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Hillary Clinton: "I Take Responsibility"; More on Debate Preparations; Tax Plan; Reality Check; Debate Ritual; Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Speaks Publicly

Aired October 16, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, looming over tonight's presidential debate, the political uproar over the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya. Hillary Clinton tells CNN, she is responsible for security at U.S. diplomatic posts. Will that put out the fire?

The candidates have done all they can to get ready for their crucial rematch. We're taking a closer look at how both have prepared and what they might do differently.

Plus, he stayed out of sight for months, but he hasn't stayed out of the headlines. Now, we're hearing for the first time from Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

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



BLITZER: It's debate night in America. We're counting down to round two, a town hall event between the presidential candidates in Hempstead, Long Island in New York. CNN's coverage begins just in two hours from now. Our own Candy Crowley will moderate this debate.

With polls showing a very, very tight race right now, this showdown could be critical, and it comes amid growing controversy over the Obama administration's handling of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, now says flatly the security of U.S. diplomatic posts around the world is her responsibility.

She spoke bluntly with CNN's foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, during her current visit to Peru.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for joining CNN. I want to talk a little bit about the Benghazi attack, September 11th, the evening of this horrible day, you get a call that the consulate in Benghazi was attacked and the ambassador has died. What goes through your head at that moment? HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Elise, this was a many hour ordeal that we were all involved in. And I was, you know, deeply concerned as you would obviously assume to hear about an attack, an attack that --

LABOTT: On 9/11?

CLINTON: On 9/11. An attack that was just overwhelming -- many armed men, numbers not clear, not only at our post but at our annex. And then, we couldn't find Ambassador Stevens. And we were trying desperately to figure out what had happened to him and to Shaun Smith (ph) and the others who were there.

So, it was an intense, you know, long ordeal for everybody at the state department and in Libya.

LABOTT: Now, I know the investigation is going to play itself out.


LABOTT: But in the short-term, the state department officials and diplomatic security admit that requests for security were denied because they said that it was adequate based on the threat level. Did you get that intelligence about the threat level or was this a bad security decision?

CLINTON: You know, Elise, one of the things we're going to explore in the accountability review that I have ordered is exactly what happened. And what can we do to make sure that we learn lessons from it. Nobody wants to get to the bottom of this more than I do. I knew Chris Stevens. I've had a chance to meet the families of the other three men who we lost.

I take this very personally. So, we're going to get to the bottom of it. And then, we're going to do everything we can to work to prevent it from happening again. And then, we're going to bring whoever did this to us to justice.

LABOTT: I understand, but Eastern Libya, known to be a hub for extremist groups on 9/11 the ambassador clearly didn't have enough security.

CLINTON: Well, I'm not going to reach any conclusions. Obviously, what happened that night was unprecedented, the waves of armed attackers that went on for hours.

LABOTT: Well, do you think you got wrong intelligence then?

CLINTON: I'm not going to get into the blame game either about what we don't fully yet know from our own investigation. What I think is important is to make it clear that we were attacked. And what does that mean? That means that we have to do everything we possibly can to keep our people safe.

At the same time, we have to continue to be out in the world. That's a very difficult balance to make. And, I'm trying to make that balance all the time because we can't retreat. We have to continue to lead. We have to be engaged. We can't hang out behind walls. Chris Stevens understood that better than anybody. He believed in what he was doing in Libya. And, we want to do this right in his honor and the honor of all the men who were lost.

LABOTT: You say you don't want to play a blame game, but certainly, there's a blame game going on in Washington. In fact, during the presidential debate, Vice President Biden said we didn't know. White House officials calling around saying, hey, this is a state department function. Are they throwing you under the bus?

CLINTON: Oh, of course not. You know, look, I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the state department, 60,000 plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision.

LABOTT: Intelligence community initially called it a protest. State department never did. You never did. The story has changed now. I mean, as you know, Republicans are charging that this was a cover-up. Was it a rush to judgment? Or was it bad intelligence as Vice President Biden suggests?

