Return to Transcripts main page


New Ferguson Shooting Video; ISIS Threat

Aired September 11, 2014 - 18:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get right to the breaking news this hour.

U.S. surveillance aircraft are now flying over Syria. And the Pentagon says armed and manned combat planes will begin flying out of Northern Iraq soon. American forces are starting to mobilize for President Obama's newly announced offensive against ISIS terrorists.

Our correspondents are standing by with new information on the U.S. battle plan and the ISIS threat.

First, let's go to our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's got the latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm told by a U.S. official that U.S. surveillance aircraft are now flying over Syria, this of course to gather intelligence to prepare for the airstrikes that the president ordered in his speech to the nation last night. Earlier, surveillance flights had been confined just along the border with Iraq. Now they are over Syria to gather more of this intelligence.

BLITZER: How imminent are these airstrikes? We all anticipate them beginning very soon. I spoke to the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice. She didn't say they were 100 percent, but obviously very, very likely.

SCIUTTO: I have spoke on the a number of sort of officials. They say the U.S., the Pentagon continues to refine and improve its intelligence inside Syria to refine and improve the target list.

If a target of opportunity comes up, the U.S. is certainly prepared to strike and they will strike. But as far as a broader air campaign against ISIS as outlined by the president in his speech last night, that I am told is not imminent.

BLITZER: I assumed they would start with drones as opposed to manned aircraft, drones, Hellfire missiles just to begin with. That's obviously safer than sending fighter pilots over what could be potentially dangerous territory.

SCIUTTO: That is true, although we're told that that is a possibility as well. If you look at previous campaigns, as you say, and in fact the campaigns that the president has outlined as a parallel for what's going to happen in Syria against ISIS, in Yemen against AQAP, in Somalia against Al-Shabab, those have principally been drone strikes.

BLITZER: Drone strikes, because if you shoot down a drone, at least no U.S. pilot is captured or killed.

Let's talk a little bit about Jim Foley, one of the American journalists beheaded by ISIS. His mother, Diane Foley, is now speaking to our own Anderson Cooper. She's distraught, obviously. Totally understandable. She's lost her son, but I want to play a little clip from the interview she had with Anderson.


DIANE FOLEY, MOTHER OF JAMES FOLEY: As an American, I was embarrassed and appalled. I think our efforts to get Jim freed were an annoyance, you know?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: An annoyance to the government?

FOLEY: Yes. Yes. And it wasn't -- didn't seem to be in our strategic interest, if you will. I was appalled as an American. Jim would have been saddened. Jim believed until the end that his country would come to their aid.

I pray that our government would be willing to learn from the mistakes that were made, and to acknowledge that there are better ways for American citizens to be treated.


BLITZER: When I spoke to the president's national security adviser, Ambassador Susan Rice, I wanted to give her a chance to respond to this obviously very upset mother. Here's what she told me, among other things.


SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Wolf, I have gotten to know Diane Foley well, and she and I have met on a number of occasions when I was ambassador in New York and here in Washington at the White House. She is an extraordinary woman.

She did an amazing job on behalf of her family and with her husband and other children to do everything possible, leave no stone unturned to try to bring Jim home safely. We're all heartbroken that that was not possible.


BLITZER: I know that obviously the mother is very upset. The Foley family understandably upset. The Sotloff family upset.

We spoke to a spokesman for the Sotloff family. You did earlier in the week as well. I don't think there's anything you can say to these families to say that will say that the U.S. government did everything possible to try to free their respective sons.

SCIUTTO: It's heartbreaking to watch. You put yourself in their own shoes and you imagine your own reactions. And, as you say, spoken to people close to the Sotloff family.

And they make similar complaints. In fact, I spoke to someone close to the family, the Sotloff family, who said the U.S. had better intelligence on Sotloff's location earlier than U.S. officials have said and, therefore, should have acted earlier. But as Susan Rice said, the U.S. launched a very difficult and a very dangerous rescue mission inside Syria, Syrian territory. They put U.S. boots on the ground.

BLITZER: She said hundreds of U.S. boots. She used the phrase.


SCIUTTO: Backup.

BLITZER: Backup, I'm sure, too, potentially in harm's way.


