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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Warns Airlines of Security Threat; Showdown Across Burning Barricades; Dramatic Video of U.S. Bombing U.S. Base; Ex-Cons' Voting Rights
Aired February 19, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Jake, thanks very much.
We're following the breaking news -- a new terror threat in the skies. The U.S. warning airlines to look out for explosives hidden in shoes after intelligence finds terrorists are working on new -- yes, new types of bombs.
City under siege -- a world capital ripped apart in flames and fury, as President Obama issues a grim warning. We'll take you to the heart of the violent and dangerous struggle.
Is it put Vladimir Putin's worst nightmare?
And embarrassed GOP candidates in Texas are distancing themselves right now from race-baiting rocker, Ted Nugent, after his vicious rants.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's begin with the breaking news. A new threat just issued by the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington warning airlines to pay additional scrutiny for the possibility of terrorists attempting to hide explosives hidden in shoes. The warning concerns flights from overseas coming here to the United States.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is standing by, as well as our Brian Todd, and our national security analyst, Peter Bergen.
Let's begin with Jim Sciutto, though, first.
What is the precise information -- Jim, that we're getting?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a new warning. We always take new warnings seriously. But let's talk about what it is and what it is not. It's based on new intelligence that terrorist groups are working on new shoe bomb designs. This is a threat that U.S. intelligence has been watching very closely ever since Richard Reid, the attempted shoe bomber after 9/11. So they've been watching this closely.
What we will not see is any new measures as folks are getting onto these flights, for instance, new screening. Already, as you and I know, your shoes are already required to be taken off, that kind of thing. They won't institute any new measures as a result of this. But they are asking airlines to give additional scrutiny and they're giving this out in terms of an abundance of caution.
Here's what it's not. And I've been told by a U.S. official that the threat is not specific or credible enough to require a specific response. And, you know, generally, in a situation like this, if they had specific and credible information, you would see something major. You would see more guards at the gates. You know, we would be subjected to more procedures as a result of this, because they had something very specific in mind.
So what they have is new intelligence that terrorists are trying to work on a new design.
What they do not have is a specific threat to a particular airline, a particular timing, a particular group that is trying to carry out an attack like this.
So it's serious. But let's put it in that context that passengers out there -- because I think it's very difficult for passengers, when this kind of warning comes their way, wait, should I be changing my travel plans?
You know, are there certain countries I shouldn't be visiting, that sort of thing?
That's not what the DHS is saying and that's not what other intelligence officials are telling us here at CNN.
BLITZER: Now, would these be mostly, though, the suspicion, the fear, even though it's a general concern right now, flights coming into the United States from overseas?
SCIUTTO: That's what they're focused on. And this is the additional scrutiny that they are warning airlines about. No additional measures, but they are letting them know that this is something that they should be aware of.
Remember, it was only a couple weeks ago, in the advance of the Sochi Olympics, where we had another warning come through, specific. You and I talked about this a lot -- toothpaste tubes as a possible means of getting explosives onto an airplane, another case where the threat was not specific. It was specific to the Games, but it was not a, you know, specific or credible enough threat that they were canceling flights, that sort of thing. But again, out of the abundance of caution. You know, this is something that, you know, in context, this is a kind of method of attacking planes that U.S. intelligence agencies have been concerned about for some time.
How do they get explosives on board in light of all the security we go through? And shoes is an area of particular concern. So any time they get new information in that category, they're going to put that out there, because they don't want anything to happen. And remember, we're still living with new rules that have arisen from previous threats.
For instance, you'll remember the liquid bomb plot. This is, what, seven or eight years ago when that came out, but still today, we have limits on how many liquids we can bring on planes.
You remember the attempted underwear bomber. You know, as a result of that, we get pat-downs that we didn't get before.
So this is the new world we live in post-9/11, that they're going to act in an abundance of caution (INAUDIBLE) --
BLITZER: Because right now, right now, if you -- if you're traveling in the United States, unless you have a TSA prescreen, you still have to take off your shoes. You put them in the bin and then they are x- rayed.
