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The Situation Room

Two Americans Still Missing From Cruise Ship Crash; Gingrich Urges Santorum, Perry To Drop Out; Rick Perry Interview; Salvage or Scrap Costa Concordia?; Perry Stands By Controversial Turkey Comment

Aired January 17, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: The fate of two Americans unknown as the death toll rises four days after the horrific cruise ship crash. We're taking you to their hometown where friends and family are holding out hope they're still alive.

Plus, will this massive ship be salvaged or scrapped once the rescue operation is complete? This is a live picture off the coast of Italy. Experts show our own Brian Todd the dangers involved in making this very complicated decision.

And White House hopeful Rick Perry not backing down from very controversial comments about a key U.S. NATO ally.

You're going to want to see the tough exchange in my interview.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: But first to the horror off the coast of Italy. You're looking at this live and very eerie pictures of that mangled crew ship and the rescue operation now underway. The embattled captain of the ship has just been granted house arrest pending a decision on whether to jail him while his role in the deadly accident is investigated. This comes as five new bodies have been located, bringing the death toll to 11. Another 23 are missing.

Meanwhile, we're getting a shocking new glimpse into what transpired in the moments just after the ship crashed. CNN's senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, is at the scene with the latest on the investigation.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Blasting their way in to the inaccessible parts of the Costa Concordia, the Italian navy is now using explosives to help search this liner. Four days after the ship went aground, the number of dead is rising, and so is the number of missing. Infrared footage from Coast Guard helicopters has been released, showing passengers making their way down rope ladders to board life rafts in the dark.

The stricken ship carried more than 4,000 passengers and crew. On Tuesday, the captain who was at the helm when the disaster occurred appeared at this courthouse in Grosseto. He could be charged with manslaughter carrying a 15-year sentence. Transcripts of his conversation with the port authority just after the ship hit and wait to the impression he failed his passengers.


RIVERS: That conversation, combined with information from computers on board the ship will be central in any future prosecution of Captain Schettino.

Dan Rivers, CNN, on Giglio Island, Italy.


BLITZER: We mentioned there are 23 people missing in the disaster. Among them an American couple, Gerald and Barbara Heil of White Bear Lake, Minnesota. CNNs Ted Rowlands is at a church where family and friends are holding vigil around the clock. Tell us what's happening over there, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Gerry and Barb Heil have really been a fixture at this church, St. Pius Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota for 40 years. They sent their kids to school here. They volunteer here. They're here every day of the week. And tonight, their friends and their family are literally praying for a miracle.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): Friends say Gerry and Barb Heil were excited about their 16-day Italian vacation, which included a cruise and a visit to the Vatican.

DR. LARRY ERICKSON, FRIEND: They've been saving up for this boat in time and energy and money to take this trip. This is one of their once in a lifetime trips, and they were pretty excited about that.

ROWLANDS: Devout Catholics the Heil's are at church nearly every day, attending mass and volunteering. Gerry, who's retired from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture teaches religious education. The Heils were among the group of 29 initially reported missing from the cruise ship disaster in Italy.

DUANE JABAS, FRIEND: It's just so hard to take and put it into words, the emptiness that that so many of us feel.

ROWLANDS: The Heils have four grown children. The family launched these web pages away to update the public with new information as they desperately wait word on their parents. SARAH HEIL, DAUGHTER OF MISSING COUPLE: My home has never traveled much until after my dad retired. So, they've been going a lot of places. And, I was happy for them. They deserve to go on this awesome trip that they had planned.

ROWLANDS: At the church, a 24-hour prayer vigil of hope has been established.

ERICKSON: Hope is a fascinating term. So, we're praying for them, knowing that we can't control the situation. Of course, we want them to come out fine, as we would everybody.


ROWLANDS: Gerry is 69 years old. Barb is 70, Wolf, and although, the facts really don't lend to a lot of optimism here, the people here at church and the family are still holding out hope.

BLITZER: Do they know, Ted, which level in this ship their cabin was? Where they might have been at the time of this disaster?

ROWLANDS: If they do know, they haven't told the media. They've been giving the media information through the website, but they have not spoken openly. So, we haven't been able to ask those types of questions. Quite frankly, I don't know that they do know that.

BLITZER: Our hearts go out to this family, and we're praying for a miracle as well. Thanks very much, Ted, for that.

