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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Warships Near Yemen; Protests in Baltimore; U.S. Conducting Manned Reconnaissance off Yemen; Interview with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired April 21, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Show of force. U.S. warships are on the move and on the lookout for Iranian weapons. We're learning more about the potential danger for thousands of American sailors and Marines now heading toward a war zone.
And from Alabama to ISIS. A 20-year-old woman reportedly runs away to join the terrorists and posts messages encouraging bloody attacks back home. Now U.S. officials are warning she's a valuable asset for ISIS recruitment in America.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's begin this hour with breaking news.
Tonight, protesters in Baltimore, they are venting their anger at police. They're demanding justice after the controversial arrest and death of an African-American suspect. Stand by for a live report.
Also breaking right now, U.S. warships with thousands of sailors and Marines on board, they are on alert for a potential showdown with Iran. Nine American Navy vessels, they are now off the coast of Yemen prepared to block any Iranian weapons shipments to rebel forces.
We have our correspondents, our analysts, our newsmakers, they're all standing by. We're covering the news that's breaking right now.
But let's begin in Baltimore, where a protest, a large one, is happening right now.
Our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is on the scene.
But let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez. He marched with the protesters to police, the police station there.
Miguel, we see you now. What's the latest? Set the scene for us.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is as tense as the situation here has been, Wolf. The protesters here number in the thousands, perhaps up to 2,000
people here, a very angry, but so far peaceful crowd. There was one arrest as they put barricades around the Western District here. I want to show you what the police look like out here in front at the moment. It is only a few dozen police right in front of the building, but all afternoon we did see dozens and dozens of police officers pouring into this area.
We also saw police on a horse, horses a short ways away and there are police helicopters overhead as well. They have also installed cameras on top of this police station. And, Floyd, if you can go up higher on the crowd here, you can see how big it is and how it stretches back into the neighborhood.
This protest started about four or five blocks away, the place where Mr. Gray was arrested about 10 days ago now. That was the last time he was seen alive, basically. He went into a coma shortly thereafter and then just this past Sunday succumbed to his injuries, police saying that he suffered a brutal spine injury that -- his lawyer say that it nearly severed his spine -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Looks like a serious situation.
Stand by for a moment.
I want to go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's also in the crowd over there, probably not too far from you.
Where are you, Suzanne? What are you seeing?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm on the opposite side from where Miguel is and it's notably much more quiet here, although it is quite loud around the police station.
What's interesting, what's curious, Wolf, is a lot of people have brought their young children, their kids in strollers wearing Ravens T-shirts and sweatshirts. They're mothers, they're fathers, there are kids on bicycles, many people who are here and brought here so that they can make a statement, their frustration with the police department. But this is clearly the movement of a community.
We are not talking about people who are outside and we are not talking about just angry adults or people who have had altercations with the police, but mothers with their children who are here to make a statement about how their community in general is being treated. That's what we are seeing from where I am.
And people who are watching, they're quiet, they're curious, but you talk to people here and they tell me that they have to be here because it's time and it's been too long and a lot of people have had complaints about how their community has been treated.
There are some people who believe that for the most part, you know, most of the police officers are good men and women, but there's a good number of people who have expressed a lot of frustration about being beaten, about being falsely arrested and just in general feeling abused by some of the officers.
And so that's why they have their young babies in their arms in support of some of the older men who you see in front of the crowd who are doing a lot of the shouting.
BLITZER: Clearly, there's a lot of anger there in Baltimore right now over the death of Freddie Gray.
I want to bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez.
Evan, as you know, the federal government has now launched a civil rights investigation into what happened. What are you hearing?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this situation on the streets there is definitely one reason why the Justice Department is getting involved.
And I think one of the things that they are hoping to do is to reassure the public there. There's a big problem in Baltimore, Wolf. The newspaper there "The Baltimore Sun" reported that there were over a hundred settlements in recent years with regard to police misconduct or allegations of misconduct in certain arrests.
And a lot of that information is never published, made public. A lot of times, you don't know what the police did wrong. So that is an issue that now the police is working with the Justice Department to try to fix.
But, in the meantime, these people want to know the answer as to what exactly happened to Freddie Gray. And I think that's why the Justice Department is now in there.
BLITZER: The Justice Department, I just want to be precise, Evan, they're doing a civil rights investigation.
BLITZER: Right. That usually takes a year or two. That's a long investigation.
PEREZ: It takes a long time. I think one of the things they're trying to do is to reassure the people that, OK, there's going to be a state investigation, but then we're going to be taking a look at whether or not Freddie Gray's civil rights were violated because now that we're talking about his spinal cord being severed in this arrest, it makes this a lot more complicated.
It's clear something that went wrong in that police van.
BLITZER: Clearly, something went wrong and there's a history of some police problems in Baltimore that the Justice Department has been investigating for several years now, right?
PEREZ: That's right, exactly. And this is something the Office of Community Oriented Policing is working with the city at the city's invitation, Wolf, so they invited the Justice Department in to take a look at this.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Evan.
