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THE SITUATION ROOM

Fate of American Hostages Unknown; Football Player Victim of Sick Joke?

Aired January 17, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: We're getting new details about the fate of American hostages in Algeria.

The alleged hoax swirling around a college football star. We have new information about who may have duped Manti Te'o.

A Dreamliner nightmare for Boeing. The global is grounded.

And from the hands of Abraham Lincoln to President Barack Obama, a small Bible is about to make outsized history once again.

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

We're following breaking news right now in a very fast-changing story. A rescue raid in Algeria ending the hostage crisis that began yesterday when Islamic militants seized dozens of international gas field workers, including Americans.

U.S. officials tell CNN some Americans have been freed, but others are unaccounted for. A plane carrying some of them expected to arrive in Britain very soon, but that country's Foreign Office is warning of what it calls distressing news to come in the wake of the raid.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is working the story for us.

Chris, what's the latest you're hearing?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned, Wolf, some mixed news tonight, the fact that some Americans have been freed, but others still remain unaccounted for.

We're not going into any specific numbers, in order not to jeopardize the safety of any Americans who may still be out there, but I can tell you, it has been very tough for U.S. officials to get good information on what's going on today. In fact, we have learned now that neither the U.S. nor British officials were even informed that the Algerians were going in, until after that assault had already started.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Even as the Algerians announced their operation to free the hostages had ended, the U.S. scrambled to determine the fate of the Americans held by the kidnappers. 2 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: The thing is, the Algerians for the most part have sort of sat on the sidelines when it comes to Mali. A big question is, once this incident is over, does it make them stay on the sidelines or does it bring them more into the conflict, helping the French, British, and now U.S. battling al Qaeda there across the border in Mali -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Obviously a fast-moving story. We will check back with you, Chris, for more details. Chris Lawrence is over at the Pentagon.

Kate Bolduan is here. She's watching one of these sports stories, Kate, that everyone in the country seems to be talking about.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Everyone's talking about, that is, except for the football star himself, Manti Te'o.

Absolutely, he is silent so far on this very -- the only thing we can call it is a bizarre mystery at this point surrounding his alleged dead girlfriend, a woman we now know never existed. The school says he was the victim of an elaborate hoax. He calls it a sick joke. But many are wondering if there's more to this story.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is in South Bend, Indiana, home to Notre Dame, of course.

Ted, what are you picking up there? It's hard to even sum up where this story has taken us.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the next step is Manti Te'o coming out and giving his side of the story. There was a lot of anticipation, Kate, that that would happen some time today, but so far, it hasn't.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: A lot of people would like to talk to Manti Te'o. At one point today, Kate, ESPN tweeted out that they were ready to sit down for an interview. A few hours later, they tweeted that the interview had been canceled.

BOLDUAN: I know this is just sad all around. I'm just not quite sure yet who it is sad for. I think we need some more information before we can decide all of that. Ted Rowlands in South Bend for us. Thanks so much, Ted.

Much more on this story coming up. We're learning a little bit more about who may, may be behind the hoax. And we will dig deeper into the phenomenon of creating fake online personas, known as Catfishing. I still don't understand that name, though.

BLITZER: We will find out a lot more about that.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, other news we're following, including a crisis for Boeing. The entire fleet of its new 787 Dreamliner has been grounded worldwide. A series of incidents involving the planes' batteries now has raised some very serious safety questions and prompted the FAA to issue this very rare order.

CNN's Sandra Endo has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDRA ENDO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, safety concerns surrounding the 787's batteries canceled Dreamliner flights around the world and disrupted travel plans for thousands of passengers. And who knows how long Boeing's plane of the future will remain out of the sky.

(voice-over): Grounded indefinitely. All 50 Boeing Dreamliners worldwide were parked on tarmacs Thursday, this after the FAA ordered U.S. 787s to stop flying until there's proof their lithium ion batteries are safe.

(on camera): In terms of historical context, though, this doesn't happen that often?