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And that's something that's certainly going to continue. But they're not going to add another line of defense in response to this. They just want to get the information out there so everybody is aware.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
We're watching the breaking news and we're getting more information on what's going on and a little historic perspective, as well. This is a story that potentially could be significant, although this is a general concern right now, not a specific, specific warning.
Brian Todd is joining us now.
He's got a little bit more of what's going on.
What else are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Perspective now, Wolf, on what explosives, how much of an explosive material it would need to bring down an airliner. And the answer is really not much. We've had various explosives tested in small containers, other chambers, that people carry onto planes and wear on planes. And experts have a consensus that if someone were to get explosives into shoes or other small containers like that, it certainly would not take much explosive to bring a plane down.
Now, a couple of weeks ago, you might recall, Homeland Security officials alerted airlines to the threat of explosives being placed in toothpaste containers.
Sidney Alford, an expert in Britain -- there's the video of this test. He detonated an explosive called RDX, a white crystalline powder that was packed in a tube of toothpaste. That blast -- you see it there -- blew the door off a car. It sent it across a -- parts of it across a quarry. He packed toothpaste only in about a third of that little container, explosives in the rest of it, a small container of toothpaste. And that's what it did.
Alford said that would have been enough to bring town a plane.
We've also seen what the 2009 underwear bomb would have looked like if it had gone off -- another similar explosion to the one you just saw. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab concealed it in his pants and got it through security. That's a law enforcement demo of what it would have looked like.
And, also, that British security expert, the explosives expert, Sydney Alford, had previously shown CNN what one of those printer bombs hidden in printer cartridges on cargo planes could have done if they had gone off in that 2010 plot. There's a picture of the printer cartridge bomb there.
That plot was disrupted, as we know. Look at what that could have done. In those cases, it's believed the explosive PETN was used. But as we're reporting, terrorists are learning new ways to construct shoe bombs. Wolf, it takes very little explosive material. And any of these containers, you can bring down a plane. Almost every expert will tell you that.
BLITZER: Yes, it's better to err on the side of caution in these kinds of situations.
Brian Todd, thanks very, very much.
So we're watching the breaking news and we want to get some perspective now on what's going on. Terrorists are clearly still out there. They're aiming their efforts at the United States.
Our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Give us some perspective right now. They're not just al Qaeda, but they're al Qaeda-affiliated groups, non-Al Qaeda groups. There are now non-al Qaeda groups. A lot of them would like to get a shoe bomber on a plane and blow up a plane.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the one group that has really, you know, that we saw in Brian's piece, who put these printer cartridge bombs on flights bound for the United States, that was al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The guy who built those bombs is a guy called Ibrahim al-Asiri. He's an expert bomb maker. He also built the underwear bomb that was put on Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit and, luckily, he didn't -- he failed to detonate it properly on Christmas Day 2009.
This guy is still alive. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, of which he is part of, has taken a lot of hits from drone strikes and from Yemeni government activity, but he is still out there.
And while the DHS threat is nonspecific, this is a guy who has had, you know, a lot of track record in making these very sophisticated, hard to defect bombs.
BLITZER: And he's considered a master bomb maker. He's got new technology, presumably, at his fingertips, right?
BERGEN: Yes. And the other issue, Wolf, is to what extent has he trained other people?
You know, there -- even if he was eliminated in some way, it's quite possible that he's teaching other people within his organization how to build these very effective weapons.
BLITZER: Let me bring in Fran Townsend, our national security contributor, former homeland security adviser to President Bush
She's joining us on the phone -- Fran, what do you make of this latest warning from the Department of Homeland Security, be on the lookout, potentially, for shoe bombers trying to board planes overseas coming to the United States?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Wolf, it's always a difficult decision to decide if the information you're getting is not specific, but you believe it's credible, when do you put it out? you, of course, don't want to unnecessarily worry the traveling public around the world. But you know, it does -- this is part of a narrative.
