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THE SITUATION ROOM
Flights Delayed for Hours After Jet Skids Off Runway; Hundreds of Drivers Stranded on Icy Highways; Interview with Marc Morial; New FBI Warning About American Teens Joining ISIS; Interview with Ambassador Ron Dermer
Aired March 5, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, feet from water. Terrifying moments as an airliner slides off an icy runway just short of a frigid bay. We have the latest on the investigation as air traffic feels the impact.
Still stranded. Hundreds of people stuck in their cars, some for almost 20 hours on a snow-covered interstate. Many without food, water or ways to keep warm.
Ferguson lawsuit. The Justice Department won't file charges, but Michael Brown's family will file a wrongful death lawsuit. Is this their chance for what they see would be justice?
An American suicide bomber? As the federal government issues a new warning about teens trying to join ISIS, did an American blow himself up in Iraq?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. A massive and dangerous storm stretching across 22 states. Ninety million Americans are affected by winter storm warnings and advisories. Getting around by foot on the roads or in the air right now is a nightmare.
Kentucky's National Guard is rescuing people and clearing cars and trucks from interstate highways near Louisville. Hundreds of drivers have been stranded, many of them since last night.
At New York's LaGuardia Airport, a Delta plane slid off an icy runway, spilling fuel and coming to rest with its nose just feet from the frigid waters. Everyone survived, but 24 passengers were injured.
Our correspondents and news makers are all standing by to bring you the full coverage of the storm, as well as the day's other critically important news.
Let's start with the extremely close call at LaGuardia Airport in New York. I want you to hear the dramatic ground and air control tower conversations just seconds after the jet's landing went horribly wrong. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an aircraft go off the runway. The airport is closed. We got a three-four.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have an aircraft on the north service road. Please advise crash rescue. LaGuardia Airport is closed at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN's Will Ripley is over at LaGuardia Airport. He's joining us live. What are you hearing over there? What's the latest, Will?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is an extremely treacherous situation out here at the airport, Wolf. Even though they have managed to reopen just one runway, planes are barely getting out, and they're having a hard time keeping up with all the snow that continues to fall.
They're also being very careful about whether to allow planes to even get on the runway, considering how quickly these conditions are changing. Keep in mind that just before this Delta plane skidded off the runway, two other pilots actually said that conditions were safe; but in such a short time, it became so slippery that the plane slid 4,000 feet of a 7,000 foot runway, coming dangerously close to the icy water.
BLITZER: There were problems evacuating the plane, as well, weren't there, Will?
RIPLEY: There were problems evacuating the plane, because after -- after the aircraft was basically -- part of the nose of the plane was dangling over the water, the plane's emergency slides did not deploy. Listen to what we were told about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK FOYE, PORT AUTHORITY: Shortly before the incident approximately 11:05, two planes landed and reported quote, "good braking action" on the runways. The runway, this particular runway had been plowed shortly before the incident, and pilots on other planes reported good braking action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RIPLEY: Passengers had to get off the plane. They had to trudge through the snow, some of them without jackets. Again, 24 people with minor injuries, Wolf, and there have been thousands of flight cancellations across the country.
According to website Flight Tracker, 5,000 cancellations, 5,000 delays and a lot of them as a direct result of the fact that this airport in the busy New York City air space is shut down, forcing flights to be rerouted, leaving a lot of people across the United States and internationally grounded right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So what's the mood over there? I take it the passengers trying to reroute themselves, there must be a lot of frustration. On the other hand they want to be safe.
RIPLEY: Yes. It's certainly terrifying for the people who were on that plane. Imagine just the gut-wrenching feeling of hitting the runway and knowing that your plane doesn't have any traction, considering that here at LaGuardia in particular the runways are short. There is water around these planes. But passengers who were sitting here at the airport, they have nothing to do right now, Wolf, but look at the sea of red, the flights that are canceled, and wait and hope their flight will get out of here, but they want to be safe. They don't want to have another situation like what we saw here earlier today.
