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U.S. Leads Soccer Corruption Investigation; World Soccer Rocked By Corruption Allegations; Floodwaters Deepen in Houston; 18 Dead, 13 Missing in Texas and Oklahoma; Iraqi Forces Battle for Control; Rare Look at Iraq's Front Lines; Iraq Launches Offensive; Fight Against ISIS; Start of Interview with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 27, 2015 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 7:00 p.m. in Zurich, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We start with corruption on a global scale, rocking the upper management of the organization responsible for the wor1d's most popular sport. FIFA is the governing body for world football, or soccer as it's called here in the United States, controlling the rules and the rewards in more than 200 countries. And, more importantly, they control the World Cup which is watched by billions, billions of people every four years.

In Switzerland this morning, several members of FIFA management were arrested at a luxury hotel. They're in Switzerland for the organization's annual meeting. The suspects face extradition to the United States where the U.S. Justice Department is looking into allegations of bribery, fraud and money laundering that has gone on for more than two decades involving more than $100 million.

Just little while ago, we heard from the U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch.


LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and to protect the integrity of the game. Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves. This Department of Justice is determined to end these practices, to root out corruption and to bring wrongdoers to justice.


BLITZER: CNN Justice Reporter Evan Perez is joining us now from Brooklyn. Evan, why is this case being carried out here in the United States?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, this is an investigation that had been going on for about three years now. And it really began with an American, a top official at FIFA who wasn't paying his taxes, at least according to the Justice Department. This is a man by the name of Chuck Blazer. And he was a high-level official with FIFA, again an American.

And according to this indictment, $11 million in unreported income is what got the attention of the IRS. And an IRS official at this press conference just a few minutes ago called it the world cup of fraud. This is simply because -- they -- according to this investigation, the 2010 World Cup selection of South Africa, to be host of the World Cup, was something that was corrupt, was rigged as part of this -- as part of this bribery scheme -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, FIFA says -- at least for now, they say they're welcoming this investigation. They also say there will be no change in the next two World Cups. The 2018 cup will be played in Russia. Russia beat out Spain, Portugal and England to get the tournament. Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup, beating out the U.S. in the final vote.

Evan, the World Cup bids are part of a separate investigation underway right now. Is that right?

PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. The Swiss authorities this morning announced that they're doing a separate investigation into the process that was -- that allowed for the awarding of the World Cup in 2018 to Russia. And the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The United States was -- ran second to Qatar and it was really part of what got this case going because, if you remember, after that vote, there was a lot of whispers, a lot of allegations that, perhaps, that election was rigged. And that's when some of this investigation, some of this -- the questions began here in the United States.

What the FBI and the IRS did with this investigation, Wolf, was something that you normally see with the mafia or with criminal gangs. They used wire taps, including one wire worn by this American official, Chuck Blazer. He recorded conversations with some of these officials that are now investigations. Total of 14 people indicted, Wolf. Seven of them arrested in Zurich. Others are expected to be arrested around the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, basically, what the FBI, what the U.S. Justice Department wants, is they want these individuals who have now been charged with these allegations to be extradited to the United States where they will then be tried. Is that right?

PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. But that requires the cooperation of some of these other countries. The Swiss appeared to be cooperating. They carried out the raids this morning in Zurich. They woke these people and put them in handcuffs and took the away. More complicated will be getting officials that live in Trinidad, people who live in Brazil, in Argentina who are also charged in this case, Wolf. And, you know, in these countries, some of these are very prominent officials.

[13:05:01] So, now, the Justice Department says that they're going to request that those countries assist in detaining these people, extraditing them. And they're happy to turn over information if they want to do their own investigation of what they say is worldwide corruption in world football -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Really, a global story right now. Evan, thanks very, very much. We'll stay on top of this story.

