Return to Transcripts main page


Obama And McCain Clash On Opinions About Syrian Crisis; Republicans Pushed To Boost Border Security; Chipotle Admits Some Of Its Ingredients Are Products Of Gene Tweaking; Wolf Blitzer Receives Urbino Press Award In Italy; TWA Flight 800 Revisited In New Documentary; Interview With Senator Rand Paul; FBI Pushes Public, Utilizes Social Media To Investigate 2008 Times Square Bombing

Aired June 22, 2013 - 18:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: New evidence in a mysterious and deadly airline crash. Investigators say the official cause is wrong. The feds release a video of bombing in times square. They want your help finding the attacker.

And the surprising ingredients in many burritos. A major fast food chain comes clean about its menu and gene tweaked.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you are in the SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with what senators are calling a border surge, a breakthrough deal to double the size of the border patrol and hundreds of miles of security fence. It may be the best hope for passing immigration reform. The Senate will need a big enough vote to give the bill momentum because in the house immigration reform is a very tough sell.

Here's CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Republicans in particular, it's all about border security. That's why they call an immigration deal to beef it up a breakthrough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The border should not be an issue if this amendment passes.

BASH: Enhancing border security includes doubling the number of border agents to 40,000 and completing the 700-mile southern border fence. Republican supporters emphasize border security measures must be completed and certified before some 11 million illegal immigrants can get on a 13-year path to U.S. citizenship.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Eleven million people live in the shadows, and they live here in defacto amnesty and, by God, they are being exploited every single day.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A bipartisan bill to fix our broken immigration system. BASH: President Obama wants immigration reform for his legacy. Many Republicans want it to keep the party viable in the future since Hispanic voters are fleeing the GOP. Only 27 percent voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, a precipitous drop since George W. Bush won 44 percent in 2004. He also tried but failed to get immigration reform. Still, much of the GOP base opposes any path to citizenship. Many Republican senators will still vote no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amnesty will occur. That's the one thing we can be sure of and it will be first.

BASH: We asked Florida Republican Marco Rubio, elite GOP supporter, about conservative criticism.

(On-camera): For someone like you from a diverse state with likely higher ambition politically, this is important. For somebody who is in a conservative, very red state, voting for something like immigration reform hurts them rather than helps them. How do you overcome that?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, I understand why conservatives are upset. They've seen all these promises in the past that haven't been delivered. That's why we're saying that nobody can become a legal, permanent resident of the United States unless these border measures pass. We shouldn't do this for politics. I can tell you politically this is as much a negative as it is a positive. People are really upset and I respect it and I understand it.

BASH (voice-over): Few politicians have as much at stake here as Rubio, a Cuban American with presidential aspirations, who would need those upset conservatives to win a GOP nomination.

(On-Camera): In all candor, how much of your personal credibility and viability is on the line here? I mean, nobody talks about this without talking about Marco Rubio in the same breath politically.

RUBIO: I honestly have not analyzed it that way.

BASH: Come on.

RUBIO: No. Because if I wanted to do something political the easiest thing to do politically is not deal with the issue, you know. Give a couple speeches and not play and get involved and try to solve it. I'm dealing with this because this is hurting our country badly.

BASH: Many of Rubio's fellow Republicans are simply not buying that argument. In fact, positions there seem to be hardening against immigration reform rather than softening for it. The house speaker John Boehner even compared immigration reform to Obama care, which does not bode well for a passing a Republican led house and eventually going to the president's desk.

Dana Bash, CNN Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: OK. Let's bring in chief political correspondent Candy Crowley anchor of "STATE OF THE STATE THE UNION" and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, editorial director of "the National Journal" and CNN political reporter Peter Hamby. He was joining us from San Jose, California, the site of the net roots nation conference going on out there.

Candy, first to you on immigration reform. This was billed by several senators as a big breakthrough on this issue of immigration reform but it's still got to go through the house.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a big breakthrough for getting it through the Senate which tells you how difficult this issue is. And here is the biggest problem. When you mention Marco Rubio or John McCain, these are national politicians looking at a national picture. You go over to the Senate and -- I'm sorry -- you go over to the house and there are people that don't have ambitions to be president or to be the spokesman on, you know, the Republican spokesman on the fence, whatever it happens to be. They're interested in their district, and their district is not interested in a bill that doesn't toughen, number one, penalties for those in the country without documentation. They favor just a wholly different thing.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there is a couple things. The question is whether they have ambition to work with another Republican president. And that, really, is the debate and the challenge in the Republican party between the macro and micro politics. There is no question at the leadership level of the party there is a broad understanding that unless they improve their vote among minorities it is very difficult to win the White House. Mitt Romney won a higher share of white voters than Ronald Reagan did in 1980 and he lost. So, there is that understanding.

