Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Congressman Adam Schiff; GOP Congressman Resigns; Joining ISIS; Israeli Election Too Close to Call. Aired 6- 7:00p ET
Aired March 17, 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 ANCHOR: How close did he come to possibly bringing down a United Airlines flight?
And shocker. Rising Republican star Aaron Schock resigns from Congress as an ethics investigation heats up. Was he misusing taxpayer dollars?
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.
A former U.S. Air Force mechanic charged with trying to join ISIS forces arrested as he was allegedly trying to enter Syria from Turkey. And he's no stranger to the FBI, which has been monitoring him for years after he reportedly expressed sympathy for Osama bin Laden. We're covering that story and much more at this hour with our guests, including Congressman Adam Schiff. He's a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Also joining us, our correspondents. They're reporting from key locations.
But let's begin with our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She is learning new details of the former U.S. airman who now has been arrested for trying to join ISIS.
What are you finding out, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what makes this case so unique is that this is the first time we know of an American veteran, a former U.S. Air Force airman with a lot of experience in aviation and mechanics allegedly wanting to commit jihad with ISIS.
BROWN (voice-over): A U.S. Air Force veteran stopped in Turkey for allegedly trying to join ISIS in Syria, according to just unsealed court documents; 47-year-old Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh flew from Egypt to Turkey to attempt to enter Syria on January 10, according to federal authorities. But Turkish officials stopped him at the airport. Pugh, who
served four years as an Air Force mechanic, was carrying an iPod, four USB drives and a cell phone. The search of his laptop found evidence of repeated Internet searches for information on borders controlled by Islamic State and a chart of crossing points between Turkey and Syria.
Pugh was denied entry into Syria when he refused to allow officials to search his electronics. According to court documents, Pugh worked on airplane maintenance for years. In the Air Force from 1986 to 1990, Pugh received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engines and weapons systems. Afterward, Pugh worked as an airplane mechanic for American Airlines, as well as other private aviation companies in the U.S. and the Middle East.
DAN CALDWELL, CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA: His experience in the private aviation sector disturbs me the most because he would have had access to private, American and European-made aircraft, and he could have learned the security weak points in those aircraft, where he could stash weapons, where he could stash bombs, how he could get past security.
BROWN: Pugh landed on the FBI's radar more than a decade ago, when an American Airlines employee tipped off the agency he was sympathizing with bin Laden. According to the complaint, Pugh had converted to Islam and become more radical during that time.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: After 9/11, co- workers were tipping off the FBI that this guy was sympathetic to bin Laden, applauded the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Africa. It's not like he suddenly got influenced by ISIS propaganda in the last few months and said, hey, this is a good group. He's basically had sort of this ideology for quite some period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And Pugh's defense attorney tells CNN that his client plans to plead not guilty when he goes before a judge in New York tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela, thank you very much.
There's also breaking news in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he is claiming a big win in the election there today, although Israeli TV exit polls say that the race remains too close to call right now. Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining us
from Tel Aviv. She is joining us from Netanyahu campaign headquarters.
What is the latest over there, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're expecting the prime minister here any minute.
He's already claiming victory because a day ago he looked like he was out of the job, but now he fought his way back and he's still in the game.
LABOTT (voice-over): It's a neck-and-neck race, but a last- minute media blitz may have helped Benjamin Netanyahu stave off defeat. Millions of Israelis cast their votes to determine their country's next prime minister, but tonight it's too close to call.
In the final days before the election, Netanyahu made a major push to the right, reversing his stated commitment to a Palestinian state and taking to Facebook with a warning to the base to vote to prevent Arab parties from unseating him.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The right regime is in danger. The Arab voters are coming in huge amounts to the polls.
LABOTT: Isaac Herzog got a campaign boost from a grassroots get- out-the-vote campaign to get rid of Netanyahu, but he struggled to explain his vision to the voters who were frustrated with Netanyahu's focus on security and his neglect of economic issues.
Casting his vote today, he repeated a familiar refrain.
ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER CANDIDATE (through translator): One who wants change and hope and a better future of Israel should vote for the Zionist Union led by me.
LABOTT: Now the lobbying begins. Netanyahu and Herzog must make backroom deals with smaller parties to gain enough support to gain a coalition. As the next leader tries to form a government, he will have to balance serious challenges to repair the relationship with the United States, its closest ally.
