Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Violent Protests Spreading Across Muslim World; Mitt Romney Under Fire

Aired September 13, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Anti-American protests explode across the Middle East, reports of arrests in the death of the United States ambassador in Libya, all of it dramatically shifting the focus of the presidential campaign.

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

Anti-American rage is boiling over in Middle East capitals and beyond, and it is sparked by a bizarre low-budget movie by a mystery filmmaker that denigrates Muslims and the Prophet Mohammed. This is the scene in the capital of Yemen.

Protesters there scaled the fence around the United States Embassy and clashed with security police who now report four demonstrators killed. Violent protests also in Cairo. Egyptian state TV reports more than 200 people have been injured in battles just outside the U.S. Embassy, an area that now looks more like a war zone.

As far away as Bangladesh, Muslim protesters are taking to the streets venting their outrage over the film by burning American flags. Similar scenes are unfolding in almost a dozen countries from North Africa to Asia.

And our correspondents are covering all of the late-breaking developments in Egypt, Yemen and Libya and beyond, Ben Wedeman, Mohammed Jamjoom and Jomana Karadsheh all standing by live with the latest developments.

Let's begin right now in Egypt, where the protesters first started. Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us live now in Cairo.

Ben, are those protesters still angry about the movie or is there something else going on right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think definitely the movie is part of it.

I spent a good part of the afternoon speaking with those protesters who feel it was an insult to Islam and feel that the United States should have done more to stop that film or that trailer from getting on to YouTube.

But there's also the concern that this issue is being taken advantage of by extremist groups who not -- who don't necessarily agree with the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, that they're trying to make this an issue with which they can attack the government led by Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In fact, I spoke to one Muslim Brotherhood official who suggested that this is perhaps a deliberate attempt to destabilize Egypt at a very sensitive period, a destabilization undertaken by rival Islamic groups and parties who are trying to undermine the government here.

We're showing viewers, Ben, live pictures coming from the Tahrir Square area, not far away from the U.S. Embassy. It's now after midnight in Cairo. Even though the protests aren't as large, necessarily, as they were during the Arab spring, and we all watched that unfold, you were, obviously, there, these protests right now have a symbolic importance. Explain what's going on.

WEDEMAN: Certainly.

The symbolism is huge. The fact that now we have had almost three days of constant clashes outside the U.S. Embassy, and it really does sort of focus in a way some of the latent resentment against the United States that goes back decades.

And, as I said, this is a resentment that I think is being fueled, being stoked by groups that are trying to capitalize on this issue. Now, I was here in Cairo in 2006. And if you recall, around the region, they were huge demonstrations against the Danish cartoons that were published then.

However, here in Cairo, the reaction was relatively calm. And I spoke to one Muslim scholar at the time and he said this is a very dangerous issue, because it is something that those extremist forces can exploit and cause far greater problems than the symbolism of, for instance, a video clip or cartoons published in a newspaper -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben Wedeman on the scene for us, as he always is in Cairo.

Kate Bolduan has got some more reaction.

We're getting a lot more information coming in from the region.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From the region and another deadly protest in Yemen, actually.

We want to now talk about that one. Security officials in Yemen are reporting at least four people were killed in protests outside the U.S. Embassy there.

CNN's Mohammed Morsi is monitoring developments from Beirut.

Mohammed, what is the latest you're hearing?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, eyewitnesses and officials are telling us that right now the protest scene has really calmed down substantially outside the U.S. Embassy. As you said, the latest reports are that at least four protesters were killed today in those clashes. What I'm hearing most from eyewitnesses and activists who were there close to the scene is how shocked they were that these protesters, many of them saying about 2,000 or so, were able to get this close to the U.S. Embassy, that they were able to breach the security of the compound.

We saw pictures throughout the day of people trying to scale the wall of the embassy. We saw -- we saw video of tires and cars being set on fire just outside the perimeter of the embassy. Now, at one point, it seemed to calm down in the early afternoon, but then the anger bubbled up again.

More security forces, more Yemeni security forces were deployed. They were using water cannons and tear gas against these protesters to try to disperse them. Even though this situation is calm now, the concern is what's going to happen tomorrow. Tomorrow is Friday, and that's a big protest day in the region, and that's been a big protest day in Yemen for the last couple years.

