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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby; D.C. Murder Mystery; Chattanooga Investigation. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired July 20, 2015 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:12]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: anti-American sentiment. CNN has learned that investigators are looking into the writings of the man who shot and killed five American servicemen in Chattanooga. He opposed the U.S. war on terror, but also opposed ISIS, according to a friend. Could drug use and depression have sparked the deadly rampage?

Second killer? The man suspected of murdering a wealthy Washington family and setting their mansion on fire appears in court, where dramatic new details are emerging about DNA evidence and the massive cash ransom? Are there accomplices still at large?

Death in custody. An African-American woman who spoke out against police brutality is arrested in a traffic stop and later found dead in her cell. Police say it was a suicide, but her family doesn't believe it. Will new police dash-cam video shed new light on her death?

Loose cannon. Donald Trump now leading the GOP race for the White House in a brand-new poll and once again driving debate, stirring up controversy by insulting the party's former presidential nominee Senator John McCain, saying the former prisoner of war is not a hero. Has Trump gone too far this time?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following disturbing new details emerging right now about Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, the 24-year-old man who opened fire on two U.S. military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four Marines and a U.S. sailor. Sources are telling CNN Abdulazeez was bipolar, depressed and abusing drugs, while a friend of is revealing what the young man thought of ISIS.

We are also following the Obama administration efforts to sell the nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical lawmakers and critical allies with the defense secretary, Ash Carter, in the Middle East right now. He's trying to persuade Israel and Saudi Arabia of the deal.

And we're watching the latest political firestorm ignited by Donald Trump, who's now the Republican presidential front-runner according to a brand-new poll. The controversial candidate is refusing to apologize to Senator John McCain for saying that the former prisoner of war is not a hero. We're covering all of that, and a lot more this hour.

The State Department spokesman John Kirby, there you see him. He's standing by live, along with our correspondents and our guests.

But let's begin with our national correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's joining us from Chattanooga.

Sunlen, tell us what you're learning about the gunman, Mohammed Abdulazeez.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Abdulazeez was struggling with many personal issues in his daily life, drug abuse and bipolar disorder and depression.

And tonight, investigators are really focusing in on these newly discovered writings of him from over a year ago that they say could potentially lead to a potential motive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): He was opposed to the U.S. war on terror and held general anti-American sentiments. This uncovered as investigators scour the writings of the man behind the deadly shootings in Tennessee.

One official briefed on the writing tells CNN they are consistent with someone having suicidal thoughts. CNN has learned that Mohammad Abdulazeez suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. He abused drugs and could not hold down a job. Three months ago, Abdulazeez was charged with DUI. Police say there was white powder under his nose at the time of the arrest.

Tonight, we are also learning about Abdulazeez's trip to Jordan last year. His parents told police they sent him there to get away from friends they said were bad influences.

RONALD HOSKO, PRESIDENT, LAW ENFORCEMENT LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: When those writings occurred is as relevant as the writings themselves. Did they occur in proximity to a trip to Jordan? And if so, that's going to drive some of the investigation overseas to find out who was he in contact with during that time.

SERFATY: The Abdulazeez family expressed shock in a statement over the weekend, saying -- quote -- "The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved."

In interviews with investigators, his family said he was a gun enthusiast and would often go to a shooting range. Four guns were recovered, two long guns and one handgun found with Abdulazeez on the scene, along with a long rifle at his home.

HOSKO: What was his network? Were there co-conspirators? Were there people aiding and abetting him in some way to include purchase of weapons, purchase of ammunition?

(END VIDEOTAPE) SERFATY: And investigators are also looking into a text message

that Abdulazeez sent to a friend before the shooting. It included a link, Wolf, to an Islamic verse. Now investigators don't think that that message was any sort of foreshadowing to the shooting, but they do say it was one piece to this very complicated puzzle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty on the scene for us in Chattanooga, Sunlen, thanks very much.

[18:05:03]

This story is developing. We are getting more and more information literally by the hour.

I want to bring in our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin. He's also in Chattanooga.

Drew, you're learning some fascinating new information about Mohammed Abdulazeez.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, but it is only making things more confusing here.

