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Interview With Texas Senator Ted Cruz; Protesters Target Major Missouri Interstate; Excerpts from Obama ISIS Speech Released; NFL: 'No Knowledge' of Getting Rice Tape in April

Aired September 10, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama's war plan.

He's about to reveal his new strategy to fight the terrorists in ISIS. We're standing by for excerpts from the speech that the president will deliver tonight.

Plus, breaking news: Police are out in force near Ferguson, Missouri, for an angry new protest demanding justice for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Also breaking, an NFL bombshell. The NFL is now looking into a new report that one of its executives actually saw the disturbing video of Ray Rice punching his future wife months ago.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following all those breaking stories. But let's begin right now with this.

Three hours from now, President Obama will effectively launch a new U.S. war to degrade and defeat the bloodthirsty terror group ISIS and protect Americans from a potential attack. It's a dangerous and defining moment for the commander in chief and for the nation. He's been meeting with his top national security team and he's also been working the phones.

The president also trying to wrangle votes in Congress to approve one controversial piece of his battle plan. We have our correspondents, our analysts, our newsmakers. They are all standing which with new information about the president's strategy and the threat to Americans right now.

But let's begin where our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She has the very latest -- Michelle.


What all sides right now, including the White House itself, wants to hear conveyed tonight is clarity, both for the plan as it stands right now and what this will look like moving forward. Tonight, prime time is the president's chance to spell this out, this next more offensive phase to the American people and the world.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): The U.S. struck ISIS in Iraq today, more than 150 airstrikes so far on a nearly daily basis. And, tonight, the president is prepared to take that fight into Syria, but not necessarily just yet.

He spent his day meeting with his national security team, polling members of Congress and the king of Saudi Arabia. His speech tonight is expected to lay out what exactly is the threat to the U.S., what are the risks, what are the priorities.

He will present his strategy, much of which the White House has already explained with next steps contingent upon building regional and international coalitions. Secretary of State Kerry is in the Middle East today doing that.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a fight that the Iraqi people must win, but it is also a fight that the rest of the world needs to win with them.

KOSINSKI: The president tonight is also expected to talk about proposals moving forward. The White House said in a statement he has the authority he needs to take action against ISIL in accordance with the mission he will lay out in his address, but we now know he has asked Congress for additional authorization for half-a-billion dollars and the authority for the military to equip and train elements of the moderate Syrian opposition.

It was one year ago today that President Obama announced this in prime time.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.

KOSINSKI: But then things changed on the ground, there wasn't an appetite in Congress to vote about it, which the president wanted, and there were no airstrikes.

Today, former Vice President Dick Cheney blasted Obama's actions, calling him disengaged.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Obama seems willfully blind to one of the key facts about the post-9/11 security apparatus. It is not self-sustaining. Those programs and policies must be kept strong and current.

KOSINSKI: The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who agrees with the president's preparation at least with Congress, to equip and train Syrian rebels against ISIS, had this response.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think they had better be very careful with advice that they take from Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney is more responsible than anyone else for the worst foreign policy decision in the history of the country, the invasion of Iraq.


KOSINSKI: On the one hand, the president has the authority he needs for the plan he's laying out tonight, but at the same time he's seeking more authorization from Congress.

So it's possible that that second Syrian component just isn't quite ready to launch yet. We will have to wait and see how much of that ends up in the speech. There is some bipartisan support for what the president wants from Congress. At the same time, though, big concerns about how much money, how will it be spent, what are the exact details, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will stand by to get some excerpts from the speech in advance. Michelle, we will get back to you. Thanks. Once the White House releases those excerpts. Thanks very much, Michelle Kosinski.

Secretary of State John Kerry is promising the international coalition will fight ISIS and that fight will be broad. He says the U.S. is reaching out to about 40 nations.

Let's get some more from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, our Gloria Borger is also reporting right now that the next phase in this operation, according to an administration source, will be offense. So what's going on? Big priority is building this coalition.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And they want this to be a global, truly global coalition, and one spanning from North America, European partners and certainly partners in the region.

We have a good sense already of what's coming from Western allies of the U.S. We know that Canada is sending military advisers like the U.S. has done to advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground. The United Kingdom sending arms to Kurdish forces, France sending humanitarian aid, the Italians sending aid as well as arms to those Kurdish forces.

But the real focus is on getting partners in the region. That's why Secretary of State John Kerry is there right now. Turkey bordering Syria, this is the key inflow point for all the foreign fighters coming in to the country. To this point, Turkey has not been great, frankly, I'm told, about stopping that flow. The U.S. wants them to do better.

