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Interview With California Congressman Ed Royce; ISIS Arrest; Manhunt Ends; Growing GOP Field at Odds Over Same-Sex Marriage. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 29, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: Escapee tells all. Captured inmate David Sweat is opening up to authorities from his hospital bed, as a prison guard appears in court accused of aiding in the escape. Who else might have helped the killers break free?
Heroin behind bars? The FBI now expanding its investigation beyond the escape, uncovering alleged corruption and drug trafficking inside that so-called maximum security prison in Upstate New York.
New ISIS arrests. Another American is charged with plotting to help the terrorists, as the U.S. goes on alert for potential attacks around the Fourth of July.
And black churches burn. Several houses of worship are in ashes across the South. Arson investigations are under way. Is there a link to the Charleston church shooting? I will get reaction from the head of the NAACP.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news, the case against the prison guard accused of aiding the escape of two killers now is headed to a grand jury, this after Gene Palmer made a brief court appearance just a little while ago. He's accused of giving tools and other contraband to the convicted killers David Sweat and Richard Matt.
And, tonight, Sweat is spilling the beans from his hospital bed just hours after his capture near the Canadian border. He's revealing new details about the escape plan And how it went wrong and why he left his prison break partner, Richard Matt, alone in the woods, where he was shot dead by police. We have our correspondents, analysts, newsmakers. They're all standing by as we cover all the news breaking now.
First, let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's outside the hospital where David Sweat is being treated right now.
Miguel, what's the latest? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, his condition has been
upgraded to serious. It looks like he will make and it then be transferred somewhere else.
But investigators really want to talk to him. He is the best link they have to figure out how they did all of this. There was a lot of discussion about whether or not Joyce Mitchell was their plan A. But it's clear now, when she did not pick them up after they got out of that maximum security prison, she left them scrambling for weeks.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): The prison break supposed to end in Mexico. Instead, convicted killer David Sweat was captured just two miles from the Canadian border after three weeks on the run.
Authorities say Sweat is talking, saying the plan was for prison employee Joyce Mitchell to pick him and Richard Matt up and head south.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: They would kill Mitchell's husband and then get in the car and drive to Mexico on the theory that Mitchell was in love with one or both of them.
MARQUEZ: Instead, they headed into the woods. Sources tell CNN Sweat and Matt split up five days ago because Matt was slowing Sweat down and had become ill.
A New York state police officer out on patrol by himself spotted Sweat wearing camouflage near a barn in the town of Constable, New York.
JOSEPH D'AMICO, NEW YORK STATE POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Spotted a male who was basically jogging up along the side of the road. He approached him. And as he exited the car, the male turned to him. He says, hey, come over here. The male kind of ignored him.
MARQUEZ: The officer pursued Sweat on foot, repeatedly ordering him to stop. When he refused, the officer opened fire, shooting Sweat twice in the torso. Sweat was unarmed, Sweat airlifted to a trauma center in Albany, where he is now being treated under heavy guard.
ANDREW WYLIE, CLINTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: He will be in basically 24/6 lockdown for the rest of his life.
MARQUEZ: Residents here taking to the streets in celebration.
CUOMO: The nightmare is finally over. It's been 22 days.
MARQUEZ: A search of Sweat's backpack revealed it was loaded with supplies, like maps, bug repellent, wipes and Pop-Tarts. It's unknown how or from where he obtained the supplies.
D'AMICO: And we believe that possibly these two males were using pepper to throw the scent off of the dogs that were tracking them.
MARQUEZ: But, amazingly, DNA from soiled underwear found near an outhouse helped lead authorities in the manhunt to track down Richard Matt. Matt was shot three times in the head and killed by police on Friday night after officers came upon a cabin where they smelled gunpowder.
As they searched the woods, they heard popping. Moments later, Matt, armed with a .20-gauge shotgun, was confronted, and fatally shot.
According to an official, alcohol could be smelled on his body. They also believe he had been ill from possibly contaminated food or water. An autopsy of Matt's body showed bug bites and blisters. And Sweat's backpack full of supplies led authorities to believe both had been living in the woods on the run for 22 days.
MARQUEZ: Now, these individuals only made it about 32 miles from the prison in 22 days.
