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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Anti-American Protests Growing
Aired September 13, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 here on the East Coast. Good evening, everyone.
We begin tonight with special coverage of the anti-American wildfire that is now burning across the Arab world and beyond. You're looking now at the scene in Cairo after another day of rage targeting the American Embassy, some of the protesters outraged by the shadowy, bizarre anti-Muslim video.
Others, perhaps many others, have motives we still don't entirely understand. Some may be foot soldiers in the struggle for power inside Egypt and elsewhere. Others may be simply angry people who until now haven't had a target for their rage.
But whatever the true motivations, it's not just Cairo anymore. Not just Benghazi Libya, where four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya were killed in the turmoil, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department computer expert Sean Smith, former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, and sadly there is breaking news about the fourth victim. He has now been identified. His name is Tyrone Woods, a former Navy SEAL as well.
According to San Diego local station KNSD, Woods was from the area, from Imperial Beach. He was 41 years old. His ex-wife telling the station he loved being a SEAL more than life itself.
We do have late developments on an arrest today in connection with his killing as well as the search for additional suspects and the Libyans, many of whom have expressed shock and outrage over the killings. But as we said, the anti-American flames are spreading. In addition to Libya and Egypt, there were protests as well today in Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Morocco, Gaza.
At least 11 hot spots now including Israel, Iran, and the Kashmir region controlled by India. It's not just contained in the Arab world anymore. Perhaps the most dramatic and deadly eruption happened in the capital of Yemen. Take a look. Protesters breaching a wall at the U.S. Embassy with several thousand more chanting in the street.
Witnesses say police opened fire on the crowd, four protesters reported dead. Officials say two dozen security officers were hurt as well.
In Cairo, meantime, at least 19 people were hurt in massive demonstrations there. Demonstrations as we just showed have continued into the night. The crowd throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, police there you see responding with tear gas.
Some protesters said they hadn't actually seen the anti-Muslim video in question, but say they were outraged by reports about it, by the idea of it. Late today, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the country's newly elected government, put out a statement targeting the filmmaker.
It says in part -- quote -- "We denounce abuse of all messengers of God, prophets and apostles and condemn this heinous crime. We further call for criminalization of assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions. Otherwise, such acts will continue to cause devout Muslims across the world to suspect and even loathe the West, especially the USA for allowing their citizens to violate the sanctity of what they hold dear and holy."
The Brotherhood goes on to call for criminal charges against the filmmaker. A spokesman later softening the tone somewhat, tweeting -- quote -- "We condemn both movie as well as violent protesting in all our statements Arabic and English. People have the right to peacefully protest."
Still, the words and especially pictures have not exactly been reassuring, which may explain why speaking on Telemundo, President Obama had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think that we'd consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy. They are a new government that's trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we're going to have to see how they respond to this incident.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, in fact, by law, since the 1980s, Egypt has been designated one of 15 major non-NATO allies. The list includes Israel, Japan, and South Korea.
Today, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland confirmed nothing has changed from a policy standpoint. On the political front, however, a White House spokesman tried to contain any damage, saying Mr. Obama was speaking colloquially, not literally, about the Egyptian-American relationship.
Now, contrast the fuzzy language though with the pictures we're getting from Cairo and beyond.
There's a lot to talk about right now on many different fronts. CNN's Ben Wedeman is on the ground in Cairo for us. Former Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend is with us. She's our national security contributor and member of the CIA External Advisory Committee. Last month Fran visited Egypt Libya with her employer MacAndrews & Forbes. Also with us, Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
Ben, is that firing in the background right now?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, Anderson, what that is protesters firing fireworks in the direction of security forces which are literally right below this balcony and this is happening sort of on an hourly basis throughout the day and well into the night.
COOPER: So what is the atmosphere like? And is this still about that video?
WEDEMAN: It is.
I mean, we spent some time speaking to the protesters and that obviously -- that video is what they acclaim or explain is the reason for their presence outside of the embassy. But as I have seen in previous clashes here in Cairo, a dynamic sets in, where it's really a fight between basically young men who are sort of high on adrenaline against the security forces, and sort of the politics seems to disappear.
But obviously, symbolically, the fact that these clashes have been going on around the clock for well over 24 hours is a worrying thing for an embassy which for years under the Mubarak regime existed quite peacefully. And certainly we saw -- you mentioned that statement from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Khairat Al-Shater, the number two in the Muslim Brotherhood, did publish today a statement in "The New York Times" condemning the attack on the U.S. Embassy here, condemning the killing of U.S. diplomats in Libya, but there is sort of a dichotomy of messages.