Turkey also can possibly take part in airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. Jordan, very close U.S. ally in the region, intelligence sharing. They also border Syria, possibility of the use of Jordanian special forces to give you a ground presence there.

Qatar, another close U.S. ally, but one that has angered U.S. officials by continuing to fund, help radicalize some of these extremist groups inside Syria. The U.S. will want Qatar to stop that. That is something that the United Arab Emirates, Dubai can help with too particularly on the financing. This is also a country that in the past has taken part in air operations in Afghanistan, might also be called on to do the same thing in Syria and Iraq.

BLITZER: The administration, Jim, has avoided military action in Syria until now, in part because of how messy and complicated that Syrian civil war is. What challenges does that present to the president right now?

SCIUTTO: A daunting list, frankly, Wolf.

Let's just go through a few of them. One of the first here is you have a regional divide under way here between Sunni and Shia. You have Shia powers like Iran supporting the government of Bashar al- Assad. You have Sunni powers, the Gulf states, et cetera, supporting some of the extremist groups that are fighting them.

Many of these countries now agree, despite those differences, that ISIS is a threat. But how do you get them on the same side? Certainly challenges there.

Another one is, how do you weaken ISIS without strengthening your other sworn enemy in this conflict, the government of Bashar al-Assad? Remember, it was only a year ago that the president was considering military action, though he backed off of it, against Bashar al-Assad. How do you take on ISIS today without strengthening ISIS today and tomorrow as well?

Another problem is the rebels. A big portion of the strategy rests on the shoulders of moderate Syrian rebels. But in the past, one, they haven't proven very capable, and two, the president said it's difficult to discern who is actually on America's side.

They say in the last year they have gotten better at that. They know who their allies are. But we will have to see how that plays out. It's going to be particularly questionable how good they're going to be at standing up to ISIS, which is an incredibly intimidating military force.

Frankly, U.S. officials say to me constantly they acknowledge they have an intelligence gap inside Syria, particularly because the administration and the U.S. has not been involved there on the ground militarily in any way.

How do they fill that intelligence gap? Because you need good intelligence for an air campaign to work.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, good explanation. Thanks very much.

Let's go to Iraq right now, one of the front lines against ISIS, where the U.S. already is targeting the terror group with airstrikes.

Our Anna Coren is joining us from Irbil right now.

Anna, what do the Iraqis want to hear from the president?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they want to hear that the United States is committed to this war against ISIS and that they are here for the long haul.

They're hoping to hear details about the specific strategy, not just here in Iraq, but also Syria. Many here hoping that the president will authorize those critical airstrikes above Syria, to hit that safe haven, which we know is not just their sanctuary, but also has a lot of their economic infrastructure that is funding their terror campaign.

But, certainly, as far as what the Iraqis and what the Kurds want, they want arms. They want better weapons, better training. They want better intelligence. They also want those critical U.S. airstrikes to continue. We have seen firsthand the results of those U.S. airstrikes, more than 150 to date, around Haditha dam, Mosul dam and not far from us here in Irbil.

They are taking out these enemy positions, these convoys of ISIS militants. But it's only contained them. It's not necessarily stopping them. ISIS is not retreating back to their strongholds.

So, what they are hoping for is an intensification of this -- of these airstrikes, so that they can really cripple ISIS, and in the words of the president, Wolf, not just degrade them but ultimately destroy them.

BLITZER: What about the Kurds? What do they think about this new emerging Iraqi government?

COREN: Yes, look, Wolf, spoke to some very senior officials here just a short time ago.

They have serious concerns about this new Iraqi government. They feel that it is not a vision of what Iraq will be, that there are old faces dealing with old problems. And, obviously, one of the huge concerns is bringing back the Sunni population that has been marginalized, and persecuted, alienated under the former Maliki Shia- led government.

There's a feeling that the Sunnis who are there were part of the old government, that these lawmakers do not represent the Sunni tribal leaders, who are the ones who can turn their populations against ISIS. We have to remember ISIS has walked into these towns and cities run by Sunnis. They were not necessarily invited, but they were welcomed in, the reason being is that they see ISIS to be better than the Iraqi military.

So this is the concern, real concerns about whether or not there will eventually be that Sunni uprising that will push ISIS out of Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anna Coren in Irbil in Northern Iraq for us, Anna, be careful over there. Thank you very much. Joining us now right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a vocal critic

of the president and a potential Republican presidential candidate, Senator Ted Cruz.

