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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf; AirAsia Search; New Ferguson Investigation; North Korea Nuclear Threat; Report: North Korea's Cyber Army 6,000 Strong; Shooting at V.A. Health Care Clinic; Suspects in New York Police Shooting Arrested, Identified; Boehner Re-Elected Speaker Despite GOP Opposition
Aired January 6, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: exclusive views of the AirAsia crash search. We're learning about new finds in dangerous water and a warning to the plane's pilots that may have been missed.
Nuclear threat, North Korea edging closer to being capable of a nightmare attack that could reach the West Coast of the United States.
New Ferguson investigation, the NAACP alleging prosecutor misconduct in the grand jury proceedings after Michael Brown's death and asks a judge to take new action.
And the so-called weeper of the House. John Boehner gets emotional, very emotional as Republicans take control of Congress and he overcomes GOP challenges to his power.
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 breaking news at the AirAsia crash site. Dive teams are standing by to rejoin the search now if there is a break in bad weather that has kept them out of the water for about 24 hours, and it is just after sunrise off the coast of Indonesia when the search usually gets back under way.
Investigators are studying two new metal objects discovered in the crash zone as crews tried to get closer to the area where they believe the plane went down. We're covering all the news that's breaking right now. The State Department's deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, she is standing by live,along with our CNN correspondents and our analysts.
First, let's go to our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. She has the very latest -- Rene.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the search area has expanded to account for the sea current moving critical pieces of evidence belonging to the doomed jetliner. Meantime, CNN has obtained a hard copy of the weather report authorities say the pilots didn't pick up prior to takeoff.
MARSH (voice-over): Indonesian officials say AirAsia Flight 8501 threw through storm clouds that could have caused icing on the plane and that may have caused the crash. This document obtained by CNN shows the official government weather report forecasting conditions the pilots would encounter. Indonesian government officials tell CNN, there's no indication AirAsia staff picked up a hard copy, potentially a missed opportunity to discuss the report with the agency.
PATRICK SMITH, AUTHOR: I'm not necessarily seeing these things as any indication of negligence on the carrier's part, on the crew's part. I mean, it depends. We don't know exactly what weather information, what weather data the crew didn't allegedly see and how relevant that is to what happened.
MARSH: The airline says the pilots got the documents electronically, but since the crash, Indonesia now requires pilots to do face-to-face briefing with flight operations officers about conditions on the flight path.
More than 40 vessels, 20 helicopters, and 97 divers are deployed to the search zone.
BAMBANG SULISTYO, INDONESIAN NATIONAL SEARCH AND RESCUE CHIEF (through translator): The USS Fort Worth detected sonar of two metal objects, but we still need to confirm if this is part of the plane.
MARSH: One object, about 56 feet long, the other, 14 feet, elsewhere, a life vest, safety cards and bodies recovered, a total 39 of the 162 people on board pulled from the Java Sea. Muslim religious leaders on a search helicopter pray for the victims. Indonesia's military chief now offering to take families to the crash zone for some closure.
GEN. MOELDOKO, INDONESIAN MILITARY CHIEF (through translator): I will prepare Hercules and ships either tomorrow or anytime. I will offer my help to the families of the victims.
MARSH: Today, monsoons, rains, muddy water, high waves and poor visibility hampered the dangerous underwater search for the plane's black boxes. The boxes have locator pingers that can be detected with sensors. But each day of delay, the batteries come closer to running out. The manufacturer tells CNN fresh batteries were installed just last year. They will fade in another three weeks.
MARSH: This has not only resulted in a policy change for Indonesia's aviation system, but AirAsia now also requires a face-to-face weather briefing between pilots and the government's weather agency. We should note the airline's handling of this weather information prior to takeoff remains under investigation, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Rene, Thank you, Rene Marsh reporting.
Let's go live to Indonesia right now.
CNN's Kyung Lah is on the scene for us. She's been inside the AirAsia search command center.
What is the latest over there, Kyung?
KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in Jakarta, it is where the shots are being called. It is the nerve center, the place where the head of the operation is determining where the search will take place.
And we got a very rare look at this nerve center. The head of the operation showing us how he directs some 20 aircraft and 40 ships at sea. The aircraft, while we were there, spotted two bodies. And then he dispatched ships to those exact coordinates and then confirmed that indeed those were the two bodies.
