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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; U.S.-Israeli Relationship Damaged?; Day of Terror; ISIS Claims Its Behind Twin Massacres; Student Bloodied During Arrest will Fight Charges; UVA Student Being Treated again for Head Injuries. Aired 6-7:00p ET
Aired March 20, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: day of terror. Worshipers are massacred in a country that was until recently a key U.S. anti-terror ally. Are extremists now fighting each other using massive amounts of American military aid that has gone missing? Is the U.S. losing its grip on this war against terror?
Time to reassess. After Israel's leader hints that he is giving up on the peace process, President Obama tells him the U.S. may move in a different direction. Is the U.S.-Israeli relationship permanently damaged?
And police brutality? An urgent effort to calm tensions after the bloody arrest of an African-American student. We have new information on the identity check that started the incident and triggered national outrage.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Blood and horror as ISIS claims a new front in its campaign of terror. At least 135 people are dead after suicide bombers attacked two mosques during Friday prayers in Yemen. The worshipers were mainly supporters of a Shiite rebel group that recently seized Yemen's capital, toppling a government that had worked with the United States in fighting al Qaeda's local affiliate.
There's new video of the deadly attack also on those foreign tourists at a museum in Tunisia. ISIS has also claimed responsibility for that massacre. Today, Tunisian officials say at least two of the gunmen were trained at terror camps in next-door Libya.
I will speak with Senator James Risch. He's a key member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're all standing by with tonight's full coverage on tonight's fast-moving stories.
But let's begin with the horrific massacres at those mosques in Yemen and warnings from ISIS that this is just the start of a new campaign of terror.
Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some of the
attackers pretended to be disabled. They were wearing casts and apparently they had explosives hidden inside.
STARR (voice-over): The horrifying aftermath, hundreds killed and injured after suicide bombers attack mosques in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, ISIS-affiliated Web sites posting claims of responsibility, saying -- quote -- "This is the tip of the iceberg."
U.S. officials say they cannot verify the claim, cautioning militants may be affiliated with the organization, knowing spectacular attacks attract fresh recruits.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is not at this point clear evidence of an operational link between these extremists and Yemen and ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria.
STARR: Yemen is a top worry because al Qaeda there has continuously vowed to attack the United States. Yemen, once a showcase for the U.S. strategy, trained government forces to fight militants.
But the government collapsed. Millions of dollars in U.S. military equipment may now be in rebel hands.
ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The restoration of a government there that will cooperate with us is very important.
STARR: Few signs of that, and relying on drone strikes and U.S. firepower no longer sufficient.
SETH JONES, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: The U.S. should be and must be concerned about the spread of jihadist activity in these areas.
STARR: Fragile governments across the region are giving way to violent extremism now spreading in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab spring, people are taking to the streets after terrorists at a museum killed nearly two dozen, two of those terrorists training next door in Libya, where there is no central government in firm control.
In Egypt, one place where the government did respond, warplanes pounding those ISIS camps in Libya after ISIS militants slaughtered Egyptian laborers.
JONES: The big problem in Yemen, in Tunisia, in Libya, and several other countries is political and economic. They do not have governments that are capable of providing basic security. So, you can strike targets in these areas, but until you have a reliable ally on the ground, a lot of this is like mowing grass.
STARR: And across East and North Africa now, governments without any central control, very weak governments providing ISIS with massive room to maneuver -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, some of these states clearly failed states. Barbara, thanks very much.
Meantime, the relationship with America's closest Middle East ally may be growing rocky right now. Personal ties between President Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were already pretty frosty. But things have taken a turn for the worse after harsh rhetoric from Israel's leader.
[18:05:14] Now President Obama seems to be reaching out to Iran, even as he is threatening to reassess the relationship with Israel.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has more on what's going on.
It's getting pretty confusing. What's the latest, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this relationship is on ice at this point. For now, it doesn't matter how many times Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he still wants a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The White House is refusing to take him at his word.
ACOSTA (voice-over): If there's one thing that's clear after President Obama's phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed, it's that a single conversation won't repair a damaged relationship.
