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The Situation Room

Romney: Repeal "Obamacare" Now; Showdown on Health Care Reform; Syria's Slaughter: The Youngest Victims; Tax Refunds Stolen By The Billions; NFL Makes An Example Of New Orleans; New Clue In Amelia Earhart Mystery; Catherine's First Speech As Duchess; Putting Out A Fire In A Dress

Aired March 24, 2012 - 18:00   ET



Mitt Romney tries to prove his vision of health care is different than President Obama's. But Romney's Republican rivals aren't buying it.

Also, the U.S. Supreme Court is just days away from hearing a case that could change medical coverage for millions of Americans and possibly change the presidential race.

And gripping new video of Syria's slaughter, showing how the youngest victims are living and dying.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney is wrapping up a rather tough week of being hammered and belittled by his Republican opponents. But he's trying to keep his sights on President Obama and an issue that's problematic for both of them -- health care. The Republican is taking some of his toughest shots yet at the controversial reform law the president signed into law two years ago exactly this week.

Let's bring in our senior correspondent Joe Johns working this story for us.

It's going to be a huge issue not only in the days to come but in the weeks and months to come I have no doubt.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's true. And he may be the front-runner, but Mitt Romney has had a very tough week, as you said. If you look at the polls just starting with the polls, it's pretty clear that he's been running in double digits behind Rick Santorum in the state of Louisiana in the run-up to the primary.

Then, there is that other problem, health care. A pretty big problem in fact because not on is this the two-year anniversary of the Obama health care plan, next week, the United States Supreme Court is also expected to hold hearings on the Obama health care plan. Mitt Romney has been campaigning against it, saying it ought to be repealed, it ought to be replaced. The problem is when he was the governor of the state of Massachusetts, he put something in that was very similar.

Now, let's listen to how Mitt Romney has been framing the attack.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This presidency has been a failure. And at the centerpiece of this failure is this piece of legislation back here, Obamacare. And I say that for many reasons. One, you note that the White House is not celebrating Obamacare today. They don't have any big ceremony going on, the president's not giving speeches on Obamacare and that's for a reason.

Most Americans want to get rid of it and we're among those Americans. I want to get rid of it, too.


JOHNS: The main issue is that Romney health care plan essentially included the so-called individual mandate that compels citizens to pay for health insurance which the Obama health care plan also has. Romney makes the case, interestingly enough and I think this is the issue, that states have the power to do this, but the federal government doesn't. And if you talk to some, you know, for example, constitutional law experts, they'll tell you that's the kind of thing that might fly in a courtroom but it's very hard to make that case in public.

So, the opponents of Mitt Romney have been hitting him quite hard on this. We expect these kinds of back-and-forth arguments to continue at least into the middle of next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Joe, thanks very much.

I want to dig a little bit deeper into this important subject with our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," and our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The National Journal".

Is the president on the second anniversary of signing the health care reform law, is he running away from it? Is he embarrassed by it? Is it a political loser for him?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not a loser, but it's not a wholesale winner. I mean, let's put it that way. They put a Web site up with people that have been helped by things like allowing your child -- unemployed child to stay on your insurance for longer, children can't be denied insurance for preexisting conditions, et cetera. So, they're putting all that up there.

So, it's not -- I mean, I think he's treating it kind of like what it is, which is a mixed bag for both sides.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's a lot of ambivalence, Wolf, in the polling about it. Individual aspects, as Candy said, continue to be popular. The core idea that individuals should have to buy health insurance remains unpopular. And if you ask: is it good for the country? On the good day, the Democrats get to a 50/50 split. If you ask: is it good for me and my family? They rarely get more than a third of Americazns saying it's personally good for them.

CROWLEY: And can we just add in that what I so love about this campaign is, it is true that Mitt Romney installed a mandate -- personal mandate in Massachusetts. President Obama, when he was candidate Obama campaigned against it.

BROWNSTEIN: You know --

CROWLEY: So, it's like this crazy -- I mean, it will be interesting to see each other debate it.