I had an in-depth conversation with one of his very good friends, a person who regarded Mohammed Abdulazeez as his spiritual adviser on his recent conversion to Islam. James Petty told me that his friend was more American than anybody he knew. And as for ISIS, he did talk about ISIS. He was opposed to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES PETTY, FRIEND OF CHATTANOOGA GUNMAN: That it was a stupid group and it was completely against Islam, and not to even think about going towards them. And I felt like it wasn't kind of in a sense of, I'm with their group, so I don't want you to do like me. It was more like just stay

GRIFFIN: You felt that he truly believed in his heart, at that moment, that what ISIS was doing was wrong?

PETTY: Yes, sir.

GRIFFIN: And that any kind of radical Islamic terrorism is wrong?

PETTY: Yes, sir.

GRIFFIN: And he discussed that?

PETTY: He did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Wolf, despite what are said in some of those writings from a year ago, he saw a completely different picture. As for depression, he saw no signs of depression. He said his friend's biggest problem was pot.

Abdulazeez had a huge problem with marijuana. It didn't make him angry. It made him mellow, he said, never angry and not angry at the United States. It's a very confusing situation for those who are close to him. They just can't seem to find any answers either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they will be looking and looking and investigators are looking as well. All right, Drew, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council today voted unanimously to endorse the Iran nuclear deal and begin removing sanctions against Iran. The international backing comes as the Obama administration is trying to sell skeptics at home and abroad on the deal to contain Iran's nuclear program.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Elise, what is the very latest?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Obama is hailing the vote as a sign the world is ready to move forward with a deal, but U.S. allies in the Middle East and the president's critics at home are saying not so fast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): Today, looking to reassure America's key Mideast ally about the Iran nuclear deal, the secretary of defense toured Israel's northern border. Israel says Iran funds the terror group Hezbollah as a proxy to attack Israeli cities, something Israel says will only get worse after sanctions are lifted.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: They also get a cash bonanza to fund their terrorists and aggression against us, against the region, against America and the world.

LABOTT: Something Secretary Ashton Carter said America will not let happen.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Make no mistake, this deal limits Iran, but it places no limits on the United States, the Department of Defense or the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship.

LABOTT: Even as the president sent surrogates to push the deal overseas, today, the job of selling it at home, especially on Capitol Hill, got harder after a U.N. vote to lift sanctions against Iran, including a controversial ban on arms and ballistic missiles, passed.

Even Democratic lawmakers are angry the vote happened before Congress has had a chance to discuss the deal.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I think they should have gone to the United Nations after the 60-day review. They don't gain anything by doing it earlier. LABOTT: A concern the president seemed to brush aside today.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is broad international consensus around this issue. And my working assumption is, is that Congress will pay attention to that broad-based consensus.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: Tonight, Republicans are crying an end-run, saying the president should have pushed for the U.N. to delay the vote. The administration says the rest of the countries who made the deal have no obligations to the U.S. Congress and didn't want to wait. So, as a compromise, the deal will be implemented in 90 days. That is after the 60-day congressional review period, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens. Thanks very much, during the 60-day congressional review period, Elise Labott reporting.

Let's get some more on what's going on.

Joining us now, the State Department spokesman John Kirby.

John, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to discuss this Iran nuclear deal, but very quickly on the Chattanooga shooter, Mohammad Abdulazeez, as you know, he went to Jordan last year for several months. He had also visited Kuwait. Do you know if he visited any other countries in the Middle East?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: No, I don't, Wolf. Actually, you know, this is under investigation right now. So we wouldn't want to get involved in that as they continue to work through this very troubling case. But, no, we don't have any of his travel history.

[18:10:03]

BLITZER: Because there were rumors he may have gone to Yemen. You don't have that, right?

KIRBY: I don't.

BLITZER: What about the Jordanians and the Kuwaitis; are they cooperating fully with the United States in this investigation?

KIRBY: Well, again, I will let the FBI speak to this specifically, but those are very -- two close friends in the region. And we certainly look forward to many different ways in which we can cooperate with them. I wouldn't get into a law enforcement issue.

BLITZER: Yes, I would assume -- they're very good friends of the United States, Kuwait and Jordan, and I assume they're cooperating fully with U.S. law enforcement in this investigation.

Let's talk about the Iran nuclear deal. There's a lot of issues I want to go through. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, says the deal gives Iran cover to fund what he calls their terror machine.

Does he have a point?

