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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Obama's Poll Numbers Rising; Romney's New Strategy
Aired September 20, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.
We begin tonight with Mitt Romney's attempt at making his now famous 47 percent remark 100 percent less damaging. His new strategy, according to CNN's Gloria Borger, will be in part to -- quote -- "personalize" his economic message. Here's how it's playing out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a campaign about the 100 percent and over the last several years, you have seen greater and greater divisiveness in this country.
We had hoped to come back together, but instead, you have seen us pull apart and politics has driven us apart in some respects, so my campaign is about the 100 percent in America, and I'm concerned about them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's Mitt Romney yesterday talking to Latino voters in Miami. No doubt that 100 percent pledge inserted because of the now famous or infamous, depending on how you look at it, video secretly shot at that $50,000 a plate fund-raiser.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.
All right, there are 47 percent who are with him who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has the responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.
But that's -- that's an entitlement, and that the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was then. This is now. Since the tape hit, Mr. Romney has taken pains to say he wasn't really talking about those in that 47 percent who don't pay federal income taxes because they're seniors or serving in the military.
He does, however, seem to be talking about welfare recipients and people on food stamps and other forms of government assistance. "Keeping Them Honest," though, he's now making at least one exception for people who fall into that category, people like his parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: They came back to the United States and my dad had to get help, financial help. The government helped his family to be able to get on their feet again. By the way, that's the way America works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There's also video from back when George Romney was running for office and facing charges that he was wealthy and simply out of touch. This is Mitt Romney's mother, Lenore, back in 1962.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LENORE ROMNEY, MOTHER OF MITT ROMNEY: You know, we have only owned our home for the last four years. He was a refugee from Mexico. He was on relief, welfare relief for the first years of his life, but this great country gave him opportunities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mitt Romney's mom talking about how her husband's family was on government relief when he was a child.
So will disclosures like that, that Governor Romney's own father benefited from a program that the son has characterized as populated by -- quote -- "victims," help the Romney campaign reboot, or will it further knock him off message?
Mark McKinnon is a conservative who has been sharply critical of Mitt Romney on this issue and he also is a former top campaign adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain, currently writes for The Daily Beast. Also with us, chief political analyst Gloria Borger and Alice Stewart former spokesman for the Santorum and Bachmann 2012 presidential campaigns.
Mark, let's start with you.
Right after the Romney fund-raising tape came out, you said you weren't too happy with what the campaign was revealing about Mitt Romney. You have seen how he's responded over the past few days, talking about his own family's experience with government assistance, for example, telling people he wants to represent the 100 percent. Are you happy with the way he's addressed the situation?
MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, Wolf, it's an improvement.
It's been 48 hours now without a gaffe or without another new tape so that's a good sign. The thing that strikes me that's interesting about the campaign is that Romney's goal in this campaign was to make it a referendum on Obama. Obama's goal was to make it a choice, and oddly now it's become a referendum on Romney.
All the focus now is on Romney and who he is. Now, the upside for that for Romney is he has an opportunity to reveal his vision, his goals, his policies in a way that we really haven't heard before because I think now he realizes and the campaign realizes that it can't just be a referendum on Obama, that he now has to fill in the story, and that's got to be part of their strategy now.
BLITZER: Gloria, this talk about his father, it just doesn't feel like damage control. It seems like the latest example of something they have tried to do at the conventions to make the governor seem more relatable, like someone who isn't totally insulated from the problems of ordinary people. Doesn't it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
I mean, that's their real problem, and if you look at the numbers, Wolf, it's kind of unsustainable for them. They have to turn this around, which is that by a three-to-one margin according to some polls, voters believe that President Obama better understands the problems of ordinary Americans, so people are referring to themselves.
Unless people believe that you understand where they're coming from, they're not going to trust you to become the next president of the United States, which is why we hear Mitt Romney now talking about the early economic struggles of his father, which is why we heard him during the convention talk about more of his personal life, more of his faith, more of who he is, trying to open himself up a little bit.