They were averaging about a mile-and-a-half a day. That is a snail's pace for people trying to get away from authorities. So clearly they were under the gun and trying to figure out a plan all the way along. What happens to Sweat now? He will eventually be charged with the escape, with other crimes that he committed upon escaping from that prison. But he's not going anywhere any time soon. He will stay here until he gets well enough to face those charges and back into a maximum security prison somewhere -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Miguel, we're also learning new details from the coroner on Richard Matt, who was shot and killed by law enforcement Friday night. What can you tell us about that?
MARQUEZ: Yes, dressed very much like a hunter. He was pronounced dead about 10:55 p.m. after being shot in the afternoon. He had heavy clothes on, heavy boots on, was dressed basically for camouflaging himself in the woods, also that he had bug bites on him once they got his clothes off, but they realized that his body wasn't that swelled. The bites weren't that swelled, so the coroner coming to the conclusion he did not look like somebody who had spent all those days out in the woods -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thank you.
Meanwhile, we're getting new information about the final hours of the manhunt and the clues that led police to the fugitive killer.
CNN's Alexandra Field is joining us now from Constable in New York.
You spoke, Alexandra, with a cabin owner who played a key role in Richard Matt's capture. Tell us about that.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of many people who were very alert who were looking for signs and reported those signs when he saw them to police, to the proper authorities. Wolf, all along, throughout the course of this very intensive manhunt,
authorities said that it might take a mistake, a misstep of some sort, in order to catch these two fugitives who were on the run. On Friday afternoon, Richard Matt did just that. He blew his cover by firing off a few shots, one of those shots striking an R.V., the driver of that R.V. calling police.
But we have now learned that, at the same time, police were already headed to that area because the owner of a cabin had noticed something small, but small enough to grab his attention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: What was missing in the cabin? What was moved around? What did you notice when you got inside?
BOB WILLETT, CABIN OWNER: Not much moved around, just the bottle of gin that had moved off one counter to another, and it was spilt. There was a ring. It was wet. And the cap was on the floor. A thing of toothpicks in the cupboard. And that's all we really noticed.
FIELD: Was anything missing?
WILLETT: That's all. There were the binoculars after. We noticed that afterwards. And maybe possibly two pairs of boots, one anyway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: Richard Matt was killed some 16 miles south of the field that I'm standing in. This is where David Sweat was shot and taken alive by Sergeant Jay Cook, the officer who was out and saw Sweat and was able to pin him down out here.
But, at this point, authorities are saying they still need to go back and retrace all the steps that these two men took from the time they left Dannemora until Sweat ended up here in this field. They have publicly linked one or both of the fugitives to at least three cabins.
But, Wolf, they say they expect to find many more with signs of potential break-ins, places where these fugitives could have taken cover or grabbed resources.
BLITZER: Alexandra Field on the scene for us, thanks, Alexandra.
All right, there's breaking news, the FBI, we're now learning, investigating possible crimes, get this, within that so-called maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility, crimes that potentially go far beyond this escape plot, including an alleged heroin ring involving inmates and prison workers.
Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is here in THE SITUATION -- these are shocking details, what you're learning, Evan.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And it goes beyond that, Wolf.
We have also learned -- just within the last hour -- that the FBI's also focusing on whether these two fugitives, Richard Matt and David Sweat, were involved in this alleged heroin trafficking, drug trafficking ring, within this maximum security prison.
It's something that the FBI stumbled upon really when they were helping the New York State Police investigate the escape. And what they heard from employees at the prison in interviews was that there was a deeper corruption problem at this prison, that there was crimes involving not only the inmates, but also the employees, and also that these two prisoners in particular, David Sweat and Richard Matt, one of the reasons why they had so many privileges, Wolf -- we have talked so much that they were in this so-called honor block.
Well, one reason why was perhaps because they were involved in some of the criminality that was going on behind those prison walls.
BLITZER: They have got to do a major investigation now to find out exactly what happened.
BLITZER: The -- New York State's got to deal with this issue and deal with it quickly.
I want to shift gears, because you're also getting information about yet another American arrested allegedly plotting to support ISIS?
PEREZ: Right, Wolf.
This -- the name of this young man -- he is 23 years old -- his name is Alaa Saadeh. He's from West New York and New Jersey. Now, he is part of what is really we can now safely call a cell. This is a group of young men. There are now four of them that have been arrested. We remember there was a young man from Queens, a university student who was plotting, according to the FBI, to detonate bombs around New York.