With a deadline looming for an Iran nuclear deal, the new Israeli leader will have to voice Israeli concerns and deal with a deepening rift with the White House, an uphill battle for Benjamin Netanyahu, to be sure, but even Isaac Herzog won't have an easy start.
AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: Whether or not the prime minister, confident now of his victory, seemingly vindicated, would want to somehow reduce the friction, I could see that as a possible option.
LABOTT: And Wolf, it remains to be seen, as we said, whether Prime Minister Netanyahu will indeed be able to form that government. But even if he did, it would be a very right-wing government. It will be very hard for him to address some of those international issues after he made this real bend to the right. It will be an extreme coalition and it will be very hard for him to repair that relationship with the United States with those positions.
BLITZER: It potentially, Elise, could take not only several days, but maybe even a few weeks before they determine who is going to be the next prime minister of Israel, right?
LABOTT: That's right.
The president, Reuven Rivlin, is telling CNN he realizes it's very important to get a government as soon as possible and he wants to start meeting with the various parties as early as Sunday. They will give him their recommendations on who they think should form the government. If indeed it's either Prime Minister Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog, then they will begin to form a government.
It's also possible that, considering it's so close, the president will ask both Herzog and Netanyahu to form a unity government and that could take even longer, Wolf. It could be not only weeks, but months.
BLITZER: We will see what happens, Elise. Thanks very much. Stand by. We will continue to monitor and hear what the prime minister has to say at that rally that is going on in Tel Aviv.
But there's other breaking news we're following, sources now telling CNN the U.S. military has lost contact with a drone over Syria and that country's military is claiming it actually shot down the drone.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She is working this story for us.
What are you picking up, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no confirmation yet that the drone was shot down, but U.S. officials are saying that earlier today the U.S. military lost contact with a Predator drone, a U.S. military Predator drone.
The belief is it was flying over the Syrian port city of Latakia. There is some video that is being shown on Syrian state TV. It's a bit murky. It doesn't show a lot. But it is what the Syrians are claiming at least is evidence, as you see there, of the U.S. drone being shot down.
Pretty interesting if the port of Latakia is where this indeed happened, because that's a port that the Russians use all the time. They pull into there, they unload weapons, other gear, other supplies for the Assad regime. So if this drone was conducting surveillance over the port of Latakia, it may have been that the Russians were doing something there that the U.S. wanted to have a closer eye on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Speaking of the Russians, Barbara, there are now all these reports that the Russians are moving troops in closer and closer, including to some of the NATO allies, war games under way. What's going on?
STARR: You know, Vladimir Putin doing what he always does, stirring up tension, stirring up trouble. The big concern is, where does this all go? Right now, the Russian news agency, TASS, reporting that a number
of Backfire bombers have been moved, are being moved to Crimea. These are Russian bomber aircraft that are capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons. So a big concern that Putin is opening that nuclear door in Crimea, though there's no evidence that he's moved nuclear weapons in there yet.
Second move by Putin, putting short-range ballistic missiles into Kaliningrad. This is a Russian military area that butts right up against both the Baltics and Poland. These short-range ballistic missiles obviously escalatory, making Eastern Europe very concerned about what Putin might be up to. Ukraine not a member of NATO. NATO is not pledged to defend Ukraine, but moving this all up against Poland and the Baltics, they are members of NATO.
The U.S. and the entire NATO alliance sworn to defend those countries against outside aggression -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, disturbing developments indeed. Thank you.
Let's get a little bit more on all of this. Joining us, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for going.
Do you have a good understanding of what Putin is up to right now with all these military maneuvers, moving these aircraft into Crimea, moving troops closer and closer to some of the NATO allies?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This is I think what dangerous dictators do.
They are playing to an external audience and an internal audience. These kind of aggressive moves have made him very popular at home. They're also a way of putting pressure on NATO and basically asserting Russia's prominence on the world stage. I think this is very consistent with what we have seen about the very aggressive, dangerously aggressive and provocative moves that Putin likes to make, more of the same, and there's no telling where this ends.
BLITZER: It was very disturbing in that Russian TV, state TV documentary, he actually said a year ago when Russian troops were actually helping their allies in Crimea take over and annex Crimea, make it a part of Russia, he was putting some of his nuclear forces on alert.
SCHIFF: It is very alarming that he would come out and say that, if that was true, and if it was true, even more alarming.
