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Fate of American Hostages Unknown; Victim of Sick Joke?; What's an Assault Weapon?; What's Next in Gun Control Battle?; Obama's Next Four Years; Algeria Rescue Raid Reported Over; Aurora Colorado Theater Reopens; Obama's Inauguration Bible

Aired January 17, 2013 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: the fate of American captives in Algeria clouded in chaos. An operation to free the foreign hostages has reportedly ended amid word that some were forced to wear explosive vests.

A star football player says he was the victim of a sick joke. But some taken in by the joke say Manti Te'o has some explaining to do about his dead girlfriend who never existed.

And President Obama will again take the oath of office on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used. We will give you a close look at this extraordinary piece of American history.

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

Let's begin this hour with the breaking news. Algeria's official news agency has just announced the end of a rescue operation aimed at freeing hostages, including Americans, held by Islamic militants. U.S. government officials tell CNN that that may not necessarily, though, be the case.

Let's get straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, who is working this story for us.

Chris, what is the very latest that you're hearing?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the latest that we're getting from U.S. officials is that some Americans may have escaped, but some may still be held by those hostage takers and they are still seeing signs perhaps of some intermittent fighting, suggesting that perhaps this isn't over yet.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): As the hostage situation stretched to a second day, U.S. officials scrambled to find a resolution and determine the state of the Americans still in militant hands.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This incident will be resolved, we hope with a minimum loss of life. But when you deal with these relentless terrorists, life is not in any way precious to them. LAWRENCE: Americans and other Western workers were on a bus Wednesday when multiple militant fighters attacked. The militants took hostages at this gas plant heavily armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They also had suicide vests which they forced some hostages to wear. Officials say what happened next was chaotic, that the militants may have tried to move their hostages.

MOHAMED SAID, ALGERIAN MINISTER OF COMMUNICATION (through translator): With the intention of leaving for a neighboring country, they would use the hostages as a means of blackmail with a criminal intent.

LAWRENCE: That launched the Algerian forces into an assault on the militants. Some hostages escaped. Others were killed or wounded or unaccounted for.

SAID (through translator): A number of dead and injured. We don't have a final figure.

LAWRENCE: But why did the Algerians go in when they did? Former Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend says the U.S. would typically try to use more electronic surveillance and map the area in detail before launching a military assault.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: The Western way is to collect as much intelligence as you can to engage in a potential negotiation to see if you can peacefully resolve it without putting the hostages at risk.

LAWRENCE: But the Algerians have fought a long, bloody battle with militants for years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have little patience for terrorists and kidnappers of this kind and are really going to want to nip it in the bud in kind of a show of strength that this is not going to be tolerated.


LAWRENCE: British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that the British and his government would have liked to have been consulted before this assault by the Algerian forces and indicated that the British were only told after the assault had already begun.

As to the hostages, here's what we know. An Irish hostage has been freed. His family has been talking and the Irish government has confirmed that. The Algerian forces say they helped free two British hostages, a Frenchman, and a Kenyan, but the ultimate fate of those Americans, Wolf, we're still trying to determine.

BLITZER: Do officials at the Pentagon or elsewhere in the U.S. Government, are they offering an assessment about Algeria's special operations capabilities in undertaking a mission like this?

LAWRENCE: Well, again, Wolf, it is two separate approaches.

The Algerians have been in a very long, bloody battle. The officials that we spoke with here at the Pentagon say they have a good relationship with the Algerians, that the head of Africa Command, General Carter Ham, had been to Algeria a half-dozen times and that the Algerians were fairly effective and incapable because of all of the interactions and the fights that they have had with the militants over the years.

But, again, it's a very different approach perhaps than maybe U.S. forces would have taken in the same situation, but the U.S. forces had to respect the fact that this happened on Algerian soil. They ultimately make the call.

BLITZER: Yes, right near the Libyan border. As we have been pointing out, we don't know how close to the Libyan border that proximity may have created for these terrorists to undertake an operation like this.

Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, I know this is a fast-moving story. You will update us with new information as it comes in.

Meanwhile, there is to news we're watching here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jaws dropped across the country when people learned the heartbreaking and well-publicized death of a college football star's girlfriend, they learned that it never happened, that the girlfriend never even existed.

