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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gloves Come Off in Republican Race; Wild Animals Loose in Ohio; Animals Released By Farmer in Ohio; U.S. Deploys 100 Military Advisers to Uganda; Herman Cain Makes Contradictory Statements About Negotiating With Terrorists; Cain on Defense; Perry Attacks Romney at CNN Debate; Axelrod Slams Romney; New Details of U.S. Crash in Afghanistan

Aired October 19, 2011 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a seismic shift in the Republican race for the White House.

The gloves come off between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, signaling the start of a bare-knuckles fight for the Republican nomination.

Also, Herman Cain on the spot in last night's debate over what he told me in our one-on-one interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Now he says he actually misspoke.

And dozens of dangerous, exotic animals set loose in Ohio leading to a night of terror that ended with many of them shot.

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

It's a whole different contest than it was only 24 hours ago and now, the fight for the Republican presidential nomination includes a brutal, nasty and very personal battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

The shift happened last night on television at last night's CNN Western Republican debate in Las Vegas and it did get seriously ugly.

CNN's Jim Acosta has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the CNN debate here in Las Vegas may have marked a turning point in the campaign. It was nasty, it was personal and it might be a sign of things to come.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm speaking. I'm speaking. I'm speaking.

(CROSSTALK)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time for you to tell the truth. It's time for you to tell the truth, Mitt.

(CROSSTALK) ROMNEY: You get 30 seconds. This is -- the way the rules work here is that I get 60 seconds, and then you get 30 seconds to respond, right?

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a Wild West shoot-out on the Las Vegas Strip and at times, it felt like Rick Perry's last stand with an urgent strategy to take down Mitt Romney.

PERRY: Because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: But Romney wasn't laughing for long.

ROMNEY: Are you just going to keep talking? It's has been a tough couple of debates for Rick.

ACOSTA: Civil discourse was out the window. This was the first GOP debate to get personal.

ROMNEY: We hired a lawn company to mow our lawn, and they had illegal immigrants that were working there. You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking. And I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you have got to let both people speak.

ACOSTA: Unlike past debates, the night was also Romney's first real test as the front-runner as the candidates took aim at his health care plan in Massachusetts. Rick Santorum pointed out some of Romney's own advisers helped draft President Obama's health care law.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You just don't have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare. You are -- you are -- your plan was the basis for Obamacare. Your consultants helped Obama craft Obamacare.

ACOSTA: An issue Newt Gingrich says is the individual mandate in both Romneycare and Obamacare.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot as big government behind Romneycare. Not as much as Obamacare, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting.

ACOSTA: Romney responded he got the idea from Gingrich.

ROMNEY: Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you. You did support an individual mandate?

ACOSTA: Rising Republican star Herman Cain also found himself on the defensive over his 999 plan. Independent studies have found the plan's individual business and national sales taxes, all set at 9 percent, would raise taxes on millions of Americans.

PERRY: Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something, you don't need to have a big analysis to figure this thing out. It's not going to fly.

ACOSTA: Romney pointed out a new national sales tax would be combined with existing state sales taxes.

ROMNEY: Will the people in Nevada not have to pay Nevada sales tax and in addition pay the 9 percent tax?

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney, you're doing the same thing that they're doing. You're mixing apples and oranges.

ROMNEY: And I'm going to be getting a bushel basket that has apples and oranges in it because I'm going to pay both taxes.

ACOSTA: For Perry, it was a night to take a campaign full of lemons and make lemonade, giving Republicans a bitter taste of a more combative campaign to come.

PERRY: You get to ask the questions, I get to answer like I want to.

ACOSTA (on camera): In the post-debate spin room, a senior Romney adviser said Rick Perry had a strategy to -- quote -- "kill Romney," but instead -- quote -- "killed himself."

That might be wishful thinking on the part of the Romney campaign. Perry showed he still has some fight left in him -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A lot of money, millions of dollars as well. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's get some more on what's going on with our CNN senior political editor, Mark Preston, and he's joining us live from Las Vegas.

Mark, you have been on the phone all day. You're speaking to both of these campaigns. What do they say about the heavy-duty sparring last night?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, Wolf, you know, they both are claiming victory right now. Speaking to a Perry adviser said that Newt -- rather, Mitt Romney was taken off his game. We saw Mitt Romney, Wolf, from out of the chute and just start attacking Rick Perry.