On the other hand, as Candy points out, 80 percent of the House Republicans are in districts that are more white than the national average. In this gerrymandering they've kind of segregated themselves from these Democratic changes that are making it hard to win the presidency. So, the interests are very different.

But on the other hand, even in polling, our polling, exit polling during 2012, most Republican, most rank and file Republicans believe there needs to be some pathway to legalization. Deportation is a minority position even among Republicans.

ACOSTA: And I've heard that from several conservatives in the house. Hey, Barack Obama won a second term. Hey, I want another term in the house. So, you know, what's the big deal?

But I mean, there is another problem in the house in that John Boehner, we saw this week with the failure of the farm bill, he has a very tough time, still, corralling this raucous, caucus, sometimes unruly house members that don't want to listen to leadership.

CROWLEY: I think there is an understatement. I don't think he has much control. Certainly as compared to other leaders, he does not have control of this group because they're really not beholden to him in the way that in the olden days, say, ten years ago, people were beholden to the speaker for various things. This is a group quite willing to go out on their own and they turned down a farm bill that they thought -- Republicans thought would pass. They're blaming Democrats.

BROWNSTEIN: And what happened on the farm bill could be precisely what happens on immigration. They passed a very conservative amendment on food stamps trying to mollify the conservative critics. That, then, drove away Democrats on final passage and the conservatives, 60 of the conservatives, still voted against the final bill even after they got the amendment. And you can imagine the exact same dynamic where very conservative amendments on enforcement are added to the bill to try to mollify the conservative critics of immigration and then, many of them oppose it anyway and Democrats can't fight with that, you know, with that brick in the meal.

ACOSTA: And at the heart of this issue is border security. I mean, that is what beefed up that bill on the Senate side. And looking at our latest CNN/ORC poll, 62 percent favor border security in the immigration bill, 36 percent prefer a path to citizenship. That's what's more important to those voters who were sampled in that poll. But as it turns out, this is all about border security. If those measures aren't beefed up enough to satisfy a lot of those conservatives in the house, it's going to be trouble.

CROWLEY: And for that they probably would blame Ronald Reagan because the mantra you hear constantly is see we had immigration reform during the Reagan years and this was going to fix everything and what did we end up with, 11 million plus however many undocumented workers here. So what they're looking for is a certain thing. And the fact is this is a very -- border security is a very hard thing to guarantee.

ACOSTA: We talked a little bit about 2016. Let's talk about that a little bit with our Peter Hamby who is out at the net roots nation forum.

And, Peter, you had a chance to catch up with former presidential candidate Howard Dean and, you know, he said something about 2016 that made a lot of people in Washington say, wait a minute. What's going on here? Howard Dean might actually run for president again? I want to talk to you about that, Peter. But of course, we have to remind our viewers why this may be a little farfetched for the former Vermont governor. Let's take a look.


HOWARD DEAN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico. We're going to California and Texas and New York. We're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House!


ACOSTA: Now, Peter, did Howard Dean say it just like that to you when he was talking to you about this?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. it was really surprising. He said it just like that. It was weird.

No. I sat down with him yesterday. He makes the rounds of liberal gatherings like this one, net roots nation here in California and he said, I asked him at the end of an interview about the state of the Democratic Party if he would be open to running again and he repeatedly refuse today rule it out. And I found him surprisingly, you know, engaged on the question. He said he has mixed feelings about it. But he is refusing to close the door, Jim.

He said that he would run if he saw, you know, a space to sort of agitate for issues on the left if he didn't see the candidate who is the front-runner talking about the issues and of course the pew to the front-runner for the nomination if she decides to run would be Hillary Clinton.

And Dean said that, quote, "she will not get a pass if she runs for president sort of promising that she will have a primary on the Democratic side whether it's from him or somebody else."