And so we heard the toothpaste tube threat. You know, Brian has gone through the various incarnations. It's the computer cartridge. It's the underwear bomber.
This -- al-Asiri and al Qaeda have invested a lot in developing new methods to get around our screening.
And so when you've got information that's credible, even when it's not specific, especially at the time where you know that there's a threat to the Olympics, you want to be -- you want to alert the airlines so that they can -- I think you'll probably see more swipes if you're boarding a plane headed for the U.S., more of these bomb detection, the trace elements tests that you see at an airport, for people boarding with their carry-on luggage flights bound for the U.S. from overseas, until they get more information or are able to either dismiss or confirm the threat.
BLITZER: But for the Department of Homeland Security, From an, to go ahead and issue a warning like this, they have to have something there to justify it, because people are going to be nervous. They're going to cancel trips. People are going to be agitated just by this warning.
What goes into a decision to make a public warning like this?
TOWNSEND: The Department of Homeland Security will sort of pull together the interagency community, the law enforcement and the U.S. intelligence community. They'll look at the source of the information, determine whether or not they believe it's credible. You know, we often hear the language there's chatter. Well, it depends who's talking. They won't tell us that, but when they evaluate this information, they'll look at how did they collect that information, who -- are the people, if they're -- if it's intercepts, are those people in a position to know?
And that all goes into determining whether or not the information is sufficiently credible to warrant a U.S. public warning. Here, they say it's not specific. But obviously, they've made a determination that the information is sufficiently credible to require a public warning.
BLITZER: It certainly is.
All right, Fran Townsend, thanks very much.
Peter Bergen, thanks to you, as well.
Fran, by the way, is not only CNN's national security analyst, she's a member of both the Department of Homeland Security and CIA External Advisory Boards.
Up next, a violent pro-democracy struggle in his own backyard. Why this -- why that may be Vladimir Putin's worst nightmare.
And Republican candidates beginning to distance themselves from the vicious, the race baiting rants of the rocker, Ted Nugent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED NUGENT, SINGER: -- I had no more capabilities than what I --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Another breaking story we're following right now. A capital city put to the torch, more than two dozen dead and the violence has spread. In Kiev, protesters and police are squaring off across the barricades. The former communist state is caught in a tug of war between Russia and the west. The stakes are very high as President Obama and European leaders issue serious warnings.
Let's go live to our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Nick, there's talk of negotiations. Could there be room for an actual truce?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me tell you what we know about this supposed truce. A statement from the president, Viktor Yanukovych, saying that he's met with senior parliamentarians and three opposition leaders that include three things, a truce and then negotiations about talk, the stability and peace.
Here, what's going on behind me, though, they probably heard about it down there through the large (INAUDIBLE) when they get regularly addressed. We've seen protesters firing fireworks at the police in just the last ten minutes. Still, thick black smoke from tire fires all around the demonstrations at all. No sign of any change in what's happening down there.
In fact, we're hearing news of the truce -- people from police side throwing cocktails in the direction of the protesters. Whatever is happening behind closed doors, it's not changed things on the ground. Bear in mind one thing, Wolf, this is a sharp change from-in rhetoric from Viktor Yanukovych who hours ago talked about the protesters radicals and his security chief said they needed an anti-terror operation against them.
He's going to be seeing three key E.U. foreign ministers arriving in Kiev tomorrow morning. I'm sure he wants to appear statesman like (INAUDIBLE) before any meetings with them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, those explosions that we're hearing, those loud explosions, you're saying those are fireworks. Is that what it is?
WALSH: It's a mixture. The very loud bangs we think are probably some sort of stunt grenade. That may be something being used by the police going to the sheer size of the barrier we hear, but more often, we see homemade or locally purchased fireworks fired by protesters. We went down and saw, in fact, one man, very simple. You take a firework in your hand, you light it, you put your arm over the top of the barricade and fire it at the police.
