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Home Prices Up; Obama Says We Won't Be Intimidated; The Dead Bomber Speaks; Bomb Probe Turns To Canadian Jihadist; Boston Bombing Investigation Continues; South Carolina Election Heats Up

Aired April 30, 2013 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And this is a special CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Some real signs of progress in the housing market today. Figures released for February show home prices rose faster, get this, faster than any time since 2006. Christine Romans is joining us from New York right now.

Christine, this report says home prices climbed, what, 9.3 percent from the same time last year. That's very impressive. What's driving the increase?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, very low interest rates, cash buyers, Wolf, from all over the world, quite frankly. There's not a lot of inventory in some places. So, if you want to buy a house, you kind have to pay up for it, because there aren't a lot of choices out there. So, all of those things coming together. And when you look at price increases, I can show you a chart about how it's gone. This is the fastest year-over-year spike in home price is since 2006. And we all remember 2006, that was the very peak of the bubble overall.

When you look at where the biggest home prices increases are, Wolf, in some parts of the country, they were up double digits. Look at San Francisco, up almost 19 percent year over year. Las Vegas, up more than 17 percent. Phoenix, home prices, Wolf, from February last year to February this year, up 23 percent. Detroit, up 15 percent. Atlanta, up about 16 percent. The slowest price increase, New York City, Wolf, up about 1.9 percent. It didn't see the big run-up. It didn't see the big crash. So, it's not seeing the big recovery there.

BLITZER: That's a good point, Christine. The housing bubble caused the big of the recession, as we all know, we've seen in half a century. So, here is the question. Is there any danger of this housing market right now getting too hot once again?

ROMANS: Too hot or too cool? I mean, in some parts of the country, there are actual lotteries and bidding wars for the few prices -- for the few available places that are out there. But one of the concerns is that there could be this spring swoon. People are very excited about the spring selling season and what if it's disappointing? Or, Wolf, what if you have all these cash buyers or investors who pull back? They have been fueling much of this recovery. So, all of those things are reason to be cautious but let me show you mortgage rates. Mortgage rates are rock bottom here. So, whatever investors are doing, whatever cash buyers from other countries are doing, more -- most people in the country want to buy a house and live it. They want to live in it, and they want to see the price go up year over year so that they can, you know, make money in the big investment. Thirty-year fixed rate mortgage, Wolf, 3.4 percent. That is -- that money is so cheap. If you have a mortgage at five percent or six percent right now, you must refinance. And if you can afford to buy, now is a really good time to buy.

BLITZER: And so, in other words, things could be getting more expensive. So, the analysts, the experts you're speaking with say, location, location, location. But if it's a good location, it's a good opportunity to buy something before it gets even more expensive. Is that what I'm hearing?

ROMANS: What you're hearing from me is if you have a job, if you like your school district, if you've got 20 percent, at least 20 percent in the bank and you're -- you can take advantage of low mortgage rates, this is a great time to buy a house. If any one of those things is not true, then it's perfectly fine to be a renter and repair your balance sheet because interest rates are going to remain low. And maybe in the next couple of years, we're going to see more properties come on the market.

This is a normalization of home prices here. This isn't a return to the bubble days. This is a normalization after what was a big pop. I mean, look at prices. I want to show you charter prices, Wolf. You can see how far we've come. If you bought a house in 2006, 2007, you still are not back to where you were on the price of that house. Home prices are not back where they were. They are still down 28 percent from the peak. So, there are some people who are watching us, Wolf, and they're saying, what we recovery? I am still down. Those are home prices over the past 10 years. You can see what we're seeing on the very right of your screen. It's a normalization after a big run- up and a pop of a bubble, and it'll take time for things to sort of find their -- find their footing, I think.

BLITZER: That's a good point. A good chart. Christine, thanks very much.


BLITZER: And for more on this story and a lot of other business- related stories, don't forget you go to

Let's move on now to the latest in the Boston terror investigation. Government sources tell CNN, preliminary talks are underway. Preliminary talks to allow the suspected bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to resume providing information about the attacks to federal investigators in exchange for having the death penalty taken off the table. We're told the talks have been underway, quote, "for the past few days."

