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S.C. Leaders Move Confederate Flag from Capitol; Killer's Racist Rant Reveals Others' Influence; Police Find 'Confirmed Lead' in Hunt for Escaped Killers; Obamas to Deliver Eulogy of Charleston Pastor. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired June 22, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, confirmed lead. More than two weeks into the frustrating manhunt for a pair of escaped murderers, a tipster sees someone fleeing into the woods, and police find a burglarized cabin, and the convicts' DNA.

This comes as we're learning about an ingeniously simple way the tools used in the breakout may have been smuggled into prison.

Flag battle. As their state mourns nine people slaughtered by a racist gunman, South Carolina's top leaders stand shoulder to shoulder, imploring state lawmakers to remove the confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol. But the fight to take down the flag still is not over.

Racist manifesto. We're learning more from the writings and pictures the confessed gunman in the Charleston church massacre posted on his website. He says the Trayvon Martin killing inspired him and explains why he picked his target.

And the "N" word. Spoken aloud by the president of the United States as he talks openly and honestly about racism in the United States. Will it change anything? I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're covering two important breaking stories. New York police now have a confirmed lead in the hunt for a pair of escaped murderers. A law-enforcement source says DNA from both men, DNA has been found on items in a burglarized cabin.

Also breaking just now in South Carolina. Governor Nikki Haley, flanked by her state's top elected officials, called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the state capitol. Their call comes as we're learning more about the hate-filled manifesto posted by the gunman, who's confessed to killing nine African-Americans attending a church Bible study. The assistant Democratic leader of the House of Representatives for South Carolina, Congressman James Clyburn, he's standing by. He was in today's announcement. He'll take our questions.

Also our correspondents, experts and analysts, they'll have the very latest on all of the news that's breaking right now.

But let's begin in South Carolina where the governor, Nikki Haley, just called for the Confederate flag to be moved from the grounds of the state capitol.


GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.


BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more from our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's following what's going on -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, a whole lot has changed here just in the last few days from many South Carolina lawmakers. This certainly include Senator Lindsey Graham. He was backing up Governor Nikki Haley today during this announcement. He was there. He, I should say, it's interesting to see the difference between what he said last week and what he has said this week.

But certainly the times have changed, and I think that's something that has become very evident to South Carolina lawmakers. The initial agreement to have a flag on the ground of the capitol there coming in the early 2000s. Certainly, the times have changed. You've seen a number of Republicans, including Graham, who have made the shift in rhetoric. Just listen to what he said a few days ago.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is part of who we are. The flag represents to some people a Civil War, and that was the symbol of one side. To others it's a racist symbol, and it's been used by people, it's been used in a racist way. But the problems we have in South Carolina and throughout the world are not because of the symbol. It's because of what's in people's hearts.


KEILAR: Now today Graham backed Governor Haley's call for the flag to be gone from the statehouse grounds. And in a statement, he said this. He said, "After the tragic hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag." That is quite the reversal.

BLITZER: How are the other Republican presidential candidates dealing with this very obvious -- obviously, very sensitive issue?

KEILAR: It's been very difficult for them. In fact you've been seeing them really doing -- having, really, some troubles as they've tried to navigate this. Because at issue here, Wolf, you have some of them afraid, certainly, that they are going to lose support from their base, from white conservative Republicans, and that they're not going to make up that support from African-Americans who may certainly support their opinion, but aren't going to swing around and vote for them.

For instance, we saw from Jeb Bush, he said he doesn't support the flag, obviously, in general. When he was the governor of Florida, he worked to have the flag pulled from the statehouse grounds there, but at the same time he didn't explicitly say that South Carolina should make this move. So that was a very nuanced and important thing to note in his statement.

Rubio, Marco Rubio, he did not support Bush's move when he was governor of Florida. He said this was an issue for the states to decide. We heard that from Rick Santorum, as well. And we heard from Mike Huckabee, who basically said this isn't even an issue the presidential candidates should be dealing with.

[17:05:08] You also saw Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, as well as Santorum. They had accepted money from the leader of this white supremacist group that Dylann Roof, the shooter, was linked to. They have now either given back the money in the case of Ted Cruz, or in Rand Paul and Santorum's case, they're giving the money to that Hope Fund that the Mother Emanuel Church is putting on to benefit victims' families.

BLITZER: Yes, thanks very much. If you're running for president of the United States, all issues are out there on the table. Clearly, this is one that they're going to have to deal with, as well. Thanks very much.

