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THE SITUATION ROOM

Libya Debate Heats Up; Conflict in Israel

Aired November 15, 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: Israel expands its deadly offensive against militants in Gaza. Will either side blink?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Members of Congress say they're trying to get a closer to the truth about the September 11 attack on four U.S. diplomats in Benghazi that killed the United States ambassador to Libya. But today's closed-door sessions in the House and the Senate are steeped in politics and very, very angry allegations.

More than one Republican has accused the Obama administration of lying to the American people in the days immediate after the attack.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, you now have learned some amazing material was on that video that the lawmakers saw behind closed doors today.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

I was told by a source who was at a briefing earlier today in the House Intelligence Committee that one of the things that they witnessed in this video that was played for them was Ambassador Christopher Stevens being dragged out, being dragged out of the consulate. It's unclear from this source or really from the video, at least, what the status of the ambassador was, whether he was alive or dead.

But, certainly, I can imagine seeing that video must have been very difficult. But that was not the only thing they saw. This was surveillance video, we're told, by a separate source actually coming out of the Senate briefing, which is still going on right now, that this was surveillance video from the compound, but also video that was shown to them captured by drones.

So, there is a combination of videos. And, you know, I should tell you that this has been a very, very long day for top intelligence officials, for the acting CIA director and for the director of national intelligence. They came here this morning about 10:00 and they're still briefing members of Congress.

In fact, the Senate briefing is still going on. It's been going on for about four hours now, Wolf. We told you that we expected the Senate intelligence chairwoman to come out two hours ago. That still hasn't happened. We're waiting to hear exactly what they say. As you can imagine, there's been kind of a mixed reaction from Democrats and Republicans to what they're hearing, whether or not it has really cleared up what the administration knew and didn't know beforehand. It's kind of a political Rorschach test I have to tell you, from Republicans who are saying, aha, it is proof that the administration wasn't forthcoming with all the information they had about this really being a terrorist attack, the terrorist elements, and Democrats saying that they believe even more now that the administration was just dealing with the information that they had the time from intelligence sources.

BLITZER: Let's turn to Senator John McCain. He has been aggressively blaming the White House for not releasing accurate information to the American public. But it turns out he missed an important briefing yesterday on the Benghazi situation yesterday. What happened?

BASH: Well, it turns out that he was one of many Republican senators who just did not go to a briefing from the Homeland Security, within the Homeland Security Committee. It was an intelligence briefing on the Benghazi attack and, at the time, it turns out he was at a press conference talking about the fact that there needs to be more information and that there needs to be a select committee to look into all the things that happened and what went wrong.

We do know from our Ted Barrett that he tried to get information at least this morning about what happened, why he didn't go and that conversation went, did not go very well. It was pretty testy. Listen to some of it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TED BARRETT, CNN PRODUCER: Senator McCain, listen, I understand that you missed this briefing yesterday.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have no comment. I have no comments about my schedule. And I'm not going to comment on how I spend my time to the media.

BARRETT: Is there -- is there...

MCCAIN: I will not -- I have no further comment.

BARRETT: Is there a legitimate feeling that your complaining about wanting more...

MCCAIN: I have no further comment. I have no further comment. I have no further comment.

BARRETT: Why can't you comment about that?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment. And who the hell are you to tell me I can or not?

(END AUDIO CLIP) BASH: Now, afterwards, Senator McCain's office contacted us and told us the reason he wasn't at that briefing is because of a scheduling error and that's why he wasn't there. But that was not the answer that he gave Ted Barrett, as you heard there. Didn't give him an answer, even though Ted did try.

BLITZER: He certainly did. Dana, thanks very much.

John McCain, by the way, is going to be on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." That airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight. Looking forward to that.

Meanwhile, the former CIA Director David Petraeus will testify before Congress tomorrow about the Benghazi attack. We're learning now what he will say.

Kate Bolduan is here picking this part of the story.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A little bit more about what he could possibly say.

