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THE SITUATION ROOM
Attack in Libya Planned in Advance?; Romney Criticizes Obama Over Foreign Policy; Interview with Libyan Ambassador to United States
Aired September 12, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: new details of the attack that killed the United States ambassador and growing concern about what's next.
The bizarre movie that's outraging Muslims and sparking violence.
Plus, Mitt Romney's reaction and the political fallout.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin this hour with chilling new details of the chaos that engulfed the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. These photos shows what now appears to have been a coordinated attack, possibly a terrorist operation that killed four Americans, including the United States ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
This afternoon President Obama visited Stevens' grieving colleagues over at the State Department and signed a condolence book. Earlier over at the White House, he vowed the United States will hunt down the people behind the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack. We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats.
I have also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is over at the State Department with more on how this deadly attack unfolded. What's the latest information, Jill, that you're getting?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we had that briefing, and what they're saying is they're cautioning that they're dealing with first reports from Benghazi and lot of confusion, but here's what we know so far.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Tuesday night at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, a complex and highly dangerous situation, outside an anti- American protest. Then a group of heavily armed militants, approximately two dozen of them, launched an attack firing rocket- propelled grenades.
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The attack in Libya is appears to be a very coordinated military-style attack. This was not a demonstration gone bad. This was a clear, targeted, planned event.
DOUGHERTY: According to senior U.S. officials, that ignited a fire inside the consulate. American and Libyan security personnel, officials say, we're forced to fight on two fronts, the attackers on the outside, the fire inside.
Diplomatic sources are beginning to piece together what happened next. Officials tell CNN Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi on a short visit from the capital, Tripoli, along with Sean Smith, a 10- year veteran of the State Department in Libya on temporary assignment, took refuge in a safe room along with a lead security officer.
But the room became filled with smoke. The officer left the room, they say. When he returned, Smith was dead, Ambassador Stevens was missing. One official says Stevens and possibly others were trying to escape to the roof.
The ambassador, he tells CNN, ultimately succumbed to smoke inhalation. In the chaos, consulate staff attempted to enter the building to try and find and save the men.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the Libyans who she said helped fight off the attackers and carried Ambassador Stevens' body to the hospital.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya.
DOUGHERTY: At this point, State Department officials believe the attack was planned in advance, but do not believe Ambassador Stevens was directly targeted.
Nicholas Burns, a former top State Department official, tells CNN U.S. diplomats are facing an incendiary situation in the Middle East.
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: The cruel irony here is that the United States is well- regarded in Libya. And there's a moderate government in place.
And this is clearly the actions of an isolated and very small, but very vicious terrorist group. And so we have got to protect ourselves from those groups. And we have got to go after them.
(END VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY: So, four killed, at least three wounded. And they're being taken to Ramstein Air Base in Germany for treatment, as are the remains of those who died -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jill Dougherty over at the Pentagon.
Swift response to the attack, including the deployment of a special Marine force.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is working that part of the story for us. Chris, what are you picking up over there?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we now know that the 50-man Marine team, the special quick response team, is now on the ground in Tripoli in there in Libya.
They're going to be helping beef up security there for the American diplomats who are still in Libya, as well as helping to evacuate more Americans if that becomes necessary.
We have also now learned that certain troops and units all around the world have been notified that they may be moved to U.S. embassies around the world to help beef up some of the security there. Right now, we believe that only applies to some of the troops that are stationed overseas, not troops back here in the U.S. -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about President Obama, Chris? He said that justice will be done. What's going on in that regard? Because that suggests to me the U.S. will try to hunt down those responsible for the killing of those Americans, either arrest them, detain them or kill them.
LAWRENCE: Well, the options certainly seem to be falling into place quickly, Wolf.
We learned today that the U.S. has confirmed that they have been flying drone surveillance flights over Libya for several months. But now we're told that those flights will become more focused, looking specifically for that insurgent cell that was behind this attack.
