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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Forecast for Deadly Storm Heading Toward Florida; Police: Gunman in TV Murders Fired 17 Rounds; Senior ISIS Recruiter Killed in U.S. Drone Strike; Hillary Clinton Talking Trump; Trump Seeking Money from Secret Donors?; Katrina Anniversary Awkward for Bush Brothers; A Life and Death Drama in Katrina's Wake; Kim Jong-Un Purges Top Generals. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 28, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BERMAN: The cameraman got knocked on his head by the equipment on the way down. Bolt was not injured. He joked that Gatlin, the other runner, paid the guy to run over him. Gatlin joked he wanted a refund.
[17:00:09] That is all for us in "THE LEAD." Jake is back Monday. I turn you now over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, state of emergency. Twenty million Americans are now on alert for a deadly tropical storm that's barreling toward the United States. A new hurricane center forecast coming out right now. Stand by for the breaking news.
Terror takedown. We're learning chilling new details about the U.S. airstrikes that targeted and killed a notorious ISIS recruiter. Could the terror group's top leader be next?
BLITZER: Clinton versus Trump. Hillary Clinton goes after Donald Trump in a fiery speech, suggesting the GOP has been tarnished by its presidential front runner. How far is she willing to go at her swipes at Trump and her jokes about his hair?
And un-restrained. As the U.S. takes part in spectacular war games near the North Korean border, Kim Jong-un is unleashing his wrath, dismissing top generals, which is likely code word for brutal executions.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, we're just getting in a new forecast for a deadly tropical storm that's prompted a state of emergency in Florida right now. Erika is moving into the Dominican Republic with heavy rains and gusty winds. It's -- as it churns through the Caribbean toward the United States, the storm already has killed at least 12 people in flooding and mudslides.
Twenty million Florida residents are bracing for the storm to hit by Monday. National Guard troops are being mobilized right now. The National Hurricane Center is warning that conditions are very volatile and Erika's strength and path could change at any time.
All this coming nearly ten years to the day after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. A natural disaster that devastated the region and truly shocked the world.
We have our correspondents, analysts, and news makers, they're all standing by to cover all the news that's breaking right now.
First, let's go to CNN's Alina Machado. She's on the scene for us in Miami, where they're bracing for this storm.
Alina, what's the latest?
ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, Tropical Storm Erika already turning deadly in the Caribbean. Here in Florida, we are on a high state of alert. We are waiting to see what she does and also bracing for that potential flooding we could see if she stays on her projected path.
MACHADO (voice-over): With heavy winds, severe rain, and dangerous flooding, Tropical Storm Erika is wreaking havoc across the Caribbean. The violent storm washed out roads and destroyed homes on the island of Dominica.
Now the storm is threatening Florida, with a majority of the state's nearly 20 million residents in its projected path.
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: We've got concerns all across the state now, because it's going to be coming clear across the state.
MACHADO: The storm is expected to make landfall as early as Monday morning. Florida's governor is taking every precaution, declaring a state of emergency, and calling up the National Guard.
SCOTT: The biggest concern now is, one, we don't know how much land it's going to go over. We don't know how much water we're going to get.
MACHADO: Tonight, Florida residents are preparing for the storm: stocking up on supplies, taking no chances.
SCOTT: You stop and think about your family for a second. Think about your entire family. Make sure every member of your family's ready.
MACHADO: Now state and local officials have already started their preparations. We've also seen residents in the area preparing. We've seen them stocking up on essentials like water and non-perishable food items. We've also seen them filling up their gas tanks.
And it's worth noting that even though tropical disturbances are a part of life here in South Florida especially. It's been a while since we've seen a storm. The last storm to hit this area was nearly ten years ago, back in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma made landfall. That storm claimed the lives of at least six people in the state, Wolf.
BLITZER: Caused a lot of problems, a lot of destruction at the same time. I remember it well. Thanks very much, Alina Machado in Miami.
Let's get some more details on the new storm forecast for the National Hurricane Center. Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is over at our CNN severe weather center.
So Jennifer, what's the latest?
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, the track had changed just a little bit, and it does call for the storm to weaken as it goes over Hispaniola and interacts with Cuba.
