Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki; Police Abuse Allegations; 145 Dead in Taliban School Massacre; Abuse Allegation Against NYPD Chokehold Cop; Videos Raise Questions About Excessive Force; Jeb Bush to "Actively Explore" Presidential Bid

Aired December 16, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Movie terror threat. A chilling new warning to audiences invoking September 11th, was trying to sabotage a controversial new comedy movie about assassinating North Korea's Kim Jong-Un.

Taliban school massacre, terrorists on a suicide mission slaughtering at least 145 people, most of them children. We're learning new details. We will talk about them. We will talk about more with the State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Abuse allegations. New claims against the police officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold just before he died. Now another man is speaking out about what that to him. Is there a pattern here of police abuse?

Political bombshell. Jeb Bush catches almost everyone off guard and sets political tongues wagging, announcing today a critical move toward a possible run for the White House. What major step is the former Florida governor taking?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two major breaking stories right now.

A school massacre carried out by a Taliban suicide force in Pakistan, it has left at least 145 people dead, most of them children. Also, the 9/11 terror attacks now being invoked in a threat against audiences for a new movie, "The Interview," sparking controversy with its plot about an attempt to kill North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

We're covering all the breaking news this hour with our correspondents, our guests, including the State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

But let's begin with our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She has more on the moving terror threat.

Pamela, what's the latest you're picking up?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the FBI is investigating a threatening message purportedly from the Sony hackers promising a "bitter fate" to anyone who sees the controversial North Korean comedy "The Interview" set to release Christmas Day.

This message says: "Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September, 2001?"

We have learned the Department of Homeland Security is assessing the threat's credibility. Sources say they're looking into this, similar to how they would investigate a bomb threat. But, in reality, it is unlikely the actual hackers, who are thought to be outside of the U.S., are going to do any harm here. At home, Wolf, the concern of course is that it could inspire people to call in a threat or act out in some way.

Meantime, multiple law enforcement sources I have spoken to today say the strong suspicion is that North Korea is the instigator and the hack is possibly outsourced to a group elsewhere as retaliation for the controversial film. We know the FBI is closing in on who the hacker is. The FBI is scrubbing Sony's computer system tonight trying to gather enough evidence to be able to definitively point the finger at the hacking culprit.

But, Wolf, these investigations are complex and nuanced. The hackers are sophisticated. And remember they had months of access to the Sony computer system before Sony alerted federal authorities. So that's a lot of time to do a lot of damage and create barriers for investigators, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Pamela, thanks very much.

Let's get some more.

Our justice reporter Evan Perez is joining us. He's getting more information from his sources.

How difficult, Evan, is it to pin down the actual source of this threat?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're told by sources that these hackers tried to mask where the hack was coming from. They tried to show that it was coming from China or even from within the United States.

In the end, they left telltale digital fingerprints that the FBI is using to close in on exactly who was responsible for this. There are things that they left in the malware code that they wrote that they believe is pointing the finger right back at North Korea.

They're not ready to say that just yet, Wolf, because they still have a few things investigatively that both the FBI and the national security division at the Justice Department is doing, but we believe that they're very close.

And, you know, that's something that is probably going to come in the very, very near future. BLITZER: How seriously, Evan, are law enforcement officials taking

this threat?

PEREZ: They're taking idea that some people might see this threat and try to act out as a result of it, Wolf.

They believe that there are people who will on Christmas Day perhaps phone in bomb threats and will create chaos in some ways, but they don't really believe, as Pamela just mentioned, that the people behind this hack are able to carry out any attacks here in the United States.

That said, we have a statement from the Department of Homeland Security on exactly this. They say that they're still analyzing the threat -- I'm sorry -- the credibility of these statements, but at this time, there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.

As always, Wolf, the Homeland Security Department says that they're working with law enforcement around the country to make sure that they are prepared and that people who want to see this movie are protected.

BLITZER: As they should be. All right, thanks very much, Evan, for that.

We're also following other breaking news, this time a horrible, horrible story in Pakistan, Taliban suicide forces launching a school massacre that's left at least, at least 145 people dead, most of them, most of them little children.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story for us.

What's the very latest information we're getting about this real disaster that happened in Pakistan, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, such a disaster, Wolf, that even the Afghan Taliban is condemning it.

Tonight, a U.S. counterterror official tells me that this attack shows how the Pakistani Taliban, known as the TTP, has been under intense pressure from the Pakistani military and had been seeking a high- profile opportunity to retaliate.

They found it today with the most defenseless victims.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): They were killed in their school uniforms, taking exams in classrooms, a first-aid course in the school auditorium, half-a-dozen terrorists carrying out a systematic massacre of children, brutal even by the standards of the Pakistani Taliban.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): "We were doing our schoolwork. Suddenly, we heard firing.