Netanyahu has said in at least three interviews that he still believes in Palestinian statehood despite his pre-election flip-flop on a two- state solution in a desperate appeal for votes."I haven't changed," Netanyahu told NPR, but that's not good enough for the White House.
QUESTION: Why not just take him at his word on that? Is there a reason that the White House --
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I guess the question is which one?
QUESTION: His latest.
ACOSTA: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest clarified his position in his phone call with the president.
(on camera): Did the prime minister tell the president that he believes in a two state solution in his phone call? EARNEST: Well, that's something the -- you can ask my Israeli
counterpart about what the prime minister said in this phone call.
ACOSTA: But 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 (voice-over): Despite those tensions, House Speaker John Boehner plans to visit Israel at the end of the month, while the speaker's office says the trip was planned well before the prime minister's re-election, it will come around the deadline for an initial nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This moment may not come again soon. I believe that our nations have a historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully, an opportunity we should not miss.
ACOSTA: In a video message to the Iranian people, the president urged leaders in Tehran to come to an agreement and later released a statement calling for the release of Americans either imprisoned or missing in the country.
Secretary of State John Kerry who spent the week working on a nuclear agreement sounded optimistic as he left the talks.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We'll be back next week.
QUESTION: Here in Lausanne?
KERRY: We made a lot of progress, yes, here.
ACOSTA: The White House has said before Netanyahu's victory that the president would not meet with the prime minister just weeks prior to his election. With the voting now over, though, aides to the president now say they would not rule out a future meeting, noting they have a lot to discuss.
But, Wolf, make no mistake. It is very chilly right now between these two leaders -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta at the White House.
Let's get some more from a key member of the both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees.
Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho is joining us from Boise right now.
What do you make of this rather tense relationship between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel, Senator?
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, Wolf, I think it's really time for people to stop and take a breath and relax for a bit.
To my friends that are watching in Israel, I want to say that our constitutional form of government provides for three equal branches. And although there's a spat between the prime minister and the chief executive of the second branch of our government, there is no deterioration between the first branch of our government and the people of Israel and the government of Israel, other than perhaps a handful of the 535 members.
We remain strongly committed to Israel. We understand that do you have ups and downs from time to time. But, overall, the expression that the members of Congress gave to the prime minister two weeks ago gave him a thunderous applause and standing ovations as he explained in clear detail how strongly the bond is between the United States of America and Israel, that relationship remains solid today.
And for Israel's enemies who are watching, I would tell you, do not take solace and do not take comfort in these news reports you see that there's a spat going on. There is a bond that continues and will continue between the United States of America and Israel.
BLITZER: But you know, Senator, that even in the aftermath of Prime Minister Netanyahu's victory, getting himself reelected, the White House is saying that they are going to reassess this U.S.- Israeli relationship because they are more inclined to believe what he said at the eve of the election, that he would never allow a Palestinian state to be created on his watch, than what he said in the immediate aftermath of the election, that he still believes in the so- called two-state solution, Israel and a new state of Palestine.
Basically, they are saying, they don't trust him anymore.
RISCH: Well, you know, Wolf, the statement that they are going to reassess does not apply to the first branch of our government.
[18:10:07] There are very few people in the first branch out of the 535 members, I believe, who share that view. As far as what the prime minister said, I think there may have been something lost in the translation there. Certainly, he did refer to the fact that there would be no state solution.
But he said -- and I believe the exact words were today. And he certainly is right that today that's a long ways away. Having said that, he has been firm for a long, long time and committed to a two- state solution. He has reaffirmed it over and over and over again since the media has reported that there was some weakening in that position.
I'm surprised and I think a lot of people are surprised that the White House reacted the way it has to this. I'm wondering if it isn't something else that's causing them to have the feelings they have.
BLITZER: Well, I'm sure they were irritated by his visit to Washington to address that joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. They certainly didn't like what he had to say. Is that what you are hinting at?
RISCH: Well, that clearly was expressed by the White House, which seemed -- because of the magnitude of what we're dealing with here, it seemed rather juvenile the way this played out.
The president had the opportunity to meet with him while he was here. And the president declined. There is -- there's no question that on a personal level, there are issues between the two gentlemen. That is so small compared to the overall issues that we are facing in the Middle East, and particularly with the relationship that we have, one of the best relationships, if not the best relationship, of any country in the neighborhood.
