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Ailes Says Petraeus Pitch Was A Joke; Obama Says The Math Does Not Work; Syrian Military Base Under Siege; NATO OK's Turkey's Request For Missiles; Iran Says It Has A U.S. Drone; Iran Claims It captured a U.S. Drone; Kerry vs. Rice for Top Diplomat

Aired December 4, 2012 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Next, these would-be immigrants were rescued by Spanish emergency services in the Straits of Gibraltar. Thousands of African immigrants try to reach each year by crossing what are dangerously narrow straits.

All right. That'll do it for us here on "NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL." I'm Michael Holmes. Ashleigh Banfield is in for the next hour. Over to her.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Michael Holmes. And hi, everybody, I'm Ashleigh Banfield sitting in for the second hour that Suzanne Malveaux is usually here for. And we'll start this hour with what you might call some enlightening audiotape. A little bit of tape that was never, ever supposed to become public but it has. Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post" is reporting today that in the spring of 2011, an analyst, right there, for "Fox News," delivered a personal message from her boss, conservative media mogul Roger Ailes and that we directly to General David Petraeus who was in charge of the war. Jim Acosta is in Washington now with the details of the story, and I'm going to let you explain exactly --

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BANFIELD: -- what transpired between two and why some are saying this may have crossed the line.

ACOSTA: Well, Ashleigh, you know -- you know what is going on here, this really comes out of that part of the process during the Republican battle for that nomination when there were people inside the Republican party who were pining for other candidates, people like Chris Christie, people like Jeb Bush and people like David Petraeus. So, it was in 2011 when an analyst for "Fox News," K.T. McFarland sat down with General David Petraeus to talk about the war in Afghanistan.

There was also the prospect that David Petraeus might be tapped to head the CIA or be the chairman of the joint chiefs. And it was during that discussion when this -- I guess this proposal was issued to David Petraeus. K.T. McFarland said it came from Roger Ailes high level executive of our "Fox News" that if Petraeus wanted to run for President, Roger Ailes might be able to help him with that. And according to this "Washington Post" article that Roger Ailes would step down from his post at "Fox" and run a David Petraeus for president campaign. Here's a little bit of sound from that interview that was obtained by "The Post."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The other thing was just directly advised to me from Roger Ailes is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want us to research (ph)?

GEN. ROGER PETRAEUS, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: I'm not running.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not the question at this point. He says that if you're offered chairman, take it. If you're offered anything else, don't take it. Resign in six months and run for president. OK? And I know you're not running for president, but at some point, when you go to New York next, you may want to just chat with Roger and Rupert.

PETRAEUS: Well, (INAUDIBLE) -- well, Rupert's after me.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And, of course, that reference to Rupert is Rupert Murdoch who is the head of News Corp. which is the parent company of "FOX NEWS." But before we get to anything else, Ashleigh, we should show the statement that -- or this response that Roger Ailes gave to Bob Woodward over at "The Washington Post." We've attempted to reach out to "FOX NEWS" to reach out to K.T. McFarland have been unsuccessful. But here's a quote that he gave to Bob Woodward. Quote, "It was more of a joke," this is what Roger Ailes says, "a wise-ass" is the way he puts it "way I have. I thought the Republican primarily field needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate. It sounds like she thought she was on a secret mission in the Reagan administration. She was way out of line. It's someone's fantasy to make me a kingmaker, it's not my job."

Now, I will say, Ashleigh, having covered that campaign for many, many months, you know, there are operatives -- there were operatives inside -- high-level operatives inside some of the campaigns that thought that "FOX NEWS" was sort of playing favorites with particular candidates or that there were people on "FOX NEWS" who were playing favorites with particular candidates and that they were getting a little too involved in the process. And so, this may be a reflection of some of that, although Roger Ailes says he was just really sort of having fun there.

BANFIELD: There was one part of that tape, though, that may be troubling to those who think that a news organization shouldn't be dictated to by the person who's in charge of prosecuting the war in Afghanistan and that tape -- that part of the tape suggested that K.T. McFarland asked, is there anything that we're doing right? Is there anything we're doing wrong over at "FOX NEWS" that you'd like to, you know, tell us about? Is --

ACOSTA: Right.

BANFIELD: -- that making -- I mean, what are the reverberations right now, or are there any?