And at one point as you saw last night, you Mitt Romney reach over and actually touch Rick Perry, which was very, very, very strange. Now, on the other hand, the Romney folks are saying we won this debate. All Perry was doing was trying to attack, attack and attack and the fact is, it didn't come off very well, Wolf.

BLITZER: With the Iowa caucuses now scheduled for January 3, getting closer and closer, are we going to see more of this very intense bickering at these upcoming debates?

PRESTON: We certainly are and we're going to see it mainly go between now Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. We saw that last night. We are in a new phase of the campaign. We're oh so very likely to see now -- we will see independent expenditure groups going out and attacking.

For Rick Perry, they will be attacking Mitt Romney. For Mitt Romney, they will be attacking Rick Perry. They're going to be doing it in the states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. It will be interesting to see when exactly they will go on air.

But after what we saw last night, Wolf, I suspect it's going to be very, very soon.

BLITZER: And you have got some new reporting that you have been doing on what Nevada and New Hampshire are up to right now. What are you hearing?

PRESTON: Well, Wolf, you know, there's been a lot of talk about New Hampshire perhaps holding their primary, the first in the nation primary, in December.

But I can tell you right now I just got off the phone with a senior New Hampshire Republican who said that, in fact, the negotiations between the two states are going on right now. In fact, this Republican told me that everybody is trying to do this in a way that is amicable for everyone.

The more discussions you have, the more that they can get this worked out. Now, he wouldn't exactly tell me what the plan is right now, but he said that the discussions have been going well and all talk about boycotting here in Nevada is not very good and it is not helping anybody. So, Wolf, we could perhaps have an answer officially on Saturday when Nevada Republicans meet for one of their annual meetings -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That schedule is going to be critically important. Could affect the outcome obviously as well. Mark, thank you.

While Romney and Perry were going after each other, Rick Santorum went after both of them, accusing them of supporting the TARP bailout back in 2008. Romney is on record supporting it although he says it was poorly executed, the actual implementation of TARP. Perry flatly denied supporting TARP at all.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here. He's doing a little fact checking for us.

Here's the question, Tom. Did Governor Perry flip-flop when it comes to TARP?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, TARP has become a radioactive thing here in Washington. There were many politicians who were in favor of it at the time because they thought it had to be done to keep the financial system working, but who now are saying, golly, I cannot be connected to that. Listen to what Santorum said about Governor Perry. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: The fact is, Rick just has that wrong. We wrote a letter to Congress asking them to act. What we meant by acting was, cut the regulations, cut the taxation burden, not passing TARP.

There is clearly a letter out of our office that says that, Rick. I will get you a copy of it so you'll understand it.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Hold on. I need to respond to that.

He sent a letter the day of the vote on the floor of the House saying, pass the economic plan. There was only one plan, and that was the plan that was voted on the floor. It was TARP.

You sent a letter on that day saying, vote for that plan. Now, you can send a letter later saying I didn't mean it, but when you said it, it was the only plan that was in play, and that was the TARP plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: On that account, Santorum is absolutely right.

The day that the Senate was considering the TARP plan, Rick Perry, along with the Democratic National Governors head, who was Joe Manchin from West Virginia, the two of them collectively sent a letter and that letter said, "We strongly urge Congress to leave partisanship at the door and pass an economic recovery package." This is what they said to Congress on the day this vote was happening in the Senate.

Now, here's the trick of it all. You will notice that nowhere in this nor anywhere else in the body of that letter do they use the word TARP. And the same day back in his home area in Austin, the governor issued this statement to the people of Texas.

"Government should not be in the business of using taxpayer dollars to bail out corporate America."

So the truth is, you can read it the way Rick Perry did and say, this has nothing to do with TARP, it's just a sheer accident that a Democratic and Republican leading governor on the same day sent a letter to Congress saying, you have got to do something, you have got to do something, you have got to do something. Oh, by the way, there's legislation on the table today called TARP that you're voting on.

Now, in effect, what they're saying is that was sheer coincidence, that had nothing to do with what was being voted on at the time. We were just saying you should fix things. I even reached out to Joe Manchin's office, who is now a senator, a Democratic senator, and I said, look, were you urging the support of TARP in that letter or like Rick Perry says were you urging lower taxes and less regulation? All I really got from them was a statement that said, well, we want to support the U.S. economy and, no, it wasn't about TARP. Amazing. This is the kind of thing I think that drives voters crazy. The simple fact is, when you look at the timing of everything, at least you have to say this looks misleading. But I think we really have to say that this seems to be true, but incomplete, because there was a lot of threading the needle going on at this time, Wolf, that allows politicians now to have in effect supported TARP then and get headlines that said they did, and now say, no, technically, I did not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good explanation. That was really a fiery exchange between Rick Perry and Rick -- between Rick Santorum, I should say, and Rick Perry. That was really a lively exchange. Tom, thanks very much.