But of course, now it comes in the context of complete damage control, which makes it suspect.
BLITZER: Alice, the likability is certainly a concern for the Romney campaign. He's actually underwater in some polls and his unfavorable numbers are actually higher than his favorable numbers, and that's basically unprecedented for a presidential candidate at this point in the race.
Here's the question. Is there really enough time to reverse the trend?
ALICE STEWART, FORMER BACHMANN CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Oh, there certainly is. We have a little less than 50 days to go, but what we're seeing here in the past few days is exactly what the Obama campaign wants. They want a discussion and debate on class warfare as opposed to looking exactly at his record.
And what we're seeing over the past few days is Romney's had the opportunity to show that he is for 100 percent of Americans, whereas President Obama as we have seen is for redistribution of wealth, spreading the wealth and giving everyone a shot.
And we have seen the audio clip from the president saying that the trick of government is to be able to pool resources in order to sustain a redistribution of wealth. What he's planning to do is further create another generation of government dependency.
Right now we have unemployment is through the roof, we have 47 million Americans on food stamps, whereas Governor Romney, he wants to take people off government dependency and allow them to thrive in the free market system.
BLITZER: Mark, we have a new CNN poll from Nevada today. There are new NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist numbers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, advantages for the president in all those states.
All along you have been saying based on your experience in the Bush campaign, look, you can't write off the Romney campaign in September. Do you still feel that way?
MCKINNON: Well, I think the tape was very damaging. I think that's what polls are reflecting.
But I remember when we had what we called black September in 2000, we came out of the convention, had some bad weeks, we were down three points and then we turned it around in the debates. It was a big opportunity in the debates.
Jimmy Carter was up four points at this same time in 1980 so it's absolutely possible. And 50 days is a lifetime in a campaign. These couple news cycles a few days from now will seem like ancient history.
BLITZER: Gloria, one of the things we did see today that we have seen for a few days now in the polls that ask voters who was the best candidate to manage the economy, President Obama was actually tied or had a slight edge on that question. The Romney campaign is seeing these numbers, they're making some changes, aren't they?
BORGER: Well, right.
I mean, they see that that's a real possible for them. The entire rationale for Mitt Romney's candidacy is that he's got the business experience to fix the economy. That's how he has portrayed himself.
The problem that they're running into now is that when you look at the polls, Americans are more optimistic about where the economy is going to be a year from now, whether they're going to be better off. They're still not above 50 percent but they're about twice as optimistic as they were a year ago.
So Mitt Romney has a tougher time making his case if people are a little bit more optimistic about how they're feeling about their own economic situation. So what the Romney campaign's trying to do, in my discussions with them, is they're trying to personalize this, to say you know what, here's exactly how I can fix this, here's how your health care will be more expensive, here's how I'm going to open domestic oil production and lower gas prices for you.
So they're trying to take it from a macro level to a more micro level so that people can relate to their solutions for the economy, Wolf, and they haven't ruled out doing some kind of domestic policy speech to talk to voters directly.
BLITZER: Might be smart to do that.
Gloria Borger, Mark McKinnon, Alice Stewart, guys, thanks very much.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, @WolfBlitzer.
Ahead, one of voters' top concerns, immigration, President Obama and Mitt Romney face some tough questions at a town hall held by Univision. How crucial will the Latino vote be in November? That's next.
BLITZER: Tonight, we continue our focus on issues 2012. We polled registered voters to identify their top foreign policy concerns. We asked what keeps them up at night.
Syria was their number five concern. Afghanistan was four. China was three. Tonight, their number two foreign policy concern, immigration.
Over the past two days in Miami, President Obama and Mitt Romney took part in a town hall style event sponsored by Univision, the Spanish-speaking television network. Immigration was a big topic. Latino voters are expected to play a crucial role in the election.
CNN's chief national correspondent, John King, is digging deeper -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one reason we keep a close eye on this issue is we know it's important to all voters but it has a special appeal among Latino voters who are critical in this presidential election.
