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Israel Kills Hamas Military Leader; President Obama Holds Press Conference; State Department Scapegoated for Benghazi?; Warren Buffett Talks Fiscal Cliff

Aired November 14, 2012 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It's the top of the hour. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Brooke Baldwin.

President Barack Obama holding his first news conference since winning reelection. His first big formal face-off with reporters in more than eight months kept coming back to hiking taxes on the rich, helping the middle class, and keeping the country from going over the fiscal cliff.

But the president was also asked about immigration reform, the sex scandal that forced out CIA Director David Petraeus and how that is holding up the nomination of General John Allen to head the NATO forces, and the September 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

But the most heated perhaps moment came when the president was asked about senators who say they will block any nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state following her testimony on the Benghazi attack.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them.

But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.


WHITFIELD: The president faces some big head winds going into his second term. His approval rating is stuck in the 50 percent range and Republicans still control the House of Representatives.

We will sort through all of this with chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash on Capitol Hill in a moment.

But, first, an Israeli strike on Gaza today kills the military chief of Hamas and threatens to usher in a wider confrontation. At this hour, Hamas is vowing to strike back and the Israelis say Israeli ground troops are poised to enter Gaza if ordered. The Israeli strike killed Ahmed al-Jaabari and his driver.

In addition to his role as military chief, al-Jaabari was one of Hamas' founders. The Israeli strike followed a surge of rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza into southern Israel. Those attacks have wounded about a dozen Israeli civilians since Saturday.

CNN's Sara Sidner is joining us now from Jerusalem.

Sara, this appears to be on the brink of a crisis. Is it?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, I think we are on the brink of what could be a full scale operation by Israel and reaction from Hamas and the other militant groups inside of Gaza.

This all started back on Thursday with the death of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, which was blamed on Israel, though Israel so far has denied being responsible for that boy's shooting. Then after that, there were rockets sent from militants inside Gaza into an Israeli jeep, injuring four Israeli soldiers.

And then Israel responded and back and forth now we are seeing the response. We are seeing more than 126 rockets that have now come into Israel from Gaza. Some of those have landed, others of those have been shot out of the sky by the Iron Dome. But what we are seeing is an escalation between these two places, both Israel and Gaza, and this whole thing is beginning to escalate and it all is sort of coming to a head right now.

We did see there is a major emotional reaction to the death of Ahmed al-Jaabari, who is not only the head of the military of Hamas, but also the real symbolic leader, one of the founders of Hamas. And so we expect to see a real reaction from Hamas. They have already said that Israel has now opened the gates of hell on itself after this targeted attack.

Now, Israel has responded. We just spoke with the military spokesperson from Israel, who has said, look, we are readying ourselves. We have not determined whether or not we are going to start a ground war as well. We do know, though, that there have been targeted airstrikes, more than 30 of them, throughout this evening, and we also are hearing that there is fire coming from Israeli ships that are in the Mediterranean off of Gaza.

WHITFIELD: And, Sara, not to minimize the rocket attacks into Israel, but why have the Israelis reacted so strongly to this particular series of strikes?

SIDNER: Well, it is in their estimation that they haven't been acting strongly. It is their estimation that after getting 100-plus rockets coming into southern Israel and targeting specifically civilians, they're saying, look, we're returning fire, but we're doing it in a very targeted, specific way, looking for specific targets and, by the way, al-Jaabari was specifically targeted. We just got that information from the military spokesperson. He was specifically targeted because Israel believes he is a terrorist responsible for the kidnapping in particular of Gilad Shalit. Remember that whole case? He was also the chief negotiator in that case, getting 1,000 or plus Palestinian prisoners being brought back into Gaza as a -- so he could release Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier.

But obviously the civilians on both sides very concerned for their lives. There is a lot of concern here and a lot of people wondering how big this is going to get in the coming hours.

WHITFIELD: Sara Sidner, thanks so much, from Jerusalem.

Joining us right now from Washington, Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars.

Good to see you.

He's served as an adviser to six secretaries of state on the Arab- Israeli peace process.

So let's listen right now to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking just a short time ago on the attack that killed Hamas military leader al-Jaabari.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Today, we send a clear message to Hamas and the other terror organizations, and if needed, the IDF is ready to enhance the operation. We will do everything to protect our citizens.


