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"Terrorist Attack" Killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya; "Fast and Furious" Report Released

Aired September 20, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Only on CNN this morning, new information about the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. What Chris Stevens said about the threats against him in the weeks before his death?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "Fast and Furious" fallout. More than a dozen officials blamed in a blistering report on the botched gun- running operation but not the attorney general.

SAMBOLIN: And a split-second save. Take a look. A police officer pushes a woman to safety just before disaster struck.

This is must-see complete video, folks. Make sure you stay tuned. Unreal.

Lucky to be alive this morning.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. You're very happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. Great to see you.

SAMBOLIN: And we begin this morning with new details in the killing of Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens. CNN learning he had expressed concerns about security just months before his death. Four Americans were killed in the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi last week.

The nation's counterterrorism chief telling Congress heavily armed extremists saw an opportunity to attack during protests over an anti- Muslim film and took it. And the U.S. is looking for links to al Qaeda.


MATTHEW OLSEN, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER DIRECTOR: I would say, yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy.


SAMBOLIN: Now sources are telling CNN Ambassador Stevens was worried about his and others safety, specifically mentioning a rise in Islamic extremism and a growing al Qaeda presence in Libya. He also mentioned being on an al Qaeda hit list.

Senator John McCain sounding outraged last night on "A.C. 360."


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Does it make any sense to you the level, or the small level of security he apparently had with him?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: It doesn't make any sense. I'll tell you what else doesn't make any sense is that the White House spokesman, Secretary of State and our ambassador to the U.N. stating categorically it was not a terrorist attack, when obviously it had all the earmarks of a terrorist attack, including rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons and a very well-carried out military operations.


SAMBOLIN: Libyan military officials telling CNN they met with members of the U.S. consulate three days before Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed, and warned them about the rising threat against Western interests. We'll have more on this coming up in the next hour.

BERMAN: Back home, flawed strategies, poor judgment and bad management, but nothing criminal. That sounds like the findings of the 19-month investigation into the botched gun-running operation known as the "Fast and Furious". An investigation of the Justice Department conducted by the Justice Department.

Here's crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the closest thing so far to a definitive account of an investigation that almost everybody agrees was a terrible idea -- allowing firearms to slip south of the border to try to catch the cartels that were doing the gun running in Mexico.

At the Justice Department, most did not see the red flags until December of 2010 when two of the guns turned up at the murder scene of Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

Larry Alt is one of the ATF agents who blew the whistle.

LARRY ALT, ATF SPECIAL AGENT: I found it egregious that we were observing the transfer of firearms to persons that we knew were ultimately transferring these guns to persons in Mexico and we were not taking an enforcement action.

JOHNS: A report from the Justice Department inspector general said, "Operation Fast and Furious and related matters revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated ATF headquarters and the Phoenix field division and at the headquarters of the Department of Justice." It referred 14 people for possible disciplinary action but did not recommend anyone for criminal prosecution. And almost within an hour of the report's release, two of the highest ranking individuals named in the report were out, former ATF director Kenneth Melson and deputy assistant attorney general, Jason Weinstein.

It also found no evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder knew about Operation Fast and Furious prior to January 2011.

I asked Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz if this meant Holder had been exonerated. Holder was cited with contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents in the matter.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: No. I mean this is his organization. He takes personal -- he should take personal responsibility to this and to suggest everything he said was right and everything Congress did was wrong is -- would be a mischaracterization of what's moved forward here.

JOHNS: Holder issued a statement saying, quote, "It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations, accusations that turned out to be without foundation and caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion."

Still, Larry Alt wants to see those responsible held accountable.

ALT: Certainly I would say the persons responsible for this case both at the field level, the division level and at the headquarters level, and as far as it went into the Department of Justice should be held accountable for any decision they made that allowed these guns to go out on the street unmonitored.

JOHNS (on camera): There's a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday. The Justice Department's inspector general Michael Horowitz is expected to testify about his new report. Democrats and Republicans are both claiming they've been vindicated.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Meantime, this morning, the congressional chair of the House oversight committee that launched the contempt hearing against Holder speaking out, saying just because the report clears Holder doesn't mean he is in the clear, specifically regarding wiretaps that the report says should have tipped off prosecutors that something was amiss.