In English, they seem to be fairly soft and conciliatory as far as the United States goes. In Arabic, a much harsher tone and in some respects, not altogether condemning the current protests outside the U.S. Embassy here.
COOPER: Ben, we will continue the conversation. We will come back to you. But if you need for any security reason to step inside away from -- you are outside right now -- we will certainly understand that.
Fran, we have now identified or know the identify of the fourth victim, Tyrone Woods, a former Navy SEAL. I know you didn't know him personally, but we have all spent a lot of time in hot spots overseas. We met men like him who play critical roles in these dangerous countries really without any recognition.
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's right, Anderson.
When you look at both Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, the function they perform really allows the United States to be in dangerous places where we need to be in order to protect long term the American people and American interests.
Our diplomats wouldn't be in those parts of the world without men like Woods and Doherty. Dougherty's sister today made a statement to the press and said she regards him as an American hero. If more people understood the mission and what they are doing in these dangerous places as well as how both Woods and Doherty behaved in response to the attack on the consulate, I think every American would regard them as a hero.
COOPER: Fouad, when you hear the statement that the Muslim Brotherhood made, what do you make of it?
FOUAD AJAMI, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Anderson, this is like a tragedy foretold, in many ways. We have been there before. We have seen these events, we have seen them when Salman Rushdie wrote his famous novel, "Satanic Verses," we have seen them with the Danish cartoons crisis.
We have seen them in Holland. There have been several of these things. They involve the clash of values between people in the West who do things and insist on freedom of expression and people in the Islamic world who live on raw nerves and are willing and eager to be offended. This really is what it is.
COOPER: Willing and eager?
AJAMI: Yes, absolutely.
They're young people. I think Ben Wedeman said it well. They are there and they gather in front of the U.S. embassies. And I think the embassies are like fortresses. They are symbols of this great distant power. And people see these embassies, they are the thing in its opposite. They are the place to go to and get a visa to get the hell out of these countries and they're also these places where you think great conspiracies are being hatched against the Islamic people and against the message and the truth of Islam.
Allow me one thing. I watched that trailer, this trailer. It's unbelievable. It's from right out of the gutter, and as a Muslim, I was born a Muslim, I'm not observant. But there is something about it that is such -- the vulgarity of the whole thing. It wasn't a work of art. It was intended as a work of incitement.
It is sad that this cheap work of incitement would become the cause for these violent upheavals and these violent protests. People should be willing to be offended. But I think that large numbers of people in the Islamic world are still not willing to look the other way and be offended.
COOPER: Is that you think a function of the state with which society is, the evolution of society there, the repression that they have had? How do you explain it? Because a lot of people look at it and say, look, you don't see other places in the world. There is the Book of Mormon and you don't see Mormons being upset. People accept criticisms or satire or offensive things about their religion.
AJAMI: You have it there. It's right. That's what it is.
The Muslims have this high barrier on insults to the prophet, on even visual representation of the prophet. The Muslim people have come into the modern world bearing these ideas, if you will, that they should not be offended, that they should be given a pass in the world.
But I can't really emphasize the absolute disgust I had watching this video. There's no excuse for it, and when you hear this sad producer who we don't know who the hell he is, when he said I made this film and I was financed by 100 Jewish investors, it was almost two birds with one stone, and it's insulting Islam and implicating the Jews.
We don't know if he's even Jewish. It's all in a way this dark story.
COOPER: In fact, we know he's not, the maker of this film. We know more about him and we're going to report on that tonight.
Fran, President Obama, you heard in that clip, he just said he doesn't consider Egypt an ally. The State Department basically had to walk that back. The White House now tried to clarify it. What do you think is going on here? Are they trying to send a message to the Egyptian argument? What's going on?
TOWNSEND: I actually think it's unfortunate that there has been sort of this walking back of the president's statement. Look, imagine how the president and the White House must feel right now. You had the Egyptians on notice before the first protest in Cairo, and the Egyptians failed to put force there and barbed wire and protect the embassy in advance of the first protest.
And then after it occurred, there were very slow to issue a condemnation and it was very sort of a weak condemnation. And so the president is angry. I suspect they are angry and disappointed. They're not sure that Morsi who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be a real and strong ally and help them push this back and protect our people.