Today's call to move the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds comes as we're learning more about the racist, hate- filled rant posted by that murderer. The 21-year-old who confessed to killing nine people in a Charleston church posted his manifesto on a website along with dozens of pictures of him holding a Confederate flag and burning the U.S. flag.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us from Charleston. He's got more -- Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Wolf. Well, Dylann Roof might be sitting in a jail here in Charleston, South Carolina, but he has left plenty of clues describing his mindset -- his mindset, which in many ways is extremely disturbing.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Investigators tonight are looking into the motive for the murders and focusing on a 2,000-word racist rant posted on a website registered to Dylann Roof just hours before his deadly rampage. The pictures accompanying the alleged manifesto were alarming. Roof is seen burning an American flag, waving a Confederate flag, and posing with a .45 caliber Glock pistol, the same caliber gun investigators say was used in the church shooting.

And in the words he writes "a pattern of anger and bigotry." Roof states the Trayvon Martin case triggered his decision to kill, writing, "It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right, but more importantly, this prompted me to type in the words 'black on white crime' into Google, and I have never been the same since that day."

His hatred extends beyond African-Americans to Hispanics and the Jewish community, stating, "Most Jews are always thinking about the fact that they are Jewish."

He chose Charleston for his terrorist act, because "It is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country. We have no Skinheads, no KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well, someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your age?


LAVANDERA: Roof is being held on a million-dollar-bond awaiting his next court appearance for murder charges, set for October.


LAVANDERA: And Wolf, Dylann Roof also wrote in that manifesto that he was inspired in part by a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens, which has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group here in the United States. Its leader -- the leader of that organization has donated thousands of dollars to a number of Republican candidates across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera at the scene for us. Thank you very much.

Joining us now is one of South Carolina's more prominent and longest-serving elected officials, Democratic Congressman James Clyburn. He's the assistant Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was there with the governor today at today's announcement. It was a pretty moving moment for you, wasn't it, Congressman?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Absolutely. It really was. Governor Haley and I have been talking about this issue since last Thursday. We were together Friday at the church the day after these murders took place, and on yesterday she reached out to let me know that she'd reached the place that we heard from today.

And so I proudly stood with her while she made that announcement. I support it, and I would hope that that legislature arm will now pick up her sentiments and codify them, so that all of us can march off into the future together. This is a tremendous first step to doing something we left half-done back about 15 years ago.

BLITZER: Republican senators Graham and Scott, they were with her, as well. So you have the entire Republican leadership of the state of South Carolina with you. Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, he was there, as well, issued a statement of support, get rid of the state grounds.

But here's the question a lot of people are asking, Congressman. Did it really have to take the deaths of nine very lovely, wonderful, prominent African-Americans of Charleston for this to happen?

CLYBURN: Well, Wolf, I've just got to admit, that's the way it looks. Look, a lot of us -- I started writing about that flag back in 1987. I did a tremendous amount of research on the flag.

[17:10:08] And I was shocked to find out that the flag that was on top of the statehouse was not even the flag that they said it was. That was a Tennessee flag flying up on top of the statehouse. That was the flag of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

So when they took the flag off the statehouse, they did not put that flag out in front of the statehouse. The flag you're showing now, that is the flag that's in front of the statehouse, but even that -- that is the battle flag of Northern Virginia. South Carolinians did not fight under that flag. And for people to run around talking about all of their ancestors that fought and died under that flag, they're not telling the truth.

And what's so unfortunate about it, they don't even know that they're not telling the truth. They have been perpetuating this myth that someone told them, just like this young man got all this stuff off the Internet that somebody has told him and started living by it.

So I was pleased that the governor took a position she took today, because it does two things. It allows all of us, black and white together, to march into the future celebrating only the American flag and that proud blue with the palmetto tree and crescent state flag of South Carolina. And secondly it will allows a lot of my friends to stop defending a myth.

BLITZER: I assume that the -- both houses in the state legislature will pass by two-thirds margin, two-thirds majority the legislation that will be required to remove that Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol. Do you have any doubt that it will pass, Congressman?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't think it requires two-thirds. It requires two-thirds if you remove the flag under the current law.

However, the current legislature can rescind that law by a simple majority vote. And that's what needs to happen, because that law is so broad, it would not allow the citadel to remove that flag out of Summerall Chapel. The attorney general of South Carolina told the leadership of the citadel that other -- because of that law, they cannot take the flag out of the Summerall Chapel down there when they say they want to take it out.

