Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Secret Service Changes; Iran Nuclear Negotiations; Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; ISIS Retakes Key Town Despite Airstrikes; Five-Time Deportee Admits to San Francisco Killing. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired July 6, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking now: Observers say ISIS has retaken control of a key town near its self-proclaimed capital, a strategic loss, despite a new U.S.-led bombardment in the area. The coalition is intensifying its air campaign against the terror group in Syria, targeting the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
President Obama just wrapped up a meeting with top military leaders at the Pentagon. He's reminding the nation that the battle against ISIS will not be quick and it will include setbacks, but he still insists it can be won.
I will talk about the president's strategy with a leading Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Darrell Issa. Our correspondents and analysts also standing by as we cover all the news breaking right now.
First to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, the president talked here at the Pentagon after he came out of that briefing with top wartime commanders.
He talked about the fact, as you said, that the fight against ISIS will take a long time. And he repeated several times that it is going to take more than just the U.S. military, that there will have to be partners on the ground, local forces in Iraq and Syria to make all of this work, that the U.S. can't take responsibility for the success on its own.
And he also pinpointed exactly what he expects to see happening in Syria. Have a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Indeed, we're intensifying our efforts against ISIL's base in Syria. Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations. We're going after the ISIL leadership and infrastructure in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: So, if they're going to go after the ISIL leadership and infrastructure in Syria, how do you do that just from the air with no U.S. troops on the ground?
The U.S. is intensifying its efforts to work with Kurdish forces on the ground and stepping up its own air reconnaissance, those flights overhead, looking and searching out any ISIS targets they can find -- Pamela.
BROWN: And, Barbara, so what is the goal behind this current Raqqa campaign?
STARR: It's really interesting, on July 4 alone, the U.S. conducting 18 airstrikes in Raqqa, destroying 16 bridges controlled by ISIS, Raqqa, of course, the capital, the self-declared capital of ISIS. What they're trying to do, one can probably fairly assume, is strike as much as they can in Raqqa and get that ISIS leadership moving around.
If ISIS has to reposition its troops, its weapons, its top leaders, its command-and-control, if they have to move around to get away from U.S. airstrikes, that's the kind of movement that those U.S. reconnaissance planes overhead can see, the kind of targets they may be able to pick out in the coming days, but all of this, again, being done in conjunction with those Kurdish forces on the ground, which are now just less than 50 miles from Raqqa's northern edges -- Pamela.
BROWN: Barbara Starr, thank you very much.
And President Obama says the U.S.-led coalition is going after the "heart of ISIS," including its self-proclaimed capital in Syria.
For more on this, let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
So, Jim, with this current campaign in Raqqa, explain to us ISIS' hold there. How important is that city?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's the capital of the caliphate, which spans of course Syria and Iraq here.
Mosul, the stronghold inside Iraq, but Raqqa really the capital of the entire caliphate. What has been happening over recent weeks is the YPG -- these are Syrian Kurds in opposition -- they have been putting pressure on that ISIS stronghold from the north and the east. As they have gotten closer, this has given the possibility of more targets to the U.S.-led coalition. That's what we're seeing with those airstrikes.
There have been some victories in here. You had the YPG take back a border town. That's now contested. But in addition to getting closer, they're taking back some of these key towns, particularly along the border. Why is that important? That's where they get their fighters. That's where ISIS gets its fighters, many of them from overseas. It's also where they get a lot of their weapons.
BROWN: We heard from the president today. If you would, bring us up to speed what the current U.S. strategy is, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Well, the strategy right now has been to expand the U.S. footprint with these lily pads, as they call them, U.S. bases outside of the strongholds of Irbil, with the Kurdish areas in the north, and Baghdad here.
You already have two lily pads. Al-Taqaddum, that's the newest one here, Al Asad, where you have U.S. advisers training. This is in Anbar province, training Iraqi forces, but also more and more the Sunni tribes. This is key, get the Sunnis in this battle, so it's not really a Shiite-dominated battle, make it a national battle, rather than a tribal battle. Those are the first two.
There's talk of expanding to here, between Baghdad and Tikrit, another key city, and here, between Mosul and Kirkuk, Mosul really the prize. That is the stronghold for ISIS inside Iraq. But, remember, we were talking about a Mosul offensive in the spring of this year.
