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THE SITUATION ROOM
Bombings Kill 137, Hurt 357, ISIS Claims Responsibility; White House Sharpening Tone Toward Israeli Leader; Terror Charges for Teen for Trying to Join ISIS; FBI Investigates Man Found Hanging From Tree; UVA Students Targeted?; Monica Lewinsky Reemerges into the Spotlight; Aired 5:00-6p ET
Aired March 20, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:21] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, ISIS massacre. Suicide attacks rocking a country that's been a key U.S. ally in the war against terror. ISIS now claiming credit for two deadly assaults on two continents this week. Are the terrorists right now coordinating attacks around the world?
Students targeted? Growing questions about a bloody arrest, and now we're learning this is not the first controversial incident involving state agents and UVA students. Is there a pattern of excessive force?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yo, his head is bleeding!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Monica Lewinsky's comeback. The former White House intern re-emerges with high-profile talks and interviews. Is she trying to reclaim her image from the scandal that rocked the White House, or is she making some trouble ahead of Hillary Clinton's expected presidential campaign?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We are following an ominous twist in a horrific attack. Two suicide bombings that have reportedly killed more than 130 people at two mosques in the capital of Yemen. And now ISIS is claiming responsibility. It would be the first large-scale ISIS attack in the country that's been a critical U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda.
And this comes just hours after ISIS said it was also behind the deadly attack on western tourists in Tunisia. Twenty-three people were killed in that massacre.
We're covering all of that, much more in this hour with our correspondents, our guests, including Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, what's the latest you're hearing about these latest suicide bombings? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Look, Wolf, right now the
U.S. is not ready to endorse and say that it can validate ISIS's claim of responsibility for either attack.
In Yemen right now, things are critical, because this is a country where the al Qaeda affiliate has vowed repeatedly to attack the United States. Any unrest, any instability in Yemen causes a lot of concern that al Qaeda will have free room to maneuver.
It is ISIS that is claiming responsibility for these mosque attacks that killed hundreds and wounded hundreds more. Vicious, vicious attacks of people at prayer.
The U.S. again looking at the evidence but not ready to say that yes, it was ISIS. There is so much unrest in Yemen, there are so many warring factions, they simply aren't sure. If it proves to be ISIS, that means ISIS has a significant stronghold in a country where one of its rivals, al Qaeda, has vowed to attack the U.S. -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara, what are you learning about that massacre of foreign tourists, mostly Europeans, some Asians, at the museum in Tunis, Tunisia?
STARR: Well, there is some new video, Wolf, that CNN has obtained showing the chaos of this attack as people literally ran for their lives.
Again, this is an area, an attack where ISIS is claiming responsibility. There have been some arrests by the government there. Again, the U.S. not ready to officially say it believes the ISIS claim, but the government saying that some of the perpetrators had trained at ISIS camps across the border in Libya, and we do know that ISIS has its stronghold in Libya.
So again, let's talk about this just a little more broadly and what it really means. From Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Yemen, you are beginning to see ISIS at least claim and establish some strongholds in countries where the central government is either weak or nonexistent. These are the places where ISIS is beginning to flourish -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Looks like Yemen, the government there is nonexistent. Certainly, in Libya, as well. Thanks, Barbara.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton- Walsh. He's monitoring developments from Beirut.
Nick, I know you spent a lot of time in Yemen. You were just there a few weeks ago just before the U.S. had to, panically (ph) -- I guess in a panic evacuate the entire U.S. embassy there in the capital of Sanaa. These latest attacks on this Friday at these mosques in Yemen killing well more than 100 people, what does it tell us?
NICK PATON-WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it tells us that there's a potential lurch here towards sectarian violence in Yemen. The country has been chaos for years. The collapse of the government happened because a Shia group called the Houthis swept into the capital, kicked out the president that the west recognized. They've been very successful, many say, in sweeping across the country because of Iran's backing. But they face a lot of Sunni tribes, and a lot of those are backed by extremist groups like al Qaeda, also like ISIS.
