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THE SITUATION ROOM
ISIS Swap Uncertain; Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Awaiting Word on ISIS Prisoner Swap; Melee Erupts at Ferguson Meeting
Aired January 29, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is a CNN exclusive.
Plus, this -- police scuffle. An angry shoving match breaks out between officers and citizens at a meeting designed to ease tensions that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Tonight, growing fears about the fate of two ISIS hostages as plans for a prisoner swap hit a wall.
ISIS is threatening to kill a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian fighter pilot unless a convicted terrorist is released at the Turkish border. It has been hours since that was supposed to happen.
Also breaking right now, CNN is getting exclusive new information about one of the Taliban detainees who was freed in exchange for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. U.S. officials now suspect that that Taliban former prisoner may have returned to terror.
We have correspondents, analysts, newsmakers, they're all standing by, including a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. We're covering all the news that's breaking right now.
But, first, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He has the latest -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm told by officials in Amman that a tense, nervous wait continuing into the early morning hours there among Jordanian government officials.
We are now eight-and-a-half-hours past that deadline, but no word. Keep in mind this is the third ISIS deadline in the last week. Others have passed and hostages have lived. However, the most worrying sign has been the absence so far from the beginning of any proof of life for the Jordanian pilot.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The sunset deadline set by ISIS has passed, but the fates of their captives, Jordanian pilot Muath al- Kaseasbeh and Japanese Kenji Goto, remain unknown.
And, crucially, the terror group has yet to meet Jordan's demand for proof that their pilot is still alive.
MOHAMMED AL-MOMANI, JORDANIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: At this point, we want to emphasize that we have asked for a proof of life from Da'esh and we have not received anything as of yet. We need a proof of life so we can proceed.
SCIUTTO: Today's deadline is the third that ISIS has set in a little more than a week. The wait began with this video showing two Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the prime minister of Japan.
SCIUTTO: And making the outrageous demand for a $200 million ransom from Japan within 72 hours or both captives would die.
The first deadline passed last Friday and grim proof soon followed that one hostage had been executed, this image showing Mr. Goto holding what appeared to be a photo of Yukawa's headless body. Goto, however, was spared.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What it shows is, they are reacting tactically. They no longer have a strategic plan. I think they have been hurt in terms of their leadership and they are just trying to get the best thing going.
SCIUTTO: Days later, a change in demands, ISIS now seeking the release of this convicted female jihadist, Sajida al-Rishawi, imprisoned in Jordan for her role in a 2005 suicide bombing that killed dozens. And ISIS added a new threat. If the swap was not made, the Jordanian pilot, Lieutenant Kaseasbeh, would die along with Goto.
HERTLING: There's a huge difference between a prisoner swap between warring factions and a ransom request by a terrorist organization to a political party. And that's the key difference.
SCIUTTO: Finally last night, ISIS issued a new ultimatum. Deliver Ms. Rishawi to the Turkish border by sunset today or Lieutenant Kaseasbeh and Mr. Goto would not survive the day.
The relentless back-and-forth has raised hard questions about whether ISIS was truly negotiating at all and whether Jordan made a mistake to try.
HERTLING: They are attempting to elevate themselves into the status of a political movement and a state. They are not. They are a terrorist organization.
SCIUTTO: Jordan would consider an exchange the equivalent of a prisoner of war swap, admissible in conflict. But there are real concerns that al-Rishawi would return to
terrorism if she was returned to ISIS' hands. But really as this wait continues, Wolf, tonight hopes fading. I'm told that this is not going to be over until they have any sort of final proof here. But, of course, we are many hours past this deadline. And as you get further away from the deadline, the hopes do become dimmer.
BLITZER: Yes, so many people are bracing for the worst as far as the two hostages held by ISIS are concerned.
You are also learning on a different area about a shooting in Afghanistan that has now left three Americans dead in Kabul, the capital there. What happened?
SCIUTTO: That's right. This took part at Kabul airport. There is a major coalition base on the north side of that airport and these were three U.S. contractors shot and killed just around 6:40 p.m. local time, another Afghan killed as well.
I'm told by a U.S. official that initially it looks like an insider attack, although it's still being investigated. Insider attacks have been a consistent problem in Afghanistan, particularly green-on-blue attacks, Afghan forces attacking U.S. or other coalition forces. But they really peaked in 2012. They have come down a lot since then.