And if the president just sort of owned he's angry with them and disappointed at the Egyptians and their reaction, I think he would have had all Americans saying, me too. But we have this sort of half- language out there, an ally, we don't know, but they're not an enemy and then all today, this walking back of it.
I think it's foolish. I think they just should have owned the fact that we're disappointed with the Egyptians, we invest a lot of money in military aid to them and we have a right to expect better from them.
COOPER: Ben, tomorrow is a day of prayer obviously in the Muslim world. The Muslim Brotherhood has called for protests across Egypt against this film. You have been talking to the Muslim Brotherhood officials, how do they plan to ensure these gatherings don't spiral out of control? It seems like a real potential for more provocation.
WEDEMAN: What they say is they will have protests across Egypt at mosques in cities from the north to South. But they will not be holding any protests in the area of the American Embassy or Tahrir Square, which is right next to it. The problem, of course, is can they control it if the large numbers come out? We have seen protests in Cairo before which start outside of Tahrir Square, but by sort of a natural motion of the sort of -- the street here, they end up in this square.
And the Muslim Brotherhood obviously is not the only Islamist group in this country, and you have the Salafis, who have played a much more active role in these protests and they may see this as an opportunity to gain more street credibility and in a sense undermine the Muslim Brotherhood.
COOPER: Ben -- I'm sorry.
Fouad, there is a battle between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Salafis are the hard-core Islamists.
Well, the Salafists are there and the Muslim Brotherhood is in a very delicate position. It kind of plays that game. It's actually a militant organization, a fundamentalist organization, but now it has come into power. Look, I think what was really interesting about Egypt, Egypt has always had these deep wells of anti-Americanism.
At the height of the relationship with Hosni Mubarak, in every public opinion survey, the Egyptians were fierce anti-Americans. That's the truth of the demented relationship between the United States and Egypt. That hasn't gone away, and I think President Obama himself fell for a kind of illusion that he could sweet-talk the societies out of their rage, out of their anger.
He went to Cairo in June 2009 for a famous speech, and he believed, he believed that he had capped the volcano in the Islamic world. And now we see what we see.
COOPER: Fouad Ajami, it's good to have you here, Fran Townsend.
Ben Wedeman, we will come back to you a little bit later in the program. Please be very careful. We will come back as developments warrant.
Let us know what you think. Obviously, we're on Facebook, on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper. I'm tweeting tonight.
Next, trying to find the killers that struck in Benghazi. The Libyans made an arrested today, as we told you, the manhunt far from over. We told you Marines were on the way. We will update you on that and talk about what kind of force may be brought to bear when more suspects are identified. Arwa Damon is in Benghazi. We will also talk with former CIA officer Bob Baer and retired Brigadier General David Grange.
COOPER: Welcome back.
As protests erupt across the Muslim world, it's important to remember the city where four Americans were murdered is also the city that Americans helped liberate. Tonight we have pictures of people who are grateful for that, people who took to the streets carrying pro-American signs, thanking Americans, and thanking Ambassador Stevens who had many friends in Benghazi denouncing terrorism.
For its part, the Libyan government which first took root as the Libyan opposition in Benghazi has also condemned the killings. The Libyan prime minister today announcing one suspect is now in custody in concern with the killings and several more have been sought.
Arwa Damon is in Benghazi, Libya, for us tonight and she joins us by phone and so does former CIA officer Bob Baer, and retired Brigadier General David Grange.
Arwa, we're learning details about how the attack was organized, about some arrests that were made. What's the latest? What do you know?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The government is saying they have arrested one individual in association with these attacks.
They are not specifying at this stage exactly which organization he may have been a part of. They have been saying that they are in pursuit of four or five other individuals. The government at this point in time is fully aware that it has the responsibility to the United States to which it is greatly indebted and to its own people to take concrete action against those that have perpetrated this attack and that it also needs to really begin to seriously address the issue of these effectively armed militias that roam around with complete and utter impunity.
Up until now -- and this is not an isolated incident and this is most certainly not the first time that Western interests have been targeted specifically inside Benghazi, but the government now does realize that it has to begin to put measures into place to rein these groups in. And it has in the past said it's not capable of going up against these various armed extremist militias.
But it most certainly will take all of the efforts that it possibly can to conduct this joint investigation with the United States, and the severity of what has transpired, the tragedy of what has transpired, most certainly, is not lost on anyone here at this point in time. And they are fully aware of what the potential consequences could possibly be, Anderson.
