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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Congressman Peter King; U.S. Hostage Killed; ISIS Threat; U.S. Confirms Death of U.S. ISIS Hostage; Netanyahu: 'Profound Disagreement with U.S.'; Obama Finalizing Requests for ISIS War Authority
Aired February 10, 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 HOST: Happening now: new ISIS instructions. The terrorists are sharing secrets with recruits to help them sneak into Syria and join their campaign of brutality and murder.
Heartbreaking e-mail -- new details on the message sent by ISIS to Kayla Mueller's family confirming the U.S. hostage's death. We just got in new comments on that from President Obama.
Americans escape. The United States is preparing to abandon yet another embassy in the volatile Middle East. Will that be a blow to the war on terror?
And plea for peace. As the fighting in Ukraine intensifies, President Obama personally urges Russia's President Vladimir Putin to end his aggression and agree to a deal.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking now, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that ISIS is moving forward with a plot to kidnap more Westerners to replenish their dwindling supply of hostages, this after confirmation that the last known American held by ISIS is indeed dead. The White House says there's still no evidence that 26-year-old Kayla Mueller was killed by a Jordanian airstrike, as ISIS claims, but the administration says there's no doubt that the terrorists are to blame for her death.
After six months of U.S. military action against ISIS, President Obama is about to formally ask Congress to authorize the use of military force, the first war vote in more than a decade.
Congressman Peter King is standing by. He's a leading member of the House Homeland Security Committee. We also have our team of correspondents and analysts. They are all covering the news that is breaking right now.
First, let's go to our justice correspondent Pamela Brown.
Pamela, we just heard from President Obama in a new interview.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. President Obama speaking about Kayla Mueller, Wolf, told BuzzFeed in that interview that not paying ransom is "as tough as anything I do." We learned today the pictures sent to the Mueller family by ISIS apparently don't reveal how or when Kayla died, Kayla Mueller died, but one official I just spoke with says the U.S. intelligence community is close to knowing those details.
BROWN (voice-over): Calling themselves heartbroken, the family of 26- year-old American hostage Kayla Mueller said today they have received confirmation that their daughter is dead.
Her emotional aunt says she brought joy to everyone around her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world grieves with us. The world mourns with us. The world wants to be more like Kayla. And if that is her legacy and the footprint that she leaves on the world, then that is a wonderful thing.
BROWN: Captors sent the family a private message over the weekend, including pictures that were used by forensics examiners to verify her death.
CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: They're stopping short of saying that ISIS murdered her, but one way or another, ISIS is responsible for her death.
BROWN: The new information does not clarify how and when Mueller died, though ISIS claimed that Mueller was killed in a Jordanian airstrike last Friday. At the time, it offered no proof other than these images of a destroyed building.
Today, the White House cast doubt on that claim and made it clear ISIS is ultimately responsible for her death.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The information that we have is that there's no evidence of civilians in the target area prior to the coalition strike taking place. And that certainly would call into question the claims that are made by ISIL.
BROWN: Kayla dedicated her life to international causes, eventually helping Syrian refugees on the Turkish border. But what brought her to Syrian city of Aleppo, where she was kidnapped in August of 2013, remains a mystery.
KATHLEEN DAY, FRIEND OF MUELLER FAMILY: Some people told us that Kayla tried to teach the guards crafts, to make origami, little cranes, little peace cranes, and that they told each other stories and they sang each other songs.
BROWN: The Mueller family today released a letter Kayla wrote in the spring of 2014 while in captivity, saying -- quote -- "If you could say that I suffered at all throughout this whole experience, it's only knowing how much suffering I have put you all through."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Kayla's letter to Marsha and Carl, she wrote: "I have come to see that there is good in every situation. Sometimes we just have to look for it." And right now that's what we're all trying to do.
BROWN: We learned that President Obama called the Mueller family on Sunday night to send his condolences.
Wolf, I have been asking officials today why ISIS treated Mueller's death differently, why they did not parade her around in videos like they have with the other American hostages. Officials say it could be because she's a woman and that ISIS was concerned doing that would hurt its messaging and perhaps its fund-raising and recruiting efforts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.
We're just getting in the recording of President Obama's new comments about the U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My immediate reaction is heartbreak.
I have been in touch with Kayla's family. She was an outstanding young woman and a great spirit. And I think that spirit will live on, I think the more people learn about her, the more they appreciate what she stood for and how it stands in contrast with the barbaric organization that held her captive.