If this turns out to be the case, it would be a bad sign, particularly as coalition forces there, including U.S. forces, transition to an advise-and-assist role from securing the country.
BLITZER: Yes, obviously, that country is by no means secure right now. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
The wife of the Japanese journalist still being held by ISIS issued a desperate new plea for his life to be saved.
CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now live from Tokyo.
What are you hearing about the hostage's fate? I know Japan is really, really anxious to get the Japanese hostage safely back to Japan.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. But these are new and very terrifying details revealed by Kenji Goto's wife, Rinko, who is speaking out for the first time saying that since early December, she has been exchanging e-mails with ISIS, including one just 24 hours ago, a threatening message saying that if she does not help them expose their propaganda to the world, in their words, Kenji will be next.
She is releasing a new audio recording where she talks about the desperate situation for her and her children.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RINKO GOTO, WIFE OF ISIS HOSTAGE: My husband and I very young daughters. Our baby girl was only three weeks old when Kenji left. I hope our oldest daughter, who is just 2, will get to see her father again. I want them both to grow up knowing their father.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
RIPLEY: Wolf, after staying silent through this ordeal thus far, she is now speaking out because in her words she fears that her husband may not have much time left.
BLITZER: Let's hope he gets out of there safe and sound. Let's hope. Will Ripley in Tokyo, thank you.
Let's get to the other breaking news we're following, news that's driving home the danger of prisoner swaps.
CNN has now learned new information about one of the Taliban detainees the U.S. released in order to win the freedom of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, broke the story. She's with us with exclusive details. She's joining us from the Pentagon right now.
We know that five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay were freed, were released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all five of those men were taken back to the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, where they are supposed to be under very close supervision.
The U.S. has a classified intercept program to monitor all of their communications, cell phone, online, whatever it is. The U.S. monitors every piece of their communications. A couple of months ago, something popped up that indicated one of the men was reaching out potentially trying to return to some connection with militancy.
Officials are not being specific about this, for obvious reasons. But the notion that his communications were linked to militancy has caused a good deal of concern inside the intelligence community. The issue right now is to determine whether or not there really is a threat here, what type of threat, how serious it is.
One official telling me, no, there is no direct threat. But I have to tell you that at least two other officials, perhaps more senior, have said to me directly that there is concern and inside the administration a debate now about what to do, how seriously to take this. They are increasing their watchfulness, of course, about the communications of all of these men.
Not the first time that released detainees have so-called returned to the battlefield in some fashion; 12 to 15 percent of all of them, according to statistics, do return to some type of militant activity. But the political firestorm for the White House could be considerable. This exchange, of course, was so controversial when it happened -- Wolf. BLITZER: They are making it clear, the administration, they want
to release more of those Guantanamo Bay prisoners, right?
STARR: Well, that's absolutely right. It couldn't come at a more sensitive time for the White House. They are on a program now to transfer, they call it, as many of those detainees as they can to other countries overseas who pledge to look after them, to monitor them, to keep track of them.
With the president has made clear, he wants to close Gitmo down. Congress is not willing at this point to do that. But the goal, people will tell you is, to get that prison population down as far as possible, perhaps making it easier in the long run to transfer the few that are left to the U.S. federal prison system. It's a real goal of the administration to get as many people out of Gitmo back overseas under the control of foreign governments as quickly as they can.
This was an extraordinarily controversial transfer.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Barbara broke that story here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get more now.
Joining us, Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho. He's a hey member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.
Senator, thanks for coming in.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Hey, Wolf.
BLITZER: You heard Barbara's report. What do you make of that? What's your reaction when you hear that one of those five Taliban prisoners released, sent to Qatar by the U.S. in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army sergeant, now may be toying around, getting back into the terror game?
RISCH: Wolf, this shouldn't surprise anyone.
Those of us who were critical of the swap in the first place predicted that this was going to happen. The recidivism rate is actually substantial higher than the 12 percent that...
BLITZER: What is it?
RISCH: Well, we don't know exactly, but I'm -- personally, I believe it's well above 30 percent. I have heard reports to that effect.