COOPER: Bob, CNN's Suzanne Kelly has learned that U.S. intelligence believe it's very unlikely this was core al Qaeda behind this attack. But officials are not yet ready to identify a group, as Arwa talked about. You have talked before about how that area has become a hotbed for militant groups and that this sort of thing could be just the beginning.
BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it is.
There are large parts of the country that definitely are not under the control of the central government. I keep on hearing reports of weapons going into sub-Saharan Africa and there's these shadowy groups. Really the names don't matter, whether it's al Qaeda, or al Qaeda in the Maghreb or the Salafis.
Just seem to assume to take names. These groups are self- organized. There's weapons all over Libya, and it will be an extremely difficult investigation to conduct, especially for America, because we can't simply put people out around town in the country, because it's too dangerous. We have to defer to the Libyans, it's a new government.
They aren't particularly well-trained. We don't know who these people are, exactly. It's a chaotic situation, and I don't just think we should expect answers any time soon.
COOPER: General Grange, a lot of the foreign jihadis who went into Iraq to fight against the U.S. came from Libya, particularly from eastern Libya, the Benghazi region and east of that.
The U.S. is now deploying drones, warships to the region. How do you go about though launching a military response if it comes to that, against militants inside Libya? It seems complicated.
BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: It's very difficult.
I just have been over there twice and moved around between Tripoli, Benghazi, Tobruk. There are four different power groups, you do have brigade commanders that have their own autonomy in certain regions, you have sheik, you have tribal chiefs and then you have the national --Transitional Council and you have ministries, and no one really controls everything.
And I have met very good people there, moved around with them. But we had to change our route several times because the Salafis were getting the word we were there, and they were worried about our movement, so we had to change.
When our people go in there targeting, who do you hold responsible, how do you find them? You can't punish a population. And so it's very difficult to find those that are responsible and to really take much action. We have to reinforce the consulate and embassy with Marines, have to have a force off the coast to do an emergency evacuation, if required, but the Libyans basically asked us -- and we're the civilian private organization now, because we were setting up humanitarian assistance prospects.
They asked us, America needs to be here. We want your business here. They all were wearing American flag pins on their clothes. They didn't want the Chinese, they didn't want other nationalities, they wanted us, and we're very slow to get set up there. You will not stop some of the militant groups, but you sure can influence the population. I think we could do a better job of that.
COOPER: Arwa, you're in Benghazi. What is the atmosphere there now? People -- we saw some pictures of rallies supporting the United States there. I mean, is it predominantly pro- or anti-U.S. sentiment there? Can you tell?
DAMON: Anderson, I landed a few hours ago, so really in the middle of the night.
But the Libyans I was talking to on the flight over, Libyan I met in the few hours that I have been on the ground here are all really appalled at what happened. Many of them are completely speechless and still in shock, and many of them really want to emphasize this is not representative of Libya, this is not representative of the Libya that they were trying to establish, the Libya that they fought, bled, and they themselves died for or lost their family members for.
But this really goes to show just how sinister this country can potentially become. The government has to at this point in time figure out a way to get the weapons off the street and back into its own control and that's going to be one of its biggest challenges moving forward. Post-revolution, the government has had to implement a series of policies to try to bring these various militias, these revolutionary fighting brigades into the security forces, trying to persuade them to give up their weapons.
And all efforts up until now have failed. The result has been that a lot of these groups, some of them are extremist Salafi entities, have been able to operate with impunity and have absolutely no motivation and don't have the confidence and the leadership here to have the incentive to want to lay their weapons down. Many of them feeling it is within their right to carry these guns. You end up in some parts of the countries having these fiefdoms that are being run by these armed gangs over which the government has absolutely no control whatsoever.
COOPER: Bob, you have worked in this region.
And just very briefly, because we are short of time, I think a lot of people seeing this will find it hard to believe that local groups there, Libyans themselves in the Benghazi region don't know who the Salafi groups are and don't know who is active and maybe who is behind this. Isn't intelligence gathering at this point crucial?
BAER: It is absolutely crucial.
The Libyans do know. The problem is, we haven't been there long enough to put the pieces together as we did with al Qaeda after 9/11. It took us 10 years really to get to the leadership and target these drones. We are in the same position we were on 9/11 when we went into Afghanistan, trying to figure out who was who. This is a very long conflict. And this one I think will be too.
COOPER: Bob Baer, appreciate your expertise, Arwa Damon, David Grange as well. Thank you.
