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Bomb on Bus Kills 10 in Israel; Interview with Israeli Ambassador to U.S. Michael Oren; Benghazi Talking Points were Changed; 97 House Republicans Sign Letter Protesting Susan Rice

Aired November 21, 2012 - 08:30   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're following breaking news out of Israel this morning. We learned now that the number is 22, 22 people who have been injured when a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv. This as at least 11 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, bringing the death toll there to 142. That comes to us from the official Hamas TV channel.

The White House condemning the violence in this new statement, "These attacks," they say, "against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous. The United States will stand with our Israeli allies and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack. The United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people."

We begin this morning with Sara Sidner. She has the very latest developments in Tel Aviv, which is where that bus explosion happened. Sara, what's the latest there?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just behind me, the street where this bus exploded around noon. And it's in a significant place in central Tel Aviv. My photographer, Dan, will pan over and show you the building. Basically, we are right near the military headquarters, just behind this street. And then to the left of me is the court. This happened around noon.

And 22 people have been injured. Some of those people were on the bus, some on the street. Some of the injuries range from everything from a panic attack to at least three people are in surgery right now. Two that are most severely injured teenagers. A lot of concern here, people on the streets were scared, heard the sound. When you looked at the bus, all of the windows were blown out. It wasn't the kind of large explosion, according to hospital officials who are treating these patients, that they had seen in the '90s, for example this seemed to be a smaller explosion, judging from the injuries that people had. Nobody died, although, there are a couple of severe injuries. Everyone is expected to survive. In the past, that has not been the case. The bus was driven off instead of having to be towed away. We saw that happen not long after the blast.

We also heard from Mickey Rosenfeld, the police chief here, who said they have not arrested any suspects. They are still looking for the possibility that someone either brought something on to the bus or that they left something on the bus and then ran away. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Sara Sidner in Tel Aviv, thank you for the update.

I want to get right to the Israel ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who is joining us this morning. Sara was updating us on what they know. We know more about the details but not who has perpetrated this. We know hamas has praised the attack but not taken responsibility. Do you believe, in fact, that Hamas is responsible for this bus explosion?

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Good morning, Soledad. We think the bus explosion in Tel Aviv is the essence of what this whole conflict is about. Hamas terrorists and a number of other terrorist groups in Israel that can maximize the number of civilians they can kill. That's what they're about, killing civilians.

We express deep appreciation for the Obama administration and its unshakeable support for Israel's right to defend itself and Israel's security.

This is the microcosm of what this conflict is about. We're doing our utmost to minimize civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. If Palestinian civilians are hurt for us, it's a defeat. This morning supporters of Hamas were giving out candies in the streets to kids to celebrate the bus bombing.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you, what does all of this have to do with the ongoing negotiations? Secretary Clinton has said de-escalation. She'll meet twice with Prime Minister Netanyahu. So do you think a de-escalation is possible in the wake of this bus explosion and what we've been told according to the BBC, a retaliation with a strike in Gaza City?

OREN: De-escalation is not going to be possible if Hamas doesn't stop shooting at us. The last eight days, 5.5 million Israelis, well over half of our entire population, have been under rocket attack. Now they're under bus bombing attack. Hamas shows no sign of backing down. Yesterday they fired over 200 rockets at Israelis, killed two people. So that's not a good sign for de-escalation. We want to stop the fighting, create a situation where Hamas cannot shoot at us every month, every week and paralyze half the country. We want to create a situation where terrorist groups in Gaza cannot smuggle in advanced weaponry from Iran.

O'BRIEN: So where does that stand? We were talking about where there was sort of a hold on any kind of a ground war because of this opportunity to try to leverage this moment, to bring de-escalation. It sounds like you're saying, listen, de-escalation is off the table at this moment. When do you close that window of opportunity and start preparing for some kind of ground war? Is that days, is that a week, a month?

OREN: We are prepared. We've prepared all of the options and we have the right and the duty to defend our citizens by all necessary and legitimate means, including ground operations if Hamas does not stop shooting at us. There's no magic formula here, Soledad. They just have to stop shooting. If they stop the shooting, if they engage in serious negotiations about ways to prevent another round of fighting, then de- escalation --

O'BRIEN: And if they don't?

OREN: -- will be on the table.

O'BRIEN: And if they don't?

OREN: If they don't' we'll have to take all necessary and legitimate means to defend ourselves. That's what any country in the world would do if millions of its citizens were under rocket fire.

O'BRIEN: So I guess my question is, when would that deadline happen? If in a couple of days there's not some de-escalation on their side, that's it, we move forward with the next step, or are you saying that would be a week? Is it a solid month? When does that window close?

OREN: Soledad, I'm not going to divulge national security information, Israeli national security information on American television. But our troops have been called up, our reservists. They've left their families, their children. The minutemen and minute-women of Israel have gone off to defend their country. They are ready to defend their country if the order is given from the democratically elected leaders of Israel.

