Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Colorado Senator Cory Gardner; Republicans Fumble Iraq War Question. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired May 18, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How will this issue play out in the race for the White House?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking now: fears of a bloodbath. Now that ISIS has seized control of a major Iraqi city, local officials warning the terrorists are likely slaughtering their opponents right now. ISIS just released criminals from a prison in Ramadi, and it's only 70 miles outside of Baghdad.

The fall of that city is a dangerous setback for the U.S.-led battle against ISIS only hours after a victory. Tonight, we have new details on a secret attack by Delta Force commandos that killed an ISIS commander.

A leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Cory Gardner, he is standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts. They're all covering the news that is breaking right now.

First, let's get the very latest from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after years, billions of dollars of U.S. military investment in Iraq, in Ramadi and so many U.S. troops having fallen in that city, finally, Iraqi forces could not stand in the face of the ISIS onslaught.


STARR (voice-over): Outgunned by ISIS, faced with waves of fighters and suicide car bombs, Iraqi forces in Ramadi and thousands of residents with no choice but to flee. The Pentagon called it a setback, the Obama administration trying to downplay the loss.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed.

STARR: But ISIS did what the U.S. said it could not do, field a large-scale military attack. MUHANNAD HAIMOUR, ADVISER TO ANBAR PROVINCE GOVERNOR: There are

fierce battles taking place in neighborhoods in the city and popular mobilization units have been ordered by the prime minister to move into Anbar.

STARR: Just 48 hours earlier, a top U.S. military official had suggested Ramadi might be just an ISIS P.R. stunt.

Now ISIS roaming deserted streets, abandoned weapons a sign of hasty retreat. U.S. airstrikes will continue, but no sign yet of Iraqi government forces ready to counterattack, all of this as U.S. intelligence agencies scour computers, cell phones and other intelligence from that weekend raid deep in Eastern Syria.

CNN has learned the target, a man called Abu Sayyaf by the U.S., had been under surveillance since March, when Delta Force commandos flew in, in helicopters to his residence to capture him. They had fresh intelligence indicating he was there. The commandos quickly ran into a firefight and hand-to-hand combat. They blew a hole in the side of the building to get inside. Abu Sayyaf was killed, his wife taken into custody and questioned. U.S. officials say he had critical intelligence on ISIS military plans and finances, one official saying he could potentially have information regarding Americans who had been held hostage by ISIS, but just how important was this ISIS moneyman?

MICHAEL MORELL, FORMER DEPUTY CIA DIRECTOR: Very significant target, a guy who played a very significant role in advancing the interests of ISIS, a guy who was very close to al-Baghdadi, one of al- Baghdadi's senior advisers.


STARR: And a U.S. official says that the White House did contact several of the American hostage families after the raid to tell them about it and say that it hoped there might be information about the fate of their loved ones, how ISIS handled all of these hostages, still no word on whether they did find any of that intelligence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, maybe we will find out in the coming days. Thanks very much, Barbara, for that report.

Let's talk about the battle for Ramadi with one of our correspondents who has reported from the front lines against ISIS. That would be our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us now from Beirut.

What are you hearing about what's going on right now, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, after the weekend routing of Iraqi security forces, who left behind it seems a fair bit of their weaponry, people are now looking for the counterattack.

And that seems to be in two phases, really. There are early signs of thousands of Shia militia gathering quite a far distance to the east of Ramadi. They're said to have already been roughly in that area, but now gathering. And the defensive line put in by Iraqi police and Iraqi government loyal tribes is about 15 kilometers east of Ramadi.

Now, Wolf, there is a vital battle ahead, because, obviously, as you heard John Kerry say there, they have to get back into Ramadi and try and recontest that densely populated urban area. Used to be a million people living there. But they're going to be going into a Sunni town. These are Shia militia. We all know the sectarian fault line in Iraq, and that really could be replicated in the fight ahead for Ramadi -- Wolf.


BLITZER: It's a very significant loss. Mosul, that was a city of nearly two million people. That was lost to ISIS a year or so ago, now Ramadi. What happens next? Where do we go from here?

WALSH: The key issue, I think, is what level of U.S. airpower is willing to go in at the backs of the Shia militia? Everyone agrees they're the ones who have to do most of the fighting here.

And we have to ask ourselves how many civilians are still trapped inside that city? You saw those pictures of deserted streets. Well, the U.N. have just said 25,000 people fled in that fighting, but that's still only a fraction of the possible 300,000 who were there at the time that ISIS assault began.