You know, it sounds farfetched to people in Washington perhaps, but he does still connect with liberals, activists out here. We're totally excited to see him when he arrives. So it's not totally farfetched on the left side of the Democratic Party, Jim.

ACOSTA: And, I mean, Howard Dean did get kind of a raw deal on the scream thing. I mean, if you go back -- Candy, you were there that night and you remember how loud it was. But I've seen people, you know, show that video again and if you isolate the audio, sure it sounds like Howard Dean is screaming but he is basically screaming at the volume level of the --

CROWLEY: And by the way, the man behind him is Tom Harken. Remember, he had lost. Howard Dean had lost and Harken said to him before you go out there pump them up. Get them going. You get on the road. So it did not play in the room the way it played on TV. I can tell you that. We didn't know until we arrived in New Hampshire that it had gotten such play. We all just got on the plane. That was interesting.

Having said that, there are comebacks and I mean people get into a presidential race for a couple reasons. One is you think you can win and one is you want to help drive the agenda or you want to push the party to the left. I can see Howard Dean wanting to get in to drive the agenda. It's so hard to be yesterday's news in a presidential election unless you're --

ACOSTA: And but Ron, what about this? Because you know, a lot of people talked about 2016 as being a coronation for Hillary Clinton on the democratic side but there is always that opening.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, sure.

ACOSTA: I mean, he talked about, I mean Barack Obama was really -- CROWLEY: He was at the coronation last time.

BROWNSTEIN: Someone will run. From Hillary Clinton's point of view it is fine if it is someone like Howard Dean, the more is like Howard Dean. I mean, the most light issues does one --

ACOSTA: She would prefer that.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. The most likely outcome is you do get a gad fly type opponent as opposed to someone more from the center -- from the main stream of the party. Someone out there to make a point as Candy is saying.

I mean, she is as prohibitive a favorite as there has been and you know, often that goes right before a fall. But right now, it looks more like if she gets an opponent. It would be more likely to be someone like this who is coming from kind of the edge of the party to make a point than someone who could try to grow into a genuine competitor.

ACOSTA: And Peter, one of the things you also pointed out is that they played this video from President Obama to the folks there in the room and there wasn't exactly wild applause for the president. What was going on there?

HAMBY: Yes Jim, there is a lot of anxiety here at this conference which was started in 2006 as sort of a spin-off of the liberal blog culture that emerged during the Bush administration. Senator Obama came to this conference in 2007 and was sort of beloved by the bloggers and liberal activists here. Last night during the opening session, the White House sent along the You Tube video that they ran in between a speech from Howard Dean and women's activist Sandra Fluke. It was sort of met by polite applause.

Look, you know, there are a lot of issues here that the -- that liberals take issue with. You know, in D.C., we talk a lot about the president not, you know, meeting in the middle. Out here the concern is that the president hasn't gone far enough. You know, on issues like the keystone pipeline on foreclosures, on bank regulation. The most popular politician here, you know, talking about 2016, perhaps, is Elizabeth Warren.

There is a group here giving out Elizabeth Warren t-shirts and bumper stickers. She is the Massachusetts senator who sort of endeared herself to the left talking about student loan reform, talking about regulating Wall Street. And, you know, President Obama is almost kind of an afterthought here, which is kind of startling, you know, given the way he sort of captured the hearts and minds of liberals five years ago, Jim.

ACOSTA: Well, time moves on and I guess the parties as well or at least the base of parties.

Peter Hamby, thanks for that from San Jose. Appreciate it. Candy Crowley, Ron Brownstein thanks, as always, for your perspective. We appreciate it. Coming up next, CNN is on the front lines of serious civil war with pro government fighters openly angry at the U.S.

And Senator John McCain joins us to vent his strong differences with the president over Syria. That's coming up.


ACOSTA: Syrian rebels say they have received heavy weapons including antitank and antiaircraft missiles from what they call brotherly nations that back the revolution. There is no word yet from the Obama administration on what kind of weapons it plans to give the free Syrian army but the military aid comes as rebels are losing ground to pro government forces.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is inside Syria with some of the forces fighting for the Assad regime.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The urban combat is fierce. In Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus close to the city center. We're on the front line with Palestinians fighting for the Assad regime. Snipers do much of the fighting and death can come any second.

(On-camera): This is a pro government sniper position and this fighter here just told me he sees the snipers through his scope from here. So we'll wait and see what happens.