That's pushed back to the fall first, and now really pushed back to next year because those Iraqi forces haven't shown the ability to take back territory, even those more minor towns, let alone an ISIS stronghold inside Iraq.
BROWN: Wow. And just hard to think that, a year ago, President Obama was calling ISIS the J.V. team.
Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.
Tonight, a frantic final push is under way to reach a historic agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. With just hours to go before the deadline, there are new warnings about the possibility of failure and new warnings about the dangers if a deal is struck.
Let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.
It seems like they still have a lot of work ahead of them.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
And it's really crunch time, Pamela, with Tuesday's deadline looming. It's pretty clear there are still major differences on key issues like Iran's past nuclear weapons program and the lifting of sanctions. With time running out, the U.S. is warning years of negotiations could fail at the 11th hour.
LABOTT (voice-over): With the clock ticking down towards Tuesday's deadline, world powers and Iran, together for the first time in Vienna, put their cards on the table. But the White House warned nothing is certain, and the deadline could slip.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I wouldn't set any expectations at this point. I would say that it's certainly possible.
LABOTT: Secretary of State John Kerry is hedging his bets.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: At this point, this negotiation could go either way. If hard choices get made in the next couple of days, and made quickly, we could get an agreement this week. But if they are not made, we will not.
LABOTT: In a YouTube message, Iran's foreign minister says a deal has never been so close. But he said the ball was in the court of the U.S. and its partners.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: They still need to make a critical and historic choice, agreement or coercion.
LABOTT: Now a new wrinkle. Iran wants to end a U.N. arms embargo once a deal is reached. Negotiators are working around the clock, mindful that the deal must reach Congress by Thursday, but a warning from Capitol Hill: Don't rush.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: it's amazing to me that, as we come to the end of this deal, the biggest issue of concern to these countries right now is that Congress would only have 30 days, not 60 days, to review the deal. Make sure these last remaining red lines that haven't been crossed -- they have crossed so many -- do not get crossed.
LABOTT: In Israel today, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned a similar agreement helped North Korea go nuclear. The talks, he said, are not a breakthrough, but a breakdown.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Every day, more concessions are made. And every day, the deal becomes worse and worse. Better no deal than this very bad deal.
LABOTT: And all sides seem to be suggesting they will likely work past Tuesday's deadline. But it's far from clear there will even be a deal this week. Secretary Kerry is warning there will not be an agreement at any price, he will walk away if the deal does not meet the U.S. standards.
Iranian officials say they too are prepared to go home empty- handed if their red lines are not met, so a little bit of a nuclear game of chicken going on right now, Pamela.
BROWN: That's a good way to describe it. Still a long way to go.
Elise Labott, thank you very much.
And let's discuss the Iran nuclear talks and more with a leading Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Darrell Issa of California.
Congressman, nice to have you on with us.
As we heard from Elise there, she's reporting that the deadline for a deal with Iran is becoming less and less firm. In your view, is it time for the U.S. to walk away?
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I don't think it's time to walk away. It's time to at least make sure that we don't give any greater concessions than the president told Congress he was going to get.
Very clearly, this is a deal that may have difficulty getting approved even if the president got everything that he said he was going to get. If he gives further concessions, it won't be the time, the 30 days vs. 60 days Congress has to respond. It will be the deal itself that kills any kind of a resolution.
BROWN: Are you concerned that concessions are being made just so that the deal will get done, just so that they can end this, end these negotiations?
ISSA: You know, in the beginning of a presidency, their legacy isn't what people are thinking about. They're thinking about making a difference.
At the end of a presidency, often they're thinking about legacy. And that does concern me. We don't need the legacy to look good as the president leaves office and end up like North Korea. I think when Bibi Netanyahu likened this to North Korea, he did so accurately, because we never made North Korea fully abandon its nuclear ambitions.
And, as result, it became essentially the ninth country to have nuclear capability and the delivery capability to threaten its neighbors.
BROWN: As we heard Elise say, this could be a game of chicken that is going on right now. Do you think that the Iranians fear the U.S. at all? Or are they the ones holding the power in these negotiations?