But if you have -- the people that were released, these were five very, very bad people. It wasn't just run of the mill out of Gitmo. It was some of the worst that they had there. Most everyone who deals with terrorism said that these people were going to go back. This is not a surprise. BLITZER: Because the administration says it's the U.S. policy,
we don't leave our soldiers behind enemy lines. We do whatever it takes to bring them home.
And there's certainly no quarrel that we should have brought Bowe Bergdahl home. The bargain was a really, really bad bargain, as this administration has shown it gets frequently. And those five people should not have been the five that were released to do this.
There's going to be fallout. There's going to be continued fallout from this. I have no doubt about it. And it's a real problem and could be a future political problem.
BLITZER: They also make the argument, the administration, that they were ending the war in Afghanistan. U.S. troops were pulling out, that, normally, when the U.S. ends a war, there's a POW, a prisoner exchange with the other side, and that that's why this was OK.
RISCH: Easy argument to make. The problem is just getting out of Afghanistan is not ending the war on terror that we have got going on and, unfortunately, that's going to go on for a long time.
We have some of the worst actors in the war held in confinement in Guantanamo. Why, oh, why any American would say we need to set these free, because we know a percentage of them are going to go back and kill Americans, why anyone would do that is beyond our comprehension.
BLITZER: As you know, one of America's best friends in the Middle East, Jordan, right now is going through a lot of anguish. They have got a F-16 fighter pilot whose plane went down over Syria. He's in the hands of ISIS, assuming he is still alive right now.
They want him back in Jordan. They're willing to release this convicted terrorist, this female wannabe suicide bomber, as you will, part of a plot that killed 60 Jordanians at a wedding at a hotel in Amman and hundreds of others were injured. Is that a good idea for Jordan to do something along like that, along those line?
RISCH: I surely wouldn't want to advise Jordan what to do. They -- King Abdullah has to make the decisions he has to make based on his population.
As you know, he is a Hashemite running a Palestinian country, if you would. And the pilot is from a tribe that is very powerful in Jordan. And they do want him back and should get him back. Of course, they have got a difficult decision with this woman that ISIS wants released.
She is a sister, we're told, of a fellow who started one of the terrorist organizations that has melded into ISIS. So that's probably why they are focused on her.
BLITZER: Yes. She was the sister of one of the ISIS in Iraq leaders back in 2005. ISIS in Iraq eventually became ISIS, as we know.
And they have got their own problems with al Qaeda. It would be al Qaeda in Iraq. That was the original group that became ISIS.
I want you to stand by. There's a lot more to discuss. I know you are well-briefed on what's going on.
Much more with Senator Risch right after this.
BLITZER: Back with Republican Senator Jim Risch. He is a member of the Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee. We're discussing what's going on with the so-called ISIS prisoner swap, other breaking news we are following right now.
I'm going to play a little clip. This is the president of the United States. This is what he said when he agreed -- I'm sure he personally signed off on that prisoner swap, five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. This is what he said then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if, in fact, they are engaging in activities that threaten our defenses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you have confidence too?
RISCH: Well, I have confidence we can go after them.
I think probably the better statement would have been, I have confidence that we will be going after them, because were -- a lot of us were very critical of this.
BLITZER: But they were handed over to the government of Qatar.
BLITZER: And supposedly the government there was going to watch these five guys.
RISCH: I don't have any confidence in that at all.
We have done this before. The countries do not have the kind of security that we do. They have lost these guys before. Lots of them have gone back to the fight. This was fully predictable. And it isn't over yet. There's five of them altogether. BLITZER: All right, this is hypothetical, I know. Let's hope it
doesn't happen. But the U.S. is launching all sorts of airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And Jordan was one of the coalition partners whose F-16 went down over Syria. That's why that Jordanian pilot presumably is now in the hands of ISIS, assuming he is still alive.
Hypothetically, and let's hope it never happens, a U.S. F-16 goes down over Syria or Iraq and they capture an American pilot. Would you engage in negotiations indirectly with ISIS to bring that American pilot home?
RISCH: I think that almost always administrations do engage in negotiations. Frequently, it isn't face to face. Frequently, it's through other intermediaries, other countries, other people who would do that.
I would think that if we have an American down, America is going to make every effort they can to get it back.
BLITZER: Even negotiating with a terrorist organization?
RISCH: Whether it's negotiation, whether it's rescue, whatever it is, the president of the United States...