As Anti-American rage explodes across the Middle East, Northern Africa, Asia, the so-called filmmaker who lit the match is in hiding tonight. We are learning more about who he is. That's next.
COOPER: Strong words today from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the anti-Muslim film that has ignited so much fury across the Middle East. She says the U.S. government absolutely rejects the film's content and message.
Short clips are posted on YouTube, their production value really so crude, it's almost cartoonish. The filmmaker is said to be in hiding tonight. A lot of people are trying to track him down for various reasons. We're told the FBI has spoken to him.
When CNN tried to obtain a copy of the film permit -- usually, it's available online -- we found it was temporarily removed because of public safety concerns.
One thing that is now clear: Sam Bassil, a name that surfaced early in reporting, is a fake. Miguel Marquez investigates.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's the shadowy maker of a low-budget anti-Islamic film who has a criminal past and many aliases. Clearly, someone who doesn't want to be found, and as we discovered, for good reason. In 1997, Bassil, his real name Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, spent a year in prison, convicted of intent to manufacture methamphetamine. In 2010, he spent another year, this time in federal prison for fraud.
(on camera) These are just some of the documents for criminal cases against Sam Bassil or Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. And it's clear by going through these that investigators had a hard time tracking him down, as well. The guy had several addresses, many Social Security numbers and lots of names.
(voice-over) Court documents show he used at least 17 different names, including Sam Bassil, Kritbag Difrat, P.J. Tobacco and Thomas Tanas.
(on camera) Anyone having anything to do with Sam Bassil is scared to death. Across Los Angeles, this is a neighborhood in Long Beach. A man who lives here says that Nakoula Basseley used his address to get credit cards and conduct some of the fraudulent activities that he carried out. He found out about it, called the police, and hasn't seen him since.
(voice-over) Numbers associated with Bassil's many identities turned up nothing.
ROBOTIC VOICE: The number you dialed is not a working number.
MARQUEZ: Even anti-Islamic activists who worked with him say they were never exactly sure who he was.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sam was not his real name. I knew that.
MARQUEZ: The same is even true for the actors in his movie.
CINDY GARCIA, ACTRESS: He told me he was from Israel today. He told me he was going to show the movie in Egypt, and either I assumed he was from Egypt or...
MARQUEZ (on camera): He led you to believe he was Egyptian?
GARCIA: Yes, because that's what I believed.
MARQUEZ: This is the best address we have for Sam Bassil or Nakoula Basseley, whatever you want to call him. All of the media is camped out here. We're going to try one more time to talk to him.
Mr. Bassil, Mr. Nakoula, it's Miguel Marquez with CNN.
(voice-over) This house the center of an intense search for answers from a man who has many questions hanging over his head.
COOPER: Miguel, early reports were that he claimed to be Jewish, Israeli-American, and had dozens of Jewish backers, financial backers. We now know that is not the case, correct?
MARQUEZ: Yes, we do indeed. It sounds like Nakoula was putting this deception out there, as well. And certainly, a dangerous deception. He even told cast members that he was Israeli at one point at well.
Today, we did confirm, we talked to the bishop of an Egyptian Coptic church here in the Los Angeles area and Egyptian friends of his who confirms, he is Egyptian, he is Coptic Christian. Now, this is raising concerns for Coptic Christians in Egypt and what the response there will be, Anderson.
COOPER: Miguel Marquez, appreciate it.
We're following other stories, of course, tonight. Isha is here with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Anderson, breaking news on the story we've followed closely. Jason Puracal is a free man tonight. He's been released from the Nicaraguan prison where he spent nearly two years. The 35-year-old American had been serving a 22-year prison sentence for drug-related crimes. An appeals court ruled in his favor, vacating his conviction. He's waiting for a visa, and it's not clear when he'll return to the United States.
The Washington native had many defenders who argued for his release. His case drew the attention of the members of Congress and human rights groups. Chicago teachers are in the fourth day of their strike, but both school and union officials say there's been progress in contract talks. And union delegates who have the power to end the strike are set to meet tomorrow afternoon.
Fed chairman Ben Bernanke announced today that the Federal Reserve is moving again to jump start the sluggish economy, expanding the policy known as quantitative easing. Beginning tomorrow, it will buy billions of dollars of additional bonds in hopes of keeping long- term interest rates and mortgage rates low with a goal of boosting spending and hiring.
Wall Street loved the Fed's move. The Dow jumped 206 points, closing at its highest level in nearly five years. The NASDAQ and S&P rose substantially, as well -- Anderson.