Benjamin Crump is with us as well. He was the attorney for Michael Brown's family, for the Trayvon Martin family.
You have a unique perspective, Benjamin Crump, in this case.
What's your analysis of what is going on in Baltimore right now? We see another young African-American man taken into police custody, got a broken neck, goes into a coma and dies a few days later in the hospital. That's caused this outrage that we're seeing on the streets of Baltimore right now.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF MICHAEL BROWN: Wolf, we saw similar things happen in Ferguson. We saw similar things happening in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's happening all over America. We have to address these issues with transparency.
It's been over a week now and still the family and the community have no answers. We understand that there is video that could tell us what happened, but yet none of the city leaders or the police leaders are allowing that video to come out.
BLITZER: Why is that? Because they have released some video. Yesterday at that news conference, the police admiration, the deputy police commissioner, the mayor were there. They did release some video, but we didn't learn much from the video they released, closed- circuit TV cameras in the area.
CRUMP: Exactly, Wolf.
They haven't released statements or anything, a preliminary report or something. Can you imagine if this was your family member who obviously from the video you don't see them committing a crime, but yet the police in their custody, he ends up dead and there is nothing offered to you?
BLITZER: What they say is there is an investigation and they don't want to jeopardize the investigation. They will release the information when they can, but they want to be precise.
CRUMP: Wolf Blitzer, while all those people are out there is, there is a great lack of trust and transparency. And they have seen this over and over again that you say wait for the investigation to finish and then the death is swept under the rug and nobody is held accountable.
These people are fed up with this happening to their children.
BLITZER: Have you been asked to get involved in this particular -- has the family in this particular case, Freddie Gray's family, contacted you? CRUMP: They haven't. But a good friend of mine, Billy Murphy,
is representing the family. And I have talked to Billy. Billy is a great lawyer.
And we have just got to make sure we stay on this issue because, if not, they are going to sweep it under the rug. And we have got to demand from the mayor and from the police chief and everybody, be transparent.
BLITZER: But don't you have confidence in the mayor of Baltimore, the police commissioner in Baltimore? Don't you have confidence in them that they will do the right thing?
CRUMP: Well, I want to believe they will do the right thing. People often ask me, well, don't you want to believe there are good police officers? I want to believe there are good police officers.
But the question I ask, when things like this happen, where are the good police officers? Why aren't they telling us if there was misconduct, they come forward? If there's a video that shows us this, why do they hide it? We want the mayor, we want the police commissioner, we want people to be transparent.
If this was another community, Wolf, nobody would be asking for this to come out. It would already be out.
BLITZER: How do you know there's other video?
CRUMP: Well, no, that's the thing in Baltimore. Everybody has been talking about there's video. So there's an issue whether or not -- if there's video. They can tell us if there's video or not. They are choosing not to tell us that.
The only people that I have talked to dealing with Freddie Gray's situation say they can release a video and we will see clearly what happened. So if there's video that exists, doesn't the family have a right to see what happened to their child?
BLITZER: If there's video that shows what happened before you saw him, that limp body as he was dragged into that police van, if there's video of what happened in the, let's say, five or 10 on 15 minutes before that, of course everyone wants to see that.
CRUMP: And that would be transparency and that would be trust, Wolf.
CRUMP: It's happening in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with Monroe Bird, with Eric Harris. I mean, we need transparency.
BLITZER: By the way, the Freddie Gray family is now there, there at the police headquarters in Baltimore. They're protesting what's going on, understandably so.
They would like answers on this young man who was taken into custody and for some reason wound up with a broken neck, broken spine, went into the hospital, got into a coma and died a few days later. It's a tragic story.
CRUMP: It makes no sense, Wolf. It keeps happening over and over again. We have got to address these issues.
If not, I'm going to be on your show every week with another death of a person of color who's unarmed. And that's just not right. It's just not acceptable.
BLITZER: But in Baltimore, you bring up the issue of race. The mayor is African-American, the police chief is African-American. I suspect -- I don't know the numbers -- but a huge percentage of the police force in Baltimore is African-American. This is not some, like Ferguson, where you have 60 or 70 police officers and one or two or three African-Americans in a community that's 60 or 70 percent African-American.
And, Wolf, I think if any parent out there, this happens to their child, it doesn't matter if the person who did it was African-American or Caucasian. You just want the truth to come out whatever happened. And you're right. Our community, there's a lot of responsibility in making sure that we help prevent these things.
And so we have got to -- and everybody has to take a role in this. Everybody has to be responsible in this. And nobody gets a pass just because of their ethnicity. We want our children to come home safely and soundly, just like everybody else in the other communities want their children to come home safely and soundly.
BLITZER: Is there a role, Evan, because you cover the Justice Department for us, you cover the FBI, are they going to get immediately involved or is this one of those long civil rights investigations that will go on and on and on? Or will they immediately send people, FBI agents, for example, others, representatives from the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department to Baltimore to try to calm things down?