ACOSTA: You know, I don't think there really are any at this point. I talked to a -- one Republican operative who was sort of concerned about how much of this is real and how much of this was really sort of a joke and how much of this was just sort of inside baseball people talking about who they'd like to see run for president. And just sort of chitchat about the way things are going. But you're right, inside that article, there is some mention, and David Petraeus mentions this in that interview, that he thought that the coverage sort of started going against the war in Afghanistan once it became President Obama's war.

We talked to Howard Kurtz earlier this morning, CNN did, and that was a -- that was a question that he had raised. And so, that is, obviously, going to be a part of the discussion. But keep in mind, Ashleigh -- I mean, look at what happened with the career of David Petraeus. It ended suddenly in November of this year when he resigned because of that extramarital affair. So, sometimes these things have a way of working themselves out. He was definitely somebody that people were talking about running for president in 2012. He was definitely somebody that people were talking about running for 2016.

Obviously, that's not the case anymore. And this was a process that you had the candidates get into this race who wanted to be in that race, had the fire in the belly. People like Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, they went through that process. And the nominee for that party in the end, Mitt Romney did not win. But this always happens, as part of the process, every four years. There's always the Mario Cuomo. There's always that other name that's out there that always sounds attractive to the party but perhaps there's a back story there that explains why that person did not get into the race --

BANFIELD: But it does --

ACOSTA: -- in the first place.

BANFIELD: -- but it doesn't always happen that a -- you know, a representative of a news organization asks if her coverage is going OK. And that's, you know, troublesome. And I'm wondering if we can't get the comment back from K.T. McFarland, because she's somewhere under a bus right now. Jim Acosta, thank you for that -- for that reporting from Washington.

Still in Washington, President Obama is talking about the fiscal cliff in his first television interview since the election. That cliff, of course, is the combination of government spending cuts and tax increases that automatically go into effect on January 1st because the people we elected to make a deal can't make a deal.

Yesterday, Republicans proposed steep spending cuts but they gave no ground on President Obama's call to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. And here's what the president told Bloomberg's White House Correspondent about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO C LIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, the speaker's proposal right now is still out of balance. You know he talks, for example, about $800 billion worth of revenues, but he says he's going to do that by lowering rates. And when you look at the math, it doesn't work. And so, what I've said is that I am prepared to work with the speaker and Democrats and Republicans to go after excessive health care costs in our -- in our federal health care system, that we're going to have to strengthen those systems, and I think we can do that without hurting seniors, without hurting beneficiaries. I think that, you know, there's probably more cuts that we can squeeze out, although we've already made over a trillion dollars worth of spending cuts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And you'll remember it was only a week ago the Democrats proposed their solution to this, and it was rejected by the Republicans. The president is reiterating that taxes have to go up on the nation's top two percent in order to get the deal, in their opinion, to avoid the fiscal cliff. I think you can file this one under the to be continued, unfortunately.

A bipartisan delegation of governors was meeting with the president and Congressional leaders as well at the White House today to discuss just how badly this fiscal cliff could affect them out there in those states who rely heavily on the feds, in particular, how those automatic deficit reduction measures are going to hurt the state budgets.

Federal aid is big, big, big to the states. Federal grants make up about a third of state revenue. At the table were Utah's Governor, Gary Herbert; Oklahoma governor, Mary Fallin; Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker; Delaware's, Jack Markell; Minnesota's governor, Mark Dayton; and Arkansas's, Mike Beebe. And here is a little bit of what they said when they emerged from the meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: We also have some ideas of how we can save money, how we can be able to create more efficiencies and government and spending with some of the different demonstrations that we've done in our various states, and we plan on getting back to the president, vice president with our suggestions and ideas.

GOV. GARY HERBERT (R), UTAH: None of us want to see taxes on, you know, middle class folks grow up -- go up. And we think it would have a significantly negative impact on our economy, but we're not backing one particular plan or the other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Let's take you overseas now to Syria where rebels have been gaining some ground against government forces in recent weeks. Right now, near the city of Aleppo, Rebels have trapped 450 soldiers inside a sprawling military base. And our Arwa Damon who is inside Syria has this exclusive look at the siege. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Close to Aleppo, the rebels have a strangle hold on a sprawling military base.

(on camera): There is a red gate next to a stonewall and then right behind it is the wall that is the outer perimeter of the military academy. It's less than 100 meters away, some 330 feet.