BLITZER: And that plane stopped literally just a few feet before those frigid waters of Flushing Bay. Maybe the fence, maybe that little berm, maybe that little hill, whatever they want to call it, that helped stop that plane. Is that what they're suggesting, the authorities, Will?
RIPLEY: In fact, it's the same berm, Wolf, that stopped a flight in 1994 from also actually going into the water. And that's what people here are really thankful for right now, because had the plane slid a bit further, had that berm not been there, that plane could have very well ended up in the water, and then we'd be talking about a much different and more dangerous situation.
BLITZER: And you're saying now the flights sort of have resumed, but still they have a long way to go, right?
RIPLEY: Well, one runway is going to remain closed until at least 7 p.m. this evening. All the passengers' luggage still sitting on that aircraft right now. The NTSB investigating.
There's only one runway open. Flights are barely able to take off. A lot of the departures are canceled, but they're trying to at least get things moving. But still, thousands of travelers are stuck here tonight. And throughout New York City and around the country, flights were affected as a result of this.
BLITZER: Will Ripley at LaGuardia. We'll get back to you.
Passengers from the jet, they're telling harrowing stories about what they saw and felt as their plane went off the runway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The plane came down, and it slid. And then it took a spin to the left, and we looked out the window. And we could see the wing was hitting a fence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once we got off the plane, I could tell that it was a little more serious than I thought it was. Because getting off the plane, I'm jumping out the window, sliding down the wing. They're like hurry up, hurry up. I see gas coming out of the wing or the left wing.
BLITZER: Let's bring in our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien. You're a pilot. The dangers are enormous in landing in weather conditions like this with snow and ice. Did the pilot, the co-pilot, did they do what they needed to do?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it's very early to point a finger anywhere, but what you're talking about here, Wolf, is an airport that has a short runway, no overrun area. It's a dicey airport on a good day. And this was by no means a good day. This was very marginal conditions. You had a runway, the term in aviation is contaminated, meaning it was icy. The question of what the braking capability on the runway is very important.
They were landing downwind, meaning they had a tail wind, which would mean the aircraft was going faster relative to the ground. And it was also some component of that wind was a cross-wind, which would have caused some instability potentially as they were trying to line up on the center line of the runway, may have caused a wing to dip or perhaps dip too far.
There's a lot of factors that go into this, but this was a very marginal situation for sure.
BLITZER: We were told that two planes that landed before this plane landed OK. They -- the brakes worked; there were no serious problems. But we're also told that weather can change very quickly; and runways that seem to be OK for one plane, they could turn into ice just minutes later. Is that right?
O'BRIEN: Yes. There are a lot of factors in this, Wolf. First of all, obviously weather, very dynamic. It was changing from rain to freezing rain and eventually turned into snow here in New York City. It can change in an instant. That's one thing to be clear of.
The situation, according to the weather report, was that there was freezing fog. That's a very hazardous situation. Not only does it hinder your visibility, but it can lead to icy conditions on the runway, as well. And one aircraft may react differently than another in these situations.
Now, the control tower relies on pilot reports. Was it good, was it midrange or was it nil? If a pilot says the braking was nil or bad, they have to shut down that runway and go out and clear it off. And so sometimes pilots are a little reluctant to do that, frankly.
BLITZER: That's -- that's a serious problem right there. We know the NTSB, the FAA, they're already starting their investigation. This plane is MD-88. It was about 28 years old. Is it possible there could have been some mechanical problem on this plane, as well?
O'BRIEN: Well, it's always possible. One of the things they want to look at here, Wolf, did the brakes apply pressure symmetrically? Did the thrust reversers, which are those clamshell devices which go on the back of the engines, and cause the thrust of the engine to go in the opposite direction during landing -- we've all felt this on landing -- did they work symmetrically, or did they cause it to veer in one direction or the other?
These are the key mechanical issues that will be explored. But there's no reason to believe, just because an aircraft is that old that it is somehow mechanically a problem. There are strict rules on maintenance, and we shouldn't presume that just because of the age of the aircraft. Put it that way.
BLITZER: That's a good point. I spoke to one passenger who said -- who described the feeling once the wheels touched down, he said they didn't take. It immediately began to swerve to the left. What does that tell you?