That city has been under siege for months . There have still been people trying to hold out. They're fleeing towards Baghdad now. Wolf, the bigger picture here, imagine through Anbar runs a huge highway from ISIS territory in Syria right the way down to Baghdad. There are pockets of Iraqi army along that. Ramadi was a key stronghold they had there to try and defend that road. They have lost it. They do potentially run the risk of losing all those pockets along there. Then ISIS may have a straight shot towards the capital. That's what people have to be deeply concerned about in the months ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Why does the Iraqi military, Nick, and you have spent a lot of time over there -- this is a military trained by the U.S., armed by the U.S., with some of the best weapons the U.S. has provided them over a decade. Why in a battle like this against some ISIS terrorists who move into Ramadi, they simply run away, they drop the weapons, they abandon the city and run away? Why are they so pitiful?

WALSH: Well, the issue, I think, has been that they have been facing months of resistance against ISIS here, and there are many questions about were they adequately resupplied, reinforced?

The tribes in that area who are Sunni, were they getting the weapons that they wanted from the Iraqi government who are predominantly Shia sympathizers? They may have not trusted those Sunni tribes to do the right things with the guns they got. So much of the politics around this is to do with that sectarian Sunni-Shia divide. Even some thinking perhaps there was a suggestion maybe that the

Iraqi security forces withdrew because their political masters wanted to see the Shia militia come in and finish the job. That's all speculation. But it really shows how difficult it must be for the ordinary Iraqi soldier to pursue holding a city like Ramadi when they're not really sure if their political masters have their better interests at heart.

But those scenes of Iraqi security forces people fleeing that city, they came after months of holding out, big questions though as to why they left so much armor and weaponry in their wake -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a huge question because those ISIS are now going to use all those largely U.S.-made weapons against the Iraqi military and against the population there. A lot of people are going to die as a result. Nick Paton Walsh, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now from Senator Cory Gardner. He's a Republican of Colorado, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

Secretary of State John Kerry, you heard him, said he is in his words absolutely confident that the tide will turn against ISIS in Ramadi, in his words in the coming days. Do you agree with the secretary?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Well, this is a huge setback.

And certainly we all hope and will do everything we can to make sure that this tide turns. But one of the biggest dangers an event like this poses is the increased recruiting efforts that this has for ISIS. We know that every time they have a small victory, it brings more people to their side.

Now, this is not a small victory. This is a major setback. And so while the tide will turn, yes, and I believe it will, it has to, but it will only turn if we actually have the right pace, the right strategy in place to make that tide turn.

BLITZER: So, what do you recommend?

GARDNER: Again, I think if you look at the number of strikes that we have had, going back to August of 2014, Inherent Resolve, we now have about 2,800 strikes through August 2014 to today.

That's about 10 a day. I think the pace of activity has to increase. Our work and coordination with the people on the ground, our allies has to increase. And then we have to really question whether or not we are actually accomplishing the defeat part of degrade. We go back and forth on degrade. But as Ramadi shows, the defeat part is very much in question.

BLITZER: It looks like ISIS not only is still in control of the second largest city of Iraq, Mosul, city of some two million people, but now they have taken this city of Ramadi. It doesn't look like they're being degraded much at all, does it?

GARDNER: And that's a big concern.

I was in Iraq meeting with their top leadership when we were in the same meeting when they were informed that Tikrit had been retaken by Iraq. That was a big moment for the forces. It was a point of encouragement. But, again, now we have a setback in Ramadi. Now we have a situation where we have about a 100-mile corridor from Aleppo in Syria to Ramadi that is controlled by ISIS, a supply line 100 miles' long controlled by ISIS and only 70 miles outside of Baghdad.

So, I think we have to come back to the table and people need to answer for, are we accomplishing, are we getting to the defeat part? It is very much up in question at this point.


BLITZER: General Martin Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he said a few weeks ago in his words that Ramadi is not symbolic in any way to the future of Iraq. A lot of us were surprised to hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs say that, given the fact that more than 1,000 American troops died in the Anbar province, many of them in Ramadi fighting during the war.

GARDNER: People remember in 2006 this was the site of the Anbar awakening, where a great deal of American blood, a great deal of sacrifice was made by our men and women in uniform. This is not something that can be taken lightly.