SCIUTTO: Exactly.

Regardless, U.S. troops were on the ground in Syria, a step the president said he will not do in his action against ISIS because he's concerned about an Iraq-level kind of involvement, but also the danger to those troops.

So the U.S. and the administration put American troops in danger to attempt this rescue. That's a bold step. That's the argument that administration officials make. But, clearly, at a minimum, there's been a communication problem with the family, because both families feel betrayed. Both families make contentions that they have asked for certain contact with the administration that they didn't get.

I speak to administration officials and they will say, listen, we did our best here. I think you might imagine it's impossible, as you say, to make them satisfied. But there's clearly a problem here because you have very bold criticism coming from both families.

BLITZER: Yes. By the way, the full interview with Diane Foley will be seen later tonight "A.C 360." Anderson sat down with her earlier today in New Hampshire.

While the U.S. military gears up for new attacks against ISIS, Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting with key Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia trying to rally global support for the president's battle plan.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is traveling with the secretary.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when I spoke to the secretary of state today, he told me that the fight against ISIS is just the next step in the U.S. war against al Qaeda that started 13 years ago today.


LABOTT: Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia, part of a whirlwind visit to the Middle East to build a coalition to take on ISIS.

The U.S. and several Arab allies say they have agreed to join a coordinated military campaign against the Islamic State militants. But in an interview with CNN, Kerry insists the U.S. is not at war with ISIS.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that's the wrong terminology. What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation.

And it's going to go on for some period of time. If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is it's a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.

LABOTT: One of those moving parts won't involve going to Congress. Kerry defended the administration's stance that the 2001 authorization for use of military force, or AUMF, against al Qaeda applies to ISIS.

(on camera): You voted for the AUMF as a senator. Did you envision it to be tackling groups that are not affiliated with al Qaeda?

KERRY: Well, this group has been affiliated with al Qaeda.

LABOTT: It's not now, though.

KERRY: Well, they say they're not. But you don't just run away because you say you are. So, yes, the answer is, we anticipated a long-term fight with al Qaeda. We have been engaged in it. Nobody has questioned the authority of that effort against al Qaeda over the last years. This group is and has been al Qaeda. It's the same thing as al Qaeda, and it has -- by trying to change its name, it doesn't change who it is, what it does or the legitimacy of the authority under the AUMF.

LABOTT (voice-over): But attacking ISIS in Syria with U.S.- trained and armed rebels and airstrikes could have unintended consequences.

(on camera): How do you undertake this campaign in Syria without strengthening Assad?

KERRY: First of all, Assad's legitimacy will never be restored by any action. He is illegitimate with respect to any capacity to lead Syria to a place of -- when the conflict ends. The people who are targeting Assad from the beginning are not going to stop.

LABOTT: A couple of weeks ago, the president said that it was a fantasy to think that the opposition would be able to be trained and armed and battle the Assad state. Now you're saying...

KERRY: No, he didn't say that.


LABOTT: Now you said they're going to battle the Assad state and battle ISIS. What's changed?

KERRY: Well, they have been battling ISIS; they have been battling ISIS for several years now.

LABOTT: Not very effectively, though.

KERRY: They have had problems, because they have been outgunned and more manpower and so forth. That's one of the reasons why the president believes you have to focus on ISIL wherever they are.


LABOTT: And, Wolf, Secretary Kerry said one of the major differences between going after ISIS and going after al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia is the large global coalition that is shaping up.

BLITZER: Elise Labott reporting from Saudi Arabia. She's traveling with the secretary of state. Thanks, Elise.

The U.S. is clearly taking steps right now to expand the fight against ISIS not only in Iraq, but in Syria as well. Many Iraqis are welcoming that.

Let's bring in CNN's Anna Coren, and she's joining us now from the Northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

What's been the reaction over there, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, people were certainly very pleased to hear President Obama's strategy to hunt down ISIS. They were looking for a commitment, a partnership from the United States and they feel they certainly got that when President Obama made that announcement.

Very welcome to hear about that strategic campaign to escalate airstrikes here in Iraq. Obviously, there have been more than 150 U.S. airstrikes to date over the past five weeks. They have been extremely effective, had a huge impact on the ground, but officials here calling for a much more intensive campaign.

