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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Wants $3.7 Billion for Immigration Crisis; 60,000 Estimated Unaccompanied Children Have Entered United States Illegally This Year; Senator Menendez Faces New Scrutiny; U.S. Cleric Seen as Big Influence on Jihadists; Powerful Typhoon Targeting Japan
Aired July 8, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much.
Happening now, breaking news. Brink of war -- rockets intercepted near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, deadly air strikes in Gaza and a bloody shootout on an Israeli beach. Israel is ready to mobilize tens of thousands of military reserves as an all-out fight looms with Islamic militants.
Billions for the border -- President Obama wants Congress to fund an emergency response to the immigration crisis.
But critics say it's a problem of his own making. I'll talking to President Obama's chief domestic policy adviser and to a key Republican lawmaker.
And smeared by Cuba?
A U.S. senator fighting a corruption probe suggests Cuban intelligence was behind allegations that he consorted with underage prostitutes. We'll have an exclusive report.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news.
Sirens screaming in Tel Aviv as people run for cover. Israel's Iron Dome defense system has intercepted Palestinian rockets headed for its largest cities, while Israeli aircraft have been pounding targets in Gaza. With 40,000 Israeli military reserves now on standby for a full scale incursion, Israel and the Palestinian militant groups are on the brink of another bloody war.
CNN's Ben Wedeman is standing by in Gaza and I'll speak with the spokesman for the Israeli police force.
But let's go to Diana Magnay.
She's in the Israeli city of Ashkelon. That's near Gaza -- Diana, what's the latest? DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, a few hours ago, we had volleys of rockets going overhead past us. There must have been 15, 20 of them going north toward Ashkelon and Tel Aviv.
As you said, two rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system just south of Tel Aviv and over the city itself. Also in Jerusalem, the IDF saying that one rocket actually hit Jerusalem.
It is quite clear that Hamas is stepping up its campaign, irrespective of air strikes all day along the Gaza Strip.
And we were standing overlooking the strip and you could you see columns of smoke from those air strikes, apparently very targeted, they say, though we do know that civilians died in amongst the 16 that have lost their lives so far inside the Gaza Strip.
But those air strikes clearly making no difference to Hamas. Hamas seems to have upped the tempo. There was a commando raid from Hamas militants on a beach just a couple of kilometers south from here. We don't know how they came onto the beach, whether they swam, whether they had dingies. But they were confronted by Israeli defense forces. Five militants killed. We believe that operation is still ongoing.
So Hamas is very, very much on the offensive here in an operation that really does seem to be ramping up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the mood over there, I take it there's no schools, kids are being told to stay home. Shopping malls have been quieted, if you will.
What's going on in Ashkelon, along the Mediterranean Coast where you are -- Diana?
MAGNAY: Well, you hear every so often -- and, actually, pretty frequently -- these air raids. And people are then scared. And they run for shelter and wonder what to do. I mean the town of Sderot, just a few kilometers away, you have 15 seconds to get to a shelter when you hear the siren. And all the bus shelters have reinforced concrete. You know, people are very nervous.
But it's amazing, actually, how quickly people return to their day to day activities. I think here, you get the sense that people feel that Iron Dome will protect them to a certain extent, however unpleasant it is to hear these rockets going overhead.
And I think in Gaza, also, there is a sense, the people understand that unless they are closely affiliated with Hamas, these air strikes inside of Gaza are also fairly targeted. So life, as much as it can, keeps going, despite these sort of fairly frequent jitters -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Diana Magnay, stand by. We'll get back to you.
Israel has responded to Palestinian rocket fire with waves of air strikes in Gaza, targeting dozens of what it's calling terror sites. The death toll in Gaza is clearly growing.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman.
He is now in Gaza for us -- Ben, what's the latest there?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Wolf, I can hear drones overhead and war planes in the distance. Gaza -- at the moment, Gaza City is eerily quiet. Now, occasionally, you do hear the mosque blaring out with announcements of these rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, on Jerusalem, on Haifa, on Ashdod and other Israeli cities.
What they're not telling people, however, is that the Iron Dome system is intercepting almost all of those rockets and therefore they're not really having the sort of impact that Hamas is boasting about.
But the Israeli strikes are coming in fairly steadily. We were in Khan Younis in Southern Gaza today, where we were at a house where seven people were killed. Now, this is a house belonging to a family with ties to Hamas. But among the dead were two boys, one 10, one 11 years old. It's a very crowded neighborhood. And some of the people simply seemed to be passersby when this attack took place.
