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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Holds Press Conference; Israel Strikes Hamas

Aired November 14, 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: Plus, we will get a glimpse inside a secret briefing on the General Petraeus scandal. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Dutch Ruppersberger, was in the room. He is standing by to join us live.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We saw a few different sides to President Obama in his first news conference since his reelection. He was downright furious in responding to Republican criticism of his U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice. But he was relatively restrained when he talked about two big clouds over his administration right now, the David Petraeus scandal and the fiscal cliff.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, was inside the East Room for the president's news conference.

Jessica, tell our viewers what unfolded.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

It was a relaxed, confident President Obama who showed up in the East Room today, but talk of his second term agenda was quickly overtaken by talk of CIA controversies, tax negotiations, and the fierce defense of one of his own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Out of the gate, President Obama was asked about the scandal embroiling former CIA Chief David Petraeus.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Petraeus had an extraordinary career. He served this country with great distinction.

YELLIN: He said he has seen no evidence Petraeus' actions compromised national security and would not fault the FBI for failing to tell him they have been investigating his intelligence chief for months.

OBAMA: The FBI has its own protocols in terms of how they proceed.

YELLIN: When pressed, he shot back.

OBAMA: Had we been told, then you would sitting here asking a question about why were you interfering in a criminal investigation.

YELLIN: But the president passionately defended his U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, after fresh attacks by Republican senators who take issue with the comments that Rice made on the Sunday morning shows after the assault on the U.S. compound in Benghazi.

OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them.

But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

YELLIN: The president refused to say whether he might nominate Rice to become the next secretary of state, but amid Republican vows to block her, he said:

OBAMA: If I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her.

YELLIN: And on the fiscal cliff, the president insisted that he will not back off his stance the deal must include a tax increase for the wealthiest Americans because he says the election showed:

OBAMA: The majority of voters agreed with me. Not -- by the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Wolf, I followed up on that question about the fiscal cliff asking if the president would back a proposal that would raise taxes on the wealthy by closing their deductions instead of raising rates for them. He gave two different answers. First, he said it's hard to see how the math for that would add up, but then later on he said he is open to fresh creative ideas.

It seems he's showing a little bit of flexibility and maybe a lot of ideas could be on the table when he meets with congressional leaders this Friday.

BLITZER: He says he wants a compromise. We will see how far that goes.

Thanks very much, Jessica Yellin.

We heard the president's angry response to Ambassador Susan Rice's critics. Now let's hear from some of the Republicans who have been hammering away on Susan Rice for her early comments about the Benghazi attack.

Senators McCain and Graham aren't alone in voicing huge concerns about the U.N. ambassador.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm concerned about the fact that she went on Sunday shows and said that this was the product of a spontaneous uprising.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We will do whatever necessary to block the nomination that's within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: How could we, where we are right now, be able to place our trust in her.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't trust her. And the reason I don't trust her is because I think she knew better. And if she didn't know better, she shouldn't be the voice of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're being joined now by one of the Republicans we just heard from. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Jersey is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Senator Ayotte, thanks very much for coming in.

AYOTTE: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Why go after Susan Rice instead of the secretary of state, instead of the president of the United States?

AYOTTE: We're not going after one person. We just want questions answered.

What I have said, Wolf, is that if she is nominated to serve as secretary of state, which has been mentioned, that her nomination should be held until she answers the questions understanding that why did five days after this attack on our concentrate did she go on every major news network and actually make what are now we now know to be misstatements and misrepresentations about what occurred there?

And we also know the State Department, within hours, sent to the White House information that a terrorist group, Ansar al-Sharia, they sent e-mails letting them know Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility. So there was certainly contradictory information available at the time. And I think these are fair questions that need to be answered.

An important role of the secretary of state is to brief Congress and to brief the American people. That's what I have said. I want her to answer these questions. I want to understand, Why would you go on every major news network and misrepresent what had occurred? Because the American people deserve to have a clear, straightforward explain. She should have, at a minimum, asked these questions, and we now know there was other information that contradicted what she said.