(Voice-over): The man said that shot took out a rebel fighter. Yarmouk which was set up as a Palestinian refugee camp by the Assad regime decades ago bears the scars of war but the pro government fighters tell me like on other front lines in Syria they are now turning the tide, winning background.

The commander's name is Abu Ihab. I asked him who his enemy is.

They are mostly Islamists from Al Qaeda (INAUDIBLE), he says, mostly foreigners from the emirates, from Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but also Syrians and Palestinians. A lot of the fighting happens inside the houses and here only a wall of sand bags separates the two sides. The pro government militia men say the rebels knock these holes into the walls when they owned this turf and rigged some of the passages with explosives when they fled.

(On-camera): So, the men tell us they have just recently retaken this house and as you can see the fighters have left here from the other side including booby trapped this entrance with what looks like a hand grenade or something so anybody who would have gone through there and triggered that wire would have been killed.

(Voice-over): The pro government fighters say they're angry at the U.S. after the Obama administration's announcement that it will help arm the opposition. We will keep fighting until we get rid of Al Qaeda (INAUDIBLE), he says, and all other insurgents in Syria and we're sure that God will be on our side.

In breaks from combat the pro government militia men sing the praise of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. Emboldened by recent victories on the battle field, but also worried what changes U.S. involvement might bring.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN. Yarmouk, Syria.


ACOSTA: Senator John McCain makes a passionate case for giving much stronger U.S. military support to Syria's rebels along with a no fly zone to help even the odds. But listen first to President Obama and then my interview with senator McCain. There are some very sharp differences.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you haven't been in the situation room, poring through intelligence and meeting directly with our military folks and asking what are all our options and examining what are all the consequences and understanding that, for example, if you set up a no fly zone, that you may not be actually solving the problem on the ground.

ACOSTA: Senator, it sounds like you're not getting your no fly zone or even something close to it. Does that mean the rebels are doomed in Syria?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't believe the rebels are doomed, but I don't think there is any doubt that on the battle field the advantage is clearly with Bashar Assad. Why wouldn't there be?

Tons of Russian equipment coming in, the Iranian revolutionary guard, jihadists from all over the region, 5,000 Hezbollah fighters, and he is still calling it a civil war. What it's turning into is a regional conflict, and the deciding factor on the battle field is air power. And we have got to and can, just as the Israelis have shown with standoff missiles they are able to hit targets that they want eliminated. It is shameful.

ACOSTA: Would you like to sit down with the president and talk about this?

MCCAIN: I have. I have already.

ACOSTA: What is his response when you make that case?

MCCAIN: He said he understands my points and he respects it, just as I respect his position. But obviously he has not agreed. And the influence --

ACOSTA: Is it just that he's maybe an anti -- just anti-war to some extent? He came into the White House being the anti-war candidate as you know. He was very much opposed to the Iraq war. He said in Germany that he is the president who is all about ending wars not starting wars, made that comment. Is he philosophically opposed to ratcheting things up in Syria do you think?

MCCAIN: No. I think he has beliefs that are genuine and sincere and obviously different from mine and most other experts. Look, the Middle East is about to erupt. This is turning into a regional conflict. Lebanon is destabilized, Jordan, the king of Jordan can't last. The conflict is spreading throughout the region. Hezbollah is all in. This is becoming a Sunni-Shia conflict, Iran/Saudi Arabia, Russia/U.S. and it's an unfair fight.

ACOSTA: But what about that video of the rebel fighter? You've seen it on You Tube. It shows a rebel fighter, what appears to be a rebel fighter eating a heart of a Syrian government military service member. Why would we want to get involved in something like that?

MCCAIN: I think it's terrible. I think it's horrible. And I think civil wars are probably the bloodiest and worst of all. The difference between that individual and that atrocious act is that that was an individual act by a deranged individual. Bashar al Assad has a strategy of rape, of torture, and murder. There are mass graves that have been found all over Syria. And so, it is -- his people and Hezbollah and others are trained to inflict torture and to indulge, engage in mass rapes in order to cow the population and commit mass murder. That's the difference.

We're talking about 93,000 people dead. The president said well, now we know chemical weapons killed a hundred people. What about the other 92,800 and whatever it is?

