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THE SITUATION ROOM

Has the Drive to Punish Syria Hit A Snag?; Some U.K. Parliament Members Voice Opposition to Syria Strike; Interview with Mike Rogers

Aired August 29, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, is the urgent push to punish Syria starting to unravel?

There are now some strong voices of opposition in Britain's parliament, meeting now in urgent session. Key U.S. lawmakers are still on recess. They are about to get an unclassified briefing by phone.

I'll speak with the White -- with the Congressional Intelligence Committee -- the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers, who says it's very clear the Syrian regime carried out last week's horrific chemical attack.

And pot smokers, they can now relax a little bit out there. The Justice Department says it won't try to block state laws that legalize recreational marijuana.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just as the drive to punish Syria was gaining momentum, there are now some new calling -- new calls for caution. Dozens of U.S. lawmakers want President Obama to seek formal authorization from Congress before an attack. Congressional leaders will be briefed by the administration during the next hour.

Britain's prime minister is facing parliamentary resistance to a strike in an emergency session of the House of Commons. They're meeting right now.

And France wants to wait until U.N. inspectors finish their job.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta -- Jim, have things over there hit a snag?

JIM ACOSTA, HOST: Wolf, you will not hear that publicly from White House officials, who say they remain on what they call "a compressed time frame" for delivering a response to Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons. And they say an intelligence assessment backing up that action will be delivered to the public as soon as today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In the face of more questions from Congress and key U.S. allies, the Obama administration said it's determined to send what it calls "an unambiguous signal," not just to Syria's leader, Bashar Al-Assad, but the world.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It's also important for other totalitarian dictators around the globe who are watching the circumstances unfold in Syria and are watching the international community's reaction to understand that the international community will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.

ACOSTA: The White House said Mr. Obama is still looking at a compressed time frame for action, along with a possible presidential statement on a Syria mission and did not deny there are doubts about forming a broad international coalition. That's, in part, because British leaders want to slow down and wait for assessments of U.N. weapons inspectors.

Some even question U.S. motives.

PAUL FLYNN, MEMBER OF BRITISH PARLIAMENT: So because the American president foolishly drew a red line and because of his position now, he's going to attack or face humiliation.

ACOSTA: Others accuse Prime Minister David Cameron of following the U.S. into another war based on faulty intelligence, namely another Iraq.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: But this is not like Iraq. And the evidence that the Syrian regime has used these weapons in the early hours of the 21st of August is right in front of our eyes.

ACOSTA: White House officials say there's no comparison.

EARNEST: What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country.

ACOSTA: But the administration still had to defend President Obama's comments to PBS that somehow Syria could attack the US.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a prospect, a possibility in which chemical weapons, that can have devastating effects, could be directed at us.

ACOSTA (on camera): Does he really think that Syria is capable of launching chemical weapons at the United States?

What did he mean by that?

EARNEST: I think what we're very concerned about is the willingness the Assad regime has demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed to allies near Syria, like Israel and Turkey.

EARNEST: And that doesn't even get into military bases and other interests that we have in the region.

ACOSTA: To make his case, the president called top leaders in Congress from both parties, after complaints from one key Intelligence Committee chairman that conversations so far do not constitute formal notification and consultation with Congress.

Even some Democrats aren't satisfied.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: First, I definitely believe that there needs to be a vote.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ACOSTA: The White House still plans to brief key Congressional leaders this evening, Wolf, on its intelligence assessment and another intelligence assessment, an unclassified one, will go to the fuller Congress. That's expected tomorrow. And then a fuller, unclassified assessment is also expected to go to the public at large and the press in the next day or so. It could happen as early as tonight. But that would put the White House on a pretty accelerated time frame.

One other thing to note, Wolf, is that the language of administration officials about this international partnership and how it's coming together may be changing somewhat. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was quoted as saying that whatever happens with Syria will involve a, quote, "international collaboration." He did not use the words "international coalition."

We tried to reach out to the White House officials to get an explanation for that and have not heard back from them just yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're voting on whether or not to support military action in the House of Commons in the British parliament even as we speak right now.

Is it feasible, based on everything you're hearing, Jim, that the U.S. could act -- could send missiles into Syria without Britain on board, the closest U.S. ally?

ACOSTA: Wolf, that would go against what we've heard from administration officials all this week and even what the president himself said in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo last week. He talked about, at length, about wanting to have an international partnership of some sort in going -- in making a response to what happened in Syria.