CLINTON: You know, Elise, I take a very different view of this. I have now for 20 years been very much in the administration decision- making, first with my husband, then after 9/11 working with President Bush, now, of course, on President Obama's cabinet. In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there's always going to be confusion. And I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence. Everyone who spoke --

LABOTT: Bad intelligence, it seems then.

CLINTON: Well, everyone who spoke tried to give the information that they had. As time has gone on, the information has changed. We've gotten more detail, but that's not surprising. That always happens. And what I want to avoid is some kind of political gotcha or blame game going on because that does a disservice to the thousands and thousands of Americans, not only in the state department and USAID, but in the military who serve around the world.

Everyone wants to make sure they are as safe as possible, but they are doing the job that they were sent out to do.

LABOTT: Well, Ambassador Stevens' father this week said his death is being politicized. Democrats are calling it a witch hunt. Is that what's happening here?

CLINTON: Well, I'm not going to get into the political back and forth. I know that we're very close to an election. I want just to take a step back here and say from my own experience we are at our best as Americans when we pull together. I've done --

LABOTT: Are you saying we're not doing that? CLINTON: -- with Democratic presidents and Republican presidents. I've seen it happen where people say, look, first and foremost, we're Americans. We've lost four brave men. Dozens more had to fight for their lives over a very long battle. They had to get evacuated because of the dangers that they were facing.

LABOTT: Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for joining us.

CLINTON: Thanks very much, Elise.

LABOTT: Thank you.


BLITZER: All right. This programming note, more of Elise's interview with the secretary of state will air later tonight during our 8:00 p.m. Eastern hour. She is asked to give the president of the United States some advice on how he should prepare for tonight's debate. More of this interview with Hillary Clinton coming up here on CNN.

Did the secretary of state get the president off the hook by taking responsibility for security failures in the Libya attack? Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer, they are both standing by.

And we'll also hear why this town hall format is so tricky for the candidates and what they've been doing to try to get ready for tonight's rematch.


BLITZER: So, can the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, put out the political fire over the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya? Here's a sampling of some of the controversy.


REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: I give Secretary Clinton credit for taking responsibility. I wish Joe Biden and President Obama would also take responsibility. I think the administration has a lot to explain from the day the story broke back on September 11, September 12.

They told misleading stories, confusing stories, contradictory stories, the reality as what they said the very first day almost every word they've said has been disproven.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: If you look at what Mitt Romney has done since the moment this thing happened is play politics with him. Go back to that 47 percent tape, you know, he said he was looking for a foreign crisis to try to exploit during this campaign.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: It would be stunning to me for our national security team not to inform the president back in April and June. And it's stunning to me that the vice president denies any knowledge of the security situation in Benghazi, Libya. I find that almost impossible to believe. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss the political fallout from this in our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala. He's the senior advisor to Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama Super PAC as it's called, also the former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

The secretary of state, she says, she takes responsibility. What do you make of this? Her role, has it quieted down? Will the president, for example, be under less pressure tonight because of what she said?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTORS: He may well be asked, but I think he should be and it's a legitimate think to talk about, but I think that the phrase stand-up gal was invented for somebody like Hillary Clinton. The secretary of state stood up in a terrible political crisis but following a real word (ph) crisis.

So, she said in a terrific interview she gave to Elise, she knew Ambassador Stevens. The president knew Ambassador Stevens. So, this is not just another political issue. And there's no doubt that the information that our government, her state department, put out at the beginning of this has now proved to be untrue.

It's a huge leap, though, to say, look, in the fog of war, we didn't have all the facts to try to claim some kind of conspiracy. And I think it is Mitt Romney who has politicized this. And I think that is to his detriment. It's bad for America, but it's bad for Governor Romney had he said what Hillary just said, which is, look, in a moment of crisis, all Americans pull together.

There's legitimate questions about security of our officials in Libya, but we will all pull together to take on terrorists. He'd be in a lot better shape politically right now than looking as (INAUDIBLE) as he was when this crisis --

BLITZER: You called her a stand-up gal, do you agree?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, what she did was noble. And, I do believe that's the case. But I think, Wolf, you have to separate the two issues at play here. One is terrorism. There was an attack in our country when they attack an embassy. And nobody should blame that on the Obama administration.