Look, this is an unfair fight. It's shameful. If Bashar Assad stays in power and the Iranians are able to make sure that happens, imagine the position of power that Iran has in the region and look what happens if Bashar Assad fails. It is a great blow to Iran the greatest in 25 years and they're cut off from Hezbollah which would mean that Hezbollah would die on the vine. That's why they're all in this conflict. And now we're talking about giving them light weapons. Light weapons do not do well against scud missiles and tanks. It's just shameful.

ACOSTA: Senator McCain we know where you stand on this issue and appreciate your time very much. And we will be talking to you soon.

Thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.


ACOSTA: Coming up next, a look at what is in your food, specifically your fast food. Chipotle says many of its ingredient are the products of gene tweaking. We will look inside.


ACOSTA: Here is a question. Would you like genetically modified ingredients in that burrito? It might be tough to avoid. Chipotle, which may be among the more health conscious chains, admits some of its ingredients are products of gene tweaking.

CNN's Brian Todd has details.

Brian, I can't believe we're using the words gene tweaking and burrito in the same sentence but we are.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A frightening thought, Jim. Its Chipotle immensely popular in this country. One of the reasons Chipotle brought in $2.73 billion in revenue last year is because it has marketed itself as a healthier alternative to just about every other fast food chain.

Well, Chipotle's recent effort to be more transparent about in all this, may also put a dent in that reputation.


TODD (voice-over): From its menu to its Web site to a short film it commissioned featuring Willie Nelson covering cold play --

Chipotle Mexican grill constantly promotes its commitment to healthy ingredients like naturally raised grilled chicken. But Chipotle has recently become clean becoming one of the first fast food chains to admit it has genetically modified organisms, GMOs in many of its top selling dishes -- in chicken and steak, tortillas.

(On-camera): Genetically modified organisms. In English what are they and why should we be concerned?

KATHERINE TALLMADGE, NUTRITIONIST: When foods are genetically modified, their genetic material has been unnaturally changed.

TODD: That's because it has been processed and grown on factory like farms, nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge says. She contends the soybean oil that Chipotle says it marinates chicken in can in high quantities lead to higher risk of heart disease or arthritis. Soybean oil is also used in some other Chipotle dishes.

(On-camera): If you want a Chipotle dish without genetically modified ingredients don't go with the instinct so many people have with the standard burrito, chicken, steak, and rice. You'll have to order a dish with some pork, lettuce, beans, maybe some salsa.

(Voice-over): Chipotle didn't provide someone to speak on camera but a company spokesman told us they're moving away from soybean oil in most dishes. Recently they switched to sun flower oil to make taco shells and chips.

Better? TALLMADGE: That's great news for people who love chips. Because if they're made with whole corn and a healthy oil like sun flower oil, they're actually good for you.

TODD: Chipotle says the food industry in America is dominated by artificially processed ingredients that is hard to get away from. How hard? On its Web site Chipotle still places a G for genetically modified next to its ingredients list for chicken, steak, tortillas, for half its foods.

Chipotle says it's constantly seeking ways to move away from all of it to healthier mixtures and that unlike so many other fast food chains at least it's telling customers about its artificial ingredients. We asked people coming out of Chipotle if this would steer them away.


TODD (on camera): Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I care about what I put in my body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It wouldn't because the vast majority of U.S. produce is injected with chemicals.


TODD: On the comments from Tallmadge, that soybean oil in some Chipotle foods raises your risk for heart disease and arthritis, the Soy Foods Association pointed us to an expert who flat-out disputed that, saying the key omega acids in soybean oil actually reduce those risks - Jim.

ACOSTA: It would be great to see some of the other fast food chains follow suit on that.

TODD: It would be. Chipotle has to get credit for at least coming clean on the Web site.

ACOSTA: All right, Brian Todd, thank you.

Still to come, a new documentary's controversial claim about a deadly air disaster. Plus video of an unsolved bombing in the heart of New York City.


ACOSTA: Demands are being made for a new investigation into the horrific mid-air explosion of a TWA jet that happened 17 years ago off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 people onboard. Now a new documentary is fueling suspicions that a missile might have actually caused the crash. In the film, six retired members of the original investigative team break their silence and they challenge the NTSB's official finding that faulty wiring to a fuel tank was to blame.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would your analysis have been?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The primary conclusion was the explosive forces came from outside the airplane. Not the center fuel tank.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would that statement have been in your analysis?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I got the right one.

