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THE SITUATION ROOM
Terrorist Plot Foiled; Baltimore Protests; Interview with Senator Risch. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired April 22, 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: Happening now: anger in the streets. A new protest is getting under way in Baltimore right now over the death of a suspect in police custody.
Tonight, a lawyer for the police officer says the case turns on what happened inside the police van.
Brutal image. Baltimore police have a notorious reputation in TV drama. City records reveal it may be even worse in real life.
And imminent attack. Just months after the terror in Paris, authorities now say they foiled a new plot targeting churches. Were ISIS or al Qaeda terrorists calling the shots?
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: And we're following the breaking news.
We're monitoring a new protest getting under way in the police custody death case in Baltimore. There's also new video tonight showing another angle of the controversial arrest of the suspect, Freddie Gray, as he was put in a police van. Just a little while ago a police union lawyer suggested something happened to Gray when he was inside that van and that may explain why he died a week after his arrest.
We have a team of correspondents in Baltimore along with our reporters and our analysts. They're all covering the news that's breaking right now.
First, let's go to our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's on the streets of Baltimore with the very latest -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just in the last 30 minutes or so, we saw a little bit more than 100 protesters who gathered here outside of the Western District police station. It has since dwindled down a bit. It's a very small group here, some standing on the barricade outside of the police station. They are very angry and you can hear them shouting in the background.
They are demanding justice for the family of Freddie Gray. In the meantime, the police, they are bracing for another potential emotional night.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Tonight, new cell phone video obtained by Baltimore station WJZ showing Freddie Gray just moments after his dramatic arrest, police taking him out of the van and placing him in leg irons after they say he requested an inhaler and became irate.
Thirty minutes later, Gray was no longer breathing. The autopsy says Gray died from a severe spinal cord injury. His family said his voice box was crushed and neck snapped before he slipped into a coma and later died. Freddie Gray's mother and stepfather overwhelmed with emotion, surrounded by hundreds of supporters protesting.
Tense-filled hours as the group snaked through the neighborhood, retracing the path where the 25-year-old was first picked up, caught on tape being dragged by police, wailing in pain. The Gray family's legal team says it could take up to 90 days to get the official autopsy results and there is still no explanation as to why Gray fled from police or why they chased after him.
WILLIAM MURPHY, ATTORNEY FOR GRAY FAMILY: This kid was ultimately stopped for running while black. As some of us have put it, criminal law veterans, we call it felony running. And it's never been probable cause for an arrest.
MALVEAUX: Why so many unanswered questions? According to a Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, a supervisor is prohibited from questioning police accused of misconduct until 10 days after the alleged incident. Today, that window expires.
MARY WASHINGTON, MARYLAND STATE DELEGATE: So until now, we have not heard anything from the officers. We have heard testimony from the witnesses. We have all seen the video. And now we get into what, were the officers thinking? What was their experience? And then we can begin to fill in the gaps of the information there.
MALVEAUX: But the attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police said the police have been talking.
MICHAEL DAVEY, ATTORNEY FOR BALTIMORE POLICE OFFICERS: Five of the six officers voluntarily waived their constitutional rights and gave voluntary statements to the investigators in this matter.
MALVEAUX: And the police department says that those statements will be given to the state's attorney office on deadline next Friday, as promised by the police department.
Wolf, should also let you know, too, that we have learned that medical examiner's office has cleared for the family, the Gray family, to take the body. They are now currently working on deciding a funeral home to do just that. They're in the process of that. That is one of the things that they were very, very upset about yesterday. That has since been resolved, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.
Let's stay on the streets of Baltimore right now, the protest that is getting under way.
Our Brian Todd is on the scene for us a swell.
Brian, where are you and what is going on?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in West Baltimore, Wolf, near the police precinct.
A very passionate crowd has built here and has really grown to at least a few hundred people, a very moving scene. Just a second ago, the leader of the protest gathered some very young people to march at the front of this procession. Young children from this neighborhood, teenagers, have been recruited to march at the front of this procession.
I'm now with Pastor Wesley West of the Faith Empowered Ministers. He is the leader of this march.
Pastor, what are your demands tonight? What do you want from the mayor and the police?