And when it comes to Iraq, what we're doing with the tribes to make sure that those who have been on the sidelines come to our side, we have to win and we have to show that that sort of absolute knowledge that we are going to be victorious in the end. And without that, then it does pose dangers for us as we try to gain more allies in our efforts to defeat and degrade, and not just defeat and degrade, but to eradicate this scourge of ISIS.

BLITZER: I know you are not running for Republican presidential nomination. I will still ask you the question your friends are being asked. Was the invasion of Iraq back in 2003 a mistake?

GARDNER: I think, knowing -- if we had known then what we know now, we would have made a -- Congress would have made a different decision. I was not here at that time. I think the president would have made a different decision if we knew then what we know now.

But the fact is, the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein is dead.

BLITZER: Why do you think the world is a better place? Because there weren't really any terrorists emerging from Iraq under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. He may have been brutal to his own people, but there was no real al Qaeda presence in Iraq, there were no weapons of mass destruction, he was being contained by the U.S.-led coalition, the no-fly zones were in effect. Why do you think the world is a better place now without Saddam

Hussein in Iraq than it was then with Saddam Hussein controlling what's going on in Iraq?

GARDNER: Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator.


BLITZER: He was a brutal dictator, but what was he doing to the U.S. that made the world worse under Saddam Hussein than it is right now, if you take a look at what's going on in Iraq?

GARDNER: We know his regime in the past had attempted to secure weapons of mass destruction. We know that he had attempted decades ago to attempt to secure nuclear weapons.

In fact, I had meetings and opportunities to have quite a bit of time with one of the scientists who was jailed under the Saddam regime's efforts to secure a military use for a nuclear weapon. We know that he was violating human rights. We know that he had done a number of efforts to sponsor terrorism in Iraq and the threat that that posed to the United States.

And so I don't think anybody would argue right now that we'd be in a better place if Saddam Hussein was still in charge of a brutal dictatorship.

BLITZER: So, Senator, just to be precise on this matter, because it's really sensitive, a lot of people are watching right now, the more than 4,000 U.S. troops who lost their lives in Iraq, the tens of thousands who came home with severe injuries, the more than a trillion dollars U.S. taxpayers spent in Iraq, from your perspective, that was money well spent, that was blood well shed?

GARDNER: Again, I think, like I said, if we knew then what we know now, we would have made a different decision then.

But you also have to look at the past decade of leadership, from various administrations, whether it was the drawdown in Iraq that led to a number of other different problems. I think in our time in the Middle East, we talked to every leader and we asked the same question. Was the withdraw in Iraq a smart thing? And they know by the statements they made -- we know by the statements that they made that that was not the best decision that could have been made.

They would have done things differently. And so I don't think you can answer this question in a vacuum and just pretend that no other knowledge and no other facts exist. The fact is, our men and women in uniform, the bravest in the world did everything they could to protect this country from a terror threat and to protect others from the terror threat that was Saddam Hussein.

And nobody can deny that we are in a better place because Saddam Hussein is dead.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, I want you to stand by. We have more to discuss.

Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado is with us.

We will continue the news right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, we're talking about a new victory for ISIS. The terror group now is in control of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province, just 70 miles from Baghdad.

But on Friday, the U.S. announced that weapons would be expedited to Iraq because of the fighting in Ramadi, shoulder-fired rockets, ammunition, supplies. There's a lot of concerns those U.S. weapons being provided to the Iraqi military eventually will wind up in the hands of ISIS after the Iraqi military abandons their positions, runs away and leaves these stockpiles behind. How concerned are you about that?

GARDNER: Well, we know from reports that there was a significant amount of arms left behind, a considerable amount of supplies and weapons that were left behind as they evacuated or left Ramadi.

But I think that's just one more indication of what we need to do to make sure that we have the proper training, that we have a security force that is up to the task, that understands that they cannot leave weapons like that behind, because, in fact, they are winning, is what we must make sure that they're in the position to do.

I think this also brings up the question of what happens in the north, Northern Iraq with the Kurds, the Peshmerga and the questions there being, do they have enough? And are they getting arms at the level that they need, considering the amount of fighting that they're actually undertaking?


BLITZER: Because a lot of people have confidence in the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, but they don't have any confidence left in the Iraqi military. Do you?

GARDNER: Well, we have to.

That's what we're doing and that's what we're going to make sure that we're stepping up the training and the security. If you look at the funding in the next budget, the upcoming budget, $8.8 billion of funding in the overseas contingency operations fund, we're talking about additional funding for the State Department as a part of that and the Defense Department to increase our training.

