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Holiday Blizzard Moves East; Southwest Cancels Flights Out of Chicago; Four Forced Out Over Benghazi Deaths; No Arrests in Benghazi Killings; War Hero Given a Rare Farewell; Boehner Presses Votes on "Plan B"; Senators Blast "Zero Dark Thirty"

Aired December 20, 2012 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good to see all of you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

A lot to get to on this Thursday, including the standoff over your taxes. Here's what we are hearing now, that there could be a vote on John Boehner's fiscal cliff plan as early as this evening. This, of course, President Obama's threatening to veto that. We will have more for you from Capitol Hill.

And also the man expected to become the next secretary of state is the one questioning the department he could soon take over. That is happening today all in a moment.

But first, we begin with this blizzard blowing out of the heartland. It is beginning to put a freeze on the rush to get home for the holidays. Take a look this with me here. This is a very, very big storm, a volatile storm and now a deadly storm.

You have rain out front then heavy blowy snow extending right now from Missouri up to Michigan and I want you to look at the pictures with me because this is why you need to think twice about driving in this. Should you be in the path of the storm, look at the car, bumper and bumper-to-bumper.

This is Kansas City not going anywhere right now. We have at least reports of at least one death. This is a chain collision crash on I- 35 near Fort Dodge, Iowa. Thirty vehicles and ten to 12 inches of blowing snow and near zero visibility.

Let me say it once more, folks, if you are in this neck of the woods, think twice about driving. Look at that. We are not just talking about snow today either. Heavy winds in Austin, Texas helped fuel the fire that torched this apartment complex and what may have been a tornado.

Flipping cars and damaging buildings in Mobile, Alabama. Lots to get to talking weather here. We have Karen Maginnis who is standing by with me here in the CNN Weather Center, but I want to talk travel first.

So for that, Ted Rowlands, I want to go to you in Chicago. You are at O'Hare International Airport. Let me just guess flight cancellations have already begun. I'm not hearing Ted Rowlands. Ted, we are going to work on your audio so stand by.

Karen Maginnis, let me go to you before we talk travel. Just tell me where exactly this massive blizzard is and how bad it is.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Brooke, the center or the core of this storm is situated over the lower GREAT LAKES. There is a front that dips all the way to the south. So the leading edge is actually the warm sector on the back side of this that's where we are drawing some of the coldest air.

Let's move in and show you what's happening right around Chicago. This is where we are picking up some rainfall. Right now, this is going to change very shortly.

You are on the cusp of seeing snowfall and high winds, maybe gust up to around 60 miles an hour. A couple of inches of snow, but essentially blowing snow so watch out. Those airports are already affected in the Chicago area.

BALDWIN: Let me stop you, Karen. Forgive me, I think we have Ted as we are talking about Chicago and travel. Ted Rowlands, can we hear you now?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hopefully you can hear me and as you said, the delays have started here at O'Hare and also midway. Southwest just announced that they are cancelling all of their flights out of Midway starting at 5:00 Central Time this evening.

These folks here that are in line to board flights, they will likely get out of here with no problem because they've got a little bit of a window of about an hour and a half and the reason is that while it is snowing across much of the Midwest, which causing major delays because the planes are trapped in other airports.

Here in Chicago, it is just rain. It has been raining all day. But as Karen mentioned, in the next hour or two, it will turn into snow and this will turn into a complete nightmare for travelers here at O'Hare and at Midway, and of course, Chicago is a major hub.

So people traveling, if they can switch their flights and leave earlier if you're in Chicago, do so. I just talked to a couple of it who were headed to New York. They were supposed to leave tonight. They switched their flights and scurrying to the gate right now to make an earlier flight.

United Airlines is waiving all of their transfer fees if you want to make a change. You are running out of time quite frankly because this rain is going to turn to snow very soon.

BALDWIN: OK, Ted Rowlands for us in Chicago. Ted, we will check back in with you to see if anything changes there. Karen Maginnis, let me just bounce back over to you in the CNN Weather Center. You were talking travel. Where do we leave off? What's next?