KIRBY: No, look, nobody is turning a blind eye to the destabilizing activities, to the state sponsorship of terrorism that Iran continues to pursue.

We have ways of dealing with that. We have our own sanctions. We have a strong military presence in the region. We're going to work with our Gulf allies through -- after Camp David, that process to try to boost their capabilities and their capacity to go after terrorism threats in the region.

So we're aware of what Iran is doing elsewhere. This deal was designed to actually remove one element of the destabilizing nature from this, a huge element, and that is that their ability to acquire and then to one day potentially use nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: But the $100 billion that they're going to get in unfrozen assets, they can do with that basically whatever they want. If they want to give money to terrorist organizations, they can do so.

KIRBY: Well, certainly, we can't rule out that they could use some of that money to further fund terrorist activities.

But I would tell you this, Wolf. One, we're going to know about it, and, two, we're going to be able to deal with it, whether it's through diplomacy, certainly through economic sanctions of our own, the United States, and none of those sanctions are coming off the books, by the way.

Plus, as Secretary Carter made very clear in his trip out there, we have got military options available to us, if and when it ever came to that.

BLITZER: If there are activities that the Iranians pursue in the coming months and years, for that matter, for example, supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen or supporting Shiite forces in Iraq or supporting Bashar al-Assad's regime that the U.S. doesn't like, does this current agreement prevent the U.S. from seeking new sanctions against Iran?

KIRBY: No. It does not.

And there's no limit about the kind of U.S. unilateral sanctions that we have in place now, which are going to stay in place, or that we could pursue in the future should we feel we need to.

BLITZER: So if you feel that they're doing something bad, the U.S. can unilaterally go ahead and impose yet more sanctions against Iran?

KIRBY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, I just want to clarify that, because there has been a little bit of confusion on that front. As you know, a bunch of Democrats out there, including Democratic

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, they're saying the jury is still out that the Democrats will be able to support the deal in the numbers that the president wants to override -- to not override a presidential veto.

Where does it stand from your perspective?

KIRBY: Well, we certainly look forward to the debate and the discussion on the Hill.

As you know, Secretary Kerry will be going up to Capitol Hill this week on a couple of different occasions, Wednesday and Thursday, to talk and to brief and to discuss this with concerned members of Congress. And he looks forward to that discussion, because he believes this deal is the right deal.

This deal prevents the overarching worry of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons capability. And it's a solid deal which allows for unprecedented verification, not just 10, 15, 25 years, but permanent through the additional protocol that Iran agreed to sign up to. So, we believe this is the right deal.

It's good for our national security interests, for the national security interests of our allies and partners, to include Israel in the region, and the secretary very much looks forward to having that discussion with members of Congress.

BLITZER: What happens if Congress rejects the deal and that happens?

KIRBY: Well, the president, I think, has been very clear that he will veto it.

BLITZER: Well, what happens if the veto is not allowed to go forward, in other words, more than two-thirds of the House, more than two-thirds of the Senate vote against the president's deal?

KIRBY: Well, then what happens, Wolf, put simply, is the fears and worries about Iran become a tomorrow problem, instead of a problem later on down the road, because if the -- if we don't cooperate, if we pull out of this deal, then our partners will have no reason to stay with it and certainly the Iranians won't have any reason to stay with it.

And all the activities, all the nefarious nuclear activities that people are worried about them pursuing, they will be free to pursue tomorrow.

BLITZER: We have a lot more to discuss. I want you to stand by.

John Kirby is the State Department spokesperson. We will continue our conversation right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:09]

BLITZER: We're back with the State Department spokesman, John Kirby. We are following what Turkish officials are calling an ISIS terror attack.

John, at least 31 people are confirmed dead in that apparent suicide bombing in Turkey. We have some video, video showing the moment of the blast. I want to warn our viewers, I want to warn you, the following images are very disturbing. Watch. This happened at a rally in a Turkish town very close to the Syrian border.

A group had gathered calling to more help to rebuild the Syrian city of Kobani, which had been devastated in the battle to free it from ISIS control.

[18:20:01]

John, could this attack be a sign that ISIS is now ready to expand its attacks inside Turkey, a NATO ally?

KIRBY: We don't know exactly who is responsible for this.

I know I have seen reports that ISIL is. And certainly we're watching that carefully. But, as you pointed out, certainly, their ability to conduct these kinds of attacks, whether they're responsible for this one or not, certainly is very concerning to us.