They were studying -- he and some other accomplices, according to the FBI, were studying how to make pressure cooker bombs. They have made all these arrests. And what you're seeing, Wolf, is a change in some of the tactics by the FBI, by the Justice Department's National Security Division. We have talked about the increased terror threat that they say is now -- that they're now dealing with, and especially in light of the Fourth of July holiday and the upcoming visit by the pope.
This is what this is. They're rolling up these guys simply because of the concern that they could do something at any moment.
BLITZER: Shocking stuff, indeed. All right, thanks very much, Evan, for that report.
This latest arrest of yet another American allegedly supporting ISIS comes just days after a deadly series of terror attacks, all, all fueling growing concern about the possibility of terror here in the United States in the coming days.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this part of the story for us.
Jim, what are you finding out?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is not just a usual pre-holiday warning, a senior counterterror official telling us at CNN that the U.S. definitely at a heightened state of alert based on ISIS' open call to conduct attacks on the West.
And we saw the depth of that threat play out on that beach resort in Tunisia on Friday.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The most deadly ISIS-inspired attack on Westerners to date as it happened, gunfire ringing out at a Tunisian resort Friday, leaving at least 38 foreign tourists dead, most of them British.
CHRIS CALLAGHAN, SURVIVOR: This lady was bleeding so heavily, I was laying in her blood, trying to keep her awake. It was dreadful. I have never witnessed anything like it.
SCIUTTO: All this from what is proving to be a lethal weapon for the terror group, the lone wolf attacker, in this case a radicalized Tunisian university student, seen here running away from the resort after the attack, and moments later shot dead by police after he stopped to pray.
And now, with the July 4 holiday approaching here in the U.S., U.S. law enforcement is, a senior counterterror official tells CNN, definitely on a heightened state of alert based on ISIS' call to conduct attacks on the West.
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: There's a great deal of chatter, a high volume, if you will. We're being on the cautious side here to warn the public to remain vigilant.
SCIUTTO: ISIS-inspired recruits are answering the group's call to attack anywhere anyhow during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, spokesman and senior leader Abu Muhammad al-Adnani promising 10 times the rewards in heaven.
In a single day, Friday, a gunman stormed a beach resort in Tunisia, a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Kuwait, killing 27 worshipers, and another assailant beheaded a man in Southern France and attempted to blow up a U.S.-owned factory.
SETH JONES, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: ISIS is able and willing to inspire people to conduct attacks across multiple continents. And they're willing to do relatively easy attacks to pull off, armed assault-style attacks, which are not that difficult to do.
SCIUTTO: The fear of such attacks on the July 4 weekend prompting the FBI to issue a bulletin urging both law enforcement and the public to be vigilant.
SCIUTTO: Wolf, this is visual proof of how ISIS has become just in the last year a very international threat, 3,097 attacks just in the last year.
You see them concentrated around Syria and Iraq, ISIS' home base. But you also see it now spreading beyond into Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, e Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this is what truly worries not just law enforcement here, but back in the U.S., this attack in Tunisia, those more than 37 killed, a single gunman, and also this attack in Kuwait, a suicide bomber inside that mosque, more than 27 worshipers killed there, again, a single gunman, a lone wolf, very hard to prevent.
Of course, the concern is, as the threat moves from there to Europe and to the U.S., and we have already seen it in Garland, Texas, in New York, an attack on a policeman, arrests in Boston, and, of course, this attack in Lyon on the same day as the Tunisia and Kuwait attacks. This is very much an international threat, the concern, as July 4 approaches, that we see more of it here in the U.S.
BLITZER: Yes, and we heard that warning from the U.S. secretary of homeland security, a directive going out to law enforcement across the country, just be on the lookout and watch what's going on.
Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.
Let's get some more on what's going on with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Republican Congressman Ed Royce is joining us.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.
I want to talk about all these threats out there. You just heard police arrested a man in New Jersey today on charges of conspiring to provide what's called material support to ISIS. It seems like these arrests are happening almost every other day. Would you consider today's arrest part of some sort of terror cell in the New York/New Jersey area?
REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, those cells have been there for a while, Wolf.
But what we're looking at is the advice from the leadership in ISIS to rush to it, to take things into your own hands and commence attacks in the United States. This is the one-year anniversary of ISIS and they want to celebrate that anniversary also with attacks, not just on the three continents that we saw a few days ago, but on the U.S.