(voice-over): We quickly move to another vantage point in a building next door. Ali Soufan (ph) commands the lions of Aleppo battalion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON: It's clashes, he says nonchalantly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON: Soufan used to be a tailor. Since the uprising began, he's been wounded four times and detained three. The rebels don't have binoculars, so he uses a camera to zoom into the base and show us government positions.

(on camera): You can see a sandbag fighting position on the roof of one of the buildings inside.

(voice-over): Fighting has been fierce but the rebels are confident they have the upper hand. Soufan uses a pool table to map out where government units are. In all, three rebel brigades are surrounding the base, plus a militant Islamist group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON: The Mushat (ph) front has this part, the most dangerous. It's the road to Aleppo, Soufan says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON: Once we finish the Mushat academy, the direct route to the north will be open, he adds. So far, 250 soldiers at the base have defected since the uprising began. The majority joining rebel ranks. But some 450 remain inside. Air drops of food often miss their target. The rebels have shot out the water supply.

(on camera): There used to be a sniper that was on top of the water tower who would take shots at them and there's bullet holes in the glass here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON (voice-over): They own the night, but we own the day, Soufan boasts. He says, the rebels could easily overrun the base but they want to give others a chance to defect. They've even punched holes in the walls of the perimeter. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON: Jamad (ph), a defected soldier, says the senior officers are just looking after themselves. He and the others here, some of whom don't want to appear on camera, fled together. They were trainers on the base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON: Around the perimeter, it's something of a human shield, Obu Jafad (ph) says. There isn't a single point that doesn't have a soldier on it. There are only two to three meters between each. The soldiers have stockpiles of artillery but Jamal says their options are dwindling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAMON: They have reached a point where they think they can't go back. They have reached a dead end. Slowly, they are weakening, he says. This is not the first base in northern Syria to come under siege. In at least this area, the free Syrian army is gaining the upper hand in a grim war of attrition. Arwa Damon, CNN, Aleppo province.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: And excellent reporting from our Arwa Damon, but we have some additional information now to add to her reporting. This just in to CNN. NATO foreign ministers have approved something really critical to Turkey, at this point. Turkey has been requesting patriot missile installations along its border, because Syria, to the south, had been shelling them and agitating along the border. According to a NATO spokesperson, this is now going to go ahead. They will get those installations. The Turkish government had been asking for NATO's help because the shelling has killed people inside Turkey and there has been a risk of escalation. So, there you very it. NATO has said, yes. And you can expect, in the days to come, those installations will actually be put into place along the border there.

Still in the region, Iran has said that it's captured one of our drones, a United States drone. Here's the weird part. The U.S. Navy says, we're not missing one. So, whose is it? We're going to look at just what the Iranians might have and where that came from.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Iran says it has captured a U.S. drone that entered its airspace over the Persian Gulf. We actually have shots of the Iranians saying, we're showing it off, folks, with the banner, "we shall trample on the USA."

It's a scan eagle drone. That's made by Boeing. And Iran says it was spying and that the Iranian navy brought it down by hacking into its electronics. The problem is, the United States Navy says we're not missing any drones in the Middle East.

Confused? Well, hopefully Fran Townsend can sort this out. I'm joined by her. She is a member of both the CIA and Department of Homeland Security advisor -- external advisory board.

Fran, first of all, just because our Navy says we're not missing any drones, we have a couple of other branches of the military. Does that mean that other branches could be missing drones and we're just not saying so?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FMR. BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, the -- we know that the military wouldn't put out misinformation. I think it's fair to say that the Navy's confirmed that they've accounted for their drones. But as you suggest, look, we know the CIA has got drones, although sources are telling us it's not a CIA drone. There are other branches of the military that operate these sort -- this sort of equipment.

But we should be clear, the scan eagle, the kind of drone that went down, is not a very high-tech sort of advanced drone system. It's not armed. It's a surveillance drone. It's made by Boeing, a U.S. company. And we'll have to wait for the U.S. military to confirm whether or not this is one of their assets outside of the U.S. Navy.

But what we don't know, Ashleigh, you know, it's not clear when this was captured by the Iranians, you know, how long they've been holding on to it, where they came into possession of it. You know, sometimes, as we know, these things go down due to technical difficulties and sometimes in the water. So for all we know, this thing could have washed ashore months ago.