But at this point, Wolf, you're right, what happened in the U.K. today, and in the last 24 hours, raises a lot of doubts as to whether or not they would be fully on board if something were to happen in the next, say, 48 to 72 hours.

So that is a big question for this White House at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And further complicating the situation for the White House, the president, in the middle of next week, is supposed to be in St. Petersburg, Russia for the G-20 Summit. Talk about awkward timing. That would be serious live awkward.

All right, Jim Acosta over at the White House.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our chief national correspondent, John King -- you know, Gloria, it's pretty amazing, if you look at pictures of the House of Commons...

GLORIA BORGER, HOST: Yes, it sure is.

BLITZER: -- they're debating it right now. They've come back from all of their vacations in the south of France or wherever they were. They've come back to London. They're debating this.

You talk a look at a picture of the U.S. Congress, everyone is still gone, basically, from Washington, except for Congressman Mike Rogers, who's joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The images are pretty stark.

BORGER: Well, they are. The difference is, of course, the president has not said I need Congress to come back. In fact, because I think the president probably doesn't want the Congress to come back, because if they're in town, it's more likely that they would say, wait a minute, let's have a vote, like you're having in the House of Commons.

And by the way, the president of the United States doesn't want them to have that vote, because if they were to have that vote, he could lose.

BLITZER: In the Senate and the House or just in the House?

BORGER: Well, I -- you know, we can't count votes on it at this point. But you've seen the crescendo of members, over 100 people signing a document in the House saying, you know what, we need to give you permission. We need to see the evidence.

So tonight, they're having a conference call, which is not on a secure line...

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BORGER: -- because they're calling in from all over the country and the world. So they may not be getting the kind of briefings they think they out to be getting.

BLITZER: So the chances of all of these members of Congress cutting short their recess, coming back to Washington are?

KING: Slim and none.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: And to Gloria's point, the president doesn't want it. What the White House does want to do is expand the consultations. There will be -- you will hear grumbling after this phone call tonight. And you can't necessarily blame the White House for that in the sense that they are spread out all over the country.

BORGER: Sure.

KING: You don't want to talk about classified information on a normal phone line.

So -- but you'll hear some grumbling tonight. You heard through Chairman Rogers -- you're going to have him in here shortly -- saying, you know, just a few conversations does not meet the test of consultation.

It looks, at the moment -- I could be wrong about this -- it looks at the moments that if the president is waiting on the Brits, that there are a few more days involved. And I suspect the quality, if you will, the classified nature of those consultations, will escalate.

BLITZER: Because he said, David Cameron, the British prime minister, earlier today, Gloria, he said first they want to have the U.N. weapons inspectors report. They're not supposed to be out of there until this weekend.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Then they want to go back to the U.N. Security Council. It looks like the Russians will continue to veto...

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: -- any serious...

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: -- resolution. Then he wants to go back to parliament for yet another vote. And then the president heads off to Russia.

BORGER: You know, Cameron has his own political problems. President Obama has his own problems, within his own party and also from Republicans. And I think what you see Cameron doing is take caring of his own domestic politics here.

And it might have not been what the White House wanted or would prefer. I think we can assume that it's not what they would have wanted, but they have no choice.

I mean would they have also liked for the Arab League to come out more forcefully and say we would support any kind of military action?

Yes. They'd have liked that. That has not occurred, either.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of people are saying, John, it was a blunder for the president, a year or so ago, to draw this red line, saying that if the Syrians used chemical weapons, that would be a red line for the United States and the U.S. would have to respond.

And now there's a lot of critics of the president, saying that was a mistake.

KING: Well, we'll have to wait for the memoir to see if he thinks it's a mistake. He's certainly not going to say it's a mistake now.

But he is defined by that remark. And he was criticized for months because he did deliver that red line. And he delivered it in very clear, unequivocal language. And then there were smaller scale use of chemical weapons, at least one or two of which, the administration says, can be traced to the regime.

There is a controversy -- a finger-pointing about whether the opposition could have been responsible for some of them and the like.

But the president did draw that line. And then he used verbal gymnastics to rationalize not enforcing that line on smaller scale, wait for the United Nations, there's some confusion about what's going on on the ground.

Now you have this attack, a monstrosity, "morally repugnant," in their own words. Secretary Kerry is now out there publicly, Wolf. They have drawn this line. And the question now is they're having a communications mess right now. People at the State Department saying things that conflict with people at the White House that conflict with people at the Pentagon.

