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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hillary Clinton's Biggest Regret?; Olympic Torch's Journey
Aired January 27, 2014 - 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: her biggest regret, Hillary Clinton speaking candidly about her time as secretary of state and the crisis that haunted the final days of her tenure. But what about her political future?
Missile threat -- chilling new video believed to show militants shooting down a military helicopter. Where did they get the weapon? And what might it mean for U.S. troops in the region?
Extraordinary journey. The Olympic torch makes it through some of Russia's most dangerous regions amid extreme precautions. Do these images tell the story?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Her biggest regret, her disagreements with President Obama and the burning political question, will she run for the White House again, Hillary Clinton talked about all of that and more today in New Orleans where she gave a closely watched speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association. And some of her remarks were surprisingly candid.
CNN's Athena Jones is there in New Orleans for us.
Athena, tell our viewers what she said.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, she was talking to auto industry folks, so she talked a lot about cars, including the first two she owned, an Oldsmobile Cutlass and a Fiat. But it was during the 30-minute Q&A section after her speech where things got really interesting.
It's a question that follows Hillary Clinton everywhere. Will she or won't she run for president in 2016? Following a speech today at the National Automobile Dealers Association in New Orleans, she laughed off the question.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I have to say I don't know. It's not a very satisfactory answer, I know. I'm not thinking about it. I try to get other people not to think about it.
JONES: She may need to try harder. Just this weekend, the group Ready for Hillary was in Iowa busy trying to lay the groundwork for an eventual win in the state's first-in-the-nation caucus. If she does run, one issue that could haunt her is the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in a September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. She has rarely addressed the issue publicly.
CLINTON: My biggest regret is what happened in Benghazi. It was a terrible tragedy, losing four Americans, two diplomats, and now it's public, so I can say two CIA operatives.
JONES: And while she praised President Obama for his decision to order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, his former Cabinet member and former rival said they didn't always see eye to eye.
CLINTON: I had disagreements with President Bush, but, yes, I also had some disagreements with President Obama.
JONES: While she may be heading on the road back to the White House, she admits she hasn't been in the driver's seat in almost two decades.
CLINTON: Last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996.
JONES: In one of the lighter moments of the day, Clinton tackled one of the toughest personal questions she faces: When will she become a grandma?
CLINTON: I totally respect my wonderful daughter and our absolutely terrific son-in-law, but it is a reason why we keep adding dogs. We call them our grand-dogs.
JONES: And today's speech wasn't just a chance for Clinton to send a message to her daughter about those grandchildren she wants. It was also an opportunity to collect a chunk of cash. Clinton is estimated to command as much as $200,000 per speech -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Athena Jones in New Orleans for us, thanks very much.
Let's get a little bit more now with our political commentators, the Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, the Republican strategist Ana Navarro.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
What does it say to you, Maria, that the former secretary of state says her biggest regret is what happened on her watch in Benghazi?
MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it says a couple things, Wolf.
The first one is she knows if she runs this is going to be an obsessive point for the Republicans and I think she wants to get it all out there. This actually isn't the first time she talked about this. She talked about this a year ago at the museum at the global town hall. She was asked pretty much the same question and she said exactly the same thing.
I think it also shows a very personal, a very sincere side of her, which I think is an important thing to do as well as she's possibly preparing for a run.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it was the right answer, frankly. She cannot be asked what is your biggest regret -- if she had not said Benghazi, that would have been the story. Let's remember that this happened on her watch, that if she puts herself for election, part of what she's putting out is her record and the fact that she was the CEO of the State Department.
This happened under her responsibility, her jurisdiction. I don't think, as Hillary Clinton, the last words that you want said on that is, what difference does it make?
BLITZER: That's certainly going to be an issue, if in fact she runs.
Did you read a lot -- a lot of people are looking when she said she had disagreements not only with President Bush, but with President Obama as well. A lot of people are reading all sorts of things into that. She wants to distance herself a little bit from a president whose job approval numbers right now not very good. What did you, if anything, read into that?