[17:05:08] Today, it's particularly important, because we haven't seen this kind of sectarian violence in Yemen before; across the Middle East but less so in Yemen.
This kind of brutal attack was something, in fact, today that al Qaeda said they weren't behind. They issued a denial of responsibility. It was ISIS who stepped forward and said, "Yes, it's us."
The key concern here, Wolf, is ISIS trying to establish its presence in Yemen by fomenting this kind of bloodshed to try and get Sunni and Shia against each other in Yemen in that already messy country and perhaps mirror the violence we're seeing across the region -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they're based there. Wasn't that long ago that President Obama was suggesting the fight against the terrorists in Yemen was a success story. Clearly hasn't worked out at all, has it?
PATON-WALSH: Well, certainly not, no. And as you mention, the U.S. embassy having to quit its grounds, and Houthi tribesmen are seen roaming across it, a real sign of how hobbled the U.S. operation against al Qaeda has been simply because of the turmoil of the past few months.
It's going to be hard to get, really, the drone operation that was targeting al Qaeda leadership in that country back to the kind of pace it was just a year ago. The British have closed their embassy. Many other allies no longer functioning there. The government barely functioning. The Houthis not really having a replacement government of their own. A real sense of that whole fight for power across the Middle East now.
So often between Iranian backed Shia and Gulf-backed Sunnis, that playing out in Yemen. But the real troubling issue here, the more that chaos swirls, the biggest space it potentially is for a group like ISIS. And we don't know if they did this. Claiming it isn't the same as evidence they did it. For ISIS to potentially get a foothold in Yemen, too, Wolf.
BLITZER: Looks like it's emerging quickly as another failed state like Libya or a civil war like Syria.
All right. Nick Paton-Walsh, thanks very much.
The White House tone amidst all of this toward the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is growing sharper tonight. The anger over his pre-election flip-flop on a Palestinian state clearly evident over at the White House. Let's go there. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is
working this story for us. The words coming out of the White House, public words and certainly private words as you well know, Jim, are really tough.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, today was another sign of just how damaged this relationship has become. It doesn't matter how many times Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now wants to reassure the U.S. that he wants a two-state solution with the Palestinians, the White House is refusing to take him at his word.
Netanyahu has said in at least three interviews now that he still believes in a Palestinian state, despite that pre-election flip-flop on a two state solution in a desperate appeal for votes.
But that is not good enough for the White House. White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to even say whether or not Netanyahu clarified his position in that phone call he had with the president yesterday. Here's what Josh Earnest had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Did the prime minister tell the president that he believes in a two-state solution in his phone call?
JOSH EARNEST, CNN WHITE HOUSE SECRETARY: Well, that's something the -- you can ask my Israeli counterpart about what the prime minister said in his phone call.
ACOSTA: Don't you know what the president heard?
EARNEST: I'm not saying I don't know. I'm just saying that I will allow my Israeli counterpart to describe the views that his boss conveyed in that phone call.
ACOSTA: The Israelis aren't clarifying that, either, by the way, Wolf. And despite those tensions between the White House and Netanyahu, House Speaker John Boehner, he plans to visit Israel at the end of the month. And while the speaker's office says this trip was planned well before the prime minister's re-election, it will come around the deadline for an initial nuclear deal between the U.S., Iran and other world powers.
And the White House, we should note, they did say before Netanyahu's victory that the president would not meet with the prime minister just weeks before an election. Now with the voting over, aides to the president say they won't rule out a future meeting, noting they have a lot to discuss. So I guess that is a glimmer of some sort of progress at this point.
BLITZER: Deep irritation, though, there's no doubt about that.
All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, the Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us. What do you make of this deteriorating relationship between the prime minister of Israel, the president of the United States, the White House now formally announcing it's going to, quote, reassess the U.S. relationship with Israel.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, first of all, it's good to be with you.