WHITFIELD: So do everything to protect the citizens. Where do we believe this is going?

AARON DAVID MILLER, PUBLIC POLICY SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: Look, it is an old movie, sadly, tragically. But we're about to see it again.

I think Israelis want to avoid the kind of incursion in '08 and '09, Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in 1,100 Palestinians killed, undermining of Israel's credibility at least abroad. So they resorted to a tactic they used before, which is targeting specific leaders. They tried to kill Jaabari twice before, maybe three times before. They finally got him.

And it is an effort, I think, against the backdrop of all of this uncertainty,artillery shells in the Golan Heights, the Iranian issue, relations with Egyptians and the Jordanians, the Arab spring -- Arab winter, essentially to act, and to act in defense of what the Israelis believe is high trajectory weapons fire with rockets that are more lethal and more expansive in range. I think they want to avoid a massive ground incursion. I suspect they're prepared to go in, but unlike Operation Cast Lead, which dragged on for two weeks-plus, I don't think that's the objective here.

WHITFIELD: So you mentioned the Egyptians. In the past, Egyptians have mediated flare-ups between Israel and Hamas. Given the instability right now in Egypt, is the new Egyptian government poised at all to play a role here?

MILLER: I mean, in the old days under Mubarak you would have Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief who literally has passed from the scene try to broker something between Israelis and Hamas. He had good contacts with the Palestinians and the Israelis.

You got a different situation here. I mean, Hamas is as you know, an outgrowth of the Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood. I think Morsi will try to find -- to walk a fine line, particularly if they're increasing civilian casualties in Gaza between blasting the Israelis and making a cold peace even colder on one hand, but preserving his relationship and the economic support and assistance he needs from the international community.

He does not want to attach his future to a combustible, volatile Israeli-Palestinian confrontation in Gaza.

WHITFIELD: Aaron David Miller, thank you so much with the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Good to see you.

MILLER: A pleasure.

WHITFIELD: As we reported, President Barack Obama just lashed out at two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, at his news conference in Washington. Senators Graham and McCain said today that they would block the president's U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from being confirmed as U.S. secretary of state if she were to be nominated to that position, so let's listen in.


OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them.

But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.


WHITFIELD: Jessica Yellin, chief White House correspondent, was there.

And, Jessica, it was a fairly placid news conference given it was the first one since his reelection, the first one in about eight months altogether. However, this particular question really seemed to hit a nerve with the president.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He got very emotional on his answer.

Look, the White House feels that in general the attacks on Ambassador Rice are unfair, even dishonest in a sense because it has been their point all along that she was reading off of talking points developed by the intelligence community that were provided broadly also to Congress and that when the investigation is done it will show that the intelligence at the time was consistent with what she was saying and that the people who are making these accusations against her know it and so it is unfair of them to make these attacks.

That is their point of view and you saw that reflected in the president's frustration. And I think that his anger might stem from the, you know, sense that he -- maybe they believed this would go away after the election. I'm not sure.

But the bottom line on your larger point, Fredricka, I do think if you felt this was a placid news conference, it was probably because we haven't heard the president answer questions really since March and the general interest was basically getting information, broadly speaking, on what he will do in a second term, where he stands on many of these issues rather than being combative on specific points.

WHITFIELD: And what kind of information did we glean as it pertains to the fiscal cliff because that too was a topic that seemed to dominate this press conference?

YELLIN: Well, I asked about that and I asked specifically why Republicans should assume he would take a different posture this time than two years ago when ultimately he gave into their demands on the Bush tax cuts.

He said that essentially he has leverage this time, because the American people backed his position in the election. Listen to this.


OBAMA: If there was one thing that everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was, when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, I argued for a balanced, responsible approach, and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more.

I think every voter out there understood that, that was an important debate, and the majority of voters agreed with me.


YELLIN: Now, he did say that he is leaving room for negotiating the details.

And one area we heard was that when we pressed him on exactly how he would like to raise taxes on the wealthy, he wouldn't be specific. He did say raising rates seems to be the way to get there. Closing loopholes should be part of it. But he won't put a number on how high those rates should go. And he also said he's open to tweaking entitlements, spending cuts, but won't get into the specifics. He's learned from past negotiations that he has to hold his cards close and only negotiate in private, not in public. He's been burned by that before.