KEVIN HIATT, FLIGHT SAFETY FOUNDATION: No, it doesn't happen that often at all. The last one was about 34 years ago, with the D.C.-10 accident in Chicago.

ENDO (voice-over): It's a major black eye for Boeing's marquee plane, which debuted in 2011, after years of delay. The company is defending its aircraft, saying: "We are confident the 787 is safe, and we stand behind its overall integrity."

But two incidents involving the plane's batteries in 10 days have left the FAA with no choice but to ground the Dreamliner, while the NTSB analyzes the charred evidence from last week's 787 fire. Lithium batteries are smaller and more powerful, but can overheat.

DAN DOUGHTY, BATTERY SAFETY CONSULTING INC.: When they're used normally, and the energy is released slowly, as it's supposed to, batteries have a very good safety record. But if that same energy is released very rapidly, the battery cells will vent, release their contents, and have the potential both for fire and explosion.

ENDO: Boeing needed special FAA approval to allow the Dreamliner to use lithium batteries for key electrical systems.

HIATT: They have narrowed it down to the battery system on this aircraft. We have had two events, and so, therefore, they're going to now be able to look at it a little bit more in detail and figure out what's going on.

ENDO: Boeing's European archrival, Airbus, uses lithium batteries only for emergency lighting in their A-380. But Airbus' plane of the future, the A-350, due out by the end of next year, relies on them more heavily. The company says there are no plans to change its electrical design.

FABRICE BREGIER, CEO, AIRBUS: We are confident that the design is robust, both regarding the batteries, its architecture, the safety.

ENDO (on camera): There are still 800 Dreamliners on order, and it's unclear at this point if these safety concerns will affect the purchases. Each aircraft costs $200 million -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A lot of money involved. A nightmare for Boeing right now. Sandy Endo reporting from Reagan National Airport. This story is going to be big.

BOLDUAN: I know. It's so many airlines -- I mean, airplanes.

Still ahead, so, the question I asked before, I'm going to ask it again. What is catfishing and is Manti Te'o its most high-profile victim? We will talk to the man behind the acclaimed documentary and MTV reality show that puts a spotlight on these complex online hoaxes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get a little bit more right now on the alleged hoax and the mystery surrounding the Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o.

BOLDUAN: The university says he's the victim of an online phenomenon in which someone creates a fake social media profile. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK SWARBRICK, ATHLETIC DIRECTOR, NOTRE DAME: I would refer all of you, if you're not already familiar with it, with both the documentary called "Catfish," the MTV show, which is a derivative of that documentary, and the sort of associated things you will find online and otherwise about catfish or catfishing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more right now with the executive producer of MTV's "Catfish." Ariel Schulman is joining us.

Ariel, thanks very much for coming in.

First of all, explain to our viewers what catfishing is, what catfish is all about, how you got this name.

ARIEL SCHULMAN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "CATFISH": I mean, it's amazing to me that it's becoming such a used term at this point. It didn't mean anything before the documentary.

There's a character who uses it in reference to an old parable about codfish being transported around the world in vats and going steal. And at some point, someone realized if they'd put catfish in the vat, the catfish would chase the cod around and keep them agile and moist and they would sort of taste better.

So he was making a reference to people and how there are certain people like catfish. The character in the documentary, which we titled "Catfish," was that catfish. And it's become basically synonymous with Internet deception. It's basically someone that creates a fake profile.

BOLDUAN: Your brother was the subject, was the victim in this documentary that you're talking about. And you document in your movie and now on your show, as victims, as others that are victims on your MTV show. So how common have you found catfishing has become?

It seems, honestly -- before this, I had never heard of it.

SCHULMAN: It's shockingly prevalent.

When it happened to my brother, that was the first time I had ever heard of it in terms of wholesale identity deception. I mean, she had created 15 different profiles. He had fallen in love with one of them, and had interactions with 14 others, all very deep and personal relationships.