ISSA: Well, Pamela, I think they're in the driver's seat and I think they know it.
They are calling the shots on the ground in Iraq. They have the relationship with the Iraqi government that we're supporting over the Sunni and Kurd minorities. They recently returned jets back to Iraq as a show of good faith. It had been in Russian-made jets that had been there a long time and the Iraqis are using those.
They obviously have the relationship with both Assad and Hezbollah. And, as we speak, those forces are on the ground being supported in Syria, sometimes fighting in a direction we'd like, and sometimes very much fighting in a direction that simply is killing off the so-called Free Syrian Army, while Da'esh continues to make advances, real advances, in solidifying this caliphate.
BROWN: Congressman Issa, be sure to stay with us. We have a lot more to discuss, more of our interview just ahead right after this quick break.
BROWN: We're back with Congressman Darrell Issa, a top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee.
Congressman, stand by.
We are getting a rare look inside new efforts to fix troubling problems within the Secret Service.
Our CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, is at the Secret Service's training facility just outside of Washington.
So, Jim, you actually interviewed Joe Clancy, the director of the United States Secret Service. What did he tell you about changes that they plan to make?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, Secret Service Director Joe Clancy, he was adamant to us, telling CNN there will never again be another fence-jumping intruder who gets inside the White House.
We talked to Clancy at the training facility for the Secret Service here in Maryland just outside the nation's capital about some of the recent embarrassing episodes for his agency and what he's doing about it. He told us he's focusing on training, but he also pointed to changes made at the White House, including the White House fence, those new spikes that were attached to the top of that White House fence to thwart jumpers, but the director conceded to us in that interview it's not a perfect solution.
Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Spikes were installed along the White House fence just last week. Are those spikes going to be a deterrent, do you think?
JOSEPH CLANCY, DIRECTOR, SECRET SERVICE: We're hoping it will give us some time to react, a little more time.
ACOSTA: It's not going to stop every jumper.
CLANCY: It won't stop every jumper.
ACOSTA: One of the things that I say to myself all the time is, it is just too low.
CLANCY: Yes. ACOSTA: It's -- almost anybody could jump that fence.
ACOSTA: Do you feel the same way?
CLANCY: I do. And we're working very closely with our partners, the National Park Service, the Fine Arts Commission, and others, to look at a long-term solution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, Clancy said he's focused on some of the more modern dangers facing the White House. His agents are training with ISIS threats in mind.
And we asked about the drone incident that occurred earlier this year, when a drone flew over the White House grounds. Clancy did not want to go into specifics in terms of what they're trying to do to prevent that type of thing from occurring, but he did say the agency is working with what he called new technology to deal with that issue -- Pam.
BROWN: And also, Jim, we see in this video you actually witnessed Secret Service drills. Tell us about them.
ACOSTA: That's right.
I didn't go through all the drills, but we did get to witness some of the drills that they have here at the training facility for the Secret Service. One of those is very important to the mission of protecting the White House from jumpers.
We saw those canine squads in action, the Belgian Malinois dogs who can take out an intruder in seconds. We saw that. In addition to that, there was a drill that involved evasive driving techniques. I got to ride in the back of one of those vehicles. That was pretty thrilling, although I don't think I want to do that again. But it just goes to show you how they have to really be on their toes in terms of thwarting an attack on a presidential motorcade.
And then finally, Pam, I'll tell you, perhaps the most poignant moment of the day came when we looked at the ambush exercise when they tried to train for preventing an ambush attack on what they call a principal, like the president or the vice president. That drill took place in a mock village on something called Clint Hill Way.
Pam, for our viewers who don't know who Clint Hill is, he is the legendary Secret Service agent who served on President Kennedy's motorcade on that fateful day in Dallas back in 1963. It's a reminder to these agents as to what's at stake when their jobs are out here. They have to protect the president. It's the most important job that they have, of course -- Pam.
BROWN: It absolutely is. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
And I want to bring back in Congressman Darrell Issa to discuss what we just heard from the director, Joe Clancy.
Congressman, you heard him say that he thinks the White House needs a taller fence. Do you agree with that?
ISSA: Well, you can have taller fences and that would take care of one problem.
