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Top al Qaeda Leader Reported Killed; Jeb Bush Launches 2016 White House Bid; Alleged Prison Break Accomplice Appears in Court; North Korean Defector Crosses Dangerous DMZ. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 15, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:11] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN GUEST HOST: Happening now: al Qaeda leader killed. The terror group says it's already named a replacement after a suspected U.S. drone strike takes out its top leader. And a separate U.S. airstrike reportedly hit the meeting between al Qaeda and ISIS, killing a most wanted terrorist.

Just Jeb. He is the third Bush to throw his hat into the ring, running for the White House in 2016, but is he running away from his family name?

And tables turned. A prison worker who allegedly helped two killers break out of jail is now the only one of them behind bars. Where are the escapees?

And forced out. A regional NAACP official who presented herself as African-American, but was outed by her parents as white, steps down from her position. How much damage was done? I'll be asking the national NAACP president.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We have breaking news. The U.S. has apparently scored a major victory in the war against terrorism. Officials in Yemen say the leader of al Qaeda's most dangerous -- dangerous branch has been killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike, and within the terror group itself, there's word that he's already been replaced.

This follows reports that a most wanted al Qaeda figure has also been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Libya. We have the latest on both of these stories, along with Jeb Bush's entry into the 2016 presidential race. He says the country's on, quote, "a very bad course." I'll be speaking with Senator Angus King of the Intelligence Committee; and our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with all of the latest developments.

We begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, tell us what you're learning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. At this hour, the U.S. government is not publicly confirming any

details. They are not saying anything about the potential killing of Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, the group the al Qaeda affiliate. The U.S. considers most dangerous, poses the most direct threat to the U.S. homeland to U.S. aviation. The U.S. not confirming any details.

What we can tell you is two Yemeni security officials and a number of postings on social media sites that do reliably track information in Yemen, are saying that Wuhayshi has been killed.

Potentially, they say, in a U.S. drone strike. Again, the U.S. is not confirming that. If they were proved to be true, it would be a significant blow to al Qaeda in Yemen, but perhaps not a deathblow, because the master bomb maker, a man named al-Asiri, still by all accounts alive, still very experienced, very determined to attack the United States.

But let's circle back for a minute about what we have seen just in the last few days and over the last couple of weeks. If it proves to be true that Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda, if he is dead, this is the third significant blow to terrorism in the last several weeks.

We have Wuhayshi, if that is true. Earlier today, over the weekend, it was confirmed that a man named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the head of al Qaeda in North Africa, killed, they believe, not confirmed but targeted in a U.S. F-15 strike in Libya. And just a few weeks ago, we saw a man, an ISIS operative in Syria, a man named Abu Sayyaf, killed in a U.S. Delta Force army raid on the ground in Syria.

So what we are seeing, Brianna, is the possibility of three major U.S. military actions against top terrorist figures in parts of the word that it is very difficult for the U.S. intelligence community and the U.S. military to get into. A lot of interesting developments, very few public answers -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thanks so much for that report.

And I want to talk about this branch of al Qaeda that has inspired and directed attacks on the United States. Let's get more now from CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, if the U.S. has taken out Nasir al-Wuhayshi, it would be a major blow to the leadership structure of what U.S. officials do consider the dangerous branch of al Qaeda. You and Barbara mentioned that a moment ago.

Wuhayshi himself has credentials that are very respected within al Qaeda. He had been Osama bin Laden's driver, one of his closest aids, and one analyst says for about four years, Nasr al-Wuhayshi never left bin Laden's side. That's how high up he's been in al Qaeda.

In 2009, when al Qaeda branches in Yemen and Saudi Arabia merged, Nasr al-Wuhayshi took control of the al Qaeda branch, called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His ascent to that position was confirmed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, now considered the global leader of al Qaeda.

[17:05:09] Al-Wuhayshi eventually got a $10 million bounty placed on his head by the U.S. State Department. That's the same as the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. I spoke with analyst Brian Fishman about the kind of role al-Wuhayshi has running AQAP.


BRIAN FISHMAN, ANALYST: -- operational guy. He's the CEO. He's the guy that's ultimately responsible for all of this. He's fund-raising. He's recruiting. He is setting the policy guidelines for this organization as a whole, but he's got other folks that are doing some of the key operational pieces.


