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Ahmed Abu Khattala Captured in Libya; Hillary Clinton on Benghazi; Christiane Amanpour Interviews Hillary Clinton; Devastation in Nebraska in the Wake of Tornadoes

Aired June 18, 2014 - 08:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What does she say she wants to know from him?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening today, President Obama set to meet with congressional leaders as calls for him to order air strikes on Iraq grow. And overnight, former Vice President Dick Cheney comes out with his most stinging criticism of the president yet.

Pint-sized phenom, she's the nine-year-old who not only plays on the high school basketball team, but she's being recruited by colleges. Again, she's nine. The future star will take some shots with us live in the studio.

CUOMO: Your new day continues, right now.

BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome once again to "NEW DAY." It's Wednesday, June 18TH, 8:00 in the East.

It took almost two years, but the alleged mastermind of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi will finally face justice and that will happen on American soil.

Ahmed Abu Khattala was taken into custody over the weekend, he already is being interrogated on a U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean and we are now learning he may have been planning another attack. We start our coverage with Barbara Starr at the Pentagon this morning. Barbara, what more are we learning about the capture?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. Well, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has written a letter saying Khattala indeed may have intelligence about more attacks against the United States, Reuters reporting that. But now, the U.S. has his hands on -- their hands on him.


STARR: Ahmed Abu Khattala was lured to a location south of Benghazi. U.S. officials from multiple agencies tell CNN. Army Delta Force commandos, FBI and intelligence agencies were watching and waiting for days. Khattala, a key operative in Ansar al-Sharia, the group the U.S. blames for the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. Intelligence gleaned from local Libyans helped draw Khattala to the location.

U.S. commandos captured him with no shots fired, no one getting hurt. A surprising feat, one former Libyan intelligence official tells CNN, because Khattala usually surrounded himself with guards. U.S. commandos whisked him to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean to begin undergoing questioning for his role in the attack and anything else he knows about terrorist activity. Officially, the Pentagon will say little.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to get into specifics on the actual execution of the operation.

STARR: President Obama touted the capture.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice.

STARR: But some wonder why it took so long, when journalists like CNN's Arwa Damon were able to find and talk to Khattala more than a year ago.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We met with Ahmed Abu Khattala in public at the coffee shop of a well-known hotel here in Benghazi for around two hours. He seemed to be confident, his demeanor most certainly not that of a man who believed that he was going to be detained or targeted any time soon.

STARR: So, how could CNN get to Khattala and it took U.S. commandos over a year to find him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in order to do this safely, effectively, efficiently, nobody got hurt, by the way, that takes time to plan, that takes a lot of information gathering and we did this in a very stealthy way.


STARR: So, who exactly were the men that grabbed Abu Khattala? They belong to the Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC. This is one of the most secretive organizations in the U.S. military. JSOC, those are the guys that walked right up to the Taliban a few weeks ago and got Bowe Bergdahl. Those are the guys that went into Osama bin Laden's compound. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Barbara, so, catching this particular suspect, very important in terms of figuring out Benghazi and that will have implications on American politics, depending on how the process plays out of prosecuting Khattala could run up against the 2016 presidential election, and that raises the question of how it may affect Hillary Clinton's chances. She took part in a CNN town hall last night and the Benghazi arrest was a big item on the agenda. Brianna Keilar has that part of the story for us. Brianna, good morning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Chris. This was pretty interesting, because Hillary Clinton in her new book talks about Benghazi and makes it clear that she really sees the debate over it in a political light. She says she doesn't want to engage in this political fight in what she refers to as "on the backs of dead Americans", but last night, she toned it down, she said there's still a lot that we don't know and she also said that she is still looking for answers.


KEILAR: Hillary Clinton gave her first reaction to the capture of the mastermind of the attack in Benghazi, Ahmed Abu Khattala by U.S. forces.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I'm very pleased the United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those who are responsible for attacks on Americans no matter where they are, no matter how long it takes.

KEILAR: But earlier on CNN, the mother of one victim had demanded more answers.

CLINTON: I totally relate to her as a mother or to any of the family members of the four Americans who were killed that night. I can see why she and others are inconsolable.

KEILAR: Clinton took questions from CNN chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, from the Internet and the audience at Washington's Newseum while promoting her new book "Hard Choices." Clinton was asked about immigration reform and the harsh realities of the current system.

CLINTON: The horror of a father or a mother going to work and being picked up and immediately whisked away and children coming home from school to an empty house and nobody can say where their mother or their father is, that is just not who we are as Americans.