What is going to happen? That's where all eyes are right now. The Yemeni security forces are very concerned. Yemeni President Abd- Rabbu Mansour Hadi issued an apology to the American people and to U.S. President Barack Obama for what happened and he said that a thorough investigation will be conducted -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And how concerned -- you were alluding to it right there, but how concerned are people on the ground concerned about tomorrow, Friday being the day of prayer? Many, many fear that protests could really start firing up again. How concerned are people on the ground?

JAMJOOM: They are extremely concerned.

They are concerned because tomorrow is a day where protests have already been called for. That's according to activists who have heard this and eyewitnesses there on the ground who were hearing this from demonstrators that were out there today.

But they're also concerned because of what they saw today. I have been to Yemen many times. I have been to Sanaa many times. I have been to this site at the U.S. Embassy. This is a very heavily guarded site. This is one of the most protected sites, not just in the capital of the country, but in all of the country.

And this is something that was reflected, this concern, throughout the day. They were saying if today, spontaneously, that there was so much anger that people were able to march to the embassy and get that close somehow and start breaching security there and start scaling the wall, what could happen if there is even more people and if there is even more anger being fueled?

And what if it is stoked by extremists in Yemen? What will happen? They just don't know and they're very concerned about what might happen tomorrow. I should add that I spoke to U.S. officials in the embassy today that said everybody was OK and everybody was accounted for and they said that the embassy had not been evacuated -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's at least good to hear. Mohammed Jamjoom monitoring developments in Yemen from Beirut for us this evening, Mohammed, thank you so much.

Do want to bring you up to date one thing. President Obama spoke on the phone with Yemen's president just a short time ago and we just received a readout. The White House released this statement. In part, I will read it to you.

It says: "President Hadi committed to doing everything possible to protect American citizens in Yemen and said he had deployed additional security forces around the U.S. Embassy. President Obama reiterated his rejection of any efforts to denigrate Islam and emphasized that there is never any justification for the violence we are seeing."

Just getting that readout right now, Wolf. Of course, it also says reaffirming our commitment to supporting the Yemeni government and people during their historic transition.

BLITZER: The demonstrations will get intense, I assume, not only in Cairo, but in Sanaa in Yemen.

Also, we're watching what's going on in Libya right now.

Let's turn to CNN's Jomana Karadsheh. She's joining us on the phone from the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

You have details on one arrest, Jomana, on this deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. What can you tell us?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: Wolf, senior Libyan officials have announced progress in their investigation into the attack on the consulate in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour just a short while ago.

The newly elected prime minister here in a Libyan said that at least one individual, a Libyan national, was detained in Benghazi this morning in connection with the attack. We also heard from the deputy interior minister who said they have a number of individuals already in custody and they're being interrogated for their possible role in the attack.

The prime minister in his interview said there are suspicions that these individuals do belong to extremist groups. But he said that is something they cannot yet confirm and they're investigating. He said the arrests were made based on photographs that were taken around the scene of the attack and that some people had come forward with names based on these photographs.

The prime minister saying that they're also taking the assault on the consulate very seriously and that he himself is heading a high- level commission that is overseeing the investigation into the attack.

Wolf, if the Libyan authorities have, indeed, detained members of suspected radical Islamic groups that are thought to be behind the attack, this would be really a major step for them. The authorities here have been really criticized for not doing enough to confront these militant jihadist groups that are known to be operating in eastern Libya.

BLITZER: OK, Jomana, Jomana Karadsheh joining us from Tripoli, bracing for more activity there obviously as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

And over at the State Department ,Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is making clear exactly what she thinks of that anti-Islamic film that has sparked these protests across the Middle East. But she's also making clear, making it clear that there is not much she or anyone else in the U.S. government can do about it. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: To us, to me, personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.

But, as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The secretary of state speaking earlier on this sensitive, sensitive subject.

Meanwhile, we're getting new and chilling details of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, under siege for hours, with the diplomats inside ultimately left to fend for themselves.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's not just Cairo and Libya. Demonstrations have been reported in Israel, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Iran.

