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THE SITUATION ROOM

Nuclear Missile Unit Fails Inspection; Justice Department: Airline Merger Would Raise Prices; Gunman Takes Hostages at Louisiana Bank; Is the Senate Next Stop for Rising Star Democrat?; Senate Next Stop For Rising Star Demo.?; A New Clue To Clinton's Plans?; Voting Rights vs. Voting Fraud; Astronaut Nearly Drowning in Space; Oprah Sorry for Racism Incident

Aired August 13, 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, breaking news and a nightmare scenario. They're supposed to be ready for missile strikes against targets worldwide, but are they ready?

A critical U.S. Air Force unit fails a key inspection.

The federal government files suit to block creation of the world's largest airline. We're going to take you what's behind this surprise move.

And a scandal-plagued New York mayoral candidate, Anthony Weiner, just revealed Hillary Clinton's own political plans.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with breaking news. A U.S. Air Force unit responsible for nuclear-tipped missiles, which could be fired at targets around the world, has just failed an important test. And it's not the first such failure this year.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's got the details.

What are you learning -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Air Force now says that one of its nuclear wings responsible for one third of the nation's intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles has failed a safety and surety inspection, basically, safety and operations at its base in Montana.

This inspection was conducted over several days. They say there were several tactical errors. They will not tell us exactly what those errors were. They say that that is classified.

But, Wolf, this is the second major problem for two of the Air Force's nuclear wings this year. Earlier this spring, another wing, at Minot, North Dakota, did so poorly on a test, 17 members of the Air Force were removed from their jobs there and had to go through certification.

So where we stand is two of the Air Force's three wings responsible for those Minuteman 3 ICBM missiles suffering serious problems this year, now raising questions yet again, is the nuclear program flipping?

You know, the Air Force says the nuclear weapons are safe and secure, but are procedures getting lax, are people getting lax?

The cold war ended a long time ago.

Are things just slipping a little too much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any explanation, as far as these two failures are concerned?

Is it a lack of money, funding, a lack of training, a lack of discipline?

What are they saying?

STARR: Well, you know, so far, it appears to be a variety of things, but a real question about whether the force itself is really operating up to speed. In the nuclear world in the U.S. military, there is simply not one shred of room, as you can well imagine, for failure to meet standards. And the standards are very specific and very severe. And if just one person in the unit fails to meet standards. It can lead to a very low grade on one of these inspections. I think most people would want it that way. No room for error in nuclear operations.

And, look, all of this is far from the first time. You'll remember, back in 2007, the Air Force flew a bomber all the way across country, with nuclear weapons on board, and didn't know they were on the plane. That was probably one of the most severe failures in recent years.

And it's all constantly leading to this question, is the nuclear force, you know, up to snuff?

It's a very serious matter inside the Air Force -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, the United States still has, what, nearly 8,000 nuclear warheads in its arsenal.

All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

A surprising move aimed at making sure a proposed mega airline doesn't get off the ground. Concerned about higher prices, higher fees and reduced competition, the federal government and several states took action today.

Let's go straight to CNN's Rene Marsh.

She's got the details. She's over at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC.

What happened -- Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we'll start off with a big stat for you. A merger of American Airlines and U.S. Airways would mean four airlines controlling more than 80 percent of the U.S. commercial air travel. That's according to the Department of Justice. And they say that it all boils down to one thing and it means one things for consumers -- air travel would be more expensive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): It would be the largest airline in the world. But Tuesday, before the $11 billion deal could take off, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging the merger of American Airlines and U.S. Airways, saying passengers would lose big.

Consumer advocates agree.

(on camera): Because you've been saying all along that this should not happen.

CHARLIE LEOCHA, DIRECTOR, CONSUMER TRAVEL ALLIANCE: This is really good news for consumers because we were going to lose an incredible amount of competition within the United States. And when we lose competition, that's never good when it comes to price control.

MARSH (voice-over): The Justice Department used a flight today to illustrate what's at stake. They say this round trip from Miami to Cincinnati costs $471 on U.S. Airways and $751 on American. If the two airlines merge, the Justice Department says U.S. Airways' aggressive discounting could disappear.

