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THE SITUATION ROOM
Presidential Candidates Prepare for Second Debate; Interview with Robert Gibbs
Aired October 15, 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: the stakes higher than ever for President Obama. We will talk about tomorrow night's debate with senior campaigning adviser Robert Gibbs.
Allegations of a White House cover-up in that deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate.
Plus, Iran suspected in crippling cyber-attacks against U.S. banks.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're counting down to next presidential debate. President Obama going head to head against Governor Mitt Romney tomorrow night, Hofstra University on Long Island, in New York, and the pressure is especially intense for the president. He disappointed the supporters with a weak showing in the first debate face-off.
CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta in Boston now. He has details of how both men are preparing.
Jim, what are you hearing?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you that in the last hour the Romney campaign wrapped up its debate prep session for the day. Nearly every top official that is advising the former Massachusetts governor was seen exiting this hotel that is just a short distance from where we're standing now here in Boston.
And in keeping with the campaign's highly disciplined style, Ohio Senator Rob Portman was asked how the debate prep went today. He answered with one word, "great." But that's been the case with both campaigns, Wolf. They have been largely radio silent over the last 24 hours.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello! Hello! Hello! I brought some food.
ACOSTA (voice-over): After joking that his debate prep was a drag last time around, President Obama assured supporters at a campaign office over the weekend in Virginia he's hitting the books. Mitt Romney was only seen briefly during his preparations heading in and out of church on Sunday.
In Romney's sparring sessions, Ohio Senator Rob Portman is once again playing the president, while adviser Peter Flaherty has the role of moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley. As Portman indicated Sunday, the campaign is getting ready to rumble.
SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: I think President Obama is going to come out swinging. I think he's going to have to compensate for a poor first debate and I think that'll be consistent with what they have been doing this whole campaign.
ACOSTA: Over at Obama debate prep, the president's longtime adviser Anita Dunn is playing Crowley, while Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is once again standing in for Romney. The president's team vows he will amp up his performance.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I think he's going to be aggressive in making the case for his view of where we should go as a country.
ACOSTA: That could be a risky move and perhaps alienate some in the audience in this debate's town hall style format, perhaps explaining why an Obama aide now says the president will be firm, but respectful. Advisers say they're prepared for all variables.
ED GILLESPIE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The president can change his style, he can change his tactics. He can't change his record.
ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think Mitt Romney's performance was, indeed, magical and theatrical.
ACOSTA: It's a hire-wire act for both candidates with the latest CNN poll of polls showing the race is neck and neck, not just nationally, but in the three key swing states of Florida, where Romney may have a slight edge, Ohio, where the president may be inches ahead, and Virginia, where it's almost a tie. A dead even battleground map puts a premium on traditionally Democratic states like Wisconsin, home turf of Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We haven't dedicated our electoral votes since 1984 to the Republican nominee. It is time we change that.
ACOSTA: And as for that hot topic that's been all over Twitter and social media today and that is whether or not moderator Candy Crowley can ask follow-up questions to those questions that are asked by the audience at tomorrow night's debate, I talked to a senior Romney adviser earlier today, Wolf, who said that the former Massachusetts governor is prepared for whatever question is asked.
That appears to be a green light to whatever happens at tomorrow night's debate. And I can tell you that of the few announcements that the campaign made earlier today, they did release some few fund raising numbers. For the month of September, they announced they raised $170 million, and that's $11 million short of what the president raised in September but not a bad haul when you consider that was all before Mitt Romney's breakout performance at the debate in Denver two weeks ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They're both raising a ton of money still only three weeks , a little bit more than three weeks left to go. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's get some more now on the Obama campaign.
Joining us is the senior adviser, the former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Robert, thanks very much for coming in.
ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: You guys know James Carville and Stan Greenberg, two excellent Democratic strategists, James Carville a CNN contributor.
They wrote this in their Democratic Corps memo today. And I will put it up on the screen. "With most of the president's surrogates saying give him more time to finish the job and with the president closing the debate almost making the same small offer, Romney got the opportunity to be heard as the voice of change."