PEREZ: Well, I think, Wolf, I think they will be there very quickly.
I know the FBI already is there looking at some of these things. They have been monitoring the situation. They have been gathering some of the evidence already to try to see if there's anything. And that's one reason why you see them already deciding that they have enough cause to open an investigation, because they believe that there's questions that need to be answered.
BLITZER: I want to listen very briefly to what one of these protesters is now saying. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want them to know they're not in it by
themselves, that the city of Baltimore stands with them. Make some noise for Freddie Gray. Come on. Turn it up.
BLITZER: All right.
So there you see what's going on over there. Very peaceful so far. They're angry, understandably so. At least some of those family members, they have lost a loved one, Benjamin Crump. Let's hope it stays peaceful, though.
My fear, and you have been involved in these incidents over the years, once it starts getting dark, you don't know what's going to happen, especially if there are some agitators or anarchists that come in and want to cause trouble.
CRUMP: Absolutely. Everybody is praying for peace. Everybody is also praying for justice. And we want people to know -- the family really wants everybody to be responsible. They don't want people that are irresponsible to try to condone police officers acting irresponsible if that's what happened.
And so we pray for peace, but we want justice.
BLITZER: Let's hope it stays peaceful.
Miguel Marquez, you're there for us. You're right in the middle of the protests that are going on. Just reassure us, it is peaceful, right?
MARQUEZ: It is peaceful. There is a pastor who is associated with the Gray family. He has brought Mr. Gray's father and mother. You can just see his mother with her hands on her cap holding her head.
She has not stopped crying since she got here. I think she's moved by what she's seeing here now. They have asked several times for a moment of silence. Just look -- I'm going to get out of the way here. Floyd, if you could swing around and see the number of hands in the air. It is an impressive, impressive sight to see the number of people here coming together.
The pastor here is asking that they want these police officers tried for first-degree murder is what he's just said. I have talked to several people in the neighborhood here. They have talked about how difficult relations are between the police and the people that they are meant to be serving.
One of the chants just now was, who do you protect, who do you serve, chanting it back at the police. There's a very, very heavy police presence here. I will turn it over to the pastor if you want to listen to a bit more of this.
BLITZER: Hold on a moment. Miguel, hold on a moment because Marc Morial is also joining us right now. He's the president of the National Urban League.
Marc, I don't know how much of an opportunity you have had to study what's going on in Baltimore, but give us your reaction.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: State of emergency when it comes to the use of force in an inappropriate way against unarmed black men in America.
This is a crisis, Wolf. And we certainly hope, and I would express that I know Mayor Rawlings-Blake. She was one of the contributors to the state of black America. I have confidence in her leadership. But the task here is for all of the facts to come out, and that it be complete transparency for parallel investigations by the state's attorney, by the Department of Justice to move forward very, very quickly.
I think the response of people is just a shocking sense of being fed up. We're fed up with just an incident after incident. And what's happened in America is America now sees that these type of incidents have happened for a long time, but telephone cameras, transparency, video cams, and people's response indicates that it's time to turn the corner.
BLITZER: Well, I just want to be precise, Marc. You have confidence in the mayor of Baltimore, the police chief in Baltimore that they will conduct a thorough, transparent investigation?
MORIAL: I have confidence in the mayor. I don't know the police commissioner. But I have confidence that the mayor will not allow any fact to be swept under the rug.
I think she has no incentive, no motivation to do anything other than to get to the bottom of this. But, of course, it's not simply her task alone. The United States attorney there in Maryland, the state's attorney in Maryland, they have an important job to do in terms of conducting their own investigations towards justice for the death of this unarmed man. So -- but Mayor Rawlings-Blake I believe will do the right thing.
BLITZER: Stand by, Marc Morial, because our anchor, Don Lemon, who has covered a lot of these stories over the years, he is joining us as well.
You see what's going on, Don. What's your impression, your reaction to what's happening on the streets of Baltimore right now?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It takes me back, Wolf, to this summer, and I'm sure Benjamin Crump will agree with this, in Ferguson. This is what happened after the death of Michael Brown. I think that Marc Morial has very eloquently put it into words.
What I would say now, the words are transparency. That's what people want. I think a sleeping giant has been awakened here. And I think that there's more training. If you look at these six officers who were involved in this, most of them are in their 20s. They're young officers. They can't have been on the force that long.
So I think transparency, more training and also a sleeping giant has been awakened. And this is not about what Freddie Gray did before or what he was stopped for, because when you come in contact with police, it doesn't matter if you're guilty of doing something or innocent. That's what police are there for. That is their job.
People, however, should not die in custody, in the custody of police if they are unarmed or if they have been taken down and then all of a sudden they end up in the hospital with severe injuries. That should not happen. And so I think that's what the people want.
I also want to address something that Benjamin Crump said. I do agree with him that this should not be swept under the rug and everyone must do everything they can, I think the mayor will, I think the police chief will as well, to make sure that there is transparency here and that the information comes to light.