This is a painstaking process, one that is being repeated over and over again, the planes combing back and forth across the Java Sea, hoping to find any wreckage, any bodies, the head of the operation saying he has two goals. One, find the bodies. Two, find those all- important black boxes. Wolf, and he has a deep suspicion, also, that there could be large sections of the plane sitting at the sea with people still strapped to their seats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do they think they have enough personnel, planes, ships, sophisticated sonar equipment, already in place or do they need more?
LAH: We actually asked him that exact question. He said he feels that he has the people in place. This is a multinational search. He couldn't tell us even exactly how many countries, how many ships and planes each one had contributed to the search. He says that he believes they have the resources, that they are narrowing down the search. They know where to look.
It is just a matter optimizing the pieces that they have in place, Wolf.
BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting live from Jakarta, Indonesia. That's where the search is headquartered.
Let's get an exclusive look now at an American warship's role in the AirAsia search operation and the frustrations after days of very rough weather.
CNN's Paula Hancocks spent some time on the USS Sampson. She is now back on land in Indonesia.
How did it go, Paula? What did you see?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the weather on Tuesday was actually better than it has been for many days. This is what we heard from the U.S. commander on board as well. But even though it was better above the waves, below the waves, the divers still couldn't get in. It was too murky.
But it is a 24-hour operation at sea. As you say, we have got an exclusive look to see what the U.S. effort is.
HANCOCKS (voice-over): Scouring the vast expanse of the Java Sea. Those on board the USS Sampson work around the clock to find anything connected to Flight 8501.
CMDR. STEVEN M. FOLEY, USS SAMPSON: Recovered a lot of debris and bodies, and quite tragic it sounds, it just brings closure to the families.
HANCOCKS: A visit of appreciation Tuesday from Indonesia's military chief.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gets really choppy. This is about the best it's been.
HANCOCKS: General Moeldoko has a few words for the U.S. troops, words, he says, are meant for all countries who are helping.
GEN. MOELDOKO, INDONESIAN MILITARY CHIEF (through translator): Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're trying to do is rule in or rule out...
HANCOCKS: The general is convinced they are working in the right area, but he is also acutely aware of the challenges of this mission.
"Strong winds and currents," he tells me. "The waves are not easy and muddy waters make it hard for divers. I welcome the families here to see the situation for themselves and to throw a flower into the water."
Aboard the KRI Banda Aceh, he meets his own troops coordinating the search efforts.
(on camera): This is really the command center of the operation at sea. This is an Indonesian warship. Behind me, you have got a U.S. helicopter that has just touched down, which shows the cooperation that's needed for this kind of operation and the international help that is being put into it.
(voice-over): Russia, France, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, to name but a few countries working together. But without the chance of better weather, the best technology in the world will inevitably have its limitations.
HANCOCKS: It's just gone 6:00 in the morning. It is light, as you can see. This is often the time the aerial search starts. We have certainly been hearing helicopters in the air once again and, of course, we will be waiting to hear whether or not divers can get into the water today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will stay in close touch with you. Paula, thanks very much. Let's bring in our aviation analysts, Miles O'Brien and Peter Goelz,
our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, our aviation correspondent Richard Quest and then the aviation writer and author Clive Irving.
Richard, these two metal objects that were found today, what is your sense? Are these objects part of the plane or just another false alarm?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We don't know and we won't know.
One can speculate to the nth degree. But clearly what we have heard so far from various ships and helicopters, for example, when Reuters reported that they thought they had found the tail, there is so much garbage in that part of the world in the ocean. It is heavily shipped. It's heavily trafficked, so it is not surprising they are finding these pieces.
But as in Paula Hancock's report, you heard the U.S. Navy officer say they are picking up debris so they know they're in the right place. Wolf, it really is just a question of time and effort.
BLITZER: But, Tom, the debris they're picking up, the wreckage, that could be from some ship that was sunk during World War II.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, exactly. Wolf, but there's debris all over. They're discovering even recent ships that have sunk in the Java Sea. We're learning that our oceans are filthy.
BLITZER: They certainly are.
Let's talk a little bit about the communications, Miles, because it is so frustrating. They were flying at 36,000 feet. The pilot called ground control asking for permission to go up to 38,000. The maximum is, what, 40,000, that kind of Airbus can 90. Didn't hear anything. But that was really the last we heard. After that, there was silence. No more maydays, no more nothing. Right?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. When you look at the radar data, there's some troubling information here.
It is hard to know really what was really happening because we're measuring ground speed and it may not be very accurate. But what it does indicate is that the aircraft was dangerously close, if not at its stall speed, meaning not the engines quitting, but aerodynamic stall, meaning it would fall out of the sky.