At the same time, I find it remarkable and not a little bit arrogant for him to talk about how, quite openly, he was planning the takeover of Crimea even before they supposedly voted on that. The fact that he's proud of that, that the election was essentially a charade, is extraordinary. BLITZER: I have spoken to representatives of the some of the
NATO allies, like Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia. These are all NATO allies. If one NATO ally is attacked, all of the other NATO allies must come to the defense of that NATO ally. They are worried about Russia right now. They are not sure that the U.S. and other the NATO allies are ready to come to their defense.
SCHIFF: I can understand why they are concerned. It's why we have to do everything we can to reassure them.
And that means assisting with their policing mission, putting more of our NATO forces in the region, closer to the theater. But they are also, I think, very much feeling under assault internally, as the Russian propaganda machine tries to move their domestic populations. They have a right to be very concerned.
BLITZER: On this issue that Barbara was just reporting that the U.S. has lost a drone over Syria, the Syrian regime claims they shot down that Predator drone, what can you tell us about that?
SCHIFF: Well, I can't confirm that that's the case.
We have had some mechanical problems with drones. Whenever a drone goes down, wherever it goes down, people take credit for shooting it down. That's often not accurate and not the case. If these reports are accurate, and it was shot down, the question is, who shot it down? And did the Syrian -- have that capability? Did the Russians help? So, a lot of unanswered questions at this point.
BLITZER: If they have a drone, they could do some reverse technology and learn stuff that the probably the U.S. doesn't want them to learn in the process as well.
Congressman, I want you to stand by for a moment. We have much more to talk about, including ISIS and including the Israeli election results.
We will much more with Congressman Adam Schiff right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get to more on the breaking news we're following.
An American Air Force veteran and airplane mechanic now charged, formally charged with trying to enter Syria to join ISIS forces. The FBI had been monitoring him for more than a decade after he told a co- worker said that he actually sympathized with Osama bin Laden.
We're back with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
His name Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh. How much damage potentially could he have done to the United States, from a propaganda standpoint, also from a military intelligence standpoint, if, in fact, he had gotten into Syria and connected with ISIS?
SCHIFF: I don't know how much damage he could have done on the intelligence front.
I imagine it would be limited, except one thing I'm going to be interested in finding out, and that is, what kind of work was he doing as a contractor in Iraq and why would we be employing someone who made those kind of expressions earlier about the bombings of U.S. embassies being justified?
The bigger concern I think is what he might -- what kind of service he can provide in terms of aircraft, either as a mechanic assisting ISIS or, more importantly, whether he has insights into vulnerabilities of American commercial aircraft. That's always been a key concern of ours.
BLITZER: In terms of hijacking or shooting down aircraft, stuff like that?
SCHIFF: Exactly, or finding ways to smuggle explosives onto a plane.
BLITZER: Which is pretty worrisome.
He had been monitored for a long time, but I guess they didn't have enough to arrest him until he actually went to Turkey from Egypt and was apparently trying to cross the border into Syria.
SCHIFF: And that's a real challenge because it looks like, from what we know of the complaint or the public reports, that he made statements to others that were reported. But that's not very substantial evidence of an intent to actually act on those things. People have the right to express their opinions.
So clearly when he took those steps of actually trying to get into the country, we had enough cause to arrest.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the election results in Israel. Too close to call right now. Very, very close between the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, his main challenger. It could go either way, even though Netanyahu is claiming a big victory. What is your reaction?
SCHIFF: My reaction really to the last couple of days of the campaign, the thing that was most striking to me was Netanyahu walking away from the commitment to a two-state solution, because if he has problems now with the current administration and he ends up staying in power, we have just added a whole new issue of considerable heft to the differences between Netanyahu and the president, and that is support for a two-state solution.
BLITZER: When you say two-state solution, you mean Israel alongside a new state of Palestine?
If this is more than a campaign pledge that the prime minister intends to shed if he's reelected, this is going to be another substantial problem. We have the very important differences on the Iranian nuclear potential deal, but if we also have a disagreement with the Israeli government on the desirability of a two-state solution, it's going to add to the differences between our two leaders.
BLITZER: Well, do you think he was just saying that in the final days of the campaign to appeal to right-wing voters in Israel, I'm not going to support a Palestine, there will never be a Palestine under his administration?
Do you think he can actually now, assuming he stays on as prime minister, and there's no guarantee he will, but let's say he does -- can he quickly walk away from that?
SCHIFF: Well, I don't see how, because if there are parties that he brings into a coalition that he was appeasing with that kind of a commitment, you can see them walking away if that commitment is something he walks away from.