Now, this is a group that tries and has in some ways metastasized themselves outside Iraq and Syria. So, yes, this is something that we're very concerned about and we're working with all the coalition partners to try to stem it and to try to get ahead of it.

I want to mention too right off the top that our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims and families. We certainly wish all those who were injured a speedy recovery. And the other thing I would say is, whether it was ISIL-related or not only reaffirms our strong alliance and partner with Turkey and our efforts and desire to help them continue to battle against terrorism forces.

BLITZER: As you know, there's been some criticism of the Turkish government that they're not doing enough to fight ISIS, not allowing, for example, U.S. warplanes to take off from Turkish air bases to attack ISIS. Are you satisfied with what the Turks are doing?

KIRBY: Every member of the coalition contributes what they can and what they're willing to. And we're grateful for the contributions that Turkey is making, including hosting a site for a train-and-equip mission.

They're dealing with millions of refugees from Syria and doing it ably and nobly, I might add. And they have a significant issue with their border that they're really trying to get after. So the cooperation with them is good. We're always looking for ways to make it better with all of the members of the coalition.

BLITZER: Do you have any reason -- getting back to the Iran nuclear deal, do you have any reason to believe the Iranians might release those four Americans who are being held hostage, in effect, in Iran right now to help sway the vote in the House and the Senate?

KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope that they will get released.

I mean, this is something that Secretary Kerry raises every single opportunity that he meets and met over the course of these negotiations with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif. It's something we raise routinely on the sidelines of those discussions and we will continue to raise them.

We're hopeful, as he said last week, that that could come about. But, obviously, we're looking to Iran to make that decision and to do it.

BLITZER: There are these four, including Robert Levinson. The Iranians claim they don't know where he is, although he did disappear in Iran. You want all four of them freed and freed immediately.

KIRBY: We would like certainly the three released that are being detained and we would like more information, information about Mr. Levinson's whereabouts.

We do believe that Tehran has some information about him and we very much would like it.

BLITZER: How concerned are you that the nuclear deal could, in the words of the Saudi Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador here in the United States, wreak havoc in the Middle East?

KIRBY: Look, I think this removes a capability of Iran to have obtained nuclear weapons.

And pushing back on an Iran without nuclear weapons, I think we can all agree, is -- we have a better chance of success, certainly a better option than pushing back against an Iran that is either on the threshold of nuclear capability or actually in possession of it.

And, so, again, as I said earlier, this deal, which takes away that capability from Iran, is safer for the region. It makes the region more secure. And it's better for the national security interests of our allies and partners.

BLITZER: Historic day here in Washington today and in Havana, for that matter, Secretary Kerry welcoming the Cuban foreign minister to the State Department, Cuba raising its flag for the first time in decades, more than 50 years at the U.S. -- at the Cuban Embassy, I should say, here in Washington, D.C.

But Senator Bob Menendez, he's a Cuban-American. He says the U.S. accepted dictatorial conditions, saying that Cuban flag should not have been raised in Washington when Cubans are still not free. Your reaction?

KIRBY: Well, look, human rights remains a priority. Nothing is going to change our focus on that, in particular in Cuba. And this is an issue that was raised today in the meeting with the foreign minister and Secretary Kerry and we will continue to raise it.

The secretary believes that the best way to deal with those kinds of concerns is to engage, rather than to be estranged from the government down there in Cuba and, just as importantly, the Cuban people. So what this restoration of diplomatic relations gives us is an opportunity to actually make that case stronger and more effectively by having diplomats on the ground who are able to move around and speak to authorities there and to talk and to engage with the Cuban people.

BLITZER: One final question, John, before I let you go.

As you know, Donald Trump has questioned if Senator John McCain was in fact a war hero, saying -- he's saying, "I like people that weren't captured."

Your boss, the secretary of state, John Kerry, he made a very strong statement immediately over the weekend in support of John McCain. You yourself, you just spent almost 30 years serving in the U.S. Navy, retired as an admiral. When you heard what Donald Trump was saying about John McCain, what went through your mind?

[18:25:11]

KIRBY: Well, we're trying to stay out of the politics of the campaign here at the State Department.

But I had the same visceral reaction that Secretary Kerry did. You don't grow up in the Navy, certainly the way I did, through the Cold War, and just retired this year, without knowing about the proud legacy of the McCain family.