COOPER: Isha, thanks.
New polling just out shows the presidential race may be shifting in some key battleground states including Ohio and Florida. A bigger lead is opening up. Which campaign should be worried? John King is going to break out the numbers, and our political panel weighs in next.
COOPER: Anti-American anger spreads across north Africa, the Mideast and into parts of Asia. Protesters were killed today in Yemen, and hundreds are tossing rocks and Molotov cocktails outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo right now. We'll go back there live as 360 continues.
COOPER: We're going to go back to Egypt and the Middle East in a moment. But let's talk about some "Raw Politics."
Now, Democrats and a number of Republicans criticize Mitt Romney for his comments about the embassy attacks two days ago in Egypt and Libya. He claimed the Obama administration's first response demonstrated sympathy for the attackers. Last night we showed you how Governor Romney got his facts and some of the timeline wrong. Today, though, he didn't back down. Here's what he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I said was exactly the same conclusion the White House reached, which was that the statement was inappropriate. That's why they backed away from it, as well.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: They didn't say it was showing sympathy for the attackers.
ROMNEY: I think it was not directly applicable and appropriate for the setting. I think it should have been taken down. And apparently, the White House felt the same way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And no direct response, then, when the president says, you shoot first and aim later?
ROMNEY: Well, this is politics. I'm not going to worry about the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, there's new polling out tonight. The question is, should Romney be worried? I spoke a short time ago with John King who crunches the new poll numbers, and CNN political analysts Gloria Borger and David Gergen.
COOPER: So John, walk us through these new numbers. What do they tell us about where the race is right now?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Over all, they tell you, Anderson, we're going to go through five battleground states, and one of them may be not a battleground state. What they tell you is, a very close race but advantage for the president.
Let's start in Colorado. Brand-new numbers out in Colorado today. That's where the president was today. They show you American Research Group poll, essentially a dead heat. The president up two points in battleground Colorado. That's within the margin of error. That tells you you've got a dead heat in Colorado. That's one of the battlegrounds.
Now we've come to the Midwest. Mitt Romney has hoped to make Michigan, the state he was born, he wanted to make that a battleground. But look at this: Republican super PACs pulled out. Not spending ad money any more. Perhaps this is why. They might have these numbers, as well. New Epic/MRA (ph) poll shows the president with a 10-point lead in Michigan. That's a state Romney wanted to put into play. It looks pretty bleak right now and good for the president.
Let's drop down to battleground Ohio. Mitt Romney probably can't win the White House if he doesn't win Ohio. Two polls out today, a little bit of a conflict here. American Research Group poll came out this morning. That showed a dead heat, 48-47.
But the new NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll out tonight, that shows the president with a seven-point lead. Again, Ohio, a must-win state for Mitt Romney. The president's team hopes these numbers are right, not those numbers. Relatively close, still, but if that Ohio number is right, that's trouble for Mitt Romney.
Two more quick ones, Anderson. Over to Virginia, the president won it last time. Mitt Romney likely needs to win it this time. A five-point gap in the NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll. Again, a slight lead for the president. Notice the trend there? Let's drop down to Florida, one more here. The same exact thing. You have the same number, same poll. Same numbers, 49, 44. So if you add it all up, what do you have? The president tends to have a small, and this looks like a slightly growing lead, than over a few weeks ago in all of these key battlegrounds. Not out of reach, Anderson, for Mitt Romney, but the math favors the president.
COOPER: It's interesting, Gloria. I mean, the Republicans had their convention in Florida, but the poll, according to John, suggests the president may have actually gained ground in the state. Do you think those numbers will come as a surprise to the Romney campaign?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the problem for the Romney campaign, whether it's a surprise or not, is the fact that Paul Ryan on the ticket may well affect senior voters or people about to be senior voters. In the state of Florida, Medicare is a very big issue. The Romney campaign knew that it was a gamble to put Paul Ryan on the ticket. They hope it gives them the state of Wisconsin. But it probably does not help them very much in the state of Florida.
COOPER: David, Romney trying to turn things back now to the economy. Take a look at the poll, these numbers that CNN, our seed (ph) poll today.
Last year, 6 in 10 voters we spoke to were pessimistic about the economy. That's completely flipped. Now two-thirds of those surveyed said they think the economy will be in good shape a year from now. Does that surprise you? And do you think it should worry the Romney campaign?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It does surprise me. And it should worry the Romney camp. The argument all along has been that President Obama is going nowhere with his economic plan. The economy is not going to pull out of this under his leadership. Come vote for me. Come take a chance with me. That's the argument of the Romney camp.