And second of all, the relationship between the United States and Israel is critically important to the United States and Israel. It's strong; it's going to remain strong. Israel is our only democratic ally in that part of the world. We rely upon Israel for security information. We share a lot of intelligence information. So that relationship's important to Israel. It's also important to the United States.
So I understand what happened during this election process. I think we all understand that the only way for the solution between the Palestinians and Israelis is two states side by side, living in peace. And both the Israelis and the Palestinians need to negotiate the terms of a two-state solution.
[17:10:13] BLITZER: You've heard White House officials, both publicly and even more so privately, Senator, suggest they don't trust this prime minister anymore. They don't trust what he's saying after the election. They're inclined to believe what he said on the eve of his election when he said there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch.
CARDIN: The Israelis have held their election. They elected their leader. Mr. Netanyahu will be the next prime minister of Israel. And he's the one who will speak with Israel. We will work with the prime minister. That's the way democracies work.
BLITZER: I know you're a strong supporter of Israel, have been all your years in public life. Are you comfortable with the way the president of the United States is dealing with the prime minister right now?
CARDIN: Look, I think the relationship between our two countries is so important to the United States and to Israel. I think that we have two individuals who understand the importance of that relationship with President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
I know that there's a close relationship at different levels of government between our two governments. We're going to work out our differences. The question is can we help the Israelis and Palestinians work out their differences? Can we work with Israel so that the Middle East is a safer place for all of us. That's the critical point. The critical point, let's get the Palestinians and Israelis back to the bargaining table, and let's work out the agreement.
BLITZER: I have to take a break. But quickly, are you comfortable with the way the president is dealing with the prime minister right now?
CARDIN: Yes. I think the president is speaking for our country, and I think the prime minister of Israel is speaking for Israel.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Senator. We have a lot more to discuss, including the latest ISIS suicide attacks, the massacres unfolding in Tunisia and Yemen. Much more with Senator Ben Cardin right after this.
[17:16:30] BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Cardin, it looks like ISIS now not only claiming responsibility for that massacre at the museum in Tunisia, but now this massacre at these mosques in Sanaa, Yemen. Is ISIS really dramatically expanding its reach right now?
CARDIN: First, Wolf, our prayers go out to those who have been victimized by these terrorist activities. What happened in Yemen today is absolutely horrific and terrible. Clearly, where governments are not functioning the way they should and in Yemen, they do not have an effective government. There's a void, and ISIS is moving into that void. That's what we saw happen in Iraq. We're now seeing it happen in Yemen.
Yes, I think we need to be concerned that ISIS is trying to expand its operations into Yemen.
BLITZER: Here's what really worries me about Yemen, among so many other things, Senator. I'm sure it worries you.
This report we saw in the "Washington Post" this week that when the U.S. evacuated the embassy, pulled out all Americans from Sanaa, Yemen, the capital of Yemen, the Pentagon apparently left behind close to half a billion dollars, $500 million worth of U.S. military weaponry in Yemen, weaponry that presumably is now in the hands of either these Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or other terrorist groups. That must make you crazy.
CARDIN: Well, it does. We saw the same thing in Iraq. Some of the military equipment that we provided to the Iraqis ended up in the hands of ISIS when they overcame the parts of that country.
So yes, it is very frustrating. We want to make sure that our military and our allies have the type of support that they need. But we have to do it in a way that we can have the maximum protection, that that equipment won't fall into the wrong hands. That's why we're very particular in vetting who we help in the opposition in Syria, and we have to do the same thing in Yemen.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. The U.S. did lose a lot, tons and tons of sophisticated military hardware, tanks, armored personnel carriers, weapons, to ISIS because the Iraqi military simply abandoned its positions in Mosul and elsewhere and fled as these ISIS terrorists were moving in. Yemen, as you know, had been a very close U.S. ally in the war on terror, especially working with the U.S. to try to go after AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there in Yemen. What happens now without any U.S. diplomats or military personnel or any Americans there right now?
CARDIN: Well, what I think our game plan must be is to work with the government and the opposition to try to get a functioning government in Yemen. We need the two sides working together. Both want to make sure that their country is not overtaken by these extremists.