And I want our viewers to go to our CNN.com/situationroom website. You can read my blog on the debate last night. It's entitled "Perry, Romney and Reagan." Check it out.

Let's go over to Andrews Air Force Base right now. The president of the United States has just landed. He's walking down the stairs at Andrews. He is about to get on Marine one, fly back to the White House. He's just wrapped up a three-day visit to Virginia and North Carolina. He's out there selling his jobs bill, speaking at various town hall meetings. And the president is clearly wrapping this part up. We will see what he does next.

Brianna Keilar, our White House correspondent, has been traveling with the president. We're going to check in with her in just a few minutes and see what's going on.

But there you see the president, he's getting ready to board Marine one, the short little five- or 10-minute flight from Andrews Air Force Base over to the South Lawn of the White House. We will stay on top of this story -- much more coming up, including Brianna Keilar.

We have also got a lot of other news, lots happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There you see Marine One, over at Andrew's Air Force base outside Of Washington, D.C. getting ready to take off, bring the President of the United States back to the White House. He just wrapped up his bus tour In Virginia, North Carolina, where he ratcheted up the pressure on Congress to pass his jobs bill.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has been traveling with the president. She's joining us now from North Chesterfield, Virginia. That's not far from Richmond.

Is that right Briana?

BRIANA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

South of Richmond and here as the president did at all of his other stops in the last few days, he was going after Republicans, urging Congress to pass his jobs plan in pieces, but in these politically important states, of course Virginia, but also North Carolina, where he was yesterday and the day before, he's also been trying to shore up the support of his base.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): For the third day in a row, President Obama dared congressional Republicans to vote against popular parts of his jobs plan. Like a $35 billion provision to save teachers, police officers and firefighters from losing their jobs to budget cuts.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sixty-three percent of the American people support what's in the American jobs act. Unfortunately, we've had 100 percent of Senate Republicans vote against it. A majority think it's a good idea to keep firefighters on the job.

KEILAR: the backdrop for the president's remarks, a fire house south of Richmond. A short distance from the district of number two house Republican, Eric Cantor. Earlier in the day at a military base in Hampton, Virginia, First Lady Michelle Obama helped the president promote his push to get veterans back to work.

OBAMA: The last thing you should have to do is fight for a job when you come home.

KEILAR: These were the presidents' last stops on his campaign style bus tour through the battle ground states of North Carolina and Virginia. He came here not only to cast Republicans as his obstacle to creating jobs, but to rile up his base.

OBAMA: It is great to be here in North Carolina.

KEILAR: Tuesday, he addressed predominantly African-American crowds, a voting bloc that helped push him to a slim win in North Carolina, in 2008. Monday, his first audience was mainly liberal white voters in the Democratic enclave of Asheville, whose frustrations he acknowledged.

OBAMA: I have gone out of my way to try to find areas of cooperation with these Republicans. In fact, some of you have been mad at me for trying too hard to cooperate with them, haven't you?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now, Wolf, something that we've seen the president do repeatedly on this bus tour, kind of managing expectations. He's given two speeches a day and over and over, we've heard him say the American people realize these economic problems weren't created overnight and they're not going to be solved overnight. An acknowledgment, it seems, that the economy might not be a whole lot better by the time he's up for re-election next year.

And he's also making this argument trying very hard to make this argument, that he's still the right choice to solve those economic problems -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's got a lot of work to do, obviously. Briana, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, retired Seniors on social security will notice a change in their benefit checks next year. The federal government announcing today they'll be getting a raise. But that also means taxes will go up, in fact for some workers.

Athena Jones is here. She's been looking into this for us.

Athena, seems like it's good news for some people, and some not so good for some others.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is good news, but it's also complicated for some seniors. We have seniors and their advocates questioning just how much of an increase they'll actually see when all is said and done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE):

JONES (voice-over): Starting in January, nearly 55 million senior citizens will see a 3.6 percent increase in their monthly Social Security check.

ARTHUR WOOD, SOCIAL SECURITY RECIPIENT: Even if it's five cents, it's five cents more than I got now.

JONES: It's welcome news for those who need the checks to stay afloat. It's the first increase known as a cost of living adjustment since 2009, because overall, inflation has remained low. Some nine out of ten people aged 65 and older get social security benefits.

