Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Syria Firing SCUD-Type Missiles; North Korea Closer to Missile That Could Hit U.S.; Complex and Difficult Recovery For Chavez
Aired December 12, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, CNN goes in search of Syria's chemical weapons. A former regime soldier who guarded one facility tells us his orders were to shoot to kill.
Chilling new details of the Oregon mall massacre, including new information about the shooter and what one survivor heard him say.
And a surprise rocket launch triggering new worries about North Korea and marks a turning point for its mysterious young leader.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, we're watching an ominous escalation of the civil war in Syria. NATO now confirming that Bashar al-Assad's regime is firing short-range, ballistic SCUD-type missiles, a development that comes amid growing fear the next step by the increasingly desperate government could be a chemical weapons attack.
And Arwa Damon is joining us now, this time in Turkey.
She is out of Syria right now, just got out -- Arwa, let's talk a little bit, first, about -- first of all, about these reports that the Syrian regime has actually started firing SCUD missiles at the rebels.
What do we know about this?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very little concrete at this point, Wolf. However, it is believed that there have been quite a few, up to half a dozen, ballistic missiles that were fired inside Syria. The most recent one is believed to have been fired from the suburbs of Damascus.
And this really is just another indication of the ratcheting up of this fighting that's been taking place by the Syrian government.
If you remember, when the government first began firing on unarmed demonstrators, it was small arms fire. That then moved on to the use of artillery and then the use of aircraft.
And now we've increasingly been seeing the use of these missiles and, also, what opposition activists are calling barrel bombs, that wreak quite mass destruction.
So most certainly, this is not a situation that bodes well for anyone inside Syria, especially those on the receiving end of these missiles -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It looks like as the regime of President Bashar al- Assad gets more desperate, he certainly escalates the lethality of their attacks on these civilians, on these rebels, the insurgents, what's going on. You were, also, before leaving Syria -- and we're glad you're out of there, Arwa, safe and sound. You went on a search for some of these chemical weapons stockpiles.
And you filed this dramatic report.
DAMON (voice-over): In most of these villages, we don't dare stop. While no longer fully controlled by the government, the regime spies still lurk. And we're snaking our way toward the facility that the government most certainly does not want us to see -- a site that multiple sources on the ground say is where the Assad regime produces chemical weapons, a place called the Scientific Research Facility.
To the southeast of Aleppo lies the town of Al-Safirah. On its outskirts, a sprawling factory manufacturing anything from containers to long-range missiles. This is as close as we can get before we hear an aircraft overhead and quickly leave.
To the southeast of that, according to our sources, is the Scientific Research Facility.
(on camera): From here, we can see the outermost perimeter of the general research facility. And the fighters are telling us that it is amongst the most heavily guarded areas where they are operating. The village right below it, that is filled with government loyalists. So this is about as far as we can go.
(voice-over): Abu Obaida commands the Dira al-Shahabad Brigade (ph), that has fighters surrounding the facility. Tasked by his commanders with isolating, but not attacking, it.
"The regime might take extreme actions if we try to assault, so we're just militarily choking it off," he tells us.
On all sides, it is surrounded by rolling hills. We're being escorted by a defective soldier who worked on the inside, and a rebel fighter from the area. We've agreed not to reveal their identities. At one point between the two hilltops, a manmade barrier.
(on camera): We have to be very careful filming through here. But visible on the side of the mountains are what rebel fighters with us are telling us were the former positions that government troops used to occupy. Since the Free Syrian Army moved into this area, government forces have pulled further and closer to the facility itself.
(voice-over): This man was recently captured by the rebels. He says he led a unit whose job was to patrol part of the perimeter. Artillery units are positioned on the hilltops. He agreed to be interviewed if we disguised his identity and his voice.
He says that soldiers like him were constantly searched, their calls monitored, forbidden from seeing people who entered the main building. They arrived escorted by armed guards concealed from sight.
"It was even forbidden for us to ask about it. If we did, we were punished," he tells us.
They were under orders to shoot to kill anyone who approached, even a civilian, within 300 meters. He says that around five months ago, regular employees stopped arriving.