They're also saying, it wasn't just the president but his surrogates that are failing the American people because they're not explaining more I guess aggressively what the president actually wants to do over the next four years. Do agree with that criticism?
Look, I think you will see tomorrow a very energetic, passionate president that will make the case not just from where we have been in the last four years, which bears some discussion, but also exactly where we want to go, Wolf.
Let's bring back a million manufacturing jobs. Let's increase what we're selling overseas through exports. Let's hire more math and science teachers to create an educational system that gets our kids ready to be the work force to bring those jobs back.
Let's continue looking for domestic energy and investing in renewable energy because we know that certainly creates jobs. And let's get a balanced plan to get our fiscal house in order which makes necessary investments like I just talked about, while also asking the very rich, that have done really, really well in this economy just to pay a little bit more.
I think all of those things are things that the president will talk about we need to do over the course of next four years and things he's eager to discuss tomorrow with Governor Romney because there's a very different vision. BLITZER: How does the town hall format affect that?
GIBBS: Well, look, I think first and foremost, you're getting questions directly from those undecided voters.
So you have got to talk certainly directly to that voter and answer their care and concern. I think that's the most -- the utmost thing that each of these candidates has to do tomorrow night.
I do not doubt, though, that in answering those questions, each of these candidates -- I know President Obama will -- have some questions or some concerns about what Mitt Romney's positions are. So, I think you will see a very traditional debate tomorrow, but again first and foremost, you are going to focus on those undecided voters that are standing there asking you questions.
BLITZER: Do you think there will be any new lines of attack of the president on Mitt Romney and his record, what he's been saying?
GIBBS: Well, look, I think that what the record of Mitt Romney that we have laid out is a pretty good one and I think we will want to go back at it.
I mean, look, as governor, he was 47th in the country in job creation. As a candidate, he proposes a $5 trillion tax plan that is going to result quite frankly in cutting taxes for people like him and raising it for middle-class families.
I think there's a whole host of things that we can and will talk about that relates to both his record as well as his proposals for going forward.
BLITZER: When he says to the president tomorrow night, as he no doubt will, that his tax cut plan, 20 percent across the board, let's say, will not raise the nation's deficit and here's why and he offers his explanation, by eliminating some deductions and loopholes, tax credits, also by growing the economy, bringing in more revenue that way, what will the president say?
GIBBS: Well, the president will talk about the studies that show that even if you take all of the deductions, all of the exclusions, all of the tax credits for those that are on the upper income levels, and do away with them, plus add in some economic growth, dynamic scoring, if you will, you still don't cover the $4.8 trillion in that tax cut.
So one of two things happens, Wolf. Either the deficit starts to shoot up or more much more likely, which is raising taxes on middle- class families by taking away some of their necessary and important deductions. And that's something that we can't sustain in this economy. And I think it's something that Mitt Romney I hope tomorrow gets a real chance to explain, because you saw him in that first debate, Wolf, simply put up his hands and say, I don't have a tax cut like that.
Even though Paul Ryan had been asked about a week earlier can you walk through the math of this tax cut, and he said, look, I don't have time, Mitt Romney simply said, look, there's no math involved. We can do it. Trust us. I won't tell you what loopholes we're going to close, I won't tell you what level we're going to do it. Just trust us. It will all work out.
I think that's recipe for the middle class having their taxes raised.
BLITZER: I assume you have seen this new Gallup tracking poll that just came out earlier this afternoon, swing states likely voters. These are 12 battleground states, 51 percent for Romney, 46 percent for Obama, 4-6 percent sampling error. It's within the margin error, obviously.
But it still shows Romney 51, Obama 46. How worried does this make you?
GIBBS: Not that worried at all, Wolf.
I think the biggest criticism of that poll has been the sample shows Romney and President Obama tied among women. Your poll in Ohio late last week had the president up 20 points among women. So I don't actually think that -- this would be the very first poll showing women tied with these two candidates. I don't think that's likely the case.
