Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; Bloody Arrest; U.S.-Israeli Relationship; Body of African-American Man Found Hanging From Tree in Mississippi; McCain Demands Apology for Racially Charged Remark. Aired 6-7:00p ET
Aired March 19, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: ISIS now says its terrorist forces are behind that museum massacre. The death toll is climbing. ISIS is making a chilling new threat.
Playing with peace? The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flip-flops on a Palestinian state only hours after his election victory. We're learning details of the phone call President Obama just made to the Israeli leader.
Tree-hanging, an African-American man found dead in Mississippi. Federal officials are now on the scene investigating.
And bloody arrest. A black student's violent confrontation with authorities all caught on camera. Did state agents use excessive force against this honor student?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following major and fast-moving stories, including ISIS now saying it is responsible for the terror attack on a museum in Tunisia's capital.
Also, President Obama issuing a blunt warning directly to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, just a little while ago on the phone telling the Israeli leader, U.S. relations with his country need to be reassessed after what the prime minister has said.
Plus, two racially charged stories. The bloody arrest of an African-American student near the University of Virginia. We're standing by for a news conference on that. That's coming up momentarily. We're awaiting an update on the grim discovery of the body of a black man found hanging from a tree in Mississippi. We're covering that and much more this hour with our correspondents and our guests, including Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She's a key member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee. She's an Iraq War veteran as well.
But let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
She has more on that museum massacre attack. Barbara, what are you picking up?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
Tonight, a U.S. official tells me they cannot absolutely verify the ISIS claim that it was behind the attack, but make no mistake, the U.S. wants to figure out if this is the opening round of ISIS expanding its campaign.
STARR (voice-over): The blood is still there. Tunisian security forces on high alert, looking for at least three suspects in the attack that has now killed 23 people and injured three dozen.
ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack, warning this is "just the start", in an unverified audio message.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This is the latest example of extremist terror and we have to fight it with everything we have.
STARR: Growing U.S. worries about the spread of ISIS and where it could lead.
ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: A terrorism attack like this one on a soft target in Tunisia promises there will be more terrorism in Europe and eventually will wash up on the shores of the United States.
STARR: For now, the U.S. doesn't doubt the ISIS claim of responsibility. But officials caution al Qaeda affiliates in North Africa also are very active in Tunisia.
These attackers perhaps inspired by ISIS rather than directly ordered to attack. Violent as it was, U.S. officials say the tactics appeared haphazard, not a typical terrorist hostage or kidnapping plot.
Tunisian authorities announced nine people had been arrested. Four directly linked to the attacks. The prime minister identified two suspects by name, one had been known to security services. But the prime minister did not say if those two were the gunmen that had been killed.
A tour guide tells of the terror.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I thought a roof had collapsed but bullets were everywhere. We all hid from the shooting.
STARR: An enemy increasingly difficult to track down.
BAER: What makes these organizations, this virus so difficult to kill is because it is home-grown, self-recruited and there's no center and no return address that we can destroy it.
STARR: This attack was so violent at the museum, Wolf, so frightening to the people there that we now have learned a Spanish couple hid in the museum overnight thinking that the terrorists were still inside -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Wow. All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
There's other breaking news we're following. We have just learned President Obama spoke by phone just a little while ago with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his election victory. We are also learning though that the president gave the prime minister a blunt warning.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working the story for us.
What do we know about this phone call, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House initially said this was a call to congratulate the prime minister on his election victory. But a top official confirms the president also told Netanyahu that the administration will need to reassess its options after the prime minister's comments on a two- state solution with the Palestinians.
So, this sounds like a congratulatory call with consequences.
[18:05:01] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Meeting with Britain's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, President Obama refused to comment on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has become something of a royal pain to the White House.
Administration officials say they are furious over Netanyahu's remarks in the final moments of his reelection campaign, pointing to the prime minister's rejection of a Palestinian state in this interview as a key reversal that would damage prospects for Middle East peace. Asked whether a Palestinian state would not be formed in he remains prime minister, Netanyahu said, indeed.
(on camera): Is the president personally disappointed in Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments?
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would certainly acknowledge that the president is aware of the comments and noticed them. I don't think I would characterize his reaction. But I think that the -- there are obvious policy implications for Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments.
