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Officials: Several July 4 Terror Plots Thwarted; Joint Chiefs Nominee: Russia is Greatest Threat; Still Obstacles to Iran Nuclear Deal. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired July 9, 2015 - 17:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, terror plots foiled. U.S. officials say multiple attacks were thwarted leading up to July 4, fired overseas and aimed at killing Americans. But they warn it's too soon to breathe a sigh of relief, and there's a chilling new threat from the new terror leader.

No. 1 threat. The general nominated as joint chiefs chairman says the greatest challenge so American national security is Russia. We'll tell you who else is worried about it.

The flag coming down. South Carolina's governor signs a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. The flag will head to a museum. But what about the hatred and violence it has come to symbolize?

And thirst for blood. A new report that North Korea's leader has executed 70 officials since coming to power. Is his reign of power even worse than those of his father and grandfather?

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

Americans didn't know it at the time, but they had multiple close calls leading up to the July 4th holiday. Officials say several terror threats were foiled across the country and fitting the ISIS pattern they were inspired from abroad with the goal of killing U.S. citizens.

Even more chilling, officials say the risk is still great. We're just learning of a new threat. After his predecessor was killed in a drone strike, the new head of al Qaeda's most dangerous branch is calling for attacks on the United States. And new fallout from the massive attack on U.S. government computers. Investigators now believe more than 20 million people have sensitive personal information stolen. And the main suspect? China.

I'll speak with Senator Chris Murphy of the Foreign Relations Committee, and our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage.

We begin with CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto -- Jim. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Brianna,

U.S. officials tell us that U.S. law enforcement foiled several attacks in the last four weeks, including attacks timed to the July 4 weekend. The FBI has made more than ten ISIS-related arrests during that time period, some of those arrests tied to attacks, again timed to the holiday.

And even though the holiday has passed, the threat level remains, I'm told, very high.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): U.S. law enforcement thwarted several terror plots in the last four weeks, including plots tied to the July 4th weekend, U.S. officials tell CNN. Director James Comey says the FBI has made more than 10 ISIS-related arrests since the last month, some tied to the holiday.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: They stopped the stuff that was trying to come at us July 4, but now it's July 7 and 8, and they're on to the next thing.

SCIUTTO: The foiled attacks included targets coast to coast, and were unsophisticated, with plans that included guns, knives and other weapons, fitting ISIS's public calls to supporters to attack in any way possible.

Investigators believe that ISIS members overseas enabled the plots, recruiting and encouraging Americans to carry out attacks on U.S. soil, even selecting possible targets. Comey calls it crowdsourcing terrorists.

Senator James Risch telling CNN Wednesday that time was critical.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Some were quite imminent, actually.

KEILAR: Within days?

RICH: Within days. There was one, of course, that was even one that was within hours or minutes.

SCIUTTO: The foiled plots come as the FBI continues to warn that terror suspects have gone dark in cyberspace, increasingly communicating through encrypted messages, that's widely available, but impossible for the intelligence community to monitor.

July 4 weekend might have passed, but U.S. officials tell CNN that the risk of terror attacks remains very high.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: Based on very recent past trends, ISIS has been willing to and able to push out information to Americans, and a small number have at least been willing to act based on that.

SCIUTTO: And here's a worrisome development. The FBI is seeing is exercise more control over plots here inside the U.S. For some time they've been saying that these attacks are more than inspired by ISIS, attackers recruited, encouraged, maybe even given general ideas for attack methods and targets.

Now, however, they're seeing some direction from ISIS operatives overseas, including picking targets.

Brianna, you know, we've been talking for a long time about the worry of foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria to the U.S., but when you can do this via social media from afar, ISIS can already exercise real threats here on U.S. soil.