Look at these pictures. These are coming in from Cairo right now. These are live pictures not far from the United States Embassy only hours away from Friday morning prayers, Kate.

BOLDUAN: With Friday morning prayers just hours away, there are concerns that larger and potentially more violent protests are on their way as well.

Let's get more on this with CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. She is a member of the CIA External Advisory Committee and last month just visited Libya with her employer, MacAndrews & Forbes.

Frank, thanks for coming in again. When you list off the countries we just did in the region that are seeing protests, are you surprised with the sheer number of protests that are breaking out?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I think there's a couple of things that are worth remarking about.

First of all, as Ben Wedeman told us, the notion that the protests in Cairo have been persistent over three days, even if they're not as large, is concerning. Second, I think the American government was anticipating that after Friday prayers there might be protests around the world.

The notion that it didn't wait for Friday. All these protests today, Thursday, going into Friday is a huge concern. Then lastly, I think you have to look at countries with large Muslim populations, like Jakarta. You could see some really massive protests outside our embassies and consulates around the world, especially after prayers in those countries.

BLITZER: You have seen these reports, Fran, that in Benghazi at the U.S. diplomatic mission there, the consulate, that the Libyan guards, the forces designed to supposedly protect the Americans, four Americans were killed, they didn't do their job. They melted away, basically abandoned their posts. What are you hearing about that?

TOWNSEND: A couple of things, Wolf.

In your interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein, she said something I had heard. That is there were Libyan guards that were killed and we know there were Libyan nationals trying to help the ambassador who was tragically killed there at the consulate.

And so, there are examples of real Libyan heroism. In terms of Libyan forces, the minister of interior at the time of the bombing of the Sufi shrines by Salafists did pull his forces off, said he didn't want anybody to be killed over a monument.

It's possible that either they melted away because they couldn't sustain the battle or really got pulled off. It would be consistent with what we have seen in Libya recently.

BLITZER: Very worrisome.

TOWNSEND: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: I cover Capitol Hill as my day job. On Capitol Hill today, I want to get your take kind of generally speaking.

On Capitol Hill Senator Rand Paul he tried to force a poll to pull funding for various countries. I think it was Pakistan, cut off aid for Pakistan, Egypt and Libya. We are hearing some people say why are we giving this money, this aid to these countries when these protests are breaking out. What is your take on it?

TOWNSEND: It is a problem to lump these three countries together.

First of all, these three countries are all very different. Libya and the Libyan people have been very supportive of the United States. When I was there, as you mentioned, every meeting I was at, and these are private meetings with government officials, they wanted to thank the American government and the American people for supporting their fight for freedom.

And so Libya is a different case. They lack capability and they want our support and they want training and assistance, but Libya is different. And so the notion of abandoning Libya when we're on the brink of a real success story there would be tragic.

Now, in Egypt and Pakistan, that's quite different. In some instances, there are agencies of those governments that have not been supportive of the United States, despite massive amounts of aid and then there's the type of aid you give.

You may decide you want to pull back on military aid or security assistance, but you probably don't want to pull back on humanitarian aid. Remember, when there was the earthquake in Pakistan, we gave millions of dollars of aid to the Pakistani people.

That is the sort of type of aid. It is a fraction, frankly, of the U.S. budget, but it's a huge return on investment when you are trying to convince people that what the United States engages is not an assault on Islam, the sort of thing you see in this movie, which does not represent Americans or American policy.

You're trying to have -- sort of establish a credibility with the people of those countries. You want to continue humanitarian aid.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Although you appreciate it's going to be a lot more unpopular at a time of economic distress in the United States, waving $1 billion in debt that the Egyptians owe the United States, for example, as the U.S. did last week or providing $1.5 billion a year in military and economic assistance to Egypt if, if -- and it's a huge if -- if the new Muslim Brotherhood-led government doesn't cooperate with the United States, doesn't honor its commitments to the U.S. and the peace treaty with Israel.

Politically, that's going to be a really difficult to appropriate that kind of money.

TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. That is the sort of aid that ought to be on the table.