BLITZER: What she says and what the president said today is basically just before her appearance on those five Sunday talk shows, several days after the attack in Benghazi, she was briefed by the U.S. intelligence community, and she was basically relaying what she was told by the intelligence community.

Only later did the intelligence community revise its own assessment of what happened. So if she was just simply saying what she had told by the intelligence community, clearly there was a blunder by the CIA, by the director of national intelligence, but not necessarily by Ambassador Rice.

AYOTTE: But, Wolf, let's be clear, what the president said today is she went on every major show. You don't get on every major network without affirmatively putting yourself out there to do that.

On behalf of the administration, they had already received within hours an e-mail saying a terrorist group had claimed responsibility. There was already contradictory information available. I think she had a duty to ask those questions, and also to ask why am I going on the Sunday shows vs. someone would have direct responsibility, especially if we are going to place our trust in her to serve as secretary of state?

I think these are fair questions to ask. I also think all of these questions go back to why we should have a select committee in the Senate that crosses all of the committees of jurisdiction, a bipartisan committee that gets to the bottom. We know there is an armed services component, we know there is an intelligence component, we know there is a foreign relations component and a homeland security, and we should one committee get to the bottom of it.

It will be bipartisan. The Democrats will be in charge. They're in charge of the Senate, but we need to get to the bottom of it and not have a stovepipe investigation.

BLITZER: On this issue of a select committee, you know your remember colleague from Maine, Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, she disagrees with you. She said this today. I will play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I don't see the benefit nor the need for a select committee. Our committee, our Homeland Security Committee, has government-wide jurisdiction, and a history of producing comprehensive bipartisan reports.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So why do you disagree with her?

AYOTTE: Well, first of all, we also know the military component. Why is it that the best military in the world could not respond when an attack occurred over seven hours? That's the Armed Services Committee.

We already see several committees outside of Homeland Security Committee going forward. It's already happening in a stovepipe fashion, so I certainly have great respect for Senator Collins, but I believe that making sure that we have all of the information considered by one group, so that we don't miss anything, we take lessons learned, we make sure this doesn't happen again and implement holistic recommendations to make sure that Americans are protected and our consulates are protected worldwide.

BLITZER: We're out of time. But very quickly, I assume you're on the same page with Senator McCain, Senator Graham that if Susan Rice is nominated by the president to be secretary of state, you will vote against her confirmation.

AYOTTE: Wolf, what I have said is that I will hold her nomination until she answers questions, and then I will reassess what her answers are on those questions.

So my -- I have serious concerns about where we are right now and trusting what she has to say, but I'm willing to listen to what she has to say.

BLITZER: All right, fair enough, a little different nuance than what we heard earlier from Senator McCain and senator Graham who both said they would do everything in their power to block her confirmation.

Appreciate it very much, Senator. Thanks for coming in.

AYOTTE: Thank you, Wolf.

BALDWIN: Kate Bolduan is joining us now with another important story from Capitol Hill.

What is going on, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Wolf.

Leadership elections, Republicans and Democrats in Congress announced today their party leaders for the next session, and guess what, it's pretty much status quo, if that surprises you at all. Lawmakers apparently taking cues from the voters, who kept the GOP in charge of the House and Democrats in charge of the Senate.

House Republicans just revealed their top majority leaders will remain the same. You can see right there John Boehner and Eric Cantor. And the top Democrats in the House are also expected to stay the same. They're pushing off their formal elections until after Thanksgiving, though including you see there former speaker turned Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Listen to her making her announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: In order to reignite the American dream, that's what we're about, to build ladders of opportunity for those who want to work hard, play by the rules, take responsibility, to have those ladders have sides about small business, entrepreneurship, and a strong and thriving middle class, we have work to do.

And I have made a decision to submit my name to my colleagues to once again serve as the House Democratic leader.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: In the Senate majority, Democrats are not making any changes to their top leadership and Republicans made some minor tweaks, really just one in the GOP ranks, with Texas Senator John Cornyn taking the number two leadership spot, filling the slot that is being vacated by the retiring senator Jon Kyl.

