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THE SITUATION ROOM

Clinton Testifies on Libya Attack; Interview With Rep. Tammy Duckworth; Interview with Sen. Rand Paul

Aired January 23, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


(HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEARING CONCLUDES)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And so there it is, three hours of testimony this afternoon before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Welcome back.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to our continuing coverage, now full analysis, a recap of what went on.

She grew emotional -- she got very angry at times, in two Congressional hearings today. The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stood her ground firmly about the attack in Libya, which took the lives of four Americans, including the United States ambassador to Libya.

Let's break it all down right now with our chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, and our chief Congressional, correspondent, Dana Bash.

This afternoon, there was some more fireworks -- a lot of these Republican members, Jake, they came out with pretty blistering attacks.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And, in fact, one of the most blistering came from Congressman Duncan of South Carolina, who said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- directly accused her of national security malpractice and said that she turned the consulate into a death trap. Very, very strong language.

Now, for those of us who have been following this story from the beginning, I should say, it's not the most strong language I've heard. The strongest thing I've heard said about this whole controversy, this whole scandal, was by the regional security officer, when he testified last fall. And he talked about all the efforts he made to get greater security in the country. This is a diplomatic official, non- political.

And he said for him, the Taliban was inside the building, referring to the enemy he faced within the State Department itself. So that's the strongest thing I've heard.

BLITZER: Yes.

TAPPER: But accusing Secretary Clinton of being responsible for turning into it into a death trap, that's -- that's blistering.

BLITZER: And, Dana, earlier in the day, as tough as the House hearing was, the Senate Foreign Relations hearing, that was pretty blistering, at times, as well. And we should -- we saw a full range of her emotions.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was two and a half hours earlier this morning. And the secretary took responsibility for the deadly Benghazi attack, but certainly did not calm criticism about the way her own State Department handled the security before the attack and the information flow to Americans afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The committee and the Department in the coming months...

BASH (voice-over): It was the moment of the much anticipated hearing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were mislead.

BASH: A GOP senator swept in with the Tea Party, asking Hillary Clinton why it took so long to interview Benghazi survivors.

She exploded.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand that.

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.

BASH: But Clinton's visceral response only seemed to make John McCain, a chief crusader on Benghazi, even more determined.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The answers, frankly, that you've given this morning are not satisfactory to me.

BASH: McCain asked a slew of questions rapid fire, including why it took CNN's own Arwa Damon to find slain Ambassador Chris Stevens' notebook, which warned about security. MCCAIN: On the anniversary of the worst attack in American history, September 11th, we didn't have Department of Defense forces available for seven hours. Two brave Americans died in the last hour.

BASH: To her old friend, McCain, Clinton was more restrained.

CLINTON: Well, Senator, I understand your very, very strong feelings. You knew Chris. You were a friend of Chris. 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.

BASH: Still, she did not answer McCain's questions.

Her two-and-a-half hour testimony was vintage Hillary Clinton, except, perhaps, for this.

CLINTON: For me, this is not just a matter of policy, it's personal.

BASH: The woman who has been through more public trials than most without getting emotional choked up.

CLINTON: 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.

BASH: Not once, but twice.

CLINTON: The two hardest calls I made were obviously to the families of Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith.

BASH: Even before the hearing began, this reminder that Clinton, a former senator, was on familiar terrain -- taking the unusual step of greeting former colleagues behind the dais. Like Clinton herself, two GOP senators here are potential 2016 presidential contenders, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.

Paul made no secret of his ambition.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Had I been president at the time, and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it's inexcusable.

BASH: He was reacting to Clinton admitting she never saw requests for more security at the Benghazi consulate.

CLINTON: They didn't come to me. I didn't approve them. I didn't deny them.

BASH: The outgoing secretary of State defended Susan Rice, passed over to be her successor after Republicans accused her of misleading Americans in the days after the attack. And Clinton dismissed questions about talking points Rice used that left out reports of al Qaeda involvement, which Republicans called politically motivated.

