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Clinton Testifies on Libya Attack; Investigating the Benghazi Attack; Deep Freeze for Much of U.S.; Russian Ballet Director Attacked: Professional Sabotage?; Post-Election Future for Israel

Aired January 23, 2013 - 12:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Michael Holmes, sitting in for Suzanne Malveaux. We're going to take you around the world in 60 minutes. Let's update you on the main stories this hour.

Hillary Clinton, of course, has been in the hot seat. You've been watching the secretary of state testify live on Capitol Hill, grilled about that attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11th last year. That attack, of course, left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. At one point, the issue brought her almost to tears.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children.


HOLMES: Republican lawmakers have been fiercely critical, of course, of the Obama administration's response to the attack in Benghazi. Then Secretary Clinton got a little fired up during some of the testimony.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn't have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? I mean that was -- that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained.

CLINTON: Well, but, Senator, again --

JOHNSON: Within hours, if not days.

CLINTON: Senator, I -- you know, when you're in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on, number one.

JOHNSON: Well, that's -- I realize -- I realize that. I realize that's a good excuse --

CLINTON: Number two. Number two -- well, no it's the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB, because even today there are questions being raised. Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people, but what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still --

JOHNSON: No, no, no, no -- I --

CLINTON: Is still unknown.

JOHNSON: Again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that. An assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the facts.

CLINTON: But -- but, you know --

JOHNSON: And the American people could have known that within days.


JOHNSON: And they didn't know that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans.

JOHNSON: I understand.

CLINTON: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the -- the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information.


HOLMES: Now, this is one of Hillary Clinton's final acts as secretary of state. Her testimony this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be followed up this afternoon with more testimony, this time before a House committee. Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott joins us now from the State Department.

Elise, I know you were watching all the back and forth. What was your takeaway in terms of the highlights? She obviously performed very well, but she got the grilling.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Michael. And a lot of it we expected. As we've been reporting, Secretary Clinton was ready to reaffirm and she took responsibility, really detailing for Senators the steps that she's taken since the attacks, since this independent panel, the ARB that she mentioned, recommended that she's taken all these steps, talked about 65 action items.

But she also, even though the Senators were respectful for the most part, Senator McCain, who has really been one of the most vociferous critics of the administration's approach to Benghazi, not only before and in the aftermath, really was tough on Secretary Clinton in terms of the answers that she provided to the committee. Let's take a listen to an exchange between the Senator and Secretary Clinton.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I categorically reject your answer to Senator Johnson. Why is it that the administration still refuses to provide the full text of the e-mails regarding the deletion of references to al Qaeda and terrorism in the talking points. Why do we care? If the classified information had been included, it gives an entirely different version of events to the American people. Going to the American people and tell them what happened, then you ought to have your facts straight.

CLINTON: Well, Senator, I understand your very, very strong feelings. You knew Chris. You were a friend of Chris. You were one of the staunchest supporters of the efforts to dislodge Gadhafi and try to give the Libyan people a chance, and we just have a disagreement. We have a disagreement about what did happen and when it happened with respect to explaining the sequence of events.


LABOTT: And so, Michael, this was the thing of most of the Senators, the Republican Senators on the committee. While there were questions about inadequate security for the post in Benghazi at the State Department -- at the U.S. diplomatic facility, most of those questions centered around those talking points delivered by Ambassador Susan Rice on those Sunday talk shows, which was really a criticism of the administration that there were no protests. Secretary Clinton saying, listen, there was a fog of war. We really didn't have a good handle on what was going on. But she wanted to look ahead and say, we really need to have resources to protect U.S. diplomatic posts and Congress has a real hand in that, Michael.

HOLMES: You know when you look -- you look at it, I mean Secretary Clinton, again, accepting responsibility. She's done that before. She pledged to implement every one of the recommendations from the review board that looked into the attack. I'm thinking politically, what more is she expected to do at this point?

LABOTT: Well, in terms of these action items, they're going to go ahead. She said she wanted them implemented by March for when her successor, Senator John Kerry, takes over. But I think right now what she's interested in doing and what the State Department is interested in doing is looking ahead. She mentioned about 20 high threat posts that U.S. posts in these countries are really still under threat. Wants to make sure there's enough security at them.

