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STATE OF THE UNION

Cleveland News Conference on Protests; Interview with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. Adam Kinzinger; Interview With Defense Secretary Ashton Carter; Interview With HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired May 24, 2015 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:09] JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning from Washington. I'm Jim Acosta.

We are waiting for a news conference out of Cleveland, Ohio, right now, after a largely peaceful night of protests following an acquittal of a police officer in the shooting deaths of two unarmed people. We expect to hear from the mayor of Cleveland and the police chief there.

Let's go to CNN's Erin McLaughlin first.

Erin, what can we expect from this news conference? I guess it's fortunate that last night was basically peaceful. What do we expect to hear?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's likely we will get some sort of update on how things went overnight.

Judging from a number of riot police that were on the streets here in Cleveland, things seemed to have gone better than expected. Yesterday, there were some small protests that carried on into the evening. At least 12 people were arrested, three charges with firing -- with throwing some sort of object at a restaurant, but, other than that, seeming to be relatively peaceful, that situation continue into this morning, things calm on the streets of Cleveland.

Now we are waiting for the press consequence for an update from the mayor, as well as from the police chief.

ACOSTA: And, Erin, what was different from about last? Why did things stay so calm, do you think, relatively speaking?

MCLAUGHLIN: You know, I think that we have to remember that this was a case that took place in 2012.

Following this incident, the Justice Department launched a two-year investigation into what happened and come up with a series of recommendations to deal with what they determined as an excessive pattern of force on the part of the Cleveland Police Department.

And the community has had time to digest this tragedy. And, yesterday, we saw members of the community coming out on the streets and vocalizing their upset at this court decision. The family, we heard, urging peace and urging calm -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And, speaking of that, what did the mayor and the police chief, other local leaders, what have they said so far to urge the public there to keep the peace, even though a lot of people may be disappointed in this decision that was reached?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, we heard yesterday from Mayor Frank Jackson saying that this is a defining moment for the city, but again urging people who do come out onto the streets to protest to remain peaceful, urging calm. And I expect that, in this press conference that is about to unfold just here in this auditorium, we will hear more of the same.

Later today, there is a basketball game, a playoffs game. We heard from hometown star LeBron James, he also urging peace, also urging calm, saying that sports can heal the city.

ACOSTA: And, Erin, just looking at the pictures that we are seeing right now, obviously, there was some pushing and shoving in terms of some of these protests with the police there.

I am just curious what you observed in terms of the tactics they used that sort of kept things from going over the edge. It looks like it was a tense situation, but a lot of restraint was also exercised, from all appearances here.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

And I think, also, a factor was the police presence out on the streets in Cleveland. And we saw the police out there in large numbers. Even in the early hours of this morning, we saw plenty of police patrolling the streets, making sure the situation remained calm.

ACOSTA: And I guess one thing that should not be overlooked here -- you are seeing other pictures of these protests that took place in Cleveland -- these were almost entire peaceful protests, people registering their complaints about what happened.

And we did not see things get out of hand. That has to be a very a reassuring development for people there in Cleveland, that it did not go down the road that we saw in Ferguson or in Baltimore.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. And it does not appear to be that way at the moment.

But I would say that this is still a city on edge, a city still wary of what could potentially happen next, as the day continues to unfold, less than 24 hours following that verdict, but, yes, at the moment here in Cleveland, a sense of calm, a sense of order on the streets.

ACOSTA: And I guess walk us through the case that was decided on, Erin, for our viewers who have not been focusing in on this. It's a holiday weekend, so people may have been away from their TVs for a bit, and not really aware of what was involved in this case.

Can you lay that out for our viewers? I suppose we will hear the police chief and the mayor talk about this again at this news conference that will get going here hopefully within the next couple of minutes.

[09:05:03]

What was -- what was involved in the case that really put the city, as you said, on the edge?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

Well, this is a case that happened -- this was an incident, rather, that happened in 2012. The victims, Melissa Williams and Timothy Russell, were riding in a car. Their car backfired. And the police officers nearby thought that that backfiring was a gunshot. And, therefore, a car chase ensued, a car chase that lasted over 20 miles involving some 60 police cars culminating in the parking lot of a school.

It was there that over 100 shots were fired, killing Russell and Williams. The officer that was charged in the case, Michael Brelo, in the final seconds firing 15 rounds from the hood of the car into -- into -- into the victims, but the judge in this case ultimately deciding -- sorry -- I was waiting for the press conference to start there -- ultimately deciding that Brelo had a reasonable perception of danger when he did that.

He was ultimately found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as well as felonious assault -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Erin, this is not the only case that people in Cleveland are following closely when it comes to allegations of police brutality, police going beyond what is the lawful exercise of their duties.

There is the case of this young boy that really captured the nation's attention. And I suppose, in looking at this case that was just decided in the last couple of days, I suppose people on the streets there who are protesting, they are lumping all of these cases together to say, what is wrong with -- with Cleveland?