And the police, obviously, in riot gear, not sure how effective it is injuring them, but certainly, it's an act of aggression, you would say, from police. But really, they're not matched evenly here. There are protesters digging up the pavement, throwing rocks at police, trying to make barricades, whatever they can possibly find well- equipped heavily stuff police force coming in and changing shifts in regular numbers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly, a tense situation remaining in the pictures, so dramatic from Kiev. Nick, we'll get back to you.
Eerie echoes of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Let's get a closer look right now of what's going on. CNN's Tom Foreman is here along with Max Fisher of "The Washington Post." Tom, give us some perspective.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, Wolf, you have to look at where Ukraine is located because this really is the historic divider between Russia and the rest of Europe, right, Max?
MAX FISHER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Historians think the country's name actually means border lane. So, the sense of being in between is really baked into Ukraine's identity.
FOREMAN: And it's only about 900 miles if you were to drive down to Sochi where the Olympics are going on right now. Let's talk about the makeup of this country, Max.
FISHER: Yes. It's about the size of Texas and it's 45 million people. So, it's big.
FOREMAN: OK. Now, why did all this launch? It really goes back to something that happened in November with the European Union.
FISHER: Yes. Ukraine was considering a deal for greater economic integration with the European Union. And a lot of Ukrainians like this because they thought it was a good deal and they liked the idea of being a part of Europe. But they didn't get that.
FOREMAN: They got a very different deal, indeed. What happened?
FISHER: So, what happened is Ukraine surprised everybody by taking a deal with Russia instead for about $15 billion in bailout and cheaper natural gas.
FOREMAN: And so, those who opposed it, who wanted the European Union deal, then turned their attention even more so on the president.
FISHER: Yes. President Viktor Yanukovych who's seen by a lot of Ukrainians as corrupt, he'd been ousted in protests in 2004 previously, he seems very cozy with Russia. It's actually Russian is his native language, so when he took this deal, people thought, wow, he is sold out our country to Moscow.
FOREMAN: So, in many ways, what this comes down to is a historic division -- this has always been like two countries in one space, and now, it's coming to a head.
FISHER: Yes, that's right. So, if you look at this map, this purple western half, this actually mostly speaks Ukrainian. That's where Kiev is. That's where most (ph) the protests are. But eastern half, people mostly speak Russian. That's where Yanukovych is from. People have a little more fondness for the old ties to Russia.
So, what you're seeing play out is an identity crisis Ukraine has had since its independence between are we a European country or are we facing more towards Russia?
FOREMAN: And of course, there's a big pull from both sides, Europeans and from the United States and other saying you should be free to do what you want and from the Russian side, because bear in mind, this was a region that when it was part of the soviet empire, produced one- quarter of all the agricultural products. It is a huge trading partner to Russia. Wolf, all of that is playing a role.
BLITZER: Certainly is. Good explanation, guys.
Thanks very much. For Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, the violence occurring next door has got to be extremely worrisome. Joining us now, Fareed Zakaria, he's the host of "CNNs Fareed Zakaria: GPS," Roman Popadiuk, he's the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Julia Ioffe, she's the senior editor at the "New Republic."
Julia, let me start with you because you have a provocative headline, an excellent article in the new issue of the "New Republic" in which you say "these protests in Kiev right now represent Putin's worst nightmare." Explain what you're driving at.
JULIA IOFFE, SENIOR EDITOR, NEW REPUBLIC: So, the last time Viktor Yanukovych was in power or the last time he was elected to power in 2004, it also triggered mass protests. And the first time that the west heard about a place called the Maydan (ph) was because he was elected in a fraudulent election. Those protests that toppled him and brought in a pro-western government in Kiev terrified Vladimir Putin.
He really tightened the screws, killed off what was left of Russian democracy, really clamped down on the free press on civil society, created this fearsome pro-Kremlin youth group, and he sees Ukraine not as a separate government but as an extension of Russia. He told George W. Bush once that, you know, "you understand, George, this isn't a sovereign nation. Basically, it's part of Russia."