And now we're hearing that the U.S. Navy is moving two warships to the coast of Libya. Both of those warships are equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles. That's important because the Tomahawks are guided by the satellite and can be programmed to hit a very specific target. Together with the surveillance drones and these missiles, that gives the administration some options if it decides to go ahead with an attack.
BLITZER: I assume they will. Thank you very much, Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon.
Let get some more now with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser for President George W. Bush. She's also a member of both the CIA External Advisory Committee, as well as the Homeland Security External Advisory Committee. Kate is here as well.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
And just last month Fran was in Libya, visited Libya with her employer MacAndrews & Forbes.
Fran, thanks for coming in. Thank you so much.
First question I guess is do you have any indication or any information that this was a premeditated attack on the consulate in Libya, as Secretary Clinton said, by a small and savage group? What are you picking up?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know what, look, I think they're going through -- it was chaos there. And a lot of this unfolded over the last 12 to 18 hours.
But there isn't -- from the folks I have spoken to, they haven't found any indication of pre-planning of this attack. It's hard to imagine something this large and this savage could have happened sort of spontaneously. And it may be that, look, there's clearly this group, Ansar al-Sharia, which is an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that Northern African affiliate of al Qaeda, in the area to the east of where Benghazi is, and so it's entirely possible that they were able to take advantage of a very bad situation.
BLITZER: I just spoke to Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is a very smart guy. He said to me specifically here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- he said this attack -- quote -- "had the hallmark of an al Qaeda-style event."
Do you agree with that?
TOWNSEND: I think it's hard to say that yet, Wolf.
Look, I think what we know is Ansar al-Sharia is an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. So al Qaeda is this mix here. But I'm not sure we know yet whether or not -- the fact that there was a protest, there were shots fired, there was a breach, I don't know that we can say yet that it has the hallmarks of al Qaeda. I think of an al Qaeda attack like the East Africa Embassy bombings with a big car explosion. Maybe this is the new al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
BLITZER: Smaller-scale stuff.
BOLDUAN: As Jill Dougherty just told us, they are just getting first reports out of Benghazi. They're working through all the information they can right now.
But I do want to ask you. You were in Libya just two weeks ago. What was your sense from the situation on the ground? What was the security situation like there? TOWNSEND: You know, it's interesting. When you travel to a war zone, a many of our colleagues know, there's a big military package around you. And although it's a war zone, you feel very secure.
And that was not at all my feeling in Tripoli. Frankly, I was coming back from dinner at night. There were multiple checkpoints of militias, un-uniformed, heavily armed. Not clear what the command and control was. There was a tense feeling when they would stop your car. You didn't know what they were going to ask you or what they were going to say.
I raised the issue with the ambassador, who I saw the next morning for breakfast.
BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador.
TOWNSEND: Chris Stevens, who has tragically been killed now.
And his frame of reference -- he had been with the rebels in Benghazi prior to the fall of the Gadhafi regime. So he sort of felt very comfortable. And it was certainly an improvement over the early days of the fighting. But he acknowledged that it was going to take time for Libyan security forces to integrate the militias into their ranks, get them trained, get them uniformed. So there was a real fragility to the security situation in Libya.
BLITZER: Give us a thought about Ambassador Stevens, and obviously our condolences go out to his family.
TOWNSEND: He was beloved.
He walked into the hotel where we were having breakfast. The Libyans clearly adored him. He loved Libya. He had been my control officer on a 2007 visit when I went to Libya.
BLITZER: What does that mean, a control officer?
TOWNSEND: He was the officer, the diplomatic officer responsible for my visit. I was coming from the White House. I was the most senior person at that time to visit with Gadhafi.
And he was responsible for the visit. And so I knew him, and that he had come back as the ambassador. He had a deep love and respect for the country, for the people of Libya, and he was frankly very optimistic, very hopeful about the ability of the Libyans to form this new government and to secure their own borders and their own people. It's really -- it's a tragic loss certainly for the United States, but also for Libya.