Let's take a look at how they can matter. We have seen both candidates try to increase their outreach lately. In many swing states, the Latino population will be critical. Look at Nevada, more than 17 percent of the population is Latino. Colorado, more than 13 percent. The state of Florida, it's closing in on 20 percent, above 19 percent in this election, and even in a state like Ohio, where it's only 2.5 percent of the population, in a 50-50 race, that can matter.
It could be a potential swing population in many of the key battleground states. Now, what's interesting is you don't hear as much about the illegal immigration issue per see as many complaints right now, and that's in part because the numbers are down a little bit.
First let's look at a little history. This is the U.S. Hispanic population by place of birth. If you go back to 1970, nearly nine in 10 Latinos, Hispanics living in the United States were born in the United States. Only 14 percent came from outside of the United States. This is both legal and illegal immigrants, those foreign born. Look at now, 63 percent born in the United States, 37 percent, again, that's legal and illegal immigrants coming from outside the United States. That's been an interesting change just in the last 30-plus years, 40 years.
Here's an interesting figure. You hear a lot of complaints in the border states, of course, but if you go back through recent years, illegal immigration relatively static in terms of the numbers. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 10.5 million came into the United States in 2005. In 2010, it was 11.6, 2011, 11.5.
So still a high number, many would say that's way too high, but a relatively flat line, if you will, on the illegal immigration problem and again, if you go to some of the border states, they would call it a crisis.
BLITZER: Attitudes towards immigrants are changing as well, right, John?
J. KING: They are changing a bit. Let's take a look at the numbers. Let me turn off the Telestrator and get this out of the way. We will move to one of those battleground states.
I want to show you this number and we will pull it out of Nevada, because look at this question here. This is asked by Gallup, what level should immigration be at? Again, this is immigration, not illegal or legal. But if you look at this, present level dark green, increase the brighter green, decreased is the yellow. Decreased, look at back in the mid '90s, was at 65 percent, spiked again here. Now decreased is down to 35 percent. And 42 percent of the American people say keep it right about where it is and 21 percent favor increase.
You do see some spikes, especially back here in the '90s, and right here, so it's a little less intense, if you will, a little less pressure on the government and on the politicians to decrease immigration at the moment.
BLITZER: John, thanks very much.
Joining me now, Antonio Villaraigosa. He's the mayor of Los Angeles, the national co-chair for the Obama for America campaign. Also joining us, the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who co-chairs Mitt Romney's Hispanic steering committee.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.
Mayor Villaraigosa, I will start with you. The president, as you know, participated in a discussion today on the Spanish-language network Univision. He was pressed pretty hard by the anchor, Jorge Ramos, on why he didn't achieve comprehensive immigration reform in his first term. I want to play a little clip of that exchange and let you respond. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): On May 28, 2008, we had a conversation in Denver, Colorado. And you told me the following, and I want to quote you. "But I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support."
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I confess I did not expect, and so I'm happy to take responsibility for being naive here, is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform, my opponent in 2008, who had been a champion of it, and who attended these meetings, suddenly would walk away. That's what I did not anticipate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, we know the president enjoys a wide lead among Hispanic voters out there, but clearly, there are some who feel he didn't do enough for them in his first term and they're holding him responsible for it despite his argument that the Republicans obstructed him on the issue.
Here's the question. Do his Latino critics have a fair point?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: No.
First of all, he took responsibility, and he said, look, I made a promise. I didn't realize that the Republicans would walk away from the bipartisan deal that you need to address something of this magnitude. He's certainly not running away from what he said.
But I think the vast majority of Latinos in the last poll I saw, it's something like 68 percent of them support the president, because they know he supports comprehensive immigration reform, and Mr. Romney supports the self-deportation of 11 million people.
They know he supports the DREAM Act. He did deferred action. They know that Mr. Romney does not, that he's highlighted his support for Kris Kobach, the Alabama and Arizona laws as models for the nation. They know that he's helped to bring out two million people -- two million Latinos out of poverty, and 150,000 Latinos have scholarships because -- loans because of his work, and nine million Latinos will have health care because of the Affordable Care Act.