Opponents say it would reduce competition, cut service and increase fees. At airports like Reagan National near DC, where the two carriers operate, a combined airline would control 69 percent of the take-off and landing slots.

In a joint statement, the airlines say they plan to fight the lawsuit. This spring, the CEOs defended the merger.

DOUGLAS PARKER, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, U.S. AIRWAYS GROUP: And by putting these two networks together, we ought to be able to provide better service, more efficient service, to consumers.

THOMAS HORTON, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, AMERICAN AIRLINES: This is creating enhanced competition in the U.S., because today, you have two really big global airlines, United and Delta. And this create a third as a competitive counterbalance to that.

MARSH: The Justice Department says the companies they can thrive on their own.

LEOCHA: So they're going to do just fine. They're not going to go away and be reduced to nothing. (END VIDEO TAPE)

MARSH: All right, well, the Justice Department is saying that they don't have a problem with airlines making money, they have a problem with reduced competition. It says that the two airlines compete directly on thousands of routes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rene Marsh over at Reagan National Airport, thank you.

The government has allowed other big airlines, so why fight this one?

Let's get the inside story on this lawsuit.

Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is joining us right now -- Evan, it seems like a huge surprise to a lot of us. American has gotten approvals from shareholders, even the EU, as part of their plan to emerge from bankruptcy.

What's the story behind the story here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And I think what has happened here is that everyone, these two airlines, in particular, were selling this merger as something that would make things better for fliers. The Justice Department spent a lot of time and they -- I think they decided that, in the end, there was just too much chance that these airlines were just going to use the fact that they're combing to be able to raise fares and to be able to use whatever they call their pricing power.

Now, as you said, it's already gotten approval from shareholders and also from the EU. The Justice Department says that the problem here is, that, you know, you have a thousand routes where these two airline goes head-to-head, and, so, therefore, this is something that would affect fliers all across the country.

BLITZER: Evan, why didn't the government challenge other airline mergers in recent years?

PEREZ: Well, that's -- you know, those mergers happened at a different time. After 9/11, the airlines were in very bad shape. A lot of them were losing billions of dollars. And so -- and, frankly, there were far more airlines. I believe in 2005, there were nine airlines -- nine major airlines. And we would be down to four with this airline -- if this merger goes through.

So the Justice Department's point is these are different times. Every merger is different. And, for now, these two airlines are profitable enough and we don't need to have this for the air -- for the industry.

BLITZER: Lots at stake right now. And for the flying public, obviously, lots at stake, as well.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks very much.

PEREZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, a dramatic hostage situation at a bank in Louisiana unfolding right now. We'll have the very latest.

And one of the Democratic Party's rising stars may soon be moving from city hall to the United States Senate.

But are there some bumps along the way for Newark's Cory Booker?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And there's breaking news coming out of St. Joseph, Louisiana, right now, where a gunman has taken hostages at a bank.

Joining us on the phone is the homeland security spokeswoman for Tensas Parish, Jane Netterville.

Jane, what can you tell us?

What's going on?

JANE NETTERVILLE, TENSAS PARISH HOMELAND SECURITY SPOKESWOMAN: Mr. Blitzer, we were alerted to the situation about 1:00 this evening. We have three employees that are still in the bank and it's still an ongoing situation.

We have one suspect with a handgun. His identity is unknown, but he's believed to be an employee at a local convenience store.

As I said, the situation is ongoing. Our local Tensas Parish Sheriff's Department, as well as the Louisiana State Police bomb threat, bomb squad, they're all on hand.

But I do want to dispel some rumors, if I could, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

NETTERVILLE: There are no confirmed bomb threats. There's been a lot of rumors going around about bomb threats. And there are no confirmed bomb threats at this time.

BLITZER: Has there been any communication with the individual suspected of holding these people hostage?

NETTERVILLE: There are negotiators here. As far as communication goes, I cannot give you that information at this time.

I will say that the only thing that we have closed down right now on the streets are on Plank Road, which is where the Tensas State Bank is located. From Twelfth Street to Davidson Street, Plank Road is closed. So all other traffic is open. So the only thing we have shut down is that one section of town.