But, as you know, the president and other protected individuals have a vulnerability far greater when they move. And so the problems that Clancy's dealing with at the Secret Service -- and this is something that my committee, my former committee, dealt with for my entire chairmanship -- is low morale, turnover questions, the difference between uniformed and nonuniformed personnel, and a lot of other of those sort of problems, in an organization that has an almost impossible mission.
Remember, they never get to be on offense. They have to be on defense. They don't get credit for the thousands of hours in which nothing happens. It's the times something goes wrong. And so what Clancy has to deal with is keeping an organization sharp and at the top of its game at all times, and modernizing how they deal with new threats.
And you mentioned drones. But there are lots of other threats. And it is something where, quite frankly, what you know today and you're taking steps on is not where the next problem will usually come. And the perimeter protection of the White House, as we all know, if they'd just lock the door, if basic principles had been followed, that jumper would have gotten over the fence, but he never would have gotten anywhere beyond the grass.
And so I think we have to be a little careful not to overreact, as we did years ago when we closed Pennsylvania Avenue. We did so without a plan to really justify what it was all about and go forward. I do work with the Secret Service. Historically, they are a great group of leaders and individuals. But, as I say, they're a little bit like a football team that never gets to be on offense, is always on defense.
And they don't get to know when the ball's going to be snapped. They have to be ready at all times.
BROWN: And he did not mince words, the director, when he said there will not be another White House fence jumper. Do you buy that?
ISSA: Well, there won't be another one that gets through the front door.
They are making -- taking steps to be much more vigilant, to redo their procedures, and to have more senior management really making sure that the team is doing their job and is always in position. That's important. But, again, when you look at an organization, that training field, the off-hours, the questions of alcoholism, the questions of extracurricular activities, and how people view their careers, and what the esprit de corps is like, that's really where you win and lose.
It's not necessarily a spiked fence that's going to make all the difference in the world, although it is important to have those staggered defenses to protect the building of the White House. And let's remember, a jumper is a very small threat compared to a pack of explosives on an unmanned vehicle or a manned vehicle.
And those are real threats that could happen at any time.
BROWN: And we know that the threat is constantly evolving. What do you see as the next threat to the White House, to the president?
ISSA: Well, I don't know where the next threat will come from. And I don't think anyone really does.
But let's understand that when the president is moving or the vice president or other protected individuals, they are more vulnerable. And that's generally where the possibility will occur. Many years ago, the late Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Beirut. And he was in a vehicle every bit as good as the president's vehicle, car.
The problem was that they just had thousands of pounds of explosives and had been able to bury it underneath a street. That level of explosive, the only way to win is to make sure the president never goes over that location. And when you're talking about all of Washington or any other place that a protected individual, including the president, goes, they have to be able to detect in advance activity that could lead to a large explosive charge or something else that could be devastating beyond human beings' ability to react.
Remember, the Kennedy assassination in Dallas was an exception. That was a long-range sniper. That has historically not been the threats. When they wanted to get Truman, they walked right up to the front of Blair House and would have gotten Truman if he'd answered the door.
Each time there's been an attack, we have created greater setback. But, at some point, the president cannot have absolute setback. He goes to hotels. He goes to foreign countries. And in this day and age, an unmanned aerial vehicle can carry explosive. They have got to be able to take that down proactively.
We can't have aircraft flying into the Washington space. If they can carry a man on a gyrocopter, they could have carried 200 pounds of explosive on that same aircraft.
BROWN: And Director Clancy talked about how concerned he is about ISIS. How much of a threat do you think ISIS poses to the Secret Service?
ISSA: Well, the Secret Service are ready and prepared to take those threats.
But the protected individuals, which in Washington, D.C., is not just the president and vice president and the families -- it's also up in Northwest all those embassies and residents. ISIS could look at one of those as a softer target.
And the impact of any loss in Washington, D.C., of any protected individual or building, would be pretty devastating for people's view around the world.
So, there's a large area to protect here and abroad. Very clearly, ISIS would love to get one of those. They'd like to get a lone wolf to drive hundreds of pounds of explosives or thousands of pounds right up Massachusetts Avenue and look for an embassy to blow up in front of.