That's why so many people, Latinos, do support the president and don't support Mr. Romney. There are a small number that are still focused on the fact that we weren't able to get a deal. We ought to all work together to get that deal and move forward.
BLITZER: Secretary Gutierrez, your candidate, Governor Romney, he spoke to Univision yesterday. He appeared to try to soften his stance on illegal immigration to a certain degree. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: We're not going to round up people around the country and deport them. That's not -- I said during my primary campaign, time and again, we're not going to round up 12 million people, that includes the kids and the parents, and have everyone deported. Our system isn't to deport people. We need to provide a long-term solution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's widely known that the governor needs to do better with Latino voters if he's going to win. He said as much in that secret fund-raiser recording that emerged this week.
But is this softening of the rhetoric particularly at this late stage in the campaign, Mr. Secretary, going to be enough?
CARLOS GUTIERREZ, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: Well, look, the governor is saying what he believes and what he feels.
He's not the kind of man that would round up 12 million people and deport them. I think Hispanics are appropriately outraged and many who I have talked to, because they feel like they have been taken for a ride, and they have been used only when their vote is needed.
And where they should be really outraged is in the results, you know, over 10 percent unemployment for more than 50 months, three million Hispanics looking for work, Hispanic teenagers, 30 percent unemployment and then two million more Hispanics in poverty.
That's where the threat of these redistributionist policies get you. That's what we should be talking about. Do we want a redistributionist country or do we want a country fueled by free enterprise, innovation, entrepreneurship, individual empowerment? That's the big question of this election, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a big question indeed.
Very quickly, Mr. Mayor, the governor has criticized President Obama for ordering his administration not to deport children who are in the country illegally, saying it was a political move. Was it strictly a political move?
VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely not.
You can't have it both ways. He says he doesn't want to mass deport 11 million people, but he wants to make conditions so miserable, so intolerable, so oppressive that they self-deport.
GUTIERREZ: No. No.
VILLARAIGOSA: No country in the world has ever deported 12 million people.
The fact of the matter is the president did the right thing, that reflected his values, reflected the fact that these kids are going to contribute mightily to the nation.
What I would hope is, and I have said this before, that we ought to work on a bipartisan basis to pass comprehensive immigration reform now, get it out of the campaign. Get it out of the discussion. Let's work together now to do that.
BLITZER: Don't hold your breath. That's not going to happen now.
VILLARAIGOSA: I agree with you -- sorry?
BLITZER: Yes. I was going to say, unfortunately, we're out of time. We got to leave it right there. But let's continue this conversation down the road. I don't expect -- I don't think anyone expects comprehensive immigration reform about to pass before the election.
GUTIERREZ: We want bipartisan, sensible immigration reform, which the governor said today.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Gentlemen, thanks very much, Mayor Villaraigosa, Secretary Gutierrez. Appreciate it.
Up next, the extraordinary claim that some are making about this man, the blind sheik who masterminded the first World Trade Center attack. President Obama, some say, is weighing a deal to cut him loose. I will ask a top accuser and a leading lawmaker, where's the evidence? "Keeping Them Honest."
BLITZER: "Keeping Them Honest" right now on the commonsense idea that if you're going to make a bold statement, you better have the goods to back it up.
Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. So, tonight, here's the extraordinary claim, that as a result of the rioting that has swept Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, the Obama administration is either thinking about, actively negotiating or has already reached a deal to let a notorious mastermind of terror go free, the man convicted of plotting the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and served as the inspiration for the 9/11 attacks, a man who was in many ways the Osama bin Laden of his times, this man, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik, as he's called, now serving a life sentence in a North Carolina federal prison.
According to an article in today's "The New York Post" the administration may let him go as a goodwill gesture to Egyptians. The paper sites unnamed officials and a former blind sheik prosecutor saying he thinks -- and I'm quoting now -- "I believe there may already be a nod and a wink agreement in place."