SCIUTTO: The Taliban called it revenge for Pakistani military operations against them.

"We want them to feel our pain," said a Taliban spokesman. The attackers had ammunition and supplies, says the Pakistani military, to last for days.

A U.S. counterterrorism official called the assault unprecedented, saying it may signal an escalation in an already bloody war with the Pakistani government.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Mothers and fathers send their kids to school to learn and to be safe. Well, this morning, wherever you live, wherever you are, those are our children.

SCIUTTO: The Pakistani Taliban's chief aim is bringing down the Pakistani government and establishing Sharia law. But it has an alarming history of targeting the U.S. as well.

In 2009, a Taliban suicide bomber killed seven CIA officers in Eastern Afghanistan. In 2010, the group claimed responsibility for the attempted car bombing of Times Square in New York City and following the killing of Osama bin Laden, the group vowed more attacks on American soil.

DANIEL MARKEY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: There have been instances where they have supported international terrorists. They have been aligned with groups like al Qaeda, that that makes them concerned to us, but indirectly.

SCIUTTO: Washington had pressed Pakistan to take on the group more aggressively on the ground. And Pakistan has followed through with an ongoing military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in its northeastern stronghold, as well as some 3,000 counterterror operations.


SCIUTTO: As the Pakistani military has taken the fight to the Taliban, there have been fears of blowback. We may have seen that. Today, one U.S. counterterror official calling this possibly a sign of desperation.

But, certainly, Wolf, they're showing that they can still have the capability of carrying out complex attacks, and like this one, in the very heart of Pakistani power centers.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto with that report, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of the breaking news.

Joining us, the State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Jen, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Are U.S. facilities, whether the embassy in Islamabad or consulates, we're in Karachi and Lahore, elsewhere in Pakistan, do you believe they are safe right now?

PSAKI: Well, Pakistan is a high threat post. We are always monitoring the security and the safety of our personnel who serve there. We haven't made any changes in terms of putting out public information on the ground. That tells you something. But we're always watching. That's not new as of today.

BLITZER: I know the secretary of state, your boss, John Kerry, he has been in touch with the leadership over there, right?


BLITZER: What is his message to them?

PSAKI: His message is we're with you. These are our children, too. We'll work with you to fight on counterterrorism. We'll work with you to fight these threats. This was a cowardly act. This was not an act of strength. They went and they took on innocent children who were confined in their schools. And that's the message he's sending to the Pakistani government as well.

BLITZER: Is the Pakistani government, the military, the security services, the intelligence community, fully cooperating with the United States in this war on terror?

PSAKI: We're absolutely cooperating with them as a close partner. The threats from, not just the Taliban but other extremist groups, are not new to Pakistan. Unfortunately, the innocent people of Pakistan have been dealing with these threats for some time, so this is an ongoing effort and one we'll continue to step up over time.

BLITZER: How strong are these Pakistani Taliban, the terrorists that went into this little school and just slaughtered what, 130 or 140 kids?

PSAKI: Well, Wolf, these were kids who were in their -- they were studying. They were at their school tables, they were listening to their teachers. This wasn't them taking on an army or taking on the Pakistani army. This was again a sign of cowardice and it was not a sign of strength by this group.

BLITZER: The U.S. will continue its policy of trying to kill these guys with these drone strikes, right?

PSAKI: As you know, we don't speak to all of the steps we take but we are committed to being a counterterrorism partner with Pakistan and that will certainly continue in the months ahead.

BLITZER: Publicly the Pakistanis always complain about these U.S. drone strikes, an infringement on Pakistani sovereignty. Privately, though, I suspect they like some of these attacks at least.

Is that right?

PSAKI: Wolf, there are always conversations we have with every country, including Pakistan. Our country is dealing with challenging threats that we don't necessarily talk about publicly but we're here to be a partner with Pakistan. And that partnership is important to us, as is their security.

BLITZER: I've heard from various experts that -- Pakistani experts, that the Pakistani government occasionally even provides coordinates to the U.S. to go after certain Taliban targets, enemies of the Pakistani government. And then they'll -- the U.S. will do so. They'll kill some Taliban terrorists, if you will.

But then the Pakistani government will complain about it.

You've heard those suggestions, right?

PSAKI: There are a range of reports. I'm a big watcher of your show and CNN, but again, I won't get into intelligence or all of the work we do on counterterrorism.

BLITZER: So what about this attack? This attack today? Could it inspire others to go after U.S. targets?

The concern I've heard is if these people are willing to kill fellow Muslims, fellow Pakistanis, young kids, you can imagine what they would do to Americans or Europeans if given the chance.