And so, when this kind of stuff happens on the streets of Kiev, I'm sure that Vladimir Putin is imaging something like this happening in Moscow, and in fact, it did in the winter of 2011, 2012, and Vladimir Putin has started turning the screws after those protests. Now, he's tamping down even further given what's happening in Kiev. He's clearly very frightened.
BLITZER: Ambassador Popadiuk, you served in Ukraine. You know this country well. Is this becoming really a proxy war, what's going on inside of the streets of Kiev and elsewhere spreading around Ukraine between Putin, shall we say, and the west including United States and President Obama?
ROMAN POPADIUK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: I understand what observers say along those lines, Wolf, but I wouldn't say, go that far. I would say this is a fight among the Ukrainian people for values. It's a question of values. They're looking toward the west in terms of democratization, further democratization in terms of legal norms, in terms of accountability in government.
Those are things that the west represents and that's what was represented by the potential E.U. agreement. Instead, what Yanukovych has done has moved toward the east for Russia which for the Ukrainian people indicates continued corruption, authoritarian types of regimes, and anti-democratic steps by the government. So, this is the split in the Ukrainian populace along those lines. It's more about values. It's not exactly a compliment to east and west as such.
BLITZER: Fareed, you remember that phone conversation that a high- ranking state department official, Victoria Nuland, had with the current U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, a phone conversation that was recorded and then leaked, put out there on YouTube in which Victoria Nuland had some embarrassing comments about the E.U. Let me play that little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the U.N. help glue it. And, you know, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) the E.U.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: First of all, obviously, this was talk -- this conversation involved what was going on in Ukraine right now, but is it your sense that this tape-recording was leaked by the Russians or the pro-Russian Ukrainians to embarrass the United States?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: My guess is it was leaked by the Russians because they do have the capacity to overhear that kind of conversation. The basic point Victoria Nuland was trying to make, I think, is that the European Union has been playing a kind of slow economic game here whereas the Russians have been playing a fast geopolitical game.
By which I mean the European Union has been offering the Ukrainians a deal and association, but as long as they make certain kinds of structural economic reforms and get rid of subsidies on various industries. In other words, it's a kind of almost like a regular trade negotiation where they're trying to get the Ukrainian economy to become more market friendly.
The Russians, on the other hand, are playing a geopolitical game, and they first offered Ukraine essentially a $15 billion bribe, subsidized fuel and such, and then just recently, another $2 billion bribe, which was bond. So, Putin is basically saying here's cash, no conditions asked, you be part of my sphere of influence.
The Europeans, on the other hand, are playing this much longer-term game to try to turn Ukraine into a kind of middle class, you know, liberal democratic, capitalist society, and the two timetables are completely off. So, the Europeans have badly misplayed this hand. They should have. If they were going to step in there and try to wean Ukraine away from Russia, they needed to do something fast.
They needed to do something that was overwhelming and that made it very difficult for the president to turn them down.
BLITZER: Julia, the president said today, President Obama, he said there will be consequences if people step over the line in Ukraine, referring to the government in Kiev right now. What realistically could those consequences be?
ZAKARIA: Very little, very little, because the truth of the matter, Wolf, is, we're not going to send an army there. And if we put sanctions on Ukraine, the danger is -- after all, it will only push the Ukrainians closer to Russia. I'm not saying we shouldn't do something. I'm just saying our options are much more limited. The crucial issue here is what does the Ukrainian army do? The country is divided the way that Max Fisher described but not quite 50/50.
The Ukrainian part, if you will, is larger, and I think the younger population, you know, the future of Ukraine clearly looks to the west. The ethnic Russian part is only about 17, 18 percent. And if you look at Kiev, 75 percent of them didn't vote for this president.
BLITZER: Yes. ZAKARIA: So, that's why so much of these -- you know, Kiev has become the heart of these protests. But what will the army do? Will the Ukrainian army be like the Egyptians and side with the people or will they be like the Syrians and side with the government?