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o says he says he was the victim of a sick joke, but as more details emerge about this hoax, more questions are now being asked.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is joining us from South Bend, Indiana, where Notre Dame's campus is.

What is the very latest, Ted, that you're getting?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, frankly, there was a lot of anticipation that Manti Te'o would break his silence and go public with his side of the story today.

However, as far as we are now, he has said nothing.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): This Twitter photo is Manti Te'o at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where he is training for the NFL draft and likely also taking refuge. Pressure continues to mount for Te'o to explain the inconsistencies between the very public love story of his fake girlfriend and the statement claiming he had never actually met her.

During the football season, the story of this linebacker enduring the death of his girlfriend and grandmother on the same day transcended sports. People from around the world were touched by how in love Te'o seemed to be with Lennay Kekua, the girl he called his soul mate.

MANTI TE'O, NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL PLAYER: I cried. I yelled. I have never felt that way before. And this is -- six hours ago, I just found out grandma passed away and you take, you know, the love of my life.

ROWLANDS: On the day of his girlfriend's supposed funeral, Te'o played football and after the game Notre Dame's football coach, Brian Kelly, actually awarded the game ball to the girl we now know doesn't exist.

BRIAN KELLY, NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL COACH: I want to award this game ball to Lennay. And I would like Manti to have this ball to take back to Hawaii.

ERIC HANSEN, "THE SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE": I am as confused as I think a lot of people are right now.

ROWLANDS: Sports reporter Eric Hansen has spent the last four years writing about Manti Te'o for "The South Bend Tribune." In October, he wrote this article detailing the couple's first meeting after a football game against Stanford.

HANSEN: I would think if there was a mistake in the story, they would have brought it to my attention.

ROWLANDS: The story has romantic details of Te'o and his fictitious girlfriend catching his eye and making a connection. Hansen says he got the story from Te'o's father. He still has a recording of the interview.

HANSEN: Maybe Manti, you know, being in an online relationship was maybe a little embarrassed and embellished the story to his father a little bit and his father was telling what Manti had told him.

ROWLANDS: He allowed us to listen to the recording but won't allow us to broadcast it. Clearly, the father thinks his son met the girlfriend face to face in 2009 and spent considerable time with face to face her after that.

HANSEN: I want to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point and I want to hear from them before I form the last picture on this.


ROWLANDS: Wolf, at one point today, ESPN tweeted that they were about ready to sit down for an interview with Manti Te'o. They then a few hours later tweeted that the interview had been canceled.

A lot of questions still from Manti Te'o when and if he decides to come public.

BLITZER: But even as you and I speak right now, Notre Dame University they are sticking by Manti Te'o, is that right?

ROWLANDS: Absolutely.

The athletic director here said he sat down with him for an hour-and- a-half in one session and then another hour the next day. He said after listening to this young man he absolutely believes that he was nothing more than a victim. BLITZER: What a story. Much more on this story coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Ted, thank you.

A day after President Obama announced his gun control proposals, the battle lines are drawn. Vice President Biden who is spearheading the effort says he's under no illusions about what is going on. He met today with many of America's mayors and made a very emotional call for action.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining us now from the White House.

Looks like a start of a major campaign to get gun control legislation through Congress, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. It's a major campaign and Vice President Biden's speech today before those mayors is part of it, is part of their push to win public support for the gun reduction proposals that the president announced yesterday.

Biden has been really the point person for the president on this matter, leading that task force to come up with some of the proposals that he talked about yesterday and so it's really no surprise to see him out pushing this again today. Let's listen to a little bit about what he had to say to the mayors.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we speak for those we lost, we speak for our children and our families, if we have the courage to do what we know is the right thing to do, then we will have the most powerful voice.

And we, you, our citizens will change the nation. I have been in this fight a long time. I have no illusions about the fight that is in front of us. I have no illusions about the distortions that will come from all sides. But I know full well the political obstacles that will be thrown up against us are not impenetrable.


JONES: You know, Biden there -- Vice President Biden there was highlighting something that the president himself brought up yesterday, saying that he can take executive action on some of these measures, things like requiring federal agencies to provide more information for background checks, but he's going to need congressional help to some of the other big things, things like banning high-capacity magazines or putting new restrictions on some semiautomatic weapons.