They also are relieved to hear that President Obama is going to take this fight into Syria. That of course, as we know, we have been discussing for weeks now, is the safe haven, the sanctuary for ISIS. Obviously, the troops here fighting ISIS who can then easily retreat over the border to Syria, to consolidate, rearm, come back into Iraq and attack.

Then of course, those U.S. troops, 475 additional troops to train, advise, and to assist. Wolf, I think the real key to all of this is leadership. The United States obviously taking on that incredibly important role that's been sorely lacking here in Iraq. The Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces and Iraqi forces operating very separately. Now under the United States they can take the fight together to hit ISIS.

BLITZER: Anna Coren, thanks very much. The 475 troops the president announced would be deployed to Iraq, and that brings the total now to about 1,600 total military personnel active duty who are in Iraq right now.

Still ahead, President Obama being criticized for citing Yemen and Somalia as places where the U.S. has been successful in fighting terror and it's raising new questions about his plan of attack against ISIS.

Plus, there's new video from the scene of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, capturing the reaction of a witness. Is it reigniting anger over the teenager's death? We will have a live report from the scene.


BLITZER: Back to the breaking news this hour.

U.S. surveillance aircraft now flying over Syria. The White House says ISIS targets have in fact already been identified, at least some of those targets, the Pentagon gearing up for new airstrikes less than 24 hours after the president unveiled his long-term plan to attack the terror group.

But a key line in his speech is raising lots of questions.

Brian Todd is joining us now and he's looking into that line.

Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that line from the president compared his strategy against ISIS to what he called a successful track record against terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.

But in Yemen, the president's critics say the strategy has not been successful and a dangerous threat to America remains.


TODD (voice-over): is can be rolled back the president says, and he cites two examples Americans can pin their hopes on.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.

TODD: But if Yemen is a success, the threat to Americans from there still remains and could be worse than ISIS. This is what it's looked like in Yemen this week, instability in the capital. Protesters tried to storm a government building and attack soldiers. Several people were killed, dozens wounded.

Another image from Yemen put out this week, stylized video from al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, of a previous attack on a government checkpoint. AQAP, as they're known, taking a page right out of the ISIS propaganda playbook.

THOMAS JOSCELYN, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: It's not been a success in Yemen. Our partners are struggling to contain al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's insurgency.

TODD: Critic Thomas Joscelyn says the Yemeni government hasn't been strong enough, hasn't complemented U.S. drone strikes with an effective enough ground campaign against AQAP.

A Yemeni official counters, telling CNN, Yemeni forces have driven the terrorist group out of key strongholds. U.S. special-ops troops assisted them in one operation this year, killing 65 terrorists. Joscelyn says that's only part of the story.

JOSCELYN: AQAP melted away and still wages an insurgency while controlling rural areas that the government doesn't have any reach into.

TODD: And that's a government cooperating with the U.S. In Syria, against ISIS, U.S. forces won't have that. A Yemeni official says his government's partnership with the U.S. has been successful in killing off dozens of AQAP's leaders, one of them, Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric, a top strategist.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: They also got this man, Said al-Shihri, the number two in the group, a Saudi who had been at Guantanamo Bay, an important operative for them.

TODD: But still handing, two of the most dangerous terrorists who threaten America, AQAP's top leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, and its master bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri.


TODD: Now, Ibrahim al-Asiri is responsible for some nearly successful attempts to bomb planes bound for the U.S., including the 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomb day attack and the 2010 printer cartridge bomb plot.

Paul Cruickshank says there is concern now that Ibrahim al-Asiri may be sharing his bomb making technology with jihadist groups in Syria. White House officials acknowledge there's more work to be done in Yemen, but insist their strategy has degraded the threat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Where are those two dangerous leaders of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Wuhayshi, and al-Asiri?

TODD: A Yemeni official told me today, Wolf, they believe the overall leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, is somewhere in southern Yemen, where AQAP has some strongholds there in the rural areas. But when I asked about the bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, that

official couldn't give me an answer on where they think he is. That's a pretty dangerous notion that he's out there somehow maybe exporting his technology.

BLITZER: Certainly. Thanks very much.