WHITFIELD: Yes, he still underscored that compromise is going to be key on that issue. Thanks so much, Jessica Yellin, at the White House.

All right, up next, how President Obama responded to questions over whether the scandal involving David Petraeus may have impacted national security.

Plus, we're now hearing that Petraeus will testify about the attack in Benghazi after all.


WHITFIELD: President Barack Obama told reporters today he has no evidence that national security has been compromised by the sex scandal that forced out CIA Director David Petraeus. The president praised Petraeus calling his career extraordinary.


OBAMA: I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service. We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done. And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side-note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.


WHITFIELD: Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, we learned today that former CIA Director Petraeus has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. When might that be and what do we expect he would be saying?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, it looks like it really could come as soon as Friday. The Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, the senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, saying that Petraeus has agreed to testify.

The committee wanted to get him up there. It will be limited to Benghazi testimony. I think it will be behind closed doors. And don't expect to see any indication of Petraeus talking about his personal life.

What is he going to say about Benghazi? Well, all I can tell you is I spoke to a longstanding professional colleague of David Petraeus' and Petraeus is going to say, we are told, you know, be very straightforward, that he believed right from the beginning this involved insurgent/terrorist type activity, Ansar al-Islam is a group that came under suspicion right away in Libya, but that they had some indications that possibly it could have been tied also to those ongoing riots back in Cairo, Egypt, over a film.

He's going to talk about all of it, what they knew, when they knew it. The key question that senators believe they want to get to is did Petraeus have an indication right off the bat it was a straight-up terrorist attack and either not tell the White House or not tell them on Capitol Hill?

WHITFIELD: And, Barbara, we also heard the president in his press conference say that he has no evidence from what he's been able to see that classified information was disclosed. However, during that question and answer period that may happen now on Friday, is there concern from the Pentagon there might be some potential security breaches that would be revealed?

STARR: Well, you mean from his affair with Paula Broadwell?


STARR: Well, look, right, David Petraeus has told a number of his personal friends who have been authorized to speak to reporters including myself that he never disclosed classified information to Paula Broadwell.

But we saw that video a couple of nights ago of FBI agents carting away boxes of material and computers from her home, all indications being that they were looking at her computer, looking in her house, for potential classified material.

If they found it, Paula Broadwell will have to demonstrate to the FBI and the military unequivocally that she had the clearances for that material, and that she had reason for any reason of her work with the military or with the intelligence community to have that material and that she was following the rules to protect classified information.

The bottom line, Fredricka, even if you have a security clearance, you can't just take classified information home. You have to guard it. You have to protect it and most importantly you have to have an actual reason to have it in your possession.

WHITFIELD: All right. And, Barbara, of course, during the press conference you heard the very emotional response the president had about U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

Moments ago on the Senate floor, we understand representative -- Republican Senator John McCain had this to say about that.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Going on eight weeks of contradictory reports, contradictory statements, beginning with the president of the United States.

The president of the United States on the day of the -- after, on September 12, went to the Rose Garden and stated that he opposed terrorist attacks. And then that evening as we found out after the election, with an interview with the -- with "60 Minutes," the president stated -- and I will provide the quotes for the record -- the quote, "We don't know who was responsible for these attacks."

So he went from condemning "terrorist attacks" to saying to Mr. Kroft of "60 Minutes" that he didn't know who was responsible and then in the days following, at various venues, whether they be late-night talk shows or the United Nations, the president went on to allege that this was a hideous video that striggered -- that triggered a spontaneous demonstration.

Not true. Not true. The president of the United States did not tell the American people the truth about the attacks that took four brave Americans' lives that went on for eight -- seven hours, for which we were totally unprepared.

Mr. President, four brave Americans died. It has now been eight weeks. The American people have received nothing but contradictory statements from all levels of our government.

One of the more salient events was five days after, when clearly it had been identified as an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist attack. The United Nations ambassador at the direction of the White House went on all Sunday talk shows to allege that this was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video, as did our secretary of state, as did most regrettably the president of the United States.

The American people deserve the facts. The American people need to know why was the security at the consulate so inadequate, despite two previous...


WHITFIELD: Republican Senator John McCain there talking about Susan Rice, U.N. ambassador, and how she is not deserving of being nominated as the U.S. secretary of state and is also setting the tone for the upcoming Benghazi hearings there.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, you had an opportunity to speak with Senator McCain earlier and now this after taking to the floor, following the president's remarks at the White House. Clearly, this -- the tone is being set, it is very tenuous.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is very, very tense. There's no question about it.