TODD: And the other people running operations for AQAP are indeed very dangerous. You heard Barbara mention a moment ago the group's master bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri. He is believed to be still alive. This guy is so devoted to attacking the U.S. and its allies that he once placed a bomb inside the body of his own brother for a 2009 attack on the Saudi interior minister. That bombing killed his brother, but failed to kill the minister, Brianna. That was a legendary attack, very grotesque, but it spoke to the lengths that Ibrahim al-Asiri will go to, and he is still out there.

KEILAR: He is really the reason why AQAP is known as the most dangerous.

TODD: That's right. I mean, he's believed to be behind the 2009 Christmas day plot to bomb an airliner that was heading into Detroit. Now, that bomb, as many of our viewers will recall, was placed in the underwear of an AQAP operative. That bomb came close to exploding. The following year, he placed bombs in printer cartridges that were shipped to the United States in planes bound for the United States. That plot was disrupted, but that plot, again, came very close to working.

It is a serious ability, Brianna, to get bombs on planes bound for the U.S., get them past security that makes him so dangerous to America. And that's why U.S. officials say this branch of al Qaeda that is the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda to the United States.

Ibrahim al Asiri is still out there. We believe he's still alive, and if he is, he's very likely taught other AQAP operatives to do what he does in case he's killed, so that ability to attack the United States will remain in that group, whether Nasir al-Wuhayshi is dead tonight or not.

KEILAR: All right, Brian Todd. Great report. Thank you so much.

Is there a turnaround in the fight against terrorism? The U.S. has launched a series of strikes against terror leaders recently. We saw the commando raid in Syria, which took out an ISIS commander, and now these apparently successes in Yemen in Libya. Joining me now to talk more about this, we have independent Senator

Angus King of Maine. He serves on both the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us. And can you confirm at this point that the AQAP leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I'm sorry, Brianna, I can't. I can only confirm what you've seen in the press and what you've already reported, that there are reports from Yemen leadership that he was killed, and that there are social media reports from within the organization that they've already replaced him. So it's pretty good evidence, but I can't confirm on behalf of the United States government.

But if it's true, it is a significant blow. Leadership matters, and this guy really was the No. 2 man in al Qaeda worldwide, and was certainly the No. 1 guy in this very dangerous, as your reports have already indicated, very dangerous subgroup of al Qaeda in Yemen. The same goes for Belmokhtar in Libya, very high-ranking guys.

Now, this isn't the end of the war, by any means. Because these people are continuing to recruit and train new leadership, but it's a serious blow to both of these organizations.

KEILAR: Has something changed in the last few weeks when it comes to intelligence the U.S. is receiving? We've seen this string of successful strikes, and it makes you wonder if there's been an improvement or there's been some wealth of knowledge that the intel community has come upon.

KING: Well, all I can tell you, I don't think there's any additional particular knowledge, but I can tell you that it's a very patient, long-standing process. It takes a long time to establish exactly who these people are, what they're doing, what their pattern of life is, and to be sure that these strikes can be taken without collateral damage. Extraordinary steps are taken to avoid harming innocent people.

And you know, these -- these are some of the top leaders. As I said, this isn't the whole strategy, but it's clear that this is a patient, long-term strategy that, if you plot and plan and strike against the United States, you will ultimately pay the price. And that's what happened this week.

KEILAR: In AQAP, you just heard our report that al-Asiri is trying to make sure that those very, for lack of a better word, creative bomb- making skills are something that are not just for him or for some of those very close to him, but will remain with AQAP, even if there are some top targets that are killed. Will al-Wuhayshi's death disable this terrorist group in any way?

[17:10:16] KING: It will slow down the organization. When you decapitate any organization, it certainly hurts. It doesn't eliminate the threat. The bomb maker is still there. And the thing that keeps me up at night, Brianna, is they're working on bombs that don't have any metal parts, that can go through airport screening, and we know that that's a technology that they're trying to perfect.

So this is a long, different struggle that we're engaged in, and it's going to require all kinds of tools. And you mentioned it earlier: intelligence is one of the key tools that we have to maintain. We have to try to know what's coming and be able to foil these plots before they reach our shores. That's why the work that we're doing around here, trying to maintain the intelligence tools is so important.