KEILAR: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

[17:05:04] Stunning remarks today about the enormity of the threat posed to the United States by Russia. The words sound like something right out of the Cold War, and they come from the nominee to be the next joint chairman of the chiefs of staff. I want to turn now to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this is U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, just recently finished a tour in command in Afghanistan. Back now as the commandant of the Marine Corps, on to his next job today, confirmation hearing to become the joint chiefs chairman, President Obama's top military adviser. He was asked at the confirmation hearing what his biggest concern was about national security. The answer may surprise you.


GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS NOMINEE: My assessment today, Senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security. In Russia we have a nuclear power. We have one that not only has the capability to violate the sovereignty of our allies and to do things that are inconsistent where our national interests, but they're in the process of doing so. So if you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I'd have to point to Russia.


STARR: You know, this is why we're focused so much on looking at Iran and a nuclear program in Iran, the new adviser to the president, the new military adviser, he is focused on Russia -- Brianna.

Besides Russia, what other countries is he really concerned about?

STARR: Well, he did, in fact, talk about his concerns about China, North Korea, and of course, his concerns about ISIS, which is where the bulk of U.S. military involvement is certainty directed these days.

On the question of Iran, I should point out he also very much on the same page as the current chairman, General Marty Dempsey. He says he will maintain a military option to strike Iran if the president were to order such a strike -- Brianna. KEILAR: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Joining me now, we have Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Thank you so much, Senator, for being with us.


KEILAR: You just heard the nominee for the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff saying Russia is his main concern at this point. Do you agree with that?

MURPHY: Well, that's music to Putin's ears. Much of his entire strategy is designed to try to be as much of a stick in the eye of the American government as possible.

I wouldn't agree. I mean, I think that nuclear terrorism is the biggest threat presented to the United States, and that's why so much of our focus is on ISIS, trying to tamp down their expansion of territory before they can ever try to have access to weapons of mass destruction. It's why we care so much about Iran, to make sure they don't become a nuclear weapon state.

I believe that Russia is still a regional power. I don't believe this is the Cold War any longer. I think that we should support our friends in Ukraine, but I would disagree that Russia presents today an existential threat to the United States. I think it's nuclear terrorism. Groups like ISIS, the proliferation of weapons outside of a place like Iran, that has to worry us most.

KEILAR: OK. So he did rank these threats in this order: Russia, China, North Korea and then ISIS. China, as we've learned, is responsible for this OPM hack, where you made more than 20 million, in fact 21.5 million current and former federal employees who had their personal information stolen. That's a lot of people with security clearance who had that information stolen.

What needs to be done? Should there be a proportional response to this?

MURPHY: Yes, I'm one of those people. I got a letter telling me that my own information was stolen, and so this is personally important to me and my family, as well. And there, of course, has to be a proportional response.

KEILAR: What is it? What should it be?

MURPHY: Well, given that this was a clandestine attack on the United States, it is likely that our response is going to be clandestine as well. This would not be a response that administration officials come on to CNN and talk about. This is probably something that none of us will ever know about, perhaps a cyberattack to the Chinese, as well.

It is important to note, though, that this is just scaled version of espionage in some sense and that the United States has been trying to get information out of China. China tries to get information out of us, but there have been generally accepted norms as to how big and bold you are.

KEILAR: This pushes the line?

MURPHY: This is beyond the pale.

KEILAR: But why are we just learning about it now? And why does it seem that it keeps getting upgraded? We're told one million, this number, and then we find out it's 21.5 million. Why are we learning this now, and should we trust OPM?

MURPHY: The defenses that we have against these attacks are inadequate. And our ability to even understand the scope is inadequate, as well.

We are right now trying to get a cybersecurity bill passed through the United States Congress that would give new tools to both the government and the private companies to be able to share information. Part of the problem is that when a country like China attacks a private company, they don't communication to the government about what they've learned about that attack and vice versa. So we've got an obligation to try to up our defenses.

[17:10:12] KEILAR: More questions ahead. I'm going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with Senator Chris Murphy.


KEILAR: The U.S. and other world powers are still negotiating, but frustrations are showing. The White House says there's no deal yet, and Secretary of State John Kerry has stepped out of the Vienna talks, to warn that they can't go on forever.