We ought to be looking at whether or not that is the kind of thing we want to do. What I'm talking about is there's what we call the people-to-people at a humanitarian level, whether it's education and that sort of assistance, that is the sort of stuff you might consider continuing.

But the sorts of aid you're talking about, military assistance, debt forgiveness, are all things that ought to be on the table. If a government doesn't protect our establishments and doesn't engage with the U.S. on important policy priorities, we ought to reconsider that.

BLITZER: Fran, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks.

BLITZER: There is a new warning that has just been released by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department. It's related to the unrest that's unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East. We have details, and that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new warning is just coming into CNN from the U.S. intelligence community.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has the details.

What are you learning, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.

Our CNN producer Carol Cratty obtained this joint intelligence bulletin within the last hour or so. It's basically put out by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. And it's raising the warning for the chance of possible extremist activity here in the United States due to the ongoing publication of this movie that is out there that has caused so much unrest in the Middle East.

What this bulletin is saying is, it is warning some of the religious groups here in the United States that as this movie becomes more and more publicized, it could raise the profile of some of the religious groups that are associated with it and make them targets for extremists right here in the United States.

We know the filmmaker has said his movie was financed by about 100 Jewish people, that it's been publicized and promoted by both a Christian pastor and a Coptic Christian minister as well.

What the bulletin is saying is that those communities may want to take some extra precautions going forward. Some of the precautions that the bulletin recommends is perhaps having more distance between where their congregation may congregate outside and vehicle access, putting more space between where vehicles can go and where some of the congregation is coming into.

Also, to get in touch with local law enforcement and establish a communication plan and go over their own internal building security just to be on the safe side.

The building raises the possibility that there could be some spontaneous demonstrations, protests that come out of nowhere that could overwhelm the normal security procedures that a lot of religious groups have in place already, Wolf.

BLITZER: And a lot of mystery surrounding the filmmaker and the people behind it. It's very, very unclear, Chris, right now.

Chris Lawrence with the latest on that.

Because the public comments that this supposed filmmaker and the backers have made, there are all sorts of questions about whether they're accurate, they're just bluster or whatever. So, we're continuing our investigation.

BOLDUAN: And the criminal history on this, too, there's so much. There's still that ongoing investigation into this person.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Excellent, excellent point. Thank you.

For months, it was the economy. Now a September surprise? The focus of the presidential campaign suddenly shifts to national security and foreign policy. Will it stay in the spotlight, though, through November 6?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama was campaigning in Colorado today but the race for the White House has shifted in the wake of the attacks that killed, among other things, the United States ambassador to Libya.

Much of the focus today is on foreign policy and military might, instead of the economy. Here's part of what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We see on our televisions that there are still threats in the world, and we have got to remain vigilant.

That's why we have to be relentless in pursuing those who attacked us this week. That's also why, so long as I'm commander in chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Mitt Romney was also talking about the military as he campaigned just outside Washington today in Fairfax, Virginia. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm president of the United States, we will restore our military commitment and keep America the strongest military in the world. The world needs American leadership. The Middle East needs American leadership, and I intend to be a president that provides the leadership that America respects and will keep us admired throughout the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN chief political correspondent, anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley; and our chief national correspondent, John King.

Did you sense, John, that Mitt Romney was toning down the direct criticism of the president in the aftermath of these protests and the deadly one that occurred in Libya?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's toning down. The first thing he said was that the statement issued by the embassy in Cairo -- and the president is the president of the United States; he's responsible for that statement -- expressed sympathy for the attackers. It didn't do that. It did talk about wished the people who produced the movie hadn't done that.

I do think he's dialing back a little bit, although he won't dial back completely because he did an interview with George Stephanopoulos today. And he continued the criticism. He can't back down completely.

I'll tell you, though: over the last several days, you talked to lot of strategists in both parties who say he probably shouldn't have said what he said at the beginning. If this is going to be a blunder by the president, it will be a blunder in 72 hours or 100 hours. Wait, don't jump in on the first day.