WESLEY WEST, PASTOR: We want justice for the family. We want justice for the community. No justice and no peace here and we're tired of it.
I'm here with the cousin right now. He's very upset about what is going on. There's no justice. There's no peace here. And we're tired of it.
TODD: How long are you going to protest tonight?
WEST: We're going to protest as ever long -- long as we have the energy. We're going to keep going.
TODD: They have a lot of energy, Wolf. Steady crowd building behind us. I would say it's at least a few hundred people. I'm not sure quite where we're marching, but we're going to stay with them.
BLITZER: Brian, I want to get back to you. Stand by over there, Brian Todd on the streets of Baltimore.
Well before the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department had a reputation for brutality, reportedly paying out millions of dollars in settlements to alleged victims.
Let's get some more on what is going on.
Our anchor Jake Tapper, he is also on the streets of Baltimore right now.
What have you learned, Jake?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Wolf. We have seen a lot of protesters here this evening really angry, very passionate, yelling, chanting, because, as you note, these tensions between the community here in Baltimore and the police department, they have been going on for decades.
TAPPER (voice-over): It has been dubbed, originally without irony, Charm City. Baltimore, Maryland, has long held a reputation for being one of the most dangerous cities to police in the nation, with a history of brutality on both sides of the badge.
It's a reputation that Freddie Gray's death has brought to light once again. Gray was young, African-American, had a slew of previous drug- related arrests and he spent time in the housing projects here. In short, Gray represented one of Baltimore's most watched populations, watched by police on foot patrol and watched by an audience of millions in television depictions.
Baltimore has served as the go-to example of urban tension in shows like "The Wire" or "Homicide: Life on the Street," shows based on neighborhoods dotted with death. This map compiled by "The Baltimore Sun" shows 211 homicides in the city last year. So far, 2015 has seen 63.
These numbers are vastly better than in previous decades, when crime was notoriously high, more than 350 homicides in 1993 alone. At the time, police recruitment videos used the slogan "And You Thought Your Job Was Tough." It is a dangerous job that's difficult to do without criticism.
Today, the Baltimore Police Department is working hard to improve its relations with those whom it serves, posting photos of outreach efforts and successful busts on Twitter. It's an effort of which the mayor is proud.
STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE (D), MAYOR OF BALTIMORE, MARYLAND: I think Baltimore has had a very challenging history when it comes to the black community and the police department. We have done a lot of work and made a lot of progress.
TAPPER: But for many in this city, these efforts do little in the wake of videos such as these showing officer brutality, punching, hitting. Residents say it's all too common.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freddie Gray isn't the only one they beat up in this last -- past two weeks.
TAPPER: In 2014, "The Baltimore Sun," reported that the city paid more than $5.7 million in judgments and settlements for alleged police misconduct since 2011. This includes six-figure settlements for allegedly slamming a pregnant woman to the ground, for killing an unarmed Marine veteran and for beating a church deacon with no previous record. ANTHONY BATTS, BALTIMORE POLICE COMMISSIONER: I have heard the
complaints, I have heard the distrust, and it is clear there's still work to be done.
TAPPER: Baltimore police called for a government investigation. Now, less than a year later, the Department of Justice will investigate the force once again.
RAWLINGS-BLAKE: We need stronger enforcement and more tools to hold officers accused of wrongdoing accountable.
TAPPER: In a city has hard to police as this one, the biggest challenge may be a department trying to police itself.
TAPPER: And, Wolf, I have been talking to some of the community leaders here. And one of the things that they are expressing some hope for amidst this tragic event is the idea that perhaps the death of Freddie Gray can prompt a discussion and some serious change when it comes to the kinds of policing techniques used here in Baltimore -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You have been there in Baltimore, Jake, all day. What is your sense on how the community is basically dealing with all of this?
TAPPER: Well, people are very angry, Wolf, and upset, and, you know, it's been 10 days and there still is no satisfying explanation as to how or why Freddie Gray was killed.
And I have to say, hearing the Fraternal Order of Police president use the term lynch mob when describing the largely African-American protests here, he said that it was as if it was a lynch mob against the police, I think that that use of that turn of phrase was one that did not go over well with protesters and could perhaps even antagonize things further.