So we have to work with them to figure out how they can have a functioning government that can protect the rights of all the people of Yemen so that groups such as ISIS don't get broader support. Then we need to work and help the security issues there as it relates to al Qaeda, as it relates to ISIS.
BLITZER: Less than a year ago, President Obama was citing Yemen -- yes, Yemen -- as an example of where the U.S. counterterrorism strategy was working, was a success.
Clearly that has not worked out as a success for all practical purposes. Now it's being ruled by a bunch of Shiite Houthis supported by Iran and AQAP. What happened?
[17:20:05] CARDIN: Well, the government fell. I mean, the truth is that the government could not function and did not have an effective way to reach out to get broader support within that country.
So it's easy to second-guess now, but we knew the situation in Yemen was very tenuous. We never felt very comfortable about the security arrangements there. We knew al Qaeda was functioning in Yemen. I think the circumstances have gotten much worse.
BLITZER: They certainly have. For all practical purposes, Yemen is a disaster right now, as is Libya, which of course, the U.S. helped liberate from Khadafy. It's turned out to be a disaster, a far cry from the great hopes of the so-called Arab spring.
Senator Cardin, thanks very much for joining us.
CARDIN: Wolf, good to be with you. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Coming up, there are new allegations in the wake of the University of Virginia student's bloody arrest. Are students sometimes targeted by poorly-trained agents who aren't always following the rules?
And later this hour, the return of Monica Lewinsky. Is her new campaign against bullying a threat to Hillary Clinton's political ambitions?
[17:25:39] BLITZER: Breaking now, we're just getting word about another teenager facing terror charges after getting caught while allegedly trying to join ISIS. This time it happened in Canada.
Let's bring in our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. Our Middle East analyst, Robin Wright. CNN justice reporter Evan Perez. A 17- year-old, Evan, charged trying to leave Canada to join ISIS. What do we know?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is another example of the recruitment ISIS has been able to -- foothold it's been able to gain here, both in the United States and in Canada.
This -- this case comes out of Edmonton, and this 17-year-old is charged by Canadian authorities with trying to leave Canada to try to join ISIS. Now Edmonton apparently has been a bit of a hot bed for ISIS recruitment. They are three teenagers, three cousins last year, who died fighting with ISIS after leaving the country.
And so this is something that the Canadian authorities are very much keeping an eye on, something akin to the hot bed we've had here in Minneapolis with the recruitment of Shabaab and more recently with ISIS.
BLITZER: Shabaab in Somalia. You know, Paul, our friends in Canada, they've got some serious problems up there when it comes to Canadians being recruited, young ones, and heading off to try to join forces with ISIS.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's absolutely right. About 130 Canadians believed to have traveled overseas to join jihadi groups, many of them going to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. And more generally in the west, younger and younger teenagers are going off to fight with ISIS or to join ISIS.
We saw that case recently in the U.K. with those young teenaged school girls, just 15-year-old girls disappearing off into Syria. We've also seen a recent case here in the United States, a 17-year-old from North Virginia who was accused of facilitating travel towards Syria, Wolf.
BLITZER: And there are some very disturbing words coming out of Europe today about more attacks that are likely to happen there. What are you learning?
CRUICKSHANK: A very big warning coming from the French prime minister. He is saying that never in the history of Europe has there been such a big terrorism threat, but it's a matter not if but when there will be more attempted attacks in Europe.
The European intelligence agencies very concerned that ISIS is pivoting towards attacking Europe, planning to attack Europe. We saw that ISIS directive in January from the group against Belgium; and European officials believe that more is coming, unfortunately, Wolf.