If people -- if two-thirds of the people in the country think that we're going to be in better shape a year from now why change horses in mid-stream? So I don't think that's good news for the Romney camp.
But also, in that Ohio poll that came out today from NBC/Marist, what was really striking to me is the first state poll I've seen from a major battleground state in which more people said Obama would do a good job handling the economy than Romney.
COOPER: Yes. And John, to that point, I mean, we talked again about the importance of Ohio for Republican nominees, but only is the president winning Ohio, he's got a four-point edge, as David said, on that question, who would handle the economy better?
KING: And if he holds that edge, Anderson -- we've got 54 days to go, but if he holds that edge, essentially, let's go to the electoral map. If he holds that edge, the map gets almost impossible. Here's where we are now. We've said this before: 237 for the president, 191 for Mitt Romney. You've got to get to 270 to win. If this state goes blue, it becomes almost impossible. It puts the president on the doorstep, No. 1.
No. 2, if Ohio is going Democratic, look, Ohio is a -- Ohio is more conservative than Iowa. So it's really hard to argue that, if Ohio is going Democratic, then Iowa won't go Democratic. You do that. The president is one or two states away, depending on whether it's a big state or small state.
Mitt Romney is essentially -- if Barack Obama wins Ohio, Mitt Romney has to draw to an inside strait to win the election. And remember, some people say this cliche. It's also a fact. No Republican has won the White House since Abe Lincoln -- Abraham Lincoln days without winning Ohio.
BORGER: You know, Anderson, when you look back to, say, February, Mitt Romney was doing a lot better than President Obama on who is better able to handle the economy, maybe by five, six, seven points, depending on what poll you look at.
As you see that gap shrink, that's really worrisome for the Romney campaign, because that's been their calling card. So every minute that they spend talking about foreign policy is a minute wasted, because they have to talk about the economy.
COOPER: But David...
COOPER: Go ahead, Gloria. Sorry.
BORGER: No, go ahead. If the public doesn't believe that he's necessarily the best man to take care of the economy, what's the rationale for the candidacy?
GERGEN: Talking about foreign policy is especially bad if you don't talk about it well.
BORGER: That's right.
COOPER: Yes. But, you know, we still have a long way to go before the election, I mean, 60 or so days. These numbers aren't insurmountable. Are they?
GERGEN: They're not insurmountable. But Mitt Romney still has a very reasonable chance to take this. But it's putting -- it's putting more and more pressure on him, not only to tie the first debate but to win the first debate. He's got to take it away from the president. That's a hard thing to do as a challenger, to take it away from a...
COOPER: Is this just a convention bounce? GERGEN: No, I think it's -- I think it's -- I think it is a convention bounce, but there's -- the atmospherics are changing. The fact is President Obama is running a better campaign than Mitt Romney right now. Mitt Romney should win this thing, if you look at the underlying conditions, look at all the models for this. And Obama is running a better campaign. And we see -- and just this week, we saw, you know, if Mitt Romney is going to win, he's either going to take it through the debates or when special events come up, new events come up, he's got to be able to capitalize on them.
And so we just had this new event with Libya and with Egypt. And what happened? He either bungled it or he's certainly become an item of controversy.
And instead of a conversation about does President Obama's policy work in the Middle East? John McCain says this just shows weakness. That would be a legitimate debate for Republicans. But to have Mitt Romney on the defense over this question when we're attacked in our embassies, that is -- that is inept.
COOPER: Interesting. David Gergen, Gloria Borger, John King, thank you.
GERGEN: Thank you.
COOPER: With the election less than eight weeks away, we are taking a look at the issues that keep everyone up at night, especially voters. We polled registered voters to find out what is on everyone's minds. And this week, we've been taking a close look at the top economic concerns that voters have.
Housing was No. 5. Taxes were No. 4. Social Security was No. 3. And tonight, No. 2, the deficit.
Now, someone who's made it his mission to promote fiscal responsibilities is David Walker. He's the former comptroller general of the United States, a political independent who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
We caught up with him on a bus tour through swing states with a group he founded, the Comeback American Initiative. Here's what he told us.
DAVID WALKER, FOUNDER, COMEBACK AMERICA INITIATIVE: What keeps me up at night is the deteriorating financial condition of the country, escalating deficits and debt, and what it could mean to our future as our country and my grandchildren.
