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San Bernardino Shooter Suspected Of Earlier Plot; Defense Secretary Concedes ISIS Is Not Contained; Apaches Ready To Help Iraqis; Carter States We Are At War; Allies Close To Sending Special Forces To Region; Passes Bill To Overhaul Visa Waivers; Trump Stands By Muslim Ban; Trump Says He's Not A Bigot; Interview with Sen. Ron Johnson; California Killers Radicalized Before Meeting; Trump Talks Critics. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 9, 2015 - 13:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- right here on CNN, folks, Tuesday, 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Thanks so much for watching, everyone. Jim Sciutto's going to sit in for Wolf who's on assignment. I'll see you tomorrow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment today. It is 10:00 a.m. in San Bernardino, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Paris. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thank you for joining us.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And we begin today with breaking news. New details are coming out about the married shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. FBI director James Comey testifying on Capitol Hill about when the terrorist couple met and how they developed their radical views of Islam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Was the woman shooter in San Bernardino radicalized before she came to America?

JAMES COMEY, DIRECTOR, FBI: It looks like she was. So far, the -- what data we've collected, the intelligence indicates that she was before she connected with the other killer and came here.

GRAHAM: Is there any evidence that this marriage was arranged by a terrorist organization or terrorist operative or was it just a meeting on the Internet?

COMEY: I don't know the answer to that yet.

GRAHAM: Do you agree with me that if it was arranged by a terrorist operative or organization, that is a game-changer?

COMEY: It would be a very, very important thing to know.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: Justice Reporter Evan Perez joining me now. Evan, the big headline here is that this was not some sudden radicalization over a couple of weeks, a couple of Web sites. But this goes back years.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, exactly. And this is exactly the trend that we had seen in this -- in this story, frankly, in this investigation by the FBI. Initially, they were -- they didn't know whether this was a work-based thing or whether this was something that was caused by the radicalization. And the more information they get, it looks like this goes back years and years and it was missed. The FBI director talked about this. Here's how he describes what he knows about the radicalization.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: San Bernardino involved two killers who were radicalized for quite a long time before their attack. In fact, our investigation to date, which I can only say so much about, at this point, indicates that they were actually radicalized before they started courting or dating each other online. And online, as late as -- as early as the end of 2013, they were talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and then married and lived together in the United States.

We also believe they were inspired by foreign terrorist organizations. We're working very hard to understand exactly their association and the source of their inspiration. We're also working very hard to understand whether there was anybody else involved with assisting them, with supporting them, with equipping them. And we're working very, very hard to understand, did they have other plans, either for that day or earlier? And that work continues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And, Jim, you know, what's important there in that -- in what he was talking about is simply the fact that the question now arises is whether or not Farook was shopping for an -- for a jihadi bride when he went and found this woman. And so, the question that arises from that is simply because in 2012, we know that he was thinking about doing some other type of attack and never went through it. So, this really does raise the question of, you know, when his radicalization began and why he married her.

SCIUTTO: Premeditation, preplanning, --

PEREZ: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- et cetera. You look at this and they're analyzing communications now between him and his wife. Of course, the question will come up, was this an intelligence failure? Is there any power or ability that law enforcement could have or intelligence to have detected this before even thought to look there?

PEREZ: Right. And that's a -- that's a big question for the NSA, for the FBI. The problem is for them, the volume of what they collect is so great, they can't analyze this in real time. They have to know where to look. And now that there's been an attack, they can go back and say, oh, well, we found all these communications. That's exactly what's happened in this investigation. They now have access to all of this data that they do have but they would not have thought to look for because these people did not raise any red flags beforehand.

SCIUTTO: All right. OK, Evan Perez, Justice Reporter. Thanks so much for joining us.

Now, we're going to go to the investigation into the terrorist attack out in San Bernardino, California. As we first reported here on CNN, investigators believe that the shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, may have been involved in an earlier terror plot with another individual, as Evan was just pointing out. But an official says, quote, "At the time, they got spooked."

Correspondent Ana Cabrera joins us now live from San Bernardino. Ana, what do we know about this plot? Do we know the target? Do we know the timing? And, crucially, do we know why he got spooked?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you, Jim, that it's two U.S. officials who are telling this -- that this plot dates back to 2012 and that it was Farook and some unidentified individual, at this time, who had been plotting to attack somewhere here in California. We're told they did have a specific target they were considering. But what that target was and exactly when or what the plan entailed, we just don't know, at this time.