New questions also emerging about the Miami-based company that owns the Costa luxury cruise lines, shares of Carnival plummeted today while the company says it expects to lose millions of dollars after the crash, and this isn't the first accident the company has suffered. Lisa Sylvester is here. She has the details -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the carnival cruise company actually has actually cruise liners worldwide, carrying about seven million passengers every year. The ships are getting bigger. They're carrying more passengers. The international cruise ship safety record, though, is actually better than the record for commercial aviation. But there have been several notable mishaps in recent years.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The Costa Concordia is own by Carnival, the world's largest passenger ship company. Taking a cruise can be an affordable way to visit multiple countries, but Attorney James Walker who has been involved in litigation against the cruise line industry says there have been an increasing number of accidents and mishaps.

JAMES WALKER, MARITIME LAWYER: If you go back over the past -- just over the past two or three years, you'll see about 15 major groundings, collisions and fires. There've been a number of cruise ship fires in the Carnival fleet. Probably, the most spectacular fire was the fire on the Star Princess. SYLVESTER: The Star Princess in 2006 operated by Carnival and carrying more than 2,600 passengers caught fire. One passenger died and more than 10 injured. The blaze left a blackened hole on the side of the ship. These pictures show another ship, the Carnival Ecstasy, engulfed in flames in 1998, a blaze that began in the crew laundry room.

More recently, in 2010, the Carnival ship, Splendor, lost power after an onboard fire. 3,300 passengers left stranded and forced to dine on spam luncheon meat until the U.S. navy dropped foot. Carnival in a statement said, "Safety is our number one priority, and we have an excellent record of safe operation throughout our company's history. All officers and crew undergo comprehensive regular training, which meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements. Every ship undergoes periodic inspections as mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard."

But cruise ships have grown for mere boats to virtually floating cities, able to accommodate upwards of 3,000 to 4,000 passengers each trip. And more ships are being added to the fleet every year. Jim Staples, maritime consultant, says maybe that's contributing to the problems.

CAPT. JIM STAPLES, MARITIME CONSULTANT: When you start putting 3,300, 3,400 people, that's a lot of people to be responsible for. You might want to start looking at making these ships not so big and having so many people on board them.


SYLVESTER: Carnival's stock is down about 14 percent today on concerns about the cost associated with the crash and worries that people in the short term will stop booking cruises, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very, very much.

CNN's Dan Rivers is joining us now from Italy. Dan, there are reports out there that the ship's captain, who is obviously in deep trouble right now, may have steered closer to the shore so that one of the ship's waiters, a headwaiter, if you will, could actually wave to his family on that small island? What are you hearing about those reports?

RIVERS: Well, that's right. Yes. I mean, we've seen a Facebook post from that headwaiter's mother, I think, it was, sort of talking about how she's looking forward to her son coming back on the island and clearly talking about the fact that the ship is due to pass soon. So, there were links, clear links, between this island and the crew of that ship.

A former captain of the ship, apparently, now has retired on this island and clearly kind of links between the two. There was a habit of the ship coming past and sounding its horn when it did so. From the GPS plots of the previous week when the ship went pasts, it stayed much further out in the channel. On Friday the 13th, when it came past on the night of this frightful accident, the Captain Schettino get started to veer much closer into shore, and that was a fateful decision state prosecutors because, as we now know, they hit that rock. And that's why she ended up listing over on her side behind me.

BLITZER: Experts here in Washington, Dan, have said to me the other fateful decision that the captain made after hitting that rock, he should have just stayed there. He should have just anchored that ship and not moved until they could assess the damage.

By going another mile or so, that making a U-turn, the water was already coming in, and that created that disaster which allowed the ship to tilt and be submerged. What are you hearing about this part of the story?

RIVERS: Well, I mean, this is the contentious part of the story, Wolf, because I think the captain's lawyer -- or the captain would argue that he did this deliberately. Once he hit the rock, he realized they were in a desperate situation.

They were taking water on false (ph), and he realized the only thing he could do to preserve as many of the lives of the passengers as possible was to effectively perform a U-turn behind me and come close to the shore, allow the ship to fall over on the floor shore there so that it wouldn't sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Now, you know, his critics, obviously, would dispute that, but that is the kind of line that his lawyer is putting out, that it was a deliberate maneuver, realizing that they were in such dire straits. And also, the decision to leave the bridge, again, you know, was it because he was thinking of himself in sort of cowardly fashion as his detractors would have us believe?