BLITZER: The three people who were -- who are being held hostage, I assume they're the employees at the bank, right?

NETTERVILLE: That's correct. They are employees at the bank, two women and one man.

BLITZER: And do you know what happened?

Did this individual allegedly just walk in and demand money and then start taking hostages?

Could you walk us through what happened?

NETTERVILLE: That I cannot at this time. I don't have any details on exactly how it all transpired.

BLITZER: If for any reason this individual, who is suspected of holding these three people hostage, is watching us right now, what would you say, Jane, to this person?

NETTERVILLE: I would say let the people go. Just let them go. Don't harm anyone. You know, whatever your situation is, you're going to be better off if you'll just let these hostages go and then let us deal with you in whatever way we can deal with you. But let the hostages go.

BLITZER: Good advice.

Jane Netterville from the Homeland Security Department in Tensas Parish in Louisiana.

Thanks very much.

We'll stay in touch.

NETTERVILLE: (INAUDIBLE). We thank you.

BLITZER: Other news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he's one of the biggest rising stars in the Democratic Party, and when polls close just a few hours from now, we'll know whether the Newark mayor, Cory Booker, is one step closer to becoming the New Jersey senator.

CNN national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working this story for us.

He's got the latest details.

What is the latest -- Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Cory Booker is expected to easily win today's Democratic primary in the race to replace the late New Jersey senator, Frank Lautenberg. But the Newark mayor, who is well on his way to become the first elected African- American senator since Barack Obama, may not want to put his campaign in cruise control just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): It looks like the curtain is opening for the next act in the rise of Cory Booker. As the heavy Democratic favorite primary day in the race for New Jersey senator, Booker stayed on message.

CORY BOOKER, (D) NEW JERSEY SENATE CANDIDATE: The great thing about this election that really has me encouraged is I really want to be a different type of senator.

ACOSTA: Much in the way, Booker has been a different kind of mayor of Newark, for example, shoveling snow for his constituents.

BOOKER: I spent my career not running from challenges but toward them.

ACOSTA: Or running to the rescue of a woman trapped inside her burning home. Much of it chronicled to the more than one million followers on Booker's Twitter page. It's no wonder his campaign is snowballing, with endorsements from celebrities like Eva Longoria, fundraisers with Oprah Winfrey, and tweets of support from hip-hop mogul, Russell Simmons. After his speech at the 2012 Democratic convention --

BOOKER: This is our American mission. These are the dreams of our fathers and mothers.

ACOSTA: Much of Washington wonders if he'll one day follow in the footsteps of another up and coming Democrat turned president.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Cory Booker is someone that we should take a look at in terms of the future he has so much gravitized (ph). He's a celebrity.

ACOSTA: But his Democratic rivals in New Jersey say some of that star power has gone to Booker's head after the mayor skipped one of their debates.

REP. RUSH HOLT, (D) NEW JERSEY SENATE CANDIDATE: Now, it's worth noting that there are three of us up here, there is one who is missing. If he wanted to you know where he stands, he would be standing here.

BOOKER: I feel so passionate about mentoring.

ACOSTA: Booker's opponents also say he's dodging questions about his internet video company, Waywire. A website he helped found in New York City instead of in the city he lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He chose to put that wealth of all places, not in his own city of Newark, but right here in New York City. This is sketchy to say the least.

ACOSTA: Booker's campaign says the other contenders are just getting desperate. CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile, expects Booker to handle the sudden rush of attention with care, if he gets to Washington. BRAZILE: He'll be a little fish in a big pond and he'll have to learn like other guppies to get along in order to be strong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA Now, a Booker campaign spokesman says the mayor will step down from the Waywire board if elected and will prohibit the site from lobbying his Senate office. As for the race, polls Show booker is way ahead of his likely Republican rival, Steve Lonegan in the upcoming general election, Wolf. As you know, that election set for October, not November by the governor of that state, Chris Christie -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember when he announced that day. He was a little controversial at the time. We'll watch this race today closely, and obviously, in October as well. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

When we come back, she lost a home in the superstorm Sandy. Now, she has close to $9 million to rebuild. Thanks to a massive Powerball jackpot. You're going to meet one of the famous Ocean's 16. Just ahead.

