxpayers, in his words, "trillions of dollars."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM DEMINT, PRESIDENT, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think if people read the bill, that it will be blocked because once you get into it, just like Obamacare, it is not the way it's being advertised.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about it in our Strategy Session. Joining us, two CNN analysts. The former Obama special adviser, Van Jones, and the Republican strategist, Ana Navarro. This is a real battle between Marco Rubio on the one hand and Jim DeMint on the other.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN ANALYST: Well, I think it's a little exaggerated. I mean, if you take a look, so many of the other conservative groups have come out today in support of this bill, in support of Senator Rubio's position. You've got Cato Institute, you've got Douglass Holtz-Eakin from the American Action Network. You've got Americans for Tax Reform. Because the way Heritage scored this, because Washington --
BLITZER: Heritage is the think tank.
NAVARRO: The think tank --
BLITZER: That he runs now, Jim DeMint.
NAVARRO: That he runs. And this is Washington mumbo jumbo. But the difference between scoring it in a static way versus dynamic makes all the difference. They're only taking into account the costs, not the benefits of immigration. Fortunately the Congressional Budget Office is going to come out with its own numbers because this, Wolf, is like a push-pull.
BLITZER: Here's the problem that the president has. And these -- Republicans and Democrats, the so-called Gang of Eight, who want -- including Marco Rubio -- a comprehensive immigration bill passed, probably could pass the Senate. But when it gets to the House, Republican majority, it's problematic, as you well know. So if it doesn't pass the House, where does that leave this president?
VAN JONES, CNN ANALYST: Well, I think -- I don't think we even have to go that far. I mean, first of all, I think -- Jim DeMint is going to really get a wake-up call here. You're exactly right. You know, Jim DeMint used to be the godfather and Rubio was the little guy. Marco Rubio is uniting the conservative movement around him. And I think that they thought it was going to be 2007 all over again, Heritage comes out with their report, and everybody jumps on the Heritage bandwagon.
This is not the left versus the right led by Heritage. This is Heritage now against the world. So Rubio I think is going to come out of this on top. And furthermore, I think it's very important to notice the numbers that this report are based on, they've just don't add up. And when you -- when you have both bad politics and bad math, you get a bad outcome for Jim DeMint.
BLITZER: Because Rubio keeps saying during the 13 years, it would take for an illegal immigrant to wind his or her way through the process, go and eventually get U.S. citizenship, during those 13 years, he says they would not be eligible for any of these federal benefits.
NAVARRO: Exactly. They're not eligible for means-based benefits. And it also does not take into account job growth. It does not take account how it affects the rest of the economy and the benefits that it brings in. And most conservatives agree that when you are looking at the cost and benefits of a bill, you've got to look at both.
And I actually think on the House side, it looks a lot better than people think.
NAVARRO: I have -- I have spoken to Speaker Boehner about this. I think there is a growing consensus of Republicans that are adults in the room and also of Democrats, wanting to work together towards a good solution.
BLITZER: Because if this gets passed under President Obama's watch, that would be a major legacy item for him.
JONES: Yes. Look, it would be good for the president to get this done, obviously. It would be good for the Republicans to get this issue behind them. It would be good for the country because what you are seeing every place you see a lot of immigrants, you see a lot of good economic activity going on. It's not like the immigrants are hurting the economy. The immigrants are helping the economy. They could help it a lot more if they have legal status.
BLITZER: And then they would be paying taxes and everything.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about Beyonce. She went with Jay-Z to Cuba, as we all know. She's now speaking publicly about that trip, defending the decision which the Treasury Department approved, gave her and Jay-Z permits to go for an educational experience. Listen to what she said on "Good Morning America".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEYONCE, ENTERTAINER: It was such a beautiful trip. I met some incredible children, visited some incredible entrepreneurs. Yes, I learned so much about so many people in the country. It was actually quite shocking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So she had an educational experience. Anything wrong with that?
NAVARRO: You know, I wish her educational experience would have also included meeting with some dissidents, meeting with the wives of some of the political prisoners, meeting with some of the people who are the actual victims of a communist dictatorship.