"And what I overheard is that those who were allowed to leave were Syrians and those inside were foreigners. We saw large quantities of food still being delivered," he says.
Defectors have previously told CNN that Iranian scientists have often worked here. There is no way to confirm that. Portions of the complex are underground. The hilltops have tunnels, as well, guarded, we are told, by up to 5,000 soldiers.
The fear of chemical weapons has further traumatized people. In Aleppo, Dr. Hamza says he began requesting precautionary supplies six months ago, some atropine has arrived, but no chemical suits.
(on camera): You're going to make your own chemical suits?
ABU OBAIDA, REBEL COMMANDER: Yes. Yes. We'll try to do it ourselves right now. We have like two pieces, two chemical suits, and the (INAUDIBLE) about them and -- to make them.
DAMON: To make your own?
OBAIDA: Yes, exactly. Because we tried a lot to get chemical suits, but until now, we couldn't.
DAMON (voice-over): At secret sites around the city, he says medical teams will be provided with atropine and training in case government forces resort to chemical weapons. But in reality, people can do little more than pray that Syrian's war does not lead to such a catastrophe.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: And Arwa is back joining us once again.
Atropine is that drug that if you inject it right away, it might save your life if you're the victim of a chemical attack. But it -- it looks sort of pitiful right now, Arwa. Very little of that, very few, as you point out, actual chemical suits to deal with this kind of a situation.
Is there any indication at all the rebels are getting from anywhere in the region that help is on the way?
DAMON: Not the kind of help they would really need, Wolf, bearing in mind, of course, that when a chemical attack does take place, even if it isn't a First World country, for those that are in the direct zone of where the -- the strike is, there's very little that one can actually do for them. Of course, when it comes to the situation in Syria, those individuals that might be the target of such a strike are even more vulnerable because they don't have sufficient atropine. They don't have individuals that are trained enough to be able to apply it if that should, in fact, be what does transpire.
And, of course, as we were seeing in that report, there aren't any chemical suits for medical teams to be able to put on and get into these hardest hit areas should this, in fact, take place.
Bearing in mind, too, that this is a civilian population that has hardly been able to protect itself against the bullets, the artillery, the rockets and the bombs that most certainly, when it comes to trying to protect themselves against any sort of chemical warfare, they are going to be incredibly, incredibly vulnerable -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa is now out of Syria. She's on the Turkish side of the border.
Thanks, once again, Arwa, for joining us.
Chilling words seconds before a gunman opens fire inside a mall full of Christmas shoppers. One of the survivors tells us what he heard and saw.
And a defiant rocket launch by North Korea -- what it reveals about the country's mysterious new young leader and his grip on power.
BLITZER: The United Nations Security Council is condemning a surprise rocket launch by North Korea, a launch the U.S. calls "a clear provocation." It may have put a satellite into orbit, but more important than the satellite is the rocket technology that the nuclear-armed country could use to build a missile potentially capable of hitting the United States.
CNN's Brian Todd is working this story for us -- Brian, first of all, what's the latest on the rocket?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a U.S. official confirms to us that the object the North Koreans sent up is now in orbit. U.S. officials are actually looking into whether it is an operating satellite. But either way, it is the flexing of North Korea's missile capability with this launch that is most alarming to the U.S. and its allies.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): The rocket went up, the announcement went out over loudspeakers. And if you were on the streets of Pyongyang, you had to cheer. Beyond the propaganda, North Korea's launch of a long- range rocket possibly carrying a satellite into orbit is a turning point in its stand-off with the West.
U.S. and South Korean officials believe North Korea is using the launch as cover for testing ballistic missile technology.
The goal -- to perfect a long-range missile carrying a nuclear warhead, one that could hit the United States.
They're not there yet. Experts say the North Koreans haven't yet developed a vehicle that can survive reentry into the atmosphere with a warhead on board. If they do...
(on camera): With a nuclear warhead on this long-range missile, where can they hit?
JOEL WIT, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think with a warhead on, what you see here is the reasonable maximum range. And that's out to here. So it would hit Alaska and Hawaii.
