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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Protests Over New York Chokehold Case; Interview with Senator Rand Paul
Aired December 4, 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 ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. New outrage. Fresh protests getting under way across the country over the grand jury decision in the New York police chokehold case as the mayor of New York announces some sweeping action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: The policing community has to change. The way we go about policing has to change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I'll speak live this hour with the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Uncertain future. We're learning new details of the officer who put Eric Garner in that chokehold, including two lawsuits stemming from his police work. What will happen to him now?
Grand jury details. Newly released documents reveal what went on inside the jury room. Do they explain why the panel decided not to indict?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
We're following the breaking news. New protests in cities across the United States over the latest case, raising troubling questions about police, the communities they serve and the criminal justice system in the United States.
With Ferguson fresh on everyone's mind, the case of Eric Garner is drawing heightened scrutiny after a grand jury declined to charge the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in a chokehold moments before he died.
Now we're hearing from Garner's children for the first time. They're horrified at the way their father died.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like he treated him like an animal. And my father was not an animal. Even though he was 350 pounds and 6'6", he wasn't an animal. He was a big teddy bear. He was lovable, loved by everybody that he came in contact with.
And then the resistance of arrest that they told us about. It was like I don't see no resistance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hands up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hands up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't read him his rights.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They put him on the ground. They mushed his face into the ground. I mean, what more do these secret grand jury need to really indict him?
BLITZER: We're covering all angles of the breaking news with our correspondents, our guests, including the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Senator Rand Paul.
Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He's joining us from New York'/s Times Square right now. Joe, what do you see?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the district attorney in Staten Island went to court seeking to release information about what the grand jury actually heard. The judge appears to have only granted part of the D.A.'s request. Here's what the court agreed to. It's basically grand jury by the numbers.
The amount of time the grand jury heard the case, which is nine weeks. The number of witnesses which were heard, which is 50. The number of civilians who testified, that's 22. There were 60 exhibits, including four videos entered into evidence, and that's all the court would allow to be released.
Meanwhile, here and across the nation, strong reaction and call for change after the decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo. We heard from the mayor, who said there will be retraining of the entire police force on how to handle the public. We heard from the police commissioner, who commended officers for restraint during last night's demonstrations. We heard from the president of the United States, who talked a lot about Americans who see a disconnect between the country's ideals and the way justice is handed out.
We also heard from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has ordered a federal investigation into the case here in New York City. Now, all in all, I think it's also important to say everybody agrees there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. The city of New York is bracing for yet another demonstration tonight with police on high alert.
Also important to say, Wolf: all has been peaceful, at least so far. Back to you.
BLITZER: Are they getting ready for these demonstrations? Are police extending their shifts, for example, as they did last night, because they -- the protests sprang up throughout Manhattan and elsewhere. JOHNS: Right. Police have been on high alert throughout. They
have been very cordial. The police commissioner has commanded them for handling the situation under difficult circumstances because, as you know, what police are dealing with are demonstrations that have to deal with police action right here in Staten Island. So it's sort of a complex situation on all levels, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers live pictures from Foley Square in Lower Manhattan right now where folks are just beginning to gather. We're watching all of this very closely.
Joe Johns, thanks very much.
We're also learning new details about the police officer who was at the center of this case, the 29-year-old Daniel Pantaleo. This case isn't over for him yet.
CNN's Brian Todd is digging deeper into this part of the story for us. What are you finding out, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been speaking with police union officials and people involved in lawsuits against Officer Pantaleo.
Tonight they paint a conflicting picture of an officer, now embroiled in a huge conflict over policing and race, which extends far behind his home borough.
TODD (voice-over): Depending on who you listen to, the officer seen subduing Eric Garner is a reckless cop who disregards the rules or an upstanding former Boy Scout with a good reputation. Officials with New York's police unions speak glowingly of Daniel Pantaleo, who one union official says is, quote, "not a hot head."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the model of what we want a police officer to be.
TODD: A union official says Pantaleo has over 300 arrests with very few citizen complaints, but now his gun and badge have been taken from him after the Garner incident, and CNN has learned Pantaleo's record is not untarnished. He's been sued twice for false arrest and unlawful imprisonment.