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Oh, it looks like the press conference is getting started now. Let's go ahead and go live to this press conference.

FRANK JACKSON, MAYOR OF CLEVELAND, OHIO: All right, I want to thank you for coming today.

And I also want to thank those protesters and demonstrators who were responsible in the exercising of their First Amendment rights yesterday and yesterday evening and night. They served as an example of peaceful demonstrations and dialogue that will help us to move forward to a positive and substantive reform and force better relationships between the police division and the community.

As I said yesterday, we are -- we will and we continue to encourage a peaceful protest and demonstration. However, however, we will not tolerate activities that cross the line. The majority of the protests, the majority of the protesters yesterday were peaceful, although aggressive at the end of the day, but still peaceful.

In the evening, however, there were some who crossed the line. And, as a result, they were arrested. And they crossed the line in some cases by assaulting bystanders, which we will not tolerate.

So, I'm going to have the chief come up and talk to you about -- give you an update as to where we are, where we anticipate going today, and then give you some indication as to the number of arrests that were made yesterday and why.

Chief?

CALVIN D. WILLIAMS, CLEVELAND, OHIO, POLICE CHIEF: Thanks, Mayor.

Good morning.

First of all, as the mayor stated, the majority of the protesters and the protest activity yesterday remained peaceful, although sometimes aggressive, but still peaceful and within the bounds that we expect from people here in Cleveland.

We made sure that we allow to let people express their First Amendment rights, to express their -- sometimes their anger and frustration about the events that have unfolded here in the city and across the country. And we gave people the space and provided a safe environment for them to do that.

Throughout the early part of the day, those activities, again, remained peaceful. As we begin to go towards the early afternoon hours, things got a little more aggressive. Protesters actually blocked one of our major thoroughfares, Route 2.

This is a dangerous activity, and we try to discourage it and try to prevent it, because, you know, a highway with cars going 60 miles an hour is a lot different than a public roadway with a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit.

[09:10:09] So, at that time, officers moved in and basically gave warnings to those protesters that were blocking Route 2. And they dispersed, and got back on the normal roadway.

Protesters, after a certain time period on the west side of town, came back downtown and entered Tower City Center, one of our downtown shopping areas. They became disruptive. The officers of the division of police, along with security from Tower City, was able to get those individuals out of Tower City, at which time the businesses in Tower City closed for the remainder of the day just as a precaution.

As stated earlier, the protests basically remained peaceful until the latter part of the day, when people began to get more aggressive, and at times started to cross the line.

As I stated yesterday, we would not allow people to commit acts of violence either against property or persons in this event, and officers moved in as soon as those things began to happen. On East Fourth and Huron Road, one of the protesters actually picked

up a sign from one of the restaurants on the sidewalk and threw it at a patron, injuring that patron and hitting him in the head. That protester, officers moved to arrest him. Other protesters interfered with that lawful arrest, and three people in total were arrested, the main protester for felonious assault, the other protesters for crimes ranging from obstruction of justice to aggravated rioting.

The protests continued from that point and moved to an area of East Ninth and Euclid, where we had incidents of protesters actually pepper-spraying patrons that were seated at restaurants in their patio areas or walking down the street. Officers again moved in and made arrests.

Later in the night, we had an incident that happened at East Fourth Street and Euclid on the Fourth Street restaurant row, where protesters again attacked bystanders. At this time, officers moved in, and the order was given to disperse the protests, because it was becoming increasingly violent, not so much against officers, but against normal everyday citizens enjoying downtown.

Officers made several arrests at that time and orders were given for the protesters to disperse. Of course, most of them refused, at which point we made several arrests as the night went on and we attempted to disperse the protests.

This all culminated later on that evening in another confrontation on West Sixth and Johnson Court, where protesters were again ordered, due to the violence, to disperse. They refused, at which time we brought in enough officers to make several arrests.

Those arrests were as follows. Seventy-one total individuals were arrested. There were -- there were approximately 39 males arrested, approximately 16 females arrested. And out of that, there were also some juveniles arrested and other adults.

We only moved in to make arrests when things got violent and protesters refused to disperse. We wanted to make sure that people understand we're going to help you in this process, but, if things turn violent, as we stated in the beginning, we will take action to preserve safety in the city.

Thank you.

JACKSON: Any questions?

It's hard for me to see you, sir, but I'm...

ACOSTA: So, there you have it, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, the Cleveland police chief, wrapping up -- or getting into some questions there at that news conference in Cleveland, but wrapping up essentially what happened overnight with those protests in that city, and, thankfully, largely a peaceful night there in Cleveland, with just some arrests being reported by authorities there.

We will keep tabs on that. And if there's some major developments coming out of Cleveland, we will bring that to you.

But getting back to the topic at hand this morning here on STATE OF THE UNION, ISIS, Iraqi forces are preparing a counteroffensive against ISIS, after the terror group had one of its biggest weeks in nearly a year, ISIS control of both the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, as well as the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Sunni Anbar province. Those are the two big developments in the last week.