So we need to rescind that law. So -- and you can do that with a simple majority vote. And the moment you do that, you're not required to have two-thirds.

BLITZER: All right. Good to know.

Congressman, we have more to discuss, the fallout from the horrendous developments in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, that massacre. Much more with Congressman Clyburn when we come back.


[17:12:27] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Just a little while ago South Carolina's governor, both U.S. senators -- they're both Republicans -- other top officials, Democrats and Republicans, called for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the grounds of the state capitol.

We're speaking with South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn. He's one of the leaders at that governor's announcement.

You know, it's interesting. If you read the killer's racist manifesto, Congressman, he says he wasn't raised in a racist home in South Carolina, but he was, quote, "truly awakened" by the Trayvon Martin case, when he realized that he had to do something to deal with blacks in your state. What's your reaction when you read that manifesto, when you hear what he had to say?

CLYBURN: Well, I take him at his word, but I don't think that's all there is to this. The organization that seems to be giving rise to a lot of his background reading is much broader than Trayvon Martin. It's been around before Trayvon Martin.

And the fact of the matter is he has a relative who's now tweeting out for the last several days that he went over the edge because some young lady that he was attracted to was dating an African-American guy. So he doesn't mention that in a manifesto, but the more I find out about him, and how he interacted with other people, I'm not too sure that this young man isn't making all this up.

See, I'm one of those people, I just don't believe he wrote the manifesto. He may have posted it, but I don't think he wrote that.

BLITZER: All right. Well, presumably we'll find out about that. I read that manifesto, and it is really, really ugly in many respects. He goes after not only African-Americans. He goes after Jews. He goes after Hispanics. It's really a disgusting manifesto.

Let me -- I know you've got to run, Congressman, but I want to get your quick reaction. There's a lot of buzz out there. The president of the United States, President Obama today, the interview he gave over the weekend, he publicly used the "N" word. What did you think of that?

[17:20:01] CLYBURN: Well, I think the president was being the professor that he used to be. I said earlier today to someone, I remember when I was teaching back in the '60s in the Charleston County public schools. We had a big controversy going on at the time, President Lyndon Johnson and others debating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now, a lot of those legislators were having real trouble trying

to pronounce negro, and they would say all kinds of iterations of that that was not "negro." And so in my class one day, I made a statement, trying to teach, and a young lady -- I will never forget her -- Bernadette Lucas, she now lives here in Columbia, Bernadette Lucas Rogers now, cried because I used the "N" word. And I was just trying to teach.

So I know that that word can be misconstrued. The president was trying to teach, and I think that it was used properly, but in the sound bite world that we live in, if you pick the one sentence out without the full statement, you will come away thinking that it may have been inappropriate. You read the whole statement, it was the appropriate thing to do.

BLITZER: All right. I think you make a good point, Congressman, as usual. James Clyburn, thanks for joining us.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.

BLITZER: We're going to continue to follow the breaking news, including the breaking news in New York. There's a confirmed clue right now in the manhunt for two escaped murderers. We have new details about how they broke out of prison.


[17:26:24] BLITZER: More breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Police finally have a confirmed lead on the long and frustrating manhunt for a pair of escaped murderers in New York. Searchers are zeroing in on an area about 20 miles from the prison.

Let's go to the area. CNN's Boris Sanchez is on the scene for us. What's the latest on the search, Boris? Are investigators right now closing in on the killers?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We certainly hope so, Wolf. For 17 days investigators have been waiting for these escapees, Richard Matt and David Sweat, to do something desperate, to break into a car or into a home.

Now investigators believe they have their smoking gun, the strongest indication that these two men are still in New York. It was DNA discovered on personal items inside a cabin that was broken into over the weekend. That DNA matches to Richard Matt and David Sweat.

However, investigators have yet to reveal what those items might be. We're still working to figure that out. The DNA that was found yesterday, again, the strongest indication that they are still in this area.

There are a lot of seasonal homes here, a lot of cabins that people use for hunting and skiing in the winter. So there's a lot of property that's empty. Investigators are asking anyone with property in the area to come check it out, and if anything is out of place, they ask you to give them a call. At a press briefing this afternoon, investigators tell us no lead is too small.