BLITZER: Senator Risch, I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss, what's going on, these ISIS massacres in Yemen and Tunisia, a lot more.
Much more with Senator Risch when we come back.
[18:16:28] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news, President Obama now speaking out on the Senate's holding up the confirmation of his attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch.
We're back with Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho.
Senator, as you know, Republicans are insisting the Senate finish work on another bill before even bringing up the Lynch nomination for a full vote on the Senate floor.
I want you to listen. Here is President Obama just coming out speaking to a reporter for The Huffington Post.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You don't hold attorney general nominees hostage for other issues. This is our top law enforcement office. Nobody denies that she's well-qualified. We need to go ahead and get her done.
QUESTION: And is Eric Holder prepared to stay as long as possible?
OBAMA: Yes, he is.
And the irony is, of course, that the Republicans really dislike Mr. Holder.
OBAMA: If they really want to get rid of him, the best way to do it is to go ahead and get Loretta Lynch confirmed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, what do you say about that, Senator Risch? What's your reaction?
RISCH: You know, this just amazes me. I don't know what he thinks we're holding her hostage for.
What is on the floor of the United States Senate right now is a human trafficking bill that the Democrats support. They voted for it unanimously in committee. And now they're filibustering the bill. Once that filibuster is over, we're going to vote on that bill up or down. And the very next moment, there's going to be a vote on attorney general nominee.
But why they're doing this is absolutely beyond me. I'm surprised somebody in the media hasn't asked for a clear explanation from the Democrats why they're filibustering a bill that they want and is also standing in the way of getting to the vote on the attorney general nominee. I don't get it. I don't understand it.
BLITZER: Because they don't like the provision in that sex trafficking legislation that bans -- that has restrictions on abortion rights for women.
RISCH: Problem is, that was in there when they all voted for it unanimously. And the language is identical to the language that is in every appropriation bill that they always support. It's a phony excuse.
BLITZER: Will you vote for -- will you vote for the -- let's say you get over that hurdle and she comes up for a final vote in the House -- in the U.S. Senate. Will you vote to confirm this woman who has been widely respected as the U.S. attorney in New York?
RISCH: No, I will not vote for her. My reason is very clear. I disagree vehemently with her view of what the president can do by executive action.
However, she is going to be confirmed. All Democrats are going to vote for her. And there are enough Republicans who are going to vote for her that are going to confirm her. What we need to do is get on with it and get it done, get it behind us, and move on.
BLITZER: Can't do you two things in the Senate at the same time, deal with the sex trafficking bill, but at the same time, let her nomination come up for a vote?
RISCH: Wolf, not when the Democrats are filibustering. All they got do is sit down, shut up and call the role. And the next vote is going to be the attorney general vote.
BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens on that. Let's get back to the breaking news we have been following on
these ISIS deadly massacres in Yemen and Tunisia. What's going on now? You are a member of the Intelligence Committee. Is ISIS -- they're saying this is just the tip of the iceberg. Are they right?
RISCH: Well, I don't know if that would be a good way to characterize it. But there is very good reason to be concerned. And you and I have talked about this on a number of occasions.
The troubling part of all of this is these attacks are being carried on by people who are not operationally connected with ISIS. And although ISIS takes credit for these, these are simply or more likely just ISIS-inspired.
[18:20:12] Now, what does that mean to the average American? What that means is, this can happen anywhere in the world. It can happen just as it did today in Yemen or earlier in Tunisia, or it could happen in Philadelphia. These are -- this is very troubling, because they are not connected operationally, only inspirationally.
BLITZER: Here is what also is very troubling, that "Washington Post" report this week that the Pentagon has basically lost track of about half a billion dollars in U.S. weaponry, aircraft, equipment, machine guns, tanks, all sorts of other sophisticated weaponry, $500 million worth of stuff left behind in Yemen as the U.S. evacuated the embassy.
That stuff was supposed to be used by a friendly Yemeni government, but that government has now collapsed. You must be really worried about that.
RISCH: Well, I am.