[09:15:14] I am joined now by two lawmakers who have a lot of familiarity with what is going on in Iraq, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She served two tours of duty in the Middle East. And Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who served as an Air Force pilot in Iraq.

Thank you very much, Congresswoman, Congressman, for being here on STATE OF THE UNION this morning.

Let's get right to it.

President Obama said earlier this week that the U.S.-led coalition is not losing this battle against ISIS.

Congresswoman, I will go to you first. Is he right about that?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: I disagree with the president on this.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, maybe, I guess...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Let me go to Congresswoman Gabbard first, Congressman. And then we will get to you in just a moment.

KINZINGER: Oh. Please.

ACOSTA: Congresswoman, what do you make of that, the president saying the U.S.-led coalition is not losing?

GABBARD: You know, clearly, ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week, as we have seen the ground that they have gained both in Iraq and Syria.

And I would like to just break it down to what I see as the basic problem here, especially in Iraq, where we are seeing the Sunnis continue to be persecuted by the central government in Baghdad. Their distrust for the central government, this Iranian-influenced Shia militia has really created a situation where, just as a matter of survival, they have no place else to turn to protect their families and their communities other than to ISIS.

You have this solution. You have got the Kurds, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and you have Sunni tribesmen who are literally begging -- I met with a Sunni tribal leader last week in Washington -- they are begging for arms, heavy weapons, ammunition, to be able to fight against ISIS to protect their families and their tribal lands and their territories, but still to this point, both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government is failing to provide that, and, therefore, ISIS continues to be able to grow.

ACOSTA: What do you make of that, Congressman, the president's assessment last week that we're not losing?

KINZINGER: Well, of course, you are not losing and you are not winning because we are not really engaged in this fight.

At some point, we're going to have to understand that the goal is the destruction of ISIS. The president, when we began this -- this -- this attack, I guess, on ISIS, he said, you know, we are going to do it, we are going to bomb them, we're going to hit them, but we're not going to put troops on the ground.

And, in essence, what the president did was say, look, we need to destroy ISIS, until that takes boots on the ground, in which case the existence of boots on the ground is worse than the existence of ISIS. I think the president needs to stand in front of the American people and frankly lead on this and say, look, this is a cancer that is growing in the Middle East.

This is not just a situation where, if the house catches on fire, it will burn down and then we just look at a burned-down house. This is now a house on fire in a densely packed neighborhood, where this is going to spread to other places.

So, I think we have to be very aggressive at stopping this cancer now in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, where it's existing. And I think we have to show a big, major blow to the -- to ISIS, because right now you have a lot of people that are sitting in their basements looking on the Internet that want to join ISIS not because they want to be martyrs, but because they want to be part of something big.

And until we show that the chance of martyrdom increases greatly by joining ISIS, I think we are going to continue to see this problem with foreign fighters.

ACOSTA: And I want to toss out to our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, who is joining us from Baghdad.

And, Arwa, you have been joining this conversation here. Obviously, we will get to the congresswoman and congressman in just a moment.

But is ISIS being pushed back? Is ISIS losing ground? That is something, those are two assertions that the White House was making last week to sort of cool down all of the second-guessing that's been taking place here in Washington. What can you tell us from the ground there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, first of all, one has to continuously keep in mind that the battle lines here are constantly shifting, and small chunks of territory do regularly go back and forth.

But following the fall of Ramadi about a week ago, ISIS did quite quickly push into various other smaller towns located to the east of Ramadi. Now, the Iraqi government has managed to recapture some of them, but not only on its own.

You had a unit that was comprised of the Iraqi army plus, and this was arguably the deciding factor in all of this, the popular mobilization units. And this is this Iranian-backed Shia paramilitary force. And it was largely due to them that they were able to accomplish these very small victories in the grander scheme of things.

They are using the Sunni tribes, we're being told, using them to hold ground, but these Sunni tribes are very underarmed when it comes to the potential threat that they might be facing by ISIS.

But, look, the government at this stage has no choice but to use these unconventional fighting forces. As has been painfully clear at this point, the Iraqi government does not have its own units directly under its own command that are capable of taking on an entity like ISIS.

[09:20:15] ACOSTA: And so let me go back to Congresswoman Gabbard about this.

I mean, what is -- it seems that we have a strategy in place in terms of providing air support to the Iraqi security forces on the ground or the Peshmerga in the Kurdish areas to the north, but it doesn't seem like any -- that is a -- an effective strategy at this point, that it is just not working.

You can get into semantics as to whether we are winning or losing or failing, but that strategy just doesn't seem to work. So, I mean, what do you propose, do you think, at this point?

GABBARD: Yes, Jim, I would like to point out a couple of things.