Jim Sciutto is watching what's going on. He's got some new information for us.

What are you learning, Jim?

SCIUTTO: This is an alarming assessment coming from the CIA about the number of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq.

We're told now that the latest intelligence assessments now say there are between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in ISIS available to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This is up from an earlier estimate of just 10,000. So, Wolf, doubling or even tripling the number of ISIS fighters that the U.S., that U.S. intelligence believes are fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

This, of course, gets to just the severity of the mission that the U.S. is undertaking now, that the president has said his aim is to destroy, to degrade, and destroy ISIS. Why did this number increase? I'm just going to read some comments here from the CIA.

They say the new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment, they're saying since June, following battlefield successes, as well as the declaration of the caliphate, the Islamic state, and this has been a worry, Wolf, that as ISIS makes these gains in Iraq, in Syria, that they are able to draw more fighters, not just from the region, but from around the world, the West.

And, of course, we know there are at least a dozen Americans there as well. Success brings recruitment, and the declaration of the caliphate, the territory gained, and even perhaps the killing of Americans, sadly, has allowed them to increase their numbers.

Just again to highlight those numbers, the previous estimate had been some 10,000 fighters in ISIS. The new estimate from the CIA, 20,000 to 30,000 fighters, doubling or tripling the estimate of their strength.

BLITZER: Yesterday, I reported based on my sources, I was hearing between 15,000 and as many as 30,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. Some officials then later said to me it's closer to 15,000. But I'm not surprised now the CIA saying it's maybe as many as, even more than 30,000, because, as you know, Jim, they have a lot of money right now. They stole a lot of money from banks in Mosul, a major Iraqi -- the second largest city in Iraq.

They have hundreds of millions of dollars and they're paying a lot of these ISIS fighters significant sums of money to participate. So it shouldn't be that much of a surprise. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's break all this down with our guests right now.

Oubai Shahbandar is a senior adviser to the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Also with us, CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd and CNN -- and Christopher Dickey, the foreign editor of The Daily Beast.

Chris Dickey, are you surprised the CIA estimate is now 15,000 to 30,000, maybe 31,000 ISIS fighters?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, THE DAILY BEAST: I think a lot of the time they're just grabbing numbers out of the air. I think that's one of the reasons we see those numbers jump around so much.

But it could be 30,000. Tomorrow it could be 15,000. I think the question here is now about a permanent army of 30,000 troops. It's about people who are attracted, who may become disillusioned, who may leave. It depends very much what's going on, on the battlefield and to some extent even what is going on in social media.

We're seeing, for instance, now some British jihadis who are with ISIS who are saying they want to go back to England, but they're afraid if they go back they will be prosecuted. So I think it's going to be a very fluid kind of situation.

BLITZER: What do you think, Phil, Philip Mudd? Because you have studied this as well. What I have heard is that they're recruiting Sunnis, disgruntled Sunnis who hate the Shiite regime in Baghdad and they're getting these numbers in part because they have a lot of money.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sure. But we're confusing two questions here, Wolf.

I think the president confused them a bit last night. That is the question of how many people, some disaffected, for example, Iraqi army veterans, how many people are in the trenches in Iraq trying to unseat the regime in places like Anbar Province, and how many people, for example, a recruit from New York or Washington, D.C., are in the small slither of ISIS who might direct terrorism operations against Europe and the United States?

Sure, maybe there's 30,000 people in ISIS. The vast majority of them have nothing to do with plotting against the United States. The president talked about a counterinsurgency campaign against ISIS in Iraq. But that has nothing to do with threats to Washington, D.C., and I think we ought to separate out those two points of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.

BLITZER: Fair point.

Oubai, you have studied ISIS especially in Syria. What do you think of these new estimates?

OUBAI SHAHBANDAR, SYRIAN OPPOSITION COALITION: ISIS is not a 10- foot monster. They are vulnerable.

Just recently we heard reports from Syrian tribes in eastern Syria that they're ready to rise up against ISIS. Those tribal confederation that crosses into the border into Iraq and western province of Anbar, those tribes are fighting ISIS. We have seen the Free Syrian Army in the recent days go on the offensive against ISIS in the northern Aleppo Province. So this number is extremely fluid. The thing about ISIS is that its worst enemy, its Achilles' heel is the local populace.