I'm going to be quoting here regarding those wiretaps that the report found. "We reviewed the wiretap affidavits in both Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious and concluded that the affidavits in both cases included information that would have caused a prosecutor who was focused on the question of investigative tactics, particularly one who was already sensitive to the issue of gun walking to have questions about ATF's conduct of the investigations." Representative Darrell Issa had this to say.


REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R-CA) CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT & GOVT. REFORM: Just because you're not convicted doesn't mean you're vindicated. Attorney General Holder didn't ask the questions, didn't read the memos, and up and down the chain, the people that worked for him, the political appointees responsible to him failed to do their job including denying reading wiretaps that they were responsible for signing.


SAMBOLIN: So coming up in the next hour of EARLY START, we'll talk about that and the inspector general's findings with Robert Heyer, the cousin of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

BERMAN: Prosecutors in Colorado intend to file 10 new charges against Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes. Holmes will be back in court today. He's accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 in a shooting spree during a packed midnight show of "Dark Knight Rises" back in July. The judge also expected to consider whether a diary Holmes sent to a psychiatrist just before the shooting can be used as evidence.

SAMBOLIN: With players locked out and many bolting to Europe to play, the NHL has canceled all preseason games through the end of September. Preseason hockey was set to begin on Sunday. The last time the NHL canceled preseason games was back in 2004 when a lockout cost the whole season, even the Stanley Cup finals.

I know you're disgusted.

BERMAN: This is not a proud moment for the NHL.

We have this -- a really close call for a Lubbock, Texas, police officer and woman who I say definitely owes him her life. Police dash cam video shows two cops checking on an accident and then Philips stands up and pushes the woman out of the way -- just before that van slams into the police cruiser.

The woman and officer, they suffered minor injuries. The van driver that crashed into the car was cited for DUI.

SAMBOLIN: Hero award I say.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: Right. Space shuttle Endeavour is on its final journey, this time atop a modified 747 piggyback ride. The retired shuttle is en route to Los Angeles where it will go on display at the California Science Center.

Today, Endeavor will fly from Houston to Edwards Air Force Base in California. It will include a flyover of Tucson, Arizona, to honor former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Her husband Mark Kelly was the commander on Endeavor's final mission.

BERMAN: Such amazing pictures.

All right. Rob Marciano is with us now and, Rob, we want to know will the weather cooperate with today's flight?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It looks like it. You never get tired of seeing that piggyback of the 747. It's jaw-dropping stuff.

Today's weather will be fantastic. Although they are not happy that they're not getting one of these puppies at mission control in Houston and rightfully so. They have a problem there.

Sixty degrees in Houston, El Paso, Texas, 63. So we're looking at really what it looks like the first half of their journey and then getting to the West Coast later on tonight and tomorrow.

All right. Morning lows across the Northeast. Right now, we have 27 degrees in Saranac Lake, New York. That is enough for frost and pumpkins for sure. We have frost and freeze advisories up for northern New England and also parts of Lower Canada.

Fifty-six degrees right now in New York City. So you really have to go north of Albany to get into the chilly stuff. But it's just a sign of some things to come, isn't it?

A couple quick moving systems across the western Great Lakes and into the upper Great Lakes here in parts of Michigan seeing some showers and thunderstorms. Not a terrible deal. The back half of the front that came from New York yesterday is still dragging showers across Florida. That's going to be the focal point for seeing showers and thunderstorms.

So front number two comes through the Great Lakes today. There is another pulse that's going to come from Canada. And that will brings another shot of cold air that may be enough to drop snow across parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin for the first time.

All right, from snow we go to fire-nato. If you haven't seen this, it's been going around the internet for a few days now. You never get tired of looking at this. Out of Curtin Springs, Australia.

A filmmaker shot this. That's why the video is so fantastic. He was out there for 40 minutes. You can hear it. It sounds like a 747 with a space shuttle taking off it's so loud.

Anyway, that is one example of how fires can kind of create their own weather there with an amazing amount of heat they put out.

All right. There you go, guys.

SAMBOLIN: It looks beautiful.

BERMAN: Yes, we can't really beat that, Rob. Thanks for giving us something we can't possibly top. Look at that.