Senator McCain, his father, his grandfather, all served proudly and ably in times of war. And so there's great respect for Senator McCain inside the military. And it troubled me as well.

BLITZER: Well said.

John Kirby, retired U.S. admiral, now the spokesman at the State Department, thanks very much for joining us.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Just ahead, new DNA evidence, missing ransom money, dramatic new details, they're emerging right now as the suspect in the D.C. mansion murders appears in court.

And will a new independent autopsy shed new light on a very mysterious jail cell death? Police say it was a suicide. The family says no way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Dramatic courtroom developments for a man accused of killing a wealthy Washington, D.C., family and setting their mansion ablaze in an alleged extortion plot. CNN's Tom Foreman was at the hearing.

Tom, tell our viewers what happened.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the most dramatic headline today is this. A couple of months after this happened, authorities are still suggesting that other people were involved, even though they haven't arrested anyone else.

And for the first time today, we heard the defense talk, and they suggested the case against this man is not as strong as we were led to believe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): A daughter of the murdered couple braved the courthouse crowd to stare down the man accused of killing her parents, her 10-year-old brother and a family housekeeper. Daron Wint did not look her way, but sat silently in shackles, as his legal team tried to unlock the case against him.

Target one, an assistant to the father. Police say Jordan Wallace picked up $40,000 and delivered it to the family home, even while the victims were being held and tortured inside. The defense noted that Wallace sent a picture of some of the money inside a red bag to a friend, a text that appears to have been posted an hour before the money was even in Wallace's hands.

And when the defense said the red line bag was never recovered, the detectives said that is correct.

What's more: police admitted they have no explanation for a backpack found with Wallace, containing his checkbook, a passport and the registration for one of Savopoulos' sports cars, valued at more than $300,000.

Prosecutors, however, say they now have Daron Wint's DNA not only on some pizza inside the house, but also on a vest found inside one of the family's cars burning after the crime.

LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC EXPERT: So we have a clear association between Wint and this home invasion. This is very strong evidence that he was present and he was involved. He may have touched the vest. However his DNA got there, it's there.

FOREMAN: Despite that, one person told police he saw someone driving that car erratically around the time of the crime, but that man had short hair. The defense lawyer pointed to Daron Wint's long dreadlocks and said there's no way he would have had that haircut. The detective responded, "To the best of my knowledge, no."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: This was not the best day for the prosecution. And the defense is clearly building the case that, if this man was involved at all, he was a bit player in this. And as long as that keeps going on and the weeks keep adding up, the question becomes, if there are so many other people involved, why have they not yet rounded them up -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question. All right, Tom. Thank you.

Meanwhile, the family of the civil rights advocate who was found dead in a Texas jail -- Texas jail cell is now calling for an independent autopsy, rejecting police claims she killed herself. According to a lawyer for her family, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was arrested after a routine traffic stop, became confrontational. The state trooper told Bland to put out her cigarette, and she questioned why, since she was in her own car. The subsequent arrest was all captured on cell-phone video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA BLAND, ARRESTED AFTER TRAFFIC STOP: I haven't even -- do not care about that. I can't even hear -- he slammed my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to the ground. I can't even hear. He slammed my head to the ground. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Thank you for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's dig deeper with criminal defense attorney, the HLN legal analyst, Joey Jackson; the former FBI assistant director, our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes; and our CNN anchor Don Lemon.

Don, as you see, as you know, Sandra Bland, she was found dead in her jail cell only three days after that video was taken. She was arrested for assaulting a police officer. Let's take another look at the video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA BLAND, ARRESTED AFTER TRAFFIC STOP: I haven't even -- do not care about that. I can't even hear -- he slammed my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) head to the ground. I can't even hear. He slammed my head to the ground. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[18:35:15] BLITZER: Don, the county district attorney says a plastic bag was found over her head in the jail. She asphyxiated herself, basically. That's the claim. Her family and friends say there's no way she would have killed herself. What's going on over here? What's your analysis?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's tough at this point to really have an absolute on just what happened. We saw the video. And you don't see a lot of -- you can hear most of it, because one of the officers comes over and says, you know, you should leave -- you need to leave; and the person filming saying -- said, "I'm on private property."