Or was it because the bridge was leaning so far over, possibly partly flooded with much of the equipment not working that he decided that the best way to coordinate the rescue was from one of the lifeboats just below. These are kind of questions they're going to get into in a subsequent court case if it comes to that.

BLITZER: Yes. The experts here have said to me he should have just anchored that ship, got everyone off, then they could assess the damage. It should never have moved after it hit that rock off the coast of that little island. Dan Rivers on the scene for us doing excellent reporting. We'll check back with you, Dan. Thanks very much.

We're going to have much more on the devastating disaster, including whether the ship can actually be salvaged once rescue operations are over. Our own Brian Todd is investigating. He's getting answers.

And Gloria Borger has a stunning prediction about this election season. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: There's a saying -- let's go to Jack Cafferty first, because he's got that saying -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do have that saying. And the saying is this, Democrats, it's a political saying. Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. And it looks like it's about time for the remaining Republican candidates to fall in line behind the dominant frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

If Romney wins Saturday of South Carolina's primary, and he's ahead there in the polls by pretty good margin, he'll have pulled off a trifecta winning the first three nominating contest in a row, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. And at that point, the other candidates, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, ought to think about packing their bags and going home.

It'd be a fine time for them to go the way of Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Jon Huntsman before them. In case they haven't noticed, Republican voters are, for the most part, supporting Romney, and he's opened up a commanding 23-point lead now in one recent national poll.

It's a new Gallup Poll shows Romney getting 37 percent support from republicans, a 13-point jump. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich come in next at 14, Ron Paul is at 12, Rick Perry at five percent. Pollsters suggest that, historically, the post-New Hampshire leader in national polls has gone on to win the Republican nomination.

Romney is not just leading by more than 20 points, his margin is getting bigger. If the other Republicans choose to stay in the case and continue to beat up on Romney, they're only giving the Democrats and President Obama additional ammunition to use against Romney in the general election.

So, here is the question. If Mitt Romney wins South Carolina Saturday, should the other Republican candidates drop out and then support Romney? Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. You've heard that saying before, haven't you, Wolf?

BLITZER: I certainly have. It's a good saying. Thanks, jack.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now about Mitt Romney. Joining us, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. You got a terrific column on Our viewers should go read it.


BLITZER: Among other things you write this, Gloria, "in his Bain--ish way, Romney looks at his failure in 2008 deconstructed it and decided one important thing, to control the debate, he would look forward, not backward." In other words, has been drawing lessons, has been drawing lessons from his failure to get the Republican nomination in 2008.

BORGER: You know, this is where experience really counts, Wolf. If you look back to 2008 as a campaign did, the wrap on Romney, the difficulties he had where A, was a flip-flopper, and B, his Mormonism. People sort of questioned it, what's it about. He gave a speech about religion, and then they decided that was enough this time around.

They don't need to talk about the Mormonism again, and, they were very, very sensitive to the charges of flip flopping. So, when the health care issue came up, and you know how much Republicans don't like President Obama's healthcare plan, Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts, which contained mandates they knew was going to be a problem.

What did they do? They said, OK, Mitt Romney did not back away from it. He did not flip-flop. He said, I'm defending it for the state of Massachusetts, but it's not good for the federal government, and we ought to repeal Barack Obama's health care plan. Here's where it succeeded, so interesting, Wolf. We did a poll last week, and I looked at some of our internal numbers. The question among Republicans about who is best able to handle healthcare? Guess who won? Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Interesting.

BORGER: Success.

BLITZER: You also say the power of the Tea Party movement, evangelical Christians, appears to have diminished this cycle.

BORGER: Yes. It really has, and I think the key to that is that they didn't get their acts together quickly enough. When you look at the Tea Party folks, they have moved from candidate to candidate to candidate. They haven't coalesced around any particular candidate, and that has, therefore, diminished their influence.

One thing they've done to help Mitt Romney is they have not stood in his way. When you look at Jim DeMint, very important to the Tea Party movement, senator of South Carolina, has not endorsed Mitt Romney, but he hasn't endorsed anyone else either, and that's been a huge favor to him. Same problem with evangelicals. They coalesced around Rick Santorum but about six months --

BLITZER: And you say something stunning has happened.