But I would say there should not be a rush to get information. I think they should do it diligently. They should dot every I, they should cross every T to make sure everything is in place in case there is a special prosecution or whatever has to be done in the days to come and weeks and months to come to make sure that nothing goes wrong when in fact there is -- the investigation has been fully vetted and has fully come forth to make sure this holds up in a court of law and to make sure that this family and Freddie Gray get justice in this case and find out exactly what happened.
BLITZER: All right, Don, I want you to stand by. Marc Morial, stand by as well.
I want to quickly go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's right in the middle of that crowd over there in Baltimore.
What are you seeing over there now, Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: Wolf, there's an incredible amount of emotion that is being expressed.
I have been watching two young women with tears just streaming down their cheeks. They have been raising their hands along with the rest of the crowd saying that this is hands up in surrender, but hands up in strength and defense and support for Freddie Gray and his family.
There are many people who are invoking the name Jesus and have said that they want to try to turn the community around to establish a better relationship with the people in their community. The Western District is a mixed district. This is not just a white, black -- this is something that people have told me is a problem with abuse of power and they want to have a better relationship.
But we are seeing so many people here who have brought their young children, who have brought their families, who are talking to one another, who are praying together, and asking for this to be a moment, but not just a moment, a movement.
And we heard from the pastor who has been addressing them saying that they will take this to City Hall next -- on Thursday, later in the week, to make their views known.
BLITZER: Suzanne, I want you to stand by as well.
I want to get reaction to what's going on. Benjamin Crump is with us, Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League.
Marc, I know you want to react to what we're just seeing and we're hearing.
MORIAL: Here's -- Wolf, and as we discuss this, there's also got to be some focus on the long-standing challenges of the Baltimore Police Department, I mean, 102 police misconduct lawsuits, $6 million paid out in judgments in 2011.
That indicates that this may be the tip of the iceberg. And when you see people reacting and protesting this way, it's not usually only about an isolated incident. It's about long-standing issues between the community and the police department. So, as we analyze this, we have to put it in the context of the broader problems that people are justifiably responding to there in Baltimore.
And the task for the leadership then is not only to confront this incident, but to confront the need for systematic reform in that department and in the relationship between the department and the citizens that it polices.
BLITZER: Benjamin Crump, what's your reaction when you -- Don Lemon made a strong point that they don't want to release any information that could compromise or undermine an eventual charge against a police officer or police officers. They want to make sure that they have an investigation, they do it right and they don't do anything that could be counterproductive.
As much as the family and the public clearly would like more information, they have a legal responsibility, and you're a lawyer, to protect that information so it doesn't compromise eventual charges if they are formally launched.
CRUMP: Wolf, both Evan and I kind of shook our heads to ourself when we heard Don say that. And Don was on the front line of Ferguson and you and everybody, and also in Staten Island.
And we were patient and we tried to let them do everything by the book. And then you saw with Eric Garner after that long wait, when people wasn't even talking about Eric Garner, we saw the video, there was outrage, and then we gave it time and we gave it patience. And what happened? It was swept under the rug. Same with Eric Garner.
Now we're doing the same in Cleveland, Ohio, with Tamir Rice, 12 years old. Everybody was outraged when they saw that video. And clearly we showed the police being less than truthful when they said they said three times for him to drop his weapon and put his hands up. In one second, they shot.
So when we say justice delayed, it normally means justice denied.
BLITZER: Stand by, because we're going to continue this.
I want to go quickly to Miguel Marquez. He's right there in Baltimore in the midst of this demonstration.
You're getting more information, Miguel. What are you learning?
MARQUEZ: Yes, look, this is what they asked for. The gentleman here with the justice for Freddie cap and the Baltimore cap is Mr. Gray's father. The woman with the hoodie on and now has her hand up is his mother.
She has not been able to take her sunglasses on and -- and not been able to keep herself together for this entire time. Everybody is now marching from the police station back to the place where their son was last seen and arrested, when last seen alive or at least not in a coma, just a few blocks from here.
The pastor who is representing them here is also calling for a protest at Baltimore City Hall at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday. They want to keep the pressure up as much as possible on the city. They are asking that all -- they are demanding, I should say, that all six of the police officers be charged with first-degree murder.
They do not understand how it is that a young man could be arrested in his decent shape and succumb to an injury like a spinal injury, as he did, just some hours later and then eventually dying seven days later -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What are the parents and the relatives there -- we're watching these live pictures, Miguel, and you see the mother who's covering her face. Obviously, she's been in tears for all of this time. What are they saying?
MARQUEZ: I spoke to a cousin just a short time ago. They are -- I think they are overwhelmed, one.
They are concerned with the level of protests. They don't want any more violence in this situation. But they are hoping that the city and the world is listening to their concerns, the cousin saying that she is hoping that this remains peaceful tonight, but there's already been one arrest. And this is a lot of emotion here flowing through the streets in West Baltimore, Wolf.
Let me go back to Don Lemon to get his reaction to what we're seeing.
