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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Pushes Immigration Reform in Las Vegas; GOP Vows Immigration Fight, Sues on ObamaCare; Interview with Senator John McCain; Officials: FBI Boosts Presence in St. Louis Area; Interview with Chief Sam Dotson of St. Louis Metropolitan Police; Awaiting Grand Jury Decision on Ferguson; China Can Cripple U.S. Power Grid; At Least 12 Dead in Snow Disasters
Aired November 21, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Happening now, the battle is on, as President Obama orders major immigration reforms, spurious Republicans plot their next move. But they're already launching a counter attack over ObamaCare.
Grand jury decision -- it could come anytime now on whether to indict a Ferguson police officer for the shooting death of Michael Brown.
As authorities brace for trouble, will protesters listen to urgent appeals for calm?
Shocking vulnerability -- the top spy chief reveals that cyber attackers from China can take down America's power grid and other vital infrastructure.
What's the U.S. doing about this?
And flooding fears -- buried under seven feet of snow, Buffalo now faces some major melting and heavy rain.
Where will it all go?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories this hour. Acting alone on immigration, President Obama, he's on the road selling his reform plan.
He's in Las Vegas right now, making the case for his executive action. But Republicans are vowing to fight him every step of the way when it comes to immigration. And they're already hitting back on another front with a lawsuit against President Obama's health care reform.
And a grand jury could reach a decision any moment in the Ferguson, Missouri shooting death of the teenager, Michael Brown. After fresh protests and arrests, there are now urgent appeals for calm and sources say the officer, Darren Wilson, is offering to step down in a bid to ease tensions. I'll speak live with the police chief of St. Louis.
And Senator John McCain -- he's standing by, along with our correspondents, our analysts and our newsmakers.
Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
He's got the latest -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just weeks after President Obama was heckled repeatedly at campaign rallies by immigration reform advocates, there were chants of "si, se puede" or, "yes, we can" during his speech at Las Vegas today.
Besides one brief interruption, this speech looked a lot like a victory rally in the backyard of the outgoing Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.
House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, plus a group of Latino leaders from the House, including Luis Gutierrez, were apparently also on hand.
In the speech, the president walked through his political justification for taking executive action on immigration. He joked that he did everything that he could to convince House Speaker John Boehner to call up the Senate-approved immigration bill for a vote in the House. The president said he even said he offered to walk Boehner's dog and wash his car.
And then Mr. Obama mocked GOP complaints that he poisoned the well by acting now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't dissolve parliament. That's not how our system works. You know, I didn't, you know, steal away the various clerks in the Senate and the House who manage bills. They can still pass a bill. I don't have a vote in Congress. Pass a bill. You don't need me to call a vote, to pass a bill. Pass a bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, just before this speech, the president did sign some memos to his administration that are associated with these executive actions. And White House officials are adamant that they have the legal and moral high ground on this issue. Aides have released a letter from a group of legal scholars all stating the president's actions are within his authority. And top officials insist the president is still interested in signing an immigration bill that would supersede these executive actions.
But until that happens, Wolf, one White House official told me, quote, "Somebody has to govern around here."
So he went it alone and he has has no apologies for it today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And he was very forceful in that speech in Las Vegas, not backing down at all.
Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
As GOP lawmakers weigh their options on how to counter the president's moves when it comes to immigration, they've now made good on their vow to try to sue the president, President Obama, over health care reform.
Let's bring in our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's got more on this -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republicans are united in their condemnation of what the president did on immigration. But they're kind of all over the map when it comes to what to do about it.
But today, there was a reminder that Republicans are beginning to realize they've had more success fighting the president in court than in Congress.
BASH (voice-over): In federal court Friday, House Republicans filed suit against the president over ObamaCare, a move that signals where the GOP fight is going over the latest flashpoint, immigration -- what Republicans call executive overreach.
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: It takes time, but I think we'll win that in court.
