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Terror in the Skies
Aired October 29, 2010 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELIOT SPITZER, CNN HOST: Good evening and welcome to a special edition of "Parker Spitzer." We're continuing CNN's breaking news coverage of today's attempted terrorist attacks.
KATHLEEN PARKER, CNN HOST: We'll also be covering politics. In just a few minutes, we'll have an exclusive and very candid interview with Kendrick Meek, the Democratic Senate candidate from Florida who has reportedly been asked by his close friend, Bill Clinton, to get out of the race and make room for Governor Charlie Crist to win.
SPITZER: But first tonight, a stark reminder that America remains under constant threat. President Obama today confirmed what he called a credible terrorist threat against our country. Two packages containing explosives were en route from Yemen to synagogues in Chicago when they were intercepted by intelligence officials. The president spoke from the White House this afternoon about the exact nature of the threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last night and earlier today, our intelligence and law enforcement professionals working with our friends and allies identified two suspicious packages bound for the United States, specifically two places of Jewish worship in Chicago. Those packages have been located in Dubai and East Midlands Airport in the United Kingdom. An initial examination of those packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SPITZER: The president also named a Yemen-based terrorist group al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula that he says continues to plan attacks against this country. Just moments before the president's remarks, U.S. fighter jets escorted an Emirates passenger jet from Dubai to JFK because the plane was carrying cargo from Yemen.
SPITZER: This is the latest in a series of radical Islamist terrorist attacks originating in Yemen. You will recall the Christmas Day attempted bombing last year on that plane from Amsterdam to Detroit. The Nigerian radical responsible worked with a radical cleric in Yemen on that plot. Since then, terrorism experts have spoken often the threat posed by Yemeni extremists. Now for the very latest on today's threat, let's go to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve in Washington. She's been working her sources all day on this on this story. Jeanne, what's the latest at this hour?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned Yemen and of course the strong suspicion that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the organization that might be behind this but this investigation is very much ongoing. It all began, officials say, with a tip from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia told the U.S. that there was shipments being made from Yemen to the U.S. headed for Chicago synagogues.
According to a source with firsthand knowledge, they even included the tracking numbers on these packages. That is why officials were able to find them so quickly, one in Dubai and one in the United Kingdom. Now forensics on these items are still continuing at this point in time. But there's every indication sources tell us that the powder involved in the device in the United Kingdom will turn out to be PETN. PETN known to all of us because that is what Richard Reid was carrying in his shoe when he attempted to bring down that airport that was flying from Paris to the United States.
As you mentioned, there was a flurry of activity to find any additional packages that might pose some kind of threat. None have been found so far. We're told there's no intelligence to indicate there are other packages, but we're told by law enforcement officials that they are in essence going to be looking at every package coming into the United States from Yemen out of an abundance of caution to make sure they understand completely the dimensions of this threat.
Meanwhile, there is some increase in security particularly around aviation both on the passenger side and on the cargo screening side as the investigation continues. Back to you.
SPITZER: Jeanne, you don't think of radical Islam being promoted from within America. It's a threat normally hatched overseas. But in western Europe, jihadism is preached openly. So what does this tell us? What should we be doing right now?
MESERVE: Well, what the U.S. government wants all of us to do in the United States is to keep our eyes open and look out for anything that might be suspicious. In this particular instance, they had good intelligence from the Saudis. They acted on it. They were able to prevent this material from ever coming to the United States.
But we certainly know of other plots including the attempt to detonate a bomb in Times Square where it was observant individuals that were the key that really led to a diffusing of the threat. And so one of the big messages from the government tonight is for all Americans to keep their eyes open and be aware of their surroundings.
SPITZER: This PETN that seems to be the weapon of choice right now by at least al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula -- can it be detected by any of the measures we have established at airports or any of the other screenings systems that we have?
MESERVE: Well you know, it cannot be detected by metal detectors of course. One of the reasons they're putting in all of these body imaging devices at airports around the United States is that they do believe that the imaging they get from that is more likely to detect something like Abdul Farouk Mohammed's (sic) -- I'm messing up his name there -- Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear bomb that he was carrying Christmas Day. You'll remember that was sewn into his underwear.
And just now as a matter of fact, by almost coincidence, the TSA is phasing in new patdown procedures at American airports that are a lot more invasive. What they're doing according to people who have undergone the patdowns, is in addition to just going over your torso, they are going down and patting down your buttocks, your inner legs. They're even touching the crotch. All of that appears to be a response to the sort of threat that they saw on Christmas Day.
SPITZER: Jeanne, one final question. Why is it that cargo still comes into this nation without being screened in any way, shape or form and individuals, passengers are put through all sorts of screenings -- how about the cargo? Why does all this stuff come in and there seems to be nothing being done at our borders?