One of the major questions that remains is still who knew what and specifically when? And we're told Petraeus wants to clarify some of his earlier statements to lawmakers specifically focusing on when he first learned who was behind the attack.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr broke this story just a short time ago.

Barbara, what is the former CIA director expected to say?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate and Wolf, I have spoken to a source, a longstanding source of mine who is close to Petraeus, someone who is a peer, not a junior aide.

This person says Petraeus wants to go to the Capitol Hill and clear this up, that Petraeus, as CIA director, knew almost immediately, that's how the source characterizes it, that Ansar al- Sharia, that al Qaeda sympathizer group in Libya was behind the attack.

But the confusion emerged very quickly as well, because Petraeus and the CIA had about 20 different intelligence reports, we are told, that indicated that it was due to that anti-Islamic film back in Cairo that had sparked the riots.

So, what you have here are two questions on the table. Who is responsible and what was their motivation? What we now understand is Petraeus will tell the committee those 20 reports or so about the film being responsible, that it being a spontaneous riot because people objected to the film, those reports were disproved over time, but not until after Petraeus made that initial briefing to Capitol Hill about what he knew.

So, he wants to go clear it all up.

BOLDUAN: All right.

Barbara Starr doing some great reporting at the Pentagon for us this evening. Barbara, thank you so much.

BLITZER: She certainly is.

Let's a little bit dig deeper right now with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, the former Bush homeland security adviser and she's also a member of the CIA's External Advisory Committee.

They're trying to clear up what the intelligence community knew, but it's so muddled right now and it looks like what General Petraeus is going to say to the Senate Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence Committee is different than what others have said.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's actually, I think what Barbara is telling us is that it's going to be different than what he initially said, right?

You know, remember when Suzanne Kelly, our colleague on the intelligence beat, and I were reporting right after the Benghazi attack, we had been hearing that there was some intelligence to suggest that this attack had been at least motivated or inspired by the protests in Cairo.

It sounds now like from Barbara's reporting that's what General Petraeus, Director then Petraeus went up to Capitol Hill and said. Of course, over time it became pretty clear and I think pretty quickly that this was a terrorist attack. Regardless of what its motivation had been, it had been an attack by Ansar al-Sharia. And I think that there is a real sense of frustration on the Hill. Whatever motivated it is less important to them than who did it and they want absolute clarity about that.

And I think Director Petraeus, for his own credibility up on Capitol Hill, will give that to them.

BLITZER: You didn't have to be an intelligence genius to figure out that an attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was a terrorist operation. That was -- I mean, I said it that day, the next day when I had Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on this show. We both said, this is too coincidental. This is not just a spontaneous thing.

TOWNSEND: And also two attempts previously at that consulate. Plus, that does not even get you to the attack on the U.K. ambassador.

BOLDUAN: And it also raises the question now that we're learning that Petraeus is going to be clarifying his remarks tomorrow. Is this going to serve as proof that the CIA somehow, was it poorly executed investigation or are they did a really poor job communicating early on or maybe they shouldn't have communicated early on until they knew better what the story was?

TOWNSEND: Well, what this is further, just yet another example of, Kate, is in the heat of battle when something erupts, you look at all the intelligence sources. You're looking at videos and you're looking at signals intelligence, things that you collected, pictures, drones and you're trying to put all that together and sort through the inconsistencies.

It's -- as you suggest, until you had the opportunity to do that, you have to be pretty careful about drawing conclusions.

BLITZER: I want you to stick around for a moment because they're about to emerge from the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chair, Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Republican, Saxby Chambliss.

We're going to hear what they have to say because they have been getting some classified information. Stand by. There's a lot going on. We will take a quick break and we will have live coverage of what they have to say right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. You're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Republican member, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, they're both expected to walk out momentarily.

They have been in there for the last several hours getting briefed on what happened in Benghazi on September 11 when the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed along with three other Americans. We will have live coverage as soon as they get to the podium. Fran Townsend is still with us, and Kate Bolduan of course is here as well.