So far, the protests have been peaceful. So far, things have gone well when it comes to the police and when it comes to protesters. But that kind of rhetoric could be problematic, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly could be, given the history of that phrase, lynch mob. Thanks very much, Jake Tapper, on the scene for us. We will get back to you as news warrants.
I want to bring in our national correspondent, Jason Carroll. He's also there in Baltimore.
Did -- the representative of the police union, he walked that phrase lynch mob back a little bit, right?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did. Actually that phrase was used in a statement that was handed out by Fraternal Order of Police. Gene Ryan, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police was asked repeatedly about the use of that particular phrase. And later on during the press conference, Wolf, he did eventually back down and say perhaps he should have used a different choice of words.
Some of the key points that also came out during the press conference, the Fraternal Order of Police confirmed that five of the six officers did in fact on April 12, the day of the arrest of Freddie Gray, voluntarily give statements about what happened. One of the officers chose not to. That officer not being specifically identified. But because one officer did not choose to do that, that certainly is going to raise some red flags with some members of the community here.
Also, Wolf, the representatives here were questioned about whether or not they believed any of the officers committed a criminal act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVEY: No. Based on the information that I know, no.
GENE RYAN, PRESIDENT, BALTIMORE FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: And I think it's important to understand that the union is 100 percent completely behind the officers also. You know, they still have their constitutional right to have their day in court. And I wish everybody would just slow down a little and let the investigation take its course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: Again, by the end of the press conference, you had both Michael Davey and Gene Ryan both praising the peaceful protesters who have been out here in Baltimore, again calling for the investigative process to play itself out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jason, thank you, Jason Carroll reporting. We will get back to you as well.
Let's bring in our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, our HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson and our CNN anchor Don Lemon.
Joey, will the Department of Justice investigation, the civil rights allegations that they may have been violated, do you believe that will be effective?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is effective because it's always nice to have the federal government as an additional measure of oversight.
Now, keeping in mind, of course, that the state charges could proceed, if any, if there's found to be any criminality because we know the local prosecutors are investigating. However, Wolf, you have to look at the elements of a civil rights charge. Of course, you know, there's going to be the claim, rightful as it should be, that there was a deprivation of the civil rights. You know, that's something that you could say was established, in that
there was unlawful force used here. The second element, of course, is that the officers were acting under color of state law. They were law enforcement officials. They were acting.
The third thing of course is the death. Where the big hang-up comes in civil rights cases is the willful deprivation of a right. You have to establish it was intentional, it was purposeful and it was malicious. If they can establish that, that is, the federal government, then you have a viable civil rights prosecution. That remains to be seen in terms of what the intent of the officers were when he got hurt.
BLITZER: Let me bring in Tom Fuentes, because, Tom, as you well know, these six police officers who have now been suspended, five of the six did make statements to the police. One of them didn't, presumably citing his or her constitutional right not to go ahead and testify on something that could be incriminating.
But the union is now saying they don't believe the police officers did anything wrong. How do they know that?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think they have gotten some indication. You know, if that attorney is representing them, he may know something that we do not know and is not going to be public yet.
But there's already been misinformation going out in this case that often happens in a high-profile case. We have had reporting say that none of the officers spoke. They were all exercising their rights. Turns out that five did the very day of the incident. So, you know, there are many facts that aren't out yet that we know of. There are many more to be learned as the investigation progresses.
BLITZER: Don, what about the fact that Baltimore, as we, as Jake just pointed out, paid $5.7 million to victims of police brutality between the years 2011-2014, including an 87-year-old grandmother who was thrown to the floor by a white police officer when she tried to come to the aid of her grandson who had just been shot?
She was one of more than 100 victims that the city had to settle with. Are you surprised by this?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: No, I'm not considering there is a reason that they're going to Baltimore for these police shows and it's because of what happens in that city.
I'm not surprised at all, $5.7 million since 2011. That's a lot of money. And it seems that there is an issue, obviously, with the police department in Baltimore when it comes to these issues. Now, do we know what happened with this particular issue? We know from what we see on the videotape. We don't know what the beginning, what happened at the takedown and we don't know what happened inside of the ambulance and if this is going to be one that the city will have to settle. But I think that the city is going to have to pay some money because
-- because the mayor has admitted in some sense that there was some culpability with the police department because they did not call for an ambulance immediately when Freddie Gray was arrested.