None of that will matter if they do it and they get it right. But in the meantime, it looks messy. And in the Middle East, if you talk to generals, retired generals, retired diplomats who do business in the Middle East, they say U.S. credibility is on the line. And at the moment, the president looks weak.

BORGER: And, you know, it's interesting. They put out three pages -- a three page list of consultation with foreign leaders on Syria. I've never seen anything like that, detailing -- this is who President Obama called, this is who the vice president called, this is -- the list goes on for two pages, of whom Secretary Kerry called and Ambassador Power called. They're trying to make the case that they are trying to gather this international coalition and isolate Assad.

BLITZER: We'll see how big this coalition actually turns out to be.

KING: Right.

BORGER: They've got to consult with Congress.

BLITZER: Yes, guys, thanks very much.

Up next, British lawmakers, they're in emergency session right now. There's also been an urgent huddle over at the U.N. Security Council. We're going live to the U.N.

I'll also speak with the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers. He's put together his own briefings and he says there is no doubt what really happened in Syria. Congressman Rogers coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: While Britain's parliament is in the middle of a noisy emergency session right now to discussion action against Syria, U.N. Security Council members, they went behind closed doors today, also to discuss what's going on.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining us live from the United Nations right now.

Let's talk about what's going on in London, in the House of Commons. They're voting on a government motion, David Cameron's the prime minister's motion, that would take at least an initial step, potentially authorizing military action. But it's very, very weak, as I read it.

Go ahead and explain what's going on in London right now -- Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's complex, but it's how British politics works. At this point, there are two ideas be tabled before the parliament. The first is from the opposition, which is a different idea, which suggests what they refer to as a "sequential road map," which would require compelling evidence the regime was behind the attacks, a full report from the U.N. inspectors, a much higher burden of evidence and proof on the government before there could be another vote which could authorize U.K. participation and military action.

They've gone out of the chamber now to vote on that. They will then come back in and then go out again in order to vote on the U.K. government motion, which is slightly less complex. It just says we need to hear back from the U.N. inspectors to hear what they have to say and we have to be sure we've exhausted diplomatic avenues that looked like it's happened here possibly the U.N. already before we have another vote on whether the U.K. can take part in military intervention.

A complex day and it really shows, I think, how little control David Cameron, the British prime minister, has really had over this process despite being very staunch ally of Washington at the start.

BLITZER: Yes. On the first motion, the labor amendment from the opposition, they voted no on that. Now, they're voting on the government motion supported by the prime minister. Let me read to you the last paragraph of that motion, because it's clear what they're voting on.

It says that "the government believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, before any direct British involvement of such action. A further vote of the House of Commons will take place."

"It notes that this motion relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives." Basically, it's saying they're punting to at least next week. They want another vote, if in fact, the U.N. Security Council doesn't do anything.

WALSH: Absolutely. This has been the compromise that David Cameron and British prime ministers had to entertain. His resolution significantly watered down. He wanted to get into a vote right today to authorize the potential for U.K. intervention alongside the United States. This is watered down. It looks like, though, the timetable may begin to fit what he wants.

We've seen today at the permanent five here in the United Nations, a meeting with them. That seems to have ended with most diplomats saying to me no real ability for either sides to see eye to eye on this, distance between the U.K., U.S. and Russia or in China. One source saying to me Russia didn't really want to see this come to a vote because it may put them in an embarrassing spot, challenge and want to use its veto.

So, at this point, with no meetings plan for the future round, I understand, we may see the effective death of this U.K. bid for a resolution here which many expects to be vetoed anyway and many -- U.K. introducing to be seen to be going through the motions. Now, we have to address the issue of the U.N. inspectors. Where is that's going to go?

They will come out of Syria on Saturday. They will speak to the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, about their preliminary results. I understand that will then be passed on to the U.N. Security Council. The question then is, are those preliminary results of what they found on the ground in Syria, are they enough to potentially satisfy the U.K. government's parliamentary motion there and allow them to move on to another vote.

The U.N. spokesman very clear here today that there will be some lab results that are required from the samples taken on the ground inside Syria. That could take a week, we understand. It's a very complex process. And Wolf, what is, in many ways, remarkable is how Barack Obama manage to get himself into this situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, Nick. I want to listen in to see what -- they're out there now, they're voting. They go into separate rooms, those in favor of the motion, those against the motion, they go into separate rooms. They do the counting then they come back into the House of Commons. Presumably, the government will prevail, the prime minister and the majority in the House of Commons.