BLITZER: Yes. Everybody says he was very, very optimistic. That's the word you keep hearing.
Fran, thanks very much.
TOWNSEND: Thank you. BLITZER: Mitt Romney is reacting to all of this as well. We're getting a little bit of a political firestorm that is emerging right now, Romney under fire himself even from some fellow Republicans. We will have details of what's going on.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney is facing some criticism even from some fellow Republicans for his politically charged reaction to the attacks on the American diplomatic outpost.
Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us right now.
What's the latest with this uproar involving Romney and his reaction, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney initially said yesterday he would not criticize the president on September 11.
But late last night, he released a statement blasting President Obama's handling of the diplomatic attacks in the Middle East. As one Republican strategist put it, this could be the game changer of the 2012 campaign.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a high-stakes moment for his campaign. And Mitt Romney doubled down accusing the president of showing weakness on the world stage in the hours after the killings of American diplomats overseas.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. ACOSTA: Romney first weighed in on the crisis late Tuesday taking issue with a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo aimed at calming tensions over a movie that mocked Islam.
The embassy's statement said it condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religion.
In his own statement, Romney said it's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
However, the embassy's statement was apparently released before the violence, not only in Egypt, but in Libya as well where it was later confirmed the U.S. ambassador to that country was murdered.
Asked whether he spoke too soon, Romney blamed the White House for not backing away from the embassy's comments right away.
ROMNEY: They clearly sent mixed messages to the world and the statement that came from the administration and the embassy is the administration.
ACOSTA: But Romney's initial statement is dividing some Republicans. One top adviser to John McCain's 2008 campaign said Romney was, quote, "too quick to politicize over faulty reporting initially. Too quick to politicize the deaths of Foreign Service officers makes him appear not ready."
But another top GOP strategist, CNN contributor Alex Castellanos said, Romney's tough talk could be, quote, "a game changer" in a sign Romney has no plans to back down his running mate, Paul Ryan, was just as harsh at a rally in Wisconsin.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you show weakness, if you show moral equivocation, then foreign policy adventurism among our adversaries will increase.
ACOSTA: For the Republican ticket it's a running theme Romney has returned to time and again. From Romney's book "No Apologies" to his foreign policies speeches on the trail.
ROMNEY: In dealings with other nations, he's given trust what's not earned, insult where it's not deserved and apology where it's not due.
ACOSTA: By contrast the president made no mention of Romney in his remarks at the White House.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We will not waiver in our commitment to see justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
ACOSTA: Letting fellow Democrats handle the response.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think he ought to apologize and I don't think he knows what he's talking about, frankly. It's that simple.
ACOSTA: Romney's statement late last night did note the death of an American consulate worker, but as one foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney told CNN earlier today, they acknowledged that the death of that ambassador was not known at the time that that statement was released by the campaign.
But we should also note, Wolf, that Mitt Romney does not yet receive national security briefings from the White House. That is customarily something that happens during the course of a campaign. It just hasn't happened yet, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's going to happen very soon. Now, technically, he's eligible for those briefings now that he's the official nominee of the Republican Party.
Jim, thanks very much -- Kate. BOLDUAN: President Obama is firing right back at Mitt Romney, no surprise. But he's not taking any time off the campaign trail in the wake of the Libya attack.
We're with the president in Las Vegas coming straight ahead.
BOLDUAN: President Obama visited the State Department today to assure diplomats their presence is appreciated after the violence protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya.
He also is firing back at Mitt Romney, who blasted the administration's response to the protests.
I want to bring in our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. He's traveling with the president in Las Vegas.
Hey there, Dan. What do you have?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what a day for the president, some very forceful comments from the president today in reaction to the violence in Libya, the president mincing no words, condemning the violence and talking about how the U.S. would work with the Libyan government to make sure that those who are responsible for this violence will be brought to justice.