But I don't think it's accurate, then, to say that the United States government hasn't done everything that we could. We devoted enormous resources and always devote enormous resources to freeing captives or hostages anywhere in the world.
And, you know, I deployed an entire operation at significant risk to rescue not only her, but the other individuals that had been held, and probably missed them by a day or two, precisely because we had that commitment. The one thing that we have held to is a policy of not paying ransoms with an organization like ISIL.
And the reason is, is that, once we start doing that, not only are we financing their slaughter of innocent people and strengthening their organization, but we're actually making Americans even greater targets for future kidnappings.
So, you know, it's as tough as anything that I do, having a conversation with parents who understandably want, by any means necessary, for their children to be safe. And we will do everything we can, short of providing an incentive for future Americans to be...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That interview the president just granted to Ben Smith of BuzzFeed speaking out on this horrible, horrible death of this 26- year-old young woman. ISIS terrorists are distributing a how-to handbook. We're also told
it give recruits some very specific instructions. It's yet another chilling aspect of the group's strategy, including its new plot to kidnap yet more Western hostages, including more Americans.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is joining us now.
You're getting a new estimate, Jim, first of all, on ISIS' overall strength.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Wolf, this is from a senior U.S. intelligence official. And that is that ISIS is now up to 20,000, this is foreign fighters who have gone to Iraq and Syria for ISIS and for other groups, principally for ISIS, however. That's up from 19,000 last month, 18,000 the previous, so going up still incrementally but still rising, that despite, of course, the U.S.-led air campaign and greater efforts along those borders to stop the flow of foreign fighters.
The number that is going down of course is the number of Western hostages in ISIS' hands. And the concern of some U.S. intelligence officials is that ISIS will try to replenish the numbers by carrying operations outside of Syria.
JOHN CANTLIE, ISIS HOSTAGE: I'm John Cantlie.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): British hostage John Cantlie, frequently seen in ISIS propaganda videos, is one of the last Western hostages held by the terror group. The others, from American journalist James Foley now to aid worker Kayla Mueller, dead while in ISIS' hands.
Now renewed concerns ISIS may attempt to replenish its supply of hostages by abducting foreigners outside of Syria.
JAMES REESE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It would be easy for ISIS members to go up to these refugee areas, target a Westerner, whether journalist or aid worker, and try to conduct a kidnapping within the area of those refugee camps and just pull them back into Syria.
SCIUTTO: As U.S. and coalition warplanes continue to strike ISIS fighters in Syria, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he will not stand in the coalition's way. In an exclusive interview with the BBC's Jeremy Bowen, Assad hinted at even some limited cooperation, saying his country receives information about U.S. operations over Syria via third parties such as Iraq.
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: That through -- through third party, more than one party, Iraq and other countries, sometimes, they convey message, general message, but there is nothing tactical.
JEREMY BOWEN, BBC: They don't tell you, we're going to be bombing Raqqa at 10:00 this evening; please keep out of the way? AL-ASSAD: We knew about the campaign before it started, but we didn't know about the detail.
SCIUTTO: A senior U.S. military official tells CNN, "We do not communicate directly or indirectly with the Assad regime."
A U.S. intelligence official says that the number of fighters traveling to Iraq and Syria has risen to 19,000 from 16,000 in November, despite efforts by neighboring countries to stem the flow of militants.
A new ISIS manual tells potential recruits how to evade detection when crossing the border: Avoid looking nervous. Shaking hands, rapid breathing, cold sweats and lack of eye contact can all be detected as nervous behavior by trained security officials. And there may be guards on the long Syrian/Turkish border. Look around. And if the coast is clear, then run as fast as they can into Syria.
SCIUTTO: Now on to Yemen, the U.S. Embassy suspending all consular services, this the latest step in reducing both personnel and services on the ground over the last several weeks.
Yemeni officials also telling CNN that meetings were held today with Western diplomats to discuss embassy safety. Wire services reporting the U.S. is moving to shut down the embassy, State Department saying only that they are closely monitoring the situation.
I will say, Wolf, that a senior military official said if that is shut down, counterterror ops will continue there. But look at this. If Yemen shuts down, this will be now four countries in the region, four crisis countries, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, without any U.S. embassy presence.
That's not just about consular services, visas, et cetera. That's about diplomatic contacts. It's about intelligence gathering, military contacts. These four of the countries U.S. intelligence and counterterror officials most worried about, four failed states with no U.S. presence. That would be a major handicap in the region.