I think that there is definitely more that we can do in providing these decisive blows with airstrikes against these ISIS strongholds. But the Iraqi government actually does have a choice. They have a choice by arming directly the Sunni tribesmen. As your correspondent just pointed out, they are woefully underequipped.

They have the will to fight. They are on the ground begging, saying, please give us the heavy weapons, the arms, the ammunition that we need to be able to fight against ISIS. Instead, the Iraqi government is relying completely on this Iranian-backed Shia military. The U.S. government is now saying, well, we're going to expedite more arms, more ammunition, these anti-tank weapons, to the Iraqi government, when we see that these Iraqi security forces have cut and run and left their weapons for ISIS at a few opportunities.

And these weapons are getting into the hands of the Shia militia. And I want to point out something that happened in the Armed -- during -- while we were going through the Armed Services Committee hearing process for the National Defense Authorization Act, where I co- sponsored an amendment that would authorize the U.S. government directly arming the Kurds and the Shias.

We had a leader of this Shia militia, Muqtada al-Sadr, as we were going through this hearing live. Quote -- he said, "If this bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the Americans, so it can start targeting American interests both in and outside of Iraq."

So, when you look at this, these are the people that the United States is aligning itself with who are essentially saying we are going to come out and attack you if you don't do what we want.

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I want to ask you this, because you heard some fellow Republicans this week, Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain, talk about a proposal to send in roughly 10,000 troops into Iraq, primarily to do training and provide intelligence, that sort of thing, not to go and fight house to house in combat situations.

What do you make of that proposal? Does that sound reasonable to you? What do you think?

KINZINGER: Yes. Yes, it's reasonable.

I am not sure the exact number, but let's think about where we have been here. And the question is, are we winning against ISIS? Eighteen months ago, I called for bombing ISIS when they moved into Fallujah. At the time, we thought it was al Qaeda, because they had yet to go through their divorce.

I was accused of wanting to start Iraq three. But we saw what happened then as it went on. ISIS grew. And eventually people got engaged and wanted to destroy them.

We are seeing this movement continue to grow. And I think, at this point, we have to understand that every day that goes by where we don't push this cancer back, where we allow them to put car bombs in areas -- in alleys, we allow them to put IEDs in towns that they occupy right now, every day that goes by, the cost of liberating Iraq or the cost of defeating this cancer is only going to increase.

So, I think we have to do the force that is proportionate, and, frankly, the violence proportionate necessary to push back ISIS. The president likes to talk about the fact that we are not going to send 200,000 troops into Iraq. I agree. I have not even heard a single person ever say that we need another 200,000 troops back in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: You think that's a straw man argument? You think that's a bogus argument?

KINZINGER: I think it's absolutely a straw -- I think, absolutely.

If you see how the president argues a lot, he likes to put two false choices up and say he is the one in the middle. I think the one in the middle right now is saying, what do we need to do to be able to embolden the Iraqi territory where it exists, to arm the Peshmerga -- I agree with Tulsi -- arm the Peshmerga, arm the Sunnis?

The problem is, the Peshmerga can't liberate all of Iraq. They have a 600-mile border with ISIS as it exists today.

ACOSTA: Yes.

KINZINGER: They are struggling to maintain their own territory. It's a very complicated battle.

ACOSTA: And, Congresswoman -- it is.

But I guess, what do you make of what Congressman Kinzinger just said there? He is OK with 10,000, maybe less, maybe more troops going in there? But you know this. Deployment after deployment, it's breaking military families across this country. On this Memorial Day weekend, that may not be the news they necessarily want to hear, more and more lawmakers calling for troops to go back into Iraq one more time.

[09:25:00] How do you prevent mission creep from occurring, Congresswoman?

GABBARD: Well, I think it's important for us to really focus on what our mission and goal and objective should be, which is defeating ISIS.

Let's look back to Iraq several years ago, where we had over 100,000 U.S. troops there training these Iraqi security forces. After the United States pulled out, you saw how these Iraqi security forces lasted. They cut and run -- they cut and ran and dropped their weapons when they were faced with their first real battle with ISIS.

ACOSTA: Right.

GABBARD: So, the issue here is not about how many U.S. troops can be sent to train these Iraqi security forces, because you can't train into someone the will to fight.

They don't have the will to fight, this Iraqi security force organization. You do have people who have the will and the courage to fight, and we have seen time and again with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Now these Sunni tribes are -- are asking for the equipment that they need to...

ACOSTA: Right.

GABBARD: ... be able to protect their families and their communities.

KINZINGER: Hey, Jim?

GABBARD: And yet, unfortunately, we -- we are still not taking care of it and dealing with the obvious.

ACOSTA: Well...

GABBARD: We have these boots on the ground there who are ready to fight.

ACOSTA: And we're going to have to wrap it up there.

KINZINGER: Jim, can I just... ACOSTA: Well, Congressman, we have got to go, but we appreciate your time.

Well, go ahead and jump in there, if you have got something to say.

