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THE SITUATION ROOM

Ferguson Police Chief Steps Down; Interview with Benjamin Crump; Ferguson Police Chief Steps Down; First-Ever Look at Pictures of bin Laden

Aired March 11, 2015 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, forced out -- the Ferguson police chief steps down, but the mayor is still hanging on.

With other officials leaving one by one, is this the end of a city administration blasted by the U.S. Justice Department for racial bias?

Bin Laden exclusive -- CNN obtains never before seen photos of the terror leader taken long before 9/11.

As al Qaeda documents come to light, what do they tell us about the terror group's future plans?

Fatal crash -- we have new details on the helicopter that went down carrying seven U.S. Marines and four soldiers.

Why was it flying in heavy fog?

And North Korea kidnappings -- a shocking U.N. report says the communist regime has abducted thousands of people over the years.

Will the dictator Kim Jong-un come clean?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Our breaking news, more shock waves in Ferguson, Missouri. Police Chief Thomas Jackson has resigned. We're awaiting a news conference in Ferguson. We plan to bring it to you live.

The move comes just a day after the city manager stepped down and follows the departure of two police officers and the city's top court clerk. The mayor is hanging on for now. But after last week's blistering Justice Department report on racial bias and abusive practices, the city government is going through a major upheaval right now.

I'll speak live with Benjamin Crump. He's the attorney for the family of the slain teenager, Michael Brown.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're also standing by.

We begin with two reports.

CNN's Sara Sidner has been all over the story.

But let's go to our national correspondent, Susanne Malveaux, who's here in Washington with the very latest -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, wolf, Ferguson's infamous police chief, Tom Jackson, is stepping down, CNN has learned. He is the latest high-ranking city official to fall in the wake of the Justice Department's scathing report that found a pattern and practice of discrimination against African-Americans by the Ferguson police.

We saw calls for Jackson's ouster erupt again last night after Ferguson city manager John Shaw resigned. And some Ferguson residents saying they just need to clean house.

The Justice Department report found the Ferguson Police Department showed a culture of discriminatory behavior, from excessive force targeting African-Americans to racist e-mails, including one depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee.

Jackson would be the third city official named in the Justice Department's report to resign.

Now, the Justice Department found the Ferguson police and courts unfairly targeted and over ticketed black residents for minor offenses. One African-American woman who was initially fined $151 for parking illegally ended up spending six days in jail and facing fines over $1,000 because she could not pay.

On Monday, Ferguson's municipal court judge also steps down -- stepped down and one person who insists, however, that he's not going anywhere is Ferguson's mayor, James Knowles, who said that, "Somebody has to be here to take care of business. I intend to stay."

As for the rest of the police department, there is an active debate over whether it should be dissolved and have St. Louis County Police take it over. There is precedent for that. But in talking with those in the Ferguson community, there is still a very long way to go when it comes to healing.

BLITZER: The healing process will, presumably, hopefully continue.

MALVEAUX: It's a beginning.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux, for that report.

Let's go to CNN's Sara Sidner.

She's been covering this story from the very beginning -- Sara, what else are you hearing from your sources there inside Ferguson?

And I know you are very well plugged in.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean initially we heard that this was effective immediately, that his resignation, that he would leave today. Now we're seeing the actual paperwork. And we've been waiting for that so that we can make sure the details are all correct.

And now we're hearing March 19th, that that is going to be his effective leaving date and that Lieutenant Colonel Al Eickhoff will take over as interim chief. He already is at the department. He will now become the new chief of police as they go for a nationwide search for a brand new chief who will take over full-time.

We know that now the -- now who will be the former police chief on March 19th, Jackson will receive a severance pay for a year and health insurance for a year. And so that's the deal that has been worked out.

And a lot of people might be wondering, well, you know, why did he get to sort of name some of his terms. Well, the law in Missouri has gotten much stricter on how cities can get rid of police chiefs. And that is because in 2013, a new law was put in place to say that, you know, you can't just have your politicians deciding who gets to run your departments, your police departments. There has to be very specific things that you can prove in order to remove them.

So as I was told by my source, this had to be something that came from him, that he could name some of the things that he wanted as he left the city. And that is probably why you're seeing this the way you're seeing it, where he was allowed to resign, because they have to be able to prove some very specific things, including whether or not he committed a felony, in order to actually fire him. And the city council would have to do that.