KEILAR: She addressed the violence in Iraq, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the war in Syria, highlighting policy rifts between her and President Obama.

CLINTON: I recommended that we do more in the very beginning to support the moderate opposition.

KEILAR: But ...

CLINTON: The buck stops with the president and the president had very legitimate concerns.

KEILAR: on Tumblr, one person asked for a more definitive marriage equality answer.

CLINTON: My views have changed over time. It really became very clear to me that if we're going to support marriage in our country, it should be available to everyone, regardless of who they love.

KEILAR: On reinstating the assault weapons ban ... CLINTON: We cannot let a minority of people, and that's what it is, it is a minority of people, hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.

KEILAR: And there was a little humor on marijuana.

CLINTON: I didn't do it when I was young, I'm not going to start now.


KEILAR: And on the hard choice between being a grandmother or being president, Clinton could not resist.

CLINTON: There have been a lot of grandfathers who have done it.



KEILAR: Now, there have been some questions about how well her book is selling. We are told by a source that her publisher, Simon and Schuster, that it is going well, that she sold 100,000 copies, this is ebooks, this is retailers, in the first week of the book being out. The question though, Chris and Kate, is, does that taper off or does it stay strong? Not only to justify the reported $14 million advance she received to write it, but also to signal whether people are really interested in what she's saying.

BOLDUAN: And then you have got those inevitability polls that sure are speaking quite loudly right now that we are seeing. Brianna, thank you so much, Brianna was there. Let's bring in the host of that town hall now, Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent and the host of CNN's international's "Amanpour." congratulations, very successful, very interesting hour, plus, with her.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm glad it was interesting. We were very fortunate to be able to probe some very, very hard, breaking news questions with her, not just the Benghazi, but also the situation in Iraq, where we have a rump state of al Qaeda offshoot in control of a massive piece of territory that spans the border of Iraq and Syria. And so, I tried to push her on not just her differences with President Obama on that, but why didn't she push hard enough, if fighting terrorism is the existential national security priority of the United States of America? This surely must be, you know, exhibit A.

BOLDUAN: Were are sat -- do you think folks will be satisfied with her answer, why didn't you push harder?

AMANPOUR: You know, I think she is obviously clearly making a very difficult balance between not wanting to rip the party apart, what is the point of, you know, going out and sort of raining all over President Obama.

BOLDUAN: But you kept talking about that radical candor. AMANPOUR: Well, you know, that was something that a different interviewer had mentioned. She said she liked it, so I wanted her to show some radical candor. But the Syria thing is so massively important because if her idea, which wasn't just her, remember, it was the entire national security staff, the president out of the White House, let's say, it was Panetta, Petraeus, Mullen, all the military, CIA, Defense and herself, plus regional allies, two years ago or so, had they armed and trained the moderate opposition, we may have, as she wrote in her book, seen an isolation of the extremists drain that swamp in Syria and don't let them go and create mayhem that you see now in Iraq.

CUOMO: Do you remember, though, covering this issue then? You covered it very closely? You remember

AMANPOUR: It didn't come out at the time. It was actually - I think it was the "New York Times" who first reported it.

CUOMO: Right.

AMANPOUR: Then here was this plan and the president had decided not to go with this plan.

CUOMO: But do you remember her ever being vocal about that?

AMANPOUR: No, no, she wasn't - because it was private discussions with all these national security people. And I don't remember them ever really confirming it at the time. But I have spoken to many world leaders about it, whether in Europe, whether in Turkey, around there, people who she had also gone and got the agreement to do this kind of thing, and they keep saying, you know this is what we should be doing and otherwise, you know what's happened? What they have allowed is Qatar and Saudi Arabia to simply dump weapons and cash, and who knows who is getting them? We know who is getting them. ISIS. And what's ISIS is doing with them? Completely taking over this part of Iraq and is a massive, you know, counter to American national security.

BOLDUAN: What did you think of her response to -- it was a very good question on Iraq coming from the audience and your follow-up. She seemed careful. She did not necessarily give her exact prescription of what the United States should do here. She seemed to be in line with where the administration thinking is, except maybe on the question of coordination with Iran.