This is a painful scene, Don. I will just explain to viewers who may be tuning in, these are relatives of Freddie Gray, the young man who was -- he was arrested, then he was dragged into a van. We later learned his spine was broken and he died after he suffered in a coma for a few days. That's the mother wearing the hoodie, her face covered. She's been in tears.
Don, give us your reaction.
LEMON: And you took the words right out of my mouth when you said painful, Wolf. This is painful.
And just remember, 25 years old, 25 years old. That's really essentially a child. So when this mother says she's lost her baby, she has really lost -- she has lost a child. I can't imagine any family going through this. I can't imagine, regardless of the circumstances of my loved one's death, being able to get on the front lines of this and get out in front and being able to do that. Perhaps someone who deals with it more than I do in cases like this, Benjamin Crump, can talk about this better.
But I am always surprised and shocked to sit down with mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers after their loved ones have been killed and had them do an interview and be composed. When I sat down with the three mothers in Ferguson, Michael Brown's mother and other mothers, I could not believe they had the courage and the strength -- Trayvon Martin's mother, the courage and the strength to do it.
I can't even imagine what this family is going through right now. I would think that they're being held up by the support that they're getting from the community and from around the world and that there is some confidence, that they have some confidence that they will get to the bottom of what happened to their loved one.
BLITZER: Yes, let's hope.
Marc Morial, you're the president of the National Urban League, you're a major civil rights leader in this country, but you're also a former mayor of New Orleans. You see a scene like this unfolding in Baltimore right now and you see the pain of this mother and other relatives of this young man, what goes through your mind?
MORIAL: Well, the pain of the mother, the pain of the loved ones, it is probably indescribable.
To lose their son under these circumstances, there's probably a combination of just anger, anger against the police, anger against whether or not justice will indeed be done. And now I think you also have understandable response by the community in terms of protests. And I think people's actions to protests are going to continue until such time as a decision has been made relative to charges.
So I think that the authorities should conduct a careful investigation, but it should be expedited. The mayor's challenge and the leadership's challenge is to ensure that they're holding the investigatory apparatus accountable and that they're speaking to the community and reaffirming their commitment to transparency and openness and justice. But I also think here in Baltimore, the other issue which is
going to be ongoing is to fix the long-standing problems of the Baltimore Police Department, which seems as though these problems have been there for quite a long time.
So in terms of sweeping things under the rug, I don't think this is only about this incident. This is about a national state of emergency. This is about a significant challenge with many big city departments. Remember, we have got almost 20 departments in the country under federal Justice Department consent decrees are being investigated for pattern and practice violations.
That's a significant number. And this state of emergency is continuing in this country, and we're going to need, I think, new standards, new actions to address it on a long-standing basis.
BLITZER: All right, hold on for a moment, Marc Morial.
I just want to remind our viewers what we're seeing, that march that is going on. Those are protesters, but those are family members, including the mother of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old young man who died in police custody after his neck, his spine was broken, went into a coma and died in the hospital.
The mother had her face covered with a hoodie, but now she's being covered by some friends or relatives as they're walking through the streets.
I wanted Joey Jackson, our HLN legal analyst, criminal defense attorney, weigh in on your thoughts, Joey.
JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we know, Wolf, that there will be a Justice Department investigation under way, and that's really going to be an issue.
I should point out to the viewers that, simply because the federal government steps in, it does not at all prevent or preclude the state from moving forward.
Early in the program there was a discussion about, hey, should these officers be charged with first-degree murder? That's still undecided. Why? Because the investigation is ongoing.
However, should the state decide to move forward, should there be criminality found after the investigation on one or all of the officers, that can happen.
But we also know, Wolf, that the federal government in stepping in, and a civil rights investigation would look for a number of things. So it's important to talk about what those things would be.
In a civil rights investigation, the first thing is, is was Freddie Gray deprived of a right secured by the Constitution? Well, the right to move along freely without the use of unlawful, deadly force is indeed a right. The second element, though, in that is was it an intentional
deprivation? Was an act done maliciously, evil, in wickedness or spite? And that's often where these investigations get really held up, because you have to establish that that happened.
The third element, which is were the police officers acting in accordance with ordinances and regulations, that's another issue. Why? Because the reality is, is that when you're acting as a police officer, you of course, are acting under the color of state law.
And the fourth element, is somebody dead? So the issue in the civil rights investigation, Wolf, will be what ended up happening? Why was the neck severed? Why was it an 80 percent severance of the neck? What caused that? And did the officer or officers who caused it, if they did, were they acting with depravity? Were they acting with evilness or spite? And that's what a federal investigation will have to uncover.
So we have to wait and see what the evidence ultimately says happened and when it happened and why it happened and was it justified.
BLITZER: And was it deliberate; was it some sort of freak accident? All those questions are going to have to be investigated, as well.
Everyone stand by. Miguel Marquez, you're there. You're marching with these people. I understand they're going towards the actual location where Freddie Gray was arrested...
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are.
BLITZER: ... in the incident, is that right?