PSAKI: Well, we take -- every time an event like this happens, you take a look at what this means, what it could mean. That's not an assessment we're making at this time. But again, any of our American citizens who are living in Pakistan, who are serving bravely in Pakistan, are in a high threat post. We provide information publicly to people living there and we certainly take necessary precautions on the ground.

BLITZER: So in terms of travel advisories, the State Department doesn't think this is necessarily a good time for Americans to visit Pakistan?

PSAKI: Well, we've had a travel advisory in place for some time. That hasn't changed. We haven't put out new information. But certainly there have long been threats and ones American citizens would face there.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue our conversation, Jen. There's a lot more I want to talk about, including this threat.

Is it coming from North Korea, a threat about this new film? The interview -- stand by. Lots more to discuss with the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, right after this.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking terror news, at least 145 people killed in a Taliban attack at a school in Pakistan. Most of the victims, once again: school kids. Also, the chilling terror threat against audiences for the new comedy film, "The Interview," and its controversial plot centering around the assassination of North Korea's Kim Jong-un. A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures, the studio behind the film, says moviegoers will suffer, in their words, "a bitter fate," and they are warning, and I'm quoting now, very ominously, "Remember the 11th of September" -- their words.

We're back with the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki.

Jen, is North Korea behind this threat and this computer hacking of Sony Pictures?

PSAKI: Well, the appropriate government officials are looking into that now. It takes a long time to assess where these cyber attacks come from. It is something we've unfortunately had to do more frequently lately. So there's not a final assessment of that. That is something that's in process.

BLITZER: So -- but they are suspected of doing it. Can we say they are under suspicion?

PSAKI: Well, there are -- I'm not going to get into more details, obviously, given the subject of the movie; that's not far to guess.

BLITZER: Do they have that kind of capability, the North? I know they have got a nuclear bomb. But can they go ahead and use the sophisticated cyber warfare in effect to do this to a company like Sony Pictures?

PSAKI: Well, that's one of the criteria that, when you're doing an assessment, you take a look at.

What are the capabilities?

Who could have done it?

Are there individuals, are there organizations?

And that's something that the experts in the administration are looking at now.

BLITZER: From the international legal standpoint -- and you're a diplomat. You work at the State Department. If in fact -- and we don't know for sure if it was North Korea -- but if in fact the regime there in North Korea did this, A, go ahead and hack Sony Pictures' computers, released all this information and, B, issued a direct threat to Americans -- don't go to the movies because there will be another 9/11 -- that in effect is their threat.

Is that an act of war, legally speaking?

PSAKI: Well, we don't know the source of any of that. And I think it is important to note with the specific threat you referenced that there is no credible intelligence pointing to that being backed up. We take everyone seriously. That's our responsibility.

But let's not forget what our relationship is with North Korea. There isn't one. They have worst human rights record out there, one of the worst. It is abysmal. They are constantly threatening the region, threatening many of our allies and partners. It is not a relationship that we're building on. It is one that doesn't exist.

BLITZER: But it does exist indirectly. The U.S. has -- the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, passes along messages from North Korea to the United States. There is a dialogue, if you will. Here's the question.

In the aftermath of this hacking of Sony Pictures, has the U.S. issued a statement, a demarche, a complaint, a protest, anything along those lines through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang to the regime in North Korea?

PSAKI: Well, you would wait to make a final assessment which hasn't been done yet, to the source of any hacking. And as you know, in other cases, where we have found that some other organizations located in China and other places, have been guilty of hacking, we've taken appropriate steps. I'm sure that would be the case here.

BLITZER: Was it a mistake for Sony Pictures to have this plot, if you will, the assassination of a world leader?

Maybe a brutal world leader. Maybe the leader of the regime in North Korea.

But from the diplomatic perspective, and you bring that, was that a mistake?

PSAKI: Well, I have to say I don't get to see as many movies as I would like these days, given the state of the world. But this is a comedic movie. It is a comedy that I think Americans may go see over Christmas. They will make that choice.

It obviously doesn't represent the views of the United States. It is not a documentary about our relationship. So honestly, I think it is not a movie or an issue that we're taking a position on.

BLITZER: The whole nature of this attack, though, this threat, if you will, if, in fact, it was North Korea, you have got to take it seriously.

But are you beefing up security?

Doing anything along those lines internationally at U.S. diplomatic outposts?

PSAKI: If we see a need to do that, we'll do that. We obviously don't talk about that publicly because that would defeat the purpose. But again, there is no credible intelligence backing this up at this point in time. As is true with anywhere in the world in any of our posts, if we need to beef up security, we'll certainly take the steps to do it.