Senator, welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about ISIS.

You have suggested that the United States needs to bomb ISIS, in your words, back to the Stone Age. What's the most important thing, one element, the most important thing you want to hear from the president tonight?

CRUZ: The most important thing is to demonstrate seriousness, seriousness in confronting this threat and a clear, concrete military objective that is directly connected to U.S. national security.

BLITZER: Because he says the objective is ultimately to destroy ISIS.

CRUZ: Well, but he's gone back and forth on that. He also suggested a few days ago that the objective was simply to render ISIS manageable.

In my view, we should not get distracted by side issues that the president has suggested, such as I hope tonight we don't hear him say that our defending our national security interest and preventing ISIS from attacking us is dependent on resolving the civil war in Syria.

I hope we don't hear tonight, as he has suggested before, that it's dependent upon seeing reconciliation in Iraq between the Sunnis and Shiites. That is a sectarian civil war that's waged since 632 A.D.

BLITZER: Do you really think the U.S. and its partners, whoever those partners might be, can defeat ISIS without what they call combat boots on the ground?

CRUZ: I think we can do it predominantly through overwhelming air attack.

I think we have air superiority. But what has been missing and what I very much hope we hear tonight is a strategy. A week ago, as you know, he admitted he didn't have a strategy. I'm hoping we hear one tonight and I'm hoping it is directly tied to our national security interests.

ISIS, at this point, poses a serious threat. They are crucifying Christians. They are beheading children. They tragically beheaded two American journalists on the world stage. And they have pledged to carry that jihad here, and they are securing control over parts of a nation-state with billions of dollars of oil revenue.

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise. You want to expand the air attacks against ISIS in Iraq and then begin them in Syria as well, right?

CRUZ: The objective should not be Iraq or Syria.

The objective should be taking out ISIS, preventing them from attacking America. And what's been missing so far, we have had an air attack here, we have had a bomb or missile there, but it's been photo- op foreign policy.

It hasn't been driven by a concrete military objective directly connected to our national security. We should do what is necessary, using overwhelming force to take ISIS out, before they secure control and before they use the revenues they're getting control of to project force and to carry out terror here at home.

BLITZER: Because one of the problems, if you don't have boots on the ground in Syria -- you do have good intelligence in Iraq. You know more or less where they are.

Syria, the U.S. doesn't have that kind of ground intelligence, so you really need some people there who can coordinate where these bombs will go. Otherwise, a lot of innocent civilians are going to be killed.

CRUZ: What we shouldn't be doing is partnering with those who are enemies of this country.

So at times, for example, the administration has suggested we might partner with Iran. Look, ISIS are radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill us. But Khomeini and the mullahs in Iran are also radical Islamic terrorists who want...

BLITZER: The State Department says they don't want to coordinate with Iran.

CRUZ: Well, that is encouraging today, but it's changed.

It's changed on almost a daily basis. It wasn't too many months ago when the Obama administration was arguing for arming the rebels if Syria who were fighting alongside ISIS. And in this instance, the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.

BLITZER: Some of those Free Syrian Army guys are fighting along the sides of al-Nusra, another terrorist group, but not necessarily ISIS, because there's a real problem there.

CRUZ: Exactly right.

BLITZER: You wrote an important column on today.

And let me just read a line from it, because it's provocative. "As long as our border isn't secure," you write, "the government is making it far too easy for terrorists to infiltrate our nation."

Here's the question. Is there credible intelligence information that ISIS is trying to infiltrate the United States through the border with Mexico, shall we say? CRUZ: Look, there are reports and they are unconfirmed right now

of ISIS activity along the southern border.

I can't say right now there's credible, concrete intelligence. But what's clear is ISIS wants to project terror into the United States. Now, right now, they're consumed with this battle in Iraq. But if they're allowed to consolidate power, they will soon -- can be expected to want to project terror here.

It's one of the reasons this week I introduced legislation in the United States Senate to provide that any American -- and there are upwards of 100 Americans fighting alongside ISIS -- any American who takes up arms with ISIS would, through doing so, renounce his or her U.S. citizenship, so we don't allow terrorists who are training with ISIS to use a U.S. passport, come back and carry out acts of terror.

BLITZER: Would you go one step further and authorize the assassination, the targeted killing of those Americans who might be fighting alongside ISIS?