BROWNSTEIN: The genealogy of this really is fascinating on American politics. The individual mandate was first promoted by conservatives, the Heritage Foundation, and then Bob Dole and John Chafee, as the alternative to Bill and Newt Gingrich -- as the alternative to Bill and Hillary Clinton's health care plan. Over 20 Republican senators endorsed a bill with an individual mandate at the Senate.

It then disappeared from American politics for a decade. It was excavated by Mitt Romney in his op-ed piece in the "Boston Globe" in the fall of 2004. He passed it. Arnold Schwarzenegger adopted it. Hillary Clinton adopted it in September 2007 as --


BROWNSTEIN: And as Candy points out and Wolf points out, Barack Obama opposed it as a candidate, was convinced when he came into office primarily by the insurance industry that he needed this to make the bill work. And now, I think Democrats are looking for ways to try to make the bill work if, in fact, the Supreme Court pulls this out without striking down the whole legislation.

BLITZER: We have more on this part of the story coming up shortly.

But I want to talk about another huge story this week that really got going, the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, in Sanford, Florida.

On Friday, the president weighed in and said this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.


BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidates are weighing in. They want an investigation. Is there going to be political fallout from what happened done in Florida on the campaign trail do you think?

CROWLEY: You know, not at this moment do I see it. I mean, I think it depends -- I mean, think now the Republicans have all sort of have their statement is they need to, you know, they have every right to demand equal justice here. There has to be an investigation into this, and, you know, the justice system has to be blind.

So I think that's about as far as you're going to get them on this. It's an ongoing case. I don't see it becoming a boon of contention on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: Some on the left brought out the whole issue of guns, which is always potential a hot button issue.

CROWLEY: Doesn't work well for Democrats.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, you know, first of all, this is fraught ground for the president. The last time he got involved in a case like this with Henry Louis Gates at Harvard, you know, it was unsteady ground for him.

And there is the underlying reality. He is the first president ever to win the White House while losing white voters by double digits. So, there's still kind of that question out there.

And the gun issue has been one that they have generally shied away from, you know, almost obsessively so. I mean, they just do not want to go there. You know, it's not that simple on the gun issue either. I mean, there are portions of the Democratic constituency that are for a more activist posture, but you've never been able to sell that to this White House.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, as usual, thank you.

Candy, we'll see you Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION". Thanks as well.

Next week, as we've been talking about, the United States Supreme Court will hear the challenge to the health care reform law. It's a huge issue. It's certainly going to dominate a lot of the headlines next week as the Supreme Court justices consider various arguments.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I know you've been doing a lot of work on this, Kate.

And set the scene for us. This is going to cause quite a little buzz, not only next week but in June or whenever there's a final decision.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is -- in short, this is going to be huge. This is an historic, precedent-making case. And it really is something everyone needs to pay attention to. You may recall, the health care law, it's about 2,700 pages, more than 450 provisions. It impacts every American. And that's really why it's hard to overstate just how high the stakes are in this upcoming Supreme Court fight.


OBAMA: We are done.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): March 23rd, 2010, President Obama signed into law the signature achievement of his presidency, the Affordable Care Act -- the landmark and controversial health care overhaul.

OBAMA: After all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America.

CROWD: Kill the bill! Kill the bill!

BOLDUAN: Within hours, states across the country filed lawsuits challenging the law.

PAM BONDI, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is about liberty. It's not just about health care.

BOLDUAN: Led by Florida, 26 states argued the law central provision is unconstitutional, the so-called individual mandate. It requires almost every American to purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.

Opponents say the Constitution's Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power to force individuals to purchase a commercial product like health insurance they may not need or want.

Paul Clement is arguing on behalf of the states before the Supreme Court.

PAUL CLEMENT, ATTORNEY FOR STATES CHALLENGING LAW: These issues are really central to whether the federal government can really regulate anything it wants to.

BOLDUAN: The government defends the sweeping reforms, arguing medical care is not a choice, that every American will need health care at some point in their lives.

They also say that tens of millions of uninsured Americans are costing everyone else more, $43 billion in uncompensated cost in 2008 alone according to government figures.