And so, in an abundance of caution, as you can see, the FBI is bringing in anyone who has been in the process of associating with terrorist organizations, and this is to preclude such an attack. BLITZER: Yes, I assume we will be seeing more arrests in the coming
I guess the bottom-line question, Mr. Chairman, how long is it until someone slips through the cracks here?
ROYCE: Well, that's the difficult part and the real danger of allowing ISIS to establish its base. It's amazing how far they have come in one year.
It's amazing how many fighters they have recruited. We talked a little bit about the attack in Tunisia. They recruited several thousand foreign fighters from that country. And as they recruit people from around the world and train them, they're also in the process of inspiring them through the Internet.
And our failure to defeat ISIS -- let me put it this way. The international community has not done the job needed. We did not attack ISIS on the open road when they were leaving Syria to advance into Iraq and to take these cities. And, as a consequence of them taking some 18 cities before the United States even began to bomb, and even began to attack their columns -- and, today, three-quarters of our planes that go out come back without dropping their ordnance because they're in a situation where we don't have forward observers on the ground, we don't have special ops that really can assist in that way, and we haven't armed the Kurds or the Sunni tribes that are in fact fighting ISIS.
We have not done that, and because of pressure from Iran, Baghdad is not arming them either. They're fighting without the weapons they need. They're fighting with small arms. So, with all of this, what I would say to you, Wolf, is, it is time to get serious about arming those on the ground, rolling back ISIS, so that their supporters can see that they're not invincible and sending the opposite message that they will be defeated.
BLITZER: All right, Mr. Chairman, I want you to stand by. We have more to discuss, especially as we get closer and closer to the July 4 holiday here in the United States.
Much more with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, when we come back.
BLITZER: Breaking now, growing concerns that terrorism might be around the corner leading up to the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, a senior counterterrorism official now telling CNN that U.S. law enforcement is -- quote -- "definitely at a heightened state of alert based on ISIS' open call to conduct attacks on the West."
We're back with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Ed Royce. On Friday, Mr. Chairman, we saw three terror attacks on three
continents, a suicide bomber at a mosque in Kuwait, a shooting at a beachside resort in Tunisia, a decapitation in France at an American- owned factory. Is there an emerging -- any emerging evidence that these three attacks may have been coordinated?
ROYCE: Well, they were all in response to the messaging from ISIS that attempts to inspire these kinds of attacks.
Now, because we're talking about messages that go out every day and in the words of the FBI are a constant tapping on the shoulder, telling their followers, kill, kill, kill, we're to the point now where how much of this is coordinated, as opposed to how much of it is ISIS' command to rush to it, kill when you get the opportunity -- this pathology of hate is something that is hard for us to understand.
But I got briefed by the FBI today on some of this, Wolf. And the Internet has become such a tool by ISIS in order to inspire young men to go out and kill, this is what has the FBI concerned right now, now that that request has been made on the one-year anniversary here of the founding of the caliphate to go out worldwide and kill infidels, and they specifically mention this time also in the United States, so that's the concern.
BLITZER: So, some say the U.S. is now facing a higher threat level of terrorism than before, than ever before maybe even. Where do we stand on that?
ROYCE: Well, because when we were talking about al Qaeda a few years back, we were talking about organizations with command-and-control, where they would put some time into these spectacular attacks. And we could have our intelligence services and our allies, actually, get at the human intelligence that would help us unravel those plots.
How different that is from this situation today, where increasingly ISIS is trying to recruit via this virtual caliphate that they have set up on the Internet and tell their young enthusiasts, you take this into your own hands. You prepare the weapon. Here's how to do it. You look for the opportunity, and it's up to you. And we tell you, now is the time to act.
So it's a very different kind of activity. And what the FBI would like to do, of course, is figure out a way to pull ISIS down in terms of their ability to communicate, or, on a broader level, to watch ISIS be defeated, so that they cannot inspire young people to believe that they're marching towards eventual victory and these young men should join the fight.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.
ROYCE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. There's breaking news we're following, that captured fugitive
revealing new details about the escape plan and what went wrong.
Plus, a series of fires at African-American churches across the South, some being investigated as possible arson, we're learning new details.
BLITZER: We're back with breaking news. New allegations of crime and corruption inside that so-called maximum-security prison where those two brutal killers busted loose.