Look, if Republicans want to think that, that's certainly fine with me. We know where this race is going to be decided and which nine battleground states and I know the president and the vice president will prosecute their case to the fullest extent. And I think we will have a chance to talk about Governor Romney's economic theories that we tried, quite frankly, for eight years. And they didn't work too well. They ended up crushing us and leaving with us this economic disaster that we have been trying to dig out of for the last four years.
BLITZER: One final question. And I'm going to quote Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, what he told "The Wall Street Journal" today.
I will put it up on the screen. He said ;"The way I look at this is they can't say you're unintelligent, they can't say you're mean and evil, so they're just going to say you're dishonest. My guess is they're going to call us liars for the next month."
Is that true?
GIBBS: No, again, it's disappointing to watch two candidates who wanted to run on big, bold ideas walk away from all their big, bold ideas.
You know, Mitt Romney, you know, said, look, we don't need more teachers and then you watched him on that debate stage say, I love teachers. We need more of them. I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut, even though Paul Ryan thought it would take too long in an interview to explain the math. Look, don't misunderstand it. Mitt Romney is trying to and Paul Ryan are doing this -- they're trying to hide their positions. They want to go on national TV in debates with big audiences and pretend they haven't taken these stances. But I think the American people need to understand, you know, there is a man behind the curtain. And we do need to pay attention to that person, because that's Mitt Romney. That's the real Mitt Romney.
That's the Mitt Romney that's proposed all of these things. And people need to understand what it means for their lives -- for middle- class families, it means their taxes go up. For people like Mitt Romney, it means their taxes go down. It's a theory that's not going to create jobs in this country.
BLITZER: Robert, thanks very much for coming in.
GIBBS: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Robert Gibbs from the Obama campaign.
Kate Bolduan is here as well. We got a very different perspective in the last hour from John Sununu from the Romney campaign.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was just going to say that. I think we are getting -- we're at least seeing some of the lines of attack that we may be seeing tomorrow night, something.
BLITZER: Setting the stage for the debate.
BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right.
And just to remind our viewers of just that, CNN's Candy Crowley will moderate tomorrow night's debate and our special coverage begins at 7:00 Eastern/4:00 Pacific right here on CNN. You do not want to miss that.
Also, still ahead, which candidate has voters more enthusiastic? We will look at some telling new poll numbers and what they mean for the race for the White House.
BLITZER: The first lady of the United States speaking at a rally in Cleveland, Ohio, right now.
Let's listen in to Michelle Obama.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Now, but they simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don't start out with much, if you work hard, if you do what you're supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and your grandkids.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
M. OBAMA: They also believe something else. They believe that when you worked hard and done well and you have had that chance to walk through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.
That's how Barack and I and so many of us were raised. Those are the values we were taught. And let me tell you. More than anything else why I'm out here almost every day is that this is what this election is about. It is about a choice about our values and our hopes and our aspiration.
It's a choice about the kind of America we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids. What does that America look like? We believe in an America where every child, no matter where they're born or how much money their parents make, every child deserves good schools, you know, the kind of schools that push them and inspire them and prepare them for college and jobs of the future, every child.
We believe in an America where no one goes broke because somebody got sick, where no one loses their home because someone lost a job. Not in America. We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own, that there is always a community of people lifting us up, where we treat everyone, everyone with dignity and respect from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. Everyone.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
M. OBAMA: See, and in this America that we're working to build, when we one of us stumbles, you know, when one of us falls on hard times, and we all could possibly do that, we don't tell them, tough luck. You're on your own. Not in this America.
Instead, we extend that helping hand while they get back on their feet. We believe that the truth matters in this America. And you don't take shortcuts. You don't game the system. You don't play by your own set of rules, instead, that we reward success that's earned fair and square.
And, finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight. What does that mean? Well, we know good and well that cutting Sesame Street is no way to balance our budget. We know that.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
M. OBAMA: We know that shortchanging our kids is not how to tackle our deficit.
If we truly want to build opportunities for all Americans, yes, we need to cut wasteful spending, but we also need to make smart investments in our future, in education, in infrastructure, things that are necessary for an economy built to last.