Senator Chris Murphy of the Foreign Relations Committee here with us, but first I want to bring in CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

Elise, give us a sense here, do you think that the odds of this agreement may be receding?

ELISE LABOTT: Well, Brianna, we've been talking for days that they've been reaching the end game, but I think this really is the final stretch, and it is really the highest stakes right now. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to reporters just a while ago and he signaled to Iran that U.S. patience is running out. Take a listen.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're here because we believe we are making real progress toward a comprehensive deal. But as I have said many times and as I discussed with President Obama last night, we are not going to sit at the negotiating table forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LABOTT: Now part of this is an effort by the Obama

administration to show that it is not willing to take any bad deal and is willing to walk away, but I also think, Brianna, it's a message to Iran.

Secretary Kerry is saying, "Listen, this is the best deal that you're going to get. You need to take it or leave it."

Now the finger pointing is starting. The Iranian state media is saying that the U.S. is to blame. Even Russia, Iran's closest friend at these talks, is blaming the possible breakdown of talks on the U.S. and Europe. So a lot of chess moves going on, a loss of posturing. I think this is the final stretch.

KEILAR: So this to you is really the take it or leave it Iran message that you're hearing from Secretary Kerry today?

LABOTT: Yes. That's right. I think that right now we're reaching what they call the law of diminishing returns. It's been two weeks. Everybody is exhausted, and you know, it's the same issues that really need to be taken by a political decision, a yes or no by Iran.

The E.U. foreign policy chief spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour moments ago. She said that this is the moment of truth. It could be within hours. And, you know, European diplomats, U.S. officials telling me, look, if Iran says yes, there could be a deal today. But if not, we need to finish this up and come home. So I think the next 234 hours are really going to be key here, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be watching. Elise Labott, thanks so much.

We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And Senator, you were in this key meeting with President Obama where he talked with Senate Democrats, and he said to them that at this point he believes there's less than a 50/50 chance. What all did he say to you?

MURPHY: Well, he was interesting in that he actually didn't get a question from Democratic senators about Iran.

KEILAR: You were talking about a number of things and he brought this up?

MURPHY: We had a general meeting on a number of subjects, and he wanted to make sure that we didn't leave, the White House, without him making it clear to us that he was prepared to walk away from the table, if this final agreement didn't look like the framework that was agreed upon some months ago. And he wanted to do make it clear to us that he was still committed to walking away from a bad deal.

But I guess I can understand why the Iranians are having some trouble finally saying yes. Because this does represent a paradigm shift in Tehran. It wouldn't be the first time that the hardliners have lost any substantial issue inside that government in almost a decade, notwithstanding the decision to go into negotiations in the first place.

And so I think Kerry is seeing progress being made and also understanding that it may take a few days in order for the supreme leader and then Zarif to finally put pen to paper.

KEILAR: He said today the negotiations aren't going to go on forever. You know, at some point, basically, you have to wrap this up or walk away. At the same time he said they're not open-ended. He didn't exactly say they're closed in a way, that there's no timetable for when he would say, "You know what? Enough is enough."

MURPHY: Well, the consequences of the negotiations falling apart are potential catastrophic. You're going to have elections in Iran coming up. The hardliners would likely win that would put the country back on a path to a bomb. It would be difficult to get these sanctions back in place. You're already hearing the Russians trying to put the blame on the United States, suggesting they may not sign up for the next round.

So, yes, he's going to give this every chance it gets, but I think the point is going to come when there's just no progress being made on an hourly basis, and when that moment comes, then he has to walk away.

KEILAR: You hear the supreme leader. You know that the foreign minister is negotiating in Vienna. Do you trust the Iranians in these negotiations?

MURPHY: No way. No way. None of us should trust the Iranians, which is why we need an inspection regime that is absolutely unprecedented. But I also don't trust what the supreme leader is saying publicly is what he's telling his negotiators. Right before they signed the framework, he said he needed 90,000 centrifuges.

KEILAR: He's posturing?