MESERVE: Well there is some screening being done. I talked to the TSA about this this afternoon. And there is screening being done of cargo going on passenger flights and some domestic cargo, international cargo is an issue they are still working on. But you know, whenever you look at cargo, it is a huge challenge to get it screened. Often it is coming to the aircraft in big palettes. How do you screen that? Do you put it all through a machine? Do you have to break it down and look at it manually? Is it passed by by a canine that can detect explosives going to be sufficient? There's a lot of debate about that and a lot of pushback -- there has been a lot of pushback from the cargo community about some of this because some of that cargo is sensitive. It needs to be moved very quickly. And so it is a very thorny issue, one that they've been wrestling with at the TSA and on Capitol Hill for years. I think they are still working on the perfect solution there.
SPITZER: Well you know, Jeanne, I can tell you having spent many years as a prosecutor and in law enforcement, what goes on in terms of cargo screening is nothing close to what should be done and it is a big gaping hole in our security right now. It's something we better start paying attention to awfully quickly. Jeanne, thank you so much for joining us.
Now to another aspect of the story, in a moment we'll be joined by a man in London who incites hatred. His ultimate goal, export terrorism globally, especially to America.
PARKER: But first in a moment, our senior correspondent Nic Robertson will join us from London. Nic has been covering this story all day.
SPITZER: But before we go to him, an explanation for why we're talking to the self-described radical cleric. We know it's controversial to bring on someone who incites hate especially on a day in which there's been attempted violence against America. We feel it's important for everyone to hear how radical Islamists think. They preach violence against us. We should know who they are. Nic Robertson joins us now from London. Tell us, Nic, about Choudary and how much of a threat he really is.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anjem Choudary has stirred up a lot of contempt in Britain. Earlier this year he wanted to march through the streets of Britain, the same streets where British soldiers are brought back in their coffins from Afghanistan. He wanted to marsh through those streets with supporters bearing coffins of 500 Muslims, he said symbolic of people that have been killed by British/U.S. forces in Afghanistan. That drew about a quarter of a million people to a Facebook page to sign a page to say don't do it, we're all against you.
He was condemned by the British prime minister. He's a man who walks a fine line. In Britain, there are very strong laws. If you preach hatred, you will be sent to jail. Anjem Choudary is a man who doesn't -- who hasn't been sent to jail but many of his critics says he walks very close to that fine line, Eliot.
PARKER: Nic, Choudary has turned his attention to trying to inflame the youth. Is his message effectively reaching America?
ROBERTSON: Mr. Choudary has himself been to the United States before 9/11, toward the Bible Belt there, the Midwest, trying to build support for the kind of organizations that he supports in Britain.
These are the organizations that U.S. counterterrorism officials call a sort of bug lights to attract want to be jihadists to a very loud, vibrant, angry, strong Islamic message. In Britain, his call to have Sharia religious law here in Britain, for the queen's residents in London, Buckingham Palace to be turned in a mosque. And as recently as the last couple weeks, he has been online on the Internet with representatives in the United States from like-minded organizations trying to build that level of support for that same vocal voice. It's a message that he's trying to get across because he believes in it.
PARKER: But his message is beyond extreme. And he sounds kind of ridiculous. Is he really taken seriously by people over there?
ROBERTSON: He's taken seriously because he represents albeit a very minority view but he represents a minority view. But what worries counterterrorism officials is the people that are drawn to that message, his direct supporters, the people that go to his meetings. He himself may never be involved in carrying out terrorist type attacks as we know them but what concerns counterterrorism officials, it's this very loud, angry message that draws in people who are attracted to that.
One organization he was associated with before the British government moved to ban it, stopped short, Al-Muhajiroun, two people closely associated with that organization attended some of its meetings, went off to become suicide bombers in Israel, one of them targeting a pizza place in Jerusalem. So why he may not explicitly tell people to go and do something, counterterrorism officials worry that people listening to his message will be inspired to do it. SPITZER: You know Nic, he seems to be the megaphone and very loud megaphone for absolutely outrageous, heinous acts. And he has justified the killing over and over of innocent women, men, children, wherever it happens in the world in pursuit of his cause. He has also been in favor of assassinating the pope. So Quantify for us if you can, how many people follow him? How many people listen to him in London or in England more generally?
ROBERTSON: I've been to some of his rallies here in Britain. And one of them within the past year was again to try to have Sharia religious, Islamic religious law be the law of Britain. And that attracted I would say perhaps at maximum but I saw on the streets was about 50 people. That was a rally that had to be relocated because a much larger group of people from several different organizations, both the right wing anti-Islamist organizations in Britain, plus it has to be said moderate Muslim organizations who actually joined voices and found a common ground in a protest rally that actually stopped him putting on his original rally.
So it is small numbers but again for counterterrorism officials, it's the ones and the twos and the threes that would be inspired and we've seen it in the United States already who would listen to this type of message, perhaps make contact as we're seeing in the United States who can get them to terror training camps in Pakistan for example as we've already seen in the United States.
SPITZER: Nic, as we also know, very small numbers can do unbelievable harm. If you can hold on for just a moment, in a moment, we will meet Anjem Choudary. But first, a very quick break.
SPITZER: We now want to bring in radical cleric Anjem Choudary. Nic, I know you have interviewed him in the past and have a few questions for him today.