BLITZER: If in fact it is North Korea, you conclude it is North Korea, as you did a few years ago when you believed that Chinese military hackers were hacking into various companies, trying to get secrets in the United States and the U.S. named those Chinese individuals who were responsible, will the U.S. publicly go ahead and name North Korea as responsible for this, if you conclude, your experts in the U.S. government, that this was a North Korean cyber attack?

PSAKI: Well, we don't know where this will land yet. And as you know, some of that is our decision that are made through the Department of Justice and through other law enforcement agencies that make an assessment of the appropriate steps.

We're not quite there yet. Obviously we're working on the assessment of what happened here and we'll take appropriate steps when we know more.

BLITZER: Jen Psaki, thanks very much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch with you.

Straight ahead, we're going to be talking about the breaking terror news with our expert analysts. They're all standing by. We will get more on the threat against audiences for the new film "The Interview." Plus, we will have more on the Taliban school massacre. It is being condemned by a very unlikely source.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the Taliban suicide school massacre that has left at least, at least 145 people dead, most of them little children.

Let's dig deeper with CNN military analyst the retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, and our CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.

Paul, who are these Pakistani Taliban? What kind of connections if any do they have with ISIS or al Qaeda or any of these other terror groups?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: The Pakistani Taliban are a conglomeration of Pashtun tribal fighters from the tribal areas of Pakistan, also Northwest Pakistan, that were formed in around 2007.

And since then they have been launching a campaign of violence right across Pakistan which has claimed tens of thousands of lives. They have also launched attacks against more than 1,000 schools in that period in Pakistan. This is a group with close ties over the years to al Qaeda. It offered al Qaeda sanctuary in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

It is also a group itself that has launched plots against the West, notably in Times Square in 2010, also Barcelona in 2008, and against that CIA forward operating base in 2009.

BLITZER: How do they justify killing the little children, basically saying if you're under the age of puberty, you're going to live, if you're 8, 9 years old, but if you're 11 or 12, and you have already reached puberty, you should be killed in a school? How can they possibly justify that?

CRUICKSHANK: This is all about retaliation against the Pakistani military which have launched -- it's doing this campaign against this group's stronghold in North Waziristan. This is sort of tit for tat. You kill our people, our families, our children, we will kill yours right back.

BLITZER: As you know, Philip, less than a week or so ago, the U.S. released a Pakistan Taliban commander who was being held at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan that the U.S. is now evacuating. Could that have had any impact on the timing of this attack in Peshawar?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think so. I think this goes much deeper.

It seems like every time you dig into a problem in South Asia, which used to be my area of expertise at the agency, the problem goes back decades or even centuries. In this case, you have the emergence of the Taliban out of Pakistan back in the 1990s.

Over time, as Paul was suggesting, the Taliban then shifted, bled back into that lawless tribal belt in Pakistan. The Pakistani military had episodic engagement with the Pakistani Taliban over time. But in the past year, it has gotten more and more intense. And the Pakistani military has really been taking it at them.

I agree with Paul. I think what has happened here is over the course of the past few months, the Pakistani Taliban has said enough is enough. We're going after your people, too. And so they killed so many children.

BLITZER: What do you make of all this, General Hertling? Because as you know, this war against these Taliban fighter or terrorists, whatever you want to call them, in this area, this tribal area in Peshawar and else -- it has been going on for a long time. Is any real progress being made by the U.S. and the Pakistani government?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If you look at that area, Wolf, it is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. As Phil was saying just a second ago, it is very lawless there.

That's the place where Afghan Taliban would go back and forth across the border while both U.S. and NATO forces that were in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan were fighting them. It is a tough area. It is the Old West, as we like to say.

So in that area, yes, I think the Pakistani government has had some successes. But there is still a long way to go. And I think that this is a last-ditch effort by the Pakistan Taliban to make some additional enemies.

BLITZER: What does it say to you, Paul, that the Afghanistan Taliban, not the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghanistan Taliban, they even condemned this attack on this school, killing all these schoolchildren, saying these were innocent people? What does that say to you? CRUICKSHANK: Well, it tells you the Afghan Taliban think this is

deeply counterproductive. The Afghan Taliban haven't supported attacks in Pakistan. They believe the focus should be in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO troops, against Afghan government troops over there.

But there has been widespread shock and revulsion in Pakistan because of this attack. And I think it is going to lead to greater public support for the military operations in North Waziristan and also strengthen the military's resolve in Pakistan to go after these militants, because, after all, a lot of their kids have been killed in this attack.

BLITZER: Philip, as you know, there is a clandestine U.S. operation. These drone strikes, everybody knows about it, but they -- it is still supposedly secret, even though it's not.