And I will just tell you that right after Senator McCain finished saying what we just played, he went on to make a very direct allusion to Watergate. He said, what did the president know and when did he know it? He has used the term cover-up to me and other reporters time and time again.

This is very, very intense between Senator McCain and his Republican colleague Senator Graham and the president of the United States. And if you saw the back and forth on our air going on publicly between the two, you would think it was 2008, not 2012, when John McCain was running against him. But they are determined, Senators McCain and Graham, not to let this go.

Whether it means if President Obama puts up Susan Rice, who is currently the U.N. ambassador for secretary of state, whether it is using that as an example to try to fight that nomination, and block it, or whether it is to continue their push, which they formally announced today, which actually is the initial reason John McCain went to the Senate floor right now, to push for a new select committee to bring all of these questions together, because they say there are so many questions, there are so many different committees that have jurisdiction that are looking into it and so many things that they say are unanswered.

But the fact he specifically said it is the president is very interesting. They're making it personal.

WHITFIELD: I wonder, Dana, we're talking about Lindsey Graham and John McCain. But do they represent a chorus of that very sentiment on Capitol Hill?

BASH: That's a really good question. I will tell you, one of the subplots going on here, it goes back several months to the presidential campaign, actually, not even several months, last month, when there was a drumbeat among many conservatives led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others for Mitt Romney, then the Republican presidential candidate, to be much more aggressive against the president when it comes to this issue, to ask him questions, to really hit him on what happened, but also as a question of leadership.

And there is -- there are hard feelings towards Mitt Romney and his campaign among Republicans, I have talked to a senior Republican about this just today, that they didn't do a good enough job in making this an issue because they feel it is a legitimate issue. I think there is residual campaign fever going on with this.

But in all fairness, they feel that they have an oversight responsibility to make sure the American people get questions -- answers to questions about four Americans that were killed, that if you look at the facts clearly maybe didn't have to if they had the proper security.

WHITFIELD: Dana Bash, thanks so much, on Capitol Hill.

Coming up next, a CNN exclusive: Investing giant Warren Buffett speaks with our Poppy Harlow in the first interview since the presidential election -- what he says about President Obama's second term and the mistakes the president can't afford to repeat -- Buffett's candid interview next.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Poppy Harlow has just conducted an exclusive interview with Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. As the nation inches closer to the fiscal cliff, she talks money, taxes and the economy with the man some say is the most successful investor in America.

Poppy Harlow joining us now from Omaha, Nebraska.

Poppy, first off, what did Buffett tell you about the fiscal cliff or at least his interpretation of it?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think this is very important, Fredricka, because his answer really surprised me. So many have been very, very alarmist about what it will mean for the U.S. economy if we do go over that fiscal cliff and see those massive spending cuts and massive tax hikes.

He's worried about it. Don't get me wrong. But he's not as alarmist as many. Take a listen.


HARLOW: What is the likelihood of the United States falling into a recession if we go over the cliff?

WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN & CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: I don't think that's going to happen.

I think that -- that, if we go past January 1 -- I don't know whether it will be January 10 or February 1 -- but we are not going to permanently cripple ourselves because 535 people can't get along.

HARLOW: Even if we go over for two months, does that dip this economy back into recession?

BUFFETT: I don't think so.

HARLOW: You don't think so. That's interesting because the CBO believes that that ...

BUFFETT: You know, well, I mean, you know, we had Hurricane Sandy, which disrupted the economy for a period. We had Katrina many years ago.

There are things that will disrupt the economy. I mean, 9/11 was an extraordinary case, but we have a very resilient economy. We've had one for hundreds of years and the fact that they can't get along for the month of January or something is not going to torpedo the economy.


HARLOW: And, Fredricka, I also talked to him about that meeting that the president had today with CEOs from American businesses and, look, he told me, I think the president needs to take a very hard line in this second term when domes to these negotiations over the fiscal cliff and over taxes.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": And, in fact, as we talk about taxes, you know, Buffett is known for supporting higher taxes for wealthy people, just like himself.

You know, you asked him some very tough specific questions about what he thinks wealthy people should pay. What did he say?