BLITZER: It certainly is and there could be more down the road as well. What a region it is right now. Jim Sciutto, thank you.
Let's get some more. Joining us, Congressman Peter King of New York. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security committee. He's the chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and intelligence.
That's a disaster what is going on in Yemen right now. And it's so bad for the United States because that's the home of the AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the sophisticated bomb-makers. That's a huge threat to the United States and if the U.S. has to shut down that embassy and pull out, that would be a disaster.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: It would certainly be very damaging and yet this is the country that President Obama pointed to several months ago as being a success.
And I would say, in the short term, AQAP is more of a threat to the homeland than ISIS is, because they have been focusing for years on trying to find ways to get into the U.S., to get explosives into the U.S. by planes, even using scientists and doctors to find ways to get around the detection systems.
BLITZER: Because they have that master bomb-maker there who is building bombs supposedly that can go through security systems. Yesterday, Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me that they are pretty close to developing those hard-to-detect bombs.
How close are they?
KING: AQAP has been working on this for years. That's really as far as I can go.
But they have certainly made it clear, from our intelligence gathering, that they want to find ways -- they have been doing this for anybody of years now -- to get around U.S. security, U.S. intelligence. And AQAP, they have tried this before, the underwear bombing in 2009, the cartridge attempted bombing in 2010. No, they definitely want to attack the mainland.
BLITZER: And so if the U.S. has to pull out of Yemen, presumably, drone strikes will continue, but they will be launched from Oman or other places in that area. They won't be launched from Yemen, if there's a totally hostile regime there.
KING: No. No matter how we launch the drone strikes, they cannot be as effective as if we were working in cooperation with the Yemeni government. This is a real failure. It's a real loss and it's going to definitely hurt us.
BLITZER: What can you tell us about the way this 26-year-old young woman was killed, presumably by ISIS, although ISIS claims she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, Kayla Mueller? What do you know about that?
KING: Well, first of all, no matter how it happened, ISIS is responsible. They killed her.
And whether it's through a bombing, which I doubt -- but even if it were, ISIS had her there. ISIS is the one responsible. And I really can't go beyond that as to what -- actually how she died or where she died.
BLITZER: Have you been briefed though, without necessarily releasing classified information? Have been you briefed on when she died and how she died?
KING: I have not been. No, I have not been.
BLITZER: So they haven't told your committee or anything like that?
KING: Not yet. Again, I just came back about an hour ago or so ago.
KING: I have not been.
BLITZER: Supposedly close to getting that information. They have confirmed she's definitely dead. They told the family that. They have confirmed that. But they are not saying how she was killed or when she was killed. But they are getting close to learning that.
There were these rescue operations to get her and another American hostage, but those rescue operations failed, clearly.
KING: Yes. One of the problems we have, Wolf, is we have very little intelligence on the ground in that region.
And that's one of the consequences of President Obama withdrawing all of our troops from Iraq, because it's hard to maintain full-scale intelligence operations unless you have military security and military protection. And so that means we virtually have nothing on the ground in Iraq or in Syria and, as a result of that, that's why it's so difficult to launch these rescue operations.
BLITZER: Is ISIS losing right now? Because you hear some U.S. officials insisting they are on the run in Iraq, they're losing. They lost Kobani in Syria. What is your assessment of where this war against ISIS stands right now?
KING: I would say right now ISIS is beyond where it was back in August.
BLITZER: What does that mean, beyond?
KING: They have gained.
BLITZER: They are stronger now than they were?
KING: I mean they are stronger now, yes.
First of all, there have more fighters, as we saw before. Secondly, while they have been blunted or stopped at least for now in Iraq, the fact is, they are still gaining territory in Syria. The fact is, they have more fighters, 16,000 a year ago, 20,000 now. That's a 25 percent increase in foreign fighters there.
BLITZER: Those are just the foreign fighters. There are a lot of local fighters with them.
BLITZER: Do you have any idea how many local fighters, Iraqis and Syrians have joined ISIS?
KING: I have heard various numbers. But they have a good number of fighters.
This is far beyond anything al Qaeda even came close to. That's why this is such a different time. This is almost a nation state that ISIS controls.
BLITZER: They say they are the Islamic State, the caliphate, if you will. But they have a lot of cash, too, right?
KING: They have cash. They were getting it. That's slowed down a bit, but the oil reserves that they were plundering, the banks that they were robbing, they were bringing in loads of money every day.