[13:05:13] But I can tell you that this plan apparently didn't go through because, as you mentioned, they got spooked. There had been a round of terror-related arrests in this area. And that's why they decided to back off. But what we learned is that officials did not know about this plot until after the San Bernardino attacks. And they maintain that Farook was not on law enforcement radar here locally. They had not part of a terror-related investigation prior to the attack that happened here at the center behind me -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, on another strand of this investigation is Farook's former neighbor, Enrique Marquez, who's under scrutiny. He is the one, to remind our viewers, that purchased the two long rifles, the AR-15s, for Farook several years ago and then transferred them, apparently, to Farook. As they're looking into Marquez, do they suspect him, are they treating him as a possible accomplice?

CABRERA: They don't believe, at this time, according to law enforcement sources, that he had any involvement in the plot, at a least not directly. They say he has been cooperating as they've been questioning him. In fact, he had checked himself into a mental health facility shortly after the attack, so it's taken them a little bit longer to be able to question Marquez.

But what we've learned about Marquez and Farook's relationship is that they used to be next door neighbors. We had a chance to go out to that neighborhood. We spoke with other neighbors who said that the two men used to work on cars together in the garage. The extent of their friendship, we don't know for sure, but we're learning more and more about Marquez. Now, apparently, he told investigators that he purchased those two rifles that you brought up, the AR-15s used in the attack back in 2011 and 2012. And that shortly afterwards he turned them over to Farook. But he never reported that official ownership transfer which, by the way, would be against the -- against the law here in California.

At this point, though, Marquez has not been charged with anything. Again, investigators say he is cooperating. And at this earlier stage, it does not appear he had knowledge or involvement in the terror plot -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ana Cabrera following it all from the scene of that horrible shooting out in San Bernardino.

I want to turn now because defense secretary Ashton Carter was on the Hill today defending the Obama administration's plan to defeat ISIS. But he conceded that the terrorist organization has not been contained. Carter telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that momentum against ISIS is building and U.S. forces will prevail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The reality is we're at war. That's how our troops feel about it, because they're taking the fight to ISIL every day, applying the might of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: However, the committee -- the chairman of the committee, Senator John McCain, pressed Carter for more specifics on the success of the administration's strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA, CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I urgently and fervently ask you for a strategy that you can tell us when we're going to take Mosul, when we're going to take Raqqah and when we're going to wipe out this caliphate. And, frankly, I have not seen that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joining me now live. Barbara, Senator McCain, others members of the committee, frustrated, and we've heard this, frankly, from both sides of the aisle, by what they say is lack of urgency by the Obama administration. How does Secretary Carter respond to that criticism?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he kept going back to the point he felt that they were gaining momentum, building momentum. That is not what the committee wanted to hear. They wanted to hear a plan, a strategy for success.

And they talked about -- the committee talked about some specifics, Raqqah, the stronghold of ISIS, leaders in Syria. When is the U.S. going to be able to mount some kind of operation with local fighters to boot ISIS out of Raqqa? Because that is a huge symbol for ISIS recruiting, for staging other attacks. No clear answers from the secretary about that.

He kind of diverted a little bit into some of what is happening. And that is small but he can -- he believes it's significant. And that is the movement of Special Forces into northern Syria, into northern Iraq. In Iraq, a new focus on a place we've heard about for months, Ramadi. The secretary of defense, for first time, talking about the use of U.S. troops in the fight to retake Ramadi. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: The United States is prepared to the assist the Iraqi army with additional unique abilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisors, if circumstances dictate and if requested by Prime Minister Al Abadi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:10:10] STARR: Accompanying advisers, very careful words but very specific. And that does mean the possibility of U.S. military advisors on the ground in the coming days in Iraq, as the U.S. tries to support the Iraqi efforts on the ground to battle, to retake Ramadi from ISIS. The secretary also talking about trying to convince other Arab allies and European allies to contribute more. Special Forces aircraft just simply to contribute more special forces to the fight. No word about any of that happening -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Just quick -- just quickly, Barbara, there's been a lot of mincing of words, as we know, by the administration for more than a year about whether U.S. troops were in combat. You know, I hear that U.S. advisers will be with Iraqi forces attempting to take a fortified city, Ramadi in this case, from ISIS forces. As you reported, there may be U.S. attack helicopters involved. We know they have troops. They have weapons to take down helicopters. Is that not U.S. troops in combat?