TODD (voice-over): And the North Koreans could well be getting help from another country hostile to America.
(on camera): A U.S. official says one working assumption is that Iran helped with this launch. A prominent South Korean newspaper reports Iranian experts secretly entered North Korea recently and were present at the launch. Iranian officials deny that.
(voice-over): Experts say the Iranians, who have successfully launched satellites into space, likely helped the North Koreans nail down the separation of stages for this rocket, which had failed in earlier attempts.
If this launch is as successful as it appears, it's also a turning point for North Korea's 29-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un. Over the past year since the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, the younger Kim has faced internal challenges and questions about his strengths. Now --
BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL: He really is in control. To go against Kim Jong-Un is to go against the legacy of Kim Jong-Il, is to go against all his bureaucratic power.
TODD: Former CIA official, Bruce Klingner, says in recent months, Kim has ruthlessly crushed internal descent, purging as many as 200 top officials, including powerful generals who'd been loyal to his father.
KLINGNER: Generals that are being elevated, indeed, are a bit more hardcore, hard lined than the generals that were originally in place. So, if anything, it's an indication that North Korea is not going to be any more reform-minded under Kim Jong-un than his predecessors.
TODD (on-camera): In fact, analysts say the general who has just been promoted to the top military post is a hardliner who got his fingerprints on the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship by North Korea and the shelling of a disputed island which killed four South Koreans, Wolf. This military officials known as a pretty bellicose general.
BLITZER: So, here's a question a lot of people in this country are worried about right now. Let's say they develop an intercontinental ballistic missile with a warhead potentially capable of reaching the United States. What are the U.S. capabilities in terms of defending itself against such a missile?
TODD: Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, told CNN just today that the U.S. is very confident that if North Korea were to launch a missile at the United States, that the American military could guard against it. Panetta said, that's a major reason why the U.S. is bolstering its military presence in the pacific region now to counter the threat from North Korea.
BLITZER: Brian Todd working the story for us. Thanks, Brian.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with CNN's Paula Hancocks. She's monitoring the situation from Seoul in South Korea. I assumed there's a heightened amount of concern over there. What's the latest, Paula, that you're hearing? What's the reaction in South Korea?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the condemnation here pretty fast and very definite saying that this was basically a challenging threat to the Korean Peninsula and also to the rest of the world. We've seen this, really, a random (ph) region, this international condemnation.
Now, usually, North Korea would just ignore this condemnation, but interestingly, on Wednesday evening, KCNA the state-run news agency came out with a statement from the foreign ministry slamming the international condemnation. The foreign ministry spokesperson, who was unnamed and quoted said that hostile forces are showing signs of a sinister bid to take issue with this launch, insisting once again that the satellite launch was for peaceful purposes.
North Korea is insisting it's their right to be able to use out of space for peaceful purposes by international law, and they also single the United States out for particular criticism saying the U.S. overreacted to the satellite launch back in April. Of course, that one failed. An act of hostile feelings which made North Korea re- examined the nuclear issue as a whole. So, quite often, we see North Korea just ignoring international condemnation, not this time.
It's very interesting, Wolf, on Wednesday, we saw a tremendous amount of information coming out from North Korea. We saw updates and special bulletins (ph) on North Korea's television throughout the day which is really quite unprecedented, unless, it is a big event like a funeral of Kim Jong-Il, for example.
So, certainly, you can see from a North Korean point of view, they're very proud of what they have done. South Korea, U.S., Japan, Russia, China, though, obviously not so happy.
BLITZER: What are they bracing for in South Korea right now? We know the Korean Peninsula always is tense. I assume South Korea military forces is on a little higher state of alert right now, but what do they think this new young leader in North Korea might do next, specifically, in terms of provocative steps?
HANCOCKS: Well, we heard from the defense ministry on Wednesday and they said, indeed, they have lifted that military alert level to number two, so the second highest out of three. But they said that, at this point, they don't see any signs or any moves of more provocations from North Korea. So, we could imagine that that alert level, if that continues to be the case, could come back down again.