So, I'm not surprised at all that they paid that much money. They have got an issue and they need to deal with it.
BLITZER: Yes. We don't know what happened in that police van after he was taken and put inside that police van. It was at least half-an- hour if not a lot longer before an ambulance showed up to take him to the hospital.
All of you, stand by. We have much more to report. You're looking at live pictures there from Baltimore, demonstrators there gearing up for another night of protests. We will have the latest when we come back.
BLITZER: All right. We're following the breaking news out of Baltimore, new protests unfolding in the police custody death case.
Our legal experts, they are all standing by. They're exploring all the new angles to this story. I want them to stand by, in fact, while we get an update on the Justice Department's investigation of the case.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us.
What are you learning, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Justice Department's move to launch the civil rights investigation this early on is an indication of a more aggressive approach by the department.
Federal officials will try to establish whether the officers willfully violated Freddie Gray's rights to be free from unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. To answer that, according to officials I have been speaking with, investigators will have to reconstruct the sequence of events step by step, first to determine whether the injury was inflicted after the takedown of Gray.
For example, if he was already in handcuffs and then force was used that caused the injury, that could be considered excessive since he was already restrained. According to police, as we know, Wolf, these officers say that force was not used against Gray. Now, another aspect investigators will look at is whether the police were reckless in not giving immediate medical assistance to Gray.
Officials would have to establish that they intentionally ignored Gray's medical needs, and, as we saw in that video, dragged him to the van knowing that it could increase his injuries. A big puzzle, a piece of the puzzle here is the medical forensics, which could tell us whether the dragging made a difference, the type of blow that could happen and that kind of thing.
The answer to those questions, Wolf, are not readily available right now. And we know the department could order a separate federal autopsy, like it did in the Ferguson case. We don't know if that has happened, but it's a possibility. Still a lot of unanswered questions, Wolf.
BLITZER: There certainly are. They are going to be investigated at multiple levels. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.
Let's bring in Jeffrey Toobin right now, our senior legal analyst.
Jeffrey, as we take a look at this, the effectiveness of a Justice Department investigation, what do you think? Is it is going to be real? Because this could go on and on and on.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, remember, there are three investigations now going on or planned.
You have the police investigation, which is going to make its report to the prosecuting attorney next week. You have an independent investigation that has been promised by the mayor. And now you have the Justice Department investigation.
I do think that in light of all those investigations, we will learn a great deal more than we know now. But I think it is important to recognize how little we know now about why Freddie Gray was arrested. What were the circumstances of his arrest and, most importantly, how did he sustain these terrible injuries?
None of those answers are clear. But I do think that with those three investigations, we will know the answers.
BLITZER: Yes, hopefully, we will. Stand by.
I want to bring Don Lemon in.
Don, I want to step away a little bit from what is going on in Baltimore. As you know, you're in New York. The latest NYPD training for rookies encourages not telling racist jokes, even if you think -- this is a direct quote -- even if you think they are not offensive.
Is this part of the problem after the Department of Justice had to go into Ferguson? City employees were fired for sending racist e-mails and police are still having to be reminded not to be racist, even in their jokes?
LEMON: I think it is part of the problem and it's apropos that I'm here speaking with you because just no more than 45 minutes ago, I was down at One Police Plaza here interviewing the police commissioner, Bill Bratton, and he talked to me about these specifics tactics.
And he said, listen, there is always room for more training. And some people were -- some -- one of the newspapers here was very cynical about this -- these new training procedures yesterday. And he didn't -- he didn't find that funny. He said, listen, people need to be reminded sometimes. Some of the things that -- do not imitate the speech patterns of others. Avoid expressing stereotypical assumptions. Tell a person why he or she is being stopped. That person is going to resent you.
Those may be simple things, but people need to be reminded of things all the time, the commissioner says. And he also said that for him the issue is that it is a mutual issue of more than one party. It's not just the police. It's the people in the community. And he also said it is the media as well.
We have to start seeing each other and, as he said, not hyping tensions, seeing each other, especially the police officers and the people in the community, as human beings. This is all part of their new training that they are going to offer to the new recruits as they come out of the academy in June. And then they can -- you know, they can redo them for future classes, if they feel that they have to, so all of this starting in June, some of it, he says, already in practice now.
