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THE SITUATION ROOM
Suspect's Widow Under Scrutiny; Human Trafficking at Saudi Diplomat's Home?; Obama and Mexican President Joint News Conference
Aired May 2, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Federal officials launch an investigation into possible human trafficking after two women complained they were treated like slaves at a Saudi diplomat's home.
And as the immigration debate rages on here at home, President Obama is in Mexico right now about to take questions from reporters. We'll have live coverage coming up this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM."
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BLITZER: Right now, a major development in the Boston bombing investigation. Federal officials say the FBI has a laptop computer belonging to the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. This comes as the widow of his older brother, Tamerlan, comes under fresh scrutiny from federal investigators. Let's begin our coverage this hour with our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick. She's joining us from New Bedford, Massachusetts. What's the latest, Deb?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you we're here at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. It is actually in North Dartmouth, the apartment of two of the men who were taken in and arrested yesterday. They are about four miles away in New Bedford, but, here at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, this is where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left his laptop computer when he fled after his picture was released by the FBI.
Well, the last person known to have seen that computer was his friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, one of the men who lived in the other apartment. He came to his friend's room and removed not only the laptop but also a black backpack containing empty fireworks canisters. The powder would potentially have been used to build some type of bomb. He took both of those things, and then, he went to his apartment and got rid of the backpack.
It's unclear whether he even ever got rid of the computer, but Dias was on the radar, on the officials' radar very early on in the investigation even before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody, and that's because they knew that there had been text messages exchanged. And so, they wanted to question this friend of his. So, whether they got the computer from him, one thing we do know is that it was never found in the landfill where that backpack ultimately turned up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the wife of the older brother? I know there's fresh scrutiny, tough questioning going on. What's the latest we're hearing on that?
FEYERICK: Well, Katie Russell (ph) has been a very high interest to law enforcement, to prosecutors, to the FBI. We have been told earlier that the FBI was in a meeting with her and her lawyers at the lawyer's office a couple days ago. She still has a lot of information, and so, she could be very key to investigators. It's not clear whether they have -- she's clearly a person of interest, but how this all plays out, that is what everybody is sort of looking at closely paying attention to.
This is a woman who would know exactly or have the best record of where her husband traveled, who he may have associated with, who came to his apartment. All of those things. Also, there's a phone call that took place between the two of them right after the FBI released the picture and before that officer was killed on the MIT campus. So that, too, is of keen interest because she clearly tried to contact her husband after it was clear that, in fact, he was a suspect.
So, she is a very high interest. In what capacity, whether she's able to cut some sort of a deal or whether she's able to provide information, everyone is watching that very, very closely, Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly are and they're wondering if she, in fact, recognized her husband and her brother-in-law in those pictures released by the FBI, why didn't she call the FBI or local law enforcement to say I know who those guys are? So, that's a key question right now. All right. Deb, thanks very much.
Let's get back to that laptop. It's a critical piece of evidence belonging to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It's now in the hands of the FBI. Our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is digging deeper into this part of the story. What else are you learning?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's our understanding there's already been a quick review of the hard drive and no indication, so far, the suspects arrested yesterday had anything to do with the preplanning of the bombing. We're told by a law enforcement source that pulling that data doesn't take very long, unless, the hard drive has been badly damaged and there's no indication of that.
But what's more time consuming, we're told, is tracking e-mail or chat room traffic with someone overseas. It's not clear how that might be going, but a source said it could involve asking the FBI attaches in other countries to help track down leads. We're also told by sources that authorities have been investigating the cell phone records of the suspected bombers. One source says investigators have more than one cell phone. We don't know whose cell phones they are. The cell phones are important because FBI affidavits say the man identified as bomber two, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was seen on video at the marathon, looking at a cell phone, appearing to take a picture with it, manipulating the phone. He's seen speaking into it for 30 seconds before the first explosion.
The FBI also indicated that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Kadyrbayev exchanged several text messages in the days after the bombings. Those text messages served more than one purpose. The content gives investigators information, but the time stamp on any text messages gives them a good sense of the chronology, what time of day or night certain things were happening, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, just to review all these records from the computer, the websites, the text messages, or whatever and the cell phones --
BLITZER: That's a time consuming ordeal.