And I'm troubled by whoever made that decision, because it was obvious long before we left and long before there was a collapse of the Yemeni government that they were probably going to be incapable of standing up, standing up to the Houthi rebels, who, as you know, are backed heavily by Iran. It was pretty evident that the bottom was falling out long before it did.
BLITZER: Yes, it's not just in Yemen. Think of all the billions of U.S. weaponry left behind in Iraq now in the hands of ISIS, as the Iraqi military abandoned their positions in Mosul and elsewhere.
This is extremely dangerous stuff.
Senator Risch, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for joining us.
RISCH: Good to be with you again.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Just ahead: ISIS calls it just the tip of the iceberg, horrific new massacres, killing and wounding hundreds in the chaotic capital of what had been a U.S. ally in the war against terror. Are the jihadists gaining ground?
And we will also go live to Charlottesville, Virginia, where there's new information on the University of Virginia student bloodied during a violent arrest.
[18:26:38] BLITZER: Let's get back to breaking news, our top story.
ISIS says it carries out the horrific bombings in Yemen's capital which killed more than 135 people and it's warning that the latest violence there is just, in their words, the tip of the iceberg.
Let's dig deeper with our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, our CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, along with Middle East expert Robin Wright of the Wilson Center and the U.S. Institute for Peace.
So, Peter, I assume you believe ISIS is now really dramatically gaining ground in Yemen.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: If this claim of responsibility is true. And generally speaking, when ISIS has claimed responsibility for something, it has turned out to be, unfortunately, an accurate claim.
But it's not just Yemen. We have seen Tunisia, we have seen Egypt, we have seen Libya. In fact, and, obviously, you have Iraq and Syria, so, many countries in the Middle East.
BLITZER: The U.S. has basically evacuated the embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. Peter, they are out of there. The U.S. military is basically out of there. There's a little war going on now between the Iranian Shiite Houthi rebels, who have basically taken over and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there in Yemen. That's what's going on?
BERGEN: Right. But then you have the wrinkle of al Qaeda and ISIS also kind of in competition. And they are both opposed to the Houthis. It's a complex situation.
BLITZER: Sounds like Syria a little bit.
How did this unravel, General Hertling, so quickly, the whole situation in Yemen? Because less than a year ago, President Obama was publicly suggesting that the counterterrorism strategy in Yemen was a model, was working.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You saw the insurgency grow through the Houthis, Wolf.
And certainly that has allowed problems at the embassy. We deserted the embassy staff. We had to withdraw our people from there. I think that has really taken the lid off the al Qaeda potential in that state and the emboldenment of them, of some of them to claim association with ISIS. Now you have the issue today of the same kind of thing we saw in Iraq that started the civil war between Sunni and Shia there, when the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra was destroyed by al Qaeda.
You are going to see the same kind of things, the potential for a civil war in Yemen now that that's happened, Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume -- Robin, you know this region really well. As concerned as the U.S. is about what is going on Yemen right now, U.S. friends in that region, whether the Saudis, the Emirates, others, they are even -- they're a lot more concerned than even the U.S. is right now, because it could spread.
ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Oh, I think the whole region is consumed by what's happening in Yemen.
After all, of the 22 Arab countries, this is the country that is the poorest, that has been the base for al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, which used to be operating out of Saudi Arabia, but was pushed into Yemen. The destabilization of Yemen opens up the whole Gulf region, which is a geostrategic property, oil-rich. Western industry depends on the fuel from this region.
And so the destabilization of Yemen, and the dangers that it spills over into other Gulf countries, that it spills over across into Eastern Africa, into North Africa is a real danger.
BLITZER: And the real danger for the U.S. in Yemen, Peter, is that AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they have made no secret they want to use that as a base to launch terror strikes against the United States.
BERGEN: Which they have done unsuccessfully on at least two significant occasions, the Christmas Day bomber, who tried to blow up a Detroit flight, the plane flying over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, also a plot to blow up U.S. cargo planes to the United States.
So yes, I mean, they're clearly still trying to do this. They haven't changed that. And they also, by the way, they have -- trained people in Syria. So they're propagating their bomb-making skills.
BLITZER: How worried are you, General Hertling, about the half a billion dollars' worth of U.S. military hardware that was left behind for the Yemeni government, but there is no Yemeni government right now. There's a bunch of terrorists ruling that country.