As soon as the movie came out, he started getting an influx of hundreds of e-mails a day, thousands after a year, from other kids, from other people, around the world who had experienced the exact same thing. And that's when we started developing the TV show, and casting it has been a lot easier than you would think. I mean, it's happening all over the place.

BLITZER: I know your brother's been trying to investigate a little bit what happened in this particular case. He's been speaking to some of the players involved. What can you share with us?

SCHULMAN: Well, it turns out, Wolf, that a couple of the players in the Manti situation had actually reached out to him through his catfish -- Nev -- Gmail account a couple months ago and it sort of got buried and he didn't notice it until now. And he's looking back and he realizes that a couple of the character that Lennay -- the Lennay character had also -- it wasn't just Manti. She had been catfishing a couple other guys.

One of those guys had grown suspicious and had tried to call her out on it and had sought my brother's help in getting to the bottom of it, because that's sort of what he does best right now. So he finally reached out to that guy and they started to sort of retrace her steps or whoever Lennay really is, and found a few other characters involved in the saga.

BOLDUAN: In all of your research, have you found that there is a certain type of person that's susceptible to becoming a victim of a scam like this? Does Manti Te'o, from what you know of him, fit that type?

SCHULMAN: You know, it's funny. There is a certain type, and Manti, based on what the athletic director from Notre Dame was saying about him, he kind of reminds me of my brother.

Yes, he could date someone in real life. I mean, this guy is a football superstar. My brother is, you know, a New York guy. He's pretty good-looking. He could ask someone out. But he's so naive and sort of a hopeless romantic and then an optimist, that if the right girl attracts him, there's something sort of beautiful and innocent about it being online and not being face to face. You can sort of be someone else, and sort of start from scratch.

And it seems like this guy, Manti, has a really big heart and was just sort of looking for love. BLITZER: And may have been naive, if you will, if you believe his side of the story, at least what he told officials at Notre Dame University.

But I just want to, you know, elaborate, if you can. You say your brother's been corresponding now with at least one individual who may be may have been involved in this catfish operation?

SCHULMAN: Yes, I don't have the specifics. Hopefully we will get them from Nev a little later. I hope you get to talk to him.

There's a guy named J.R. who was, I guess, friends online with Lennay, and he says that -- or one of his friends was looking to date her. And every time they tried to meet up, she would suddenly pull out at the last second, which is a classic sort of catfish maneuver.

There would be a car accident or an illness or something happened at home. And instead of her showing up, someone else kept showing up in her place, and that someone else was the Ranai (ph) character. I hope I'm pronouncing his name right.

And so he started growing suspicious that he could never meet Lennay, yet this other guy kept showing up. So I think he publicly tweeted, and you could probably find this on this guy R.J.'s feed, that he sort of made one of the early accusations that Lennay wasn't -- fake, and instantly he was dealing with a whole, like, suicide threat scandal.

I mean, it gets really complicated, and to try to describe this stuff is impossible, Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's very bizarre and intriguing because of the timeline that is coming out. And we're getting all these inconsistencies. For example, Notre Dame, the athletic director, said last night that Te'o received a phone call on December 6 from the woman saying it was his girlfriend, that she was alive, that it was a hoax.

But two days later, two days later, he said this, and I will play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANTI TE'O, NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL PLAYER: I really got, you know, hit with cancer. I mean, I don't like cancer at all. Cancer -- I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He says he lost his grandparents, "I lost my girlfriend to cancer."

So what do you think about these allegations now, these suggestions that Te'o may have been involved in all of this, may have obviously known a lot more than he apparently let on? SCHULMAN: I understand, because it's so bizarre, and those are the same sort of accusations that we faced after the documentary came out.

The world hadn't really seen a scandal like this. I mean, we have seen deception, we have seen huge business CEOs faking law degrees, but we have never seen wholesale identity deception, on a public scale, until this. But we've seen it with my brother. And a lot of people didn't believe it. But once you go into the timeline and you talk to the guy, whether it's Manti or my brother, you emotionally understand that he was -- he wanted to believe.