I blame it on the terrorists who carried out the attack. The second issue, though, is the reaction the administration gave, the explanation the American people got. That explanation seems to be tortured. They had, it seems to me, their own political vested interests in saying this is a result of video. This is a result of the protest, why? Because they want to convey the impression after getting Bin Laden that terrorism was really well-handled by President Obama.

And they should not have been in a rush to brief the immediacy after the attack. They should have taken their time and they should have learned after the killing of Bin Laden where, again, political imperative. They want to give the credit to the White House for it, so they briefed too quickly and facts changed then as well.

My lesson having been through several unfortunate episodes involving terrorism is you need to wait, you need to pause, you need to collect your breath. Don't rush to explain.

BLITZER: Because initial reports that you get from the front lines are usually wrong.

BEGALA: They are, and they should have said that that first week. Ambassador Rice, who is a friend of mine, terrific U.N. ambassador, great representative for our country, should have listened to Ari. Ari's right, and I've lived through this, too. I was working in the White House when our embassies in Dar es Salaam in Nairobi were attacked.

The original -- the initial reports are always wrong. And in important ways, you just never know what way. And so, I do think that's a very different error than politicizing it the way that Mitt Romney did.

As soon as this attack occurred, the first thing he did was put out a really craven and political statement, which is unworthy of his party, and I think that's frankly a very different sin than briefing too soon, Ari's right about that, and not having all the facts.

FLEISCHER: I think they had a political imperative to brief too soon which is why they did it. You can't just say only one side played politics here. The president's administration had an impression they wanted to prevent.

BLITZER: If Romney had a do-over --

FLEISCHER: That's why they went --

BLITZER: If Romney had a do-over, I don't think he would have put out that statement.

FLEISCHER: Yes. And what we're talking about is an original tweet that came out of the American embassy in Egypt that basically said when they got news that there were going to be some type of protest at the Egyptian embassy that they said something about the video and basically apologized for the video.

BLITZER: They didn't apologize. They basically -- they didn't apologize. They blasted that video.

FLEISCHER: Well, and they were pretty much taking a pass Americans having a right to free speech. It was a terrible statement our embassy in Egypt put out and Governor Romney jumped all over that first statement.


FLEISCHER: The statement changed the bigger facts.

BEGALA: There's been reporting that the state department -- (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: -- told him not to put out that statement in Cairo. But also the statement even from the Cairo embassy was very much the things that President Bush used to say about free speech but about really disgraceful attacks on the Muslim faith. And I do think America, which has millions of faithful Muslims, should stand up for protecting religious principles and not demeaning somebody's religion, then I think that's an important American value.

BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, she's been silent basically for a month since that eleventh anniversary of 9/11. Five days later, she was on those five Sunday talk shows. She said what she said, but now, she's given an interview to "The Washington Post," but among other things, she said there was no attempt to pick and choose what she was saying.

She said, quote, "Absolutely not. It was purely a function of what was provided to us." That's what she's now saying. What's wrong with that?

FLEISCHER: Because as we saw at the Congressional hearing last week where state department security officials said it was no more than 24 hours, it had nothing to do with an unruly mob or had anything to do with the video, it was a pre-planned terrorist attack. There's a big disconnect in what information flowed where.


BLITZER: That's what the intelligence community was telling her. That's what she repeated.

FLEISCHER: But that's why you need to have an investigation of this and that's why we should all catch our breath and let the investigation take place. If it's found out that Susan Rice did have that information and she chose to ignore it, it's a huge problem for Susan Rice.

BEGALA: There's no reason to believe that. Susan Rice is a very honorable public servant. I do -- we know that Mitt Romney was playing politics. He put out a very craven statement. I dispute Ari's political analysis here, and I heard Senator Graham talked about this who's a good guy and a smart guy.