CLINTON: I personally was not focused on talking points. I was focused on keeping our people safe.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now on those talking points, when Republicans accused the administration of misleading the American people about what happened, they questioned why U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was the one to appear on all five of those Sunday shows, when she was not directly involved in dealing with the attack or its immediate aftermath. And Hillary Clinton said she must confess that going on Sunday shows, Wolf, is not her favorite thing to do.

I'm sure she did not mean when you were a host of a Sunday show.

BLITZER: Yes. But you know what, it was very interesting. I thought she didn't go on those five Sunday shows because she was tired, exhausted...

BASH: That's what I heard, as well.

BLITZER: She didn't say any of that today. She said that's not one of my favorite things, to appear on those Sunday talk shows, that's why she didn't do it.

BASH: She admitted it. I guess...

BLITZER: Yes.

BASH: -- I guess, you know, on her way out, which is effectively what this was, a very, very long day of an exit interview and not the finest moment for her State Department, she felt a little bit free.

BLITZER: And that's when the White House asked Susan Rice to do it.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: And we know what happened as a result of that to Susan Rice and to the Obama administration.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

So what angered -- what's angered a lot of critics is that appeals for more security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi went unheeded.

Our own senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, found the final warning from the U.S. ambassador in the ruins of the consulate.

Arwa was one of the few reporters who actually went to Benghazi in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Arwa is joining us now from Beirut -- Arwa, the Libyan government said in the days immediately following the attack that they had suspects in custody, they had leads they were chasing.

Right now, I -- I believe no one is in custody right now.

Isn't that right?

It's pretty disgraceful, what's going on.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It most certainly is, Wolf. And that was what was actually quite interesting about Clinton's testimony, because this really wasn't an issue that was brought up -- where is the investigation when it comes to what the Libyans are doing and what the United States is itself doing?

What steps are being taken to ensure that these extremist al Qaeda affiliated militias are no longer able to operate with such impunity in a country like Libya, that as Secretary Clinton herself highlighted, not only threatens the security in Libya, but also the funneling of weapons, potentially, of fighters to other areas, like Algeria, like Mali. You've been seeing, of course, consulates erupting, fighting erupting, terrorist attacks being taken out in those two countries, and, more broadly speaking, to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

The Libyan government has effectively done nothing. And these extremist militias, Ansar al-Sharia, for example, are, arguably, more powerful and influential now than they were when this attack took place. There have been various reports of an ongoing intimidation campaign when it comes to people that might potentially be witnesses, when it comes to what happened at consulate itself.

The Libyan head of the investigation was kidnapped in Benghazi. He disappeared. Nobody knows where he is at this point in time. And these militias that were, if you remember, in the days after the attack, driven from their bases in Benghazi by the population itself, well, they've managed to return.

So the big question is, what is the U.S. doing to make sure that these militias are no longer able to operate to such a degree, in such a critical country like Libya?

BLITZER: Arwa, remind our viewers, you were there in the days that followed the killing of the ambassador and the three other Americans. You walked through that compound. And we're showing our -- our viewers some pictures right now of those days. You found the journal that the ambassador was keeping.

What was it like?

Was there any investigation?

Were there any Libyan or U.S. officials really there?

DAMON: There were no U.S. officials on site, Wolf. And if memory serves me right, it actually took the FBI a few weeks to arrive to the location of the consulate.

Libyan officials on-site know there were none at all, initially, because some senior Libyan government officials were touring the site themselves. They did have security with them. But once they left, it was basically us, the owners of the compound and a number of curious residents of Benghazi continuing to sift through what was left behind.

And as we discovered when we found the journal and some other documents, there was still sensitive material left behind. In fact, other journalists went back to that very location weeks after we did and continued to find sensitive information.

What was quite striking, being on-site there, was not just the chillingness of being where such a horrific attack took place, but also the fact that there was this severe lapse in security, that everyone was telling us that it was a coordinated, complex attack. But then we were also quite taken aback at the fact that there was no immediate signs of any sort of investigation. The site wasn't secured or being treated as a crime scene.

BLITZER: It was pretty shocking when you think about it, and as you well reported at the time, Arwa.

Thank you very much.