ACOSTA: In a post-election interview, Netanyahu completely flip- flopped, saying he now wants a peaceful two-state solution with Palestinians. But the White House is also outraged over Netanyahu's comment that Arab voters were heading to the polls in droves, a remark aides to the president blasted as racially tinged and undemocratic.
EARNEST: I think that that comment and that tactic was something that was noticed, not just here in the White House, but by I think people around the world. And that cynical Election Day tactic was a pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab/Israeli citizens and their right to participate in their democracy.
ACOSTA: Netanyahu insists Arab Israelis will always have the right to vote, but they are not buying that at the White House, where officials are threatening to allow votes at the United Nations in favor of a Palestinian state, a measure the U.S. has blocked before.
Republicans who invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress against the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran are saying get over it.
QUESTION: What about the administration's sort of lukewarm reaction?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Lukewarm?
AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: The Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu need to wake up, understand the realities of what they can and cannot achieve, and try to restore some adult supervision.
ACOSTA: Now, as for that phone call, a White House official said the president also discussed Netanyahu's comment about Arab Israelis. The president's posture at this point is that it matters what the prime minister said right before the election than how he is cleaning it up now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And now he wants to reassess U.S. relations, I assume, with Israel in the aftermath of these statements. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.
Let's get some more on what is going on.
Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is joining us. She's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also the Armed Services Committee, served as an Iraq War veteran as well.
Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Thanks, Wolf. Aloha.
BLITZER: How worried are you about U.S.-Israeli relations right now?
GABBARD: I think it's concerning to see this immediate reversal or flip-flop, as they are calling it, by Prime Minister Netanyahu, really because as we look forward to a two-state solution, a peaceful solution there in the Middle East, it's going to be hard to take him seriously and to know whether or not he really has the will to be able to conduct these negotiations in a way that is in good faith, that will have that desired outcome.
BLITZER: Because on the eve of the elections, he told one interview -- you just heard in Jim Acosta's report -- that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. And then today, he said he does want a sustainable peaceful two-state solution. That sounds like a complete flip-flop.
GABBARD: And the words he was using, the statement that he made seemed to be very strong and very clear the night before the election, and the opposite comment now after having won the election.
And, again, I think that we have to really look at this and understand that Israel obviously working with the Palestinian Authority is going to have to be able to operate and negotiate in good faith. And I think that's going to be very hard, given what he said.
BLITZER: How do you fix that? What does he need to do, the prime minister of Israel, to reassure members of Congress like you and, of course, the president of the United States and secretary of state that he can be trusted to live up to these kinds of commitments?
Since 2009, his position was he does support that two-state solution,, Israel living along side a new state of Palestine.
GABBARD: Well, I think it's going to be more than just words. He can use words that he wants to try to reassure Congress, the United States.
But I think it's going to definitely require some action on his part, I think first and foremost of which is to stop building those settlements on the Palestinian-held territory.
BLITZER: Have you conveyed your concerns directly to Israeli officials in your conversations with them?
GABBARD: As this has developed, not as of this point. But I know that these are conversations that we will be having with them as we move forward towards this effort of peace in the Middle East.
BLITZER: All right. I just want you to stand by for a moment.
We're getting on the phone Saeb Erekat, who is joining us. He's the chief Palestinian negotiator and he is joining us from Jericho on the West Bank.
I want to point out, we also invited the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to join us as well. We invited the Israeli ambassador to the United States to join us. Unfortunately, neither could join us now. But they have invitations to join us down the road.
What's your reaction, Saeb Erekat, to this flip-flop by the prime minister? A couple days ago, three days ago, he was saying, there's not going to be a Palestinian state on his watch. Today, he says he supports a two-state solution. What's your reaction?
[18:10:07] SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Wolf, you know that it's deeds as far as Netanyahu is concerned.
He's a man, I don't think he was ever a two-stater. I think it was one of the rare honest moments when he said that he will not make a Palestinian state on his watch and he will not allow it. And he was saying the truth. This man since he came to office in 1996, '99, last century, and 2009 to now, he did nothing but to undermine the two- state solution.
I really take this very, very seriously. I think his election is very, very dangerous. I think those of us who believe in peace and who believe in the two-state solution, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, whoever, we must stand shoulder to shoulder now in order to restore hope in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis.