BORGER: Well, I think, if you take a step back and you look at what's occurring in this campaign, Wolf, this is an anti-government Tea Party, anti-Washington year. And if Mitt Romney becomes the nominee as he's favor to be, you could have two candidates running against each other who are Ivy League educated, pretty much establishment and considered kind of elite and aloof campaigners.

And the pathway to the presidency is directly through the Midwest. And you have to appeal to those populist voters in the Midwest, should be interesting to see how they do it.

BLITZER: He's got to get the nomination first --

BORGER: He does. He does. I said favorite. BLITZER: Thank you.

A voter in South Carolina asked Newt Gingrich if he's ready to drop the gloves.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to bloody his nose, I want to knock him out.


BLITZER: Certainly, he's hoping he won't be in the ring, unless, he wins the Republican Party nomination. Time is running out before the final bell.

And the Costa Concordia shipwreck is certainly a tragedy. It's also a massive challenge. What do you do with a capsized ship that big?


Republican presidential hopeful, Newt Gingrich is turning up the heat on his rivals in South Carolina, now urging Rick Santorum and Rick Perry to bow out of the race with only four days before the state's critical primary. Let's bring in CNNs Joe Johns. He's standing by in South Carolina with the latest -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Newt Gingrich was seeing some good-sized crowds today with a lot of energy, hoping his use of hot button language on the campaign trail would get him some badly needed traction.


JOHNS (voice-over): Some things never change in South Carolina, especially around election time. The uglier the symbolism gets, the better some folks like it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I've been looking for in my candidate is fire in the belly. We've got to bloody Obama's nose.

GINGRICH: I don't want to bloody his nose, I want to knock him out.

JOHNS: This is Newt Gingrich's kind of audience and his kind of talk. Like at the last debate, there's cheering when the former speaker doubles down on his frequently repeated line about Obama being a food stamp president.

GINGRICH: The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.


JOHNS: Applause when Gingrich defense his called for poor kids that clean their schools for money.

GINGRICH: We actually think work is good?

JOHNS: He says he doesn't see this whole focus on work and food stamp as a double-edged sword, though, it's been called coded language and racially insensitive.

GINGRICH: This is a very work-oriented country and there's overwhelming support for the idea of work.

JOHNS: Sure. He's been using welfare to rile people up since he was in the Congress, but the calculation is that in South Carolina with its high unemployment, it's going to play pretty well these days, especially on his home turf.

People you think you're getting a break because you're in the south right now.

GINGRICH: Oh, sure. Look, I think, if you're a Georgia conservative, and now, you're back home, it's a big advantage, I think.

JOHNS: Gingrich also sees the response he's getting as a response to straight talk.

GINGRICH: We have been spent so much baloney by our liberal elites. And we are so sick of people who don't get it. I think people are just grateful to have somebody with the courage to tell the truth.

JOHNS: It's the truth according to Gingrich, though, it doesn't always work when he starts trying to explain the race. Why a guy like Rick Santorum ought to get out of the race. Before you listen to this, remind yourself that numerous values voters and conservatives have thrown their support behind Santorum, and that he essentially tied Mitt Romney for first place in the Iowa caucuses.

GINGRICH: I'm respectful that Rick has every right to run as long as he feels that's what he should do, but from the standpoint of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would, in fact, virtually guarantee victory on Saturday.

JOHNS: Despite what he says, it's still a long way to the winner circle for Gingrich. Skepticism have bounced. Loren Spivack is a nationally known Tea Party activist.

LOREN SPIVACK, TEA PARTY ACTIVIST: He is -- he likes to come up with grand plans for things, which is, unfortunately, more of a socialist tendency than a capitalist tendency.


JOHNS (on-camera): The Gingrich campaign sees that standing ovation he got at the debate last night as a big plus. They've already put together a television ad to promote it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns on the scene for us, thank you.

Rick Perry was once seen as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. Now, he's trying to become politics newest comeback kid. Can the Texas governor rebound or is it time to ride off into the sunset?