MARCIANO: You got an hour and 50 minutes to do it. I'll see you in an hour.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks a lot. Thanks for taunting with (INAUDIBLE). Nice seeing you.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I know. So John Berman says when I'm complaining I'm getting old. That's terrible.

BERMAN: I say that off camera. Thanks for bringing it up here.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Mitt Romney trying to strike a different tone as he tries to court Hispanic voters and explain his 47 percent comment. Coming up, new poll numbers on how those comments are playing with voters.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It's 14 minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Glad to have you with us this morning.

Well, Mitt Romney getting back on message and reaching out to Latinos, a critical voting bloc, in swing states like Florida and a bloc that heavily favors President Obama in the polls as well.

In a late night rally in Miami, Romney told the audience that economic policies will be better for Hispanics. Romney is trying to distance himself from the fund-raiser comments, dismissing 47 percent of voters.

New polls suggest they might not be so damaging after all. Among registered voters, 20 percent say they're more likely to vote for Romney because of it, 36 percent are less likely, and 43 percent say his remarks make absolutely no difference.

Even more important here, among independents, 15 percent say they're more likely to vote for Romney, 29 percent less likely, 53 percent say it makes absolutely no difference.

At a forum on Univision, Romney struck an exclusive tone.


ROMNEY: This is a campaign about the 100 percent. Over the last several years, you've seen greater and greater divisiveness in this country. We had hoped to come back together. BUT instead, you've seen us pull apart and politics has driven us apart in some respects.

So my campaign is about the 100 percent in America. And I'm concerned about them. I'm concerned about the fact that over the past four years life has become harder for Americans. More people have fallen into poverty. More people we just learned have had to go on to food stamps.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: That's Romney talking at a Univision forum. And President Obama is going to attend that same forum tonight.

CNN political director Paul Steinhauser is live in Washington for us. Paul, that is a lot of numbers I threw out there. What do they show us if anything?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Let's go back to the independent number because I think that's the most interesting. We know Democrats and Republicans probably set when it comes to the presidential race and this won't affect them.

But among independents here, you show that more than half say no difference. But look at that, of those that say it makes a difference, by two-to-one margin, they say they're less likely to vote for Romney. That could be a little troubling for Romney.

But remember, this is just one poll. It was conducted Tuesday night. We're going to see a lot more numbers. This is just the appetizer.

You know, Zoraida, we've also seen a lot of reaction from Republicans and conservatives since Monday when the tapes first came out. Some in favor, some in support of Mitt Romney, some critical. Here is an interesting one over the last 12 hours. This is from Susanna Martinez. She's the Republican governor of New Mexico, up and comer in the party. She had a big role at the convention a couple of weeks ago.

Here's what she said at a forum. "We have a lot of people that are at the poverty level in New Mexico but they count just as anybody else. There is a net that does allow them to be caught and taken care of whether it'd be through medical services, whether it'd be through food services, whether it'd be with funding for apartments for housing. I think certainly the fact that New Mexico provides that safety net is a good thing."

We're going to hear more, more of this from Republicans either in favor or not over the next few days, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I suspect you're correct on that. You also have some new poll numbers from some key swing states. What is that showing us?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, this is interesting because, you know, listen, for Mitt Romney to win in November, he's got to win all the states that John McCain did four years ago, plus, he's going to make some pickups.

Well, some of the new numbers don't really help Mitt Romney in that case. Take a look at our new CNN poll and ORC from Michigan. This is a state where Mitt Romney was born. This is the second poll now within the week to indicate the President with a lead in Michigan. And that can be troubling for Mitt Romney.

Take a look at Wisconsin. Two polls out yesterday in Wisconsin. Another one of the states that President Obama won four years ago but, of course, Mitt Romney's running Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin. But look at these -- in one poll, the Marquette Law, 14-point lead. Closer in the Quinnipiac/CBS/"New York Times" poll. But again, a lead. A similar story in Virginia.

I'm not saying this is over, not at all. Things change. And these numbers are not that far off. But still, troubling signs.

Some other things in the national polls, some themes, some trends, I guess. The President starting to catch up with Mitt Romney when it comes with dealing with the economy and also more people are a little more enthusiastic now or optimistic about how the economy and country will do over the next year.