So, these are real threats. ISIS has been able to recruit people. We have to be vigilant. We have to be able to find explosives and plans before they happen. And it's not easy.
BROWN: And that's growing increasingly harder with the way the threat is now with ISIS to know about an attack before it happens.
Congressman Darrell Issa, thank you so much.
And just ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, more on the ISIS threats and the U.S. strategy to fight terrorist forces.
Plus, a convicted felon deported from the U.S. five times admits to shooting and killing a woman on a crowded San Francisco pier, fueling the uproar over immigration and so-called sanctuary cities.
BROWN: Breaking now. New ISIS gains in Syria despite intensifying airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition. President Obama huddled with Pentagon officials this afternoon to discuss ISIS strategy and emphasized the fight against the terror forces is, quote, "a long-term campaign."
[18:30:48] Let's get more with the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, our CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers; former congresswoman Jane Harman, a leading intelligence expert and head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. So great to have the three of you with us today. A lot to talk about.
And Jane, I'm going to start with you, because we know that there has been this airstrike campaign in Raqqah. This isn't the first one, though. What is the significance of this particular airstrike?
JANE HARMAN, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, we're upping our ante. And we're responding, I assume, to the vicious ISIL attacks in three countries that preceded this.
But what I worry about is this military strategy won't get us there. Where is there? There is really a political solution, not a military solution. But airstrikes without adequate intelligence on the ground can't succeed. And in addition to that, our strategy in Syria's confused.
The president today said something important. He said he wants a transition to a pluralist government with Bashar Assad out. That's important. Bashar Assad out. But the folks we want to train and are asking to help us want him out now and have thought that our strategy -- so far it has been true -- has not been focused on him.
BROWN: And you talk about the fact that we don't have an adequate intelligence. What would the solution to that be? What more can we do in Syria in terms of the intelligence gathering?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all you have to put folks down range. We don't currently allow U.S. Special Forces or other capable soldiers down range with units that could, I think, facilitate better intelligence.
And remember, 75 percent, according to CentCom, of all of those planes flying over to drop bombs or ordnance don't drop that ordnance. They can't find targets; they're not getting targets; or they don't have permission to drop.
And so what you're seeing, this long campaign, is because there's a bit of confusion here between the folks trying to get the job done and I think policymakers.
I think hopefully today, this was a first step at it. I didn't see a lot in that press conference that gave me confidence they're going to change that policy. But they've got to change that policy. We've got to get more folks down range. We have to offer them better logistics package, command and control packages, intelligence packages, and we have to be clear on the command and control structure here so they can get those targets.
BROWN: And I want to bring in Bob Baer to talk a little bit more about what's going on in Raqqah with these airstrikes. We have heard these reports, Bob, that ISIS's leader Abu al-Baghdadi, was in Raqqah. Do you think that these airstrikes were ordered in part to take out Baghdadi?
BOB BAER, CNN SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, I think we'd like to take out Baghdadi, no question about it. If we could find him. He's clearly not going up on a cell phone. He's not getting on e-mail.
And I think what we have to look at these airstrikes that are in response to the expansion of the Islamic State. Today they took Ayanisa (ph), an important strategic town in the north, on the Turkish border. Major attacks in Haditha against the Iraqi government, and the Islamic State is moving on Aleppo.
We are stuck in this policy which is failing. These airstrikes. And I think we've all said that. The military's said it from the beginning. It's not enough.
And to go back to the intelligence question, our intelligence is terrible, because we can't get out and actually talk to people. And if these people are going off the air, we really -- it's a black hole, and we don't know what to hit out there.
BROWN: It's hard to believe that just a year ago, ISIS was barely even ISIS. We even heard President Obama calling him -- calling the group the JV team. And now look how much ground they have gained.
Jane, in your view, what more specifically needs to be done?
HARMAN: Well, again, I don't think this is a military fight. I think that's a piece of the fight. But I think it's a political, diplomatic, and messaging fight. And I think we're losing the messaging, because we're not out there on social media in the way that ISIL is.
How embarrassing is this? I mean, the country that invented the Internet and all of these cutting-edge firms can't find a way to get ahead of the messages by a small number of people that are causing many people in all countries, including ours, to leave educated households and become part of the foreign fighter corps.