JOHNS: It certainly is. And you have social media. We already know there were certain postings that may or may not have been taken down. So, there's a lot to look for and what we were told is they've taken a cursory review, but who knows how long the rest of it takes, Wolf?
BLITZER: I think, by all accounts, they know a lot more, the FBI, than they're sharing with the public right now. We'll see what emerges in the coming hours and days. Thanks very much, Joe, for that report.
Meanwhile, investigators have also been examining whether the Boston suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was influenced by a Russian born Canadian boxer, William Plotnikov, who died in a shootout with security forces in Dagestan in Russia while Tsarnaev was visiting the region. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, went to the scene of that clash.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): In these lush mountains, Dagestan's rebels hide from Russian forces. Our journey here, a trip into the unknown.
(on-camera) We're on our way to the village where Canadian boxer, William Plotnikov, was killed in a gun battle with Russian forces.
(voice-over) Fifteen minutes from the secure coastal highway, (INAUDIBLE), a tiny town of 3,400 people.
(on-camera) We're being given special permission to go into the graveyard.
(voice-over) They're all moderate Muslims here and follow peaceful traditions. Plotnikov's grave is not hard to find at the cemetery's edge, a place for strangers. He was a convert to Islam.
(on-camera): Well, this does seem to be his grave, Plotnikov, William (INAUDIBLE), his father's name, born 3rd of May, 1989, died 14th of July, 2012, last summer.
(voice-over) The local imam tells me we had never seen him before. We didn't know anything about the rebels he was with. His father came from Canada and asked we bury him a Muslim. Indeed, as I talked to local officials, they all tell me the same. The rebels had joined, lived out of town. When I asked if they've ever seen alleged Boston bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, they all tell me no.
The town mayor tells me, "I wish I could say we are safe, but since last summer, we worry. We take our cattle to the forests."
On the edge of town, they take us to the farm where Plotnikov faced off with Russian forces.
(on-camera) The gate has been locked off. They just opened the gate to let us in. This is the farm up here. Fields are overgrown. It looks like it's been deserted for a long time. There are vineyards over here. An orchard back up here. Looks like a shot out van as well over here.
(voice-over) Six other rebels died in the firefight. Two days later, Tsarnaev left the region. The farm owner survived the battle. In his police confession, he never mentioned Tsarnaev.
(on-camera) The farm appears stuck in time from last summer. The clothes are still hanging up here, a camouflage T-shirt, camouflage hat, and in the wall, this mud and straw wall, you can see the bullet holes up here, here, peppering it all over.
(voice-over) This official tells me they are trying to prevent such situations, counseling vulnerable young men, trying to build the local economy. Italians and Israelis, he says, have just visited, both want to invest. Amid such fertile fields and bucolic charm, easy to imagine a better life, but reality seems never far away.
(on-camera) It feel quiet enough here now, but we've just learned in the past 12 hours, three policemen, one of them, a senior counterterrorism cop, had been killed in a shootout with rebels in a town not far from here. Two other policemen injured as well. It's typical of the battle that's going on daily here with the rebels.
Nic Robertson, CNN, (INAUDIBLE), Dagestan.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this story, the Boston investigation coming up.
Also, other news we're following including relatives of gun violence victims. They want lawmakers to look them straight in the eye after a setback in the U.S. Senate. A new push for gun control under way. We're also standing by to hear directly from the president of the United States, President Obama, due to take questions from reporters shortly in Mexico. You're looking at live pictures from Mexico City. We're going there live as soon as he shows up with the Mexican president.
And a fast moving wildfire. Look at these pictures. Closing in on neighborhoods in Southern California. We're on the scene for you. Stand by.
BLITZER: This just coming in from California. Take a look at this. Firefighters are battling massive wildfires today on opposite sides of Los Angeles to the north. One blaze has forced the closure of the Pacific Coast Highway and is threatening a neighborhood of million dollar homes. CNNs Paul Vercammen has been right in the middle of all of this. Watch this.
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right here in Newbury Park, this is one of the leading edges of the fire, one of the main hot spots. They've been trying to drop water via helicopter on this area, but as you can see, it's so smoky, it's almost impossible to get a good look at where the fire is burning.
I can tell you right now it's burning all up there along that ridge threatening all of these houses in this neighborhood, but the smoke is just absolutely horrific and the heat, the heat is tremendous right now. The firefighters really up against it. You can see just where it's burning. It's encircling this entire neighborhood and these people are right now trying to evacuate.