Wolf, as you can probably -- I know you are going to say it, Wolf, no time for celebrating, it's time to get to work.

BLITZER: Yes, they have a lot of work to do, and the country needs a deal right now to avert this so-called fiscal cliff. More on that story coming up as well.

The top members of the House Intelligence Committee trying to get some answers today about the FBI investigation into former CIA Director David Petraeus and the affair that prompted him to resign. I will speak live to the ranking Democrat on that panel, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. he's standing by to join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Members of Congress are trying to unravel the David Petraeus sex scandal and the FBI investigation that uncovered his extramarital affair.

BOLDUAN: FBI Director Robert Mueller, his deputy, Sean Joyce, and acting CIA director Mike Morrell briefed lawmakers today.

We're joined now by the ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, Dutch Ruppersberger.

Mr. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What can you tell us? You finished these briefings with the FBI, the CIA. Are you a little bit smarter now about what happened?

REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND: Well, I think there has been a lot of information out there that has not been factually correct.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Like what?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, I'm not going to tell you anything. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We want to correct the record. If there is something that is incorrect, we want to fix it.

RUPPERSBERGER: There are a lot of issues that were there and they were clarified today.

Chairman Rogers and I met with the acting director of the CIA today.

(CROSSTALK)

RUPPERSBERGER: Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee. And we also met with the director of the FBI and his deputy, Sean Joyce.

BLITZER: So give us an example of something that is out there that is incorrect.

RUPPERSBERGER: I'm not going to give you an example. You asked me the question. Because a lot of this is classified information.

The bottom line is that we felt very secure when the meeting was over that there were a lot of questions that were unanswered, there were a lot of issues that were out there. We wanted a timeline of exactly what occurred, how it occurred.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, I will give you one example. Here is what the president said today. His words were very precise, and you tell me if there is anything you know that could alter that.

RUPPERSBERGER: OK. Sure, go ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have no evidence at this point from what I have seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RUPPERSBERGER: It's an ongoing investigation. There's a lot more to do. The FBI is conducting this investigation. And until that investigation is complete, I am not going to comment on it.

BLITZER: Because we do know that Paula Broadwell's security clearances were removed today, apparently as a result of the FBI finding classified documents on a computer, unauthorized location for these kinds of documents.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, then if that's the case, then her clearance should have been revoked. BOLDUAN: Following this meeting, do you still share -- have the same concerns you had going in as regarding questions of national security?

RUPPERSBERGER: That's our focus really on the Intelligence Committee.

Remember, this started as a criminal investigation about a cyber- threat using the Internet. Now, that is a criminal investigation. And by the way, in criminal investigations, the FBI does not go to the White House. The reason is that we don't want to have a political situation with the FBI like occurred with Nixon in Watergate and that type of situation.

They had a criminal investigation involving cyber. And then things evolved. And the situation went forward. Our role on the Intelligence Committee is to make sure that if it deals with national security that we should be notified of this. We oversee the CIA and the intelligence community.

BLITZER: They didn't tell you anything.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, we were briefed today.

BLITZER: You were briefed today, but over these many months of this investigation, I believe the chairman and the ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee should have been alerted.

(CROSSTALK)

RUPPERSBERGER: If it's a national security issue, I agree with you.

But remember what I just said, that this began as a criminal investigation involving a cyber-threat. And that is where the investigation started. Investigations evolve. Information comes out. And as you see in this investigation, it has completely evolved to other situations, and the investigation, by the way, is not over, and the FBI has a lot more work to do.

BOLDUAN: You have really just returned from traveling overseas. You just returned. So this is the first time that everyone is really hearing your reaction as the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee to this really astonishing scandal that has really -- is still unfolding.

What is your initial reaction, was your initial reaction to hearing General Petraeus resign amid this scandal?

(CROSSTALK)

RUPPERSBERGER: First thing, I was shocked. He is a tremendous individual. He has done a lot for his country. And he is also the head of the CIA.