ELIZABETH WYDRA, CONSTITUTIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY CENTER: No one is saying that there's a right to free load off a neighbor when you decide not choose health insurance.

BOLDUAN: The stakes only grow larger with the Supreme Court taking the case months before an election. ROMNEY: If I'm president we're getting rid of Obamacare and returning to freedom.

BOLDUAN: And the election year blockbuster has again turned the spotlight on the justices themselves.


BOLDUAN: As with the Bush versus Gore case in 2000, will the justices be criticized for letting politics creep in the courtroom?

THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, SCOTUSBLOG.COM PUBLISHER: The health care cases have huge political overtones. Obviously, I think the justices will put them to the side. The legal stakes are so high that I don't think they'll pay attention that much if at all to the fact that it's occurring in election cycle. They've just got to get the case right.


BOLDUAN: What we're really talking about here is four separate issues being argued for six hours over three days. That is very rare. That rarely happens. And as for how this will shake out -- well, the justices obviously they can do anything they want. They have a lot of options, rule narrowly on just the facts of this case or offer a sweeping road map on what power Congress and the president really should have going forward.

But even after these marathon public sessions, Wolf, you've even noted, we're still not going to get a final decision for a while. It wouldn't come likely until three months, sometime around the time of June will we get a final ruling from the justices and everyone should be watching for that.

BLITZER: And we should be. And it will potentially either way, it will be a hot button issue on the campaign trail.

BOLDUAN: Oh, absolutely.

BLITZER: You'll be listening to all the arguments next week?

BOLDUAN: We'll be in there for all six hours.

BLITZER: I'm going to talk to you many times.

BOLDUAN: I promise that.

BLITZER: Kate, thanks very much.

The New Orleans Saints pay a heavy price to paid players to actually injure their opponents.

And the youngest victims of the slaughter in Syria. We have a shocking report the toll the regime's brutal crackdown is taking among the children.

And a warning that Iran's A-team of terrorists have hundreds, maybe thousands of agents right here in the United States possibly ready to attack.


BLITZER: Terrifying new reason to be worried about U.S. tensions with Iran. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and other U.S. officials are now warning that Iran has a large terrorist-trained force right in the United States. They say there may be hundreds, even thousands of Hezbollah agents on American soil who could be ready and willing to attack.

Brian Todd has been investigation for us.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very startling testimony in Congress on this, Wolf. Current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials saying that many of Hezbollah's operatives in the U.S. have been here for years, blending in, making a lot of money -- a perfect resource for Iran if it's attacked and wants a quick counterstrike on the U.S. homeland.


TODD (voice-over): It's called Iran's A-team of terrorism -- Hezbollah, a militant group that's killed more Americans than any other except al Qaeda. With concerns about how Iran might retaliate if Israel bombs its nuclear installations, current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials tell Congress they've got new worries that Iran can tap into Hezbollah sympathizers and operatives who've been in the U.S. for years, lying low, and have them strike on U.S. soil.

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: Their sophistication, presence, and deep entrenchment in American society and business has a potential to provide a platform to support a more lethal capability that should be of concern to all Americans.

TODD: The experts told a House panel Hezbollah could have hundreds of operatives inside the U.S. in dozens of cities. They say the operatives take part in legitimate businesses but also engage in drug running, cigarette smuggling, and money laundering using fronts like restaurants.

One recent case, which CNN reported on, showed their sophistication.

MICHAEL BRAUN, FORMER DEA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: There were over 70 used car dealerships that were identified as part of the money laundering scheme for laundering the hundreds of millions of dollars of cocaine-generated revenue, much of which was, you know, was tracked back to Hezbollah.

TODD: These experts say if provoked, Iran and Hezbollah have the capability of hatching a plot at any moment inside the U.S.

I spoke with former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, a CNN contributor, about that. (on-camera): That doesn't necessarily translate into an attack on the U.S. homeland, right?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Correct. Correct. It means that they could do it if they wanted to, but there's really no good reason to do it, and many reasons from their point of view not to do it.

TODD: Why not?