But the shows that -- and if we're going to eradicate ISIS, if defeat and degrade is going to work, we have to step up our training and make sure they have the ability, the tasks and the skills to do the job.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Syria for a moment.

A senior ISIS commander, Abu Sayyaf, as he was called by the United States, was killed in a daring U.S. military operation, a special ops raid. Do you know if he was actually responsible for any American deaths?

GARDNER: Well, again, I think if you assume that he was one of the high-level actors, officials within ISIS, we know that he was in charge of some of the oil and gas operations and the financial operations.

If he directly wasn't responsible, we know that the money that he raised through ISIS was directly responsible for the deaths of Americans and the deaths of Iraqi citizens in Syria and the people of Syria. And so we know that by the mere fact that he was in charge of financing the operation, he has blood on his hands.

BLITZER: And because a lot of us had never heard of this guy. I spoke to a lot of ISIS experts. They had never heard of this guy. When the U.S. issued their most wanted ISIS terrorists the other day, he was not on that list. Had you ever heard of him?

GARDNER: Again, I knew that they were, of course, operating the oil and gas systems and that that's how they were financing. Had I heard him individually named, it could have come up at one of the briefings, but not something that we spent a lot of time focusing on as part of the efforts to take out.

I do think, though, that we have to make sure that we learn from this experience, that we -- the Delta Force is to be commended, the incredible way that they carried out this. But we are going to be able to gather a lot of intelligence.

You look at Ramadi, though, and you look at what happened with Sayyaf, it seems like every time we take out one -- take off one head, another one grows in its place. And that's Ramadi. And I think that's the danger of the situation that we're in right now. It is a good thing that we were able to take out one of their top leading officials, but then we have the fall of Ramadi, and that is significantly -- a significant setback.

And that's why this is such a precarious position right now, where exactly we are with degrade and defeat.

BLITZER: I want to quickly get your thoughts on another part of the world, North Korea, South Korea right now. Secretary of State John Kerry, he is in South Korea. He's obviously trying to assure, reassure the South Koreans that any challenge from the North will of course be met by the U.S. as well.

How dangerous is that Korean Peninsula right now? How tense is that situation between North and South? We know there are a million North Korean groups along the DMZ, almost a million South Korean troops, about 30,000 U.S. troops in between. What's your assessment?

GARDNER: Well, I think we have to be brutally honest.

I think the administration's policy of strategic patience has been a strategic failure. The fact is this. The nuclear -- the North Korean nuclear capability right now seems to be about 20 warheads, nuclear warheads. There are estimates that within five years, that could be over 100 warheads. It's a dangerous situation.

Now, we have to start again taking the strategic patience and actually turning it into preconditions of talks that will result in denuclearization, a promise they made back in 2005, that they will quit committing depraved acts of -- against human rights, and human rights violations, that we step up our security efforts in South Korea and around the region.

That's something that we have to do to make sure that this regime is no longer following the brutal path that it is toward destruction of the peninsula and perhaps the United States. That's why I'm going to be introducing a resolution in the next -- in a matter of days going up against North Korea and directing this administration to take it seriously and to start stepping up our efforts against a brutal regime.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to stay in touch with you on that, Senator Gardner. Thanks very much for joining us.

GARDNER: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the Iraqi military's failures in fighting ISIS. Are there any forces on the ground right now that are actually capable of pushing back the terrorists? Our experts are standing by.

And did a bullet hit the windshield of an Amtrak train before the deadly crash in Philadelphia? Stand by. We're getting new information.



BLITZER: Breaking right now, tens of thousands of people fleeing a major Iraqi city that's fallen to ISIS terrorists, Ramadi, only 70 miles from Baghdad. Terrorist troops, they have seized weapons from an Iraqi army base there, lots of them. They have freed inmates from a Ramadi prison. They're stealing money from banks there. Who knows what else they're doing.

Right now, the Iraqi government is rushing reinforcements to stop ISIS from advancing even closer to the capital city of Baghdad only 70 miles away.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, the former U.S. Delta Force commander, our global affairs analyst Lieutenant Colonel James Reese, and retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

More Americans, as you well know -- and you served time in Iraq, General Kimmitt -- they died trying to defend Ramadi and other places, Fallujah, in Anbar province. This is an important area. How big of a disaster is it right now that these ISIS terrorists have taken control of this major Iraqi city?


But I think what's more disastrous, if we make the wrong mistakes in response to taking Ramadi. Getting the Shia militia in, bringing Iranian forces in, not doing anything about it, there's a significance chance that the prime minister may make the wrong decisions in trying to too hastily take back Ramadi, that he creates a worse problem than he currently has.