So a big question here is, he was not cleared of that altitude and yet ascended. Was that an emergency operation on the part of the pilot or was that an updraft which he could not control? Was he going for a ride courtesy of Mother Nature? We don't know that.
BLITZER: He was technically allowed to go up, even though he hadn't received permission yet if he felt there was an emergency under way.
O'BRIEN: In an emergency situation, the captain can do anything he needs to preserve the souls on board the aircraft. That's for sure.
BLITZER: What's your analysis? Peter, why was there no mayday, for example? What could have been the cause for no mayday?
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Simply, they had their hands full.
BLITZER: It only takes a second to push a button and say mayday, mayday, or then go back and do whatever they were doing.
GOELZ: There's always a reluctance to call out mayday.
But when you're flying the plane, that's your first responsibility. The nonflying pilot has got his responsibilities. He is reading out a checklist. He is reaching for a checklist. I just think their hands were full in a very challenging, eventually catastrophic...
BLITZER: The fact there were new batteries inside these so-called black boxes, but no pings have yet been detected, what does that say to you?
GOELZ: It doesn't surprise me. It is disappointing. The black boxes often become covered with silt and covered with metal. You have got to be directly over them.
It is hard to find something in the ocean. It took us days to find the black boxes at TWA 800. We were right over it. The pingers, we never picked up.
BLITZER: Clive Irving, as of today, and correct me if I'm wrong, no critical wreckage that would give an indication of the cause of the crash has been found. How unusual is this?
CLIVE IRVING, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I want to talk about the frustration I think we all feel. All this searching, expensive searching, work it's doing would not be as important as it now is if we had the proper tracking system. I know we all feel the absence of that.
I just want to explain something, because I don't think many people understand this. I went Inmarsat in London, the people who tracked 370, and they have this satellite system which could provide the information that we need to solve these problems. And I didn't understand how this worked.
And what's important to understand about what they can do, they already have equipment in more than 80 percent of the world's wide body fleet that could be used to transmit crucial information. That would take two forms. The first would one be the moment a plane was upset or deviated from its intended course, as we have been just talking about, the upset of this plane is very clear, from the moment that upset occurred, the plane would start transmitting crucial information, data through its satellite system to the ground, so that even before it hit the water, we would have a picture, digital picture. That information would override all other information on the network.
It would get priority. It would go to the ground. The second thing we would have, of course, if we had that, we would know exactly where it went. In one stroke, one technical stroke, we would have the information that we sorely lack now.
What went wrong? What upset this plane and where is it? And it's the scandal I think, as other analysts have said on this program, it's a scandal that the industry and the people who regulate the industry are still sitting on their hands and they're not doing it. How many more times do we have to go through this tragic and really compellingly sad situation before something is done?
BLITZER: I think, Richard Quest, you agree with Clive on that. It is a scandal that the technology is there, but they don't use it.
QUEST: Yes, and I do agree with Clive. And I also know the arguments and the political arguments for and against it.
And they don't really hold a lot of strength at the moment. There are competing -- Inmarsat has one system it's put forward. There are competing systems that are also saying, no, the Inmarsat isn't the right system. There are competitors. It is a complex issue.
But the issue really, Wolf, is that the leadership of the industry has to now say this is a case where we must move forward.
BLITZER: Richard, let me interrupt. Why didn't that happen immediately after the Malaysian airliner disappeared?
QUEST: It did to a certain extent. They had to find out what was the best way forward and IATA was tasked with this tracking task force.
But this task force put forward its report in December, Wolf. Its task force was considered in December. But ICAO, this is the body that -- the international aviation safety body, they are not due to meet until February. Now, you know, I know, everybody in the industry knows that something needs to be done.
But it's this lack of urgency to now do it. We're talking here, just to put in it perspective, 447 took ages to time, 370 took ages to find now. Now 8501 is taking ages to find. Many of these issues could be mitigated if the industry moved forward.
BLITZER: Miles, you want to weigh in on this?
I just think Richard is right on top of things here. This is a solvable solution. There is a solvable solution here, and it goes back to 447 and before that. This industry has sat on its hands on it and it really is up to all of to us demand it, I think.
BLITZER: Yes. And I know you're frustrated as well and you have worked at the NTSB. You worked with these international organizations. They're just sitting on their hands over there.
GOELZ: ICAO make molasses look fast-moving.
BLITZER: Yes. You agree, Tom?