BOLDUAN: And Gloria, what do you think this has meant for the president here? He's now answering some larger foreign policy issues, especially, you know, relating to the relationship with Egypt and just listen to this sound bite that he gave, this interview that he gave with Telemundo. And then we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy. They are a new government that is trying to find its way. If they take actions that indicate they're not taking those responsibilities, as all other countries do where we have embassies, I think that's going to be a real big problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The State Department today seemed to have a very different take on that kind of direct...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Allies, no allies. State Department said ally.

BOLDUAN: Which seemed pretty clean-cut. What is, I mean -- is this a blunder for him?

BORGER: Here's the thing. I think Mitt Romney did the president a big favor, because the real issue on the table is the question of our relationship with Egypt and, instead, we're talking about this State Department cable and whether Mitt Romney had a blunder in issuing a response too quickly before he knew that the ambassador was dead, et cetera, et cetera.

So I think what the president has is a question of our relationship with Egypt. There's a billion-dollar loan forgiveness plan on the table right now that the Congress can veto if it wants to for Egypt. This will clearly become a political football now, and it's something the president is going to have to deal with.

And Mitt Romney has sort of established this little side show here that takes everybody's eye off the big problem, which is our relationship with Egypt.

CROWLEY: I will say I think the bigger problem, the larger problem in U.S. relations and a lot of countries in the Middle East continues. In a way that Mitt Romney's statement will not. I mean, it will be brought up, but every day, what have we seen?

Well, this is our third day, second day, but in any case, this is an ongoing problem in the Middle East, and it brings up a lot of different issues. I think you almost, in some ways, give him a pass about the State Department because the State Department was an ally with a very different Egypt. I mean, a different guy was running the place. I mean, the whole thing.

So -- but I just think the ongoing problem that is clearly out there in the Middle East is more of a problem for President Obama than for Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Years ago Egypt was designated, like a lot of countries including Israel, a major non-NATO ally.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And the State Department today said Egypt is still a major non-NATO ally. The president's obviously...

BORGER: We don't have a mutual defense treaty, fine.

BLITZER: He didn't -- it's not a NATO ally.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But it's a major non-NATO ally.

Let's get to these new polls. Some new polls just coming in, John. I want you to tell our viewers. Three key battleground states, Florida, Virginia and Ohio right now, and the numbers are pretty encouraging to the president.

KING: These are the new NBC/Marist. I believe "Wall Street Journal" is cooperating with them. You put them up on the screen there.

There you see in Florida five-point lead for the president. Now, there's a margin of error there, but that's a lead for the president going in. Virginia, what the order we're going to put them up. Virginia is the same. There you see five points, exactly the same numbers: 49, 44.

And then you go to Ohio, the president's lead here. In this poll, they show the president's lead as seven points. I will say there's another poll out today that shows Ohio a dead heat and shows Colorado also a dead heat.

BLITZER: This is likely voters. Is that likely voters?

KING: Those are likely voters.

BLITZER: Those are likely voters.

KING: So what does this tell you? One of the interesting things about this race is that the president has been plus two in those states we just mentioned, Virginia, Florida, Ohio. He's been plus two for the longest time, which is close. It's very close.

Now he's got some balance at the convention, it looks like, so maybe he's plus four or five and within the margin of error. That doesn't mean they're insurmountable for Mitt Romney. But that has been a constant, after volatile Republican primaries, this general election has been a constant.

And, again, it tells you that the president has a slight advantage in a very close race and the debates, the debates -- Ms. Crowley, hello -- are going to be incredibly important to this race.

BORGER: If you look at the way Mitt Romney can get to victory in the Electoral College, his problem is that he's got to win these three states. There's -- Barack Obama can lose these three states, by the way, and still win in the Electoral College. So, these are must-wins.

And if you look at the state of Ohio, which seems to be the most problematic for the president, that's, you know, that's a real problem, which is -- which is why the president's visited there, like, 11 times and Romney 17 times.

KING: They'll all be paying taxes in Ohio by the time...

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Combining kind of the two topics. Do you think foreign policy now becomes a longer standing issue in, not in the election will be a bigger issue in the debates or do you think it will quickly turn back to the economy?

CROWLEY: I think it depends on what happens. I think it's always going to be the economy. The economy is the base of this election. But if we continue to see the sorts of scenes that we are seeing from the Arab Spring turn into a very uncertain fall, I think then it becomes more important, but it's still going to be about the jobs and the economy. BORGER: I would argue that every minute that Mitt Romney is not talking about the economy is a wasted minute for Mitt Romney.