When you think it only took of a few thousand dollars to sponsor the attacks on 9/11 and you think of the billions of dollars that ISIS has, we realize what we're up against.
BLITZER: We know that the Kurds are trying to destroy ISIS. The Jordanian government is trying. The Jordanian military, King Abdullah obviously very, very angry over the brutal murder of that Jordanian F- 16 fighter pilot. The UAE is involved.
But do you have confidence in central government in Baghdad, the government of Haider al-Abadi, the new prime minister, that the Shiite-led government there is going to get the job done and destroy ISIS in Iraq?
KING: Yes, but first let me say King Abdullah deserves all of the credit in the world. What an ally he's been over the years. Doesn't get the credit he deserves.
As far as Iraq, no. Iraq is still not cooperating the way they should. And that again is why I think we need a military presence in Iraq to have leverage and pressure on Iraq, to make sure, for instance, they are cooperating with the Kurds, to make sure that the weapons that we send to Baghdad go to the Kurds.
BLITZER: Are you going to vote for this legislation authorizing the use of military force that the president supposedly as early as tomorrow will put forward?
KING: I want to vote for it. I haven't seen it yet. I will not vote for anything though that put restrictions on the president.
I'm not going to vote for any legislation that says that we cannot use ground troops. That, to me, takes away the constitutional right of the commander in chief and no president should want to give up that right. Once we do that, we're just to me acknowledging ultimate defeat.
BLITZER: What are you hearing about that legislation, about the language that the president will propose? Does it rule out the possibility of U.S. ground troops, combat ground troops, so-called boots on the ground getting involved in this war on ISIS?
KING: I don't know what the president is going to submit.
I know that many Democrats in the House and Senate are insisting that language be in there. As Republicans, I doubt if many Republicans, though, would vote for that. I don't know what the White House is going to do. But to me, it's taken the president a long time to get this to us and that also to me follows up when he said the other day when he was being interviewed, and he said that terrorism is really not the threat that some people think it is.
After watching what happened to that poor young woman, her being killed, how can he say that climate change is more important than this? The president's job as commander in chief is to protect the American people and really protect the world against vicious terrorists like ISIS.
BLITZER: All right, Peter King, I want you to stand by.
We have more to discuss. There are new developments coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Much more with Peter King, the congressman, right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with Congressman Peter King. He's a leading member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Congressman, we're getting new information right now about the crisis in Ukraine, the last-ditch effort, as you know, to try to get some sort of cease-fire going.
President Obama made a phone call today to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Stand by for a moment.
I want to go to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's joining us from Minsk in Belarus. That's where those talks are going to be taking place right now.
Nic, set the scene for us, because these could be critically important.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, very critical at this time, Wolf.
President Obama has told President Putin that there will be a cost for Russia if it continues to support the pro-Russian, the Russian-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine, that Russia has got to stop supporting them with troops, has got to stop supporting them with money, with weapons.
He said that these talks in Minsk are an opportunity to do that. He said that the territorial integrity of Ukraine is paramount, that this is an opportunity here in Minsk for a peaceful solution. What we have had here in the last few hours is a low-level meeting between the Ukrainians, the Russians and the separatists and European monitors who monitor the situation in Ukraine.
Now, a little while ago, the Russian state news agency, TASS, said that there was a cease-fire agreement. That has subsequently been knocked down. But that very much, if you will, sets the tone of Russia sort of trying to already set the agenda here before the real talks get under way later today, later Wednesday here.
You have German Chancellor Angela Merkel arriving here later today, the French president, Francois Hollande. And what we have been hearing from the Germans and other diplomats is there are a lot of worries and a lot of concerns about this. And the German foreign minister, just like President Obama, telling all parties that this is an opportunity to get peace, but they have got to come at it in good faith, Wolf. This is a long way, a long way from being done -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, will be there as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. We will see what happens in Minsk. We will check back with you. Nic, thanks very much.
You think the president is being tough enough with Putin right now?
KING: He has not been up until now.
And I would hope that after the phone conversation today, if the Russians do not do what has to be done in Minsk, that president does provide arms to the Ukrainians. To me, it's terrible allowing this type of offensive being carried out by the Russians and by their allies in Ukraine, their proxies in Ukraine against the Ukrainian people.
We owe it to them. And to me -- and you're finding more and more Democrats. This is not just a Republican issue. They find a broad consensus in the House and the Senate that believe that weapons should be...