And the Costa Concordia was once Italy's largest cruise ship, now it's a massive headache.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What are they going to eventually do with that massive vessel lying on its side off the coat of Italy? I'm Brian Todd in Port Everglade, Florida. We talked to salvaging experts about how to dispose of the Costa Concordia once the rescue operation is complete. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Every hour, we're learning new details about the Costa Concordia disaster. One of the more disturbing reports that passengers were lied to were given misinformation about the cruise ship after it hit rocks. This video was shot by a German passenger obtained by CBS News.

You can hear the warning of an electrical fault and then see the panicked evacuation from the listing vessel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The captain informed me (ph) that due to an electrical fault which is currently until control, we're currently in a blackout, our technicians are working to resolve the situation, and we'll inform you of developments as they occur. Thank you for your attention.



BLITZER: The captain of the Costa Concordia is quickly turning into the villain in this story. The company which owns the cruise ship has already blamed Francesco Schettino for the shipwreck. Today, Schettino appeared in court, where his lawyer defended him, saying the captain's actions after his boat hit a rock saved lives. But there's damning new evidence published by an Italian newspaper of a conversation between the captain and the Coast Guard.


CAPT. FRANCESCO SCHETTINO, COSTA CONCORDIA (through translator): This is Captain Schettino, Commandant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Listen, Schettino, there are people trapped on board. Now, you have to go with your lifeboat and go under the boat stem on the straight side.

There's a ladder there. Get on board the ship and tell me -- tell me how many people there are. Clear? I'm recording this conversation, Captain Schettino.

SCHETTINO: I understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, there is people who are coming down the stem ladder. You must take that ladder in the opposite direction.

Get on board the ship and you tell me how many people there are on board, and what do they have? Clear? You tell me the there are children, women, people with special needs. And you tell me how many there are of each of this category.

Is that clear?

Look, Schettino, you might have been saved from the sea, but I will make sure you go through a very rough time. I will make sure you go through a lot of trouble. Get on board, damn it!

SCHETTINO: I'm going now because there is the other motorboat that has stopped now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You go on board. It is an order. You cannot make any other evaluations.

You have declared abandoning ship. Now I'm in charge. You get on board. Is it clear?

SCHETTINO: Commandant --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you not listening to me?

SCHETTINO: I'm going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call me immediately when you get on board. A rescue officer is there.

SCHETTINO: Where is your rescue officer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My rescue officer is at the stem. Go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are already bodies, Schettino.

SCHETTINO: How many dead bodies are there?

SCHETTINO: I don't know! I know of one. I've heard of one. You are the one to tell me how many there are. Christ!


BLITZER: Wow. A judge decided today that Schettino can remain under house arrest. Prosecutors say the decision left him "speechless."

The Costa Concordia is 950 feet long, more than 114,000 gross tons. It's an understatement to say that removing it won't be easy.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a key question right now is what they're going to do with the Costa Concordia once the rescue operation is complete. That could involve a massive salvage operation. And to find out what that entails, we came here to Port Everglades, Florida, to talk to some experts.


TODD (voice-over): It lies there as a stark symbol of tragedy. Getting that image removed from the consciousness of victims and nearby residents means getting the Costa Concordia physically removed. That job will likely start at a place like this.

FRANK LECKEY, SALVAGE MASTER, RESOLVE MARINE GROUP: Basically, that's the hot tap. This is the drill for the hot tap. It's got a magnet on the bottom. When the diver goes down, puts it on the hull.

TODD: The hot tap, used for siphoning fuel from the hulls of disabled vessels, part of an impressive menu of heavy equipment deployed by the Resolve Marine Group, one of the top ship salvage operations in the U.S.

(on camera): How big a challenge would this be for you guys?

BOB UMBDENSTOCK, DIRECTOR OF PLANNING, RESOLVE MARINE GROUP: It would be as big a challenge as we've ever faced, I think.

TODD (voice-over): Bob Umbdenstock is director of planning at Resolve. He and this firm have been salvaging, sinking and scrapping ships for decades. They've re-floated a cruise ship so it could operate again, sunk an aircraft carrier to turn it into a reef, and pulled the wreckage of the ValuJet plane from the Everglades following a horrific 1996 crash.

UMBDENSTOCK: This boat's on the outside of the hull.

TODD: As we patrol Port Everglades Harbor, Umbdenstock and his colleagues shows us the kinds of tankers and cruise ships they routinely work on. I ask salvage engineer Joseph Farrell what the options are for the Costa Concordia.