Let's show you the reason why. I'm going to show you the floor, and we are looking at the storm just to the south of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Hispaniola is very mountainous, some of the mountain peaks as tall as 8 to 10,000 feet. When the storm goes over that, it is going to shred the storm. The storm is going to weaken, and then when it gets on the north side of Hispaniola, it's really going to have to get its act together again in order to maintain its strength.
[17:05:15] And in fact, we show you the latest information from the National Hurricane Center. This has just come down in the last five minutes to CNN. Winds at 50 miles per hour, still. That hasn't changed. Sixty-five mile per hour gusts moving to the west at 21 miles per hour.
Here is the new track, and you can see, once it goes over Hispaniola, it goes down to a tropical depression. This is Saturday afternoon, as it goes over Cuba and then possibly re-strengthening to a tropical storm just on the south side of the Florida Straits. And then going up the west coast of Florida. Then becoming a tropical depression once again on Tuesday.
A lot has to happen for this to all ring true, because look at all of this land interaction that this storm is going to possibly have to go over. The more land that the storm goes over, the weaker it will be. It will tear the storm up. The more water it goes over, the better it can maintain its organization and so, it has to go over portions of Haiti, as well as Cuba, and then come over on the north side of that, and there's not a lot of time between Cuba and the Florida Keys for it to maintain that tropical storm strength.
So, still a lot of uncertainty in this, Wolf. We are going to watch it over the next 12 to 24 hours, but the next 12 to 18 hours, very critical in determining the life of this storm -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Florida Governor Rick Scott has already declared a state of emergency. We're going to speak with him live later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jennifer, stand by. I want to get to some other breaking news we're following right now,
including that grizzly murder in Virginia and a news crew seen on live television. State police just released new information about the rounds that were fired by the gunman. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has been following this new information for us.
Pamela, what are you learning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Really disturbing details here, Wolf. Tonight, we're learning that the shooter, Vester Flanagan fired 17 rounds, fatally striking Adam Ward and Alison Parker in the head. The third victim, Vicki Gardner, is still recovering in the hospital at this hour.
Virginia State Police says [SIC] that the attack was well-planned and premeditated and that materials found inside his bare Virginia apartment indicated he closely identified with individuals who have committed domestic acts of violence and mass murder, as well as the September 11, 2001, attacks.
On the inside of his apartment, there were dirty dishes. We see right here, this video inside from NBC, a stripped mattress, as well, and several head shots of himself taped to the fridge.
For the first time tonight, we're also hearing from the husband of the sole survivor. He is giving his firsthand account of how close she came, his wife came, to losing her life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM GARDNER, HUSBAND OF VICKI GARDNER: He shot three times at my wife. And she was trying to dodge everything. He missed twice. And then she dove to the ground and curled up in a ball, and that's when he shot her in the back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he actually came over to do it, coup de grace.
GARDNER: Pulled the trigger several times. And only fired once.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Investigators say that they believe did have a specific location in mind of where he was going after the shooting, but there's nothing in any of his documents that they've taken from his home and elsewhere to indicate specifically where that destination was -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Alison Parker's father once again speaking out, urging greater gun control.
BROWN: Absolutely. He spoke out today in a press conference, Wolf, and he says that he wants Virginia legislatures to look him in the eye and tell him why they're not doing more when it comes to gun control. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDY PARKER, FATHER OF ALISON PARKER: We've got to do whatever we can to hold these people's feet to the fire and not be afraid of the NRA fighting this, fighting any kind of reasonable legislation tooth and nail. We're not trying to take people's guns away. All we want to do is keep crazy people from getting guns. And there's got to be a way to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Raw emotion there, Wolf. He also says that he hasn't heard from the Virginia senators yet on this.
BLITZER: The two U.S. senators. All right. I'm sure they'll be hearing from them, if not already. Thanks very much for that. Pamela Brown reporting.
Let's get to a major development now in the U.S. war against ISIS. The Pentagon now confirming that a top recruiter for the terror group has been killed in a U.S. airstrike. He was linked to a terrorist attack in Texas and another on a U.S. military series of computers.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, broke this story. She has much more right now.
What's the latest information, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he had vowed to attack the U.S. That put him right in the crosshairs of the U.S. military. U.S. spy drones followed and track notorious British foreign ISIS hacker Junaid Hussein for days in the middle of heavily populated Raqqah, Syria, before finally launching a Hellfire missile off a drone to kill him as he stood in the street Monday, CNN has learned.