BLITZER: Because, if he brings in these Iranian-backed Shiite militias to try to retake Ramadi, this is an area, the Sunni -- that is Sunni-dominated, the Anbar province. They hate these Iranian- backed Shiite militias. That could cause even a worse civil war. Is that what you're saying?

KIMMITT: What I'm saying is that you've now added a sectarian element to this flight. This isn't just the government of Iraq fighting ISIL. This is a sectarian face-to-face between the tribes inside Anbar and possibly some Shia-backed, possibly some Iranian- backed militias, as well. It's not helpful.

BLITZER: Yes. And Colonel Reese, I know you've spent a lot of time over in Iraq, as well, and you were there recently. What's so heartbreaking is that so many of these Iraqis, they see themselves either as Shia, or Sunni or Kurds for that matter. The fact that they're Iraqis doesn't seem to weigh very heavily on them. This is a sectarian battle that's been going on not for decades, but for centuries.

REESE: Yes, Wolf, I have to disagree. I spent a month in Tikrit. I have Iraqi employees that are both Sunni, Shia, Christian, Kurd. I disagree.

What I see on the ground is I see Iraqis. I see Iraqi who want to take care of their families. They want to send their kids to school. They want to have their families.

My last trip out of Iraq, one thing came to mind. There's two types of people left in this world: politicians and everybody else. That's the problem we have right now.

BLITZER: So if that's true, and all of us wish it were true, why did the Iraqi military crumble in Mosul and crumble in Ramadi?

REESE: Like I just said, one of the problems is the political side of these countries have to get involved and figure out. They're in-fighting between themselves. I've watched Sunni and Shia fight together, come arm and arm with each other. The fighters want to do this. They fight for their national Iraq.

And it's interesting, is even at levels of ministers of parliament, even some of the Shia, they're bringing in the Sunnis. They had Sunni elements up there in Tikrit.

So I think we need to watch how far we go with the sectarian peace here and try to push this and use the center of gravity, of DAISH, ISIS to bring these elements all together.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that analysis? It's a pretty upbeat analysis, the one that Colonel Reese is projecting. With all due respect, he was just there.

BERGEN: Well, yes. If you go back to 2003, Sunni and Shia were often intermarried. Their neighborhoods were intermingled. I mean, what has happened in the last decade is that has, you know, come undone.

So the idea that, yes, Sunni and Shia have had centuries' old conflicts, but in Iraq that was not really happening until the American invasion of the civil war that then followed. So this can be kind of put back together, potentially, or maybe it's gone too far. We don't -- it's hard to tell right now.

BLITZER: You think it can be put back together, General Kimmitt? You served in Iraq, as well.

KIMMITT: Look, I just left Baghdad about Thursday. I spent a lot of time over there, probably more than most Americans have.

The fact remains there's a significant sectarian element within the Hashil Shabi (ph) that are ideologically connected to Iran or ideologically connected to their faith. They don't fight for the government of Iraq. They fight for their faith; they fight for their ideology.

I just left an Arabic station where a Sunni tribal leader from Anbar was railing at the decision of the U.S. government to back Abadi's government, putting Shia militia in there. We can pretend that everybody is Iraqi, but at this point the most ideologically committed are the ones who are in front lines, and not ideologically committed to Iraq. They're ideologically committed to their tribes. They're ideologically committed to their religion.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people -- and Colonel Reese, you were just there -- are losing confidence in this new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. Nuri al-Maliki turned out, as we all know, to be a disaster for the people of Iraq.

REESE: Well, Wolf, I tell you, I know he's working hard. I've seen him there. I'm watching the government do it.

This -- these are very challenging aspects and missions to do, to try to bring this government together. Everyone is fighting for their own piece of the pie.

But again, like General Kimmitt said, you know, you've got the Iranian influence. At the same time, I was up there with Ben Wedeman. Ben Wedeman asked about the Badr Corps commander about the eight Quds Force advisers out there. And his comment was, "Hey, I'd rather have eight Quds Force advisers on the front line instead of 200 Americans advisers in the Green Zone not giving the advice. So I'm not sure our policy is there.

One of the things I think our problems is, we're training these Iraqi soldiers, but as soon as they leave the base, they're on their own. That's not an advise-and-assist mission. We've got Special Forces guys who know how to do this, get out there. They helped fight them, helped train them and lead them, I think it would be a turning point if we looked at changing their policy.