VERNAL TAYLOR, SOCIAL SECURITY RECIPIENT: Social Security check is my whole way of living. My rent, bills, anything that I need. Food, all comes out of that.

JONES: Right now, the average monthly social security check is about $1100, so the increase would mean an extra $39.

EDWARD COYLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ALLIANCE FOR RETIRED AMERICANS: So many people on fixed income have to deal with inflation and the problems that are attached to senior living. Medical problems and special diets and a need for special transportation. A lot of them are going to look this $400 something a year as a bonanza.

JONES: Still, it's not all good news for seniors. Increases in Medicare premiums nest year, could mean some seniors see little or no jump in their checks.

COYLE: This 3.6 percent that they're getting is going to go towards an increase in the Medicare premiums. So that's good, but it's not money in senior's pockets.

JONES: And for Vernal Taylor, it's a mixed blessing. TAYLOR: It would help a little, but the rent will take up part of it. Then I'm on a lot of medications that take it up. Food have gone up. That take it up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Now, Wolf, there's also concern among some advocates that the bipartisan super committee tasked with cutting $1.5 trillion from the deficit will recommend changes to Social Security that will reduce benefits. And there's one other change starting next year. The amount of income subject to Social Security taxes is going up. Meaning about 10 million workers will pay more Social Security taxes, Wolf-

BLITZER: Yes, so it's a little good news, and some maybe not so good news either. A lot to worry about. A lot to watch. Athena thanks very much.

Dozens of dangerous animals on the loose overnight. Deputies are still searching for one of them after tracking lions, tigers and bears. Jack Hanna has been helping in the search. He's standing by to join us live from Ohio. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Ohio sheriff's deputies are still searching for a monkey after dozens of exotic animals escaped from a farm last night. The owner was found dead and a preliminary investigation indicates he released the animals and then killed himself. Residents barricades themselves indoors as deputies used night vision goggles to track down lions, tigers, leopards and bears. Most of the animals that escaped had to be put down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF MATT LUTZ, OHIO: There are 48 animals that we had to put down. Those animals included one wolf, six black bears, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, eight lionesses, one baboon, three mountain lions and 18 tigers. Obviously, very large part of this investigation that we want to conclude is catching those two animals before they get out in the public and do anything. The director of the Columbus zoo as well as the wilds has recommended that the monkey be shot and killed. It is very possible that this monkey is carrying herpes b.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right let's discuss what's going on. Jack Hanna is the director emeritus of the Columbus zoo. He's been assisting in this search in Ohio. This is an emotional story for a lot of people, Jack, but tell us what's been going through your mind as you've seen this unfold.

JACK HANNA, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, COLUMBUS ZOO: You know, Wolf, first person that's asked me this. It's been very difficult the last 14, 18 hours. I can describe this Wolf as maybe like Noah's Ark breaking apart right in between the Columbus zoo one of the finest in the country in the wild 10,000 acres over here we have of animals. And the Ark, Noah's Ark breaking in front of us, all these, you heard 18 Tigers.

I do get emotional, Wolf, because 18 tigers lost their lives along with all these other creatures, but you know something, not one human being lost their life here. Now, I'm getting calls from Europe, BBC, Canada, all over the world saying, oh my gosh you support the sheriff.

It's not a matter of that, Wolf, it's a matter that what happened here, was that one of the largest animals escapes in the history of our country last night, and most of these animals, yes lost their lives.

But think about what had happened here this morning Wolf, if these tigers - can you imagine the sheriff's told this, when they got up there last night, right before it got dark. They're coming down, right in front of his property -- 18 tigers, lions, leopards, just all going out of this whole place. Can you imagine? There's a neighborhood, Wolf, Right here.

The place is right there, by the way. Can you imagine what would have happened this morning if the kids were on school buses out there waiting? This would have been something that nobody would have wanted to see.

BLITZER: Did authorities have an ability to use tranquilizer guns if you will to bring the animals down, but not kill them?

HANNA: Wolf, the problem was, we got here-it all started at 5:30 at night but time my people got here with the tranquilizer guns, it was 6:30. We only have four tranquilizer guns. When you have 40 something animals running around here, 18 tigers, where do you start? Plus, it's getting dark. Darkness set in.