We know there is a lot of resistance, certainly from Republicans in Congress so far. And so part of this effort to try to win support in Congress to get this done on Capitol Hill, the White House is reaching out to supporters saying that they should speak out to their representatives about guns.

And the old campaign operation Obama for America is going to be getting engaged as well. Jim Messina, who was campaign manager in 2012, he is already e-mailing supporters, asking them to stand behind the president in this critical fight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena, thanks very much, Athena Jones watching the story for us at the White House. Much more on this story also coming up.

So how do you ban a weapon that may not even have a clear-cut name or definition? We're taking a closer look at the confusion surrounding some of these gun control proposals.

And what tone will the president take in his second-term inaugural address? We're going to hear from two former White House speechwriters. Stand by.


BLITZER: When it comes to the president's plan for controlling gun violence, the devil's in the definitions.

Aside from all the political obstacles, how do you go about banning a weapon that may not even have a clear-cut name?

CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns has been looking into this part of the story for us.

It's getting a little complicated. So explain what you're finding out, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's being called the biggest push in a generation on gun control, but a lot of the ideas the president put forward yesterday have been kicking around since the 1990s.

And, frankly, in a lot of ways, it's just not clear yet exactly what the White House wants to do and how they want to do it.


JOHNS (voice-over): The president's gun safety proposals sound ambitious, but policy-wise it's difficult to assess without more details, starting with this:

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines.

JOHNS: Which firearms would be illegal under an assault weapons ban is impossible to know until the White House or Congress defines the term "assault weapon".

When a ban passed in 1994, it came down to what certainly rifles looked like. For example, do they have folding or telescoping stocks, pistol grips, flash suppressor and so on? Things that even if removed don't make them any less lethal.

Even gun control advocates admit it was far from perfect. MARK GLAZE, DIRECTOR, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: There were problems of enforcing it. You know, it was easy to change what was called an assault rifle to something that was not called an assault rifle. And as a result, many people did that and, you know, evaded the law.

JOHNS: As for high capacity magazines, it's just as murky. For example, will only manufacturers be banned from making them or will the distribution and ownership also be banned?

Then there's this:

OBAMA: Require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun.

JOHNS: It may be politically doable but problematic from a policy standpoint. Right now, about two dozen states don't contribute to the federal background check program on a regular basis, and expanding it to include all private sales is a huge challenge, even if the government sets up an online application.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To try and regulate that portion over the Internet could be extremely difficult and complicated at best.

JOHNS: Another can of worms is preventing the mentally ill from buying guns. Right now, a court or a judge has to rule that a person is mentally defective before it's reported to the background check system. The question is, whether a lot of people with serious issues who shouldn't qualify are still able to get guns,

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many people do not go through the core process for any type of commitment or seeking mental health treatment or resources. And so, now, you are relying on them, asking them that question. They could tell you the truth or they could not tell you the truth.

JOHNS: But changing the criteria could have unintended consequences like discouraging people from getting treatment.

MICHAEL FITZPATRICK, EXEC. DIR. NATL. ALLIANCE ON MENTAL ILLNESS: We want to make sure that people who are dangerous don't get weapons. But on the other hand, we want to be careful we don't set up a system that blocks people from getting the services that they need for mental health.

JOHNS: The president talked about only the tip of this iceberg.

OBAMA: We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence.


JOHNS: Senior administration officials told reporters they don't plan to go after existing guns and magazines -- meaning everything owned before any ban is put in place would actually get grandfathered in. Of course, everything is subject to change once negotiations start with Congress.

Legislation from Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on assault weapons and high capacity magazines is expected to be introduced as early as next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in the Senate, if it gets through the Senate, and then what happens in the House. Thanks very much, Joe, for that.

Let's see what happens next in the administration's push to crack down on violence. We're digging a little bit deeper with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, it looks like it's almost a political campaign emerging on both sides.

Gloria, it looks like it's almost political campaigns emerging on both sides. For example, Jim Messina, who is in charge of the Obama re- election campaign, puts out a letter, among other things, saying, "Take a look at the president's plan to reduce gun violence and stand with him in support."