Reporting from Newbury Park, I'm Paul Vercammen. Back to you.
BLITZER: Paul Vercammen, thanks very much. We're going to have much more on these fires threatening Southern California right now. This is dramatic stuff that's coming in. Stand by. We'll go back to the scene. Paul is on the scene for us and we'll check in to get the latest information.
There's other news we're following here in Washington, including gun control supporters who aren't giving up on the fight for tougher laws despite a major defeat in the Senate on a proposal to expand background checks. This week, they're deploying some of their more -- most powerful voices, the family members of gun violence victims to confront some senators face-to-face.
Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been working this story for us. It's a whole new twist in this battle over tougher gun control laws.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And their strategy, Wolf, is really very simple. It's to try to get senators to change their mind by publicly shaming them.
CAREN TEVES, MOTHER OF MASS SHOOTING VICTIM: Hello. Is the senator in today?
BASH (voice-over): Caren Teves' son was killed in the Colorado movie massacre.
TEVES: Can you let him know that Caren Teves was here again.
BASH: She's been trying unsuccessfully to see her senator, Republican Jeff Flake, since he voted against expanding gun background checks last month. To capture her frustration, the gun control group mayors against illegal guns sent her to try again, this time, inviting cameras.
TEVES: I want him to look a mother in the eye who's lost her child. I want him to see the pain.
BASH: It's just one part of a coordinated effort to use this week's Senate recess to keep the gun control issue alive despite losing the pivotal background check vote. Earlier this week, the same group sent Erica Lafferty daughter of slain Sandy Hook elementary school principal, Dawn Hochsprung, to New Hampshire to confront Republican senator, Kelly Ayotte. The group help CNN get this footage. She also voted against expanding background checks calling them a burden on gun owners.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't as important as that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt that the enhanced improvements to our background check system, as you and I both know, the issue wasn't a background check system issue in Sandy Hook.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: the amendment is not agreed to.
BASH: In order to find the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, supporters need to change some half a dozen Senate minds, going after Republicans and Democrats.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Baucus, no.
BASH: Montana's Max Baucus was one of four Senate Democrats to vote no on expanding background checks. A liberal group is trying to pressure him with this new ad, featuring a gun owning grandmother.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aimed my hand gun at the door and waited. Guns can protect us, but we're less safe with guns in the wrong hands.
BASH: The NRA isn't taking anything for granted, pushing just as hard to keep those senators in their corner, running radio ads freezing Senate no voters like Ayotte.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's why Kelly had the courage to oppose misguided gun control laws.
BASH: Gun control groups insist senators who voted against expanding background checks widely popular are taking a hit with constituents. A new survey conducted by a pro-Democratic polling firm showed Ayotte's approval rating dropping and found Flake now the most unpopular senator in the country, prompting him to say on his Facebook page "that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum."
Outside Flake's office, Caren Teves holds up a letter Flake wrote before voting no, telling her, quote, "strengthening background checks is something we agree on."
TEVES: After receiving this letter, I would expect Senator Flake to look me in the eye and explain why he ignored me.
BASH (on-camera): Well, spokeswoman for Senator Flake told me the reason he voted no on the background check measure was it was written too broadly and, quote, "would have encroached on private sales." But she also told me that flake hopes changes will be made so he can ultimately support it. And, Wolf, Senator Ayotte, I'm told, is also, quote, "willing to consider alternatives if there are changes."
There are some discussions, I'm told, by sources going on broad, preliminary discussions. But, of course, the question is going to be how are they going to change it -- they're going to water it down? If they do, is that going to really fly with some of these gun control groups?
BLITZER: Yes. Well, Senator Manchin says he hasn't given up in trying to come up with some sort of deal.
BASH: That's right. He is trying to talk to senators like Flake and Ayotte and others who were on the fence, but they lost because they say the way this is written. Of course, the open question is, can they ever get the language written in a way that they can satisfy them?
BLITZER: Harry Reid, for now, says it's off the table. And he's the majority leader of the Senate. All right. Thanks, Dana. Good report.
Coming up, we're waiting for President Obama to answer questions from reporters after meeting with his Mexican counterpart. We'll have live coverage.