Now, in that particular house, I spoke to the woman who received what is known -- what the Israelis call a knock on the roof, which is a phone call which warns families that a strike is coming. She received that phone call from a man she said spoke very good Arabic by the name of David. He told her, get out of that house for the sake of your children. She left, but the kids in the neighborhood weren't so lucky -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume in Gaza, where you are, Ben -- and you've been there many times. You speak Arabic. You know the folks over there.
They must be terrified about what's going on, as well?
WEDEMAN: To a certain extent, Wolf, people have become accustomed to this sort of thing. And the assumption among many, as Diana rightly pointed out, is that if you're not somebody who is a member of Hamas, a member of Islamic Jihad, you're not involved in any sort of political military activities and you're not close to any military or Hamas facilities, that you may be relatively safe. There's not a lot of enthusiasm among ordinary people for these strikes, these missile attacks. In fact, you know, I mentioned before how the mosque is blaring these messages of victories. You don't hear much reaction in the street.
But during the Brazil/Germany game, we heard, every time a goal was struck, lots of cheering and shouting. So I think many people are just staying at home, distracting themselves with the World Cup and hoping that this is over as soon as possible -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Ben Wedeman in Gaza for us.
Thank you, Ben.
Be safe over there, as well.
The crisis, though, clearly escalating, as rockets are fired toward Israel's major cities.
Israel threatening a devastating military response, not only from the air, but on the ground, as well.
Joining us now from Jerusalem, the Israeli police spokesman, the superintendent, Micky Rosenfeld.
Micky, thanks very much for joining us.
First of all, did any of these rockets that were launched from Gaza hit Tel Aviv, hit Jerusalem?
What can you tell us about that?
MICKY ROSENFELD, ISRAELI POLICE SPOKESMAN: I can tell you and confirm that throughout the day, there were more than 120 rockets that were fired by the Hamas from the Gaza Strip inside Israel. The Iron Dome successfully took down more than 20 rockets. And this evening, late this evening, sirens were heard both in Jerusalem, as well as in the Tel Aviv area. And luckily enough, around the Tel Aviv area, just south of Tel Aviv, the rockets were intercepted.
From what we know until now from our different police units in and around the different areas on the ground level, so they're still searching around the outskirts of Jerusalem after at least what I want confirm from the police perspective, hundreds of phone calls were received at the 911 of explosions heard in and around the vicinity of Jerusalem.
BLITZER: Have there been any Israeli casualties killed or injured in any of these rocket attacks?
ROSENFELD: What I can confirm, until now, there's only been damage in the city of Ashdod to a large number of vehicles.
But I don't think we should be looking at the numbers.
What we should be looking at is the threat that the Hamas want to fire into heavily populated areas, where women and children, now on holidays, camps and people who are out in and around the streets. We know what the Hamas are trying to do and trying to target. And at the moment, we're concentrating on making sure that the message to the public is take into consideration that you have 15, 30 seconds, 45 seconds or up to one minute until those rocket strikes. And, therefore, it's vital that all of our population in the different areas, especially within the cities, should go into the safe zones and safe areas in time.
BLITZER: Does Hamas have rockets or missiles that can reach the populated area of Tel Aviv?
We know they can reach outside of Tel Aviv.
But is Tel Aviv itself vulnerable to Hamas rockets or missiles from Gaza?
ROSENFELD: Well, I can confirm that the Hamas do have the capability. We know from this evening, as well, that even one rocket -- and that was confirmed -- landed even north of Tel Aviv. So we're taking into consideration that both the central part of Israel, as well as Jerusalem and other areas, are under threat. And, basically, what we're talking about is more than three million Israelis now under the threat of the Hamas. And, therefore, both the IDF, as well as different security organizations, already to take into consideration and do what has to be done in order to make sure that the people and the population of Israel are safe.
BLITZER: Usually, Jerusalem is considered off limits because it's not only the site of holy places for Christians and Jews, but also for Muslims -- the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock.
Has there been a change, as far as you know, right now, Micky?
ROSENFELD: Well, in terms of the police perspective, our units know, on a ground level, that those rockets can strike anywhere, anyplace. For the Hamas to fire into a Muslim area, a Muslim community, they've done that in the past. We experienced that in the Lebanese war, where rockets landed within heavily Arab populated areas. And there were casualties there.