AMANPOUR: Well, even there, I don't think anybody's made a decision in the White House here in the United States. And you know, I'm beginning to get a reading that they may just let it go. And I'm not sure whether I'm correct, but you keep pushing what are your options? What are you going to do? And you don't see anything. We are now more than a week into this relentless march by ISIS. They are practically banging on Baghdad's door. And this is an incredibly, you know, terrifying prospect, frankly to all of us in this post- 9/11 world to see al Qaeda or an offshoot get this amount of territory, territory in a sovereign country.

CUOMO: Used to terror, not territory, being the goal.

AMANPOUR: Right. Yes.

CUOMO: Now, she can take a step sideways right now, because there's such indecision. On Benghazi, however, there's a higher standard for her in terms of accountability. How did you feel her answers were being received by that crowd last night on Benghazi? Do you think that they trust her assumptions about what she knew and how she reacted?

AMANPOUR: You know, I think this thing will always be a political waterloo sort of thing, not, I mean that's a bit dramatic, waterloo, but a political thorn in her side because it's been made such and for sure there are many people who still say, what you say you've taken responsibility, but what does that mean? Why weren't people fired? For instance, in our business, in other businesses, you know when you have egregious lapses, you take, you know, you take action, you fire some people, right? That didn't happen, so that's one thing that people still question why. You know, the bigger issue to me is this is the result, probably, from leading from behind. Again, in her book, she talks about how the United States supported Europe in the Iraq mission, did not lead. And this was -- this was -- I remember very sort of controversial comment that apparently came out of the White House. Look, we led from behind in Libya, look how well it worked out in the immediate aftermath.

Well, it didn't really, because only American leadership can actually try to shape the postwar reality. It's one thing to bomb the heck out of the militias and liberate Libya from Gadhafi. Then what? And the United States would have been in a position, had it led, to at least have been able to have leverage on the ground. Let's just say for instance, OK, you militias, we came in and we helped you or we will come in and we help you, but when this is over, you will sit around the table. At least some kind of shaping of the post-Gadhafi plan, there was none of that. No security, no nothing and this is what, among other things, led to lack of security at this outpost, which wasn't an embassy. And outpost in Benghazi.

BOLDUAN: You mean, the situation on the ground is not good in Libya.


BOLDUAN: And we are not focusing on it?

AMANPOUR: Right. In fact, it got worst.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Christiane, thank you so much, congratulations again. You now can take a nap.


AMANPOUR: Not yet.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. You're right. Greet to see you.

CUOMO: Saw two of the best on display, Hillary Clinton is very good at staying on message and Christiane Amanpour is one of the best at getting you off it. So, that made for some good TV.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Always a pleasure. Always a pleasure.

So, what do we know about the latest situation that's going on in Iraq? Well, on the political side, President Obama is going to meet with top lawmakers today to figure out what at least the situation is and then hopefully what the options could be. However, there are conflicting reports about what they are considering as options. The "Wall Street Journal" says he's decided against air strikes. But the "New York Times" says targeted strikes are still possible. So, here's what we actually know for sure. The threat, ISIS militants are pushing toward Baghdad. They just attacked a main oil refinery this morning. White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski is tracking developments for us. What is the latest?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Chris. Well, the president clearly wants to involve congress on this. That meeting, though, isn't until late this afternoon. So, that means the world has all day to try to decipher whether or not a decision has been made, right? Well, we know that the president has been meeting with his national security team. We know that they have been weighing options and we know that those options include things like drone strikes, air strikes, sending in more U.S. Special Forces, but only to advise and train the Iraqis.

Well, this morning, the National Security Council tells us precisely this, the president has not made a decision. At this stage, the only thing that remains ruled out is more U.S. troops in a combat role. And they say that the solution that's needed is an Iraqi one that any U.S. military option would be in support of that strategy. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, so, that's strategic side, then we have this parallel battle field of the politics of what's going on, a lot of finger pointing, the latest salvo of the Cheneys come forward, father and daughter. Blistering criticisms, personal criticisms, of this president. Also, strong basis of retaliation by the administration. What are they saying about the suggestion that rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many? That comes from Dick Cheney. The question is which president is he talking about? What's the response of the White House?

KOSINSKI: Well, they are not responding directly yet, but you know this is going to come up today during the afternoon briefing, but it was tough. The Cheneys are basically accusing Obama of golfing while Iraq burns, saying Iraq is at the risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change. Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history and he goes golfing. He seems blithely unaware or indifferent to the fact that resurgent al Qaeda presents a clear and present danger to the United States of America.