And there was a lot of talk at this hearing about the threats posed in North Africa. You saw what happened last week at the natural gas BP facility in Algeria where three Americans -- three American hostages were killed. There was a conflict in neighboring Mali where there are Islamic extremists. And the French, for the most part, are helping out the Malians, but the U.S. will be helping in that endeavor. How do you get a handle on the threat emanating from North Africa and make sure the U.S. facilities have the resources that they need to make sure the U.S. diplomatic facilities are safe?


HOLMES: All right, Elise, thanks so much. Elise Labott there in Washington.

Let's move past the politics then of the Benghazi tragedy, talk about the investigation itself. Arwa Damon joining us live from Beirut.

Arwa, you've been there. You've been on the ground there. You've covered Libya extensively. What -- I'm curious what we know so far about exactly who was behind the attacks. Any arrests?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the issue, Michael. There haven't been any arrests except for the one Tunisian man who was arrested and then later released by the Tunisian authorities. The Libyans, in the days after the attack, told us that they had detained dozens of individuals for interrogations. That they had leads that they were following up on. But they made no significant arrests. They took no actions against these extremist militias like Ansar Ashiriad (ph) that many were pointing the finger of blame at.

And this really sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. And this is actually one issue that the secretary was not, in fact, asked about. What is the U.S. doing either to pressure the Libyan authorities to take action against those that carried out this attack, or what is the U.S. doing in forms of assistance that they perhaps might be able to provide?

In the days that followed the attack, Michael, if you'll remember, the people of Benghazi themselves took to the streets and effectively drove a number of these extremist militias out of Benghazi and other parts in eastern Libya. This was fairly significant. Yet, however, because there has been no follow-up action, no legal action, no one has been brought to justice, these extremist militias have been able to move back into Benghazi, move back into their bases.

They're intimidating witnesses according to various reports. The head of the Libyan investigation has been kidnapped, effectively missing, for quite some time now from the city of Benghazi. And so these extremist militias have, to a certain degree, been able to exert even more power and control over the population than they had prior to this attack taking place. And this most certainly creates an extremely dangerous precedent, especially given the links that Secretary Clinton was talking about between these Libyan extremist militias, Algeria, Mali, al Qaeda and the Maghreb, so on and so forth.

HOLMES: And, of course, here, the whole issue of weapons. The country was awash in weapons. Some of those weapons have made it to Algeria, Mali, elsewhere. But I want to ask you about something else. And that is, of course, many of us remember you made it into that consulate right after the attack, found part of the ambassador's diary. Tell us about that and the impact of that. We heard Senator McCain, during the quizzing there of Secretary Clinton, mention the moment that you got that diary and what it contained. Tell us about it.

DAMON: Yes, we found the diary located on the floor of the ambassador's bedroom between the bed and the chair. It was a pretty startling discovery, first of all, because of the fact that it was just lying there. The consulate clearly had not been secured following this attack and there was clearly still sensitive material that was there.

You know, though the diary, throughout our other reporting, from other sources, it was clear that the ambassador himself was very aware of the threat that existed against him, against the consulate, against western interests. He was very concerned about security, especially when it came to Benghazi. And he was also very worried about his own personal safety, too, to a certain degree. So we were able to establish that the people on the ground, including the ambassador himself, were very well aware of the threat that existed against them.

The other, of course, startling thing was how poorly secured the compound itself was before and after the attack, Michael.

HOLMES: Right. Now, let's go back to the point I made earlier, and that is that the state of Libya at the moment, in the wake of all of this and what's gone on in places like Mali and Algeria as well and the weapons that are still out there, what is the state of security in Libya? It's been liberated per say. What sort of law and order exists on the ground there that stops that sort of weapons' movement?

DAMON: Very little. And that is the issue, Michael, that I personally would have wanted to see addressed to Secretary Clinton. What is the U.S. doing to really significantly help the Libyans when it comes to security, because the Libyan security forces are either unwilling or incapable of talking on these extremist militias. Since the attack has taken place, these militias have been able to operate with even more impunity.