Plus, you're going to find out why more than $9,000 in taxpayer money reportedly went into this police video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love these guys!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like a classic domestic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other stories we're monitoring right now in the SITUATION ROOM. We're getting a first look at the Georgia man who fell 65 feet to his death from an upper level of Atlanta's turner field during last night's Braves/Phillies baseball game. Police say 29-year-old Ronald Homer's (ph) fall appears to be accidental, but an investigation is under way.

The autopsy has been completed, but a cause of death is not being released pending toxicology results. This is the second such death at an Atlanta sporting venue in the last year.

The so-called Ocean 16, a group of 16 public employees on the Jersey Shore with one of three winning tickets in last week's $448 million Powerball jackpot are breaking their silence. A number of the joint winners are victims of super storm Sandy and they shared some very emotional personal stories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARLENE RICCO, LOTTERY WINNER: We lost our home in the storm. I was just renting. I didn't own it, but we lived there for five years, me and my daughter. So now, I stayed with my brother for a few months and got a little apartment above a store front. So, the first thing I'm going to do is buy me and my daughter a home and bring my dog back home.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Each of the Ocean 16 will get a little more than $3.8 million. That's after taxes.

Look up soon or you could miss an extraordinary meteor shower under way right now. The celestial fireworks show is at its peak and your best view is said to be just after midnight until just before sunrise when there's less light in the sky to complete with the display. The annual shower occurs as the earth passes near a comet's path.

This next story comes from our Oregon affiliate, KPTV, where a police department search for a new chief is generating national controversy all because of a recruiting video some say looks more like something out of a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As can you see, the Hillsborough Police Department is ready to handle any situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. They get me every time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut up, Dwayne!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The video, which has gotten more than 15,000 views reportedly cost more than $9,000 in taxpayer money. The police department says those funds came out of a budget reserved for recruiting.

Up next, has scandal-plagued New York mayo al candidate, Anthony Weiner, just revealed Hillary Clinton's own political plans for 2016?

And coming up, an astronaut's wife was watching at mission control as her husband almost drown in space. Yes, drown in space when water started filling his helmet. Now, she's talking about that horrifying moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): Anthony Weiner's buzz feed interview, you saw some of it here on CNN in "the SITUATION ROOM," fueling new questions about Hillary Clinton's plans for 2016. You're going to find out why. That's just ahead. Plus, an astronaut nearly drowns in space as his wife watches from mission control. Now, she's sharing the terrifying minute-by-minute details.

And what Oprah Winfrey says she's sorry about after claiming to be a victim of racism in a posh boutique in Switzerland.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is back, sort of. The former secretary of state says she's in no rush to decide on a White House bid, but she is starting to weigh in on several domestic issues. And there may be a tantalizing new clue about her own political future. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now. She's got a closer look. What are you seeing, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Hillary Clinton is keeping the guessing game about her future alive, but Anthony Weiner, a former friend of the Clintons, is making it a lot harder for her to keep us guessing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Washington, D.C. in August, the Hillary for president rumor mill is buzzing. Now in the cycle, this off message answer by Anthony Weiner about his wife, a long-time Clinton aide.

BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BUZZFEED.COM: Do you know what her role in Hillary's 2016 campaign is going to be?

ANTHONY WEINER, (D) NEW YORK MAYORAL CANDIDATE: I do.

SMITH: What will it be?

WEINER: I'm not telling you.

YELLIN: What? He's supposed to give a non-answer like this.

WEINER: It's too early to handicap the race and we don't even know if she's going to run.

YELLIN: Someone send Weiner the memo. Weiner's hint came the same night the former secretary of state gave her first speech in years on a touchy domestic political issue. Topic? The Supreme Court's ruling on race and voting rights.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.

YELLIN: Mrs. Clinton announced she will keep giving big speeches on the kind of topics a president tackles. Next month --

CLINTON: I will talk about the balance and transparency necessary in our national security policies.

YELLIN: And in the fall --

CLINTON: I'll address the implications of these issues for America's global leadership and our moral standing around the world.