[18:30:28] Tonight the FBI is looking into a possible heroin ring inside the prison. Inmates, prison workers, allegedly involved and whether escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat played any role.
Let's bring in our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes; the former ATF special agent in charge, Matthew Horace; and Tim Williams, he's a former chief inspector for the fugitive task force in the New York/New Jersey area. Guys, thanks very much for joining us. What does that mean, Tom, that the FBI -- you used to be the assistant director -- is now investigating, what, a heroin ring inside that prison?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. They would have jurisdiction for not only the drug trafficking of heroin but the political corruption or police corruption or public official corruption that enabled it.
So any of the corrections officers, employees of the prison, employees of the government that might be involved in this, they could have them for corruption charges. And the actual heroin charges for any of the others that were trafficking or involved in the conspiracy.
BLITZER: Sounds like it was a horrible mistakes, blunders going on. Could they shut this prison down?
FUENTES: I don't know. I don't know what New York's going to decide to do with this place. But certainly, I think there could probably be a change of management expected.
BLITZER: They've got to investigate this.
Tim, we heard now that David Sweat, he's in serious condition, no longer in critical condition. He is talking to authorities about what was going on. I guess the bottom-line question is, can you believe anything this guy says?
TIM WILLIAMS, FORMER CHIEF INSPECTOR, FUGITIVE TASK FORCE IN NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY: Well, I think he's certainly going to -- has nothing to lose to cooperate, but I don't think you can believe -- and I'm sure he's a master manipulator. That's how he probably got himself in the position of escape anyway. So I think there's a lot to be still investigated. And I look forward to hearing what happens.
BLITZER: I wouldn't believe a word he says. Matthew, what about you? What do you think? This guy's apparently talking. He's saying, you know, he was going to escape, and they had a plan to get to Mexico. What do you make of this?
MATTHEW HORACE, FORMER ATF SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Well, I think it's believable based on what we know, what we've seen. But look, let's face it. I'm also -- I also would like to know how prisoners got cell phones, how prisoners were able to have sex, how prisoners were getting items, how prisoners got tools in their cells without being inspected and checked.
There's a lot that has to come together here. Now some of it's going to come from Sweat, but the rest of it's going to come through the FBI investigation. And I'm sure we'll learn before not too long what happened.
BLITZER: Yes, this is a pretty shocking -- these are all very, very shocking developments. Tom, you've got to admit, in order to make sure this doesn't happen again, they've got to go through, review everything, learn from these mistakes, and punish those who may have been causing these kinds of blunders.
FUENTES: Well, certainly, criminal charges for official corruption and heroin trafficking will be serious from the inmates' point of view and the correction officers and other employees and the management staff at that prison. There's no question.
BLITZER: Sounds like they were having sex in there; they were having drugs. I mean, if you believe all these allegations, it was wild.
WILLIAMS: It's incredible that that could be going on in a maximum security prison.
BLITZER: Yes, and if there are two people who have now been arrested, two prison employees, but potentially, Tim, there could be a lot more.
WILLIAMS: Definitely, definitely could be more. There's always, unfortunately, these type of things happen all the time in these kind of escapes.
FUENTES: I'm surprised people aren't trying to break into that place. It sounds like they're having a lot of fun inside.
BLITZER: Sounds like it could be a summer camp in the Adirondacks. Having a good time up there.
Matthew, going forward right now, what do you do with this guy? Assuming he comes out of surgery, he's OK, what do you do? You throw him into lockdown, obviously. Twenty-three out of 24 hours a day in solitary confinement, in isolation?
HORACE: Well, I think you do with him what should have been done prior to the security compromise. He should be in a situation where he has very limited access to resources, very limited access to other inmates, and certainly very limited access to guards and staff. And there's got to be -- there's got to be some checks and balances in place. BLITZER: What do you do with them, Tom? What do you think they need
to do with him? Because he's not going to be in honor block anymore.
BLITZER: He's not going to have all this freedom he used to have in the good old days, from his perspective. This is going to be a serious -- 23 out of 24 hours a day, he's going to be in solitary confinement.
FUENTES: Yes, I think first of all you don't send him back to that facility. Because it may take a while for this FBI investigation to actually determine who's involved in drug trafficking, who's involved in official corruption on the part of the corrections officers and other staff. So he's going to have to go somewhere else where he doesn't have pre-existing relationships already in place.
BLITZER: This guy's going to be a loner for a long time.