[18:35:07] BROWN: No doubt about it. Creating a counter- narrative has been something that the U.S. has lacked in the fight against ISIS. They've talked about the social media machine.
But what is the solution there? The U.S. government fighting back against ISIS online isn't exactly going to deter those who would want to join the group, right? What's the solution?
ROGERS: You have to have a multi-faceted approach. The first thing is not -- yes, it's a political solution has to happen. But we have a military problem right now that needs solving.
You will not get to any disruptive activity until we do something about their capital in Raqqah, the fact that they have land and space and time and money to recruit, to put these very sophisticated propaganda messages that are recruiting our kids, American kids, British kids, European kids. So you have to have a more robust effort.
I'm glad to see that the president went out, but that in and of itself won't do it, out to the Pentagon today. We need to step up our game here. We need to coordinate better with our allies that are looking for help. We need to engage, again, in a more robust way.
Congress needs to act. They should give authorization for force. I think it's sad that they haven't done that yet. And I think that the president needs to engage and allow these folks to go down range to leverage up our allies' capabilities. So you haven't disrupted that. Remember, the longer this goes, the more likely it is that they're going to be successful at getting someone to radicalize here in the United States.
BROWN: And how do you disrupt the social media campaign that ISIS has? No matter how many air strikes you do there, I think that is -- as officials in the U.S. Have acknowledged... HARMAN: But the State Department can't do this with 50 people.
The whole country has to make -- the president should call the country to action to get ahead of this. We've got the cutting-edge technology firms that could join in this fight and really help make this not just the country but the region a lot safer.
But I don't think -- I agree that we have to partner with these folks on the ground in Syria. But I don't think the American people are prepared to put boots on the ground and take the casualties that will result. And I think we need to authorize this in the Congress.
ROGERS: This isn't about the 101st Airborne Division. This is about special capability soldiers that leverage up our allies. Otherwise, you're going to...
HARMAN: I know but they're in harm's way. And they could get killed.
ROGERS: You can't beat them without putting someone...
BROWN: Here's a debate I'm sure we're not going to settle in this sitting. But it's certainly going to be an ongoing conversation. Mike Rogers, Jane Harman, Bob Baer, thank you all for coming on. We do appreciate it.
Coming up, a convicted felon and five-time deportee admits to shooting and killing a woman on a crowded San Francisco pier. So why didn't police turn him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement months ago? More on that after this break.
[18:42:19] BROWN: An apparent random killing on a crowded San Francisco pier is throwing new fuel on a fiery controversy dominating the Republican race for the White House. It's also keeping the spotlight on Donald Trump, under fire from his rivals for his remarks about Mexican immigrants.
Our CNN Sara Sidner has more from San Francisco.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kate Steinle, the lady who was down on pier 14?
JUAN FRANCISCO LOPEZ SANCHEZ: Yes.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (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: Thirty-two-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.
SIDNER: Boom, boom three times.
SIDNER: 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 SECRETARY: We want to work more effectively with state and local jurisdictions to get at people who are threats to public safety, who are 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 of why we must secure our border immediately," adding that 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.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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 who come here.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think we should sugarcoat that, but that doesn't mean that everybody who's coming 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. "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 eligible for release. That ordinance dismisses immigration detainers as a sole reason for holding prisoners.
[18:45:04] SIDNER: And we just talked to Sheriff Mirkarimi one on one. We asked him specifically, look, ICE is saying it was a mistake San Francisco made. They had simply to hand him over to ICE or at least notify ICE.
And he said, ICE knows the rules, they know this rule has been in place for a very long time, and they do not take fault in what happened. It is simply the sheriff's department following the local laws.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: No matter how you cut this, it's still a breakdown in the system. Thank you, Sara Sidner.
And we want to dig deeper on this right now with former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, our CNN law enforcement analyst; the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Torres, and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson.
So, John, starting with you. Help me understand this. He was arrested trying to cross the border back into the U.S. after being deported five times, goes to prison, gets out. And instead of being immediately deported pack to Mexico, he's handed over to the San Francisco Police Department.
Why wasn't he immediately deported after he got out of prison?