All right. Well, I know you have us covered on all the polls. We appreciate that. Paul Steinhauser, live in Washington for us.

And just ahead, at the bottom of the hour, we'll talk with Ana Navarro, CNN contributor and Republican strategist about Mitt Romney courting that Latino vote. I'm sure she has a lot to say there.

BERMAN: She always has a lot to say.

It's 18 minutes off the hour right now.

A lot of news to tell you about. Christine Romans here with the headlines.


Let's start with "Fast and Furious." One day after releasing the report on the botched gun running operation known as "Fast and Furious", Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department, will be testifying before a House Oversight Committee about those findings. That's scheduled to begin in just over four hours.

His investigation found no criminal behavior and exonerates Attorney General Eric Holder. Fourteen officials with Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms face potential punishment. Two are already out.

One hundred twenty-nine inmates who escaped from a Mexican border town prison are still on the loose this morning. And now, Mexican authorities say the prisoners didn't dig a tunnel as first reported to escape but they escaped through the front door. Sixteen people, including the prison director, were arrested following this prison break. Police in Eagle Pass, Texas, just across the border say that town is on high alert.

A Danish gossip magazine has now published a 16-page spread featuring Kate Middleton sunbathing topless in the south of France. Earlier this week, a French court barred the publication. They say if the British royal family wants to sue us, we'll deal with it.

BERMAN: There you go. Thanks, Christine.

Nineteen minutes after the hour right now. And time for the "Early Reads", your local news that's making national headlines. And first, from "Los Angeles Times," Chick-fil-A is now promising to stop giving money to anti-gay groups and stay out of politics and social debates. This, of course, after the fast food chain found themselves in the middle of the gay marriage debate and a victim of protests and boycotts because the president of the company came out against same sex marriage saying it's not the biblical definition of the family unit.

The Civil Rights Agenda, which is a lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender advocacy group in Illinois, says Chick-fil-A agreed in meetings to stop giving groups such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, two groups that oppose same sex marriage, they stopped giving them money.

SAMBOLIN: All right. More junk mail coming to a mail box near you. This is in "The New York Times." It's the story about how the U.S. Postal Service facing multibillion dollar losses that we all know about, desperate for revenue -- listening to what they're doing. They're planning to stuff even more unwanted mail in your mailboxes. It's already cutting deals with direct marketers to deliver more sales pitches with we just learned is the official more friendly term for junk mail.

I'm saying they started with me maybe because that's all I get.

BERMAN: I don't get junk mail.



BERMAN: No one writes me otherwise. At least I know there's someone out there.

SAMBOLIN: Stuff it in his box then.

BERMAN: All right. For an expanded look at our top stories, head to our blog,

SAMBOLIN: You need some friends.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up, how President Obama's health care plan could end up costing more people money they didn't plan on paying.


SAMBOLIN: Hi there. Minding your business now.

U.S. stocks futures all down this morning. That market rally over the past week is losing steam.

BERMAN: World markets are down also after new data released overnight shows China's manufacturing industry slowed for the 11th month in a row. We're seeing some info about the end of this big stock rally.

ROMANS: That China news is pretty big. We're closely watching China because it has been an engine of global growth, as the U.S. has been very slow. And Europe has been in recession. So, it's one of the reasons why you're seeing futures down.

And also, we've been telling you about this huge run-up in stocks. We're up 14 percent or something in the S&P 500 this year. And there are those who think stocks are overvalued. Fifty-eight percent of mutual fund managers surveyed in September by Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, they say stocks are the most overvalued investments in the world. That is up from a 51 percent reading in August.

Yesterday I told you don't fight the Fed, remember? Because the Fed is putting so much into it. The people who watch markets now 58 percent of them are saying, it feels overvalued here. But it doesn't mean stocks don't keep going up.

I want to tell you, some new information about Obamacare. There is an insurance -- if you don't get insurance by the year 2014, you will pay a penalty. That's the way health care reform has been structured.

And sort of official scorekeepers of Congress say an additional 2 million more Americans are likely to pay penalties under the President's health care law for lacking insurance than previously estimated. Six million Americans think are going to pay penalties.