BLITZER: All right. Colonel Reese, thanks very much for joining us.

Peter Bergen, thanks to you, as well.

General Kimmitt, appreciate it very much. Glad you're back safe and sound from Iraq.

Tonight, by the way, at 9 p.m. Eastern, a CNN special report, "Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World." We're going to take you deep inside ISIS. Who are these people? What do they want? That's "Blindsided." Fareed Zakaria reports tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead, we have new details in the probe of the deadly Amtrak derailment? Was the train struck by a bullet or some other object just before the disaster?

And President Obama banning some military equipment from local police across the United States in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore.


[17:40:13] BLITZER: There's new information tonight about the probe into that deadly Amtrak derailment. Investigators are now saying they have found no evidence of damage to the train's windshield that could have been caused by a gun. But officials also say they have not ruled out another object possibly striking the train before it flew off the rails.

CNN's Rene Marsh is joining us from Philadelphia with more.

What are you hearing, Rene, from your sources there?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight a law enforcement source is essentially pouring cold water on this theory that a projectile might have been thrown at the train, causing the derailment. The source saying that Philadelphia police, they listened to the Amtrak dispatch tapes, did not hear any mention about the train being struck. They also interviewed passengers. No mention of the train being struck.

Meantime, we've been talking to government sources, as well as law enforcement sources all day. And it appears there's a sharp focus on the engineer, his experience and his handling of the train.


MARSH (voice-over): Tonight FBI analysts are examining the crashed Amtrak locomotive, now housed at this maintenance site in Delaware, trying to determine if something struck the train moments before it derailed.

Meantime, the NTSB says they found no evidence to back up an assistant conductor's claims she heard the engineer say Train 188 had been hit.

ROBERT SUMWALT, NTSB: We interviewed the SEPTA engineer, and he did not recall having any conversation between him and the Amtrak engineer, but nevertheless, we do have this mark on the windshield of the Amtrak train. So we certainly want to trace that lead down.

MARSH: Amtrak restored full service today along the busy Northeast Corridor, maneuvering the curve where 188 derailed without problems. Technology called automatic train control is now in place to slow northbound trains before the curve.

(on camera) If they were able to put ATC in over the weekend, some are going to say, "Well, if it was this simple, why not before?"

JOSEPH BOARDMAN, AMTRAK CEO: From the north to the south, you're coming from a high rate of speed, 110 down to 50. You had to have it there. But from the south, the maximum speed was 80, and you could get around this corner at 80.

MARSH: At the crash site, new steel fencing has been put up alongside the tracks. But just a few blocks away...

(on camera): Well, there's a lot of even fencing, but there might as well not be. This is wide open. You see, the fencing isn't helping or keeping anyone from walking right on the tracks, which is steps away from where the track where the deadly derailment happened.

(voice-over): Amtrak police officials tell CNN for them, securing the rail lines is now priority one.


MARSH: Well, we should tell you, Wolf, that data from the recorder shows that this engineer moved the throttle forward to speed up the train. But the question remains why?

How, although investigators are focusing on this engineer and his handling of the train, we should say that it is too early to say that this indicates a criminal act.

In fact, we know police, as well as the district attorney's office, they're waiting for the NTSB to complete their investigation before they make any moves. And an NTSB source is saying it is too early to take anything off the table. All possibilities are still on the table, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Rene, thanks for that report. Rene Marsh reporting from Philadelphia.

President Obama is restricting the kinds of U.S. military equipment local police departments can now use. The new ban on things like grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons was sparked by the controversy of what so many saw as a militarized police response to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, standing by with details. What are you picking up, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House is clamping down on some but not all of the equipment the federal government provides to police departments across the country.

But still, some in the law enforcement community are warning the president he may be going too far, potentially putting public safety at risk.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Nine months after riots turned the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, into what looked like a combat zone, with local police dressed in camouflage and controlling crowds with armored vehicles, the White House is outlining reforms aimed at demilitarizing law enforcement.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.

ACOSTA: Under the new policy federal agencies would be barred from providing cops with tank-like vehicles, weaponized aircraft, high-caliber weapons, grenade launchers, and camouflage uniforms.

The administration would control but still allow the acquisition of the kind of armored vehicles that were roaming Ferguson, if police departments can show officers are being trained properly. Also permitted under certain conditions, manned aircraft, drones, guns, explosives and riot gear.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, we're going to ensure departments have what they need, but also that they have the training to use it.