BLITZER: I know you are going to have a big interview with him later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, "CNN TONIGHT." We will stand by for that. Don.
Tom, what do you think about this? What is your reaction?
FUENTES: Well, I agree with all of that.
I think also, though, we haven't paid much attention to police selection, deselecting officers with bad character and identifying it up front. And I think if departments did more of that, we might see less officers on the street who can't be trained. I don't think -- you can't train a pit bull to become a French poodle. You need to hire good cops in the first place and not try to take it out of them during training, because -- but even when they're hired, you need the training.
You need discipline. You need the enforcement of the training throughout their career to make sure that officers continue to behave well and not break bad and do these things.
BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.
All right, Joey, let's talk a little bit about another story we have been watching, the Tulsa reserve deputy charged with second-degree manslaughter. We're talking about Robert Bates. He pleaded not guilty yesterday in connection with the death of Eric Harris.
Bates was then given permission by the judge to go to the Bahamas for a family vacation for a month. Have you ever heard of anything like that?
JACKSON: You know, Wolf, I really haven't. And it is certainly the message that it sends. And we have to be mindful -- and as a criminal defense attorney and
former prosecutor, I will remind us that, of course, it is innocent until proven guilty. However, that being said, you're facing a very serious crime.
Now, this crime that he's facing is not predicated upon any intentional act, but it's predicated upon a concept that we call negligence. Were you so negligent -- and what does that mean in layman's terms? Did your standard of care so deviate from what a reasonable person would do under those circumstances that it constitutes a crime?
And in this case, as we know, there is some indication that he grabbed the Taser from his chest area and, you know, what he wanted or should have grabbed or meant to grab is the indication a Taser that was on his chest area and, instead, grabbed his pistol and shot.
And so that's a concern. But after you are granted bail to be going on vacations and junkets, I haven't as a prosecutor nor as a defense attorney ever seen this before. And I think it doesn't send the proper and appropriate message under these circumstances.
BLITZER: Well, let me just get quickly from Jeffrey Toobin.
Have you ever heard of anything like this, someone charged with second-degree manslaughter, 73-year-old man, allowed to go spend a month now on vacation with his family in the Bahamas because they already purchased the tickets?
TOOBIN: It is a disgrace. It is a total disgrace and it's a slap in the face to everyone in the criminal justice system.
And I think it's indicative. You know, we are sometimes accused of being unduly cynical about the different treatment between black folks and white folks, black victims, black defendants, white victims, white defendants.
I mean, here you have the 73-year-old white guy. And you know what? He's out on bail. He can take a vacation in Oklahoma. There are lots of nice places in Oklahoma. He shouldn't be allowed to go to the Bahamas. It's just a disgrace.
BLITZER: You agree, Tom?
FUENTES: I don't think it's just because he's white. I think he has got the money to pretty much do what he wants. And they don't consider him a flight risk, so let him go.
The average defendant, especially minority defendant that is poor, isn't taking a trip to the Bahamas.
LEMON: If he has money, then he's more of a flight risk because he can afford to do other things. Many people don't have options to get out of the country or to go in hiding. If he has got a lot of money and he wants to, you know, stay in the
Bahamas, he can figure it out. I'm not saying he is going to do that. But I think that would make him even more of a flight risk because he has the means to do it.
BLITZER: Yes. There may be cases of this, where someone out on bail can actually leave the country and go to the Bahamas on vacation, but second-degree manslaughter, that is a pretty serious charge.
Don, remember, he is going to be back later tonight, more of the breaking news from Baltimore on his program, "CNN TONIGHT." He will be speaking with the New York City police commissioner, Bill Bratton, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. You will want to see that.
Guys, thanks very much.
We will take a quick break -- more of the news right after this.
[18:35:05] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Baltimore. New protest against the police that is under way right now over the controversial death of a suspect in custody. Let's check in with Brian Todd. He's on the streets of Baltimore.
What's going on now, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very dramatic development right now at one of Baltimore's major intersections, the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue. Look, they've just stopped here, joined hands, chanting and blocking traffic. You can see back here, I'll have our VJ, photojournalist, John Beck (ph), show you the traffic disruption here. It goes back for several blocks now, and you've got the situation over here, Wolf, with the police cars.