I think it's -- an investigation needs to happen, which is happening. There is video inside the jail, not inside the jail cell, but inside the jail. And according to the D.A., the video does not show anyone else going into the cell. The D.A. says if this is indeed -- if she didn't commit suicide, then it means that someone else had to do it, and so far the video doesn't show that. So I think we have to wait for the investigation to play out, but the video does not look good, nor the circumstances.

BLITZER: Tom, as you know, the -- you can hear her yelling that the officer slammed her head to the ground. Would that be excessive force in that particular case? She was stopped for some routine traffic incident, she was smoking a cigarette. The cop said, "Get rid of the cigarette."

She said, "Why? I'm in my car." And then we saw what happened unfold.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, that's a tricky one, Wolf. If the police officer slammed her head in the ground, then yes, that would be excessive. If on the other hand -- if she was resisting -- we don't really see it in that video, but if she was and, in the wrestling, her head happened to hit the ground, that's just a very difficult determination. But yes, it would be excessive force.

BLITZER: Joey, the family is having an independent autopsy performed. A lawyer for the family says additional dash cam video not released so far shows what led up to the arrest, and according to that lawyer, the state trooper who pulled her over asked her to put out that cigarette, as we said. What's your sense what's going on over here?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, there's so much to unpack, Wolf. Initially, you want to look at the predicate for the stop. Why was the stop? OK, it's a traffic infraction. What they used to teach us as a prosecutor -- as a former prosecutor is what's the nature of that? We understand here it was failing to signal. There are so many other things to which police are concerned, like reckless driving, like speeding, like so many other things which caused motorists to be dangerous to others. So you're going to look and say was that a pretext, just giving the officer an excuse to stop? We don't know that. It will be investigated.

And then, of course, when you go and approach the person who's in the car, you want to talk about were they cooperative. Apparently, license and registration were given. He comes back to the car, then the question put out the cigarette. From there, it all went bad. So you want to know, at that point, what would have given the officer a basis to pull her out of the car, other than saying, "Well, it's my car. You know, I shouldn't have to put out my cigarette"?

We see the video there, Wolf. What we don't see is how he pulled her out of the car. What mechanisms or other things that he used to get her there.

And then, of course, what's the basis for the arrest? What's the probable cause for the arrest?

And then you get back, of course, to the jail and how is it that she ends up dead? Did they make checks on her like they should have, half an hour checks, hour-long checks, et cetera, et cetera. So many things to unpack. Apparently, they didn't do that.

LEMON: They did not.

BLITZER: And Don is going to have a lot more on this story coming up later tonight, 10 p.m. Eastern on "CNN TONIGHT." Guys, thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, a brand-new poll puts Donald Trump out front in the GOP race for the White House. Can he stay there amid the latest controversy?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:43:25] BLITZER: Donald Trump now the clear frontrunner in the Republican race for the White House, according to a brand-new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll. It shows the outspoken candidate at 24 percent, far ahead of Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.

But his latest controversial remarks -- talking about Donald Trump's remarks -- could potentially take a toll. He's facing sharp criticism for an insult to Senator John McCain, whose son calls Trump's dig -- Trump's remarks reprehensible.

Our senior political correspondent, Briana Keilar, is working the story for us. Brianna, these latest numbers, though, for Donald Trump are pretty impressive.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They are. And this is what we know.

He leads in this "Washington Post"/ABC News poll. It's a national poll, looking at Republicans. But here's the thing that's raising eyebrows. Keep this in mind. This is a poll that was conducted before and after Trump made these comments, and there was a sharp dip on the one night that voters were questioned following his remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Donald Trump touching off a political firestorm by insulting former presidential nominee, John McCain.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I supported him. He lost; he let us down. But, you know, he lost. I never liked him as much after that, because I don't like losers. But Frank, let me get to it...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He's not a war hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He's a war hero...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five and a half years... TRUMP: He's a war hero. because he was captured. I like people

that weren't captured. OK? I hate to tell you. He was a war hero because he was captured. OK? You could have -- and I believe -- perhaps he's a war hero, but right now, he said some very bad things about a lot of bad people.

KEILAR: Almost immediately, Trump's remarks drew scrutiny.

TRUMP: I like the people who don't get captured. And I respect the people that do get captured.

KEILAR: McCain, a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, was shot down, held prisoner, and beaten for more than five years in Hanoi, even refusing early release.