JOSEPH FARRELL, SALVAGE ENGINEER, RESOLVE MARINE GROUP: The best option for everybody would be to get it off in one piece, which would be a re-float.

TODD: That, he says, would first mean pumping fuel and water out of the vessel to make it buoyant, then a process called parbuckling, attaching massive stanchions to the ship as leverage and pulling it upright. Then huge tugs could haul the Concordia away to possibly be repaired. But salvage teams first have to assess whether it can be repaired.

(on camera): The experts at Resolve say just making the initial assessment might take several days. They say the salvage teams have to get in there, find out where everything is, where the dangers are, and then maybe determine what they can do with that vessel. One expert said you might equate it to walking around someone else's living room in the dark.

(voice-over): These experts say if the cost of salvage plus repair is more than the insured value of the ship, another option is cutting the vessel up into pieces.

FARRELL: Basically a combination of chain-cutting, which is where you actually wrap a large chain around the hull and you put all that tension on it. And the chain literally tears the metal apart. And then in certain places you'll have to go and maybe use explosive.

TODD: Farrell says they could remove the Concordia and sink it to turn it into a reef, but that wouldn't make any money for the cruise line. Repairing it for reuse or cutting it up to sell the metal and other parts, they say, could recoup some of the money lost.


TODD: However they decide to dispose of the Costa Concordia, whether they salvage the ship or scrap it, the experts here at Resolve Maritime (sic) Group say that it's not going to be a quick job or a cheap job. They say it will take months to complete and probably cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us in Port Everglades, Florida.

Rick Perry says Turkey is ruled by Islamic terrorists. The NATO ally, Turkey. Will he back down or double down on that comment? My interview with Rick Perry is next.


BLITZER: Just got a statement in from the chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation, the owner of the Costa Concordia, Micky Arison, saying this: "We are deeply saddened by the reports of additional deaths following the grounding of the Costa Concordia. On behalf of the entire Carnival Corporation and plc team, I offer our heartfelt condolences to all those families affected by this tragedy. Our immediate priority continues to be supporting rescue and recovery efforts and looking after our guests and crew members, along with securing the vessel to ensure there is no environmental impact."

"My senior management team and I have been in continuous contact with the Costa executive team in Italy. And we have our senior level technical experts on the ground to provide additional support for this tragic and highly unusual incident."

"While this is a terribly sad time for everyone involved, we want to recognize the tremendous efforts of Concordia's crew who, along with the Italian Coast Guard and authorities, helped to evacuate more than 4,000 passengers and crew members from the ship in very difficult conditions. And we continue to offer our deep gratitude to the Italian authorities for their support and ongoing efforts."

That statement from Micky Arison, the chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation.

We'll continue to watch this story.

Other news we're watching including presidential politics. The front- runner, Mitt Romney, for the GOP nomination, getting hit from all sides, many of his rivals charging, among other things, he isn't transparent enough.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina, the Republican presidential candidate, the Texas governor, Rick Perry.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wolf, it's good to be with you. Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Thank you.

At the debate last night, you questioned why Mitt Romney was not releasing his income tax returns as you have. He says he will release them in April, as other Republican presidential candidates historically have done.

Is that good enough for you?

PERRY: Well, we'd like to see him do it right now. I mean, obviously, the people of South Carolina, it really doesn't help them.

And my point is, look, in September it's too late to be firing a nominee. We'll have our nominee. As a matter of fact, you know, April, this thing may be close to being over with. Who knows?

But letting people look at how you made your money, what your tax rate is, how you've been functioning -- you know, he's running as an astute businessman, so I would think that his P&L would be a pretty good thing for the people of South Carolina to take a look at and see if he's as good a businessman as he says his is.

BLITZER: He says most of his income nowadays is from investments, and that's taxed at 15 percent. Is there anything wrong with that?

PERRY: No. Look, the issue is not how and what. The real issue is, just let us take a look at it, and the people of South Carolina and America are smart enough to figure out whether it's right or not. Transparency is a big deal. It's the reason I let my income tax be public for decades now.

BLITZER: Because you were criticized when you released your income tax return for double dipping, getting a second salary, if you will, even as a full-time employee of the state of Texas. So you've heard that criticism?