MAJ. CHARLES GAUSS, NEW YORK STATE POLICE: We ask the public to remain on alert. And remain vigilant about reporting anything -- anything that's out of the ordinary. This is especially true of seasonal camp owners, now that summer season is here. If you return to your camp and anything is out of place, call 911 immediately.


SANCHEZ: Of course, the other big news in the case today, reports that indicate that the men got tools into their cell via frozen hamburger meat. Quite a detail. Tough to believe.

BLITZER: All right, Boris, thanks very much. Boris Sanchez on the scene. We'll check back with you.

Meanwhile, there's other breaking news. The White House just announced the president and Mrs. Obama and the vice president, Joe Biden, they're heading to Charleston on Friday to attend funeral services for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney. He's the pastor, who was leading Bible study when a gunman killed him and eight others.

Our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is joining us with more details. Michelle, update our viewers.


And Pinckney is someone that the president had met and knew personally. And the president will deliver the eulogy. It almost seems like we're entering this new period how the president is engaging on and addressing race. I mean, he's given these several speeches lately using extremely direct language. Speaking of which, this hour-long interview he just did with a comedian in a garage for a podcast called "WTF." The headline, though, is that the president himself used the "N" word.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Racism, we are not cured of it.


KOSINSKI: The president with one word in a comedian's garage for a podcast, hits nor bluntly than any speech.

OBAMA: And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not a measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. You have -- societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.

KOSINSKI: The shock value lost on no one, but the White House denies that that was his intent, that it was even planned. He says it just came out.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was merely making an argument in an informal setting.

KOSINSKI (on camera): He had to have known this was going to get a reaction, right?

EARNEST: I don't think he was surprised by that, but I do think that it has prompted careful consideration of what exactly he said.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): It's the latest of several strikingly emotional statements after the Charleston shootings.

OBAMA: Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.

I refuse to act as if this is the new normal.

KOSINSKI: This may be the first time since the Trayvon Martin shooting three years ago that the president spoke directly, personally enough that it was controversial.

OBAMA: If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.

KOSINSKI: President Obama, though, has long fielded criticism within the black community, seeming reluctant to speak forcefully on race, often trying to carefully temper his words to strike a perfect balance.

He campaigned, of course, on trying to move the national conversation beyond race.

OBAMA: There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America. There's the United States of America.

KOSINSKI: As for the surprise over hearing the president saying the "N" word, he did write it and refer to it more than a dozen times in his book, "Dreams from My Father," of how that word affected him growing up, shaped his private views on race, more of which we're hearing now.


KOSINSKI: Yes. We're hearing analysts say it's about time that we hear the president speak so directly on this issue. And, you know, not everybody was happy that he chose to use that word, but we're also hearing from people today who are saying that they're surprised people are surprised.

It is hard to imagine, though, that the president didn't think about the provocative power when he decided to use that word, even if it was on the spot. I mean, this is a world that we don't feel comfortable saying, even when we're talking about that word. This kind of discussion, though, is clearly what the White House wants -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Michelle, thank you very much. Michelle

Kosinski at the White House.

Let's dig deeper right now with an important civil rights leader. Joining us is Marc Morial. He's president and CEO of the National Urban League.

So March, what did you think about the president's decision to publicly use the "N" word?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT/CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Let me say the president's broader statement, that we still have to deal with the challenges of race and division in America. And that is -- and remains an important different issue for the nation, I welcome that.

I wish he had chosen to use -- to say, quote, "the 'N' word" as opposed to saying the world. Because I've been long on record that coarse language used in any context in the public square is not the best way to talk about these types of issues. Whether it's the use of the -- that word, the "N" word has never had a positive meaning. It was designed, and that word deserves to be alongside the Confederate flag, the hood, the noose in a museum, to remind people about the difficult days that we've been through as a nation.

But here's the point. I think part of the president's opportunity at this stage, given all we are dealing with as a nation, is to help the nation understand, confront and recognize that the division of race is a division that we have to address, that by not talking about it, by sweeping it under the rug, by ignoring it, we don't put it to bed. We allow it to fester and persist.

BLITZER: And the criticism that he's faced from some in the African-American community, that he hasn't been blunt enough over these past six years as president, to that criticism you say?

MORIAL: I say this: important to recognize as president, it's not only what a president says. It's what the president's administration does. And I think that addressing health disparities through the Affordable Care Act. Seriously and aggressively enforcing civil rights, statutes and laws and conventions, as the Justice Department has done. Trying to create a level of playing field, when it comes to lending and dealing with those sorts of disparities, are all important contributions that this president has made.