He is taking issue with what he says that the president has said about America's enemies and al Qaeda being decimated. He says he is taking America down a notch and that only a fool, Cheney says, would think about involving Iran in the Iraq equation. But keep in mind, the president has really only talked about decimating al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan. Is in Iraq is not al Qaeda. And it's basically this political back and forth. The administration saying that the response to the threat in Iraq has been robust for some time in the last year that they have been steadily ramping up military aid to the Iraqis, Chris.

CUOMO: Important points. Michelle Kosinski, thank you very much for following it. We will be having to watch this two-front battle. Hopefully, they can get on the same page because the situation in Iraq demands response urgently. Thanks to her.

A lot of other news this morning, so let's get right to Mich.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the big story that we are watching, obviously, here in the United States is that severe storm that has been working its way East, is now threatening millions of people in the Midwest again. Another night of round -- another round, rather, of twisters and funnel clouds spotted in Nebraska. This is just a day after those twin tornadoes carved a path of destruction. This morning, folks in that region are not in the clear yet. That's the bad news, for sure. Let's get to meteorologist Indra Petersons, she's on the ground in Stanton, Nebraska, surrounded by the devastation in the wake of those tornadoes. Hey, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, METEOROLOGIST: Michaela, this is likely to be rated an EF3 tornado. And just take a look behind me. It now looks like a complete war zone. You are talking about these trees, completely snapped in half. You are talking about all the bark stripped right off those trees and hard to miss. Look at the tractors and trailers completely flipped on their sides, even a peas of a fender, completely twisted and rotated, now just sitting, hanging in a tree this morning.

And here is the hardest part. This was someone's home. All that is left this morning are piles of rubble sitting on the ground. One of the most heartbreaking things I saw this morning is what's sitting just right out in front. Right now, just a lonely box that says, donations, please, that currently sits empty this morning and the concern here is more severe weather is expected on the way, not only Nebraska, but for about 66 million people.


PETERSONS: Residents of Nebraska hit by another round of wicked weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I turned around and it started going.

PETERSONS: Storm chaser capturing this one of three possible tornadoes ripping through Cherry County, Nebraska. And dropping tennis ball-sized hail on the ground below.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my goodness.

PETERSONS: Another immense twister caught on video tearing through Coleridge, the sound of the wind deafening. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, gosh.

PETERSONS: This is just one day after twin tornadoes, both massive and violent, barreled through the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ripping up a whole town.

PETERSONS: Obliterating practically everything in its path. This powerful storm system reached beyond Nebraska. Harsh thunderstorms spun several twisters that pummeled Southern Wisconsin, flattening homes into piles of rubble in Verona and Platteville. The risk of severe weather stretching across the upper Midwest, threatening millions of people, major flooding leaving parts of Iowa under water with roads and homes completely submerged. It was the same sight across parts of Minnesota and South Dakota, where heavy rainfall caused substantial flooding in rivers and lakes, damaging homes, cars and businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We tried to get things as high as we could but when the water came, it came fast, too, it was - you know, first we had an inch and then all of a sudden, we had a foot and then it was waist deep.

PETERSONS: Many houses surrounded by piles of sand bags, up to four feet high. Residents able to reach their homes only by boat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No matter what happens here, we always have each other and no matter what we lose, we will still be together.


PETERSONS: Another tough sight this morning is what is right behind me, right in the middle of all this rubble. What you see are several mattresses and just looks like a couple of containers here of water. This may be all that is left for some of the residents that called this home just a few days ago. Again, 66 million people from tornado alley all the way to the northeast today looking for another threat of severe weather, including Nebraska again today. Chris and Kate?

BOLDUAN: Indra, thank you so much for that.

Coming up next on "NEW DAY," more of Hillary Clinton's response to the Benghazi controversy during CNN's town hall. What does it mean for her presidential aspirations? Our political experts weigh in.



HILLARY CLINTON: There are answers, not all of them, not enough, frankly, I'm still looking for answers because it was a confusing and difficult time, but I would hope that every American would understand, number one, why we were there, 'cause we need to be in dangerous places. And number two, that we are doing the best we can to find out what happened.


BOLDUAN: That was Hillary Clinton during last night's CNN town hall, taking on the question of the Benghazi controversy and much more and also the decisions that she made as Secretary of State in the aftermath of the terror attack on the U.S. mission there. To this day, Clinton is at the center, really, of the congressional investigations into whether more could have been done to save the four Americans killed in that attack. Let's talk about that question and much more from the town hall with Maggie Haberman, CNN political analyst and senior political reporter for Politico. Good morning, Maggie.