MAGINNIS: All right, we talked about Chicago. It is rain now going to change over to snow and blowing snow and the airports impacted there, but the roads as well. I want to show you what happened right out of Ames, Iowa.

They saw already just about ten inches of snow fall. This is from an I-Reporter and he sent this into us and he said it was very treacherous there. They haven't seen significant snowfall since 2009. That doesn't mean no snow, just a significant snow.

Let's take you to Lambeau Field in Green Bay. By the way, that was lightning associated with that snow.

BALDWIN: Is that the thunder snow that they talk about?

MAGINNIS: That was the thunder snow.

BALDWIN: What is that?

MAGINNIS: The atmosphere is volatile and you get a lot of lift. And in this case, Lambeau Field, we were just told just went down. They are looking at between 10 and 15 inches of snowfall to Green Bay area.

All right, I am going to send it back to you. But when you see thunder snow, meteorologists get very excited because it didn't happen too often.

BALDWIN: It's exciting for you maybe not for people who were out and about in it. Karen, we will talk a little later because I know that this whole mass storm is also moving eastward. So I want to ask you about that later. So we will stay tuned as the weather is a huge priority for a lot of people in this country.

But next, take a look at some video here we have from Nebraska. You hear that. You know what you're looking at, sparks flying after the winter storm knocking out power in Waterloo.

We're told tens of thousands in the state are without electricity. A photographer said he shot this video after pulling over to check out why this sky was lighting up. Not the sky, it's the power lines.

And today, today, two hearings, one happening right now focusing on what happened back on September 11 of this year when those four Americans were killed in Benghazi, Libya.

A report just out yesterday said the State Department as a whole broke down because of quote/unquote "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies."

But this morning, Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pointed his finger at Congress.


SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTTS: Congress has the power of the purse. We use it for any number of things. It's our responsibility and for years we asked our State Department to operate with increasingly lesser resources to conduct essential missions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: No doubt Senator Kerry's words carry particular weight here since he is now the front runner to take over the post as secretary of state taking it over from Hillary Clinton when she leaves.

Hillary Clinton was supposed to testify today, but that injury is forcing her to postpone her testimony until next month. In the meantime, her department is trying to move past the report as four of its staffers have been disciplined.

Among them is Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell, he resigned. The others we're told are on administrative leave. A source said among those relieved of duties is this woman.

This is Charline Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security. Remember this back in October? She was grilled by this panel on Capitol Hill when she was trying to explain why she turned down the request for more security at the consulate in Benghazi.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you or did you not say --



LAMB: Because --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You knew about the other attacks that had taken place and it was 12 or 14.

LAMB: We had been training local Libyans and arming them almost a year --


BALDWIN: Forgive me, she was speaking specifically about Tripoli there. Let me bring in Elise Labott at the State Department for us. Elise, during that hearing that's underway, the Senate Foreign Relations hearing, you know, State Department officials are emphasizing that Secretary Clinton accepted and implementing now all of those, what, 29 recommendations in the report. Just run through for me some of the key recommendations.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Brooke, some of the key things range from more season and experienced staff as Charlene Lamb said they were trying to train up local Libyan militias to protect Benghazi, but that really proved did not work that evening and also a lot of temporary personnel so you need better staff there.

You also need to enhance the facilities and start thinking about fire as a weapon. If you remember it was smoke inhalation that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and Shawn Smith when the terrorist who went after the compound set it on fire. So those types of things, more regular review of the threat information, one of the things the panel found is that the State Department missed the warning signs. They were looking for a specific and credible threat instead of the five attacks that happened leading up to the September 11 attacks on Benghazi.

BALDWIN: What about also, Elise, just getting back to who is truly responsible for what happened in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and those three other American.

I mean, the people who attacked the consulate there, there were reports initially of arrests, but where are those people now? I guess, I should say they were detained and perhaps not even arrested. Where are they now?