And we need to make sure to tell Mr. Netanyahu and others in Israel, no, sir, we will not allow you to succeed in destroying the hope of peace and the two-state solution by dictating more settlements, more fait accompli palaces, and he needs to be held accountable.
BLITZER: Saeb Erekat, let me get your sense though right now. What he says is he doesn't see this peace process getting off the ground so long as the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, have this alliance with Hamas in Gaza, which is committed, he says, to the destruction of Israel. No recognition of a Jewish state. How do you get over that barrier?
EREKAT: Well, he knows very well that we recognize the state of Israel right to exist in peace and security.
And Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and the PLO and the majority of the Palestinian people stand tall on the two-state solution. He knows this. Now, he is a man of finger-pointing, blame assignment. If Mother Teresa were to be president of the Palestinians (INAUDIBLE) were to be the prime minister, and Thomas Jefferson were to be the speaker of the Palestinians, and they will say two states from 1967, they will be accused of connections to terror by Netanyahu and his like.
Wolf, you know this area you have well. You know how dangerous such statements are. You know the forces of extremism when we are fighting together ISIS and all these evil forces, and they must be defeated. We cannot have such statements and such deeds and such continuation of settlement activities, because winning the battle over extremism in this region requires peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
And there is only one option for this peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and that is a two-state solution. Netanyahu made a big mistake and he must show deeds now by announcing, standing tall and telling his people what they should hear, not what they like to hear, that we have to live side by side with the Palestinians in their own independent sovereign state on the 1967 lines,and he must immediately move to stop settlement activity.
Failure to do so will bring Palestinians and Israelis deeper and deeper into bad conflict, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Saeb Erekat,I know you are heading here to Washington. We will see you here in THE SITUATION ROOM next week. Thanks very much for joining us.
Saeb Erekat is the chief Palestinian negotiator.
Tulsi Gabbard is still with us.
Do you want to react quickly to what you just heard from the chief Palestinian negotiator?
GABBARD: I think he brings up some good points in representing the comments and views and feelings really of the Palestinian people. And it's important to understand where they are coming from as we look forward to that point where we can get back -- get this process back on track.
BLITZER: I know the administration really wants to try to revive that peace process. It looks gloomy right now. But let's see what they can do.
Congresswoman, stand by. We have much more to talk about. Lots of news happening right now.
We will take a quick break. Much more right after this.
[18:18:33] BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, the two terrorists that killed 23 people at a museum in Tunisia were carrying explosives meant to detonate and even cause more casualties, this according to Tunisia's president. ISIS now claiming responsibility for this terror massacre.
We're back with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She's a member of the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee, an Iraq war veteran.
What can anyone do to stop these kinds of attacks? You served in Iraq. These are brutal, these heinous -- they just go in there, tourists from Europe, from Asia, they're visiting, a ship stops in Tunis, they go to this museum right to the parliament. All of a sudden, they are slaughtered.
GABBARD: Well, I think this is exactly what we need to be concerned about, that these kinds of soft targets are what we are seeing is the most recent manifestation of these Islamic extremist groups conducting these terrorist attacks.
And what we have to figure out what our tactics need to be to be able to prevent these types, to detect them, to understand who these people are and what's driving them, so that we can try to prevent these types of attacks from happening in other parts of the world.
BLITZER: It has been reported, as you know, that 3,000 Tunisians, mostly men, left Tunisia and went to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some of them have now returned. I don't know what the prospects of them carrying out terrorist attacks in Tunisia or elsewhere, for that matter, are. But 3,000, that's a lot.
GABBARD: It's a significant number, especially when you consider the country where they are coming from and the proximity to what's happening there.
[18:20:00] And I think it's also important for us to see this and to recognize we need to work with partners, we need to work with this young democracy there in Tunisia to make sure that we are sharing intelligence, that we're sharing different ideas on how best to counter this Islamic extremist threat. But as I have said to you before, this first and foremost goes to, you have to know the enemy in order to identify them.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about this disturbing report that was published in "The Army Times."
I don't know if you saw it, but the U.S. Army now investigating allegations that a platoon, a platoon of soldiers in Alaska were given a free pass to use racial slurs during what came to be known as racial Thursdays, allegedly the same unit that private Danny Chen belonged to. Authorities said he killed himself after he was hazed because of his Chinese ancestry.
You are a veteran. How do you explain this kind of stuff?