HERTLING: It's concerning, Wolf. The types of equipment that was left behind -- four helicopters, about 160 Humvees, 200 M-4 weapons, a lot of ammunition. It's not that significant from a military standpoint. But it is significant in terms of whose hands it falls in. This is concerning.
But it's part of doing business when you have to contribute to the potential security of our partners in the region. And as you know, Yemen was a partner until just a few months ago. And they were doing well until the insurgency by the Houthi rebels.
BLITZER: That military equipment could kill a lot of people.
WRIGHT: Oh, sure it can. And that's the one danger we saw in Afghanistan. Wherever we get involved, wherever we help, we want to help with equipment as well so the locals can fight the war. The problem is if you can't account for weaponry, you become a target.
BLITZER: Multiply what's happening in Yemen many times in Iraq. A lot of U.S. military equipment abandoned by the military abandoned in the hands of ISIS right now. Guys, stand by.
For our viewers, if you want to find out more about the escalating battle against ISIS, also specifically what you can do to help protect Iraqi children affected by all this violence, go to CNN.com/impact. You can impact your world.
Just ahead, there's other news we're following, including an urgent effort under way right now to calm tensions after the bloody arrest of an African-American college student. We have new information on the condition of that student.
CNN's Don Lemon is standing by along with our analysts and guests. We're going to talk about the incident that has now sparked national outrage.
[18:37:23] BLITZER: The bloody arrest of a University of Virginia student apparently triggered by an identity check has sparked national outrage. There were efforts today to try to calm tensions. The questions about excessive force in that arrest are growing.
Here is Brian Todd. He's in Charlottesville, Virginia. He's working the story for us. What's the latest over there, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can't call this residual anger. The anger is fresh and growing every day here on the campus of the University of Virginia. All stemming from the takedown and arrest of Martese Johnson early Wednesday morning.
Virginia ABC agents at the Alcoholic Beverage Control agency pinning him to the ground with their knees. According to he and his attorney they slammed his head to the ground, causing real outrage for the last several days here. Protests in the streets.
Just a short time ago, Wolf, there was a forum on campus where student leaders pulled together all the top law enforcement officials of the state. And a lot of the students were out in force. They hammered these officials with some very, very tough questions. They walked in chanting, "Black lives matter."
There was still just a lot of anger toward these officials. Now, there were officials from the Virginia ABC agency here. But they refused to take any questions. They didn't even sit on the podium with the rest of the law enforcement officials.
Outside of this arena, I pressed Virginia's top law enforcement official. By the way, he oversees the ABC agency. I pressed him on the key questions. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Response to this problem that they have here, the accusation that this was excessive force, that this never should have come to this on Tuesday night?
BRIAN MORAN, VIRGINIA SECRETARY OF PUBLIC SAFETY: Well, the reaction is one that the governor observed the pictures of Mr. Johnson and he immediately contacted me to have the state police conduct an investigation, because he was concerned. And I share his concern. We've asked the state police to conduct the investigation. And they are. They're working on this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And that investigation, by the way, is a criminal investigation into the conduct of those ABC agents early Wednesday morning.
Also, Wolf, pressure tonight from a top legislator in the state of Virginia who I interviewed. He is pressing for the power of arrest and the power to continue to carry weapons, pressing for that to be taken away from these ABC agents. He believes it should be handed over to the state police or some other law-enforcement authorities -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian in Charlottesville. Brian, thanks very much.
We also have some breaking news on the student, the 20-year-old Martese Johnson. CNN's Don Lemon has been working his sources.
Tell our viewers what you're learning, Don.
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: According to a source close to the family that Martese had to be taken back in for observation. And according to that source, just a few -- a few moments ago, he was at the student health center being checked out.
Family members are concerned they may have to, they say, send him to the emergency room. They're not sure at this point. They said that this all happened because the swelling that you see, the injuries on his forehead and to his head, they thought they were getting bigger and that there was -- the swelling was getting bigger, and they weren't sure it was external, that it might be internal. They're worried about the internal injuries as well as possible internal injuries and also the possibility of a concussion. It's a bit odd to me, because they also say that they are concerned enough that they may get a CAT scan.