JOHN TORRES, FORMER ICE ACTING DIRECTOR: Well, he was in custody of the Bureau of Prisons. So, what happens there is there are two competing requests. One that says ICE wants him, the other one says the sheriff's department wants him, based on an outstanding warrant for drug conviction or drug charge.
And so, what happens is you could send him to ICE, they'll deport him right away. In this instance, they prefer to send him over so that he can be prosecuted on the drug charge, possibly serve another jail sentence, and then be deported after.
BROWN: If he's going to be deported, why don't you just do it from the get-go? Especially as we've seen a lot of police departments don't honor these detainers. So, you're running the risk of a police department letting a suspect go out on the streets and kill someone, as we saw in this case.
TORRES: Historically, people have complained in the past, why are you going to give a benefit to someone who's here without status by letting them go back to their home country, not serve a day in prison? Versus a U.S. citizen under the same circumstances has to go serve his time in prison.
So, what you see here is you'd rather have that person off the street, knowing that he's going to go to prison if he serves time. Unfortunately, what you have here are policies in place that prevent two law enforcement agencies from working together until someone's been victimized.
BROWN: And the police departments -- they have their reasons for not honoring these detainers. But even, Tom, if a department doesn't want to honor a detainer, in this case, why didn't the San Francisco police, the sheriff's office, give ICE a heads-up that, hey, we're releasing this suspect that you're interested in? We're not going to hold him for you, but we want to give you a heads-up?
TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: No, that's absolutely true. The laws making sanctuary cities in L.A. or San Francisco, California cities, it's called the trust law. Basically is that local police departments can't spend money enforcing federal laws. They can't spend the money housing somebody on behalf of the federal government.
That wasn't the case here. San Francisco was holding him on drug charges, as John mentioned, and all they had to do was make a phone call. They didn't have to hold him one extra day or give him one extra meal. And what they're saying by saying, if you don't give us a court order -- you know, that's just unheard of in terms of police cooperation. We're not going to cooperate with ICE unless we have to and are ordered to by a court. That sounds to me ridiculous.
BROWN: And that's what this sheriff's office said that --
BROWN: -- you know, we didn't have a court order, therefore, we didn't have to comply.
FUENTES: In other words, make us. We're not going to cooperate, make us.
BROWN: And you brought up sanctuary cities. Joey, I want to go to you on this, because Sanchez told our affiliate that he kept coming back to San Francisco because he knew it was a sanctuary city.
Tell us, what does that mean? And why are there sanctuary cities?
JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure, Pamela. What he's essentially saying is, is that they're lax as it relates to the law. Now, let's go pack to what a detainer is. An immigration detainer is merely notification by ICE, which is the Immigration Custom and Enforcement Services, in conjunction with Homeland Security, to say just detain the person. And it's not -- it's not necessarily that they're going to be deported immediately but there's some federal issue that the federal government wants to look after. And it's good for 48 hours.
And so think about this -- the drug charges, he was returned on March 26th. The drug charges were dropped on March 27th. He was held until April 15th. So, all that would have been required was for the immigration detainer, that is, a notification to the federal government, and the federal government comes, picks him up, and then they evaluate whether or not he should be deported, is deportable, or what the immigration status is.
So, when you talk about sanctuary cities, essentially what you're saying is that they have a policy which is not going to honor federal law. And that within itself, Pamela, is very problematic.
BROWN: But the California law does make it so that if someone is a felon, you have to hold that person. That opens up a whole another debate.
Tom Fuentes, John Torres, Joey Jackson, thank you very much.
JACKSON: My pleasure.
BROWN: Just ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, more reaction to Donald Trump's controversial remarks about immigrants. His Republican presidential rivals are starting to speak out more forcefully, more than two weeks after Trump's stunning remarks about Mexicans during his campaign announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:50:09] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are bringing drugs. They are bringing crime. They are rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Tonight, Donald Trump is accusing critics of distorting his remarks about Mexicans and waiting for many days after he spoke to suddenly pounce.
[18:55:06] Several of his Republican presidential campaign rivals toughened up their reaction to Trump over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think what he said was wrong. I don't think that it's appropriate and I don't think it has any place in the campaign.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump is wrong on this. He's not a stupid guy, so I don't assume he's like -- he thinks that every Mexican crossing the border is a rapist. I mean -- so, he's doing this to inflame and to incite and to draw attention.
RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party. I was offended by his remarks. To paint with that broad a brush that Donald Trump did is -- I mean, he is going to have to defend those remarks.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Honestly, Donald Trump needs no help from Mike Huckabee to get publicity. He is doing a really good job of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Let's bring in CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and CNN political reporter Sara Murray.
So much to talk about here. And, Gloria, I first want to ask about you what we heard -- Trump's rivals on the trail coming out and really attacking him for his comments. Why now? Do you think this is a signal that they're realizing this is someone they have to worry about?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, they're walking a fine line here because they don't want to inflame him and empower him and light a match under him. The same thing goes for the Republican National Committee leaders. They don't want do that so that Trump can say, oh, the party bosses, look, they are against me, and that would just give him a lot more oxygen, right?
But the people opposing him are walking a fine line because their donors are saying, you know what? You have to oppose this guy. But the activists in the party are saying, you know, we kind of like a little bit what Trump is saying. So, everybody is kind of walking on tiptoes around here against Trump.
BROWN: So, it seems like, Jeff, that from what Gloria is saying, that there is concern about how he is going to react. That he are fearful at how they're going to --
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Sure.
BORGER: Almost play into his hands, right?
ZELENY: Right. Playing to his hand for one thing, because he is going to win that game, probably.
ZELENY: He has very -- he has less to lose than Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. But I think they are also afraid -- they were afraid of elevating him. They were trying to ignore it.
Now, it has moved too far beyond ignoring. So, now, again, I think some have missed a leadership moment in terms of calling him out on these things. At the end of the day, the primary election, it may be good rhetoric. In a general election, it's a killer for the Republican Party and they all know that.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: From the perspective of the RNC, they don't want to be the ones who pick this fight. It has to be a candidate that takes on Donald Trump, or even a network that says, look, we won't allow you on the debate stage. But it's not going to be the RNC that says, you are not allowed up there.
BORGER: But the chairman of the RNC, Reince Priebus, has already said, you know, these comments are not helpful. And there -- they -- you're right, they want the candidates to kind of play it out, because they have to thread the needle here. They don't want to empower him any more than he already is.
ZELENY: We've not heard from Donald Trump. He's been off the campaign trail. He issued a statement that he's not --
BORGER: We heard, it was three pages. BROWN: But someone that we will be hearing from is Hillary
Clinton, because she's sitting down for an exclusive interview with our Brianna Keilar, her first since she ran for president.
So, I want to talk about that. She's been previously closed off as we know to the media. Now, suddenly there's this shift in media availability. What do you make of that, Sara?
MURRAY: I think that it is very convenient for them to be saying right now, look, Bernie Sanders is having a surge. We should just get out there. This will be better for us, from a media perspective.
I think the reality is the Clinton campaign is very planned out and structured campaign. And this is now their moment when they want to move into the longer interviews and being out there and being more public.
This gives them a way to say, look, this is no coronation. We're not taking it for granted. Look, we're going to sit down for interviews without going head to head and taking on Bernie Sanders directly.
BORGER: You know, when you look at the Republican Party right now, and this little fight that's going on with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, by contrast, can look serious, engaged in the issues and have a different kind of debate without getting on a debate stage yet with Lincoln Chafee and all the rest.
ZELENY: No question. I mean, she does want to talk about why she's running for president, this gives her the chance. And also gives her a chance to sort of lower expectations. They're find with people chattering about, oh, Bernie Sanders is rising up a little bit. They know that -- I think they are doing a fair bit of setting expectations, so we're worried about him. They're not really worried about him. We'll see how long that goes.
BROWN: Absolutely. We have a long way to go until the election.
Thank you so much, Gloria, Jeff and Sara. Appreciate it.
And to our viewers, be sure to join us in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow for that exclusive one on one with Hillary Clinton. As we said, she's sitting down with CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar for her first major TV interview since the start of the her campaign. Watch tomorrow at 5:00 Eastern Time.
And thank you very much for watching. For Conor Finnegan and all of us here at CNN, I'm Pamela Brown in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.