That goes on, the Obama administration authorizing these drone strikes, these Hellfire missiles, going after these Taliban terrorists in Pakistan. I suspect they will continue, perhaps even escalate right now. What do you think?

MUDD: I would be cautious about this, Wolf. Let's think about mission creep. When we got into this game, and I was there back in the CIA when we were targeting al Qaeda with various weapons, when we got into this game, we were looking at a relatively small group -- that is al Qaeda -- that was embedded in the large Taliban organization. Over time we moved across the border in Pakistan as al Qaeda did. And some of those operations extended to include Pakistani groups that were harboring al Qaeda.

Now as we plan on leaving Afghanistan, you notice the question you're asking. We're talking, as we depart, about starting to target groups involved in a civil war with the Pakistani military. I agree, we might see strikes against some of these guys. But if I were in the situation room at the White House, I'd be saying before we get too deep into that, let's ask ourselves what we're up to 14 years into this.

BLITZER: What do you think, General Hertling?

HERTLING: I agree completely with Phil, Wolf. I think we've got some challenges there. This is something that the Pakistani military is taking care of right now. It's a tough fight on their behalf. But I think we've still got a lot of work left to do in Afghanistan. And luckily, we're going to have increased number of forces there.

Again, like I said before, that area, the northeastern part of Afghanistan, was some of the places -- Tora Bora comes to mind right across the border. That's where the Khyber Pass goes into.

So I think we've got to be concerned with contributing to the stability and security of the Afghan government, not worried about Pakistan. Because they can take care of it themselves.

BLITZER: General Hertling, thanks very much. Philip Mudd, thanks to you, as well.

Paul Cruickshank, appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, other important news we're following today, including new abuse allegations against the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold. Now another man is telling his story to CNN.

Plus, details of the surprise move by Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor is fueling lots of speculation about his political ambitions. Stand by.


BLITZER: We're learning new details about allegations of abuse involving the same New York City police officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold.

Our correspondent, Brian Todd, has gone to Staten Island. He's joining us now. What are you learning over there, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right about at this spot on this busy street on Staten Island, Officer Daniel Pantaleo is accused of strip searching a suspect in midday, right at this spot. And accused of going even further than that. We spoke to that suspect, who says Pantaleo approached him with a cowboy mentality.


ERIC GARNER, KILLED BY POLICE: I'm minding my business, officer.

TODD (voice-over): A tense street confrontation. A young New York cop going out of bounds. Officer Daniel Pantaleo has been there before. It happened two years prior to his fateful encounter with Eric Garner.

GARNER: Don't touch me. Don't touch me.

TODD (on camera): What goes through your mind when you see that?

TOMMY RICE, SAYS PANTALEO ABUSED HIM: Sad and angry and disbelief.

TODD: Tommy Rice has a detailed memory of his own confrontation with the officer at the central of the chokehold case.

March 22, 2012. Rice was a passenger in a car pulled over in this Staten Island neighborhood. The police suspected Rice, his brother- in-law and at least one other man of doing a drug transaction in the car. When he got out of the vehicle, Rice says, Officer Pantaleo and other police humiliated him by strip searching him and his brother-in- law in the middle of the street in midday.

RICE: He pulled my boxers down. He went up upward, like an upward motion. And I told him, "You just hit me in my testicles." He told me to shut the "F" up and he does it on the right-hand side. Boom. And does it again. And then at that point he takes my shoes off. Then searched that and put me back in the van, put my pants back up and put me back in the van.

TODD: How are you feeling at this point?

RICE: At this point, I felt very violated as a man.

TODD: The police, according to Tommy Rice, were not finished on the street. He says the police then took he and his brother-in-law here to the 120th precinct on Staten Island and strip searched them again, touching their genitals again.

Rice and his brother-in-law sued Pantaleo and the other officers, claiming false arrest, unlawful search, false imprisonment. Pantaleo denied Rice's claims that he was strip searched and inappropriately touched. The police union says Daniel Pantaleo did nothing wrong and says his record is stellar.

PATRICK LYNCH, PATROLMAN'S BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION: He is the model of what we want the police officer to be.

TODD (voice-over): The officers claim Tommy Rice had heroin and crack cocaine in the car. Rice denies it. Charges against him and his brother-in-law were dismissed, but Rice can't deny his own criminal history, including nine years of jail time for gun possession and drug charges.

RICE: On that day, March 22, 2012, I was not selling drugs that day. I take full responsibility for my past, and I paid for my past.

TODD: Now Rice wants Officer Daniel Pantaleo to answer for his past.

RICE: I think Officer Pantaleo should never ever carry a badge, a gun, a night stick, a uniform ever again in his life.