GABBARD: This is absolutely unacceptable.
And, frankly, this is a complete failure of leadership if these allegations are true. I know they are launching an investigation into these allegations. As these details emerge, I think it absolutely goes to holding these leaders accountable, starting with the platoon leader of this platoon, not only for appearing to allow this to happen under his watch, really but driving it and being the instigator for it.
This kind of activity can't be allowed to happen anywhere, especially in our military, where our service members are held to a high -- a very high standard.
BLITZER: Tomorrow marks, what, the 12th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, the second Iraq War to liberate Iraq, if you will, get rid of Saddam Hussein. I was in Kuwait with about 200,000 U.S. troops getting ready to move in at the start of that war. I remember it very, very vividly. They were going in with gas masks. They thought there were weapons of mass destruction. You are launching what you call the Congressional Post-9/11
Veterans Caucus. Tell us what that is.
GABBARD: Right now, there are over 2.8 million veterans in the United States who served post-9/11, after the attacks of 9/11 occurred.
And really we formed this bipartisan caucus along with my colleague, a Republican from Pennsylvania, Representative Scott Perry, who is an Army helicopter pilot, to bring voice to a lot of the concerns and issues that our post-9/11 veterans, this new generation of veterans are facing, whether it's homelessness or unemployment, but also really the experience that these veterans are bringing back to our communities.
I think it's important, very important for us on this anniversary of the U.S. invasion in Iraq to remember what brought us there and what the very high human cost of this war has been, not only trillions of dollars, but thousands and thousands of American lives, and to remember what brought us there, the decisions that were made, especially as we look into who made those decisions and the questions that we are facing now with this current Islamic extremist threat.
BLITZER: Thanks for what you are doing. Thanks to all those other Iraq War veterans, Afghan war veterans, including obviously all those who serve in the United States Congress. Thanks for creating this caucus.
GABBARD: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii joining us.
The breaking news we're following, the body of an African- American man found hanging from a tree in Mississippi. We're standing by for a live news conference.
Plus, more on the investigation into the bloody arrest of a black University of Virginia student, an honor student. Did the state agents use excessive force? You are going to hear from the student's attorney. That's coming up next.
[18:27:42] BLITZER: State police are opening investigations into the bloody arrest of a black University of Virginia student that was caught on camera; 20-year-old Martese Johnson was pinned by state alcohol control agents, who he called racists in an incident some see as the latest example of excessive force against young black men.
CNN's Brian Todd once again joining us from Charlottesville with more.
Brian, what's the latest there?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we just picked up some very crucial information, filling in some of the gaps that we needed to fill in about what happened that night that Martese Johnson was taken down by these Virginia ABC officers.
We have been wanting to find out what happened in those moments before that amateur video was taken, before we saw him on the ground being pinned down by those agents. Just moments ago, his attorney, Daniel Watkins, filled in some of those gaps, at least giving their version of what happened in those moments before we saw him on the ground in that video, filling in those gaps about what happened, about how he got those injuries.
Take a listen to Daniel Watkins just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL WATKINS, ATTORNEY FOR MARTESE JOHNSON: Martese was standing on the sidewalk near Trinity Irish Pub in Charlottesville.
An employee of the establishment approached him and asked him for identification. Martese presented a valid Illinois state identification card issued in 2011. The employee then asked Martese for his zip code. And he recited his mother's Chicago city zip code at her current address, which is different from the Chicago city zip code on the identification card that was printed almost four years ago.
At no time throughout the encounter did Martese present as -- excuse me -- at no time throughout the encounter did he present, as has been reported by some in the media, a fake I.D.
Nevertheless, Virginia ABC officers who were present on the scene questioned my client about being in possession of false identification. The conversation resulted in my client being thrown to the ground, his head hitting the pavement, the officers' knees pressed into his back, his face and skull bleeding and needing surgery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That just moments ago from Daniel Watkins, the attorney for Martese Johnson, filling in their version of the events which happened in those moments before we saw that amateur video, those moments before we saw his head bleeding.
We were wanting to find out how he got those injuries, Daniel Watkins telling us their version of how he got those injuries. But we have to point out, Wolf, the Virginia State Police are conducting their own investigation, a criminal investigation, into the conduct of those agents.
We will hear probably, when that is complete, the agents' version of what happened. So we'll see if it matches that description, Wolf.