There's other important news happening right now here in the United States. The death toll rising after torrential rains triggered historic flooding in the American southwest. Here are the latest numbers and they are grim. At least 18 people confirmed dead in Texas and Oklahoma. Another 13 are missing, 11 of them in Hays County, Texas. And the property loss also devastating, 1,400 homes and businesses have been damaged after the area picked up close to a foot of rain in one day.

In the meantime, just south of Dallas, Texas, officials are keeping a very close eye on a dam they thought, at one point, would burst. People who live in the area have evacuated their homes. They've moved their livestock as a precaution. But, at this point, officials are hopeful, they are hopeful the dam will hold.

Let's get some more now on what's going on. CNN's Rosa Flores is joining us in Houston outside one flood-ravaged home. What are you seeing, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. You know, one of the things that made this storm very dangerous is how quickly the water starting rising and the surge. I want to show you around because, here, you're able to see some of that surge. And some of the debris flushing towards the cars into these homes.

Now, we talked to the homeowner of this house. And let me tell you something, she says that her family was alerted at about 2:00 a.m. Monday into Tuesday about the waters rising. She actually put her family on top of kitchen counters to stay dry. Her dogs on top of the dinner table in order for the dogs to stay dry.

I want to show you the water level here, because you can really see it's about three feet. You can see it in the shades of this brick just how high the water went into these homes. Now, the homeowner tells me that the water was just seeping through all of the crevices in that home. Some of the other water damage, take a look at this car, completely destroyed. If you take a look inside, there's lots of debris. The homeowner tells me it's pretty much a complete loss. And, of course, she was telling me this morning, she was trying to bring this window up. And she says, Rosa, I don't know what I was thinking because, of course, power windows are not going to work in this particular situation.

But I want to show you one more thing because we're about 200 feet from the bayou. These are the bayous and you can see it just beyond these trees. Those are the bayous that run through Houston that, normally, all they do is they flush out the water which eventually dumps into the -- into the Gulf of Mexico. This particular rain event, there was too much water too quickly. That's why those Bayous swelled and that's why people are stuck with this type of damage -- Wolf. BLITZER: And we've just confirmed, by the way, Rosa, in Houston where

you are, they have now confirmed a sixth death. I know you've been surveying the damage around where you are. Is there some image that really sticks out in your mind?

FLORES: You know, I was able to get a fly-over yesterday, Wolf, with the sheriff's department. And just from looking at it from the air, and I used to work in Houston, I used to work in T.V. here in Houston, the most impacted area is where we are right here. So, that's the southwest part of Houston, Meyerland shopping center is just up the street here.

And these bayous, normally, they do their job when it rains. But this particular rain event, it was too much rain too quickly. And, of course, the fire department was out doing high water rescues. Some of those people who died were actually found in part of these waterways.

So, again, Wolf, the officials here are telling us that one of the things that they always tell people that in these particular situations, when the water starts rising, they've got to go to high ground and not drive into these roads because the water rises just way too quickly --

BLITZER: All right, Rosa Flores, thanks very --

FLORES: -- Wolf.

BLITZER: -- you very much. Rosa Flores reporting from Houston.

And to our viewers out there, if you'd like to help those affected by the severe weather in Texas and Oklahoma, you can go to and impact your world.

Still ahead, --




BLITZER: -- Iraqi forces battling ISIS militants in an effort to regain control of Anbar Province. Our CNN crew gives you a rare look at the front lines. Arwa Damon is there.

And a different story we're following, South Carolina will turn into a political battlefield of sorts later today. Hillary Clinton is there. The only woman running for the Republican nomination for president, Carly Florina, she's there as well. They will have nearly simultaneous campaign events within feet of each other. We're going there live.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Officials tell CNN, Iraqi security forces and militia fighters have entered the very southern edge of Ramadi gaining control of the University of Anbar.




BLITZER: Video from this morning shows Iraqi troops firing weapons toward ISIS targets in Anbar Province. It's part of a major offensive launched in an effort to try to recapture at least key territory from ISIS. Battles are erupting in and around these cities but it's taking a severe toll. A source telling CNN, 30 Iraqi soldiers were killed after a triple suicide attack at an outpost between Karmah (ph) and Fallujah.