BLITZER: Especially worried, some analysts -- and I have spoken to them -- is that some of these ISIS military guys who have been recruited, Iraqis, not only came from Saddam Hussein's military, others were actually in the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi military, trained in part by the United States. But they were so irritated, so angry at the Nouri al-Maliki regime in Baghdad that they flipped and they went over to ISIS. That's a serious problem.

Let me also play a little clip. Another clip from Secretary of State John Kerry's interview with our own Elise Labott. She asked him about the president's reference to Yemen and Somalia, places where the United States the president said the United States has had success fighting terror. Listen to this.


KERRY: ISIL is an animal unto itself. It is significantly such a threat because of the foreign fighters that are attracted to it, which you don't see in Somalia, similarly in Yemen.


BLITZER: Chris Dickey, is that true that you don't see a whole lot of foreign fighters with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen or Al-Shabab in Somalia?

DICKEY: I think the secretary was tired when he made those remarks. Surely he knows better than that.

There have been a lot of foreign fighters who gone to join Al- Shabab, many of them from the United States. There have been many who have gone to Yemen to join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen.

I think if we're looking at that, if that's the measure, no, that's not very encouraging at all. I think ISIS has been good at recruiting people from Europe and the United States. But I think also Phil Mudd's point is very well taken. When we're talking about these big numbers, we're talking about a lot of people who are local on the ground, Iraqis and Syrians who joined up with ISIS for one reason or another, maybe hatred for the Maliki regime in Iraq, maybe hatred, certainly hatred of the Assad regime in Syria.

All of that can change overnight depending on what is happening in the air and on the ground. BLITZER: Phil Mudd, what do you make of what the secretary of

state was saying? Because it seemed counter to everything I had heard about Al-Shabab in Somalia and AQAP in Yemen.

MUDD: I think he's halfway right.

If you look at the campaigns in the tribal areas in Pakistan, in Yemen and Somalia, it looks remarkably similar to what the president described, no boots on the ground, special operations, good intelligence that can pinpoint, leadership in Yemen.

There was just a drone strike from the U.S. in the past 24 hours. We have had drone strikes in Somalia in the past couple of weeks. That's successful operations they have blunted counterterrorism organizations. But what the president laid out and what the secretary forgot is we have also committed to help the Iraqi, the new Iraqi government blunt the insurgency that is trying to take over Kurdistan and move into Baghdad.

That's a different question and different goal than what we described for Somali or Yemen. Very different.

BLITZER: Oubai, here's what worries a lot of U.S. officials. I want you to respond. That if the U.S. provides sophisticated weapons to the Free Syrian Army, moderate pro-Western Syrian rebels, they're not secure, that they could wind up in the hands of al-Nusra, which is a terrorist organization, or wind up in the hands of ISIS. Your reaction?

SHAHBANDAR: We have proof of concept of the past eight months of advanced military hardware, such as the TOW missile, an anti-tank guided missile that requires advanced training to operate in the field.

The past eight months, Free Syrian Army and Syrian opposition forces on the ground have been effectively using this military hardware. And we don't have proof of a single one of those military systems falling into the wrong hands. So we have seen increased sophistication and due diligence by the rebel forces on the ground in the past two years.

So that's very heartening and that should be reassuring to U.S. officials and allies.

BLITZER: What about that? How much of a threat is ISIS right now, -- Chris Dickey, to the United States?

DICKEY: Look, it doesn't have to have 10,000 or 30,000 people willing to attack the United States.

It only has to have very few who are willing to do it and who are trained in the safe havens of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. But it can also inspire people in the United States who never had any contact with it to fly the black flag, say they're fighting for the caliphate, and to pick up a gun and kill people. I think the near-term threat is of small terrorist attacks in

Europe, in the United States by people like Mehdi Nemmouche, who attacked a Jewish museum in Brussels in May. That's what we're looking at I think in the near-term.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, let me get your thoughts on this today, the 13th anniversary of 9/11.

Bin Laden, we know, is dead. His number two though is now number one in core al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri. He's still a free man someplace. Why is it so hard to find, to capture, or to kill Ayman al-Zawahri? I was thinking about him on this day especially.