(CROSSTALK)

KINZINGER: Well, let me just say real quickly, the American military -- the American military wants to defeat our enemies.

And -- and I think they are ready to go. They're ready to be unleashed, which is necessary. And -- and that's what they are called to do.

ACOSTA: All right, very good.

And -- and we're going to have Secretary Ash Carter coming up in the next segment. And he's going to be talking about, in some pretty stark terms, that he believes that the Iraqi forces don't have the will to fight.

We will be talking about that coming up next. Ash Carter, talking to our Barbara Starr, he reacts to the huge loss by Iraqi forces in Ramadi.

That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:30:40] ACOSTA: Just last month the U.S. and Iraq claimed to have the upper hand in the fight against ISIS.

CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, caught up with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and asked him why ISIS was able to capture the key Iraqi city of Ramadi and gained momentum on a march towards Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not out numbered but in fact they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site. And that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.

Now, we can give them training, we can give them equipment; we obviously can't give them the will to fight. But if we give them training, we give them equipment and give them support and give them some time, I hope they will develop the will to fight, because only if they fight can ISIL remain defeated.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people in Washington that you deal with on the other side of the aisle are saying, look, put in ground troops, put in forward air ground controllers -- air strikes are not working. What do you foresee? What is your view on this?

CARTER: Air strikes are effective but neither they nor really anything we do can substitute for the Iraqi forces' will to fight.

They're the ones who have that to beat ISIL and keep then keep them beaten. We can participate in the defeat of ISIL but we can't make Iraq run as a decent place for people to live. We can't sustain the victory. Only the Iraqis can do that, and in particular, in this case, the Sunni tribes to the west.

If there comes a time when we need to change the kinds of support we're giving to the Iraqi forces, we'll make that recommendation. But what happened at Ramadi was a failure of the Iraqi forces to fight. And so our efforts now are devoted to providing their ground forces with the equipment, the training, and to try to encourage their will to fight so that our campaign enabling them can be successful both in defeating ISIL and keeping ISIL defeated in a sustained way.

But these things we need to -- all of our tactics...

STARR: Making sure they understand you, you are not --

CARTER: ...and our procedures need to --

STARR: You are not at forward air controllers on the ground yet?

CARTER: We have not made that recommendation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And forward air controllers for our viewers would mean U.S. troops on the ground to help pinpoint those air strikes.

Joining me now to talk about all of this is Michele Flournoy, the Under Secretary of Defense in President Obama's first term, and Michael Leiter, former Director of the Counterterrorism Center under both President George W. Bush and President Obama.

And Michele, I want to go to you first because you were in the running for Defense Secretary this last time around when Ash Carter was tapped for that position, and I am just curious what you make of when you hear the Defense Secretary saying the Iraqi security forces may not have the will to fight?

MICHELE FLOURNOY, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE 2009-2012: Well, I think when we talk about taking on ISIS and pushing them back in Sunni- dominated areas, whether it's Mosul or Anbar province, we have got to be -- the people with the political will to fight are the Sunnis and the Sunni tribes. And we have got to insure that our efforts are directed at helping them, arming and training them, providing operational support on the battlefield, and enablers, air cover and so forth, and pressing the Iraqi government to devolve more governance and resources to the provinces.

Secretary Carter just said, you know, if there is a time when we need to do more we will do it. Well, now is that time in my view. ACOSTA: Yes.

And Michael, do you think that the administration has been too slow to confront this threat in a serious way?

[09:34:57] MICHAEL LEITER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER 2007-2008: I think we probably underestimated how deep the hole is we dug ourselves in. And what I mean by that is, how weak the government structure in Iraq was, how weak the will to fight has been and how much it's going to take to get the Iraqis back up to par. Similarly, I think we overestimated the problem -- I'm sorry, underestimated the problems we have in Syria, how weak our situation is there. And increasingly I think we have underestimated how alienated many of our Sunni allies feel (ph) in the regions. I think in a number of fronts we need to be much more forceful and we need now to be much more aggressive in Ramadi (INAUDIBLE) the best current illustration of that.

ACOSTA: And the president said last week that we're not losing. But I guess the question is, it's not whether we are winning or losing but is the strategy in a state of disrepair? How do we fix this?

FLOURNOY: I agree with the fundamental premise that we, the United States, cannot fix this in a sustainable way by ourselves.

Ultimately whatever victories we hope the Iraqi achieve will have to be sustained by the Iraqis but we under resourced the strategy. We need to provide more stuff for training and advising down to the battalion level rather than just at the division level. We need to provide more fire power support, more intelligence surveillance -- ACOSTA: And why haven't they done that? You dealt with this

administration. You've dealt with this national security team. Why not?

FLOURNOY: I think there is a major hesitation to get too deeply involved in Iraq again. And I think there is, you know, a lot of Americans are worried about that.