Our Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon got a first-hand look at how troops are trying to maintain their positions in Anbar Province.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a mass mobilization across multiple fronts. In two key Iraqi provinces, fueled by the fall of Ramadi in Anbar which borders Salahaddin (ph) where we are. This territory was recaptured just hours before we arrived.

(on camera): Kadad (ph) was just saying that when the force moved in here earlier in the day, there were a number of IEDs that ISIS fighters had buried right along this route. A number of them exploding on some of these units. And there were at least 11 casualties.

[13:15:06] (voice-over): ISIS used to move with ease through these lands, transporting fighters and weapons between areas they controlled.

(on camera): Anbar province is in that direction and their main aim here right now is to make sure that they hold this defensive position to keep ISIS from recapturing this territory as other elements of their unit advance further that way.

(voice-over): Hadir Ahmedi (ph) commands the Butter (ph) Brigade within the predominantly Shia paramilitary force that is leading this joint operation with Iraq's security forces.

"We cut off their supply routes into Anbar and we surrounded the enemy in this area," Ahmedi explains.

It is a critical line of defense between Sala Hadin (ph) and Anbar, that also runs along a vital south to north oil pipeline. Throughout the battlefield is a patchwork of ISIS strongholds and logistical lines. We see but are not allowed to film or speak to Iranian advisers. Iraq's powerful neighbor, a much more reliable ally in the war against ISIS.

"Anyone who depends on American support is depending on a shadow," Ahmedi says. "The dependence by the central government on the United States is one of the reasons we lost Ramadi."

That won't happen here, all the men vow. More forces and reinforcements arrive. Through a scope, one fighter pinpoints at two suspected ISIS vehicles in the distance. Along the berm, others watch and wait, preparing for ISIS to strike back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And Arwa's joining us now live from Baghdad. I'm glad you're back safe and sound, Arwa. Do you know if those troops, those Iranian-backed Shiite militia troops, because they're largely taking the - the forefront right now, they're - they're moving in, have they made any significant advances against ISIS since you last saw them?

DAMON: Well, in that particular area we were in, Wolf, yes, we are told that they have managed to push that particular line of defense even further. And then to the south of Ramadi, we are hearing that this joint force was able to recapture Anbar University. It's just to the outskirts of the city. So we are seeing small pockets of progress being made. But, again, as we keep emphasizing, what's so important in all of that is that that territory not be lost to ISIS again. They have to figure out how to hold their ground, how to maintain these lines of defense, and how to stop ISIS' capabilities to resupply itself with both fighters and weapons because if we take the battle of Tikrit as an example, yes, the Iraqi government was victorious there, but ISIS exhibited capabilities when it comes to regrouping and attacking where the Iraqi forces are venerable, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Arwa Damon, one of our courageous journalists. Thanks very much. We'll check back with you. As I always tell you, be careful out there.

So is the United States doing enough to fight these ISIS terrorists? After the break, we're going to pose that question to combat veteran, Iraq War veteran, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. There you see her. She's a Democrat from President Obama's home state of Hawaii. She's a member of the Armed Services Committee. Her answers to your questions coming up next.


[13:21:58] BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit more about the U.S. strategy to fight ISIS in Iraq right now. Joining us is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She's a Democrat from Hawaii, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.

You're a combat veteran. You deployed to Iraq voluntarily twice with your fellow soldiers of the 29th Brigade back in 2004, eventually serving two tours of combat duty in the region. So when you see what's happening in Iraq right now, knowing that almost 4,500 U.S. troops died in Iraq, thousands of others came back severely injured, do you ask yourself, as so many other veterans are now asking themselves, what was this war all about?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Yes, Wolf, I do. And I think it's important mostly for our veterans, for our service members who sacrificed their lives there in that country and for the American people to make sure that we don't make the same mistakes of the past and that we recognize and really look hard at what's happening on the ground in Iraq, recognize who our enemy is.