HARLOW: You know, I'm having a hard time hearing you (AUDIO BREAK) and, you know, I asked him point blank for some specifics on especially capital gains taxes when it comes to investments and the (AUDIO BREAK) on the profits from investments.

We wanted specifics from him and here's what he said.


HARLOW: Are you saying there is no taxation level that's to high?

BUFFETT: Well ...

HARLOW: Whether it is capital gains or investment or income?

BUFFETT: We certainly prospered with capital gains rates more than double what they are currently.

HARLOW: So, we would be fine with 30 percent capital gains?

BUFFETT: Oh, I think sure. People ...

HARLOW: What about income tax?

BUFFETT: Well, income taxes, you know, they were as high as 90 percent during my lifetime. Now, very few people got up there, but I saw lots of people paying, you know, federal tax rates of 50 percent and they went to work every day.

HARLOW: So, at this point, there is no level you're calling ...

BUFFETT: Well, I think they can be significantly higher than they are.


HARLOW: That really, Fredricka, puts Warren Buffet at odds with, I would say, most CEOs in this country, especially big American businesses who are arguing for (AUDIO BREAK) across the board.

You know ...


WHITFIELD: All right, folks at home, it is not your television set. We're having a problem there with our audio with Poppy, but gladly you were able to hear interview there with Warren Buffett.

All right, up next, economist and author Ben Stein joining me live on what he thinks about some lawmakers hoping we go over the fiscal cliff.

Plus, hear what Ben Stein is calling the former CIA chief, a, quote, "disgrace."


WHITFIELD: January 1st, the beginning of a new year and for the U.S., a day that could seen painful tax increases and drastic spending cuts. Talking about this looming fiscal cliff.

And unless Congress and the White House can reach a deal on cutting the deficit, we're heading over it. We just heard from the president who says solving the fiscal cliff is simple math.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know the math pretty well. And it really is arithmetic, not calculus.


WHITFIELD: Let's bring in the author of the book "how to really ruin your financial life and portfolio," Ben Stein. Ben, good to see you.

STEIN: Nice to see you.

WHITFIELD: A high stakes meeting slated for this Friday. What can the president afford to give up in these negotiations and how about congressional Republicans? What can they give up?

STEIN: I think the ideal solution would be to keep the tax increases, to keep the tax increases in place. Mr. Buffett is completely correct. We need higher taxes. We need higher taxes than the one contemplated in the fiscal cliff.

I would be extremely worried about the cuts in defense. We live in an extremely challenging world. I hate to see the U.S. cut one dollar out of defense when as long as we have enemies like Iran and North Korea and a rising challenger in China.

WHITFIELD: so we're talking about compromise because you mentioned two things that the opposite sides don't really want.

STEIN: I know.

WHITFIELD: Solvable, quote, "I'm confident it can be done." I recognize we will have to compromise, period.

The operative word, "compromise." Are we going to see that this go- round?

STEIN: I'm not sure we'll see it this go-round. We might have to go over the fiscal cliff for a while.

Even with the fiscal cliff, we're still going to have a budget deficit next year of -- on the order, very rough order of $500 billion, one of the five largest budget deficits of all time.

So, we obviously got to go even farther than the fiscal cliff in terms of raising taxes. I hate it. I hate paying taxes. I'm like any other citizen. I don't like paying taxes, but we have got to do it.

And Mr. Obama is completely right. I'm not a fan of Mr. Obama. I didn't vote for him, but he's completely right. It is arithmetic, not complex arithmetic. We have to get more money into the system.

WHITFIELD: There were people that agreed with that approach, even though they didn't vote for him. Maybe he was talking about you.

Patty Murray had this to say about the looming fiscal cliff. Let's listen in.


SENATOR PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: I think the Republicans have a decision today. They need to decide whether they're going to stay and protect the wealthiest Americans from participating in this challenge that we have, and if they do that, then we have no other choice but to go into next year when all the Bush tax cuts expire and start over.

I don't want to do that. I don't think we should do that. But that's what they could force us to do.


WHITFIELD: Your response to that?

STEIN: I think we may very well have to do that and I don't understand for the life of me why the Republican Party, to which I have belonged for a lot longer than most of the people in Congress, is so adamant about protecting the wealthiest people in the country.