YELLIN: Tea leaves, anyone? Officially, she's enjoying her time writing a book, working on early childhood development at the Clinton Foundation and spending time, with her husband and daughter, who also won't comment.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't know what Hillary's going to do, but whatever it is I expect to support it.

YELLIN: Now that's on message. An outside PAC called Ready for Hillary has raised more than $1.25 million basically to clear the field for her entry.

SETH BRINGMAN, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, READY FOR HILLARY: I think it's presumptuous to presume that she will be a candidate. We need to show her the support that she has in order to encourage her to run.

YELLIN: When do you think that might be?

BRINGMAN: Oh, it's so hard to tell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: As you can tell, Wolf, they just don't want to say. But here's what we do know. The first Democratic primary of the presidential cycle is expected to be around January of 2016. So several top Democrats that I've spoken with argue that if Hillary Clinton does decide to run, she doesn't even have to announce until December of 2015. That's because she has such broad name recognition, that could keep her out of the political crossfire until then and she could still jump in and win that late.

But some fundraisers argue that she needs to get in even sooner than that to raise money and let other candidates know they should not go after Democratic money. Let me tell you, this is the kind of topic that is hotly debated among Democrats right now and until she makes her decision, it will continue to be, Wolf.

BLITZER: You mentioned at the top of your report, you described Anthony Weiner as Hillary Clinton's --and I think you said former friend. He's married to Huma Abedin, who has been her top aide, one of her closest aides for a long time. Hillary Clinton once said if she had another daughter, it would be Huma Abedin. Why did you describe Anthony Weiner because of Hillary Clinton's former friend?

YELLIN: Well, because of the trouble he's gotten himself into since he's been running for mayor and the scandal that has erupted during that time because of the text messages he sent. And a source that's close to the Clintons told they have been livid with him because of the emotional pain that he's caused for Huma. And because even though they're not involved in the campaign in any way, they're both very close to Huma personally, and that's the word that was used, that they're livid with him.

BLITZER: They love Huma, not so much Anthony Weiner anymore. All right, good explanation, Jessica. Thanks very much.

Let's take a little bit closer look right now at the signals Hillary Clinton and some of the others may be sending. Joining us now, the co-hosts of CNN new CROSSFIRE, Stephanie Cutter and S.E. Cupp are both joining us.

What do you think, Stephanie? You think Anthony Weiner already basically announced that Hillary will be a candidate for the 2016 presidential nomination?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, I'm not sure we should base anything on what Anthony Weiner says about what Hillary Clinton is going to do. I think we have to wait and see. I think if she is preparing to run, she's doing all of the right things. But we shouldn't look too deeply into them.

Her commenting on voting rights, you know, probably largely comes from someone who has worked on voting rights and cares deeply about it. She was the former first lady of Arkansas. We know that Arkansas has a long history of these issues. So, I think that some things we just have to take on face value. But let's call a spade a spade here: there are preparations being made.

BLITZER: There certainly are. And I remember when she was the first lady of the United States, S.E., and I was the White House correspondent. After Bill Clinton left office, she started a listening tour, she described it, in New York state, to see if she should run for the Senate. And then she started giving some speeches. Obviously, it didn't take very long. She became a candidate, she was elected senator. I see the same thing going on right now. What do you see?

SE. CUPP, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Yes, it's absolutely not too early. It might feel too early for a lot of folks in America who are thinking about 2016 as this far-off time. But Hillary Clinton knows that it's a great time to invest now. She knows next year is a midterm election; that's going to take up a lot of oxygen. She's on the ground now, getting people's appetites wet.

She also has to be aware of that inevitability, that entitlement problem. She doesn't want people to think she doesn't have to work for it so she's getting out early, making speeches, putting in time, setting the stage for the issues that she's going to be speaking about over the next year. It's a smart strategy.

BLITZER: What's her biggest weakness, Stephanie, as far as you see it?

CUTTER: Over the course of the next couple of years and leading up to the presidential?

BLITZER: Yes.

CUTTER: I think that there's going to be a conversation around Hillary Clinton, whether or not she wants it or not. So, the question is does she want others to drive that conversation or does she want others to drive that conversation? I think leaving it is a big liability.