BLITZER: Unfortunately, indeed. Robin, I know that you've been studying this for a long time. ISIS is now saying what they've done in Tunisia, the massacre at the museum, what they've done today at these mosques, killing more than 100 people in Yemen, is just the tip of the iceberg. Do you believe them? ROBIN WRIGHT, CNN MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: I think this is crossing the
threshold. We are now seeing the globalization of ISIS in a way that we once feared would happen to al Qaeda and did happen. I think, you know, when you look at just the trends, the fact that the United States has managed to kill something like 8,000 of the ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq, and yet they still are able to recruit 1,000 per month, that this is a threat, a danger, a phenomena that's not going to go away any time soon and that we all have to take quite seriously.
Now whether they actually carried out the attacks in Tunisia or Yemen is still to be verified. But the reality is that across the region today, you see a common phenomenon of radicalization among young people, whether they're members of ISIS, al Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam, that there are just a whole slew of groups that have emerged in this political vacuum, this political transition that is so fragile across the region.
Tunisia, the most hopeful country in the Arab world of 22, Yemen and Libya the two most vulnerable, the two failed states, and we see this in all of them.
BLITZER: We see those failed states developing, not only Yemen. Somalia has been a failed state for a long time.
Syria, is there any progress at all against ISIS in Syria? I know the U.S. Officials say in Iraq they're making some progress against ISIS, although it's limited right now. What's your analysis?
WRIGHT: I think we made limited progress in Syria. The problem is United States wants to fight one war. There are two wars in Syria. We're willing to take on ISIS, but you can't take on just one half of it without finding a solution to the other. And that's where the void is. That's why this Iraq first strategy is likely to slow down any progress on Syria.
[17:30:03] BLITZER: Evan, what are you hearing? U.S. officials, you're in touch with them, they are worried about -- the ISIS threat right now, especially these teenagers. How worried are they that more American kids are going to be recruited and try to get over there to Syria or to Iraq, join forces with ISIS?
PEREZ: Well, the alarming thing, Wolf, is that all the measures that they're taking, all the steps that they're doing to try to reach parents, to tell people in the community look, this is -- this is what you look for to try to prevent your young people from going over, those things don't seem to be ringing through.
And part of the problem appears to be the White House had this big conference recently to try to do counter radicalization but the problem is, you know, the people that you try to reach aren't necessarily going to listen to some of those people that the White House invited. So I think that's -- they're going to have to recalibrate how they try to reach out to those people.
BLITZER: OK. I want all of you to stand by. We have a lot more coming up on this growing -- escalating terror threats. Stand by. But there's other news we're following as well. We have more on that
-- the bloody arrest of the University of Virginia student that's sparking new allegations that students sometimes are targeted by those poorly trained, as they are accused of being, poorly trained agents who don't follow the rules.
And later, the re-emergence of Monica Lewinsky. Is she deliberately trying to cause trouble for the Democratic presidential front runner, Hillary Clinton? What's going on? We have new information.
[17:35:56] BLITZER: Tonight we're following two big stories, including fresh allegations in the wake of a University of Virginia student's bloody arrest. First, though, we have some new details about the mysterious death of an African-American man found hanging from a tree in Mississippi.
Fifty-four-year-old Otis Byrd was a convicted murderer. He had been paroled. Authorities don't know whether his death is suicide or a lynching, and the FBI has been called in.
Let's go to Mississippi. CNN's Ed Lavandera on the scene for us with the latest.
What do we know, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that investigators have spent the day interviewing Otis Byrd's family members and going through his belongings trying to figure out if he had a reason to kill himself. But today we were able to get to the very spot where Otis Byrd's body was found.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): The ghost of the confederacy still looms over Port Gibson, Mississippi. So the news of a black man found hanging in a tree stirs the dark past back to life. Just a short drive from this confederate soldier memorial, 54-year-old Otis Byrd was found hanging from this tree with a bed sheet around his neck. It's not clear yet whether Byrd killed himself or was murdered. But as soon as Sheriff Marvin Lucas saw the scene, he called in federal and state investigators.
(On camera): Is that your biggest fear, that this was racially motivated?