BLITZER: We heard last night from Martese Johnson, the student. Tell our viewers what he said.
TODD: That's right. Martese Johnson did speak at a rally last night, Wolf. We hadn't heard from him. We were waiting to hear from him. Take a listen to what he said when people were demonstrating on the streets of Charlottesville last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTESE JOHNSON, VIOLENT ARREST CAUGHT ON TAPE: I want the students to be able to share their opinions and feelings. I beg for you guys, regardless of your personal opinions and the way you feel about subjects, we are part of one community. We deserve to respect each other, especially at a time like this. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: There have been demonstrations in the streets of Charlottesville last night. We're waiting to see if there are going to be any tonight, Wolf. But you can certainly take away from this that this town is still very much on edge over this incident that occurred less than 48 hours ago.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. We'll get back to you.
We're also standing by for a news conference on the other breaking news we're following out of Mississippi, where the body of an African-American man has been found hanging in a tree. The FBI is on the scene. They're investigating right now, as well as officials from the civil rights division of the Justice Department here in Washington.
Our justice reporter Evan Perez is joining us.
Evan, what are you hearing from your sources about this very disturbing development?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we -- we're hearing from our sources that the authorities are believed the body that they have recovered is that of a man who has been missing since earlier this month. That man's name is Otis Byrd. He's 54 years old. And the FBI is looking into this simply because it is very suspicious. He was found hanging from a tree about a half a mile into some very deep woods behind the last known residence that he had.
This is in Clayborn County, Mississippi, the southern part of the state near the Louisiana border. Obviously, this is bringing back some very dark reminders for this area of the country, which suffered through a lot of violence during many, many years. And so that's something that the FBI is looking into.
We should say that Otis Byrd has a criminal record. He was convicted in 1980 of murder. And so obviously, that is also something that the FBI is looking into, simply because they have to -- they have to check out whether someone, perhaps with a beef to settle, would have reason to kill him.
Now, this is something that the FBI doesn't know yet what the cause of the death is, if it might be a suicide or if it's something nefarious. So that is, again, part of the investigation the FBI is doing, along with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, local authorities, the U.S. attorney's office in southern Mississippi, and the civil rights division here in Washington of the Justice Department.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks very much for that update.
I want to dig deeper on both of these stories that we're following. Joining us the president of America's two leading civil rights organizations, Marc Morial of the National Urban League; Cornell William Brooks of the NAACP. Also joining us are CNN anchor Don Lemon; our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, the former FBI assistant director; and community activist John Gaskin.
Let me start with Marc Morial. Let's first of all talk about the civil rights division. They've sent agents down there. The FBI is down there. We're beginning to learn more about what's going on.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: We need to get all of the facts, Wolf. And I think that the civil rights division and the FBI acting quickly and swiftly, the media throwing a spotlight on this, because the method used here reminds us of one of the most heinous periods in American life.
And certainly, I wouldn't want and don't think anyone should jump to an immediate conclusion. But this is highly suspicious, and certainly, we hope it isn't with what we may suspect.
BLITZER: Your quick reaction, Cornell?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: I absolutely -- the need to be careful, thoughtful, clinical in our assessment and gathering of the facts is important.
We also have to remember the history of Mississippi and the history of this country, where we've had 5,000 people of predominantly African-American, but a variety of ethnicities lynched in this country. When you see a black man hanging from the end of a rope, it is a moment for concern and a moment for law enforcement to respond vigorously, thoroughly, and carefully, and for the community to do the same.
BLITZER: Yes. We don't know, obviously, whether he was killed, whether it was suicide. That's why there's a local, state investigators on the scene, as well as representatives of the federal government, including the FBI and the Justice Department.
[18:35:00] Don Lemon, I know getting back to the other story we're following, this young 20-year-old honor student at the University of Virginia, a horrendous story that we're following. Take a look at his face over there. I think you had a chance to speak with him. Did you, Don?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I did. I spoke with him earlier this afternoon. It was before the press conference. He said that, you know, he didn't -- couldn't talk long because he was preparing to put out a statement with his attorney. And he was preparing for a press conference.
He conveyed to me, basically, what his attorney said in that press conference, that he never -- this is according to him -- he never presented a fake I.D., that he was not intoxicated, and that things escalated very quickly. He said the police, you know, I guess didn't believe him.