FUENTES: I think one of the arguments will be someday more compelling if it turns out that somebody did survive the crash and died of exposure or shark attack or something in the water because they weren't located soon enough afterwards. So, that would be even worse.
O'BRIEN: And one thing that could change, the FAA could unilaterally make this a regulation.
BLITZER: Why don't they?
O'BRIEN: That's the thing. If the FAA does it, that has a ripple effect around the world.
BLITZER: Why don't they?
GOELZ: They choose to act in concert with other bodies. They won't do it alone. They would like the British and the French to come along with them.
BLITZER: Richard, we learned today the AirAsia pilot didn't pick up the necessary weather report in person. He may have read something online or got something on his iPad or whatever, but didn't have that in-person weather briefing before he took off. How significant is that?
QUEST: I'm going to go out on my own here and say it is not significant really at all. No pilot goes into the air without knowing what the weather forecast is.
If he had the chart, if he had read it, it's part of the -- now, if he didn't have any briefing himself, if he didn't bother to look at the charts, if he didn't read the e-mails, then it is simple negligence. But I can't imagine any pilot would willingly get behind the side stick of an aircraft without knowing what the weather is. The fact that he didn't talk to a man to his face I happen to think is pretty much irrelevant.
And more importantly, he had the details. He had his weather radar on board. He knew what he was probably going to face. And the Indonesian authorities need to be looking at their role in that rather than trying to blame the pilot.
BLITZER: Clive, I'm going to show our viewers some pictures of the seats that were recovered from the wreckage. When we see these pictures, what does it say to you? Can we tell from the damage of these seats what may have caused the plane to crash?
IRVING: We can't tell what caused the plane to crash but you can tell the consequences of the crash, I think. I saw when I looked at those photographs some interesting stuff. But the main impact on the seats is in the lumbar and bottom area, which suggests to me that the plane hit the water with some force, because they suggest spinal compression. You can see if you look at the junction of the back of the seat and the back end of the cushion part of the seat. You can see there's maximum damage and pressure has been done in that location which seems to me to prove the bodies were really literally -- by the enormous g forces that were exerted on them were rammed down into those seats.
BLITZER: Clive Irving, thanks very much. Peter Goelz, Miles O'Brien, Tom Fuentes, and Richard Quest. We will continue the coverage of this story.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And we have some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, disturbing information. An active shooter now reported at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.
We're standing by. We're getting information on what's going on. An active shooter at this medical center. We will have details in just a minute.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news, disturbing information, an active shooter now reported at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.
Janice Yu of CNN affiliate KTSM posting these photos just moments ago. The station reporting the El Paso police, they have turned over the scene to the military police, federal law enforcement on the scene as well. We're trying to get some more information on what is going on. We will update you as soon as we get more, but once an active shooter reported at this VA hospital, Veterans Administration hospital in El Paso, Texas.
Meanwhile, there's other news we're following. A chilling new assessment at a time of high tension between United States and North Korea. South Korea now says the Kim Jong-un regime is closer than ever to developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States.
Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He has got details here for us.
What are you finding out, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the South Korean Defense Ministry report paints an alarming picture of North Korea's growing military capabilities, including a force of cyber-warriors, a growing invasion force to attack the South and progress on what has long been the chief concern of the U.S. national security community, miniaturizing a nuclear weapon to fit on a missile capable of hitting the U.S. homeland. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SCIUTTO (voice-over): It is a nightmare scenario, North Korea with the capacity to launch a nuclear-tipped missile threatening the U.S. West Coast. The new assessment by South Korea's Defense Ministry finds Pyongyang has edged a step closer to that capability.
The North's ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon, the report says, appears to have reached a significant level. South Korea assesses the North Korean missiles, such as Taepodong-2, already have the range to reach the U.S. mainland and that Pyongyang is now developing submarines that can fire ballistic missiles.
The U.S. continues to believe, administration officials tell CNN, that the North has not yet achieved a capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile, though it has positioned missile defense systems close to North Korea to mitigate any threat.
JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We obviously continue to closely monitor the situation on the Korean Peninsula and remain steadfast in our commitment of the defense of our allies, certainly including South Korea.
HANCOCKS: The North's greatest perceived threat remains to its neighbor, U.S. ally South Korea. Along the border with the south, the North has set up military posts, as well as artillery pieces and mechanized forces that the South says would allow for a quick invasion.
And the North has other ways of attacking far from its borders. North Korea has a force of some 6,000 cyber-warriors, South Korea says, that it uses to launch cyber-attacks on government and military entities in the South. It's a threat the U.S. experienced firsthand as well, with the cyber-attack on Sony, which the administration blames on the North Korean government.