Wayne LaPierre, the executive director, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, issues a fundraising letter saying this, "I warned you this day was coming and now it's here. It's not about protecting your children. It's not about stopping crime. It's about banning your guns, period."

So what are we seeing here? A real political campaign.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's two behemoths going up against each other. You know, on the one side, you have this grassroots organization that the Obama for America team use.

Now, they can't coordinate with the White House, Wolf, on this, but they are using all of their apparatus to get out their grassroot supporters because what they are trying to do is mobilize voters in much the same way that the NRA has done over the years, which is make people who are for some kind of gun regulation, single issue voters and come out and pressure members of Congress who may be wavering in gun states and say to them, you know, we want something done.

Now, on the other side is, of course, is the NRA, which has a huge grassroots organization. They are trying to mobilize their own voters. You saw that e-mail that you just read.

Also, we spoke yesterday about this provocative ad talking about the president's children are protected by people who bear arms.

So you can be sure that the NRA is going to continue to be just as aggressive as the Obama supporters on all of this.

BLITZER: You know, the reaction from Republicans to what the president did yesterday, signing 23 executive orders, if you will, has been very intense. Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, saying this, "The Second Amendment to the Constitution is a basic right of free people and cannot be nor will it be abridged by the executive power of this or any other president."

At least so far, we're not seeing a whole lot of opportunity for real substantive negotiations.

BORGER: No. And, of course, Rick Perry is a governor that once suggested that Texas secede from the Union, I would remind you, and ran for the presidency himself. But, Wolf, what we're hearing is a lot of second amendment talk, the president wants to take away your guns.

There's also talk among Republicans that an assault weapons ban will not be effective, that it would not have solved the problem, for example in Newtown. So, there's talk of taking that off the table. Where there does seem to be some kind of coalescing is closing the gun show loophole, making universal background checks required for gun owners. If I had to guess, I would say that is the one area that you could see people come together on.

BLITZER: When I interviewed David Keene, the president of the NRA, I didn't see him show any flexibility on that specific issue.

BORGER: No. Because right now, Wolf, there is absolutely no meeting of the minds. These are these two behemoths as I call tem, staking out their positions, and there's no reason to compromise until there at the end of the process.

BLITZER: The president and vice president, they've got some work to do with fellow Democrats.

BORGER: They do. They do. I mean, you look at the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada. It's clear he's not going to take the lead on this in the Senate. He will leave that to his chief lieutenant.

Today, we had the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Leahy, come out and he said, quote, "We will pass what we can get."

That doesn't mean -- that sure doesn't sound to me like he believes the president's entire package is going to get through. There are also senators, Democrats up for re-election in gun states like Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota.

So those are real issues for the president because, of course, they want to keep control of the Senate and also there are Western senators who are going to be looking for some middle ground.

BLITZER: See, the key words, "middle ground". We'll see if there's any.

BORGER: If there's any.

BLITZER: Yes. Gloria, thank you. One of the country's oldest airlines now has a brand new look. We're going to show you how American Airlines is engaged in a major makeover.

Plus, it's not just 20s anymore. The big change you'll be seeing soon at some ATMs.


BLITZER: The FBI's director's wheels up after a secret visit to Libya. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on?


Well, CNN has learned that FBI director Robert Mueller has left Tripoli. He traveled there for the unannounced visit to discuss the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September. The official who confirmed the trip said, Mueller did not visit the compound where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed. That official did not say who Mueller met with it, or what else was discussed.

And Lance Armstrong's fall from grace is not over yet. A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee says the IOC has stripped the iconic cycling champion of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Words of this latest low comes ahead of Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey, where he is expected to admit to using performance-enhancing drugs.

And American Airlines has its first facelift in more than 40 years. The carrier today unveiled a new red, white, and blue logo in an updated eagle motive. Americans also is trading its polished exterior for a new red, white, and blue paint job.

The airline is in talks with U.S. Airways. An info merger goes through, the new company will be called American and the new look will stay.