BLITZER: But rescue -- rescue, I understand. But making a deal with ISIS, in other words, releasing ISIS prisoners in exchange for that American pilot, is that something you think would be wise?
RISCH: Well, it depends.
Obviously, it's going to depend on what they are wanting for the person, whether you are able to negotiate a deal that doesn't have strings attached to it. There's a lot of different...
BLITZER: What about paying money for that American pilot?
RISCH: Well, again, we have a very strong policy against paying ransom, be it for military or be it for civilians.
In fact, that's actually helpful to us, believe ISIS, as you know, makes a lot of money from kidnappings. They are more interested in kidnapping people from other countries, particularly European countries. They are very generous and very quick to pay ransom. The United States doesn't do that.
BLITZER: And the more ransom they get, the more incentive they have to go ahead and kidnap others.
RISCH: Obviously. No question about it.
BLITZER: Let's talk about ISIS right now. I know you are well- briefed on what's going on. Is the U.S. and its coalition partners making any headway in degrading and eventually destroying ISIS? RISCH: I think they are making progress in doing that.
Reports are -- and this is open source -- that we have taken a toll on the leadership. If you watch what's going on with this leadership swap right now, this was done in the United States, they would be calling...
BLITZER: The ISIS leadership?
RISCH: The ISIS leadership swap that's going on with Jordan and with Japan, whether you call it a swap or potential swap, if this was done in the United States, you would call it a Keystone Cops operation. It's horrible, what's happening.
BLITZER: Is ISIS losing right now? We know they lost in Kobani, that town in Syria. Kurdish fighters apparently have taken over Kobani. But as far as I know, they are still in control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, nearly two million people there. The Iraqi army just ran away as soon as ISIS came in.
RISCH: They did.
There are things going on right now as far as taking back that city and others. What they need to do is engage the Kurds. The Kurds have been very, very good. They are fierce fighters. They have actually been very good friends of ours. We haven't had issues with the Kurds. If you are going to arm somebody, if you're going to engage somebody, my vote goes to the Kurds.
BLITZER: Is the U.S. directly arming the Kurds? Or is it still going through Baghdad?
RISCH: It has to go through Baghdad, which is very unfortunate, because, as you know, there's -- the relationship between Baghdad and the Kurds is testy at best.
BLITZER: Yes. I know the Kurds always complain to me about that as well.
RISCH: Me, too.
BLITZER: They are very good allies of the United States.
RISCH: They are very good allies.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Senator, for coming in.
RISCH: You bet.
BLITZER: Senator Jim Risch of Idaho.
Just ahead, what is ISIS waiting for? Why no word on the fate of its hostages? Our terror experts, they are standing by.
And the anger we saw in Ferguson, Missouri reignites in a shoving and shouting match between police and citizens. Stand by.
BLITZER: We're following these urgent efforts under way right now to save the lives of two ISIS hostages, possibly facing execution literally at any time.
Efforts to trade the men for a female terrorist imprisoned in Jordan appears to have stalled, as officials await proof that one of the hostages, a Jordanian F-16 fighter pilot, is in fact alive.
Let's get some more.
Joining us, our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, our national security analyst Fran Townsend, and our CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.
Phil, the deadline was today. There has still been no proof of life that this F-16 fighter pilot is alive. What does that mean to you?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I think you have to look at this and say, we're going down a road where we don't have much of a map.
The longer we go down this road, the more concern you got to become not just about the prisoner swap, but, Wolf, you mentioned the lack of proof of life. You have got to transport this lady from Jordan, the captured terrorist from 2005, if you want to do the transfer. You have got to figure out a crossing point that both sides are comfortable with. You have to come up with a protocol where ISIS says we're sure that you are not going to follow us once you do the handoff.
As time goes on, you got to look at this and say it's not just about whether they can meet the prisoner swap in time. It's about whether all these mechanics will fall in place as well. And you have got to be concerned.
BLITZER: You certainly do, because it's so complicated.
Paul, it seems like Jordan is doing everything to secure the release of their pilot. But ISIS, at least so far, hasn't been responsive at all. What is your analysis? What's going on?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, that's right, Wolf.