BOLDUAN: I've been tongue tied all morning. So I'm going to need your help.

HABERMAN: I will do my best.

BOLDUAN: On the question of Benghazi, as we heard there and you heard last night, she says that she, herself, still has answers, that it was a very confusing time. That in kind of coordination with the fact that they now have captured Khattala, do you think that does anything to quiet the criticism coming from the right?

HABERMAN: Probably the opposite. When you say that I'm still looking for answers and you are the person who is supposed to be providing them, if you are the people running this congressional select committee, you are going to want to bring her toward you and say well, then answer these questions. They haven't yet said whether they are going to call her to testify but it's an open question. What she was saying is technically right.

I mean, the capture of this suspect, one of the things they are hoping to find out is the why, the how, there are a lot of open questions, but the tone that she took last night on this was very different - or not very different, but different enough, and it was notable than what she took in her book, when she was essentially - look, yes, there is some open questions, we are never gonna to know the complete issue here, or the complete set of facts, there was a fog of war. But, you know, this has become so political and I have been very in good faith and upfront.

BOLDUAN: Well, and also, Maggie, when you put it that way, it makes me think, it also is a different tone from what we heard at that congressional hearing, when she testified, and she put her hands up in the air and she says, why does it matter? Very different tone this time when she says that she, herself, still has questions.

HABERMAN: Well, what she was saying, you know, she addresses this in the book and in the chapter, she says that her words in that hearing were different at this point, does it make, were taken out of context, that she was making a broader point about how the point is to try to make sure something like this doesn't happen again and you can make the case that from that you know, you discover exactly how it did happen. She argues this is very much sort of playing with words. That having been said, I was very struck by how she addressed this last night.

BOLDUAN: So, that was just one of a range of topics. Christiane did a great job moving through the various topics.


BOLDUAN: To really be able to get a lot of questions to her. Overall, I want to get your take on her performance, if you will, because that, of course, a lot of people are judging it because everyone's wondering is this kind of her moving towards being candidate Hillary Clinton? First off, where do you think that she hit the mark?

HABERMAN: I think on a range of points she hit the mark, what I was struck by - was how frequently she took sort of both sides of the same - of the same issue. On immigration, there was, you know, on the one hand, but on the other hand. On the issue of gun control, she was pretty strong and she's in very strident language, but she also did not discuss the main issue that is very contentious, which is background checks. She is going to get asked about that in the future.

On Syria, she was very strong in terms of separating out from the president. She does that in her book that was not a surprise. What was most, I think, interesting overall, the overarching take away from this, she spoke about a range of topics pretty easily and pretty deftly. She is -- was also very cautious, and that is - problem for her, she's talked about how she wants to express more candor. She had moments of being light, she had moments of being funny, she had moments of being sort of playful and seemed to be enjoying herself more in the second half, but she is going to get hit on certain points going forward.

BOLDUAN: She definitely is. I also noticed and maybe it's just - this is her way she approaches these questions, she has talked a lot of we rather than I. Why do you think that is?

HABERMAN: I should think a lot of that is about the administration and it's about Democrats. I think she is trying to remind people, and it was a very self-conscious thing, where she kept saying we. It is about we as a society, we as Democrats, we as a party. When she sounds like she is making it about I, I, I, that hurts her. And to the point, when you see in the approval polls that came out today from the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC Poll, the more political she is, the more her numbers go down already. The last thing she need to do is turn the camera on herself. That was something she struggled with in some of the interviews last week.

BOLDUAN: That's going to definitely continue happening when she finally needs to make the ultimate I question is she going to run?


BOLDUAN: She handled that question pretty well, especially on the question of grandmother or being president. A lot of grandfathers have been both. HABERMAN: That was very, very well done, that was one of her best moments.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Maggie, great to see you, thank you.

HABERMAN: Thank you.


CUOMO: A very intelligent take indeed.

Coming up on "NEW DAY," so we caught the alleged mastermind of Benghazi without a shot. But now what? Will we get the interrogation right? Were there any other attacks in the works? This couldn't be a more urgent situation. We have an expert here to talk about what may happen next.

Plus, the biggest college basketball prospect in years and only nine. The biggest schools already want her. She is here to show us her skills. Philly Phil's got nothing for her. She is cat quick. So, we are going to have to call in the kid out of Queens to take her on. Keep your guard up. Keep your guard up.

BOLDUAN: Ha ha ha.

CUOMO: And good looking. I'll block it. Maybe not.