But, again, I don't want to -- I don't want to betray the confidence of our call, because there were other things that he spoke about. But basically, he's saying the same story and also saying that he's concerned. It's been a very tough time for him. He hopes that his wounds heal. He's worried about school. He's worried about money. He's worried about getting a job. He's worried about his reputation after this. And now he's worried about all the attention that goes along with this and his family. So this young man is very concerned at this point. We have to see how the investigation plays out.
But I have to say, it does not look good for those agents right now. The investigation has to play out, but just considering the circumstances, the kind of young man this -- he is, also saying that he was not intoxicated at the time he took a breathalyzer, if that indeed proves to be true, then the reasons for his arrest may be quite nebulous.
BLITZER: John Gaskin, you're still a college student. So you can clearly relate to what's going on over there at the University of Virginia. We heard from the attorney, Daniel Watkins, that Martese Johnson, the 20-year-old -- young, 20-year-old promising student, grew up in the South Side of Chicago. A single mom. Gets into the University of Virginia. It's an elite college. Majoring in Italian and media studies, on the honor society over there. And all of a sudden this happens. It's pretty outrageous when you think about it. We hope, of course, he's going to be OK. But what was your reaction, John, when you heard about this?
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: I was certainly shocked when I heard about it. But certainly, I think about reality. This is a great reality for African-American men. Living in this country, it doesn't matter if you go to an elite college or what income bracket your parents are in. The fact of the matter is, discrimination and police brutality knows no socioeconomic status or graduation bracket (ph).
The fact of the matter is, living as an African-American man in this country, you face those types of challenges with being out at night, with going out with other students in these types of areas.
My heart certainly goes out to him. But the thing that I was most impressed with was the students there at the University of Virginia, how they mobilized cohesively last night, peacefully, and did it in such a dignified manner to raise this issue up and give it the attention that it needs.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, you're a former assistant director of the FBI. The governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, he wants a full investigation. The chancellor of the university, the president of the university, they all want a full investigation. They seem to be fully outraged by what happened. TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. When you see
somebody with that much blood on their face, Wolf, it just looks horrible. But the specific aspect of the case is going to be, how did he get that wound? Was it, you know, when he hit the pavement? Was it an accident? Did the police slam him to the ground? You know, we need to know exactly how that wound was inflicted.
Because when you see the aftermath of that, the part where the video starts, it doesn't look like officers beating him or kicking him or trying to smash his head down any further. In fact, they're trying to handcuff him, and he's still not cooperating. They're actually gingerly trying to grab his arm.
BLITZER: Even if somebody -- let's say a 20-year-old kid, a college kid, let's say he's got a fake I.D. Does he deserve to be treated like that?
FUENTES: Nobody deserves to be treated like that. The way to avoid that for somebody is to comply. If the police, for whatever reason, whatever Mickey Mouse charge it might be -- and we don't know that. But if it's something ridiculously dumb that they're charging him with, it's still -- the person has to comply.
MORIAL: Here's an issue, Wolf.
BLITZER: Hold on.
MORIAL: This is an issue.
BLITZER: By the way, the lawyer says he didn't have fake I.D.
MORIAL: The ABC agent was in concert with the employee of the bar, who questioned this young man as to, quote, "what is your ZIP code" after he presented an I.D. which I presume the face matched the person.
MORIAL: The instance -- that suggests to me perhaps profiling. Why would this student have been challenged on "do you know your ZIP code"?
BLITZER: I could -- let's say the kid has fake I.D., you know, some other state, a driver's license from Hawaii, whatever. He might not necessarily be familiar with all the details written there, so they want to just double-check.
MORIAL: Look, in a bar like this, if the ABC agents are hanging out, they have a familiarity with the type and style of fake I.D.s that may go around. And so I think it's about not only the ABC agents and how they treated him but why, in fact, may this -- was this student challenged? And I'd like to know, were other students challenged for the same violation on the very same night?
BLITZER: Let me get Don Lemon to weigh in, as well. And the lawyer says flatly this was a legitimate Illinois state I.D. It was not a fake I.D.
LEMON: Yes, and I take them at their word. Again, the investigation has to play out. If it continues to go on in this vein, and it's indeed true what the student is saying, it does not look good for those agents.