And when you want to fall in love, when you want it to be real, you're willing to ignore so many red flags. And my heart kind of goes out to him. I'm on his side. I really think that he's innocent and that he was deceived.

BLITZER: Ariel Schulman is the executive producer of MTV's "Catfish."

Ariel, we will stay, obviously, in close touch with you. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much.

SCHULMAN: A pleasure.

BOLDUAN: We will have more on this ahead. We will hear from a writer from Deadspin.com, which first broke this story, as we dig deeper into the growing mystery, as you can see, surrounding Manti Te'o.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: New information emerging about an elaborate hoax that has sports journalists scratching their heads all across the country. The Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o says he was the victim of a sick joke involving a phantom girlfriend. Just ahead, we're digging deep for details about the young man suspected of creating her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More now on the hoax that Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o ensnared him.

BOLDUAN: Ensnared him.

BLITZER: Ensnared him.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I don't want know how to pronounce it. You pronounced it right. We're digging deeper into the big online persona Te'o says was his girlfriend and learning new information about the young man who may have been behind it.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into the story.

Get us up to speed, because I'm lost.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We will do the best we can here.

Kate and Wolf, Deadspin did name one man in particular who it says is behind this. That man is based in Southern California. Now, with our teams here in Washington, in Los Angeles, and in Atlanta, we did get some information on him, but it is not clear at the moment if he actually knows Manti Te'o or not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It was a hoax made all the more believable by his hushed, mournful interviews, like the one he gave ESPN.

TE'O: 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. Last thing she said to me was, "I love you."

TODD: But Manti Te'o's supposed girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who reportedly died of leukemia, never existed. Te'o and Notre Dame say he was the victim of this hoax.

Who perpetrated it? Deadspin.com, the sports investigative Web site that broke the story, points to a young man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. CNN obtained a yearbook photo of him from 2008, when he was a senior at Paraclete High School in Lancaster, California. Deadspin, citing friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo's, says he created the girlfriend and spread the myth online.

TIMOTHY BURKE, AUTHOR, DEADSPIN.COM: They told us that he has been doing the Lennay Kekua fake online profile for several years. And that he's caught other people in its trap. But that they caught on way earlier than Manti Te'o did.

TODD: CNN cannot confirm Tuiasosopo's involvement. We went to addresses, called numbers in Southern California, listed for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, and could not reach him.

We caught up with Tuiasosopo's father, Titus, a former football player at USC, now a pastor at a place called the Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope. He's seen here on Facebook. He wouldn't speak on camera but told us the truth "will all come out. God knows our character."

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's uncle, who gave us these pictures of him as a child, tells us Tuiasosopo is religious and plays in a band at his father's church. VINCENT AMITUANAI, UNCLE: It's hard for me, because I know the kid all his life, and this is the first time I've heard something like that.

TODD: Deadspin says Tuiasosopo and Manti Te'o know each other. Notre Dame's athletic director, who hired investigators in this case, was asked if they're cousins or family friends.

JACK SWARBRICK, NOTRE DAME ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: That characterization does not square with my information, but I'll let the Te'os address it.

TODD: We could not reach Manti Te'o, his parents or his agent for comment.

Tuiasosopo is a former player himself, seen here as a quarterback at Antelope Valley High School. He's got relatives who played college and pro football.

(on camera) I spoke on the phone with Marcus Tuiasosopo, a former quarterback for the Oakland Raiders and the jets. Marcus says he's a distant cousin of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Marcus didn't want to tape an interview. He said he can't say anything about this story, doesn't know Ronaiah well, but Marcus did say that he and his family know the Te'o family.

(voice-over) Who's the woman depicted in social media photos as Manti Te'o's girlfriend? A woman we contacted, whose name we're not airing, says she realized her picture had been used for a fake Facebook page for Te'o's girlfriend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: That woman told CNN she knows Ronaiah Tuiasosopo through church, but says she is shocked to find out that he might be involved in this -- Kate and Wolf.

