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San Francisco Killing Fuels Immigration Debate; ICE Official On Whether SEF Is To Blame. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 6, 2015 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what message was the president trying to send, do you think?

STARR: Well, I think it was an extremely interesting optic, Jake.

Those three commanders you just mentioned, those are possibly the three most powerful men, four-star generals, in the U.S. military right now, in charge of the areas in the Middle East, in North Africa, where ISIS is clearly emerging, and Special Operations Command.

Joe Votel, the head of SOCOM, Special Operations, that's the guy who knows where everything is happening. If there are going to be raids by Delta Force, by SEAL Team Six, Joe Votel knows everything about all of that.

Plus, the chairman was there, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the vice chairman, but a very small select group on that podium. This is all about war fighting. This is a very focused effort by the president at this briefing.

And, you know, he kept coming back to the point local forces on the ground are going to be necessary. That's where you're seeing the Syrian Kurds, the YPG, moving in north of Raqqa, as we talked about, being able to give the U.S. more targets on the ground in Raqqa to strike, maybe being able to make an effort against ISIS leadership that is hidden there, trying to work with -- in Anbar province across in Iraq with the Sunnis there that are going to be so vital to getting some kind of success pieced together in Iraq, but also the president making the point that ISIS is emerging in other areas.

And that's where those three commanders come in, North Africa, a new front for ISIS, moving. We have seen the attacks in Egypt, in Tunisia. We have seen total unrest, the dissolution of a central government in Libya. North Africa now a major concern. It's a prime recruiting area for ISIS to get people to go back into Syria, back into Iraq.

These are the three commanders who know what is going on there, and have some idea on how they want to cope with it in the coming months -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Let's bring back in our panel, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General

Mark Kimmitt, former Congresswoman Jane Harman, and former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente.

General, let me start with you.

It's been about a year-and-a-half since President Obama was quoted in "The New Yorker" referring to ISIS, or ISIL, as the J.V. team. Obviously, he has readjusted, recalibrated his estimation of this horrific terrorist group. How would you grade the policy the president has in place to fight ISIS? What grade would you give it?

KIMMITT: Well, the policy execution, I would say, since he announced this policy nine months ago, I would give him a solid D.



The fact is, the United States is no safer. The region is no more stable, and ISIS is expanding. Now, in his defense, we have been using the term the long war for the past decade. John Abizaid, as commander of CENTCOM, used to talk about al Qaeda and the long war, this generational struggle that we're going to be fighting.

And in fact that's just a continuation of what we are seeing today. So, maybe nine months is too much to ask, but the optimistic tone and the progress that I heard I don't think is matched either in terms of the threats against the United States, the stability in the region or the capability of the Islamic State.

TAPPER: Congresswoman?

HARMAN: Yes, but military tools aren't going to win this, as we have discussed.

And so what else needs to happen? Yes, he stood with a bunch of generals with earned medals on their chests. And there are many others who also have done amazing work. And he thanked them, as he should have. But the pieces that need to be filled out are the political piece, as we have just discussed.

And I was very pleased to hear him say that Syria needs to transition to a pluralist government without Assad. It's very clear that Assad has to go. Now, I guess our play is that the people in Syria need to push Assad out. We're not going to do it.

And I can make some arguments in favor of that, but Bashar does have to go. Let's get our heads around that. And that will help our recruiting effort to get and train some folks on the ground to target...

TAPPER: Clearly not a priority right now.

HARMAN: Well, it should be a priority. That is one of my points that I would say. And the second thing is social media. And he did mention that. But

if we don't get ahead of the game on social media and understand how people are recruited and how their heads are turned, we're never going to get ahead of this problem. And that's what's going to keep America safe beyond any generals with earned medals, and a DOD press conference.


TAPPER: Just to reintroduce you to the audience, you're a former counterterrorism agent with the FBI.



TAPPER: What did he have to say that impacted you and your skill set, your knowledge?

CLEMENTE: Well, I think the one thing we are missing is human intelligence on the ground there.

And as part of the intelligence community, the FBI, the CIA, and the military intelligence, we all work together on the ground. I spent over a year in Iraq. I have a lot of friends that are still there, Iraqis on the ground there.

And the problem is, without human intelligence, without having the eyes and ears on the ground moving about, situational awareness, what's happening here and now, we're blinded. And our airstrikes from 35,000 feet are ineffective if we don't have targeting information and if we don't have personnel on the ground directing us as to where the assets that we should be targeting are.

TAPPER: And that's why we have only had so many airstrikes, because we don't know where to bomb.