SHERIFF MARVIN LUCAS, CLAIBORNE COUNTY: Yes. I don't want to -- I don't want the community to get excited saying it was a white on black thing. You know? That's the worst thing that could happen, is people making it into a race issue.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): On Thursday, search teams found his body in this thickly wooded area. They found him hanging from this tree 500 yards away from where he lived. Otis Byrd's body, we're told, was about two to three feet off the
ground. He was fully dressed, had his work boots on, his hands were not tied together. The sheriff says that there were also no stumps or chairs around the area that would have helped him prop himself up. And the sheriff said that if he did commit suicide, he would have had to have climbed the tree on his own.
(Voice-over): Johnny Baker owns the land where Byrd's body was found.
(On camera): But to get back there, I mean, that's not an area where people just go.
JOHNNY BAKER, LAND OWNER: No. Huh-uh. No. No.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Byrd was last seen on March 2nd. A friend drove him home from a casino that night. A week later his family officially reported him missing. A relative of Byrd says he seemed fine, nothing out of the ordinary. Relatives won't say if he had money troubles. In 1980, Otis Byrd was convicted of murdering and robbing a woman in Claiborne County. He was paroled in 2006.
Investigators say results from the preliminary autopsy report on Otis Byrd won't be complete until next week which means it's still not clear whether the death of Otis Byrd will become a murder investigation.
DON ALWAYS, FBI AGENT IN CHARGE: The community deserves answers, specifically the family deserves answers. So we're doing everything in our power to be transparent, to talk about what's going on. So far. But we want to reiterate that individual single pieces of information and bits of rumors we're going to hold off on speaking to those until we can collectively come to a conclusion.
LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, great deal of sensitivity based on just the way Otis Byrd's body was found in that wooded area. And it's interesting as you talk to many people around here, predominantly African-American in this town, they believe already that Otis Byrd was murdered -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. I know the FBI as you point out is on the scene. Representatives from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, they're part of the investigation as well as local and state police. We'll get more on this story as it comes in.
We're also following new allegations that students at a major prestigious university sometimes are targeted by what are described as poorly trained agents who aren't necessarily following the rules. This comes just days after an African-American honor student was bloodied when alcohol control agents arrested him, provoking outrage and accusations of excessive force.
Brian Todd has been on the campus once again for us. Today he's joining us live from Charlottesville. What's the latest over there, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight the outrage is only growing on the University of Virginia campus and there is new and very intense pressure tonight on that Alcohol Enforcement Agency that arrested Martese Johnson.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, his head is bleeding. Yo, his head is bleeding.
MARTESE JOHNSON, ARRESTED UVA STUDENT: I go to UVA. You (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're fighting.
JOHNSON: You (EXPLETIVE DELETED) racist.
TODD (voice-over): The arresting agents described him as agitated, belligerent and intoxicated. But Martese Johnson says he did nothing wrong, that Virginia's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control agents used excessive force. His attorney says Johnson had a valid Illinois state I.D. but when asked for his Zip code, Johnson gave his mother's current address, different from his I.D. card.
JOHNSON: How does this happen, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) racist?
TODD: Johnson suffered a head injury requiring 10 stitches. On the University of Virginia campus, outraged students pressed top law enforcement officials on the Johnson arrest. Martese Johnson was at this forum but didn't speak, neither did senior ABC agents who were there.
Virginia's top public safety official who oversees ABC says he doesn't know if this is about race, says the accusation of excessive force is being investigated, and --
(On camera): Any of the officers involved in that arrest had any disciplinary measures taken against them in the past?
BRIAN MORAN, VIRGINIA SECRETARY OF PUBLIC SAFETY: We are allowing the investigation to -- that type of information's important to gather and we've asked the state police to gather that information.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, a top Virginia legislator is putting immense pressure on this alcohol enforcement agency.
DAVID TOSCANO (D), VIRGINIA HOUSE OF DELEGATES: They are not appropriately trained. They don't have the proper protocols and they don't implement them appropriately. And here's another example of them being overzealous in their enforcement.
TODD: David Toscano says it's time to consider taking weapons and the power to arrest away from ABC agents. Contacted by CNN, ABC officials would not comment. But this isn't the first time ABC agents have been accused of excessive force.