And after two women complained they were treated like slaves at a Saudi diplomat's home here in the Washington, D.C. area, federal officials have now launched an investigation into what they described as possible human trafficking. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Now, the rupture on the same Exxon pipeline broke in March. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. It happened again. According to our affiliate, KAIT, ExxonMobil and Missouri officials are working to clean up the spill which this time occurred near the Arkansas State line dumping about one barrel or 42 gallons of crude oil into the yard of a Missouri home.
That same pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of oil in Arkansas just weeks ago. Exxon says the company is now investigating the cause of the incident.
And the final two sections of a 400-foot spire were hoisted to the top of one World Trade Center today, making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere once they're installed. With the crowning pieces, the iconic building will stand at more than 1,700 feet. Officials say installation is scheduled for a later day.
Pope Francis welcomes his predecessor back to the Vatican today. The now retired Pope Benedict will live on the grounds on a newly renovated convent. He returned by helicopter from the papal retreat in Castle Gandolfo where he's been staying since stepping down from his post back in February. Benedict was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
So, he's back. The two of them are back together again, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Excellent. Thanks very much, Lisa.
Up next, we're watching a five-year-old who kills his two-year- old sister with a gun that he got for his birthday. We'll discuss what happened. Donna Brazile and David Frum, they are both standing by.
Also, some clothes you wear are made under horrifying conditions abroad after a catastrophic factory collapse. American companies are now rethinking how they do business.
BLITZER: All right. Welcome back. Let's talk a little bit more about this week's reenergized push supposedly for gun control. Joining us in our strategy session, two CNN political analysts, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and the former Bush speechwriter, David Frum.
You think it's going to get anywhere this renewed push, especially when it's happened in recent days, some of this in your face kind of questioning to some of these wavering Republican and Democratic lawmakers?
DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: I've never had much confidence that anything was going to happen through the legislative branches. That's not how this kind of change tends to come. And the balance of-- look, of public opinion continues to oppose most gun control measures. And certainly, when you look at the people who feel most strongly about the issue, they are the people on the anti-control side.
This will not change until we have a citizens movement really outside the political structure, something like mothers against drunk driving and until Americans absorb the idea that actually having a gun in your home is not a good way to protect your children.
BLITZER: You've heard all the criticism of the president that he hasn't been twisting arms enough, that he's been too meek on this issue, especially to some of those waffling Democrats out there who are afraid to go ahead, because 90 percent, 80 to 90 percent of the American public wants more background checks, yet, they couldn't pass it in the Senate.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, why don't we focus on the Republicans who didn't come onboard? Ninety percent of the American people that includes a lot of Republicans. I think the president has been strong. He's been effective. He doesn't have to twist arms when it comes to gun safety laws in this country.
What he should do is remain vigilant. He's passed 23 executive orders. He needs to remain vigilant, and I guarantee you, this issue will turn --
BLITZER: So, you're not going to do what LBJ used to do?
BRAZILE: Well, you know, why compare him to LBJ or Bill Clinton or George Bush? Barack Obama has done more to push this issue. I do believe that the Congress will come around.
BLITZER: Is criticism fair?
FRUM: Criticism certainly is fair. What is catching up with the president here is he has not built the network of relationships in Congress that previous presidents have done. And that catches up with him. And, it catches up with him when he needs --
BLITZER: He's now trying this charm effects, and he's inviting a whole bunch of them over for dinner. And he's reaching out a little bit.
FRUM: More than half way through the presidency. And you can't do too much of a year. So, you can't also be a different person than the person you are. This has been -- this president is very much a loner. He is somebody who's very cerebral. He's not a glad hander. And, that has its benefits. He's a very intellectually powerful president, but it has its weaknesses. He does not have that issue --
BRAZILE: He's persistent, but he's not going to convince Republicans who are hell bent on opposing anything or everything --
BLITZER: What about the Democrats who voted against him?
BRAZILE: He's got four Democrats, Wolf --
BLITZER: Why? What about those four Democrats?
BRAZILE: Well, you know what, Wolf, we got 90 percent of the Democrats. We didn't get a hundred percent. It's time that we focus on the Republicans because we can't even get two percent of them. I think this president will continue to fight for this issue. The American people know that he's on their side.
BLITZER: You saw this story of this little 5-year-old boy. He got a gun for a present, "My First Rifle" is the company's slogan, Crickett. It's a .22 caliber rifle and it's made for kids. He's there. He's left alone with his 2-year-old sister. And I guess the mother and the father must have been out and he shoots and kills this little girl.