PERRY: Oh, yes, sir, and it's the same criticism I guess that someone would give a veteran who served 20 years and then would be working for the government. You earn it, and -- you know, the bible says that you're worse than an infidel if you don't take care of your family. So I earned my retirement and continue to earn my salary as well. So I don't have a problem in the world with that.

BLITZER: Did you hear your fellow Texan Karl Rove criticize you on "The Today Show" on that specific issue, double dipping?

PERRY: Oh, no, but Karl is Karl. And I frankly don't pay a lot of attention to that. I'm focused on South Carolina. They're the people that I'm most interested in today.

BLITZER: You caused a stir at the debate last night when you spoke about Turkey. And I'll play the clip for those who did not hear what you said about Turkey. Listen to this.


PERRY: Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceived to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then, yes, not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.


BLITZER: All right. The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement today. In part -- I'll read it to you -- they said, "Turkey became a member of NATO when the governor was just 2 years old. Turkey has been among the front line countries in the fight against terrorism. The United States has no time to lose with such candidates who do not even know America's allies."

Did you misspeak last night? Are you ready to revise your comments?

PERRY: Not at all. A country that allowed 140 to 160 honor killings in 2011, I will tell you that is not a country that America wants to be associating with. A country that referred to the Israel flotilla attack as an act of war, I mean, this is a country that's becoming more and more aggressive to a true American ally in that area, and that is Israel.

So the idea that Erdogan's regime has somehow or another earned our respect is not correct. And I think -- you know, my wife works for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. And it's these types of activities, particularly against women, that is from -- I lived in Turkey in the '70s. I visited there in the '80s, and again back in the 2000s. So the idea this country has moved from its pro-Western stance that (INAUDIBLE) into today, where, you know, I will tell you, I don't think Americans want their foreign aid going to a country that allows for honor killings of women. And that is a real issue that we need to deal with as the United States and our foreign aid.

From my perspective, Turkey hasn't earned our trust when they're doing that to their own citizens. BLITZER: But the U.S. barely provides any military or economic assistance to Turkey right now. Their economy is pretty good. But on this specific issue of Erdogan and the other Turkish leaders right now, you say they are, in your words, Islamic terrorists? Are you really saying that?

PERRY: I said that if they are treating their citizens that way, that they approach that terminology. I mean, when you allow for honor killings, Wolf -- I mean, I hope you're not defending honor killings as an appropriate act in any country, much less a country that we send foreign aid to. And we do send foreign aid to that country. I think some $4 billion. That's not just a drop in the bucket.

BLITZER: Four billion dollars in this fiscal year? Is that what you're saying?

PERRY: No, $4 billion in the last few years, and I think $7 billion on the military side of things. But the fact is, if we send any money to a country -- Wolf, let me ask you, are you sitting here and defending the act of honor killing?

BLITZER: No, of course I'm not. That's horrible and disgusting, and people who do that should be punished.

PERRY: Absolutely. And that's the point.

BLITZER: But I believe the Turkish government isn't defending it, either. It happens in Turkey, it happens in Egypt, it happens in a lot of Islamic countries, but they're not supporting that. No one defends that except for Islamic extremists.

PERRY: And that is the reason -- that is the reason that I've called for going to zero on this foreign aid to these countries that -- you know, the idea that we've got U.S. dollars going into countries that allow these types of atrocities to occur -- and it's my understanding as well that women who go to the state for protection are not getting those protections. So this is a country that's got some explaining to do to the United States.

BLITZER: So you would want to see Turkey no longer a member of NATO? Is that what you're saying?

PERRY: I think we need the conversation with them.

Listen, if they want to be our ally -- I will tell you, myself, and I think a lot of Americans, as we look at countries like Pakistan, like Turkey, that, on one hand, they want to send us the money, we want your money, but then their activities are either anti-American or they're committing atrocities against their own people, I mean, is that the kind of people we want to be siding with? I mean, I understand it's a complicated world out there, but to sit back and to accept these things, Americans are ready for some strong language and some strong actions.

This president that we've got today has such a muddled foreign policy. I think one of the reasons you see the Middle East in such an uproar is because America is not injecting itself, and we're not putting our interests and, for that matter, the interests of American people into these countries.

So, I don't have a problem at all with what I said. And I think Turkey has got to decide whether they want to be a country that projects those Western values that America is all about.