(On camera): In April of 2013, a young University of Virginia student was swarmed by ABC agents outside this Harris Teeter in Charlottesville. They surrounded her car. At least one of them pulled a gun. They thought she was buying alcohol underage. Turns out all she had was some sparkling water and cookie dough.
(Voice-over): On the 911 call from inside the student's car, fear and confusion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know if they're real police officers or not. And we're freaking out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does somebody have a gun or something?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god, oh, my god, oh, my god.
TODD: Student Elizabeth Daly was arrested that night but she later got that taken off her record and settled a lawsuit for more than $200,000.
TODD: Following that incident, the Virginia ABC Department disciplined those agents and reformed its practices. There could well be another round of that in the weeks ahead -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Brian Todd is working his sources over there. We'll get more.
In the meantime let's bring in our analysts. Joining us, our CNN justice reporter Evan Perez along with our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI and CNN anchor, Don Lemon.
I know you have been getting some new reporting, Don, on the arrest of this young 20-year-old Martese Johnson. What are you learning?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And this is just in, Wolf. I just spoke with a source close to the family and what they're telling me is we'd hoped to get some new information to possibly be able to speak to Martese this afternoon. And in the process of doing that, that had to be halted because Martese had to be taken to the hospital. Again, this is close to -- this is a source close to the family that is saying this.
They say it is for -- they believe it is for swelling, he started to swell. At this point they don't know if it is external injuries, which means the bruises and the 10 stitches that he had, or if it's internal injuries meaning brain swelling, or a possible concussion. But at this moment, he is in the hospital being treated by doctors trying to figure out what those complications are.
Again, Martese Johnson taken to the hospital, being treated by a doctor now. A source close to the family is giving us that.
BLITZER: Yes. That's a very, very sad development indeed. He's an honor student, grew up in the south side of Chicago, single mother, and got accepted to the University of Virginia, one of the best schools in the country, and now this is all going on in his life. Let's hope for the best for him.
Evan, I know that one of the issues was that the allegation he was drunk, he was not 21 years old, they accuse him of having fake I.D.s, he says it was his real I.D. They asked for Zip codes, what was on the I.D. his mother had moved so it was a little complicated. But his lawyer says he was not drunk and it was not fake I.D.
PEREZ: Well, what this points to, Wolf, is that this all could have just been a misunderstanding. You know, you give the wrong zip code or what, someone thinks it's the wrong zip code and gives them the impression that you're using fake identification. According to the lawyer it was not fake, it was his real I.D., he just, you know, gave the wrong zip code, didn't give them one that they could see on the identification. And so that really does show that, you know, perhaps these officers, either they didn't have time to figure this all out, perhaps because there was an altercation, there's stuff we don't know what happened before this video was shot, but it really does leave us with this impression that this all resulted from a terrible misunderstanding.
[17:45:00] BLITZER: And even if you have fake I.D., you shouldn't be looking like that after a few minutes, right, Tom?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You have to believe, Wolf, that these police officers, this alcohol control group, that I have never heard of before, frankly, but you have to believe they come across hundreds of students even with fake I.D.s and they get into these kind of discussions all the time. So we don't know what happened from the time they were discussing his zip code until the time he's on the ground bleeding from his head wound. So we just don't know what brought that about.
BLITZER: You know, Don, I understand you had a chance to speak with Martese Johnson's roommate, is that right?
LEMON: I did. And I have also had the chance to speak to other sources there. And I can give you the background, and again this is just what they say. Now what they say is that, you know, people -- obviously he's 20, he's not 21, so the drinking age is 21. But they believe perhaps he knew someone at the bar, someone who may have been at the door, and that person would not let them in because -- or let him in because it was St. Patrick's Day and they were very busy and the alcohol control board was outside.
And as he turned to leave, it is believed that the owner or one of the owners of the bar is the one who wanted to know his zip code, and then the altercation started from there. And so that's that part of the story.