We'll see momentarily what that is, but presumably, the government will prevail, Nick. But as you're saying, even the U.N. weapons inspectors, once they come back, they're only going to confirm presumably what the U.S., the Brits, the others have suggested that chemical weapons were used. It is not the mission, according to Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, for the inspectors to say who used -- who launched those chemical weapons.

WALSH: That is correct. That is not part of their mandate. But also, to be clear, the U.K. motion now being looked out by the parliament (ph) which is probably likely to pass. It will be a huge upset if it didn't top (ph) the compromise David Cameron have to entertain. That doesn't actually require there to be a compelling proof from the U.N. inspectors that the regime was involved.

It just requires them to report to the U.N. Security Council on what they found. The U.K. has already been very clear it holds the regime responsible as has the U.S. So, some of this is going through the motions in many ways. I think there may be British government lawyers saying you have to been seen to have exhausted all options at the United Nations before you can then vote towards military intervention.

But what you're seeing right now is the both parts of the British parliament going to their separate rooms. They'll then reconvene. We'll have the results. And frankly, if David Cameron doesn't get a positive result here, it will be a huge setback not only for his government but for the transatlantic partnership and many also are really questioning how could it be that the British parliament here without adequate, perhaps, pre-preparation with this Washington colleagues, how can it be that we've seen the situation past out for the past two days holding up potentially U.S. action, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I can't imagine that he would lose this motion. It would be a huge, huge setback for the British prime minister, David Cameron, especially when you take a look at the language as relatively, relatively modest. And it certainly would still require a second vote next week by the British parliament, before Britain would be authorized to use military force.

Stand by, Nick Paton Walsh at the United Nations.

When we come back, my interview with a House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers, who says it's very clear the Syrian regime carried out last week's horrific chemical attacks.

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from the House of Commons in London. The members, the parliamentarians, have just voted on a resolution sponsored by the government, the government of Prime Minister, David Cameron. That would give at least an initial endorsement for potentially using military force in response to the allegations that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people on August 21st, killing hundreds of people, injuring many, many more.

Nick Paton Walsh is over at the United Nations watching what's going on. As we've been saying, it would be a huge setback for Prime Minister Cameron if this resolution goes down to defeat. You're from London. What do you think, what's going to happen here? We should know momentarily.

WALSH: I think it would be highly unlikely if David Cameron given the level of compromise that he's had to go through in order to put this motion together. He originally wanted it simply to be about authorizing military intervention, but he had to change it to be about hearing from the inspectors again and then a subsequent vote after that. If he isn't able to get this through, you really have to question the viability, frankly, of the coalition that he's running. This is not a majority government. It's a coalition between, in many way, the first and the third most popular parties in the United Kingdom traditionally. He's faced down the opposition labor party, their amendment.

We have to wait and see if he's successful here, but there'll have been an awful lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering here to be sure that the wording was adequate to get the right votes. But, if there is a defeat for this motion, it would be a remarkable setback, not just for his government, but of course, also, for the transatlantic partnership.

They then have to regroup, think again, entertain the possibility that they won't be able to get anything through as a motion through parliament to potentially bring the U.K. along the path towards military intervention and that could evenly the U.S. potentially to go it alone despite the desire they clearly have eloquently put out for the White House to have international allies at their side. But I mean, this is a key moment for David Cameron, certainly, and of course, for the transatlantic partnership, Wolf.

BLITZER: The speaker will make the announcement momentarily on the vote. We assume it will pass. And just to be precise, on this resolution, it specifically says if the U.K. were to go ahead with military action dealing with the chemical attack, there would be another vote required by the parliament in the coming days. This does not authorize military action. It only at least gives an initial indication of what could be in store.

But they want to go back to the U.N. Security Council. They want to get the U.N. weapons inspectors results from what they saw there and then there would be another vote in the coming days, probably early next week. So, this, as you point out, is a very, very tepid initial step. And if it were to go down, it would be a huge embarrassment, as you point out also, for David Cameron and his government but also for the U.S./U.K. alliance.

We're waiting for the speaker to make the announcement momentarily. We'll see what that is. We'll, of course, stand by and wait for his word. But, a quick question about the United Nations where you are, Nick, while I have you over there.

Is there any possibility that after -- after the U.N. inspectors report To Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general on Saturday or Sunday, the U.N. Secretary Council would meet in an emergency session, a formal vote would take place, even anticipating a likely veto from Russia and probably China?