CARDONA: I read into that she's clearly her own person, that if she runs, she's going to be her own candidate.
She ran against him, for God's sakes, so, of course, she's going to disagree with him at times. But I think it also underscores that she's the consummate team player, because, regardless of all the disagreements she had during the campaign, she came together with him to help run the country and she did a fabulous job at it.
BLITZER: By all accounts, they did have a very collegial, very excellent relationship.
CARDONA: Exactly. That's exactly right.
NAVARRO: Yes, but right now his numbers are underwater and Hillary Clinton is a smart woman.
What I thought was very interesting from this afternoon is that these remarks are usually off the record. They're usually not open for press. And it was her staff, according to reports, that pushed for the press to be allowed. So she is letting her voice be heard on some of these issues and most definitely -- remember, Hillary Clinton has been in the Washington now since 1992.
Part of the problem is people don't want Washington establishment. So she's got to figure out a way to differentiate herself from Washington today.
BLITZER: Yes, let's talk a little bit about what Senator Rand Paul said yesterday on "Meet the Press," because he was talking about the possibility of Hillary Clinton running and what his wife, Senator Paul's wife said in an interview in "Vogue" magazine, and then they were talking about this so-called war on women that Democrats accused the Republicans of engaging in. And this is what Rand Paul said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Bosses shouldn't prey on young interns in their office, and I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All of a sudden, the Monica Lewinsky affair is up there raised by Rand Paul. What did you make of that?
NAVARRO: Two things. First of all, you know, what happened with Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, frankly, I don't think can be blamed on Hillary Clinton.
I think it's not her responsibility. You can't blame us when men can't control their libido. That being said, I think what it tells me and it should tell all of us is nothing is off-limits when you are running for president. And everything in her record, everything, Whitewater, the Monica Lewinsky affair, absolutely everything is going to be back and back up front.
CARDONA: I think that's true, but I think it also tells me, Wolf, this is an issue that, frankly, the country and the world has gotten over. Bill Clinton is incredibly popular.
Hillary Clinton right now, before she jumps into the president campaign, if she does that, is incredibly popular. To me, it says that Rand Paul, if this is the only thing that he's going to be able to talk about, plus Benghazi, then he's in a much weaker position than I think any of us thought, if those are the only issues that he...
BLITZER: But in fairness to Senator Paul, he didn't raise it. It was raised by the moderator, David Gregory. He was asking about an interview his wife gave to "Vogue" magazine. But he backed up again. This is Senator Paul.
CARDONA: And then he was talking about the war on women.
And so that tells me is that they actually don't have a very good response or he at least doesn't have a very good response in terms of what Republicans should do on the issues that are facing women. When you have one out of three women in or on the brink of poverty, when you have women still making 77 cents to every dollar a man makes, and the only thing they're doing is not wanting to support equal pay for equal work and not wanting to talk about the real economic issues that face women, I think it's a problem. NAVARRO: I will tell you what it tells me. It tells me that Senator Rand Paul has got some common sense. Wolf, you're a married man. Backing up your wife is a smart thing to do, because that's who you go back to every night.
NAVARRO: I think it's a big issue.
BLITZER: But I think you're right. Everything -- if you're running for president of the United States...
NAVARRO: Everything is on the table.
BLITZER: Everything is on the table. Expect all of that to come out.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
CARDONA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Still ahead: a military helicopter apparently shot down by militants using a surface-to-air missile. We will show you the threat to hundreds of U.S. troops right now who are stationed nearby.
Plus, why these images don't tell the real story. Details of the extreme measures Russia now taking to protect the Olympic torch relay.
BLITZER: There's truly some chilling new video of a deadly attack believed carried out by militants with ties to al Qaeda and the disturbing images could have major implications for hundreds of American troops.
Brian Todd is here. He's got the video, the story behind the video.
What's going on?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the story behind this is the militant group which claimed responsibility for this attack likely picked up the shoulder-fired missile it used from Moammar Gadhafi's old stockpiles in Libya.