The video that they saw, the surveillance video that members of the Senate and the House have seen now showing the U.S. Ambassador, Chris Stevens, actually being dragged out of the Benghazi diplomatic compound and we don't know, though, is he alive or dead in this video. Have you heard?

TOWNSEND: It is interesting, Wolf. I hadn't realized the video they were going to show included that very sensitive obvious piece of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

And, truthfully, one, I was surprised. But my real first thought, yes, you would like to know, can you tell if he's alive? It's unlikely, I suspect. But my first thought was with his family. Did the U.S. government contact, reach out to Chris Stevens' family and asked them if they wanted to see it before it was shown to all these people as part of the oversight process?

Not that it would have stopped them, but you want to give the family, the family -- the president himself has promised them to have updates and keep them well informed and I sure hope before this is shown to a whole bunch of members of Congress that the family at least had an opportunity, they were informed and would have had an opportunity to say whether or not they wanted to see it.

BOLDUAN: Coming from the CIA, from that position when they're in there briefing them, what is the benefit of showing these members of Congress this surveillance video? What is the point they're trying to assist with it in showing this video?

TOWNSEND: Well, they have an oversight -- the members of Congress have an oversight role and so they're entitled to see what was the information that the intelligence community, the CIA in particular were relying on when they began to draw their conclusions. What they were looking at? It's a way of testing the credibility frankly of the intelligence community's conclusions.

BLITZER: The other story we're watching obviously is the continued investigation into this whole General Petraeus affair that's going on.

Let me read to you a statement that the CIA spokesman put out today. "At the CIA, we are constantly reviewing our performance. If there are lessons to be learned from this case, we will use them to improve. But we're not getting ahead of ourselves. An investigation is exploratory and doesn't presuppose any particular outcome."

There is an exploratory committee going on within the CIA about what happened. Explain this, give us some perspective.

TOWNSEND: Sure. The key there is lessons to be learned, right? So after the Khost tragedy at the Khost base where there were CIA officers killed, there was a lessons learned review.

You look at everyone's conduct, everyone both directly involved and on the periphery of it, at headquarters, all the way around, and say, how could we have prevented this and how could we have known about it? The interesting thing about this, the notion that it doesn't presuppose an outcome...

BLITZER: Hold on a second.

Here comes Senator Feinstein, Saxby Chambliss. They're walking in. I see they were just stopped for a second, but they're going to be making a statement. I want to listen in what the chair of the Intelligence Committee says.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I am here with our vice chairman, Senator Chambliss of Georgia, and we just had a very lengthy first inquiry.

We had virtually all members of the committee there, except for one. We heard a or we saw a real-time film put together by NCTC of exactly about what happened. We had the opportunity to question the DNI, the acting director of intelligence, General Overson from the Joint Chiefs, Pat Kennedy, the ambassador who heads the security aspects of the State Department.

I'm not going to tell you what questions were asked or what answers were given. This is just the first step in the inquiry. We will meet, as you all know, with former Director Petraeus in the morning and then we will resume the week we come back with another two full hearings. And then we anticipate that we will have a public hearing and, at that time, make our findings that can be unclassified released. I think it was a good hearing. I think it gave us an idea as to the depth and breadth of this of future areas to question, and we will just continue to do so and plow through this until we believe we have enough information to make some findings.

Vice Chairman?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Two things I take away from this hearing today is that, number one, were mistakes made? Gosh, we know mistakes were made and we have got to learn from that.

Our membership asked some very hard and very tough questions of our witnesses today and we are going to continue to do that in our subsequent hearings, which the chairman has outlined. Secondly, what was, again, highlighted is the professionalism of our men and women who are in the Intelligence Committee and who are in the armed services that were involved here, obviously, as well as in the State Department.

There were some very heroic acts that took place. That does not, in any way, minimize, obviously, the fact that we lost four Americans. And at the end of the day, our committee is going to get to the bottom of this and we're going to do it in a classified way to the extent we need to, but at the end of the day, as Chairman Feinstein says, we're going to have a public hearing where the American people are going to have the opportunity to see the questions asked and get the answers to questions that they have had since September 11 of this year.