BLITZER: There's a current NFL football player who says he actually knows this nonexistent girlfriend?

TODD: Yes, apparently so. Reagan Mauia is the man's name. He is formerly a fullback for the Arizona Cardinals. He's a free agent now, apparently. He told ESPN that Lennay Kekua is a real person, that he, Mauia, met her before she knew Manti Te'o, and that they became friends. We tried to reach Reagan Mauia ourselves, and he did not return our calls.

BLITZER: This is obviously weird. Very weird.

BOLDUAN: It's beginning to defy logic a little bit.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Brian, thank you so much.

Let's get more on all of this with John Koblin. He's with Deadspin magazine who first broke this story.

Thank you so much for coming in, John. It's hard to keep all of these pieces together. I mean, first off, I'd like to know what your reporting is and what you have learned about Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and his connection to this story.

JOHN KOBLIN, DEADSPIN MAGAZINE: What we have discovered is that, we are almost 100 percent certain that he is behind the Twitter feed of the girlfriend, the girlfriend that we now know is not real.

We know this because of reporting that we just heard, something that we reported at Deadspin.com, which is a high school -- high school classmate of the guy, he is -- the photo that was used was not of any girlfriend, was not of Te'o's girlfriend, but it turns out that it was, in fact, somebody else who identified Ronaiah as the person who wound up -- she -- she wound up sending him a photo. So we know that for sure, that he is behind it.

How well does he know Te'o? We know that they've spoken on Twitter together. We know that they also have, that Ronaiah's family also went to USC, and they did meet in person. How well do they know each other beyond that? We don't know.

BLITZER: So you're not saying they were close friends or had a long history? That's -- that's still unclear.

KOBLIN: A source told us that they are extremely close, but beyond that and how well they knew each other, we can't confirm right now.

BOLDUAN: So what's dead spin's reporting at this point on whether or not Manti Te'o was himself involved with making up this story, making up this persona, making up this girlfriend?

KOBLIN: We believe that he certainly had a connection with Ronaiah. And beyond that, I mean, there are a lot of red flags. I mean, the fact that, you know -- you know, the fact that Ronaiah and Te'o, they, A, know each other, and B, the fact that what wound up happening, is we have Te'o who wound up -- Te'o wound up, excuse me -- Te'o wound up -- I'm sorry, could you repeat the question one more time. I'm sorry about that.

BOLDUAN: I was just asking how much you think that Te'o was involved with making up this girlfriend?

KOBLIN: Yes, the fact that -- there is plenty of evidence. I mean, there is some evidence, insofar as the fact that Te'o -- Te'o, first of all, they wind up, they absolutely do know each other. And we also know that Te'o has -- he has come out and has called it a hoax, so he wound up denying it, but beyond that, not entirely sure. And the guys who wound up reporting the story, Jack Tickey (ph) and Tim Burke.

BLITZER: And we'll wait to hear a statement from Manti Te'o, an actual statement, instead of a written statement, and we'll see where that takes us next. Thanks very much, John, for coming in.

KOBLIN: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: John Koblin is with Deadspin.com.

We've got some breaking news about the Americans taken hostage in Algeria. CNN has now confirmed that a Texas man was among those being held by the terrorists.

Let's bring in David Mattingly. He's in Houston right now.

David, I understand you spoke to a relative of the man who was being held hostage? What are you finding out?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Not a lot we can tell you right now, but I did confirm from a family member that a Texas man was among the Americans taken hostage there in Algeria.

He says the family got that information early yesterday morning. And since then, it's been a very painful, agonizing wait, as very little information since has come in about his status and his safety.

So right now, just for an abundance of caution, we're not reporting his name. We're not reporting what he does or actually who he works for, just out of -- as a precaution, because we just don't know what the status of him might be still over there.