ROBERTSON: Mr. Choudary, you have been listening to us discussing here your reputation in Britain. When you look at this latest effort to attack the United States, do you not worry that it is your voice that's helping radicalize people who want to do this?
CHOUDARY: Well, I think that at the end of the day, there's a struggle taking place globally, and our voice is merely to portray the truth.
Whether we like it or not, there are two camps in the world today. A camp which believes that sovereignty and supremacy belongs to man. At the head of that is Barack Obama. And the other camp believes that sovereignty and supremacy belongs to God, and at the head of that is Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
So what we see today is a phenomenon of the conflict between these two camps. It is on an intellectual level; it is on an economic level. It is being played out in Afghanistan and Iraq. You've seen the warnings recently from Sheikh Osama bin Laden, from Adam Gadahn and other people around the world who have said that as long as you occupy Muslim land, then there will be a reaction. Every cause has an effect. So either we turn a blind eye to these things and we silence the voices of truth. We don't want you here, you know, people to say, look, this is something we need to take seriously. Or we just live in bliss and we suffer the consequences of 9/11.
ROBERTSON: OK. So let me be clear here. You are saying there are two camps. One is headed by Barack Obama and the other is headed by Osama bin Laden. Just for our audience here so we're all very clear, which one of those camps are you in?
CHOUDARY: I'm in the camp of the Muslims. At the current time, that is headed by Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
ROBERTSON: So you would support Osama bin Laden if in fact it is al Qaeda's attempt to attack the United States again, as we've seen today with these highly powerful explosive bombs sent there from Yemen?
CHOUDARY: Well, let me just say that there's no proof at the moment that al Qaeda is behind this particular episode.
But having said that, you know, not al Qaeda, I would support any Muslim doing his duty and responsibility. I live among you in the West under a covenant of security. In return for my life and wealth being protected, I will not target the life and the wealth of the people with whom I live. But that cannot be said for the people in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia and in Sudan and Somalia, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When you send bombs over there, what do you expect them to send back to you? What did you expect to find in a package? You know, chocolates? Of course you're going to find bombs. They're going to give you a taste of your own medicine.
And quite honestly, you know, the answer to this is not to point the finger of blame to people like myself who are saying, well, look, let's take warning from the statements of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. Rather we should condemn the (inaudible) and the oppressor of today, which is in fact Barack Obama, who is sending more troops to their death in Afghanistan and Iraq. Surely the oppressor is the one who is killing hundreds of thousands of people, not those who are killing, you know, a minuscule number in comparison who are trying to defend their life and property.
ROBERTSON: So what you are trying to do by holding these big Internet chats with Revolution Muslim in the United States, a very virulent Islamist group with a very loud, aggressive anti-American message, by you holding common chats with them on the Internet and with others, what are you trying to do? Boost their support for this radical message that's attracting would-be terrorists in the United States?
CHOUDARY: Let me tell you something. Islam is the fastest growing ideology and religion in the whole of the West, including America and in Europe. I believe as Muslim one day the Sharia will be implemented everywhere, including in America. I believe as a Muslim the flag of Islam will fly over the White House. So I will propagate Islam everywhere via the net, via the conferences and demonstrations that we have.
And incidentally, we do not represent a minuscule organization. I represent, inshallah, the Islamic viewpoint. If that can be proven from the divine text, then that is what I should be judged upon, not the number of people who may follow me or may not follow me. The fact is that Islam is spreading everywhere. People in your own backyard are embracing Islam, leaving Christianity and Judaism. So I'm here to propagate Islam intellectually, to break down the intellectual pillars which hold up the...
CHOUDARY: ... of freedom and democracy and secularism, while other people obviously are knocking down the physical pillars.
ROBERTSON: Mr. Choudary, let me bring in my colleagues from the United States. But just as I do that, let me remind you that a quarter of a million people signed a FaceBook page in Britain condemning your actions and condemning your efforts to carry these coffins through Britain earlier this year. My colleague, Eliot Spitzer, would like to ask you a question. Eliot, please go ahead.
SPITZER: Mr. Choudary, just so people understand your mindset, do you maintain that the attacks in New York on 9/11 were both morally justified and compelled by your religious beliefs?
CHOUDARY: Well, you know, I believe that history did not begin on 9/11. Before 9/11, the American establishment had bombed Sudan and Afghanistan. Before 9/11, they were supporting the pirate state of Israel. Before 9/11, they were propping up the very dictators who...
SPITZER: Mr. Choudary, Mr. Choudary, I have this...
CHOUDARY: I'm coming to that. I'm coming to that.
SPITZER: Well, answer -- answer the question. Is it morally justified?
CHOUDARY: What I believe is that -- I believe that it's an Islamic viewpoint, justified according to the people who carried out that operation. I may not share the same Islamic viewpoint, but I believe that they can justify that according to the divine text. I would say to you that...
SPITZER: Do you share, Mr. Choudary, do you share the view that that is morally justified?