[17:10:06] The mission to kill Hussein, the most sensitive for the U.S. in months. Several officials tell CNN the U.S. had to be sure it was him, and to fire at him when civilians were not nearby.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This is a huge get for the United States. Junaid Hussein was the most prolific English-language propagandist for ISIS.
STARR: Hussein is accused of being involved in the hacking of the U.S. Central Command website and posting a so-called kill-list, including personal information and addresses of U.S. military personnel, which caused the Pentagon to scramble to warn those who were named.
He was linked to the shooting attack in Garland, Texas, in May, where constant participants were asked to draw the Prophet Mohammed. Investigators believe Hussein was messaging one of the gunman to radicalize him and urge him to launch an attack, making it potentially the first ISIS-directed attack in the U.S.
Hussein was an ISIS social media star. CRUICKSHANK: He used that to sort of talent-spot potential
terrorists, lone wolves in the west, and then take the communications onto encrypted apps, almost impossible for U.S. agencies to read.
STARR: The U.S. is clearly finding ways to track top ISIS leadership. Just last week, a U.S. drone killed Hajji Mutazz, the No. 2 ISIS leader. The U.S. keeps close watch on several ISIS officials to see when they meet with others in the leadership. And if there is a top target, that person is then watched around the clock until a strike is executed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a career choice with a short shelf life. And you need to realize that if you're going to take it on.
STARR: A short shelf life. The next person they hope has a short shelf life is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. U.S. has suspected he, too, is hiding in Raqqah, the capital of ISIS in Syria. Now that they have been able to successfully strike there, the thinking is Baghdadi may feel a little more vulnerable -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us is Senator James Risch. The Idaho Republican is leading member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator Risch, thanks very much for joining us. How key was this strike against this ISIS hacker, Junaid Hussein? Will it really have an impact on ISIS's ability to spread propaganda?
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Wolf, this is a big deal. This guy was high up on the list of people who needed to be eliminated because of their war on the United States, and for that matter, because of how dangerous and how close they brought this, actually, to the American people here in the homeland.
Although he was in Raqqah, as you've reported, and they feel safe in Raqqah because, of course, that's the so-called capitol of the caliphate over there -- although they feel safe there, they can now see that they're not safe.
This is the kind of guy that -- that we're going to continue to go after, because they mean so much to the safety of the American people. You've already given the report about how active he was in attempting to actually create violence against Americans, right here on the American homeland. Wolf, this was a big deal.
BLITZER: They were tracking this terrorist for several days. I guess the U.S. must have better capabilities, knowing what's going on inside Raqqah right now. Which raises the question is the U.S. any closer to getting the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?
RISCH: You know, Wolf, I don't want to the go close to that. Obviously, if these are all operations that are very, very sensitive, and ways and means are best left un-talked about in the public sphere at this point.
BLITZER: We'll leave it -- we'll leave it on that note, but I think it's fair to say there's heavy, heavy effort underway right now to find the leader of ISIS and get rid of him, right?
RISCH: Well, we have not just the leader, but there's a lot of people who arguably are as important. For instance, this fella we just got, as far as importance to the average United States citizen here in America, I would say that the -- the strike that just happened is about as important as getting the head of ISIS.
ISIS doesn't have the same command control as al Qaeda does. They're much more dispersed. They're much less influenced by the -- by a regimented hierarchy.
And so individuals like this become very important, and that type of an atmosphere, and particularly, someone who has the expertise that this gentleman had. And as you know, he was British-born and spoke English, and was very familiar with western culture.
[17:15:15] BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Senator Risch. We have a lot more to talk about, including an Arizona man now arrested in connection with helping a New York City man go to Syria and link up with ISIS. There's new information coming in. I want to get your analysis of what's going on, on that front. Stay with us.
[17:20:09] BLITZER: We're back with Senator James Risch. He's a top member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. We're talking about the U.S. battle against ISIS.
As you know, Senator, an Arizona man has been now -- now been arrested for helping a New York City college student actually travel to Syria to join ISIS. How dangerous are these U.S.-based ISIS recruiters?
RISCH: Really dangerous. As you know, Wolf, there's been over 50 people that have been arrested or indicted or involved in some fashion with exactly this kind of activity since the first of the year. And it's certainly a high priority for the United States. It's a high priority for law enforcement agencies, and they've been doing a good job as far as keeping a handle on those things.