So, that's going to be, I think, a pivotal issue if he remains at the leadership. In Congress, we're going to have to try to work to make sure we maintain a strong relationship with Israel no matter who ends up governing in that country. That's something that's been put at risk to the degree that the Republican Party has become associated with Likud. That was never the case. It was more -- it didn't matter who was running the country.
BLITZER: Because the relationship already between Netanyahu and President Obama was severely strained because of his speech before the joint meeting of Congress.
You actually went to that speech, although you weren't happy he delivered that speech, which basically said what the president is trying to do in these Iranian nuclear negotiations is a bad deal and he urged everyone to oppose it.
Already was bad then, but now potentially could be a whole lot worse if he stays on as prime minister and opposes that so-called two- state solution.
SCHIFF: Exactly. That for me was the main takeaway of this campaign.
And that is, we already had a poor relationship I think between Mr. Netanyahu and the president. It got worse with the speech and it may get worse still if the prime minister intends to...
BLITZER: Do you think, if he's reelected, let's say he stays on and he holds on to these positions, opposes any deal with Iran, opposes or at least the current notion of a deal with Iran, opposes a two-state solution, do you think the Obama administration backed by Congress would actually take steps against Israel, reduce economic or military assistance, for example, intelligence cooperation, military- to-military cooperation, stuff like that?
SCHIFF: I think the military-to-military and intelligence cooperation is going to go on regardless of who is in that office and differences over policy.
But where it may come in is if the prime minister opposes a two- state solution, and there are issues before the U.N., of which there always are, because so much of the U.N.'s time is spent on Israel and often criticizing Israel, it's hard to imagine the administration being as eager to rush into that to Israel's defense if there's yet another major disagreement on policy.
BLITZER: Vetoing U.N. resolutions, Security Council resolutions which are anti-Israel, and that's what you're talking about. The U.S. might be more reluctant to do so, is that what you're saying?
SCHIFF: Well, particularly if those resolutions deal with a two- state solution. We will have a very big divide on that important policy.
BLITZER: Well, let's see. First of all, he's not reelected yet. It's going to take several days, if not several weeks, before there's a determination who is going to be the next prime minister of Israel. We will see what happens.
This new exclusive poll shows 68 percent of the people support using direct diplomacy to try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; 29 percent oppose. There's a decisive majority that likes the idea that the Obama administration is at least trying to diplomatically end the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear bomb.
What are you hearing about those negotiations in Switzerland right now?
SCHIFF: Well, it certainly sounds like they are close. And the White House has been briefing us and the team have been briefing us from time to time.
But it's also a situation where it could fall apart. And there still I think are remaining significant differences. And whether we can close that gap, whether the negotiating teams can or not, we will find out soon. I wouldn't be completely surprised if we get to the end of the month, and we don't have as many specifics as many in Congress would like.
And then I expect we will have a debate over whether there's enough common agreement to hold off any legislative action until the real deadline in June.
BLITZER: You're the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Are you being briefed thoroughly, as thoroughly as you would like by the Obama administration on what is going on in these negotiations?
SCHIFF: I have been. They have been very frequently coming to the Hill or inviting us to the White House for briefings on this.
We also, quite separate and apart from that, get briefings from the elements of the intelligence community about what they know about Iran's nuclear program. And so I think the communication on that has been very good. There are certainly policy differences among us on the Hill, but I don't think any of us can complain that we have been left out of the loop.
BLITZER: Are you comfortable potentially, as the report suggests, could be a 10-year deal, after 10 years, all bets are off and Iran can do whatever it wants?
SCHIFF: We will see; 10 years seems to me a very short period of time. It goes by in a heartbeat and particularly with a regime that looks at its history in terms of millennia, not the regime itself, but the Persian nation, 10 years is a blip on the screen.
It really depends on what the agreement as a whole provides and what the alternatives are. And my concern all along on this has been that the timetable -- let's say this falls apart, we add new sanctions. Is there enough time for those sanctions to take place before we get to any red lines? And I'm not sure there is.
BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, thanks very much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Breaking news we're following, more on the U.S. Air Force veteran now charged with trying to join ISIS forces.
Plus, new details of an in-flight emergency -- a passenger screaming jihad as he tried to storm the cockpit.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, an airline mechanic, former Air Force airman, charged with trying to join ISIS after he was arrested in Turkey, allegedly trying to make his way into Syria to join up with ISIS terrorists.
Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us, our CNN political commentator Peter Beinart; our national security commentator, Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; our former NATO supreme allied commander, Admiral James Stavridis; and CNN counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd. Guys, thanks to all of you for joining us.
Philip Mudd, what's going on here? How much of a problem is this? The guy actually makes his way to Turkey and is only arrested, apparently, after he tries to cross the border into Syria.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there's a couple issues you've got to think about here. The first one is obviously, he's what we call a clean skin in business. That is he's got a document. They can get him back to the United States.
The more significant issue, Wolf, here is the digital footprint he's leaving. By that, I mean he had to buy a ticket to go to Turkey, and as we know now, he's online looking at websites that would show him entry into a place like Syria. If you're somebody like me, a counterterrorism professional, you might consider looking at that digital footprint, sort of the digital version of the physical footprint you would have looked at in the 20th Century.
But that's all free speech stuff. You are allowed to travel to Turkey. You're allowed to look at bin Laden websites. You're allowed to look at travel routes into Syria. If you want us, in my old business, to find people like that, you've got to change the law, because right now you can't look at that stuff without cause.
BLITZER: Mike Rogers, you were chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for a long time. Apparently, this guy was under surveillance; he'd been known for a long time, going back at least to 2001, to 9/11, if you will, when he started telling some friends and colleagues he supported bin Laden. Were you briefed on this? Would that have come to your level?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: It depends. If there was an action that this individual was going to take, an affirmative action. So you have to think about this. The FBI does hundreds and sometimes thousands of cases per year on individuals who appear to be self-radicalizing and engaged in at least speech that would indicate that they're going to take the next step to have an aspiration to commit an act of terror.
So not every one of those cases would have been briefed to us. Only when they would have taken an affirmative step.
BLITZER: Admiral, are you surprised that a veteran, military veteran -- I know it's bad that any American might even be considering this, but a vet, were you surprised that a vet would do this?
ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I'm not Shocked. We're seeing a certain amount of this going on in the U.S. military. We saw this recently in those attacks out at Ft. Bliss in El Paso. I'm much more worried about his passport and his ability to get back than I am about his military knowledge going forward.
BLITZER: All right. Let me bring in Peter Beinart and turn to the Israeli elections. Peter, I know you've been watching this very, very closely. It's too close to call. Netanyahu is claiming victory, but it's by no means a done deal. It could take days, if not weeks before a new government is formed, either Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog, the main challenger. We don't know what's going to happen yet, but give me your analysis.
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is much better for Netanyahu than most people have thought. You know, running up to this election, people thought that Herzog would have an advantage. He does seem to have an advantage. I think probably Netanyahu has a better chance of forming a government than Herzog does, and the consequences of that, I think, as your former guest, Adam (ph) suggested, are really going to be really quite severe.
Netanyahu ran, I think, was an openly racist campaign at the very end, basically warning his voters that Arabs were voting in droves. His own citizens, basically demonizing his own Arab citizens. And he said that he would not support a Palestinian state, reversing the pledge he had made back in 2009.
So I think if he is the next prime minister, which I think is prepped (ph) likely at this point, I think the relationship between the Obama administration are going to get even worse.
BLITZER: You were chairman of the intelligence committee for a long time. The intelligence -- the intelligence relationship between the U.S. and Israel has been very strong. Military intelligence (ph) pretty strong. But if Netanyahu stays on as prime minister, giving where he stands, opposing the president on these nuclear negotiations with Iran, opposing what he used to support, a two-state resolution, Israel alongside Palestine, is it going to affect the U.S./Israeli relations?
ROGERS: This relationship has had a deterioration factor for years. Despite that, the relationship between our military and intelligence officials has never been better.
I've been in rooms with Mr. Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in discussions on Iran, on ISIS, on relationships between he and the president of the United States.
He feels passionately about it, but he also understands this is a critical relationship for the benefit of Israel and the benefit of the United States. And I think an election can be a healing process. I think we'll get through the election. I do believe he'll end up forming a coalition to remain as prime minister, and then those dialogues will re-kick off. I think the tensions will...
BLITZER: It's going to be close. We'll see what happens. Your reaction?
<18:35:14> HERTLING: Well, as the commander of EuCom, I had responsibility...
BLITZER: European command.
HERTLING: ... from European command, responsibility for those relationships between Israel and the United States, I agree with Chairman Rogers. They have never been stronger at the military-to- military level.
But I think walking away from the two-state solution, a fundamental plank of U.S. policy, begins to put real stress on the political side of this thing. And I think we'll have a significant bleed-over.