O'BRIEN: Well, here's an interesting point. If, in fact, they landed and the wheels skidded, they didn't spin, that would have undermined an automatic braking mechanism, the spoilers. You've probably seen them on wings before. They look like boards which come up when you land. It undermines the aerodynamic capability of the wing.
Once those wheels start spinning, the airplane goes, "I'm on the ground," and those boards come up, those spoilers. If, in fact, the wheels were skidding and weren't spinning, that automatic system would not go into place.
Now a good crew is going to brief that on approach and say, "You know what? This is a slick runway, it's possible when we land those wheels won't spin, we got to be ready to activate the spoilers immediately manually. But that's yet another thing they'll need to look at.
BLITZER: I spoke with one expert. He told me that plane is now toast for all practical purposes. It's not going to be repaired. It can't be repaired. Certainly wouldn't be able to fly in the United States, although if they repaired it, maybe some other country with lesser rules might be able to fly it. Is that your appreciation, your understanding?
O'BRIEN: Well, I'm certain at that age and that -- the number of cycles for that aircraft, Delta will declare it a total loss. Whether it gets rebuilt and flown elsewhere, I don't know. There's an awful lot of airplanes sitting in boneyards in New Mexico and Arizona available, too.
BLITZER: Looks like that plane is toast for all practical purposes. Fortunately, no one was really seriously injured, although it was pretty frightening for everyone involved.
Miles, thanks very much.
We're also getting in some new pictures of the horrible situation on the interstates down in Kentucky right now. Drivers have been stranded since last night and they're running out of gas. They're running out of food and water. The National Guard is now on the scene. We'll have the latest for you on what's happening. This is an awful situation. Very dangerous details coming up.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A major winter storm affecting 90 million people in 22 states.
In Kentucky, some drivers have been stranded since last night on the interstate highways near Louisville. Heavy snow caused accidents and stopped traffic. Then, as the hours and hours and hours went by, motorists running their engines to stay warm simply ran out of gas. Our Martin Savidge is monitoring the situation. He's joining us live with the latest.
This is awful, Martin.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed, Wolf. And it's been a problem that's been developing since late last night. So you can imagine the frustration of drivers and their fear as they've been trapped on these major highways now for 18 hours in some cases.
Take a look at this. You know, this is probably I-65, central Kentucky. Last night, around 11 p.m. is when many people began reporting the problems. The weather turned to snow and lots of it. Several feet, two feet in many areas. And you've got a combination of heavy traffic, a combination of heavy snow and then on top of that, topography. So where there were hills, trucks slowed down. Once people slowed down, the snow just bogged them down. The plows couldn't get through to clear the roadways, and you end up with what -- highways that became parking lots.
And you've got hundreds of people now trapped. They've made progress. The National Guard is out there. The crews have been working to get the plows in. People have been rescued, and depending on where you are, the situation is some people reporting to us, hey, we're finally on the move. Others are saying, "We're still stuck."
The problem tonight? It's going to get cold, very cold. If anyone is out of fuel and still stuck in their car, potentially dangerous. Again, the governor says they're making progress. If you're stuck behind the wheel, you aren't necessarily seeing it right now. They are working to get to everyone, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they do. Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on this nightmare happening right now in Kentucky. Joining us, Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Hilbrecht of the Kentucky National Guard.
Colonel, thanks very much for joining us. How bad is this situation as we speak right now?
I don't think Kirk Hilbrecht is hearing me. Are you there? I think we may have lost Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Hilbrecht of the Kentucky National Guard. We're going to try to reconnect with him. Martin, are you still with us?
SAVIDGE: Right here. The guard, one of the tasks that they had was that they were trying to find those who were so stuck, in other words, in such desperate conditions, they actually pulled them from their cars, got them to warming centers and in some cases people who had medical needs, diabetics, treat and then what I had heard was they had begun returning people. That would be a positive sign, because if they're getting people back to their vehicles it means that there's hope the road's clearing; and they want to get the road and the traffic flowing once more.