So why is North Korea's Kim Jong-un building up his military now even as he offers renewed talks with his South Korean neighbor?
PAUL CARROLL, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: He has to double down on his resolve by showing that he is strong first. Before he can offer any kind of an olive branch, he has to have a very clear sword in the other hand.
SCIUTTO: There is a broad gap between possessing the technology and perfecting the capabilities that the U.S. and Russia, for instance, used to perfect that capability, putting a nuclear warhead on a missile that you can target properly.
But the president has said many times he has to prepare for every contingency. That's why, Wolf, you have seen the U.S. deploy additional anti-missile capability in the region around North Korea.
BLITZER: It's a dangerous situation. Let's not forget there are still 30,000 or so U.S. troops along the DMZ between North and South Korea. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's get some more.
Joining us, the deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Marie, thanks very much for coming in.
MARIE HARF, DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Happy to be here.
BLITZER: What do you make of the South Korean report that North Korea now has a cyber-army of some 6,000 members? We earlier thought maybe 1,500 or so, but now 6,000. Is that consistent with what the U.S. government believes?
HARF: Without getting into specific numbers, we obviously don't talk about those intelligence assessments.
Clearly, North Korea has a very significant cyber-capability. We have seen that just with the Sony Pictures situation over the past several weeks and months. We know they have a very aggressive capability and it has the potential to be very disruptive, as we saw again with Sony.
BLITZER: The administration still believes, the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Defense, National Security Agency, North Korea was in fact responsible for the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures?
All of the evidence that they have gathered throughout this investigation has led them to that conclusion. We have been very clear about that. That's why you saw just recently imposing sanctions on additional North Korean officials and entities as a result of that.
BLITZER: Did they outsource, though? Did they have help from any other party or individuals or was this a solely North Korean operation, from the U.S. government's perspective?
HARF: We don't have information that other governments were involved.
We know the North Koreans planned and put this attack into place. It doesn't rule out the possibility that individuals, private individuals may have helped them. But we don't always outline all of what we know about how these attacks are undertaken or how this one was undertaken because we want to protect the way we know that.
BLITZER: Our reporter in Beijing, Will Ripley, went to this city in China which supposedly is the headquarters for a lot of these North Korean cyber-attackers, these cyber-warriors, if you will, this Bureau 121, as it is called.
And they're based in this Chinese city. Is that consistent with your information?
HARF: Well, again, we don't have any information that other governments were involved in this attack on Sony Pictures. We do have conversations with the Chinese. Secretary Kerry spoke with
his Chinese counterpart right after the Sony hack, the attack, to talk about the cyber-issue, among other things, because we know there's a significant threat in the world here and we know that China can play a more helpful role if they could do so.
BLITZER: Have you asked the United States government, has asked China to shut down the North Korean cyber operation inside China?
HARF: Well, we've talked broadly with China about confronting these kinds of offensive cyberattacks. We know U.S. companies have been at the receiving end of them. We know the U.S. government has been at the receiving end of them. So we've talked to them about how we can work together more on this issue going forward.
BLITZER: Some of the experts, the cyberattack experts in the United States, outside of the U.S. government, private firms, they've raised doubts about whether North Korea was really capable of doing it. One of the things they pointed to is the documents, the e-mails that were released on the Internet. Very embarrassing e-mails to Sony Pictures, which maybe a disgruntled employee might have wanted to release, as opposed to the North Korean regime, which may not necessarily be following all the sort of sordid details of Hollywood along those lines.
What do you make of those accusations, that this wasn't necessarily a North Korean operation? That there may have been a disgruntled employee who leaked this information or caused this damage to Sony Pictures?
HARF: Well, we are very confident in our assessment that the North Korean government is responsible for this attack. That does not preclude the possibility that other private individuals somewhere around the world with some reason to help the North Korean government may have done so. Now, we're not always going to get publicly into what we know or don't know or confirmed things one way or the other. But those two things are not mutually exclusive.
BLITZER: Are you going to step up sanctions on North Korea even more than you've done in recent days?
HARF: Well, the E.O., the executive order that the president signed last week is a very broad one. And it gives us the ability, at a time of our choosing in the future, to impose additional sanctions on individuals or entities. A very broad executive order, as written, on North Korean government officials, members of their leadership party. So I don't have anything to preview about that, but we certainly could.
BLITZER: Will the State Department once again bring North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terror?