They say, well, the White House had this incentive to downplay terrorism. The crass crude politics is at a time of terrorist attack, we all rally around our president. So, the truth is, if they said it was terrorism, there's a lot of people who thought the Bush administration played politics with the terrorist threat level, not with attacks, but with that silly color coded chart we used to have.

So, I'm not entirely sure at all they had a political incentive (ph) to pretend it wasn't terrorism.

BLITZER: All right, guys. I suspect this will be an issue at the debate tonight. If it's not, I'm sure it will be Monday night when the entire debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida will be dedicated to foreign affairs, foreign policy. Guys, thanks very much. You'll be with us throughout the night as well.

Mitt Romney had a huge win in the first presidential debate, but tonight's format comes with some new challenges. Just ahead, I'll speak with senior Romney advisor, Kevin Madden. I'll ask him how his candidate is preparing for round two.


BLITZER: Mounting international outrage against the Taliban right now one week after a Pakistani 14-year-old girl was shot in the head for speaking out against them. Kate Bolduan is back. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What a story.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Such a sad story and so many people have been following it day by day. Malala Yousufzai is fighting for her life in a British hospital where doctors say they're very impressed by her strength and resilience. Tight security is in place there. Why? Well, two people were stopped wanting to see the young activists but no arrests were made.

Meanwhile, thousands of Pakistanis are rallying for Malala. The country's interior minister says her school will be named after her. We'll be following this day y day.

A federal appeals court is reversing the conviction of a former driver and bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden. The opinion states because, quote, "material support for terrorism was not a crime under the so-called military commissions act at the time of his alleged actions." The conviction can't stand.

The driver was transferred from Guantanamo Bay into Yemeni custody in 2008 and has since been released.

And a surprise shake-up at Wall Street giant, Citigroup. The bank CEO is stepping down after tumultuous five-year reign that began just before the 2008 economic crisis. Citigroup was ultimately one of the largest recipients of government bailout funding. The company's president resigned today as well. We just checked and the stock did end up, though, today.

BLITZER: (Inaudible).


BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens.


BLITZER: Thank you.

Widely viewed as the loser in the first debate, President Obama has now gone all out preparing for this rematch. What's he likely to do differently tonight? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama says he's feeling fabulous, but does he need a fabulous performance tonight to regain the momentum? Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is over at the site of the debate in Hempstead, Long Island. Jessica, this is a tricky format for the president to make a comeback. So, what are the potential pitfalls?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. It is because the top priority for the president has to be responding to the questioners in the audience rather than making his own attacks against Governor Mitt Romney. Potential pitfalls, I see, there are three big ones. One, he has a challenge keeping it brief. This is a man who once gave a 17-minute answer to a person who asked a question at a town hall.

Brevity is the soul of a good answer tonight for the president. Number two, he could have a hard time making sure that he doesn't overcorrect. He can't be too aggressive. Last time, he was criticized for not being aggressive enough. And there's the challenge of missing the mark both times. So, viewers should watch for that.

And then, the third thing I'd say people should watch for is seeing if he makes it too much about Mitt Romney tonight. You know, people -- voters need a positive reason to vote for a candidate, even a president for re-election. And there's a lot of attack against Romney.

The president will have to listen to see if he makes a positive case why he's running for election and what he would do in a second term, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do we know about the president's day today?

YELLIN: Well, he woke up. He did debate prep in the morning. He did a little bit more debate prep in the afternoon after he came here and did a little bit of a walk-through at Hofstra University, had a little bit of down time with some friends. And, he's going to see the first lady this evening for dinner.

We're told they'll have steak and potatoes. She was out on the campaign trail today in North Carolina. And she told voters on the trail she thinks her husband is handsome. And she said -- but she married him because he has character. So, they will see each other for the first time in days tonight, Wolf, before the debate.

BLITZER: I'm sure she'll be nervous. I'm sure Mrs. Romney will be nervous. They'll be sitting out there, I'm sure, in the front row watching all of this unfold. Jessica, thanks so much for that.