MURPHY: So he may -- he may be posturing. He may have been captured by the hardliners. We should at least give it a few days, maybe a week longer to play out.

KEILAR: We learned yesterday from the FBI director, that there were several threats to kill Americans that had been thwarted here in the past several weeks. In fact, we heard from Senator Jim Risch yesterday. He said that some of them were imminent. And I said, "How imminent?"

And he said, "Within hours."

What can you tell us about these plots?

MURPHY: Well, what we know is that most of these plots were fairly unsophisticated. They don't look as if they were...

KEILAR: By that, you mean, guns, knives, other weapons.

[17:20:16] MURPHY: Not plots that had been in the works for months and months. And that doesn't give us any solace. That shouldn't make us any less vigilant. But it just suggests that the intelligence that we've always had that there aren't any sophisticated attacks being planned against the United States from Syria and Iraq, seems to remain to be the case.

But that's why we need to take them seriously. It doesn't take a sophisticated plot for hundreds of Americans to be killed at a Fourth of July celebration.

KEILAR: Or to be completely terrorized. The idea that you could be going about your normal activities on a holiday weekend or not on a holiday weekend, just a normal day, and you are perhaps threatened by someone with a gun, with a knife.

MURPHY: Which is why we need to pay attention the tools with which is uses to recruit people. A lot of us have been very skeptical about calls from Republicans to send tens of thousands of troops back into the Middle East, because we ultimately think that that becomes more bulletin-board material for terrorist recruiters. So the way in which we fight ISIS has to be a strategy that ultimately works to defeat them but doesn't actually inspire more people in the United States and around the world to join their cause.

KEILAR: So to you that's the recruiting?

MURPHY: I think we need to degrade and defeat them inside Iraq and Syria, but we also need to pay attention to the reasons why people are signing up, and we need to give, in general, terrorists less reason to recruit against the United States, not more reasons.

KEILAR: ISIS has called for there to be attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. That doesn't end until July 17. So we're past the July 4th holiday weekend, but can Americans breathe a sigh of relief here?

MURPHY: No, we can't breathe a sign of relief, and it's not just ISIS, by the way. What we know is that al Qaeda and their affiliates are still trying to actively plot attacks against the United States.

And so we need to be vigilant here at home. The reports showed quite correctly that they're coming out of the social media, which is how we found out about a lot of these things. Out in the open conversations on Twitter and Facebook. It's why a lot of us supported an extension of a reformed Patriot Act, because while we think there needed to be changes, we also understand that we do need the ability to listen in on these guys.

KEILAR: Before I let you go, Senator Rich yesterday said he believed that one of these attacks is going to come to fruition, and that that is just going to happen. At some point you can't really stop all of them. Do you agree?

MURPHY: I don't think we need to accept that as an inevitability. People have been saying that since September 11. And maybe it's remarkable, but...

KEILAR: One of these more, let's say, smaller plots?

MURPHY: ... generated plots. So these lone-wolf attacks...

KEILAR: Where you don't necessarily have the intel. They sort of come to be without any specific connection about the target to ISIS or to some other terror group? Do you reject that idea?

MURPHY: Listen, I refuse to accept the inevitability of one of these attacks. I think we have the tools to track these guys. We have the tactics to try to degrade them significantly in the Middle East.

Let's keep our goals, let's keep our objectives high.

KEILAR: Senator Murphy, really appreciate you being with us.

MURPHY: Thanks a lot.

KEILAR: And coming up, new information on terror plots thwarted in the U.S. The FBI director says they were meant to kill Americans, and officials say the risk is still very high.

And why the Republican establishment is so worried about Donald Trump. Party leaders tell him to tone down his comments, so how much damage could he be doing?



[17:28:04] KEILAR: Our top story, U.S. officials say that multiple terror attacks were thwarted before the July 4th holiday, and the FBI director says they were meant to kill Americans.

Joining me now to discuss this, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen; CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown; and CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes.