BLITZER: All right. I think we 've reconnected with Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Hilbrecht of the Kentucky National Guard. Colonel, give us your sense right now. How bad is the situation?
LT. COL. KIRK HILBRECHT, KENTUCKY NATIONAL GUARD (via phone): Well, the assessment of how we came to this situation, I think, was very accurate. Based on the snow and the ice. And then again, we've had accident upon accident. Once we cleared one tractor trailer, there seemed to have been another accident causing a lot of congestion.
But your assessment is accurate. We tripled our efforts. We sent out two carriers. We are taking people who are stranded to comfort centers, not just in the E-town area, Elizabethtown on 65, but also in Paducah. But we also are returning people to their vehicles when those paths of -- have been opened up.
It is still kind of treacherous when you think about it. We've got a lot of people trying to make their way north and south on 65. So we are asking motorists to please check the local news, check the Kentucky Transportation cabinet website to make sure that whatever road they're trying to traverse is open.
BLITZER: You've had about 21 inches of snow in the last few hours, which is an enormous amount for Kentucky. People really aren't used to driving in icy, snowy conditions like this. Are there serious injuries as a result of people freezing or whatever?
HILBRECHT: We have been very fortunate. We have no reported deaths, and we haven't had any reported injuries, either, due to those that have been stranded on the roadways. But again, I know a lot of people who have been listening to us, and they're taking good caution.
BLITZER: It's about to get dark. Do you think everybody's going to be rescued by nightfall?
HILBRECHT: Well, our hopes, first and foremost, is to open up the pathways of the highways to ensure that they can actually get to where they were going. We do have -- our crews will be continuing to pick up people who are stranded throughout the night, throughout the morning. As long as they need us, we'll be there.
BLITZER: So you're just telling people basically stay off the roads, even though you're driving some folks back to their vehicles so they can try to drive home? Is that right?
HILBRECHT: Those are in areas that we have confirmed are open. But for the most part, we still are taking people who need water and food and warmth, we're taking them back to the warm centers in the Paducah areas and Elizabethtown.
BLITZER: Do you have enough equipment, enough personnel to get the job done? HILBRECHT: We are also standing ready to guard Kentucky or anyplace
else that the country needs us. So by far, we're ready to go.
BLITZER: All right, Colonel, thanks very much. Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Hilbrecht from the Kentucky National Guard, good luck to you. Good luck to all the men and women who are trying to help all these folks.
Coming up, we have new details on that terrifying airliner accident in New York. A plane with more than 130 people on board sliding off the runway, nearly plunging into the frigid water.
And the U.S. Justice Department won't file charges in the fatal police shooting of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown. But his family will. New information on how they plan to seek what they call justice.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Breaking now in the wake of the scathing new U.S. Justice Department report exposing racism in the Ferguson, Missouri, police department, an attorney for Michael Brown's family today announced plans to file a wrongful death civil lawsuit. The Justice Department isn't bringing civil charges against the policeman who shot and killed Brown last summer.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us live from Ferguson right now with much more.
What's the latest there, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Michael Brown's family says they don't agree with the findings in the Justice Department's report, and they also say they're not done going after police officer, former Police Officer Darren Wilson.
DARYL PARKS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL BROWN'S FAMILY: They have accepted self-defense. We do not accept his self-defense.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Just 24 hours after the Justice Department released a report saying that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be prosecuted for shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the slain teen's family says they will file a wrongful death suit against Wilson and the city of Ferguson.
ANTHONY GRAY, BROWN FAMILY ATTORNEY: You are getting a more clear, a more accurate picture of what took place that day. We feel and we've always felt from the very beginning that Officer Darren Wilson did not have to shoot and kill Mike Brown Jr. in broad daylight in the manner that he did, that he had other options available to him, and that he chose deadly force as his option. And we plan to demonstrate in a court of law to reasonable minded people that the choice to use deadly force was unreasonable and unnecessary. LAVANDERA: A grand jury chose not to indict Wilson, but Brown family
attorney Daryl Parks says the jury in the civil lawsuit will be asked to make a determination based on a lower burden of proof, one based on an abundance of evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a second report, the Justice Department detailed widespread discrimination against blacks at the hands of Ferguson officials, including racist e-mails, unnecessary use of force, and unwarranted citations.