TODD: We tried to get a response to our interview with Tommy Rice from Officer Pantaleo through his attorney. We did not hear back. We also could not get response from the New York Police Department. But the top police union in New York calls Tommy Rice's lawsuit baseless and frivolous.

In the end, Tommy Rice and his brother-in-law settled with the city of New York for $15,000 each -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So they got $30,000 from New York City as part of a settlement of this case. I understand, though, there's also a third case involving the same officer. He's right in the middle of other allegations. What can you tell us about that?

TODD: Yes, he is, Wolf. This was a case filed this year, a lawsuit filed this year by a man named Rylawn Walker, who accuses Officer Pantaleo and another police officer of accosting him, false arrest, false imprisonment. This was on a marijuana possession charge in 2012. That charge was later dropped. Rylawn Walker says that he was forced -- he was subject to a degrading

search of his genitals in that case. Now, Officer Pantaleo denies those claims as he's acting under his own authority. But that case is still in the courts, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you. Brian Todd in Staten Island.

Let's get some analysis now. Joining us once again, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes. He's a former FBI assistant director. And our CNN anchor, Don Lemon.

Tom, so what do you make of this, these cases involving alleged police -- excessive use of force, brutality, whatever you want to call it, against this police officer?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, they sound bad, you know. It sounds like he was maybe overly aggressive in what he should have been doing. And especially, you know, if he's doing a strip search in the middle of a busy street and everybody can see, you know, that would show a certain amount of -- even if he had some reason to believe there was a drug deal or possession of illegal drugs, you know, there's a more discreet way to handle it and a more respectful way than just humiliating somebody out on the street.

BLITZER: What's your reaction when you learn about all of this? You're there in New York City, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I actually interviewed the attorney for those men who were involved in that. And my reaction is it appears to be excessive. From the evidence and from what I've read about it and looking at the evidence that I've read, it appears to be excessive.

It's not just -- Brian talked about this, mentioned it. That's not the only one he's accused of doing. There was one that was settled. There's one that's still pending. So there are a number of excessive force cases that this officer has been involved in.

And so I think, you know, it's time to take a step back and look at this officer and see if he really needs to be on the force.

BLITZER: Let's look at another case, Don. I want to show you, our viewers, some video. This is from an Ohio Wal-Mart, where a man holding an air rifle he had just picked up from a store shelf was gunned down by police. It's pretty brutal when you see this -- this video. And you've taken a closer look at it. What do you think?

LEMON: I have looked at it. And I just want to preface it by saying that is a 22-year-old, and his name is John Crawford. By the way, his family is suing that Wal-Mart. And the grand jury decided not to indict the officers.

It's tough to look at. You think of someone carrying a gun in Wal- Mart, one would automatically say, "Well, you know what? You shouldn't be carrying a gun in Wal-Mart. It looked real." But the gun was sold at Wal-Mart. He picked it up from the shelf. And all you have to do, Wolf, is a Google search of images and video,

and you'll see people from all over the country carrying guns and assault rifles in Wal-Mart. And to this day, I don't know of anyone else who's been gunned down by police for carrying a gun in Wal-Mart.

BLITZER: Yes, you go to a Wal-Mart, you pick up a gun that's being sold there, and all of a sudden, you're shot. What do you think about this, Tom?

FUENTES: Well, it's tough to know exactly, you know, comparing the other cases that Don's talking about. If you have somebody that's at the counter and maybe somebody is helping them. And they're holding the gun and looking at it as if they're going to, you know, shop and considering buying it, that's one thing.

If you have somebody that's strolling around the store or doing something else and you have a different police officer who may panic and may, you know, pull the trigger a little too quickly. It's a difficult thing.

And I faced that myself, where you have these guns that are toys or pellet guns that look exactly like the real thing. It's tough to deal with. Police officers have to deal with enough real guns, much less throw all of these into the mix.

BLITZER: Don, there's another video I want to show you and our viewers. This is the case of an elderly Texas man in his 70s. He was actually Tasered after being stopped for a vehicle inspection issue. What do you make of this?

LEMON: Well, you know, I don't know the specifics, but I mean, what does this 70-year-old guy -- he didn't appear to be fighting the police officer. And what's he going to do?

And it's for -- the whole issue is that we have been dealing with, not that someone shouldn't be pulled over or stopped by police or questioned by police. That's not it. It is the amount of force used to the infraction that you suspect them of doing.

So if you have -- you know, if your car isn't registered, you have a taillight out or what have you, does it deserve all of that? I think most people, most honest people, even police officers, if you take look at it, they would say, no you don't deserve it.

We're talking about the use of force here. Not that police don't have the power to do it, but should they do it? It appears to be excessive.

BLITZER: What do you think?