BANFIELD: I was talking to Jim Walsh a little earlier, who's a security analyst with MIT, and he said there are dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of drones now that are employed by a number of different countries. But when you say this one's manufactured by Boeing, would we be selling drones to other countries? Is that something that's common knowledge or standard procedure at this point?

TOWNSEND: Well, we do know that the scan eagle, for example, is also used by the United Arab Emirates, which is right there across the Persian Gulf from Iran and so it could just as easily be one of their drones gone astray or captured. And so it's going to take a little time to sort this out, I think.

BANFIELD: But it's interesting that you note it's not the most sophisticated, like the one -- and I love this, the fact, Fran, that it was one year ago today that, what was it, an RQ-170, the more sophisticated drone, was found. I wonder if this is some kind of a game the Iranians are playing with us. It's our birthday so to speak.

Fran, thank you.

TOWNSEND: Sure. Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Good to talk to you, as always, Fran Townsend.

So this is the favorite game in Washington. Guess who's going to fill the president's cabinet positions. There are two pretty big names right now being bandied about for secretary of state. Senator John Kerry on the left, and ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on the right. Which one do you think has the better odds? We're going to let you know a couple of secrets coming back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Congressional Republicans have made it clear, they'd like John Kerry and not Susan Rice to be the next secretary of state. Of course, President Obama has not announced his nominee yet, but Miss Rice and Mr. Kerry are considered high on the president's list of possible replacements for Hillary Clinton, who has said that she is not staying on for the president's second term.

CNN's Elise Labott is at the State Department, here to talk a little bit more about it.

So, do a bit of a comparison for us just off the bat. The pros and cons for this top diplomatic post.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, the halls of the State Department are really buzzing with this potential new secretary of state. Both would make a very strong candidate. Susan Rice, for instance, is one of President Obama's closest advisers. She was his principal foreign policy adviser during his first campaign and really kind of helped shape his world view. They have a very similar world view. And all of this really signifies that Susan Rice would be very influential when she goes to speak to diplomats around the world and world leaders, and also in formulating foreign policy, which is all very good for the State Department.

On the downside, you see what's been happening with this Benghazi affair. She's likely to have a very bruising confirmation process. Some Republican senators have said they might hold up her nomination. So that could drag out a while.

Now, John Kerry, on the other hand, would be easily confirmable. And you see the senators are encouraging President Obama to nominate him. Senator Kerry also has a lot of world stature, has relationships with many world leaders. He's seen as someone who could help build on those relationships to further foreign policy. And also Senator Kerry also, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, very popular chairman, has a lot of diplomatic experience. President Obama has used him, you know, kind of out of a quasi unofficial envoy to go and talk to leader in trouble spots like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria at one point.

You know, on the negative side, Senator Kerry is not really seen as someone who's as close, enjoys the same type of close relationship with President Obama that Ambassador Rice does. He's not seen as really being in that inner circle. And that's a problem former Secretary Colin Powell had, for instance.

BANFIELD: Although he may, Elise, have gotten closer since he was the stand-in for Mitt Romney during the president's practice debate.

LABOTT: That's right. That's right. They spent a lot of time together.

BANFIELD: Yes. So here's another question, though. Some people are suggesting this doesn't have a whole lot to do with those pros that were on both lists, but more about the politics of opening up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, because obviously if John Kerry is selected, he leaves his Senate seat to become secretary of state, and then alas the Republicans have another shot at a Republican Senate seat in Massachusetts. How much talk is there about that being the factor here?

LABOTT: Well, there could be a little bit to that and certainly some people are speculating that. I think it's a little bit more. That Senator Kerry is -- has a lot of friends in the Senate. It's kind of like the Senate -- they want their guy in. And he'd be someone that he could really work with in the Senate. And I think he's been there a long time, has been working very close with the administration and they feel that he deserves it, Ashley.

BANFIELD: Well, the confirmation process would certainly be fascinating, perhaps more so with Miss Rice. But it will be an interesting discussion.

LABOTT: It sure is.

BANFIELD: Elise Labott, thank you. Nice to see you.

You know, we depend on goods being imported from overseas, but this is what we're seeing at two of the busiest ports in our country right now. A line of ships stacked with stuff. Stuff that can't get on shore and into trucks and off to your store. It's a strike. And it's costing the United States billions. What's it all about? Find out in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)