FUENTES: One of them is the United States is a cash cow for them. Why kill it? Why cut off the funding stream that they've gotten very good at, conducting criminal activity here, smuggling activities, other schemes and scams.


TODD: One expert pointed out that Hezbollah has never carried out an attack inside the United States but the FBI says they have staked out potential targets in this country, Wolf.

BLITZER: What kind of evidence do U.S. officials have to potentially build cases against these alleged Hezbollah operatives in the United States?

TODD: One federal law enforcement official says cases include things like, you know, illicit fundraising, attempts to buy weapons, not actual plots. But this is what officials are afraid of.

It's their infrastructure inside the United States. They have people inside who know how to work the financial system, who have been here for work. Those are the people they're worried about, the infrastructure.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much -- Brian Todd reporting.

The youngest victims of the slaughter in Syria. A closer look at the nightmare countless children are living under right now.

Plus, the scope and strategy of the Syrian regime. We're going to show what new satellite images are revealing.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: As the Syrian military expands its bombardments of cities and towns across the country, the indiscriminate shelling is causing heavy civilian casualties, including children. There's little or no medical care availability in so many times part of the country.

CNN's Arwa Damon reports on the latest video emerging from the neighborhood bearing the brunt of the assault. We must caution you that parts of Arwa's report are quite graphic and disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Doctors try in vain to revive this little boy, identified as Amran Edris (ph). He has a head injury.

"Is this child part of the armed gang of Bashar al-Assad?" the doctor asks angrily. "Is this the response to Kofi Annan and calls for peace?"

It's an utterly hopeless effort. The life drains from Amran's body.

Other children shriek in pain.

A little girl with a leg wound cries out for her father. Lying next to her, another child. She has a wound to her arm that is too gruesome to show. Most of it has been blown off.

She says, "I just want to go home, have dinner and watch TV." She says she was playing with three other children when an artillery round struck.

These are scenes from the town of Pusaik (ph), close to the Syrian- Lebanese border, over the weekend. Earlier this month, video obtained by CNN showed rebel fighters in and around the town with meager and faulty weapons; and a population on edge knowing a full-on assault was imminent, but with nowhere to go.

Government forces now seem to have temporarily been hold back, allowing for activists to film images of the aftermath, which they then post to YouTube, not just in Pusaik, but in some parts of the city of Homs itself.

This boy is from the neighborhood of Rifan (ph). He says his name is Abdallah (ph). He was in a mosque when the soldiers came in. Not even the children were spared.

"They lined us up against a wall and then they started shooting. There were 15 of us. Some were my relatives, some were my friends," he says. Some were even younger than he.

For days, Rifan was under heavy shelling. Army raids drove rebel fighters out. Rescue teams were unable to enter. When they finally did, they say the streets were littered with corpses.

Abu Homsi was there.

"There were bodies that were burnt completely, as if someone had poured gasoline on them and set them on fire," he recalls. "I saw five slaughtered children. They slashed their eyes and faces with knives."

Among the piles of dead, evidence of dozens of wounded children. Abu Fedaa was also part of the rescue mission.

"They committed a big massacre. We found 32 children, many with their four fingers cut off, gunshot wounds," he says. "I mean, they were young, all under 15 years of age," he continues. This boy was one of them, with a gunshot wound to the chest. Both his tiny hands bandaged.

More victims of violence no one can comprehend and no one seems able to stop.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.


BLITZER: As Syrian security forces pound away at towns and cities, we have new satellite pictures that show the scope and the strategy of President Bashar al Assad's army.

CNN's Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at all of this for us.

Tom, what are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you noted, with Arwa and some people being able to get in there, a little bit, one thing they have not been able to do is track the movement of the army around places like this.

These new images from Digital Globe and the U.S. government give us an idea of what's been happening.

For example, in this picture taken not really more than a few days ago, you can see newly arrived tanks gathered right in here and you can see armored vehicles gathered here and over in here. If we take this image and push it aside, we can bring up another of these new images.