This is not an unsolvable problem.
The greatest threat to America's future is not terrorism. It's not some country. It's our own fiscal irresponsibility.
During the past five or so years, I have been to 49 states doing town hall meetings. What I've found is that the American people are actually a lot smarter than politicians realize. The United States is a great country but it's not exempt from the laws of prudent finance. You can't spend a lot more money than you take in and charge it to the credit card and not expect to have a day of reckoning. A day of reckoning could look like what's happening in Europe where all of a sudden, people realize that the country's financial condition is a lot worse than advertised. And a worst-case scenario, a depression. If we have a debt crisis in the U.S., it would be a global depression. And nobody would be able to hide.
Anybody who signs a pledge on the right that says, I will never raise taxes, they're part of the problem. They're not part of the solution. Anybody on the left who signs a pledge that says, I won't reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they're part of the problem. They're not part of the solution.
What we're trying to do is to make sure that this election cycle, that we make this the top issue. We need to wake up. We need to make tough transformational changes. And if we do that, our future will be better than our past. Other countries have done it. We can do it. Let's get on with it.
COOPER: Tomorrow night, we'll have a look at everyone's No. 1 concern.
We're going to go live to Cairo next, though, where anti-American protests still erupting at this hour. CNN's Ben Wedeman and David : Kirkpatrick of "the New York times" are there. We'll check in with them live next.
COOPER: Welcome back. We want to update you now on the breaking news.
Authorities have just released the fourth man killed during the mayhem at the American consulate in Benghazi. Tyrone Woods is his name. He's 41 years old from the San Diego area, a former Navy SEAL, as was Glen Doherty, who also died in the attack, along with computer expert Sean Smith and, of course, Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya.
Meantime, outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo, hundreds of protesters have clashed with police tonight and all day long. Ben Wedeman is there for us, also "New York Times" Cairo bureau chief, David Kirkpatrick.
Ben, you've been there among the protesters. You were telling us earlier a little bit about what you heard. What kind of sense do you have about who exactly they are? I mean, are they part of an organized group or are they just young men looking for trouble?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: By and large, they seem to be young men looking for trouble. They're the same sort of young men between 15 and 25 that I've seen in other protests that had nothing to do, of course, with this particular subject.
And, you know, if you listen to some of the slogans they're shouting as they're throwing the Molotov cocktails and rocks at the security forces, they don't sound very Islamic at all. In fact, I can't even reproduce them on family television.
You do get the feeling that even though these protests were sparked by this issue of this video on YouTube, at this point, it's morphed into the usual sort of street battle between angry young men and the security forces and the issue behind it seems to have faded as the street fighting simply continues as we've seen so many times before -- Anderson.
COOPER: And David, that may change hours from now. Friday, after prayers, the Muslim brotherhood has called for protests nationwide. You've spoken to the Muslim Brotherhood officials. What are they telling you about the protests? How concerned are they about angering the United States or are they concerned?
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think they're quite concerned about the feedback they're getting from President Obama and the American government right now. You know, there was a conspicuous silence from President Morsi, Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, where the embassy was first breached and the protests went on and even the next night the protests continued.
And I think that rubbed a lot of American officials the wrong way at the highest level, especially since the Americans had just brought a trade delegation of about 100 businessmen here in an effort to try to drum up new money and investment for the Egyptian government.
On the heels of that, just as they're about to leave and America has been selling Egypt, kind of this attack on the American embassy, no apology, no expressions of concern from the new president. And I think President Morsi heard that from President Obama in a phone call and in other ways.
And what we've seen today is leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood doing everything they can to assure the Americans that they really are sorry this happened and they don't blame the American government for condoning this video.
That brings us back to the protests in the street, because you know, I've watched these things before. We've seen many times this sort of cycle of street violence or street violence. It's just really about anger. The police anger and the protesters'.
And I wondered whether, when we had a more legitimate elected government that would change. This is one of the first signs it's not going to change right away. In fact, when I heard what I was tired of protesting today, some impatience with President Morsi. Impatience that he hasn't actually done more to stand up to the U.S.
You know, I heard people talking about, you have to kick out the American ambassador. You've got to cancel his upcoming trip. People are angry at their own president for not speaking out more forcefully on this video.
COOPER: David Kirkpatrick, I appreciate your reporting tonight and Ben Wedeman, as well. Be careful in the days ahead. We're going to be right back.
COOPER: OK. That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.