CHOUDARY: I share the view that our action must be based upon the Koran and the teachings of the Messenger Mohammed, (speaking Arabic), and this is an Islamic opinion. I cannot deny that. Although I believe I have a covenant of security with the people, for example, in Britain. Other people don't have that viewpoint. I'm sure it is better for me to share that with you so that both yourself and I, we can change the situation. We don't need to have another 7/7 or 9/11, which I think looks inevitable.
We can go back to a situation where you can withdraw your troops. After all, Afghanistan is not Kansas or, you know, New York or Manhattan. That's a foreign country. You are occupying a foreign country. So obviously you would face the consequences of that.
PARKER: Mr. Choudary, I'm Kathleen Parker, and I have a question for you. If I understood you correctly, you said a bit ago that you support any Muslim doing the work of a Muslim. Can you describe exactly what you mean by the work of a Muslim?
CHOUDARY: Yes. I believe that Islam is submission, and that applies to every aspect of our life, whether in our relationship with our families, our relationship with the society, even the way that we address people and invite them to Islam.
Jihad is not something which, you know, the Muslims are permanently engaged in. But there is jihad to liberate Muslim land, which is an obligation for the Muslims to support, verbally, financially and physically, to liberate and to defend our life and our property.
And of course, this is something, you know, the Muslims around the world I don't think would differ with. They may say one thing to you in front of CNN, but I can assure you behind your backs, in every (inaudible), in every community center, they are standing with their Muslim brothers and sisters, saying we hope the Americans and British are pushed out of our countries and we can implement the Sharia. So this is an Islamic organization for us to support our brothers around the world. Our land is one, our war is one, our peace is one, our honor is one. But we don't need to be in a constant state of this flux of, you know, a cycle of violence.
I think that we can have a decent relationship. You withdraw your troops, stop supporting the pirate state of Israel, and then perhaps we can have a dialogue and discussion. These warnings are there, in the statements of Sheikh Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Ayman al- Zawahiri, you know, Adam Gadahn. You know, why is the American establishment not taking heed? I think that is the real question.
PARKER: But you also want to impose Sharia law where you live. Does that mean that -- does the work of a Muslim mean imposing Sharia law on everyone who is not a Muslim, including Americans?
CHOUDARY: Look, the Sharia law is the divine law sent by God to the final messenger, Mohammed (speaking Arabic). It is justice for mankind. It will take mankind out of the shackles of man-made law, into the perfection and beauty of divine law. So of course I want that -- I want that everywhere. I want to share that with you. Surely it's a very noble thing to invite someone to a superior way of life. You know, if I believe the people are being oppressed, why should I not invite them to come out of their oppression?
I believe that the Americans, the British and indeed most of the world had been living in the darkness of the hegemony and the exploitation of man-made law for many, many decades. But you know, when we open the door, when we shine the light, people don't like the light. But you know, I think you will find that when people actually have a look at Islam, when they look at the Sharia, they will see that it in fact has a solution for every single problem that's facing America and Britain nowadays. You know, from the inflation to the credit crunch to the exploitation...
SPITZER: Mr. Choudary, are you communicating with individuals in the United States and encouraging them to participate in attacks of this sort?
CHOUDARY: Of course I am. You know, I am participating in communication with people all around the world. As you know, the Internet makes the world a very small place. You know, we have a lot of support, in fact, (inaudible) from people as far afield as Indonesia, from India...
SPITZER: Mr. Choudary, Mr. Choudary, based upon your answer, I believe -- and I'm sure many prosecutors will listen to your answer -- you have violated U.S. law. You deserve to be arrested, prosecuted, jailed for the rest of your life. That is what you, sir, deserve. You are a violent and heinous terrorist.
CHOUDARY: I -- I say to you -- I will say to you...
SPITZER: You can speak it from behind prison bars as far we're concerned, sir.
CHOUDARY: ... you can use as much pejorative -- you can use as much...
CHOUDARY: ... my invitation -- my invitation is a peaceful one to people to embrace Islam and to warn them obviously of the consequences of occupying Muslim land. I think that's a very decent thing. If we said to you, look, there's not going to be any consequence by people attacking Muslims, then I think that would be...
SPITZER: Thank you, sir. And Nic...
CHOUDARY: ... not a very honorable thing to do.
SPITZER: ... Nic Robertson, our superstar correspondent over in London, thank you as always for that wise and prescient interview that you conducted.
PARKER: Thank you, Nic.
SPITZER: We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SPITZER: We're following breaking news tonight after a foiled terrorist attack on this country. Joining us now from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Congressman Pete Hoekstra, a ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. He's been briefed in Washington today by senior intelligence officials. Also, he has recently visited Yemen and is an expert on al Qaeda. Congressman, thank you for joining us late this evening. What can you tell us that is new based on your briefings today about your knowledge of where these attacks began and what comes next?
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: Well, I'm not sure what I can tell you that's new. This has been a fast-paced story all day. Our intelligence folks have been on top of this. I congratulate the work that they've done intercepting these packages, putting in place a structure that enables us to work with our liaison partners, people like the Saudis to get this kind of information to keep America safe.