It's telling because it's one of the few ways we can see what they're doing in that area. In this image, you see the same sort of thing. You can see newly arrived armor vehicles in here and over here. You can see them clustered right along that line and then you see some more up in here and up in here.

As you look through pictures like this, Wolf, it gives you an idea of how close they are in situations like this where you have some newly arrived vehicles that have been spotted in areas like this. This is some different units. This is only about a mile and a half from that location to the population over here.

Why does that matter? It matters because of the type of weapons and vehicles we're talking about here, Wolf. For example, when we talk about infantry fighting vehicles, armored vehicles, they look like these. These are actual pictures of Syrian vehicles here. They can carry people and they can carry weapons. And this has a shelling range of about a mile and a half. So, as you know from the last picture plenty close to strike from outside where they're really in almost no danger from those fighters that Arwa showed us with very few weapons and small ones.

More -- look at this -- T-72 tanks. These are Soviet-made tanks. The Syrians have about 4,700 tanks overall, about 1,700 of them are newer versions of T-72 or T-72M tanks, shelling range of almost two miles and obviously against rebel forces like this or protesting forces almost invulnerable. They can be attacked, but it's very, very hard. And they can pound away.

And then biggest -- look at this -- artillery. We talked about artillery in that last picture there, these have a shelling range of 14 miles. And although a lot the Syrian artillery is old, it still works very well and they have a lot of it. That's why we continue to see week after week after week, this pounding away at the centers of these towns, simply because they can park all of these vehicles at those distances outside, like we can now see in the satellite images and just hit again and again and again and again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story.

All right. Thanks very much. The killing continues.

It's one of the harshest penalties ever doled out in the NFL. You're going to see why one sports analyst calls what happens to the New Orleans Saints historic. An attack scam so big the IRS can't even keep track of it.

And a picture sparks a new effort to solve the 75-year-old mystery of the female trail blazer Amelia Earhart.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Imagine filing your income taxes only to be told that someone else already has done it and received your refund. It's fraud so big even the IRS doesn't know how much money is at stake. Law enforcement says it could be in the billions of dollars.

For the first time in our exclusive investigation, will you see the fraud unfold in Florida where in some neighborhoods it's become a way of life. Here's CNN Randi Kaye.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a known gang member.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands on the car.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've just rolled up on what police say is evidence of one of the biggest and easiest frauds in America to pull off, a crime hidden on a piece of plastic, a debit card.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got the cards. He just purchased them it looks like.

KAYE: Those debit cards, police say, are used to take advantage of fast tax refunds from the IRS. Here's how it works. The thieves are stealing those refunds by stealing people's Social Security numbers from insiders at hospitals, doctor's offices, even car dealerships, any place where you have to give your personal information. They then use the stolen information to go online and file a tax return making up the income the person earned for the year. The IRS then puts the money on a debit card purchased by the thieves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is what they're buying. See, green dot money cards, Target. He went to Target and spent 600 bucks and he paid with a debit card.

KAYE (on camera): I'm curious what you do for work that you drive such a fancy car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing about that.

KAYE: You don't know nothing about that? Can you tell me if you know anything about identity theft happening around here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing about nothing.

KAYE: Are you involved in any of the tax fraud?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know nothing about nothing.

KAYE (voice-over): Detectives Craig Catlin and Rocky Festa of the North Miami Beach Florida Police Department will later charge him with buying these gift cards with stolen tax return money.

(on camera): How easy is it to do this?

DETECTIVE CRAIG CATLIN, NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA POLICE DEPARTMENT: The fraudulent refunds are so easy it's like the federal government putting crack cocaine in vending machines. It's that easy.

KAYE (voice-over): The criminals cash in those debit cards as quickly as possible showing off their riches with expensive luxury cars. They flaunt fancy watches, diamond pendants worth $55,000, and other jewelry.

This one inscribed with the words money hungry. Just a few hundred miles north up in Tampa, police estimate the fraud approaches a staggering half billion dollars in the last two years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's over $2,000 in cash.

KAYE: Just one example of what is happening nationwide. Police Chief Jane Castor says the IRS efforts to curtail it aren't working.