MARQUEZ: We are. But Mr. Gray's mother, Mrs. Dearden, has just had a little episode. I think she's rather overwhelmed by everything happening here today. She's the one -- she has a hoodie that she's wearing. She has another one that's covering her face. I think she's extraordinarily overwhelmed by all of this.
She had a little moment where she had to stop. She hasn't stopped crying the entire time. She showed up there in front of the police department along with her husband. They were embracing heavily, her face buried in her hands the entire time.
It has been incredibly emotional for them. Everybody in this town in the media has wanted to talk to them and across the country. And they have been reluctant to do that. They want to bury their son before that happens.
They had hoped to have their son's body back today, released by police. The autopsy, the official autopsy has been done, but as far as we know, the police have not released that body, even though it was expected. And the lawyer for the family says they will be conducting their own private autopsy in the days ahead before any burial. So this is going to go on for some time, with the investigation
also taking some time to go full -- to go all the way. They seem to be having some other issues here at the moment, Wolf. I think they're -- they are very concerned about the amount of press, the amount of tension that all of this has brought. And I think they're a little -- were just simply not ready for this much attention, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. They're certainly overwhelmed right now.
Benjamin Crump is with us still. He was the attorney for the Michael Brown family, Trayvon Martin family. You wanted to make a point.
CRUMP: Yes, Wolf, I agreed with Marc Morial. It is becoming a state of emergency when we continue to see America sanction the killings of these unarmed people of color.
And every time nothing happens, when it's just inexplicable the manner in which they died, it makes people have greater mistrust in the community. And at a certain point, that erupts, and we've got to do something about it. The leaders have got to be responsible. I believe the mayor in Baltimore is going to try to get to the bottom of this, but it needs to happen sooner than later, because this community is on the verge of erupting.
BLITZER: But the investigation, Benjamin, is only just beginning, right? They don't have all the answers.
CRUMP: You know, there are so many questions. When -- why can't you give the family the preliminary report so they can have some answers as to what happened?
[18:35:12] How long do they have to have pain and suffering on top of pain and suffering of losing a child before you say, "This is what happened to your child, what we know now."
BLITZER: All right. I want everyone to stand by. They're marching towards the area where the incident occurred. We'll stay on top of this. Stay with us, we'll take a quick break and we'll be right back.
[18:40:09] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including serious protests in Baltimore. A large crowd there. They've gathered -- they've just reached the site where Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, was arrested the other day. He later died of a broken neck only days after his arrest by local police.
We're going to continue to follow this story. We'll update you on new information that's coming in.
But there's another major breaking story we're following right now. We have new details tonight on the U.S. military operation that's under way right now, aimed at blocking Iran from delivering weapons to rebel forces in Yemen. The American warships, they are on the move. They're deploying their resources, including manned reconnaissance teams. They're scrambling to try to learn what Iran is up to right now.
Let's get the latest. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us. What are you learning, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're learning that U.S. aircraft flying off the USS Teddy Roosevelt seen here are now flying reconnaissance missions of this Iranian convoy which includes FA-18 Hornets off of the Roosevelt.
Nobody is talking about boarding Iranian ships now, blockading them. What they are doing is sending a message, showing them that we are watching this convoy, if it were to try to bring arms to the rebels in Yemen.
It's also sending a message to U.S. allies in the region, Gulf allies, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that the U.S. is backing them up, even in the midst of sensitive negotiations with Iran.
It also gives the U.S. president, President Obama, military options inside Yemen. Counterterror options, intelligence gathering options as the situation there deteriorates further.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Warships from the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier group sailed towards Yemen, putting themselves into the path of a convoy of nine Iranian ships, making their way slowly through the Gulf of Aden. The exact nature of their cargo, unknown.
The American ships join vessels from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other partner nations, prepared to intercept the Iranian vessels, should they enter Yemeni territorial waters and attempt to deliver arms to Houthi rebels.
Still U.S. officials tell CNN the American ships are primarily in place to give the president military options inside Yemen and, crucially, to protect trade.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The movement of this particular aircraft carrier would augment the American military presence in the Gulf of Aden and would send a clear signal about our continued insistence about the free flow of commerce and the freedom of movement in the region.
SCIUTTO: Iran has often flexed its maritime muscle with high profile, sometimes provocative exercises at sea. A confrontation with Iran, such as forcibly boarding an Iranian ship, would be extraordinary. Pentagon officials acknowledge that moving additional U.S. warships to the region provides additional options, to assist the Saudi-led coalition if necessary.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: They want to have a presence not only to send a message but also to be able to keep an eye on what these vessels do and, if the vessels are allowed to dock, what is unloaded and where those supplies go.
SCIUTTO: It is the rapid deterioration on the ground in Yemen that the U.S. is most concerned with. Recent air strikes in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital of Sanaa have killed 25 and wounded more than 400.
All this as the U.S. tries to finalize a nuclear deal with the Iranians and urge the release of U.S. citizens held in Iran, among them "Washington Post" journalist Jason Rezaian, who is now facing four charges, including spying and aiding a hostile government.