There are still some questions out there. Is this part of a larger plot? Were these bombs designed to go off? If so, where were they designed to blow up on the planes or somewhere else? There's lots of questions out there. We're getting lots of information. I think today they did a lot of things right.
PARKER: Congressman, we know it was intelligence that foiled this attack but do we know where that intel came from?
HOEKSTRA: I think it was pretty clear in the statement that came out I think about 6:30 tonight where the White House acknowledged the participation with Saudi Arabia. It appears that we've gotten some information from the Saudis that helped us move forward through the night last night and through the day today.
SPITZER: Congressman, you have traveled to Yemen after the Christmas bombing in 2009. How big a challenge do we face in stopping terrorism from Yemen? It seems to be a failed nation as we call it, just kind of breaking down civil war and inability on the part of the government to control what in fact is going on within its territory. Based on your experience there, where do we stand in that regard?
HOEKSTRA: I think Yemen is a very, very difficult target. You've got the ungoverned regions of Pakistan. That's a difficult target. By definition they are ungoverned. That's how they are named. Large parts of Yemen are in the same category. That's why al Qaeda from the Arabian Peninsula has established its base there. That's why Anwar al-Awlaki has gone there. So it's a very difficult place. But there's more places like that around the world especially now taking a look at northern Africa, from Maghreb. This is another place where Al Qaeda is migrating to because they have the opportunity there to plan, prepare for attacks against the west. Al Qaeda in Pakistan, they're focused on Afghanistan. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, they are focused on attacks in Europe and in the United States because those areas do not have established governments that can tap these organizations down and keep them under control.
PARKER: Congressman, you said that we need to redouble our efforts in the fight against terrorism. But what's the long-term key to success in preventing future terrorist attacks?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think the key is intelligence. And I'll tell you, I think one of the things that we're going to see that has happened perhaps in October of 2010 is that this president has fully embraced now the severity of the threat that we face from radical Islam that we face from terrorism. You know, a year ago or, you know, earlier in his presidency, he said we were going to close Gitmo. We were going to have the trials in New York City. Whether you agree with those policies or not, it was a different kind of approach and a different look at terrorism. You know, his secretary of homeland security called it manmade terrorism. We had the attack at Fort Hood. They initially said, you know, that really didn't have anything to do with the larger radical Islamic threat that we face. Later on, we found out that Hasan had been in contact and motivated by Anwar al- Awlaki.
Now when you see the president today, I think he fully is engaged and embraces the threat and embraces doing everything to defeat this threat by what we've seen in the last 10 days.
SPITZER: Congressman --
HOEKSTRA: Hawaii, Virginia, those arrests and then, you know, the attack today, or attempted attack today.
SPITZER: Congressman, if I may just tap in here for a moment, and I'm just going to make a brief comment here.
SPITZER: I think this president has embraced the severity of this challenge to our security since the very first moment he took the oath of office. Every office he's ever held and I think, in fact, that's evident from the number of drone attacks, his redoubling of the effort in Afghanistan. But that's not what our conversation tonight should be about. Where do we stand in terms of drone attacks in Yemen, our ability to go after Al Qaeda there, Al Qaeda in Yemen? Several multiples bigger we believe in Afghanistan. What do you know about the success of our drone attacks in Yemen and where they should go from here?
HOEKSTRA: Well, you know, I can't talk about our exactly activities on the ground or in the air in Yemen. You know, I think we all know that General Petraeus was there earlier this year. The president, this administration, Congress recognizes how important it is to have effective military action either from the Yemeni government or other resources to go after Al Qaeda in Yemen. The president is, you know, is very aggressively going after the threat that we face in Afghanistan. I hope and expect this administration will do what is necessary. Like I said, I am encouraged that this president is doing a number of things that I genuinely agree with that focus on disrupting Al Qaeda and their ability to plan and attack the west.
PARKER: Well, Congressman, terrorism increasingly seems to be an online Internet operation but we do know that the real headquarters for Al Qaeda, of course, is in Pakistan. What are we doing there and how effective are we?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think that, you know, there is a tremendous amount of success in the Paki-Afghan region. There's still a tremendous amount of work to do. We're keeping a lot of pressure on Al Qaeda. We're keeping a lot of pressure on the Taliban. We've got to be more effective in the work that we do with the Pakistani government to get down what needs to get done on the Pakistani side of the border.
Pakistan, I believe, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the threat there and what those folks are focused on, they are focused on what's going on in Afghanistan. I really do believe that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they are a franchise of Al Qaeda. They're not being directed by Al Qaeda in the Afghan-Pak region. They are directing -- they're self-directed. They are targeting the west. They're targeting specifically Europe. They want to attack the United States and their, you know, inspirational leader is the America cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
SPITZER: Based on what you're seeing this evening, it sounds to me as though you're basically saying Afghanistan is not where we should be putting our resources. We should be in Yemen and, indeed, in Pakistan. Would you encourage the president to shift either our troops or our covert operations from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Yemen?