There was, if you'll remember, the attack on the Italian consul general in Benghazi. There have been an increasing number of attacks against Libya security forces. By all counts, the situation most certainly is deteriorating. The strength of these very extremist militias is increasing. And that, of course, poses not only a danger to Libya, but to the region as a whole and to various interests throughout the entire region.

There were people in Benghazi, Michael, that were coming up and warning us, telling us that if the Libyan authorities were not able to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, the Americans absolutely had to do something. And the U.S., for quite some time, has been monitoring the activities of these various extremist groups just three hours outside of Benghazi where they have their training camps, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes. Arwa, as always, thanks for your reporting on this throughout. Appreciate that. Arwa Damon there in Beirut.

And if you want a time line, go back and look for yourself exactly how this all unfolded. Go to our Web site,

Now just ahead on NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL, Serena Williams stopped in her tracks at the Aussie Open. We're going to take a closer look at what was a really stunning upset.

Also, an appalling attack. The director of Russia's famed Bolshoi ballet speaking out after having acid thrown in his face.

Also, bundle up. An arctic blast is hitting areas of the U.S. we're going to take a look at the forecast for you. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Feeling a bit chilly? Well, an arctic blast is putting a huge area of the U.S. in a deep freeze. From Ohio to Maine, temperatures are plummeting. We're talking about highs in the single digits and teens, wind chill factors as low as 30 to 40 degrees below zero.

Chad Myers in the Weather Center, you know, Chad, I actually went for the first time and spent some time in Chicago over the weekend and by Sunday it was getting chilly.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. You know, and it's not so much that it's cold in the morning, and it is. Don't get me wrong. We haven't broken one single low temperature, though, across the Northeast or the North-Central states in the past couple of days.

You would think, well, we should be breaking records. It's so cold. No, it's actually cold in the daytime. It's just not warming up and, so, that's what people are complaining about.

Only getting to 11 in Chicago for a high temperature. The jet stream coming up to the north and all the way back down to the south, allowing very warm weather in the west. Phoenix was 81 degrees yesterday. San Diego, 80. That's because the jet stream's pushed all the cold air here and drags it all the way down to the South into the Southeast.

So, how does this all set up? Well, this happens almost every year, but this year is a little bit more extreme, we believe, because of the lack of sea ice up in the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic should be colder by now and, because it isn't cold, that is not allowing the jet stream to remain homogenous across the globe, across the pole. That's allowing the jet to dive farther south than probably it should be if there was just a big covering of ice up there.

So what does that mean for us? That means that where the cold air should be here, it's now diving farther south, diving father south into Russia, diving farther south into China, diving farther south into the U.S. where we are, where we're feeling it.

Will it change? Yes. In fact, by next week, the entire jet stream changes. It gets cold in the West and we get almost record heat in the East as the jet stream drops from ridge to trough and then we go from trough to ridge.

So, deal with this. Deal with this until at least Monday or Tuesday then it gets much, much warmer after that.

HOLMES: Yeah, I was going to touch on this here. The weather has already turned deadly. I think it's three people so far dying of hypothermia in the Midwest. So, we're talking about just a matter of days before there's some relief?

MYERS: There's relief coming on Monday, but then another shot of cold air coming next Friday. So it's winter. This happens, but this just happens to be a lot. This happens to be cold.

HOLMES: Yeah, I mean, it's fascinating to see you explain it that way, too, because it would be those global warming people saying, wait, what's with the warming? But you explained why. It's the warming a little further north.

MYERS: As soon as the Arctic ice all freezes up, this will stop. This will be all over. The little jet stream up there will go around in a big circle or a littler circle. Now that it's going in a big circle, that's why we're getting so much of the Arctic cold down here.

HOLMES: Let's hope that happens. Chad, good to see you as always. Chad Myers.

Well, he had been threatened for months and then it happened, an attack that would change his life. The artistic director of Russia's most famous ballet company now fighting for his eyesight after a man threw acid in his face. We'll have more when we come back.


HOLMES: To Moscow now where doctors are fighting to save the eyesight of the Bolshoi ballet's artistic director. Now, what happened was, last week, somebody threw acid in his face while he was walking home.