SCIUTTO: We learned a short time ago that Saudi Arabia today is ending its air campaign inside Yemen, rather abrupt. It was just last week the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. talking about how there would be no half measures there but they say they have met their military objectives in Yemen. That is going after big weapons systems there, ballistic missiles, et cetera, that they believe would threaten Saudi Arabia as well as their neighbors.
I am told, Wolf, by a senior military official, however, that from the U.S. perspective they don't see this as a cease-fire there, just the end of major military operations, even as it enters the political phase. They don't believe it's the end of Saudi military involvement in Yemen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's get some more now. Joining us, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, a key member of the Senate armed services committee and also a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you.
BLITZER: What do you make of the Saudi decision to limit their involvement, right now go to another phase. Do you understand what their game plan is?
GRAHAM: No. Strange at best. I thought they were going to do this until the Houthis were repelled. What does it matter to us? The average American is probably wondering, "Well, what does this matter to us?"
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a terrorist organization the planned the attack in Paris. They're probably the most lethal group in terms of wanting to attack us. They reside in Yemen. They're running wild and free. And it really does matter that Yemen is out of control, from our point of view.
So I don't understand what's going on in the Saudis. BLITZER: The U.S. is now deploying, sending into the region,
what, nine battleships led by an aircraft carrier battle group. There are going to be at least 6,000 to 10,000 U.S. sailors and marines there.
You know, it wasn't that long ago and I want to show our viewers on Iranian state television not that long ago, they showed these pictures. We'll show our viewers, of a U.S. aircraft carrier being blown up, supposedly, by Iranian forces. I don't know what their intention was, but it's clearly sort of ominous.
Look at this video. Watch this right now. There's the aircraft carrier. This is what they showed on Saudi -- on Iranian television. There you see a missile going in and knocking out that -- you see something like that and you see an aircraft carrier moving off the coast of Yemen right now to interdict or stop Iranian arms potentially from going in.
What do you say? Is that just bluster on their part?
GRAHAM: All I say is that I support President Obama beefing up our presence. If we need to strike inside of Yemen to deal with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to make sure they're not planning an attack against the United States, he certainly has my permission.
Letting the Iranians know that you're not going to resupply the Houthis is a move in the right direction.
So, at the end of the day, I do believe this is a smart move by the president to have a more beefed up naval presence.
BLITZER: What's the Iranian end game here? What do they want?
GRAHAM: Well, I don't know what the Iranian end game is other than just listen to what they tell you. I think they're trying to spread their influence throughout the region. They toppled four Arab capitals. It's clear to me that they want to spread their view of religion throughout the region and wreak havoc, Yemen, Syria.
I mean, you'll never fix the Mideast until you fix Syria. Syria is the cancer in the region. We have no strategy to take Assad down and no Arab army is going on the ground in Syria to deal with ISIL unless you take Assad down because he's a puppet of Iran.
I don't understand our strategy at all. Syria -- there is no game plan to deal with Syria. You don't fix Syria, you never fix Iraq.
BLITZER: I call it compartmentalization right now what's going on. On the one hand, Syria's potential for conflict between the U.S. and Iran off the coast of Yemen right now with these battleships or whatever. On the other hand, there's negotiations about to resume in Vienna, Austria, over this nuclear deal.
On the one hand, there's diplomacy, on the other hand, there's some tension. GRAHAM: Number one, what would they do with the money that you
gave them under the sanctions relief? Given their behavior, they're going to build a bigger war machine. Why would anybody in their right mind give the Iranians more cash given their behavior?
I think the strategy dealing with ISIL and Yemen and all this other stuff is just to get the hell out of town. Do the least amount as possible and pass this problem on to the next president. And the reason we're not going after Assad, who's the cancer in the Mideast, because we don't want to upset the Iranians regarding the negotiations.
This is so convoluted. I can't begin to explain it to people in South Carolina.
BLITZER: Do you think there's going to be deal -- a nuclear deal with Iran?
GRAHAM: Secretary Kerry is trying very hard to find a diplomatic solution. But why in the world would we deal with the Iranians, talking about their nuclear program while they're disrupting the whole region? Slow down and tell the Iranians, we're not going to give you any sanction relief until you change your behavior toward the region, the world, Israel and act more rational.
BLITZER: Well, they're not even linking that directly with the nuclear negotiations.
GRAHAM: But why? What would they do with the money? They're not going to build schools and hospitals. They're going to put it in their war machine.
BLITZER: On a totally different note, I want to give you a quick reaction. We've been showing our viewers what's going on in Baltimore right now.
BLITZER: These protests, the young man, African-American man, died in police custody, his neck was severed, his spinal cord was severed for some reason, we don't know how that happened, but he went into a coma and he eventually died. These are protests going on. His family there, his mother is covering her face crying the whole time.
You guys in South Carolina, you have the problems in North Charleston as well. So, you're familiar with this. It seems like there's almost a crisis every week going on.