BLITZER: You worked for the CIA for a long time. Is that Israeli -- that relationship between the CIA and Mossad as strong as Chairman Rogers is suggesting?
HERTLING: Boy, it's a rare moment that I have to agree with the chairman. I prefer to fight for him. But look, here's the situation from the intelligence side. You're responsible as an intelligence professional to give the president and others the best information you can. The Israelis are very, very good on the Iranian nuclear problem.
Regardless of the political diplomatic dimension here, the security services are going to talk, because they have to give the best picture to the leadership. And both sides have a piece of that puzzle.
BLITZER: You were the NATO supreme allied commander. You know what Russia is all about. You're now the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. What's up with Putin?
STAVRIDIS: I think we're seeing act three of a three-act play. Act one was the annexation of Crimea, which violates every norm of international law. Act two is this insurgency that he's fostering in southeast Ukraine. Act three, unfortunately, may well be a push towards Mariupol and consolidation of the land bridge between the two.
I would not put that out of the realm of possibility. It's a very dangerous next step.
BLITZER: Do you agree, Mr. Chairman?
STAVRIDIS: I do. And I would also add Transnistria in that equation. They've already voted that they would like to become part of Russia, according to the parliament. That is a strategic piece of land for Putin. I think he'd be interested there.
And think about where he's at. He thinks he's winning this fight. He occupies 20 percent of the land in the country of Georgia. He's annexed Crimea. His numbers at home are off the chart despite the financial problems. I think he thinks he's doing well.
He's just modernized his military, huge operations, training operations in the arctic, which is really a message to the Baltic states. I think if you think about his lens, he looks at it as, "I didn't want Georgia in NATO, and I didn't want Ukraine in NATO. I've got both of those things. The world is going my way."
So he's looking at it very differently than we would look at it.
BLITZER: Let me just get Peter Beinart's thoughts. Go ahead, Peter.
PETER BEINART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he may well be looking at it that way. But I think Russia is still basically a declining power. It's a power that doesn't have any economic foundation other than basically exporting oil and gas. Its population is declining quite dramatically.
And although he may be able to keep these border states out of NATO, it's worth remember that NATO is far, far deeper towards Russia than anyone ever else would have imagined when Ronald Reagan was president. When the border between the United States and -- between the West and Russia within Berlin, now it's Ukraine. So I don't think when you look -- Putin may have his own views,
but I think when you step back, I don't think this is a story of Putin winning.
BLITZER: All right. Peter Beinart, thanks very much.
Mike Rogers, Admiral Stavridis, guys, thank to you, as well.
Just ahead, an inflight terror scare. A passenger trying to rush the cockpit, screaming "jihad," We're learning new information right now.
BLITZER: Plus, a shocking move amid a growing scandal. The embattled U.S. Congressman Aaron Schock announcing his resignation.
<18:43:12> BLITZER: We're learning new details of what one passenger calls one of the scariest moments of her life. A mid-air emergency declared when a man rushed the cockpit of a United Airlines flight, screaming "jihad."
Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is working the story for us. She's over at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C. What are you finding out, Rene?
MARSH: Well, wolf, this all happened some 7,000 feet in the air, and now the man at the center of this midair scare is being held at a local hospital for observation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, OK, OK.
MARSH (voice-over): This out-of-control passenger tackled midair onboard United Airlines Flight 1074 before he allegedly tried to rush the cockpit, screaming "jihad, jihad," according to a government official.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, so sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to get you off this -- we're going to get you off this plane, buddy.
MARSH: The flight was cleared for takeoff Monday night. The Boeing 737 climbed to 7,000 feet, when the pilots were forced to make an emergency call to air traffic control.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Declaring an emergency due to a passenger disturbance.
MARSH: The plane, from Washington Dulles airport, bound for Denver was in the air for roughly five minutes when the pilot was forced to turn around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He ran forward towards the cockpit, and he is being restrained by our other passengers. The cockpit is secure, and we would just like to return to the airport and have the authorities meet him.
MARSH: In the back of the plane, a fellow passenger captured video of the man with bruises below his right cheek and near his mouth. Airport police removed the man from the plane and transported into a local hospital for observation. The spokeswoman for Dulles Airport says no passengers were injured, and no weapons were found on board.
MARSH: Well, we should point out that this man has not been arrested or charged with anything at this point. If it is determined that he is indeed mentally ill, he may not be charged after all of this.