CLEMENTE: Exactly.

HARMAN: Can I make a...


TAPPER: I have to take a break. I'm so sorry.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, Brigadier General Kimmitt, and, Tim, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it. Great conversation.

The first decision just moments ago about the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina capitol, but the debate is not over. Could backroom meetings mean a potential compromise is in the works? That story next.


[16:40:22] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Also in national news today, the beginning of what could be an emotional and explosive week in South Carolina's capital. Today, lawmakers in the state began the official debate over removing the Confederate Battle Flag from state grounds.

In fact, just moments ago, the South Carolina State Senate gave preliminary approval to that idea. This fight, of course, has been going on for decades. The racist terrorist attack at Mother Emanuel Church last Monday in Charleston by a mass murderer who embraced the flag has magnified the controversy.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live for us right now in Columbia, South Carolina.

Nick, there was just a vote. What happened?


In the last 15 minutes, the state Senate here in South Carolina adjourned, voting in the second reading of this bill to permanently remove the Confederate Flag from state grounds. Senators voted 37-3 in favor of that bill.

Tomorrow, they will reconvene at 10:00 a.m., where they will have the third and final reading of this bill. And that's when they will need that two-thirds majority in order for it to become official. The bill will then move over to the House, where it will be voted on again and again need that two-thirds majority in order to officially remove that flag.

Earlier today, Senator Dan Verdin, a Republican here in the state of South Carolina, proposed an amendment, suggesting that this flag only fly on Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday here recognized in the state of South Carolina. That amendment was voted down.

But, Jake, this is not over, not by a long shot. Tomorrow, in the third and final reading, amendments still could be proposed. And this could be very well a dramatic week ahead -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia in Columbia, South Carolina, thanks so much.

A man with a felony record who had been deported five times admits to shooting and killing an innocent woman as she walked with her father. Why was he out on the streets after a recent arrest? We will ask the sheriff ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. New questions today about how an undocumented immigrant somehow avoided being deported for a sixth time before he shot and killed an innocent woman who was out for an evening stroll with her father along the San Francisco waterfront. In an interview with local TV affiliate, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, a seven-time convicted felon confessed to killing 32-year-old Katherine Steinle. He initially told police he was shooting at sea lions, but now claims the gun went off by accident.

The case has put San Francisco and other localities like it in the spotlight with critics saying compassion for undocumented immigrants cost this innocent woman her life. CNN's Sara Sidner is live for us in San Francisco with more on this story -- Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we just got some information from Mayor Lee, talking about this case. The San Francisco mayor says he's deeply saddened about what happened to the Steinle family and to Katherine Steinle.

But he says he will veto any legislation in his city that takes away the sheriff's ability to go on a case-by-case base to determine who is and who is not handed over to ICE, to the immigration authorities.

He is clearly wanting to keep those sanctuary ordinances in place, but the feds have said that this murder likely would not have happened if they would have handed over the suspect to federal authorities after he left San Francisco jail.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you shoot Kate Steinle, the lady who was down on Pier 14?


SIDNER (voice-over): In a jailhouse interview, undocumented immigrant, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, admitted to CNN affiliate, KGO, that he killed a woman on a San Francisco pier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did shoot her?

SIDNER: The 32-year-old Kate Steinle was killed. Lopez Sanchez claims the shooting was an accident. That he was wandering on Pier 14 after taking sleeping pills, and he found a gun wrapped in a t-shirt that went off when he picked it up.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, Lopez Sanchez has seven prior felony convictions and has been deported to Mexico five times. Lopez-Sanchez tells KGO he came back to San Francisco because it's a so-called sanctuary city where local authorities would not detain him solely because of his immigration status.

Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson reacting to the shooting vowed to improve the department's focus.

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: We want to work more effectively with state and local jurisdictions to get at people who are threats to public safety or undocumented, who we should be focusing our resources on deporting. SIDNER: The shooting comes just weeks after Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump's, controversial statements on Mexican immigrants.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.

SIDNER: In a statement Friday, Trump said, Steinle's death was yet another example why we must secure our border immediately adding it is a disgraceful situation, and quote, "I am the only one that can fix it." Trump's rivals reacted to his comments on Mexican immigrants on the Sunday talk shows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there some people who come with nefarious goals? Yes, that's why we need to secure the border, but I would never besmirch all the people that come here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shouldn't sugar coat it, but not everybody who comes across is a rapist or a murderer or anything else.