We're going to get Republican reaction to what we just heard from the secretary of State and Senator Rand Paul, a new member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who basically said -- and you heard it -- you heard him in Dana Bash's piece saying if he had been president, he would have fired Hillary Clinton for the way she dealt with the buildup to what was going on. He's joining us live later this hour.

Also, other important news -- a stunning turnabout by the Pentagon. CNN has learned about a major new announcement involving women in combat.

And after the inaugural balls, a wild party over at the White House, including Lady Gaga. We have the pictures and details. Lots of news happening today, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, to our breaking news, still unannounced that the Pentagon will lift its prohibition on combat roles for women and allow them to fight directly on the front lines. Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. he's got the details. This is historic what is about to happen, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. It's groundbreaking in many ways. You're talking about army infantry, marine reconnaissance unit, even special operations forces. By tomorrow, they will technically all be open to women. But when I say you've got to read the fine print on this groundbreaking change, you've really got to look closely at what it's saying.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The ban on women in combat, it's over. The combat jobs are open. Pentagon officials confirm to CNN that defense secretary, Leon Panetta, will make the formal announcement Thursday, clearing the way for women to apply for combat specialties and units. The navy has already opened submarines to women, and the first female officers joined their subcrews a few month ago.

LT. MARQUETTE LEVEQUE, U.S. NAVY: There's always going to be an aversion to change. And so, the best way to deal with that is is to just go and do my job like any other officer would.

LAWRENCE: -- handlers, patrol war zones, searching for hidden bombs. And in Afghanistan, I followed a female engagement team of marines who went into the homes of Afghan women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're definitely a key player in getting information.

LAWRENCE: But in opening the infantry, the Pentagon has left itself some wriggle room. Their services will have time to assess each job and unit to see if its feasible when how fast women could be integrated. A senior defense officials says some like special operations forces, and perhaps, some infantry units can ask for exceptions to the rule.

And Congress will have to be notified of each job that opens up before it can take effect. Some, inside the services and on Capitol Hill, say changes like this won't make ground troops more effective.

REP. TOM COTTON, (R) ARKANSAS: To have women serving in infantry, though, could impair the mission essential task of those units and that's been proven in study after study for from a matter of -- I mean, its nature, you know, upper body strength and physical movements and speed and endurance and so forth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (on-camera): Some of those critics point to a recent trial by the Marine Corps when they opened up the infantry officer course to women. Only a couple women even tried it and the two didn't even make it out of the first week. So, it was fairly unsuccessful.

And, again, when I talk about that wriggle room, that means that, eventually, as they start to go through this process down the road, some of these particular units, some of these particular jobs could petition to the secretary that what they found is they just cannot open to women and still be combat effective.

And at that point, it would be the secretary's decision whether to close that specialty. So, this will be something that the incoming secretary, if he's confirmed, Chuck Hagel would have to deal with, or perhaps, as you look even further down the road, perhaps, even Chuck Hagel's successor may still be dealing with this, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, there's work to be done, but that's good reporting by you. Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon.

Let's get some reaction now from a woman who did seek combat, the newly elected United States Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. She was one of the first women to fly combat missions in Iraq. Then in 2004, her helicopter was hit by ground fire. She lost both legs in the explosion. She was awarded the purple heart.

Congresswoman Duckworth is a Democrat now from Illinois. Thank so much, congresswoman, for coming in. Thanks so much for your service to the United States of America. Let's get your immediate reaction to the news that the defense department will announce tomorrow. Go ahead.

REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH, (D) ILLINOIS: I think this is a great announcement. I think it's good for our military, Wolf, and I think it's great for our nation. You know, we have an all volunteer force, and I think that this opens up a pool of folks who could serve in these positions.

And, any time that we've opened up our military to performance- based service, whether it was with African-American units and Japanese-American units in World War II or with gays in the military, we've benefited as a nation and we've benefited as a military. So, this is good for the nation.

BLITZER: Another freshman congressman, Tom Cotton from Arkansas, also a veteran, a veteran from both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he disagrees with this decision. He says that there'd been study after study, in his opinion, to show that only men can really do what is necessary in real combat because it's the nature, the upper body strength, the physical, the speed, and endurance, and so forth. He doesn't believe women really have those kinds of qualities. What's your respect to Republican Congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas?