He offers no evidence, though, to support that belief. The story is getting wide play as well out there on the blogosphere and among congressional Republicans, including Congressman Peter King, who you will hear from shortly. He and others writing the attorney general, Eric Holder, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, saying this: "The release of Abdel Rahman or any terrorist who plots to kill innocent Americans would be seen for what it is, a sign of weakness and a lack of resolve by the United States and its president."
Both the Justice Department and the National Security Council have issued flat-out denials. Not true, they say. Not depending necessarily -- not relying on what they say, according to these critics, but despite having zero supporting evidence to the contrary, a flat denial isn't good enough for some.
And, as we mentioned, the New York Congressman Peter King, I spoke with the congressman earlier.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Peter King. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.
REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You have caused quite a stir by suggesting that the Obama administration is considering releasing the so-called blind sheik, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was responsible for the initial World Trade Center bombing back in the early '90s.
They have flatly denied that. What evidence do you have that they may be considering this request?
P. KING: Well, first, Wolf, they have not flatly denied it.
But let me just say the basis for the letter, I sent it along with seven other senior House chairmen, committee chairmen and subcommittee chairmen, because several months ago, President Morsi in his inaugural address said that he wanted the blind sheik released to Egyptian custody.
Then, over the last several months, especially over the last few weeks, I know my staff is in contact with people in federal law enforcement saying that questions are being asked if the sheik were to be released or were to be transferred, what the procedures would be.
Also, over the last several months, when I have had contact with different Cabinet officials, we don't get a definite no. So the eight of us decided to send this letter to Attorney General Holder and Secretary Clinton.
And what the State Department said yesterday, they said there is no plan. Well, that's playing word games a bit. All they have to say is that the blind sheik is going to die in an American jail. Don't say there's no plan, because that means there could be a plan tomorrow. They also said there's been no recent contact with high-level Egyptian officials on this issue. Well, does that mean that there's contact with lower-level officials or that there was contact until recently?
And then the Justice Department put a statement out saying that he will remain in prison, but they didn't say what prison, because the Egyptians are saying we should transfer him from federal prison in the United States to an Egyptian prison.
So all they have to do, they can end this tomorrow. This story could be ended tomorrow if they put out a one-sentence statement saying that not only is he not going to be released, but he will die in an American prison.
BLITZER: Well, let me put up on the screen, show the viewers the statements that the Obama administration so far have released -- has released.
This from Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd, I will put it up. The assertion that the Blind Sheikh may be transferred to Egypt is utter garbage. The Blind Sheikh is not being transferred to Egypt, nor is he being released. He is serving a life sentence in federal prison. Suggestions that there are discussions to transfer or release him are absolute garbage and completely false.
Then a separate statement from the National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Victor. He said this: "The Blind Sheikh is going to serve out his life sentence. There are no discussions about transferring him. These reports are wrong."
And then finally, as you say, the State Department issued this statement. I'll play it for you once again. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Let me say as clearly as I can, there is no plan to release the Blind Sheikh. There is no plan. To my knowledge, we have not been approached about it recently by any senior Egyptians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Well, you got three statements from the Justice Department, the National Security Council and the State Department saying it -- it's not happening. Why do you suspect it still might be happening?
KING: Let's focus on the State Department statement. That does not say it's not going to happen. That was not unequivocal. They said there is no plan and to the best of her knowledge there has been no recent contact with the Egyptian government. Now, does that mean that there was prior contact with the Egyptian government, that was not so recent? So that was certainly a very equivocal type answer.
So if we get a clear, unequivocal statement, not somebody saying it's garbage or anything else, we get the attorney general or the secretary of state to say emphatically that he will never, ever be released from an American prison and he will die in prison, that's a different story.
BLITZER: So when the spokesman for the National Security Council says -- and I'll put it up one more time -- the spokesman for the National Security Council says, "The Blind Sheikh is going to serve out his life sentence," that seems like a pretty flat -- firm statement to me.
KING: Well, he didn't say he's serving it out in an American prison. The Justice Department did; the National Security Council didn't. Remember, President Morsi is saying transfer him to Egypt and they will put him in an Egyptian prison for life. There's a difference. He didn't say he's not going to be transferred. He said he's going to spend his life...