So he has resigned. We know that. We also want to talk to you about what he is saying, because we haven't heard anything from him, even after the world wanted to know what he had to say about the DOJ report.

I tried to get information out of him when I was there last week.

Here's what he said.

SIDNER: Don't you think you should have known some of the things that came out, the racist e-mails, the numbers?

Were you just trying to bilk people out of money instead of protecting them, telling your department to just go ticket them?

CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON POLICE DEPARTMENT: OK. Thank you.

SIDNER: We've been talking for days and days and days. All we want is an answer from you.

What do you think of this DOJ report and what are you going to do about it?

Just any idea what it is you are going to do yourself about this, as the chief of the department?

JACKSON: I'm going to analyze the report and take action where necessary.

SIDNER: Are you planning on resigning?

JACKSON: I will let you know.

SIDNER: Are you thinking about it?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SIDNER: Well, he has let us know through, you know, other channels. The city now saying he is going to resign.

And I asked the mayor about it the next day, Is your police chief going to resign, is your city manager going to resign?

As the city manager is really the guy with the most power in that department. The police chief is hired by the manager and the mayor is part-time. So the city manager holds the purse strings.

And as you've seen, these are the people that are named in the report. The mayor is not named in the report. But the police chief and the city manager and the judge that recently resigned are.

And so there you have it. Those that have been named in this DOJ report are gone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We got a letter, supposedly written from the soon to be ex-police chief, Sara, Thomas Jefferson. This was published in "The St. Louis Post Dispatch."

Let me read this to our viewers.

"It is with profound sadness that I am announcing I'm stepping down from my position as chief of police for the city of Ferguson, Missouri. My resignation will be effective March 19th, 2015, to provide for an orderly transition of command. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this great city and to serve with all of you. I will continue to assist the city in any way I can in my capacity as a private citizen."

That letter just published on "The St. Louis Post Dispatch" Web site -- and, it's interesting, Sara, in the official statement from the city of Ferguson, they said that they have agreed to what they call a mutual separation, which involves the resignation of the city police chief. This was a mutual decision, the statement says, by the police chief and the city administration. Chief Jackson, as you point out, will receive a severance payment and health insurance for one year.

So they're calling it a mutual decision. And they're saying that they've agreed to a mutual separation.

Are they just playing with words here -- Sara?

SIDNER: I don't think so, because, you know, what I'm hearing from my sources is that, again, because of the law that is in place, that makes it very clear what the city can and cannot fire a police chief for, there had to be a mutual agreement. He also had to agree to go at the same time.

So, no, I don't think they're playing with words. We also know that this community -- and I've just gotten some information from some of those who have been protesting. They are calling for more resignations. That should be no surprise to anyone. They want to see the entire department gone. They have been very vocal about that. The same people you hear yelling there, who have been out on the streets for many, many days and weeks and months, have asked for the -- it to dissolve.

The police chief wanted to prevent that from happening. And this is a move on his part, I think, to try and make sure that the department stays in place. This is a movement from the city to try to change things and try to look at the DOJ report and try to start taking some actions.

Will this be enough?

We will have to wait and see -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they're not releasing details of the severance payment that he's getting. It says he will receive a severance payment and health insurance for one year. So we don't know, if it's that one year's salary, is that his severance payment?

We don't know what the severance payment is, is that right?

SIDNER: That's correct. That's correct.

BLITZER: They're not saying anything about a pension, a long- term pension or anything like that. So these are good questions that I presume reporters will be asking at that live news conference. We'll have live coverage of it.

That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.

You want to make one more point -- Sara?

SIDNER: No. I think that's fair to say. And a lot of people are going to want to know, what are the terms of the deal, because we also know that the city manager left, as well. And everyone wants to know all of the sort of details, because the money that is paid to the chief and the city manager comes from tax money, right. It comes from tax dollars. And people want to know where that's being spent. And I'm sure those questions will be asked.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, stand by.

Once again, we're standing by for a live news conference. We'll have coverage of that once it begins.

In the meantime, let's get reaction from Benjamin Crump.

He's the attorney for the family of the slain Ferguson teenager, Michael Brown.

Mr. Crump, thanks very much for joining us.

I don't know if you've had a chance to speak with his family, Michael Brown's family.