ROBERT YOUNG, TWA AIRLINE ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION REP.: The agenda was that this is an accident. Make it so.


ACOSTA: The investigators won't speculate about the source of the explosion, but the documentary suggests that crucial evidence has been kept under wraps.


TOM STALCUP, CO-PRODUCER, "TWA FLIGHT 800": The family members need to know what happened to their loved ones. This investigation was - no -- not one single eyewitness was allowed to testify. That's unheard of. You know, let the eyewitnesses speak publicly at a government hearing. Reopen the investigation and find out what really happened. And stop this facade that's been going on for too long.


ACOSTA: This has gotten a lot of people talking about this this week, so let's dig deeper into the crash investigation and the doubt surrounding it. CNN's Tom Foreman joins us now.

Tom, there are some pretty startling claims being made in all of this that perhaps what we knew is not what we should have been told at the time.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, pretty strong pushback against it because of the basic facts we've known for quite sometime. TWA Flight 800 took off at 8:20 on the evening of July 17th, 1996. It was still light out. The weather forecast for the flight to Paris called for smooth sailing, and for 12 minutes it was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just saw an explosion out here.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Two other pilots were in the air and saw the explosion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It blew up in the air and then we saw two fireball goes down into the water.

FOREMAN: Other eyewitnesses were on Long Island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looked like a mile in the sky of flame coming down, straight down. I thought it was coming from the ground up, because the flame looked like it was shooting from the ground up, if you know what I mean.

FOREMAN: Two hundred and thirty men, women and children were aboard Flight 800. Everyone died. People thought terrorism immediately. An alert went out to the FBI. The Navy sent state-of-the-art salvage ships.

Investigators ended up recovering 97.5 percent of the plane. In a giant hangar, they actually actually put TWA 800 back together and reconstructed the plane's last seconds. Early on, they determined the center fuel tank blew up, causing the nose and first-class section of the jet to break off and fall away.

Incredibly, the coach section kept flying for about 30 more seconds. Evidence pointed not to one explosion, but two, the second blast, half-a-minute after the first erupted when the left wing tore away from the back half of the plane, leaking fuel from the much larger wing tank until something touched off a spark. That, they say, is why people saw a line of flames shooting upward.

Those eyewitness accounts of a trail of fire hit the Internet less than 36 hours after the explosion. People speculated it was a terrorist surface-to-air missile. Then, a document began circulating on the Web, taking the missile theory in a new direction. It said a U.S. Navy ship accidentally shot down Flight 800 and a cover-up reaching the highest levels of government was in play. It might have stayed an Internet conspiracy theory, had it not been for one man.

PIERRE SALINGER, FORMER ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It's a document that I got about five weeks ago from an intelligence agent of France.

FOREMAN: In March of 1997, Pierre Salinger, the former press secretary, former U.S. senator and network news correspondent, claimed to have verified the friendly-fire cover-up, specifically naming the USS Normandy as the ship that fired the missile.

But there was a problem with his claim. Salinger's proof turned out to be the same unsubstantiated document that had been on the Internet for months. And investigators concluded the U.S. Normandy never fired any of its missiles and, even if it had, it was out of range.


FOREMAN: More than four years after that explosion, in August of 2000, the NTSB finally released its final report concluding that TWA Flight 800 was the victim of fundamental design problems with the engineering and wiring that cracked and lost its insulation, allowing high voltage into its center fuel tank full of highly explosive fumes. That remains the official story and one reason, Jim, people close to the investigation are pushing back so hard against this documentary suggesting otherwise.

ACOSTA: But it is a fascinating story and a subject to go back and take a look at. And those images from that documentary that you had in your piece of them reconstructing the plane, so many Americans remember that. And obviously these questions are being raised. They'd like to get to the bottom of it. FOREMAN: Extraordinary work. But these questions that really have been raised numerous times since then. This is just the latest iteration of them.

ACOSTA: All right, Tom Foreman. Thank you.

Coming up next, a bombing in New York's Times Square. It's a case that's gone cold, but there are new clues and investigators are asking the public for help.


ACOSTA: Investigators are asking for the public's help to solve a bombing right in the heart of New York City. The case has gone cold, but there are new clues to share, and CNN's Mary Snow has the latest. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jim. Well, you may remember this was a small bombing back in 2008. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but it remains of concern to the FBI, and the FBI has released new images with the aim of getting someone to talk. And it says the bomber may not have acted alone, that there may have been as many as five people acting as lookouts.