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Julia that question. What do you see the consequences being, Julia?
IOFFE: I'm not really sure how much the U.S. can do. They've shown their reluctance to really intervene in this part of the world, and the Russians know that. Even though the Russians are talking up a big game about what's happening and the protests when the streets of Kiev is because of U.S. meddling. I would like the say, though, that I think how this started in November with the potential agreement with the E.U., I think that's long in the past now.
I think the reason people are out in the streets is in part because of Yanukovych's crackdown. And I think one of the things that worries Vladimir Putin is that he doesn't crack down all the way. He'll start cracking down, he breaks a few leg, and then he pulls back. And this makes people angry, even more of them come out and even more radical people come out.
They break up cement and throw at the cops. They bring Molotov cocktails instead of stones. You know, his tactics are -- and his authoritarianism, I think, are really what's at issue now. I think the potential agreement with the E.U. is kind of a little bit forgotten at this point.
BLITZER: Let me get a final thought from Ambassador Popadiuk. The notion right now that this -- the leader of Ukraine, Yanukovych, has removed the head of the military over there and there are suspicion that maybe that military commander was siding with the opposition. If that were, in fact, true, that bodes pretty seriously for escalation of the violence.
POPADIUK: I think, Wolf, you're absolutely right along those lines. If you look at the situation, particularly, in Western Ukraine right now, the militia has been turning down those guns and not wanting to side with the government in terms of acting against the protesters in those regions of the country. In addition, certain regions in Western Ukraine have already kind of declared that the president is no longer in charge of those regions.
So, there's a dire situation that's developing along these lines. And the military is a professional organization that's going to count immensely in this situation and the chances are fairly good if the military gets involved that the military will probably not be supportive of the government.
BLITZER: Pictures that we're showing our viewers, live pictures, remind me of Tiananmen Square, Tahrir Square in Cairo, and now in Kiev. History unfolding before our very eyes. Let's see what happens. Ambassador Popadiuk, thanks very much. Julia Ioffe, thanks to you. Fareed, of course, thanks to you. An important note, you can always catch more of Fareed this Sunday, every Sunday on "Fareed Zakaria: GPS," 10:00 a.m. eastern. Once again at 1:00 p.m. eastern.
Coming up, embarrassed Republican candidates in Texas, they're beginning to distance themselves from the race-baiting rocker, Ted Nugent, after his vicious rants. Just ahead, we'll discuss what's going on in Texas.
BLITZER: It's a story that's exploding online and on TV after our CNN report. Now the rock star Ted Nugent is comparing CNN to a top Nazi after we detailed his slurs against President Obama, whom he called -- and I'm quoting him now -- "a subhuman mongrel."
And there's political fallout for the Texas governor's race as well. Nugent has been out there campaigning for Republican candidate Greg Abbott. We're following new developments with CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's in Dallas. CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger. And Wayne Slater, he's the senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning News," who's been all over the story.
Wayne, you have been talking to sources there close to the Greg Abbott campaign. What are they saying to you about this furor, this uproar that has developed over the past 24 hours?
WAYNE SLATER, COLUMNIST, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": They did not expect this to happen.
They knew that Nugent was a controversial figure who had said outspoken things in the past. They did not know how loud this was going to become. They frankly did not expect what you did yesterday. And that is to historically point out the precedents in Nazi terminology and in propaganda with respect to the issue of a subhuman mongrel and the use of that kind of language.
They also told me that don't look to see Greg Abbott with anyone -- with Greg Abbott having the same -- Ted Nugent with him in the future. That is not going to happen in the future. So I think the Abbott people have learned this has blown up in a way they didn't expect, and they're trying to run away from it.
BLITZER: Well, you think they would go one step further, Wayne, and actually disavow and condemn these comments from Ted Nugent?
SLATER: When I talked to them today, absolutely, the indication is, they would not.