POLICE CHIEF JANE CASTOR, TAMPLA, FLORIDA POLICE DEPARTMENT: I don't think that I have ever seen this magnitude of fraud that is just wide open. It's wide open. It just doesn't seem to be much being done about it.

KAYE: For its part, the IRS identified $6.5 billion in tax refund fraud related to identity theft last year.

CASTOR: I'd like to hear the other side of that equation too. An estimation of how much got through. KAYE: That's what we wanted to know too. Just how much fraud has gone undetected? After weeks of asking, the IRS' Deputy Commissioner Beth Tucker couldn't give us an answer.

(on camera): Just to be clear. You can tell us how much has been caught, but the IRS can't say how much of this fraudulent money has ended up in criminals' hands.

BETH TUCKER, IRS DEPUTY COMMISSIONER: We process 140 million tax returns at IRS on a given year. We're doing a balancing act. Because one thing we want to do is get refunds out to the hands of legitimate taxpayers as quickly as possible and with as little intrusion. But for the actual size of the problem, we probably need to get back to you with a number.

KAYE (voice-over): Law enforcement tells us there's a simple solution to curbing much of the fraud. Don't allow the refunds to be put on debit cards.

(on camera): Why hasn't the IRS stopped that?

TUCKER: Not every taxpayer has a bank account. So the debit cards that are issued by a third party provider is a legitimate way for taxpayers to get their refund.


BLITZER: And Randi is joining us now. Randi, anything further on the guy who was arrested in your story? Is he still out on the streets? What's going on?

KAYE: He's actually in jail, Wolf. He's awaiting a court date and he still has not entered a plea to the marijuana possession or the grand theft. It's still not clear even how he got that victim's personal information.

We know that her purse had been stolen so her personal information was out there, but we still don't know how it ended up in his hands.

BLITZER: And what about all the victims out there? How do they get their refunds?

KAYE: It is a nightmare. I mean, the burden is on the victim to prove that they were a victim of identity them and that someone else filed a tax return in their name.

It can take them up to a year to get their refund back. So it's really a nightmare for them. I mean, the good news is that they do eventually get their refund, but the IRS ends up paying twice, once to the fraudster and once to the victim later on.

BLITZER: What a story. Randi, thanks very much for investigating for us. CNN will have much more on this amazing refund robbery investigation this coming Sunday night 8 p.m. Eastern as part of a "CNN Presents" hour. When we learned that the New Orleans Saints players were actually being paid to injure other players, we knew the league would come down hard. But the penalties the NFL are handing down to the Saints organization are unprecedented. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Big games, big hits, big skin. NFL players rewarded not only for big plays, but for intentionally trying to seriously injure their opponents.

An NFL investigation recently found the New Orleans Saints under the leadership of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had a wind ranging bounty system in place from 2009 until just last year.

"Sports Illustrated's" Peter King has been following this story closely.

(on camera): Do you think all of this was driven by Gregg Williams?

PETER KING, SENIOR WRITER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": I think Gregg Williams spurred a lot of it on, but I also think he had to have players on his defense who were very willing to cooperate and very willing to let this culture exist.

I mean, Sean Payton, the head coach and Mickey Loomis, the general manager, have admitted and they're right, they lost institutional control of the defensive side of the ball. And so, you know, I think they're to blame.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The Saints' head hunting reportedly reached a fever pitch, when one player, linebacker Jonathan Vilma bid $10,000 of his own money to take out Brett Favre in the 2010 NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings.

(on camera): is this far and above beyond anything you've ever heard of in the NFL when it comes for these pay for performance?

KING: I'll be honest, I've never heard of a team paying money, confirmed, to try to put a guy out of the game.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): While the Saints' sweeping bounty system might be unheard of, former players we spoke to weren't shocked that there was an incentive program going on.

(on camera): Was there a similar bounty program with the Buffalo Bills when you were there under Gregg Williams?

COY WIRE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: What appears to be as a bounty program in New Orleans is different from what I've experienced in Buffalo. In Buffalo we had a pay-for-play, player-driven performance technique. We had a way to motivate each other. We had a pot.