We heard Secretary Carter mention the other day about how he recognizes that the Iraqi military has lacked the will to fight, which is a good recognition. But the question that I have now is, will the administration actually change their current strategy, change their policy to make it so that we are actually making the primary recipient of our military aid, whether it's weapons, equipment, intelligence, the Kurds and the Sunni tribes. These are groups of people who have been proven. They've been tested. We fought shoulder to shoulder with them against al Qaeda in the past and now they have the will to fight. They are our troops on the ground and they should be the ones that we should be providing our primary support to in order to defeat ISIS because they have the will to fight.

BLITZER: Because you make a good point. There's - the Kurdish fighters, they have their own separate militia. The Sunni - Iraqi Sunni fighters, they have their own separate militia. There's the Iraqi Shia. They're largely backed by Iran. They have their own separate militia. They're all pretty - pretty dedicated. The weakest link seems to be the central Iraqi army, which the defense secretary of the United States says simply has the - lacks the will to fight, yet the United States keeps supporting that weakest link, the central military of Iraq. That's a problem from your perspective, isn't it?

GABBARD: Yes, Wolf, it is a problem for a few different reasons. One is, this is a strategy that's proven to have failed, not only recently, but really even through the bush administration when we had Maliki in charge, we were providing weapons and money and resources to this Shiite-led government that persecuted the Sunnis, completely left them out, and really created the situation that we see today where you have ISIS taking advantage of the oxygen that this policy has created where the Sunni tribes essentially have been driven into the arms of ISIS for protection. This is the problem that I see with the current offensive that's happening right now heading into Ramadi. This is being led by the Shia militia who named this offensive attack a name that is extremely incendiary and offensive specifically to the Sunni tribes. So this is only going to make the sectarian divides deepen. This will make matters worse. And ultimately, again, this will push the Sunni tribes closer and closer into ISIS' arms, at the end of the day strengthening ISIS rather than defeating them.

[13:25:31] BLITZER: As you know, the secretary of defense, Ash Carter, he told our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, that the Iraqi army, even though they had thousands more troops than Ramadi, they simply lacked the will to fight a few 100 ISIS terrorists who came in there. Very similar, by the way, to what happened a year ago in Mosul when the Iraqi army also lacked the will to fight. Today, Jen Psaki on CNN's "New Day," she's the White House communications director, she offered this reaction. Sort of a vote of confidence in the defense secretary at what he said. Listen to this.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Let me first say that what Secretary Carter said is consistent with what he was seeing and hearing from the ground, but also the Iraqis themselves had acknowledged that there were some command issues, there were some issues on the ground, and it's something they want to adapt to, as well.


BLITZER: Do you agree, the Iraqi army lacks the will to fight?

GABBARD: Clearly the Iraqi army lacks the will to fight. Evidenced by what we've seen in Mosul, what we saw recently in Ramadi and many other times where they cut and ran. They dropped their weapons, the weapons that the United States provided to them and which have ended up in the hands of ISIS. We've got to look at the motivation. They lack the will to fight because they're fighting for this factious thing of a country called one unified Iraq. You have the Shia militia, who are very motivated to fight because of sectarian reasons. You have the Sunni tribes and the Kurds who have been very motivated to fight to protect their territories and their communities and their families to defeat ISIS. This - again, this factious goal of the unified Iraq that this Iraqi army is supposedly supporting, essentially they're the army of the central government in Baghdad, not this country of Iraq.

BLITZER: Yes, it seems like they're basically in charge of Baghdad, protecting the millions of people who live there, but not much else. At least that's the impression you get listening to experts at the U.S. Department of Defense and elsewhere.

Congresswoman, I want you to stand by. We have more to discuss. We'll continue our conversation with Representative Tulsi Gabbard in just a moment.