CRUZ: Well, it would depend what the intelligence was. If someone is activity taking up arms against the United States, is waging war against the United States, then we unquestionably have the authority to defend ourselves.

BLITZER: But what if they're waging war in Iraq and Syria, Americans aligned with ISIS?

CRUZ: It depends on what the facts are. That's a very difficult thing to ask -- answer in the abstract, without the specific facts of what is occurring.

BLITZER: So you want the president to bomb ISIS back into the Stone Age, but you also want the president to come to Congress and get congressional authorization to do so.

CRUZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: That's not necessarily a done deal. You know the mood in Congress.

CRUZ: Well, it isn't. But I think if the president comes with a serious plan, if he comes with a strategy, which he hasn't had up until now, to carry out a concrete military objective, I think Congress will authorize that. Now, I hope tonight...

BLITZER: You would vote for it?

CRUZ: If it is a serious plan to protect our national security, absolutely.

I hope tonight President Obama recognizes this. We have gotten suggestions that he believes he can do this without congressional authorization. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war. And I think he should bipartisan calls from both Republicans and Democrats to recognize Congress' authority. And one of the benefits of that, Wolf, is it means that the

president has to come in front of Congress and lay out what the military objective is, what the national security interest is being furthered. He can't just carry out a photo-op attack. It's got to be focused on defending this nation.

BLITZER: We have got to wrap it up, but one final question that I always ask potential candidates out there. Do you want to be the next president of the United States?

CRUZ: Well, I certainly want there to be a different president from a different party who changes the path this country is on.

I think the Obama economy is a disaster. Millions of people are hurting and I think the Obama-Clinton foreign policy is not work -- as we -- working. As we can see, when America has receded from leadership in the world, when we have led from behind, the result is much of the world is on fire.

BLITZER: Sounds like you're already thinking of running against Hillary Clinton.

CRUZ: Well, I'll tell you, what I am thinking about is, I think 2016 will be the most important election of your lifetime and my lifetime.

It will be a fork in the road, where Americans will decide do we want to continue on this path, that failed path that isn't working or do we want to get back to the principles this country was built on that have made America the greatest country in the history of the world?

BLITZER: Sounds like a yes.

CRUZ: Time will tell.

BLITZER: We will see. When will you announce, if you announce?

CRUZ: Time will tell on that as well. I can tell you, for the next two months, my focus is single-mindedly on the 2014 elections. I believe Republicans are likely to retake the U.S. Senate and to retire Harry Reid as majority leader. And I'm devoting much of my time to campaigning to help Republicans win Senate seats so we can retake the Senate and start to change the direction of the country.

BLITZER: Senator Ted Cruz, we will stay in close touch with you as well. Thanks very much for joining us.

CRUZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, we're standing by for excerpts from the president's big speech tonight. We will get those excerpts to you as soon as we can.

Also, breaking news, a new report that the NFL actually had a copy of that shocking Ray Rice elevator video months ago, before it surfaced publicly and eventually cost him his job with the Baltimore Ravens. We're getting reaction from the league.

Also breaking, we will go live to Missouri, where police are now staring down protesters. Tensions over the death of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, they are boiling over once again.


BLITZER: We're following other breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including a protest over the police shooting death of Michael Brown, that protest turning violent.

Protesters were trying to shut down Interstate 70 near Ferguson, Missouri. Things turned ugly with rocks and bottles thrown at police.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is on the scene for us.

Ted, what's happening right now?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have now moved into downtown Ferguson, across from the police station.

A number of those protesters that were trying to shut down I-70 gave up and have now shut down a street just outside the police department here in Ferguson. And what you don't see here is any police presence at all. There's a massive police presence still over at I-70.

These people relocated, and they plan to, they say, keep this road shut down to prove their point. They want a special prosecutor appointed to the Mike Brown case. And they say they are going to keep doing this until their demands are set.

At this point, it hasn't really significantly disrupted traffic, in that this isn't a very well traveled road, but you can see the people unfortunately that did come down this road are now stuck and they are trying to come around. And now in the background, you can see the first couple of police officers making their way out of the police department building on the other side of the road.

This is the first we have seen of police presence. But we will be here all night and give you any developments that happen. It has started raining here, and maybe that will affect the amount of protesters. But right now one sheet has been shut down and protesters vow to be out here all night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that interstate, is that shut down still?

ROWLANDS: The off-ramps are shut down. The police shut the off- ramps down as a precaution, because they didn't want obviously any of the protesters to get into the highway. But the highway itself should be moving.