But what's the reaction you're willing to share with our viewers?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL BROWN FAMILY: Yes, Wolf. Well, Michael Brown's mother and father are relieved that actions are being taken to address the very disturbing findings in the DOJ report. They have always maintained that the tragic death of their son in broad daylight was approximately caused by the pattern and practice that the Department of Justice found, discrimination and excessive force against African-American citizens in Ferguson.

So they believe what the DOJ found in that report had a lot to do with their son being killed.

BLITZER: So there's been several resignations now, or decisions to go ahead willingly, not -- maybe not necessarily so willingly.

Is it enough, or do you want to see more resignations, specifically Mayor Knowles?

CRUMP: Well, the family hasn't spoke to that matter. But they wanted the shooter to be held accountable more than anything for taking their son.

You know, this family has said they want this to be prevented in the future. And they believe action is what is needed to try to prevent this from happening in the future. Because if you look at that report, you saw that it was a culture that discriminated and targeted African-Americans. These e-mails, these outrageous e-mails, you know, it was very troubling when you have this cesspool of racism and you think it doesn't affect how officers act.

And so the family is trying, like everybody else, to say let's try to prevent this from happening again. Let's try to make this better so our children won't be killed by the people who are supposed to protect and serve them.

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise. The city manager has now resigned. The police chief has resigned. Two police officers, they are out. The civil -- the court clerk is out.

Do you want Mayor Knowles in or out?

CRUMP: Well, like I said, the family wants actions to be taken to try to prevent this from happening. They saw that the people who sent those e-mails and people who were doing this excessive citations were being held accountable. They want anybody who calls this situation to happen to be held accountable. And that's all they are willing to say at this time.

BLITZER: All right, so there's no position -- no formal position on Mayor Knowles and his future.

As you well know -- and you know this better than anyone, Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown, he has clearly been not charged by the grand jury. The Justice Department said they didn't have enough evidence to go against him on civil rights violations.

But you're still planning your lawsuit, your civil lawsuit against him, right?

CRUMP: Yes. The family is bringing a civil lawsuit against the city and the police officer for wrongful death of their teenaged son, Michael Brown, Jr.

And we must remember, you know, when you think about it, Wolf, it was his immediate supervisor who sent the e-mail about Crime Watchers paying a black woman $3,000 to have an abortion to prevent crime. Now, we want to know who got that e-mail. We understand it was forwarded. We want to know did the killer of Michael Brown forward that e-mail?

You want to know these answers because we couldn't tell, with this high standard of explicit bias, what was the shooter thinking when he shot at Michael Brown, Jr..?

So all these things become important. And to try to say we want to prevent this from happening, because we certainly think implicit bias existed -- to be able to show what was the culture at the Ferguson Police Department.

BLITZER: All right, Ben Crump, I want you to stand by, because we're getting new information. We're also awaiting a news conference in Ferguson, Missouri. We expect to hear from authorities there.

There you see live pictures coming in from Ferguson.

We'll have live coverage of that.

A lot more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Ferguson police chief, Thomas Jackson, has reached an agreement with the city of Ferguson to step down. We're awaiting a news conference in Ferguson. We're going to have live coverage. There you see the cameras are already in place. We'll get the very latest on what they're saying now.

In the meantime, let's go back to Benjamin Crump. He's the attorney for the family of the slain Ferguson teenager, Michael Brown. I assume you give the Justice Department report a lot of credit,

Mr. Crump, for what is going on in Ferguson right now, all these forced resignations.

CRUMP: Well, I think most of the citizens, Wolf, both have been saying all along that the police department are profiling us; they don't treat us right. That's what we've heard from day one. So I think the Justice Department pointing out specific instances of the alleged discrimination was certainly helpful into bringing this matter to light.

BLITZER: I know you've handled a lot of these kinds of cases, the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland, of course, Trayvon Martin. Your firm has dealt with that. Give us a little bit bigger picture right now, the fallout from Ferguson and what's going on around the country, the impact that it has had.

You know, that's the thing that we are all focusing in on, Wolf, because it was always about the larger implications. We see that it's almost an epidemic going on now in America where people of color, unarmed people of color, are being killed all over the United States and nobody's being held accountable. It's almost as if these police officers' actions are being sanitized not only by the local authorities but also by the federal government.