STARR: Hard to see how it isn't, you know, right? I mean, if you've got armed U.S. helicopters supporting U.S. troops on the ground, you can say that they are advisers. They're not supposed to be at the very front line of combat with those Iraqi troops. But make no mistake, these are American military lives at considerable risk in this fight.

Now, when the administration, you and I have talked about this, haven't we, for months, says no combat, they claim, they contend they mean no large combat formations as we've seen in the years of heavy conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, that -- it may not be that kind of combat. But if you ask almost anyone in uniform if they're in combat, they will tell you, yes.

SCIUTTO: And those men and women certainly risking their lives. Thanks very much to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Coming up, Congress may soon implement new changes to help track anyone in the U.S. who has recently visited Iraq and Syria. Would that be enough to expose potential extremists? We'll discuss this with Homeland Security Committee chairman, Ron Johnson.

Plus, Donald Trump not backing down from his Muslim travel ban proposal. What is his strategy and how would he work with world leaders if he's elected? We'll ask his campaign spokeswoman. That's just after this.

[13:12:17]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:16:20] SCIUTTO: The terrorist couple who gunned down 14 people in San Bernardino were likely radicalized before they met and married. FBI Director James Comey revealed that information today during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican Senator Ron Johnson is chairman of another key committee, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs. He joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Thank you, Senator Johnson, for taking the time.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Hello, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So as more details come out, it's become very clear that this was not some sudden radicalization. Communications back in 2013 talking about martyrdom between this couple. The fact that that took place before they were married. You're briefed on these issues all the time. Is there more evidence here, in your view, that an international terror group would likely have been involved for that kind of forward planning and to make this international connection of two people who would eventually be in effect their own two-person cell? Is that becoming more of a line of inquiry here?

JOHNSON: Well, we need to obviously find out exactly what happened and the investigation will hopefully reveal that. It's extremely important that we do get that information. I don't have information right now to tie this to any organized group. But what it really shows is how imperfect our intelligence gathering and how imperfect the information we have on people really is.

What do you do with the not guilty yet? These are enormous challenges. We are vulnerable. I've always said, our first line of defense against Islamic terrorists is the effective intelligence gathering capability, recognize that it's going to never be a perfect system, but we have to always look for continuous improvement.

SCIUTTO: What would be effective intelligence gathering here? Because in effect, to have caught these communications between Farook and Malik before they were married, you'd have to be looking at e-mail traffic. I mean you didn't have probable cause to go after these two before, but you'd kind of have to look at e-mail traffic between everybody, right, I mean, and just search it for certain term, et cetera. I mean is there a fix here from an intelligence perspective that you see that might have caught this -- caught this before it happened? JOHNSON: Well, one of the ways we degraded our intelligence gathering

capability was canceling the NSA metadata program. Now, again, I'm not saying that's a perfect system, but that's certainly one ways you -- one way you might be able to make those connections. If you -- if we know terrorist and we know they're making phone calls and we can, you know, tie those networks together, that's one way. But again, nothing is perfect.

We just held a hearing on the visa waiver system and, you know, some of the vulnerabilities there, but also recognizing the visa waiver program helps us share information between those countries who participate in it, that also enhances our security. So this as enormously difficult problem, but it is about information sharing, intelligence sharing, intelligence gathering. We just need to make that a more robust process and continue to improve it.

SCIUTTO: Senator Johnson, you bring up the changes in the visa waiver programs and we've been looking at the details there. In effect it bars people -- well, it requires people who travel to Iraq and Syria within the last five years to get an extra interview in effect.

JOHNSON: Right.

SCIUTTO: And extra line of review. Do you think that's enough to spot potential terrorists like those who carried out this attack?

JOHNSON: It's an improvement. We actually expand it beyond that to other countries that are hot spots for terrorism, which I think is appropriate. And, again, we're not denying people entry, we're just saying that they can't utilize that visa waiver program, which, again, has robust intelligence sharing thresholds that are part of that process, but you're just going to have to get an interview before we actually grant you entrance into America. I think that's a common sense approach. It strengthens those information and intelligence sharing agreements.

[13:20:05] One of the things we included in my companion bill is, push out the borders by a preclearance program. You know, get customs and border protection personnel in different airports, in different countries, to, like I say, kind of push out the borders where we can more effectively screen people before they come into America.