ACOSTA: Jonathan Thompson with the National Sheriff's Association worries the White House will overreach and leave officers and deputies outgunned, noting the weekend's biker blood bath in Waco, Texas.

JONATHAN THOMPSON, NATIONAL SHERIFF'S ASSOCIATION: Let me give you the scenario in Waco where the sheriffs no longer have equipment sufficient to contain that type of situation. What's the sheriff supposed to do say, "Wait a minute, fellows, don't start that fight, let me call for added resources"?

ACOSTA: But the new rules are picking up broad bipartisan support, from members of the Congressional Black Caucus to GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm all for giving the police bulletproof vests, or giving them weapons, ordinary guns, things like that that we can use to defend ourselves. But I think it's not a great idea to, you know, show up everywhere in a full military sort of preference like an army.

OBAMA: That means there's no single solution --

ACOSTA: Meeting with police in Camden, New Jersey, the president said it will take more than law enforcement reforms for cities to avoid becoming the next Baltimore or Ferguson.

OBAMA: We can't ask the police to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren't willing to face or do anything about.



ACOSTA: The White House says its new restrictions on the list of banned military equipment takes effect right away. The new training requirements for police departments seeking military hardware, that kicks in later this year -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's dig in deeper with our justice reporter Evan Perez.

What are you hearing the reaction from Justice Department, FBI officials, to this announcement by the president today?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, they were part of developing this plan that the administration announced, and so this is all part of a broader initiative that they have, you know, the Justice Department is funding body cameras, a pilot program, I believe $20 million, to try to get more police departments to adopt these body cameras, make sure that the officers are actually using them as you've seen in some of these recent police shootings, having cameras on the scene there, making a huge difference in trying to determine what exactly happened.

BLITZER: There's a loophole here, correct me if I'm wrong. If these local police forces want to go to private vendors and buy this kind of military equipment, this hardware, there's nothing restricting them, right?

PEREZ: That's right. And a lot of manufacturers of these types of equipment including the MRAP vehicles that were used in the streets of Ferguson, these are mine-resistant vehicles that are most commonly seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're being used on the streets and those are still going to be -- you can still get them through the government and definitely through private sector.

BLITZER: All right. Evan, thanks very much. Evan Perez reporting.

Just ahead, another Republican struggles with the question about the war in Iraq. Why is that subject proving to be so difficult for so many of these GOP White House hopefuls.


[18:52:41] BLITZER: Tonight, the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. There you see him at fundraiser in Miami right now. He isn't the only Republican struggling with this question. Was it a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq in 2003? Senator Marco Rubio now under scrutiny for his answer to that question as well.

Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our CNN political reporter Sara Murray.

Gloria, why is this question proving to be so hard for some of these Republican candidates?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think Republicans are searching for where the base of the Republican Party might be right now. This is a very complicated question with a very complicated answer. As we've seen with Marco Rubio and with Jeb Bush.

What you have is a Republican Party that believes generally, as does the American public that the war in Iraq was a failure, was a mistake. But you also have a Republican party that is growing increasingly muscular when it comes to fighting is, more hawkish. 70 percent or more of Republicans believe there should be some sort of combat troops to fight ISIS.

So I think they're trying to strike a balance here. And they're having a really difficult time.

BLITZER: What surprised me, though, Marco Rubio is a very smart guy, especially on foreign policy, a member of the foreign relations committee. We saw the commotion, the uproar in the aftermath of Jeb Bush sort of mangling that question. Yesterday, when he was on FOX News, he had some serious problems just addressing that question as well.

He -- was he not prepared for the question?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was prepared. It was -- I think it was a struggle, in fairness, on both sides. It was a three-minute exchange in total. And if you watch the whole thing, I think it was cringe-worthy in general because they were kind of stepping all over each other. And I think that's fair to say both of them. But on Marco Rubio's point, he is the guy running for president.

He is required to answer questions. And what Chris Wallace at FOX News is trying to get out of him was something that is very specific but very important, which is what Jeb Bush got tripped up on -- knowing what you know now, would you go into Iraq. His answer was no.

But just a few months ago, also on FOX, he was asked was the Iraq war a mistake. He said, no, because Saddam Hussein -- the world is better without Saddam Hussein. And it's actually, if you drill down on that, those two things are hard to square, which is why he struggles so much.

[18:55:02] BORGER: There's a little flip-flop question.