FRUM: It's terrible. And my general view is, if you're not old enough to drive a motorcycle you're not old enough to have a gun. And there are no age limits on gun ownership in the United States. But this goes to -- this is not, I think, a political decision so much as it is a personal one. People often buy weapons with the hope of protecting their families and Americans need to understand if you look at the numbers, the best way to protect your family is to leave the gun at the shooting range.
BLITZER: Because this company Crickett, they've got shoulder stock, colors ranging from pink to red, white and blue. "My First Rifle." It's -- if you look at the Web site it features selling guns to kids if you will.
BRAZILE: I think --
BLITZER: You grew up in the south.
BLITZER: I mean, is there a problem here going --
BRAZILE: Immoral. Immoral. My father did not introduce us to guns until we were well into our teens. He taught us gun safety. He taught us how to protect guns, how to use guns. We had water pistols. Yes, no question. BB guns. But we -- I mean, but we never had those objects until we were well into our teens.
BLITZER: You grew up in Canada. Did you have an issue with this?
FRUM: Well, in Canada the rules are always a little bit different but there are a lot of long guns in Canada. About two- thirds as many per person as in the United States. And I lived much of the -- part of rural Canada where all my neighbors have shot guns and long -- other kinds of long guns to keep predators off their crops.
But handguns are a different thing. That -- and that really, if we were -- we need, I think, to be clear. When we're talking about the greatest number of gun tragedies, we're talking about gun tragedies inflicted by handguns. BLITZER: What do you think of this report in "Politico" that some lobbying groups right now, they are purchasing anti -- on ESPN, "Sports Center," some of the other shows, because they know the president and a lot of other people, including myself, we like to watch sports but they think this is a good way to influence them in making decisions.
BRAZILE: You know, I'm going to switch to Bravo when I'm not watching you on CNN or watch "Desperate Housewives of Atlanta." I mean, it makes no sense. But look, if they can find a way to spend their ad money to lobby the president, lobby you, and lobby me, so be it.
FRUM: I don't think -- lobbying is a funny story this week. The president just named the secretary of commerce, one of his biggest long-time --
BLITZER: Penny Pritzker.
FRUM: Thank you. Political contributors. That seems a little out of hand. And the -- it is --
BRAZILE: What's out of hand? I mean, we do that all the time. Presidents often hire their best friends or their financial contributors. What's the problem?
BLITZER: The Bush administration --
BRAZILE: Yes, Don Evans?
BLITZER: The president -- Don Evans was a pretty powerful, rich guy, too.
BLITZER: And he was the commerce secretary.
FRUM: And also a person who actually was somebody who was actively involved in commerce who had --
BLITZER: She's actively involved, Penny Pritzker. She runs a huge corporation.
FRUM: And had a series of ventures. And his relationship, the reason he would name him secretary of commerce was not entirely because of his ability as a fundraiser. And I think that when you -- when you're looking at the network of ways in which we are raising money, they're just coming not just over our television sets but also directly into the cabinet --
BLITZER: Don Evans is a smart guy. Good commerce secretary.
BLITZER: Penny Pritzker, you know her, obviously.
BLITZER: She is very active in Democratic politics.
BLITZER: But she's a very, very wealthy lady. She's worth more than $1 billion.
BRAZILE: She's a smart -- she's a smart, savvy businesswoman.
FRUM: And --
BRAZILE: The president wants somebody on his cabinet who can help him find jobs for the American people.
FRUM: If she'd been a little less generous she could be just as smart and just as savvy, she wouldn't be there.
BLITZER: A little less generous in giving money to the president?
FRUM: To the Democrat campaign.
BLITZER: For his campaign?
BRAZILE: Well, there are a lot of people who are involved in the president's cabinet and also on the president's team that didn't raise money. Trust me. I know a lot of them.
BLITZER: See how that confirmation process goes for her. All right, guys. Thanks very, very much.
BRAZILE: She's a terrific lady.
BLITZER: Coming up we're waiting for the president to start answering questions over at a meeting with his Mexican counterpart. We'll have live coverage of the Q & A. Reporters got several good questions for the president.