We left there about five minutes ago, and it was moving at that point. So the freeway is moving, I-70. Just those exits are shut down.

BLITZER: Those police officers we now see marching down the street in Ferguson, where are they headed?

ROWLANDS: We are -- if you're looking at video, that is from the I-70 area. They are clearing out the rest of the people, the protesters above I-70 in Ferguson.

We're now downtown, where there is little police presence, a handful of officers that just literally came out of the police department here. I am assuming that there will be a much larger police presence down here very quickly, as they get word that this is happening.

BLITZER: All right, Ted, we will stay in touch with you.

Let's talk about all of this with two guests. Patricia Bynes is a Democratic committeewoman in Ferguson Township, also John Gaskin of the Saint Louis NAACP.

There's word that protesters want to actually storm, I don't know if that's going to happen, that Ferguson police station.

Patricia, is that what you're hearing? What is going on over there?

PATRICIA BYNES, FERGUSON TOWNSHIP DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEEWOMAN: What I'm hearing is once people did not necessarily shut down the highway to their satisfaction, the next exit right up the street is for Florissant Road.

So, it was quite easy for the protesters to go ahead and there has been a constant presence of protests at the police station. So I was getting phone calls there, about 100 people or so up there. And they are active. And I think it's basically just to continue to do a lot of things that they have always been out there doing, and that is to protest right outside the street and probably this time with so many people I know that they are blocking traffic, like you guys have shown.

BLITZER: Patricia, do you support the effort that had taken place to try to shut down that major interstate in Missouri?

BYNES: You know, it was a very mixed call for myself.

I support the civil disobedience and I support the action. And I understand the rage and the anger that is out here. So I feel like I'm kind of stuck in the middle. We do have a public safety issue. So I'm glad no one got hurt. That's what I support, no one getting hurt, because these acts of civil disobedience have to be done properly.

But I understand why people are angry and why they're doing it.

BLITZER: Let me bring John into this controversy .

John, in the last hour, we heard Ted Rowlands and was interviewing one of the protesters, saying there in his words were professional agitators there who were using violent methods to try to get some activity going. What's the nature of these professional agitators, based on everything you know?

JOHN GASKIN, NAACP BOARD MEMBER: Well, we have -- this morning, I spoke with Saint Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, and our message to him and to his officers and anyone that's in charge of law enforcement there is, we want people to be calm.

We don't want anyone to get injured. Obviously, our number one, top priority is people's safety. We don't want anyone to get injured, as Patricia just mentioned. And we certainly -- the word agitator, we have to be very careful about how we use that word, because you have many people that are very upset, many people that want answers.

But as long as these individuals are making their voices heard in a way that is peaceful, in a way that does not jeopardize people's safety, those are the types of things that the NAACP certainly does support.

BLITZER: But you certainly don't support throwing rocks and bottles at police, right?

GASKIN: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That is certainly by any means never the answer.

BLITZER: Does the NAACP have a position, at least the local chapter where you are, on these demonstrations today?

GASKIN: We have been supporting many of the protests.

You have many people that are out, as Patricia mentioned, in front of the city hall, in front of the police station there, with their signage, making their voices heard. There have been several marches. The NAACP even had a march. But when it comes to, you know, shutting down the interstate...

BLITZER: All right.

GASKIN: ... those kinds of things that can be -- you know, cause -- cause harm to people, we want to be very careful about how we use that word. Because we have many people that are very upset, many people that want answers. But as long as these individuals are making their voices heard in a way that is peaceful, in a way that does not jeopardize people's safety, those are the types of things that the NAACP certainly does support.

BLITZER: But you certainly don't support throwing rocks and bottles at police, right?

GASKIN: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That is certainly, by any means, never the answer.

BLITZER: Does the NAACP have a position, at least a local chapter where you are, on these demonstrations today?

GASKIN: Well, you know, we have been supporting many of the protests. You have many people that are out, as Patricia mentioned, in front of the city hall, in front of the police station there, with their signage, making their voices heard. There have been several marches. The NAACP even had a march.

But when it comes to, you know, shutting down the interstate, those kinds of things that can be -- you know, cause -- cause harm to people, we want to be very careful about those types of things.

BLITZER: John, I want you to stand by. Patricia, stand by, as well, because we're getting some breaking news of excerpts from the president's address to the nation tonight, outlining his new war plan against ISIS terrorists. Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski -- Michelle.