DUCKWORTH: Well, he's certainly welcome to his opinion. There are many different combat jobs, tank commanders and armor, artillery, those are combat jobs as well as so are infantry. And you know, there was study after study after study during World War II before we allowed African-Americans to fly air planes because people thought that African-Americans did not have the mental capacity to fly aircraft.

Yet, look at the heroism of the Tuskegee airmen who never lost a bomber (ph) aircraft that they were escorting. So, you know what, let's just open it up, make it based on performance. If the women can't meet the standards, then they don't get to graduate from the program to do the mission. But if they can meet the standards, then we've just gained another soldier who is willing to serve this nation and willing to lay their lives down in a combat role. And that's good for our military.

BLITZER: Good to get your reaction, congresswoman. Thanks very much for coming in.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you. BLITZER: This has certainly been a hotly disputed issue over so many years for a closer look at the politics of what's going on, women in combat. Let's bring in our national -- our chief national correspondent, John King. John, this is a sensitive matter for a lot of Republicans and some Democrats as well.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a sensitive matter, Wolf, but added to the list of what we've heard from this president since he began his second term, women in combat, groundbreaking language in his inaugural address on gay rights, the return of climate change to the agenda, the return of immigration reform for his agenda, also gun control will be a top priority in his second term.

I want you to listen here to something the speaker of House, John Boehner, before the women in combat announcement, listen to the speaker of the House here what he thinks the president is trying to do in the second term. This is the speaker speaking to a Republican group.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Given what we've heard yesterday about the president's vision for his second term, it's pretty clear to me and it should be clear to all of you that he knows he can't do any of that as long as the House is controlled by the Republicans.

And so, we're expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me just say, I do believe that is their (ph) goal to just shove us into the dustbin of history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Pretty strong words, shove us into the dustbin of history, annihilate the Republican Party. Is that the president's goal or the White House would say no. They want a thrive a two-party system and they're winning at the moment.

But Wolf, if you go through these issues, what the president is doing, women in combat, equal pay for women, groundbreaking gay rights language, gun control, immigration, climate change, he's embracing not only the demographics of the coalition he just used in winning the election, but also their desires.

If you look at their policy agenda and let's remind people about the election. The president won 55 percent of the women's vote in the last election. He believes he can build on this coalition use this coalition to support his agenda now. Look at his support among non- Whites. This is off the charts. The Republicans have a crisis when it comes to African-Americans, but not only that Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans.

Look at the numbers increasingly now voting for the Democrats. And the president here, especially women in combat, gay rights climate change, younger voters want action on these issues and look at the president winning off the charts among younger voters.

As he was -- after his inaugural speech, I'm told by a top Democrat that Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and his former chief of staff asked the president, where did that come from? That the president was so far out there on some of these issues and the president turned to him and said, I just finally decided to say what I believe in.

So, they see in the Obama White House a chance to put pressure on the Republicans. These are all issues that cause pressure under a conservative Republican base. That's what John Boehner is talking about. And the White House says the president is happy to pick these fights. We'll see if he follows through.

But Wolf, one of the things you watch, the Republican Party is a white aging party. If they fight the president so much on all these issues, there are some Democrats who think there's a chance to turn the Obama coalition into a lasting Democratic coalition. That's we're going to watch play out over the next four years.

BLITZER: To use those words that John Boehner used, if the president wants to annihilate the Republican Party, that's about as strong as it gets, a direct accusation against the president.

KING: It's a very strong language by the speaker, but the speaker also is one of Republicans who understands the tough politics of this and understands the Republicans need to be careful. If you have a bunch of older, White men coming out and deposing the president on each of these issues, what does it do? It plays to the president's favor.

So, Speaker Boehner, as he tries to -- he's trying to rally his base saying the president is coming after us so we need to fight back, but he's also trying to tell them, as we fight back, we better be careful because if you overplay your hand on these sensitive issues, you could make what is already politically a very tough climate for Republicans especially nationally worse.

BLITZER: Tough rhetoric going on right now. John, thanks very much.