And right now, the family members are waiting, as well. We've talked to the governor's office. They don't know anything here. We've talked to the FBI. They're not releasing any information.

We've been in touch with BP multiple times today. They're referring all questions to their global office in London. But for right now, we can confirm, through a family member, that a Texas man is among those who were taken hostage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David Mattingly is watching the story for us, and we'll continue to stay in close touch with you. Thank you.

Other news we're following of the history behind one of the Bibles the president will use at his inauguration next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this is the actual Bible that President Obama used in 2009?

MARK DIMUNATION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With another dangerous cliff looming here in Washington, the House Republican leadership apparently talking to the rank and file about a short-term extension of the nation's debt ceiling. It might be brief, authorizing the nation's borrowing authority for a couple of months.

At the Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia, right now, the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, says it might offer a better chance of getting the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House involved in talk.

Without a deal by March, drastic spending cuts will kick in, and the government could face a possible shutdown. So there seems to be, Kate, a little movement on that. We'll see how far it goes.

BOLDUAN: A little movement. We'll see how far it goes when they all get back.

A key part of every U.S. president's swearing in is, of course, the Bible that he has placed, that he places his hand on when placing the oath of office.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester had a pretty rare look and was able to actually look and touch the Bible that President Obama...

BLITZER: Touched it yourself.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I've got to say, this was a pretty cool assignment. It's very unique and it's a really neat part of the inauguration.

SYLVESTER: And this is something that I learned. 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, which is steeped in history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

(on camera) I was thinking this big Bible, but it's actually really tiny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the monumentality of the moment has been confused with the size of the Bible. It's actually a small family Bible.

SYLVESTER: One hundred fifty-one years ago, the president who freed the slaves, Abraham Lincoln, put his hand on this Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are objects that seem to store the energy of a moment. And they're 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 4, 1861.

DIMUNATION: There's this incredible moment, of course, when Lincoln walks out on stage, and as reports have it, the clouds part and he gives this magnificent inaugural address and he uses this Bible to swear in, in a moment in which the country is incredibly divided.

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

Lincoln didn't have his family Bible with him, so he borrowed one from the clerk of the Supreme Court, William Thomas Carroll. A seal in the back of the Bible attests that it was used in the Lincoln inauguration.

The man administering the oath of office was Chief Justice Roger Taney, who did not share Lincoln's views on slavery.

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

SYLVESTER: But change did come.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So help me God.

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, isn't it?

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

SYLVESTER: The moment, repeated on Monday, when President Obama places his hand on this small Bible that carries more than its weight of history. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: President Obama will actually use three different Bibles as part of the inauguration. On Sunday for the official swearing in, he will use the Robinson family Bible. On Monday, for the public inauguration, he will use the Lincoln Bible, as we mentioned, and the Martin Luther King Jr.'s traveling Bible.

Of course, Monday marks Martin Luther King Day. So the man responsible for freeing the slaves and the man who fought for civil rights for African-Americans, their Bibles are both being used by the country's first black president. So that's a lot of symbolism there.

BOLDUAN: And a lot of history. Not only -- not only an historic day.

BLITZER: I love covering history, you know. I love this kind of stuff.

SYLVESTER: You know, when I was holding the Bible, that was the other piece. I mean, it's not just history of the past, but it's history in the future. I mean, this is the Bible that will be used in the inauguration in a coming -- few coming days.

BLITZER: Did you put your hand on it?

SYLVESTER: I did. I did actually put my hand on it. But it's a moment. I mean, there's no other way to describe it. I was in awe.

BLITZER: Excellent work. Thanks, Lisa.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Today is first lady Michelle Obama's 49th birthday. I'm sure she loves that we're all talking about that. It's not clear what her and the president's plans are, but our Brianna Keilar had this exchange with White House press secretary, Jay Carney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And finally, it's the first lady's birthday today, I believe.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is.