HARF: Well, there's a process underway right now, and we're looking at that. North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world, so they're already under incredible pressure, but people are looking at that. And if, and when, we have a change to announce, we will do so.
BLITZER: All right. Marie, I want you to stand by. We've got more questions on what's going on, not only in North Korea but in Iraq with regards ISIS. There's concern.
But there's new information coming in on the breaking news that we've been following. A shooting that's going on at the V.A. clinic adjacent to the William Beaumont Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. CNN affiliate KTSM is posting photos. You can see them right there. The station reports that the El Paso police have turned over the scene to U.S. military personnel. The U.S. military police, federal law enforcement authorities are now on the ground. We're getting more information. We're going on check in with our sources there. Stand by. Much more coming up right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Texas. There's been a shooting incident at a V.A. clinic adjacent to the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. CNN affiliate KTSM has been posting photos. We're getting more information. The station, by the way, reporting El Paso police have turned over the scene to U.S. military police. Federal law enforcement authorities are on the scene. We're watching what's going on. We're trying to get a better sense of any injuries.
The shooting incident apparently still underway. We're going to check in and get some more information. But I just wanted to alert you to that breaking news.
In the meantime, let's go back to the State Department deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf.
I'm very concerned about what's going on in Iraq right now. There are 3,000 U.S. military personnel. They're not, quote, "combat troops." They're advising. They're assisting the Iraqi military. It looks like ISIS is continuing their operations, and they're shelling some of these positions, especially this al-Asad air base in the Anbar Province, and these American troops could be endangered. What's going on?
HARF: Well, we knew that Iraq was a very dangerous place and that ISIS was not going to just get up and walk away and not fight when we help the Iraqis take the fight to them.
In terms of the al-Asad Base that we've talked about, it's about the size of Boulder, Colorado. These attacks are certainly putting folks there at risk but, I think, putting it into some perspective is helpful. That they're very random. They're not targeted. Obviously, again, they're risky, but it's a very big area. And it's not just U.S. troops there. It's Iraqis, as well.
BLITZER: We heard Barbara Starr report here in THE SITUATION ROOM a little while ago that the U.S. -- the Pentagon is about to sell to the Iraqis, battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, sophisticated weapons. How concerned are you, though, that the Iraqi military might simply abandon all these weapons as they've done over the past year or so. And the ISIS terrorists wind up using military -- sophisticated U.S. military equipment.
HARF: Well, I think what you saw when ISIS first made its advance last summer, and some parts of the Iraqi army did, surprisingly, melt away was really a wake-up call for the Iraqis: for the government, the political leaders and for its military leaders and its army.
And since then we have advisers on the ground, helping get them equipped; helping get them trained. They know how serious this fight is. And this has been an ongoing process of getting them the weapons they need. They've really stepped up here and have really pushed ISIS back in some significant places.
BLITZER: Very quickly on Cuba. Bob Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; still going to be the ranking Democrat of that committee. He said over the weekend, he said it will be very difficult to get anyone the administration nominates to be the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, confirmed by the Senate.
How worried are you that, if you have a Democrat like Bob Menendez going to resist any such effort, that this normalization of relations that the Obama administration wants might never get off the ground?
HARF: Well, to be very clear, we are going to open an embassy in Cuba. We have a senior State Department official going to Havana at the end of the month to start the normalization talks.
We already have an intersection there. An embassy is not a gift to the Cuban government. It's to help American citizens who travel there. It's to help push democratization there; help push freedom of speech; help push all of the things we want to help get the Cuban people more say in their future, in their lives. Having an ambassador there is the best way to do that. We are very committed to this news policy.
BLITZER: All right. Marie Harf, thanks very much for joining us.
HARF: Thank you.
BLITZER: Breaking news we're following. We're going to get an update on that shooting incident at the V.A. clinic adjacent to the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. Stand by.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has got some details on the shooting at the V.A. clinic adjacent to the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. What have you learned, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I want to caution that this is preliminary information. But we are now hearing from multiple officials that this situation appears to be resolved. There were two people wounded. Those are the latest figures. Those, of course, could change. But hearing from multiple officials now that it looks that there was a shooting here but that that shooting is now over and you have law enforcement swarming around that medical facility at El Paso.
BLITZER: All right. Good to know. At least it's over with. We'll get more information and update our viewers. Jim, thanks very much.
There are also some major new developments in two stories we've been closely following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Now, the NAACP is demanding a judge investigate the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury prosecutor. Also, suspects have now been arrested and identified in the shootings of two New York City police officers in the Bronx.
Let's get more. Joining us, our senior legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin, our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, and our CNN anchor, Don Lemon, and community activist John Gaskin.
All of you thanks very much.
So, John, what's -- first of all, driving this new call from the NAACP for a special investigation of the St. Louis County prosecutor?
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, Wolf, there are so many questions across the country Bob McCulloch has received much criticism regarding how he has handled the grand jury process. You have grand jurors that were really pounded with evidence throughout this process.
Darren Wilson was given no type of cross-examination compared to the other witnesses that went before the grand jury and there are many questions, and quite honestly, there is a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, not just in St. Louis County but across this country.
So, hopefully, the legal defense fund will get some of the things they are asking for, for that judge to go in and conduct her own investigation of that grand jury and take a look at some of those irregularities that are being pointed out.
BLITZER: Well, Tom Fuentes, if the NAACP were to get its way, would that mean that the police officer in question, the case against Darren Wilson work start all over again?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It could. I mean, the investigative process has been, you know, pretty much concluded at the local level. Not the federal level. The FBI investigation continues. But, you know, it's possible. I think at this point at the local level, almost anything is possible. They may want to start over again.
BLITZER: But there is a federal, Jeffrey, there is a federal investigation underway, civil rights allegations or whatever, that still in the process, that could take months and months. Maybe even a year or two to continue. That's going on even as we speak.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That is. I think it's considered a long shot based on the facts of the case as we know it, that there would be an actual prosecution of Officer Wilson under federal charges.
Whether the entire department might be charged, that seems like a more realistic possibility. But that would certainly only be a civil matter, not a criminal matter.
As for the issue of whether the grand jury investigation could be reopened or there should be some sort of investigation of the prosecutor McCulloch, frankly, I don't think anything I've seen would call for a new investigation. But, look, Bob McCulloch is an elected official and he can be voted out of office and I think that's the most likely place for some accountability to take place. Not the legal system which I think for better or worse has worked its course in the States.
BLITZER: Don Lemon, you spent a lot of time in Ferguson, St. Louis County, covering the story. What's your analysis?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think if the prosecutor has nothing to hide, I don't see anything wrong with an independent investigation. He said he was all about transparency. That after the special prosecutor, after the grand jury, I should say, came to its conclusion, he would release all the information. People are saying much of the information is redacted and they have some questions about that.
So, I believe in transparency. If you don't have anything to hide, then you don't have anything to hide. And in an investigation, why not?
BLITZER: Don, you're there in New York. Two New York City police officers, they were shot in the Bronx last night, another awful story.
Do police in New York City, based on everything you're seeing and hearing and I know you've been covering the story extensively, do they need to be concerned about escalating violence that is aimed against these law enforcement officers?
LEMON: I think everyone should be concerned about escalating violence. And I think the police department has every right to be. How could they not, after two members of their force were executed in broad daylight in Brooklyn, just before Christmas.
So, I think they should be concerned and I think they should be on alert. Whether or not the threat is real, I don't know. I'm not an investigator. But I think they should be cautious and I think that they are being now, and by the way, the former Police Commissioner Howard Safir said as much last night in our show.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: It just, I think it is worth pointing out, these officers were in plain clothes. So, there is no, it is not even clear that the defendants in this case knew these were police officers.
The other point to make is that crime is at an historic low in New York City. The number of murders has plummeted and continued to plummet under Mayor de Blasio. So, the police deserve all sorts of credit for what has gone on in this city, the reduction in crime. But also, there is simply less threat to everyone now because this is so much more of a safer city than it used to be.
LEMON: I understand what you're saying but it doesn't matter. Even if they're plain clothes or uniform, they're still police officers. Whether or not the suspects knew or not, that's a police officer's job to be in plain clothes or to be in uniform.
TOOBIN: Absolutely. But all I'm saying it is very unlikely they were targeted the way that the Officer Ramos and Liu clearly were the other day.
BLITZER: And the whole point, Tom Fuentes, is there is a slow down over the past week or two in New York City, cops not necessarily doing the kind of arrests or citations, stuff that they normally should be doing and it is seen as an act of protest against the mayor.
FUENTES: No, that is an act of protest. But that's regarding the type of crimes that the police look at as -- you know, that they are being used to create a revenue stream for the city. And so, they don't regard that as something crucial to the safety of the public. Something like this proves that they will respond and risk their lives, even when they were getting off duty and free to go home, and respond to something like this, you know, to protect the public.