Most of those people are Democrats anyway. What do we care about protecting them? We have got to get more tax revenue.

Look, in my neighborhood, many of the people have two or three or four Bentleys. Do you think it is going to hurt them a lot to have one fewer Bentley? How many meals can a person eat each day?

We can tax the rich more. It is not going to hurt them, not going to hurt the economy.

WHITFIELD: What do you say about the sentiment that some say, you know what? So we go off the fiscal cliff. It won't be that bad.

STEIN: I think it will be very bad for defense. That's what I'm worried about. My main interest is in defending the United States of America. And I'm worried that if we go off the fiscal cliff, we have to drastically cut procurement or the number of people in the armed services, we'll be in terrible trouble if they're need.

WHITFIELD: And quickly, before I let you go, you know, you served in several administrations and you have some pretty strong opinions about what is taking place with the fall of CIA Director Petraeus.

STEIN: Well, I admire him. He's a hero in many, many ways, but for him to have set up an insecure e-mail account and dropping off messages in the draft message box for his girlfriend for her to pick up. That's a disgrace.

That is really, really extremely unfortunate. My heart breaks for him and for his lovely wife, but this behavior is just inexcusable.

WHITFIELD: Ben Stein, thanks so much. Good to see you.

STEIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: The deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi has dogged the Obama administration. Hear what President Obama says about the controversy and why he's saying "go after me," quote/unquote, when asked about U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.


WHITFIELD: President Barack Obama comes to the defense of the United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice, and her statements about the September 11th terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

It was the most heated moment from the president's press conference this afternoon. It came in response to a question about two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who say they'll fight hard if President Obama nominates Rice to become his next secretary of state.


OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me and I'm happy to have that discussion with them.

But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.


WHITFIELD: CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is at the State Department.

Do folks at the State Department feel like they're being, you know, hung out to dry here or do they feel like, you know, the president is doing the best he can to defend them and their intentions and the ongoing investigation?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, in some ways, yes, and in some ways, no.

They feel like they're being thrown under the bus because the State Department officials told me in the days after 9/11 and officials have given briefings on this subsequently that they never said it was a terrorist -- they never said it was a so-called mob as was initially said by the administration in the days after.

The State Department always thought there was some element of a military-style attack and terrorism involved.

But on the other hand, they don't feel like they're being thrown under the bus on the security aspects. The State Department officials are taking a lot of responsibility for something that is a State Department domain.

If you remember, I did an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago in which she said, security is a State Department function and I take responsibility for that.

And subsequently President Obama in his debate said he takes responsibility for security.

WHITFIELD: What has been the expectation about whether Susan Rice would be nominated to replace Hillary Clinton?

LABOTT: Well, everyone here at the State Department is playing the kind of parlor game, who is it going to be? And, certainly, Susan Rice has been a frontrunner as has Senator John Kerry, who made no secret he would be interested in the job.

And now that he has said he -- now that it has been said out there that possibly he could be secretary of defense, certainly a lot of people think it is going to be her.

State Department officials know her here at the State Department. She was a top official on Africa during the Clinton administration and I also know that she is a very close adviser to President Obama.

So, the State Department could have a lot of weight, but Secretary Clinton, very, very beloved here at the State Department, so she'll have her big shoes to fill if it is indeed Susan Rice.

WHITFIELD: Elise Labott, thanks so much at the State Department.


WHITFIELD: When you think popular tourist stops in New York City, you think Times Square, the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, right?

You can also add to that list Harlem churches. Here is Jason Carroll with this week's "Black in America."


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The gospel choir had parishioners on their feet, singing, hands raised, waving, an inspirational scene playing out at many black churches on any given Sunday.

But this is Harlem, New York. Take a second look at the congregation and you'll see the black church here changing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very inspiring. I'd definitely come back, yes. Why not? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no pictures, no video. You don't want to interrupt someone's worship.

CARROLL: Tourists, many European, have been packing the pews of Harlem churches in increasing numbers.

Michael Henry Adams specializes in Harlem's history.

MICHAEL HENRY ADAMS, AUTHOR, HISTORIAN: It is voyeurism to some degree, but I thought of it initially as something bad.

But I say I've realized it's to be able to know each other better and to learn more about each other, so there's nothing bad in that.

CARROLL: What's happening in the pews is not just white tourism. It may be a reflection of something greater.