Meanwhile, the widow of the other terror suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is coming under closer scrutiny apparently. Investigators have taken DNA samples and other items from Katherine Reynolds -- Katherine Russell, I should say, at her parents' home in Rhode Island. They will compare the samples to female DNA found on a fragment of one of the pressure cooker bombs used in the Boston attack. Federal agents, by the way, are also trying to determine if there's a link between Tamerlan and this man, William Plotnikov, a Canadian boxer turned jihadist who was killed a year ago in a shootout with Russian troops. The fire fight happened in the same region Tamerlan was visiting. He returned to the U.S. Quickly thereafter.

We have reporters covering all angles of the investigation, and we're staying on top of this story. Meanwhile, a defiant President Obama says the U.S. won't be intimidated by the bombings in Boston. In a news conference over at the White House just a little while ago, the president was asked whether people should be afraid of attending large gatherings after the attack at the Boston marathon? And he said, absolutely not.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to stop living our lives because warped individuals try to intimidate us. We're going to do what we do which is go to work, raise our kids, go to ball games, run in marathons, and, at the same time, we're going to make sure that everybody's cooperating and is vigilant and doing everything we can without being naive to try to prevent these attacks from happening in the future.


BLITZER: The president also defended the FBI's handling of the bombing investigation. We're going to have much more on that, including a Republican senator's response. That's coming up in about 15 minutes.

Now to the other suspected Boston bomber whose voice we are hearing for the first time, two weeks after his death. We're hearing Tamerlan Tsarnaev speak at a pretty eerie experience. "Entertainment Tonight" got its hands on never before seen footage of Tsarnaev and his boxing coach, John Allen. It's from a 2009 documentary. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to state your name?

TAMERLAN TSARNAEV: Tamerlan Tsarnaev.


BLITZER: Tsarnaev was just 22 when this documentary was filmed. He wanted to be an Olympic boxer, but not long after that footage shot, he was disqualified from competition because of a change in the citizenship rules.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd, he's been investigating this part of the story. Brian, let's listen to what Tsarnaev told "Entertainment Tonight's" Rob Marciano about how the loss of that Olympic dream may have impacted this young man.


JOHN ALLEN, BOXING TRAINER: He gave me the impression that the reason he was unable to go to the Olympics was because he couldn't become a citizen because of mishandling of paperwork. And he felt that it was done on purpose so that the guy that he beat could go to the Olympic trials.

ROB MARCIANO, CO-HOST, "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT": Do you think that this roadblock in his boxing career set him on the path to these bombings?

ALLEN: Absolutely.


BLITZER: That was the trainer for Tsarnaev, John Allen, speaking to Rob Marciano. Brian, you've spoken to other boxing coaches who came in contact with Tamerlan Tsarnaev. What did they tell you?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they put together kind of a picture of a frustrated boxer who got very close to the top levels of the sport but couldn't quite put it together at the end. I talked to two former coaches who came in contact with him, one who worked with him in the gym, the other who had coached another fighter who was in a similar weight class, a close weight class to him, who observed him for about a week at the Boston championships in Salt Lake City, the Golden Gloves championship in Salt Lake City in 2009. And both of them, you know, they come up with a consistent portrayal of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. They've both said he had real talent. He could have really made something of himself as a boxer. They say he had a great punch. He had great agility, great instincts in the ring. But they say they couldn't quite put it together at the end.

One of them said he didn't take direction very well. The other said he didn't quite have the heart to finish his fights well enough. So, between that and what John Allen told "Entertainment Tonight," you get the portrayal of a boxer who really kind of made it almost to the pinnacle winning two New England Gold Gloves championships but not quite putting together everything at the end. And, of course, being denied the chance in 2010 to compete for the Olympic team because of the new rules that were put in place that said, if you're not a complete U.S. citizen, you could not compete.

So, Wolf, he was frustrated at the very end there with his boxing career and that was at about the time that people observed him kind of changing. His personality changed toward a more devout following of Islam, 2009, 2010. That's about the time frame that you put that together. Now, whether the boxing failure was what really turned him down that path, you know, that -- we're still putting some of that together. Not clear at this point but you do get a sense of the frustrations, at least in the boxing realm.

BLITZER: Certainly do. And, Brian, there were some other issues in family that now apparently give us some additional indications that they and Tamerlan, they were struggling with. Isn't that right?