(CROSSTALK)

FLOURNOY: But the truth is ISIS is a threat not only to Iraq and Syria, it is a threat to us, particularly given the flow of foreign fighters, thousands of Europeans, hundreds of Americans going into Syria, getting training, coming back at some point. This is a terrorist problem that affects us and we have to take a more forward- leaning posture.

ACOSTA: And Michael, you dealt with President Obama and it's not as if he wants the terrorists to win, he understands the threat. So as I was asking Michele, what is it? Why is there this disconnect?

LEITER: Well I think Michelle is fundamentally right. I am not surprised we agree. We worked very closely together.

But the challenge we have is we pulled lots out of Iraq and the American people I think arguably don't want to go back and forth. But we have to understand this is not just about Iraq. This is about a region which to some extent is melting down.

The bombing that we saw in Saudi Arabia by ISIS against a Shia mosque. The attacks that we've seen by ISIS associated groups in Libya. This really is destabilizing the region.

This isn't about Iraq. This isn't about Syria. This is about a regional (INAUDIBLE) that we have to try to put out.

And similarly we obviously see threats within western nations by people who either have been trained by or inspired by ISIS. So, at a point where you don't see that global risk then you can move slowly and somewhat incrementally. The fact is we are well past that point and we have to be more forceful about it now.

ACOSTA: And Michele, how do we -- Iraq almost feels like the forever war. We have been dealing with this since the early 1990s under George H.W. Bush, and here we are about to go into another election talking about what to do about Iraq. How do we make it -- how do we make it stop?

FLOURNOY: That's a great question.

I think the fundamental issue in Iraq is one of governance, that you have a central government in Baghdad that is still operating along sectarian lines, that is not seeing itself as a national unity government that brings in the Kurds and the Sunnis. What we have to convince them of is they are at a tipping point. Either they become a true national unity government and share power in a meaningful way and stop persecuting the minorities. Or Iraq is going to dissolve into three parts and that is in no one's interest.

ACOSTA: All right. Michele Flournoy, Michael Leiter, thank you very much. Two key members of the president's national security team was very (INAUDIBLE) talk on what needs to be done in Iraq and Syria. Thank you very much.

LEITER: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Coming up next, Housing Secretary Julian Castro is on a mission to revive American's toughest neighborhoods, but is he also in line to be Hillary Clinton's running mate?

Julian Castro is here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:42:23]

ACOSTA: Here now, Julian Castro, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off the agency's 50th anniversary by highlighting efforts to create and maintain affordable housing, especially in revitalized urban areas where costs are soaring at an astronomical rate.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

JULIAN CASTRO, SECRETARY OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT: It is great to be with you.

ACOSTA: Thank you. And we noticed with the situation in Cleveland over the weekend, the situation in Baltimore, Ferguson, this issue of urban development is becoming more and more a critical component for you when it comes to dealing with these cities that are facing some major issues.

And I'm just curious, how -- is this becoming more of a topic of conversation for you to sort of deal with urban development in cities that are facing tough times to sort of prevent the next Baltimore from happening, the next Ferguson from happening?

CASTRO: You know, HUD this year is marking its 50th year anniversary, so I would say that the focus on these issues, which has never left in terms of the department, however you're right that what we see out there, whether it's Baltimore, what's happened in Ferguson, what's going on in Cleveland right now, does give us I think as a nation an extra impetus to focus on these issues.

And I believe that one of the lasting legacies of the Obama administration is that, for the first time in these efforts, we figured out that it's not just about improving housing, it's not just what HUD is doing, it's also improving education in the neighborhood, improving transit options, of course improving job opportunities. And through place-based work, the Obama administration is working with local leaders in cities across the United States and rural areas as well to lift up the quality of life and provide more economic opportunity out there.

And I think you're to see the impact of this in the years to come even in some of the toughest areas in the United States.

ACOSTA: How do you respond to this notion, and I'm sure you've heard it in recent weeks in response to what happened in Baltimore, that the Great Society was a failure? And I know that this is a time when you and the rest of the administration would like to see more resources going into our urban areas.

CASTRO: There are people that say that, and I would say that they're dead wrong. In fact, what we see today in the United States is, because of these efforts, for instance, we've see a strong reduction in childhood poverty. The challenge is that even when we find, based on evidence, initiatives that work -- for instance, our housing choice voucher program was a subject of a massive longitudinal study by Raj Chetty and Larry Katz out of Harvard, that showed that educational and employment outcomes improve when young people have the benefit of a housing choice voucher so that they can move with their family to a place of low poverty and higher opportunity. Even when we find things that work, for instance in this budget the president is requesting about 100,000 more vouchers than we have now, because we've lost nearly 70,000 to sequestration -- and we're not getting the resources from the Congress to make those investments. And so it's about resources and it's about how we coordinate better with local leaders to make a good impact on the ground.