Let me tell what you the penalties look like, how big they are. So, people who don't go to the state exchanges or who aren't covered under their health insurance at work, they will be required to go out and buy health insurance, right?

So if you don't, penalty for family is $285 for the year 2014. That's when the penalties start. It goes up the next year to $975 and tops out at $2,085, a family. It's phased in to push people out into the world -- into the health care world, the new health care world. Most fines start in 2014.

So, again, official score keepers saying that likely 2 million more people.

And, then, finally, the biggest catch. This was really a surprising little story. The government says the official shellfish and fishing catch in 2011 was huge. The biggest catch, the biggest in two decades since 1994.

This is a report from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Commercial fishermen landed 10.1 billion pounds. We still import 91 percent of our fish. But looks as though some of the overfishing regulations, you know, 10 to 15 years ago might be working.

BERMAN: Who knew?

ROMANS: Who knew?

BERMAN: Thanks , Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome. BERMAN: All right. Check this out, they were looking for a thrill. Boy did they get more than they bargained for. We'll have this story, this terrifying coming up.


BERMAN: A CNN exclusive. What U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens knew about threats to his life before the attack that killed him.

SAMBOLIN: Fourteen officials singled out in the "Fast and Furious" report but no blame for the attorney general.

BERMAN: Mitt Romney now talking about the 100 percent as he tries to court Latino voters.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty-one minutes past the hour. We're very happy that you're with us this morning. And we're going to begin this morning with new details in the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. officials saying it was a case of terrorism, that attack killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The nation's counterterrorism chief telling Congress heavily armed extremists saw an opportunity to attack during protest over an anti- Muslim film, and they took it. The U.S. now searching for links to al Qaeda.


MATTHEW OLSEN, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER DIRECTOR: I would say, yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy.


SAMBOLIN: And this morning, CNN learning Ambassador Stevens expressed concerns about security in the months before he died, specifically, mentioning a rise in Islamic extremist and a growing al Qaeda presence in Libya. He also acknowledged being on an al Qaeda hit list.

And our other big story, just 24 hours after releasing his report on the botched gun running operating known as "Fast and Furious," the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, will be testifying before a House Oversight Committee about his findings. That is scheduled to begin this morning at 9:30 Eastern Time.

Horowitz's investigation uncovered no criminal behavior and says Attorney General Eric Holder wasn't properly informed about the operation until early 2011. Fourteen officials with the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms face potential punishment. Two of them resigned just moments after that report hit.

BERMAN: All right. Politics now, tonight, President Obama will address a crowd of Latino students at the University of Miami. This is part two of a town hall forum hosted by Univision and Facebook.

The President follows Mitt Romney who appeared last night where he continued to face questions about his remarks about 47 percent of Americans being dependent on government. Listen to how he responded.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a campaign about the 100 percent. And over the last several years, you've seen greater and greater divisiveness in this country. We would hope to come back together, but instead, you see us pull apart and politics has driven us apart in some respects. So, my campaign is about the 100 percent in America.


BERMAN: That 100 percent line a new one for Mitt Romney. Now, joining us now from Miami is CNN contributor and Republican strategist, Ana Navarro. You attended the event last night. It was a good back and forth. There was pretty serious exchanges there about the issues, a lot of energy from the candidates. What did you think about the event?

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, it was a very good event. This is one of several Hispanic events that Romney is doing this week. He began what I call a Pinot Palooza (ph), began the week on Monday in L.A., speaking to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

He did a Telemundo interview, did the Univision candidate's forum yesterday. So, something he hasn't done until now, really, until after he clenched the nomination after he formally became the nominee after the convention. He's also spending a lot of money on Hispanic ads lately. So, we're seeing a sprint to the finish all out effort by Mitt Romney in these last 40-some days.

It was a very good crowd for him. His people did a great job in packing the house with some of his strongest supporters in South Florida. Barack Obama will have a very similar crowd today of his strongest supporters. He got some tough questions, John, at the beginning. A real grilling on the immigration issue, but then, they moved to the economic and education issues.

You could see this was a Mitt Romney at ease. I could tell that he's been preparing and briefing for debates. This was not a debate format, but it was close. He did well.