And that's what my husband stands for. That's the country he's been working to build for the last three-and-a-half years. Those are his values.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BLITZER: The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, speaking at a rally in Cleveland. We're going to continue to monitor what she's saying, Kate. But, obviously, she is a huge, huge asset for the president.
And still ahead, the women's vote, the group of people Michelle Obama was making the pitch to right there. Could it be behind Mitt Romney's rise in the polls? We will have that ahead.
BLITZER: We heard the first lady of the United States appealing to women right before the break.
BOLDUAN: Let's get more on this with CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, the "USA Today"/Gallup poll came out this afternoon. It's of swing states, 12 swing states and it shows Mitt Romney with a five-point lead. I mean, that's definitely welcome news for the Romney campaign.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure is.
BOLDUAN: But you have been looking closer at the polls. What is driving the Romney boost?
BORGER: Well, it's women and the Democrats I should say challenge this poll and say that it's not accurate...
BORGER: ... and the they didn't like the way it was done, but let's take a look. If you look at swing state voters among women, tie, 48-48. Let me remind you in 2008, President Obama won women by 13 points. And that was really important for him.
If Romney -- you don't have to tie among women. You just have to do a few points better than he was doing, because he does well with men. He wins men by about 12 points. So if he can sort of get close to the president among women and still keep his margin with men in battleground states, then he could be headed for a win, particularly, you know, close states like Ohio that he needs.
If women start thinking that their vote is an economic vote, that has resonance for them, that's what Ann Romney's on the campaign trail talking about, then going to be key to Mitt Romney.
BLITZER: She's a great asset for Mitt Romney as well.
BORGER: She is. BLITZER: Look at this poll. Enthusiasm. Are you enthusiastic about supporting your candidate? Before the conventions, Obama was at 52. It's gone up to 60 percent now. Romney was way down at 48 percent. It's gone up to 62 percent.
You're studying the numbers. The enthusiasm level, what does that say to you?
BORGER: Enthusiasm is so important. Don't forget, during the primaries, we all covered this. Mitt Romney was everybody's second choice in the Republican Party. So it took him a long time to rally his base.
I think we felt it at the Republican Convention. There wasn't that kind of enthusiasm for Romney at the Republican Convention that there was for President Obama at the Democratic Convention. Nothing succeeds like success. People believe that Romney is doing better and so more Republicans are thinking, you know what? I'm going to go out there because maybe I can push him across the finish line.
Now we have got early voting in Iowa and in Ohio, for example. So if you're enthusiastic about your candidate and you can cast an early ballot, that's going to help. Right? So, very important for Romney.
BLITZER: Because voter turnout is critical.
BORGER: Oh, absolutely.
BOLDUAN: Something the Obama campaign is...
BORGER: Very good at. Very good at.
BOLDUAN: But will they turn out like they did in '08? That's the question.
BORGER: That's the question.
BLITZER: Thank you, guys.
The White House under fire from Republicans over that deadly consulate attack in Libya. So, is the West Wing now throwing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the bus? We're taking a closer look at the political fallout from that deadly attack.
BLITZER: A major Republican talking point in this presidential campaign, and it is...
BOLDUAN: That consulate in Benghazi, that consulate attack last month that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Romney campaign officials and GOP lawmakers are hammering the Obama administration over it, with some even suggesting a cover-up.
Here's a sample of what they were saying on the Sunday morning talk shows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED GILLESPIE, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: There are inconsistencies here, and what we're saying is that, you know, as Americans we deserve to know what really happened going into this attack.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Eleven years after September 11, Americans were attacked on September 11 by terrorists who preplanned to kill Americans. That happened, and we can't be in denial.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: They're trying to spin what happened in Libya because the truth of the matter is al Qaeda is alive and well and counterattacking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Strong words. Let's talk about it with a former NATO supreme allied commander and Obama campaign surrogate, General Wesley Clark, retired, of course. And Rich Williamson, a veteran diplomat, former policy adviser to the Romney campaign.