Do you see the identity of Harlem changing or shifting?

REVEREND MICHAEL WALROND, JR., FIRST CORINTHIANS BAPTIST CHURCH: Well, I think, demographically, you would have to see that there is a change. The Harlem of my youth when I would come to Harlem doesn't look the same.

CARROLL: Statistics show Hispanics and whites outpacing the number of blacks moving into Harlem.

WALROND: You can no longer make the assumption that all persons who are not African-American, who are whites, were tourists. Just like anyone else, there were persons who lived in the community and came to the community and wanted to find a place to have a transformative encounter with God.

CARROLL: The changing face in Harlem still being moved by the age-old gospel.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: All right. With 32 people dead and more than 400 others sick, lawmakers are demanding answers from the company responsible for the deadly meningitis outbreak. I'll talk with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta, next.


WHITFIELD: Thirty-two people are dead, 438 sick from a deadly meningitis outbreak here in the U.S. and today a demand for answers on Capitol Hill.

The man you see there is the owner of the Massachusetts pharmacy suspected of distributing tainted injections that resulted in the outbreak.

Lawmakers wasted no time in their attempt to get an explanation. Listen.


REPRESENTATIVE CLIFF STEARNS (R), FLORIDA: Those who are sick and those who have received injections are waiting to see if they, too, will get sick. They deserve some answers today.

Mr. Cadden, I ask you to consider -- to reconsider -- and tell this committee and the people watching this hearing how this tragedy has happened.

BARRY CADDEN, CO-FOUNDER OF NECC: On advice of council, I respectfully decline to answer on the basis of my constitutional rights and privileges, including the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


WHITFIELD: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta with us now. So that last answer kind of supersedes my question, which is, did we learn anything?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was the answer he gave to every single question.

But, you know, there was a lot of people involved with these hearings today, including the gentleman there at the head of the NECC, but also the FDA in terms of what their role was in all of this, what regulations and regulatory oversight should have been there.

I'll tell you one thing and you may have already known this, but the company itself knew about this contamination dating back to January, so they knew about this even ...

WHITFIELD: And continued to dispense?

GUPTA: ... even while some of these things were being dispensed. That's obviously a big concern and there was a massive contamination that obviously took place there.

You know, Fred, I visited this particular facility, spent some time outside there. I mean, take a look. You're looking at images actually from outside the particular ...

WHITFIELD: I remember that. It's powerful.

GUPTA: And, you know, it's hard to say exactly how this contamination occurred.

We heard about air conditioners that were turned off at night despite needing to keep a constant temperature. Water on the ground that could have been a source for the mold, as well.

But the big question, I think, that came out today, Fred, I think, was who was in charge here? The FDA has had citations of this particular facility dating back to 1999. There's been concerns, but it was never shut down and there were very sort of minor hand slaps that really took place here. So, that's where they're focusing their attention.

WHITFIELD: And that's part of the big problem, right? The FDA doesn't necessarily have to oversee some of these compound pharmacies. In fact, this is what one congressman, Congressman Murphy had to say, a message for the FDA commissioner.


REPRESENTATIVE TIM MURRAY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Leadership is easy if you're willing to accept it and you are not.

Dr. Smith took leadership. She went in and cleaned house and identified problems.

What you're telling me is all this smoke and mirrors that you don't have authority. Go look in the eyes of the victim and try and comfort them with that.

Ma'am, that doesn't work.


WHITFIELD: Is anyone getting any comfort here?

GUPTA: Well, it's hard to hear, clearly, and he's sort of really stepped on the particular issue, which is these families. I mean, they wanted somebody to be in charge, some oversight.

With these compounding pharmacies, they take existing medications and they change them to some degree. Those typically -- it was what the FDA says -- they typically comes under the jurisdiction of the state. FDA steps in when a facility is actually manufacturing these compounds.

And what you hear in the questioning is, look, I don't care about that. The FDA knew about these problems. They've known about them for over 10 years. Nothing was done about it.

You can say it's the state's responsibility, but in fact, somebody should have done something and nothing happened.

WHITFIELD: Big problems.

GUPTA: There was also, you know -- there's also a lot of people who sit on the board of the pharmacy board also being involved with the companies as a result of those close relationships could. Could that have potentially been a problem, as well?

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. Appreciate that.