BASH: Sources say suing the president on immigration looks increasingly like the most effective way to respond. House Speaker John Boehner says he personally warned the president his executive action will have lasting negative consequences.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I told the president he's damage the presidency itself.
BASH: The president offered a simple fix to his side-stepping Congress on immigration.
OBAMA: I have one answer -- pass a bill.
BASH: The Senate did pass a bipartisan bill last year, giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. But House GOP leaders never took up the issue, fearing it would unnecessarily divide Republicans ahead of the elections.
White House officials say the president still had no faith the House speaker would act, despite this post-election promise.
BOEHNER: This immigration issue has become a political football over the last 10 years or more. It's just time to deal with it.
BASH: But even if House Republicans were to debate immigration, they would never agree to the scope of the president's executive action, allowing nearly five million undocumented immigrants to stay legally, which adds to GOP frustration, saying the president went around Congress to avoid compromise.
BOEHNER: The president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms.
BASH: Still, there is a GOP divide over how to react. Some want to go to the mat. But many Republicans argue against being goaded into a distracting fight.
WICKER: I'm not standing here foaming at the mouth. Perhaps there are people on the Democratic side of the aisle who wish we would do this with our eyes bugged out and the sweat pouring down our brows. We're going to respond to this in a way that will be effective.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: But what is that effective response?
Republican leaders still aren't sure. A court challenge could succeed, but that takes time, and there are a lot of conservatives really chomping at the bit for a more immediate hard-hitting response, something that is in their jurisdiction, which, of course, is legislation.
BLITZER: So the Republicans are debating among themselves what to do next.
BLITZER: All right, Dana.
Thanks very much.
While immigration reform certainly the center of a very bitter political split here in Washington, sparking passions across the country. That was certainly evident in Las Vegas, where President Obama has just defended his reform plan.
Our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux is there in Vegas for us.
So what's going on -- Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of the people who attended this speech of the president also attended the one back in 2013 and a big, big rally that happened back in 2008, where 11,000 people showed up to hear the president's vision when it comes to immigration reform.
It is controversial for a number of reasons. A lot of people very happy that the president did something. They feel like this is somewhat of a relief for older people who are up undocumented workers in this country.
But there is also a great deal of frustration, particularly from some young folks who do not believe that their parents are included, swept up in this executive order, to allow them to stay and avoid deportation. I want you to hear this exchange. This is the president. He was talking during his speech. He was interrupted. It went on for about five minutes, as a young man in the audience challenged him why he didn't go further.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We're still going to have to pass a bill. This is not com -- this is a first step. It's not the only step. We'll still going to have to do more work. So let's -- I've heard you.
I've heard you, young man. I've heard you and I understand. I've heard you.
But what I'm saying is this is just a first step. So young man, I'm talking to a lot of people here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
OBAMA: I've been respectful to you. I want you to be respectful to me, all right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: I want to tell you a little bit about what we've learned about him. He is Jose Patino. He is a high school math teacher. He is also a graduate of Arizona State University.
And his friend, we had a chance to speak to his friend, who was right beside him during the exchange. You see the young man had, you know, actually left. He was crying. He was very upset, very emotional about it.
And we asked his friend why. And he said it's because he does not believe that his parents are included in this executive order and that this is something that people in the community fear on a daily basis, whether or not they're going to come home and not have their parents there, whether or not their parents will be deported. That is the main concern.
I want to also point out, Wolf, that it was even before the speech occurred, there was a small group of protesters, but very, very vocal. This was a group of Tea Partiers, veterans, as well as bikers, who were confronted by an Obama supporter. It was very emotional. It was very hot.