Now those weapons are all over the Sinai possibly in the hands of terrorists. And there's concern that U.S. military personnel could suffer the same fate as Egyptian soldiers on board a helicopter shot down over the weekend.
TODD (voice-over): The militant locks on his target and confidently fires. The missile streaks toward its target, reportedly an Egyptian military helicopter in the Sinai region over the weekend.
Within seconds, just beyond that contrail, there's a puff of smoke. Soon, you see the aircraft on fire plummeting to the ground. The Egyptian military says five soldiers were killed. The group which posted this video, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility. A U.S. official says the group has ties to al Qaeda and -- quote -- "is emerging as one of the most dangerous terrorist outfits in Egypt."
CAITLIN LEE, AVIATION WEAPONS EXPERT: This person knew what he was doing.
TODD: Aviation weapons expert Caitlin Lee says the missile used is an SA-7, a heat-seeking shoulder-fired missile that's a hot seller on the black market in the Middle East.
Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, who took these pictures, says he believes that SA-7 and others like it came from Libya. He was there during the Libyan civil war and says he saw militants looting them right before his eyes. Bouckaert says it's a nightmare scenario.
PETER BOUCKAERT, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: We really are talking about the largest dissemination of weapons, looting of weapons that we have ever seen. Gadhafi went on a shopping spree for decades acquiring these weapons and they all disappeared.
TODD: A major security concern. More than 600 U.S. military personnel are stationed in the Sinai. They travel in helicopters. Could they be targeted next?
Caitlin Lee says these shoulder-missiles are portable, easy to hide. Militants using them hit a cargo plane taking off from Iraq in 2003 and tried but failed to hit an Israeli passenger plane in Kenya in 2002. As for those who could target U.S., Egyptian and Israeli forces from the Sinai, how skilled was this operator?
LEE: The battery only stays on for about 45 seconds. So the operator needs to be able to visually acquire the target, lock on with his infrared seeker and fire that missile in under a minute, which does require some practice and skill.
TODD: Lee says American military helicopters are outfitted with countermeasures that could fend off those shoulder-fired missiles, but she says commercial aircraft are not. With those missiles having a range of 10,000 to 16,000 feet, Lee says, commercial aircraft taking off and landing are vulnerable. Wolf, that's a nightmare on this side of the world and in the Middle East.
BLITZER: Those American soldiers, 600, or 700, they have been there for about 30 years in the Sinai, so potentially they're pretty vulnerable, but they're staying put at least for now.
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
The Olympic torch is making its way to Sochi for the Winter Games now less than two weeks away, but the journey is unlike anything in Olympic history, with Russian authorities taking extreme measures in the name of security.
Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is joins us live right now. He's in Dagestan.
Nick, you were there as the torch passed through that troubled republic. What did you see?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it passed without incident, Wolf, but not be short of the remarkable security laid out here, almost a surreal sight, no crowds cheering it along.
It arrived very much under secrecy at the airport, whisked to a stadium where the festivity happened under maximum security.
WALSH (voice-over): In Dagestan, this is the ticker tape parade for the Winter Olympic flame. These are the streets lined with cheering fans, a surreal choke hold of police where there should have been festivity Monday, as this is the heart of Russia's Islamist insurgency that is threatening Sochi.
No flag-waving children and no sight of the torch at all on its maximum security journey from the airport to the stadium -- locals instead were herded on buses from the city by organizers who kept the whole party on lockdown at the site here, cheer for thousands, music loud enough to shake off the cold and the deaths of hundreds each year in police raids, militant attacks and suicide bombings.
And, yes, that is the (INAUDIBLE)
(on camera): By bringing torch here, despite all of the security challenges, this shows you what much of the Games is about for Vladimir Putin, showing their ability to hold them in the Caucasus, despite the threat that they know is here.
(voice-over): This spectacle may be a million miles away from the volatile grind of life and corruption here, but it's a message from the Kremlin that Russia is secure, even if parts of it actually aren't, and that they won't flinch in the face of terror.
Next it goes to Chechnya, where the fight against Moscow is waged hardest. Students bust in on-message.