All right, guys. Thanks very much.
We're going to have more on the breaking news coming up, including new details of that FBI corruption investigation of the prison those two fugitives escaped from.
Plus, an activist charged after pulling down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol. The head of the NAACP supports her move. I'll talk to him next. Cornell William brooks standing by live. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[18:40:03] BLITZER: Take a look at this. Just getting this in from San Francisco, the airport there. Crash landing at the airport. This Coast Guard -- U.S. Coast Guard helicopter with two people on board. Fortunately, they escaped uninjured. It happened in the deck of the air station at the San Francisco International Airport. That's across the street -- across the Interstate, I should say, from the passenger runways.
Once again, fortunately the two people on board that U.S. Coast Guard helicopter were not injured. Looks pretty ugly.
Let's turn to another story we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Investigations now underway into a series of church fires in the South, some of them possibly arson. They come on the heels of the Charleston Church massacre and the ongoing controversy surrounding the Confederate battle flag.
Let's go to our justice reporter, Evan Perez. He's working his sources for us.
First of all, what are you finding out about these church fires, Evan?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the timing is certainly what has gotten everybody's attention, including the federal government. The ATF is the lead investigator on these types of -- on these types of incidents. There's a federal law that requires law enforcement, federal law enforcement to investigate any suspicious religious institution fires. And so that's what's at work here.
The FBI is also involved, looking to whether or not there's any hate crime perhaps involved.
I'll go through a couple of these, because of these six, there is at least one of them that is actually -- one congregation, a congregation that's predominantly Caucasian. And in at least another one, it's the -- an African-American congregation shares a building with a Nepalese congregation. That's one in Charlotte, North Carolina.
We know that at least in a couple of these, two fires, Wolf. They believe that arson was involved. Now just two of the six. Now there's also one in Tallahassee, Florida, which they've now determined was actually an electrical storm related.
And another one in Tennessee that also was believed to be caused by lightning.
Now, there again, still some suspicions about the remaining fires. The ATF and the FBI are investigating them. There have been no links established in any of these fires. They don't know whether or not they're related. And they certainly don't know whether or not they're related to some of the incidents we've been talking about, especially down in Charleston and the whole debate about the Confederate flag, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Evan. Thanks very much.
I want to get some more on this and other issues. Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM is Cornell William Brooks. He's the president and CEO of the NAACP.
Cornell, thanks very much for coming in. I know this is very disturbing. You hear predominantly African-American churches in the South on fire. What are you hearing about this?
BROOKS: People are very concerned. Now we understand that the correlation of tragedy doesn't necessarily suggest the causation of tragedy. But bear this in mind.
Where we have nine people killed in the act of racial terrorism in a church, the historic church...
BLITZER: You're talking Charleston?
BROOKS: In Charleston, Emmanuel AME Church, which was itself burned in an act of racial vengeance.
Then we had...
BLITZER: That was a long time ago.
BROOKS: A long time ago, but the shooter studied the history of that church.
Then we have a series of church burnings, a few of which appeared to be arson. And we have this tradition in this country, going back to the Civil War, or targeting African-American churches.
So again, there's enough here for us to be concerned so that the NAACP in the now Southern region where we have 1,600 -- 1,060 branches, we have -- those branches on a heightened state of alert. Would convene the state conference leadership in five of the seven states, which experienced church burnings so that we might respond in a united way.
We're working with investigators -- ATF, Department of Justice -- we've been in touch with them. We're taking this seriously, because we can't afford not to.
Remember what happened in the 1990s. There appeared to be a series of church burnings then. Our President Clinton signed the Church Arson Prevention Act.
The point being here is when we have our churches burning. We have to take that seriously as a matter of federal law and as a matter of suits (ph) of history.
BLITZER: So are you recommending these churches tighten security? Maybe get metal detectors? What do you recommend?
BROOKS: Not necessarily telling anyone to go out and buy metal detectors. But we are recommending that people be vigilant and that we use the eyes and ears we have in our community to ensure that our communities are, in fact, safe.
We've done this in the past. We will do this in the present. But more importantly, we have to work with state and federal investigators and authorities to ensure that those who are responsible are caught, and where there are accidents, we determine the causes of those.
BLITZER: What was your reaction when you heard about that individual who climbed up that pole and brought down the Confederate battle flag at the Columbia, South Carolina, state capitol grounds. We're showing our viewers some video of that. She was arrested, as you know, charged with a crime. What did you think of that?