Also, federal officials launched an investigation into what they described as possible human trafficking after two women complained they were treated like slaves at a Saudi diplomat's home here in the Washington, D.C. area.
BLITZER: All right. We're just getting this into THE SITUATION ROOM from Terrell Harris. He's a spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and he tells us that the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old terror suspect, who was killed in Boston, the body was claimed late this afternoon and the body is scheduled to be picked up this evening by the funeral home.
Terrell Harris would not release any details as to who claimed the body, which funeral home is picking it up. The cause of death will not become a public record until the death certificate is filed, we're told, with the City Clerk of Boston.
Terrell Harris, the spokesman saying, that since the office is now closed for the day the certificate will not be filed until Friday morning. If the certificate is filed Friday the cause of death will be released.
Yesterday we learned that Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, decided she did not want to claim the body, that it would go to the family. Other members of his family. We don't know once again who claimed the body, when the body will be buried. We'll get more information.
The only thing we know right now according to the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the body has been claimed.
Other news we're following right now here in the Washington, D.C. area, get this. Two women have been removed from the home of a senior Saudi diplomat in an upscale suburban Washington neighborhood and federal authorities have launched an investigation into what they described as possible human trafficking.
CNN's foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is joining us with the latest.
Jill, what do we know?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, you know, we're at here in Mclean, Virginia. And you can actually see the house where the women were working behind me. Now officials are saying at this point, they are not telling us where the women are but they do say that under normal circumstances they would be working with a nongovernmental organization to give them things like housing, probably some clothing, and a way of getting in touch with their families.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The two women from the Philippines worked behind these gates. The residents of the Saudi Arabian Defense attache. A luxurious guarded compound in Mclean, Virginia, valued at almost $3 million with bars on the windows.
State Department officials tell CNN the women claim the Saudi diplomat living inside held their passports, forced them to work extremely long hours, did not pay them, would enter their rooms and wouldn't let them lock their doors.
Officials say so far there appears to be no indication of physical or sexual abuse. The women somehow contacted the Philippine embassy for help. It in turn informed U.S. authorities. Agents from Homeland Security and the State Department came to the house and removed the women. They're calling them potential trafficking victims and have launched an investigation.
FRANCES ROLLER, NEIGHBOR: That is so sad to think that somebody had to cry for help in some way. I don't know how they did that.
DOUGHERTY: Frances Roller, a neighbor, says the attache and his family moved in about two years ago.
ROLLER: They have a lot of people around the security section and -- but everything is very quiet. Everyone is very polite. If you happen to encounter anybody who works there. Very nice.
DOUGHERTY (on camera): One major complication, if these charges are proven, is that staff of the embassy have diplomatic immunity making it virtually impossible to prosecute them.
PATRICK VENTRELL, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Diplomats are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state, and so that's something that holds true for diplomats here and that we hold true for our people.
DOUGHERTY: A nation can waive diplomatic immunity allowing its officials to be prosecuted. Georgia did that when one of its diplomats driving drunk killed a woman pedestrian in Washington in 1997. But nations including the United States also have flown their diplomats home so they don't have to face prosecution.
The State Department says trafficking is common in Saudi Arabia. In its annual trafficking report says workers there face long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement.
DOUGHERTY: Now investigators say they came to the house within minutes of getting that tip and that is the way it's supposed to work. They take the women out of the circumstances they're in and then launch the investigation.
And a lot, Wolf, is still unknown. We've tried contacting the Saudi embassy numerous times, but so far they are not making any public statement -- Wolf.
BLITZER: If you get a statement from them, let us know, Jill. Thanks very, very much.
We're waiting for President Obama to finish some opening remarks and start answering questions after meeting with his Mexican counterpart. We'll have live coverage of the Q & A with reporters.
Also coming up, some of the clothes you wear could be made under really horrifying conditions abroad. After a catastrophic factory collapse American companies are now rethinking how they do business. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The president of the United States getting ready to answer reporters' questions. He's in Mexico City with his Mexican counterpart. The president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, they're asking some questions -- questions coming from Mexican journalists.