It's just last week when the U.S. government again put Cuba in the state terrorist list -- state of terrorism list. And so I think, you know, Wolf, she wants to go, fine. But people also have to understand that there's a lot of victims of the Cuban government, of the Cuban regime in this country, and that those people have a right to feel offended by it. You know. She's got a right to go, those people have a right to be hurt by her action.
BLITZER: What do you think, Van?
JONES: Well, I think these celebrities going to these communist countries -- didn't Dennis Rodman just go to, like North Korea?
BLITZER: North Korea.
JONES: I mean, I just think at a certain point that starts to become a side show. In fact, I think a lot of the younger people who listen to Jay-Z, who listen to Beyonce, aren't as well-informed as they need to be. I think this could be an opportunity to really talk about what's going on in Cuba to talk about -- and also their differences of opinion. Does more trade help to bring more freedom? Does more trade hurt? That's the conversation we should be having.
And we shouldn't have to wait for a rapper and a singer to go over there before we have these discussions. But I think what happens is, these celebrities, they want to learn about the world, they should learn about the world but we need to be talking about these issues regardless of what rappers and singers do.
BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much, Van Jones, Ana Navarro. See you soon. Coming up, you may be used to saving money by buying online, but Congress could soon change all of that. The Senate is acting this hour. We have details of what's happening.
Also, Syria now warning that those Israeli airstrikes amount to what they call a declaration of war. Our own Fred Pleitken, he's the only Western reporter inside Damascus right now. We're going there live right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Shopping online could soon cost you a lot more if lawmakers here in Washington have their way.
Mary Snow is joining us now with some details on what the Senate is about to do. It's happening right now.
What's the latest, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this bill is called the Marketplace Fairness Act. If it's approved, it will pave the way to require online retailers to collect sales taxes. Now it still needs to go to the House for a vote, and there is a heated campaign both for and against it with two major online retailers on opposite sides.
SNOW (voice-over): Paul Silvay makes his living selling guitars on eBay out of his New Jersey home. If the new law is passed, he would have to collect a sales tax if he had at least $1 million in sales outside his home state. His sales aren't that high yet, but he says he doesn't want a new law hurting his potential.
PAUL SILVAY, NEXT BIG THING GUITARS: This is just another deterrent that would push me from being a small, you know, single person at -- working from home commodity to becoming a medium to larger sized private retailer.
SNOW: As it stands now, online retailers like Amazon only have to collect taxes in states where they have a physical presence like a warehouse or store, but Amazon is actually supporting the push for an online sales tax, as it expands its physical operations in more states. It joined the umbrella group for major retailers calling for a level playing field.
ELLEN DAVID, SR. V.P., NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: A lot of times people will come into their stores, take a sales person's time, look for a diamond ring or a piece of furniture, and then go online and buy that exact same item and not pay the sales tax.
SNOW: Online retailer eBay sees things differently. It calls the proposed law wrongheaded, fearing it will hurt small businesses. It argues that if a business is making less than $10 million in sales, it shouldn't be forced to collect taxes. Only five states don't charge any sales tax, so most consumers will wind up paying more if the law goes through. While it may be new to consumers, the tax itself isn't. It's just not enforced.
MELANIE HICKEN, CNNMONEY: Any time that you shop online without paying sales tax at checkout, you're supposed to pay what is called a use tax directly to the state, but very, very few people do that when they file their taxes.
SNOW: And where you live makes a big difference. Taxes on a $1,000 television set, for example, would add up to $50 extra in Maine, $60 in Kentucky, and $70 in New Jersey, where the sales tax is 7 percent.
SNOW: And Wolf, last year alone it's estimated there were $225 billion in online sales. Now, one group, the National Conference of State Legislators, which is in favor of the bill, estimates there was $23 billion in uncollected sales tax last year - Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of money. All right. Mary, we'll see what happens in the Senate. Then it's got to go to the House of Representatives where there will be greater opposition, I suspect, than in the Senate. We'll see what happens. It's a long process that we're watching.
Just ahead, right at the top of the hour, our own Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, they're standing by to join me to talk about the growing crisis unfolding in Syria and what it now means for the United States.
Plus, President Obama takes his outreach campaign with members of Congress to the putting green today. He's playing golf. My interview with one of the Republican senators he went golfing with, Bob Corker. It's coming up in the next hour, as well.