Well, have you ever wanted a little cash from the ATM but you couldn't get it because it only had big bills? Well, machines that pay to the dollar are popping up around the country. Chase rolled out up to 400 of these machines dispensing denominations as low as 1s and 5s over the past 18 months, and PNC has switched out thousands of its ATMS and plans for all of its 7,200 ATMs nationwide to be spitting out these smaller bills by the end of the summer.

So, that must be a trend that we're headed towards. So, now, if you want $7, you can have $7. You don't have to have $20. That's the future. So, that's the future, I guess. That's the way it's going, Wolf.

BLITZER: Much more convenient for a lot of people.

SYLVESTER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: They've got to service the people.

SYLVESTER: But you still have to watch those fees, too. That's something I would keep in mind.

BLITZER: Thank you. Fewer than four days, the president of the United States will deliver his second inaugural address. Two of Washington's former top presidential speechwriters, they are here in THE SITUATION ROOM with some advice. Paul Begala and David Frum, they are coming up.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Here are some of the stories we're working on for our next hour behind the hoax. We're digging into the man who reportedly made up Notre Dame linebacker, Manti Te'o's girlfriend.

Also, the Dreamliner grounded around the world and one of the key causes of the trouble may end up on other planes as well.

Also, a close look at the man some say will be the second most powerful person in Washington, the new White House chief of staff. Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Next Monday, President Obama will speak to the American people and to the world in his second inauguration speech. But after four very challenging years in office, what tone should the president strike this time around?

Joining us now, CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and CNN contributor, David Frum, a former White House speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He is also author of the excellent e-book "Why Romney Lost," which is doing very well.

Here's what the White House press secretary said today about the president's speech preparation. Let me play the clip from Jay Carney.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All I can tell you is the president in general when he works on a speech writes them long hand on a yellow pad and I've seen some yellow pads filled with writing of late around, but I don't have any more details on the speech.


BLITZER: Both of you are former speechwriters. You've written some powerful speeches. Paul, you wrote this on the "Daily Beast." President Obama's task is much like the couple renewing their wedding vows after decades of tough but rewarding marriage. If the words are too ideal list, they will seem hollow or saccharine. If too pedestrian, why even bother?

I like the way you write. You got a future in this business, but tell us -- you know, take us inside those words.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Tough task. This president loves an Olympian detachment and there's a lot of good in that. We need a president to think of the big picture, the only person who is supposed to be thinking for 100, 150 years where we need to be.

At the same time, he is a participant, the central participant in what is a very small, petty and partisan political environment here in our nation's capital. He's got to find a way if all he does is wine and complain about the partisanship then that doesn't move us.

But if he's too high and too airy fairy then it's a very, very -- now he's one up to the task. He is one of the best writers we've ever had in the White House and he as good of a team as we've ever seen. So he'll do fine.

BLITZER: Got some advice for important speech like this?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, needless words, have a very clear specific message, know exactly what you're going to say and don't say anything else. The second inaugurals are tough and for two reasons.

The first reason is that if you become president, unless you do it in the Harry Truman way where you find yourself lofted into office very suddenly, you've probably been thinking about your first inaugural address for at least a year, maybe your whole life.

The second inaugural address, not such a big wind up. The second, of course, by the time the second inaugural, presidents have enormous staffs. And the bigger the staff, well, as they say, when you listen to a really bad speech, no individual could have written so bad a speech. That took a team of highly trained professionals.

BLITZER: Should he speak in specific details, go into specific policy issues, save that for a state of a union address? Just speaking lofty words in a second inaugural?

BEGALA: More the grand notions and values. I went back and rewrite his first inaugural was quite a good speech. It had some very specific stuff and no details, nor should he. That's right. In a few weeks he'll give the state of the union address, which is meaty, policy detail.

This is much more, I think, spiritual. The very difficult thing is what David said, having that one central thing. I have not been talking to obviously the president about his speech, but I do think he'll want to make an appeal to unity.

It's a very difficult thing when the reality is, we are bitterly divided and we will be every day for the next four years while he's leading us.

BLITZER: I've been going through the history preparing for Monday, looking at some old second term inaugural address. There are only a few lines if we think about it that have really jumped out and stayed with us all these years later. FRUM: The second term inaugural address as you will always have in mind Abraham Lincoln's, which is aptly been called the most terrifying state paper in American history. Mostly, they disappoint and they disappoint for the reasons I've given. I would urge avoid rhetoric for its own sake. Avoid the tendency to soar and loft because if you do that you end up saying nothing at great length. Say something clear and specific.