At that point, the sheriff had to say, the ones getting out of the compound had to be put down. We can't tranquilize an animal in the dark Wolf. Because if you hit him, where do you hit him? In the bottom, do you hit him in the neck? You don't know where the dart goes. It takes about 5 minutes. So what do we do? Send a sheriff up, or one of my people up, a veterinarian, hey is it asleep? Bam.

This afternoon Wolf a perfect example, about four hours ago. We had one Bengal tiger we found crouched down the bushes I guess up there is where they were. And all the sudden the veterinarian gets within 20 feet, pops the animal with a tranquilizer, the animal comes right for the veterinarian. We had to shoot the animal.

Now, what do you do in this case? I mean, we couldn't have done it last night in the dark. It would be impossible. To have no one hurt or killed here, when 40 something animals get loose is unbelievable. Am I upset?

Of course I'm upset. I mean we lost 18 Bengal tigers, lions and all this other things. But what do we do? Have human life versus animal life. Right now we need to take care of humans and of course now we've lost our precious animals here because of what happened up here with this guy.

BLITZER: How common is it for a private individual on a farm to have all of these exotic animals on his farm? It sounds pretty extraordinary to me, but you know a lot more about this than I do.

HANNA: Well the laws in Ohio Wolf aren't strong. Governor Strickland, the previous governor signed a bill several hours before he went out of office. Governor Kasich came in, got me, we got committee formed that start taking care of all this we were about probably six weeks away from finalizing this. People thought we could just go out and take the Strickland bill and go to work with it. HSUS has worked with us. We're trying to do that Wolf.

Let's say we go up here and got this guy two weeks ago. What do I do? OK somebody arrest him. I have 57 animals here. Tigers, lions, everything. I can't take them to Columbus zoo. There's not room there, legally, what am I allowed to do? Nobody knew the answers to these questions. That's what we're working on.

As I speak, the governor is meeting with people right now, to get this law passed where we stop the animal auctions in Ohio Wolf. Where people can up there and buy lions, tigers, cobras, whatever they want to. We're shutting those things down immediately this year. We're trying to take care of the private breeders who are reputable people and trying to do this law where everybody benefits, is obviously, especially our animals.

You can't go buying- this is like a bunch of loaded guns running around here to buy these animals and be able to have them privately.

BLITZER: Did you personally know the owner of this farm with all these exotic animals roaming around the farm?

HANNA: No, you know I did not know him. We did send our people there I guess three years ago, because I travel and do these shows about animals. I wasn't here as far as our-right when this happened, they asked us to come and inspect it. It was, one of my employees came down today and said it's an abominable mess up there. Filthy mess.

At that point, the wife came down that lost her husband. She had left him. I think what happened Wolf, he came back, he was just in prison for some kind of arms problem he had with firearms, I don't know after he been in prison. Came back, he saw the animals all -- money was gone, the animals were living in bad conditions. His wife had left. I can see him just cutting-I guess he cut all the fencing, opened the doors, let them all out and said, that's it. Bam, I'm done. And that's what happened.

It's actually, Wolf, this is like a script from you know where. I can't believe this is happening right here. This is unbelievable.

BLITZER: Were these animals being taken care of properly on this farm as far as you know?

HANNA: No. No. The answer to that question is he'd already been cited for not animal cruelty, but other sorts of things. But again, the laws were so weak here. But starting in a few weeks, this is not the state you want to be in if you want an exotic animal. You don't want to be in this state of Ohio here in a few weeks from now when we pass this rule, and the governor does pass the bill.

BLITZER: And we reported that the preliminary investigation suggests this individual killed himself after opening up the gates and allowing these animals to start roaming around. Is that the assumption you're working on as well?

HANNA: That's what I believe. That what I believed since I heard this last night, and that's exactly what I believe what some of the folks here, can't announce yet, but that's what I firmly believe is what happened here. He was so depressed, he said that's it. I'm done. Let them all go. Of course what was created was a disaster for the animals. And it could have been a disaster for human life as well.

BLITZER: There's still one monkey on the loose, is that right?

HANNA: Right. You're the first person I'll tell this to. I just heard three seconds before I went on your show, they did find a monkey that had been eaten by one of the cats up there when everything was loose up there. So we don't know if that was the monkey consumed by the cat. The parts were there. Other than that, that's all that's left right now according to what we've all been told.

BLITZER: Jack Hanna, what a painful, painful story for everyone who loves animals. But as you point out, those animals represented a clear danger to a lot of people who live in this area of Ohio, and the authorities did what they had to do. And you don't have any second guessing? You're OK with that?