So, I agree with what she's doing. She's going to go out and speak about national security, some additional speeches will come after that. She's going to do some important work with the Clinton Foundation. I think those are all really important things to do because then she is shaping the conversation around her work and her beliefs.

BLITZER: What is her biggest weakness, S.E.?

CUPP: Yes, well, let me start by giving her a compliment. She's a uniquely positioned candidate in that she can be an experienced candidate and a change candidate. That's a really impressive thing to do. To be a candidate who has been around for a long time. No one can really question her credibility on issues or whether she knows what she's doing.

But she also by virtue of the fact that she's a woman, and I hate identity politics, but it's really powerful, she can also play up the change candidate. That works in her favor.

The problem with Hillary Clinton is always going to be Hillary Clinton: the baggage that comes with being a Clinton. Whether she's effectively gotten past that or not is really not up to her. It's up to voters to decide whether they want to deal in all of the drama that constantly surrounds the Clintons, no matter where they go. Are they going to get past that? Do they think that's in the past and back in the 90s, or has it been resurrected by Anthony Weiner and others? That's going to be her problem in the next two or three years.

BLITZER: Has she suffered as far as her own political future is concerned by Anthony Weiner, Stephanie?

CUTTER: You know, I honestly don't think so. I know there's a lot of commentary about that. I think there's very little that could be introduced in the conversation right now about Hillary Clinton that people don't know. And if they've made a decision on her based on what's happened in the past, they've already made that decision. They don't need Anthony Weiner to tip the scales for them.

So no, I don't think that Hillary's been harmed by that. I think they probably want that conversation to go away for personal reasons and political reasons, but I don't think it's tipping the scales one way or the other for her.

BLITZER: Stephanie, stand by. S.E., stand by as well. We have more to discuss, including North Carolina. It now has a new voter identification law, and it's sparking fury out there -- from Hillary Clinton, by the way, among others.

And an astronaut's wife tells us she watched in mission control as her husband almost drowned in space when water started filling his helmet. That's coming up as well.

(COMMERICAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As Hillary Clinton steps back into the political spotlight, she's also stepping into the highly charged debate over race, which lately centers around Republican-led moves to require voter identification.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention. Legislators in North Carolina have pushed through a bill that reads like the greatest hits of voter suppression. Restricted early voting, no more same-day registration or extending voting hours to accommodate long lines, stricter photo I.D. requirements that disqualify those issued by colleges or public assistance agencies. And it goes on and on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton spoke shortly after the North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, signed that controversial voter I.D. bill into law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. PAT MCCRORY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo I.D. are using scare tactics. They're more interested in divisive politics than ensuring that no one's vote is disenfranchised by fraudulent ballot. For voters who may not even have a photo I.D., they can get one at no charge at a nearby DMV office throughout the state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. We're back with the new co-hosts of CNN's CROSSFIRE, Stephanie Cutter, S.E. Cupp. What's wrong, Stephanie, with what the governor just said?

CUTTER: Well, you know, he's casting all of these changes under the frame of voter fraud. Now, everybody should be against voter fraud. Unfortunately, there hasn't been voter fraud in North Carolina. There have been -- last year in 2012 with the primaries and the general election, there were 7 million votes cast in that state. And according to their own figures, roughly 112 cases of voter fraud, no cases of voter I.D. fraud. So, it's virtually a problem that doesn't exist.

So, we have to ask why these changes are actually being made. Now, they're curbing early vote, they're requiring government-issued photo identification, no same-day registration.

Now, let's take a look at how people voted last year. Before election day, more than half of the vote was already in in North Carolina. The majority of that vote was for Barack Obama. Half of the African- American vote voted before Election Day. The majority of student votes happened before Election Day. So, let's again call a spade a spade to use that phrase again, what's actually happening here is trying to curtail the ability for people to vote.

CUPP: No, when we have troops overseas dying for our right to vote in free and fair democratic elections every day -- not a funny issue -- and dying for the rights of other people, then one case of voter fraud should be significant enough to address policy changes. The problem here --

CUTTER: And I don't disagree with that, S.E. --

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: No, no, well, you might not but when Hillary Clinton is calling one side's arguments phantom and phony, we can't have an actual conversation about your legitimate concerns of voter access and our legitimate concerns of voter integrity. We can't have that conversation when one side is calling our concerns phantom.