TODD: Yes, they were, Wolf. And some information that we've just gotten in the last couple of days from state officials regarding the public assistance the family was getting. Some of that coming into some new detail today for us. The family was a fairly consistent recipient of public benefits from the state and the federal government from 2002 until last year. They did receive it kind of on and off, but they received a lot of it. They got federally funded food stamps from 2002 to 2004 and then again from 2009 to 2011. The father got some benefits in 2003 and in 2009, 2010.

But also, Tamerlan's former wife, Katherine Russell, got benefits, we're told from state officials, food stamps and other assistance for people with dependent children from 2011 until November of 2012. What's interesting about that period is, Wolf, in that year, in the span of that year, that six-month period, was when Tamerlan Tsarnaev went to Russia. So, while he was in Russia away from his wife and child, the family was getting welfare benefits for that entire year. So, indirectly, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were receiving benefits as being part of those households, both the parents first and then Katherine Russell, with Tamerlan at least. Tamerlan getting some public assistance benefits as a member of Katherine Russell's household during the entire year of 2012, until November of that year.

BLITZER: Katherine Russell, though, correct me if I'm wrong, her family back in Rhode Island are pretty prominent, well-to-do family. Is that right?

TODD: That's right. Her father is a surgeon. We were in their neighborhood yesterday. And my colleague, Erin McPike, is covering the situation with her family. You can tell by going into the neighborhood, they are not poorly off at all. They are fairly wealthy people. But still, we do have this information from the state officials now that last year, for much of last year until about five months ago, Wolf, you can assume when she was at least living part time in that apartment in Cambridge that see that was receiving public assistance. She was getting some food stamp assistance and also some assistance for people with dependent children. And Tamerlan Tsarnaev, at least indirectly as a member of that household, getting it, too.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much. Brian will have more on the story in "the SITUATION ROOM" with me later today.

The latest lead in the investigation, how a Canadian boxer turned jihadist may have influenced Tamerlan Tsarnaev. We're going to explain that part of the story when we come back.

And we'll also have the latest on Amanda Knox, how she is no longer waiting to be heard. We'll have the details on her time spent in an Italian prison. Her new book just out.

Plus, the FCC may allow what's called brief nudity, even the occasional f-bomb on network T.V. Not everyone agrees with this. We're going to explain in this hour of the CNN NEWSROOM what's going on.


BLITZER: Investigators want to know whether a Canadian boxer turns jihadist may have influenced the Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. William Plotnikov died in a firefight with Russian forces in Dagestan last July. Plotnikov was born in Russia, but his family moved to Canada when he was a teenager. Nick Paton Walsh joining us live from Moscow. Nick, explain who this guy William Plotnikov was and the possible links, possible links, to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, investigators are looking to see if there's link because of the sheer parallel between William Plotnikov, a 23-year-old North American Canadian boxer and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also born in former Soviet Union, moving to North America, and a keen boxer as well. They were both, it seems, in Dagestan at the same time. Most importantly, the key link seems to be that Tamerlan Tsarnaev left Russia just a couple of days after the death of William Plotnikov in an ambush by Russian special forces. As you say, there's no key evidence suggesting there was a link or contact between them. The parallels are just there. And they're glaring. That's why investigators are looking at it, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, the Russians alerted the U.S. about Tamerlan Tsarnaev back, what, 2011. Earlier today President Obama was asked about how well the Russians are cooperating in the bombing investigation. In his words, he said the Russians have been very cooperative with us since the bombing, the Boston bombing. What are you hearing over there?

WALSH: Well, certainly the key part about what the president said there was that word "after." (ph) Let's hear what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russians have been very cooperative with us since the -- since the Boston bombing. Obviously old habits die hard. There are still suspicions sometimes between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that date back 10, 20, 30 years, back to the Cold War. But they're continually imprving.


WALSH: Now, certainly we do know since the blast there has been intelligence pass from the Russians about a wiretap on a phone call between a mother and one of her sons but there have been no real public explications from the Russians as to what they know and what extent.