And it's interesting on the streets of Seoul, the people that we spoke to, the concern is there, but it is more low-key. People have seen this before. Seoul residents have been living through this and South Korean residence have lived through this for more than 60 years as South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea.
There was never a peace treaty signed. There have been provocations and nuclear tests and rocket tests over the years. So, they do seem a little more philosophical about it on the streets of Seoul.
BLITZER: Paula Hancocks is in South Korea, Seoul for us. We'll stay in close touch with you, Paula. Thank you.
And much more coming up on North Korea. Our next hour, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson who has been to North Korea on several occasions, including two years ago when I traveled with him there. He'll be joining us in our next hour.
A former intern to a powerful U.S. senator arrested. We have details of the surprising charges and a shocking past.
BLITZER: A tough recovery for Hugo Chavez. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's happening to the Venezuelan --
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The Venezuelan vice president says the nation's leader faces a complex and difficult recovery after cancer surgery. He's asking the country to remain united and pray for Chavez who had surgery in Cuba. It hasn't been revealed what kind of cancer he is battling.
He's had at least two previous surgeries. Though, Chavez won re- election in October despite rumors about his health.
Sad news. Guitar legend, Ravi Shankar, died. He passed away near his home in San Diego. Shankar brought cultural boundaries with his music, even teaching the Beatles' George Harrison how to play his guitar and bringing Indian music to the west. He is also the father of jazz singer and well-known artist, Norah Jones. Musicians and world leaders are praising the man and his music today. Shankar was 92 years old.
Also, there are rumors swirling about tonight's 12/12/12 concert for superstorm Sandy release. Reports that Paul McCartney will sub for the late Kurt Cobain as Nirvana reunites the Madison Square Garden. CNN entertainment spoke with a quote/unquote "insider" who would neither confirm nor deny the collaboration, though, telling CNN just wait and see.
Others expected to perform include the Rolling Stone, The Who, Alicia Keys, Eric Clapton, Kanye West, and Jon Bon Jovi. Quite a line up.
And some good news to end on. Former president, George W. Bush is going to be a grandfather. His daughter, Jenna, announcing on the "Today" show that she's expecting her first baby in the spring. Jenna says she's both nervous and excited to be a mom. That's pretty understandable. The former president and first lady even called into the show to send their best.
VOICE OF LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: We're thrilled. We're just absolutely thrilled.
JENNA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF GEORGE W. BUSH: Hi mom, hi dad.
LAURA BUSH: Hi Jenna. Hi Henry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
JENNA BUSH-HAGER: Hi popsicle.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- way to me. Yes, imagine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Popsicle?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Never mind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, we are breaking news this morning. Mr. President, you obviously are going to be a first time grandfather. How excited are you about this happening?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. I'm fired up.
(LAUGHTER) GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm looking forward to it. And, I'm excited for Jenna and Henry, you know? So, I can barely contain the news when I found out. So, now, I can tell all my buddies.
JENNA BUSH: You told a couple people, but that was OK.
BOLDUAN: Very cute. Jenna and her husband, Henry Hager, were married in 2008 in Crawford, Texas, at the Bush family ranch. Congratulations to them.
BLITZER: I'm very happy for the former president, Laura Bush. Very exciting time for all of them and good luck.
BOLDUAN: Yes. She looks beautiful.
BLITZER: Of course.
BLITZER: Thank you.
He says the rifle looked like something out a video game and the gunman like Jason from the horror film. Just ahead, one eyewitness' chilling account of that deadly Oregon mall shooting.
BLITZER: We now know the names of the two people killed at an Oregon mall shooting. Investigators are simply calling heinous. Fifty-four-year-old Cindy Ann Yuille (ph) is described by her family as everybody's friend who put other's first.
The family of 45-year-old Steven Matthew Forsyth (ph) is remembering him as one of the most passionate people with the great sense of humor and a zest for life. Another shooting victim, Kristina Shevchenko (ph) remains hospitalized in serious condition. CNNs Dan Simon is outside the mall with the very latest. Dan, what do we know, first of all, about the gunman?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that the shooter stole the gun that was used during the attack, according to authorities, stole the gun just the day before it happened. Came here to the mall, police identified the shooter as 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts of Portland. The weapon recovered is an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Police say at one point the gun actually jammed and that likely prevented even more loss of life.