CUTTER: Well, when one side is trying to create a problem that doesn't exist or trying to solve a problem --

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Again, there you go again! How can we have a conversation when you say our problem doesn't exist?

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: -- bruise or a cut? I mean, they're going to the extreme here. There's nothing wrong with policy changes to solve an actual problem, but this is going to the extreme. Hundreds of thousands of people --

CUPP: You're arguing that we don't have a problem --

CUTTER: Hundreds of thousands of people --

CUPP: How can we have a problem honestly when you are suggesting our concerns don't actually exist? They're phantom? They're like Bigfoot.

CUTTER: S.E., I have a question for you. Don't you think there's at least a hint of what's going on here in terms of voter suppression? Wouldn't you at least concede that? You're preventing hundreds of thousands of people from voting --

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: I've already conceded, Stephanie, that you have legitimate concerns about voter access. We also have legitimate concerns about voter integrity. You won't concede that. Your side calls our side phantom concerns. So, let's either start from a place in the middle where we're both conceding we have legitimate concerns --

CUTTER: OK, do you think what North Carolina has done for roughly 100 cases of voter fraud out of seven million votes --

CUPP: That's 100 too many.

CUTTER: -- accurately and aptly addresses the problem, or do you think it goes too far?

CUPP: Absolutely. That is 100 too many cases of voter fraud.

CUTTER: You think denying hundreds of thousands of people the right to vote, the ability to vote, to get to those hundred cases of voter fraud? You don't think there was any other way to get to those 100 cases of voter fraud? That wasn't even voter I.D. fraud.

CUPP: How would we know? There's so much voter fraud that isn't even reported because your side won't allow for the kind of access to information that it would take to have an open conversation.

CUTTER: Oh, come on. You know what? You should come out on Election Day and look at exactly what happens at these polls, S.E. Because there is so much on both sides regulating how people vote, who's monitoring the votes.

CUPP: You keep saying on both sides, Stephanie, but you also keep saying ours is a problem that doesn't exist.

CUTTER: No, I don't think I said that, S.E. I don't think I said that --

CUPP: You just did.

CUTTER: No, I didn't. There were, what, a hundred cases of voter fraud. According to the North Carolina state government, a hundred cases of voter fraud.

CUPP: So, you can't say it's a problem that doesn't exist.

CUTTER: There are policies in place that will now deny hundreds of thousands of people the ability to vote. That's an extreme solution to a problem.

CUPP: Again, I'm willing to admit that you have legitimate concerns. No one on your side is willing to admit that we have legitimate concerns.

CUTTER: S.E., this not the argument. I don't understand why you're not getting to the heart of the argument.

CUPP: No, but that should be the argument.

CUTTER: Let's talk about the right to vote and the hundreds of thousands of people who will not have that right now because of the policy changes in North Carolina. That's the discussion we should be having.

CUPP: No, that's the discussion you want to have. But there's a bigger discussion that no one wants to talk about.

CUTTER: Well, I think that's the topic that Wolf put out there.

BLITZER: Well, wait a second, let me just ask you this question, Stephnie. Why do you say hundreds of thousands of people won't be allowed to vote? If the governor says it will be very, very simple to get a voter I.D. card -

CUPP: And free!

BLITZER: -- why wouldn't they be allowed to vote?

CUTTER: Well, Wolf, there are hundreds of thousands of people that don't have a government-issued --

BLITZER: But he says you could go to a drugstore and get one for free.

CUTTER: Well, let's see how that gets implemented. It will be very interesting to see how that gets implemented.

CUPP: Why not give it a shot?

CUTTER: WelL, let's give policies that fit the problem a shot.

CUPP: What problem? You don't think there is a problem.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Thank you.

CUTTER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The new "CROSSFIRE", by the way, debuts right here on CNN, September 16th, 6:30 p.m. Eastern only once again on CNN.