I do believe, however, that it's timely and important now, as he faces the final year and a half of his presidency, that helping the nation confront, by speaking forcefully, and I think in a positive way, about the challenges of race and how we as a nation can get beyond it will be one of the legacies of his administration.

But with 18 months to go, I think it's time for him to perhaps give another major speech, give a speech on race, give a speech that helps the nation move beyond.

[17:35:05] Today the National Urban League launched its "One Nation, One Flag" initiative. And One Nation, One Flag, Wolf, is about ending the Confederate flag flying in a public space in South Carolina, but it's about bigger than that. It's about us unifying America around the American flag. Moving beyond hatred, moving beyond division, not only in language, but also in, if you will, how we think about public policy.

So One Nation, One Flag is an online petition that people go and sign.

And we want people to understand that eliminating the flag is important, and important to do in respect and in remembrance of the nine martyrs who lost their lives down in South Carolina, but that we also have to work on how we unify this nation, how we bring those together who want to get beyond the past and move into a new future.

BLITZER: One final question, Marc, before I let you go. We've seen what the governor, Governor Haley in South Carolina, wants to do with the Confederate battle flag on the state capitol grounds in her state, but you know there are other states like Mississippi, for example, that still incorporate -- I'm showing our viewers a picture of the Mississippi state flag. At least part of that Confederate battle flag on the Mississippi flag. What do you say about that?

MORIAL: I think it's time to remove all vestiges of the Confederate battle flag, which was about hate, about intolerance, about the promotion of slavery, the promotion of a rebellion again the United States of America. It's time to relegate that symbol to museums.

So South Carolina today, perhaps -- and I think, yes, those other states tomorrow.

Wolf, this is an important time, because we finally saw in this young man down in South Carolina the active use, the active use of the rebel flag or the Confederate flag to promote the ideology of hate. And it goes along with motivating him to act as he did. And to act as he did was to take the lives of nine innocent people in a church. So this is an important time.

So I say the Confederate flag belongs in a museum. If it's a part of history, it belongs in a museum, and what we ought to fly in this country is the stars and stripes. What we ought to fly is those symbols that help us unify ourselves.

BLITZER: Marc Morial, as usual, thanks very much.

Coming up, a killer's manifesto. A newly-discovered website with photos of the killer may hold clues into the confessed Charleston gunman's mind.


[17:42:17] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. In the wake of the Charleston church shooting, South Carolina's top leaders today called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol. This comes after the discovery of photographs and a racist manifesto on a website set up by Dylann Roof, who's confessed to the church shootings. The manifesto reveals the hate groups that influenced Roof's hatred of blacks, Jews, Hispanics and the whole notion of patriotism.

With us in THE SITUATION ROOM is Richard Cohen. He's the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups around the country. What do you think of that manifesto, about 2,000 hateful words? How unusual was it? What jumped out at you, Richard?

RICHARD COHEN, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, you know, we've been told that he's a high school dropout, but it's obvious that he's quite a student of white supremacy. He hit all the notes, you know, hatred for all minorities, particularly, you know, African-Americans in our country.

We also saw this kind of martyrdom complex. He's a kid who says, you know, "My life might not be worth a speck of dirt, but I'm going to do something great for society. I'm going to strike a blow for freedom, you know, because I'm a brave man and there are no others."

And so, you know, we see this megalomania that leads to violence. You know, this person came to the hate movement, not by attending hate group meetings but by being self-radicalized on the Net. And I'm afraid that there are a lot of other people like there -- like him out there.

BLITZER: He writes in that manifesto, assuming he wrote it, the first website, he says, "I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens." What do you know about this group?

COHEN: The council was built on the mailing list of the old White Citizens Council. They were called Klansmen in suits. And it's a group that rants and raves, you know, against black on white crime, calls for racial segregation, demeans black people at every turn.

And I think something important to understand, Wolf, is that, you know, that it's not just a hate group in the extremist world. It's also had support in the political world. In the late '90s and through until about 2004, 2005, many, many southern politicians supported the group by speaking at its rallies, speaking at its annual dinners. The most famous example being Trent Lott, who spoke before the Council of Conservative Citizens five times.

BLITZER: How unusual was it most of this manifesto, as you point out accurately, deals with his hatred of blacks, but he also then lumps in Jews and Hispanics. How unusual is that?