So Pam, you were in the room with the FBI director. What did he say about these plots, exactly?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So he said that the FBI thwarted terror plots, ISIS-related plots that were linked to the Fourth of July. You know, there was a lot of talk about terror threats around the fourth.

And the FBI director, James Comey, said today that, in fact, with severa1 arrests that the FBI made leading up to the fourth, that those were connected to plots that -- that were -- you know, that these people were planning to set off on the fourth.

He talked about the fact that there were more than ten arrests in the past four weeks and that some of those arrests were linked to the Fourth of July plots.

And he also said, Brianna, that some of the people arrested had been in direct communication with ISIS fighters that were also directing with specific plans on what to do.

KEILAR: What about the size of these attacks? Do we know?

BROWN: I asked him about that, the size of the actual plots. He wouldn't go into that and how many they were essentially. So he stayed mum on that.

But we heard from Congressman McCaul today. He talked about the fact that the concern amount officials were, especially the New York/New Jersey cell, where there were several awards there, that they wanted to set off explosives as July 4 parades, possibly near military members. Our indications were that there was nothing imminent, that these suspects didn't have anything ready to go to set off. But that was what McCaul said today.

KEILAR: Tom, we've learned that ISIS is using the dark web, they're using encrypted messages when they're talking to recruits, and they're talking to people inspired by them here in the U.S. So how are these plots being thwarted if the U.S. hasn't broken this encryption?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, normally on those apps, you cannot break the encryption, but then they also go on regular social media to brag about what they're going to do, or look for more recruits to help them do what they're going to do. And that's when they get them.

Now when they get specific using those apps, they can't monitor that, but it's when they're not using an app or making regular cell phone calls they have.

Now one of the taps you heard about that they said was within hours or minutes was five weeks ago in Boston, the Usaama Rahim, who the FBI was wiretapping, they were monitoring his e-mails. They saw his e-mail traffic ordering online large hunting knives, military- style knives, and then they heard him call his partner at 5:00 a.m. and say, I can't wait, he's not waiting for the Fourth of July, he's not waiting for anything, I have to go out today, the boys in blue are waiting.

So presumably he was going to go out and kill a Boston police officer that day and that was June 2nd. Of course he leaves his house, they approach him, draws the knife and they shoot him dead.

KEILAR: Back to this technology, the dark Web encryption. How did ISIS become so proficient at these technologies?

BERGEN: Well, just think about the typically kind of leader of ISIS right now. Particularly a Western one, middle class, relatively well educated, somebody. And so they're advocating using tools which is that, you know, the main part of the dark Web and they're also providing encryption, you know, the keys to their encryption. They're also -- also they're encouraging people to direct message them privately on Twitter so -- and then were using apps like Kik or WhatsApp or others. So, you know, I think it's a generational thing, it's not that complicated. FUENTES: Sure.

KEILAR: Yes. It's a generational thing. So we heard today from the new leader of AQAP -- in Yemen, arguably al Qaeda's most dangerous branch, Abu Hureira al-Sanaani, he gave the first speech since he succeeded al-Wuhayshi, and he was killed in a drone strike, of course. What do we know about the new leader of AQAP?

BERGEN: For one thing, his last name indicates he's from Sana'a, which is the capital of Yemen. This is kind of unusual because their leadership could only be in Saudi. He was a former military commander. He was imprisoned in Yemen. He was part of a big prison escape. You know, he's part of the -- you know, inner circle.

Interestingly today in his speech, he said, you know, I'm pledging allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, not to ISIS. So, you know, this is a group that remains very much in the kind of al Qaeda ambit.

KEILAR: OK. And, Tom, Senator Risch yesterday was -- it was pretty amazing what he said. He said it's just a matter of time until we see a Tunisia-style attack here in the U.S. Real quickly before we go to break, do you agree with that?

FUENTES: Sure. How are you going to prevent it? Three hundred million guns in this country and I don't know, a couple of thousands of these guys that believe in this ideology. Put the two together. And that's what's going to happen at some point.