HANNA: Yes, Wolf. You said it perfectly. There is no second guessing. I've seen a Bengal tiger take down a 2,000 pound water buffalo in less than 15 seconds. That's a wild one. These are obviously captive. I wouldn't want to have seen today what would happen if these things would have gotten loose last night.

BLITZER: Jack Hanna, thanks very much. Good luck to all the people as well.

A verbal blunder that put Herman Cain on the spot in last night's CNN debate in Las Vegas leading him to say he misspoke in his interview with me. Stay tuned. Our strategy session and a lot more news coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: 100 American troops are now in Central Africa helping to hunt down the man behind some of the worst atrocities Africa has seen in so many years, many of them directed at children. But it's a controversial mission. CNN's Brian Todd explains. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, American troops are now heading into the heart of Africa to help their African counterparts track down a warlord. This deployment is applauded by human rights groups but has some political leaders in the U.S. worried about another Somalia. We have to warn viewers this story contains images which some viewers might find disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Still committing tens of thousands of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, America sends more soldiers into harm's way in another region. President Obama and the Pentagon point out the 100 elite troops are advisers only. They won't fight unless it's in self- defense. But history tells us advisers can quickly be lured into combat. And this deployment is already drawing political brush-back.

RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Going in Uganda, Libya, and all these places without congressional approval, that kind of stuff has to quit.

TODD: You heard him right, Uganda, going after someone most westerners have never heard of. American forces will be helping their African counterparts track Joseph Kony, a warlord who leads something called the Lord's Resistance Army. Experts say Kony is a zealot who claims to be possessed by supernatural powers. His goal, to overthrow the government of Uganda in favor of a regime based on the 10 commandments.

It might sound comical if it wasn't so devastating.

TODD: Talk about his MO.

JENNIFER COOKE, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: He and his fighters will go into a village, essentially tie people up, club them to death, mutilate, in some cases cutting off lips, ears, hands, legs, impressing the children into service.

TODD: Forcing boys to fight for him, experts say, and girls into sexual slavery. Analysts say Kony's army has kidnapped up to 70,000 people, killed tens of thousands, displaced more than two million over the past 25 years. But Senator John McCain, who favors hunting Joseph Kony, has an ominous warning.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I remember Somali. I remember Lebanon. We've got to be very careful about how we engage the slippery slope that could happen there.

TODD: Somalia, 1993, U.S. forces originally sent to help deliver aid get drawn into a hunt for another notorious warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. It leads to Blackhawk down, a grizzly day in Mogadishu, 19 Americans killed. Those who favored this deployment say that's not likely to happen here, that Joseph Kony doesn't have the local support Aidid had. As for America's national security interests.

JOHN PRENDERGAST, THE ENOUGH PROJECT: We turn our backs on some of these ungoverned spaces to our peril. When we walked away from Afghanistan after the cold war, you saw what happened, within 10 year, 9/11.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And experts point out that five years after the U.S. walked away from that deployment in Somalia, Al Qaeda had gotten a foothold in that region of Africa and bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Todd, thank you. The verbal blunder that forced Herman Cain to do a turnaround in last night's CNN debate, why he now says he misspoke in our earlier one on one interview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Herman Cain was my guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. We were reporting from Las Vegas, and I asked him what he thought about Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, freeing 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of one Israeli soldier. And then I asked him this follow-up question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Could you imagine if you were president -- we're almost out of time -- and there were one American soldier who had been held for years and the demand was Al Qaeda or some other terrorist group, you've got to free everyone at Guantanamo, several hundred prisoners. Could you see yourself as president authorizing that kind of transfer?

HERMAN CAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer. But what I would do is make sure that I got all of the information, I got all of the input, considered all of the options, and then the president has to be the president and make a judgment call. I can make that call if I had to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Few hours later on the debate stage, he had a different answer. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: But let me say this first. I would have a policy that we do not negotiate with terrorists. We have to lay that principle down first. Then you have to look at each individual situation and consider all the facts.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: But you're saying you could, in your words, you said that "I could see myself authorizing that kind of a transfer." Isn't that negotiating with in this case Al Qaeda?

CAIN: I don't recall him saying it was Al Qaeda related.

COOPER: Yes, he did.

CAIN: My policy would be we cannot negotiate with terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: After the debate, he told Anderson that he misspoke, actually. Let's bring in our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and the Republican strategist Tony Blankly. Tony, is this, you know, on some of these foreign policy issues, Herman Cain's has some problems. Is this indicative of those problems?