At this point, we haven't found anything that would suggest a motive. This is somebody, according to people we've talked to, who was very popular in high school. Seemed to be well adjusted. "The Oregonian" reporting, though, that last year the shooter lost his apartment due to a foreclosure, which may suggest there was some kind of financial situation but that certainly doesn't begin to explain why this happened -- Wolf. BLITZER: What else, Dan, are you learning about this horrible, horrible incident?
SIMON: Well, we're getting more information in terms of the chain of events. We know that the shooter entered the mall on the second floor, went through the Macy's, he ran towards the food court area. That's where all of the shots rang out. That's where the victims were shot. He then fled down a flight of stairs and that's apparently where he was cornered by police.
And I want you to listen now to a brief portion of audio. This is police dispatch audio as they were searching for the suspect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just confirming, you said an active shooter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there is one person that's saying that there is a man with a rifle near the food court and that he is still shooting people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're out here on foot and there are people bailing out like crazy from everywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIMON: Well, apparently realizing that the cops were closing in, the shooter turned the gun on himself. They found him on the floor, rifle right next to him. Police searched the suspect, the shooter's car that was left here in the parking lot. They also searched his home. They did recover a certain amount of evidence. At this point they're not disclosing what they found.
We should tell you, Wolf, the mall is still closed. We don't know when, in fact, it will reopen. We should point out there are still a lot of cars here in the parking lot. It's not like people are here. It's because when the shooting happened, obviously there was pandemonium and people just fled. People bolted. And all of the belongings, you know, purses and bags and wallets, car keys were still inside. At some point there'll be a process for people to come and collect all their belongings -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Simon, reporting for us from the scene. Dan, thanks you very, very much.
We're also learning, by the way, others have reported, and we have reported as well, that it could have been a whole lot worse because apparently that rifle jammed. If it hadn't jammed, the bullets would have kept coming out.
Let's go back to the scene at that Macy's store. One of the employees who was inside the mall is joining us. His name is Austin Patty.
Austin, thanks very much for coming in. It's a horrible, horrible incident. First of all, tell our viewers where you were and what you saw, what went through your mind as it began?
AUSTIN PATTY, MALL SHOOTING EYEWITNESS: Well, it was around about 3:30 and I was upstairs at the entrance where he came into and as he came in, he pushed the Salvation Army worker and then he -- as he pushed the Salvation Army guy, he goes, he has a gun and he had a mask. So what that means -- I turned around and all of a sudden I see the guy sprinting towards the food court into the mall like with a -- like you said before, an AR-15 rifle and is running just vigorously.
BLITZER: Did he look like he was targeting anyone or just shooting randomly?
PATTY: It -- from what he looked like he was just running through the mall just doing open fire on everybody.
BLITZER: Just -- whatever he could do. Did you notice that --
BLITZER: -- the actual rifle had jammed, apparently, and that's why he stopped firing?
PATTY: That might have been it. Because I heard six shots at first, ring out, when he got into the mall and after that it kind of -- it was died down for a minute. When I got further out to the parking lot, people were saying there were more shots, about 16 to 20 rounds let off after that.
BLITZER: How close were you to that gunman?
PATTY: Probably no more than 60 feet away. You know, I'm over by the -- putting some clothes on the rack and as soon as I turn around, I mean, he's right there. I mean, he could have been closer with the shotgun. I don't know. Just a lot went down and went over me. It was very overwhelming.
BLITZER: So I assume people were running, they were screaming. Describe what you saw.
PATTY: It was -- it was just pandemonium. Everyone -- some people were hitting the floor, some people were crying. I mean, some people didn't even move. Like -- because they were in such shock. It was -- it's something I've never experienced and I don't -- I hope to never experience again.
BLITZER: Were people just dropping to the floor? Or were they running? Were they hiding behind corners? What did you see?
PATTY: Some people were running out the door. The ones close enough to the door. But the people that were, like, secluded in the corners would hide in the fitting rooms, anywhere they could hide, under clothes racks, just anywhere to duck from cover. Anything to get out of the way of the gunman.