And not only have they not been responsive, but they haven't even acknowledged the Jordanian offer to do a prisoner swap for the pilot. As far as ISIS is concerned, the swap on the table is between the Japanese hostage and Sajida al-Rishawi. And, obviously, that would be a nonstarter from the Jordanian point of view, so far from clear if any deal can be done here.
I think that's kind of quite surprising, because it would be a big propaganda coup from ISIS if they could get this woman back. It could suggest, unfortunately, that this Jordanian pilot is already dead.
BLITZER: What do you think, Fran? Because this -- it looks pretty somber right now.
TOWNSEND: It does. Wolf, I was saying last night, without the proof of life, you know, you've sort of got to wonder if the hostages aren't already dead. But the waiting game is in some ways -- it has both advantages and disadvantages for ISIS, right? Because the advantage is it keeps attention on them. We're still talking about it, we're still watching and waiting.
The disadvantage is all of the things that Phil Mudd talked about, you give the Jordanians and other intelligence services time to set up on what could be a possible transfer. And so -- but I must tell you on balance, I am very pessimistic about the fate of the hostages the longer this goes on.
BLITZER: Because Philip Mudd, a lot of the analysts have said to me, from ISIS's perspective, this is a huge win either way. If they get this terrorist, this female terrorist back, that's a propaganda win. If they don't -- if they get ahead -- we hope it doesn't happen -- they behead the F-16 pilot or the Japanese journalist, they put that out there on social media, that's also a propaganda win for them.
What's your analysis?
MUDD: Sort of. Halfway. There's another point that might be a victory for them. And that is if this doesn't work, you know, Jordanians have a monarchy. And the monarchy's responsibility in the eyes of the people is to ensure the security of the citizenry.
And in this case I'm sure there's going to be questions. There already have been by the father of pilot about what responsibility the Jordanian government has.
But one more point long-term, Wolf. And that is, you mentioned earlier in the show that ISIS has lost Kobani. I'm sure we're going to have citizens there talking about the brutality of ISIS.
Long-term terror groups going back to the 1990s and before fail when they try to transition from terror to governments. Al Qaeda is once again proving with this brutality that they can't get out of sort of the fringe of terrorism and get into the core work of governance. And I think long-term that's going to turn potential recruits off.
BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, is this a win/win/win situation for ISIS right now? No matter what happens, they're going to win in terms of their own propaganda?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, who are we talking about right now? And we're talking about ISIS. They took ten feet tall. They're negotiating with a major world power, Japan. They're negotiating with a major regional power Jordan. Their followers believe that ISIS is doing everything they can to get back this ISIS living legend, in jail in Jordan, Sajida al-Rishawi.
So from their point of view, this is certainly a winning strategy, perhaps, to extend these negotiations on. Of course, it's absolutely awful for the families concerned.
BLITZER: You remember that incident in Amman, Jordan, when those terrorists, those suicide bombers went into that hotel in Amman. It was a beautiful hotel. There was a wedding there. She was there. She had the suicide vest. Her partner had a suicide vest. His exploded killing 60 people or so, injuring hundreds of others. She tried to let hers go, but it didn't function. They captured her. But that was an awful situation. Were you in the White House at that time?
TOWNSEND: I was, Wolf. And I can remember working sort of the intelligence and the operations, the cooperation between the U.S. and the Jordanian governments. We were sharing intelligence, real time. And, you know, it really made us reassess the vulnerability of soft targets. You know, this is -- it was really that attack that came -- that generated, if you will, particularly overseas, people not allowing cars to drive up to the entryway of hotels, people not loitering in front of hotels or in hotel lobbies. I mean, this was a real seminal event.
And she, this suicide bomber that ISIS is asking for, really represents the worst of the worst. She is exactly the kind that, if released, if swapped, she will kill. She will go back out, and she will kill.
BLITZER: What do you make of that, Phil? What do you make if she's released? How much of a danger do you think she really would be if she winds up in the hands of ISIS, whether in Syria or Iraq?
MUDD: I think there's a potential danger, as Fran says. She goes back to the battlefield. I think the bigger concern is what it gives ISIS, propaganda-wise. It's not just a win in an unprecedented stage that is a terror group. In 2015, negotiating sort of directly with the Jordanians and the Japanese. It's a chance for ISIS to say they are the defenders in a way of traditional values. They didn't just bring back a terrorist. They brought back a woman who is at the core of the family in traditional Middle Eastern society. That would be a big win for them.