Wolf, sometimes I can't remember my own ZIP code. And this student has probably moved around or have -- if you've been out here with friends and having a couple drinks, you're like, "What is my ZIP code?" I have to think about it when I have to press it in sometimes, use my credit card or my debit card, sometimes I forget myself, especially if you're in a stressful situation.
So that question about that, they were trying to figure out, you know, if it was a legitimate I.D. by asking him where he lives. I mean, I remember my license now is a Georgia license, which I should -- I don't even remember my ZIP code in Georgia anymore. I live in New York City. So if someone asked me, it would not match where I live now. So I don't know how legitimate that is.
And I agree with Marc Morial. The agents seem to be in concert with the people in the bar. They should act independently. They should take the young man aside and say, here's what you're accused of. Do you have a false I.D.? Do you remember this? Instead of throwing him to the ground for something that seems to be such a minor offense and would be a misdemeanor and at the end of the day would probably be...
BLITZER: Yes. It's called the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control. These are the agents. Respond very quickly, because I want to take a break. We can continue this. Go ahead.
BROOKS: I think it's important to -- police officers have to exercise judgment as well as authority. The fact that you have the authority to question someone does not mean you suspend judgement in terms of the interaction and your decision about how much force you use and whether or not you use any force at all.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. Everybody stand by.
We're also awaiting a news conference from Mississippi. An African-American man's body was found hanging from a tree. We'll get the latest on that disturbing development. Much more right after this.
[18:46:53] BLITZER: Standing by for this news conference from Mississippi from an African-American man's body was found hanging from a tree. FBI agents are on the scene investigating. Representatives from the civil rights division of the Justice Department here in Washington, they are on the scene as are local and state officials as well, including the Claiborne County sheriff, Marvin Lucas.
You know of Marvin Lucas, the sheriff there? CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, NAACP PRESIDENT: Yes. Sheriff Lucas is
the preceding president of the local Claiborne County NAACP branch. So, he is someone who's known to the community, known to the NAACP.
BROOKS: African-American. In a community that's predominantly African-American.
So, our local branch and our state conference President Derrick Johnson are in touch with the family and the local authorities.
BLITZER: Don Lemon, I want you to react to what we are hearing, very disturbing development involving the U.S. Army where soldiers in Alaska were seemingly given a free pass to be racists on so-called "Racial Thursday". This is the same unit, by the way, where that Chinese-American soldier killed himself after being hazed over his heritage.
Can you believe what's going on in the U.S. Army, at least in this one platoon in Alaska?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I can't believe the conversation that we have going on now, Wolf. I wonder, you know, which decade we're living in.
MARC MORIAL, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: What century.
LEMON: What century, right, yes, with these stories. Right, Marc, you are exactly right. And as you said, this is the same platoon being investigated for issues with the Chinese-American, hazing. According to reports, the leader of that platoon said, on Thursdays, you are free to use any kind of racial slur or do whatever you want and you won't face any consequences as a way of team building.
The person who turned them in is African-American sergeant. He said, no -- he was never -- no racial epithets were ever used against him. Someone else said that who else -- you know, someone else who was a whistle-blower said that he did he have some against him.
I just think it is the most backwards way of building camaraderie. Sure, there should be open conversations about race. But you should not be able to say racial epithets about people or racial slurs about people as a way of building moral. It's ridiculous.
BLITZER: You know, Marc Morial, the U.S. army has been pretty advanced in accepting African-Americans, other minorities.
MORIAL: Tremendous strides.
BLITZER: General Colin Powell worked his way up to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I'm pretty shocked that this is allowed. MORIAL: I hope this is isolated. I hope this is not indicative
of anything widespread, and getting some transparency on it and certainly, we hope that the Department of Defense and leadership of the Army will immediately investigate and take appropriate disciplinary action against those, because this seems to be a problem with some command level that is not only but encouraged in sort of perverse behavior.
BLITZER: Let me get John Gaskin in.
John, in another part of the country, you're now seeing some other problems. The mayor of Austin had to come out condemning stickers that are being posted on businesses in the state capital of Texas that read, quote, "Exclusively for white people."
[18:50:00] I don't know if you've been following this, but pretty shocking what's going on over there.
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: You know, I have to agree with Marc -- Mr. Morial. To be having these types of conversations about these types of issues in 2015, even when we have an African-American president, and to be discussing these types of issues, it just, it's -- I have no point of reference.