MUDD: Because the American intelligence process, the process I participated in at CIA depends on vulnerabilities and mistakes. And mistakes happen when you talk to the wrong people or when you touch an electron. That is when you communicate when you get on e-mail, et cetera.

The challenge that bin Laden, Zawahiri face was do I participate in the organization at a hands-on level and risk making a mistake or do I separate myself, limit my impact on the global stage. I think Zawahiri is an after-thought in the global fight against al Qaeda. But at the same time, stay out of the clutches of the Americans. So what he's done is to say, "I'm going to limit vulnerability." What he's also done is to say, again, afterthought in the al Qaeda fight.

BLITZER: But he just posted a half-hour video speaking about the jihad against the United States, saying they want to create an al Qaeda branch in India.

MUDD: Sure. Hold on a second here. Let's remember 13 years ago, I spent time watching the U.S. government fight the Qataris for how much air time they would give to Zawahiri or bin Laden. Today, Zawahiri can't pay to get on al Jazeera.

I think the fight against al Qaeda ideologically is underestimated in America. We've made a lot of progress. The franchises have been damaged by America, the message is damaged. If you look at polling data in the Middle East, people don't respect the message anymore. They did 13 years ago. I think we're in a better place ideologically.

BLITZER: But don't you think specifically the United States has a responsibility to get the guy who was responsible for killing almost 3,000 Americans 13 years ago today?

DICKEY: Oh, hell yes. I mean, I think we'd all feel better if Ayman al-Zawahiri were taken out or imprisoned. But I think that the real problem with al-Zawahiri is that he is an ideologue, and although Phil seems to think that the ideology is now defunct, in fact it's very much alive.

ISIS is simply taking the old ideology of al Qaeda a couple of steps further. And in fact, I think that al-Zawahiri is sitting somewhere, probably in Pakistan, perfectly content to issue a statement every so often and feel that he's still the ideological tone setter for global jihad.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very much. Phil Mudd, Oubai Shahbandar, Chris Dickey, guys thanks very much. Good discussion.

Just ahead, another story we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. In Ferguson, Missouri, tensions rising as people watch a newly- revealed video from the day police shot and killed Michael Brown.

Later, the NFL goes for a big-name crime fighter to investigate what officials knew about the star player who punched his fiance in the elevator.


BLITZER: We're keeping our eyes on Ferguson, Missouri, where people have been learning about and watching a new video taken shortly after the shooting of Michael Brown. The newly-revealed video shows onlookers accusing police of overreacting and gesturing that Brown was holding his hands in the air when he was shot and killed.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is joining us from Ferguson right now.

So Ted, what's been the reaction to this newly-revealed video?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, since CNN aired this video last night, the reaction has been intense. People think that what is shown on this video validates what the other witnesses have said all along of what happened to Mike Brown.

We talked to people outside here, where there's a constant protest going on here in downtown Ferguson, and they say this video is absolutely important to the case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have repeated, repeated statements from people saying he was unarmed, his hands was up. So when this video comes out, it just gave SOME clarity to a lot of the witness statements.


ROWLANDS: And Wolf, one of the themes that we're hearing is that people are pleased, if you will, that the two contractors that are in this video and seen reacting are white. They say that will help this case, sadly. They say it will help this case because in a lot of people's minds, this is a black and white issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ted Rowlands in Ferguson for us. Thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper and get some more of the reaction to the newly-revealed video. Joining us now, the NAACP board member John Gaskin and the attorney, Benjamin Crump, who represents Michael Brown's family.

Mr. Crump, what's been the family reaction to this newly-revealed video?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL BROWN'S FAMILY: Well, Wolf, we believe that this is a paramount significance, not just because the construction workers were not residents of Ferguson, and not just because the construction workers were Caucasian. But because this is a recording that was taken immediately, capturing the response, the live reactions of what they had just saw, what their outrage was to what they had just witnessed. It was like a play by play of what just happened, and that's very important in a legal context, because often you don't have what just happened. There are live reactions to what they just witnessed.

And this is before any media accounts or anything. They don't even know they're being recorded. They don't know what each other is going to say, and it's being captured. And so we get their firsthand impressions, and this is significant.