"We're not worried because of the high level of security," he says.
And then, as quickly as the torch appeared, it vanished, headed west to Sochi, the Kremlin desperate that none of Southern Russia's militancy, poverty and injustice will follow the flame to the Winter Games.
(END VIDEOTAPE) WALSH: So, Wolf, today, yesterday in our time here, passed without incident, these huge security operation successfully stopping militants from tarnishing that parade at all.
It's a similar ring of steel being put around Sochi at the moment, and the extent of the security just gives you an idea really of how concerned the Russians are, how seriously they take the threat of insurgents here in Dagestan. The simple question is, will they be able to project the threat -- they say they can -- from Dagestan right across to the western side of Southern Russia, where the Sochi Winter Games will be, Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us. He will be covering the lead-up to Sochi and he will be there for the Games as well. Let's hope it stays quiet.
He's Osama bin Laden's successor, one of the world's most wanted terrorists. And in recent weeks, Ayman al-Zawahri has been increasing his profile. Just days ago, he apparently sent a message to militants inside Syria, urging all of them to unite against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Is Ayman al-Zawahri hiding right now inside Pakistan, as Osama bin Laden did for many years?
I asked the country's national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al Qaeda, in Pakistan right now?
SARTAJ AZIZ, PAKISTANI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't think so, Wolf. Nobody knows where he is.
BLITZER: If the U.S. found out that Ayman al-Zawahri, the al Qaeda leader, core al Qaeda, is someplace in Pakistan, would it be OK, from your perspective, for the U.S. to send in Navy SEALs and kill him?
WALSH: Well, we would say that if the intelligence is shared with us, we'd do the same job.
BLITZER: You would kill him?
WALSH: We would capture -- try to capture him.
BLITZER: Capture him alive and then do what with him?
WALSH: A trial or whatever, but the fact is that our commitment to dealing with terrorism in all the forms is very strong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Aziz also says he believes al Qaeda has been seriously weakened, but efforts to wipe out the group, he says, must continue. We're going to post the full interview with Mr. Aziz, CNN.com/SITUATIONROOM.
Just ahead: new developments in the scandal over the French president's other woman. The question now, who will he bring to the White House state dinner that's coming up in a few days?
BLITZER: New questions about who, if anyone, French President Francois Hollande will bring here to Washington for a state dinner next month, now that he's announced a split from his longtime partner and rumors swirling about an affair.
Here's CNN's Erin McLaughlin.
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After more than two weeks of wondering, are they on or are they off, now we know. President Francois Hollande has broken off his nearly seven-year relationship with Valerie Trierweiler, meaning her days as France's first lady are over.
Hollande's salacious love triangle made global headlines, his alleged infidelity to Trierweiler with a new paramour, actress Julie Gayet.
VIVIENNE WALT, "TIME": He believes, president or no president, that each person has the right to a private life.
MCLAUGHLIN: Trierweiler is now on the move, arriving in India on a private humanitarian trip after a wild week that included a trip to the hospital for exhaustion. She gave a press conference in Mumbai, saying she's doing well, for people not to worry.
And this weekend, she said goodbye to her staff at the Elysee Palace, tweeting, "All of my gratitude goes to the extraordinary people at Elysee. I will never forget the devotion or emotion the time is leaving."
Hours before announcing the breakup, Hollande gave an exclusive interview to "TIME" magazine reporter Vivienne Walt.
WALT: There we were on a Saturday morning. There was no one around, except for this one rather small, physically, president rattling around in his huge empty palace.
MCLAUGHLIN: As for Gayet, well, she's keeping quiet, but suing the tabloid "Closer" for invasion of privacy after it made public the details of her relationship with Hollande. Meanwhile, questions surrounding the alleged affair has clouded his trips to the Netherlands and the Vatican.
This week, he travels to Turkey and his first visit to the White House is just days away. WALT: If you're going to arrive in Washington, you kind of have to have your personal life sorted out or you will run the risk of getting eaten alive by the American media.
MCLAUGHLIN: Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. CROSSFIRE starts now.