One suit was brought by two men from Staten Island. Darren Collins and Tommy Rice, who alleged that in 2012, Pantaleo rounded them up on false drug charges and humiliated them.
JASON LEVENTHAL, ATTORNEY WHO SUED OFFICER PANTALEO: Pantaleo strip searched both Mr. Rice and Mr. Collins in public outside the car right in the street, open to public view.
TODD: The complaint says Pantaleo and another officer, quote, "pulled down plaintiff's pants and underwear and touched and searched their genital areas or stood by while this was done in their presence."
Pantaleo denied the allegations, and the suit was settled for $30,000.
The single 29-year-old Staten Island native attended Monsignor Ferrell (ph) High School. He joined the force in July 2006 and comes from a family of public servants. His father, a retired New York firefighter and uncle, who was a city policeman.
His supporters say Daniel Pantaleo's upheld the family traditional honorably.
PATRICK LYNCH, PRESIDENT, PATROLMEN'S BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION: He's a mature, mature police officer who's motivated literally by serving the community. He literally, literally is an Eagle Scout.
TODD: But now, with the Eric Garner case in the national spotlight, will Daniel Pantaleo have to follow the lead of Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson and quit?
HOWARD SAFIR, FORMER NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: Unlike Ferguson, which is a very small department, there are over 35,000 police officers in the city of New York in a city of 8 million people. I believe that if Officer Pantaleo is found to be retained with the department, he could continue in police work, yes.
TODD: And union officials say Pantaleo does want to return to police work, but one official says it is premature now to say he is definitely going to return, given the continuing federal and local police investigations of him, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do we know about his personal security, Brian? We know in Ferguson, Darren Wilson, the police officer there, questioned who was not indicted, he has around-the-clock security because of all the death threats.
TODD: Darren Wilson does. This is a little bit different. A union official just told me a second ago that, in the early days after Garner's death, Officer Pantaleo was getting death threats early on in the game here. He said those threats have subsided. This official would not go so far as to say that Pantaleo is in hiding, but he says he's not staying at his personal residence.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. We'll stay in touch with you.
Let's talk about all of this and a lot more with the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, who's joining us on the phone right now for an exclusive interview. Governor, thanks very much for joining us.
First of all, what did you think of that grand jury decision?
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK (via phone): Well, I was surprised, Wolf, like everyone else. Thank you for having me, by the way. The -- when you looked at that videotape, it was so stark that it led one to believe that the grand jury was going to come back with an indictment.
Now, we were not in the grand jury room. We don't know what the grand jury heard. Even with this release by the judge today, we're not really getting the transcript of the grand jury. We're just getting some facts.
So we always have to keep in mind that the presentation done in the grand jury room is often definitive. But I was surprised, like many people across the country were surprised.
BLITZER: Because even if it were a crime, and it's an alleged crime, it would be a very, very minor crime and this guy winds up dead. I guess my late dad would have asked, how could this happen in the United States of America?
CUOMO: That's exactly right. And I think that's one of the reasons for the outrage, Wolf. You just -- you look at that videotape and you say, it can't be. It just can't be. And it's not just this case, as we've said. And we've talked about Ferguson.
But let's be honest: if you're here in New York, it's not just Ferguson. You know, it was Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin. It was Abner Louima. We have a case now with a young fellow shot in a public housing stairwell. So there is a pattern, and there's a pattern that goes back a long time. There happens to be a frequency now, but people feel that they are disconnected from the justice system.
And if this democracy has one institution that stabilizes society, it is the justice system. Justice for all; justice is blind. And when you have a significant portion of the population that feels the justice system isn't working, you have a problem, and we have a problem, and let's acknowledge it.
BLITZER: We certainly do. And a lot of people are asking this bottom-line question, Governor. Are there two justice systems in the United States, one for blacks, another for whites?
CUOMO: That -- what they're saying is the justice system doesn't work, because that's not justice, right? That would be some other system. But you can't call it the justice system. And it is supposed to be a justice system. Justice for all, blind to color. And that's what people are questioning.