BLITZER: Did he seem calm, the gunman, or did he seem panicked? Did you see his facial movements, by any chance? PATTY: No facial expressions but the way he was moving down the aisle, you could tell that he was on a mission, that he already made it up in his mind that he was going to come here to do some harm.
BLITZER: How long did it take for law enforcement, for the police, to show up?
PATTY: You know, surprisingly, they came right away. As soon as I came outside, I saw two unmarked cars come, as well as -- I saw Clackamas County Sheriff's, the Oregon State Troopers as well as Milwaukee Police.
BLITZER: They were just on the scene very, very quickly.
PATTY: Very quickly.
BLITZER: And obviously they prevented what could have been even -- even a more worse or more horrific situation.
So what's the mood there now? What are your friends and colleagues over at that mall saying to you?
PATTY: Well, I've got a lot of text messages from back home, from Minnesota, friends and family, and friends that I have here. Just happy to have, you know, everyone all right and, you know, luckily -- you know, it could have been worse. You know? Jut not -- you know, only three deaths and, you know, one injury. I mean, it could have been a lot worse. So everyone is kind of, like, calming down. But I mean it's still -- it still rattles people and I think it's shaken and stirred the community, especially here in Clackamas and Happy Valley. Just because something like that doesn't happen here very often.
PATTY: Probably rarely ever. A lot of people probably have never seen this in their life or even thought about it. I mean I know I haven't. Or even thought.
BLITZER: You're going to go back to work at Macy's. You're not leaving there, are you?
PATTY: Oh, no. I'm going to go back. I mean, I mean, something like that, you know, doesn't happen every day. It's sad that it did happen but I mean I think they'll beef up the security and I think everything will be fine at this mall. Everything should be good. I don't think -- none of us in Oregon have anything to worry. I think we'll be fine.
BLITZER: I hope so, too. Austin, thank you very much.
Austin Patty was an eyewitness. He was on the scene when this incident occurred.
A brazen execution-style murder caught on tape in the middle of New York City. Just ahead, what authorities are now learning about a connection that could stretch all the way across the country.
BLITZER: President Obama certainly will have a number of key seats to fill to round out his second term Cabinet including some major posts, secretary of state, secretary of defense, among others, secretary of treasury.
Also, let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger. She's working her sources.
Is there any movement on this? First of all, when do we expect the president to start making some the announcements?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think we're going to get the economic team announcements in the middle -- in the middle of the fiscal cliff. I think and I've been reporting this today, Wolf, as you said, and I think we may start to see some of the kind of national security, state, defense announcements come sooner than that, possibly as earlier as next week.
But the interesting thing that I was reporting today is about this notion of having a Republican at a high level position in the Cabinet and the name that keeps coming up is former Republican Senator John Hagel of Nebraska, who I've been told has met with the president and met with Vice President Joe Biden. One source close to the process told me that, in fact, he believes that Hagel is simply the frontrunner.
BLITZER: For secretary of defense?
BORGER: For secretary of defense. Another source said to me well, he is certainly very much in the mix. So while there's a lot of activity, though, Wolf, I'm not sure the president has made his final decisions. These things are very closely held, as you know, particularly since one decision can lead to another decision. You have to make these things kind of in totality, like a chess game.
BORGER: One move leads to another.
BLITZER: Well, Biden, the vice president, is very close to Chuck Hagel.
BLITZER: On many occasions, I interviewed them together, including, I remember, in Qatar in December 2002 just before the war in Iraq. They had just been in Kurdistan together. They showed up in Doha and I -- you could see they have a very good relationship.
BORGER: They have a very good relationship. They served in the Senate together. And as you know, Chuck Hagel is now the head of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board and while he's a Republican, recall, he used to be very close to John McCain, but he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. He traveled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, you know, there are lots of Republicans, I would have to say, who would not be happy with Chuck Hagel. He was opposed to the surge in 2007 in Iraq. So there are some Republicans who might challenge him.
BLITZER: There's still an opening in the CIA director, too. So I wouldn't necessarily rule that out.