GASKIN: It's mindboggling -- exactly, Don. And it's very disappointing, because we talk so much that we live in a post-racial society, but these are reminders that we have such a great ways to go.
LEMON: All right, guys. Stand by, because we're going to be following this story. We're standing by for that news conference from Mississippi as well.
Don, by the way, will be back with much more on all of this at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for his special program, "CNN TONIGHT," a special hour coming up, looking at all of these racially charged stories as well as the phrase, "Hands up, don't shoot," whether it was really a false narrative. Stick around, 10:00 Eastern Time, Don Lemon, "CNN TONIGHT."
Much more news right after this.
[18:55:49] BLITZER: Heated rhetoric in the battle over confirmation for the attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin accuses Republicans of delaying and pushing Lynch, in his words, quote, "to the back of the bus."
Senator John McCain is angry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I deeply regret that the senator from Illinois chose to come here yesterday and question the integrity and motivation mine and my Republican colleagues. It was offensive and unnecessary and I think he owes this body, Ms. Lynch, and all Americans an apology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's dig deeper with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our senior Washington correspondent, Dick Zeleny.
Did Dick Durbin go too far?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, probably. I think they all look embarrassing to me. I think if Republicans oppose Loretta Lynch for any reason, and I think it's probably because she says that the president's executive action on immigration was legal, and I think they oppose her for that. If they oppose her for that, then go on the floor and say, that's why we oppose her and we're going to hold up her nomination for a reason.
Sticking, you know, making it a bizarre procedural issue makes them all look bad, and I think this whole thing, and the name-calling that's going back and forth is beneath the dignity of the United States Senate and it's an embarrassing spectacle, that should just not be occurring on the floor of the Senate.
BLITZER: What McCain and other Republicans are so angry about is that Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, using the race card.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. It makes Senate Republicans look bad. But you're right, it makes the whole Senate look bad. She should have been already confirmed by now. Now, it will not happen, I was told today by a top Senate official in McConnell's office, until mid-April.
So, I mean, this is completely going on too long. The question is, this is really going to hurt the Republican Party's image. It's certainly not going to help it, but it's already pretty bad among diverse groups. You have Senator Rand Paul out there trying to improve the party's brand.
I've been waiting for him to step up or maybe one of these presidential candidates to step up. This is a moment for them. It makes the entire Senate look bad. It's ridiculous.
BORGER: But -- and the name-calling is what's just so silly. And the notion -- you know, by the way, she said, OK, I think the president has legal standing on immigration.
What do they expect her to say? She's the nominee of the president of the United States. I mean, this does not come as a surprise. She got the votes of three Republicans on that committee.
BLITER: The judiciary.
BORGER: The Judiciary Committee.
So, for Durbin to come out and talk about the back of the bus and then McCain to come out --
ZELENY: There's some blame to go around on both sides.
BLITZER: Have we heard from the president on this latest exchange, the delay in Loretta Lynch's nomination?
ZELENY: We've not heard from him. That's a great point. Why isn't the president speaking up more on this? We know he's not making phone calls, or at least we don't think is.
BORGER: Call Bibi Netanyahu.
ZELENY: Exactly. He's busy with that, of course. But I just think it makes everyone look bad.
Her confirmation hearing, I was there for a few of them, she actually is an independent-minded attorney general. She didn't agree with the administration on everything. So, the Republicans want to know the attorney general, let's bring her in.
BLITZER: Quickly, our new poll, Gloria, we asked, has the presidency been a success? Bill Clinton at this point in his second term, 77 percent thought his presidency was a success. President Obama, 50 percent think it's a success. George bush, at this point in his presidency, 39 percent. So he's right in the middle there.
BORGER: Well, you know, but this is actually good news for the president, because when you dig deeper into our poll, over half of the people in this country believe that things are actually going well economically. They give the president credit for leading on the economy. And when people feel good about themselves, they're starting to feel a little bit better, and they tend to like their presidents a little bit more.
ZELENY: But he may be near the top. He's -- people still do not think he's lived up to all the change they thought he would bring. That was one of the number --
BORGER: That's right.
BLITZER: Nearly two years ago. We'll see what they can do.
Guys, thanks very, very much. Remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer, 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.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.