As you know, a number of people have left here and gone and fought with ISIS, for ISIS in Syria. Some have even returned here. This makes -- this makes for a challenging situation, because obviously, their primary target, their favorite target is the homeland, is the United States. So when this happens and you get this -- this type of ability to move back and forth, it's a problem. But it is a high priority.
BLITZER: We know that ISIS has killed a lot of people, beheaded a lot of people, but they're also dealing with these antiquities, these ancient antiquities. They beheaded an antiquities expert in Palmyra in Syria. They're set on destroying and looting these ancient sites across Syria and Iraq, for that matter. And as much as everyone, of course, is totally devastated by the loss
of life, people are also devastated by the loss of these priceless antiquities. What, if anything, can the U.S. do about this?
RISCH: Well, I think about the same as we're doing about the loss of life and just the expansion of ISIS, and that is to continue to keep the pressure on the way we have and ratcheting it up, particularly at people who are very effective in what they're doing, like the strike that happened earlier this week.
I think the -- probably the takeaway, when you see this video of what they're doing to these antiquities, it shows you the mind of these people. I mean, what type of a civilized human being would do that? Regardless of where you are, regardless of what your religious beliefs are, civilized people just don't do that with historical things, things that have a tremendous significance to the human race. Which, of course, this does, whether or not you agree with the -- with the people who built it, whether you agree with the religious beliefs or anything else. I mean, it's just a -- it is a mindset that has a total disregard for anything civil.
BLITZER: And that entire region, whether the Middle East or North Africa, so much of it is on fire right now and seems to be getting worse almost by the day.
Thanks very much for joining us.
RISCH: Wolf, good to be with you.
BLITZER: Senator James Risch joining us.
Coming up, do Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have something in common? She's opening up about his hair and her hair.
[17:27:59] BLITZER: Hillary Clinton directly engaging Donald Trump, taking on the Republican presidential frontrunner, setting the stage for a debate showdown. At least the potential for that kind of debate showdown.
Let's get some more with our CNN political reporter Sara Murray; our commentator Ryan Lizza -- he's the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine -- and our CNN political contributor S.E. Cupp.
Sara, Hillary Clinton poked some fun at Donald Trump today, talking about his hair, her hair, but she also went after him on women's issues. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A lot of people have said a lot of things about my hair over the years. So I do kind of know what Donald is going through. And if anyone wonders if mine is real, here's the answer: the hair is real; the color isn't. Just yesterday, he attacked me once again and said I didn't have a
clue about women's health issues. Really? I mean, you can't make this stuff up, folks. Trump actually says he would do a much better job for women than I would. Now, that's a general election debate that's going to be a lot of fun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So you were just with Donald Trump in South Carolina. You were covering him. He actually thinks he does have an advantage on women's issues over Hillary Clinton. Why does he believe that?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He does think that. It's not entirely clear why he believes that. I actually pressed him in a news conference yesterday about why he would be better for women. He always says he would cherish women. I asked him what he would actually do.
And he sort of dodged the question, just saying he would be great. He would take great care of women. But the latest polls show he's actually not doing very well. The new Quinnipiac University poll we saw earlier this week had 62 percent of women saying they didn't think he cared about their problems or their needs. If I were Donald Trump, I think I would be a little worried about that.
BLITZER: Interesting, as Hillary Clinton is not talking about a Clinton-Trump debate, that she would look forward to it. That's a new element in this campaign.
[17:30:02] That's a new element in this -- in this campaign.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, in fictitious land. But yes, I think she's doing this for two reasons. One is she's trying to paint the whole of the Republican, you know, bench with the Trump brush. And so if she says, look, people, Trump might be the eventual nominee, it kind of casts that same shadow on the other contenders. The other thing is I think she knows that there are a couple of GOP contenders who are beating her in head-to-head match-ups. Trump is not one of them.
So it's kind of as if she is channeling to the rest of the country, look at this potential general election in which I would beat him. If you'd like me to be your nominee, keep -- you know, Trump on the rise.