Let's get some more now on Mitt Romney's debate preparations. Joining us now, the senior campaign advisor for Mitt Romney, Kevin Madden. He's joining us from Long Island as well. Kevin, thanks very much for coming in.

KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY SENIOR ADVISER: Great to be with you, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Is your guy totally ready right now?

MADDEN: He is, yes. I mean, we've been looking forward to this opportunity any time you get a chance to talk directly to the voters about the issues that they care about. It's a really important time for the campaign. So, he's definitely looking forward to it.

BLITZER: I had Robert Gibbs from the Obama campaign here in the SITUATION ROOM yesterday. We spoke about some of the strategy. I want you to listen to this clip, and then, we'll discuss.



GIBBS: Well, look, I think the record of Mitt Romney that we've laid out is a pretty good one. And I think we'll want to go back at it. I mean, look, it's -- when he was (ph) governor, he was 47th in the country in job creation. As a candidate, he proposes a $5 trillion tax plan that is going to result, quite frankly, in cutting taxes for people like him and raising it for middle class families.


BLITZER: So I assume the president will be making those points tonight as well. How does Mitt Romney plan to respond?

MADDEN: Well, they've been making those points for a long time and I think what we've done is respond with the actual real record. Governor Romney came into office there was a huge deficit and he helped wipe away that deficit with real strong fiscal policy. When Governor Romney came into office, the unemployment rate was about 5.6 percent and he brought it down to 4.7 percent. That would be a record that if President Obama had it he'd be running on. That would be a record that President Obama would be bringing up in a debate and talking about that. Instead he's going to -- you know he's indicated that what they're going to do is just go after Governor Romney and attack again.

The reason that Governor Romney did so well in the first debate and the reason that he's been doing so well on the campaign trail is he's talking to voters about the issues that they care about. And he's offering a plan for the future. So I think any time that we get into where we have an opportunity during this debate to offer contrasting visions, to offer Americans a clear choice, when Governor Romney has a ability to base that argument on the last four years that we've seen, Americans know that we can't afford another four years like the last four years. And he has a specific plan for what he wants to do to institute a real recovery in America, put America back to work, bring down our deficit and get America back on track. So -- and I think he looks forward to that opportunity.

BLITZER: Are you concerned the president is going to come out swinging tonight? MADDEN: Well, I think we've gotten every indication that he will from their campaign. I can only go on what Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod and the president himself said. The president said he thought he was too polite. I think the problem didn't have anything to do with his level of politeness, it had to do with the fact that the president doesn't have a record he can run on. All the style points in the world aren't going to help you when you don't -- when you have unemployment hovering around eight percent and we have a $16 trillion deficit -- $16 trillion national debt that the president has run up with the last four years a $1 trillion -- over $1 trillion in deficits every single year. That's the real record. And all the style points aren't going to help him.

BLITZER: I'm sure the president is going to point out that Mitt Romney has a $5 trillion proposed tax cut but he doesn't explain how he's going to pay for that and make sure it doesn't increase the nation's deficit. The Democrats, the Obama campaign, put out a new Web ad featuring the former president, Bill Clinton, on this very specific point. I'll play it for you.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, POLITICAL AD: He says we should deal with the debt by first of all cutting revenues by $5 trillion more.

They say how are you going to pay for that? Well, we're going to pay for it by repealing all these tax exemptions, these loopholes. All the analysis shows if you get rid of all the home mortgage deduction and all the charitable deduction, you still won't close the debt hole. It won't be closed.


BLITZER: Is Mitt Romney going to provide those specific details, how to pay for that tax cut?