BOLDUAN: But don't you think he always has that opportunity to kind of fill that gap of having those foreign policy chops and meeting that commander in chief test...

KING: Even if you are right, even if you're a challenger and you're right in the foreign policy argument, the president has the bully pulpit; the president has the megaphone.

BORGER: right.

KING: Mitt Romney should focus on jobs, jobs and jobs, and if these foreign actions, these foreign incidents, whatever you want to call them, if they undermine the president, they will undermine the president.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

KING: If somehow his leadership, if his leadership is called into question and people see him as less of a leader, that will affect him on all the domestic issues, as well, but -- but the events will take care of themselves, one way or the other.

BORGER: If you're Mitt Romney, you don't want to shift the conversation on foreign policy.

BLITZER: In the end if Obama carries Ohio, I think it will be because he saved General Motors, saved Chrysler and so many jobs in Ohio, at least indirectly if not directly related to the auto industry.

BORGER: But unemployment is also low. Unemployment is, like, 7.2 percent in Ohio, which is a point less than it is nationally. That's important.

KING: There's a new poll in Michigan today that shows a ten- point lead. To the same point in Michigan ten points. Ohio is the second. After Michigan, Ohio is No. 2 when it comes to auto jobs in the United States of America.

CROWLEY: And clearly, they thought that at the convention, because if I heard Ohio and Michigan one more time and, you know, the bailout of the auto industry, I mean, they clearly think that's the ballgame.

BLITZER: Looks like the Romney campaign, not the super PACs, they're beginning to forget about Michigan, but they're not forgetting about Ohio.

CROWLEY: They can't.

KING: They can't. BLITZER: Not Ohio...

KING: They can't get there without Ohio. They just can't.

BOLDUAN: All right. All right. We'll continue to follow it. Thanks, all of you. Best Political Team on Television.

BLITZER: It's a case that's as dangerous as it is complicated. How the FBI is investigating the attack that killed the United States ambassador to Libya. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning new details about a special FBI team that's being designed to investigate the killings of the United States ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. CNN's crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is here. He's working the story. What are you finding out?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the FBI has opened an investigation, and they're going to have to work closely with the Libyan government.

But one of the big concerns right now is making sure Americans who go to Libya to investigate this case can, themselves, be protected from harm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): The president has said he wants to catch the killers of U.S. envoy Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya.

OBAMA: And make no mistake, justice will be done.

JOHNS: That message was echoed by Attorney General Eric Holder traveling in Qatar. Aides said he's cutting short his Mideast trip to manage the Libya investigation, which is a maze of questions right now.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We are very cautious about drawing any conclusions with regard to who the perpetrators were, what their motivations were, whether it was premeditated, whether they had any external contacts.

JOHNS: A team of FBI agents headquartered in New York City is assigned to the Libya investigation, but their plans are unknown or being kept quiet, possibly out of concern for their safety. Tom Fuentes is a former top FBI official who supervised agents overseas.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER TOP FBI OFFICIAL: Well, the issue is that when you send agents and technicians to the scene to Benghazi, in this case, are they going to be safe? They're going to be adequate protection, just setting up a perimeter around their work space or their crime scene to protect them from being attacked once they get there. You could have an additional attack just like the consulate attack.

JOHNS: FBI agents investigating attacks on Americans abroad is a time-tested process.

NULAND: The FBI always becomes involved when Americans, official Americans are killed.

JOHNS: To name a few, 1996, the bombings of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia; 1998, the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa; and in 2000, the attack on the Navy warship the USS Cole.

U.S. officials wouldn't comment on the significance of the arrest made by Libyan authorities. Fuentes says the first question is whether certain people were taken into custody because they may know something as a opposed to having done something.

FUENTES: Arrests could be made just for investigative purposes. You know, many of the countries here, usually in the United States the threshold for actually arresting somebody is often a little bit higher than in foreign countries. So in many of these countries, just if they're suspicious of somebody, they could bring them in for questioning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: A lot of touchy questions here, including whether any suspect charged with participating in the embassy attack would be put on trial in the United States or in Libya. That is a big unknown. It's the kind of thing diplomats would have to negotiate, preferably in advance of any charges.