WALSH: That seems to have been for what I can make - precluded by the meeting that was held today with the permanent five members of Security Council. What I understand from that, from a western diplomat, the two sides are very far apart, and other diplomats informed me that the folks saying that actually the Russians don't want to see it go to a vote because that could potentially be embarrassing for them.

The Chinese don't want to have to use their veto. So, you got to bear in mind, too, what the U.N. inspectors will be saying if they give adequate information or assurances in these preliminary reports they may present at the weekend. That will just be to confirm that chemical weapons were likely used inside Syria, not to apportion blame.

You would then have a secondary issue about taking this to the Security Council again and then you'll face the Russian and Chinese veto. So, it is, frankly, I would say, unlikely we'll see another vote tabled or resolution tabled at the U.N. Security Council because the U.K. has already gone through that process. And so much of this, frankly, the outcome was predictable.

We knew the Russians would likely veto. The Chinese would likely veto. They historically have on this particular issue. So, many seeing the U.K. introducing these resolution as going through the motions, a tactical move it was called by one Russian official in Russian state media wanting to be sure that, perhaps, for legal reasons, they have exhausted all diplomatic avenues, particularly, here at the United Nations, Wolf.

BLITZER: It seems to me if the Syrians are watching what's going on in Britain right now, Nick, you've been to Syria a few times this year, last year. You've had an opportunity to see what's going on up close. If they're watching this debate and there's deeply divided British parliament right now, I assume they -- President Bashar al- Assad must be taking some comfort. Hold on a moment. Let's listen in to see what they're saying.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): All right. It's looks like they're not ready yet, but maybe for the speaker -- all right. Here they come. Let's listen in.

JOHN BERCOW, BRITISH HOUSE OF COMMONS SPEAKER: Order. Order.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The ayes to the right, 272, the nos to the left, 285.

(CHEERS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

BERCOW: Order. Order. Order. Order.

Mr. McNeil, you're like an exploded volcano. You've erupted. Calm yourself, man. The ayes to the right, 272. The nos to the left, 285. So the nos have it. The nos have it. Unlock.

Point of order, Mr. Ed Miliband.

(CHEERS) EDWARD MILIBAND, LABOUR PARTY: Mr. Speaker, on the point of order, there having been no motion passed by this House tonight, can the prime minister confirm to the House that he will not use the royal prerogative to order the U.K. to be part of military -- of military action, of military action given the will of the House that's been expressed tonight before there's been another vote in this House of Commons?

BERCOW: Order. It is of course not a matter of the chairman but the prime minister has heard it and is welcome to respond.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER, CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER: Point of order. I can give that assurance.

Let me say, the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons.

It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion it is clear to me that the British parliament reflecting the views of the British people does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.

(CHEERS)

BERCOW: I'm grateful to the prime minister for that response.

Point of order, Mr. Robert Flello.

ROBERT FLELLO, LABOUR PARTY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I do wish to retain the House on a separate matter from what we've discussed this afternoon. But while the eyes of the world have understandably been focused on the appalling atrocities in Syria I'm saddened to say --

BLITZER: All right. So there you have it. A huge setback for the prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, he loses, loses this vote on the floor of House of -- of the House of Commons, a relatively mild resolution that would have still required another formal vote before the U.K. could go forward with military action and collaboration with the United States.

The final vote, 285 against the government motion, 272 in favor.

Nick Paton Walsh, you and I are pretty surprised that Cameron loses this vote. Give us some perspective on what kind of political setback this is for David Cameron's government in Britain.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quite staggering, to be honest. I think you could you see it in the face of Ed Miliband, the opposition leader there, almost trying to absorb what it actually -- he seems to have pulled off in parliament there, through the opposition he put up to the government's motion.

Remarkable, too, to hear David -- sorry, to hear David Cameron standing up there very clearly saying, I get it, we will not use military force at this point. There's a real elephant in the room here and in one word it's Iraq. There's a huge legacy in the U.K. after how they ended up in vote in that particular conflict. There's real doubt even expressed by the U.K. Foreign secretary that they have to be clear to explain to people the intelligence here, the justification behind it.

And it's bizarre, I think, in many ways, too, because this is a totally separate chain of events, what led up to Iraq. The U.K. and U.S., but the U.S. certainly has been very reluctant to get involved in this conflict, almost forced into action by setting a red line that Bashar al-Assad repeatedly crossed. Totally different than the lead- up to the Iraq war but the Bush administration seemingly wants to prosecute that conflict as aggressively as possible.