BLITZER: And your analysis, Paul?
CRUICKSHANK: Yes, I echo that, absolutely. It would be a big win for ISIS. I don't think they'll -- they will use her in some kind of terrorist attack. I think they would use her for propaganda purposes, roll out the red carpet when she returns, if she does return, and use her in videos, moving forward to try and recruit yet more people to come and join their struggle.
BLITZER: Paul, Fran, Phil, guys, thanks very much. We have much more ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM as the world waits to learn the fate of these two ISIS hostages. We're staying on top of this story. Plus, chaos breaks out at a meeting that was supposed to ease
tensions between citizens and police in Ferguson, Missouri. So what sparked this wild scene?
BLITZER: A meeting in St. Louis to help ease tensions between citizens and police after the Michael Brown shooting turned instead into a pushing, shoving and cursing melee. Started as a confrontation between a woman in the audience and an official with the city's police union, Jeff Roorda, who was wearing a wristband in support of Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Mr. Chairman, how about some order here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about you keep order in your police department? How about you keep order in your police department, Roorda? What, you just going to shoot people? Is that what you want to do? Is that your alternative, pull out your gun?
JEFF ROORDA, ST. LOUIS POLICE UNION: Excuse me. First of all, you do not got to tell me my function.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what I'm talking about (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Let's get (EXPLETIVE DELETED) here. Why don't you get your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You white supremacist (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Get out of here, man. Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here with that (EXPLETIVE DELETED). (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you police. You're a piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You're a piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You're a piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED), Roorda. Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here. See, that's what you want, Roorda. That's what you want, Roorda. St. Louis finest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about all of this. Joining us are CNN anchor Don Lemon; the community activist John Gaskin; our CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin; and the Missouri state senator Maria Chappelle-Nidal. To all of you, thanks very much for joining us. We did invite Jeff Roorda to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM today. He did decline. He was on CNN earlier today, on NEW DAY.
John Gaskin, this fight, it's raw, the video we saw. But take us back. Does it take us back to those moments in November when the grand jury there in Missouri decided not to indict the police officer, Darren Wilson; also to the days in August following the death of Michael Brown? What's your analysis of what happened last night?
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Wolf, what we see in that video is merely a microcosm of the deep racial divide between law enforcement and the African-American community that continues to widen in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.
What I see is really despicable in that video. It certainly does not help progress. It certainly does not move us in a direction of racial harmony or towards reforms.
But I think your viewers should be aware that Jeff Roorda by no means -- is certainly not an angel in this particular situation.
I think we should all be careful considering that emotions are raw right now regarding optics. I think we should be sensitive regarding what we say in the public, what we wear that could potentially be inflammatory when you are in an environment like that, where emotions are running high. So that we don't find ourselves upstaging a situation to cause a situation that we see in this video this afternoon.
BLITZER: Don, I'm anxious to get your reaction to this particularly jarring chant. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: St. Louis finest. That's St. Louis finest. St. Louis P.D., KKK. How many kids you done killed today?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Now this is at a meeting that's supposed to try to ease tensions between police and the local community. What's your reaction when you hear that -- those kinds of words thrown at this police union official?
LEMON: Any time you call someone a name, you lose the argument. It's as simple as that. And it's embarrassing.
I don't know -- I wasn't there. And I don't know if the cameras caught everything that happened. I don't know who attacked whom. There are some people saying that Roorda attacked the woman; the woman attacked him. It matters, listen, if they're going to try to prosecute someone.
But it doesn't matter in the big picture. Everyone is losing the big picture here, and it's devolving into this. But this is -- it's embarrassing to hear what's happening on tape. You don't want to call people names. That's not -- that's not what this is all about.
BLITZER: Sunny, we heard Jeff Roorda. He said earlier today, like all Americans, he has a right to free speech. He believes that the police officer, Darren Wilson, he wasn't charged by the grand jury. The federal government didn't have enough evidence, the Justice Department here in Washington, to charge him with any civil rights violation.
So he says this guy didn't do anything wrong. Why not support him and wear that wristband?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think certainly he has the right to wear the wristband. I think what the larger issue is here that this meeting was a meeting to call for public commentary about whether or not they should implement a policy and a police review board, a citizen police review board.