BLITZER: Yes. Sara, as you know, in 2007 and 2008, the war in Iraq was huge issue on the Democratic side between Barack Obama who opposed the war, Hillary Clinton who voted for the war. How's the Iraq war going to play out on the Republican -- in the Republican contest this time?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think the thing that is really baffling especially to foreign experts who are watching this, this isn't even a question about Iraq anymore. The question now is how do you deal with ISIS, how do you deal with this instability in the region that has cropped up in recent years. It's not a question of whether we should have gone to war in Iraq or not. It's what do you do about instability now. And I really think that's the discussion you're going to see going forward.

BORGER: But having the debate backwards eight years which is exactly what the Republicans don't want to do. They do want to move the debate ahead.

BASH: But to that point, today on the campaign trail you saw Rand Paul and others try to move it back to hitting Barack Obama because of what you were saying because he pulled the troops out of Iraq and allowed for ISIS to crop up not just in Syria but Iraq. So, they're trying to turn it back, as I said, the guy who pulled the troops out as opposed to the guy who started the war in the first place.

BORGER: And don't forget, Hillary Clinton is a part of this issue as well because she voted for the war. And at first when she was asked this question if 2006 or 2007, she basically gave the same answer that Jeb Bush gave, which was if we had known then what we knew now, there wouldn't have been a vote. Then in her book, her recent book, she said it was a mistake.

MURRAY: But I have Republicans tell me they are impressed with how the Clinton operation is handling this, because you have not heard a peep from Hillary Clinton, even though she voted on anything. But especially on Iraq, even though she voted to authorize it.

BLITZER: Sara, you're doing some reporting on Chris Christie and his ambition to become president of the United States. What are you learning? MURRAY: So, Chris Christie gave a big foreign policy speech

today. This is part of what he wants to be, a series of about a half dozen speeches, essentially to convince voters to take him seriously, to give him a second look as a presidential candidate.

But the thing that they're really running into trouble with is they're having problems convincing big dollar donors to give them a lot of money there are some Christie loyalists who are willing to show up and give him a lot of money. He had a big fundraiser in D.C. Nearly 120 people showed up. But the really big guys, the guys who treat politics like a sport are just not convinced that Christie is viable.

BORGER: But now, there is such a big field. You guys know this, you're out there. It's -- they have a choice and the menu is quite large. And so, they can decide to hold back.

BLITZER: And, Dana, explain what's going on legally, politically. You've got some candidates like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie. They're obviously running for president in the United States. But they're not formally announcing for what reason?

BASH: It's -- I had the story on CNN right now. It's the dirty little secret of 2016. The reason is money. It is because people like Chris Christie, and he has problems because of what you just said, but more along the lines of Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. Because they do have a lot of money at their disposal, people with millions of dollars who want to write them checks. It benefits them to wait and not become an official candidate because once they do that, they can't actually ask.

If I'm Jeb Bush and you're a millionaire, Wolf, will you give me a million dollars? They can't do that for their super PAC anymore. They can go to an event where there is a fundraiser but they can't ask. When a candidate asks, or maybe if you look at the other side, if you have a billionaire, they generally like to be asked and they like to be sort of catered to by these politicians, which is why they're in the game.

BLITZER: Gloria, Hillary --

BASH: And so they can't do that.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is back on the campaign trail. She's back in Iowa today. Is she answering reporters' questions?

BORGER: She is mum. She is not taking reporters' questions.

I mean, one thing you can say about Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or any of the Republican candidates, they're out there taking reporters' questions because they are.

Hillary Clinton is -- wants to her roll-out in her on way. And the roll-out is: OK, now I'm going to listen to voters. I'm going to talk to voters. And you're just going to be off to the side. And eventually I'm going to take your questions, but at my own pace. BLITZER: It reminds me when she was running for New York Senate

race. She went on a listening tour for a month or six weeks. She's doing the same thing supposedly right now.

MURRAY: And I think, you know, she is perfectly happy to watch all the Republicans take questions and get themselves tied up in knots and then go talk to voters. If that's all you see is Republicans twisting themselves in circles over Iraq and Hillary off having a nice factory tour or whatever, then it looks better for her.

BASH: And there is a big difference. When you a field of over a dozen Republicans, they need what we call earned media. They need to be out there getting free face time. Hillary Clinton doesn't need that.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We'll continue our coverage tomorrow. Thank you very much. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

And please be sure to join us once again tomorrow, right here on THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always watch us live or DVR show so you won't miss a moment.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.