Now, a little bit of timeline here. The president, we're told, according to a senior administration official, did learn last night that the ambassador, Ambassador Stevens, was unaccounted for. It was this morning the president found out that, in fact, he had passed away.
And so the president first releasing a statement, then appearing before the cameras at the White House, where he did deliver remarks, making two key points, first of all, saying the U.S. rejected the -- quote -- "efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others."
Again, that's the reference to the controversial film that sparked all of this violence, and then the president condemning the senseless violence. As you pointed out, the president also stopping off at the State Department, where he met with employees there for about 15 minutes or so, talking about the important role of those in the Foreign Service and praising Ambassador Stevens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There's a broader lesson to be learned for. And Governor Romney seems other have a tendency to shoot first, name later.
And, as president, one of the things I have learned is, you can't do that, that it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you have thought through the ramifications before you make them.
QUESTION: Do you think it was irresponsible? OBAMA: I will let the American people judge that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: That was the president in an interview with CBS responding to some comments by Mitt Romney, who had been critical of the administration's response to the region.
The president being very blunt in going after the GOP nominee, but the president also praising other Republicans who he said waited to get all the facts before they spoke, and the president essentially suggesting that when you have something like this happen, it's time to put politics aside.
BOLDUAN: But it's never very far behind. Dan Lothian following the president in Las Vegas where the president will be doing a little bit of campaigning later today, thanks, Dan.
BLITZER: Yes, he will.
And we will have much more on the uproar, what's going on involving Mitt Romney's blast against the president. Was it a mistake? I will ask Romney's foreign policy adviser. Stand by.
BLITZER: A major new skirmish in the battle for the White House sparked by the violent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
BOLDUAN: The protests were sparked an amateur American film insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.
Ahead of the Cairo protests the embassy put out a statement saying it -- quote -- and I will read this for you here -- "It condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims, as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
The ambassador there says she didn't approve the statement, and the White House disavowed it, but Mitt Romney went on the offensive quickly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values. The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn't cleared by Washington. That reflects the mixed signals they're sending to the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about all of this with Romney campaign foreign policy adviser Dan Senor. He's joining us from New York. Former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler, who supports President Obama, he's joining us here.
Dan, let me start with you and ask the question, why did Mitt Romney double down on that controversial statement the campaign released last night, doubled down this morning, even before we heard from the president of the United States?
DAN SENOR, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, a few things, Wolf.
I think we all feel a tremendous sense of loss at the killing of Ambassador Stevens. You have dealt with many career Foreign Service officers and various ambassadors. So have I. They don't get as much attention, but they're often right in the heat and the heart of the battle.
And this is just another tragic example of that.
As it relates to events over the last couple of days, you know, just a reminder, Wolf, of the chaos that a lot of the policies of this administration has sowed. Chaos in the Arab Spring. Chaos where allies in Israel feel that they can't rely on us. You saw the flare up over the last couple of days with the prime minister of Israel and the president.
And as a -- as a process matter, separate just from just overall policy, Governor Romney issued a statement. He was critical of a statement that was put out by the administration. The administration let hours and hours and hours go by before they corrected the statement that had come from their administration. Finally late last night they did correct it. That disavowed it, much like Governor Romney had criticized it.
But his overall critique of what the events over the last couple of days represent, what they're symptomatic of have not changed.
BLITZER: Well, let me just press you on that, because the statement was issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, not by the ambassador, not by the State Department. They disavowed it. It was issued even before there was any violence, significant violence, apparently going on at the embassy.
And yet this morning after everyone knew that the State Department had disavowed it, the administration had disavowed it, Governor Romney came out and once again reiterated that condemnation.
SENOR: Well, first of all, Wolf, you know, you've covered the State Department. You've covered the State Department. You've covered the foreign policy apparatus. The -- Egypt's the largest country in the Middle East and the Arab world. The embassy -- our embassy there is one of the largest in the world, certainly the largest in the region.