And I've got to tell you, there is clearly a crisis of confidence between communities of color and the police department in Ferguson and in other jurisdictions in Missouri. And, you know, it's very clear that these police civilian review boards are an appropriate measure, one of many measures to be able to sort of try to bridge that gap.
One can be in favor of police but still be against police brutality. So, I'm very surprised that he was there to take the stance that police review boards are -- civilian police review boards are inappropriate, because, Wolf, if you look at the stats, three- fourths of the largest cities in the United States have these civilian review boards. And they have been found to be able to ease the tensions, to be able to build communities. There's a lot of integrity there in the community for these police review boards. There's a police review board in New York. There's one in D.C. where I practice.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: But, Sunny, didn't he say he was for the review board? He just wanted order in the meeting. I thought that he was for the review board but just want order in that meeting.
HOSTIN: No. I mean, my understanding is that there were police officers -- the reason this sort of blew up like this is because there were police officers there that were testifying against the need for these civilian police board. And that's friction -- that debate has been around in law enforcement forever. And so, as a police union official, Roorda was also there. He basically said that there were all these anti-police radicals that have been allowed to testify, yet, his officers who were not in support of the review boards weren't allowed the same -- given the same respect.
BLITZER: Let me get Maria Chappelle-Nadal into this conversation. You are a state senator. You saw the video. What was your reaction?
MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL (D), MISSOURI STATE SENATOR: First of all, I have to tell you, I have known Jeff Roorda as some years as we have served both in the Missouri general assembly. I have to say to your audience, I'm pretty sure his behavior last evening and previously is not reflective of the rank and file members of the St. Louis metropolitan police department.
I will also tell you that there are best practices that most police officers put into place, including de-escalation. And as a former police officer, Jeff Roorda, while he was terminated for presenting a false report, he should know that de-escalation is one of the best practices that should be exercised by all people.
But again, this is not the first time he has been aggressive. In 2010, he tried to attack the floor leader in the Missouri House of Representatives. So, Jeff Roorda has a lot to answer to his rank and file right now. And I really think that he should be dismissed from his position.
BLITZER: All right. Let me just get John Gaskin.
John, the man who was behind the camera, he is an activist, frequently records run-ins between Ferguson community and police. He was arrested, we're told, during a protest back in October, this according to local reports. I take it he is the guy who is shouting all the words at Jeff Roorda.
What was his role in all of this? Was he agitating? Was he simply participating? Give us your analysis.
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, I can certainly say that type of language does not help things. As I just mentioned, as activists, we have an obligation to carry on the legacy of Dr. King. That's in a way that's non-violent, in a way that's peaceful.
And, you know, tensions are running very high, emotions are very raw. We should be very conscious of what we're saying. We should not be using slurs towards each other. We should be civil at all times. We should treat individuals in a way that we want to be treated, especially in a legislative hearing such as that.
BLITZER: All right. John Gaskin, guys, and everyone, thanks very much. Don Lemon, Sunny Hostin, John Gaskin and Maria Chappelle- Nadal -- a lively, shall we say, meeting last night in St. Louis.
Still ahead -- by the way, I want to remind our viewers, Don Lemon, 10:00 tonight with "CNN TONIGHT".
Still ahead, can a prisoner swap deal be reached in time to save the lives of two ISIS hostages? Much more on the breaking news, that's coming up.
LEMON: Some Republicans are grumbling that likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush is too moderate to be the GOP nominee, but is he the most conservative Bush of all?
Let's talk about that and more. Joining us, our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, and CNN.com senior enterprise reporter Stephen Collinson.
Guys, thanks very much for joining us.
Stephen, you wrote a terrific article on CNN.com, explaining that Jeb Bush's record as governor is a lot more conservative than a lot of people might think.
STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN.COM SENIOR ENTERPRISE REPORTER: We took a look at the two times he spent as governor of Florida. And what we found out is that, objectively, he has a pretty conservative record. He used muscular executive power to enforce solutions on immigration -- sorry, not immigration, on social issues, on education. He took on the teachers unions. And on slashing the size of government and slashing taxes. So, he was really quite a conservative.
What's happened as he left office is that the party has moved to the right. We've seen the rise of the Tea Party, populist conservatives like Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz and some grassroots conservatives don't see him as a conservative.