Wolf, we should point out that a government official tells me they've looked into his background and so far, no links to terrorism -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, there's no explanation they are offering as to why he was shouting jihad as he apparently was rushing towards the cockpit?
MARSH: Right now, the focus really is on his mental state and perhaps that's what this will all end up to be, a situation in which someone who is mentally ill and when you -- as you know, when you have those sorts of situations, things happen and it may not necessarily mean a learning to terrorism. And I believe all of the authorities looking into this situation at this point are leaning to the idea that perhaps this person does have mental illness -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Rene, thanks very much.
Let's get to more analysis. Joining us, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, the former FBI assistant director.
What do you make of what's going on? What are authorities right now looking for?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, I spoke to a senior FBI official this afternoon, and they said that they have discovered no links to terrorism. He's under observation for mental health issues and they don't expect any charges to be filed.
BLITZER: So, the fact that he was screaming jihad, what does that mean?
FUENTES: Well, the fact that he's possibly very mentally ill, you know, why they're not going to use the criminal justice system to pursue that. But, you know, they're hoping to be able to evaluate him and if necessary, then be able to get the treatment he needs.
BLITZER: And you see the video that was shot by one of the passengers. You can hear him screaming, "Please stop, please stop". He sounds almost like he's becoming almost apologetic.
FUENTES: It sounded like that, yes. That once he was tackled and on the floor of the plane and they had subdued him, that he was apologizing and acting a little bit hysterical. So, he doesn't sound like a person that's, you know, very sane.
BLITZER: And a sane person would know that that cockpit door, that's secure, that's locked. After 9/11, pilots, all commercial pilots, they don't fly with that door open.
FUENTES: No, that's true. The same person would know not to shout "jihad" because there might be an air marshal on that plane who's going to shoot you dead. So, you know, you're not going to do that, unless you're actually committing jihad. So, yes, that's -- they're pretty sure they have a mental health problem there.
BLITZER: No weapons. So, we'll see what happens. You're probably right. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman, for that.
Just ahead, the shocking resignation from the United States Congress of a rising Republican star.
<18:52:13> BLITZER: It's breaking news: a rising Republican star now stepping down from Congress amid questions about his spending. Aaron Schock of Illinois was facing a preliminary ethics investigation over his used of taxpayer dollars after a lavish redecoration of his office led to questions about his extensive travel.
Let's get some more. Joining us, our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar.
What happened here with Congressman Schock, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was too much for him to be able to sustain what was going on. And when I say too much, it was just revelation after revelation that reporters found that people got from the lawyers that he has to hire to do a forensic search into all of the mismanagement of his expenses.
BLITZER: Like what? What were the revelations?
BASH: For example, I just tell you, for the past 24 hours, the big thing, I think, you'll probably agree with me, questions about a political donor having some donations to a housing thing that he was dealing that was probably improper. And also, this is the most stunning -- he actually put in for his expenses through taxpayers for his mileage on his car. That was 90,000 more miles than he had on his odometer.
So, those are some things that just said enough. The Ethics Committee and the House was investigating. By resigning he ends that, but he might have some legal troubles as well.
BLITZER: Yes, because, technically, that stealing taxpayer money if, in fact, he's lying about reimbursing. These are allegations.
BASH: He's giving the money back today.
BLITZER: You had an interview with him after he redecorated his office rather lavishly as well.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. And it started with the "Downton Abbey" office, which certainly raised eyebrows. Every other office is beige, government boring beige. This was shiny red as we're seeing here right now.
He did not want us to have this interview. We waited for him for several hours. And we finally talked to him.
And we asked, what was he thinking? He said, oh, I've never seen "Downton Abbey". But he said some words that I think now are very important. He said, "I've never been a crusty old white guy. I'm different. I came to Congress at 27."
I think that explains everything. He thought he played by different rules but, in fact, he played by the same rules. So, he certainly was not served well by some of his office staff who should have been keeping better a bookkeeping here. And he simply got in trouble with it, traveling so much more. He was a celebrity more than he was a politician, and those things eventually caught up with him.
BLITZER: Brianna, what are you hearing? Did he really have any choice but to resign?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it seemed like it got to the point where he didn't. So, I think it was -- at first, it was, oh, the "Downton Abbey" office. So, you know, he quoted Taylor Swift. He's downplaying this, may be not a big deal.
But I understand that it was the mileage thing that really got him in trouble.