And it's -- the justice system has two obligations, in my opinion. One is to actually do justice; and two is to instill a sense of confidence and society that it is doing justice.
Now, I think short-term we're going to instill confidence by the federal takeover. I spoke to U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who is fantastic, by the way. I'm excited that she's going to get confirmed and hopeful for the U.S. attorney general. But Loretta Lynch has people's confidence; Eric Holder has people's confidence. So I think short-term, the federal takeover will bring confidence.
But long-term, what I'm looking to do, Wolf, is this is an opportunity to really do a soup-to-nuts comprehensive review of the system. And let's talk about police officer training and this chokehold and why did you need so many bodies jumping on an individual to hold him down on a street, on the sidewalk; and diversity and cameras and transparency and accountability. The role of the grand jury. Should these D.A.s be bringing these cases, potential roles for special prosecutors. Let's have a real discussion, because this keeps happening and happening and happening. And it's corrosive.
BLITZER: Are there also two justice systems in the United States, one for civilians, another for the police?
CUOMO: Well, there are laws that allow the police to effectuate their duty, their arrests by a certain standard. And look, the reason this is difficult, Wolf, is I've been to too many police funerals, also. You're a police officer, you're trying to protect the public, you take your life in your hands. And you need to be able to protect yourself. And make no mistake: for every one incident we see like this, there's an incident of a police officer losing his life or being abused.
So it's difficult on both sides, but we've lost touch and we've lost confidence with a significant portion of the people of this country and state and we have to correct it.
BLITZER: It speaks volumes when you speak of a federal takeover of this judicial system right now, because I guess local or even state authorities aren't up to it? Is that what you're saying?
CUOMO: This was the state justice system. This is a state law. This is not a local law. The D.A.s operate pursuant to the state law. And this system, the grand jury system, the fact that this D.A. did the case, that was all pursuant to state law.
And as the governor of the state, it doesn't make me happy, Wolf, to say to you that the system is being questioned by a significant number of New Yorkers, as well as people across the country.
Now, again, with the caution that we don't know what happened in the grand jury room itself, but we do know that the system itself has lost the confidence of the people, and that's a problem in and of itself.
So the federal government, I said, "Any way I can help, I will." I applauded Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder for their -- for their move. I think it should be done expeditiously, because I think it will build confidence and I think we need that now more than ever.
We've been lucky here in New York. The protests have been peaceful. I applaud the Garner family, which I spoke to yesterday, Wolf, and the husband, the wife and the mother went out of their way again last night to say to people, if you want to protest, fine, but do it peacefully. And I believe that was a beautiful tribute to their family and speaks to their character. After all they went through, they're pleading for peace.
And the protesters were largely peaceful last night, and the NYPD did a good job. We had National Guard and state police on standby. Luckily, we didn't need them. So we'll go through the protests, and people have a right to protest. They don't have the right to break the law, but they have the right to protest. And let's get back to building confidence in the system.
BLITZER: A lot of work to be done. What was your bottom-line message to Eric Garner's family?
CUOMO: First I said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you lost your husband. I'm sorry that you lost your son." To lose a child, Wolf, I believe, is probably the most painful and unnatural loss.
And I said that we'll remember them in -- Mr. Garner, in our prayers, and my condolences to all New Yorkers for this tragedy. And I applauded them and asked them again for the plea for peaceful protests, which I think spoke well of them and protected the people in my state. And how I was in awe of the way they've handled themselves thus far in this situation.
BLITZER: Governor Cuomo, thank you so much for joining us. I know you've got a lot going on now. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in my home state of New York. And by the way, please pass along our best wishes to your dad. I know he hasn't been feeling so great lately, but he's certainly a great man. A lot of us who have gotten to know him over the years admire him a great deal, and we wish him only the best.
CUOMO: Thank you, Wolf. And my father is a big fan of yours. He always has been, and he wants you to come back to New York and do your show from Buffalo. That's the one question he has.
BLITZER: Well, we had a little snow in Buffalo the other day. I know you were there helping my fellow Buffalonians, and you did a good job. Appreciate it very much, Governor.