The Intelligence Committee oversees the CIA. I think the CIA, in what they do, they're the best in the world. They protect our country. But what has happened now, and the fact that he has resigned, you have the deputy director, Mike Morrell, who I have a lot of respect for, and so does Chairman Rogers and so does our committee. And he is very qualified and competent.

And he, in my opinion, will do the job that needs to be done, and that is to continue focusing on the mission of the CIA, and that is to protect our national security, to get human information, to work with the other agencies, to make sure we deal with any issue out there involving national security.

BOLDUAN: Do you think Mike Morrell should -- he's the acting director now. Do you think he should become formally the director of CIA?

RUPPERSBERGER: That's up to the president.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Would you support him?

RUPPERSBERGER: But I wouldn't have any problem with Mike Morrell at all. I think he's very qualified.

This is the second time, probably the only other person in the United States who has been the acting director not once, but two times, of the CIA. And I know the most important thing is he has the respect of the men and women of the CIA who are all over the world. A lot of them probably are not even focused on this issue, as much of the fact that they're focused they are on their mission. And that is to get intelligence to protect our national security.

BOLDUAN: I know we're out of time, but real quick, the House Intelligence Committee is having a closed hearing tomorrow as well regarding the Benghazi attack, now, specifically, David Petraeus.

What more are you learning tomorrow that you could not have heard today?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well Chairman Rogers and I heard a lot today that it's important that our entire committee hear, both Republicans and Democrats.

Our job is to gain information. There, again, are a lot of unanswered questions. And, tomorrow, our committee will hear the timeline, exactly what occurred, how it occurred, how the CIA reacted to it. Those are important questions and these things need to be cleared up and we will get to get to the bottom.

The public needs to know the facts, and to make sure that we understand four people were killed, and we can't allow that to happen again. And there are other issues too involving the State Department. We have the role on the Intelligence Committee how the CIA reacted. There's other issues involving the State Department that other committees will be looking at. BLITZER: There are committees involving the military as well. That's why some people want a select committee to take a look at the whole thing.

RUPPERSBERGER: Yes. Well, we do oversee all of the intelligence, including the military intelligence, in our committee, both the Senate committee with Chairman Feinstein and Senator Saxby Chambliss and then Mike Rogers and I on the House.

And the four of us work very closely together. In fact, we will be probably communicating in the next couple days.

BLITZER: Communicating, but do you think you will have joint hearings?

(CROSSTALK)

RUPPERSBERGER: No, I don't think we will have joints at this time, but if it's necessary, we will.

We need to get the facts. That's the issue. All these different committees, let's see what we get first, and then, if we need to go further, we will. We will do what it takes to get to the bottom of all of these issues.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much.

RUPPERSBERGER: Sure. OK.

BLITZER: Don't leave yet.

An Israeli airstrike kills a Hamas military leader. Rockets and missiles are flying back and forth between Gaza and Israel. We have details of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: New details emerging in the scandal engulfing General David Petraeus. Up next, we will speak with a close personal friend who just got off the phone with General Petraeus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The House majority leader, Eric Cantor, is now speaking publicly for the first time about the David Petraeus scandal.

BOLDUAN: And, remember, we learned that Cantor was told about the FBI investigation of Petraeus before President Obama.

Listen to Eric Cantor explain how he got word of the investigation late last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: All I'm going to say is, you know, I received information from an individual that I had not met before, did not know. The information that was sent to me sounded as if there was a potential for a national security vulnerability. I had no way of corroborating the story that I was told and felt that the best thing to do at the time was not to politicize it, but to put national security first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little more about the Petraeus investigation. Joining us, retired Colonel Peter Mansoor, former aide to General Petraeus. We're also joined by our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, the former Bush homeland security advisor. She served, by the way, on the CIA's external advisory committee. And CNN contributor Tom Fuentes. He's the former FBI assistant director.

Colonel Mansoor, first to you. I understand you just spoke with General Petraeus. What can you share with our viewers?