I want you to listen to this and what was behind it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a racist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a racist. You're a racist, buddy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are a racist. You are a racist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's only two -- two people that really belong in the United States anyway, and that's Mexican and the Indian. Everybody else is a -- is a vagrant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These illegal aliens are going to become legal aliens sooner or later...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, good...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because, I mean that's it. We've got to -- we're going to have, what, 10 million new aliens over here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We live within our means. We balance our budgets. We pay our taxes. We do everything we're supposed to do. We obey the laws. We're a nation of laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So, Wolf, you can see, very -- very emotional. I mean this is not something that people are shrinking away from. We've had a chance to get to meet a lot of people in the community. And this is a very hot issue. This is something that the president is going to have a lot of work to do when it comes to selling it to the American people.
It was important to do it here, symbolically, as well, because of the high Latino population, because he needed this state so desperately back in 2008. And this is also something that he's going to be selling as he goes around the country. Tuesday in Chicago, he's going to have a roundtable to discuss immigration reform, try to, again, sell this to the people, because they know back in Washington, there are threats of government shutdown, as well as calls for impeachment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux.
Yes, the White House says they will undertake a major, major selling campaign of this immigration reform plan.
Thanks very much for that report.
Let's talk about all of this with Republican Senator, John McCain.
He's joining us now from the Halifax International Security Forum. That in Nova Scotia, in Canada.
Senator, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.
I want you to hear what the president said just a little while ago in Las Vegas about his -- his frustration with the Republicans in the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I cajoled and I called and I met. I told John Boehner, I -- you know, I'll wash your car, I'll walk your dog, what -- whatever you need to do, just -- just -- just call the bill. That's how a democracy is supposed to work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
OBAMA: And if the votes hadn't been there, then we would have had to start over. But at least give it a shot. And he didn't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator, you share that frustration, because you were among those senators, Democrats and Republicans, who voted for the comprehensive immigration legislation in the Senate, but for, what, a year and a half, it's not -- it's just sat in the House of Representatives.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm very frustrated about what the president just did. He never mentions that between 2008 and 2010, he had overwhelming majorities in both houses and he could have rammed it through just the way -- the same way he rammed through ObamaCare.
MCCAIN: Second of all, we don't govern just because of the president's frustration. For years, he said that he couldn't act as he's acting today because it would be against "The Constitution." So now he's decided that it's OK, because he's frustrated.
What kind of a precedent does this set for future presidents, Wolf?
If they frustrated with the Congress, then decided to act in -- in a sweeping executive order that, frankly, in the view of certainly many of us who study "The Constitution," in an unconstitutional fashion.
And so -- and by the way, if he was really serious and not just seeking political advantage here, why not wait a couple of months and see what the new Congress does with a larger Republican majority, which would have given Speaker Boehner a lot -- some more latitude to act?
BLITZER: Here's what the White House says on those points.
First of all, why didn't he act the first two years of the Obama administration?
They say remember, there was the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression. They had a lot on their plate those first two years, trying to get the economy on track and that's why...
MCCAIN: Could I (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: -- they didn't take up immigration at that point.
MCCAIN: Let's go -- let's -- OK, well, let's go through that.
But it was OK to take up ObamaCare and -- and not immigration reform?
Give me a break.
BLITZER: All right, so you don't buy that -- that explanation.
And as far as the legislation, you know, the effort right now to go forward with what the president is doing, they make the case that -- that they have legal opinions, that, yes, the president may have said what he said, but the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, they've come forward with legal opinions saying he is fully authorized legally to do what he announced last night.
MCCAIN: Well, then who was he talking to for the last previous two years, when he kept saying that he didn't have the constitutional authority to act?
Whose -- whose opinion was he getting then?
Look, he's done a complete 180. He kept saying over and over -- you've got -- we've got 12 clips of him saying, I want to, but I can't because it would be -- it's not within my authority.
Now, all of a sudden he's found that authority. And one thing I've found about lawyers, if you look had enough, you can find several of them that will agree with you.
BLITZER: So what he says, he says, you know what, it's going to take a few months to implement what he announced last night. He's appealing to you, to the House and to the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, come up with a plan, work out some sort of compromise. He then will be happy to sign it into law and that would supersede what he announced last night.