You get fined if you show up late for a meeting. You get fined if you have a mental error during the game and in practice. And the players put money into the pot and from that pot you're also rewarded for positive play, for causing a fumble, for making an interception.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): We reached out to the Bills about Wire's assertion, that there was a player-driven incentive program. The team tells CNN its sticking by a March 3rd statement in which Bill's CEO, Rush Brandon, said we are unaware any type of bounty program occurring during Gregg Williams tenure as our head coach and we would not have tolerated that type of behavior.

(on camera): I keep hearing from a lot of people out there they don't understand what's the big deal?

KING: Because the NFL players pride themselves on being such a fraternity. And when we get together on Sunday, boy, we go at each other's throats but we're all brothers.

I don't know any other fraternity where somebody tries to knock out and break the leg of one of his brothers or do whatever to one of his brothers. It's just it's over the top. It's wrong.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): So wrong in the eyes of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that he's dropped the hammer on the Saints for their bounty system, suspending Head Coach Sean Payton for a year without pay.

He also suspended Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis for eight games this coming season. But Goodell saved the worst punishment for the man at the center of the bounty scandal, former Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, he has been suspended from the league indefinitely effective immediately. Ed Lavandera, CNN, New Orleans.


BLITZER: And Ed is investigating the culture of violence in the NFL in a program that will air also Sunday night right here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern called "Bounty Hunters."

A royal first for Prince Williams' wife. A nervous Duchess of Cambridge makes her first public speech.

And will a new clue help solve one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th Century? We have details of the renewed search for Amelia Earhart.


BLITZER: A new clue is prompting a new effort to solve a 75-year-old mystery, the disappearance of pioneering female flyer Amelia Earhart. The State Department in Washington is getting involved.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is working the story for us. So, Lisa, what is this all about?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, over the years there have been lots of theories of what happened to Amelia Earhart. A new one though may be the best guess yet, that she and her navigator were able to land on the reef (inaudible) in the South Pacific.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Amelia Earhart was attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. She was roughly 20 hours into the trip flying from New Guinea to Howland Island when she and her navigator vanished over the Pacific Ocean.

Now a new clue may solve the decades-ole decades-old mystery. This picture was taken a few months after Earhart disappeared. It's off the Pacific (inaudible) formerly Gardner Island. Ric Gillespie has spent more than 20 years searching for Earhart.

what struck suss that there's something sticking up out of the water over here. This is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that fits right in with the other pieces we had. So I think it's probably the landing gear of her airplane.

RIC GILLESPIE, THE INTERNATIONAL GROUP FOR HISTORIC AIRCRAFT RECOVERY: This is a ship that went aground on the reef in 1929. It was an old wreck then and what struck us is that there's something sticking up out of the water over here.

This is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that fits right in with the other pieces we had. So, yes, I think it's probably the landing gear of her airplane.

SYLVESTER: Forensic imaging specialists say it could be part of her plane's landing gear. And there are more clues. Items common in the 1930s were found on excavation sites on the island.

GILLESPIE: The artifacts we found on the site are bottles from personal care items an American woman of the 1930s would have, parts of a mirror and makeup from a woman's compact.

SYLVESTER: Navy planes searched around the island in the days after she went missing, but found no sign of her aircraft. Gillespie believes most of it had already slipped below the ocean surface.

At a news conference at the State Department, Gillespie who's group recovers historic aircraft announced a high tech deep water search will begin this summer off the Pacific Island using a small robotic submarine.

The U.S. government is lending its support. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she's been captivated with Amelia Earhart since her mother first told her the aviator's story.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: She embodied the spirit of an America coming of age, increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world.

SYLVESTER: Gillespie says the photograph gives them a starting point of where to look.

GILLESPIE: The only thing that we can do is make a best effort to go and search and look and see what we can find. And it's the searching that's important.

SYLVESTER: The search for Earhart has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but the haystack may be a lot smaller now.