TONY BLANKLEY, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, EDELMAN PUBLIC RELATIONS: Obviously he does not have a professional's instinct on foreign policy. That's often a problem with challenges with governors. They don't have the kind of foreign policy experience incumbent presidents have. And he needs to prime up on that, because particularly if he becomes the nominee, he's going to have to have not only set pieces, he has to improve his instincts about how you either dodge a question or how you phrase discussing foreign policy better than he can currently.

BLITZER: Sunday on "Meet the Press," he didn't seem to know what neoconservatives were. He's a conservative, but he wasn't familiar when David Gregory was asking him about neoconservatives. He didn't seem to know what neoconservatives.

PAUL BEGALA, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT IN CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: He is a front-runner now. In many of our polls, he's ahead of Mitt Romney. But you worry if you're Mr. Cain, he might have just one note. He's got this tax plan, which was roundly attacked last night by his competitors, but doesn't seem to have a second act to act.

BLANKLEY: I don't know about that. What he's offering is common sense tempered by a lack of business experience. That's going to be very appealing.

Now, he's got to get a bit more polished than that on the other issues. But that's a powerful thing he's offering. It's one of the reasons, at least for the time being, he's at or near the top of the polls.

BLITZER: You take a look at South Carolina, that new poll that came out you probably saw today, he's way ahead of Romney and the others.

BEGALA: He is. I will say this for him. What he has that no one else on that stage had last night is a sense of humor. That goes a long way, I think, certainly with me and with most people.

BEGALA: And most likely, this is going to be a domestic economy election.

BLITZER: A very likable politician.

BLANKLEY: This is not going to be a foreign policy presidential.

BEGALA: Expertise of knowledge, but also even of instincts. You know, it's a big myth out there that people think the government should be run like a business.

It should not. Actually it should be run like a government, like a superpower and a superpower doesn't negotiate with hostages with terrorists. By the way, God strike me for saying this, person who made the most sense of this was Newt Gingrich, who said, look, Ronald Reagan did trade arms for hostages.

And it's one of the biggest mistakes of his presidency and President Reagan admitted that it was a mistake and of course, Newt was right and that's what experience --

BLANKLEY: Interest to me on that anecdote, it was Ed Rollins in the White House at the time he was trying to keep Reagan away from the hostage's family because he knew that Reagan had such a big heart, if he met with the families, he'd do whatever he could to help their hostage relatives and that it end up playing out that way.

BEGALA: All right, so it's not just cost benefit. It is being a superpower. Mr. Cain has got to make that psychological shift.

BLITZER: I was thinking of Ronald Reagan as I was watching that Republican debate last night. I blog about it on our SITUATION ROOM web site today, but stand by, guys. I want continue this conversation.

We've got some other stuff coming in, including some brand new reaction from the Obama campaign's adviser, David Axelrod. He's speaking out on last night's debate. We'll tell you what he has to say about Mitt Romney and more when we come back.

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BLITZER: Get some more of our strategy session right now at our CNN debate last night. Rick Perry went after Mitt Romney on the issue of illegal immigration.

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PERRY: You stood here in front of the American people and did not tell the truth that you had illegals working on your property. The newspaper came to you and brought to your attention and a year later, you still had them working for you.

ROMNEY: We went to the company and we said, look, you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals. It turns out that once again, they had hired someone who falsified their documents and therefore, we fired them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's John King just spoke with David Axelrod, senior strategist for the Obama re-election campaign and he zeroed in on that response from Mitt Romney. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR STRATEGIST, 2012 OBAMA CAMPAIGN: That one comment of Mitt Romney's in which he told the gardening service that he can't have illegals because he's running for office not because it's wrong, not because it's illegal, but because he's running for office, I thought was a great insight into him.

You know, it helps explain why he can shift so easily from position to position on fundamental things like health care, like choice and like gay rights and almost anything you can put your finger on. Last year, he attacked the president for being too tough on China.

Now, he's a trade warrior. You get the sense that everything is in service of running for office and so no position or principle is too great to aggregate in service of that goal.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Tony, is that a serious zeroing in on a serious problem that Mitt Romney has?

BLANKLEY: Sure it is. On the other hand, President Obama was strongly against the independent mandate in health care when he was debating Hillary in '08, then he put it into his bill and signed it into law.

So he's not in a perfect position. Also, on GITMO, one of his biggest policy was to close GITMO. What happens with the senior politician, Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1967 when he was governor then he switched to being against abortion.