This is a real threat to America. These people want to kill us. There's just no way around it.

KEILAR: Senator, why hasn't at this point the U.S. been able to get the current leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

KING: Well, it's just a case of not being able to find them. One of the things that's happened over the years is that, of course, these guys aren't dumb. And they understand about staying under cover, only traveling at night, not venturing out during the day, not traveling in open trucks. They've learned to go to ground, if you will, and that's why it takes an awful lot of intelligence and surveillance in order to find them, but they're also become clever about encrypting their messages.

They're -- some of the information that was released by Edward Snowden really made it more different to track some of these people, because they are now using other methods of communicating that's made it more difficult to follow them.

But so the answer is these people are hard to -- hard to track, but as the events of the last few days have indicated, we can, in fact, find them in the end.

KEILAR: We have more on this breaking news, the string of U.S. successes against terrorist. Senator King, stick with me. We'll be right back in just a moment to talk more about this.


[17:17:18] KEILAR: We have Senator Angus King standing by. We do want to welcome our international viewers as we're covering this breaking news. The U.S. may have scored some major victories in the battle against terrorism. There is word out of Yemen that the leader of al Qaeda's most dangerous branch, which has directly targeting the U.S., has been killed in a U.S. drone strike.

And that comes as the U.S. has targeted another most wanted al Qaeda figure responsible for a bloody siege that killed dozens of people, including Americans. That U.S. airstrike in Libya reportedly came during a meeting between representatives of al Qaeda and ISIS. CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has the details for us -- Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the U.S. hasn't officially confirmed that Mokhtar Belmokhtar has been killed. U.S. officials privately believe he hasn't. If so, it would be a big win for the U.S.

But the very fact that a meeting could take place on Libyan soil between ISIS and al Qaeda shows just how much a breeding ground, safe haven for terrorism that Libya has become and how powerless the U.S. has been to stop it.


LABOTT (voice-over): The U.S. strike on a known terrorist hangout targeted Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the shadowy leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, mastermind of the 2013 attacks in Algeria that killed three Americans.

After tracking the farmhouse in Libya for months, President Obama ordered the hit when intel showed that Mokhtar was there. A stroke of luck, Libyan security officials believe he was hosting a meeting of al Qaeda and ISIS operatives in an effort to broker a cease-fire between the two groups.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, "THE DAILY BEAST": Belmokhtar had pulled together this "Star Wars" bars of militant groups: followers of ISIS, followers of al Qaeda and some local militant groups that presented a target that was too good for the U.S. to miss.

LABOTT: A truce with al Qaeda to give ISIS a freer hand to spread his terror throughout Libya. With an influx of fighters from Syria, ISIS now controls Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, and is gaining ground across Libya's coast, beheading Christians, striking airports, setting fire to oil fields as it battles Libyan forces.

Terror groups seizing on the political vacuum in Libya since the U.S. helped out Gadhafi in 2011. The U.S. has since pulled out of Libya, after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012, and the takeover by Islamist forces of the capitol, Tripoli, a year later. Militants celebrated their departure with a pool party on embassy grounds.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The U.S. was always very circumspect about how much it could do in Libya, about what the prospects for Libya were, and there was a sense that we had our hands full. This would be somebody else's responsibility.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How are you all today? Welcome to the orchard.

LABOTT: Libya's plunge to failed statehood could haunt Hillary Clinton as she embarks on her presidential campaign. As secretary of state, Clinton was a decisive voice in the U.S. intervention in post- Gadhafi policy, a policy President Obama admitted last year in an interview with "The New York Times" fell short.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We underestimated, our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force.


LABOTT: President Obama said at the time that the U.S. should have done should have done more to build Libya's institutions that were never formed during Gadhafi's reign. Today U.S. officials say they hope that a U.S.-backed peace talks between Libya's Islamist-backed government and its elected parliament will help produce a power- sharing agreement. They say only an effective government will be able to stop ISIS's advance -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Great report. Elise Labott at the State Department, thank you.

And we're back now with a key member of both of the intel and the Armed Services Committees, independent Senator Angus King of Maine. The question, as we hear that report from Elise, Senator, this was a meeting perhaps of ISIS and al Qaeda, but perhaps it was to try to broker some sort of truce between the two. Are you worried that they could be cooperating?