Let's go forward.
Is that realistic?
MCCAIN: Is this the way we now will have presidents govern, by -- that they will issue executive orders and say, well, you can always fix this by voting in the legislation? I've never -- I don't think our Founding Fathers, this is what they had in mind as to how a president can act. And again, he directly contradicts himself as to what he said time after time that he didn't have the authority to do so. Now, he does. And he knows we've got a new Congress.
And if you were really dead serious rather than seeking political advantage, he would have said, look, I'm going to give them some time here because it is very likely. Most Americans and most members of Congress want to act this way. So, what we have done? We've inflamed the passions.
You just ran a clip. We've inflamed the passions of lots of Americans and I'm worried about that this then increased the level of disagreement and increased -- decreased our ability to come to an agreement. And by the way, small item, back when Ted Kennedy and I were doing immigration reform, then-Senator Obama was with one of his amendments was one who contributed to the failure of immigration reform at that time.
BLITZER: You mean during the Bush administration back in 2006, is that what you're talking about?
MCCAIN: Yes, sir. And I'll be glad to provide you with the documentation --
BLITZER: What did he do as a young senator? What --
MCCAIN: -- the farm worker -- the farm worker program, he proposed an amendment that would have broken the agreement that we had.
BLITZER: One final question, Senator, before I let you go. I know you don't like the way the president did what he did last night, but in terms of the substance, giving an opportunity to 4 million or 5 million people who are here in the United States to stay here in the United States, to work, to pay their back taxes, to be united with their families -- do you have a problem with the substance of what he announced?
MCCAIN: I don't have a problem with half a loaf, but we have to have border security. We have to prevent another flood of either children or people who will come to this country and remain here illegally knowing full well that they can achieve citizenship. That's not fair to those people who live a long ways away from the United States.
Everybody should have an equal opportunity to come to our country and become citizens.
So, what's about -- is there any increase in border security? Is there any use of technology to try to get control of our border? No, that is not the case. And without border security, you're not going to convince a whole lot of Americans that we aren't going it see this movie again.
BLITZER: He says -- he said in his speech last night, he said today in Las Vegas, one aspect of this unilateral actions is in fact design to increase border security. We'll, obviously, have to see if that does in fact occur.
But, Senator McCain, thanks so much for joining us.
MCCAIN: Without additional, without additional -- could I just say --
MCCAIN: -- without additional funding and effort, you're not going to get the border secure.
BLITZER: He has deported a lot more people than previous presidents deported, right? MCCAIN: No, not right.
BLITZER: All right. We'll continue this conversation as usual.
Senator McCain, thanks very much for joining us.
MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.
Up next, bracing for trouble. The grand jury in the Ferguson, Missouri shooting may reach a decision at any moment. And urgent efforts are under way to try to keep a lid on tensions. I'll speak with the St. Louis police chief.
And a top U.S. spy chief reveals that Chinese cyber attackers have the capability to cripple America's power grid, water, utilities, and air traffic control. Can they be stopped?
BLITZER: All right. Breaking news: law enforcement officials say the FBI now boosting its presence in the St. Louis area and ATF is also sending in more personnel, including SWAT teams.
A grand jury decision could come literally at anytime now on whether or not to indict the Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shoot being death of Michael Brown. Amid protests, amid arrest, there are urgent appeals for calm. Sources say Wilson is offering to step down from the force in a bid to ease tensions.
Let's get the latest now from our justice reporter Evan Perez. He's in Ferguson.
What are you learning, Evan?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we just got word from law enforcement officials that they are boosting their presence here. Federal law enforcement officials are boosting their presence here in the St. Louis region. The FBI sending dozens of police agents and other personnel to help boost their offices here. The ATF is sending some of their SWAT team members.