KEILAR: Can you tell us anything about how the president and the first family are celebrating her birthday?

CARNEY: I don't want to ruin the surprise.

KEILAR: But anything that may have already happened?

CARNEY: No, you know I...

KEILAR: He's not waiting until the very end of the day to acknowledge... CARNEY: You know, that's -- that's a personal thing. I don't have anything for that on you -- on that for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: We do know that Mrs. Obama launched a new Twitter account today, @FLOTUS. And Wolf's favorite breaking news of the day, and she tweeted out a photo...

BLITZER: Look at this.

BOLDUAN: ... revealing a new look.

BLITZER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Get this: bangs, everybody! So the first lady celebrating her birthday with a new hairdo, and of course, happy birthday.

BLITZER: Very happy birthday to the FLOTUS, the first lady of the United States, as opposed to the POTUS...

BOLDUAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... the president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Any more acronyms for us?

BLITZER: No.

BOLDUAN: OK.

BLITZER: I like the bangs, though. What do you think?

BOLDUAN: I like the bangs, too.

BLITZER: Very nice.

She was famous for decades of sage advice wrapped up in pithy one-liners. When we come back, we'll remember the trailblazer, the mentor, the advice columnist to millions, Dear Abby. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For -- for millions of people over the decades, they read her advice column. Today, word that the woman known as Dear Abby as died. I was among those millions reading her column every day.

Mary Snow is joining us now with more details. What a columnist Dear Abby was, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and an amazing woman. The columnist died today at the age of 94 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. She leaves behind a syndicated column that boasts a daily readership of more than 110 million. And it all started because she had too much time on her hands. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Her real name was Pauline Phillips, but she was best known as Dear Abby, the woman millions turned to for advice on everything from annoying in-laws to cheating spouses.

As a 30-something housewife in California, she told the editor at the "San Francisco Chronicle" she was better than the advice columnist they had. She credits her flip, saucy one-liners for getting the job. Abigail Van Buren became her pen name.

As her "Dear Abby" column grew, she competed in the advice field with her identical twin sister, Esther Pauline, better known as columnist Ann Landers. Their dueling careers put a strain on their relationship.

In 1990, she told CNN's Larry King what it takes to be a good columnist.

PAULINE PHILLIPS, ADVICE COLUMNIST: You have to feel for people. You have to want to help people. And I -- that is the best part of being Dear Abby. I love being able to help people, when somebody writes and says, "Abby, you changed my life. You did something for me that nobody else could do."

SNOW: She wrote about the angry letters she received from readers following her public acceptance of homosexuality at a time when there wasn't much tolerance. And there were times when she'd reach out personally to people who were troubled.

Phillips was known for her sometimes pithy responses, like the time Ted asked her, "What inspires you most to write?" And she answered, "The Bureau of Internal Revenue."

But Kyra Phillips of CNN's sister station, HLN, says money was far from the goal. She met Pauline Phillips, who's not related, when she was in college, and the Dear Abby columnist became a mentor.

KYRA PHILLIPS, HLN ANCHOR: This was not fake. This was not a shtick. It wasn't a, "Hmm, what can I do to make a lot of money." This was real. She went to school for journalism, but she had no formal training. But she loved people. She loved helping those that were less fortunate than she was. She always had a heart for people. And that's what made her so great.

SNOW: Pauline Phillips was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2002. That same year, her daughter, Jeannie, took over the column full time. While she remembers her mother's legacy, her family says her direct style is captured in a favorite Swedish toast: "Fear less, hope more. Eat less, chew more. Talk less, say more. Hate less, love more."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: You know, she wrote a book called "The Best of Dear Abby." And Pauline Phillips wrote, "My readers have told me that they learned from me, but it's the other way around. I've learned from them."

And you know, I asked Kyra Phillips, what was the best advice that she got from Dear Abby, and she said that advice was to be yourself.

BLITZER: Great advice. Mary, thanks very much. I remember reading Dear Abby almost every day growing up. And like most people, I loved reading her column.