ACOSTA: And I want to switch gears a little bit, because it's Memorial Day weekend, to ask you about this issue of veteran homelessness, which is an issue that you have to deal with at the Housing and Urban Development Department. And according to your department, veteran homeless has decreased 33 percent since 2010, but there are still 50,000 homeless vets in America. We see them on the streets of Washington; people will see them on the streets of Washington as they head to Arlington National Cemetery, for example, this weekend. What more can we do for them?

CASTRO: There's a lot we are doing and that we're going to keep working hard. This is actually one of the best news stories out there. In 2010, President Obama became the first president to say we're not just going to talk about reducing veteran homelessness, we're actually going to end it. And since 2010, we have seen a 33 percent reduction in veteran homelessness, mostly for two reasons -- because the president led and worked well with the Congress to get more what are called HUD-VASH vouchers so that veterans who are homeless can actually get a voucher, go into the private market, and get a place to live. And secondly because communities across the United States have signed up to be part of the challenge to end veteran homelessness, and have adopted policies like Housing First, getting veterans into housing instead of making them live in shelters or transitional living facilities. Because of that, we expect that we will effectively end veteran homelessness.

ACOSTA: And that would be quite an accomplishment that you could tout in a run in 2016 if you were to be put on Hillary Clinton's ticket. I know you've heard this question time and again. I can't let you go without talking about this. What do you make of this when you see the former San Antonio mayor and former secretary at your department, Henry Cisneros, say this. He says, "When I am hearing in Washington, including from people in Hillary Clinton's campaign, is that the first person on their list for vice president is Julian Castro. They don't have a second option."

So I guess that's it. You've got the job. So congratulations.

CASTRO: I doubt that. You know, if I had a dime for every amount of speculation that happens in D.C., I think all of us would be wealthy.

ACOSTA: Your budget would be a lot bigger, is that --?

CASTRO: That's right. Who wouldn't be flattered by that? But I have found in life, like I bet a lot of folks watching out there, that the best thing to do in life is to do a great job with what's in front of you, and I am trying to do a great job at HUD and make sure that we benefit Americans out there, this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, when we think about our veterans, the fact that all of us together on both sides of aisle are committed to making a difference in getting the veterans a place to live, and that it's happening. And we are going to have that glorious day in the not-too-distant future when we can say we have effectively ended veteran homelessness. That's what I'm focused on these days.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you one more question about the 2016 campaign. These e-mails that have been released by the State Department with respect to Hillary Clinton and her time there, the private e-mails that she was using to conduct business at the department, do you believe that she has answered that question appropriately and fully?

CASTRO: Oh, absolutely.

ACOSTA: You're satisfied.

CASTRO: Oh, I do. I mean, let's take a look at this issue with Benghazi. This thing has been studied to death by Republicans and Democrats, several committees including in Congress that have all said, yes, of course what happened was tragic, but Secretary Clinton was not in any way at fault. And what you have here, with the e- mails, is basically a witch hunt. And Congressman Gowdy, who is leading this, is very intentionally trying to manipulate this witch hunt to play politics. That's unfortunate, and is one of the reasons why Congress has a 19 percent approval rating. I think that we need to focus on more substantive things.

As one who hasn't spent my lifetime in D.C., I know that out there in America, they care about are you reducing veteran homelessness? Are you providing the impetus for young people to be able to achieve their dreams? Are we making sure that America in this 21st Century remains the undisputed land of opportunity? Not whether somebody had e-mails or didn't have them.

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ACOSTA: Do you use a private e-mail account?

CASTRO: I have my government e-mail account. Of course, I have my private e-mail, but I have my government e-mail. But that's beside the point. I think she hasn't --

ACOSTA: You do government business on the government e-mail account and private --

CASTRO: That's right.

ACOSTA: -- business on the private.

CASTRO: And she's already explained that. People want us to focus, as policymakers, on things that matter to their lives. They want us to make a difference in creating more opportunity out there, and that's just a witch hunt that is a sideshow. I think the work that we're doing to end veteran homelessness is a good example of something that matters.

ACOSTA: All right, Secretary Castro, thank you very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

CASTRO: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. Coming up next, more on those Hillary Clinton emails.

Our round table is next.

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HILLARY CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm aware that the FBI has asked for the portion of one email be held back. That happens in the process of Freedom of Information Act responses. But that doesn't change the fact that all of the information in the emails was handled appropriately.

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[09:54:45] ACOSTA: Hillary Clinton doing some email damage control there on the campaign trail.

Those newly released emails from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state offers new insight into her handling of the Benghazi attacks.

Joining me at the table, Democratic strategist Penny Lee, CNN correspondent Chris Frates, who has been tasked with reading all of those emails, fortunately not all of them at the same time; and Republican strategist Kristen Soltis Anderson.

Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you for having --

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ACOSTA: We appreciate it.

Chris, let me go to you first so you can fill us in on the latest.

Have you read through all of these emails that were recently released? (INAUDIBLE) I apologize because it's a holiday weekend.

CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a holiday weekend and that's probably part of the reason why they came out, right? It was a Friday before a long weekend.