BLITZER: He did go on to say -- Mr. Chairman, he did go on to say there are no discussions about transferring him. These reports are wrong.
KING: Now, the State Department yesterday said they don't have the knowledge of any recent discussions. So that implies that there were discussions. So again, they better get their act together.
BLITZER: And one final question. The initial information that you have, suggesting that there may be discussions under way, some consideration to releasing the Blind Sheikh, can you share with us where you're getting this information?
KING: I would just say there are federal law enforcement officials who came to -- to my committee, my committee staff, they've spoken with us. Others have had several similar conversations, and these are people who have no partisan agenda at all. They came to us, came to my committee staff because of their concern.
BLITZER: Peter King's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. And Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.
KING: Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, breaking news. Brand-new details about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others dead. What Libya is saying today about whether the attack was pre-planned. That's next.
BLITZER: Breaking news. New information about the attacks that killed four Americans in Libya, the Libyans now saying the attack was preplanned. That differs entirely from what the U.S. is saying. Details next.
BLITZER: Some breaking news to tell you about right now. New reporting out of Libya on the killing of America's ambassador to Libya and three others last week at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Libya's prime minister now acknowledging the attack was preplanned. You might recall from 360's exclusive reporting last night that, in the months before he died, Ambassador Stevens talked about what he called the never-ending security threat in Benghazi.
A source familiar with Ambassador Stevens thinking telling us the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise of Islamic extremism, the growing al Qaeda presence in Libya and said that he was an on al Qaeda hit list.
Today the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was asked about that notion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I have absolutely no information or reason to believe that there is any basis for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Her remarks notwithstanding, though, we think our reporting is solid. And our own people have been digging deeper, including Arwa Damon, who has been in Benghazi with the breaking news. Also, Elise Labott here in Washington.
Arwa, first to you. There is still a disagreement between the U.S. and the Libyan governments over whether or not the Benghazi attacks were preplanned. You interviewed the Libyan prime minister earlier today. What can you tell us?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the prime minister was telling me they do, in fact, at this stage believe that this was a preplanned attack; this was not a spontaneous event that did take place. They are saying that so far, they have eight people in custody who were directly linked to this attack and that they are in pursuit of others, especially in pursuit of the leadership.
However, those individuals who perpetrated this assault are not linked to any particular group. Rather, they are something of a coalition of individuals with different affiliations, all of them, of course, having an extremist vein running within them. But that they are individuals who are loosely banded together.
And so the government in hot pursuit of them at this point in time, telling us they are determined to bring them to justice.
BLITZER: Arwa, anyone there saying the attack could have been prevented?
DAMON: At this point in time, the Libyan government, the prime minister himself is saying no, this could not have been prevented at this stage. But some Libyan military officials that we have been talking to have been saying that for quite some time now they've been speaking with U.S. officials in Libya about this rising threat from Islamic extremists. Because this attack was not an isolated incident. BLITZER: Let me go to Elise. Elise, U.S. government officials are now conceding it was, in fact, a terrorist attack, but they're not saying it was preplanned, is that right?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. What they're saying is they didn't have any, quote, "actionable intelligence" that the consulate was indeed being targeted or diplomats were indeed being targeted. But that's very different, Wolf, than saying that there was no chatter out there, that they weren't aware of the threat.
And they say it wasn't preplanned, but the level of sophistication and the number of people that were heavily armed would cause one to think that there was some kind of coordination.
So what U.S. officials think is maybe there wasn't a necessarily plan to attack the consulate on any particular day, but that there were a group of extremists that were looking for a target of opportunity. They saw something going on at the embassy, and they were ready to go. And they went for it, Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa, there's an investigation going on in Libya in the wake of the attack, the prime minister saying he's determined to bring those responsible to justice, but how easy of a task is that in a country like Libya right now?
DAMON: It most certainly is not easy at all, Wolf. This is an incredibly vast country, and these individuals have a number of places where they can seek safe haven.