So I don't think the Hamas are afraid of killing Israelis. They'll kill anyone that they can.
But what I want to focus on this evening is the police perspective. And our units stepped up security in and around the different areas all across the country until the Tel Aviv area and slightly north. And, obviously, we're looking ahead at the next 24, 48 hours how the situation will develop.
BLITZER: Do you believe there will be an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza?
ROSENFELD: I can't confirm what steps are being taken and what will take place exactly when, but obviously, all the options are available and the Israeli government will make all the correct decisions when necessary at the correct time and correct place.
BLITZER: While I have you, let me get your quick update on this 15-year-old American kid who was beaten by Israeli police. We saw some of the video. I think it was border police. You've seen it, as well. He's from Florida. He was pretty badly beaten.
There's no excuse, is there, for some 15-year-old kid whose hands are tied, for police to beat him on the head like this, right?
ROSENFELD: What I can confirm in that specific incident is he was one of the six people -- masked Palestinians that was arrested. Three of the masked Palestinians were knived. We know that he was wearing a kafiya, which is the Muslim headdress, which is used to -- as far as the Palestinians are concerned, to try and not show their identity. The arrest should have been made fast and quickly. And what took place after that was obviously something which is being examined by the Justice Ministry.
But let's not forget that we have to ask ourselves another question, which is why was there an American Florida student?
How did he find himself in East Jerusalem, breaking the law, throwing petrol -- Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs, at police officers and finding himself in that type of situation?
BLITZER: Well, there's a dispute. I spoke with his family last night. And they say he was just on -- in his own yard there. He was not throwing any petrol bombs, he was not doing anything wrong, he was just sort of standing there, got caught up in this.
But even if he were doing something, there's no excuse for going at and beating him as he was beaten, after his hands were tied behind his back, right?
ROSENFELD: I can tell you and confirm that in terms of my experience as a police officer and working in the field, an arrest should be made quickly and swiftly. And he should have been handcuffed and then handed over. Obviously, as I mentioned is that the Ministry of Justice is looking at that incident and what took place at the exact moment when he was arrested and afterwards. And, obviously, the police officers and the situation will be examined carefully, as we saw in the footage.
BLITZER: He's -- very quickly -- he's under house arrest now.
Will you let him come back to Florida?
ROSENFELD: We'll take into consideration both the situation and the decision -- the court decision that will be made, taking into consideration that he is studying overseas and that he has family overseas. But we'll also take into consideration that he was a suspect involved in breaking the law and he was also armed at the time when he was arrested.
BLITZER: All right, Micky Rosenfeld, the superintendent of the Israeli police force, the spokesman.
We'll stay in touch with you.
Thank you very much for joining us.
ROSENFELD: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Coming up in our next hour, I'll get the Palestinian perspective. Maen Areikat, the Palestinian Representative, the PLO ambassador here in Washington, he's standing by to join us live. We're also monitoring the breaking news in the Middle East.
You're going get the latest developments in Israel and Gaza as they happen. We'll have a special report. That's coming up at the top of the hour.
Up next, President Obama asks for almost $4 billion to deal with the border crisis. I'll speak with his top domestic policy adviser and a key Republican Congressman, who calls it -- and I'm quoting him now -- "a disaster of President Obama's own making."
Plus, a CNN exclusive. We're going to hear from a United States senator fighting a corruption probe who suggests he was smeared in a deliberate campaign by the Cuban intelligence service.
BLITZER: Turning now to the immigration emergency along the U.S.- Mexico border. Tens of thousands of children, many traveling alone, have crossed into the United States illegally, and the federal government doesn't seem to know what to do with them. President Obama is asking Congress for almost $4 billion to address the problem. I'll speak with the president's chief domestic policy advisor and a key Republican critic of the president. They're both standing by.
But let's go to our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski. She has the very latest -- Michelle.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a less defensive tone around here today. The White House emphatically laid out what it calls its aggressive plan to deal with these children and families at the border.
And now the president will address this issue in Texas this week, even meeting with one of his critics in chief, the Texas governor.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The White House's emergency plan for tackling the immigration crisis at the border now totals $3.7 billion. It does include border security and enforcement, more than 1.5 billion worth.