LABOTT: Those people are still believed to be running around Libya. We have seen interviews with them in various papers and some of our people have tracked them down. But they say that they are not really feeling the heat from Libyan officials.

There is a Tunisian man that's being held in custody in Tunisia that the U.S. is trying to talk to. The FBI was allowed to speak to him, but he doesn't have anything to say to U.S. officials -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Didn't have anything to say. I'm sure keep pressing. Elise Labott for us at the State Department. Elise, thank you for that.

It is an honor given to very few Americans. Long time Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii lying in state now in the capitol rotunda. He died on Monday at the age of 88. Inouye represented Hawaii in Washington since it became a state back in 1959, so his half century tenure makes him the second longest serving senator in history. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paying his respects.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Although Senator Inouye was a progressive Democrat, he always put his country first and his party second. Dan was a vibrant and vital presence in the Senate and in death will remain a legend. His last words on earth, aloha. It is with a heavy heart that I and we bid aloha, goodbye, I love you, to a friend and legend of the Senate, Daniel Kent Inouye.


BALDWIN: As a Japanese-American soldier back in World War II, he lost his right arm in Italy and received the Medal of Honor. Only 31 people have lane in the capitol rotunda there. The last was former President Gerald Ford about six years ago.

As the Bin Laden movie hits theatres -- some senators livid over a scene about torture.

Plus, a case so shocking it pushed President Obama to make a phone call. Inside an army daycare, workers who had no business watching children. And, should the government buy back guns to boost the economy? You will hear the case.


BALDWIN: Here's where we are on the fiscal cliff, yes, the fiscal here, all together now, higher taxes on everyone plus blunt force government spending cuts that could plunge us into recession.

Twelve days now left to cut a deal in Washington and no substantive talks since Monday. Then House Speaker John Boehner announced that he would seek a fail-safe option, what he is calling Plan B to at least avert the tax increase for all the richest of the rich.

Votes on that, that's looming right now. But Democrats are saying what for? Plan B can't pass the Senate and won't be signed by the president and just within this past hour, our own Dana Bash, she quiz John Boehner about exactly that. Watch.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know the reality here. You know the reality that if you get the votes and it passes the House, it won't go anywhere in the Senate. Do you see this as a necessary step to get back to talks with the president?

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I am not convinced at all that when the bill passes the House today that it will die in the Senate.


BALDWIN: Dana Bash, senior congressional correspondent, let me try it this way. What were you getting at there with your question? What does it tell us about where we are today?

BASH: Well, some of the thinking yesterday was that maybe after the House takes this vote, then may be the Senate would -- assuming they pass it, the Senate would take it up and amend it and change it a little bit or maybe a lot with regard to the tax rates and some other things send it back to the House to kind of a ping pong, which we've seen in other situations like this.

The Senate today said we are not doing that. We are not touching what the House is going to vote on today. It's a political exercise and nothing more. Then the question becomes then what?

If we know this is going nowhere, this vote they will take later tonight on Plan B, this bill to keep tax cuts in place and people making up to a million dollars, what's the next move?

The speaker did later in the press conference strongly suggest that he was going try to talk to the president. That's definitely good news. The question I'm sure a lot of people are asking, why go through these that we know are not going to go anywhere? There a couple of reasons. The Republicans know Democrats hold the cards and that most polls show Republicans will get the blame if everybody's taxes go up. They want to pass something that shows we tried.

Two, it's sort of an internal exercise. I'm told by a pretty plugged in Republican lawmaker that they also need to show their own Republicans what the reality is. The reality is that they can take a vote, but it's not going to go anywhere.

BALDWIN: Let me get to that because you talk about the machinations. Let's just go with it for a minute. We know the vote so far at least is happening tonight and they have to have the debate in the House this afternoon.

Right now, the Senate Democrats are stepping out and they are basically saying come on, Boehner. You were close to a deal with the president and what happened? Let's play some sound. This is Chuck Schumer of New York.


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Now I can't attempt to divine the politics of his caucus, but I can honestly say that if the speaker did this, his re-election would not be in jeopardy. If that's what he is worried about.