We just came from a briefing here across the street from some of the law enforcement here, local law enforcement. They say that they're expecting widespread protests. Obviously, all of this hinges on word that could come at any minute from the grand jury. We know they were meeting here at the justice center, St. Louis County Justice Center, grand jury room is on the second floor here and they were hearing the final bits of evidence before they begin deliberations.
We don't know yet what they have decided, but we know that officials are telling us that agents are being told that they should have their weekends free just in case of any problems, Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, stand by. We're going to get back to you, because we're literally waiting for word on whether or not that grand jury has acted. With tensions high, ahead of the grand jury announcement, authorities are on alert for possible violence. Joining us now is the police chief, Sam Dotson, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Force.
Chief Dotson, thanks very much for joining us.
Tell us what you're hearing. Has there been a grand jury decision? Have you been alerted yet? Because we were told you'd get 48 hours notice of some sort of decision.
CHIEF SAM DOTSON, ST. LOUIS METROPOLITAN POLICE: As I sat down in this chair about five minutes ago, I had not gotten that phone call from the prosecutor or from any other law enforcement. So, we're kind of in the same situation that everybody else is. We're just waiting for the grand jury to make their final decision.
BLITZER: And once they make their final decision, Chief, they're going to notify you that at least a decision has been made. You're not going to necessarily be told the decision, but just to get ready for potential protests and maybe -- but we hope not -- some violence, right?
DOTSON: That's exactly right. And let's that take the first piece of that. We do have a plan and we have a very good plan. And our goal is to obviously keep people safe, to keep businesses safe. You know, we saw in August that there was some looting and some burning along the West Florissant corridor, to keep those businesses open and safe. But also at the same time, to allow people to have their voice heard, their constitutional rights to protest.
So, we're set up with a good plan for that. But something that hasn't gotten a lot of play here locally in St. Louis are the efforts that we've been doing to try and calm and deescalate and ease the tensions.
Just this morning at 7:30, I started a series of conference calls with organizers of the Hands Up, Don't Shoot Coalition, really working on those lines of communication, de-escalation and, you know, the mayor and the county executive held a press conference this afternoon that talked about a lot of the things that law enforcement and coalition has agreed on.
BLITZER: Does it concern you, Chief, that gun sales, concealed carry permits have been surging in the Ferguson area in recent weeks?
DOTSON: It concerns me a lot. And it's that hysteria that -- the anxiety that's coming through. Law enforcement is going to be able to do their job. We're going to be able to protect people. We're going to be able to keep people safe.
Introducing guns and more guns into the situation and a lot of times those guns fall into the hands of criminals one way or another. Always, I think every police chief worries about guns in their community.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Chief, if you don't mind. We have a lot more to talk about. We're awaiting word from that grand jury on the decision on the Michael Brown shooting case. Much more with the police chief in just a moment.
Also, a very disturbing story we're following. The U.S. power grid, a possible target of Chinese hackers. We're learning new details. Stand by for that.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news.
A grand jury decision could come at any moment now in the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Officials say the FBI, the ATF, all boosted their presence in the St. Louis area, as authorities are on alert for possible violence.
We're back with Chief Sam Dotson of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Force.
Chief, what kind of coordination have you had locally with federal authorities, federal agents from the FBI, the ATF, in advance of this grand jury decision?
CHIEF SAM DOTSON, ST. LOUIS METROPOLITAN POLICE: Well, actually a lot of coordination. We're operating an intelligence center together to share real-time information. I know they're bringing in resources to secure their facility. We're talking about all the assets that they have available.
We have a coordinated plan not only with our federal partners, but with our local and state officials. As you know, Governor Nixon activated the National Guard and we have supported the National Guard here, as well.
BLITZER: You've been critical of the Ferguson Police Department's police tactics. Many were critical of the National Guard's military vehicles, weapons that were in the area, the National Guard I understand has been activated.
Is this a problem?