BERMAN: You talked about immigration there. One of the reasons, of course, That Mitt Romney is trailing Barack Obama 2-1 among Latino voters is what he's considered his somewhat controversial position on immigration. He was pressed pretty hard last night about that. Listen to what he said.


ROMNEY: We're not going to round up people around the country and deport them. That's not -- I said during my primary campaign time and again, we're not going to round up 12 million people, that includes the kids and the parents and have everyone deported.

Our system isn't to deport people. We need to provide a long-term solution. And I've described the fact that I would be in support of a program that said that people who served in our military to be permanent residents of the United States.


BERMAN: When he said it was controversial. It was controversial as in Mitt Romney has not provided many specifics about his plan. He was pressed repeatedly about that last night, didn't really fill in any of the blanks, Ana. Were you satisfied?

NAVARRO: John, I've been very critical of him. I thought he went too far during the primaries. I see and I hear a change in tone in him. He's not -- he hasn't provided specifics. Really, Maria Elena Salinas of Univision pressed him as hard as she possibly could, asked him some questions three times, didn't get an answer.

I'm not sure you're going to get an answer before now or November. Maybe Candy Crowley can make another attempt during the debate, but I can tell, though, that there is a change of tone. There is a change of some of the words he's using. We've gone from talking about self- deportation to now him saying we're not going to have massive roundups and deportation.

We've talked from him talking about a veto threat for a Dream Act if it were to pass, under his administration. To him addressing some ways that he could pick up and give legal resources to some of those students that would be covered under a potential agreement. So, he's made progress.

I'm going to give him a lot of credit for making progress. Are we going to get specifics? I'm not sure. I'm almost resigning myself to the fact that we're not going to get specifics. And this is as good as it's going to get.

BERMAN: Well, Ana, if you're giving credit, that's a step, because you're one tough analyst on the subject of Mitt Romney. Thank you so much for joining us right now.

NAVARRO: Well, John, I'm going to be a Barack Obama candidate for him with Univision, which is today around the noon hour and also plays today at 10:00 p.m. So, I think I'm going to be critical on him a little later today.

BERMAN: Yes. I won't be surprised. All right. Thanks, Ana.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 37 minutes past the hour. Candidates in a couple of key Senate races will face off today in televised debates. In Massachusetts, incumbent Republican, Scott Brown, will meet up with his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren. A recent Suffolk University poll gives Warren a four-point lead over Brown, an apparent boost from her convention speech.

And in Virginia, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine will debate today. That's scheduled at noon. They're battling for retiring Democratic senator Jim Webb's seat. A "Washington Post" poll has Kaine leading Allen by eight points.

BERMAN: Both interesting debates. A growing number of fascinating Senate races around the country right now.

Also fascinating, you might say terrifying, about 20 people got stuck on an amusement park right in California's Knott's Berry Farm.

SAMBOLIN: Come to your TV. Look at how high up this is.

BERMAN: They must be so happy to be on solid ground this morning. Look at that. Some kind of problem with the Windseeker ride left these passengers. They were stranded there 300 feet in the air four hours. Four hours.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

BERMAN: I mean, at least they were sitting down, right? It's the second time in two weeks that this ride has experienced a malfunction with passengers onboard. Second time in two weeks. A sign something might be wrong.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: No one was hurt. There were no signs they were in any danger. They just were stuck there for four hours and not going anywhere, 300 feet in the air.

SAMBOLIN: You panic, you have to go to the bathroom. All sorts of things.

BERMAN: I hope they brought snacks.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. There you go. Because you anticipate getting stuck up there.

Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. With fury and flames in the Mideast, how each candidate would handle it? A focus on the issues that will bring you to the polls in November, that's coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. All this week, CNN is going in depth, exploring the issues that are shaping this presidential election. And our focus this morning turns to the Middle East where the Arab spring has suddenly taken a dangerous turn. We had all watched it over the last week.

Foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labotte, live from Washington this morning. So, Elise, how did the President and Mitt Romney really differ in their Middle East strategies?

ELISE LABOTTE, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, John, I think it's important to look at how President Obama's attitude towards the Arab world has evolved up to right now in this last week when we've seen these protests sweeping the Arab world.