We heard big statements from the Kremlin aid suggesting continued cooperation and praise from the White House. That key phrase I think is, "old habits die hard" that you heard from Barack Obama. I mean there, that long Cold War tension, you can imagine a situation, the FBI, appealing for further details from the FSB, the FSB, former frankly counterparts when they were the KGB in the Cold War, being suspicious, perhaps thinking the Americans are on a trolling (ph) mission. I have to say in a decade of being here, talking about the north Caucasus with security services here, there's a lingering conspiracy theory, a fear that somehow the U.S. has been involved in what they refer to as Russia's soft underbelly fermenting violence in that area, denied by U.S. officials but fermenting instability there to weaken Russia as a whole.

So there is a sense of distrust here. Of course they want to cooperate when they can, and that appears to be the case here. If you look back and see how has that FBI/FSB relationship endured in the past two years when it comes to Tsarnaev, there may have been some blockages because of cultural ways of behaving in both of those particular organizations that used to be firm Cold War adversaries.

BLITZER: Good point, Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow. Thanks very much. We'll have much more on the violence in Russia straight ahead.


BLITZER: President Obama defending the FBI's actions after Russia raised concerns about the Boston bombing suspecting Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Here is what he said just a little while ago.


OBAMA: The Russian intelligence services had alerted U.S. intelligence about the older brother, as well as the mother, indicating that they might be sympathizers to extremists. The FBI investigated that older brother. It's not as if the FBI did nothing. They not only investigated the older brother, they interviewed the older brother. They concluded that there were no signs he was engaging in extremist activity.


BLITZER: The FBI interviewed the mother, I should point out as well.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Gloria, the president quickly got pushback from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Here is what Senator Graham said to me when I spoke with him in the last hour.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R ) SOUTH CAROLINA: He goes back to Russia Dagestan, in 2012, Wolf. And DHS gets (ph) him leaving and coming but they don't share the information with the FBI or the CIA. So he's never interviewed. They never share this guy's presence with the Boston fusion cell as who's supposed to be tracking terrorists in the Boston area. When he comes back in June of 2012, he goes on a Youtube channel, a website, on the internet for the whole world to see and embraces radical Islam.


BLITZER: All right Gloria, it doesn't seem like questions are going to go away anytime soon. In fact they may only be heating up.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, and they shouldn't go away, Wolf. I think that it's Congress' job to do oversight on the FBI, on the department of Homeland Security, on central intelligence, and I think while the president said today, went out of his way to say, look, they were doing their jobs and he said, quote, this is hard stuff. The truth of the matter is, he's right, it is hard stuff. But if Congress can look into this, and figure out a way as the director of national intelligence, James Clapper is doing, looking back, trying to figure out a way where perhaps this could have been coordinated in a better way, whether there was so-called stovepiping involved, one agency not talking to another, I think it always makes sense to do that after something like this occurred.

But the president was very clear that he thought there were no egregious errors here. We may find out in the end that, yes, things could have been done better but everybody was in fact doing their job.

BLITZER: Let me shift gears quickly while I have you to the congressional race in South Carolina between the Former Governor, Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, the sister of the comedian Stephen Colbert. In a debate last night, she brought up the governor's extramarital affair that sidelined his political career. Listen to this.


ELIZABETH COLBERT-BUSCH, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA CANDIDATE: When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody's -- she went there, Governor Sanford --

FMR. GOV. MARK SANFORD, (R ) SOUTH CAROLINA: I couldn't hear what she said.

SANFORD: Do you think that President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake he made in his life? You don't go through the experience I had in 2009 without a greater level of humility.


BLITZER: What did you think of that little exchange? The election, what, a week from today?

BORGER: I thought she backed into the story in a way that she's doing in her campaign ads, you know, saying we can't trust this guy and he took our money and went to go see his, remember the soul mate in Argentina. But he's -- he actually has raised this issue in the campaign. He's looking for some kind of redemption. I think it's completely fair game. You know, I think that if you're a woman voter out there, even in this conservative district, in this conservative state, that this issue is going to continue to make a difference. And I think she knows it, which is why she raised it and why she continues to raise it.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in this congressional election. Thanks.

BORGER: Some polls have her ahead, even in a conservative district.

BLITZER: And her brother, Stephen Colbert's raising a lot of money for her as well.

BORGER: Being outspent.

BLITZER: Money coming in from outside of this congressional district, coming in from outside of South Carolina for that matter as well. See you later in "THE SITUATION ROOM," Gloria, thanks very much.

Coming up, the new face of terror and the so-called black widows. Russia seeing a rise in female suicide bombers.