I did speak to his roommate and his roommate, you know, as everyone else who has spoken about this young man, and again, I preface this by saying we don't know what led up to this and it still must be investigated but everyone who has spoken about this young man has said that he is a man -- a young man of good character, and they have been having a great time before they went to the bar and he was shocked once he saw the video and saw the pictures of exactly what happened.
And then afterwards, you know, yesterday and today, they have been trying to cheer him up and try to pretend that this did not happen. So that's what I'm hearing from the roommate.
BLITZER: Let's hope he's OK. You know, as you have reported, you broke the story here, he's in the hospital now getting treatment for swelling.
Let's hope he's OK.
Evan, I understand you have been working your sources, you've got some new information. We heard Ed Lavandera, he's in Mississippi.
BLITZER: They found an African-American man there hanging from a tree. They can't determine whether it was suicide, at least not yet, they are not saying suicide or a lynching, if you will. What are you learning?
PEREZ: Well, Wolf, I'll preface this real quickly by saying that, you know, this is still early in the investigation. They are waiting to do laboratory tests on the body of Otis Byrd, but the indications they're getting, the law enforcement told me, is that this is not foul play. They believe that again, the operating theory they're going under is that this is likely a suicide.
Obviously it's terrible news for this family and -- but perhaps it will give them -- help give them some closure as to what exactly happened here. Again, they are still doing a lot of investigative work. There's still a long ways to go. And they don't know what else they will find.
BLITZER: And we know you are working your sources. We'll get more on this coming up.
We'll take a quick break. When we come back, Monica Lewinsky stirring up some memories of a scandal Hillary Clinton certainly would rather forget. More on what's going on right after this.
[17:52:26] BLITZER: It's a scandal that rocked the White House. Now we're hearing echoes of it again as Monica Lewinsky re-emerges into the spotlight. She's talking openly about the fallout from her relationship with Bill Clinton just as Hillary Clinton is on the verge of a likely launching of another White House run.
CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What is Monica Lewinsky doing?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what she's making it clear that she is no longer afraid to talk about her humiliating affair with former President Bill Clinton. And that is causing anxiety for fans of Hillary Clinton who believe she's finally ready to launch her presidential bid and doesn't need ghosts in the room.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Far from the hounded 20 something who became infamous for her involvement with former President Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky appears in this TED talk as a poised, confident 41- year-old transforming herself into an advocate against cyber bullying.
MONICA LEWINSKY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE INTERN: Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing -- you can survive it. I know it's hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story.
FOREMAN: For more than a decade, Lewinsky was almost completely silent about the scandal. Then last year, she emerged with a splashy article in "Vanity Fair", saying it was time to bury the beret and burn the blue dress. References to clothing she wore at the time. Then she popped up in a National Geographic mini-series, talking about how she was pilloried for her presidential infatuation.
LEWINSKY: A lot, too, had to do with the fact that I was a woman to be called stupid and a slut and a bimbo and ditsy, and to be taken out of context. It was excruciating.
FOREMAN: With even top stars like Beyonce making reference to her --
Late last year, Lewinsky spoke at a Forbes summit about bullying.
LEWINSKY: When I ask how best to describe how the last 16 years has felt, I always come back to that word -- shame. My own personal shame. Shame that befell my family and shame that befell my country, our country.
FOREMAN: At the time of the scandal, according to one friend's account, Hillary Clinton called Lewinsky a narcissistic loony tune. But last year when "People" magazine asked about Lewinsky's rising profile and the scandal, she said, "That was a long time ago. I certainly have moved on."
[17:55:11] FOREMAN: We asked for a response from Clinton about this new TED talk. Got nothing. But right now, as so many people are saying it is Hillary's moment, it appears to be Monica's moment, too. And Lewinsky's desire to confront the past poses a real challenge to Clinton who would clearly rather forget it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman, reporting for us.
Coming up, the frightening spread of ISIS. Terror attacks in two countries just days apart. We're learning new details.