The White House has said the formation of a new Iraqi government this week was the turning point for this new offensive phase against ISIS. And tonight, the president will announce, "America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear. We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a sustained counterterrorism strategy."

Now, the White House has tried to make very clear that this operation, or whatever you want to call it -- they have not named it yet -- is not going to look like America's prior wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to reassure the war-weary American public of that, saying, "It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground."

So they keep comparing this to counterterrorism operations that have been ongoing in Yemen, in Somalia. What does that mean? It means continued sustained pressure on these terrorist forces. It means air power. It means no boots on the ground. And in this case, the White House wants to convey clearly that this will be with a broad international coalition, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski with the excerpts from the speech. The president will be speaking at 9 p.m. Eastern later tonight. Much more on this story coming up. Michelle, thanks very much.

Other news we're following. What did NFL executives know? When did they know it? There's a new twist in the Ray Rice scandal. The league may have gotten a hold of that actual elevator video of him punching his future wife months ago. Stand by.


BLITZER: There's also breaking news in the Ray Rice scandal. The NFL now speaking out about an Associated Press report that says the video of Rice in that elevator knocking out his then-fiancee was actually sent to the NFL executive offices back in April. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, has said league officials saw the tape for the first time when it was made public only on TMZ only on Monday.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is working the story for us. What are you learning, Miguel? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is just

breaking. And there is a lot of news and yet another wrinkle to this incredibly amazing, dramatic story.

The A.P. having an unnamed law-enforcement source saying that they gave the video to this individual in the NFL on an unsolicited basis, because they wanted to -- they wanted the NFL to see it before Rice's punishment.

The NFL now has released a very quick statement saying -- this is from Brian McCarthy, the NFL spokesperson, saying, "We have no knowledge of this. We're not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it."

The Associated Press also saying that it was on April 9 that this video went over and that the NFL then called and left a voice mail for this individual, on that voicemail, which the reporter, the A.P., this reporter was able to listen to. It was a female voice from the NFL. She expressed thanks for it and said, "You're right. It's terrible."

Roger Goodell, of course, has said all along that they haven't seen this video at all, that -- that he has no knowledge of anyone in his organization seeing this video.

Steve Biscotti and Ozzie Newsome with the Ravens also talking to "The Baltimore Sun" today saying basically, "We failed at this" and that they want to get it right.

But certainly, new information countering what Roger Goodell told CBS news yesterday. This scandal that seemed to be growing smaller today may be just growing larger -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez reporting for us.

Let's get a little bit more on the breaking news. CNN's Rachel Nichols is the host of "UNGUARDED." Rachel Nichols is joining us on the phone along with CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

So Rachel, what do you make of this new development? How does it sound to you?

RACHEL NICHOLS, HOST, CNN'S "UNGUARDED" (via phone): Well, it significantly deepens the NFL's credibility problem. I mean, Wolf, you're familiar with (UNINTELLIGIBLE), right? The NFL has been spinning on this since Monday when TMZ first posted that video.

First, it was, "Hey, we never saw it." Well, then it became, "Well, we never saw it, because it could have been illegal for us to see it," which a lot of the lawyers who work for CNN have said that is a bit of a stretch.

Well, then the latest spin from the league last night and this morning was that they didn't hand out the correct punishment to Rice the first time because, hey, Ray Rice wasn't really truthful with the league when he met with them and described what happened. They basically started calling Ray Rice a liar, trying to shift the blame to him. Because hey, no one likes Ray Rice much now anyway, right?

But there's a lot of people troubled by that, since this is the first time we're hearing anything like that from the NFL. It sure sounds like a convenient excuse.

So now in the last hour, this voicemail report pops up, saying someone in the league did, in fact, have the tape. The NFL, as Miguel reported, still says that they don't have any knowledge of that, but it's getting harder to believe them.

But even if you do believe them, Wolf, and maybe the story that they're going to try to sell is that the tape just got lost over there somewhere. It's hard not to see that as pretty gross negligence, right?

BLITZER: We're just learning, Jeffrey, that Roger Goodell -- I'm not exactly sure why -- canceled some sort of previously-scheduled event he had tonight. What's your reaction to this report?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the NFL's behavior throughout this process has been bumbling and embarrassing. Last night, even before this report, Roger Goodell's interview on CBS I thought was bumbling and embarrassing. Full of simple mistakes like the idea that it would somehow have been illegal for the league to obtain this tape.

If this A.P. report is true, that they have the tape since April, it simply deepens the problems of the NFL and cries out for an independent investigation.