CUOMO: I have the blisters to prove it, Wolf. Thanks.
BLITZER: Good. Thanks very much.
The governor of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo joining us. And a tough situation going on in New York right now.
We have much more breaking news coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Dramatic moves by the New York mayor as the controversy, the outrage grows. We're going to hear from Bill de Blasio. He's mayor of New York. That's coming up.
We'll also talk about all of this with Republican Senator Rand Paul. What does he think of this grand jury decision? He's standing by live.
And these are live from Lower Manhattan. People are gathering. They're protesting this grand jury decision.
BLITZER: Take a look at these live pictures. The protesters gathering in Manhattan right now. They're outraged over the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer for the choking death of Eric Garner.
Let's go straight to the scene. CNN's Chris Welch is there for us. Tell us exactly where you are and what you're seeing?
CHRIS WELCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, Wolf, I'm in downtown Manhattan here, essentially, where a lot of the judicial buildings are. I'm in Foley Square. I want you to take a look around me.
We got here just about probably over an hour ago. There was essentially no one here. If you look around now, there are -- it's probably safe to say there are at least a couple hundred, probably 2 or 300 people here right now. A lot of the people in the audience, in the crowd here are bloggers. You see a lot of cameras there with lights on them, a lot of live streamers.
But of course, there are obviously a lot of protesters here. And there are people I've spoken to here, a lot of the organizers, a lot of people who come out and say they were hurt, they were disgusted by this decision by the grand jury to not indict white police officer, white NYPD Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
And so today they've come out to avoid that and make that clear. This rally, they say what they want is full accountability, not just by the police officers who were involved in Eric Garner's chokehold and his eventual death but all police officers who are involved in incidents involving -- involving deaths in New York City -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Are they going to stay put there or it looks like they're going to start marching up Manhattan?
WELCH: The rally is officially supposed to start, really, in just a couple of minutes. You hear the bull horn going now. They're just sort of getting the pep going, so to speak. There is no official march planned here, Wolf, but they say, as we've seen last night, after we saw after Ferguson, marches are certainly something that could happen organically, as they say, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll watch it together with you, watch the other demonstrations that are just beginning right now, as well. Chris Welch on the streets of Manhattan for us in New York, thanks very much.
There's more breaking news coming up. We're getting new signals of live protests taking place, not only in New York but across the country, just a second night of major demonstrations against New York City's police chokehold case. And we'll also talk about the controversy and a lot more. Republican Senator Rand Paul, he's standing by live. A lot to talk about with him.
BLITZER: We continue monitoring demonstrations in New York City and around the country. These are live pictures coming in from New York right now. You can see the crowds have gathered. We're going to see if they'll just stay put where they are. This is Foley Square, lower Manhattan, or they start moving if demonstrations erupt elsewhere in Manhattan, as they did yesterday as well. Also in Washington, D.C., you can see some protesters are lying down in what they're calling a die-in to protest what happened in New York yesterday, the deaths of Eric Garner in New York, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. They are adding new urgency to a federal government crackdown on what is being described as an excessive use of force by police across the country. The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, has been in Cleveland today, pushing reforms to try to improve relations between police and the communities they serve.
Our justice reporter Evan Perez is joining us now live from Cleveland.
Evan, what's the status of the federal investigation, first of all, into the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in New York?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you that the investigators are going to hit the ground running on this investigation in part because, Wolf, they've been monitoring the state case. They have been doing some of their own investigative work, the FBI has been working behind the scenes. Even while the state investigation was still going.
And so now they already have, you know, the videos, the horrific videos that we've all seen. They also have additional videos. They have some of the witness statements and that -- this is one reason why sources I've talked to say that this case is expected to move a little faster than some of these cases.
You know, Wolf, these sometimes take a long time, these civil rights investigations.
BLITZER: They certainly do. They can go in not just months but even years.
You're in Cleveland. The Department of Justice coming down very hard today on the police department there in Cleveland in part because of a police chase back in 2012 that ended with 13 officers firing 137 rounds at two unarmed suspects.
