Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Gives Final Address to U.N.; Lindsey Graham Says Ahmad Rahami Should be Treated as Enemy Combatant; Update on New York, New Jersey Bombing, Suspect. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 20, 2016 - 13:30   ET



[13:34:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama saying farewell to the United Nations this morning in his eighth and final address before the United Nations General Assembly. The president trying to secure his legacy as a promoter of peace and security around the world, also provided a very sobering view of global politics that world leaders now have crucial decisions ahead of them.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe at this moment we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration, or we could retreat into a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.


BLITZER: The State Department spokesman, John Kirby, is joining us live from the United Nations.

John, thanks for joining us.

ADM. JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

[13:35:09] BLITZER: Was this the president's appeal for diplomacy over force? And how much was directly aimed at Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, because at one point the president says the Russians are trying to restore lost glory by force?

KIRBY: I think the president was making a very strong case for his approach to foreign policy objectors around the world for entire time of his presidency. And one of the hallmarks of that, engagement, dialogue. It is pushing for diplomatic solutions over military solutions, because you don't want to use the military unless you absolutely have to. That's not always the best way to approach very complicated situations such as we're facing in the world. The president also has been very pragmatic about the relationship with Russia. Where we can agree, he's willing to let us try to work towards agreement, such as in Syria, where we're not going to agree, such as Ukraine or issues of issues of cyber intrusions. We'll take a hard line and ratchet up the pressure on Russia. I don't think it was aimed at any one nation at all. I think it was really a world view of what an engagement and dialogue and a stress on diplomacy.

BLITZER: When it comes to Syria, John, a convoy of aide looked like it might finally make its way into Aleppo but was attacked and destroyed before it reached the city. Has that ceasefire completely collapsed?

KIRBY: No, it has not. In a word, no. The members of the International Syria Support Group met this morning right here in New York City. Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Lavrov right at the head table, and all of the members, all 22, agreed that it is important to try to get this ceasefire to hold and keep it going, to try to get a cessation of hostilities that's nationwide. In short, no, it's not.

But look, we're also very pragmatic and realistic. We know it's fragile. Yesterday's strike, we condemned it very, very openly, very publicly. That kind of thing cannot continue. And it is putting even more strain and stress on what is already an extremely delicate situation.

BLITZER: You attacked that aide convoy?

KIRBY: Wolf, I'll tell you this. There are only three people flying tactical aircraft in missions over Syria, the coalition, the Russian Federation and the Syrian regime. And I can tell you without question that there were no coalition aircraft flying strikes in and around Aleppo. We know it wasn't the coalition. And I'll let the Russians and Syrians speak for themselves. But we know certainly who it wasn't and it wasn't us.

BLITZER: All right. John Kirby, at the United Nations for us today. John Kirby is the State Department spokesman.

Thanks for joining us.

KIRBY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Coming up --


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Do you think a U.S. citizen deserves to be read his Miranda right?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: No. He's a suspected enemy combatant. One, he's not guilty of any crime, but there's enough evidence to suggest he may have been involved in international terrorism.


BLITZER: So do other lawmakers agree? We'll ask two of them, right after the break.


[13:42:27] BLITZER: The suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings, Ahmad Khan Rahami, has an arraignment tentatively scheduled for September 28th. Police have charged Rahami with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. He was also charged with two weapons offense, with bail set at $5.2 million.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, thinks Rahami should be held as an enemy combatant, saying, "quote, "It allows us to question him about what attacks may follow in the future. That should be out focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete."

Let's discuss that and more with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, do you agree with Senator Lindsey Graham?

ADAM SCHIFF, (D), CALIFORNIA: I do not agree with him.

BLITZER: Tell us why.

SCHIFF: I think constitutionally, when you have an American citizen captured, arrested on U.S. soil and charged with a crime, there are requirements in the Constitution that they ultimately be in short order presented to a magistrate. There was a longer time you can delay and provide Miranda rights where there is a public safety exception, and I'm certain they're using that. I don't know if he's cooperating, but I don't think you can lock him up in a brig indefinitely the way Senator Graham seems to be suggesting.

BLITZER: Would there ever be circumstances where an American citizen should be held as an enemy combatant?

SCHIFF: I think if you capture an American citizen on the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq, then there's a much stronger case to be made that this should be treated as an enemy combatant. Somebody who is clearly aligned with al Qaeda or ISIS, a foreign enemy in a theater of war that seems to me a much more powerful circumstance where you can make that argument.

BLITZER: So Anwar al Awlaki killed in a U.S. drone strike, was it OK to brand him as an enemy combatant?

SCHIFF: Yes. I think particularly in circumstances like that, where it's a real danger to try to make an arrest and detain the person, the use of lethal force, even against an American citizen was warranted.

BLITZER: What's the latest you can tell us about the investigation into what happened in New York and New Jersey?

SCHIFF: We still don't know what took place during the foreign travel. That's one of the big questions right now. Was he radicalized at home or overseas? Were there accomplices? What is so striking to me, how many similarities into the Boston Marathon case. Similarities in terms of the bombs used, their origins in "Inspire" magazine, that this bomber also placed devices along the route of a race --


BLITZER: In Seaside Park, New Jersey, where the Marine Corps had a 5k race.

SCHIFF: Exactly. That he appeared very assimilated but at some point became radicalized, and also had the foreign travel. Also came to the attention of law enforcement, as did the Boston Marathon bombers. And if the public reports that are just breaking now are accurate that, in this notebook he had, he makes reference to the Boston Marathon bombers, that wouldn't be a surprise at all, given how many similarities there are.