BLITZER: Did something jump out at you from President Bush's second inaugural address?

FRUM: Well, President Bush's second inaugural address was a very troublesome speech in a lot of ways. The president set down some very bold markers about advancing democracy.

He was immediately tested by one of America's most important undemocratic allies, Egypt, which almost within days of the second inaugural put in jail the leading opponent of President Mubarak in the then forthcoming Egyptian presidential elections.

And the United States was then confronted with this challenge. We ended up not doing very much about it and it just -- it was much more embarrassing than it would have been in the absence of such a vaulting speech.

BLITZER: You remember President Clinton. You worked in the Clinton White House. His second inaugural, something jump out at you?

BEGALA: President Clinton very much wanted to be a healer. In fact, he had his hand on the bible opened to the passage of the prophet and finished that inaugural address that swearing that oath and chief justice said to him good luck and within a couple of years the Republicans impeached him.

You know, his highest goal I think in that inaugural was to try to unify the country and that didn't work. That's just the times we live in. The president has to accept that and find a way to frankly manipulate that to the goals that he needs because he's not going to be able to change it.

BLITZER: I hope the chief justice brings a little note card with the words this time around. You remember what happened four years ago.

FRUM: He looked more nervous than President Obama did four years ago.

BLITZER: He was pretty nervous. That was an awkward moment, as we say. Let's talk for a brief moment on Joe Biden. He's playing an increasingly more visible role. What does that say to you long term?

FRUM: It's very hard for me to imagine Joe Biden as a 2016 candidate. I know this is an important beam to you, but I find it hard to imagine. The country will be ready for something new.

BEGALA: When Al Gore is vice president, he used to joke that if you turn your head sideways and close one eye, it kind of looks like the seal for the vice president that says president of the United States, everybody in Washington, but certainly every senator and vice presidencies himself as vice president.

This vice president, the task for in the middle class, implementation of the recovery act and now within the last few weeks the deal on the fiscal cliff and gun violence, gun safety, this president has entrusted him with enormous responsibility and I think frankly the vice president has proven himself.

FRUM: I think when you do those high profile, it's like working at a nuclear plant that measures how much radiation you've absorbed. When you've done enough of that task force, you've absorbed so much radiation. You're radioactive, too.

BLITZER: There's no doubt the president has come to really relied on his vice president. They work very well together. We'll see what happens over the next four years. Guys, thanks very much.

So where are the American hostages and who are the hostage takers? We're going to hear from an expert on the Islamic militants who are now posing a very serious threat across all of North Africa.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. Our top story, the American hostages being held in North Africa. Algeria state-run news service says a raid to free foreign hostages at a gas facility near the Libyan border is over. Algerian forces used tanks to free the captives, including Americans, but their fate is still a mystery.

Andrew studies and writes about Islamic militants in North Africa. He's joining us now from Dakar in Senegal. Andrew Lebovich, thanks for coming in. Give us a little explanation about these terrorists in Algeria right now. What exactly is their connection to al Qaeda?

ANDREW LEBOVICH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CONSULTANT: Well, these terrorists were operating under a man named Mokhtar Belmokhtar who is a long time Jihadist leader in Algeria and later in Northern Mali. He was part of al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb, which formally (inaudible), but formally merged with al Qaeda in 2006 and took the new name in 2007.

He was reportedly stripped off his command by AQIM, though I think the circumstances are probably a bit more complex than that and he's still been operating in Northern Mali and now, of course, back in Algeria.

BLITZER: And he's a one-eyed Algerian terrorist and he's got a group, among other things, called the "Brigade of the Masked Ones," Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Does he take orders shall we say from the standard al Qaeda leadership, Zawihiri, the now number one leader of al Qaeda or are they independently inspired by al Qaeda?

LEBOVICH: Well, AQIM, in general and Belmokhtar in particular has been very careful in public statements before and in interviews to pay homage to al Qaeda and to make clear that he takes his orders from al Qaeda central. The extent to which he does or doesn't is not as clear but he does make a very careful point of establishing that he is part of the broader al Qaeda network and he's -- BLITZER: Is there -- go ahead.