BLITZER: I think they want to see what the Libyan government can do if they arrest these individuals. And what they do with them, we'll see, I guess.

JOHNS: That's right, absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Joe.

BLITZER: As we watch the growing violence across the Muslim world, Erin Burnett is talking with a senator who wants the United States to take some drastic action. Erin, tell us more.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Rand Paul is who we're talking about, Wolf, and he does want the U.S. to take drastic action and cut off all funding to Libya, Egypt. Also, of course, Pakistan on his list.

There was a very heated exchange between he and John Kerry on the floor today when they fought about this. We're going to be talking to the senator about why he wants to cut the aid, why he thinks that would make sense.

Another person who strongly disagrees with him is Senator John McCain. So we're going to get to the bottom of that whether it makes sense for this country to do that. Plus, Wolf, I was actually speaking to some Coptic Christians today in Egypt, and they're very afraid about what could happen to them if it ends up being true that the person behind this movie about the Prophet Mohammed was, indeed, a Coptic Christian.

As things spread throughout the Middle East tonight, we're going to be live throughout the region. All that coming up at the top of the hour. Back to you.

BLITZER: Looking forward to it, Erin.

Rand Paul, the senator, like his father, Ron Paul, the congressman, they have both opposed foreign aid long before this.

BURNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: They've opposed foreign aid for a long, long time.

BURNETT: It's true. There's one place, Wolf, he says he would keep his foreign aid, and we'll tell you where that is, as well.

BLITZER: Yes. He even said during the campaign that he even wouldn't even support foreign aid for Israel, which, obviously, is a major U.S. ally right there.

BURNETT: OK. Well, you're going to have to watch tonight then. All right.

BLITZER: See what he says about that...

BURNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: ... if he's changed his mind. All right. Thanks very much.

He has more than a dozen aliases and made an amateur movie and that's fueling anti-American rage. We're going to show you what our investigation has uncovered.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney has reacted to criticism from President Obama, who says his rival shoots first, aims later, referring to Romney's campaign attack on a memo put out by the U.S. embassy in Cairo ahead of the violent protests. Here's what Romney just told ABC News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I said was exactly the same conclusion the White House reached, which was that the statement was inappropriate. That's why they backed away from it, as well.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: They didn't say that it was showing sympathy for the attackers. ROMNEY: I think it was not directly applicable and appropriate for the setting. I think it should have been taken down and, apparently, the White House felt the same way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And no direct response, then, when the president says you shoot first and aim later.

ROMNEY: Well, this is politics. I'm not going to worry about the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The protests in almost a dozen countries started because of an amateur movie. And we're learning more about the filmmaker behind the bizarre, low-budget, anti-Muslim project.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is investigating all of this for us. Miguel, you uncovered this guy's criminal record. What exactly is his background?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has quite a background. In 1991, this guy Sam Bacile, or what we believe is his real name, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was convicted on two misdemeanors.

In 1997, interestingly enough, he was convicted on charges of intent to manufacture methamphetamine. He served a year in prison for that.

And in 2010 he was convicted of fraud. The fraud was a very complex fraud where he was creating different identities, essentially, different Social Security numbers, then using those credit-card convenience checks in order to draw money on fake accounts, and then he would just sort of disappear. He served a year in prison for that, got out in 2011, and that's when he began to make this movie, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you say, you've come up with lots of identities for this guy. What else have you turned -- what else has your reporting turned up?

MARQUEZ: This is -- it's stunning. Seventeen different names so far we have turned up. I'll read just a few of them. Not only was it Sam Bacile, as we're now familiar with, but Nicolo Basili (ph), Irwin Salome (ph) and P.J. Tobacco among all of those 17 names that this guy has used. He had different Social Security cards when investigators went in and served warrants. He had documents from birth certificates to drivers licenses to passports, all with different names.