General Clark, I'll start with you. Has the White House been completely forthcoming in its information on Libya? You hear what those Republicans were saying.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, first of all, I'm not in the White House, but I do believe they've been forthcoming. From everything I've heard around and from everything I picked up. Yes, they've been forthcoming. There's no spin.
Wolf, first events, first impressions of an event are almost always wrong. This was the case when Mr. Romney made his statement about the demonstrations and about the embassy comment (ph) in Cairo. And in this case what we're trying to do is get to the bottom of it. And let's let the process work, and let's get to the bottom of the facts on this thing before we start the name calling and the partisan attacks.
BOLDUAN: Ambassador Williamson, what do you say on the flip side that many Democrats are kind of counterattacking here saying that the Romney campaign has been using the death of the ambassador and the three other Americans for political gain? How do you respond to that?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON, FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: We have an American ambassador killed, Chris Stevens, a former colleague of mine. Someone I respected and liked. We have three other Americans killed. This is the first American ambassador killed since the Carter administration.
This is not a Republican issue. It's not a Democrat issue. It's an American issue. This is a big deal. And the fact that the Obama White House kept diverting attention, saying it was on the video, when we now know that, in real-time, members of the Obama administration and the State Department saw it was a planned attack, that days later Susan Rice was sent out to again use this canard of the video, that the president himself almost two weeks later when he went to the U.N., wasn't open. The American people expect and deserve transparency, and they haven't got it on this issue. It's disappointing.
BLITZER: You want to respond to that, General Clark?
CLARK: I certainly do. Look, I know Susan Rice. I worked with her for years. She would never get out and say something that wasn't true like that. I think it's an outrageous statement.
And if you want to look at what's going on here, consider the original 9/11 attacks. When we were attacked as a nation by al Qaeda, 11 years ago, the country pulled together.
Here, what's happened is this is an al Qaeda attack, by all the evidence. It's taken a while to find out all of the details of it. And, instead of the country pulling together, with the Republican Party doing its job as the opposition party, working to shape a unified national response, it's been thrown right into the political partisan bull pit. And all we've got is a bunch of partisan attacks that have even gone so far as to expose a CIA safe house or a CIA annex in the area in those hearings that were public. So it's not constructive. It's very destructive.
I think the country should pull together. It takes a while to get into the bottom of this. The people that had the information at the beginning were not high officials in the administration. They weren't at the top policy level. So they weren't capable of saying, really, what happened. By the time you dig down into it, the story always changes.
BLITZER: All right.
CLARK: Rich knows this.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Rich.
WILLIAMSON: Well, you know, I find it always interesting in the political season. Four years ago at this time, it wasn't unduly partisan to attack the Republicans on a whole range of foreign policy issues that were going on at the time. I think this is a legitimate discussion.
The fact is that the president's claiming that al Qaeda has been degraded because of the targeted drone killings and wasn't a concern has been proven to be false.
Al Qaeda's alive and well in Somalia, across northern Africa. They apparently killed an American employee in Yemen last week. they're in Syria. So, this is a discussion we need about what strategy we need for al Qaeda, and the targeted drone killings is not enough. You need a broad strategy.
Second, the administration has two choices. They can either claim incompetence. When you had the ambassador in Libya request for security, the security professionals in Libya request more security, the administration, the Obama administration turning its down, then this extraordinary event and tragic event of an American ambassador killed. It's something the president should get on top of. It's something that they do need to know about and provide explanations to the American people.
Instead, they put together a commission that won't report it findings until after the election. That's not acceptable.
BLITZER: All right. General Clark, I'm going to let you respond, but listen to these clips. Because these are administration officials, including the vice president, suggesting they didn't know what -- about these requests for heightened security. The State Department knew. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We weren't told they wanted more security again. We did not know they wanted more security again.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These are issues, appropriately, that are handled by security professionals at the State Department, and that's -- that's what he was talking about.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR ADVISOR, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: There's no doubt that some of these matters went in to the security department at the state security agency at the State Department, but it didn't come to the White House.