Tell us what the Justice Department, the attorney general, did there in Cleveland today.
PEREZ: Well, Wolf, they found after this year and a half of investigation of the Cleveland Police Department, they produced this very lengthy report and the attorney general just described what was a -- a pattern of excessive force, abusive policing by this department here in Cleveland.
And not only that incident, Wolf, which was, you know, over a third of the Cleveland Police Department was giving chase to these two suspects and they fired 137 bullets, as you said, there were a pattern of other incidents in which police fired at someone who was being held hostage, for instance, and was trying to get away. So the attorney general was bringing the message that he knows
police have a hard job and he's trying not to pick on them but he also said that, you know, this is the second time they've come here to Cleveland to try to make the police department here fix itself, fix the way it trains its officers. And so what he's trying to send a message of is, you know, we want the police to improve themselves so that we don't have to keep doing this.
BLITZER: Evan Perez in Cleveland, thanks very much.
You can see the live pictures still coming in from New York and here in Washington, D.C., the protests apparently growing right now even as we speak.
The distrust between African-American communities across the country and local police certainly has drawn the attention of a Republican prominently mentioned as a possible candidate for president in 2016.
We're talking about Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Glad to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I speak to you because I know you've been very, very passionately involved in trying to improve relations between the Republican Party and African-American communities across the country. A few weeks ago we spoke when you were in Ferguson, meeting with the NAACP and others.
So given your interests and your passion on this specific -- in this specific area, what was your reaction to the grand jury decision in Staten Island following that stunning video all of us have seen now?
PAUL: You know, when I first saw the video I was horrified, and still am horrified every time I see it. As you know, Eric Garner is gasping for breath and saying, "I can't breathe," I -- I just can't believe this goes on. So I'm as shocked as anyone by the verdict, but I'm also shocked really, as there been no statement from the police about whether or not this is acceptable or whether or not they will continue to be policemen.
There obviously are different legal standards. You know, there's a legal standard for a grand jury indictment, but there's also a standard the police department should have for what kind of force is acceptable or unacceptable.
And I think really, to calm -- to calm down the reaction to this, one thing that could happen is the police could say, this is unacceptable for a policeman, and we can't have this type of an individual on the police force.
BLITZER: And I want you to clarify what you said yesterday, getting some publicity, that this was in part the result of the high cigarette taxes in New York. Just explain what you meant by that.
PAUL: Well, the same way the war on drugs is created, policemen that are everywhere I think being too aggressive with enforcement of the law, such as throwing a concussion grenade into a home near Atlanta last year, the same way high taxes draw people and push people into an underground.
When the tax is over -- think of this, a $5.85 tax is almost 60 percent of the price of cigarettes. If I tell you tomorrow that I'm going to put a tax on bread that is $4 and bread becomes $6, what happens? A black market develops. But then, are you going to arrest people or going to throw them to the ground for selling bread on the corners?
There is a black market because we have made the price of cigarettes so onerous that people are going to sell it illegally. So, yes, I don't think it's justified what the police did, but I also think it's bad policy that puts the police in an untenable position.
BLITZER: But --
PAUL: The war on drugs does that, and so does an erroneous and excessive tax policy as well.
BLITZER: But even if Eric Garner were selling cigarettes illegally, not charging tax or whatever, on the street, did he deserve to be treated the way he was treated in that video?
PAUL: No. None of it justifies it. All I'm saying is that we put people in a bad position by -- this came as a directive. This came as a directive from city government in New York, and they specifically told policemen, go out there and aggressively look at people selling illegal cigarettes. So it is a mistake, and it is a politician who ultimately made the mistake that hey, we're going to go after people selling these untaxed cigarettes.
So I think politicians are responsible for creating a situation and putting, I think, police sometimes in an untenable position but I think there's no excuse for what happened.
BLITZER: When we spoke, when you were in Ferguson, after your meetings there with local community leaders, the African-American community, you made it clear that you were worried that there was a justice system in the United States that was not equal. There was one set of justice for blacks, another for whites.
You still -- you still believe that?