SCIUTTO: Senator Johnson, I want to ask you as well, the comments from -- well-known comments by now by Donald Trump supporting a -- really a blanket ban on all Muslims from coming into the country, at least -- at least a temporary ban as he says. Let's speak about the security implications of this. Is this a danger to U.S. national security to feed that kind of anti-Muslim feeling, which we know that groups such as ISIS are really trying to spark here, right, and certainly take advantage of in terms of recruiting. But when you heard those words from Donald Trump repeated and defended, did you think to yourself, this is dangerous for America?

JOHNSON: Well, I don't -- I don't agree with Mr. Trump on this. From my standpoint, Islamic terrorists declared war on the civilized world. They're already pretty well upset with us for some reason. Their -- their -- they want to kill people in the civilized world. So they declared war on us. And I guess what I object to is when President Obama talks about, we want to end these wears. The fact of the matter is, there's only two ways to end wars. Either both parties have to decide to end the war, and obviously Islamic terrorists aren't' give up, the other way is to defeat them. I mean that's really the root cause. We have got to defeat ISIS. We've got to defeat Islamic terrorists wherever they are. We've got to commit the civilized world to actually removing the scourge once and for all.

SCIUTTO: Senator Johnson, thanks for taking the time today.

JOHNSON: Have a good day.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, so Donald Trump not backing down from his proposal for a complete Muslim travel ban to here in the U.S. His response to critics who say he's a bigot, coming up next.

Plus, his threats to launch a third party run. Trump's national spokeswoman will join us after the break. We'll have a conversation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:26:23] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

It is time to talk presidential politics, and Donald Trump taking on critics in his own party who say that his proposal for a Muslim travel ban might actually help ISIS attract recruits. Here's what he told ABC's Barbara Walters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the worst thing that's ever happened to ISIS, the people in my party fully understand that. They're running against me. For the most part, they have no poll numbers. I'm leading by a lot. They get it. They're trying to get publicity for themselves. You know, when I came out against illegal immigration, everybody fought -- it was the same thing. Two weeks later, everybody was on my side, including the members of my own party.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Are you a bigot?

TRUMP: Not at all. Probably the least of anybody you've ever met.

WALTERS: Because?

TRUMP: Because I'm not. I'm a person that has common sense. I'm a smart person. I know how to run things. I know how to make America great again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, last night, Trump sent out this message on Twitter, appearing to threaten the GOP with an independent presidential run. He cited a new "USA TODAY"/Suffolk University poll that found 68 percent of his supporters would still vote for him even if he left the Republican Party. Here to talk about it all is Trump's national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, good to have you back on CNN.

KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN: Good to see you again, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, Katrina, we were doing some research and we found the American Bar Association's definition of hate speech, and it is as follows. "Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens or insults groups based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits." Was the candidate's proposal hate speech?

PIERSON: No, absolutely not, Jim. He was just speaking the truth. We have a serious problem in this country and for over a decade now we're pushing on 15 years since 9/11. We've done nothing to secure the board. We haven't reformed the visa system. Forty percent of the people in this country illegally are here are expired or visas overstays. So, no, we have to do something now that politicians have run amok of the place.

SCIUTTO: This is unprecedented, as you know, to ban an entire religion based on the idea that you need to firm up the visa procedures. I just want to share something because I just got it in my in-box right now. Donald Trump is going to be meeting with the Israeli prime minister later this month and I just got this statement from the prime minister's office saying, the prime minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejects Donald Trump's recent remarks about Muslims. The state of Israel respects all religions -- religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens.

So if you have the Israeli prime minister, that is very much on the front lines of the dangers of Islamic extremism, you can argue they face that every day, doesn't that undermine Donald Trump's argument that this is a necessary step in America?

PIERSON: Not at all because in Israel they actually do criminal profiling of Muslims. In Israel they have very stringent policies on exit and entry into their country. So he might reject the way that Mr. Trump framed it, but I don't think it undermine it at all. Not one bit.

SCIUTTO: Well, I want to ask you about a specific -- beyond the band, a specific assertion that Donald Trump made and has repeated a number of times on the campaign, and that is that there are parts of London that are so radicalized that officers, in the words of Donald Trump, fear for their lives there. Now, the British prime minister rejected that as just frankly not true.

[13:29:54] Donald Trump also brought up the idea that in Paris, as well, that there are Muslim no-go zones, which is a conspiracy theory in effect that's been debunked a number of times. Is that still a version of the facts that the candidate stands by even when you have the British prime minister and the French leader denying that that's the case in their own countries?