ROBERT GIBBS, SENIOR ADVISOR, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: Security requests at our embassies and our consulates and our buildings throughout the world obviously go to the State Department. That's -- those are the people that should be making those decisions. That's the place where requests go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, General Clark, it sounds to a lot of folks like the White House, like these people, these individuals are throwing the State Department, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, under the bus.
CLARK: I don't think that's the case at all, Wolf. I think what you've got here is, No. 1, I agree with Ambassador Williamson. We should be talking about the policy of how we go after al Qaeda.
I happen to think al Qaeda has been greatly degraded, but we've always said that it was transforming itself into these regional franchises and how we deal with is a legitimate policy debate. I haven't heard anything from the Romney campaign suggesting how to do this; I've just heard this discussion. Going after the specific incident in Benghazi before there's an investigation done, that's politicizing a national tragedy. That's not appreciated. That wasn't done by the Democrats after 9/11, and it wasn't done in the 2008 election.
So, let's keep it on the policy level. That's appropriate for the political season. Let's let the professionals work through the specific security issues here. And if more resources are needed, I hope that Congressman Ryan's committee will agree to put those resources back in the budget. It tried to take $300 million away from security.
BOLDUAN: All right, gentlemen. I'm going to ask you to stand by for just a quick moment. Much more coming up after the break.
BLITZER: All right. We're back with our guests: the former NATO supreme allied commander and an Obama campaign surrogate, retired general Wesley Clark, and Rich Williamson, a veteran diplomat, retired, as well, foreign policy advisor to the Romney campaign.
Rich Williamson, let me let you respond to what we just heard General Clark say. He pointed it out, and it's a fact, that Paul Ryan and a lot of other Republicans voted to cut State Department security by $300 million. What do you say about that?
WILLIAMSON: Well, first, that question came up specifically in the congressional hearing last week. And the head of security at State Department testified that that was totally irrelevant to what happened in Libya.
But let me go to what General Clark said otherwise. Governor Romney has a policy, and I'm sorry. I know that General Clark is busy. But two weeks ago there was a lengthy piece he wrote in the "Wall Street Journal" on Mideast policy. Last Monday he gave a major address at VMI on the Middle East, and he talked about the need for a strategy, not just targeted killings but accept that we have extremist elements struggling with moderate elements. We should be using our strength. And it's not just economic strength and military strength but our values and working with allies. And it has to be concerted, and that's not been the case.
Secondly, as someone that served overseas who's been a chief of a mission, who served in some situations that have been of some danger, such as in Darfur and Sudan, I find it incredibly upsetting that the administration, that the White House, that the political operatives seem to want to throw the intelligence community under the bus, throw the State Department security professionals under the bus. I think it's time to man up. Accept some responsibility.
BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, General.
WILLIAMSON: What did the president know and when did he know it?
BLITZER: General Clark, go ahead. CLARK: OK. First of all, I don't think the White House is throwing the -- anybody under the bus. I think what they're trying to do is explain exactly the level of the decision and how that decision was not a matter of White House policy, but it was a matter of some decision at a different level.
So, we're talking about a presidential election here. And so if you want to talk about presidential level decisions, you've got to look at other decisions. This wasn't a presidential level decision.
Now, Wolf, if I could just go back to the strategy for a second, I did read Governor Romney's op-ed in "The Washington Post" -- or in "The Wall Street Journal," and I did hear his speech on foreign policy, and I heard a lot of criticisms and a lot of description but I didn't hear a strategy.
The fact is that this administration does have a pretty good strategy. We're helping a number of countries out there. We've got advisers in. We're giving economic assistance, communications assistance, military assistance. We've got troops on the ground in various countries that can't be named right here. They're doing various things to go after the insurgents as they appear in various places. Does that mean we'll always be one step ahead? No, in some cases we aren't. But it is a comprehensive strategy.
And if it's going to be a subject for political discussion, then I think it's incumbent upon Governor Romney and his team to put forward a countervailing strategy, not just tick off a list of resources. Because those resources are all being employed right now.
BOLDUAN: General, just very quickly because we're running out of time, as always.
President Obama has promised justice for the killings of Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans at that consulate in Benghazi. Do you anticipate any sort of military retaliation from this administration?