The embassy in Cairo works very closely with the Near East Affairs Division at our State Department and closely tied up. If there was a breakdown in communication between the State Department and the embassy, that's certainly disappointing and adds to the mixed messages. That was something that was not corrected until very late last night.
And to be clear, just -- just what a breakdown of communication there must have been then, because the embassy reissued the statement in social media networks after the violence. So you had the -- you had the statement, then you had the violence. And then they issued the statement late last night.
BLITZER: Let me let Robert Wexler respond.
FORMER REP. ROBERT WEXLER, D-FLA.: With all due respect, he misses the point. The point is that the attacks on our embassies in Cairo and in Libya, and the death of our ambassador and the three other Americans amounted to a national tragedy. And one of the great things about America is that during the national tragedies...
BLITZER: If you're going to talk to Dan, look into that camera right there.
BLITZER: One of the great things about our country, Dan, is that during a national tragedy we come together. We unite.
You speak about mixed messages? There is no worse mixed message than when a major presidential candidate in the middle -- actually at the beginning of a national tragedy -- begins to create partisan divide. When an American ambassador is killed, when three Americans are killed doing their jobs overseas, the time is to unite.
You have plenty of time to question whatever you want about the president's policies in Libya and the Middle East and the broad spectrum. But when we still don't know the facts, to do that kind of partisan attack, I think, respectfully, creates the ultimate mixed message to the people outside that embassy. Those are the ones that you should be focused on. And that's what President Obama did today at the White House.
SENOR: You know, Congressman Wexler, I think we have two separate issues here. One is we do have a national security crisis. And it is true that we need to unite to find a solution to it. And it won't be easy, because we've got a real mess on our hands. In part because of the policies of President Obama over the last several years in the region.
But to say that, in the context of a presidential campaign, our democracy cannot have a conversation about the right course is not only inconsistent with decades, if not centuries of the history of our democratic tradition, but it's inconsistent with the way you carried on in 2008. The consistency with which you as a surrogate for President Obama and President Obama criticized every day our policy in Iraq while American fighting men and women were on the front lines.
Now I may have respectfully disagreed with you on those issues, but I certainly respected your rights to weigh in and criticize the policies of President Bush...
BLITZER: And that...
SENOR: ... and criticize the policies of Senator McCain. Hold on.
1980, 1979, many of the same critics said Ronald Reagan could not criticize Jimmy Carter's policies in Tehran while hostages were in the embassy. We could unite as a country and stand behind the pursuit of a solution to this crisisis but still recognize it in the best spirit of our country's democratic tradition to have this conversation about what policies work and what policies don't.
And with all due respect, it's not up to you or President Obama to decide when our political leaders across the political spectrum can weigh in with their points of view, so long as they're constructive. And I don't think there was anything that wasn't constructive...
SENOR: ... about what Mitt Romney said yesterday.
WEXLER: Actually -- actually...
SENOR: The president disavowed the statement that the -- that the governor was criticizing.
WEXLER: Dan, Governor Romney accused the president of the United States of sympathizing with the attackers on the American embassies. That's not a discussion about policy? With all due respect, that is the most striking partisan attack you can possibly level. That's not...
SENOR: So now you have a problem with the content of the statement. A moment ago you said that he shouldn't even speak at all.
SENOR: Now you can say that it was OK for the governor to speak. Just didn't exactly like the words he chose.
WEXLER: No, that's not what I said, Dan. What I said...
SENOR: Do you think all the governor -- it was appropriate for him to weigh in on this issue when he has a serious criticism of the policies that have contributed to the mess that we are seeing. The Americans today are seeing a mess on their television screens. It's unleashing throughout the Middle East. Iran is getting close to a nuclear weapons capability. Tens of thousands of people are dead in Syria. The streets are up in flames.
WEXLER: And if you think, Dan -- if you think, Dan, for one second...