BLITZER: It's interesting that Hillary Clinton, the other Democratic presidential candidates, they're all in Minneapolis at the DNC meetings that have been going on. The Vice President Joe Biden did not go out to Minneapolis to attend but the president did speak out about a possible Joe Biden decision to enter this race. I want you to listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both Joe and Hillary are wonderful people, great friends. Joe has been as good a vice president as I think we've seen in American history. And been at my side in every tough decision I've made. Hillary Clinton was one of our best secretaries of state and helped work on a whole range of really important issues.
The great thing about American democracy is it's not up to me. I'm just one voter. It's going to be up to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How much is all this discussion of Joe Biden entering the race impacting Hillary Clinton's campaign?
RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Well, first of all, I want to just point out, Barack Obama does not seem that enthusiastic about having to choose between Biden or Hillary or talk about it.
I think it's impacting the Clinton campaign a little bit. There's some reports that Bill Clinton is agitated by this. Remember, the Clintons and the Bidens have been very close. In 2008, when there was a lot of tension between Obama world and Clinton world, the Bidens and the Clintons were very, very close. So I think there's a little bit of a thought that some Democrats are pushing Biden into this. They're overly worried about Clinton's poll numbers and the e-mail scandal and that the Clinton world that's not warranted.
But look, if you look at the numbers and the party support that Hillary Clinton has, I don't really think she has a whole lot to be worried about of a Joe Biden candidacy. It's very hard to see what groups that he could take away from her, whether it's labor, African- Americans, women, young voters. You look at the base constituencies of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton is extremely, extremely popular right now.
BLITZER: You reported yesterday, I think you broke the news that Donald Trump, even though he's very, very rich and doesn't need anyone's money, he's willing to put up a billion dollars of his own money, he has been at least in the last couple of days going out there and attending some various fundraising events, right?
MURRAY: You've heard that he's very rich. Yes. So Donald Trump, despite saying that he would not take any money from donors, his super PACs have cropped up in and are raising money for him. There's also another organization that essentially functions like a non-profit but doesn't have to disclose its donors. That's been raising money for him. And the interesting thing is Donald Trump is appearing at these events where they're soliciting donations from people.
So his campaign is saying look, he is not specifically asking at these events, but tonight you see there, this is a sign in front of a fundraiser for his campaign asking for cash or checks for Donald Trump for president. So the idea that he's not soliciting any donations directly, you know, his campaign says all the money from this event is just going to cover the cost of food and beverages. We'll have to see about that. It certainly looks from all of these events like Donald Trump and his allies are ramping up their fundraising efforts. CUPP: Yes. This is a great opportunity for a couple of the other GOP
contenders, and a thing that Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, people whose personal story, has like humble beginnings to say, well, I'm fundraising because I don't have $9 billion, and if I did, I certainly wouldn't take your additional money. And to me, I spend all my time fighting a bloated federal government that takes other people's money when it doesn't need it. It's a great chance to sort of make a point about Trump that's a fairly safe swipe.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this political story coming up. $9 billion, I thought he had $10 billion?
CUPP: It's confusing.
LIZZA: How much you think the Trump name is worth.
BLITZER: Billion here, billion there. Thanks very much.
Coming up, George, Jeb, and Hurricane Katrina. Why the storm's tenth anniversary is proving a bit awkward now for the Bush brothers.
BLITZER: The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is proving a little bit awkward for the last President Bush and his brother who hopes to be the next president.
Let's go tour senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
Jim, how are George W and Jeb Bush marking this Katrina tenth anniversary?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bush -- well, Wolf, one day after President Obama marked the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the commander and chief was in charge when the storm hit, George W. Bush, returned to New Orleans today, just as his brother Jeb Bush is trying to change the perception of how a Bush responds to a major storm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA (voice-over): New Orleans was never the Big Easy for George W. Bush, but the former president came back 10 years after Hurricane Katrina to hail the city's resurgence.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Darkness from a decade ago has lifted, the Crescent City has risen again, and its best days lie ahead.
BLITZER: It's being called a once in a lifetime storm.
ACOSTA: After the storm hit a decade ago, the bungled response to Katrina was a low point for the Bush administration. More than 1800 dead. Residents stranded on rooftops. And massive delays in relief shipments to the Gulf Coast. Bush, infamously flew over the storm ravaged region, then praised his FEMA director Michael Brown days later.
[17:40:07] BUSH: And Brown, you're doing a heck of a job.
ACOSTA: This week Jeb Bush took his brother's painful legacy head on.