FEINSTEIN: I would like to expand on something that the vice chairman said.

This is a very difficult area of the world. People who participate in the intelligence services that cover this area of the world I think have great difficulty. It's a different culture, it's a different language, it's a different dialect. The countries are troubled from within.

There's a great deal of instability. So, it's a very precipitous situation. And on behalf of the whole committee, I really want to thank them. This is a huge community doing the best they can. And this isn't the days of, you know, KGB, CIA intelligence.

It's a whole new world and an extraordinarily difficult one. And as the vice chairman said, we very much appreciate their service and it's very easy to criticize. It's very hard to be out there and put this altogether.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) any way the films that you saw? I understand (OFF-MIKE) in any way the films that you saw? And, secondly, can you tell us when the intelligence community got their hands on that film to help us with a timeline of what they knew when they knew it?

FEINSTEIN: No. I think -- I can't help you with the actual timeline that this was put together. The film is a composite from a number of sources. It is real time. It does begin from when the incident -- before the incident started and it goes through the incident and the exodus. I don't think I should say any more at this time.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FEINSTEIN: Yes, it does.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FEINSTEIN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FEINSTEIN: I'm just not going to comment.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) What do you expect to get from David Petraeus that you could not get -- from an agency standpoint that you could not get from acting Director Morrell today?

FEINSTEIN: Yes.

Well, Director Petraeus went to Tripoli. He interviewed many of the people, as I understand it, that were involved. And, so, the opportunity to get his views, I think, are very important. This is not to criticize anybody today, because people were very fulsome in what they said. And we had a back and forth and it was not always the easiest thing, I'm sure, for everybody that was testifying. But we learned a great deal.

BLITZER: All right, so, Senator Feinstein wrapping up an important hearing and they will continue tomorrow morning, you just heard her say. General David Petraeus, the now former CIA director, will appear as well.

Fran Townsend is here with Kate and me.

What did you think? Did you learn anything from what she just said?

TOWNSEND: No. Look, I think they have been very, very careful.

We now understand that in addition to the drone video, there was a composite put together so they could watch it from beginning to end. That actually was very important that Senator Feinstein said it started before the attack began. So, once you have watched this, there is not going to be any -- there will at some point there will be no further dispute as to whether or not there was a protest that kicked this thing off.

That sort of has been dissolving over time. I think this video is going to put at least that piece to rest.

BLITZER: We will see if they ever make this video available to the American public. BOLDUAN: There will...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Still two closed-door hearings.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... in some sort of sanitized version or whatever.

Fran, thanks very much.

We're going to take you through the timeline of who knew what and when in the Benghazi attack when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters, they are trading deadly new attacks. They're ratcheting up fears of a full- scale war.

BOLDUAN: It's the second day of Israel's assault on what it calls terror targets in Gaza, retaliation for hundreds of rocket strikes on Southern Israel.

Police say three Israelis have been killed in fresh attacks by Hamas and other militant groups. Hamas, which controls Gaza, says 18 Palestinians have been killed.

BLITZER: As Israel pounds targets in Gaza, the Israeli army is moving troops towards the border with Gaza. Israeli officials warning militants will pay a price for an attempt to strike at the heart of Israel, Tel Aviv. Air sirens actually went off briefly at the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

I spoke with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, in the last hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The prime minister of Israel has to go into a bomb shelter. Imagine if the president of the United States had to go to a bomb shelter. Imagine what the equivalent would be in the United States, 150 million Americans were under rocket fire, what kind of steps the United States would take to ensure the safety of its citizens. Those are the types of steps we're going to have to take.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're joined now by two veteran Middle East analysts.

Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development of the University of Maryland and he's also with the Brookings Institution here in Washington. Aaron David Miller is a scholar at Woodrow Wilson Center, former adviser and participant in Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

It feels, Aaron, like they're on the verge of war over there, full-scale war. Does it feel like that to you?