HOEKSTRA: The -- I think you've got to be active in all of these places. You've got to be active in the Afghan-Pak region. Obviously, Pakistan is a sovereign nation. What we do in Pakistan, what they allow us to do, you know, that has to be something that we negotiate with them. But we've got to keep the pressure on in the Pak-Afghan region and we have to keep the pressure on in Yemen. And you know, I think the evolving target, the evolving threat will also be in northern Africa. There's signs that Al Qaeda is becoming more vibrant and that they are now using this as a base and we're going to have to work with those governments to see how we keep Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda related groups under our thumb in those areas as well.
PARKER: All right. Congressman, thank you so much.
HOEKSTRA: Great, thank you.
PARKER: Pete Hoekstra, thank you for being with us. We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PARKER: With the elections right around the corner, the eyes of the political world are turning to Florida. According to the latest CNN/Time poll, there's a three-way race for U.S. Senate with Republican Marco Rubio ahead at 46 percent, independent governor and former Republican Governor Charlie Crist with 32 percent, and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek with 20 percent. So why all the attention? It's because the controversy surrounding rumors that former President Bill Clinton asked Meek to drop out and endorse Charlie Crist.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek.
Congressman, thank you for joining us.
REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA: Kathleen, glad to be on the show. And congratulations to you and Eliot.
PARKER: Oh, thank you so much.
SPITZER: Thank you.
PARKER: We're going to skip the Bill Clinton question for now. It's been quite a 36 hours for you, hasn't it? How are you doing?
MEEK: Well, I'm doing just great. And, you know, it's easy when you're telling the truth. And it's great because Floridians have an opportunity to see how I'm willing to fight for them even when we have falsehoods and, you know, one of my opponents claiming that he initiated all of this discussion, which is very, very interesting. So we're weathering an average campaign day.
I wouldn't call it average. We started out pretty early today. But we're excited about the response that we're getting from people.
SPITZER: It turns out you've known Bill Clinton since way back when you were on his detail back when he came down to Florida in '92, was it?
MEEK: It was '92 when he was running. Actually '91 when he started running for president of the United States and Buddy McKay who was the lieutenant governor was his campaign chair, and I was his security person with the Florida Highway Patrol.
MEEK: But I've known Bill Clinton for a very long time, yes.
SPITZER: Now, I don't know about you, but I had the privilege over the years of spending some time with Bill Clinton, probably not as much as you. I've got to say I don't think I know anybody out there who is as brilliant a political mind as Bill Clinton. He knows every district, every precinct and knows how this game is going to be played. Has that been your sense of him?
MEEK: Absolutely. I can tell you, Eliot, that's where we got into the discussion about Florida. Of course, he's a student of politics. He's been around. He's won races. He's lost a couple. He became president of the United States. He helped people get elected. So, you know, we always talk about politics. Actually he's on the road now going throughout the country. And I'm glad that he's my friend. Unfortunately, our conversations became a part of the political discourse.
MEEK: It had very little to do with me getting out of this race. He never once he said you should get out of this race. And I think there's been statements released by the president and others and I think it's pretty clear now.
SPITZER: I've been told by people and tell me if you heard the same thing who are very senior in the Crist campaign that if he wins, he will caucus with the Democratic Party. Have you heard that?
MEEK: Well, I can tell you what I know that when we celebrated New Year's eve and when the legislative session started this year and when it ended, Charlie Crist was the Republican governor of the state of Florida. I know he was the chairman of the Republican Party. I know that he was a pro-life candidate. I knew that he said there was no way in the world that he was going to get out of the Republican primary. He said he was against gay adoptions. Now, he says he's for it. I mean, this man is all over the board. And I think really he's a very desperate candidate at this point.
He's correct. You know, I'll sit at home and I'll see his name come up on my caller I.D. at home, I mean, at 10:00 at night. The governor called me 10 minutes to 5:00 a.m. the other morning on Monday morning. I mean, that doesn't sound like someone who is the governor of the fourth largest state in the union that's a confident candidate.
I can tell you this. I am running to be the next United States senator. I think everything happens for a reason. I didn't kick this that bad. The governor did. He admitted last night. He admitted doing so.
SPITZER: If Bill Clinton came to you and said, look, Congressman, we've been buddies for at least 18, 19 years now. I love you like a brother. I care about you. But you and I both care about making sure the Democratic Party doesn't lose control of the Senate. And if Bill Clinton then said, I think the way to do that is to elect Charlie Crist to the Senate and he's going to be a Democrat. Would you do it then if Bill Clinton asked you that way?
MEEK: Put it this way, if he wanted to have that conversation with me saying, hey, man, you really need to do this, you really should do it. I'm your friend. This is something that you should do. It would have happened a long time ago.
PARKER: Congressman, I am not a politician.
PARKER: And I think -- I don't blame you for being furious. You're your own man. You're running for office. And to have these people come and say oh, you should quit, I don't blame you for being furious. You stick to your guns.
MEEK: You know, you don't have to re-ask the question because here's the bottom line. That answer would be no, Eliot and Kathleen. It would be absolutely no. I don't think the president would ever ask me to do anything like that because he was my first supporter, real big supporter in this campaign outside of my family.