BLITZER: You're a lawyer, Mr. Crump. Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst, also a lawyer, former prosecutor, he says there's no doubt that this video will be admissible before the grand jury just now investigating, looking into all of this. Is there any doubt, Mr. Crump, in your mind that, if there is a trial against the police officer, this video would be admissible, not admissible? What's your sense?

CRUMP: I think certainly it should be admissible. It is a firsthand impression of their live reactions. It's contemporaneous recording, Wolf. And you know, it's objective; it's not biased. It's very objective. And it gives us play by play what they just saw.

What could be better for the trier of fact than to get an unbiased recording of what they just saw, and especially their outrage, which gives a vivid illustration of what many of the people in Ferguson are feeling by Michael Brown being executed in broad daylight after he put his hands in the air? And also important, Wolf, they said the police shot when their backs were turned, running away from them. So this is very significant.

BLITZER: Were you aware of the video, Mr. Crump, before it aired on CNN last night?

CRUMP: We had heard rumors of it, but we were not aware of it. And it was -- for his family, it was a bittersweet, because it helps, we believe, them get closer to justice. But really, what it was is a live play-by-play reaction of their child being executed.

BLITZER: John Gaskin, what's been the reaction, the community reaction there in the St. Louis area?

JOHN GASKIN, NAACP BOARD MEMBER: Well, you have a lot of people here that are on our side, as Mr. Crump just mentioned, this is great. This is certainly a step in the right direction. And I believe there is a good possibility there may be more information out there that's very pertinent to this case.

But for this video, if you take a close look at it -- and I've got to give your network credit for getting their hands on it -- as we see, these employees have their hands up in the air, almost imitating what possibly Mike Brown was doing. And so, you know, this is fresh. This was before the media put -- gave any kind of perspective on this or anything.

And so this is firsthand what people were seeing, people there that were on the ground, really what appeared to be possibly less than a couple hundred feet away from the incident and the shooting that took place.

But this is great. This is a step in the right direction. There's possibly more information out there. We hope that this critical information will be used and that the jury will take this into account.

But, you know, it speaks volumes that these employees were not from the city of Ferguson. They didn't know Michael Brown. They don't know the family, so they don't really have a vested interest in this. They're obviously just showing a firsthand expression of what took place. And so that's critical.

BLITZER: Yesterday at this time we were talking about that effort of the protest to block the interstate there, Interstate 70. Then some protesters went over to the police station in Ferguson. Anything happening today, John?

GASKIN: Not that I'm aware of. As you have just seen and your network just showed, there are constant protests outside the Ferguson Police Department. And we expect that those will remain.

But as this information comes out and more information comes out -- and we believe each week you've seen more information that continues to come out. We want people to remain calm and to allow the system to work. But also hold people accountable and realize that we believe more information is going to come forward. Because there's a lot of information out there that could certainly help our side.

BLITZER: So far, Mr. Crump, almost all the witnesses, eyewitnesses that have come forward have had a very similar story. Have you heard of any other eye witnesses who have a different story they might be telling law enforcement and may eventually get to that grand jury, which is now meeting?

CRUMP: We haven't, Wolf. And in fact, when you really think about why this video is so important, it corroborates all those other witness accounts: that he put his hand up in the air, and the police department shooting, that he was running away, and the police kept shooting.

And we still wait for the police report to come out, telling his version of what happened. We think it's so unfair to this family and the community it's not transparent, that they have still not released anything saying why this officer killed this kid in broad daylight.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens when that grand jury reaches a decision. I assume it will be in the next few weeks. Benjamin Crump, thanks very much for joining us.

John Gaskin, thanks to you, as well.

GASKIN: Thank you for having me.

CRUMP: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, the NFL playing damage control right now. Can the former head of the FBI sort out the conflicting stories to the Ray Rice domestic abuse case?


BLITZER: With its reputation on the line, the NFL is bringing in former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the league's handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. This goes beyond the shocking video of Rice punching his fiancee last winter.

Now, there are more questions when league officials watched the full video.

I'm joined by our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN commentator L.Z. Granderson.