One would think that they would have done that early on in the process, considering what those injuries look like.
BLITZER: They have to check that out. Internal bleeding or whatever, concussion, that's obviously very, very serious. Stay with us for a moment. I also want to bring in our justice
reporter, Evan Perez; our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, the former FBI assistant director; our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; and the community activist, John Gaskin. Even, this investigation, you're learning it could take weeks?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it could take weeks. The question that Brian Todd raised of why this agency even has this type of power, I mean, it's a very unusual situation in this -- in this state. But a lot of -- a lot of states have alcohol beverage control agencies. And most of them are focused on the establishments, on the bars. And that's where their energy is focused on, not on people who might be carrying a fake I.D. or who are trying to get into those establishments. That's left usually for the local police.
BLITZER: You know, John Gaskin, in that video, which is so disturbing, you hear Johnson, the 20-year-old college student, repeatedly crying out, "I go to UVA. I go to UVA. I go to the University of Virginia." What does that say to you? This is a kid who's an honor -- he's on the honor committee there, a very elite competitive university; grew up in the South Side of Chicago, a single mother; makes it to the University of Virginia.
No criminal record at all. What do you think was going on here? The fear is that the suspicion is that he would have been treated differently, had he been white.
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: You know, Wolf, sadly in this country, it does not matter what institution you go to or what income bracket you come from, police brutality does not make you exempt, especially when you are an African-American male in this country.
The statistics show us that, unfortunately, for being a black man in this country, your run-in with law enforcement can cause you to face bodily harm or very severe situation as you look at the video. Things escalated rather quickly.
The one thing that I'm so happy that my generation is beginning to address this issue, because sadly in this country, a police brutality is one of the few civil rights issues that has never been resolved. It's never really been an issue that we found adequate solutions for.
BLITZER: Let me get Tom Fuentes to weigh in on this. You used to be a cop, a street cop. You became an FBI agent. You worked your way up to become assistant director of the FBI.
When you hear these suggestions of police brutality, that maybe a white kid at this university would have been treated differently than a black kid, what goes through your mind when you hear that?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, you'd like to believe that's not true when you hear something like that. But you know, again, it does happen so frequently that you don't know for sure what happened in this case. But the problem here is that they go from checking his I.D. and
asking him a ZIP code to the next minute he's on the floor -- on the sidewalk bleeding from the head profusely. What happened in between? We don't know. I think what surprises me this many days into it is, are there no witnesses to this? You know, did nobody see the altercation that actually started with the police and the argument with the police and him?
LEMON: There are.
FUENTES: I haven't heard...
BLITZER: Let me get Don Lemon.
LEMON: There are witnesses. There are people -- some people don't want to come forward, because they don't want to inflame the situation. And there are people out there who say that Martese may somehow have made things worse for himself. We don't know.
And I would caution everyone here, we don't know what happened before the videotape. He appears to be a great kid, but we just don't know. And so what we're -- what I'm doing is just reporting on the information that I've gotten. But I don't know what happened, what precipitated this.
But there are witnesses, and there is videotape. There are businesses in the area that had surveillance video. And I'm sure that will come up as this investigation plays out. Remember, what Brian Todd -- what Brian Todd reported earlier, there was a young white girl, a student who was hounded by those ABC officers at the same university. And she, you know, settled her lawsuit for $200,000, which is not -- it happens more frequently to young black men. But it's not just young black people. It's the students on the campus who are saying that these people are going too far.
BLITZER: What are your thoughts, Jeffrey, from the legal perspective about what's going on now?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, you have to ask, why does Virginia have this police force? Most states do not regulate alcohol in this way. And this seems like a recipe for disaster, which seems to have unfolded. Obviously, as Tom Fuentes says, the most important thing is to fine out what happened here. I mean, it is not a -- the facts are always the most important thing.
The other point I'd just like to make is that, you know, even though we have focused on several of these really terrible incidents, crime is down in the United States dramatically, all over the country. And I just sometimes worry that we give people a somewhat of a misleading impression when crime all across the country --
TOOBIN: -- all sorts of violent crime is down. It's a safer country than it used to be. BLITZER: Tom, what is this Virginia alcohol beverage control
unit in the first place, these agents? Why are they hanging out at these bars on a college near a college campus?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's a great question. And I have no idea.