PARKER: You know, of course, Republican Marco Rubio says that these backroom kinds of deals that are making politics so dirty. But ultimately, he's the big winner after all the dust settles, isn't he?
MEEK: Well, just put it this way. Marco Rubio is former Speaker Rubio. And you don't get there unless you do backroom deals. So, I mean, that's almost like the pot calling the kettle black.
Let me just say this very quickly. Charlie Crist had his chance to beat Marco Rubio. He decided to bail out the Republican Party. It seems like Marco Rubio is kryptonite to him, but he's not kryptonite to me. And people know that I have the will and the desire to run hard. I have a ground campaign. It's called a Democratic coordinated campaign. The governor doesn't have it. I have a record of standing when the going gets tough. The governor doesn't have it. So I don't have quiterritis (ph). I move forward.
PARKER: You know, I'm a native Floridian, Congressman. You make me want to come down there and vote. Let me ask you this. Have you spoken to President Obama in the last 48 hours?
MEEK: I have not. I was on a conference call with the president maybe, I think, two nights ago. I didn't speak to him directly. It was a conference call of members of the clergy. I haven't received a phone call. No, I have not talked to him to answer your question.
PARKER: And you haven't talked to anybody else in the White House?
MEEK: I have not. A matter of fact, I have not heard from the White House. Charlie Crist said he spoke with the White House, so I guess that would be a great question for him.
PARKER: Yes. Congressman Meek, thank you so much.
MEEK: Thank you so very much.
PARKER: All right. Good luck.
MEEK: Thank you.
PARKER: Thanks for being with us.
MEEK: All right.
PARKER: We'll be right back.
SPITZER: The election is coming down to the wire. A lot of seats are changing hands. Now even the Senate majority is up for grabs.
Joining us tonight in "The Arena" and this arena is hopping Ari Melber of "The Nation," Will Cain of the "National Review." We are ready to go with ideological warfare breaking out on this side of the table.
PARKER: And we also have Nicolle Wallace, who's the former director of communications for the Bush White House and author of the best selling "18th Acres," also a columnist for "The Daily Beast." And John Avlon, another columnist for "The Daily Beast" and author of the fabulous "Wingnuts."
JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
PARKER: Thank you all for joining us.
SPITZER: All right, guys, you know, everybody is taking for granted the House is going to become Republican. The Senate up for grabs. Let's begin with this question. Of all the Senate races out there, which one is your bellwether race to watch?
ARI MELBER, "POLITICO" COLUMNIST: You know, I'll tell you Colorado where you have someone on the Democratic side who basically was a school superintendent, a regular person, not a career politician, in a state that went blue for Obama and yet on the total ropes there, 46-45, and might go red. And if you see that kind of state go Republican even with a new Democrat in there, well, that's going to tell you what kind of night you're going to have.
SPITZER: By new Democrat, you mean somebody not weighed down by incumbency for too many years. Not being there for the establishment.
MELBER: Exactly. Literally has never run a race before.
MELBER: As we all know, that's a popular thing this cycle. If Democrats can't use that, it's trouble.
WILL CAIN, HOST, "OFF THE PAGE": Whatever happens in Nevada is the bellwether for what will happen in the nation.
PARKER: What's your prediction?
CAIN: Gosh, I'm not going to pretend like I can predict that future. It is way too tight, Kathleen. I mean, gosh. But if Harry Reid is booted for a candidate on the edge as much as Sharron Angle, Democrats you are in trouble.
SPITZER: I'm glad you said she's on the edge though. Makes me feel good.
CAIN: Good, I'm glad.
NICOLLE WALLACE, AUTHOR, "18 ACRES": OK, so I've got two different ones. I think if Illinois and Washington State go Republican, it's a wipeout, not a wave. Those are two I'm going to watch and if those are looking good, the early returns look good for Republicans. I mean, we can do the victory dance that we've restrained ourselves from doing.
Look, I think in Nevada, I think that's a more local race than we can see from here in New York. I actually think a lot of local factors are playing out there. And I think anything could happen because they're both so strange. You know, Harry Reid is not a great candidate. In Nevada, he is not beloved and she's new and raw. And so I don't think that one matters as much as far as predicting national trend as Illinois where you've got really almost by today's standards a centrist.
PARKER: This whole season is really strange versus stranger.
WALLACE: I agree.
PARKER: Essentially. Now you've written a lot about this, John. What's your favorite race?
AVLON: Look, Angle/Reid does is extraordinary because you've got a Senate majority leader and where there's a history of Democratic Senate majority leaders losing. You know, we're not in uncharted territory here. Tom Daschle, you know, Ford, Tom Foley in '94.
SPITZER: On both sides of Congress.
AVLON: That's right. So -- but Sharron Angle is just such an extraordinarily strange candidate. Someone who's not talking to the press because of the serial sort of slip. Somebody whose policy playbook is straight out of a John Birch Society or would have been a generation ago. And yet she could absolutely beat the Senate majority leader. That's extraordinary.