KING: Well, these groups have traditionally been at each other's throats, and they've been divided and fighting each other, so any kind of hint that they're starting to cooperate or get together is something that we need to be concerned about; because obviously, to the extent that they can cooperate, share intelligence, share their knowledge, share training, that's bad news for everybody else in the region.

So the fact that this group was together in one place, and Mokhtar has been taken out, I think, is good news.

But again, as we were talking before, getting rid of the leadership of these organizations is a key step. I mean, leadership is very important, but it's not the whole deal. Ultimately, the people on the ground in these countries are going to have to finish this job. We're not going to be able to go in and do it with our troops.

So it's part of a strategy, but it's not the whole strategy.

KEILAR: Senator Angus King, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

KING: Thank you.

KEILAR: And coming up, new revelations about the only person behind bars in the New York prison escape. That would be Joyce Mitchell. And she was in court today with the two killers that she's accused helping remain on the loose.

But next, this afternoon's breaking political news: Jeb Bush becomes the 11th Republican -- that's right, the 11th -- in the 2016 presidential race.


[17:27:36] KEILAR: We are following breaking news in the 2016 race for president just now in Miami. Jeb Bush officially became the 11th Republican seeking his party's nomination for the White House. That's right, 11.

But he almost totally ignored almost all of his Republican opponents, and he went on the offensive against Hillary Clinton and the Washington establishment.

CNN's Dana Bash was there for the rally and for the big announcement.

So Dana, he described himself to you a few days ago as an introvert. How did he come across today in his speech?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He tried very hard to be an extrovert and to show that he definitely has the fire in the belly that a lot of people who -- even those who may want him to be president fear that he doesn't have.

This crowd was quite different and the venue was different, Brianna, than the other Republican announcements that we've seen so far. It was very much formed in order to be a campaign rally, to show him as somebody who can deliver the red meat lines. And that's exactly what he did in a couple ways.

Listen to this line coming up. It was specifically to go after the Democrats with Hillary Clinton, but there also was a veiled reference to the Republican senators running.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't need another president who merely holds the top spot among the pampered elites in Washington. We need a president willing to challenge and disrupt the whole culture in our nation's capital, and I will be that president. Because I was a reforming governor, not just another member of the club.


BASH: Now, Brianna, you can probably see there that you know, he had the crowd; he seemed to be very comfortable.

Having said that, the teleprompter is not Jeb Bush's friend. There are some politicians who can just hit it out of the park and read a teleprompter comfortably. Barack Obama is one, even Marco Rubio. He is not one. That is very much why his next stops -- he's going to go to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina -- they're going to be teleprompter-free town-hall meetings, where you can have one-on-one interaction with voters. And that's definitely his comfort zone.

Now Brianna, the other big wrap on Bush is why that "Bush." It's why you don't see his last name in the signs behind me.

It's just "Jeb." And so the question has been how is he going to overcome that. He, you know, had a very poignant family moment. His mother, Barbara Bush, was here. His son introduced him.

[17:30:11] But he also said pretty explicitly that he is running as his own man. Listen to this.


BUSH: I will campaign as I would serve, going everywhere, speaking to everyone, keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching, and staying true to what I believe. I will take nothing and no one for granted. I will run with heart, and I will run to win.


BASH: And Brianna, there was one moment here that I think will go down as being maybe the most telling. And that is during the moment where he was introducing his mother, there were some protesters, some dreamers protesting his immigration policies. He stopped. He looked at them, went off-script, and said, "If I am president, I will address immigration reform through legislation, not by executive order."

That was very telling substantively, because he does differ from some of his colleagues, but also in terms of his demeanor. He's comfortable in his own skin. That is what people say about him. I witnessed that, and that was definitely a moment. Some politicians, maybe with less experience, would have had a humina (ph) moment, but he didn't -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Dana Bash, in Miami for us. Thank you so much.

The prison tailor shop instructor charged with aiding the escape of two convicted killers appears in court today. Joyce Mitchell wore a black-and-white striped prisoner's jumpsuit and shackles. Despite a massive search involving 800 law officers -- law enforcement officers, the escapees remain at large at this point.