Another nearly $2 billion to house and care for the children awaiting the badly backed-up process of going before a judge and, even then, most likely being deported. It's possible that abandoned schools like this one in Texas will be turned into temporary shelters.
The remainder of the funds would hire lawyers, judges to give these Central American children the due process required by a 2008 law this administration inherited and contributing to the...
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Urgent humanitarian situation.
KOSINSKI: And amid all those calls for Obama, even from his own party to visit the border this week itself, especially after calling it a crisis. Now the White House says the president has extended an invitation to one of his harshest critics, Texas Governor Rick Perry.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: This administration has been an absolute failure.
KOSINSKI: The president asking Perry to join an already-scheduled meeting with community and faith leaders in Dallas tomorrow to talk about humanitarian needs. But this invite comes only after Perry asked the president for a meeting. So will they meet one-on-one? Possibly.
In the meantime, some members of Congress aren't letting up.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: He really needs to go there and see this for himself and not just rely on advisers, because this is a crisis that's ongoing.
KOSINSKI: Congress even agreed to the funding. The White House threw down its own gauntlet.
EARNEST: I would expect those individuals to back up that talk with action. And based on the rhetoric that we've seen from members of Congress, we hope that they'll act quickly.
KOSINSKI: So it's possible that Republicans in Congress will ask for something in return before they pony up this money; maybe budget cuts. House Speaker Boehner said he would like to have seen the use of the National Guard included in this proposal to deal with the problem.
The White House's response has been passing comprehensive immigration reform would include significant increases in border security. That passed the Senate in a bipartisan manner, but it is still blocked in the House, Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House with the very latest. Michelle, thank you.
We're going to hear shortly from the president's chief domestic policy adviser. But first, let's get a Republican point of view from Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The administration says it really has no choice in dealing with these 60,000 kids, unaccompanied kids who have come in so far, have crossed the border illegally because of that 2008 law that President Bush signed. You voted for it. So is the administration right now, their hands are tied. They have to follow the law?
GOODLATTE: Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is there could be a tweak to the law. But there are a lot of things that the administration could do right now to stop this problem, including working with the Mexican government, putting pressure on the Mexican government and the Central American countries to work with us, to keep the children from even leaving their countries or making their way across Mexico.
I know for a fact the Mexican government is interested in working with the United States and getting help to secure their southern border with Guatemala. Secondly, they could do a number of things administratively themselves.
For example, they could stop abusing the process of prosecutorial discretion. They could investigate and crack down on the asylum fraud that's taking place here. And there are a number of other things that they could do that they're simply not doing.
Instead, they've asked the Congress for a blank check, an awful lot of money that comes to tens of thousands of dollars for each one of these children. And no plan, no accountability in terms of how that money is going to be spent and no plan in terms of how they're going to stop this problem with it.
So if they want some changes to the 2008 law, why didn't they include that in their supplemental appropriations request? In fact, my understanding is that just yesterday the president said he wasn't going to ask for that change in the law.
BLITZER: But the law as it stands right now, forget about possible changes, the law as it stands right now is that once this child is in the United States unaccompanied, you can't just send that kid back to Mexico or to Guatemala. You have to do due process, put it before a judicial panel, get a lawyer, and go through what the law stipulates.
GOODLATTE: Wolf, the law does not say that. The law says you cannot detain the child more than 72 hours. But if the child is from Mexico, they are routinely...
BLITZER: What if the child is from Guatemala or El Salvador?
GOODLATTE: Well, Guatemala actually takes some of the children back right now. And I think that if the president put pressure on these countries to have them work with us and to set up a plan to take the children back, they can do that. It's when the child asks for political asylum that they have the opportunity to stay.
BLITZER: Because most of these kids -- most of these kids, I understand, they cross the border, and they don't try to hide. They want to go to a police officer. They want to go to border police. They want to go to an official. They've got a phone number of a relative in the United States, and they say in Spanish, they want to apply for asylum.
GOODLATTE: Well, some of -- well, first of all, they usually do not apply for asylum until they've been detained for a while. But yes, they are being trained by the drug smugglers and the human traffickers who work with these kids and take thousands of dollars from their parents, who then willfully left them in their home country. They've come to the United States illegally and are spending thousands
of dollars to send these children on this dangerous journey where some of them are killed, some are maimed, some are diverted into sex trafficking, and expect that the United States government should turn them over to them when they illegally enter the United States.