BALDWIN: Let's talk about that. I mean, is there a serious suggestion that Speaker Boehner is afraid to cut a deal with the president because he would face a revolt from the Republicans and maybe lose his speakership or is Chuck Schumer just, you know, try to stir the pot.

BASH: I think he is trying to stir the pot. He does have a point. Just on my own reporting talking to lots of House Republicans that there is still substantial support for the speaker. They understand.

The Republicans don't hold the cards. The Democrats do. The president does for a variety of reasons. They get that and they feel comfortable. Again, even those who are going to defy him tonight that he is doing the best he can under circumstances that are not easy.

BALDWIN: To quote you the other day, Dana Bash, Merry cliff-mas for you. Dana, thank you. We will see what happens.

Meantime, senators are livid about this new Bin Laden movie specifically about this one scene they say is a complete and total lie. Hear how the director is responding to that. Plus, meet the coach who is begging for answers and action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to walk up stairs and into the two pink rooms. With a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old laying in the pink room with a bunch of teddy bears in the room and give them the biggest hug and the biggest kiss I have ever given them.



BALDWIN: "Zero Dark 30," this is one of the most anticipated movies of this whole year and it may as well also be one of the most controversial. This is a film hailed as a realistic portrayal of a decade long hunt for the world's most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really believe this story Osama Bin Laden?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What part convinced you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her confidence.


BALDWIN: Now to the controversy part. You see this trio of senators? You have Dianne Feinstein, Karl Levin and John McCain, they are coming out and they are saying, I'm quoting them, "They are deeply disappointed with one specific part of the movie, the torture scene."

They said it's grossly inaccurate. The senators blasted the CEO of Sony Pictures. In a letter they sent yesterday, let me just quote part of this letter here. They wrote, quote, "Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate and we believe you have an obligation to say it's not based on the facts, but rather the film's fictional narrative."

Nischelle Turner, let's talk about this flick. Joining me live in L.A., spell it out for me. In this film, what is fact and what is fiction?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, that's a very good question, Brooke. Actually, I'm not really sure what they expected the filmmakers to do here. I'm talking about the senators because the movie is out and I don't know if a disclaimer would be that effective anyway.

We have the three lawmakers and particularly Senator McCain with experience as a POW in Vietnam had made him an outspoken critic of any kind of torture. They are very upset with the filmmakers. Now it doesn't seem to be because they are were scenes of torture in the film.

As they say in a letter is because as far as they are concerned, "Zero Dark Thirty" is quote, "perpetuating the myth that torture is effective." Now according to them they have a still classified report that proves what they call coercive interrogations didn't result in any information that led t Osama's capture.

Now for their part, Sony did respond to this and they said in a statement to us that this was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a 2-1/2 hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding Bin Laden.

A film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes.

Now when we talk to the cast of the movie, the writer, Mark Ball, he made the point and they all made the point that they were concerned. This was part of the story. They never held it out as a documentary --

BALDWIN: Because here's the thing it seems because, you know, I was just sending out the question on Twitter. If people just going to the movies and they think they are expecting to see journalism versus fiction.

You have an award winning director who comes forward and saying a lot of this is from eyewitness accounts and they are putting it out there like fact, but you don't think a disclaimer would be good enough?

TURNER: I don't think so. Yes, you can have a film that is based on actual events. That's what you have here. In every movie, whenever it's made, it's always a vision of someone. Always someone else's version of what they believe.

That's what they say they have here. This is Catherine Bigelow's vision and version of what she and the screen writer believe what happened in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

BALDWIN: Like the Sony statement said, 10-year intelligence operation into 2-1/2 hours. It's up to the viewer to suppose what is true and what is not. Nischelle Turner, thank you so much.

TURNER: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: Just ahead here, the painful task of running the only funeral home in Newtown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is the week from hell, but we will get through it.


BALDWIN: The only undertaker in this entire New England town opens up with our CNN's Poppy Harlow on this very, very difficult job of preparing so many funerals for children.