This is nine days after they were discovered missing from their cell at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. I want to go live now to CNN's Alexandra Field. She is in nearby West Plattsburg. What's the latest there, Alexandra?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good afternoon, Brianna.

Joyce Mitchell is back in Clinton County Jail where she's being very closely monitored. That's following her appearance in court this morning. It was her second appearance, made after she had already entered a plea of not guilty, accused of bringing tools into that maximum security prison and giving them to two convicted killers.

Authorities have said that she brought in chisels as well as hacksaw blades. Authorities are now saying that she had planned to pick them up after they escaped and came out of that manhole cover outside of a power plant. And he has apparently told investigators that the plan was to drive somewhere that was seven hours away from here, but she says that the two fugitives did not tell her what that location would be.

We do know that, prior to her arrest, she seemed to be working with investigators, talking to them on an almost daily basis, answering a lot of their questions, but certainly, Brianna, at this point with the two men missing for this long, it's unclear how much more help she would be in a position to give. KEILAR: Is the trail cold here, Alexandra? Did they have the

confidence that they had last week they were really close to catching these guys?

FIELD: You know, I don't think that anyone would say the trail is cold, because they're still putting a tremendous amount of resources into capturing these two men. It is a very high priority. You're talking about two very dangerous convicted killers.

You'll see checkpoints like the one right behind me throughout this area. Perimeters where different search areas have been set up, a lot of them focused in the area near the prison. That was based on that information that you pointed out that we received last week about bloodhounds picking up on a scent. So really there's no drawdown in terms of the effort that we're seeing out here to capture these guys.

But we're talking about, you know, 1,000 different tips that have come in just locally. You've got some 800 different law enforcement officers who are on the case out here. At the same time, it's been nine, ten days since these two men broke out of this maximum-security prison. So even New York's governor is admitting that, yes, they could be here, but they could be just about anywhere.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK: We don't know if they are still in the immediate area or if they are in Mexico by now, right? Enough time has transpired. But we're following up every lead the best we can.


FIELD: Brianna, right for you there are just two priorities. The top priority, of course, goes without saying: finding those two men.

The second priority, the investigation into what happened at that prison. A statewide -- a state investigation has now been ordered by the governor. That will be taken on by the inspector general. It will involve an outside corrections expert, who will help try and determine how exactly these fugitives got out of that prison and what kind of reforms can be enacted in the future to stop anything like this from happening again.

KEILAR: Yes, let's hope. Alexandra Field following the story in New York, thank you so much.

And coming up, a pretty big embarrassment for North Korea's Kim Jong- un. One of his country's soldiers walked across the border into freedom in South Korea.

Also, she said she was black. Her parents say she is white. Today an embattled NAACP leader stepped down, but she made no apologies. The national NAACP president is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will get his reaction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:39:43] KEILAR: Well, this is a major embarrassment for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of his regime's soldier has defected, crossed the tightly-guarded Demilitarized Zone to reach South Korea. CNN's Brian Todd has the details.

This is pretty rare, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Brianna. You know, tonight Kim Jong-un's regime is very likely doing a major intelligence assessment of how this soldier got away, what he might be giving away to the South Koreans and the Americans, and of course, they're considering a very harsh punishment for the soldier's commander, who analysts say could be executed.


TODD (voice-over): At the world's most heavily militarized border, a North Korean soldier in his late teens makes a daring escape into South Korea. Most of the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone, is guarded by mine fields, tall fences with razor wire, guard posts.

Analysts say the area where this soldier crossed, in the eastern North Korean province of Kangwon, is less fortified. According to reports citing the South Korean Defense Ministry, the soldier said he left because of widespread beatings and other abuse in his unit.

(on camera): Is that pervasive in the North Korean military?

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: The North Korean military is renowned for the harsh discipline and very difficult conditions in which soldiers have to live. Especially someone of his age and his level, he would be beat simply by looking -- just looking askance at an officer. There's no restraint at all.

TODD (voice-over): Tony Shaffer, who once ran human intelligence operation for the U.S. Army in that area, says the defector can give the U.S. and South Korean military intelligence on places along the DMZ, where the North Koreans routinely insert saboteurs, but there will be consequences for the soldier's family.

SHAFFER: You could expect a potential literal summary assassination, summary murder, of his family. That's one of the things that North Koreans always make sure that anyone who contemplates defection understands, that your family will be dealt with severely.