DOTSON: No, it's not. And here's why. The National Guard that's being used is actually supplementing local law enforcement. So our officers that were in more routine jobs, building security, driving conveyance vans, can now be moved to interact with our citizens, with the protesters, and the National Guard is in the background so that really helps us, gives us more resources.
Give you an example also. There's a -- as you can imagine, there is a lot of concern in the broader community. Not just the protester community, not just the law enforcement community, but the broader community. They want to see additional police officers in their neighborhood, they want to make sure that they don't have crimes that occur in their neighborhood and if they do, we respond quickly.
I'm putting -- able to put more resources into our neighborhoods. It's helping to calm some of the concerns of our residents. BLITZER: With tensions so high, how worried are you that the
demonstrations -- and we all hope that they will be peaceful, and most of the people who will be protesting if in fact there's no indictment of the police officer, they will be -- they will be peaceful. But there will potentially be some agitators there who will come with weapons or whatever. There could be confrontations with the police. You obviously are worried about that.
DOTSON: I am. And that's why we've done a considerable amount of training. We've trained our officers how to deal with large groups, how to deal with peaceful protesters. And when people violate the law, and do those violent acts, whether it's throwing something at a police officer, heaven forbid using a firearm, we have tactics and plans to deal with that and still let the group have their rights.
Just because one or two people are there for acts of violence or instigators doesn't mean that the whole group isn't going to be able to have their voice heard.
BLITZER: How do you deal with these outside agitators who may come seeking violence? Let's say they're coming from out of town and they have no roots really in the local community.
DOTSON: And that's been a real challenge for us because as you can imagine, St. Louis is like many communities. We know the people in our community. But when we start to see license plates from New York and California coming to our community with people, we really work with our local organizers to say, hey, who are the people that are causing you problems?
Because they cause law enforcement problems, they also cause problems for the protester groups at a large base because they can't get their voices heard if this group is causing violence. So we have a great relationship and our protesters here help us identify those instigators and agitators from outside our community which really don't have our region's best interest in mind.
BLITZER: If he's not indicted, this police officer, Officer Wilson, should he resign from the Ferguson police force?
DOTSON: I think that the reality is that Officer Darren Wilson could not go back to work in the Ferguson Police Department into that community. I think that's a conversation that he and his attorney has to have, but I think everybody in the community and the region realizes that he could not return to the Ferguson Police Department. But that's his decision.
BLITZER: Have you ever -- in the years you've been a police officer, have you ever seen anything like this before?
DOTSON: No, I haven't. And what's interesting is, as we've -- as the unified command sat down with the Department of Justice and said, hey, let's talk through this. What can we do better, what's working, and to be honest the Justice Department has said we haven't seen anything like this before. And the last time our country saw a civil unrest on this level is
probably early 2001. There isn't a road map. There isn't a best practice. They said you're really forging the ground for the way law enforcement deals with protests like this because of the influence of social media just as an example. We're really forging the ground about how the nation are going to deal with protests going forward.
BLITZER: Sam Dotson is the St. Louis Police chief. Good luck over there, Chief. We're hoping for the best.
DOTSON: Thank you, Wolf. And we're just asking for calm in our community.
BLITZER: So are we. We'd like to see calm. Protests, that's America. People are entitled to protest. Keep it nonviolent, though. It's so, so important. Appreciate it very much, Chief. Good luck once again.
DOTSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, we'll go live to Ferguson for the latest as the community and the country await the decision by the grand jury in the Michael Brown shooting case.
Plus the shocking announcement by the country's cyber chief. How vulnerable is the United States' power grid to Chinese hackers?
BLITZER: A shocking revelation about America's vulnerability to cyber attack. Every day industries, utilities, banks and the government are being probed for weaknesses. Now one of the country's top spy chiefs revealing that China has the capability to take down vital parts of the U.S. infrastructure.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has been looking into the extremely worrisome development.