BLITZER: One final question. How are you going to do on Saturday night?

PERRY: The best we can. We're making lots of stops, and the crowds are big and they're enthusiastic. And Lord willing, we'll do well and continue on.

BLITZER: Good luck, Governor. We'll see you on the campaign trail.

PERRY: Wolf, we'll see you out there. Godspeed.


BLITZER: And Jack Cafferty is coming up next.


BLITZER: Let's get back to Jack and "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf.

If Mitt Romney wins South Carolina Saturday, should the other Republican candidates drop out and support him?

Jim in Denver writes, "They probably should, but they won't because the circus will continue due to the 'anybody but Romney' drive by the ultra-conservative Christian part of the Republican Party. And their guy is Rick Santorum, and he won't give up until after the convention is over."

Bill writes, "Certainly not. States that are late in the order of primary electioneering are tired of not having any effective say in the nominating process. Schedule a single primary Election Day for everyone and let the chips fall where they may."

"Many times I would have preferred to vote for candidates who have elected to hang up their shoes early. Rework the entire process, pick a day, and vote. If it's good enough for the final decision, it should be enough for the primaries, too."

Chris writes, "No. If there's one lesson we can take away from the race so far, it's that the majority of Republicans aren't enthusiastic about Romney. They should be given every chance to choose someone else."

"Rick Perry should drop out since he's done so poorly in all the primaries so far, and Santorum should also drop out. His support in Iowa won't be duplicated. For now, I think Romney and Newt should go forward, both trying to win the establishment. Ron Paul should stay in the race as an alternative, offering a different approach."

Doug writes, "Ron Paul ought to stay in as an alternative. He also is running neck and neck with Obama according to a recent national poll. If I was Obama and I saw I was running neck and neck with Ron Paul, I would fire my entire campaign staff."

"Who else is left? Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. God bless them. Maybe they'll team up as a third-party duo, Rick and Rick. Go team."

David on Facebook says, "Are we going to let three states decide who the nominee is?"

And Steve writes, "No way. In 1984, Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson chased Walter Mondale all the way to the convention and made him a much stronger candidate going into -- never mind."

If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page. Or not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Jeanne Moos is next.


BLITZER: Herman Cain is out but could still get some votes. Jeanne Moos explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How did a comedian and a pizza CEO-turned-politician become one?

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Anybody who shares my values can show it by voting for Herman Cain.

MOOS: It's the latest Stephen Colbert caper, even more cunning than his decision to explore his own possible candidacy.

COLBERT: -- for the president of the United States of South Carolina. I'm doing it!

MOOS: But how to get on the ballot?

(on camera): Problem: It's too late for Stephen Colbert to get on the South Carolina ballot, and write-ins aren't allowed. Solution: Herman Cain is already on the ballot, though he's dropped out of the race.

(voice-over): So take his place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is one name on the ballot that stands for true Americanimity: Herman Cain.

MOOS: Colbert's super PAC produced a "Vote Herman Cain" commercial, and Colbert used his show to exhort fans and young people of the Internet to --

COLBERT: Tell the world how much you love Herman Cain.

MOOS: South Carolina has an open primary, so Democrats and Independents could vote for Cain. And Colbert-friendly Web sites were buzzing with Colbert-Cain fever.

So, could the fake commentator impact South Carolina's real primary?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The short answer is, no. We may see a bump. But I think the serious point is that sometimes it takes satire to tell the truth in a really spin-saturated world.

MOOS: Colbert got a chilly reception when he appeared on video at what was billed as a cafe mom town hall --


MOOS: -- full of South Carolinian mothers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you want him to run? Applaud.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you don't want him to run? Applaud.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's rude. He mocks.

MOOS: But another mom said she never knew what a super PAC was until she watched "The Colbert Report" satirizing super PACs.

For the uninitiated, comedians like Colbert --

AVLON: They become the gateway drug to politics.

MOOS: We wondered what Herman Cain thinks about Colbert stealing his electoral identity, but he didn't return our calls.

Remember what Cain said the day he dropped out of the presidential race?

HERMAN CAIN (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not going to be silenced and I'm not going away!

MOOS: He's not going away if Stephen Colbert can help it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Send them a message. Vote Herman Cain.

MOOS: May the best smile win. Make that the slowest.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.