I want to get to this report on ESPN, L.Z., I'll get you to react first. Ray Rice, according to this ESPN report, told the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell back on June 16th that he did, in fact, punch his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. They're quoting four sources, this is ESPN. This is an assertion, though, that contradicts the statement this week that when he met with Rice and his representatives, Roger Goodell says it was ambiguous about what actually happened.

Potentially, L.Z., this is very damaging to Roger Goodell.

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: It's further damaging, that's for sure. But even if you looked at the original reporting way back in February and into March, it was pretty clear then that multiple officials had already seen the full video. So, for Roger Goodell to be walking back his statements because of PR reasons, this only further makes him look less trustworthy and the reasons why the calls for his resignation are justifiable.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is yet another very dubious statement that Roger Goodell made in his interview with CBS earlier this week, and another reason why it was -- it is a good idea for the FBI to bring in an outsider, certainly a very respected person, Director Mueller, who doesn't have a stake in the outcome, and let him just go over the whole thing and see how the FBI -- how the NFL handled or mishandled, and whether the NFL officials starting with Roger Goodell have been truthful.

BLITZER: You mean the NFL bringing in the former FBI director Robert Mueller to investigate. When you heard about that, L.Z., what did you think?

GRANDERSON: When I heard about the further investigation?


BLITZER: That Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, is being brought in by some of the NFL owners to get to the bottom of when did the NFL know what was going on, what did Roger Goodell know, what did the Baltimore ravens know. Was there some sort of cover-up? All those allegations.

GRANDERSON: You know, I have to be honest with you, in that I look at what was calculated to be at least 50 domestic violence arrests under Commissioner Roger Goodell's watch, at least 50. So you're trying to tell me now the owners are concerned about domestic violence when just under Goodell's watch, we've seen 50 men be brought and some charges went through, some did not? Multiple men were charged and had multiple opportunities to be back on the playing field. And now, they want to get involved because a video has been leaked.

I want to know where was this outrage in February, when we knew that Ray Rice dragged his unconscious fiancee out of an elevator. That was the time to have an investigation, that was the time to have an investigation, that was the time to have this outrage.

This is about PR and it wreaks to me. I'm glad that something is happening, but let's got get it twisted. Ray Rice is under investigation. This whole situation is under investigation because of this tape, second half of this tape being leaked, not because of the initial action. And that's very disturbing.

BLITZER: Of those 50 players who you say were involved in domestic abuse, NFL players, how many of them were suspended from the NFL?

GRANDERSON: I don't have a hard count with me right in front of me right now. But what I do know is that we have at least three players, one of which I believe was just signed to the practice squad of I believe -- I don't want to say the team because I don't want to get that team in trouble. But he was cut by -- I'm sorry -- he was recently cut by the Steelers, and he ended up on another team on their practice squad. He had been cut twice before because of domestic violence concerns.

So, now, he's on his third team this year on their practice squad as a running back, who was most recently cut by the Steelers because of domestic violence concerns. This again was all under Roger Goodell's watch.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey, where does this investigation go now?

TOOBIN: Well, I think Mueller has carte blanche. He has to look at the policies of the NFL and also who handled this case and the other cases. This is not an enormously complex investigation. He's not

investigating the Pentagon. The NFL is an organization of modest size. He can find all of the right people to talk to. And he will be able to say, this is how they handled this, this is who told the truth and I think it is a step in the -- absolutely in the right direction.

BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey, L.Z., guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, President Obama and the nation mark this 13 years since the terror attacks on America.


BLITZER: Only hours after President Obama unveiled his new battle plain against ISIS terrorists, he laid a wreath at the Pentagon marking this horrible day 13 years ago when America was attacked and the war on terror was directly launched.

Listen to some of what the president had to say today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thirteen years after small and hateful minds conspired to break us, America stands tall and America stands proud. And guided by the values that sustain us, we will only grow stronger. Generations from now, Americans will still fill our parks, our stadiums, our cities. Generations from now, Americans will still build towers that reach toward the heavens, still serve in embassies that stand for freedom around the world, still wear the uniform and give meaning to those words written two centuries ago, "Land of the free, home of the brave."


BLITZER: The president at the Pentagon on this, September 11th.

Thanks very much for watching. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM and watch us live. You can DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.