So it is important to see something like this try to lead to an example, a preventive measure to deter such conduct in the future, saying all life matters, black life matters, brown life matters, all life matters, and we want our trained police officers to be able to respect everybody, whether you live in a white community or the black community, because that was another big thing about how police officers treated Ferguson.

And so it's one of those things. Hopefully, this will prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.

BLITZER: If people learn some lessons.

In the release, in the press statement that the city of Ferguson put out, they said the city of Ferguson will begin a nationwide search for a new chief of police. As you know, the city of Ferguson is about 60 percent or so African-American. The police force itself, maybe 50 or 60 police officers, maybe two or three African-American.

Here's the question. Is it important that in this nationwide search they try to find an African-American who will be the next police chief in Ferguson?

CRUMP: Well, you want to find the best candidate to be police chief. But diversity is very important. It's very important that the police officers understand their culture, their communities, at least want to engage with the members of the community that they're going to be protecting and serving.

There's an old saying in the black community that everybody else is protected and served, but we are policed. And we don't want to be policed. We want to be protected and served as any American citizen. No better, no worse. It's always been about equal justice.

BLITZER: Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Michael Brown family, thanks as usual, for joining us.

CRUMP: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Once again, we're continuing to await the news conference by officials in Ferguson, Missouri. They'll be talking about this afternoon's breaking news, the resignation of the city's embattled police chief. We'll have live coverage of that coming up.

Also coming up, a CNN exclusive. Pictures of Osama bin Laden we've never seen before just as newly-revealed documents show how bin Laden and al Qaeda's leaders were plotting a major change in strategy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The embattled police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, is stepping down. We're awaiting a news conference by Ferguson city officials. We'll have live coverage of that once they begin.

In the meantime, let's get to some other important news, including a CNN exclusive. A first ever look at images of Osama bin Laden taken long before the 9/11 attacks put him in the world spotlight and the cross-hairs of the U.S. military.

Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is here in THE SITUATION ROOM working this story for us. Pamela, tell us what you're learning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, these rare photographs were quietly released in a high-profile New York terrorism trial of convicted bin Laden lieutenant Khalid al-Zawaz (ph). These remarkable were found in his home in London, and we spoke exclusively to one of the men who took these pictures of Osama bin Laden nearly 20 years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): These remarkable pictures have never been seen until now, obtained by CNN. They show a relaxed, smiling Osama bin Laden at his hideout in the mountains of Afghanistan, five years before he would launch the biggest terror attack in American history.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, JOURNALIST WHO INTERVIEWED/PHOTOGRAPHED BIN LADEN: When I met him, when I interviewed him, he wasn't -- yes, he hated America. He hated actually the American policies in the Middle East, but it never occurred to me he would be, you know, planning for 11th of September attacks, for example.

BROWN: Abdel Bari Atwan the first journalist to ever interview Osama bin Laden, took many of these exclusive pictures. He's seen here with a high-ranking al Qaeda jihadist who was there during the interview. After a harrowing seven-hour journey through the Tora Bora mountains, Atwan arrived at bin Laden's secret retreat under heavy security. ATWAN: I remember there was a military maneuver half an hour

after I arrived, and when I asked them why is that, they said because we were scared the Americans could follow you and they could actually bomb us.

BROWN: CNN has obtained these photos at the same time the world is learning more about the al Qaeda mastermind, from letters and documents found in his compound by SEAL Team 6 the night he was killed. Those documents, released as evidence in a federal terror trial, paint the picture of a man increasingly fearful of drone strikes and concerned about his crumbling organization.

But Atwan says he saw a very different young man when he met bin Laden in the '90s.

ATWAN: He was very, very humble, and he was like everybody else around him. Despite being a very wealthy man, his clothes were very modest; his food was actually very, very primitive food. It was just some fried eggs and some cheese.

BROWN: Despite his modesty, bin Laden liked to show off some of his prized possessions, like the rifle he was carrying in this picture.

ATWAN: He showed me his Kalashnikov, his rifle, actually. He was proud of this rifle, because he captured it from a Soviet general he killed.

BROWN: This picture captures bin Laden giving Atwan a tour of his land he was so proud of. That would later become his safe haven right after 9/11.

ATWAN: We walked for about an hour and a half in the mountains of Tora Bora. And he was very, very active.

BROWN: Atwan says he even spent two sleepless nights in a cave with the terror leader.