[13:45:20] BLITZER: Makes reference to Anwar Awlaki. He clearly was watching on social media some of his sermons if you will. It raises the question of copy cat terror attacks. Is that what I'm hearing from you?

SCHIFF: Yes. Absolutely. He may have been not only inspired by the radical ideology but also what others have done and followed their brutal example. We're poring through the files with the interaction with law enforcement. We may conclude there, as we have elsewhere, that there simply wasn't enough to put this person on a watch list. If the father said something, for example, during a domestic fight or dispute, and later recanted it, that's not that much to go on.

BLITZER: Donald Trump just said something a few minutes ago. Let me play a little clip for you and get your reaction.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Attack after attack from 9/11 to San Bernardino to Orlando we have seen how failure to screen who is entering the United States puts all of our citizens in great danger. So let me state this very, very clearly. And as you know, at least most of you know, I've been saying this for a long time. This didn't just happen like yesterday. Immigration security is national security.


BLITZER: Do you agree with him?

SCHIFF: I don't agree with the Trump point of view that not just refugees, but all immigrants are a danger to the public. They're murdered, they're rapists, they're would-be terrorists. This attacker came at age 9. How do you screen someone at age 9 and determine, 20 years after, they'll be a threat? Trump also went on to say the police know who these people are but they're frozen by political correctness. You that think if the police knew this person was going to commit a terrorist attack they would sit on their hands? I think that's nonsense. But it's part of the Trump narrative, that this is a clash of civilizations, that all Muslims treated with grace suspicion, that they should be barred from coming into the country. I think that plays into the ISIS narrative.

BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, thank for coming in. SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee is standing by to weigh in on the investigation in the New York and New Jersey bombings. There he is. Senator Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin. We'll discuss with him when we come back.


[13:51:36] BLITZER: Before the break I was discussing bombing suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff.

I want to bring in Republican Senator Ron Johnson. He's in Wisconsin. He's the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

First of all, Senator, thanks for joining us.

But what can you tell us? I know you've been briefed, what's the latest information you're getting. Did Rahami act alone?

SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R), WISCONSIN: I don't know. I've sent a letter to Secretary of DHS Jeh Johnson. I want to see the alien file. I want to know everything we can about Mr. Rahami, as well as Mr. Adan, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, as well. We have to try to piece these things together.

But, Wolf, we are not fighting a winning battle here when we are dealing with these inspired lone wolves or potentially directed wolf packs as we experienced in Istanbul and Brussels airport. We actually have to the root cause, which is defeating ISIS. That was a goal President Obama laid out two years ago.

This is the second time I've been one of the U.S. representatives to the U.N. General Assembly. Last time was in September, 2014, right after President Obama laid out that goal and made a very forceful appeal to moderate elements within Islam to clearly reject and renounce this perversion of their religion. He barely even mentioned it in this speech. It was quite disappointing.

BLITZER: I know all of us are smarter with hindsight, but based on what you know, were there signs that were missed as far as Rahami was concerned? Visited Afghanistan, went to Pakistan, one time was in Quetta almost for a year, went to Karachi, came back to the U.S. Were there missed signals, missed indicators?

JOHNSON: There may be, but that is Monday morning quarterbacking and second guessing, which is what we will do. We're doing this in these past circumstances. But it's enormously difficult. It's challenging. What do you do with a not guilty yet? This is a land of the rule of law where you are presumed innocent, so it's a difficult problem.

So I'll go back to the root cause of this. Literally, is Islamic terror, the greatest destabilizing force today in the world, and we are not adequately addressing it as a civilized world. And we are not adequately leading as the world's sole superpower, the one nation that can have the most authority to lead on this issue. BLITZER: Senator, what would you like the president to do in his

remaining months?

JOHNSON: In the remaining months, I don't expect much out of this president. I was hoping he could set the table for the next president to literally provide the leadership that he has not provided.

Wolf, two years ago, in September, 2014, the body count in Syria was about 200,000. Today, two years later, it's approaching a half million. We are seeing -- in greater frequency this lone-wolf inspired attacks, potentially wolf pack directed attacks in Brussels, Istanbul, Nice, Orlando, San Bernardino, St. Cloud, Minnesota. My own state of Wisconsin, Sami Mohammed Hamza (ph), that was a foiled plot with great work by the FBI, but he said he'd be 100 percent happy if he slaughtered 30 people. So we have to recognize the threat of Islamic terror is real. It's growing, evolving, metastasizing, and we have to defeat it. And we have to remain committed to defeating it. And we have to provide by the leadership to do so.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Senator Lindsey Graham that Rahami should be held as an enemy combatant and denied the regular legal protections?

[13:55:10] JOHNSON: I'm not a lawyer. And I understand the legal argument there. Certainly, from my standpoint, we have to elevate national security in terms of our priorities. So from my standpoint -- Lindsey Graham is a greater expert at this. He's written the law on some of these things. I'll let Lindsey Graham make his comments. But from my standpoint, we have to look at intelligence gathering, we have to really elevate national security, Homeland Security above other priorities.

BLITZER: Do you think this will be the central issue in the election this year?

JOHNSON: It certainly should be. That, together with economic security, and they're part and parcel of the same issue. National security, economic security are inextricably linked. We have to have a strong economy so we can strengthen our military, so we can defeat ISIS, so we can secure our border. These thing we must do these things. Unfortunately, the debate today has devolved into just corollary issues when this is really the central issue of our time.

BLITZER: Senator Johnson, thanks very much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Have a good day.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And that's it for me.

The news continues right after a quick break.