On the one hand, you have someone who has said things that are so offensive that clearly will alienate an aspect of the electorate, especially suburban and moderate Republican-leaning women, who Wendy Davis would like to have and Greg Abbott needs to keep if he is to win in November.
On the other hand, if he were to simply physically and verbally drop Nugent in the grease and say, I'm going to denounce all these terrible things that he said, then he's going to lose potentially some of the very strong right-wing, pro-gun advocates who Greg Abbott also needs in the Republican primary. It's a tough spot for him to be in.
Ed, I know you have been chasing Greg Abbott throughout the day. We have invited him to come on our show. We invited him yesterday. We invited him today. He's declined our invitation. He, of course, has an open invitation. But you managed to find him. What is he saying?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we found Greg Abbott today in the East Texas town of Tyler, Texas. He was campaigning at a small little restaurant which coincidentally is owned by the grandparents of college football star and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Abbott was campaigning there. We were told we'd be able to get a chance to ask some questions about this, but at end of the event there, we were only allowed to ask one question. Abbott said that this is really all about the Wendy Davis campaign, his Democratic challenger for governor here in Texas, that this is -- that he used Ted Nugent as a way to show that Wendy Davis was flip-flopping on the issue of guns and he wanted to point that out.
We tried to follow up. We had a series of other questions that we wanted to ask, and that's when the fireworks kind of started. His communications director stepped between me and Greg Abbott, and tried to keep asking Greg Abbott several more questions, but he ignored the questions and we were blocked from doing so.
BLITZER: I want to play, Gloria -- this is the clip. This is Ted Nugent yesterday in Texas introducing and supporting Greg Abbott, the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Gloria, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED NUGENT, MUSICIAN: I am so proud to be here today in Denton, Texas, to introduce the next governor that will make sure America knows what freedom looks like. And it looks like Greg Abbott, my friend Greg Abbott, my blood brother.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Gloria. You heard "my blood brother."
So, from your perspective, you have been looking at this closely. What do you see?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think when somebody comes out there and says you're his blood brother and you're standing in front of a sign that says Abbott, at a certain point, Abbott has to come out and say something about the language that Ted Nugent is using.
I understand that it's difficult for him. I understand that they share a commitment on the Second Amendment. And there's a way to do it. You just say, look, I share his commitment on the Second Amendment, I appreciate it, but I'm offended by his language, because Abbott has to go on and win in a general election.
And the suburban women that Wendy Davis is going after are not going to love this kind of language. And, by the way, there are lots of Republicans in the state don't like this kind of language either. So I think, at some point, Abbott is going to have to find a way to distance himself. He was using Nugent to get crowds to corral anger on the right, OK, and that's legitimate for him, as he's in a primary, which he's expected to win.
But, at a certain point, I think he has to distance himself.
BLITZER: You know, somebody who's not distancing themselves from Ted Nugent, Wayne, is Sarah Palin. She just posted on her Facebook page. She said, "Check the box for another good conservative, Greg Abbott for governor of Texas. If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he's good enough for me." That's from Sarah Palin.
How is that going to play in Texas?
SLATER: It's going to play great.
The truth of the matter is, and there is, as I mentioned before, something a bit dark about this, there is a portion of the electorate, these are very conservative, Second Amendment, anti-abortion-rights people on the Republican right and the Republican primary, who think Sarah Palin is wonderful, who think Ted Nugent is wonderful, and who frankly think this whole thing is nothing. So there is that group on the Republican right.
LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, Ted Nugent is also firing back at CNN's coverage of all of this as well.
He's sent out a couple tweets here in the last day or so saying, "CNN, Joseph Goebbels," who was the propaganda minister for Nazi Germany and Hitler, "Saul Alinsky propaganda ministry mongrels."
And his last week was directed at you. You will appreciate this. "Wolf Blitzer is a journalist, and I'm a gay pirate from Cuba."
So, there's your Halloween costume for later this year.
BLITZER: I'm glad I'm a journalist.