COL. PETER MANSOOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I wanted to make sure that he was kept in the loop about what's going on. He's not following the media firestorm surrounding this. You can imagine that he wants to maintain a distance and focus on his family at this time.

I just wanted to make sure that he knew what I was saying and double-check that I was on the mark. And he confirmed that I was. And he also did share that he had offered, today, through his chief of staff, to testify before Congress, because he did not like the conspiracies going around somehow that he had something to hide on Benghazi.

So I think his offer to testify crossed with the Congress's request for him to testify, but anyway, he looks forward to that.

BLITZER: When will he do that, do you think?

MANSOOR: I don't know the date, that will be up to the Congress.

BLITZER: And is he holding up OK? I'm sure he and his family are going through hell right now, but tell us how -- how they're all doing.

MANSOOR: Well, he -- he describes it as putting one foot in front of the other and then repeating the process. So it's going to be a long, long road of healing for them. And he understands that, and he's focusing on it.

BLITZER: Please tell them we wish them, the entire family, obviously, that they get through this in one piece. We hope they do.

BOLDUAN: And more on this investigation, Tom. I want to ask you. You've been obviously making calls, doing some reporting in terms of the FBI and this investigation. Do you think it's coming to an end? I mean, the big question remains, as everyone looks into this, there is a sex scandal element to this, but there are a lot of national security questions. Do you think there will be any charges against either Petraeus or Broadwell here?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm not sure about Broadwell, but in the case of Petraeus, that investigation had already been winding down and the FBI was pretty satisfied he had not violated a federal law and would not be prosecuted and that he had not committed a breach of national security in disseminating documents to anyone.

So that part of the investigation was in the process of winding down around the time of the election when this all became public. But in the case of Broadwell, they still have the idea of the nature of the messages to Kelley, and now the added concern of how much classified material she did have in his possession improperly stored at her residence.

BOLDUAN: That's a big concern, right, Fran?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. It's one thing to have a security clearance in her role as a reservist. That doesn't mean -- even though you have a clearance, doesn't mean you're entitled to that information as a journalist.

When she was over, embedded in Afghanistan, she was there as a journalist. So she really -- whatever information she had access to there was not necessarily in connection with her reservist duties, and then what they found at home that Tom is talking about, there's no indication. You have to -- you have to show that you are entitled and have the authority to retain classified information and that you're protecting it appropriately.

BLITZER: Colonel Mansoor, is there anything you want to say about this whole national security issue, the relationship, obviously, between Paula Broadwell and General Petraeus, sharing national security secrets, anything along those lines? Have you questioned General Petraeus about that?

MANSOOR: I did, and he indicated that he did not pass any classified documents to Paula. If she got them, she got them through other sources.

And you know, he was convinced that this affair was a private matter. He had obviously violated his marital vows, and that's a significant matter, and he realizes that it was a severe and morally reprehensible action. But he violated no laws, it was a private matter, and he indicated again that the source of the classified information was not him.

BLITZER: And that affair is over with, I take it, right, Colonel?

MANSOOR: It's over. But they broke it off about four months ago. They've still been in contact since then, but mostly in a professional capacity, where she's still trying to get her dissertation done, and he was still trying to help her with that.

BOLDUAN: Take a look at this statement that we got from counsel to General John Allen. He wrote this: "General Allen intends to fully cooperate with the inspector general investigators and directed his staff to do the same. To the extent there are questions about certain communications by General Allen, he shares in the desire to resolve those questions as completely and quickly as possible."

Where do you think things g o in terms of that part of the investigation?

TOWNSEND: Well, I understand that General Allen is looking to the extent that he needs to be interviewed by the DoD inspector general, he wants that to happen quickly. He wants to get that behind him. He wants that resolved. Obviously, his nomination to the supreme allied commander of NATO has been put in a band (ph), and it's on hold right now.

The problem for general Allen, lots has come out that it wasn't an affair, but there are some very explicit e-mails. The problem for someone of a four-star rank like that, is that it could not be crime, per se, not an extramarital affair. It wouldn't be a violation of the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

But it could be considered conduct unbecoming of a military serviceman. So even if he was cleared, he may not have a future in the military. They may not want to give him that command any more.