When President Obama came to office in 2009, he promised to engage the Arab world, making that famous Cairo speech saying he wanted better relations with the Arabs and Muslims. But by 2011, when the Arab swing was -- Arab spring was in full swing, he was calling it a historic opportunity and said the U.S. had to do more. Let's take a listen to what President Obama said last May.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.


LABOTTE: So, what does that mean President Obama was going to do? He started by giving an extreme package of financial investment, trade, economic opportunity to the Arab world to countries like Egypt and Tunisia, to start for a business (ph), trying get them develop that way. He also started with a select military intervention.

He wasn't going to invade everywhere. In Egypt, for instance, he held back. But in Libya when he saw that there was an extreme case of people being killed, he did get involved with the U.S. in Libya. But he was cautious, John, with some of the allies. Bahrain, for instance. When national security interests were at stake, Bahrain obviously, a very close ally with the fifth fleet there, he held back.

He didn't criticize Bahrain but didn't really have a strong U.S. policy towards that country. Now, Mitt Romney has really accused President Obama and his administration for not being forceful enough in the region, not trying to direct events even as the Obama administration said these events were really indigenous to the region.

How would Governor Romney be different? He said that he would have gotten involved in Libya much quicker. He would have made U.S. aid conditional on some of these countries. Egypt, for instance, making sure they adhere to the peace treaty with Israel. And he said that he would back U.S. candidates.

He said if you look at all these Islamists sweeping the region, some of them, he believes, don't necessarily match with U.S. interests and values. He said that he would have been much more forceful about looking at backing U.S. candidates, picking winners, basically. Let's take a listen to what Mitt Romney said about how he would approach the Arab spring.


ROMNEY: American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region, to support those who share our values and our interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LABOTTE: Now, John, it looks as if -- if you look at what happened over the last week, the two candidates in a way are coming a little bit closer together. Mitt Romney, for instance, saying that he would have aid to countries conditional upon certain things, meaning U.S. interests.

President Obama talking about Egypt, for instance, last week basically said that he doesn't consider Egypt an ally necessarily even though they get billions of dollars in U.S. aid. Let's take a listen to President Obama last week as these protests were sweeping the Arab world, particularly, in Cairo.


OBAMA: I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy.


LABOTTE: Now, John, really, both candidates have to kind of define these positions, because originally, we know that the economy was really the main issue. But as we saw last week with that horrible attack in Libya, with these protest that are sweeping the nation and the anti-American sentiment, it's going to become much more of an issue on this campaign.

BERMAN: Obviously so important now given what's gone on in the world in the last week. Elise Labott, thanks so much for being with us from Washington. Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: It is 46 minutes past the hour. All year, we have been introducing you to some truly remarkable people. We call them "CNN Heroes," every day people that are changing the world. And today, at noon Eastern, CNN is announcing the top ten CNN heroes for 2012. Be sure to log on to to find out who they are and to vote for the CNN Hero who inspires you the most. Looking forward to that.

BERMAN: All right. A grown woman gets into a fight with a teenager on a school bus. No apologies from her. You will hear her side of the story coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Christine Romans with our top stories.

ROMANS: Good morning again, you two.


ROMANS (voice-over): All right. Flawed strategies, poor judgment, and bad management, but no criminal behavior. That's the finding of a Justice Department investigation into the botched gun running "Operation Fast and Furious." The inspector general who published the report will testify on the Hill today. Fourteen officials face potential punishment, two of them are already out. The report found Attorney General Eric Holder was unaware of this botched program until after it happened.

A riot at California State Prison Sacramento also known as New Folsom Prison has left 13 inmates in the hospital. The incident started yesterday morning in an exercise yard for maximum security inmates. Several inmates suffered stab wounds, and one prisoner was shot by a guard. Took prison staff about ten minutes to bring all of this under control.

A Florida mom has been arrested for allegedly starting a fight with a high school student she says was bullying her son. Sheriffs deputies say Felicia Phillips got into a physical altercation with a 17-year- old boy at a bus stop Wednesday morning, and the fight, it continued on to the school bus where it was caught there on camera.

But Phillips says she was simply confronting a bully, and she says her son says he is proud of his mother.