Coming up, an astronaut's wife was watching in horror at mission control as her husband almost drown in space. Water started filling his helmet. We'll hear from her. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Truly horrifying moment in space and here on earth as well as an astronaut restaurant on the International Space Station nearly drowned in his helmet with his wife watching from Mission Control. And now she's sharing the unbelievable minute-by-minute details.

Here's Cole Miller with our affiliate KRQE.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLE MILLER, KRQE REPORTER: Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. About a month before the accident.

LUCA PARMITANO, ITALIAN ASTRONAUT (Through Translator): The ace on port of the station are very, very intense.

MILLER: Five weeks later he'd find July 16th to be the most intense. Just ask his wife.

KATHY DILLOW, WIFE OF ITALIAN ASTRONAUT LUCA PARMITANO: I was there. I saw everything live on big screen.

MILLER: She was at Mission Control in Houston when her husband noticed something was wrong while on a space walk outside the International Space Station. His face helmet was filling up with water.

PARMITANO: I see sweat. It's not sweat.

MILLER: A scary sight for his wife, Kathy Dillow, who was born in Albuquerque and raised here until she was 8 years old. Together she and her husband Luca have built a family with 6 and 3-year-old daughters. July 16th they were tens of thousands of miles apart and both helpless.

DILLOW: For me I think all I could think about was my husband and what he was thinking. What he must be thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water is in his eyes now. And it seems to be increasing.

MILLER: Kathy watched as Mission Control cancelled her husband's space walk and his fellow astronauts pulled him inside the space station.

PARMITANO: It's hard to tell but it feels like a lot of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see. Yes. I see it now. Easily.

MILLER: Luca was in danger of drowning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They'll be expediting now the removal of his suit.

MILLER: It took just moments to free him and for both he and his wife to breathe a sigh of relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pulled it off and Luca is safely back inside.

DILLOW: It felt like a lot longer than it was, for sure. Time couldn't go fast enough for me.

MILLER: Cole Miller, KRQE, News 13.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: NASA has appointed a board to investigate the July incident to determine ways to prevent a similar problem in the future.

When we come back, Oprah apologizing after claiming to be a victim of racism at a Swiss boutique. You're going to find out what she says she's sorry for. That's next.

And we also have new details emerging about a key player in the international drama surrounding the NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Oprah Winfrey is now apologizing in the aftermath of an intense media firestorm that erupted after she claimed to be a victim of racism in a posh boutique in Switzerland. It all started after she recounted in an interview asking to see a $38,000 handbag but the shop assistant refused to show it to her because it was, quote, "too expensive." The store immediately got caught up in the frenzy and the manager says it was all one big misunderstanding.

CNN entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner is joining us now. She's been working this story.

What are the latest details, Nischelle?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, I think a point to be made here is that Oprah's not apologizing for talking about what happened to her or she's not even saying that it didn't happen. She seems to be saying that she's sorry everyone is focusing on the specifics of the story and not the point that she was making that even Oprah Winfrey believes she is discriminated against.

Now she said last night that she was just trying to use this incident as an example of the fact that she believes she still experiences racism, just not in overt ways which actually is something that she said to me last week when we sat down as well.

So, Wolf, let's listen to what she said last night at the premiere of Lee Daniels' "The Butler." Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, ACTRESS, "THE BUTLER": I think that incident in Switzerland was just an incident in Switzerland. I'm really sorry that it got blown up. I purposely did not mention the name of the store. I'm sorry that I said it was Switzerland. I was just -- referencing it as an example of being in a place where people don't expect that you would be able to be there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TURNER: Now, you know, the store clerk is also telling her version to a Swiss newspaper, Wolf. She denies that she ever told Oprah that the bag was too expensive for her. She says this was all a misunderstanding.

The clerk is an Italian woman and she's reportedly blaming some of this on maybe some language issues. But she does say that she had a bag in her hand that was the exact same thing as the bag on display. Except that it costs less. It was a different material and she tried to steer Oprah towards that bag.

As for the store, the store clerk claims that the store makes an effort to always respect everyone, treat them with respect. She also says that she offered to resign over this entire thing, Wolf. But her manager stood by her.

BLITZER: Thanks for the latest. Nischelle Turner, reporting, appreciate it.