ATWAN: A very, very old and very stiff mattress, so I really couldn't sleep. I discovered that I was sleeping with an arsenal of weapons, hand grenades, rifles, and so I couldn't sleep. You know, I thought maybe any mistake, I would be blown up completely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So five years later after those pictures were taken, a few weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, bin Laden returned to his mountainous retreat there, and then later moved as we know, to Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was eventually killed by SEAL Team 6 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela, thank you very much.

Joining us now, our CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen. He also interviewed bin Laden. Peter, of course, is a top authority on al Qaeda, along with our intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer, a former CIA operative.

Looking at those pictures, Peter, probably brings back some memories to you of a much younger bin Laden. You interviewed him, what, in 1990...

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Seven.

BLITZER: Nineteen-ninety-seven. Give us your thoughts when we look at these new pictures we've never seen before.

BERGEN: Well, the thing about these pictures, this is bin Laden very comfortable. He was kind of quite concerned -- when we met with him, he was concerned he was meeting an American team. You know, this was an Arab journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan, who seemed somewhat sympathetic to the cause.

Of course, at that time, bin Laden hadn't done anything, and certainly, Abdel Bari Atwan is not sympathetic to what bin Laden has been done since, but I think what these pictures show is him sort of more relaxed. There are other pictures of his sort of entourage.

There are also, for the first time, pictures of the actual house that he was living in. So they're unusual photos that -- they kind of give you a sense of what he was like in that -- in that time frame.

BLITZER: A little bit more relaxed, presumably, right? After 9/11 things got a little more tense for him.

Bob Baer, what jumps out at you when you take a look at these pictures?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, the man, it's -- he slowly developed into a fantasist who thought he could take the United States on, thought he could change history. Early on he tried to talk the Saudis out of allowing American troops in Saudi Arabia, thought he could influence the royal family. I mean, he had a clearly inflated view of his spiritual role for al Qaeda and what he could do to the United States.

Of course, what he found out after 9/11 was the law of unintended consequences, and he ended up killing a lot of Muslims. So I mean, the man, you know, at this point he's even -- he's starting to become paranoid about the United States being after him. But I remember in Khartoum in the mid-90s when the Saudis offered him up, we didn't even want him. We didn't know who he was. So a man that was looking for a role in history, and he got one, but it's probably not the one he wanted.

BLITZER: Peter, why are we seeing these new photos now? We haven't seen them before.

BERGEN: A guy called Halid Afwazad (ph), who actually was sort of a facilitator of the interview with bin Laden, was tried in Manhattan, and these photos were entered into evidence. And that's why -- they were at Halid Afwazad's (ph) house. The British police found them in his house in 1998. And they haven't been shown to anybody until this recent trial.

BLITZER: So they're trying to show the connection between this suspect who is on trial and bin Laden. That's why they're releasing the pictures?

BERGEN: Basically, yes, because they were found in his house. They show clear links with bin Laden, part of the evidence that he was sort of the sort of circle around bin Laden.

BLITZER: These photos came to light with additional documents gathered as part of the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. The major take-away of those documents was how successful the U.S. drone operation was in crippling al Qaeda. Explain how effective that drone operation was.

BAER: Well, I mean, you know, frankly, Wolf, at the beginning I was very -- very skeptical it would ever work. You know, these campaigns aren't usually won from the air.

And what's clear from this evidence, I love seeing this stuff. And Peter is absolutely right, is that they did work. The CIA and the Pentagon disrupted this organization and effectively destroyed it. And it was thanks to telephone intercepts and to, you know, running algorithms through the metadata and the Pakistanis, as well. They don't like to admit their role, but they were very helpful in all of this.

So these organizations can be beat. They can just -- you know, once you get better and better at targeting, you can destroy them from the air. And this is what we should hope now for the Islamic State, we can do the same.

BLITZER: You agree, Peter?

BERGEN: We can hope so. I mean, the difference, al Qaeda was a relatively small organization, a few hundred people at the most. ISIS is 30,000 fighters, potentially. But they're certainly being attritted, to use a the Pentagon-speak term. A thousand a month are being killed, but they're also recruiting about 1,000 fighters a month. So it's a little bit different. But there are ways to impose costs on ISIS which are happening.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen and Bob Baer, guys, thanks very, very much.

Once again, we're standing by for the news conference on the resignation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police chief. We'll have live coverage as soon as it begins.