KEILAR: Very sobering thought. Thank you so much, Tom, Peter, Pam. Appreciate you being here to speak with us.

Next, one more night, that's how much longer the Confederate flag will fly on South Carolina's statehouse grounds. I'll ask the head of the NAACP what needs to happen after the flag comes down.

Also, the growing alarm among Republicans worried about Donald Trump damaging the party's effort to attract Latino voters. Will Trump take advice to tone it down?


[17:37:44] KEILAR: Just over an hour ago, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a newly passed bill to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. The flag comes down tomorrow morning at 10:00, and then it will be taken to a museum.

It's been just over three weeks since a racist gunman who posed for pictures with a Confederate flag killed nine people at a Charleston church.

And joining me now in THE SITUATION ROOM, we have the president and CEO of NAACP, Cornell William Brooks with us.

So this was such a big moment.


KEILAR: And you grew up in South Carolina, so I think you have a personal connection to what this means.

BROOKS: Very much so.

KEILAR: What's your reaction?

BROOKS: Very much so. Very much so. I think this is a really extraordinary day. Though this is a symbolic victory, it is an important victory. Now Dr. Martin Luther King once luminously spoke about a day in which the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would be able to sit at the table of brotherhood.

This is not that day, but it is a day in which sons and daughters of the confederacy, sons and daughters of an enslaved people can gather around a flagpole of inclusion with the Confederate flag nowhere to be seen. So this is a good day. It's an important day.

KEILAR: So you say, we're not at the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about, so this is a step?

BROOKS: This -- it's a symbolic step.

KEILAR: An important one.

BROOKS: An important one.

KEILAR: But what more needs to be done?

BROOKS: What more needs to be done is South Carolina is a state in which, for example, their profound education inequities. There's something called the corridor of shame where you have African-American school children who go to severely underfunded schools. This is a notion, the conclusion which by the courts in the state of South Carolina, by the Supreme Court. And so it's important to move beyond the symbolism of bigotry and bias to address real word civil rights challenges.

So a symbolic victory, but we can't consider only the discrimination at the top of the flagpole, the bias there, but the racial forces that put it there, that put that flag there.

KEILAR: Will you lift the boycott of South Carolina?

BROOKS: Absolutely. We have maintained this boycott for 15 years running. And we've got to commend the grassroots leadership, our state conference, our branches, fraternities, sororities, the United Autoworkers, the -- National Association, I should say, the NCAA.


[17:40:07] BROOKS: For their steadfast commitment to maintain this boycott. So when the flag comes down, we lift the boycott. We look to entertain an emergency resolution at our convention in Philadelphia, so it's important.

KEILAR: Which is when?

BROOKS: It is this coming weekend.


BROOKS: So it will be --

KEILAR: So as of this weekend, you expect that the boycott will be lifted?

BROOKS: Indeed. But we're also looking to shift the battle. So we have a number of other states that maintain these emblems of bigotry and violence. Certainly in the state of Mississippi, this is not alone. And so as we move to other states, we're looking to move beyond not just the flag, but to the real civil rights challenges before the country.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about Baltimore because we saw some big news there yesterday, the commissioner of police fired. He'd been criticized for his response and how he led during the Baltimore riots. What's your reaction to that and also what else needs to be done?

BROOKS: Sure. I think the mayor, the rank-and-file police officers, certainly the citizenry in Baltimore would agree, that the challenges there are not merely a matter of rotating the personalities or leaders atop the police department, but addressing the policing culture in the city of Baltimore, and so you have to have not only top-down accountability, but also bottom-up responsibility.

That those who took Freddie Gray's life were rank-and-file police officers. We have to create a culture of policing in that city that engenders community trust. That's what works. Criminologists tell us that, police commissioners tell us that, and that's what we have to work on, bottom-up reform. Not merely a top down change in leadership.