FUENTES: I think most police officers with common sense, you know, are told by their training officers or more senior officers, look, don't make these, you know, useless, worthless charges and pull people over, whether it's seatbelts or something like that. Because if it goes bad, it goes back to the original reason for the stop was no good in the first place. So, if somebody is violating traffic lights, hazard, speeding,

reckless driving, going through a stop sign, that's one thing. Or if there is an accident and the person didn't have the seatbelt, or there's something else, if you want to add that extra ticket, that's one thing.

But don't -- this is what happens. You make a stop like this, the person thinks, what are you doing? It turns out in this case wasn't even a violation in the first place. It was a mistake to even make that traffic stop. It goes bad. It makes the officer look stupid.

BLITZER: And very quickly, are police more confrontational now than they used to be? Or are we just paying more attention?

FUENTES: I think -- I don't know. It's hard to tell. I think maybe paying more attention. I think in some ways, the public in a way is more hostile lately that they want to fight back.

LEMON: They have more guns out there, Tom. So, you know, and I'm sure officers are afraid of that.

FUENTES: No, that's right.


LEMON: -- or wrongly so. But --

FUENTES: Yes, you've got 300 million guns floating around our society, and officers are concerned about that. That's exactly true.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much. Tom Fuentes, as usual, appreciate it.

Don is going to have a lot more on these stories and all the other important stories of the day. That's coming up later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. He also has, by the way, a very special town hall on race and policing in America. You're going to want to see that. Once again, 10:00 p.m. later tonight Eastern.

Just ahead, Jeb Bush and a political surprise, a huge one. He is now one stem closer to running for president of the United States.


BLITZER: A surprise announcement that caught people off guard after months of speculation about his possible presidential allegations. Jeb Bush has announced he will actively explore a 2016 run for the White House.

Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has got the details.

I was pretty surprised when I heard about it this morning. But I suppose a lot of people were.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people were surprised by this. But it also has turned ugly fairly quickly. With just about a month ago, I was covering George W. Bush's book unveiling in Texas, when he said his younger brother Jeb would be sitting down with the family over the Thanksgiving holiday to talk about and decide whether or not he would run. Well, Bush said it would be awesome if Jeb run, but the family wasn't going to put any pressure on him to do that.

Well, today, in a surprise Facebook posting, he opened the door.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): The possibility of a second Bush-Clinton showdown has the political world spinning. After former two-term Florida Governor Jeb Bush posted this, "I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States."

Criticism from his own party was swift, particularly from conservatives who see him as too moderate on immigration reform and education. This tweet from a political commentator, "Another Bush versus another Clinton, political vomit." And this call from the Conservative Action Fund.

On the Hill, a more measured and nuance response, from potential Republican opponent Rand Paul who told CNN off camera, "The more the merrier."

But a Bush run would undoubtedly shake up the potentially crowded field.

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": This is bad news for three candidates. One, Chris Christie, he was the other big name establishment candidate. Two, Marco Rubio, senator from Florida who is close to Jeb and is now unlikely to run for president. And three, to the extent that he was running, Mitt Romney.

MALVEAUX: In fact, a recent CNN/ORC poll shows if Mitt Romney doesn't jump in the primary, Jeb Bush becomes the number one choice for Republicans. He is popular with the party establishment, brings in big donors, speaks fluently Spanish and was governor of the state needed to capture the presidency, Florida.

The narrative is rich. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was smacked down by Clinton, robbing him of the second term. Could his son Jeb now avenge him by taking on Hillary?

It was a little more than a year ago when Jeb's mother Barbara Bush said this about a presidential run.

LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: We've had enough Bushes.

MALVEAUX: She's since come around. But many fellow Republicans agreed, nothing Jeb Bush has little grassroots support, financial dealings that would be heavily scrutinized, and a lack of experience in the new political world.

But the 61-year-old had a little pushback for his mom. JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I don't have to, like, listen

to every word she says. And at some point, you've got to, like, make these decisions kind of like a grown-up.


MALVEAUX: And some grown-up steps like reportedly losing nearly 20 pounds, forming a PAC, releasing 250,000 e-mails as governor and writing an e-book.

He's also strategically trying to differentiate himself from possible Republican contender Chris Christie weighed down by bridge-gate to appear more transparent. With the e-book, he is also trying to appear more modern than Hillary Clinton.

But it has already turned ugly, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly has. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

And let's get some more now, joining us: our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and our CNN political commentator, the Republican strategist Anna Navarro.