BLITZER: What they have -- the problem they have with him is on immigration, is he's more moderate on immigration reform, on what's called Common Core, this education, these guidelines. These standards out there, a lot of conservatives don't like.
COLLINSON: But, if you talk to anyone in the grassroots of the party, you talk to people of the Tea Party, Common Core is even more vehemently opposed by conservatives that his support for immigration reform. So, the question for Jeb Bush is going to be, can he get his conservative record out there before he's overwhelmed by, you know, criticism of his positions on immigration and Common Core.
BLITZER: Gloria, you -- I just want to point out, Gloria, you have a terrific column also on CNN.com, talking about not only Jeb Bush but Mitt Romney. And this time around, looking towards 2016. It might not be a race necessarily to get that conservative base.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you're always going to have to try to get the conservative base. But it's both Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush have now cautioned, you can't do everything to win the primary because you might lose the general election. Nobody knows that better than Mitt Romney, if you can say and remember self-deportation and how that hurt him on immigration with Hispanic voters, you know that, that's going to be a huge problem.
So, both of them are saying, wait a minute, let's not make that same mistake again. I personally believe it's a sign that Republicans have wised up a bit. They have a field that includes a lot of governors with a lot of executive experience and Hillary Clinton, Brianna covers, ought to take them seriously because this is not 2012.
BLITZER: Brianna, speaking of Hillary Clinton, now, there's word a formal announcement or an informal announcement she's seeking the Democratic presidential nomination may not take place for a few more months.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Whether it's sort of informal or formal, the idea that hello, Hillary Clinton is now officially a candidate, that can be pushed back. And what's fascinating about this, Wolf, is you have for the second time in two months, this internal debate over when she should launch her campaign really coming out to the public. You had some folks saying, you know, may it should be December, how about January, February. They lost out to the folks who said, let's do spring, let's do April. And now, you have April versus July. So, spring versus summer.
And this really -- I'm told by sources that I've been talking to many of them today, that this could really go either way. You have people who are saying, you know what, wait, let's wait until July. Stay above the fray, don't get too political, preserve your good approval ratings and let Republicans take aim at each other. And they're also saying, you know, maybe let the president's approval ratings, which is starting to rebound, go even higher, since her presidency or presidential run would be seen as an extension of his time in office.
But you have people who are saying, you know what, no, get in there now. Don't take for granted.
BORGER: And for these charges, Mitt Romney criticizing her.
KEILAR: They're saying, you know what, back yourself against these attacks. Unleash the money because you won't have donors who are like throwing money out there on speculation. And really, it also speaks to Hillary Clinton's national inclination. She didn't like getting in so early last time. I think she would like to hold off until she doesn't have to.
BORGER: She's not going to be crowned. She doesn't have a serious opponent at this point. But she has to, I believe, at some point she has to get in there because the race starting without her.
BORGER: If she doesn't respond to her critics vocally, you know, from her own mouth as opposed to surrogates, that might -- that might be a problem.
BLITZER: Let's say she runs. All of us assume she's going to run. I assume she's probably going to be the Democratic presidential nominee. But, you know, funny things happen.
Let's say it's a race between her and Jeb Bush.
COLLINSON: It would be fascinating. We've got the whole drama of the Clinton-Bush family. You might -- you know, it would take the issues dynasty off the table. That's something --
BORGER: Dynasty. We call it dynasty.
COLLINSON: Sorry, whatever.
KEILAR: I like how you see it.
COLLINSON: Something that troubles, you know, a lot of voters, is the fact that we've got the same two families running for president again. We might, who knows, have a real argument between --
BLITZER: There could be a real battle in the key battleground state like Florida, right? He's a former governor of Florida. He's popular in Florida. That might not necessarily go Democratic, right? COLLINSON: You know, that might bring some of these battleground
states back on the table that Mitt Romney struggled last time.
BLITZER: All right.
KEILAR: There are some who say she needs the fight that let's say a Jeb Bush and another candidate is going to get and that she shouldn't be taking this for granted. She should go now instead of being essentially coronated.
BLITZER: We've got to leave on that note. Guys, thanks very much. Good discussion, as usual.
Remember you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow. You can always watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.
Thanks again. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.