BLITZER: Everyone stand by. Colonel Mansoor, stand by, as well. We have a lot more to discuss, including the decisions by both of these generals to write letters to a judge to get involved in a child custody case involving the sister of one of the women at the center of all of this. Stand by. This is very, very strange.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our panel. We're talking about new developments in the David Petraeus scandal.

And Colonel Mansoor, I know you're close with General Petraeus. Can you explain why he -- because this is perplexing to me and to a lot of folks out there -- why he, as the CIA director, would get involved, as General Allen did, and write a letter to a judge involved in a child custody case involving Jill Kelley's sister in Tampa. Jill Kelley, one of the women at the heart of this scandal, the one who caused this investigation to unfold.

MANSOOR: I can't speak to that specific letter, but I can tell you in general, general officers write letters all the time to -- for people who want to go to graduate school, who are trying to get into think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations.

I know we wrote letters on General Petraeus's behalf in Iraq for a variety of officers for a variety of reasons and even some civilians. But you know, he's always approved the letters. He's always approved, yes, write a letter for this person or that person. And so this is not unusual. The only unusual thing is that this happens to be a custody battle, not someone trying to get into grad school.

BLITZER: And then this case, I don't know if you're familiar, Fran, with the case, but the sister of Jill Kelley, she was -- the judge ruled her -- whatever he called her denied the child custody, didn't think it would be best for the child to be in her custody. I found it pretty extraordinary that you have these two generals weighing in on a child custody case. I don't know how much involvement they had with the child, knowing what was best for this child's interests.

TOWNSEND: As Colonel Mansoor suggested, look, when someone is applying for graduate school, that's one thing. That's exactly right. It is something entirely different. And in fact, inside the civilian part of the government, there are real ethics restraints on whether or not you can write such letters when you hold a senior position.

BLITZER: That's -- that's a pretty powerful situation. You have the director of the CIA, the NATO commander in Afghanistan writing to a local judge about a child custody case. That's pretty influential for them.

FUENTES: Right, and certainly, that letter should not go out over any kind of official letterhead, or in any way, you know...

BLITZER: It's signed "director of the CIA." If it's signed by his position in the government, as a senior official, or head of the CIA, or senior -- or a general, it's inappropriate.

BOLDUAN: You think this element of it is just an added side show? And just another strange element? Or do you think this will play into the continued investigation into how this is all unfolding?

TOWNSEND: I don't think it will play into an investigation. Look, I think the investigation, as Tom has suggested, is in the end game. They're reviewing the documents they've seized. The FBI is reviewing the documents they've seized. They're trying to wrap it up.

In the end, of course, let's remember the FBI will take this case and what they found and they will present it to the U.S. attorney. In the end, it will be the Justice Department that will decide whether or not...

BLITZER: To weigh in. To me and some other folks, Colonel, and I assume with hindsight, it probably does to you and a lot of other people close to General Petraeus, you know, what was he thinking? Why would he get involved? Why would he do this? Was this appropriate for him to weigh in on a case like this?

MANSOOR: You know, I can't speak for him. He does know the Kelleys very well, though. And if he knew Jill's sister well enough to think that she would make a good mother to her child, then I can see him writing a letter on her behalf. But you're right it should be as a private citizen and not as -- in an official capacity. BOLDUAN: We were talking about this investigation, talking about the FBI investigation. We also have the DoD IG, inspector general, investigating what's going on, especially with General John Allen. How long do you think the FBI investigation is in nearing its end game. How long will the inspector general be looking into this? Do you think that's going to be his end game, as well?

TOWNSEND: My understanding is they've expedited this, and they're trying to get through this as quickly as they can. When I asked this afternoon and asked senior FBI official, how long do you think it will take to wrap up the Petraeus-Broadwell, they said a matter of days. They're very much at the end of it. I understand that the number of e-mails in the General John Allen case that are of concern, are not the, you know, original 20,000 or 30,000 documents. This is a limited number.