<18:55:01> And so, talking to sources on the Hill, it sounds like there actually wasn't a lot of pressure from leadership. But they actually were not aware about this mileage issue and so, it kind of seems like not that it was the straw that broke the camel's back, but it might have been the log that broke the camel's back, because it's a really, really big deal.
Leaders didn't know about it. So, if they had then there might have been some more pressure. You saw Speaker Boehner basically welcome the resignation and I think that's pretty telling.
BLITZER: He's pretty tough when it comes to these kinds of things, the speaker.
Loretta Lynch, she is supposed to become the next attorney general of the United States, but her confirmation, the final roll call is being held up right now. There's a lot of outrage out there. What's going on? BASH: There's so much politics being played, to be fair, on both
sides, because Republicans, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, told us on CNN Sunday that he was going to hold up her nomination basically as hostage for another piece of legislation, which has great bipartisan support against human trafficking. There's some politics going on with that. That's why the Democrats are holding that up. And he said, you know what, we're not going to touch Loretta Lynch until this happens.
Now, let's cut through all of that for a second. The Democrats it is in their interest, we want to be honest, to slow the trains down in order to keep Mitch McConnell as somebody they can call an inept leader. I mean, their goal big picture is to show that he can't lead the Senate, Republicans can't lead any better than Democrats.
But on the flip side, Republicans see this nomination in Loretta Lynch as they did as someone very qualified. She could be attorney general. She should be attorney general.
BLITZER: She would be the first African-American female attorney general of the United States.
BASH: She could.
Then, the president issued his immigration plan, which Republicans revolted against. And they see her as the last way to basically protest against that plan.
So, there are lots of politics going on on both sides. But we should say that this is, we believe, the longest time an attorney general nominee since Ed Meese.
ZELENY: And at the end of the day, they don't like Eric Holder. Republicans would like to get rid of Eric Holder. She would probably a be a fresh attorney general who might be looking into some of these things.
So, you're right. Politics on both sides absolutely on this. I mean, but at the end of the day, how long can they hold her up. I mean, I think that if this goes into April, which it looks it will, pretty unthinkable.
KEILAR: Yes, they don't want to lose more Republican support that could -- this could be a very, very close vote.
ZELENY: It's a close vote.
BLITZER: Mitch McConnell keeps saying that on this human trafficking, who supports human trafficking? Nobody. Everybody wants to pass this legislation.
The Democrats voted for the legislation that included this like little loophole, if you will, that would bar the U.S. from spending money to pay for abortions, part of the human trafficking bill that Democrats missed it. But now, they have come up and discovered it. They're not going to vote for it now. BASH: Democrats messed up. I mean, nobody will tell you
otherwise, even Democrats. They didn't do something really basic, which is read the bill properly to find what is known as Hyde language, which has historically been in --
BLITZER: Henry Hyde, the former congressman.
BASH: Right. Historically been in spending bills to basically prevent federal dollars, taxpayer dollars, to be used for abortions.
But there have been some internal back and forth. There has been on this issue for months and months in which Republicans kind of relented and said, OK, fine, we won't do it. At the last minute, they snuck it in. Democrats didn't notice.
So, it is their fault they didn't see it. However, we are where we are. Now that they are protesting Republicans are saying, sorry, we're not going to give in. It's also a base issue. Republicans don't want -- the base doesn't want them.
ZELENY: I talked to a top Democrat, I said, how could you miss that? They said the Hyde Amendment was not specifically listed on this. It was an obscure section of the U.S. law. It didn't say Hyde Amendment. The Republicans listed seven changes and this with not one of them.
But you're right they totally missed it. It's their job to go through this.
ZELENY: It was someone from the outside actually, form the lobby that found this sort of change in here. It was a mistake on their part, no question about it.
BLITZER: The rule, you got to read this legislation before you vote on it. You can't just assume you know what's in it.
KEILAR: You do need to read it. That's why, you know, it's so important. There's so many times I think where we have been notified to many bills by outside lobbying groups. Some of them might be non- profit but they are still lobbying it, because they go through it with a fine tooth comb, more of a fine tooth comb that Congress does.
BASH: And the irony is that, talking to Democrats on Capitol Hill today, they probably would have given in to a certain extent on the human trafficking bill, but when Mitch McConnell made it an if or or on Loretta Lynch, then you have all of these Democratic constituencies coming out and making it an issue, where it might not have been as big before.
BLITZER: All right. Dana, Brianna, Jeff, guys, thanks very much. Good discussion.
Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE
SITUATION ROOM. You can always watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.