What are you finding out?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Well, Admiral Michael Rogers, the NSA's chief officer, head of the Military Cyber Command, he identified China as one of the major actors, but today we can report that Russia also viewed as presenting a direct cyber threat as well as non-state groups acting on behalf of Russia and China.
Other countries the U.S. is concerned about, Iran, North Korea and Syria, each with an interest in developing offensive cyber capabilities. Together this collection of threats that led former CIA director Leon Panetta to warn that the next Pearl Harbor will be a cyber attack.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The nation's power grid, water utilities, air traffic control systems and financial services companies, all vulnerable to cyber attacks from China, Russia, and hackers acting on behalf of Russia and other countries. A dramatic attack capable of shutting down one or all of those systems says NSA chief Admiral Michael Rogers, not a question of if, but when.
ADM. MICHAEL ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: The cyber challenges we're talking about are not theoretical. This is something real and that has the potential to lead to some truly significant, almost catastrophic failures if we don't take action.
SCIUTTO: The preparation says Admiral Rogers have already gun. Foreign nations as well as non-state actors working on their behalf carrying out recon missions on systems to seek out and test vulnerabilities. A successful attack could come at any time, taking down the nation's power grid, for instance, piece by piece.
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: The lights go out, do we stop pumping water? Does that mean they already have the capability to flip the switch if they wanted to?
ROGERS: There shouldn't be any doubt in our minds that there are nation states and groups out there that have the capability to do that.
SCIUTTO: Cyber attacks have already struck some of the U.S. government's most sensitive systems. In late October, attacks targeted the White House's unclassified e-mail system with Russia or Russian entities cited as the most likely suspects. And earlier this week, another attack disabled the State Department's e-mail.
The only defense, Admiral Rogers argued, is preparing to strike back. Defense, he says , is a losing strategy.
ROGERS: We need to define what would be offensive, what's an act of war. Those are all issues we're trying to come to grips with right now.
SCIUTTO: Today China denied that it would carry out cyber attacks against the U.S. saying that its own law prohibits such attacks, but the fact is China has a vast and highly developed cyber strategy for both military and economic benefit. In his annual threat report, the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, warned that, quote, "Russia and China hold views substantially divergent from the U.S. on the meaning and intent of cyber security."
This is a thing where it's not just a tactic, but it's the belief of the U.S. that they -- these governments, particularly Russia and China, have a fundamentally different view of what's legal and acceptable when it comes to cyber networks.
BLITZER: What's so shocking is that he doesn't think the U.S. has a defensive way of preventing these kinds of cyber attacks.
SCIUTTO: He says the best -- well, really the only defense is offense. And you're almost in a situation of mutually assured destruction as we were in the Cold War nuclear days. The only way to deter someone is to make it clear to them you could cause just as much pain.
BLITZER: What a worrisome development, that is. Thanks very much. Jim Sciutto reporting.
We're standing by for the grand jury decision on the Michael Brown shooting case. It could come at any time. We'll get a live update from Ferguson, Missouri.
And a snow emergency now threatening to spark a flood disaster as a massive melt-off sets in.
BLITZER: At least 12 people are dead in the emergency that has some parts of western New York buried under seven feet of snow. But the disaster isn't over. Rain and warm temperatures are now threatening a massive melt that could trigger flood waters up to six feet deep.
CNN's Brian Todd is in Buffalo for us.
So, Brian, it's still awful. Tell us the latest.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here's some perspective on this. Take a look at where I'm standing behind me. This is not mud or dirt. This is snow. This huge mound of deposited snow, about 50 feet high, I'm about in the middle of it. And now I'll pan to your right and my left. Our photojournalist Ken Tuohey is going to show you this line of dump trucks going in here.
This is all deposited snow that they're depositing here in the old rail yard east of Buffalo. The mayor of Buffalo says more than 30,000 tons of snow have been removed from the south Buffalo area. This is one perspective on the massive snow event that has hit this area. For another perspective, we took to the skies. Take a look.