So a remarkable set of events we have here. And where do we go from now? Well, the U.S. is going to have to make a decision. Do they wait for David Cameron to come up with even softer language that he might be able to push through this parliament?

He lost by a sliver here, not by a large margin. So there's clearly been perhaps some backdoor maneuvering going on which has left him in this incredibly difficult position but the U.S. now are going to have to make a call, do we go it alone without the British or do we wait for them to get their house in order, forgive the pun -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we have a panel of experts to discuss what's going on.

All right, Nick Paton Walsh, stand by over at the United Nations.

Once again a huge, huge political embarrassment form the British Prime Minister David Cameron, loses this motion, a relatively mild motion to go ahead and work with the United States potentially to use military force against the Syrian regime.

If President Bashar al-Assad and his leadership were watching the British parliament right now, they certainly are smiling right now.

Our panel is joining us. Jeremy Bash is with us, the former chief of staff to the Defense secretary and the former CIA director, Leon Panetta, Robin Wright, a Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center, is joining us, Mark Thompson, the national security reporter for "TIME" magazine, our sister publication. The cover, by the way -- the new cover, I'll put it up, "The Unhappy Warrior." "Barack Obama ran for president to get the U.S. out of wars, not into them."

Jeremy, can you believe this setback right now in this U.S.-U.K. alliance? You worked in the government for a long time. Give us your perspective.

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA AND DEFENSE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, Wolf, I think it's good to heed the lessons of Iraq. It's good to have Iraq on the brain as we contemplate military action in the Middle East. But it's also irresponsible to do nothing in the face of comprehensive and convincing intelligence that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that the British parliament voted down this resolution?

BASH: Well, I don't have great insights into what the British parliament's strategy for moving forward over the next couple of days is, but I will say, Wolf, that I think the president is going to do what's in our national interest. And I think he set a red line. He said that it's important that we send Assad a message.

The military strategy here will be to punish, to degrade and to deter, to punish him for breaking this international norm, to deter him from doing it again, and more importantly to degrade his capability of punishing strikes on his military apparatus.

BLITZER: Robin, is the president of the United States, the commander- in-chief, going to take military action without the involvement of Britain?

ROBIN WRIGHT, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: It would be a terrible setback for the administration if it didn't have support from its key allies. I think this is not over, however. You have a couple of days in which the U.N. weapons inspectors will be completing their mission, pulling out on Saturday. We may have further evidence, new intelligence about the specifics, that may allow David Cameron to rally again another vote to see if there's some way of getting support. But I think this complicates life and this has bigger implications about the nature of the relationship between the United States and its closest ally.

BLITZER: You know the military well. I've been speaking to a lot of military officers, people who know what's going on over at the Pentagon. They have no great stomach to do this. They don't want to do it unless they know that there's a mission, there's an end game, they know what they're doing, they have the authority to do what they need to do. Not to just do some modest gesture, if will you.

MARK THOMPSON, TIME: Right. Wolf, you know, the U.S. and Britain have had a special relationship, as Winston Churchill called it. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has plenty of fire power in that neck of the woods right now. A fifth destroyer is coming in, there may be a Ohio class converted boomer with 150 TLAMs on board so they've got plenty of fire power.

BLITZER: TLAMs, Tomahawk cruise missiles.

THOMPSON: Tomahawk cruise missiles. They want an alliance to do it. If it's only France and only Turkey, it won't be as good as if British are on board, but I don't think the British have the veto on this mission.

BLITZER: Well, it's a tough sensitive issue for the president of the United States right now.

Guys, stand by. Thanks very much.

When we come back, my interview with the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers, who says it's very clear the Syrian regime did in fact carry out that last -- that horrific chemical attack last week. Stay with us. You're -- (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Leading members of Congress, they're still on a recess. They are about, though, to get on a conference call for an unclassified briefing by top administration officials about the chemical attack in Syria last week. One key lawmaker says he didn't have to wait around to learn what happened in Syria.

And joining us now, Congressman Mike Rogers, he's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Have you been fully briefed to your complete satisfaction from the Obama administration about what they know about Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons against civilian targets?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, as the chairman, we've sought out our own briefings. They have not given a formal briefing to me or the intelligence committee. I do feel comfortable as I've tracked the stream of evidence on this particular case. Remember, this is not the first case of chemical use in Syria.