LEBOVICH: He's claimed to have contact with al Qaeda leadership going back decades. Again, these can't be confirmed, but it is a part of his own personal story.

BLITZER: This hostage takeover took place right near the Libyan border. What's the Libyan connection in this event that's going on?

LEBOVICH: I think it's too early to tell. The attackers themselves said that they originally came from Northern Mali so it's possible that they took a route to get to -- to get to the side of the attack. The other reports indicated that the hostage takers had Algerian and Libyan accents. Again, that's not necessarily determinative but the attackers themselves said that they started in Northern Mali.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the secretary of state and the White House press secretary said about this today. Listen to this.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Because of the fluidity and the fact that there is a lot of planning going on, I cannot give you any further details at this time.

CARNEY: We don't have, at this point, more details to provide to you. We're certainly concerned about loss of life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria.


BLITZER: So what, if any, indication does this give you? What hints do you get from these kinds of public statements from U.S. officials?

LEBOVICH: Obviously those kinds of statements are quite vague. They are waiting -- I think they are waiting for some sort of official statement from the Algerian government. The government has not given full casualty numbers yet.

They have only alluded to some hostages saved and some deaths among hostages and attackers. News reports have indicated various numbers throughout the afternoon. I think we're going to have to just wait and see what the final casualty numbers are.

BLITZER: We just got a statement in from BP, which was operating together with some local affiliates that facility, the oil/gas facility in Eastern Algeria and BP is now saying they have chartered a plane carrying BP employees from Algeria, expected to land in the U.K. around midnight local time.

BP would not confirm whether the employees include those who were at this facility, at this gas field. So apparently, they are taking their people out. It's a very dangerous situation, I assume. You've studied this for a long time. I was surprised to hear that there were these BP employees there in that volatile situation, but you know a lot more about this than I do. LEBOVICH: Well, there are large multinational corporations and gas corporations that work in Southern Algeria in conjunction with the Algerian national energy company. So that is not surprising. What was surprising about this attack was the choice of target.

AQIM has targeted energy workers before, most notably in 2010 when another AQIM commander kidnapped seven employees of the -- of a subcontractor of the French nuclear firm and this was surprising given the level of security that is generally present at oil and gas sites in Algeria.

BLITZER: Andrew Lebovich joining us from Dakar, Senegal. He is with the national securities program at the New America Foundation and Authority, an expert on this subject. We'll check back with you, Andrew. Thanks very much for that information.

And for the first time since the Aurora massacre in Colorado, the actual theatre where it happened is now reopening, but not everyone is happy about it.


BLITZER: Six months after a gunman opened fire at an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre, and the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, the movie house reopened its doors today. CNN's Jim Spellman is joining us now from Colorado. Jim, how are the families of the victims responding to the reopening of the theatre?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been a mixed response, Wolf. A large group of the family members have gotten together and they decided they are going to boycott the reopening ceremonies and also boycott the theatre chain in general.

They say that they are just out to make money and being callous and not looking out for the interests of the family members. A lot of people would like to see this movie theatre torn down.

I got to speak with Jessica Watts. Her cousin, Jonathan Blunk, was murdered in the theatre. Listen.


JESSICA WATTS, THEATER VICTIM FAMILY MEMBER: Never once have offered their condolences or sympathies and have truly shown their true colors that they are only in it for the money.


SPELLMAN: They say that if there was a memorial here or something like that, it would be more appropriate, but to just reopen a commercial enterprise on the ground where their loved one was killed is too much.

We do know that other family members will come. They say that they need to move on with their lives. They can't let something like this dominate them. With this larger group of victims and families, it's doubtful that they will ever get complete consensus about what to do with the theatre or a lot of the other issues around this tragedy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I understand, Jim, the psychiatrist who treated James Holmes may be facing a lawsuit. What's going on with this front?

SPELLMAN: Yes, we're approaching a six-month filing deadline for people who want to file suit against the university and psychiatrist, Dr. Lynn Fenton. We've already 14 people have filed suit. We could see dozens or hundreds more. They all claim essentially that she was negligent in treating him and not bringing him forward to the police. It would be interesting to see what happens with those lawsuits. There could be hundreds of them facing the psychiatrist and the university -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Spellman, thanks very much.