PAUL: You know, I wrote in "TIME" magazine last week that when you look at shootings of the police upon individuals, that if you're a young black male you're 28 times more likely to be shot than a young white male. So there is a problem. And part of it is this war on drugs, but part of this is over zealousness to do everything that gets the police involved in every aspect of our life.
And the other problem I have, and this is one of the important things people haven't been talking about with New York, do you remember Michael Stewart? In the mid-1980s, I think it was 1983, Michael Stewart was painting graffiti or spraying graffiti on the subway walls in New York. He was strangled by 11 transit cops. He was black, they were white. And the same thing happened. A chokehold was performed and they were indicted, but never prosecuted. So this is not a new phenomenon. This is a 25-year-old phenomenon, at least in New York.
BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by, Senator. We have a lot more to discuss.
So much more with Senator Rand Paul when we come back.
BLITZER: All right, take a look, these are live demonstrations near the Ellipse in Washington, not far away from the White House. People have gathered here in the nation's capital. They're protesting the death of Eric Garner in New York City, and the grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo.
We're back with the Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. We're going to continue to watch these protests.
Senator, I want you to get your quick reaction. Hillary Clinton, she potentially could be the Democratic presidential nominee. You potentially could be the Republican presidential nominee. Here's what she said on the grand jury decision in Staten Island.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And I personally hope that these tragedies give us the opportunity to come together as a nation to find our balance again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with her?
PAUL: Well, you know, I have six different bills to reform the criminal justice system, and we would welcome Hillary Clinton if she would like to come and help us to promote this agenda. I've been working with Senator Cory Booker, Harry Reid, and other Democrats. And if she wants to join me and help to support these bills that I'm pushing on criminal justice, we would welcome her support.
BLITZER: So it sounds like you and her, at least on this -- in this narrow area might be on the same page, right?
PAUL: Well, I think she needs to have a little more concrete proposals. We have quite a few. We think the war on drugs has gone too far. We think that many of these things could be addressed as misdemeanors, not felonies. But we also think that, you know, taxing cigarettes $5.85 criminalizes otherwise law-abiding people. And so the question specifically to her is, would she try to make
the sale of cigarettes not such a burdensome thing that it drives people into the black market? And my guess is that her notion of sort of the busy-body nature of government is that she wouldn't support reducing taxes.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some other issues while I have you, Senator. You want to vote in the Senate limiting the U.S. military in this war against ISIS. You want a resolution, a declaration of war if you will. On this issue, are you on the same page with Democrats?
PAUL: Some. But what I would say is that nobody's been doing there job up here, the president included. When the president ran for office, he said no president can unilaterally take the nation to war without the authority of Congress, but now he seems to have forgotten that campaign promise. But for five months, I've been asking for a vote on this, and every other Democrat in Congress has forgotten this promise also because there's been no vote.
So we came to the committee today and there was an unrelated bill, and I forced my amendment forward and said, I want a vote on whether or not Congress is going to authorize this war, and they all objected. But in the end, I was able to force the issue, and they promised me a vote next week in committee.
BLITZER: You know that Republican Senator John McCain, one of your colleagues, obviously, in the Senate, he thinks that what you're doing is telegraphing the U.S. punches towards ISIS, that in effect helping ISIS. I'm sort of paraphrasing what he says. Your response?
PAUL: I think that's sort of a confused understanding. I mean, the Constitution's very explicit that war should be initiated by Congress. There has to be a vote. George Washington believed this, James Madison believed this, Thomas Jefferson, and really for nearly 150 to 200 years, everyone in America believed that Congress would initiate war.
So I think the position that Congress shouldn't vote on it or that this somehow has anything to do with telegraphing anything is just wrong-headed and ignores the Constitution.
BLITZER: You know there hasn't been a declaration of war since World War II.
PAUL: I'm aware of that. That's one reason we brought it forward. But also, I would also support a use of authorization of force, but I think it's better to use the language of the Constitution because that's where ultimately the power was given to the Congress.
BLITZER: The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, said this week the U.S.-led airstrikes are not working. Your response?