What happens when you're a senior politician, been around for a long time, you end up having positions change. Romney's no different than Obama or Reagan on that. There are going to be things he's going to have to explain, but the other guys also going to have to explain their changes.

BLITZER: Because the Democrats are really, and you're among them, going after Romney on the issue of flip-flopping.

BEGALA: Yes, Tony's right about what he said about President Reagan or President Obama, but this guy's different. He's the Mohammad Ali of flip-flopping or the Mary Lou Retton of flip-flopping. He was the greatest boxer of all time -- Mary Lou Retton then of flip-flopping.

It's extraordinary. It's not even just the flip-flops, but it is finally the mask slipped for a moment last night when he said, for Pete's sake, I'm running for office, I can't have illegals.

My word, Mitt, for once, the mask slipped and he stopped being this robotic machine wrapped in human skin and instead, told us the truth, which is anything for office, anything for power. Although I do think he likes laying people off, so it's probably really fun for him to fire those guys.

BLANKLEY: Look, the fact is that Romney, I think, even with the attack that Perry brought on him, he held his ground to a guy trying to be the alpha male and Romney didn't let it happen at all. He's very smart. He's going to be able to out argue anybody virtually on the Democratic side on most policies, on business, it's going to be a jobs election. So, I think it's interesting that Mr. Axelrod and my friend here is targeting on Romney. I guess that means they think he's the frontrunner.

BLITZER: Were you as uncomfortable as I would at one moment when Romney walked over sort of touched Rick Perry? Let's show it to our viewers. There it is right there. You can see him going over there. I don't know. I got a little antsy at that moment. What did you think, Paul?

BEGALA: Well, let me tell you what Uncle George thought. I was watching with my Uncle George who's a retired Navy sailor and a teacher. Right away, he said, it's an act of dominance, right? What Uncle George says, that guy's a control freak. And I think he's right.

Because - Mitt, because not only is he trying to control Rick personally, then he appeals to the moderator because he could not hold his ground. He was like, please, Anderson, help me. Mr. Perry's taking my time. He looked terrible there. He looked like a whiner and --

BLANKLEY: I think what happened was Perry tried to be the alpha male and Romney stood his ground. He had to leave his hand on his shoulder, which he did, or he have to move it off.

BEGALA: You never appeal to the moderate. The moderator is not going to be there when Ahminedjad is speaking craziness at the U.N. You need to stand up yourself if you want to be president. I thought Mitt was totally a wimp about that.

BLANKLEY: I don't think -- when you get involved with an over-talking situation, you can either walk away from it, keep quiet in which case you look weak, or you could stay in the fight. Romney chose to stay in the fight and I think it was the right play for him.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note, but there's more to dissect and we will. Guys, thanks very much.

It was the deadliest helicopter shoot down in the Afghan war. Now, we're getting new photos of the disaster. Stand by for that.

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BLITZER: We're learning important new details of the deadly helicopter crash that killed 30 American troops in Afghanistan. Here's Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the first photos released by the military of the worst helicopter shoot down in the ten-year war. It was August 6th in eastern Afghanistan, when the radio call came, fallen angel. A signal an aircraft has gone down. All 38 on board killed, including 22 Navy SEALs, the largest one-day loss for the U.S. in Afghanistan. It was dark. The helicopter was landing in a mountain valley. The SEALs had been called in to reinforce other troops already in combat.

Just before landing, Taliban fighters hiding in a building fired rocket propelled grenades. The rear blades were hit. The helicopter crashed in seconds.

These photos are part of a 1,200-page military investigation that concluded there was no wrong doing, but three hours into combat operations, the Taliban had key advantages according to the report.

GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE CENTER: These bad guys had been shot at. They were alert. They were leaning forward. They were prepared for the next shoe to fall and then what happened is a Chinook appeared in their crosshairs and they took advantage of it.

STARR: The steep, mountain valley gave the Taliban the critical edge to see what was coming at them. Investigators were told, quote, "There are two ways in, two ways out," north or south.

As was routine, even with this area full of Taliban troops and weapons, U.S. military planners were not given critical information about the helicopter's specific route.

Information that could have further helped avoided risk. One of them told investigators quote, "one of the outcomes of this was, we've been asking for it, but we never received it. Now, we are getting them."

(on camera): The report also says that the Taliban commander the U.S. was pursuing mainly posed a local threat. He was finally killed in combat operations last month. But when that helicopter carrying the SEALs came in for a landing, the report says many, not all, but many of the Taliban fighters had already been captured or killed.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

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