Also coming up, why is the White House accusing Republican senators of trying to undermine the president?

We're standing by for a live update also on the search for that U.S. military helicopter that went down off the Florida Panhandle with 11 U.S. military personnel on board.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This hour's breaking news, the embattled police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, is stepping down. We're awaiting a news conference by Ferguson city officials. There you see live pictures coming in from Ferguson. Once it begins, we'll go there live.

In the meantime, here in Washington, a new wave of fury from the Obama administration over that letter to Iran's leaders signed by 47 Republican senators. The White House says the move was meant to undercut President Obama. Some Republicans are apparently having some second thoughts about the letter. Others, though, they are sticking to their guns.

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She has the very latest -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the anger over this, over Senate Republicans writing this open letter to Iran during nuclear negotiations, hit a new level today. We have senators confronting the secretary of state directly. The White House firing back, even a mini-Twitter war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JIM RISCH (R), IDAHO: This indignation and breast beating over this letter is absolute nonsense. To say that we should not be communicating is nonsense. I saw in the letter to Iran, but you know what? The message I was sending was to you. The message was to President Obama that we want you to obey the law. We want you to understand the separation of powers.

KOSINSKI: Secretary of State John Kerry facing senators today on that open letter, signed by 47 Republicans, cautioning Iran about making a nuclear deal with this administration. He fired his own message right back.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: My reaction to the letter was utter disbelief. To write them and suggest that they're going to get a constitutional lesson, which by the way was absolutely incorrect, is quite stunning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, I know this is a well-written speech...

KERRY: Not a speech. This is not a speech. This is a statement about the impact of this irresponsible letter.

KOSINSKI: Its impact, still going. Hillary Clinton tweeting that it undermines America's leadership. No one considering running for commander in chief should be signing on.

Bobby Jindal, another possible presidential contender, shot back, "No one who allows Iran to become a nuclear power should consider running."

Today, some Republicans, even John McCain, who signed the letter, conceded it maybe wasn't the best idea. Some aides told "The Daily Beast" it was a, quote, "cheeky attempt" to show that Congress should play a bigger role, but that the White House has no sense of humor about it. The White House definitely isn't smiling.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our allies understand that when they make commitments with the executive branch of the United States of America, that they're making commitments that the country is going to live up to, and to have that undermined as part of a partisan tactic by Republicans is damaging.

Now you might have an excuse for some of our allies or some of our partners like Russia and China to say, "Well, the Iranians were a little unreasonable, but we saw 47 Republican senators in the United States of America stand up and throw sand in the gears of the diplomatic process. Maybe the United States isn't, after all, acting in as good a faith as they should."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: But one of the fundamental disputes at the heart of this is should this potential deal with Iran be considered a treaty? Some in Congress say it is important enough, it rises to that level. It is a treaty, and as such, should demand a vote from Congress.

But the way the White House is treating it, as an executive agreement, it doesn't have the binding of law. We asked them about that today, and they said, you know what? It is -- it would be an impactful, forceful commitment that is consistent with other similar agreements in the past, in their words, it is appropriate, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Michelle, thanks very much. Good report.

Searchers off the Florida Panhandle have spent the day looking for victims of a U.S. military helicopter crash. Eleven men, seven Marines, four soldiers, they were aboard a Blackhawk that went down during a training accident.

Let's go to CNN's Victor Blackwell. He's over at the Louisiana Army National Guard base in Hammond, Louisiana. What's the latest over there, Victor?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just learned that the search-and-rescue operation is being shut down for the night. I just had a conversation with a spokesman at Elgin Air Force Base near where this Blackhawk went down on Tuesday night, and they say the fog is rolling in again, it's thickening, and it's just not safe for the boats and for the helicopters to continue this search through the night.

They expect they will be able to resume it tomorrow, not at daybreak but once the fog burns off, their forecast expect that that will be sometime mid-morning. And as you know, it will take some time to determine exactly what the cause of this accident was, but there are concerns that the fog from last night, the weather, is a major contributor. We have also learned that Fort Rucker in Alabama, the accident

investigators there will take some time to review the damage, the wreckage, and the records of this chopper to determine exactly the cause of the crash. We've also learned from that Eglin spokesperson that more human remains have washed ashore throughout the day and into this afternoon.