MADDEN: Look, this is another reason why Governor Romney did so well in the first debate. When voters out there had an opportunity to compare the two candidates and their record on tax reform, Governor Romney came out ahead because he did lay out more specifics. All the president is telling you that he's going to do on tax reform is he's going to -- he's not going to reform. Instead what he's going to do is raise taxes on Americans and in a way that's going to really hurt small business. I think when Governor Romney talks about his tax reform, he's going to talk about lowering those rates, looking at how he can (INAUDIBLE) allow some of these deductions and then helping grow the economy. That's how you help institute the kind of economic growth, the kind of small, business growth, the job creation that we need in this country. You have to look at tax reform as either you tax your way out of it, you grow your way out of it or you cut your way out of it. The president is only talking about how you tax your way out of it. Governor Romney is talking about helping economic growth while finding efficiencies on the spending side so that you're cutting waste and then also lowering the rates so you have more economic growth. That's how you get the economy back on track, Wolf. BLITZER: But Governor Romney is also avoiding the specific details that so many people want to know about. Will they be able to deduct their home mortgage interest rates? Will they be able to have charitable contributions? Businesses want to know which tax credits will go away, which specific deductions will go away, exemptions, loopholes, they want those details and they'd like those details tonight presumably.

MADDEN: He has talked about those details and I expect that he will do more of that tonight. That's one of the things that he did in the last debate so much better than President Obama. He really offered Americans what he had for a plan going forward as it relates to tax reform and how it's going to help the economy. There are deductions in there and there are principles that the governor has talked about for example with Simpson-Bowles that he would take a look at and he would work with Congress to find common ground in order to find those cost savings so that when you reduce the rates and you help the economic growth that we have a much stronger economy as a result.

BLITZER: Because he told me last week that he might put a cap on $25,000, $50,000 on some of those deductions, for example, mortgage interest rates or charitable contributions, other deductions.


BLITZER: That's the only specific points I've heard. But you're saying he's going to go further tonight?

MADDEN: Well, he's going to talk about those principles that he laid out and how it's going to help be a part of a broader tax reform. He has talked about some of those deductions. He has made the case also that middle class Americans aren't going to lose any of their deduction preferences. But instead that we can look at ways where there are many proposals out there, many of them included in some of the Simpson-Bowles principles that were laid out about how it is that you achieve some of these sliding scale deduction caps. And those are things that as president that he would work with Congress on in order to have a tax reform policy that's going to work for middle class Americans and it's also going to get the American economy back to work.

BLITZER: We're out of time. A very quick question, very quick answer, you want to respond to what the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying she takes responsibility for the way the Benghazi killings were handled?

MADDEN: Well, look, I think many Americans don't look for where the buck stops on an issue like that with the secretary of state. I think many Americans would consider -- would think that the buck stops with the president. So I think the president ultimately bears responsibility for answering the questions that are still unanswered out there about what happened in Benghazi, how we could have prevented it and what it says about our national security posture going forward.

BLITZER: Kevin Madden from the Romney campaign, thanks very much for joining us. MADDEN: Great to be with you, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you. And don't forget, CNN is the place to be for tonight. Not only is our Candy Crowley moderating the debate, CNN brings you more information than any other network on TV and online, Very cool technology, by the way, that lets you share your favorite moments. CNN's Alex Wellen explained it to Brooke Baldwin.


ALEX WELLEN, CNN NOW VIDEO PRODUCTS: So check this out. So if I hit clip and share right off the home page, it grabs the moment that just happened. Look, this is the moment and the moment inside the moment, right?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Alex Wellen, get out of here.

WELLEN: Isn't that hot? The team worked on this and then I just hit share on Facebook.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Share on Facebook because what I love about watching these debates now is I'm texting, I'm tweeting, and people are Facebooking and they're like did you see that moment when he said this?

WELLEN: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So now you can show them.

WELLEN: You can show them the exact moment.


BLITZER: Very cool technology indeed. It's available right on the home page Go there tonight. You'll be fascinated.

Our fact-check teams will be watching closely during tonight's debate. Just ahead, what the candidates have been saying about taxes, are they on target?


BLITZER: Our expert team of producers, researchers, reporters will no doubt be very busy tonight trying to determine when the candidates are or aren't telling the truth. We've also been looking closely at what they've been saying out there on the campaign trail. CNN's John Berman is joining us right now with a reality check. And good to have you here in Washington now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's great to see you here, Wolf. I'm going to start on the issue of trade because Mitt Romney argues that the president has not initiated any new trade deals.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And over the last four years the president has signed no new trade agreements, no new opportunities for America to sell goods outside our nation. We can compete. Our farmers can compete. Our manufacturers can compete with anyone in the world. But he hasn't opened up these markets for us.