He told the secretary of state, HILLARY CLINTON, today he would have, quote, "relieved her of her post in the wake of Benghazi." Up next, the Republican senator, Rand Paul, a member of the foreign relations committee. He's standing by live right here in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The American people deserve to know answers, and they certainly don't deserve false answers.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN, (R) FOREIGN AFFAIR COMMITTEE: When you said what difference at this point does it make? I tell you what difference it makes. It makes a difference when Americans think they were misled.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (D) ACTING CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE: During your tenure (INAUDIBLE) us to economic crisis in Europe, changing relations with Asia, regime change in the Arab world, a momentous transition in Libya.

REP. JUAN VARGAS, (D) FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: You're a hero to many, especially women, and you seem to bring out these deep aspirations.

REP. ENI FALEOMAVAEGA, (D) FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I salute you and I look ahead to 2016.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

We noticed an interesting pattern in today's House and Senate hearings, Democrats gushing over Hillary Clinton and Republicans tossing hard questions, not mincing any words. One of the Republicans who was most critical of the secretary of state, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's joining us now live from Capitol Hill. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you. Surprise, surprise. Republicans and Democrats had different viewpoints on this.

BLITZER: No, I'm not surprised. I was surprised a little bit about how tough you were, not just a little bit. One of the lines jumped out at me, specifically, and I'll read it to you. You said, "Ultimately, with you leaving, you accept the culpability," and then you said "for the worst tragedy since 9/11 and I really mean that." What do you mean the worst tragedy since 9/11?

PAUL: I think the words diplomatic and security and intelligence tragedy, you know, excluding the wars, of course, but I think it was really a judgment failure on her part and she's in charge of the state department. I think this problem's not over. I think in Libya, the defense department should be in charge of security.

I think a military commander should be in charge, and this is not the same as the embassy in Paris or the embassy in Vienna. This is a war zone, and I think it was a mistake in judgment on her part and it was also a mistake in judgment on her part not to read the pleas for help, the pleas for more security, and then to have the state department turn down that security, error upon error.

But really, I think this precludes her and should preclude her from being in a position where she can make these judgment calls.

BLITZER: But I've interviewed you on many occasions. I think you will acknowledge that this can't can compare to the intelligence blunder which I think you agree with, the intelligence blunder that led the U.S. to go to war in Iraq resulting in, what, nearly 4,500 American troops killed, thousands of others injured, maimed, and I think that was -- with no weapons of mass destruction, no connection with al Qaeda. You can't compare these two intelligence blunders, can you?

PAUL: Yes -- no, I agree with you. I think there's no comparison to the beginning of the war in Iraq, as well as the war in Afghanistan. The tragedy of those wars is of a different scale. And I guess we're talking more about a diplomatic mission than we are talking about the beginning of the war.

BLITZER: Because I remember during those years, did you call on the president, President Bush, or Secretary of Defense Cheney or others to give up their duties, to be relieved of their duties because of that blunder?

PAUL: Yes, I was always opposed to the war in Iraq and have spoken out against the war in Iraq and I've spoken -- out against the intelligent failures. So I think I've been somewhat equally critical of both parties on these things but I really do think that we've missed the boat on Benghazi because we've been talking about whether or not it had something to do with a film afterwards.

My complaint has always been about in the year in advance of these attacks, why wasn't there -- significant security provided and why were the requests, repeated requests for more security turned down? And I think those were serious judgment errors on Secretary Clinton, and I think on her part, and I think she really has to accept responsibility and I'm glad she has.

BLITZER: She had a very tough exchange with your colleague from Wisconsin, Senator Johnson. I'm going to play her reaction to what he was asking her about what was going on. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She was pretty angry. She was pretty passionate in responding to this senator. What is your reaction when you heard her say that. You were sitting there during that exchange. What went through your mind? PAUL: Well, I think she has a little bit of a valid point. It's not so important whether or not it was a movie or what it was. I think what's important, though, in going forward is it not happen again and I think the Review Board still doesn't get it. I think that we need to have a military commander. We need the Department of Defense in charge of security for embassies in a war zone and nobody has recommended that and I think that's where the ultimate failure is.