This guy was deeply involved in fraudulent activity, both creating false identities with their own credit history and then using that credit history in order to deposit money into accounts which he would withdraw with an ATM and then disappear, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's amazing to me that this low budget anti-Islamic film, if you can even call it a film, has had such a global impact. Are people connected with the making of this film talking today? MARQUEZ: It's interesting. They were talking yesterday, and today things have shut down quite a bit. They are still saying in statements, paper statements, that they disassociate themselves from the film. If they knew that it was going to be -- turn out what it was, that they never would have taken part in it. But they are not speaking out as much as they were yesterday.

Even this guy, Steve Klein, who says he was a consultant on the film, says that he's being contacted by authorities, by FBI, that he's concerned for the safety of others and doesn't want to speak out.

Everybody seems to have taken on board just how massive a ripple in the world this film has created, and is -- are beginning to quiet down and take this very seriously, Wolf.

BLITZER: They should. All right. Thanks very much, Miguel Marquez.

Our Kate Bolduan is watching some other stories going on, as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: First -- first, I think we want to show some live pictures coming out of Cairo, Egypt. You can see, as we've been following this protest that's gone on throughout the day and into the night, these protests and live pictures continue. Looks like they are setting off fireworks.

BLITZER: I don't know what they're firing, but it's escalating and it's going to continue escalate, Kate, as we get closer and closer to the Friday morning prayers. Right now, what it's after -- it's approaching 2 a.m....

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... over there in Cairo. By 5 a.m., it's going to really be daylight and that's when -- that's when things could get even more intense.

BOLDUAN: We're going to continue to watch that. First, I want to bring you some other top stories that we're keeping an eye on, as well.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke today announced plans to unleash more stimulus to boost the U.S. economy. The Fed will buy $40 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities every month until the U.S. economy is stronger. The plan should lower long-term interest rates, and the Fed hopes that leads to more spending and hiring. Traders sure liked it today. The Dow ended today up more than 200 points.

Also, some potential good news in Chicago. There's new hope Chicago's teachers could be back in the classroom soon. Union delegates with the power to end their strike plan to meet tomorrow. Today is the fourth day that public schools have been closed for 350,000 students there. Both sides say they made progress in late- night talks. The union has said they have been far from a deal on teacher evaluations, benefits and other issues but possibly -- possibly -- some progress there.

And Washington's National Cathedral was packed for today's memorial service honoring astronaut Neil Armstrong, who died last month at age 82. Among those paying tribute to the first man to walk on the moon was the last man who walked on its surface. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EUGENE CERNAN, APOLLO 17 ASTRONAUT: No one, no one but no one could have accepted the responsibility of his remarkable accomplishment with more dignity and more grace than Neil Armstrong. He embodied all that is good and all that is great about America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: One of the National Cathedral's windows contains a moon rock presented years ago by Armstrong. You're seeing a video of -- a shot of it right there, presented years ago by Armstrong and his crew. It's the back dot in the tiny white circle that you see there.

But a very moving memorial for him, for him today. So that was really wonderful to watch.

BLITZER: And we're also getting new information about the men killed on -- in that attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, just coming in. We'll have that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two of the three men killed in Libya along with the United States ambassador, Chris Stevens, have now been identified.

Sean Smith was a husband and father of two. He had worked for the State Department for a decade and was posted to the Hague in the Netherlands but was on a short-term assignment in Libya.

Glen Doherty was a former Navy SEAL who trained as a sniper and medical corpsman. He lived in Southern California and was working for a security contractor in Libya. His sister paid tribute to him today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATE QUIGLEY, SISTER OF GLEN DOHERTY: Our family would like to thank everyone for their love and support. Glen lived his life to the fullest. He was my brother, but if you ask his friends, he was their brother, as well. We ask for privacy during this time as we grieve for our friends, my brother, our brother, our son and our American hero. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The fourth American killed in the consulate -- at the consulate in Benghazi has not yet been publicly identified. Officials are waiting for his family to be notified before they release that.

BLITZER: Three other Americans at that embassy, at that consulate, were injured, flown to Ramstein in Germany where they're receiving treatment right now.

That's it for us. Thanks very much for joining us. I'll be back 9 p.m. Eastern later tonight, filling in for Piers Morgan. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.