I know that in Virginia, hard liquor is sold in Virginia state- controlled liquor stores. They're not sold in regular private liquor stores like other states. I didn't know they had a uniformed police department out there checking IDs and all that. The notion of dissolving and having the state police -- the state police must be cringing. The elite police of Virginia suddenly are going to be checking IDs in front of bars on college campuses?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Why not local police? Local police should do this. Not some state agency.
LEMON: If I'm not mistaken, though, I think this is coming from the South. There are -- I think Virginia is not the only one that does this. And I think it comes from prohibition. And they regulate the bars, the liquor stores and what-have-you just like in places -- I think it's here in New York that you can not sell alcohol and groceries in the same place. I think basically, they are just the liquor police. That's it.
BLITZER: That's it. We see what happens in the investigation.
Guys, thanks very much.
Let's take a quick break. Much more right after this.
[18:51:56] BLITZER: Even though our new CNN poll of Democrats shows Hillary Clinton almost 50 points ahead of Joe Biden, we're starting to track others who are at least considering a long shot challenge to the 2016 primaries, running against Hillary Clinton.
Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
You've been looking into this, Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We have, Wolf.
And Republican candidates are practically tripping over one another out there. There are governors and senators eyeing the White House. But we're starting to see a bit more movement on the Democratic side.
And it's a good reminder -- Hillary Clinton underestimated the long shot contender in 2008 named Barack Obama. Her advisors tell me they aren't expecting a coronation.
ZELENY (voice-over): The loudest liberal voices are urging Senator Elizabeth Warren to run, even though she's made her position known again and again.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I'm not running for president.
I am not running for president.
I am not running for president.
ZELENY: This week, a new draft movement surfaced, trying to persuade Vice President Joe Biden to jump into the race. He's not entirely ruled it out, even fueling the speculation with recent trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Stand for what we have done.
ZELENY: But as Clinton prepares to launch her candidacy next month, the question still remains. Will anyone join her on the debate stage?
The latest CNN/ORC poll shows an opening. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats say the party's chances are better with Clinton on the ticket. But 30 percent they say are looking for an alternative.
As Democrats get ready for Hillary, a handful are quietly saying, not so fast. Call them campaign long shots. There's Martin O'Malley, a former Maryland governor, independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Jim Webb, a former senator and decorated war hero from Virginia.
This weekend, O'Malley is off to Iowa. His latest visit to the state that kicks off the road to the White House.
MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR: It's wonderful to be here in Des Moines.
ZELENY: He may be better known on this stage. Armed with a guitar and his own band, O'Malley's March, that performed last night at a Washington fund-raiser. He's not only warming up these crowds, he's subtly reminding Democrats they have a choice. He called for Wall Street reform in an op-ed in today's "Des Moines Register", a recurring theme of a potential candidacy.
O'MALLEY: Instead of offering up Dodd-Frank light, so not to offend any Democratic Party loyalists in Manhattan.
ZELENY: But so far, he and other potential Democratic hopefuls are tiptoeing around the elephant in the room. They're warring against a coronation but fearful of criticizing Clinton.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: Now, you'll remember, even in the 2000 campaign, when Al
Gore was the sitting vice president, Bill Bradley stepped forward to challenge him, which means someone will likely end up next to Clinton on that debate stage. And speaking of Gore, his name is resurfacing, at least among some Democrats who are craving a competition. He's heading to Iowa in May to fire up those activists about global warming -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Very intriguing. Jeff, standby.
[18:55:00] Gloria Borger is with us as well.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Al Gore. Al Gore?
BLITZER: Is possible that Al Gore might think about running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination?
BORGER: I don't think Al Gore has done anything to encourage us to believe that he is eager to leave his life right now and get back into politics. Don't forget, Democrats generally like the shiny new thing. They don't like going back a generation.
Hillary Clinton, however, is the exception because there's a sense in the party, because she's a woman, that she can unite the various factions of the party. And so, she becomes the new thing by virtue of her gender.