AARON DAVID MILLER, PUBLIC POLICY SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: I think it's safe to say, Wolf, it will get a lot worse before it gets worse, in large part because the factors for a resolution between Israel and Hamas simply aren't there.

We have had three issues. New thresholds have been crossed. You have for the first time Fajr-5 or the equivalent used against Tel Aviv. It fell short.

BLITZER: That's a missile.

MILLER: Right, clearly with a range of 60 to 70 kilometers, number one.

Number two, the politics are bad. Hamas is trying to consolidate its authority and maintain the legitimacy of armed struggle and is being outmaneuvered by these small jihadi groups who are responsible for some of the rocketing. And Netanyahu is under pressure from the southern communities to stop the rocket fire and you have got Israeli elections in January. That's another...

(CROSSTALK)

You agree with that analysis, Shibley?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, ANWAR SADAT PROFESSOR FOR PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The thing is, I think that there is definitely a chance of escalation.

We see it partly driven by politics and partly driven by strategy. But I also think we shouldn't take, you know, the mobilization at face value. If -- they're ultimately going to have to negotiate a cease-fire, whether it is after escalation or before escalation. And they both have to send a message that they have an upper hand and they have more in store.

Hamas has now signaled that it can hit Tel Aviv. The Israelis have called reserves or said they plan to call reserves and so they both have to do that. But I think in the short term I really don't see it in their interest to do so. More importantly, it's not in the interest of any of their allies. Certainly, the U.S. doesn't want to see this happen. And the Egyptians, who are the allies of Hamas , it puts them in a difficult position and they don't really want to be in the situation of confrontation with Israel at this point.

Certainly, other friends of Hamas, including the Turks, don't want to see an escalation. So, it puts a lot of pressure on the player on the outside to intervene to end this.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you that. What role should the U.S. play in this? What should the U.S. do, if anything, to stop this latest stream of violence?

MILLER: Well, we had a trial run in '08 and '09 when Barack Obama was not yet an inaugurated president.

And our options then were very limited. This played out in Operation Cast Lead and was extremely costly. I mean, American options are limited. We can certainly work with the Israelis to try to urge restraint, assuming that the Egyptians, the Qataris, the Turks are willing to lean on Hamas and the other jihadis in order to provide the political space and time for a resolution. I think Shibley is right that it's neither in Israel nor Hamas' interest to see this escalate.

The question is, you have crossed some new thresholds, and this thing has to be put back in the box.

BLITZER: Because you just had a high-level delegation from Qatar going to Gaza. I suppose, if somebody could intervene and try to create a cease-fire, it may be the Qataris. I don't see the Egyptians right now doing much.

TELHAMI: Well, the Qataris come in (ph) only because they provide financial support. But, ultimately, for Hamas, the strategic partner, the strategic ally in the long term is the Egyptian government and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. That is really where it's all going to be. There's a lot of pressure on Morsi. I mean, you can see, already...

BLITZER: Morsi is the president of Egypt.

TELHAMI: There's a lot of -- tomorrow we're likely to see demonstrations by his own party, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the streets of Cairo.

BLITZER: In support of Hamas.

TELHAMI: In support of Hamas and asking for doing more beyond recalling the Egyptian ambassador from Israel. He's being taunted from the opposition, of people who are pro-Mubarak, saying how different are you from Mubarak?

BLITZER: Is the Egyptian peace treaty about to collapse?

MILLER: I don't think so. I think Morsi does have an objective, however, to empty it of most of its content. He's not prepared to do it in a revolutionary way. He's like to see it evolve over time. Because he can't afford a confrontation of Israel. He needs the IMF loan. He needs American support, and he needs the good will of the international community to address Egypt's economic problems.

BOLDUAN: Now, of course, it's no surprise that there's a lot of talk that there's more to this than we see on the surface. That there's more going on behind the scenes that Iran is involved and has its fingers in this, as well. What do you think?