BLITZER: But Angela Merkel opposes it.
KING: Yes, I'm surprised at that.
But, again, we can't let our policy be decided by Angela Merkel. We're the leaders of the free world. And one of the problems is when the president, the way he vacillates, he allows others to come in, whether it's King Abdullah in Jordan, whether it's Angela Merkel in Europe. The fact is, we have the major role to play and the president does not play it.
BLITZER: But the argument against supplying arms is that the Ukrainian military simply can't stand up to the Russians and the pro- Russian separatists. The U.S. is going to start providing arms that could wind up in the hands of the pro-Russian separatists, given the battlefield conditions over there, just like so many U.S. weapons wound up in the hands ISIS in Iraq. KING: But the Russians could always give their proxies those weapons anyway.
To me, I want to this as difficult for the Russians as possible. And if by arming the Ukrainians, they can make it difficult for the Russians, make the Russians suffer, make them pay a price, fine. If -- assuming the worst, that those weapons are lost, Russia is not going to be any stronger than it is today.
BLITZER: All right, Peter King, thanks very much for joining us.
KING: Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, so why did ISIS send Kayla Mueller's family private confirmation of her death, instead of posting gruesome photos for all the world to see? Our terrorism experts, they're standing by.
BLITZER: Grim confirmation today from the White House of the death of the American ISIS hostage, Kayla Mueller. President Obama says explaining to hostages' families that the U.S. will not pay ransom is one of the toughest things he does as president of the United States.
Let's get some more now. Joining us, our CNN intelligence and security analyst, Bob Baer; our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank; our military analyst, retired lieutenant general Mark Hertling; and CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd.
Philip, react to Peter King, the congressman, what he just told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He thinks the airstrikes not necessarily working all that effectively. He actually believes ISIS is stronger today than it was six months ago.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I disagree strongly from a couple of respects. First, we saw ISIS push back in Kobani, that big fight a few months ago, and now we have the Kurds and others saying that they're going to obtain the ground offensive against ISIS.
Let's go to something equally important, Wolf, and that is what we're seeing today, the ISIS ideological message. They made the mistake of murdering the Jordanian pilot. Now they've made the mistake of murdering an innocent female. I think if you look on the ground and you look at ideology, contrast it to where we were last summer, if you're sitting around in an ISIS campfire, you cannot say that you're doing well today.
BLITZER: General Hertling, the president acknowledged that it was thought that Kayla Mueller, the American humanitarian aid worker who was killed, had been present at the site of a failed rescue attempt, that they probably missed the U.S. Special Operations forces, missed them, her and another American, by maybe a day or two. Are you surprised that the president is coming out and saying this?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm a little surprised at that, Wolf. I think those kinds of operations should remain very secretive, but all of us who have been associated with those kind of operations know that the jackpots when you get the target are much fewer than the dry holes. And in this particular case, they came across a dry hole.
And it's just because it is so extremely difficult to get into a location and have everything go right and have it go perfectly. And I am a little surprised that the president talked about that.
BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, what's behind ISIS's thinking, sending proof only to the Mueller family that their daughter is dead, rather than releasing or posting some sort of video, as they've done with so many of the men that they've kidnapped and killed?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, Wolf, it's difficult to tell. But it might have been a way to try and back up their claims that they made last week, that she was killed. They're claiming that she was killed in an airstrike. Of course, there's been a lot of skepticism about that, and apparently, this photo doesn't prove one way or the other how she was killed.
But I think there's been some reluctance by ISIS in putting women on video and murdering them on video. We just haven't seen them yet -- that yet from this terrorist group. They may be calculating whether that would backfire with some of their supporters.
BLITZER: Bob Baer, the White House acknowledged today there's at least one, maybe more Americans still being held hostage in the region, in Syria specifically. We know of at least two Americans who are being held someplace in Syria. The FBI has missing persons bulletins on Austin Bennett Tice, who was taken in Damascus, Syria, August 13, 2012; and Kevin Patrick Dawes, who was taken in Syria, October 2012. Based on everything I've learned, they are still being held by somebody. We don't know if they're being held by ISIS, Nusra, the Syrian regime. What can you tell us about this? Because these are two Americans who are still missing, presumably in Syria right now.
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, if there's any good news in this, I doubt they're being held by the Islamic State, and they're held by a group that doesn't want to trade them to the Islamic State. You know, Tice could be held by the regime. That accusation has been out there. There's a lot of small Islamic groups that could be holding him and may, in fact, be negotiating to release them through Arab governments for money.