TODD: The regime could target multiple generations of the soldier's family, likely his parents and grandparents. Along with other aggressive moves like test firing anti-ship missiles off his coastline this past weekend, Kim Jong-un has also cracked down on defectors, tightening patrols along the Chinese border.

Analysts say Kim sees any defection as a personal insult to him.

VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: This is embarrassing for the North Korean regime, because it completely cracks the myth about how this is supposed to be a paradise, a society in which everybody is not for want of anything. Under the dear leadership of this young grandson, Kim Il-sung.


TODD: This is the third defection of a rank-and-file soldier while Kim Jong-un has been in power. In 2012, one soldier scaled three barbed wire fences to get across the border. That same year, another soldier killed his platoon and squadron leaders, then crossed over, all signs, the analysts say, that Kim might be having trouble controlling his military. There are already signs that he's struggling to control the elites round him. With the executions of his uncle and recently of his defense minister, Brianna, he could be having some real chinks in his armor very close to him.

KEILAR: Wow. And so at this point, you're sort of waiting for maybe some signs of aggression? Could there be a nuclear test? What are you hearing about that?

TODD: Analysts are saying look for another nuclear test in October of this year, very possibly. That is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the rulers -- excuse me -- the ruling Workers Party in North Korea. The regime on that occasion often likes to assert some kind of a display of power. That's the most likely time for a nuclear test, and it would be their fourth. So another ominous development for them.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be waiting to see if that happens. Brian Todd, thanks so much for that reporting.

Coming up, she said she was black. Her parents say that she's white. Today an embattled NAACP leader stepped down, but she made no apologies.

Also ahead, a live update on the manhunt for a pair of escaped murderers and today's court appearance by the woman accused of helping them.


[17:47:58] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking now today, Rachel Dolezal resigned today as the head of Spokane, Washington's chapter of the NAACP, citing what she called the unexpected firestorm over her racial identity. Dolezal claimed to be African-American, but last week her estranged parents went public to say she's white.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Spokane. All of this developing not too long ago, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. This all started, you know, last week, and then we talked to her. She said that she would be speaking at the previously scheduled meeting that was going to be held tonight. Then over the weekend that meeting was canceled, then we understood that there were some people within the local chapter who were unhappy that it was canceled, and then this morning she quit.

And this is all happening pretty quickly here, but she quit in a letter. And in a letter she wrote, quote, "I've waited in deference while others expressed their feelings absent a full story. It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice that I step aside. I will never stop fighting for human rights," end quote.

She did this, but she did not answer that one burning question, whether or not she is black or white, and she also did not apologize, what some people here in the community wished that she had done. Now we know that there was going to be a rally held later on tonight to call for her resignation, now they say it will be a rally for healing. They're changing the tone there but the controversy, the conversation around Rachel Dolezal continues to brew, with even her brother, her adopted brother pointing out that what she's been doing, calling it blackface in short.

So all of this still happening, she's stepping down, which may allow the NAACP of Spokane to focus on what they want to do, but it doesn't take away the spotlight on her and her controversy -- Brianna.

KEILAR: No. But maybe separate the two. We'll see.

Stephanie Elam, thanks so much for your report from Spokane. We'll have more ahead on that.

During the next hour we'll talk to the national president and CEO of NAACP. He'll be right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And right now I want to bring in CNN anchor, Don Lemon.

So, Don, no apology and you heard Stephanie's report there. She didn't talk about these questions about her racial identity.

[17:50:08] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Well, she didn't talk about them but she did in this thing, and this is what -- all weekend, people have been asking me about this, Brianna. And for now, for this moment I'd like to sort of reserve judgment on Rachel Dolezal because I don't know what's real and what's not. And I've been talking to psychologists all day, some of whom have been saying that being transracial is a real thing. And others say it's not so real.

So I don't know what's at the bottom of all this. But I do think that there's something in her statement that is glaring I think that people have been missing out where I think she's saying that race is sort of -- it's evolutionary, so to speak. So she says in this thing, she says, while challenging, and notice she says, the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness.