And so this I think certainly fits with the patterns we've seen before that we would say that belong to the Syrian regime and they were at least responsible for its use. This was a bigger event. So again I have a little bit from a different perspective but I feel very confident that they in fact did -- the regime did use these chemical weapons.

It was likely ordered from senior officials of the regime and they used them and have used them in the past, by the way, to use them as a tactical weapon to clear certain areas for their own strategic purposes. And this is consistent with all of those facts.

BLITZER: Do you have hard intelligence that the Syrian leader, President Bashar al-Assad personally ordered, instructed his military to use these chemical weapons?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, that's hard to say. But if you base -- you can't say that, you know, we don't have the crib notes, Assad writing a note to his commander saying, hey, please, use chemical weapons, no, we don't have that.

But when you look at the history of these units and you study through intelligence how these units work, how they take their orders, how they're configured through command and control, with other pieces of evidence, all source types of information from human beings, from electronics, from other things, and you put that whole puzzle together, it is very clear that the Assad regime was responsible for this latest chemical attack and by the way other attacks in Syria.

BLITZER: I raised the question because there's been some suggestion out there that perhaps some road military unit without the formal authorization of Bashar al-Assad decided to use these chemical weapons. Do you have buy that?

ROGERS: I don't buy it. And that would be like saying that some carrier group in the U.S. started firing missiles but they decided to do it on their own, therefore no one was responsible. That's really implausible to me.

So we know how the command and control works of these units. Again, when you piece it together with other pieces of information, it was clear that there was at least some level of command and control exercised at some point through this process that allowed them to move forward with the event.

So the event itself is I think beyond doubt that chemical weapons were used and now we believe, and I -- again, I've seen the evidence at least as late as last week, I think there's even new pieces coming in this week that confirms for me that the regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

BLITZER: I raise these questions because a lot of people remember 10 years ago when the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell at the time went before the U.N. saying there was no doubt that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had stockpiled chemical weapons, biological weapons, WMD, weapons of mass destruction, a lot of that information came from one source who was dubbed "Curveball," who turned out to be a fraud.

Are you at all concerned that some of this intelligence that you are seeing could be wrong?

ROGERS: Well, you're always concerned of that and that's why you ask for at least multiple sources of confirmation about the intelligence. Number one, we have that. And here's the other thing. We have to remember why this is a little bit different, Wolf, is that the regime itself admitted they had chemical weapons. They've talked about their own chemical weapons. They've even identified -- some time ago the units that control their chemical weapons.

So this is -- that part is indisputable. And the fact that the weapons were used I think now is indisputable. And so then the third piece of this is the fact that did the regime order it? And it's really clear when you look at all of the levels and the different pieces of information that it was clear to me, and I think I would go by the reasonable person's standard here, if a reasonable person were in and looked at all the evidence that we see in a classified setting, would they come to the conclusion that the regime used chemical weapons -- for tactical purposes on the battlefield?

I think the answer is definitely yes. And so I think we've gotten over that hurdle. I think the administration believes that, I believe that as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and I think other people who have seen the evidence believe that. So that part I think I feel on very, very solid ground that they, in fact -- that the regime was involved in the use of this particular chemical weapon attack and other chemical weapon attacks in Syria in the past. BLITZER: We're going to have much more of my interview with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, in our next hour during our special report "Crisis in Syria."

When we come back, a major announcement from the Justice Department on recreational marijuana use. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's standing by live with the details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Justice Department here in Washington announced today it won't try to block newly enacted laws in Washington state and Colorado, legalizing marijuana use, including recreational marijuana use.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, may have had a huge impact on the national conversation as a result of his recent documentary that aired here on CNN, "WEED."

What do you make of this decision, Sanjay? Give us a perspective. The Justice Department now saying they're not going to get involved in Washington state and Colorado, where recreational use of marijuana is legal.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it may represent a bit of a softening of the stance toward this overall. They had some very specific areas that they wanted to continue to enforce, but less sort of -- sort of enforcement on individual users.

You know, Wolf, as you know, I mean, part of the reason we did the documentary was really to talk about this substance, marijuana, cannabis, that could be a very effective, potential medication for people and a medication where no other medications existed for certain conditions.

What I did not hear, as part of, you know, this news today, and what may be coming, hopefully, down the road is this idea that the studies, the science behind this could be more easily done, because of a loosening of the law.

So researchers having more access to be able to study this. Also the fact that it's still listed as Schedule 1, the most dangerous substance, the most dangerous category of substances in the country.