Remember, that as we've said over and over again, Syria is pretty much, when it comes to intelligence, a black hole; and a lot of it is speculation and a lot of guessing. The cell-phone systems are down. It's hard to get people in there. And it's such a quickly moving situation that intelligence is virtually impossible to collect.
BLITZER: Yes. The FBI describes Austin Tice as a freelance photojournalist and Kevin Patrick Dawes as a freelance photographer, both missing since 2012. We hope they're OK.
Phil Mudd, does the White House announcement that they've confirmed that Kayla Mueller is dead, that they've authenticated the death, the photos apparently that was sent to the parents by ISIS. But we don't know yet, at least they're saying, that they don't know yet when she was killed or how she was killed. What's going on here?
MUDD: I think this is an indication of the struggle ISIS is having to try to figure out how to justify the murder of an innocent woman. Contrast to where we were last fall, Wolf, ISIS is trying to energize the fringe in places like Europe and the United States who might be trying to decide which group to go out and join in a place like Syria and Iraq. So ISIS gets on air with highly publicized videos of the murder of innocent men.
In this case, ISIS just a week ago is trying to claim, through what I think is a fallacious argument, that a woman was killed, the only woman killed in an airstrike by a Jordanian air strike.
I think what we're seeing is the White House getting quiet justification or confirmation of the killing by ISIS, and ISIS is sitting back. And when I watch terrorists, they watch the media as much as we do. ISIS is sitting back and saying, "Wow, we don't -- we can't figure out how to dig ourselves out of this hole, so let's validate or let's confirm the murder privately, but let's say nothing publicly, because we can't figure out how to justify this one."
BLITZER: Bob Baer, do you think that this young woman, Kayla Mueller, was treated differently by ISIS because she was a woman?
BAER: It sounds like she was. Some of the hostages that have been released and have been held with her said that she was -- tried to be friendly with the guards. In fact, she pretended she converted to Islam. And they would be reluctant to torture, if you'd like, an American woman.
But at the end of the day, I agree with Phil, that they probably killed this woman. I doubt she died in an air raid. And now they are trying to backfill and make themselves not look so bad. They are psychopaths, but they're not 100 percent crazy.
BLITZER: All right. I want all of you to stand by. We're also getting some new details on how the United States confirmed the death of the American ISIS hostage, Kayla Mueller. More of the breaking news coming up right after this.
BLITZER: President Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, they're at serious odds right now over talks with Iran about its nuclear program. The Israeli prime minister is calling it -- I'm quoting him now -- a profound disagreement. He's actually doubling down on his plan to share his views before the United States Congress, a move that's set to infuriate top officials over at the White House.
Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is in Jerusalem. She's watching what is going on. Very strong words from the prime minister today, in effect, attacking the president of the United States for this latest proposal to Iran -- Elise.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. And he's talking about an agreement that hasn't really been reached yet, although he has heard enough to know that he doesn't like it.
And he said today that, while he does not want to seek a confrontation with the president, he says he needs to visit Washington and speak to Congress because of -- as an obligation to protect the Israeli people. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: What we do have today, a profound disagreement with the United States administration and the rest of the P5 plus 1 over the offer that has been made to Iran. This offer would enable Iran to threaten Israel's survival.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LABOTT: Now, Wolf, very strong words, as we said, but he did try to soften the blow by saying that this is not about a personal issue between him and President Obama. He said he really does appreciate what President Obama has done for Israel, but he said that Congress has a very important role to play, and he feels that he needs to come and address it, Wolf.
He did leave himself some wriggle room, also. There was some indication that he might try to do something short of a full address to a joint session of Congress. Maybe he meets with them in closed session. Maybe he has a press conference at a speech somewhere outside of that.
But certainly, he is intent on coming to Washington and making his point on the Iran nuclear issue, which is a very important campaign issue for him here in Israel, something speaking to his base. And that, in effect, will booster his credibility here at home, keeping that issue alive, deflecting a little bit from the issues in the campaign where he's not so strong.
BLITZER: Yes. He said flatly, and I'll quote him, "I intend to speak about this issue before the March 24 deadline." That's the deadline on these talks with Iran. "And I intend to speak in the United States Congress -- in the United States Congress, because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran."
All right. Elise in Jerusalem, thanks very much.
Let's get to more now. Joining us, our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
Very strong words --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Really.