TELHAMI: Well, Iran, of course, is involved indirectly, in the sense that some of the missiles, including the ones that hit Tel Aviv, the Fajr-5, are supplied by Iran. So, they are.

But I think the decisions are probably not Iranian decisions. I think it is -- there is, you know, in a way, when you look at the last few months, both Hamas and Israel have actually been relatively restrained. There's been an escalation in the Gaza Strip that started off by the fringe groups. The Israelis always respond, but there was a little bit of an escalation, even by Hamas, partly because of pressure from extremists when Hamas is saying why aren't you responding to Palestinian attacks? And probably because they may have hoped they had a window of opportunity in the Israeli election.

There was an assumption that Israel was unlikely, actually, to launch a major attack, and certainly a ground war just before the election. And so, in some ways, both were trapped in a political dance that led to an escalation. The problem with escalation is, you can't control it.

BLITZER: Don't know where it's going to wind up. This thing could really escalate if Hezbollah in the north gets involved, the Syrians try to divert attention from their problems, they get involved in the goal. We see instability in Jordan right now, forget about the rest of the region.

If you were advising the president of the United States, Aaron, and you worked with several U.S. presidents and secretaries of state, what would you tell him to do?

MILLER: Well, first of all, he's got to use the relationship that he has. Remember, look, our traditional partners in this region, there are three. And most important, they've been with us for the longest. There's the Israelis, Egyptians and the Saudis. Each have to be mobilized, to the degree that they can, in order to, on the Israeli side, exercise a measure of restrain and, on the Egyptian side, to try to get Morsi.

I mean, after all, the Brotherhood, Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood. He does have influence, and it should be pointed out, they are dependent on him. But, this is not a traditional situation where the United States can walk in and broker a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. We do not have a relationship with one of the major combatants. I'm not arguing...

BLITZER: Which would be Hamas, whom the U.S. regards as a terrorist organization.

MILLER: Right. I'm not arguing that we do but that -- or that we should, but it does impose certain limitations on what we can do.

TELHAMI: I mean, on this issue, I think that, really, the administration's biggest lever is trying to cultivate a new relationship with Egypt. No doubt about that.

And in some ways, there's an opening, and there was an opening before this escalation. The Egyptian government that President Morsi indicated preparedness to mediate a cease-fire. Hamas was responsive to them. They have some clout with Hamas. The Israelis could have used that in some ways to improve -- to have a working relationship with the new Egyptian government, particularly through U.S. mediation.

BOLDUAN: That's where we are.

TELHAMI: Has to be cultivated in this. We have to worry about Jordan. Wolf, you mentioned Jordan. Yes, the riots over the gas prices there have been pretty extensive and they targeted the king. But if this thing extends beyond this weekend, you can bet that the riots in Jordan will be not just over gas.

BLITZER: They will be directed at Israel.

All right, guys, we've got to leave it right there. We're watching it very, very closely.

Shibley Telhami, thanks very much.

Aaron David Miller, thanks to you, as well.

MILLER: Good to see you again.

BLITZER: Republicans say the administration lied about the Benghazi attack. Are they right? We're going to take you through the timeline of who knew what and when. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've been hearing some leading Republicans in Congress rail at the Obama administration, accusing top officials of bold-faced lies about the attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: What is clear is that this administration, including the president himself, has intentionally misinformed, read that lied to the American people in the aftermath of this tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The administration says its statements soon after the attack were based on conflicting information, and the president says he, too, wants to get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi.

CNN's Tom Foreman has been taking a close look at what was said. Tom, what are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what's really being looked at here very closely is a timeline of facts in Benghazi to see how much that matches up to the statements coming out of the administration.

Let's look here at the timeline. September 11, 2012, that's when the attack took the lives of Ambassador Stevens and three others. President Obama is informed. The next day, a.m., he refers to it as an act of terrorism. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.

No acts of terror will dim the lights of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world.

No act of terror will go unpunished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Now, on that same day, sources tell CNN even more details saying they do not believe -- on the same day, they do not believe that this attack grew out of some mob protesting the anti- Islamic video. But instead, this was a clearly planned military-type attack.