(voice-over): A new push if there in an unsolved case of a possible serial bomber in New York City. The FBI is hoping a surveillance video and a $65,000 reward will nab the person responsible for setting off a bomb in 2008 outside a military recruiting station in New York's Times Square.

Authorities also believe it could be linked to similar incidents, one in 2005 at the British consulate, and another in 2007 at the Mexican consulate.

In the Times Square case, the device was set off in the middle of the night and no one was injured. What is known is that someone was seen riding on a bicycle before the device was detonated.

Carlos Fernandez is the FBI's acting special agent in charge in New York.

(on camera): How powerful is that device?

CARLOS FERNANDEZ, FBI: It was -- it was, according to our forensics people and our explosive experts, it was powerful. And we're very concerned about a device like that going off in New York.

SNOW (voice-over): The FBI says the device was built using an ammunition can, black powder and a time fuse. A federal law enforcement source told CNN that bomb technicians say the Times Square bomb was stronger than the device detonated during off in the Boston Marathon in terms of destructive capability. But unlike the bombs used in Boston, it contained no shrapnel.

After the recruitment center was targeted, a possible motive emerged as being military-related.

But the NYPD's Matthew Pontillo says that's just one theory.

DEPUTY CHIEF MATTHEW PONTILLO, NEW YORK POLICE: The military type ammunition can is a very, very common device. They're available in hardware stores and army/navy stores. It's essentially a steel box. And it may have just been something that was available to the person, but we really don't know for certain.

SNOW: The FBI is looking to the public for help. It's a tactic the agency used in other cases, including Whitey Bulger, when a tip led to Bulger's arrest after being on the lam for decades.

Now the FBI is turning to social media, putting up hash tags and billboards, hoping someone will come forward.


SNOW: So why is the FBI making this push now? It says when the five- year anniversary came up in this unsolved case, it decided to appeal to the public. Jim?

ACOSTA: Mary Snow, thank you very much for that.

Coming up next, my interview with Senator Rand Paul. He says the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, lied when he told Congress in March that the government was not collecting data on Americans. We'll have him explain that.


ACOSTA: The nation's top intelligence officials were on Capitol Hill this week trying to reassure the American public that those recently disclosed and controversial surveillance programs are a good thing. But not everyone agrees, including one potential presidential contender.


ACOSTA: And joining us now is the Republican senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. Senator Paul, thanks very much for joining us. Let's get right to it.