We hope not to reach that point. We hope Hamas will stop shooting at us, will engage in serious talks about ways to prevent another round of fighting and ways to stop the smuggling of advanced rockets that are hitting Israeli cities. They're not just sitting in some stockpile somewhere. They're hitting Israeli cities. They have to stop those rockets from entering Gaza.

O'BRIEN: Michael Oren is the Israeli ambassador to the United States. It's nice to have you with us, sir. Thank you, appreciate it.

OREN: Have a good day.

O'BRIEN: We have to have a short break. When we come back we'll talk about the battle over the Benghazi talking points. What does it mean for Susan Rice and any chances of her becoming the Secretary of State ultimately? We'll chat with Texas congressman Michael Burgess straight ahead.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Fighting in the Middle East fueling volatility in stocks and also oil markets. U.S. stock futures are flat this morning, but the price of light sweet crude oil up about one percent, trading at more than $87 a barrel. Israel and Gaza sit right in the middle of a region that produces and ships millions of barrels of oil. Just the hint of that threat often drives up oil prices. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer. Iran, by the way, is number five.

And in today's "Smart is the New Rich," the cost for Thanksgiving dinner this year, $49.48. That's for a turkey dinner for ten with all the fixings. The grocery bill is up just 28 cents from last year, according to the survey from the American farm federation. Prices fell on sweet potatoes, milk, cranberries and pumpkin pie mix. So much for inflation. You're paying about the same today.

And a quick "Smart is the New Rich quiz. Will Cain, new IRS numbers show what it takes to be in the one percent. How much money do you have to earn to be in the one percent?


ROMANS: No, $370,000 puts you in the top one percent.

O'BRIEN: Really?

ROMANS: That's just a little something.

CAIN: So certain.

O'BRIEN: As you always are.

ROMANS: I told will there was going to be a quiz and he said can I have the answers?

O'BRIEN: Will, Will, Will.

Let's talk about the battle over the talking points of the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi. Who knew what, when? What was of the truth, the whole truth and who told the whole truth, if ever? And 97 House Republicans standing up against Susan Rice as a possible candidate for Secretary of State because they say she did not tell the truth about Benghazi.

Congressman Michael Burgess is a Republican from the great state of Texas, according to Will Cain. It's nice to have you with us, sir. Thank you for talking with us, appreciate it. Did you sign this letter?

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, (R) TEXAS: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, too. Are you one of the 97 who signed this letter?

BURGESS: Yes, I am. I've got to tell you that Sunday when the -- I don't know the four or five interviews occurred, you just knew something wasn't right as you were watching that.

First off, why is our Ambassador to the United Nations is the one on talking about this in the first place? Did we not have anyone available from the State Department or from the administration itself? So it was a little unsettling to have the Ambassador herself out there on the -- on the shows. And you know, I frankly I don't understand why -- why you in the media have not been more critical of the fact that your outlets were used in a way to put forward information that, you know, everybody now believes was not correct and we believe it was known that it was not correct at the time it was put out there. So that's what's so troubling about this.


O'REILLY: You know what's interesting about that -- yes and you know and I think what we have been trying to do -- and by we, I think I speak media in general, is like figure out, so what has happened? What was the timeline and who did know what, when and who gave what talking points to whom?

And what we seem to know now, in fact, it looks as if that the intelligence was wrong and that the folks in the intelligence community have said that they gave the talking points to Susan Rice and they -- they changed those talking points so that she wouldn't talk about al Qaeda. She was talking about extremists.

So to me, some of the takeaway seems to be the intelligence community should bear the bulk of the blame. You don't see it that way? Why not?

BURGESS: Well, it had to fit within the narrative of the President's campaign at the time that al Qaeda was on the run. It was no longer a threat. So to have put someone out there, saying al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia was responsible for this or was sponsored by al Qaeda that would have been -- they would have fit with the narrative that had been really the main talking point since the Democratic convention.


BURGESS: So in my mind, I think that I think was influenced it.

O'BRIEN: So let me just clarify that. But wasn't that the CIA change, right? They're the ones who edited the talking points so that it wouldn't say al Qaeda. And I think they used the word to protect their sources, it would say "extremist". So they made that edit, which to me again seems to go back to the intelligence community.

It's not that Susan Rice got a long list of talking points and said, "Ooh, I don't want to say al Qaeda. Let me cross that out. I'm going to use the word extremist." She was given talking points that had removed that word "al Qaeda" and put "extremist". Isn't that correct?

BURGESS: Well really the big question is who in the administration said Susan Rice should be the person out there talking about this in the first place?

O'BRIEN: So you just don't like her?


BURGESS: And look the more we learn about this there was the real time information -- no. The real time information that our -- that our consulate was under attack. And I'll tell you what -- what bothers me is that someone in the White House situation room or at the State Department or at the Pentagon said it's not worth it. We can't go in and help them.

And to understand how long the attack continued, that's really troublesome, the fact that the United States cannot respond within an hour's time to an attack like that on its own State Department? I mean, that's just incredible information to -- to give to the rest of the world and I think if I were a member of the diplomatic corps, I would be troubled.