So she has a point about the movie and all of that. I think it doesn't matter so much but what we do forward on security for Libya or for other war-torn countries, I don't think we can treat them like an embassy in Paris. And I still don't think that realization has sunk in at the State Department. I'm fearful this strategy could be reproduced or could happen again.

BLITZER: Are you ready to appropriate more funds for diplomatic security?

PAUL: Yes. And in fact, in my budget I do propose more funds, $55 billion increase in the baseline for the military included in among that is more money for Marines that are -- regarding embassy security and I would expand their role particularly on war-torn countries for not just protecting documents. I would expand their role to actually be protecting embassy staff and the ambassador.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. We've got some breaking news coming in on Beyonce and the lip-sync scandal that's being called. Definitive information now being learned by Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we can tell you that inaugural official who asked not to be identified told me just a short time ago that pop star Beyonce lip-synced her performance on Inauguration Day, saying, quote, "She did not sing live."

That official told CNN a prerecording of the artist's rendition of the national anthem was played instead. So what was heard by spectators and viewers was the sound of that recording, according to this official.

Now that official also told me Beyonce made this decision personally herself the night before Inauguration Day saying she arrived so late Sunday night she did not have time to rehearse with the U.S. Marine Band which was asked to accompany the pop star's performance. The official was puzzled by Beyonce's decision noting that when she made the pre-recording, she was, quote, "spot on," something that he said they all heard at that time, but my source also tells that taped performance should take nothing away from her skills as a live artist. The official said, she's, quote, "a very good live singer." But, Wolf, just some new information that we have at least one official with the inauguration who would be in a position to know saying she did in fact lip-synced.

BLITZER: Any comment yet from any of her representatives?

ACOSTA: Not yet.

BLITZER: Any official reaction from her? Nothing on the record?

ACOSTA: No word from Beyonce's team and actually, Wolf, no word from members of Congress and you heard from the White House earlier today, they did not have much to say about this. I got a very short response from a spokesperson for the Joint Congressional Committee that is overseeing the inaugural activities on Inauguration Day, and that person said please direct all inquiries to Beyonce's representatives. They have no further comment on this matter.

BLITZER: And they're still mum?

ACOSTA: That's right. That's right.

BLITZER: Say what you will, though, she does have a beautiful voice.

ACOSTA: She does. And --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And she wasn't lip-synching somebody else's voice. This was her voice, her own recording.

ACOSTA: That's right. And I talked to the owner of an audio company up in Baltimore earlier today and in the next hour you'll hear from -- from him in the show. And he said that, you know, whether she was live or whether there -- she was on tape it was her voice.

BLITZER: Yes.

ACOSTA: And, you know, it's going to be interesting to hear what he has to say. He would not go as to -- as far as this official did and confirm that she was in fact lip-syncing. He didn't want to go that far, but he did, in fact, say that the other performers that tape -- that day, the other two big performers, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor, were in fact live. But this official did confirm it for us.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much. I know you're working this story. You'll have much more in our next hour. Appreciate it.

The stars partied late into the night with the president and the first lady. And an exclusive White House after-party up next. You won't want to miss what went on behind closed doors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is ending her job as the secretary of state but if history is any guide, we're not going to be seeing the last of her by any means.

CNN's Randi Kaye is joining us. She's got some details.

Randi, tell our viewers what's going on.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know there was quite a bit of drama playing out on Capitol Hill today. You saw it yourself. At times Hillary Clinton close to tears. Other times she looked pretty enraged. The drama and controversy certainly nothing new for her. She has seen it all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE (voice-over): This is not the first time Hillary Clinton seemed to say good-bye.

CLINTON: I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.

KAYE: When you just knew she'd be back to say hello.

She launched herself back in the days of the nerdy circular glasses as the woman who could take tradition and crack it like a nut. She and Bill Clinton met and fell in love at Yale. Then, in 1974, she moved to Arkansas to teach, making partner at the Rose Law Firm five years later.

She kept working after her husband was elected governor of Arkansas. She would become the first first lady to do so.

CLINTON: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.

KAYE: Then came Washington.

CLINTON: This Health Security Card will represent a right of every citizen and it will give each of us the security of knowing we will be taken care of when we need help.