Still, Trump has not backed down, claiming in a "USA Today" op-ed that his comments were misconstrued by the media, trying on the "Today" show to turn his criticism of McCain to issues like the V.A. scandal.

TRUMP: I'm not a fan of John McCain. He's done a terrible job for the vets.

KEILAR: John McCain took the high road this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does Donald Trump owe you an apology?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No, I don't think so. But I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country.

KEILAR: But Trump's Republican opponents jumped at the chance to denounce his comments.

Jeb Bush --

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a legitimate hero that has served his country in lots of ways and Mr. Trump knows that. He should just apologize. I think that will probably move it on to the next thing. Next week, there will be another one of these things.

KEILAR: Marco Rubio --

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not just absurd, it's offensive. It's ridiculous. And I do think it is a disqualifier as commander in chief.

KEILAR: And Lindsey Graham, who was joined by McCain at an event in New York this afternoon.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To anybody who suggests that John and his fellow POWs are somehow lacking in the title of being called American hero, you shouldn't be your commander- in-chief because you don't know our military.

KEILAR: Ted Cruz who stands to benefit if Trump gets out of the race, would not take a position.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I recognize that folks in the press love to see Republican on Republican violence, and so you want me to say something bad about Donald Trump or bad about John McCain or bad about anyone else. I'm not going to do it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Cruz, like Trump, courts the more conservative side of the GOP. He recently met with Trump, but establishment Republicans are no fans of Trump. And, Wolf, they're really hoping that this is the beginning of the end for him.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They're hoping. Let's see what happens. So far, he's doing really well in these public opinion polls. Brianna, stand by.

I want to bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, editorial director of "The National Journal".

Gloria, you wrote an op-ed on CNN.com. I'll put it up on the screen, a line. "Candidates are figuring out what works for them, including Trump. But that's a short term issue. The party primaries are about the candidates, yes, but the Republican Party itself is also a brand. If the brand gets tarnished, it's bad for business. Just ask Donald Trump."

Some are suggesting this is the beginning of the end of Trump's race for the Republican presidential nomination. You say --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Or it could be the end of the beginning. I mean, you know, who knows, Wolf? I mean, as Brianna was talking about, we don't have conclusive polling with large enough samples at this point.

There's no denying that Donald Trump taps into the most conservative, older voters in the Republican party who like his brand of truth telling, his brashness. They like what he said about immigration. I don't know what they think about what he said about John McCain.

But it's clear that Trump has a bunch of staying power here. So, I wouldn't -- you know, I wouldn't count him out yet. I think the Republican establishment would like to see Trump gone. But I don't think you can say that's going to happen any time in the near future.

BLITZER: What's your analysis, Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the real key here is when you look at this polling, Donald Trump has in this national poll, he has broader ideological support than he's had in state polls, but the one thing that's consistent is that he's overwhelmingly stronger non-college than college. He is a blue collar alienation candidate. He's getting about a third of non-college Republicans in this poll, only 8 percent of those with a college degree.

Which means that ultimately, he is speaking to the portions of the party that are most alienated not only from the GOP establishment, but from many of the cultural and demographic changes going on in America, and that is a real challenge for the party. It is a biggest challenge I think for the candidates other than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee who are looking for the same voters. But ultimately, that part of the party has been very energized and managing that as the GOP goes forward as Gloria is saying in terms of the brand is going to be a real challenge.

BLITZER: Brianna, you mentioned it in your report, this "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, it's pretty amazing when you think about it. There are the numbers, Trump at 24 percent. Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, 13 percent. Jeb Bush, 12 percent. Everybody else in single digits.

Yes, most of this poll was done before the John McCain comments. But still, it's a very, very significant poll.

KEILAR: That significant when you look at other polls that look at just Iowa, a key early contest.

[18:50:03] He's doing very well there as well. He is second.

But the issue I think with this poll and what we want to see more of is other polls, because there was a small sample size. But it's still statistically significant when you look at the final day of polling that Donald Trump took a sharp dip.

So, you want to see other polls to see if that backs up, because voters take time to hear what has happened to understand it, to make a call. This is something that happened over the weekend. It's only Monday. Their opinions may change in the coming days.

BLITZER: Gloria, he has been a presidential candidate now for more than a month. He had other controversial comments, including his comments about Mexican immigrants. He has really gone up in the polls. You can't ignore 24 percent.