Five foreign hostages have been released from an Algeria gas facility being held by Islamic militants. We're going to hear the very emotional response from the sone of one of them.

Also, the history behind one of the two bibles President Obama will use at his swearing in on Monday.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was the actual bible that President Obama used in 2009?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

SYLVESTER: And the same bible --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That Abraham Lincoln walked up to and put his hand on and swear in, in 1861.


BLITZER: Here's a look at a special edition of inauguration prep hot shots. Check it out. In front of the U.S. capitol building, flags are hung as the public inauguration venue is prepared.

At a souvenir shop, inauguration pins and swag selling like hotcakes. In front of the White House, the presidential viewing stand is assembled for the inauguration day parade.

And the Presidential Inaugural Committee gift shop, yes, gift shop, commemorative water bottles are sold for a whopping $30. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from Washington, D.C.

It's the key part of every U.S. president's swearing in, the bible that he places his hand on when taking the oath of office. CNN's Lisa Sylvester has been looking at the bible President Obama will be using this time around and Lisa is joining us. Share some details, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: So Wolf, this is something I did not know. The Library of Congress actually has 1,500 bibles in its collection and one of those bibles will be used during President Obama's second inauguration, the Lincoln bible.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): So much history in this small box.

(on camera): I was thinking this big bible, but it's actually pretty tiny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The monumental mentality of the moment has been confused with the size of the bible. It's a small family bible.

SYLVESTER: It's 150 years ago, the president who freed the slaves, Abraham Lincoln, put his hand on this bible and swore to uphold the constitution.

MARK DIMUNATION, U.S. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: These are objects that seem to store the energy of a moment and they are physical objects that have traveled through time and culture to us.

SYLVESTER: Mark Dimunation is the chief of the rare books collection at the U.S. Library of Congress. Lincoln's inauguration day, March 4th, 1861.

DIMUNATION: There's this incredible moment where Lincoln walking out on stage and gives this magnificent inaugural address and uses this bible to swear in a moment when the country is incredibly divided.

SYLVESTER: A country so politically torn and on the verge of war, Lincoln had to be essentially smuggled into Washington ahead of the inauguration because of assassination threats.

Lincoln didn't have his family bible with him so he borrowed one from clerk of the Supreme Court, William Thomas Carol, a seal in the back of the bible attest that it was used in the Lincoln inauguration. The man administering the oath of office was Chief Justice Roger Taunee who did not share Lincoln's views on slavery.

DIMUNATION: You can imagine that the tension was palpable between the two of them. Taunee was the justice that cast the deciding vote that put through the Dread Scott decision, in essence, pushing slavery forward for many years.

SYLVESTER: But change did come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Mr. President.

SYLVESTER: America's first black president used the Lincoln bible in 2009. President Obama has again chosen the Lincoln bible as one of those he will use to take the oath of office for his second inauguration.

(on camera): This is the actual bible that President Obama used in 2009?

DIMUNATION: That's correct.

SYLVESTER: And the same bible --

DIMUNATION: That Abraham Lincoln walked up to and put his hand on to swear in, in 1861.

SYLVESTER: It's kind of neat, the sense of history, doesn't it?

DIMUNATION: It has the kind of electricity to it. It really does carry the meaning of the moment.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): The moment repeated on Monday when President Obama places his hand on this small bible that carries more than its weight of history.


SYLVESTER: Now, president Obama will actually use three different bibles as part of the inauguration events. On Sunday for the official swearing in, he will use the Robinson Family bible. On Monday, then, for the public inauguration, he will use the Lincoln bible that you just saw and Martin Luther King Jr.'s traveling bible.

Of course, Monday marks Martin Luther King Day, so the man responsible for freeing the slaves, the man who fought for the civil rights of African-Americans, their bibles both being used by the country's first black president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very appropriate indeed. Lisa, thank you.

CNN's special coverage of President Obama's second inaugural spans two days. First, as Lisa reported, the official oath of office in a private ceremony on Sunday over at the White House, then Monday's public ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. It all starts at 9 a.m. Eastern on both days.