So if there is a tweak to the law that the president would like to have, he should step up and work with us on that. We're definitely willing to do that. But the president can do many things right now to change his approach and his policy with regard to enforcing the border that would stop this problem. It is not something that is all dependent upon that 2008 law.
BLITZER: Do you regret voting for that law in 2008?
GOODLATTE: That law was passed through a Democratic Congress at the very end of the session. Had I or my predecessor, Lamar Smith, been chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I assure you it would have been much more carefully vetted than it was.
It was intended -- it was intended to deal with individual children who were pushed back across the border and maybe back into the hands of these traffickers. And certainly, the underlying premise of it is a good one, but when it's being abused like this, where you have 50,000, 60,000 children this year, estimated to maybe grow to 150,000 next year, it needs to be changed.
But in the meantime, there are, first of all, half the people coming here are children accompanying their parents. And the rules are very different with regard to them.
BLITZER: But we're talking about the kids who come here unaccompanied. But we did some checking. Every Republican in the House voted for it except two Republicans voted against it. You were not one of those two Republicans who voted against it. You voted for it. The Bush administration supported it for obvious good reasons of sex trafficking, to deal with that. But -- but the law is the law, right?
GOODLATTE: The law is the law. But the law is not what is dictating this surge that's going on there. There is definitely a need to make a tweak to the law if the president steps up and says that's what he wants.
But instead, last week he said he wants the entire Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill passed. That would actually exacerbate this problem, not solve it. Because you would see an even larger surge of people.
BLITZER: So if they tweak the law, Congressman, if they tweak the law, would you support the $3.7 billion that the president is seeking?
GOODLATTE: Absolutely not. You don't need that amount of money. The appropriations committee is looking at this very carefully. And we need to have very targeted appropriations for very specific purposes to address things that are needed as a part of this. Three point seven billion dollars is a slap in the face of the taxpayers of the United States to say this problem, in my opinion, created by the president of the United States in terms of his lax enforcement of immigration laws has gotten back to these home countries, now saying, "Well, give me money, and I will use it to help them settle even further into this country." And they're providing attorneys, which the immigration law specifically prohibits taxpayer dollars being used for.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, good of to you join us. Thanks very much for your perspective, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Thanks very much.
GOODLATTE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: You heard the criticism. Let's get the president's point of view right now on this huge immigration crisis. Joining us is Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Thanks very much, Cecilia, for joining us.
You heard what the chairman of the judiciary committee just said. If you tweak the law, you're not going to have this problem. Are you ready, in order to try to win support for the $3.7 billion emergency request, to make some modifications in that 2008 law that President Bush signed?
CECILIA MUNOZ, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY COUNCIL: Yes. In fact, what the chairman failed to recognize was that a week ago the president sent a letter to Congress, urging them to work with him in tweaking that law, giving the secretary of homeland security more authority to treat children from noncontiguous countries the same way we treat children from Mexico.
So we are, in fact, looking at adding to our authorities and a law to deal with this situation more expeditiously, and we are aggressively using the resource we have to make sure that we are working with countries of Central America and with Mexico to deal with both the root causes and create facilities for repatriation of people who will be returned. We are surging judicial resources. We're surging immigration asylum officers. We are surging resources that we have to deal with the new arrivals to make sure that we can handle humanitarian claims expeditiously. But also to make sure that we're removing people more quickly, so that there's a clear message to people in Central America and to parents who might be putting their children in the hands of these traffickers and smugglers that they understand that the smugglers are lying to them by telling them that they can expect to be able to remain in the United States once they get here.
BLITZER: You also heard him say he is not going to support that $3.7 billion. He says there is a lot of ways there. If you don't get Republican support in the House of Representatives, they are the majority there that money is not going to be appropriate.
MUNOZ: Well, you know, I don't think they get to have it both ways. They don't get to acknowledge that this is a serious humanitarian problem and then say offhand that they won't provide support to make sure that we can deal with this problem as effectively as possible. Those resources are targeted towards, again, disrupting the smuggling networks, making sure that the communities that these people come from. We have the resources to repatriate folks who are sent back, as well as deal with root causes of this migration. They are for more immigration judges and asylum officers so that we no longer have the serious backlogs that lead to delays in processing these cases.