BLITZER: -- of the prime minister of Israel saying, in effect, this proposal -- it's an offer been made to Iran, in his words, the offer that the president, together with the other members of the P5, the Security Council prominent members in Germany, would enable Iran to threaten Israel's survival.
BLITZER: Those are tough words.
BORGER: An enabler of Iran, the United States of America.
Look, those are really strong words and if I were the president of the United States, I wouldn't take the bait. You know, if he were to take the bait, he'd be playing right into Netanyahu's hands. And this is a fight that Netanyahu, quite frankly, probably wants to the president of the United States who is not popular. His position is popular on Iran and sanctions against Iran.
And so, if I were the president, I would say what he said at the press conference the other day, which is, we have profound disagreements here but these are disagreements between friends and I would never do anything to endanger the security of the state of Israel. That is sacrosanct.
But I wouldn't bite. I wouldn't bite.
BLITZER: Yes. But as you know, Dana, the president was upset with Netanyahu before and he's going to be even more upset because Netanyahu is basically accusing the president of undermining Israel's very survival.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, the fact that Israel, as you well know, believes that Iran is an existential threat and he's saying that the president is putting Israel in a bad position.
Look, it's very clear that the concept of playing to the base is an international phenomenon. Netanyahu is doing that in Israel because he is close to --
BLITZER: He's got elections in March 17th.
BASH: His election and this is, as Elise was pointing out, this concept of pushing back against these negotiations with Iran is very popular with the people who would potentially vote for him. Having said that, it is something that also connects him to the Republicans here in Washington, which is how this whole concept of Netanyahu coming to Washington, speaking to a joint session of Congress, a Republican-led Congress, happened in the first place.
BORGER: But he's pushing against an open door, because -- because of this whole controversy, there isn't going to be a vote before the March 24th deadline. The president came out the other day and said that he -- that the March 24th deadline is the deadline. This may well have pushed him to that, by the way. So, the president doesn't have any wriggle room there.
And so, you know, Netanyahu is coming here to avoid something that isn't going to happen.
BLITZER: All right. The other vote that will be taking place sooner rather than later is on this authorization for the use of war, the president is going to submit language for the first time more than a decade before the war in Iraq, asking Congress to authorize the use of military force in this war against ISIS. And there are division already emerging, not only among Republicans but Democrats.
BASH: Unbelievable. I just came from Capitol Hill walking the halls, I talked to Democrats. They think what the president is going to send out probably tomorrow is too broad when it comes to what Congress would authorize when it comes to U.S. troops and Republicans think it's too restrictive. John McCain said something along the lines of, you know, I will fight this until my last breath.
It's kind of ironic -- I mean, you very rarely see a president of the United States ask for authority that limits his own authority. But that just speaks to the kind of commander-in-chief Barack Obama has wanted to be.
BLITZER: Because you heard Peter King just say -- he's not going to vote for it if it rules out the use of combat ground forces.
BORGER: Right. And I think this is threading the needle here and I do have to give the administration some credit because his chief of staff, his congressional liaison, they have been on Capitol Hill actually consulting because they don't want an embarrassment like they had with a question of Syria, the use of force there in 2013. They want to avoid that at all costs.
But, you know, you do have to thread the needle here because people want to give the president some authority but particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle, they don't want to give him a blank check.
BORGER: And that's the problem.
BASH: Which is what they think Congress did back in 2002 that allowed for the Iraq war and then, you know, presidents have used that -- the use of force since -- I mean, President Obama has even used it on what's going on now.
BLITZER: It will be interesting to see how the senators and maybe some House members who are thinking of running for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, how they will vote on this.
BASH: Yes. The whole debate right now and the tension that we already see before this even comes to Capitol Hill is case in point why the Democratic leaders didn't want to vote on this before the election. Remember, this is a mission that has been going on for six months without the authority. And the reason is because politically this is a very tough vote, just the fact that there is such debate about how to actually frame this authorization --
BASH: -- is (INAUDIBLE)
BORGER: It's going to have to be bipartisan because you're not going to get it with the left wing and the Democratic Party. You're just not. So, there are going to have to be bipartisan agreement here on just how to frame the scope of the authorization.
BLITZER: We'll see how that works. The president presumably is going to submit the language tomorrow. We'll be all over that.
Guys, thanks very much.
BORGER: And they will debate it.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the death of the American ISIS hostage, Kayla Mueller. It's not confirmed. So, what new proof did ISIS provide?