PAUL: Well, ultimately there has to be ground troops. I've never said that would work without ground troops. But the ground troops need to be people who live there and people who are invested in this. If the Iraqis will not fight for their own cities, I'm not for sending any American G.I.s there to do it. So if the American -- if the Iraqis won't fight for Mosul, they're not taking back Mosul. The Iraqis on the ground will have to fight.
There are many other interested parties there that could fight as well to prevent this menace of ISIS. Turkey has a 650,000 person army. I'd like to see the Turks engaged in preventing this menace, ISIS. But I'd also like to see the Kurds engaged, the Iraqis engage. The Kurds have been engaged and have been fighting, but I'd really like to see the Iraqis step up and do some of the fighting.
BLITZER: I know you support what's called the Military Justice Improvement Act to combat sexual assault, violent crimes in the military. Do you believe you have the votes this time?
PAUL: You know, we were very close. I've been working with Senator Gillibrand on this, and she's really been the leader on this. And I think we got to 55 votes and we required 60 votes. One thing is to get enough votes, the other thing is to actually be allowed to vote. And there will be a vote on the Authorization for the Defense Bill. Usually or typically that's been open for amendment.
The rumor around here, though, is that they're not going to allow any amendments, including Senator Gillibrand's amendment.
BLITZER: And when will you announce whether or not you're running for president?
PAUL: You know, we're thinking about in the spring sometime. We still have family discussions to go through. And also to try to decide whether the message is resonating, whether or not there's a big enough momentum for a candidate like myself to actually win the nomination.
BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, thanks very much for joining us.
PAUL: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul joining us.
Take a look at this. We got the live protests now developing not only in New York City but here in Washington, D.C., as well.
Much more on the breaking news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. These demonstrations over a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're continuing to monitor the demonstrations now growing both in New York City and elsewhere around the country. These are live pictures from New York, in Manhattan and it seems some of those protesters are beginning to move.
We're going to monitor this situation very closely.
Also here in Washington, separate protests under way at the Ellipse not far from the White House as well. We're monitoring those demonstrations here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's discuss what's going on. Joining us our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, it's interesting, I interviewed the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, this hour. I interviewed Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky just a few moments ago. Everyone seems to be pretty stunned by that grand jury decision not to indict the police officer.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: They sure are. But Rand Paul is the only person who's blaming it on cigarette taxes, which I think is really a misreading of what happened here because, you know, this confrontation took place as part of an overall police philosophy in New York of cracking down on quality of life crimes. Like turnstile jumping. Like using squeegees on cars by homeless people. This had nothing to do with cigarette taxes.
In addition, the cigarette taxes have a purpose that Rand Paul didn't even discuss, which is to discourage smoking, which kills people. So I just -- you know, it's certainly appropriate for Rand Paul to be against taxes because that's a core part of his belief, but the idea that this attack, this death, is due to high cigarette taxes seems pretty fanciful.
BLITZER: Well, I think what he was suggesting was because this individual, Eric Garner, had been arrested previous times for selling cigarettes without the appropriate taxes and all of that, just on the street without a license, that the cops were going after him, and in effect, it resulted in his death.
TOOBIN: Well, they were going after him as part of a larger policy of quality of life crimes, of which this is a very minor one. And I just think it's an extrapolation, it's an inclusion of an agenda item on Rand Paul's agenda, which is perfectly appropriate to have. But one that had nothing to do with why Eric Garner is dead. He's dead because of abusive police tactics. Not because of high cigarette taxes.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue this in the next hour.
Jeffrey, don't go too far away.
Much more coming up. We're following the breaking news. We're watching the protests in several cities now grow, especially in New York, in the chokehold case. Demonstrations under way here in Washington, D.C., as well. Much more of the breaking news coming up.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now, new protests underway. Outrage over the
NYPD chokehold case. That outrage is building as new details are emerging about the grand jury that decided not to press charges.
Dying moments. New video of Eric Garner's lying motionless. We're analyzing all the pictures to try to understand what went so horribly wrong and what authorities should do next.
Grieving children. We're also hearing for the first time from Garner's son and daughter. They say police treated their father like an animal.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.