If you are really serious about dealing with this humanitarian crisis, we should have a bipartisan conversation about making sure we have the resources that we need to deal with it as effectively and efficiently as possible. We will search the resources that we have got. But the President's request makes it very clear that additional resources can really help us get in front of this in a very effective way.
BLITZER: Of the 60,000 young kids, the unaccompanied children who entered the United States illegally this year, how many of those 60,000 do you expect to deport in the coming months?
MUNOZ: Well, it's impossible to say with precision.
MUNOZ: So we believe a majority of these kids are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief. And then so, they ultimately will be returned. We'll make sure to adjudicate any cases of humanitarian relief effectively and with compassion. But the bottom line is that message to any parent who might be considering putting their child in the hand of smugglers and traffickers thinking that they would be able to stay in the United States when they should understand that that is incorrect. And majority of these folks are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief and ultimately be returned.
BLITZER: The president is going to be in Texas tomorrow. He is going to meet with Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. He has been address this issue at this event that will take place tomorrow, but is not going to go actually do an eyewitness sighting of what is going on. And he is coming and lot of criticism, not only from Republicans and Democrats as you well know. Why not go to the border, see what's going on for yourself? He is the president of the United States and this is a humanitarian crisis as we all know.
MUNOZ: So since the end of May, the president has focused both himself and his team what is most effective dealing with this situation. So that means he sent the vice president to Central America to deal with the heads of state in the countries from which people are coming. He organized the broader federal infrastructure including the defense department, the justice department, the department of homeland security and HHS to collaborate in making sure we are providing both appropriate facilities for the children but surging our resources to make sure we can expeditiously handle these cases and get to removals as quickly as possible.
Secretary Kerry was in the region, secretary Johnson is in the region today in Central America today. Secretary Johnson has traveled to the border five times in the last month. He will be there in the region of six times later this week.
The president is focused on what is going to be most impactful in dealing with this situation. And when he is in Texas tomorrow he is going to meeting with community leaders, faith leaders, people who are trying to do something about it. And is going to remain focused on what's going to be most impacted.
BLITZER: But aren't you worried, Cecilia, are you worried about the appearance president goes all the way to Texas. He doesn't go and inspect what's going on along the border given the crisis that is going on right now?
MUNOZ: We are less concerned about appearances and more concerned about the impact on the situation. In fact, we are hoping that other political leaders will feel the same way. This is not a political football. This is an urgent humanitarian situation. And our job is to make sure we are being as impactful as possible. That's where our focus is going to remain.
BLITZER: Cecilia Munoz is the White House domestic policy council adviser to the president, chief domestic policy adviser, I should say. Thanks very much, Cecilia, for joining us.
MUNOZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, a stunning twist in the senator scandal. Was he the target of a smear campaign by intelligence services of Cuba?
Plus, recruiting for ISIS right here in the United States. We have details of a disturbing campaign and it is coming from Michigan.
BLITZER: Shocking allegations against the United States senator. Were they planted by a Cuban government in an effort to silence one of its sharpest critics? That's the latest twist in the scandal surrounding democratic senator Robert Mendez from New Jersey.
Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash spoke with him exclusively today. She caught up with him on Capitol Hill. Dana is here in the SITUATION ROOM. How did it go?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We'll, you know, he is like many Cuban Americans, is very outspoken critic of the Castro regime. And he told me this is a problem in sweeping terms, especially on the issue of democracy.
BASH (voice-over): It has the makings of a spy thriller, a U.S. senator dogged by a federal corruption probe alleging he may really be the victim of a smear campaign by the Cuban government.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: It should be pretty appalling that a foreign government would be engaged in trying to affect an election and/or the position of a United States senator. BASH: Bob Menendez told CNN in an exclusive interview, he wants the
FBI to investigate.
MENENDEZ: I wouldn't be surprised that the regime would do anything it can to stop me from being in a position that ultimately would impede their hopes of being able to get a different relationship with the United States.
BASH: It's just the latest dramatic twist in an already thick and salacious plot. Allegations that the New Jersey democrat traveled to have sex with under-aged prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, which he vehemently denied and the reported prostitutes later recanted.
CNN's Drew Griffin travel to Santo Domingo where he looked for the tipster who sent the allegations to CNN and other media outlets and called himself Peter Williams, Drew couldn't find the tipster. And when he tracked down the tipster's e-mail IP address, was stonewalled.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Is there any way you that would give us the background of this man?