O'BRIEN: I'm sure they are. And I think that when they talked to General Petraeus he talked a lot about sort of the intelligence. Again, it sort of all goes back to the intelligence for me.

Let me ask you a question though.


O'BRIEN: I have asked others before how this does not compare, the Susan Rice issue to the Condoleezza Rice issue on weapons of mass destruction. She was also wrong when she was the national security advisor, right? She had information and she talked, I remember, to Wolf Blitzer about you know let's not have the smoking gun become a mushroom cloud.

And then fast forward three years in 2005 when she was up to be Secretary of State, it was Lindsey Graham who was furious that the Democrats were pushing back. It was Senator John McCain who was furious that the Democrats were pushing back on Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State. She was wrong on weapons of mass destruction. How is this different?

BURGESS: Well the difference is the scrutiny provided by our -- our free press in this country. Condoleezza Rice was exposed to withering criticism by the press. I don't see that happening now. Maybe I've missed something in the talking points, but I don't see that happening.


O'BRIEN: So, let me --

BURGESS: The ambassador of the United Nations should not have been the person on the Sunday shows. Someone from the administration or the State of Department should have been.


O'BRIEN: So you're confusing me there for a moment. When you say the scrutiny on the press -- are you saying five days after comments about weapons of mass destruction, that -- that you feel like the media was picking apart Condoleezza Rice? I don't think that's true, sir. I think that most people say that is not the case. That it took a long time. I'm talking about three years before she was up for Secretary of State.

I -- I see, if you're blaming the press, how does it go back to Susan Rice?

BURGESS: That's a different situation with different timelines.

O'BRIEN: OK so how does it go back to the Susan Rice?

BURGESS: They're different situations with different timeline.

O'BRIEN: How is she to blame is my question.

BURGESS: Again, first -- first thing is I do not understand who in the administration thought that this would be a good idea and why. What was their reasoning behind that? No one has answered that question.


O'BRIEN: OK. I think that's a valid question. How do you blame Susan Rice for that?


BURGESS: I've written letters to the President. I've asked the State Department to discuss this with me.

O'BRIEN: How do you -- what Susan Rice did was say something that was incorrect. We know now, the intelligence community says we gave her the talking points. The information, the Intel was incorrect. How does that go back to blame Susan Rice? And my question of course is because you're one of the 97 people who signed saying that you believe that her misleading statements causes irreparable damage to her credibility and she should not be Secretary of State. And I don't see the difference between Condoleezza Rice situation.

BURGESS: It does damage her credibility. Now look, you know as well as I that House members do not get a vote on presidential appointments. But in the purpose of this letter was to let our senators know this is something that we believe deserves their scrutiny. And I think you -- And I think you -- you would want that.


O'BRIEN: Of course. You know hey, I'm all about scrutiny. But I guess I like consistency, too. But you were not calling for more scrutiny and you weren't saying that this is -- that the fact that Condoleezza Rice was wrong on weapons of mass destruction was going to damage her -- her credibility as Secretary of State.

You know again, John McCain and Lindsey Graham were supporting that. It seems just contradictory to me.

BURGESS: Well, you'll have to -- you'll have take that up with Senator McCain and Senator Graham. But the fact of the matter is --



BURGESS: -- from where I sit right now, the credibility for Susan Rice to be our Secretary of State has been damaged by this. It may have been damaged by the administration itself. It may have been an error for the administration to put her out there rather than someone from the State Department or rather than a campaign spokesperson.

But what it appeared to -- to the great masses out here is that Susan Rice was put out there to place a story line into the -- into the print or into the national media that was, in fact, inconsistent with the facts. And that is something that has been very, very difficult for her to get around.

O'BRIEN: I'm completely out of time but I've got to throw a quick question to you. We talked to Congressman Clyburn. And he said, listen, "Because she's black and because she's a woman that you guys are doing this", meaning the 97 Republicans who signed this.

BURGESS: Yes and you know that's -- that's absolutely false. I don't know where senator -- or Representative Clyburn gets that, his information. I will just tell you he is factually incorrect.

O'BRIEN: Michael Burgess, is Republican Congressman and a doctor. Dr. Burgess joining us from -- from Dallas, Texas. It's nice to have you sir, thank you. I appreciate it.

BURGESS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I've got to take a break. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We're following breaking news this morning. At least 22 people -- that's the number now reported -- injured this morning when a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv; it happened right in front of the military headquarters.

The White House has condemned that attack this as the official Hamas TV channel is reporting that at least 11 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, which brings the death toll there to 142.

Right now the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Cairo with the Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi. She's trying to broker peace in the region. We're expecting Secretary Clinton and President Morsi to hold a joint news conference from Cairo coming to us in the next hour. And of course we'll bring that to you live when it happens right here on CNN.

We're taking a short break. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: We are out of time this morning. Big thank you to our panelists. Brooke for stepping in and helping us out this morning with the news.


O'BRIEN: I appreciate that. Everybody have a great Thanksgiving. I'm going to take tomorrow off.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Thanksgiving.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Likewise.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. Good morning, Carol.