Gloria Borger, as we await the president, as he's getting ready to answer some questions, U.S. and Mexican relations obviously a critically important issue. The illegal border crossings, if you will, comprehensive immigration reform. The president keeps saying, once again he's just said again today, he is pretty optimistic. The Congress will pass what he describes as comprehensive immigration reform this time around.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And that has large implications here obviously. And also implications for border security which I think the president was just talking about. The Mexican president doesn't want to get involved in a domestic political issue in this country, yet at the same time he is very concerned about border enforcement. He's also concerned about protections for migrant workers and the Mexican economy is growing. The number of people coming into this country illegally, by the way, Wolf, is decreasing.
There are going to be issues, also, about drug interdiction. And this is a president, the new president of Mexico has been very confrontational with the United States about how much they should interfere in terms of drug interdiction within Mexico's borders. So those are all topics, clearly, for discussion, but particularly for this president the issue of border security both domestically and in -- and in Mexico.
BLITZER: Yes, the new Mexican president took office December 1st. He then came -- he was here in Washington.
BLITZER: Met with the president. I had a chance to interview him. He is young, he's obviously a great politician to get elected to be president of Mexico. He's got huge issues for -- for Mexico. The United States is the most important trading partner, for the United States Mexico is the third largest trading partner.
BLITZER: So there's huge economic issues at stake right now as well.
BORGER: There are economic issues at stake. I think both of these presidents are very heavily invested in increasing trade between these two countries and, again, the Mexican economy is growing. It's growing at a faster rate actually, Wolf, than our own economy.
BLITZER: Yes. And that's why there's fewer and fewer Mexicans trying to come into the United States.
BORGER: Come across the border. Right.
BLITZER: Because there are more jobs presumably available over there.
You know, a lot of folks believe, Gloria, that comprehensive immigration reform, presidents got supporting it, Marco Rubio supporting it, John McCain supporting -- it will probably pass the Senate. The question is the House of Representatives.
BORGER: Right. And --
BLITZER: What happens to that bill once it goes to the House of Representatives?
BORGER: Well, even Senator Rubio has raised questions about whether the Senate Republican version of the bill could pass the House and the answer is right now it could not. John Boehner's got problems with that on his side. There are lots of other issues they're going to have to be dealing with, lots of other economic issues, and I think that is a problem that House Republicans are trying to deal with right now. There are some Republicans who don't want to have a comprehensive bill. They'd rather do it piecemeal. Do the border security part of it first and then do -- and then do the rest later.
But that's going to be a big obstacle. Right now the president holding back on it, letting the Senate do its work.
BLITZER: And as you know, one of the so-called poison pills, potentially could be if the legislation in the House, for example, were to give a legal status or pathway to citizenship for same-sex partners. Marco Rubio says, you know, that probably wouldn't fly either among a lot of Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate, probably not fly in the House of Representatives either.
But there are a lot of Democrats who want to make sure that same- sex partners get the full benefit of this new legislation that heterosexual couples get.
BORGER: And what Republicans are saying is, you know, you're asking us to take all these difficult votes at once, you're asking us to do difficult votes on gun control, as Dana Bash was talking about. You're asking us to do difficult votes on immigration, and now you're throwing same-sex marriage.
BLITZER: All right. The president is now answering that question. Let's listen in.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What has obviously been a serious problem. And we are very much looking forward to cooperating in any ways that we can to battle organized crime. As President Pena Nieto stated. And we anticipate that there's going to be strong cooperation, that on our side of the border we have continued work to do to reduce demand, and to try to stem the flow of guns and cash from north to south.
So this is a partnership that will continue. I think that President Pena Nieto and his team are organizing a vision about how they can most efficiently and effectively address these issues. And we will interact with them in ways that are appropriate, respecting that ultimately Mexico has to deal with its problems internally, and we have to deal with ours as well.
With respect to the president's agenda, you know, we had a wonderful relationship with President Calderon and the previous administration. The bonds between our two countries go beyond party. If a Republican president replaces me, there's still going to be great bonds between Mexico and the United States because not just of geography, but friendship and our interactions.
But what I have been impressed with is the president's boldness in his reform agenda. He's tackling big issues. And that's what the times demand. We live in a world that is changing rapidly. And in both the United States and in Mexico, we can't be caught flat-footed as the world advances. We have to make sure that our young people are the best educated in the world. And that means that some of the old ways of educating our kids may not work. We have to make sure we're staying at the forefront of science and technology. And that means we've got to make sure that we're investing in those areas appropriately.