KEILAR: I want to ask you as well about Bill Cosby. And I'm asking because he's someone who -- his show changed really the perception of African-Americans, certainly the portrayal of African- Americans on television, and he's been exalted as really this example in the past, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Hall of Fame, he already has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Do you think in light of what we have learned that he should be stripped of some of these honors?

BROOKS: Well, here's what I want to make clear here. The NAACP is the nation's preeminent civil rights organization. At the heart of civil rights are women's rights. And that certainly means the right to have your body, your integrity, your spirit respected and protected. And rape violates all of those. And so our values stand in opposition to any form of violence against women.

And so those honors, many of them were given years ago. Those organizations have to make those determinations, but we have to be clear, the NAACP stands very firmly against violence perpetuated against women. So that's where we are.

KEILAR: Cornell William Brooks with the NAACP, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

BROOKS: Thank you.

KEILAR: And coming up, reign of terror. New details about dozens of executions carried out since Kim Jong-Un took over in North Korea.

Also the Republican establishment's growing alarm over Donald Trump and his allegations that rapists are coming across the border from Mexico. Will he tone down his remarks like this? Do you think?


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's called rape. It is rape. And it's happening, and it's a shame, and it's horrible.



[17:48:00] KEILAR: Developing now in politics, a growing sense of alarm among the Republican Party establishment as Donald Trump continues thundering away about Mexico, immigration, and undocumented workers.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is keeping track of the latest fallout here -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, he's given a barrage of interviews and now there are mixed messages about whether the chairman of the Republican National Committee actually asked Donald Trump to tone down his rhetoric, just ahead of a newly announced visit Trump is expected to make to the state of Arizona which has been ground zero in the debate over immigration.


JOHNS (voice-over): One call, two very different stories. Donald Trump pushing back against reports that Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus asked him to back off his rhetoric about undocumented immigrants.

TRUMP: We didn't discuss that. He just -- he did say, you know, perhaps you could tone it down a little bit, if that's possible, but I also know it's your personality and you are who you are and that's the way it is.

JOHNS: Trump said the call was quick and positive.

TRUMP: It was a very brief call and it was a very nice call and it was more of a congratulatory call than anything else. JOHNS: But a Republican source tells CNN's Dana Bash that

Priebus talked with Trump about a range of issues and voiced concerns about the damage he's doing to the Republican brand.

TRUMP: They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.

JOHNS: According to the source Priebus told Trump, "Look, I got to tell you, I spent four years trying to make inroads with the Hispanic community. How we address illegal immigration is very important to winning back Hispanics politically."

After Trump's initial comments sparked criticism last month, Priebus joined in.

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: Those particular comments are not helpful.

JOHNS: Meanwhile, Trump, not backing down in an interview with CNN Wednesday.

TRUMP: We bring them back and they push them out. Mexico pushes back people across the border that are criminals, that are drug dealers.

JOHNS: Trump's defense comes as protesters descend on the site of his new Washington, D.C. hotel. Just blocks from the White House.

[17:50:05] UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Donald trump has got to go.

JOHNS: Trump told CNN's Anderson Cooper he could not guarantee all his employees are in the country legally after "The Washington Post" reported some workers at his D.C. hotel acknowledged they were undocumented.

TRUMP: I can't guarantee it, how can anyone? We have 34 million in the country.

JOHNS: That hotel will no longer feature a restaurant from celebrity chef and Spanish immigrant Jose Andreas. He is backing out of the project, citing Trump's recent comments. The Trump team is already threatening to sue.


JOHNS: Now the real fallout at the hotel in D.C. has more to do with Trump's business partners who are backing out of the project. The latest one to do so is Geoffrey Zakarian who is the culinary director of the Plaza Hotel in New York. He was teed up to put a new restaurant in the new Trump Hotel in D.C. but put out a statement saying Trump's statements do not align with his core personal values and he wasn't able to move forward.

KEILAR: And Trump says this money means nothing, but I don't know, it seems like there's this snowballing effect that we're seeing.

JOHNS: It just keeps adding up.

KEILAR: Yes. All right.

JOHNS: And he's a businessman.