CLARK: Well, I don't think you can militarily retaliate against the government of Libya, because they didn't do it. But I do think you have to identify the people, and that process is under way right now. And those people will be brought to justice. It may happen in a week. It might happen in a month. It may happen in six months, but they will be brought to justice.
BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys. Rich Williamson, thanks for coming in. Wes Clark, thanks to you for coming in, as well. A lot more to debate in the coming days.
At the top of the hour, Erin Burnett will be speaking with a U.S. senator who's just back from Libya. Erin, who's on -- who's on tap?
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We'll be talking to Senator Bob Corker. Obviously, just got back from Libya, Wolf. He had a chance to meet with senior officials in the Libyan government; also in the armed forces there. Has a very strong view on, really, who's in control or not in control of Libya, and also had a meeting with U.S. intelligence on the ground. And he has some very strong words for what this administration knew and when they knew it. That coming up top of the hour.
Plus, as you know, Wolf, Hollywood overwhelmingly, I mean overwhelmingly gives money to Democrats and not to Republicans. Well, Rob Reiner, known for movies like "When Harry Met Sally," is one of the most ardent defenders of the president. He's in a new ad, in fact, for the president. We're going to talk about that, and we're going to talk about why there have been a few key defections in Hollywood this year going to Mitt Romney. Anything to worry about?
That's coming up at the top of the hour. See you soon.
BLITZER: See you soon. Sounds great. Thanks very much, Erin.
BURNETT: All right.
BOLDUAN: Still ahead, a massive cyber-attack on American banks and why U.S. experts now see Iran as the prime suspect.
BLITZER: A disturbing cyber-attack on U.S. banks and other financial institutions.
BOLDUAN: American officials now say they believe they know who was behind it. CNN intelligence correspondent Suzanne Kelly has been working this story. Fascinating story. What are you finding out?
SUZANNE KELLY, CNN INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: It is. You remember that recent attack that targeted the banks. It took them offline for a while, meaning that some customers couldn't access some of their accounts. A blip on the radar, really, when it comes to what some of these cyber-attacks are capable of, but an interesting lesson in just where future threats might be coming from.
KELLY (voice-over): The cyber-attack against U.S. banks is an escalation of what officials say is a war in a battle space you can't even see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like the Loch Ness monster. We've all heard about it, and now we're seeing it on the surface.
KELLY: The attacks that took banking Web sites offline, essentially denying some customers the ability to perform some transactions, wasn't that big of a deal, say experts. It's who U.S. officials believe was behind it that has them taking notice.
LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The scale and speed with which it happened was unprecedented.
KELLY: U.S. officials tell CNN Iran was behind the banking attack, and while still lagging behind China and Russia in its cyber capabilities, a U.S. intelligence source says, "We're concerned about their increasing ability to operate in this realm." In part, say experts, because Iran isn't seen as a stable player.
JIM LEWIS, COUNCIL FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I had a talk with some Chinese officials once. And they said to me, "One of the things you don't have to worry about is we will never disrupt Wall Street."
And I said, "Well, why is that?"
And they said, "Because we own it."
KELLY: But in an attack targeting oil and gas companies in the Middle East just a few months ago wiped clean the data on some 30,000 computers. U.S. sources are pointing the finger at Iran on that attack, too.
An Iranian official denied that Tehran has anything to do with those attacks and reminded reporters that Iran has also been a victim in the past.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Most software that were used against us is Stuxnet.
KELLY: Stuxnet is the computer virus that rendered thousands of Iranian nuclear enrichment centrifuges useless. It's widely believed that the U.S. and Israel were behind it.
The U.S. is now taking another look at its own arsenal in cyber space and redefining when a military response might be justified because of a cyber-attack.
PANETTA: If a crippling cyber-attack were launched against our nation, the American people must be protected. And if the commander in chief orders a response, the Defense Department must be ready to obey that order and to act.
KELLY: Well, when it comes to the latest attack on that banking industry, sources tell CNN that it just didn't rise to the level of something that would prompt any retaliatory response. But when it comes to attacks against critical infrastructure, that might be a very different story. And officials tell us that hackers are out there, and they are trying.