BROOKS: Well, candidly, what I thought about it was that this young woman stands in a long tradition, going back to Henry David Thoreau, to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, to any number of NAACP activists who have engaged in acts of civil disobedience.
[18:45:12] So the fact that she brought down the flag temporarily only ratifies, affirms the fact that the NAACP for 15 years has pushed for economic sanctions against the state of South Carolina to bring that flag down. So, we were heartened by it.
BLITZER: Even though she committed a crime that was against the law in Columbia, South Carolina?
BROOKS: And she stood in court and was willing to take responsibility for her actions. That should be noted, too.
BLITZER: Yes, Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, the former governor of Florida, who brought down the flag in Florida when he was governor, he is now saying that that Confederate battle flag is a symbol, and it's the symbol that is racist, that Confederate battle flag is racist, in effect, is what he's saying.
You hear that from Jeb Bush. What's your reaction?
BROOKS: I think Jeb Bush is right on point.
The question I pose to the viewers of this program is this -- if you walked into a room filled with swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia, would you feel safe? Would you feel comfortable? Would you feel that that's a place for you to be?
In the same fashion, Americans of every hue and heritage don't feel safe, don't feel comfortable, with this racist symbol waving in the wind. It has to come down. We've said that for 50 years in South Carolina. We will continue to say it. And we expect South Carolina to bring it down along with other states.
BLITZER: Yes, but you probably didn't expect the Republican governor of South Carolina, Republican governor of Alabama, other Republicans, to move as quickly as they have in recent days to bring -- try to bring those flags down.
BROOKS: Racial enlightenment is bipartisan.
BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks, thanks very much for joining us.
BROOKS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, while gay rights supporters celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, several Republican presidential candidates are at odds. Will it polarize the Republican primary race?
[18:51:42] BLITZER: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to formally join the presidential race tomorrow, as we are seeing glaring new fractures within the Republican field. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states is casting a huge shadow right now over the GOP race.
Our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us with more on what's going on. A lot of tension behind the scenes.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There sure is. And you know public opinion, Wolf, is changing when it comes to same sex marriage. But there's a fault line on gay rights in this country, and it runs straight through the Republican Party's 2016 bench.
KEILAR (voice-over): GOP divided. The Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage splitting the party.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Let's be clear: the court has injected itself into politics.
KEILAR: Chief court critics Ted Cruz and Scott Walker back a constitutional amendment to make same sex marriage a state issue.
But many Republican candidates don't.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not going to happen. I mean, I'm focused on solving problems. I'm running for president to fix a few really big complex things. I'm not running to make a point.
KEILAR: Instead, they are making an argument to protect religious freedom.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Accept the court's ruling, fight for the religious liberties of every American.
KEILAR: Some in the GOP like Mike Huckabee are taking a harder line, calling for businesses and religious institutions that object to providing services for same sex weddings to practice civil disobedience.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King who in his brilliant essay, "The Letters from a Birmingham Jail", reminded us based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all.
KEILAR: Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich are more tempered in their call for a new fight.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I know this. I mean, religious institutions, religious entities, you know, like the Catholic Church, you know, they need to be honored as well. And I think there's an ability to strike a balance.
KEILAR: Still, this argument may be politically dangerous. This spring, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a religious freedom bill into law. Big business revolted and Pence's presidential hopes tanked.
While two-thirds of Republican voters oppose same-sex marriage, a sizable majority of Republicans under 50 support it -- a group that's growing fast as Donald Trump points out.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm for traditional marriage. It is changing rapidly.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: But what do you say to a lesbian who is married or gay man who is married who says, Donald Trump, what's traditional about being married three times?
TRUMP: Well, they have a very good point.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: So, a tricky issue for Donald Trump personally. But it's a delicate issue politically for so many Republican candidates.
That's perhaps best illustrated by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. After taking more than two days to react to the ruling, he criticized government involvement in marriage but he also defended so-called traditional marriages, as well as the right of individuals to enter into economic and personal contracts. So, he sort of had it all covered, Wolf.
BLITZER: What does that mean, personal contract?
KEILAR: Personal or economic contracts, sort of meaning in a way that if people are going to enjoy economic rights in a partnership, that he supports that ability to do so.