However, we move forward here to September 16, and now look at what Ambassador Susan Rice says on CBS's "Face the Nation." Very different story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals joined in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: So, there you go. Extremist elements joined in. Once again, talking about the idea of something moving in on this.

On the 19th, there was yet another change as the director of the national counterterrorism and secretary of state weighed in. They sort of echoed that theme we mentioned a moment ago, Wolf. The idea that maybe this was some sort of spontaneous thing. Yes, it was terrorism, but maybe terrorism just sort of popped up.

Some officials suggested, fairly enough, that it wasn't clear in the first few hours or days about precisely who was involved. But remember, eight days later and now on the 25th, more than two weeks after the attack, listen to the president on "The View."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Then I heard Hillary Clinton say that it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?

OBAMA: Well, we're still doing an investigation. There's no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Not just a mob action. This is what has Republicans fuming. They believe the facts by this point had been firmly established enough to know this was a planned attack and the administration knew it. If not immediately, then pretty soon afterward.

But the suggestion is they were afraid to admit it because it would be a blemish on the president's record of being tough on terror and tackling al Qaeda. So that's why, according to some Republican leaders, officials keep tossing around hints that somehow, it had something to do with a mob and a spontaneous eruption.

And since Ambassador Rice was the first one to carry that water, some Republicans say they just do not trust her. Listen to the latest comment on that front.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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. Somebody has got to start paying a price around this place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: There's no question, Wolf, this is what's going to continue. These two timelines. The official timeline from the administration and the real timeline from this investigation. The complaint from Republicans being they don't really match up. We'll see.

BLITZER: We'll see, indeed. Tom Foreman with that timeline, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, guilty pleas and billions of dollars in penalties. BP settles up with the government for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: BP pays a heavy price for the Gulf oil spill. Kate is back with today's top stories -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Oil giant BP will pay $4.5 billion as part of the settlement with the government. The penalty is part of a deal over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, including guilty pleas. Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera on what else is in the settlement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are criminal charges that have been -- the company has pled guilty to, as well as three employees that now face criminal charges, including manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, as well as withholding information from investigators.

And there's also -- one of the things that BP will also have to do is deal with these officers that will be put in the company to deal with ethics -- ethics and process issues. And they'll be under probation for five years. So a lot of their exploration and the way they do business, according to this Justice Department settlement, will be under heavy scrutiny for several more years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: All this on top of $20 billion BP is paying into a settlement fund for damage claims.

And the postal service has its own money troubles. The USPS has announced a record loss of nearly $16 billion for the past year. The postal service blames the loss on a requirement that it prefund retiree health benefits. These losses were triple the amount from a year ago.

And a shortage of gas used to inflate giant parade balloons has this year's Houston Thanksgiving day parade in jeopardy. Parade officials need another 22,000 pounds of helium. So, if you have some, send it on down to Texas.

Texas is one of the world's largest producers, but a cut back in natural gas production is making helium a little more scarce. Who knew, Wolf? We're now facing a helium shortage.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you.

President Obama gets a first-hand look at Sandy's devastation. Up next, what it could mean for the climate change debate in his second term.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama got a firsthand look today at parts of New York City that were hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy. That storm now raising questions about the government's response and other questions about climate change.

White House correspondent Brianna Keilar reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama visited New York City, getting his first look by helicopter at neighborhoods in Queens battered by Superstorm Sandy.

In hard-hit Staten Island, he visited a disaster recovery center, one of the six in the area offering hot meals, clothes, showers and help to New Yorkers applying for assistance.

OBAMA: There's still a lot of clean-up to do. People still need emergency help. They still need heat. They still need power. They still need food. We are going to make sure that we stay here as long as people need that immediate help. That's FEMA's primary task.

KEILAR: Making landfall just days before the presidential election, this rare New England megastorm thrust the debate over climate change into the spotlight after it had been largely ignored on the campaign trail.