You know, last year, Wolf, the NBA -- the NFL hired Ted Wells, a very distinguished New York lawyer, to investigate a bullying situation with the Miami Dolphins, and he did a very good job. They have to hire Ted Wells or someone like Ted Wells again to come in, start from scratch, and see what the NFL did, because the NFL's credibility at this point is at zero.

BLITZER: But Rachel, what do you think the NFL needs to do?

NICHOLS: I think that it's hard to say what an investigation would do unless you knew a little bit more about what the consequences would be. In the end, Roger Goodell is responsible for the 32 owners who pay his salary. Now, an investigation, I think, would be a good first step, but I would love to see some assurances from some of the owners out there that they would take something like that seriously.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. This is obviously a critical moment, make or break for Roger Goodell as commissioner of the NFL.

Guys, thanks very much. Rachel Nichols and Jeffrey Toobin joining us.

The other breaking story we're following out in Ferguson, Missouri. There are new protests, first near a major interstate, now at a police station. President Obama getting ready at the same time to announce a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIS wherever ISIS exists. We're watching all of these stories. Much more coming up right after this.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. President Obama will vow tonight to take out ISIS terrorists "wherever they exist". That's a quote, "Wherever they exist". Excerpts from his address to the nation just released by the White House a little while ago.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political commentator, Peter Beinart, and the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the hosts of CNN's "CROSSFIRE".

Guys, thank you very much.

You're very cautious. You're not convinced this is a smart war because the president doesn't like dumb wars. You're not 100 percent convinced, are you, Peter?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's different when you're talking about Iraq vis-a-vis Syria. In Iraq, we have some allies. The Peshmerga are good allies and we also have some hope that this new Iraqi government, which actually after all wants us to be doing this fight, now may be more reconciled and maybe able to pull away the Sunni tribes.

When you cross the border into Syria, I think we still have very, very dim idea of how this is going to work. We're going to start training the Free Syrian Army, but the president himself has been extremely skeptical about their possibility. And if we would have bombed ISIS, we don't know that the Free Syrian Army may attack ISIS. They may take advantage of that to attack Bashar al Assad.

So, you see, when you go across the border, it becomes a very different proposition.

BLITZER: And you've been talking to your sources, Gloria, about what the president is going to say tonight. And you reminded me of what the president said only a few weeks ago to Tom Friedman.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the president just a few weeks ago said with respect to Syria, this is in "The New York Times", the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference, quote, "has always been a fantasy." There's not as much capacity as you would hope, you know, to your point.

So, I think what we're going to hear from the president tonight is a speech that is going to be on the offense I was told by a senior administration official. They understand that the public has seen him to be vacillating to a degree, and not fully having a strategy. And so, what you're going to see is a president who, by the way, seems to be following public opinion rather than leading it at this point, because public opinion has shifted hugely in the last few months after those beheadings. You have 2/3 of the American public now saying that they would support some kind of military action in Iraq and Syria.

BLITZER: Based on what you're hearing, Newt, so far, do you like what the president is about to say tonight?

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": Well, I hate to prejudge him, but unless he comes out for a complete and decisive destruction of the Islamic State, this is all nonsense. I mean, you're going to have to really recognize what a total mess the region is, and you're going to have to invest in assets, many of them (ph), intelligence, et cetera.

But, you know, we're not going to have boots on the ground, which leads me to believe our special forces are going in with sneakers. I mean, who's kidding who?

BLITZER: Because he was saying in the speech that we got excerpt released by the White House, our objective is clear, we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.

Good enough for you?

GINGRICH: No, because he doesn't mean it. He doesn't mean it in this sense.

BORGER: Do you think he should call for combat troops right now?

GINGRICH: No. I think what he should say is -- first of all, he has to define the enemy. And the fact is, if we're going to -- he says at one point, we're going to go after them wherever they are. Well, we know a bunch of them are in Minnesota, because we know that people who have been killed in Syria came from Minnesota. One of whom, by the way, for 10 years, was cleared to work on the airport runway for ten.

So, this is -- and Cameron has confronted this now in Great Britain, Prime Minister Cameron, because they have over 500 Britons who are now fighting on the side of the Islamic State.

I just think this is a worldwide campaign. It is different. Frankly, Bush was wrong about this. This is not an Obama comment, we have not come to grips with how hard and how difficult this is going to be.