BERMAN: So what are the facts here? President Obama did sign free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea last year. However, work on these deals began under the Bush administration. They were not passed until President Obama renegotiated the deals with Congress. So our verdict here is by the letter true, but really misleading. President Obama has signed trade deals. Romney is sneaking in the word new to narrow that definition. I want to move to the issue of taxes because both candidates like to seize the tax cutting mantle. At a rally on Thursday the president claimed he has enacted serious cuts for the middle class.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Four years ago I promised to cut taxes for middle class families and we have by $3,600.


BERMAN: Let's look at the facts here. The math here assumes a typical family making $50,000 a year, the $3,600 cut is over four years, not every year, and it includes a tax credit from the Stimulus Act that's no longer in effect, and payroll tax cuts that will expire later this year. So our verdict here is true, but with major qualifications. The tax cuts are over a four-year period and some of it is gone or will be gone soon, Wolf. So you can see that there's a lot of work within the facts here. Truth is a relative word in some cases.

BLITZER: Very important. I love these fact-checks. Thanks for doing them, John.

BERMAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: John is going to be with us of course throughout the night. When Mitt Romney takes the debate stage tonight, there's one thing we know he's sure to do.


BLITZER: There's certainly no question family plays a major role in shaping the candidates and I spoke about that recently with Mitt Romney.


BLITZER: Your wife, Ann Romney, she had a moving story. She told our own Gloria Borger in a recent interview about your ritual as you go into a debate. Let me play this little clip for you because I want to see your reaction and I want to get your reaction on the other side. ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: You know, it's a cute thing that he does almost after every answer. He finds me in the audience. As soon as he gets on stage the first thing he does is he takes off his watch and puts it on the podium, but then he writes dad on the piece of paper. And that's amazing because he loves his dad, respects his dad, doesn't want to do anything that would not make his father proud.

BLITZER: All of us who lost a father can relate. But give us a little addition. What do you think about that?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, every debate she's right. I write my dad's name at the top of the piece of paper to remind myself of all that he sacrificed to give me the opportunities I now have. I think about his passion, his passion for the country. Dad was devoted to ideals that motivated him. I mean, the guy was born in Mexico with nothing when he came to this country, rose to be head of a car company, a governor. I mean, my dad was the real deal. And his life and his memory inspires me. So I -- yes, I write his name there and of course I look at Ann every chance I get. She's usually looking down. She's a little nervous during the debates. But I look to her to see if she feels like I've done a good job.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. That's a moving little comment and we'll look forward to him maybe if he's got some notes tonight writing his dad's name as well. But both of these candidates, they've had very different relationships with their respective fathers.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think Mitt Romney as you just heard idolized his father, is trying to live up to his father. If you were an armchair psychologist you might say he's trying to win the presidency his father never -- you know never could win. I think with President Obama as he's spoken about his father was absent in his life. And one thing he has done in his life is go out of his way to be a present father for his young girls because his father was not present in his life. But two very -- two very different father figures, one of whom has compensated for the loss of a father and one of whom is trying to live up to it.

BLITZER: How important is it for both of these candidates to show empathy tonight?

BORGER: Very important. This is a town hall. This isn't just with a bunch of journalists here. These are people asking questions about their lives and about this economy and how this economy has affected their lives. So I think you do have to show empathy for people's problems. When candidates don't show empathy in a town hall, that's an issue for them. I think when George W. Bush looked at his watch and it seemed like he wanted it to be over, that doesn't work well. I think if you're a candidate the problem you have is which audience are you talking to? Are you talking to the people in the hall? Are you talking to the person who asked you the question? Or are you talking to the voters? And you have to do a little bit of each. And that's not easy. It's actually quite difficult and something I would presume they have to practice.

BLITZER: The biggest challenge for Mitt Romney tonight? We know the president has a huge challenge --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- to do what he failed to do in the first debate. What about Romney?