In fact, the U.S. has been monitoring quite a few of these locations, especially in the eastern part of the country, for quite some time now. And that was something that the prime minister brought up, as well, talking about just how difficult it was going to be to bring these individuals to justice, to actually bring them in.
But also fully aware of the necessity of accomplishing just that, because this government does, at the end of the day, have to establish its own credibility within its own nation but also when it comes to its standing in the international community.
So important to also mention here, Wolf, that the prime minister also said, however, that these groups at this point in time are showing no indication of having any sort of affiliation with al Qaeda. That is the individuals who carried out this assault against the U.S. consulate. Very much a home-grown Libyan movement at this point.
BLITZER: And Elise, as far as security at the compound in Libya was concerned, we've heard varying accounts. We have heard from a number of officials that security at the compound was not adequate.
Fran Townsend even told us that the ambassador, Ambassador Stevens, arrived for a meeting with her at a hotel in Tripoli and had no security detail with him at all inside the hotel.
But you're hearing a very different account from State Department officials that you're talking to. What are you hearing?
Well, Wolf, we're hearing a couple of things. First of all, the officials are saying that just because the detail of Ambassador Stevens in Tripoli wasn't visible doesn't mean it wasn't there.
But when we're talking about the consulate in Tripoli -- in Benghazi, excuse me, officials say that in the wake -- in the lead-up to this 9/11 attack, and we -- Arwa just mentioned these previous attacks, including the attack on the consulate, the State Department made increased enhancements to improve security on the compound, more barriers, more cameras, additional armed guards.
In addition, ambassador Stevens had two armed guards in addition to three others and several militias on the compound. And what officials are saying is listen, we were adding improvements to this security based on those previous attacks which weren't very large. But they say they couldn't have foreseen, Wolf, the kind of onslaught that happened on 9/11, and they don't know if they could have done anything to prevent it.
BLITZER: Elise Labott, hanks very much.
Just ahead, we're going to show you where a new wave of anti- American protests is breaking.
BLITZER: Today, CNN revealed the top ten heroes of 2012. Each of the ten will receive $50,000 plus a shot at being chosen CNN Hero of the Year.
CNN has been honoring everyday heroes for six years running. Your nominations led us to these remarkable people whose extraordinary efforts are helping to change the world.
Tonight, we want to check in with one of last year's top ten heroes to see how the award has changed her life. Her name is Diane Lattaker, a Chicago grandmother who has seen street violence claim too many young lives. So she took action and created a refuge called Kids Off the Block. It gives young people in her South Side neighborhood of Roseland a safe place to go and helps with job and computer skills.
This 2011 top ten hero has helped more than 1,500 kids, and her dreams have only gotten bigger. Here's what she told us.
DIANE LATTAKER, 2011 CNN HERO: Since becoming a CNN hero, it's been the most exciting time of my life.
My community came together behind Kids Off the Block after being announced as a CNN hero. And I was honored, but I felt more honored to being from this community for once -- I really did -- because of the people who never thought that they would see someone from Roseland at that level. And CNN opened up an avenue for me to be able to be able to get into lives. You are welcome to come. We're right there. You know where we're at? You're welcome to come.
It was phenomenal. And the response is continuing to today. I have people from all over the country who call me, who e-mail me, how can we help? What can we do?
The hope for the year to come is to change this block. No, literally, to change this whole block. To be able to buy these houses, and these vacant lots that we have on this block and change them into houses of help. That's my goal, that's my vision, that's what I'm working on now, and I believe it.
CNN made me believe a lot of things can happen, because if a grandmother from the urban setting of Roseland can make it to L.A. to CNN, everything is possible. And that's what I tell these young people. Everything is possible.
BLITZER: Like Diane, this year's top ten heroes will soon feel the heat of the spotlight, and new doors may open. Remember, your votes will decide whose name is CNN Hero of the Year. But now through November 28, you can vote for your favorite hero at CNNHeroes.com or from your mobile device, and you can cast as many as ten votes each day so get busy.