BLITZER: These two police officers who were shot, they are listed in critical condition. We hope they both do well. I know, Don, you're going to be speaking with the father of one of the police officers later tonight. Is that right?
LEMON: I will be speaking with a father who has visited and spoke went his son and ask him about the current events happening with the police department and the mayor and he spoke about that and his son's feelings about that. The son did go to both funerals, by the way
BLITZER: Yes, Don is going to be 10:00 p.m. later tonight, "CNN TONIGHT". We'll be watching.
Guys, thanks very much.
Just ahead, we're going to have a live update from Indonesia on the AirAsia crash search, the slow struggle to find the black boxes.
BLITZER: John Boehner is holding on to the speaker's gavel as the Republicans take control of both the House and the Senate. He was re- elected to his leadership post today, despite a little bit of an embarrassment, some conservative opposition, but he overcame that. It was indeed an emotional moment for the speaker who's been known to
shed a tear or two. He had his handkerchief at her side throughout the ceremonies today. To on one's surprise, he got choked up during his speech on the House floor.
Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
He did well. He got himself re-elected, speaker of the House. There was a little bit of opposition but not much.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. At the end of the day, there were 25 Republicans who did not vote for him, who protested with their votes. That's twice as much, more than twice as much as we saw two years ago when there were 12 of them. But the fact of the matter is, he has a bigger majority now -- much bigger, the biggest since 1928.
So, he's got more room to have more defectors. The one interesting thing is that just even in the hours since those rebellions took place, he's already retaliated. Two of the people who voted against him, one who challenged him, are now off the House Rules Committee.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: There is politics going on the Hill?
BASH: They are off the house rules committee, which is very powerful committee. People might not know what it is, but it is incredibly powerful and it's effectively the speaker's committee, that's where he makes the sausage and they are off. So, it was sort of a leave the gun and take the canola kind of thing.
BORGER: And, by the way, that is exactly what a speaker should do. If people vote against you openly, they are in rebellion, you win and they lose.
And as a result, you have -- you are in charge of a powerful committee which decides what goes to the floor and what doesn't get to the floor and you say to these guys, you know what, you just lost.
BLITZER: The first piece of business that's likely to come up is the Keystone pipeline from Canada through Texas. It looks like it will pass easily in the House and probably in the Senate, more than 60 votes to break a filibuster. Here's the question, the president said he's going to veto it, he is not ready to sign it into law. Will the Republicans and their Democratic allies in the Senate have 67 votes that's needed to override that veto?
BORGER: At this point, Wolf, they don't have the 67 votes. Both sides -- you know, the Democrats are saying they can sustain the veto, the Republicans are saying maybe they'd be able to override it, but they don't have the votes right now.
The reason that they are raising Keystone as issue number one here is that it is an issue that unites the Republican Party, that also brings over some moderate and conservative Democrats, and Mitch McConnell can say, see, I was able to pass something with even a majority.
BASH: With bipartisan votes.
BASH: And it was no accident that the new Congress was minutes old when the White House said, we're going to veto the very first thing the president is going to get. No accident. But I will say that it really infuriated the lead Democrats, the president's fellow Democrats. Joe Manchin told Ted Barrett (ph) that he was blindsided. He thought he'd be able to work something out with the White House and then all of a sudden --
BLITZER: Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia.
Look at this picture, guys, this is the Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. He did video today. He was in an accident exercising in Henderson, Nevada, over the weekend. Apparently something hit him in the face.
BORGER: An exercise machine.
BLITZER: It hurts me, Gloria, just looking at him.
BORGER: I know. Well, he was exercising, as he does. And he used an exercise band and he fell and clearly hurt his face. He looks very banged up.
BLITZER: Several bones in his face were broken.
BASH: Literally broke his face. Broke many bones in his face.
BORGER: He's not young either.
BASH: And he broke ribs.
BLITZER: He couldn't go up to Capitol Hill today. He was in his apartment today.
BASH: His aide said it was doctor's orders. You see him sitting up there, they wanted to sit up have the swelling go down on his face. He said that anybody who has an exercise band, he was pulling on it, it snapped and he fell forward.
BLITZER: Yes, so the lesson is don't have an exercise band?
BORGER: No, the lesson -- yes, well, or not a couple days before the session starts.
BLITZER: We wish Harry Reid a speedy, speedy recovery.
BORGER: But he had to do that to show he was still in charge of the Democrats.
BLITZER: He can still talk.
All right, guys. Thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.