But will the Democrats want to go back to a Gore or even a John Kerry? I don't think so.
BLITZER: But it's intriguing though. He's going to Iowa. All of a sudden, he's granting interviews. He's doing stuff he hasn't necessarily done over the past several years.
ZELENY: He is. He's signing up activists in Iowa, at a conference in Cedar Rapids in May, to, you know, sort of support him on his global warming effort. I talked to a friend and adviser of his that said he's enjoying this chatter, enjoying the speculation, giving interviews.
But I'm with Gloria, I don't think we're going to get a Gore.
BLITZER: You also mentioned John Kerry's name, the 2004 Democratic Party presidential nominee --
ZELENY: He hasn't ruled it out.
BORGER: He hasn't ruled it out. Look, here's the thing -- if Hillary Clinton stumbles, falls or god forbid has bad health or something, I mean, there are all these people who are sitting out there. I think Joe Biden is in the same situation. He sees all the kids in his pool, one of his advisors said to me, he's like why don't I jump in and have some fun, too? I mean, they're looking and saying, gee, the waters have never partied this way for somebody.
But at this point, are any of them serious aside from the folks you mentioned in your piece? I don't think so.
BLITZER: When you say he hasn't ruled it out, he was asked about it, right, John Kerry?
ZLENEY: He was.
BLITZER: And he sort of said, what?
ZELENY: He left open the possibility. But, you're right, Gloria. And it would be crazy for them not to.
ZELENY: Because what if something could happen to Secretary Clinton? But he's not doing anything actively pursue this.
ZELENY: And even if he was, I'm not sure how welcome he would be by this Democratic Party, or Al Gore for that matter.
BLITZER: Le's talk about Hillary Clinton a little bit more, the House Select Committee on the Benghazi hearings, Trey Gowdy. He now has formally asked her to submit to a third party her server, her email server, which she says will remain private where she deleted her personal e-mails. She said he handed over the government-related e- mails to the State Department. What do you make of this?
BORGER: Well, I think it's predictable that he would be -- that he would be doing that. He said that's what's he's going to do.
In terms of the Democrats we were talking about, they don't want to touch it. O'Malley was asked about this and here's somebody who was actually said he might run against her, and who was showing real interest, and he was asked about the e-mail situation and he said he's a little sick of the e-mail as he put it, didn't want to go near it. Joe Biden was asked about the Clinton Foundation, he didn't want to go near it.
So, the Democrats don't want to jump on Hillary Clinton for that because they all know it's likely she's going to be their nominee. The Republicans will, of course.
BLITZER: They have a shot of getting that server?
ZELENY: It's going to be a legal battle, no question about it. I mean, she has already said that she has no plans of turning this server. She said it at that press conference at the U.N., which I was at, very defiant. But this could end up, a judge may decide this.
And right now, voters probably don't care, but if this is still going on a year from now, into the general election, it does feed into the sense of, you know, what's she hiding if anything? Republicans can always overreach. We've seen that so many times. But this is going to be a court fight. BORGER: But, you know, every Clinton person I talk to and I
talked to one today who said to me, the public doesn't care about what server you use or what e-mail you use. But I will tell you that I believe that transparency will become an issue. That Hillary Clinton can actually turn around and throw back at Republicans. She can say to Jeb Bush, you didn't release all of your e-mails. She could say to Chris Christie, wait a minute, where are your e-mails? And what about Governor Romney's e-mails that were deleted from when he was governor?
So, you know, I think this is an issue that is going to cut both ways. Right now, Republicans are enjoying the advantage but I think you can flip it right around.
BLITZER: Still believe she's going to announce in April and she's going to open up her campaign headquarters, as you broke that story in Brooklyn.
ZELENY: We do. We believe she'll announce sometime in April. A lot of campaign staffers are quitting their jobs, in fact, this week and they're moving up to Brooklyn slowly. So, her campaign is slowly coming together.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. Important note to all of our viewers out there, Gloria will be back this Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, also at noon Eastern for "STATE OF THE UNION". Among her special guests, Senator John McCain. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Gloria, this Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern.
Remember you can always follow us on Twitter. Please go ahead and tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
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Thanks very much for watching. Have a great weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
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