FUENTES: And also, the inspector general does not work for the Department of Defense or the Pentagon. They say the DoD IG, the IG's office for all -- for all of the different departments works for the Congress. So the Pentagon is not going to be able to accelerate this, but really, they're under separate orders.

BLITZER: One final question. Do you think the president should have accepted General Petraeus' resignation?

MANSOOR: You know, I think another option would have been to give him a leave of absence to take care of his family, get his family life in order, and then to offer to have him come back, maybe in January, and resume his duties as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I can't fault the president for the decision he made. That's certainly a viable decision. But this was just another way to go if he wanted to keep him in the public service.

BLITZER: Colonel Mansoor, thanks very much for coming in.

Tom, thanks to you, as well.

Business leaders bring a dire warning to the White House. We have details of their meeting with the president about -- about the fiscal cliff today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Erin Burnett is going "OUTFRONT" tonight with someone who knows Jill Kelley personally. Erin, what's going on?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, someone who knows Jill personally and has known her for a long time, Wolf. We're talking with Aaron Fodiman. He is the publisher of "Tampa Bay Magazine." And he knows her well, and I think his view of her might be a little bit different than what some viewers have heard. But we're going to ask him some questions about what kind of woman she really is, why she was so close to all of these military officers. And he'll be our special guest in the next hour.

Plus, we are going to be talking about the FBI investigation and whether the president really answered the question today when he put the blame on the FBI, and he was asked if he was frustrated that he hadn't been told about the investigation for six months. Adam Schiff will join us, a congressman in the House Intelligence Committee.

And the war of words, Wolf, which was so interesting to watch between the president and Lindsey Graham and others today about Susan Rice and whether she should be secretary of state. Rand Paul will be our guest on that. All that coming up, top of the hour. Back to you.

BLITZER: We look forward to it. Thanks very, very much.

They lead some of the nation's largest companies, and right now, like all of us, they are very, very worried.

BOLDUAN: Yes, a group of CEO's representing a who's who of American business met with President Obama today, urging quick action to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff the U.S. faces at the end of the year.

BLITZER: CNN's Lisa Sylvester is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You had a chance, you spoke with some of these business leaders. What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we hear a lot about this thing called the fiscal cliff, but what exactly is it?

Well, put it this way. Unless Congress acts by the end of the year, your paycheck will likely be smaller. Your tax bill, probably higher, and government services could be cut. The nation's largest business leaders are now worried that that could push the U.S. into recession.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Their message, simple enough. Don't go there. Some of the nation's top CEOs urging Washington to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. The CEOs of G.E., American Express, Pepsico, Honeywell and IBM among those meeting with President Obama.

DAVID COTE, CEO, HONEYWELL: I think you'll start to see the president exercise more leadership here, be more out front on everything, getting across that point about how we need to work together. It requires taxes. It also requires entitlement reform, discretionary cuts, and we can't forget to invest in the country.

SYLVESTER: If Congress fails to act, starting January 1, we could go over the fiscal cliff. Automatic spending cuts will kick in, reducing federal spending by $1.2 trillion over ten years. Everything from defense to education to food safety to environment programs all impacted.

The Bush-era tax cuts will expire with a hike in tax rates for all brackets. Twenty-six million more taxpayers will be hit with the AMT or Alternative Minimum Tax. The payroll tax holiday expires, and the federal unemployment benefits extension will also expire. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that would cause the economy to contract and push unemployment over 9 percent. Honeywell CEO David Cote, one of those who took part in the White House meeting, said if a compromise can't be reached, it would send a very bad message to the markets.

COTE: My view is you could have a recession that is far greater than what you see CBO and other economists forecasting, because now you get to this crisis of confidence that says, "My God. Those guys can't govern at all anymore." The most fiscally responsible big nation in the world just can't govern itself, so what hope do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Congress does not act, growth will stall. Jobs will be lost, and our nation's credit will be harmed.