KEILAR: He is, bottom line matters.

Joe Johns, thanks so much.

Tonight we have a new glimpse into the ongoing reign of terror inside Kim Jong-Un's North Korea. CNN's Brian Todd is here with some pretty disturbing new details -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A frightening glimpse, Brianna, and one with broader implications. Tonight the nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned Congress that North Korea ranks above ISIS in terms of threats facing the United States. We have new information tonight on just how much of a threat Kim Jong-Un is to those inside his country.


TODD (voice-over): He's forceful, reckless, and has a thirst for power that amounts to a reign of terror, according to a top South Korean official. North Korea's young dictator Kim Jong-Un has executed 70 officials since coming to power in late 2011, says the South Korean Foreign Minister. By most accounts that's shockingly more than were executed by his father, Kim Jong-Il.

JONATHAN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTIONS: Unlike his father, he exhibits a ruthlessness here by his actions, by the things that he's prepared to do that his father simply was not prepared to do, or didn't feel the need to do it. He does.

TODD: Kim even executed his own uncle and reportedly his defense minister. Human Rights monitor Greg Scarlatou says the regime often uses grotesque methods.

GREG SCARLATOU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ON NORTH KOREA: They're executed by 50-caliber ZBU4 anti-aircraft machine gun battery. The bodies are pulverized. There is nothing left behind.

TODD: U.S. officials tell CNN that executions are Kim's way of solidifying his position. One official calls them a crude mechanism for internal control. Analysts say the purges may show that Kim feels vulnerable but he's also sending a bone-chilling signal to those in his closest circles.

POLLACK: Don't mess with me, I'm the boss, and if you know what's good for you you'll stay absolutely loyal to me.

TODD: There are even published reports that the architect of Pyongyang's new airport was executed because Kim didn't like the design.

HYEONSEO LEE, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR: I saw my first public execution when I was 7.

TODD: Defector Hyeonseo Lee, who left while Kim's father was in power, says people have been executed over their homosexuality or their religion. CNN cannot independently verify Lee's accounts. She says people were executed by hanging, by machine gunfire, and often in front of large crowds.

LEE: Many people gathered to watch those public executives because it was -- it is mandatory. And then the very first line of the crowd, that should be the victims, the criminal's family members, immediate family members, including their relatives, have to sit in the front line.


TODD: And Lee says relatives witnessing a loved one's public execution are considered betrayers if they cry at the event. So very often they sit there watching their loved one be executed, completely stone-faced.

One analyst says we need to watch out about how long this pattern of execution continues under Kim Jong-Un. If they go on much longer, he says, those around Kim may get nervous enough to move against him -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Maybe consider defecting. We've heard that.

TODD: Yes.

KEILAR: It's important to note that it really doesn't seem to take much. Minor transgressions will get people executed under this regime.

TODD: Absolutely, they will. And just the accounts of the executions this year bear that out. Just this year, the Ministry of Forestry was executed for expressing dissatisfaction with the country's forestry program. The vice chairman of the State Planning Commission was executed because they objected to changing the design of a science and technology hall from a round shape to a flower shape.

Kim Jong-Un executed members of an orchestra for a scandal they were involved in. Just this year. It doesn't -- you don't have to be high up and you can just voice the slightest objection, anything he doesn't like, and you're gone.

KEILAR: An orchestra.

TODD: An orchestra.

KEILAR: Brian Todd, thank you so much.

And coming up, a stunning warning from the general nominated to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He says the greatest threat to America's national security comes from Russia.

[17:55:08] And the family members may be 2016 rivals but former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are appearing together tonight, and why one of them is facing new controversy.


KEILAR: Happening now, terror plots revealed. The FBI director talks publicly about new ISIS-related arrests and attacks that were foiled. But tonight, a top terrorist is issuing a new call to strike the U.S.

Coming down. The Confederate battle flag is just hours away from being lowered at the South Carolina statehouse. The governor just gave the final approval. How will this affect the national debate over race and symbols of hate?