GRAHAM: Yes, it sure does. I can understand why people would be protesting. I hope the local community will do what we did in Charleston -- act swiftly, make sure justice is done and take decisive action in the face of clear facts.
How this man died in police custody needs to be answered, not just for the people in Baltimore, but the whole nation. If the local authorities don't act promptly, then, you know, appeal to our higher authority. So, I understand why the protesters are upset. They should be.
BLITZER: And the Department of Justice is now investigating what's going on.
GRAHAM: They probably should, too.
BLITZER: In North Charleston, too, you think this is --
GRAHAM: Well, I think we're doing a good job. We charged the man with murder and let the legal process go forward. I don't think you can say to the people in North Charleston -- ignore this. I think they acted pretty swiftly and we'll see what happens in the legal system.
He's been charged and that's about all you can do.
BLITZER: Yes. I know you spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force reserves, a lawyer there, familiar with all of these issues.
[18:50:03] Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
GRAHAM: Thanks so much.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Lindsey Graham joining us.
We'll take a quick break. We're going to go to those protests in Baltimore, the latest when we come back.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Look at these live pictures, the protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, whose spinal cord was nearly severed while he was in custody of Baltimore police. That case is now being investigated by the Justice Department here in Washington.
Let's get some more. Joining us, the former FBI assistant director, our CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, our CNN anchor Don Lemon, also, our CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and criminal defense attorney, the HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson.
[18:55:07] Also joining us, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial.
Jeffrey, quickly to you first. The legal aspects, what's wrong with the police in Baltimore conducting an investigation before releasing all the details? We heard Benjamin Crump say earlier the family has a right to know what they know right now.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think anything is wrong with it, but remember, there are now three investigations either under way or planned. There's the police investigation, which will make its report in about 10 days. Then, the mayor has said there's going to be an independent investigation run out of Baltimore. And now today, we learn that the United States Justice Department is investigating. So, it does seem like this will be a thoroughly investigated
matter. And frankly, it's appropriate, I do think, to withhold judgment for a while until these authorities can figure out what happened.
BLITZER: Do you have a problem with that, Marc Morial?
MARC MORIAL, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: You know, I think that confidence in the investigation would be enhanced if information that was available now would be released now, such as any surveillance tapes, any other independent information that they may have.
We're talking about not only the appropriate course for a criminal investigation, but we're also trying to insure that a community is held together. That in fact the protests that will continue do not turn into something that none of us want to see. And I think we're talking about the community maybe not having confidence right now that these investigations are going to yield justice.
So, there's a balancing act. So sometimes while in normal course, you may say let's wait until all the information is available, I think that there's another issue at hand, and that is to insure that the family and the public have confidence in that.
And I think the U.S. attorney, I think the state's attorney, I think the mayor and others have to figure out maybe they've got to have direct conversations with the family and the family's representatives to certainly assure them that this is going to be conducted in a full and thorough way, and that nothing is going to be swept under the rug.
After all, Wolf, we had 12 incidents in 18 months, high profile incidents around the country. And in many of these cases, the investigations have left a lot to be desired.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, in fairness to those six police officers who have now been suspended at least for the time being, they deserve -- their rights have to be protected as well.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, what we want is the truth to come out. It's not only fairness to the officers. It's fairness to the families, fairness to the community, fairness to everybody. What happens in a case like this is if a witness or two come out or if a narrative goes out and other witnesses saw something different, they go into hiding.
And this is -- we had this in Ferguson. The FBI has to go to 300 residents to find witnesses. Please come out and tell us what you saw -- and they don't want to and they don't even to this day want to be identified because it contradicts the public narrative.
BLITZER: Don Lemon, you're going to have more on this later tonight, but give us your thought.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, listen, I want transparency, and I don't want to disagree with anyone on the panel, but we saw what happened in Ferguson when information comes out piecemeal. I think that they should be transparent, but I don't know if everyone needs to know all the information right away because you can see what harm it does, because you get people's hopes up. They find out a little bit and then this happens and something else happens.
Wait until you get the bulk of the information. I just think that this case will be handled properly.
BLITZER: Joey Jackson, you agree?
JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. You need to bridge the gap, Wolf, between the community and certainly the police department. I think a good start with that would be keeping the family informed at all twists and turns. Meeting with the family, meeting with the representative of the family so you can have the trust and so it can filter back to the community so the community knows nothing is being hidden. They're working in an expeditious way to get to the truth, which is what everybody wants, but the more information that is shared, the merrier.
BLITZER: Give us a final thought, Marc Morial.
MORIAL: Yes. And I think, Wolf, in many cases it's certainly standard and appropriate for prosecutors and investigators to meet with the family of the victim. So I want to say that that is what would be appropriate here. There's got to be a line of communications established because we have a tough situation there in Baltimore, and we look forward to continuing to talk about it.
BLITZER: And let's hope those demonstrations as it gets dark in Baltimore stay silent. Guys, thanks very, very much.
An important note, Don will back with much more on the braking news later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern on his program, "CNN TONIGHT".
Remember, you can also follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.