COHEN: I don't think it's that unusual. Most hate-mongers nowadays are equal opportunity haters. You know, black people, you know, have special ire for them. But you know, there are no other minorities other than white people that they really like. And what they see is a white genocide afoot. And if you go to the Council of Conservative Citizen's Web site, you'll see that term "white genocide" repeatedly.

You know, the notion that, you know, white people are losing, the country is becoming kind of increasingly diverse, and you know, as I said before once, President Obama ran on a platform of change, but he represents the kind of change that so, so many people in our country are scared of.

BLITZER: Yes. He probably didn't realize that Gold's Gym T- shirt he was wearing was founded by Joe Gold, who himself was Jewish, but that's a little irony right there in this whole --


BLITZER: This whole -- he probably didn't realize it himself.

All right. Thanks very much, Richard Cohen, for that.

Coming up, it's the best lead police have yet. We have the latest on the manhunt for two killers on the run and the surprising new details on how they escaped.


[17:40:35] BLITZER: Kurdish forces are coming closer and closer to ISIS headquarters tonight, seizing a military base from the terror group in its capital province Raqqa. The victory comes as the Kurds, also known as the YPG, liberated an important ISIS stronghold with the help of U.S. coalition airstrikes, cutting off a key supply line for the terror group.

CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon among the first journalists on the ground gained exclusive access inside the battle and what ISIS left behind.

Here's her report.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For two years, ISIS reigned with impunity over this rural landscape. A vital frontier to defend and supply its stronghold of Raqqa, now beaten back.

(On camera): There was a coalition airstrike, Orhan (ph) was just saying, on that side of this underground tunnel that goes around the entire village. ISIS had moved into this particular area about two years ago. This obviously dug out with heavy machinery about three feet three inches, a meter wide and pretty high as well. And then you can see the metal ceiling, roof, that was put into it running throughout.

ISIS' tunnel is fairly crude. But still highly effective when it comes to giving them freedom of movement throughout the entire area. This is the road that runs parallel to the Turkish border and berms like this one had cut it off completely. This was just one of ISIS' many defenses that they had put into place.

What Orhan is saying that the airstrikes that happened here were key. They took place just a few days before forces advanced into Mabrouka. And they were highly effective. (Voice-over): In just four weeks the airstrikes allowed the YPG

to advance some 80 kilometers, 50 miles, taking over key territory, including the town of Tal Abyad and the border crossing, cutting off one of the main ISIS supply routes.

"When the coalition against ISIS was formed we were the only force that was committed in the fight against ISIS," commander of the Tal Abyad Front, Bilal Rojava, says. "The coalition saw this and coordinated with us." He won't disclose specifics.

Here the U.S. can say that its strategy has delivered a blow to ISIS. But the battlefield is vast and the blueprint for success hardly easy to replicate.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Tal Abyad, Syria.


BLITZER: Let's get some more with our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. How big of a blow is this to ISIS, the loss of this border area?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's a big deal because those supply lines, it's not just about arms. The key is it's about foreign fighters. That's the way they replenish their ranks as they've been getting decimated by coalition airstrikes. It's a major issue. They're going to have to find new supply lines in. And just as a measure of how important they are, the U.S.-led coalition was striking this area for two months before this attack went in to soften up those defenses there.

And it's interesting, Wolf, that they weren't talking about a lot in public. They weren't talking about how much the importance they placed on this. Kind of as a way to hide before that YPG offensive went in and took it away. It's nice to have that gain from the U.S. perspective after the losses in Ramadi, Baiji, Tikrit, et cetera.

BLITZER: A long way to go there. Very quickly, after the blow up the Afghan parliament today by the Taliban?

SCIUTTO: Significant attack. But could have been worse. This attack was meant to penetrate those defenses. There was a car bomb. They tried to get six fighters inside. Those six fighters could not get inside. They were eventually killed. Two civilians were killed, 25 people injured. And this follows a series of attacks that you see particularly on western hotels there, as well as some territorial gains by Taliban.

BLITZER: Awful, awful video that we're seeing. Could have been, as you say, a whole lot worse.

Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

[17:55:00] Coming up, more coverage of the breaking news of the manhunt for two escaped killers. Officials say they now have a confirmed clue. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Cabin clues. Sources telling CNN the DNA of two escaped killers has been found in a cabin near the prison from which they escaped. Were the tools they used to break out smuggled for them inside frozen hamburger meat?