Gloria, the timing of this seems surprising, at least to me. He's got name recognition. They will certainly have no problem fundraising. But why make this announcement so early?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because he is actually directly saying to those funders, don't go to anybody else. By setting up a leadership PAC, it's a pretty strong signal, Wolf, that he's going to run. And he causes problems by doing this for Chris Christie, for Marco Rubio, you know, because -- and maybe even for Mitt Romney because some of the funders who might have gone to them are going to now say, wait a minute, we've got Jeb Bush in the race, so maybe we'll start moving toward Jeb.

So, what I think this does is it kind of forces the other candidates to make their decisions a bit earlier than they had initially anticipated.

BLITZER: So, it does -- you agree, it sort of jump-starts, forces them to jump in to this game. The other candidates on the Republican side and Democratic side a little bit earlier?

BORGER: It does. I mean, some of them already have leadership PACs, Wolf. So for example, like Rand Paul, he's already doing this. But there are others like Chris Christie who are going to have to decide that they might have to get in the game a bit earlier.

BLITZER: Ana, he is going to be facing a lot of attacks, especially from the right, during the primary contest, he suggested in the past, as you know, he's willing to lose some primaries in order to win a general presidential election. So, what does that exactly mean for Jeb Bush?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what he's talking about is that he's not going to be willing to bend his principles and turn himself into a pretzel in order to win a primary.

But, you know, Wolf, this notion that he's not conservative and he's going to have a hard time in the primary I think is premature. One of the things that a leadership PAC will be able to allow him to do is to travel the country and be able to tout his record. Anybody who remembers and knows him as governor of Florida, knows that he a very solid, conservative record when it came to fiscal reform, when it came to education reform, when it came to social issues.

So, this idea that he's not conservative enough is frankly laughable to any of us in Florida.

BLITZER: Yes, but he has gone against the Republican grain when it comes to immigration, when it comes to some of those more nationally inspired tests for education, which a lot of the conservative base doesn't necessarily like.

NAVARRO: Look, he's advocating for higher standards on education, and on immigration, he wants to modernize and streamline what is an archaic process and he wants to do it in a pragmatic way. If there are single issue voters who are not going to vote for him because he doesn't belong to "let's round them all up and deport them all" caucus, then he's not going to get those votes.

But I think most people are going to look at the complete package of experience, of crisis management, of policy, of intellect, and breadth of knowledge that Jeb Bush brings to the table. He brings a lot to the table, much more than those two issues. He's got a life long legacy to stand on.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, is his last name a liability or an asset?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's a really tough question and I think we'll find out. I think at least in the initial stages, it's certainly an asset. He starts at 100 percent name recognition which the other candidates very much do not. He certainly has the ability to raise money. Everyone will take him seriously as a candidate.

The problem is -- I mean, the irony is, his brother is now seen by the Republican base as sort of too liberal. That he was the one who increased the deficit, who put in new spending programs and the rest of the country, the Democrats and people in the middle, I think safely regard George W. Bush as very conservative. So, I think he's going to have a tight rope to walk.

But, look, he's showing he is confident and wants to be seen as a leader and it's nothing but good for him to get started early.

BLITZER: Is his family -- Gloria, I was going to say, is his family, his mom, his dad, his brother, his wife, everybody on board?

BORGER: Yes, they all want him. Yes, they are all on board, I think, as we all know, his mother was the most reluctant because she doesn't want to go through this again. It's very hard for a family member to see another family member criticized as any presidential candidate is. But I think they are all on board. And will be enthusiastic. The

most interesting thing to me, Wolf, is not the fact he is setting up this a leadership PAC, what's interesting is the e-book he is releasing.

We know all presidential candidates write books because they want to set their narrative but the release of 250,000 e-mails from when he was governor -- yes, 250,000 from when he was governor, shows that he is also laying down the gauntlet about transparency.

He is saying to Chris Christie, he's saying to Scott Walker -- you know what, guys, I'm putting it all out there. You've got private emails and correspondents, you're going to have to let people know about it, too. And my emails will only show that I'm really conservative. Let's see what your emails and your correspondence show.

BLITZER: All right. A big day in politics.

Gloria --

NAVARRO: Frankly, Gloria, he's sending the message --

BLITZER: Ana, we've got to leave it, unfortunately.

NAVARRO: He is sending the same message to Hillary Clinton.

BORGER: Exactly, exactly.

BLITZER: All right. Good point. Ana, Gloria, Jeffrey, guys, thanks very much.

And we're going to leave you this hour with this. Take a look at this. Just a little while ago, the National Menorah was lit on the ellipse not far from the White House. Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, he was there representing the president. So, a very lovely National Menorah Hanukkah lighting ceremony.

To all of our Jewish viewers -- Happy Hanukkah.

That's it for me. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter, tweet @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

Please be sure to join us again tomorrow, right here on THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always watch us live or 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.