Ahead, my turn at the "RidicuList." It's payback time. First, Isha Sesay is back with a "360 Bulletin."
SESAY: Wolf, a milestone for troops fighting America's longest war. Tonight, the last of the 38,000 extra forces, the so-called surge troops, out of Afghanistan. This ends the three-year experiment, leaving about 68,000 American fighting men and women still in country, many until 2014.
More than 230 people were killed in Syria today. At least 55 died when government warplanes hit a gas station, setting off a massive explosion. Shell fire and gunshots rang out in Aleppo and other cities.
Meanwhile, more than 60 countries, including the U.S. are considering new economic sanctions against Syria.
More fallout from that anti-Islam film. A Pakistani teacher led about 100 schoolchildren in a chant of "death to America." There have been protests against the film in more than 20 countries.
Here at home, Sam Mullet Sr., the leader of a breakaway Amish community, and 15 other followers were convicted of several hate crimes this afternoon. They reportedly cut the beards of Amish men and the hair of Amish women who left his group.
And according to reports, an 80-year-old Spanish woman who botched an effort to restore a painting of Jesus wants a share of the money the church is getting, charging visitors to get a look at her work. The painting, known as "Behold the Man," is now affectionately known as "Behold the Monkey."
BLITZER: Right now, time for "The Shot." If you stumbled across karaoke in your supermarket, what would you expect to hear? We're betting you wouldn't expect this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC: WHITNEY HOUSTON, "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Wow. I didn't see that coming. Did you?
BLITZER: No, she knocked that Whitney Houston classic out of the park. We found it, Isha, the video on YouTube. And it was shot in the Philippines. That was amazing, wasn't it?
SESAY: It's totally impressive. Who knows where we'll see her next, maybe "American Idol." You never know.
BLITZER: Maybe. I would recommend it for sure.
Isha, thank you.
All right. Here's something that I'm looking forward to. If you're a regular viewer of Anderson's "RidicuList," you know that he has had some fun at my expense over the years. But guess what? He's not here tonight, so it's my turn. "The RidicuList," Blitzer style, that's next.
BLITZER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, I can do whatever I want as guest host. So I'm adding Anderson Cooper.
I don't know if you've noticed but I recently started wearing these new glasses, and from the reaction that just got out there on the blogs, on Twitter, you'd think I'd shown up with an "I heart 'THE SITUATION ROOM'" tattooed on my face.
I was particularly interested to hear Anderson's reaction here on "The RidicuList." Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN anchor: Is it just me, or is there something different about Wolf Blitzer? I can't quite put my finger on it. Did he get a haircut or something? Has he been working out? There's just, I don't know, let me put my glasses on. There's just something -- oh, you know what? I think I know what it is. It would seem that Mr. Wolf Blitzer got himself some new glasses.
I don't know, perhaps he saw someone wearing them, liked them and decided to pick up a pair for himself. I wonder where he could have possibly gotten that idea.
Now, I don't want to accuse Wolf Blitzer of going all "Single White Female" on me, but these glasses, they're kind of my thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You can see when two undeniably hunk-tastic men such as Anderson and myself work together, a rivalry is inevitably going to arise.
Yes, Anderson may have gotten the glasses first, and yes, his eyes may be ever so slightly a steelier shade of blue than my own, but I'd like to point out that there is one area in which I am clearly better than Anderson, and that area is this. Keeping composure when certain kinds of words come up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: They saw an actual thespian actually thes-peeing.
They should thank their lucky stars it wasn't depar-two. Sorry. Sorry.
By the way, a cup of the tea from panda is going to cost you. But if you're the adventurous type or you just like to splurge on crap...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tap from a pussywillow branch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So this is where I can easily surpass Anderson Cooper. Go ahead, put whatever they want in the teleprompter, and I will say it without laughing, without flinching, maybe even without even blinking. Here we go. All right. Here we go.
The pussywillows blowing in the wind on the shores of Lake Titicaca are almost as magical as Uranus.
Anderson Cooper could never have gotten through those words. And that is what I call payback on "The Reblitz-ulist."
That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.