We have to make certain that our economies are competitive around the world. And that when it comes to energy, that we're addressing issues like climate change. But also making sure that it's done in a way that's creating jobs and businesses on both sides of the border. And so, you know, what I very much appreciate is the president's willingness to take on hard issues, because sometimes I think there's a temptation when somebody's elected, to just stay elected as opposed to trying to make sure that we'd use our time as well as we can to bring about the kinds of changes that will help move the country forward.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: From the U.S. press, Julie Pace, of the Associated Press.
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thank you, Mr. President.
Administration officials, including Secretary Hagel, say that the U.S. is now more seriously considering sending weapons to the Syrian rebels. How has your thinking on the effectiveness of such a step evolved as the violence in Syria has continued? And do you now see lethal aid as the best option available for a U.S. escalation in Syria?
I also had a question on immigration that I was hoping you both could address. Senator Rubio said today that the immigration bill being considered on Capitol Hill may not pass the Senate unless the border security measures are strengthened.
Are you concerned that an effort to bolster those border security triggers may make a pathway to citizenship almost impossible for many people already in the U.S. illegally, including many Mexicans?
Thank you. OBAMA: Well, first of all, on Syria, what Secretary Hagel said today is what I've been saying now for months, which is, we are continually evaluating the situation on the ground, working with our international partners to find the best way to move a political transition that has Assad leaving, stabilizes the country, ends the killing, and allows the Syrian people to determine their own destiny.
And we've made enormous investments, not just in humanitarian aid, but also in helping the opposition organize itself, and make sure that it has a consistent vision about how it's operating. And as we've seen evidence of further bloodshed, potential use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, what I've said is that we're going to look at all options. And we know that there are countries that are currently providing lethal aid to the opposition.
We also know that the Assad regime is getting not just lethal aid, but also training and support from countries outside of Syria. And we want to evaluate and make sure that every step that we take advances the day when Assad is gone, and you have people inside of Syria who are able to determine their own destiny rather than engage in a long, bloody sectarian war. And we'll continue to evaluate that every step of the way. But as I mentioned at my press conference back in D.C., we want to make sure that we look before we leap. And that what we're doing is actually helpful to the situation as opposed to making it more deadly or more complex.
With respect to immigration reform, I expressed to President Pena Nieto that I'm optimistic about us getting this done because it's the right thing to do. We've seen leaders from both parties indicate that now's the time to get comprehensive immigration reform done, and part of what we discussed is the importance of getting it done precisely because we do so much business between our two countries, that for us to constantly bog down on these border issues and debates instead of moving forward with a 21st century border that's maintaining security.
And that is making sure that legal immigration and legal trade and commerce is facilitated, but at the same time ensures that we're not seeing a lot of illegal traffic, and allows us to continue to be a nation of immigrants that has contributed so much to the wealth and prosperity of our nation.
If we're going to get that done, now's the time to do it. And the bill that Senator Rubio and others put forward I think is a great place to start. It doesn't contain everything I want. And I suspect that the final legislation will not contain everything I want. It won't contain everything that Republican leaders want either.
But if we can get a basic framework that secures our border, building on the extraordinary success we've already had, and the cooperation we've had with the Mexican government, that cracks down on employers who are not taking the law seriously, that streamlines and enhances our legal immigration system, because the problems with legal immigration system often force people into the illegal immigration system, and provides a pathway to citizenship for those who are currently living in the shadows inside of the United States. If it has those elements, then we should be able to build on that, and we can have arguments about other elements of this, as we go further. But that's the core of what we need. And frankly, you know, we've put enormous resources into border security. Don't take my word for it. You had folks like Senator McCain and Senator Graham come down to the border and see the progress that's been made.
There are areas where there's still more work to be done. Some of it, by the way, is not simply securing the United States from illegal traffic. Some of it is also improving the infrastructure, which we talked about for commerce to be able to come in smoothly, which creates jobs and, you know, helps our businesses, both in the United States and in Mexico.
But what I'm not going to do is to go along with something where we're looking for an excuse not to do it, as opposed to a way to do it. And I think we can -- I think if all sides operate in good faith, that can be accomplished.
BLITZER: All right. So there you have the president of the United States. He's still hopeful that there can be comprehensive immigration reform.
We're going to have a lot more on this coming up.
Happening now, a potential game changer in Syria's civil war. The Obama administration revealing it is now revisiting the idea of arming the rebels.