JOSE SALCE. WIND TELEMAN (ph): We can't identify it right now that name. And also the IP address is not in the process (ph).
BASH: "The Washington Post" reports that the CIA has evidence that Cuban intelligence agents were behind the prostitution claims.
You are somebody of Cuban descent. You have not ever made it a secret your opposition to the Cuban government. You are about to become chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. And do you think that's what it was?
MENENDEZ: Well, let's put it this way. For 22 years between the house and Senate, I have had a firm position in opposition to the Cuban regime that violates the human rights democracy of the people of Cuba.
BASH: Still, beyond the prostitution allegations is an ongoing corruption probe of Menendez's relationship with a political donor, a Florida doctor whose practice is being scrutinized for Medicare fraud. Doctor Salomon Melgen gave Menendez private jet rides to the Dominican Republic to the tune of $58,000. Menendez did not pay for them, as the law requires, until the flights were publically disclosed.
BASH: Now, I asked the senator if his legal team may have pushed this Cuban plot allegation out into the public in order to muck up federal investigations surrounding him. He dismissed that and noted that the "the Washington Post" spoke not just to legal sources but actual officials with knowledge of the CIA investigation of this Cuban plot. In fact, attorney who in the 1990s worked on spy cases from Cuba said that there were plots going after politicians, including Menendez to try to deal with his political ambitions and mess him up.
BLITZER: To smear him basically. BASH: Exactly.
BLITZER: And deal with that issue that way.
All right, Dana, good reporting. Thank you.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our national security analyst, the former CIA operative Robert Baer who is joining us from Los Angeles. He said, the senator, Bob, he wouldn't be surprised if the Cuban government were involved. Does this have the fingerprints? Do you believe Cubans could be behind a smear campaign like this?
ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Wolf, absolutely. This is classic Cuban intelligence, framing somebody with partial facts to smear them, to blackmail them, especially that the occurred in Latin America. You've got agents all over Latin America. They could round up prostitutes to make up this story. Of course, I don't know the FBI's version of this. But it's absolutely plausible and he would be a prime target to take down. And the Cubans' intelligence is still very, very good.
BLITZER: So they would have a motive, if you will, given his opposition to the government over there in Havana. Is it a common thing, is it extraordinary for them to do something like this allegedly against a sitting United States senator, someone about to become the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?
BEAR: Well, that's a risky operation. I mean, I would think twice about doing it. But I could see their motivations. They normally go after lower-ranking officials like CIA of FBI agents, you know, try to frame them in one way or another. A senator, that's pretty big target. And you know, we just have to wait and see what evidence the CIA has. But again, I think it's plausible.
BLITZER: We are going to stay on top of this story.
Bob Baer, thanks very much for helping us appreciate potentially what is going on.
And coming up, a star of social media recruiting for ISIS right here in the United States. Why can't officials stop them?
Also, we are going live to Tokyo bracing for a powerful typhoon a strongest one so far this year.
And the breaking news we are following, a major escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas and the growing threat of an all-out war. We are live in Gaza, Jerusalem.
A lot more coming up at the top of the hour, a SITUATION ROOM "Special Report."
BLITZER: Jihadist militants including Americans fighting in Syria. They may be drawing inspiration and motivation from a radical cleric who lives right here in the United States.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been digging into this development.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an American cleric of some concern to the United States at a time when there is growing worry about the number of Americans and westerners joining the jihadist movement.
AHMAD MUSA JIBRIL, AMERICAN-BORN CLERIC: Islam always clashes but it only clashes with the oppressors.
STARR (voice-over): This American-born cleric Ahmad Musa Jibril living in Michigan may be one of the most influential voices for Americans and other Westerners who join the fighting in Syria.
JIBRIL: When your brother in Syria speaks, everyone today needs to shut their mouths and listen.
STARR: Jibril has tens of thousands of social media followers. This report on foreign fighters some many British fighters joining ISIS said they watched videos Jibril posted on YouTube.
PETER NEUMANN, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF RADICALISATION: It was obviously a surprise for us to find that Ahmad Jibril, one of the greatest influencers of people who are going to Syria to fight, is of all places based in United States of America and is spreading his message from here.
STARR: He is careful not to publicly call for terrorist attacks in the West.
NEUMANN: He's much too careful for that. He doesn't step over red lines, but of course he instills in the minds of these people an ideology that ultimately is hostile to the West.