SIDNER: In a statement to CNN, ICE says city law enforcement did not honor an earlier detainer request for Lopez Sanchez.

[16:50:03] If the local authorities had merely notified ICE that they were about to release this individual into the community, ICE could have taken custody of him, thus preventing this terrible tragedy.

The San Francisco Sheriff's Department says it is deeply saddened by the death, adding that city ordinance deemed Sanchez illegible for release. That ordinance dismisses immigration detainers as a sole reason for holding prisoners.


SIDNER: And Jake, Steinle's family has said they are concentrating and dealing with the pain and the loss of a wonderful daughter, and they do not want to get into this immigration debate, but certainly the politicians are in the midst of it -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

I earlier today spoke with John Torres, a former acting director of ICE, and I asked him if he thinks a breakdown in this immigration system cost this innocent woman, Katherine Steinle, her life. Take a listen.


JOHN TORRES, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, ICE: Unfortunately what didn't work here is that the communication between law enforcement agencies. Is sent a request over to San Francisco Sheriff's office, saying that they wanted to be notified when this suspect was going to be released from their custody, and unfortunately, that particular law enforcement agency has a policy in place that says they will not honor those ICE notifications.


TAPPER: Joining me now to respond is Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from the San Francisco City and County Sheriff's Department. Mr. Sheriff, thanks so much for joining me. You heard Mr. Torres there. He says you should have alerted ICE before you released the suspect. What is your response?

SHERIFF ROSS MIRKARIMI, SAN FRANCISCO CITY AND COUNTY: Mr. Torres and ICE knows that San Francisco city and county changed its laws amending the ICE policy well over a year ago, just like 50 counties in the state of California, and well over 300 cities in the United States.

I believe that ICE needs to catch up in working with local jurisdictions municipalities who have limited their contact with ICE because a detainer is not a legal instrument.

Affirmed by federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the third district, it suggests that we need a court order or a warrant and ICE has been told this many, many times, and may have yet to produce that document.

TAPPER: Sheriff, I understand that what you are being told to do comes from the city council and from local politicians. Do you want to be telling ICE when you catch these individuals? And you're restrained by what you're being told by the politicians to do or do you think this is a good policy?

MIRKARIMI: Well, I'm the sheriff. I am adhering to the laws that I am supposed to follow. We have had direct meetings with the deputy director of Homeland Security and Director Johnson himself of Homeland Security earlier this year, with a number of the bay area sheriffs and others who have said that our municipal laws are changing.

In absence of a comprehensive federal immigration policy, this is why it is a growing trend of municipalities in devising their own ICE relationship policies that require a real legal instrument. A detainer is a cavalier way of saying that this is a legal instrument, but in truth, it is not.

TAPPER: So if the federal government came up with a way to override or have a more enforceable provision to make you hand over individuals like the suspect to ICE, you would welcome that?

MIRKARIMI: Of course, absolutely. We honor all court orders. We honor all warrants. That is the whole point. It's because ICE has not upgraded practices after all these years of seeing the imperfect deportation and transferring of people.

This is why local governments affirmed by the federal district court last year and the U.S. Court of Appeals in the third district and the circuit saying that we need a legal instrument.

A high majority of the counties in California believe in the same thing, as well as 300 cities in the United States. All ICE needs to do is to provide us that legal instrument.

TAPPER: Sheriff, does being a sanctuary city make San Francisco safer or more dangerous?

MIRKARIMI: It makes it safer. I firmly believe it makes it safer. We're a world-renounce city with a large immigrant population. You have that population is a population that is also here undocumented. From a law enforcement perspective, we want to build trust with that population and our sanctuary city and other attendant laws have allowed us to do that.

TAPPER: All right, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

[16:55:00] Next up on THE LEAD, the minutes are now winding down to reach a nuclear deal with Iran. Why reaching an agreement could save you money at the gas pump. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for the MONEY LEAD, Secretary of John Kerry, says a nuclear deal with Iran could still collapse in these final stages of negotiations, with a deadline for a permanent agreement just 24 hours away.

But if a deal does go through, well, it could be pretty great for your wallet, if nothing else. Oil industry experts saying negotiators finalizing a deal means a black sea of crude oil from Iran will hit American shores, and that could sink gas prices to nearly there $2 a gallon.

Right now, Americans pay $2.77 a gallon on average, but insiders say, you wouldn't see the savings right away. It would likely take Iran sometime to fix old wells before it can pump oil out to say nothing of course about the national security merits of a deal.

That's it for THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. I am turning you over to Pamela Brown, who is filling in for Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."