As Phil Black reports, investigators say the motive, likely professional.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was Sergei Filin only a few hours after someone threw sulfuric acid in his face. He says he thought he was going to be shot and the attack followed almost three weeks of anonymous phone threats.

Beneath that bandage is the scarred face of a man who dedicated his career to grace and beauty.

Sergei Filin was the artistic director of the world famous Bolshoi ballet and this is the company rehearsing for what was to be Filin's next big show. It opens this week without him. Everyone here involved with the Bolshoi ballet must now try and get on with their jobs of trying to achieve artistic excellence while also dealing with the cruel violence that has been inflicted on one of their own. And they say they also know they must now work to try and restore this dance company's battered reputation.

The Bolshoi ballet is famous for its bitter rivalries. Colleagues and police say the motive for the attack was likely professional.

Bolshoi theater director, Anatoly Iksanov, says whoever did it wanted to create panic among the dancers, but it didn't work.

Those dancers will be led by a new artistic director until Filin recovers. He chose his replacement, Galina Stepanenko, a former prima ballerina who has worked with the company for 25 years.

She says she's going to follow Filin's plans and she believes the dancers will now be united by greater respect and care for each other.

Filin's medical recovery will be slow. After a skin graft and a second eye operation, it's still too soon to know if his sight can be saved.

His colleagues are now working to ensure his artistic vision isn't lost.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.


HOLMES: Extraordinary tale.

Well, it has been perhaps the most dysfunctional relationship in the history of U.S.-Israeli ties. So, now that Benjamin Netanyahu will be prime minister again, will he and the U.S. president overcome their differences? We'll talk to an expert when we come back.


HOLMES: Well, today is election day in Jordan and there are a couple of noteworthy things about the voting there today. Yes, Jordan is a kingdom, but people do get to pick some of the parliament.

For the first time ever, international observers were allowed to be watched over the vote, looking for glitches, any signs of corruption or intimidation. So far, they report everything running smoothly.

Jordan remains pretty stable in a region turned upside down by the Arab Spring. And this is a major point, too. Jordan is friendly to Israel. It's not without its problems, though.

That does bring us to Israel, election time there, as well. Voters across Israel choosing to keep Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the job, but only just.

His coalition kept enough seats to just stay in power. Lost seats, though, many of them to religious parties to the far right and to a new party with a surprising popularity and a bit of a rock star leader.

Here's CNN's Atika Shubert.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Who is Yair Lapid? A former journalist, talk show host, amateur boxer, listed among Israel's sexiest men and, after Tuesday's election, Lapid is also the newest, brightest star on the political scene.

His party, Yesh Atid, winning an astonishing 18 seats in parliament, an upset that makes Lapid the most wanted partner in any coalition.

YAIR LAPID, YESH ATID FOUNDER (via translator): The state of Israel is standing in front of uneasy challenges. We are facing economic crises that threaten to destroy the Israeli middle class, facing a world that will boycott us because of the diplomatic freeze and facing the breakdown of social equality.

There is only one way that we can face those challenges, together.

SHUBERT: But what do Lapid and his party stand for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Together with you, we can change the priorities in this country.

SHUBERT: Yesh Atid translates into "there is a future." The party's platform, however, is decidedly domestic, affordable housing, improving education, and their hot button issue, putting an end to the exemption for mandatory military service for ultra-orthodox Jews.

There is much less on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but, in interviews, Lapid has proposed Israel should give up much of the West Bank while retaining control of Jerusalem.

For many Israeli voters, Lapid represents the modern secular voice of Israel and his strong showing in the polls brings the center back into Israeli politics.

Benjamin Netanyahu remains the front-runner to be prime minister, but Yair Lapid now has the political clout to choose between becoming the key partner in a Netanyahu-led coalition or leading the opposition.

Either way, after this election night, Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid are a new force to be reckoned with.


HOLMES: Atika Shubert, reporting there from Jerusalem.

Let's get Aaron David Miller in here. And good to see you, too. You've written exclusively, of course, on the Middle East, advised several U.S. administrations, Democrat and Republican, about the region. Before we get on to Benjamin Netanyahu's narrow victory, and it was about as narrow as it gets, tell us a little bit more Yair Lapid who we just saw in Atika's report.