STARR: The fear jihadists with U.S. or Western passports can train in Syria and then get back into the U.S. and attack the homeland. Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for more international cooperation.
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: United States intelligence officials estimate that nearly 23,000 violent extremists are currently operating in Syria. Among these are over 7,000 foreign fighters, among whom are dozens of Americans. The number that is probably growing.
STARR: Already, this man blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack in northern Syria in May. Fighting the danger of attacks on the U.S. must start at home, Holder says.
HOLDER: If we wait for our nation's citizens to travel to Syria or to Iraq to become radicalized, and to return home, it may be too late to adequately protect our national security.
STARR: Now Jibril, the Michigan cleric, is already being more closely monitored by federal authorities after violating his probation. He was on probation after serving a federal term for fraud.
We tried to reach out to his public defender who represented him at the time, but we did not hear back -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chilling story, indeed.
All right, Barbara, thank you.
Up next, a powerful typhoon heading for Tokyo. Tens of thousands of people already have been evacuated. We're going there live.
Plus the breaking news. Israel and Hamas inching toward an all-out war with airstrikes and rocket attacks. A SITUATION ROOM special report is coming up.
BLITZER: Much of Japan, including Tokyo, bracing for a typhoon that battered Okinawa with winds topping 100 miles an hour.
CNN's Will Ripley is joining us from Tokyo right now.
What are you seeing over there, Will? What is going on in Japan?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, here in Tokyo, it's raining on and off. Nothing compared with what's expected later this week as this storm approaches the mainland.
We know that Okinawa, they're just now getting out and assessing the damage this morning after a very windy night. 600,000 people received voluntary evacuation notices. The number of injured has now jumped up to 20. We know that there is at least one building collapse. Roads were closed. Several cars were damaged or flipped over. And that's just the beginning of what crews are seeing as they head out this morning to assess.
Meanwhile, this storm is now taking a turn for the rain-soaked mainland, specifically the southern island of Kyushu, home to 13 million people. It's very mountainous terrain with a lot of rivers and a lot of towns and communities built up at the base of these mountains around the rivers.
So the concern here on the ground, as this typhoon moves in and prepares to dump a whole lot of rain on this area, not only is there a risk for wind and storm surge but more importantly this rain could cause landslides and flooding, which could affect a lot of people here in Japan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We know the U.S. has a major military base over there in Okinawa. Have you gotten a report on how the U.S. military personnel dealt with this?
RIPLEY: The folks at Kadena Air Base faired the storm well. They were put on alert during the typhoon, which basically meant that they had to stay inside to weather the storm. No reports of major damage from the base or any injuries that we know of.
BLITZER: Good -- good for that.
All right, Will Ripley in Tokyo, thank you.
Our severe weather expert, our meteorologist, Chad Myers, is tracking the typhoon for us.
What's the latest, Chad?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is a very dangerous storm, although losing strength, getting a little dry air wrapped in from China mainland now here and so the eye is not as distinct. But that still doesn't mean this is going to have a very big surge. Think about how Sandy died and it didn't -- still had a huge surge because at one point in time, Sandy was about a cat 4, cat 5. That's what this was 24 hours ago. A category 5 super typhoon, they call it.
Still, it doesn't matter. The storm still has all of that bubble of water underneath it and it's going to slam right into the island you talk about, Kyushu right here. And right near Kagoshima, this is the area that may see surge. Maybe 10 to 15 feet, depending on the way the land is going to lay.
It will bring some rain to Tokyo. But by the time it gets to Tokyo, the wind down to about 50 miles per hour, Wolf.
One more thing I need to talk about. On mainland, USA. Syracuse, New York. It's time to take cover. A tornado for you. There's severe weather all the way up and down the East Coast but the story, the biggest story, is right there moving into Syracuse, rotation likely on the ground. 535,000 people under this tornado warning right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a tornado warning. There's no tornado yet, right, in Syracuse?
MYERS: I looked at the radar as it went over the finger lakes to the southwest of there, I believe there is likely at least a small tornado right now on the ground.
BLITZER: All right. We'll watch that, Chad. Thanks very much.
Coming up right at the top of the hour, breaking news. Rockets over Tel Aviv. Israel calling up tens of thousands of reserve troops. A major escalation in the Middle East.
THE SITUATION ROOM special report straight ahead.