BLITZER: Brianna, stand by. I want to bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
How tricky of an issue will this be, Gloria, for Republicans?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Just listen to Rand Paul.
[18:55:00] KEILAR: Exactly.
BORGER: That's how tricky it is, because you can't understand the gobbledygook here, because they understand that the demographics are against them. Almost 60 percent of millennial Republicans support same-sex marriage. So, what they are trying to do is either look at it as a settled issue of law and look as you saw with Jeb Bush and Kasich, for example, or turn this into a debate over states' rights, very popular in the Republican Party, question of religious liberty, like Mike Huckabee, because they understand that while they may be in line with Republican primary voters, those older Republican primary voters, when it comes time for a general election, public opinion has shifted on gay marriage and a majority supports it.
BLITZER: Some of these Republican candidates like Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, they are serious candidates but they're also raising questions about the U.S. Supreme Court, whether or not it really is -- should be followed as the law of the land.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right, it's a bit of a pander-fest out there, I think, especially among social conservatives in Iowa. That's where this contest is beginning. And this is a very real, raw issue in Iowa. The state had same-sex marriage for some six years or so.
But one other thing they are doing in addition to this -- some of these questions are judges. They are campaigning against activist judges. They believe this court is an activist one here. so, that's one issue getting a lot of traction out there.
But at the end of the day, Gloria, you're right, it's a short-term gain, long-term pain for this party. Every establishment member knows this. That's why Jeb Bush was in South Carolina this afternoon saying, we have to move on. This is not why I'm running.
BLITZER: How are the Democrats reacting to all of this?
KEILAR: Oh, they are loving it. I mean, all you have to do is go to Hillary Clinton's online store, right? She has a series of t-shirts that support the LGBT community.
Now, remember, she's made a change here in the last eight years, but she is more in line with where the country is overall, with where independents are, with where young people are, whether they're Republican or Democrat. So, Democrats are feeling really good about this.
BLITZER: Let's switch gears to talk about the vice president, Joe Biden. There's a major story in "The Wall Street Journal" today, we all read it, suggesting that his late son Beau Biden and Hunter Biden, they both have told Joe Biden, "you know what, run for president if you want."
What are you hearing about this?
BORGER: Well, I spoke to one Democrat today very close to Joe Biden who said to me that there's absolutely no difference in his position now than it was a month ago. This is a man who is in an incredible amount of pain and he hasn't changed his mind one way or the other about running for the presidency. They said now that all of this talk about him running puts him in a box, I was told and he's going to have to say something. He probably will in August.
But the death of his son has only not made him think about this right now. I'm told. He is trying to -- he's trying to get through his grief, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. But some people are pointing out, as you know, he's not necessarily completely ruling it out. He is leaving that door slightly open. And some people are saying, look at Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont is doing, maybe that's going to encourage the sitting vice president to challenge Hillary Clinton.
ZELENY: Sure, there definitely is a hanger and appetite inside the Democratic Party for: (a), a contest but, (b), a choice. And everyone is not sort of signing on to Hillary Clinton.
But, you're right. I mean, Joe Biden would have had to have something in place here. People revere him, respect him, like him.
I talked to an activist in Iowa who really liked him, support him both times in '98 and '08, when he ran. She said, "I have not heard from him. I hope he doesn't run actually." They know it's painful.
BLITZER: What are you hearing?
KEILAR: You have people who are either anti-Clinton or they are pro- Biden, who feel that maybe, you know, he should not rule this out. This is also very much a human story, I think. These are people who believe in Joe Biden. They are his friends and they believe that he got a bum deal because he's very clearly been side stepped by the establishment, all the money going to Hillary Clinton, the support, President Obama's tacit support going to Hillary Clinton.
So I think these are people on his behalf who are a little bit upset, and they feel like he is a statesman who should be considered. But I think ultimately, it's just this waiting game until the window really closes. And until it does, he is not going to roll over on this.
BORGER: And, you know, there are people out there saying, if something should happen to Hillary Clinton, if she falls on her face, if something happens, there are people waiting in the wings. John Kerry might be one of those people waiting in the wings. Joe Biden at that point might be one of the people that the party would say, you know, you've got to step up to the plate, the white knight of thing. But I don't see that scenario happening right now.
KEILAR: She would have to fall flat. And she hasn't.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens. We'll get final word from Biden, we're told, by August. Let's see what he says.
All right, guys. Thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.