BORGER: Right. You can't.

First of all, Trump is famous. So, he started out with a higher name but he has tapped into something in the Republican Party that I think you can't dismiss. If you -- if we were able to dismiss it, he would plummet like a rock. And I think that that -- from what we are seeing is really not the case.

So, I don't think you can dismiss this as just sort of, OK, it's Donald Trump, he's here for five minutes and then he's gone. He's been here for more than five minutes.

But this is a problem the Republican Party has.

KEILAR: This poll though --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

KEILAR: -- this poll could be showing us something though. I think it just needs to be tested to see -- that's what you want to see if there are more polls that support what we're seeing in this final day of this "Washington Post" poll.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I think, Wolf, I think, the key to understand this poll really I think is the class divide. If you think about the last several Republican races, 2008, John McCain was the white collar candidate, Mike Huckabee was kind of the blue color tea party evangelical candidate. They were the finalists. McCain wins.

2012, Mitt Romney is the upscale managerial candidate. He beats Rick Santorum, who becomes the blue collar, more culturally conservative candidate.

This is again the divide that's showing up in this poll, not so much with the evangelical, but Donald Trump in the ABC/Post poll is winning one-third of Republicans without a college degree. Only 8 percent with a degree, which is Jeb Bush's natural audience.

And so -- I mean, the question is, we saw in 2012 a rotating succession of favorites for this populist side of the party. It went from everyone from Sarah Palin, to Michelle Bachmann, to Herman Cain, to Newt Gingrich, before settling on Rick Santorum.

The question I think is whether Trump can ultimately consolidate this, or whether he too with this kind of opening has provided to his rivals by attacking McCain, ultimately proves that someone like Herman Cain and this vote moves on to a more electable candidate like Scott Walker.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. We have a lot more to assess.

Much more with our panel when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:15] BLITZER: We're back with our political panel.

Ron, I want to play a little clip for you -- an exchange that our Dana Bash had with Scott Walker on gays in America in effect.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that being gay is a choice?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I mean, I think that's not even an issue for me to be involved in. The bottom line is I'm going to stand up and work hard for every American regardless of who they are no matter what they come from, no matter what their background. I'm going to fight for people, and no matter whether they vote for me or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about this issue, this whole issue that is now coming up, especially for some of those conservative Republicans?

BROWNSTEIN: I think Scott -- what you just saw is an indication I think of why Scott Walker is the candidate with the most at risk from Donald Trump's rise. I mean, when Scott Walker started this campaign, his potential strength was that he could bridge the party divide. He was someone who was acceptable to social conservatives, the more blue collar, populist elements.

But he was also because he was fundamentally defined as an economic conservative, someone who could reach into a more managerial, white collar part of the party. He's made a series of choices as a candidate, talking about reducing legal immigration, signing a 20-week ban on abortion and also backing a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage that are designed to strengthen his appeal to the blue collar side, the evangelical social conservative side of the party but limited upscale.

The problem is, he now has Donald Trump landing with a thud, like a meteor in those -- in the same pool of voters that he is seeking. So, he's made choices that limit his appeal upscale, and now, he has this very formidable competitor downscale. And he I think is the one who gets the most squeezed if Donald Trump can maintain a reasonably share of the vote moving forward, which we will see, because it matters that Trump is now vulnerable to attack from the right based on his comments about veterans.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Gloria, as you know, public attitudes in the country right now are shifting dramatically --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: -- towards gay rights --

BORGER: Yes. And he is playing for the primaries right now and he's playing for Iowa right now. I also think his answer to Dana shows his inexperience as a candidate. He said to Dana, you know, I don't have to answer or have an opinion on every single question out there.

When you're running for president --

KEILAR: You do.

BORGER: -- I kind of think you do.

BLITZER: Yes. All these questions come up.

All right, guys. Thanks very much. Finally, I want to welcome the newest member of our SITUATION

ROOM family, Lia Gelles who was born very early Saturday morning right here in Washington, D.C., weighing in at just under six points. Her father David is our senior broadcast producer. We send him, his wife Dana, Lia's new big brother Max our warmest, warmest congratulations. Look how sweet and beautiful Lia Gelles is right there. Congratulations to the entire family.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Please join us every day if you can't watch us live, you can always DVR the show.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.