But look, I think Manchin in West Virginia is a great race and should be fascinating.
SPITZER: Prediction on that one.
AVLON: I think Manchin pulls that.
SPITZER: Manchin wins.
AVLON: But this is a degree to which Democrats are playing defense here when they're trying to hold seats they should not have to be fighting their life for. The other one fascinating is Sestak/Toomey. And just because I think normally Pat Toomey would be far to the right typically for a keystone state. And Sestak, because he's a former admiral, doesn't line up with typical liberal Democrat.
SPITZER: You know what's interesting, nobody has mentioned California yet. And at the beginning of the season, that's where you had powerful Republican women with tons of money, independent, self- made, were going to sort of send a wave to California. It's not happening.
CAIN: But you want to know here, all of the races that John mentioned, West Virginia, the Nicolle mentioned Illinois, the reason they're interesting to us is because they're all so tight and close. PARKER: That's right.
CAIN: And in every single one of these races, it's Democrats playing defense. These are seats that are looking to be flipped. There's your bellwether.
WALLACE: They're also unpollable (ph) You know, I think it's impossible to poll some of these states because they don't line up along traditional fault lines. You know, each side to make the predictions are making to spin us the way they're spinning us in the final days is looking at some, you know, secret vault of information that is pretty dubious in my opinion.
MELBER: Well, you know, I'll agree with Nicolle. I mean, we both worked on campaigns and one thing you learn on a campaign is it's not always about who's up and down but what is the universe of people that's going to turn out.
MELBER: You know, the early voting in Nevada is more Democrats. But people don't really know whether they're voting for Harry Reid or not. Right?
MELBER: That universe doesn't tell you enough and that's the thing about Tuesday is who's going to come out.
SPITZER: Early voting in Florida is Republican.
SPITZER: So based on what we're being told.
AVLON: In the macro sense, here's what we need to keep in mind. I mean, first of all, midterms are high intensity low turnout elections. And so as we get all overheated about the count voting for divided government that Americans tend to do as a counter sort of check and balance kind of force, most elections are probably going to be 38, 39, 40 percent turnout. Presidential is going to be much higher. Just typically run 50, 55.
So before we get too concerned about -- you know, there's a natural process working out here. And there are candidates who can win in this cycle who would not be able to win in a presidential cycle.
SPITZER: I want to come back to Will's point, his critique always -- you're exactly right, there is no Democratic story this election. It is all playing defense on local issues.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
SPITZER: If you were able to sit here and script for the Democratic Party right now a narrative, a storyline they should have embraced, what would it have been?
MELBER: It's what President Obama actually touched on so briefly in his famous Jon Stewart interview. He says, oh, yes, I can't get all this stuff done because of the filibuster. Well, there's a larger problem there and both parties are to blame for it and that's the way the Senate has broken down and become a place where things can't get done without a supermajority.
If you go out to Americans and you say I can't get this done because I need 60 percent, not 51 --
MELBER: -- people are confused by that. And that was a problem that they never began with. Now, it sounds like sour grapes.
SPITZER: At risk of sounding like Christine O'Donnell, is that number 60 in the constitution somewhere?
PARKER: Will, you're a fan of filibustering and gridlock.
CAIN: I am.
PARKER: How do you explain that? Don't most Americans really want us to move forward? A compromise?
CAIN: I don't care what most Americans think. And I know I've got a guy at the table who wrote a whole book about this. But here's the thing. I think the concept of compromise and bipartisanship seeds philosophical ground to liberals. It suggests that if we can just set aside our differences we can solve our problems. And the inevitable suggestion is that there's a governmental solution to our problems. And I don't think that's a good ground to seed.
AVLON: We need checks and balances to focus on the areas that we can agree upon. That founders were trying to build on an idea that, look, we can't let the majority occur. We cannot let the extremes in effect dominate or hijack our politics. Instead, we're going to structure things with enough layers of checks and balances so that we focus on the things we agree on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
AVLON: -- or the urgent areas we're facing. That is a constructive process. That is not seeding ground to liberalism. That is actually the idea of moving the country not left to right but forward.
CAIN: John, I think you just described the ultimate justification for the filibuster. It is that we preserve for the federal government actions which we can agree on in great majorities above 60. Fifty-one does not represent a unified country. PARKER: Most of the moderates have been pushed aside. And we do have the more far right seeming to take over in this election. What does that mean in terms of policy and governance really?
WALLACE: You know, in my book, the president is a moderate woman. And people ask me how far off are we from a woman? And I think we're further away from electing a moderate than we are from electing a woman president.
I think that what I want to see on Wednesday morning is how many of those independents sided with Republican candidates because they thought we were onto something. They thought that this idea of shrinking the government is something that if we can deliver they might stick around two years later.
PARKER: I hate to do this. We have to close it out. Ari, Will, Nicolle and John, thank you so much for coming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
PARKER: We'll be right back.
SPITZER: Thanks so much for being with us. Stay tuned to CNN for the latest news on the attempted terrorist attacks.
PARKER: Good night from New York.
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