Earlier today, as you know, at this hearing, uh, the head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, uh, said that the surveillance programs stopped a number of attacks over the last several years. He even detailed some of those attacks. Lake - let's take a listen to what he had to say and then get your reaction. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, NSA DIRECTOR: In recent years, the information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world. (END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: And Senator Paul, uh, General Alexander, the other officials at this hearing, they said that the surveillance programs stopped a - an attack on the New York subway system, on the New York Stock Exchange and others. Uh, do you buy what the general and the other officials were saying? SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, frankly, they told us four months ago they weren't collecting any data on American citizens, which was an outright lie. So I think they're at a bit of a credibility gap at this point. The other question I have - and I've listened to them both in public and in private hearings, I haven't heard of a single case that couldn't have been captured or investigated with a traditional judicial warrant and looking at the phone calls of a suspect. To my knowledge - and I'm a bit at a disadvantage, because they have all the secret knowledge and I don't have it - but to my knowledge, none of the people captured or prevented were traced from random numbers. They were traced from a suspect. So you have a suspect who makes phone calls. I'm all for looking at a suspect's phone calls with a judge's warrant and then the next person, you look at their phone calls. My understanding is they like looking at all Americans' phone records because they think it's easier and faster. That's what I heard from them, easier and faster, but not that they couldn't have done this with a regular traditional judicial warrant. ACOSTA: And Senator, I just want to make sure I wasn't, uh, misunderstanding you. Uh, you just said that, uh, the head of the NSA was, uh, guilty of an outright lie. Are you saying that, uh, the general and these other officials are - are liars? PAUL: What I'm saying is that the director of National Intelligence, in March, did directly lie to Congress, which is against the law. He said that they were not collecting any data on American citizens and it -- ACOSTA: You're talking about James Clapper. PAUL: And it -- ACOSTA: (INAUDIBLE) -- PAUL: - and it turns out they're collecting billions of data on phone calls every day. So it was a lie. What I'm saying is that by lying to Congress, which is against the law, he severely damaged the credibility of the entire intelligence committee. Now - community. Now, I'm not -- ACOSTA: What should be done about that? I mean it - you - I mean I know that - that Mr. Clapper went on another network and said that, uh, his response - and I know what you're talking about, you're talking about Senator Ron Wyden's question about data collection on millions of Americans. That's when Mr. Clapper gave that response. He went on the Andrea Mitchell program and said it was the least untruthful answer he could give. I'm - I'm guessing here that you're saying that that's not satisfactory for you. PAUL: Right. ACOSTA: Should the president ask for his resignation? PAUL: I can't imagine how he can regain his credibility. When you lie, when you, frankly, come in front of the Senate and a senator asks you a direct question, which, by the way, he was warned of, according to Senator Wyden's office, they called the director of National Intelligence and said, we are going to ask you this question. So even though he was told in advance he would get the question, he still lied in a public hearing. I think there needs to be an open debate and Americans need to decide, are you willing to give up the data on all of your phone calls every day, all the time, because of your fear for terrorism, or, do you think, like I do, that you can catch terrorists and have the Bill of Rights at the same time? I frankly think you can have both. ACOSTA: So should Mr. Clapper resign, do you think? PAUL: Well, you know, the president has to decide that. I don't get a choice to decide. Mr. Clapper -- ACOSTA: If you were president, would you ask for his resignation? PAUL: Yes. He would not work in my administration, because the thing is is that we have to be able to trust our officials. And when you're doing this and when you have the ability to completely destroy people's lives, you have the ability to actually kill people overseas, I would think that you really have to have the utmost trust. And I think he's lost our trust by lying to us. ACOSTA: You're obviously laying the groundwork for a presidential run, uh, Senator Paul. How do you plan on capturing your party's nomination when your views on some of these issues are at odds with people like Dick Cheney and some of the hawks in your party on surveillance? PAUL: Well, you know, there was a poll out just this week that said well over 60 percent of Republicans think the NSA has gone too far, that they think your private phone calls and your records, you should have to have a warrant. And so I think as we have a fuller debate on these discussions, you're going to find that not only Republicans are with me on this issue, the youth are. President Obama lost 20 points among the young voters in the last month. And the reason he did so is because they see him now as a hypocrite who's unwilling to defend the privacy of the Internet. I think issues like this resonate beyond the Republican label. And I think they're going to help us become a bigger national party. And -- ACOSTA: Yes. PAUL: - Republicans will find out that I will and I do say that we do everything we can to protect our country, consistent with our Constitution. That's what we're defending. ACOSTA: And I just wanted to ask you, "The Washington Post," uh, came out with an item today. Chris Cillizza with "The Fix" described you as "the most interesting man in the political world." I don't know if you drink Dos Equis, but you are being held up there with the most important thing man in the world. And then "The New Republic" described you as President Rand Paul, not being very subtle there. You are running for president, right? PAUL: Well, you know, I think those are compliments, but I - you know, I think that I try to be genuine and honest and as a position, I look at things, I see problems in our country and I want to fix them regardless of whether it's a Republican or Democrat label who's supporting them, whether or not what I do in the future - we're about a year away from making a decision. But I do want to help the Republican Party grow and be more inclusive of people of all races and all walks of life, with tattoos, without tattoos. I want everybody to think they have a place in our party. So I am trying to make the party bigger. ACOSTA: All right, very good. Uh, thanks very much, Senator Rand Paul, for your time. We appreciate it. PAUL: Thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And in a minute find out why Wolf is front and center in an Italian newspaper. It's very well deserved.


ACOSTA: Take a look at this. Our Wolf Blitzer is honored with the Urbino Press Award, which Italy gives each year to a distinguished American journalist. Hundreds of people were on hand this week to watch the ceremony which included a procession -- there is Wolf right there -- through the town of Urbino. Past recipients include David Ignatius of "The Washington Post" and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman of "The New York Times." Wolf gave a speech about his career and world events, and this is just very well deserved. We're very proud of our Wolf Blitzer. Congratulations.

I'm Jim Acosta in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.