SENOR: The Israeli prime minister feels he cannot trust and stand by the American president. And you say that the nominee for a major party can't weigh in? WEXLER: No. I'm not saying he can't win -- weigh in. But if you think that the Republican nominee accusing the president of the United States of sympathizing with the terrorists who attacked our embassies is in any way constructive...
SENOR: Well, I'll tell you exactly.
WEXLER: ... in terms of what our men and women on the ground need to do, you are sadly mistaken. That is not the way in which you lead the world's single military power.
SENOR: The embassy statement -- the embassy statement criticized the bigotry as somehow explicitly, or if not implicitly, responsible for the violence that was unleashed against our diplomatic folks in Cairo.
WEXLER: Dan, the president...
SENOR: Let me finish. Let me finish my point, Rob. I let you finish. So the statement that came out of the administration yesterday, and that was reissued in social media networks after the violence, blamed, criticized, the quote/unquote bigotry, the biggest bigotry here for being -- bigotry in the United States for being responsible for that violence. That's what Governor Romney was speaking out against. That was what he was criticizing, that that -- the idea that Americans are responsible. American bigotry is responsible for that violence.
And the president himself, finally it took nine or ten hours, but the president himself disavowed the statement that the governor was criticizing, too. So your problem, it sounds like now, Congressman, is not with Governor Romney. Your problem now is with President Obama. Because he himself disavowed the same statement.
BOLDUAN: Let's jump in here real quick. I want to ask you real quick, because you're talking about -- that Governor Romney is politicizing this. And we've heard that criticism a lot, Robert. But what do you think the president, President Obama, he's heading to Las Vegas to hold a rally. He's campaigning today. Do you think he should have canceled this event? I mean, as you said, this is a national tragedy. Should he be campaigning on the same day?
WEXLER: The president had a very somber press conference scheduled today with Secretary Clinton. He has handled this tragedy for the past 24 hours, and now he's moving on with his schedule. But no one is suggesting that time should stop.
But before the facts are even known, and Wolf said it quite well. Governor Romney made the statement last night, and then he doubled down this morning, even knowing that the ambassador was killed. Even knowing that remarks suggesting, claiming that the president of the United States somehow sympathizes with the terrorists who attacked the embassies, that's where I believe most Americans will say he crossed the line.
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: I'll give you one final thought. Ten seconds.
SENOR: I would just say it's sad that we're bogged down in progress. We're talking about politics here. Parsing the different things Governor Romney said in a statement. Here's the bigger question, Congressman. Do you think the president's policy in the Middle East has been a success? It looks like it's a disaster right now to most Americans. That's a discussion we should be having.
WEXLER: The president's policy in Iraq has been quite successful. He's gotten us out of the...
SENOR: What about Iran? What about Syria? What about Israel? What about Libya?
WEXLER: You asked the question. Let me answer it. He has implemented the strictest, most comprehensive set of sanctions with respect to Iran. Iran's power is on the decrease, as opposed to the increase which it was when Clinton...
SENOR: Why is there a crisis in the relation between the Israeli government and the United States over the last...
WEXLER: There is no crisis in the relationship. What President Obama has laid down, a very strict set of standards, red lines.
SENOR: Do you think that gives confidence to our allies in the region...
BLITZER: Hold on. Unfortunately we got to take a break. We're all out of time. But you know what? This is the second time the two of you have been here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we're going to invite both of you back to continue this conversation. We didn't really even get into some of the stuff we wanted to discuss, including this, inability for scheduling reasons or whatever, that the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States to meet, Netanyahu comes to the United States.
All right. Stand by, guys. Thanks very, very much. But we'll continue this down the road. Serious stuff here.
BOLDUAN: Much more to discuss, obviously.
BLITZER: All right. The Libyan ambassador to the United States is also here. Here's standing by live. We'll talk to him about what happened in Benghazi.
BOLDUAN: President Obama is vowing the United States will find the people who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, vowing justice on that attack killing the U.S. ambassador to the country, along with three other Americans as we've been talking about.