We have learned about the people who are, by some U.S. Defense officials, presumed dead, that they were part of a group that actually was working during Katrina to pluck people off of roofs and they were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq back in 2004 and '05, and 2008 and '09. And we're learning more throughout the day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our deepest, deepest condolences to the families of those seven Marines, four Army soldiers. They are grieving right now. A very, very sad story.

Victor, thanks for the update.

Up next, new pressure on Kim Jong-Un to stop a horrifying practice that's led to thousands of kidnappings.

And right at the top of the hour, we'll have more on the breaking news we've been following. Ferguson, Missouri's embattled police chief finally agreeing to step down. We are awaiting a news conference. City officials in Ferguson, they're getting ready to talk to the news media.

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BLITZER: We're continuing to cover the breaking news, the resignation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police chief. We're awaiting a news conference in Ferguson. We'll have live coverage once it begins.

In the meantime, we're also watching an important story that's sure to anger Kim Jong-Un's government. The United Nations is about to call out North Korea for routinely kidnapping people. It's been going on for years and there are many victims.

CNN's Brian Todd, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got details of the shocking report.

What have you learned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight a top U.N. investigator is pushing for more pressure to be placed on Kim Jong- Un's regime to come clean about the hundreds of thousands of people they have kidnapped over several decades, and to repatriate people they are still said to be holding against their will.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-Un celebrates International Women's Day. At a North Korean Air Base he directs commanding officers to give the cosmetics and food items he brought to their wives. It comes as Kim's regime is under intense pressure to own up to its human rights record.

A new U.N. report says more than 200,000 people have been kidnapped by the North Korean government since 1950. A state-run system of abduction. Most were taken from South Korea and Japan. The report says, quote, "Many were never heard from again, but some are still in North Korea."

This is Chai Eun-Hee, once South Korea's most famous actress. Soon after she escaped in 1986, she described how Kim Jong-Un's father orchestrated her abduction.

CHAI EUN-HEE, ABDUCTED BY NORTH KOREANS (Through Translator): They picked me up by force and they took me into a boat.

TODD: Chai says she was lured to Hong Kong in 1978 after she was grabbed, thrown into a boat and sent to North Korea, human rights observers say, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Un's father who would later become North Korea's Supreme Leader, was there to personally greet her.

PAUL FISCHER, AUTHOR, "A KIM JONG-IL PRODUCTION": A few months later her ex-husband, Shin Sang-Ok, who was a filmmaker, was also lured to Hong Kong and abducted. And they were both kept in North Korea for eight years. And they made a total of seven films.

TODD: Author Paul Fischer says they made a thriller, a kung fu adventure, even a Godzilla rip-off. All under the close supervision of Kim Jong-Il who lavished resources on his captive filmmaker Shin.

FISCHER: There was one specific case in which for -- the climax of a film scene he needed a model train to blow up. And he put in a request for it to Kim Jong-Il who dutifully sent him a real train packed with explosives.

TODD: A South Korean fisherman who testified for the U.N. described his abduction in 1970.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): Ten armed people, North Koreans were shooting at us. And they were yelling at us, come down or we'll kill you.

TODD (on camera): Why were so many abducted? What do the regime have these people do?

GREG SCARLATOIU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: Some of the abductees were taken and forced to teach foreign languages and cultures to North Korean overseas intelligence agents, North Korean spies as part of their training process.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: A North Korean representative at the U.N. hung up on us when we called to get their response to the new U.N. report on their abductions. The North Koreans have most often denied kidnapping foreign nationals. Once, however, in 2002, Kim Jong-Il did admit that his regime had abducted a few Japanese citizens but he said that was the work of rogue agents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting story. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, for that report.

Coming up, we'll get back to the breaking news. The Ferguson, Missouri, police chief stepping down. The latest city official to pay the price after a blistering U.S. Justice Department report on racial bias and abusive.

We'll go live to Ferguson once that news conference begins.

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Ferguson fallout. The mayor hanging on as the city's police chief becomes the latest official to step down in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and a damning Justice Department report.

We are awaiting a live news conference from Ferguson.

What next? Ferguson now without many of its top leaders after a wave of resignations. How does the community move forward?

And Sooner apology. A student expelled from the University of Oklahoma says he is sorry. As startling new information is revealed about that racist chant that was all caught on camera. How long has it been part of the fraternity's culture?

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.