PARKS: It's important that we remember that the things that they found within the city of Ferguson Police Department were the same culture that existed the day on August 9 as Officer Darren Wilson met Michael Brown in that street.
LAVANDERA: Brown's parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, were in attendance at the news conference but did not speak on advice of their attorneys.
PARKS: They don't accept the fact of this self-defense theory. They believe there were plenty of witnesses who came forward who saw what they saw. We thought that we would wait, let it run its course, and now we start what we have to start.
LAVANDERA: And Wolf, many of Darren Wilson's supporters say there have now been two full force investigations, a criminal investigation, and this civil rights investigation on a federal level, and that Darren Wilson should be considered fully vindicated in all of this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in Ferguson for us, thank you.
Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT/CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Hi, Wolf.
BLITZER: Marc, thanks very much for joining us.
Let's talk a little bit about what's going on? Selma, as you well know, getting ready to remember the 50th anniversary of bloody Sunday this weekend. Does it feel like history almost is repeating itself right now?
MORIAL: It's an eerie feeling, Wolf, that notwithstanding tremendous progress, that the incidents of police brutality, the challenges to the right to vote, make it appear as though the clock may be moving in the wrong direction.
But, you know, I'm confident that we're going to continue to build a coalition of people who want to continue to preserve democracy, voting rights and justice.
We have tremendous work to do. And I think Selma will help to remind people that it took tremendous efforts and struggle, indeed people getting beat on the bridge, in order to bring about the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
BLITZER: If Michael Brown had not been killed in Ferguson, would the nation have ever known what was going on there? And presumably, other communities, as well?
MORIAL: And this -- that is an important point, Wolf. And it's why we have to listen when people in communities cry out for help.
The people in Ferguson have been crying out, if you will, for a long time, saying that the system there, that the police there, that the lack of representation there was a problem. People did not heed them. And the death of Michael Brown, the tragic death of Michael Brown, indeed was a wake-up call.
Now, it can't stop here. The Ferguson Police Department needs an executive monitor or receiver immediately. It may need to be disbanded. It certainly needs to be substantially reformed and certainly the Justice Department outlined a number of steps that need to be taken, and I hope and we demand that steps be taken immediately.
Now whose responsibility is it, Wolf? It falls to the elected officials in Ferguson but if they are not cooperative, if they are going to remain abstinent, if they're going to remain in denial, then the authority is there for the Justice Department and the federal courts to force the change that's necessary to preserve and protect the constitutional rights of the citizens of that city.
BLITZER: As you know, the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, he was vindicated or let go by the grand jury there. The Justice Department said they can't file any civil rights charges against him. But now the family, the attorneys for the family, say they are going to file a wrongful death lawsuit. What do you make of that?
MORIAL: I think that Ben Crump and Darryl Parks have had a plan to ensure by whatever means legally necessary, that the death of Michael Brown would not be in vain. And it's not uncommon, Wolf, where there have not been, if you will, criminal charges brought, that there's a civil lawsuit and it's not uncommon that there are also disciplinary actions against the officer which certainly can't take place here because the officer has left the force.
But this is a different kind of proceeding with a different, if you will, legal standard and gives the lawyers, Darryl Parks and Ben Crump, an opportunity to re-air the facts in a different forum in front of a jury there in St. Louis.
BLITZER: As you know, that chant "Hands up, don't shoot," that became prominent, protesters embraced it following Michael Brown's death, but the Justice Department report says prosecutors could not rely on these witness reports. They only came to the conclusion that Michael Brown was actually moving toward the Police Officer Darren Wilson when he was shot. What do you make of this? Because a lot of people are now suggesting
that Michael Brown never really had his hands up or shouting don't shoot.