President Obama was accompanied on his visit to New York City by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who endorsed him for president because of his stand on global warming. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who warned about future disasters due to climate change.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We must rethink and redesign for the long-term, because extreme weather, as we have learned, is the new normal.

KEILAR: Even so, in his press conference Wednesday, President Obama seemed to downplay expectations that he might tackle energy and climate change legislation in his second term.

OBAMA: The American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth, simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that.

KEILAR: The oil industry was encouraged by that.

JACK GERARD, CEO, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: I think the president put the climate change issue to rest by saying we've got to focus on -- clearly, that's where the American people are, and energy plays a key role in that. We can create thousands of jobs by producing America's oil and natural gas, providing affordable, reliable energy to our citizens.

KEILAR: And environmentalists, who you might think would be upset, found a silver lining in the president's comments.

FRANCES BEINECKE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: We're hearing OK, maybe he's not talking about passing sweeping legislation, but he has executive powers. That's exactly what.

He's issued power plant rules for new power plants coming out to regulate their carbon. And we need him to take the next step and regulate carbon from existing power plants.

KEILAR (on camera): And he can do that without Congress?

BEINECKE: He can do that without Congress. The Clean Air Act provides that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now, for now, Wolf, state leaders on both sides of this issue are holding their fire while they wait to see what President Obama does by executive action. And keep an eye on the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline.

It's seen by many as the first test as to which direction President Obama wants to go on climate change. And the administration could issue its decision whether to let that project move forward here in the next few months, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens. That's critically important to a lot of folks out there.

Brianna, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Up next, a new commercial stirring up quite a bit of controversy. Jeanne Moos is getting to the bottom of it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Move over, talking babies, tiny lizards. There's a new commercial star in town, and it has fur and it flies. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't ask how they pulled the rip cord. There's skydiving cats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky.

MOOS: A Swedish insurance company asked its customers to suggest Web ads.

Eva, who insures her cat with the company, called Folksam, suggested skydiving cats spelling out her name. Putting it to R. Kelly's song was the cat's pajamas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I believe I can fly.

MOOS: The high-five midair should have been the tip-off, but some pet lovers were upset. "This is not funny or cute; it is cruel." "That's disturbing." "Wrong on so many levels." But they're wrong, says the company's marketing director.

LENA STRAND, MARKETING DIRECTOR, FOLKSAM: I can reassure all cat lovers that the cats have not been skydiving for real.

MOOS (on camera): A total of five cats starred in the commercial. They never left the studio.

(voice-over) People were shot skydiving, then replaced with cats through the magic of green screen.

Need a little wind-blown fur on 4-year-old Sarah?

STRAND: They used a fan, yes.

MOOS: One person reacted online by posting an aerodynamic cat with the message, "This kitty don't need no parachute."

Actually, skydiving dogs are a lot more common. Like Bugsy the pug on Animal Planet. He even got stroked during free-fall. After the chute opened, he licked his chops. Touchdown.

And this Florida rescue dog skydives strapped to her owner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She has her own oxygen mask. Her own dog (UNINTELLIGIBLE). To her it's the ultimate car window. She loves it.

MOOS: Her tail wasn't wagging. It was flapping.

These sky divers made the leap clutching an inflatable shark to put some teeth in their jump.

(on camera) We did dig up one snippet of video of a real cat skydiving.

(voice-over) Four years ago, a member of a Russian parachute club sewed a jump suit for his cat. The cat seemed calm until right before they leaped. But after landing safely, the owner said he, the cat, didn't even pee himself, like a lot of people do the first time they jump.

It's not exactly raining cats and dogs. Just sprinkling.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I believe I can fly.

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: What is so funny about flying cats? Everyone in the studio was cracking up.

BLITZER: It's very cute. You never did the skydiving?

BOLDUAN: I have never gone skydiving. And I know, you're going to tell me.

BLITZER: Never will.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

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

BOLDUAN: I can't even do it. Right now.

BLITZER: Thank you.