BLITZER: Finding them will require cooperation from Libya. Let's talk about that and more with Libya's ambassador to the United States, Ali Alijali.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in. Do you know who was responsible for killing these four Americans?
ALI ALIJALI, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: No.
BLITZER: Do you know which group was -- which group was responsible?
ALIJALI: It could be a terrorist group. It could be Syrians. It could be some of Gadhafi's association. It could be al Qaeda. But at the present time it is very early to decide who is responsible.
BLITZER: What are you doing to find these individuals?
ALIJALI: Well, I'm very optimistic, because when some cars exploded in the streets, we were able to capture those people and find out that they have a link to Libya from some neighboring countries. And this is a very good sign that terrorism (ph) has stopped working.
BOLDUAN: Ambassador, this tragedy has a lot of people wondering. Gadhafi has been gone for almost a year now. Can you definitely say that the Libyan government has things under control? Fran Townsend was telling us just earlier this hour that when she was there just a couple of weeks ago, that it seems very chaotic.
ALIJALI: Well, I must be honest to you. It is not under control completely. But you must know that 42 years of dictatorship with no institution, with no police forces, with no army, that we started from zero. And we went through eight months of fighting. And of course, all this associating (ph) in a year or two years. Now today, the first elections and practical election of the prime minister. And this is -- this is history in the making.
But I'm sure that we cannot do it by ourselves. America has stood with us in the time of war. You have to stand with us in the time of peace. You have to support this government. And then was really happy about the statement by Secretary Clinton that they are in the same direction. We have to work together. We have to stop this incident, serious incident. And it has damaged the reputation of the support from the beginning.
BLITZER: Some people have suggested, Mr. Ambassador, there were warning signs that something like this could happen. So I asked, was there no Libyan military or police protection of the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi or the U.S. embassy, for that matter, in Tripoli?
ALIJALI: Well, there are. But as I said...
BLITZER: Because as a host country, you're responsible.
ALIJALI: Yes, it is our responsibility. We have to protect the diplomat. We have to protect the foreign citizens to our -- on our soil. And we have to attract those people to come to Libya to develop our country. But the troubles are very serious, and we went through some of them since the revolution. I'm sure that after we receive the new training that is now in Jordan and Turkey. And with the support of the United States and the western countries, we have to work very hard. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
But it's not the end of the world. The Libyan people, all of them, they are against what is happening. And this is a very small number of people who are responsible for that.
BOLDUAN: And ambassador, I wanted to ask you. You knew the ambassador Chris Stevens personally. Get the final thought on the work that he has done for your country.
ALIJALI: We need to be realistic (ph) about this. Mr. Stevens was involved for more than six years. I know him when he was a diplomat at the embassy in Tripoli. I knew him when he -- he went to Libya after the revolution. He was the first American diplomat to go there. He committed -- committed to the revolution.
He comes to the house mostly weekends, and we go together in one car to play tennis. And then we come back to the house, and we have breakfast. And we -- you ask him about the relation. We lost him as a friend, as a man who stands by us and the revolution.
BLITZER: We lost a great, great diplomat and a good friend. Our deepest condolences. I know you were very close to him. Ambassador Ali Alijali, thanks very much for joining us.
CNN has just been able to make contact with the stepfather of the slain United States ambassador, Chris Stevens. I'm going to speak with him exclusively when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We have been relatively quiet in Cairo until this. These are live pictures you're seeing coming out of Cairo right now. Not far from the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
Protesters now starting fires, and they're moving from the embassy area towards Tahrir Square, which all of us are familiar with, what was going on in Egypt during the revolution, the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the longtime president of Egypt.
But it looks like the violence, once again, coming back 24 hours after thousands of protesters stormed the embassy in Cairo, went over those 50-foot walls, got inside, started burning down the American flag and replacing them with a black banner, because of their anger involving some film, some stupid film that was produced here in the United States.