MORIAL: This is why, Wolf, a public trial is necessary so that not only a jury of 12 but if you will, the people of the nation and the people of Missouri can actually make a judgment as to what really happened. I mean, there's been lots of conversation, there's been lots of opinion about the witness testimony, about the forensic evidence, about what happened on that day.
That's why we need a public trial. And the civil lawsuit will ensure that if the case is not settled, there will be a public trial.
BLITZER: I know you're going to be in Selma this weekend. CNN will have extensive live coverage throughout the weekend of what's going on.
Marc Morial, thanks as usual for joining us.
MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, as the FBI issues a new warning about American teenagers trying to join ISIS, did an American blow himself up in Iraq and kill a whole bunch of people?
And terrifying moments in New York as an airliner with more than 130 people on board slides off a runway, ends up just a few feet from frigid water. New information coming in.
WHITFIELD: There's a new photo from ISIS of an alleged American suicide bomber. The terror group says he carried out an attack against Iraqi forces near Tikrit this week. There is no confirmation of that claim or of the man's nationality.
Here in the United States, though, there's a new federal warning about the growing trend of American teenagers who want to fight with ISIS. A law enforcement source tells CNN that lots of cases are now being tracked in the United States.
Here's our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She's joining us now.
Suzanne, we saw one of those cases just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I talked with a terrorist analyst who said the reason ISIS' lure is so powerful for young people, it draws on this fantastical notion, this misguided religious belief that the terrorist group is fighting a legitimate holy war. And second, this is happening in a world, the world of cybercommunication where the message has largely gone uncheck.
So undercover agents are desperately trawling the Internet sites looking for warning signs of those who could be ISIS' next recruits.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Tonight, the FBI and DHS are warning law enforcement around the country, concerned about young Americans wanting to fight with the terrorist group ISIS. The warning comes after a 17-year-old teen from suburban Woodbridge, Virginia, was arrested, accused of recruiting for ISIS. Authorities say he was also helping the man travel to Syria to fight for the terrorist group.
A Twitter account consistent with the young man's name and profile include this cartoon of a man apparently dreaming of becoming a jihadist. And another with a photo encaptioned "East Asian Mujahideen Fighting for ISIS."
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Obviously this is somebody who was very smart on computers, very smart on social media, and was able to find ways to help other individuals that's alleged to join ISIS in Syria.
MALVEAUX: According to federal law enforcement officials, more than 180 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq to join militant groups, including ISIS. Some are teens as young as 15.
The Virginia teen is the latest case of young Americans believed lured by ISIS and their powerful propaganda. In Brooklyn in February, three men including a 19-year-old were arrested for allegedly attempting to wage jihad with ISIS. Three teenage girls from Denver were caught in Germany, not far from their alleged goal of joining ISIS in Syria.
CRUICKSHANK: There's a growing trend for very young teenagers to try and travel to join ISIS. We've seen this in the United States and we've seen this also in Europe. A lot of these young teenagers are very impressionable so it's easy for them to be brainwashed by this message and a lot of them are spending a lot of time on social media which is a kind of virtual radical echo chamber.
MALVEAUX: And ISIS claims on its official Web site that it was an American suicide bomber who carried out an attack south of Tikrit on Monday.
Well, CNN cannot confirm that claim and even the Iraqi authorities, Wolf, investigating that car bombing, they could not confirm the nationality of that bomber -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.
There is also new fallout from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's dramatic and controversial speech to Congress. He portrayed Iran's nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel, said the deal being negotiated by the United States would only pave the way for Iran to get the nuclear bomb. Now Iran's foreign minister is speaking out to CNN. He is accusing
Benjamin Netanyahu of, quote, "fear-mongering." At the same time Israel's ambassador to the United States is coming under some serious criticism here in Washington, accused of a key role in the souring of the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama.
So let's get right to all of this. The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And I know you want a chance to respond to all the criticism which has been pretty intense, especially from the president of the United States. As you know, he's very angry at your government in Jerusalem right now. He specifically said there was nothing new, his words, nothing new in what prime minister Netanyahu said in his speech. You say?
RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, look. I think the words that the prime minister spoke speak for themselves. He explained two things that should be done in order to make a better deal. The first thing was to extend the breakout time. That's the time that Iran needs to get the fissile material necessary for a nuclear bomb. He said it shouldn't be a year, it should be much longer than that.
And the second thing he said that the prime minister has never said before, he said you should link removing the restrictions that are being placed on Iran's nuclear program as part of this deal, you should link the removal of those restrictions to a change in Iran's behavior.
Right now, according to the deal, those restrictions would be removed automatically in about a decade. And what the prime minister was saying, which was new, which is you should link it to Iran's behavior, meaning Iran has to stop its aggression in the region, it has to stop terrorism around the world, and it has to stop threatening Israel with annihilation.
BLITZER: Since the prime minister returned to Israel, have you had a conversation with officials at the White House to make that point?
DERMER: Not in the last couple of days. I'm sure we'll have the opportunity to speak about it in the days and weeks ahead but, you know, we've had a dialogue with the administration for well over a year. So they have heard a lot of our views. I don't know if they've heard that specific linkage that the prime minister drew in his speech to Congress, but we've had an open dialogue and the problem is not that there is a breakdown in communication.
The problem is we have a difference of policy. We want to prevent Iran not only from having a nuclear weapon today, we want to prevent it from having a nuclear weapon tomorrow. That's the difference between the U.S. and Israel, and we will weather this difference just as we have weathered many differences in the past.
BLITZER: You know, there is a lot of criticism, though, of the prime minister not only here in Washington, from the president, secretary of state and others, Democrats in Congress, but in Israel as well. The former head of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, Meir Dagan, he said in an interview that was published the other day, quote, "The person who has caused the greatest strategic damage to Israel on the Iranian issue is the prime minister."
And he suggested that's because the prime minister has so upset what is normally a strong relationship with the United States. Your response to the former Mossad chief?
DERMER: The person who's responsible ultimately for the security of Israel is the prime minister of Israel. And he knows that there are critical times where the prime minister has to speak out. This is one of those times. He had --
BLITZER: He couldn't have waited until after the elections?
DERMER: No, no, because then a deal could have happened.
BLITZER: But there was --
DERMER: It's important for us --
BLITZER: The deal was at a deadline after the election, the 24th.
DERMER: Well, you're not going to have the time in a couple of days after the election to come and to actually make this -- a speech. The prime minister wanted to weigh in while there was still time to make a difference. And understand ultimately the responsibility for security rests with the prime minister.
BLITZER: But this guy, Meir Dagan, is a serious guy.
DERMER: Yes, well --
BLITZER: When he makes a charge like that against the prime minister of Israel, that he's done the most damage to Israel's strategic relationship with the United States, that's pretty powerful.
DERMER: I disagree. And I remember that the head of the American CIA also recommended against the operation that took out bin Laden. And your president, President Obama, made a different decision because ultimately it was his responsibility. I trust that the prime minister has the right judgment in dealing with this grave threat to Israel.
BLITZER: Did you ever think that so many Democrats, leaders, Nancy Pelosi, she went to the speech, she went to hear the speech but she emerged saying she was in tears listening to the prime minister, and she said it was an insult to the American people what he had to say. Did you ever think he would get that kind of reaction from the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives?
DERMER: I don't know frankly why she felt that way. I was in the hall during the speech and you saw very broad bipartisan support for what the prime minister had to say. And I think you could just see it for yourself, the speech speaks for itself. BLITZER: But it wasn't just Nancy Pelosi. You know, you had
senators, like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tim Kaine, the former leader of the Democratic Party from Virginia, they boycotted the speech. Members of the Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, they boycotted.
I thought I'd never see a prime minister of Israel comes to address Congress and leaders decide they are not even going to attend.
DERMER: Well, I'm sorry they did that, but the prime minister has a responsibility, Wolf, and he felt the deepest moral obligation to speak out on an issue that could threaten the survival of Israel. This was not about your politics and it wasn't about Israel's politics. It wasn't any attempt to show disrespect to the president or to the office of the presidency. This was a critical time for the prime minister to speak up.