BLITZER: We know the president's considering signing an executive order on cyber security. Is there any movement on that?
KELLY: A little bit. We know that the White House is reaching out to both business and Congress looking for input into what an order like that might actually include, but there are some in both the House and the Senate who feel like there's still a chance to pass legislation on this issue, however slight, but they're running out of time.
BLITZER: Huge, huge story. Thanks very much.
BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for that.
A jaw-dropping jump from the edge of space, inspiring some unique spin offs and quite a lot of buzz. Jeanne Moos.
BOLDUAN: An ocular mystery seems to have been solved. Florida officials now say they believe this giant eyeball came from a sword fish. As Wolf Blitzer was saying, wow.
The softball-sized eye was discovered last week on a beach, and there was quite a bit of speculation it may have come from a giant squid, but experts now say the size, the blue color and structure point to a swordfish, probably caught by an angler. Now, we can all rest easy.
BLITZER: I was worried about that ocular mystery. Mystery solved. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Mystery solved.
BLITZER: The spectacular jump over the weekend captured everyone's attention, including CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That last step, 24 miles above the earth was best summed up on the Web by two words. The first one was "holy." Felix Baumgartner tumbled violently. The earth spun. Spawning spinoffs.
JULIE CHEN, CO-HOST, CBS'S "THE TALK": Where's Sheryl?
MOOS: One of the co-hosts of "The Talk" parachuted into the show, enjoying a snack on her way down before arriving on the set.
There was a miniature recreation made out of Legos. While the real guy landed on his feet, the Legos astronaut landed like a sack of potatoes.
His name was everywhere.
KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST, ABC'S "LIVE WITH KELLY & MICHAEL": Felix Baumgartner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baumgartner will jump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And now, to Felix Baumgartner.
MOOS (on camera): So Felix Baumgartner goes down in the history books with a name only a mother could love.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to say, Felix Baumgartner. I'm German and it's hard to say. He must change his name to, like, Tom Spaceman.
MOOS (voice-over): At least one advertiser glommed on. Kit Kats sent a Candy bar into the stratosphere.
There was the usual silly stuff on the Internet. Leaping. A foot off a stepladder and changing the "Glory Hallelujah" to...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Well done, Felix Baumgartner.
MOOS: Felix has competition in the spectacular leap category from a Norwegian base jumper, who planned to use a high bar to swing off a 4,000 foot cliff wearing a parachute, only the high bar broke. But like Felix, Richard Henriksen survived. He managed to open his chute and land safely.
At least Felix seems ready to hang up his chute.
FELIX BAUMGARTNER, JUMPED FROM 24 MILES UP: And I think I'm done.
MOOS: It was irony seeing a man without a spaceship break the sound barrier at almost 834 miles per hour while the space shuttle ran a red light being towed at 2 miles an hour heading for an L.A. museum.
(on camera) Forget Tebowing. Baumgartnering is out of this world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Baumgartnering. Ready? Ouch.
MOOS: Felix the daredevil has as many lives as a cat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Felix Baumgartner in an astronaut suit dropped 24 miles with a parachute.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: People have a lot of free time. They followed up.
BOLDUAN: I just wish viewers could see what you do on the break, because that's the exact rap that Wolf was doing during the commercial break.
BLITZER: Felix Baumgartner?
BOLDUAN: Yes, the Felix Baumgartner rap.
BLITZER: Right. OK.
BOLDUAN: Baumgartner rap.
Before we leave, don't forget: CNN's Candy Crowley will moderate tomorrow night's debate. You do not want to miss it. And our special coverage begins at 7 p.m. Eastern, 4 Pacific right here on CNN.
BLITZER: Exactly 24 hours from now our special coverage will begin.
BOLDUAN: I can feel your excitement. I can tell. I am, too.
BLITZER: Very special event, town hall format.
Remember, you can always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. Follow me, @WolfBlitzer on Twitter, and @KateBolduan, as well.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.