And finally, Wolf, you know, one thing we didn't talk about much. This little girl, Charlotte, for example, in the documentary. She lives in Colorado, she's able to use her medical cannabis in Colorado, but you can't leave the state. She's sort of locked into her state. And I'm not sure that that's still being fully addressed. You know, people going to Colorado, who live in states where it's not available, because they can get it there. I think that that may be something that's going to change as well down the road -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think your documentary may have had a big impact with that one -- that other little child in New Jersey, and Governor Christie. Talk a little about that. GUPTA: In July, Governor Christie was very adamant about this. He said, we are not going to allow New Jersey to become, you know, one of these other states that has legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. He said that back in July, and then, you know, a month later, he basically is allowing it, with some stipulations and some important stipulations.

But the story was of a little girl who had uncontrollable seizures, again, for whom nothing worked. Lots of different medications had been tried, nothing had worked. She was very similar, again, to this girl, Charlotte, in our documentary, for whom now there is plenty of evidence, not just in Charlotte, but in hundreds of kids around the world that get benefit from cannabis, an oil form of cannabis that does not get you high, they're not smoking it, and I think Governor Christie ultimately in some ways reversed his position on that and now a child living in New Jersey is going to have better access to that eventually.

BLITZER: Thank you very much to all the excellent work -- excellent reporting work you do and all the medical work you do.

GUPTA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting for us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just ahead at the top of the hour, we'll have a special report here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Crisis in Syria.

Plus, the battle for New Jersey Senate seat is caught up in a heated, somewhat unusual debate over sexuality. That's next.

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BLITZER: The battle for New Jersey Senate seat is now caught up in some heated and unusual debate over sexuality, after the front runner in the race, the rising star, the Democrat Cory Booker, made some candid comments about his own personal life.

CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll is following all the details for us.

What's going on, Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, Newark mayor Cory Booker has always made a point of keeping his personal life private, but for now, some of his public comments have taken the race for Senate in an entirely different direction.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): When the candidates for the Senate seat from New Jersey face the cameras, it's not just the economy or education up for debate, but what it means to be a real man.

CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY SENATE CANDIDATE: It's just disheartening to hear somebody in this day and age, in the United States of America say, basically implicate that gay men are not men, that they're not guys.

CARROLL: That's Cory Booker, Newark's mayor and New Jersey's Democratic candidate for Senate. It came after Republican challenger Steve Lonegan spoke out about comments Booker made to the "Washington Post."

Booker, who is single, telling the paper he had not found a life partner. Also saying, "I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I'm gay, and I say, so what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you're not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I'm straight."

Lonegan's response?

STEVE LONEGAN (R), NEW JERSEY SENATE CANDIDATE: Maybe that helps to get him the gay vote by acting ambiguous.

CARROLL: And he said this about an earlier comment Booker made that a girlfriend got him hooked on pedicures.

LONEGAN: It was described as his peculiar fetish is how it was described. I have a more peculiar fetish. I like a good scotch and a cigar.

BOOKER: The thought that what defines manhood is the drink that you drink or the cigar that you smoke, I think that he just really misses the boat on what it means to be a man in America.

CARROLL: Booker also took to Twitter, responding to a critic who questioned his sexuality saying, "Your bigotry is no less heinous than race bigotry."

Lonegan clarifying his position during a press conference today.

LONEGAN: You know, this election is not about, you know, validating Cory Booker's lifestyle. I don't care if Cory Booker is gay or straight. The problem is he's too liberal for New Jersey.

CARROLL: His earlier comments still a concern for gay rights advocate like Troy Stevenson.

TROY STEVENSON, EXEC. DIR., GARDEN STATE EQUALITY: To have a public official, someone running for the United States Senate, to tell them there's a way they have to behave to be considered a real man, it's shocking.

CARROLL: For now, the man leading the latest polling is Booker by nearly 30 percentage points.

BOOKER: Thank you.

LARRY SABATO, POLITICAL ANALYST: Booker is going to win easily. At some point, he'll have to clarify and certainly if he runs for president. That's a completely different ocean as opposed to the pond of the Senate race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And, Wolf, the big question is, does it all matter? Voters will make that decision when they go to the polls on October 16th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jason, thanks very much.

Happening now, a conference call between the White House and key members of Congress. They're being briefed on what the United States knows about Syria's alleged chemical attack.

Also, Britain's parliament, bitterly divided as it votes on what to do next in Syria.

Plus, growing fears of a cyber-Pearl Harbor as some are calling it.