KAYE: Her health care initiative came crashing down in 1994. Her high visibility came at a cost. But the superwoman learned to steel herself in the face of repeated controversy. There was the unexplained suicide of White House counsel Vince Foster and questions about the Clinton's Whitewater land deal but the challenges didn't end there.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

KAYE (on camera): The affair and the House vote after that to impeach her husband threatened to derail team Clinton but Hillary was nothing if not resilient. She ran for Congress and was elected senator from New York with 56 percent of the vote.

(On camera): She became the first first lady to enter Congress and in 2007 another first. CLINTON: When people tell me, well, you know, I don't think a woman can be elected president, I said, well, I don't believe that but we're going to find out.

KAYE: She became Hillary like Shakira or Cher. It showed independence. It was a hard-fought campaign against Barack Obama but Hillary never backed down.

CLINTON: Shame on you Barack Obama.

KAYE: Even when campaigning got ugly. Not long after that, Clinton welled up at the New Hampshire diner and ran away with the primary, another victory. But in the end, she conceded, wrapping up her historic presidential bid.

CLINTON: Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time --

KAYE: But her persistence and passion convinced the man she tried to beat to cast her on the world stage.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In her you will have a secretary of state who has my full confidence.

KAYE: The former first lady and senator from New York would become madam secretary in 2009. Yet now a million air miles and 112 countries later, she finds herself entangled in one final controversy?

CLINTON: I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000 plus people all over the world, 275 posts.

KAYE: Testifying about who knew what when in light of the attack on the compound in Benghazi. But if history is any guide, Hillary Clinton may emerge unscathed once again and reinvent herself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And Hillary's close friends say when it comes to her future, she isn't rushing to make any decisions, Wolf. She is not going to do this on anyone else's timetable. And that sounds just like Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Yes. She did not back down at all during, what, 5 1/2 hours of testimony before the House and Senate Committees.

Excellent work. Thanks very much, Randi, for that report.

Up next, you won't want to miss the exclusive White House after- party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president and the first lady partied late into the night last night over at the White House with huge stars like Usher and Katy Perry all this after the inauguration. And then again last night with the likes of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us with more details on all the partying that's been going on.

Brianna, what are you learning?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, last night was a huge celebration to thank thousands of staffers and volunteers at the -- at the Washington Convention Center. But to hear guests tell it, Monday night was really the party to end all parties. The president reportedly led a Congo line in the rather early morning hours as he celebrated with close friends, advisers, and celebrities galore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): It was the inauguration party to go to, an exclusive after-hours affair at the White House where the president had a dance off with Usher to the song "Gangnam Style."

It all happened behind closed doors but famous revelers and politicos lucky enough to snag this invite tweeted out by R&B singer Eric Benet blanketed social media with pictures. Alicia Keys' husband, music producer, Swizz Beatz, tweeted this photo of him hugging the president who had taken off his tie.

Benet's daughter India tweeted, "Getting down on the dance floor with the coolest crowd of people ever. That included the first lady herself."

Still wearing her red Jason Wu gown as she boogied to Beyonce's "Single Ladies." Kelly Clarkson who attended with her fiance, tweeted, "I kid you not, Michelle Obama stood up and got the party started. Seriously cool first lady."

Katy Perry showed up with her beau John Mayer. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill tweeted, "Now we are rocking at the White House." Along with the photo of the first couple watching soul singer Janelle Monae.

You may recognize the East Room where this party took place.

OBAMA: As president and commander-in-chief --

KEILAR: It's where President Obama recently announced new Cabinet picks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

KEILAR: And held his last press conference, pushing back on criticism that he doesn't socialize enough with Republicans.

OBAMA: I like a good party.

KEILAR: Turns out, the president likes two good parties. Tuesday, the Obamas appeared before 10,000 staffers and volunteers at the Staff Ball where Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett were the featured performers. Seated a futuristic looking piano, Gaga thanked the president for supporting gay rights.

Dedicating a performance of "Born This Way" to Obama captured on a cell phone by a partygoer.