And so -- and then she goes, we can't afford to lose sight on the five gain challenge or whatever, talking about the criminal justice system, she also talks about evolving as a race, or as a human race. So I think she's saying that she believes, in that statement, if you look at it closely, that she believes that race is fluid and that she identifies with the African-American race, therefore, she feels more connected to that race.

So she's not talking about it publicly, but if you read between the lines in her statement, you can figure it out. So I would ask all of our viewers to do that. And I think the answer is within the statement.

KEILAR: But do you feel like she should explain herself more?

LEMON: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Or the other question I would have, you know, you heard Stephanie talking about this gathering that's for healing. There's some people who feel like they've been blindsided or that she could have done -- you tell me. She -- could she have done what she was doing for the NAACP if it was very obvious that she was white and she didn't have this appearance that --

LEMON: Absolutely.

KEILAR: -- seems to be artificial?

LEMON: Yes, that's called an ally. You know, we have allies in the LGBT community, you have allies for issues when it comes to race. You can be an ally, and people who are allies don't usually lie about who they are. If you have a straight ally from the LGBT community then that means you're not gay, so you don't have to pretend to be gay or transgender to help someone who is gay or transgender or to help the cause.

You can be a straight ally. It doesn't matter which race you are. So you can have a white ally who can help with black issues, you can have a white ally who can help with Hispanic issues. And on and on and on. But usually those people are honest about their intentions and that's the thing that I think that has really caught people off guard with this. But as I was speaking to a psychologist today who I will have on my show tonight, they say, to say that she lied is similar to saying, and this is them, not me -- is similar to saying that Bruce Jenner lied for 60 years. So there you go.

KEILAR: And there's been a lot of talk about these two things and the similarities.


KEILAR: I do want to bring Stephanie Elam back in from Spokane because I know that we've learned some new information today. You've learned this about a 2002 lawsuit. Tell us about this.

ELAM: Right, this is a lawsuit against Howard University, which I feel the need to point out is my alma mater. And it's there in D.C. where you are, Brianna. That's where Rachel Dolezal got her MFA, her master's in fine arts in 2002. Well, she filed a lawsuit -- we are getting this from "The Smoking Gun" -- against the university, claiming that they discriminated based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities, and gender.

She alleged in this suit that officials improperly blocked her from an appointment to a teaching position and that she was denied her scholarship aid when she was a student. This went on to be thrown out by the judge. But we are learning that she was, at that point from what we understand, was living as a white woman. And was, she says, discriminated against but did not win that case, according to "The Smoking Gun."

We've reached out to Miss Dolezal. We've also reached out to Howard University. We're awaiting to get confirmation back from them on that.

And I just want to say, Brianna, one point to what Don was saying. As far as her appearance, she could have presented herself as a white woman with dread lock extensions, done her hair in an afro, done all of those things, and then, quote-unquote, "down." And still would have been able to perhaps make --


LEMON: She'd be Iggy Azalea then, right?

ELAM: And help out. And a lot of people -- and a lot of people here think that that's fine.

LEMON: Right.

ELAM: A lot of people who appreciate the work that she's put in. I talked to some people who think she was a really good leader here and they don't want her to stop doing that. She clearly seems committed to the issues when you read her entire resignation letter.


ELAM: She still talks about it. So I think the issue here is not that she was down with the cause or that she wanted to be a part of it, it was about the fact that she didn't tell the truth about who she was, so far as we know.

KEILAR: Yes. And guys, we'll leave the conversation there, we'll pick it up shortly in the next hour.

Stephanie Elam, Don Lemon, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, the top leader of al Qaeda's most dangerous branch is reported dead in a U.S. drone strike. In a separate U.S. airstrike, reportedly hits a meeting between al Qaeda and ISIS, killing a most- wanted terrorist.

[17:55:06] And the prison worker who allegedly helped two killers break out of jail now the only one behind bars. Where are the escapees? We'll have the latest on the manhunt.


KEILAR: Happening now a top terrorist killed. New claims that a shadowy and very dangerous al Qaeda leader is dead. He learned at the hands of Osama bin Laden. What could it mean for the U.S. and America's security?

More arrests? A prison seamstress may not be the only alleged accomplice put behind bars while the escaped killers she befriended are on the run for a tenth day. No apology. Local NAACP president Rachel Dolezal resigned. But she's

offering no explanation about her parents' claim that she's white not African-American.