Here's an example of a letter she would get. "Dear Abby, when you are being introduced, is it all right to say, I've heard a lot about you?" That's from Rita. Her answer, "Dear Rita, It depends on what you've heard." That's the kind of pithy advice she used to give.

BOLDUAN: That is perfect advice.

Erin Burnett is at the top of the hour, as always. Erin, what do you have coming up?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know, sometimes you like to hear, "I've heard a lot about you," and have them wonder, whether it was good.

BOLDUAN: I know, exactly. Just let it linger. Just let it linger out there.

BURNETT: That's right.

Well, at the top of the hour, we are going to be getting the very latest on the hostage situation in Algeria. One of the most fluid and uncertain stories, it has been absolutely incredible covering this story over the past couple of days.

We are going to be joined by David Mattingly, who's been chasing down the family of one of the American hostages. He's going to join us tonight. That family from Texas. So we're going to hear about that coming up at the top of the hour.

Back to you.

BOLDUAN: A lot of news today. Erin Burnett, see you at top of the hour. Thanks so much, Erin.

Still ahead, hall of fame hoaxes. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Manti Te'o hoax is already one for the record books. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 2013 is barely underway, and already we have our first big hoax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The weirdest story of the year. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This reads like a bad Lifetime movie.

MOOS (on camera): Just be glad it isn't your life. Within hours of when the Manti Te'o story broke, Te'oing had become the new Tebowing. Tebowing. Te'oing.

(voice-over): That is posing with an imaginary girlfriend, on bended knee, proposing to her; kissing her. Someone even resurrected Clint Eastwood's empty chair.

The media's preoccupation with the Manti Te'o scandal Bigfooted more important stories. Did we say Bigfoot? Now, that was a hoax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone knew that we were lying.

MOOS: Two Georgians claim they discovered the body of bigfoot and displayed it in a freezer. It turned out to be a costume stuffed with roadkill.

Speaking of dead, remember "Paul is dead"? Of course, Paul McCartney is still alive, but that doesn't stop us from getting turned on by listening backwards to "Revolution 9" and hear "turn me on, dead man."

April Fool's Day inspired Taco Bell to announce it was buying the Liberty Bell and renaming it Taco Liberty Bell.

(on camera): And talk about telling a whopper, there was the April Fool's hoax involving the left-handed Whopper.

(voice-over): Burger King said they moved the condiments 180 degrees to accommodate lefties.

What's left? The Balloon Boy, of course.

RICHARD HEENE, FATHER: I'm just so glad he's here, you know?

MOOS: Dad supposedly thought his son, Falcon, was accidentally sent aloft in this thing. But it was deemed a hoax, punctuated with unforgettable media appearances, for instance, when Balloon Boy barfed on "The Today Show."

At least that hasn't happened yet with the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Was it real?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never existed.

MOOS: The Te'oing online ranged from no girlfriend in the shower to a fortune cookie reading, "The love of your life is sitting across from you."

Seth Myers tweeted, "These Te'o jokes are all very funny, but let's all try and remember that a person who never existed is dead." Still, if a hoax like Balloon Boy never existed, neither would our favorite quote after Wolf Blitzer introduced himself to Balloon Boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.

BLITZER: Hi, guys.

FALCON HEENE, BALLOON BOY: Who the hell is Wolf?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Who is Wolf Blitzer?

BLITZER: No, he said, "Who the hell is Wolf?"

BOLDUAN: Well, I wasn't going to say that part.

BLITZER: That is what he said.

BOLDUAN: I know. I was not going to say that part.

BLITZER: It was a very famous quote.

BOLDUAN: It will go down in the history books.

BLITZER: That was a hoax, that balloon.

BOLDUAN: It was?

BLITZER: Yes, it was.

BOLDUAN: Oh, my God.

BLITZER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. You can always tweet us: @WolfBlitzer, @KateBolduan.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.