SYLVESTER: That expedition trip this summer is privately funded. It will take off from Hawaii. They'll spend 10 days on the site scanning the waters. So fingers crossed, just maybe we'll have some answers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She's quite a pioneer and very courageous female aviator.

SYLVESTER: And a lot of people want to know what happened, how does that story end, Wolf?

BLITZER: Counting on you to solve it. Thanks very much.

All eyes are in Britain's newest royal, the Duchess of Cambridge making her first public speech.

Plus firefighting like we've never seen it before, get this, in drag.


BLITZER: Public appearances are all part of the job when you're a royal. But while the Duchess of Cambridge is no stranger to the cameras, she shied away from actually speaking in public until this week. CNN royal correspondent, Max Foster reports.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The duchess arrived in a $200 dress last worn in public by her mother perhaps a gesture of frugality in an era of austerity. There's also a link to her mother- in-law, as Diana also visited this hospice network.

Inside, the duchess met young children with long-term illnesses. A dream come true for many of them and a moment of respite of their daily struggle. The Tree House hospice in Ipswich is one of only four charities that Catherine has agreed to patron off and then a big test for any young royal.

Her first speech in public. People are used to seeing the duchess, but not hearing her. Some close by said she looked very nervous, but she stuck to the task.

DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM: I'm really sorry that William can't be here today. He would love it here. A view of his that I share is that through team work so much can be achieved. What you have all achieved here is extraordinary. You, as a community, have built a Tree House, a group of people who have heard every aspect to support and help each other.

FOSTER: It wasn't a long speech and she didn't falter making use of long pauses to pace herself in front of a live TV audience and millions. And then another rite of passage, the tree planting and another engagement carried off flawlessly.

There has been a flurry of public appearances by the duchess recently. But this is probably the last we're going to see of her for a while in public.

Prince William is heading home from the Faulklands soon and they will be retiring home to spend some time together. Max Foster, CNN, Ipswich, Eastern England.


BLITZER: Max, thanks very much.

Coming up, Jeanne Moos. Why two firefighters battled a blaze, get this, wearing dresses.


BLITZER: Bad timing for two firemen in Minnesota. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you think fighting a car fire could be a drag, imagine fighting a car fire in drag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is awesome.

MOOS: Two burly firefighters in gowns, Ted Aubart is in the pink.

(on camera): Did you realize you were fighting a fire in a dress?

TED AUBART, SEDAN FIREFIGHTER (via telephone): It kind of dawned on me when we were in the middle of fighting it.

MOOS (voice-over): When did it dawn on Ben Terhaar wearing the green gown?

BEN TERHAAR, SEDAN FIREFIGHTER (via telephone): I remember looking over to my right and seeing people with cell phones up to their face. I thought, my gosh.

MOOS: But the firefighters didn't have much choice. The Sedan, Minnesota, volunteer fire department had a float in the St. Patrick's Day parade in a nearby town.

The firefighters dressed up to promote a beauty pageant they hold every year as a fundraiser. But when a pickup truck caught fire, they leaped into action.

Even if it meant fighting not just the fire, but falling straps on Ted's gown. As for Ben --

(on camera): You didn't seem to have any trouble with your straps.

TERHAAR: That's because I didn't have any.

MOOS (voice-over): He wore a strapless accessorized with a hose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did a great job handling the hose in his pretty green dress.

MOOS (voice-over): Fire chief Barry Bowman has a name for his men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call them my girls.

MOOS (on camera): They may look like a rope halls of firefighters, but they managed to put out the blaze in just a couple minutes. And the chief points out that though they lacked normal protective gear, the firefighters played it safe and stayed focused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys can stand out there in underwear and wouldn't care. They're that way.

MOOS (voice-over): Though some angles were less than flattering. Still, well, you looked very pretty.

(on camera): You're the prettiest fireman I ever saw.

(voice-over): But one burning question remains, gentlemen, who were you wearing?

TERHAAR: I'm pretty sure they got them from J.C. Penney.

MOOS: Now, that's hot. Jeanne moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Very cute. Thanks very much. That does it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Please be sure to join us every weekday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time every day on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.