Egyptian authorities, we're told, are now on the scene. They've launched tear gas to try to repel some of these protesters who are there right now. Well, I don't know exactly, and we're just beginning to get information about what's going on. A very, very disturbing development in the Egyptian capital where it's now approaching 2 a.m. in the morning over there. So it's in the middle of the night, but the protests obviously continuing right now.
We're staying on top of this story. Once again, these are live pictures coming in from Cairo over at the U.S. embassy. And just to give some context, this is one of the largest U.S. embassies, diplomatic missions in the world. Until the embassy of Baghdad was built and until that embassy became huge in Baghdad, the U.S. embassy in Cairo was the largest.
The Libyan ambassador, Ambassador Ali Alijali is here with Kate and me still. When you see these pictures, and you've been to Cairo, Mr. Ambassador, many times, what do you say? What's going on right now? We thought the Arab Spring was going to lead to a peaceful pro- democracy movement, but it looks like the situation in your country, as well as in Egypt, could get out of control.
ALIJALI: Well, I'm really sad to see this development in Egypt and my country. And unfortunately, there are maybe some reasons behind that, but this is never justified what's happening in Libya over what's happening in any other place. There are democratic ways and we the people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) embrace that point of view.
We have to be civilized. We have to express our position in the right way. But nobody can justify what's happening in Libya, of course, at all.
BOLDUAN: What do you say to the American people who see this, but at the same time, watching over the past two days over the past day, what all of the pictures coming in, who feel a great disappointment in the fact that the United States helped and got involved in the Arab Spring and in pro-democracy efforts. What do you say to the American people about this?
ALIJALI: Well, it's very sad and very difficult sometimes to explain this kind of incident, which is happening now. And we really appreciate and love what America did for us to support us during these revolutions. And Libya and I think when we still optimistic and we still have that...
BOLDUAN: Are you optimistic? Are you...
ALIJALI: We support (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Yes, yes.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, as we show these pictures, I want to bring in right now the stepfather of the slain U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens. Robert Commanday is joining us on the phone right now. Our deepest, deepest condolences to you, Robert.
When you see what's going on right now, obviously you loved your stepson. Give us a thought or two about what's going on with your family and how you're dealing with all of this.
ROBERT COMMANDAY, STEPFATHER OF SLAIN AMBASSADOR (via phone): It was a terrible shock at 11 p.m. last night. We happen to have been in Yosemite at that time and rushed home without any sleep.
And so we're shattered. It's -- Chris was a beautifully even- tempered person. In the 36 years that I was privileged to be his stepfather, I never saw him lose his temper once. And he was calm and easy, and people loved him not only for that, but because he didn't impose his ideas on them. And he was interested in the person that he was talking to.
And so, it was lovely. And he was a joyous person.
BLITZER: And he loved the Libyan people. He loved working there. He thought he was really doing something, didn't he?
COMMANDAY: I was really pleased and so surprised, because he was in Tripoli before the rebellion, and then he was in Benghazi for six months as U.S. envoy to the rebels. And then, when he was sent back to Tripoli as ambassador, he was very happy about it. You know, he wasn't looking for a soft touch, a cushy ambassador spot. He loved the Libyan people and was passionate about helping.
BLITZER: And the Libyan ambassador of the United States -- very quickly, Mr. Ambassador -- just wants to express his condolences, as well. Go ahead, Mr. Ambassador.
ALIJALI: My apology, my deep condolence to you and your family. He was a brother to me. He was a champion in the eyes of the Libyan people. He was the man who stand by the revolution, by it to support the liberation of the people (ph).
BLITZER: And our deepest condolences, Robert Commanday, as well. Thank you so much for all -- everything that Ambassador Stevens did for the American people.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks to you, as well.
That's it for us. Our continuing coverage of what's going on -- and you're looking at the live pictures in Cairo -- will resume when we come back.