BLITZER: A family of four murdered and buried in a desert. A close friend is charged with killing them all, but did he do it? We hear from the man now behind bars exclusively later tonight in a CNN special "Chasing a Killer: Inside the McStay Family Murders".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Early on, friend and business associates Chase Merritt was on top of the list.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Detectives are taking a close look at Joseph McStay's business relationships.
KAYE: He spoke to us in his only television interview.
CHARLES CHASE MERRITT, ACCUSED OF MCSTAY FAMILY MURDERS: I was the last person who saw them, so I was a person of interest.
KAYE (on camera): Did detectives ask you did you kill Joseph McStay and his family?
MERRITT: I don't recall them asking me that.
KAYE: Nothing that direct.
KAYE: Not that directly.
MERRITT: No, I don't recall them being that direct.
KAYE: You took a polygraph test. What did it show?
MERRITT: I don't know.
KAYE: You passed the polygraph.
MERRITT: Apparently. I mean, I haven't -- I kind of simply assumed, well, apparently, that resolved any issues that may be looking at with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And CNN's Randi Kaye is joining us now with more.
Randi, in this interview with Chase Merritt, was there really any sense he could have been involved. He was Joseph McStay's best friend, right?
KAYE: Yes, he was. And when we talked to him, Wolf, we spent a couple of hours with him, and he was polite, he was soft spoken. He spent a couple of hours, as I said, with our crew and could not have been nicer. But, you know, he was the last person to see Joseph McStay and that's the thing. That's why they zeroed in on him.
He also lived at the time, about 20 miles away or so from where the family's remains were found, about four years later. There were 100 pieces of evidence, including DNA that was taken from those shallow graves that were found in the Mojave Desert.
He was also, Wolf, the first person at the house. We know that he was there. We know that the D.A. believes that the family was killed with blunt force trauma and there would have been blood splatter.
And you have to remember, Wolf, finally, that the sheriff's department didn't get into there until two weeks after the family disappeared. So, the D.A. says they're certainly looking to see if someone got in that house and cleaned it up.
BLITZER: So, what's next for Chase Merritt?
KAYE: He goes back to court April 7th for another preliminary trial. And he's representing himself. He got rid of his lawyer. He believes that he has congestive heart failure. He doesn't believe he has more than six or eight months to live. So, he wants to get this trial, if there is one, over with.
And we spoke to the grandfather of the little kids in this case, the father of Joseph McStay. And he said to us regarding Chase Merritt now representing himself that he who represents himself has a fool for a client. That's how strongly he feels about the case.
BLITZER: That sounds crazy to be representing yourself in a case like this. I mean, what is he thinking?
KAYE: Absolutely. This could be a death penalty case. They haven't decided whether or not they will seek the death penalty against him. So, this is a pretty serious case on the table. He could end up cross examining people that he has been pointing fingers at. So, they could get pretty interesting.
BLITZER: So, you really spent a lot of time looking into this. And it sort of starts off regularly, crazy but it gets weirder and weirder as you go along, right?
KAYE: Yes, I mean, it certainly does. We interviewed friends and family. We know the home was open for two weeks. It was never declared a crime scene. So, there were mistakes made. Even, you know, much earlier on in this.
I mean, we know that the Joseph McStay's mother went to the house and cleaned up the food left on the counter and threw away dirty diapers. His brother went to the house and took a lap top computer and he took a video card from the camera.
I mean, these are things would have, you know, might have held some evidence. Maybe there were fingerprints. Maybe there was something on that video card. So, there was a lot of mistakes made early on. It wasn't until years later when San Bernardino took over the case, the San Bernardino sheriff's department that they really start to zero in. They told us they were watching Chase Merritt 24/7 and they knew where he was at all times.
BLITZER: So, this has really been going for a long time. How many years has this been going on?
KAYE: Last week was five years that the family had gone missing. They originally thought that they just disappeared to Mexico. They were treating it like a missing person's case. It wasn't until this past November that they made the arrest but found the remains in the Mojave Desert a year before that.
BLITZER: All right. What a story it is. It's really an amazing documentary. I'm so glad, Randi, that you did it.
Our special report, "Chasing a Killer: Inside the McStay Family Murders" airs later tonight. There it is, there's the promotion, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. I think our viewers are going to want to watch this, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Check it out.
Remember, you can also follow us on Twitter. You can go ahead and please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
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Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.