SYLVESTER: The Business Round Table, a lobbying group of the country's leading CEOs, began running print, radio and Web spots to pressure congressional Democrats and Republicans to set aside their differences.

Both sides want to raise revenue: Democrats by letting tax cuts expire, Republicans by cutting spending. Right now, the clock is ticking.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And the message the CEOs delivered to the White House today is that they want to extend all the expiring tax provisions through next year to give Congress a little more time to come up with a comprehensive plan, and they want to put a stop to the mandatory cuts scheduled to go through at year's end.

The last thing they want to see is another recession. And our own Erin Burnett will have much more on this very important story.

BLITZER: So what you're hearing, these CEOs say -- just get through the crisis right now and then seriously take up the issue next year.

SYLVESTER: That's right. They say don't go off the cliff. I mean, Obama's line is they don't want to see the economy derailed. We're just getting -- seeing the economy coming back. But the CEO predicts that, if we go over a fiscal cliff, if there's a potential hike in unemployment to 9.1 percent. Nobody wants to see that. Nobody wants to go there. So they said patch, try to come up with a solution before the year's end, and then come up with a comprehensive plan.

BOLDUAN: What I'm hearing from Democrats on the Hill, extending all of those Bush-era tax cuts, are not what they're looking to do right now.

BLITZER: It's going to be a battle. In the meantime, you see what Wall Street -- has been happening over the last several days since the election. The numbers are going down, down, down. Every single day, they're losing, the Dow Jones, the S&P.

Thanks very much.

He's being called the human hamster. We have the businessman who fought a valiant and losing battle against an escalator.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Green lights danced in the sky near Wheaton, Minnesota, this morning. The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, are caused by a geomagnetic storm. Of course, we knew that. This is obviously, what we're showing you, a bit of a sped-up version, but very beautiful nonetheless.

BLITZER: Very beautiful indeed.

Some people just have no sense of direction. Jeanne Moos shows us what happens when good Samaritans come to the rescue of one very confused business man.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Man versus escalator. He wants to go down. The escalator's going up. You know it's going to end up on YouTube, hence the British TV producer, Sam Napper, who pulled out his camera phone.

SAM NAPPER, BRITISH TV PRODUCER: It was pretty evident by his disheveled look. He was evidently drunk. He was so determined to go down the wrong way.

MOOS: There he was, lurching like Frankenstein, trying to get down into the London Underground, oblivious to commuters, yelling advice.

(on camera) It was 11:30 at night. The Asian businessman didn't seem to understand English.

(voice-over) No one tried harder to set the businessman straight than this redhead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is dangerous. We're going to go this way.

MOOS: She physically grabbed the guy and tried to yank him, but he couldn't be deterred from his march to nowhere.

Online posters called him the human hamster. Hamster man. Though the comparison was apt, even a hamster takes a break sometimes. Not this guy. The redhead kept trying to come to his rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me. I can't, I can't. I can't go on there.

MOOS: Must have seemed like an endless commute, stuck on what that old Robert Hazard song called the... UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Escalator of life.

MOOS (on camera): This is hard enough to do sober. If someone hadn't eventually pushed the stop button, he might still be on that escalator.

(voice-over) They tapped him. Tried to get his attention from the sides. Finally...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Press the stop button.

MOOS: A young man did press the stop button and grabbed the businessman.

NAPPER: The weird thing about this chap was the minute that we pressed the stop button, he had an opportunity to walk down the steps, turned around and walked the other way.

MOOS: The escalator ride of his life was over, and he may never know he took it unless or until he sees this video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Escalator of life.

MOOS: Neither up nor down in this case.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Escalator of life.

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: That's exhausting to even watch.

BLITZER: You ever try to go down an up escalator?

BOLDUAN: As a child.

BLITZER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Or maybe last week.

BLITZER: It's good exercise, you know.

BOLDUAN: Good exercise?

BLITZER: Exercise.

BOLDUAN: Do not try.

BLITZER: I don't do it.

BOLDUAN: No.

BLITZER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts -- you know when?

BOLDUAN: Right now.

BLITZER: That's right.