BORGER: I think Romney has to talk to those middle class voters who say he doesn't care about or understand my problems. By about a three to one or a two to one margin, the president does better than Mitt Romney on that. And it's very important when you have an economy like this that people believe you care about and understand their problems. This is a perfect environment in which to do that. And I think that's the bar that Mitt Romney has to sort of get above.

BLITZER: I don't know about you, but I'm getting excited for this debate.

BORGER: Yes, it's going to be really interesting --

BLITZER: It's coming up in a couple three hours or so. Thanks, Gloria.

BORGER: Sure will.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. He stayed out of sight for months. Up next, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., he speaks.


BLITZER: We want to invite Van Jones (ph) to come back on here in THE SITUATION ROOM to discuss some comments, unfortunate comments he made in the last hour about Governor Romney. Van (ph), I know you want to say something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, I just wanted to say, listen, I want to apologize to you, to the CNN audience, and to Governor Romney himself. Very poor choice of words and I regret it. I apologize.

BLITZER: I know you do. I know you feel bad about it. I'm glad you apologized. Thanks very much, Van (ph), for that.

Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has been battling what we've been told is bipolar depression as rumors swirl about alleged misconduct in office. Now we're hearing from him for the very first time, even if only briefly. CNN's Brian Todd has been working the story for us. Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, Jackson happened to be on his front stoop (ph) here in Washington when he was approached by a reporter from the Web site, "The Daily". He did make a brief comment on his condition, but there are still plenty of other unanswered questions about a congressman who's been MIA for months.


TODD (voice-over): He's on the ballot, but not on the campaign trail and not on the job. The only place Chicago voters are seeing Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is in the headlines. Headlines saying he is under federal investigation, according to the "Chicago Sun-Times".

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: This adds yet another legal, big legal headache for Congressman Jackson to face and of course this does come just before the election.

TODD: "The Wall Street Journal" reports the probe centers on whether Jackson misused campaign money to decorate his home. The FBI declined to comment. This is separate from a previous investigation into whether Jackson was part of the scandal involving former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The House Ethics Committee looked into allegations that Jackson or an associate offered to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for Jackson being appointed to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Jackson denied any wrongdoing. Another new headline, sitting on the stoop of his house with his father and a cigar on Monday, Jackson did his first interview in months.

He told the Web site, "The Daily", he is "not well" and is going to doctor's appointments twice a day. He did not address the allegation that he misused campaign money. We saw no sign of Jackson at his house in Washington. Jackson was treated for bipolar depression this summer, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic. Before recent appearances, he hadn't been seen in about four months, even though he was released from the clinic in September.

(on camera): A staff member at this bar, the Beer Bear and Tavern (ph) in Washington tells us that Jackson was here on two consecutive nights recently and that he was drinking. No one here would go on camera with us.

(voice-over): For Lynn Sweet of the "Chicago Sun-Times" that raises questions.

SWEET: If he's well enough to go out, I think the voters in Chicago want to see him.

TODD: Sweet says even though he's not been on the campaign trail for several months, Jackson is expected to win re-election. Still --

SWEET: All this adds up to a very, very serious political problem for Congressman Jackson, so much so that even if he's re-elected, it will make it hard to see how, at this point, unless he does publicly show people he's up to the job, it does make people wonder will he be able to be an effective member of the House of Representatives?


TODD: We tried several times to get Jackson's congressional and campaign aides to comment -- to comment on the reports of a financial investigation, on the interview outside of his home, and on the sighting of him at a bar, drinking here in Washington, they would not comment on any of that. We also could not reach a lawyer for Mr. Jackson -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we have any idea when he might be getting back to work as a congressman or even campaigning?

TODD: Well, his wife, who is a Chicago alderman (ph), said previously that he would probably surface in some capacity before Election Day. But according to the "Sun-Times", Mrs. Jackson said recently that he may not return before Election Day, so there's still a lot of mystery surrounding him and what he's going to do, when he's going to come back, and how he's going to perform once he does.

BLITZER: We wish him a speedy recovery. Brian, thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.