TODD (on camera): I'm flying over some of the hardest hit areas of Buffalo. Look to the level of snows, still up to the windows of many of the houses. More than three days after the snow storm began, still just massive levels of snow in this neighborhood, south of Buffalo.
There's a guy digging snow off of his roof. Several people are doing that in the Buffalo area because this has been a major problem. Snow drifts on the top of roofs, overnight Thursday into Friday, about 30 roofs had collapsed in the Buffalo area. And hundreds more were being monitored in big danger.
Schools in Buffalo have been closed all week. Here's one reason why. Look at those school buses and how much they're still covered.
This is Ralph Wilson Stadium where the Buffalo Bills play their home games. Look at that snow accumulation on the field. A big story this week has been whether the Bills could play their home game on Sunday against the New York Jets. It was decided that they could not clear the snow from the field, from the facility in time. The Bills are going to play in Detroit on Monday night.
This is what a completely unplowed street in Buffalo looks like. They're trying to dig out a pickup truck down there. Most of those cars are still snow mounds. These people may not get out of here any time soon.
Look at this. This is another snow shower coming over the Buffalo area. Just an extraordinary snow event this week. Buffalonians who've lived here 50 plus years, they say they've never seen anything like this.
TODD: Never seen anything like it, and they're still not out of the woods yet. More of this snow is going to be coming in to depots like this over the weekend and into next week, Wolf. And then, of course, we've got the melt-off coming. All of this is going to melt -- start to melt over the weekend as warmer temperatures hit and the rain is coming.
Officials have told us they're even preparing for swift water rescues over the weekend and into next week if they need to do that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, we'll check back with you. What an awful situation in the Buffalo, New York, area.
Let's bring in our severe weather expert, our meteorologist Chad Myers.
First of all, the flooding.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes.
BLITZER: The melt-off as Brian was just showing us, how bad could that be?
MYERS: It could be bad because the drains are all packed with snow, Wolf. You think about the storm drains, but, Wolf, they're just full of snow. No water is going to go down there for a while. And then you think about the rain that's going to come down on top of the snow itself. You have -- I really appreciated the guy that was on his roof shoveling it because that's very important for safety.
It's dangerous to get up there, so you have to be very careful. You're standing on snow, slippery especially on a non-flat roof. But here's what we have. The rain is going to fall on that snow. The snow is going to get heavier. Some of it will melt, but the snow is just going to get more and more heavy. And so when that snow gets heavier, all right now, if you have a 2,000 square foot house, you are looking at 49,000 pounds of snow on your roof right now.
Now if you get some off or if it slid off, that's great. But you get it even heavier than that, you will have more roof collapses. And you heard him talk about 30 collapsed roofs already.
Here are some of the numbers. You have to understand, 85 inches in the Wales Center. In some spots still going to be warming up above freezing for a number of days. All of that snow is going to try to melt rather rapidly. It's going to rain on top of it and then the floods are going to come up. A lot of street flooding, sure, but a lot of those low-lying areas.
Something else I thought about, too. When I lived there, probably you do, too, a lot of people there have basements. They also have these little tubs in the bottom of the basements and that takes that sump pump and it pumps it outside.
Wolf, that sump pump exit drain is completely full of snow, you're going to try to pump that water out, but it's not going to go out. So you have to get out there and try to clean that out as well, so at least the water from your sump pump have some place to go.
Here you go, there's the warm-up. And then by Thanksgiving, another cool down. So what do we get? We get swamp, we get mud, we get slosh, then all of a sudden, we're back down to 10 degrees again -- Wolf.
BLITZER: In a few days, 85 inches of snow.
BLITZER: It's really hard to believe, even by Buffalo standards.
All right. Thank you very much, Chad.
Coming up, a grand jury decision could come any time on whether to indict a Ferguson police officer for the shooting death of Michael Brown. The FBI now boosting its presence in the St. Louis area as authorities are bracing for trouble.