BORGER: There is. There is.
BLITZER: What about Susan Rice? What are you hearing on that one?
BORGER: Well, and that -- and, you know, that is, of course, the big question. My sources say, of course, the president is still very close to her. A huge Susan Rice fan, as someone said to me. But this source also said that the longer she hangs out there the harder it is. And then of course, last week was not a great week for her. I mean you'll recall that she went to the hill and try to assuage Republican concerns over Benghazi, and some Republicans came out of those meetings, most notably moderate Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, less enthusiastic.
So that could be really problematic for her. But again, the president is the one who makes these decisions. The president remains a huge fan of Susan Rice.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see what he does.
BORGER: And don't forget, in the top four Cabinet posts, Susan Rice is a woman. And I think there's a real sense of diversity in that they'd like to see a woman in one of the top four jobs.
BLITZER: Yes. There should be a woman in those top four jobs.
BORGER: Secretary of state's job has been a woman, right?
BORGER: Whoever thought that?
BLITZER: Let's see -- let's see what they do?
Thanks very much.
BLITZER: A former intern to a powerful U.S. senator now arrested. We have details of the surprising charges and a shocking past.
BLITZER: Former intern to a powerful U.S. senator has been arrested. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is joining us from Capitol Hill. She has details on the surprising charges, a shocking past.
What's going on? What are you hearing, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senator Menendez's office is confirming to us that an unpaid intern who worked for him for two months in this state office in Newark, New Jersey, turned out to be in this country illegally and was a registered sex offender.
That information is coming to the senator's office from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, of course known as ICE.
The senator's office is saying that he was arrested earlier this month and that the senator himself just found out about all of this today and when he found out he was, quote, "appalled." And of course as soon as they found out his job, so to speak, at the senator's office was terminated immediately.
Now the other thing that the senator's office says, Senator Menendez's office, is that they simply did not have any clue about either of those -- these things. It didn't come up during the interview process that this intern went through to get this position.
And the other thing we should note is that the Associated Press first reported this story and they had something else that was very explosive. And that is, that the Department of Homeland Security told federal agents not to pursue this arrest until after the election. Senator Menendez was just re-elected to his seat in the Senate.
The DHS tells our Mike (INAUDIBLE) that this is, quote, "categorically false." That there was a standard process used to coordinate between federal agencies to pursue this arrest of this intern for Senator Menendez.
BLITZER: Pretty shocking story. All right. I know the details are still -- there are still plenty more details to come out, but, Dana, thanks very much.
I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin. She's also a legal contributor for "In Session" on truTV.
Sunny, what do you make of this? The hiring, A, of an illegal immigrant in the United States but also someone apparently as a registered sex offender?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's odd that the senator's office would not have been able to uncover at least his immigration status because he entered the country from Peru on a visitor's visa. And so the fact that it had expired is something that certainly I believe the office would have been able to figure out.
It's a little more challenging when it comes to his sex offender status. Because he's 18 years old now. My understanding, Wolf, is that he violated some -- he was convicted of some sort of crime, probably in 2010. So he would have been 16 years old. He would have been tried and convicted as a juvenile.
And oftentimes, those particular sex offender records are not public. So if you look his name up, let's say, in the public registry, that would not come up. That is not to say, however, that a thorough background check would not reflect or reveal that sex offender status. And so, again, it just appears to me that it is quite odd that the senator's office, through whatever processes they have, would not have been able to determine both the immigration status and the sex offender status.
BLITZER: Does it make any difference legally that individual was unpaid -- an unpaid intern?
HOSTIN: No, it doesn't.
BLITZER: So in other -- well, could there be some legal ramifications for the senator, his staff, for that office?
HOSTIN: I certainly think that this is something, Wolf, that they're going to look at. Because we know that Senator Menendez is, you know, a proponent of immigration reform. He is pro-immigration reform. And there will be those detractors that will say, how can you be credible when you can't take care of things in your own backyard?
It is very, very odd that his office did not find out what this intern's immigration status was. And I suspect that authorities will be looking not only at the office, but certainly at the processes and procedures that are in place.