BLITZER: All right, thanks, guys, very much.
Gloria, Wayne, Ed, good reporting from all of you.
Up next: an American base hit by an American bomb. We have a gripping piece of video of a major military mistake.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're just learning about a mind-boggling military mistake that almost became a major catastrophe. A U.S. military plane dropping a huge bomb on a U.S. military outpost.
How could such a thing happen?
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has got some of the dramatic video.
Tell our viewer what you're finding out, Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is absolutely bone-chilling to watch. Thankfully there was a happy ending.
STARR (voice-over): Soldiers watch as a U.S. aircraft is about to drop a 500-pound bomb on what the air crew thinks is a group of Taliban fighters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
STARR: But in a rare mistake the bomb hits the U.S. outpost instead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED). What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
STARR: Video has just come to light of this September 2012 incident in eastern Afghanistan. Another reminder of the uncertainty of combat.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): This was a major mistake from a targeting perspective. The way targeting works is you have to get the coordinates right.
STARR: An investigation determined the air crew had the wrong coordinates.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
LEIGHTON: Unfortunately in wars this does happen, but with precision- guided munitions it's a much rarer occurrence than it used to be.
STARR: Everyone quickly moves to check on each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys good?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Sergeant, is everything -- you got hit out there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we're good. We're good. Hey, we're straight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they're good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED), man?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No casualties.
STARR: No casualties. Thankfully no one was hurt. Investigators ruled the incident an accident. So no one was punished. But you see the destruction of that operating base there out in eastern Afghanistan. It could have turned out so much worse -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, fortunately the ending, as you say, was OK. It was a major, major mistake. I hope they learn from it so it never happens again.
We're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. A warning to airlines about explosives possibly hidden in shoes. New information coming in.
And a political odd couple teaming up to restore voting rights to millions of ex-convicts.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: The Obama administration may have an unlikely partner in the push to restore voting rights to millions of ex-cons. One of its most outspoken critics, the Republican senator, Rand Paul.
Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns. He's got the details -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senator Rand Paul disagrees with the Obama administration on most everything, just sued the president over NSA phone data collection. He even delivered his own personal rebuttal to Mr. Obama's State of the Union address. But now on this one issue of voting rights for felons, he's on their side.
JOHNS (voice-over): Surprisingly when it comes to giving convicted felons the right to vote, conservative senator and Tea Party darling, Rand Paul, is right in line with the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don't think it's intentional, but there has become a racial outcome on who's incarcerated in our country. And I think that's something that has to be addressed here. Because not only is the incarceration I think unfair, then they get out and the voting rights are impaired.
JOHNS: Today Paul went so far as to appear at a hearing in his home state legislature pushing the idea of changing the Kentucky constitution to give the vote to convicted felons, sounding a little bit like the liberal Democrats who have been beating this drum for decades, saying disenfranchisement laws unfairly penalize American citizens who have paid their debt to society.
PAUL: I think particularly for nonviolent crimes we should try to reincorporate people back into society.
JOHNS: A cause the Democratic attorney general took up once again last week.
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives.
JOHNS: Paul's push to restore felons' voting rights is likely to win him some support if he chooses to run for president, but critics say he may be cutting off his nose to spite his fate because it's an issue that plays to a Democratic base.
HORACE COOPER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH: I would argue it looks more like you're being soft on crime and that's not going to help him in a Republican primary.
JOHNS: The Kentucky Senate voted to approve this measure, but the committee considering it essentially decided to insert a five-year waiting period before felons could vote apparently because of concerns about criminal repeat offenders. So this will have to be hashed out before voters in Kentucky can decide the issue on the ballot.
BLITZER: Eric Holder and Rand Paul working together on this issue.
Joe Johns, thanks very, very much.
Breaking news coming up, the new warnings to airlines about shoe bombs. What is the government increasingly worried about as a new possible terror attack?
Plus a follow-up to our story that inspired so many people including President Obama. We have details of his letter to a high school football star born without arms.