FELICIA PHILLIPS, CHARGED WITH CHILD ABUSE: He called me at my name. And, I smooched him in his face or whatever. I love kids. I don't have love with disrespectful child and that's what he is.

TEREZ SMITH, SUSPECT'S SON: I feel great about it, because I know a lot of people wish I had them on (ph) and have their back. Some parents just when you tell them they just ignore it.


ROMANS: Phillips has been charged with child abuse and trespassing on school property.


ROMANS (on-camera): But she was not going to let that kid get at her son.

SAMBOLIN: Boy, I'd love to have a discussion about this one.


ROMANS: There's a lot there.

SAMBOLIN: What is a parent to do? What is a parent to do?

BERMAN: All right. Fifty-two minutes after the hour right now, and a packed hour still ahead on EARLY START, starting with the fallout from that report on the "Fast and Furious." The attorney general, he's in the clear on some allegations.

Two officials already taking the fall. We're going to talk about the inspector general's finding with Robert Heyer. He is the cousin of the slain border patrol agent, Brian Terry, whose murder blew the lid off this botched operation.

Plus, President Obama wedding crasher. How the White House made good when his campaign got in the way of a couple's special day. This is a good one.

But first, he is old enough to be your grandfather but still young enough to do this. Bruce Springsteen, he is the boss. Letting loose. We'll show you coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 56 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with John Berman. We are taking a look at what is trending on the web for you this morning.

So, do you remember the elderly woman who took it upon herself to touch up a 19th century fresco? It was a Jesus fresco. This, folks, was the end result. Well, now, she's demanding she be paid for her work. The woman is reportedly demanding royalties for restoring the painting because it turns out bloated Jesus, which is the restored version, is a tourist attraction.

That's the original version. A Spanish paper says the church that houses the painting decided to start charging admission. They made 2,600 bucks in the first four days alone. And this 85-year-old, Cecilia Gimenez, she says that she wants a cut.

BERMAN: Yes, nice try.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, well --


BERMAN: Have you seen the picture?

SAMBOLIN: I have. I've seen the original picture and then I've what she attempted to restore. But, what she says is that she was given permission to restore this and so that it wasn't her fault, that the priest said go ahead and --

BERMAN: No one gave her permission to do a job like that.

SAMBOLIN: No, but --

BERMAN: You don't get permission to do that.

SAMBOLIN: But you don't get permission when, you know, the person, you know, doesn't restore antiquities, right?


SAMBOLIN: Wow. All right. Go for it.

BERMAN: All right. Bruce Springsteen, the boss, once again, is showing he is a man of the people. Check this out.

SAMBOLIN: He loves this story.

BERMAN: There he is. He's 63 years old, 63, crowd surfing at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. (INAUDIBLE) themselves on stage. I have to tell you, I'm thinking he's going to break a hip.


BERMAN: The guy is 63. You don't do that when you're 63. Take it easy, pal. Come on!

SAMBOLIN: All right.

BERMAN: All right. Meanwhile, actress, Lindsay Lohan, she is back in the news again and back on late night radar.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Lindsay Lohan is in trouble again, ladies and gentlemen. Did you hear this? Lindsay Lohan was arrested in New York City last night for allegedly hitting someone with her car and leaving the scene of an accident. Yes. That is the bad news. The good news is she's not driving in Los Angeles.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": It seems that Lindsay Lohan has a car accident about once every four days. And quite frankly, I have run out of things to say about it. I have no jokes left about this, but I do have a contract with a company overseas. From time to time, we outsource our joke writing. do we have them up on video chat? OK. But let's see if they have anything. Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for coming to the hotline. My name is Gary. What is your build a bear emergency?

KIMMEL: I don't have a build a bear emergency. It's me, Jimmy Kimmel.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long time no vision.

KIMMEL: Yes. Well, it's good to vision you, too.


KIMMEL: Hey, I was wondering if you have any jokes about Lindsay Lohan getting into a car accident.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think we ran out like two accidents ago. Did it happen again?

KIMMEL: Yes, it did. They arrested her for a hit-and-run last night.



KIMMEL: Yes. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, she is quite a hot mess, huh?

KIMMEL: Yes, I guess so. She is.


SAMBOLIN: EARLY START continues right now.