BLITZER: And if this intern, I'm just guessing, had a false Social Security number or a driver's license, would that be good enough to be hired?
HOSTIN: It shouldn't be. I mean, you know, Wolf, I worked for the federal government for some time, and when I applied for the job, I mean, my next-door neighbors, when I was 5 years old, were interviewed. And so it is odd, at best, that you would have a college intern, even though an unpaid intern, be able to acquire that kind of position. That close to a U.S. senator without a proper background check. In my view, it's just unheard of.
BLITZER: Sunny Hostin is a former federal prosecutor. Sunny, thanks very much.
BLITZER: A brazen execution-style murder caught on tape in the middle of New York City. Just ahead, what authorities are now learning about a connection that could stretch all the way across the country.
BLITZER: There are dramatic new clues right now that are emerging in that brazen murder, all caught on tape, right in the middle of New York City.
Let's go to New York right now. Mary Snow has got the latest information.
Mary, what are you learning?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, there are new developments, as police make headway in this case. Police are saying they have tracked down and have in their custody the getaway car used in Monday's targeted hit killing, near New York's Columbus Circle, in the middle of the afternoon.
It was a rental car found in Queens. And as police piece together leads, they are also getting help from the LAPD, since the victim was visiting from Los Angeles. And a picture is emerging of a man trying to get his life back on track.
SNOW (voice-over): Surveillance video captures a waiting killer. Police say 10 minutes later, this man killed Brandon Woodard of Los Angeles in a brazen execution-style murder on a busy Manhattan street.
(On camera): Where Brandon Woodard is heading is unclear. Police believe he may have been looking for an address when he was looking down at his phone. He briefly turned his head, saw his killer, didn't seem to recognize him, and then kept walking.
(Voice-over): Moments later, Woodard was shot at close range in the back of the head with a .9-millimeter gun. His killers, say police, got back into the car where a driver was waiting and took off. Surveillance tape in a tunnel later put investigators on their path to Queens. Ballistics tests matched the weapon to one used at a Queens shooting in 2009.
How this connects to Woodard, a 31-year-old law student and father of a 4-year-old girl, remains unclear. His family in Los Angeles is at a loss to explain a possible motive.
LINCOLN WOODARD, VICTIM'S FATHER: Our hearts are just very, very hurt right now. So we're, you know, we're trying to deal with the grief of the -- of the loss of a son, the loss of a father, and the loss of a brother. And it's just a -- it's just a devastating event right now.
SNOW: Woodard, according to Attorney Christiane Roussell, a friend since childhood, had been trying to get his life back on track, recently returning to law school, after taking years off to work at his mother's mortgage banking company and as a promoter. There were several arrests in his past, including one in June for cocaine possession.
Roussell says it's a far cry from their upper middle class upbringing in Los Angeles. Woodard had attended Loyola Mary Mount University after which Roussell saw a change. CHRISTIANE ROUSSELL, FRIEND OF VICTIM: I think his life turned definitely at some point after college, and I wish I knew how or why, but it was certainly something that I noticed when I would go to parties he would throw, you know, summer pool parties and -- or if we would go hang out, I just wasn't as familiar with some of the new friends that he had. But I wish I knew how or why or how we could have changed that much sooner.
SNOW: Now Roussell says Woodard had a law school exam scheduled for yesterday, Tuesday, and that he had been expected to arrive home Monday night -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we know, Mary, how they tracked down that car?
SNOW: Well, you know, they did see the car go through a midtown tunnel, and what the police are saying now is that an automated license scanner helped them track down that car to Queens, where they found it today.
BLITZER: Mary Snow with a mystery that's unfolding right in the middle of New York City.
Mary, thanks very much.
Happening now, North Korea provokes the United States and the world by launching a rocket and new fears of a long distance nuclear attack. I'll talk about this new threat with the former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson. I was with him in North Korea during another tense nuclear standoff with the West.
And we're learning why a phone call between the president and the House speaker did not go well. And what it could mean for your taxes.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
U.S. officials are scrambling to respond to new threats from two of the most dangerous regimes in the world right now.