The days when the Jewish people -- as the prime minister said in his speech, the days when the Jewish people will be passive in the face of genocidal threats to our annihilation are over. That's why the prime minister spoke out.
BLITZER: Let me give you one final chance to respond to an article that appeared in the newspaper "Haaretz" today. The reporter Barak Ravid. He quoted U.S. -- Obama administration officials as saying if Netanyahu wishes to work with the White House, he'll have no choice but to replace his protege Dermer, that you, Ron Dermer, who is seen by the Obama administration as persona non-grata even if they don't say -- don't say so publicly.
That's a powerful statement. Your reaction?
DERMER: Look, I serve at the pleasure of the Israeli government and I will continue to serve every day in order to advance Israel's interests and to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. I believe that relationship is going to grow even stronger in the years ahead. We've weathered disagreements in the past and we will weather this disagreement because, Wolf, ultimately, we are bonded by common values.
You just saw that report on ISIS. I think everything that you see happening in the Middle East reinforces how important the bond between Israel and the United States is that you have one strong solid, reliable, democratic ally that shares your values in the Middle East and our relationship will grow stronger.
BLITZER: And if you had a do-over you wouldn't have done it any differently?
DERMER: I think it was very important for the prime minister to give the speech that he gave this week.
BLITZER: At this point.
BLITZER: This venue, all of that?
DERMER: No --
BLITZER: Despite the fallout.
DERMER: No question about it. No question about it. I don't know if I could have lived with myself knowing that we had an opportunity to speak out at a critical moment on a threat to the survival of the Jewish state and we would not have taken that opportunity.
BLITZER: Ambassador Dermer, thanks very much for coming in.
DERMER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States.
Coming up, an airliner slides off an icy runway, coming to rest just feet from frigid water. We have new details.
BLITZER: More now on this hour's breaking news. A massive snowstorm affecting nearly half the United States.
Let's go to our meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's at the CNN Severe Weather for the latest forecast.
What can we expect, Jennifer?
JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, things will be improving as we go through the overnight. Very, very cold temperatures, though, behind the system.
This is that swath, though, through Kentucky that caused all those people to get stuck. You can see I-65 right there, right around Louisville and south of there. Lexington also breaking records for today.
We had up to 23 inches of snow across portions of Kentucky. And like I mentioned, Lexington had the snowiest two days ever with 17.1 inches. Of course, it's all pushed out of there. But it's still continuing to impact portions of the mid-Atlantic, the northeast. We have very cold temperatures in place. Pittsburgh at 15 right now. Boston just on the north end of that I don't think they're going to get the two inches they needed to break a record.
But still a little bit of lingering snow right around New York, Philly, D.C. The back end that's starting to pushing through you. And we are going to continue to see those push offshore throughout the overnight hours.
This is 5:00, 6:00 and then as we roll into the 7:00 and 8:00 hours, you can see D.C. getting a little taste of it and then portions of Virginia still getting that snow and ice mix before it heads offshore.
And like I mentioned, those temperatures are going to be in the single digits across some places, even in the south. Look at Nashville's overnight low, 10 degrees tonight. Zero in Chicago by tomorrow morning. D.C., you'll be waking up to 12 degrees.
But, Wolf, we are going to see a pattern shift. Warmer temperatures on the way by the end of the weekend and next week.
BLITZER: Those are real degrees, they're not windchill, right?
GRAY: No, that's the actual temperature. Windchill will make it feel even colder.
BLITZER: Yes. It certainly will.
All right, Jennifer. Thanks very much.
Coming up, frightening moments as an airliner slides off an icy runway only feet, feet from the edge of a frigid bay.
BLITZER: Happening now, terrifying skid. A commercial airliner nearly plows into icy water during an out-of-control landing on a snowy runway in New York. I will ask the former NTSB chair Deborah Hersman what went wrong.
Frozen on the highway. Hundreds of people are stranded in their cars in the snow. Some have been stuck all day. We're going to get the very latest on the rescue operation.
Ferguson fallout, new calls for legal action and heads to roll after a bombshell Justice Department reveals protesters were right about racial bias by police.