These protesters have been dodging the police cars for several minutes now. They'll make a turn just to get away from the police. When I asked the protest organizers just now why they want to block traffic at this major intersection, he said, "To show them what we can do." They're going to put up police barricades at the police precinct," he said. "We're going to put up barricades of our own right here" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian. We'll get back to you.
I want to bring in Cedric Alexander right now. He's the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. He's also a key member of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
What should the police, for example, right now -- you saw Brian say the protesters are blocking traffic on the streets of Baltimore. What should they do about that?
CEDRIC ALEXANDER, PRESIDENT, NOBLE: Well, I think it's one of those situations where I'm going to hope that they're going to be patient with this crowd, but yet at the same time, they have the responsibility of maintaining a certain amount of peace so people can peacefully protest.
But sometimes you have to be a little lenient and allow people to do what they need to do to express themselves, and it appears that what they're -- it appears that's what they're doing right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. The attorney working with the police officers who have been suspended. Six of them have been suspended. That attorney told "The Baltimore Sun" the city, in his words, is lucky that they got statements from five of the six officers involved in the arrest. Does that sound like cooperation to you when you hear that kind of talk?
ALEXANDER: Well, certainly not in the vain in which you just expressed it. It certainly does not. I mean, the fact of the matter is, it's been ten days. The community and certainly that mayor want to know what happened from the police officer's version.
Now is not a time to be someone antagonistic. Now as the time is really to try to get police officers that he represents in this union to make -- begin to make some statements that would be important for the community to hear but at the same time, not jeopardizing the integrity of this investigation.
So I would hope that this union president, whoever he or she may be, will certainly work to try to reconcile and work through some of those questions that so many people want answers to.
BLITZER: Well, speaking of the union president, listen to Gene Ryan of the Baltimore police, union president, what he had to say about tensions right now between police and the community in Baltimore.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENE RYAN, UNION PRESIDENT, BALTIMORE POLICE: I think there has been some tension for a couple years. But not on a wide scale, because majority of our police officers are very professional. They're highly trained, self-motivated. And they do an excellent job for the most part.
Now, are there some bad apples out there? I'd be the first to admit we need to improve the relationship between the police department and the community. And I think that needs to start with training.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Your reaction, Cedric?
ALEXANDER: Well, he's -- he's certainly choosing his words very carefully. And I think it's important that he do so.
But here's the key. He, being the leader of that union, certainly need to work with those police officers that are involved and the mayor, along with Commissioner Batts, as well, too, in terms of giving the community. The community right now is asking for it. Tell us what's going on.
The longer that these officers don't cooperate, it certainly makes it much tougher for the leadership in that community to -- to be able to tell people what's going on. Everybody wants to know as much as we can.
So I would hope that the union leadership there will work with the city officials and with the investigations. And we know that there are at least four investigations that are going to be conducted, Wolf, into this whole piece.
BLITZER: Yes, and who knows how many more will be involved, as well.
BLITZER: All right, Cedric, thanks very much. Cedric Alexander is the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
We're going to have much more on the breaking news coming up.
Plus, another breaking story happening. Very tense standoff between American and Iranian warships. We're learning new details about how close they're sailing to each other. Stay with us.
[18:44:10] BLITZER: Breaking news. Saudi Arabia has just hit Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen with a fresh round of airstrikes, targeting a weapons depot, causing huge explosions.
The strike comes amid an increasingly tense standoff between the United States and Iran at sea. Both countries are masking warships, lots of them, with U.S. vessels on standby to possibly intercept Iranian vessels that may be carrying weapons to those Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Our national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story for us.
Jim, it's a pretty serious situation right now.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. A lot of ships in close proximity. That's always tense. We learned a few new details today.
First of all, the Iranian convoy, it's not just cargo ships. It has small Iranian warships in the convoy, as well. It's also moving closer to the Yemeni coast, still in international waters but now southwest of the border between Yemen and Oman. That puts them within just a few miles of U.S. warships, along with its ally ships along here. They're keeping a watch. They're not making any plans. This will be an extraordinary step to board those ships or blockade them. But they're watching them. They're sending them a message that the U.S. is watching, to hopefully pressure them back so they don't go ashore with what may be, expected to be weapons onboard chose ships. Other news, as you mentioned, Wolf, Saudi Arabia announced yesterday
it had suspended its air campaign in Yemen. But today, dropping more bombs on Houthi positions and the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. making it very clear that they're going to keep up the pressure.
Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Houthis should be under no illusion that we will continue to use force in order to stop them from taking Yemen over by aggressive actions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The U.S. also continuing to carry out drone strikes inside Yemen. Two drone strikes today down here in the southeastern part of the country, killed six suspected AQAP militants. That's the second time in three days, though you have U.S. intelligence and forces off the ground there in Yemen. They're still maintaining the ability to carry out counterterror operations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a serious, serious development.
All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, the Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.
Senator, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
How worried are you about a possible confrontation on the seas between the United States and Iran?
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, you know, right now both sides are using restraint. This is -- it's pretty obvious what's going on. You have these ships that have left Iran. Obviously, I can't sit here and confirm what's on them.
BLITZER: They deny that they include weapons. They say they are humanitarian supplies.
RISCH: I understand that. It will be interesting to see when they, when they are unloaded what kind of supplies are on there. If they're boarded or if they're inspected when they land, I suspect it's probably going to be by the Saudis. They're the ones that have been carrying out the operations there.
I'm not so sure that the Iranians will unload or allow boarding, given their claim of what they say --
BLITZER: Because it's one thing if the Iranian ships, there may be nine of them. Cargo ships, war ships are international waters as opposed to when they actually go in Yemeni territorial waters.
RISCH: No question about that. But again, if indeed they are humanitarian supplies, no one is going to stop them.
BLITZER: So, the rules for engagement for the U.S. military and there are thousands of U.S. sailors and marines aboard that aircraft carrier the USS Teddy Roosevelt, the other warships there, what are the rules of engagement if they suspect that there are weapons on those Iranian ships.
RISCH: You know, Wolf, I can't tell you what those rules of engagement are from direct knowledge. Having said that, I don't think it takes much imagination to understand that the rules of engagement will be such. That the U.S. is going to keep order there. They sent the ships there and they got the Normandy there, they got the Teddy Roosevelt there, both of them are there to see that order is kept.
The work is going to be done, I believe, by the Saudis when it comes to actual engagement, if that happens.
BLITZER: Let's talk about what happened in France today. The arrest of an individual suspected -- a terror suspect suspected of plotting to blow up churches in France. This comes on the heels of what happened a few weeks ago. As we all know, they found guns, ammunition, bulletproof vests and handwritten documents dealing with possible targets. Have you been briefed on what's going on over there?
RISCH: I have. It's bizarre -- it's another one of those bizarre situations. It appears to be a loner, again. He killed a woman, apparently, some time ago. This incident actually happened on Sunday. The report of it wasn't released until today.
But they did find a lot of terrorist supplies when he apparently accidentally shot himself and asked for medical help. The automobile was searched, his home was searched and they found a number of things that would indicate another loner type of attack.
BLITZER: To say loner -- loner inspired on the social media by what, ISIS, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Shabaab? Who?
RISCH: The indications are that the directions came out of Syria. No specific group was identified, however, again, one would tell this common sense three years of common sense that it was at least ISIS.
BLITZER: And you still believe ISIS has aspirational goals to go after targets right here in the U.S. homeland?
RISCH: I don't think there is any question about that. I think, again, this is continuing indication of it. These are the kind of things they're using and very difficult to guard against and actually very easy for them to pull off.
You and I have talked before about the fact that they are people who have left the United States, U.S. citizens, indeed, who have left the United States. Gone and fought in Syria and have come back. There's open source reporting saying that one of the reasons they send them back is to do just the same thing in the United States. So far we've been lucky to -- not lucky, but skilled in keeping those people from doing that.
[BLITZER: Yes, so far, the keyword.
RISCH: And lucky. Skilled and lucky.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Senator Risch, for joining us.
RISCH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Senator James Risch from Idaho.
Breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM: we'll have the latest from Baltimore. They're bracing for another night of angry protests over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
[18:55:01] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, new protests in Baltimore. You're looking at pictures coming in from Baltimore right now, with the police custody death of Freddie Gray. A police union lawyer is now saying something happened while Gray was inside a police van that may explain the severe injury to his spinal cord which led to his death.
Let's bring in our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and our CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish. He's the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH", which airs Saturday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern.
Gloria, the president still hasn't weighed in directly as far as I know on what's been going on in Baltimore. Any reason for that?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I wouldn't expect him to this early, Wolf. If you remember with Ferguson, it took the president a few days and some very visible large demonstrations. Then he weighed again a few days later.
What he said at the time I think holds in this particular case, which is that there are local, state, federal investigations going on. The DOJ, the Justice Department is investigating.
And when the president did weigh in on Ferguson, he made it very clear, he said I've got to make sure that I don't look like I'm putting my thumb on the scales one way or another.
So, I think standing back at this point is the wise thing to do.
BLITZER: You know, and, Michael, there's going to be a new attorney general presumably in the coming days, Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in New York. She's likely to be confirmed as early this week.
Do you anticipate that she will have a different role in this federal DOJ investigation into Baltimore as opposed to her predecessor, Eric Holder? MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": I don't think there are
going to be substantive differences, I think there will be stylistic differences between the two. I don't think, Wolf, when her name was first put forth that we would have anticipated that there would be so much focus on these issues by the time that she would become the attorney general.
But that doesn't mean she's a newcomer to the subject matter. She handled some very complex police misconduct cases as both the frontline prosecutor and as a U.S. attorney.
You'll remember the Amadou Diallo case, the 41 shots case, you'll remember the Abner Louima case. I hate to say it, but the so-called broomstick case. She played pivotal roles in both of those. She did too much for some, not enough for others.
I think that's the kind of record you want going forward.
BLITZER: Jeff, are you surprised that Martin O'Malley, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination even though he hasn't formally announced it. He wants to challenge Hillary Clinton, former mayor of Baltimore, former governor of Maryland, he really we haven't' heard a lot from him -- if anything, I haven't heard much about what's going on in Baltimore.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He hasn't talked about it, you're right. He did tell "The Washington Post" that he believes the city officials should be as transparent as they could be. So, he says it's troubling and he thinks this is a local matter.
But just like what Gloria said with the president, I'm not that surprised he's not weighed in. We don't know all the facts. It's hard to judge one way or another. And he, too, would not want to put his thumb on the scale.
He knows these police officials, the commissioner and others. So, I think if this goes on and if the demonstrations continue, he will. But right now, I think it's a wise sign that he's not weighing in.
BORGER: And he's not the governor of the state anymore.
ZELENY: Not the governor of the state --
BLITZER: He wants to be president of the United States, though.
BLITZER: He's got a history in Baltimore. He's got a history in Maryland.
Gloria, this new CNN/ORC poll, put some numbers up, 87 percent believe ISIS is a serious threat to the United States. How is that going to play out in this political campaign season?
BORGER: Well, I think what you're going to see on the Republican side is Republicans being much more muscular on foreign policy. We've already heard it from Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, the talk of taking the fight to ISIS, going after ISIS directly.
John Kasich had talked about putting combat boots on the ground if you need to. And this, by the way, wolf, plays into the Republican primary audience because 60 percent of them also oppose any deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. And so, you're going to see a lot more muscular Republican Party. The big question I have is, where does Rand Paul go in this group?
ZELENY: Right. Well, he's already become more muscular over the last year or so. With the threat of ISIS, he'll have to be more so.
BLITZER: What do you think, Michael?
SMERCONISH: I think Gloria is right in quoting the internal on the poll. Relative to Iran, you see 53 percent of Americans would like there to be some kind of accommodation. When you look at the internals, it's 60 percent of Republicans who are opposed to that deal. The more conservative the GOP member, the more they oppose the deal.
And what that tells me is there will be no change moving forward among the Republican Caucus on this issue or the 2016 candidates, because as you know, Wolf, passion drives the base. And they're passionate in opposition to the Iran deal, even if that's not the majority view of the country.
BLITZER: That's a good point indeed.
Michael Smerconish, thanks very much. Gloria Borger, Jeff Zeleny. Guys, thank you.
Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer, tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
That's very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.