ACOSTA: Right.

FRATES: So we went through the 300 emails and there were no bombshells. There was nothing that indicated that Hillary Clinton knew of any kind of stand down order, that there was any kind of stand down order in Benghazi, any arms were coming through Benghazi. So, no smoking guns.

ACOSTA: The conspiracy --

FRATES: The conspiracy theory -- the Democrats were quick to say, look, this is why we've already been through this. This is an exercise in futility.

Now, Republicans, on the other hand, on that Benghazi committee that's looking into what happened there is saying, well, there's a lot of questions. There was e-mails about security during Benghazi in 2011 and in 2012. We need to continue to look into that.

And there was also a little flavor for how she likes to run the state department. There were notes to her two senior aides who were going to -- they were going to testify on Capitol Hill, and she had suffered a concussion. She said, I have a cracked head but I want you guys to go up there and remain calm, and carry on. There were some --

ACOSTA: I remember that, when she was wearing the glasses. (INAUDIBLE) that during that time?

FRATES: Exactly. So, it was informative a little bit to kind of get a sense of how she ran her state department, but there was nothing there that suggested --

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ACOSTA: Nothing --

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FRATES: But that was only 300 emails. We still have 30,000 more to come.

ACOSTA: So the coast is clear, Penny Lee?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think it just confirms what we all have been saying a long -- and that many of the already investigations we've already seen take place. We've already had five, six investigations and a full report, and they have consistently said what was backed up in Hillary's email is that there wasn't a broad conspiracy and there wasn't that stand down order that was out there.

So, I think what it does is shows -- look, there's more to come but it does prove a consistency in where she was from the beginning.

ACOSTA: And Kristen, more to come, I guess. What do you make of --

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: So we're right now trusting that Hillary Clinton is giving us the emails that do tell the full picture.

Again, remember, these are all emails that it's turning out some of them had some fairly sensitive information and they're living on an email server that was in Hillary Clinton's possession and she's turning over what she wants to turn over. Poll after poll shows that Americans don't find Hillary Clinton to be terribly trustworthy. I don't think Congress finds Hillary Clinton to be terribly trustworthy. And that's what we're going to be seeing playing out here. More emails potentially (INAUDIBLE).

ACOSTA: And, Penny, I wonder, what do you make of the fact that Sidney Blumenthal has come back, you know, from the 1990s, I guess, that we're now talking about Sidney Blumenthal emails with Hillary Clinton. Doesn't this all sort of remind voters that Hillary Clinton, you know, was the first lady in the 1990s and was that senator...

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LEE: There's no denying that. But there's no denying --

ACOSTA: ...secretary -- that we've been dealing with Hillary Clinton and the way she handles, you know, sensitive subjects like this in a sometimes ineffective way?

LEE: Yes. I mean, look, there's no denying what her resume is. Yes, she was first lady. She was senator and all of those things.

I have worked for many politicians, Ed Rendell, Harry Reid and others that have had many friends who have volunteered information that they thought might be helpful to someone. And what she did was the proper --

ACOSTA: It feels like a "Seinfeld" rerun. I guess, is what we're (ph) saying is sort of like why are we going back? Sidney Blumenthal, really?

LEE: But what she did was the proper thing to do is to vet it through her staff. And she relied on the advice from her senior staff not on the advice of Sidney Blumenthal. She can't help sometimes what is incoming. What you can do is how you react to it, and what she did was the proper thing. Was vet it through the possible right forums and to see --

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ANDERSON: I doubt -- I doubt many voters know who Sid Blumenthal is, but what I do know is that a lot of voters see headlines for instance that allies of ISIS are sort of filling the void that's been left in Libya.

And I know that in these Hillary emails are emails saying Hillary Clinton is the face of Libya. We've positioned you as the face of American action there. We know that in Hillary Clinton's record back at the beginning of the Iraq war, she voted to authorize regime change in the Middle East that sort of lead to a vacuum, that has led to the situation we're seeing now. And in Libya she was the face of Libya which has led to a vacuum after regime change that leads people to feel fairly unsafe. I think that's the stuff that voters are going to be caring about and making their judgments about, whether or not she is somebody who is capable of being the commander in chief and making (INAUDIBLE) foreign policy.

ACOSTA: Not to look into the future, Chris, but do you think we're going to find anything in these emails? As Kristen said, these are the ones that the Clintons are giving us to look at.

FRATES: That's right. And I think, what we've learned from how she emails is that she's very logistical. She doesn't talk a lot about her policy. There's not a lot of inner dialogues. She's not discussing how she feels about certain issues. And I think even though we have 30,000 emails still to come I think that pattern will continue. [10:00:00] ACOSTA: OK. Thank you very much, panel. We appreciate it. Due to the breaking news from Cleveland we are unable to bring our piece to you on Arlington National Cemetery. It will air in the noon hour of this program. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts right now.