A fine night but it was Monday's bash that set the bar. Ashley Judd who tweeted this picture of an off-duty Secret Service officer who gave her a ride to the shindig called it, "an amazing joyful house party," and said, "We had such a magical night."

At 3:00 in the morning, Katy Perry had just left the White House proclaiming, "All other parties from here on out will be judged unless they take place at the White House."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: India Benet, Wolf, tweeted that she saw Bill Clinton at the party. He was there, as we understand it, without his wife, the secretary of state. No surprise, I suspect, since she had a very big week this week, but we're told that he hob-knobbed until about 2:00 a.m.

BLITZER: Sounds like a great party. Lots of fun for everyone. They deserved a lot of fun after everything they've done, certainly on that note. Thanks very much for sharing all that information with us, Brianna Keilar.

The family of the football star Junior Seau takes dramatic action against the NFL in the wake of his suicide. We have new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting word of the lawsuit with major implications for professional football. CNN's Casey Wian is joining us from Los Angeles with details.

Casey, tell us about this lawsuit.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Junior Seau, the former NFL middle linebacker, his family, including his four children, his ex-wife and the trustee of his estate are suing the National Football League for wrongful death, fraud, and negligence. They're saying the league failed to protect him from repeated blows to the head that ultimately led him to commit suicide in May of last year.

The Seau family is also suing Riddell, which manufactures helmets for the NFL.

The lawsuit claims that the league was, quote, "aware of the evidence and risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries for many decades, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from the players, including the late Junior Seau."

The suit also claims that the NFL promotes violence and brutality to sustain its $9 billion a year business. Now the league has declined comment on the suit. Riddell says it's confident in the integrity of its products and its ability to defend them from lawsuits.

Now Seau's family said in a statement, quote, "We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior, but it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge the decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."

Now, Seau, of course, had a Hall of Fame caliber career, lasting an incredible 20 years. His suicide last year at age 43 came after his family says his behavior had changed dramatically, including compulsive gambling, alcohol abuse, and violent off the field incidents, which their lawsuit links to years of blows to the head.

And just recently, the National Institute of Health, which studied Seau's brain, says that he showed signs of degenerative brain disease -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a tragic story that is. What a great football player he was.

Thanks for that information, Casey Wian.

Serena Williams smashes her racket on the tennis court. You're going to go see the fiery moment and what caused it. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following an important story on Capitol Hill today. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring today's House vote, putting off the deadline for a huge financial fight.

Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the fight over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, the House effectively kicked the can down the road until May. Lawmakers voted to let the Treasury Department keep borrowing money so the U.S. can pay its bills until then. The bill also withholds lawmakers' pay starting in May if they don't pass a budget. Most Democrats called that a stunt and voted no.

And U.S. cargo jets have flown at least five missions in Mali this week. A spokesman for the U.S.-African Command tells CNN the C- 17 cargo jets have flown in both French troops and tons of supplies for the fight against Islamist insurgents. The U.N. -- the U.N., rather, is warning the violence could soon displace up to 700,000 people in Mali.

Bill Clinton is heading back out on the campaign trail. CNN has confirmed that the former president will headline a march fundraiser for Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who's up for re-election next year. Clinton, of course, is an Arkansas native, who served 12 years as the governor of that state. And finally, a rough day for Serena Williams at the Australian Open. The 15-time grand slam winner broke -- wow, you see it there. She broke a racket in disgust after blowing a one-set lead in today's quarter finals and, well, things got worse. The 31-year-old Williams lost to 19-year-old American Sloan Stevens, who is moving on to her first ever grand slam semi-final.

And boy, oh, boy, Serena, she certainly did not look happy there, Wolf.

BLITZER: She was not a happy tennis player at all. Lisa, thank you.

Happening now, we saw her angry and we saw her close to tears, but did Hillary Clinton's Benghazi testimony change anything? I'll ask the brother of one of the Americans killed in the attack if he's gotten the answers he needs and wants.

Plus, bone-chilling cold across much of the country. How long will it last?

And an inaugural official tells CNN whether Beyonce did or did not lip-sync the national anthem.

And Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o explains why he lied about a phony girlfriend he'd never met.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.