BEINART: It's one thing to say that there are Westerners going to fight in Syria. It's another thing to say that ISIS has been plotting attacks against the United States. We don't any evidence of that. This is not like al Qaeda after 9/11, which has focused their attention on the West. The level of threat being discussed where people say it is a bigger threat than al Qaeda was for 9/11, I think that's hyperbole. And if those people really believe that, they should support combat troops -- boots on the ground.

BORGER: But I don't think you're going to see the president engaged in that kind of hyperbole.

BEINART: No, I don't think he will either. But many in Congress have.

BORGER: Yes, many in Congress have because if you were to say and you have to call for combat troops.

BLITZER: But we did, Peter, ISIS behead two Americans.

BORGER: That's right.

BEINART: Absolutely.

BORGER: That's right. And that has mobilized the American public. Like nothing else have. I mean, ISIS has been, you know, crystallized American public opinion like nobody else could. And -- but you're going to hear in the excerpts we have is that the president specifically points out, no combat troops and this is going to different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

GINGRICH: But then notice he says, we've done this successfully in Yemen and Somalia. Anybody who thinks Yemen and Somalia is a success is living in a fantasy world. These places are disasters. They are breeding areas for terrorists. We just killed a leading terrorist of --

BLITZER: The leader in al-Shabaab in Somalia was assassinated just a few days ago by a U.S. hellfire missile.

GINGRICH: The president's own speech I think is incoherent. The parts we've seen so far are simply incoherent.

BEINART: It's not incoherent, because bombing Syria and Iraq is not going to do anything particularly good for resolving the political situations there. But the Obama administration will say was, we haven't had attacks, significant attacks in the United States, and the drone strikes in Somali and in Yemen helped stop those.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on.

BORGER: By the way, we have to get enough intelligence to know what to do in Syria, which they don't have right now.

BEINART: Exactly.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment. I want to continue this good conversation. Our panel is standing by. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're back with our panel, counting down to President Obama's big speech tonight on the war against ISIS, his addressing the nation a little over two hours from now.

We're back with our panel.

Newt Gingrich, what's the single most important thing you want to hear from the president tonight? GINGRICH: He's going to the Congress to make this a decision to

the American people. If he leaves this as Obama's war, he is running a very big risk.

BLITZER: He needs congressional authorization.



BLITZER: He needs formal authorization. And you speak as a former speaker of the House.

GINGRICH: I'm saying it's very important for him to get the votes from Congress.

BLITZER: Will the votes be there if he asks for that vote?

GINGRICH: If he asks for them, they'll be there.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: I think what I need to hear from the president is an unambiguous commitment to a defined mission to defeat and destroy ISIL, period. Clarity.

BLITZER: Or the way he says ultimately to destroy ISIL.

BORGER: Clarity. That is what we need to hear.

BLITZER: A clear message from the president. But we're told we're not necessarily going to hear that clarity when it comes to launching airstrikes inside Syria.

BEINART: I think he has to define what the threat is. The reason Americans support military action is because of those beheading made them believe there is a tremendous threat to the United States. I think Obama's challenge is to define that threat realistically to show Americans why he does needs to act against ISIS but not to feed the kind of panic that's been fed I think by some on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Do you see a similar mood that has existed in 2003 when then-President Bush launched the war to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

BEINART: Well, I think there has been a certain degree of fervor that has emerged. And I think Obama's challenge is not to play into that while also explaining that this is a real threat to the region and that ultimately it could become a threat to the United States.

BLITZER: When the president said that was a dumb war, he's cautious.

BORGER: Right. I think the president and I think the American public is cautious. You know, the American public is not overwhelmingly calling for votes on the ground, Wolf. But what they want to hear is that we're going to commit more money and more resources, they want to know why, they want to know what the threat is, and they want to know when the mission would end, sort of what would victory look like to a degree?

GINGRICH: On the 13th anniversary of 9/11 tomorrow --

BLITZER: Which is tomorrow.

GINGRICH: -- we need to understand that the strategies of Bush and the strategies of Obama have failed. And we as a country need to think about what are we going to do differently and what have we learned from all this because the region is a mess, it's getting worse, and there is a genuine danger. I disagree with Peter on this, there's a genuine danger that sooner or later, some of those folks are going to get smart and they're going to come after us, and they're going to come after you.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it right there, guys. Thanks very much.

We will, of course, stay on top of the story throughout the night. I'll be back later on tonight. I'll be joining Anderson Cooper at 9:00 Eastern for the President Obama's major address to the nation.

CNN special coverage of the president continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTRONT."