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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Train Wreck; ISIS Recruits; U.S. Sending Weapons to Iraq Before Battle with ISIS; No Civil Rights Charges in Trayvon Martin Case
Aired February 24, 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: It's the third wreck on the rails in the last several weeks, some fiery and some deadly. Is it safe to take the train?
Plus, joining ISIS? Police now think three missing schoolgirls have arrived on the terrorists' home turf, as dozens of other women and children are kidnapped by ISIS fighters.
No charges. The U.S. Justice Department wraps up its investigation of George Zimmerman, closing the book on a sensational racially charged case. Three years after Trayvon Martin was killed, has justice been served?
And broken trust. The veteran secretary is caught on camera exaggerating his military record. Is an apology enough?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This hour, federal investigators are expected to arrive at the scene of a commuter train wreck in California that sent cars flipping off the rails and passengers flying out of their seats. At least 28 people were injured in the fiery early morning accident. We're now learning more about why a truck was stopped on the tracks when the train came barreling along and hit it.
Also breaking, ISIS fighters may now have their clutches on three missing teenagers who ran away from their homes in Britain apparently hoping to join the terror group. Police believe the girls have now made it to their destination in Syria.
And a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, Senator James Risch, he is standing by, along with our correspondents and our analysts. We're all covering the news that is breaking right now.
First, let's go to our national correspondent, Kyung Lah. She's near the crash of that train in Oxnard, California.
Kyung, what is the latest?
KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while we're waiting for the federal investigators to arrive here, there is a lot of work being done right over my shoulder. What you see is one of the train cars that appears to be the lead
train car being lifted by cranes. The others are still on their sides, a total of five rail cars that the crews here are furiously trying to right and trying to clear off the tracks.
Meanwhile, the investigation continuing, investigators trying to figure out how a driver could take a wrong turn on these tracks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all alive. We're glad to be here, really glad to be here.
LAH (voice-over): Emergency crews raced to the scene where the commuter train flew off the tracks near Oxnard, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just seemed like slow motion. It seemed like it took forever.
LAH: Forty-nine people were on board, 28 of them injured, a triage unit treating them on the side of the tracks, many victims wrapped in blankets before being taken to hospitals. Five cars derailed, three of which came to rest on their sides.
The Metrolink train hit a produce truck that was parked on the tracks, decimating it. The truck was split into two pieces, flung about 100 feet apart. Questions remain, namely, why was this truck on the tracks? Amazingly, the driver, a 54-year-old man working for a Yuma, Arizona, produce service firm, is OK.
He told investigators that he had mistakenly turned onto the tracks, believing he was turning onto a highway. He drove about 50 yards on the tracks before getting stuck. When he saw the train coming, he left the truck and called 911. He's being checked out at a hospital and is not in police custody.
A police official says the incident is still under investigation. A Metrolink spokesman says the train's cars did not collapse because of collision energy management technology, which keeps the train car from crumpling, probably saving lives, he said. The trains are also equipped with windows that emergency personnel can easily remove to evacuate passengers.
The National Transportation Safety Board launched a go team of investigators expected to arrive on the scene this evening.
ROBERT SUMWALT, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD MEMBER: The types of things they will be looking at, among others, will be highway factors, survivability, crashworthiness, human performance.
LAH: In 2014, there were 239 fatal train crashes on highway crossings nationwide, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. In California, the same year, there were 29 fatal highway crossing train crashes. That's the most for any single state. SUMWALT: And certainly we are concerned with grade crossing
accidents. We certainly want to find out everything that we can about this event. Were the grade crossing arms -- did the grade crossing arms signal? Did they operate at intended? We intend to find that out.
LAH: And what they want to do is really sit down with this driver. We are told that he is cooperating with investigators. He was found about one to two miles away from this site. He was wandering, he was confused, but he's cooperating with investigators -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Kyung Lah on the scene.
The crash happened at one of California's most hazardous rail crossings, this according to federal records.
Our aviation and regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Rene, there's a lot of concern about train safety not only there, but across the country right now.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
Today's derailment is just the latest in a string of high-profile disasters on the tracks. Tonight, we take a deep dive into railroad safety across the nation. Is it safe enough? Some say no.
MARSH (voice-over): At the start of rush hour, this Ventura line commuter train slams into a truck on the tracks. It's reminiscent of this fatal Metro-North track earlier this month, the train ramming an SUV sitting on the track. And last week, a massive fireball erupted on the tracks in West Virginia after an oil tanker train derailed.
Federal statistics show in 2014, more than 10,000 incidents happened on railroad track in the U.S., 239 people were killed at railroad crossings.
Larry Mann is the author of the Federal Rail Safety Act. He says the number is too high.
LARRY MANN, RAILWAY EXPERT: Too many are being injured and killed at crossings this year. Looking just at the deaths, it's more than four per week. In my judgment, many are preventable, and it's inexcusable.
MARSH: This crash test shows special technology on board can save
lives. A system called Crash Energy Management is installed on the train on the bottom. Compare the difference at impact. Metrolink in California was one of the first rail systems in the nation to get the system on the rails. That likely saved many lives today.
JEFF LUSTGARTEN, METROLINK SPOKESMAN: Metrolink invested largely in technology in our passenger cars that would allow when an incident does occur, a collision occurs, that the energy from that impact would go outward as opposed to inward to hopefully prevent any crumpling of the cars.
MARSH: Positive train control is another system that could prevent disaster on the tracks. GPS technology monitors trains and the system can automatically stop the train, preventing collision or derailment. The technology is not yet widely used.
(on camera): The technology is out there, but it's not being used because it comes down to the bottom line.
MARSH: And that's sad because that could mean the difference between life and death.
MANN: Of course. It is the difference between life and death. We have seen it.
MARSH: All right. So there is technology, as you just saw there, to address these various safety issues on the tracks. And in many cases, money is what is getting in the way of widespread implementation.
Who is to blame? Well, that safety advocate I spoke to in the piece there blames Congress for not providing enough funding to make this happen a lot faster, also blaming the railroad industry itself for not investing in these safety measures.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a worrisome development.
All right, Rene, thanks very much.
We will stay on top of the story.
But let's go to the war against ISIS right now and the terrorists' newest victims. There's a new report that ISIS militants have kidnapped as many as 100 Christians, including women and children, this amid growing fears that three missing schoolgirls could be joining up with the terror group in Syria right now.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is looking into all of these angles for us.
Pamela, what do you know?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, after a frantic scramble to prevent these three girls from joining ISIS, London police announced today there is new evidence that has surfaced showing their worst fears have come true. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, London police have reason to believe these three British teenage classmates are now in the ISIS safe haven of Syria after they flew from London to Turkey last week.
BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The fact is, that border is porous. The Turks are not 100 percent committed to closing it. They are still at war with the Syrian regime. They're letting forces across, weapons and the rest of it. So, getting across three girls is -- wouldn't be that difficult.
BROWN: London police won't say exactly how they know the girls, 15 and 16 years old, are no longer in Turkey. But the Turkish deputy prime minister is placing the blame squarely on British officials, saying they didn't alert Turkey until three girls after the girls had flown to Istanbul.
BULENT ARINC, TURKISH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This is a reprehensible, condemnable act for Britain.
BROWN: British authorities say they contacted the Turkish Embassy in England a day after the girls boarded the flight. Police have been using Turkish media and social media, attempting to persuade the teens to come home, according to a British counterterrorism official.
One of the girls' fathers made a plea on CNN.
ABASE HUSSEIN, FATHER OF MISSING GIRL: Remember how we love you. And your sister, brother, they cannot stop crying.
BROWN: The girls now believed to be among a growing number of teens around the world joining ISIS, this as we learn the barbaric terrorist group abducted dozens of Christians from a Syrian village. These pictures show displaced families fleeing the village after it was attacked.
According to a Syrian human rights group, ISIS kidnaps mostly women, elderly and children.
BAER: I think the purpose of all of these acts, killing minorities, whether they are Christians or Jews or whatever, or Westerners working there, is a sort of ethnic cleansing. And they figure if they can kill and terrify enough people, that will solidify the roots of the Islamic State. I don't think it will, but that's what they think.
BROWN: And now, as we have heard before, ISIS is apparently threatening to kill these hostages if they get attacked by the coalition, Kurds or the regime, certainly a dire and disturbing situation there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Pamela, thanks very much. We're also tonight learning new details about the U.S. military's
preparations for what is described as a major upcoming battle against ISIS to try to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, all important, number one, is will the Iraq forces stand up and fight this time, as many of them did not last year when ISIS rolled through Northern Iraq?
What we now know is that the U.S. has been shipping a good amount of weaponry to the Iraqi forces. Let's take a quick look at exactly what has been going on there since the 1st of the year. So, we know that 10,000 -- 10,000 M-16 rifles have been shipped, as well as 10,000 optical scopes. These are pieces of technology that go on the rifles to improve the targeting, especially in urban areas.
There are also 23,000 ammunition magazines, and 250 additional MRAP mine-resistant vehicles. They would be used, of course, because it's believed that ISIS is continuing to lay IEDs, mines, and booby traps.
Now, all of this was preplanned, but certainly convenient that it's going now for it to be ready for the attack on Mosul. But -- and it's a big but -- an alternative scenario, I have to tell you, Wolf, is emerging. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is making it clear he's not quite ready yet to endorse that April/May time frame that the Pentagon talked about last week. He wants to know, officials tell us, that the Iraqi forces are really ready.
The worst-case scenario would be sending them into Mosul not ready, that they couldn't get the city back, that they would have another failure. And as one official said to me, that would be very bad. But also up for discussion is, would Mosul really be the first target? There are some in the military suggesting that maybe the Iraqi forces should go to Anbar province west of Baghdad, go back out into Western Iraq.
It's less heavily populated. It might be easier for them to make that their first effort, but already these weapons being shipped, trying to get the Iraqis trained equipped and ready to go -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper now. Joining us, Senator James Risch of Idaho. He is a leading member of both the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee.
Senator Risch, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you make of this U.S. supply of these weapons to the Iraqi military right now, given the Iraqi military's horrible track record?
RISCH: Yes. A lot of us have really severe reservations about it.
I think the Iraqis are going to have to prove themselves. They have had some minor victories of late. But their biggest challenge, of course, was last year as ISIS moved in, and they just dropped the weapons, dropped the uniforms, and ran.
BLITZER: These weapons, these rifles and these MRAPs, they could wind up in the hands of ISIS, just like a lot of other U.S. military hardware when the Iraqis ran away from the fight in Mosul, the Iraqi military, wound up in the hands of ISIS.
RISCH: No question about that.
Our people and the Iraqis are going to be facing that when and if the battle of Mosul starts. And it will be interesting to see. The last battle of Mosul, of course, was the U.S. military in there. And we lost a lot of lives, shed a lot of blood in Mosul.
It's good the Iraqis are at least committed now to stand up and try to take Mosul back. This has got to be stopped. After all, ISIS, their stated objective is to establish this caliphate. Once it is established, once it is somewhat stabilized, they are going to turn their attention to the Western world.
BLITZER: Yes, all of us hope the Iraqi military shows up for the fight and doesn't simply become MIA, as they did the last time.
RISCH: Of course.
BLITZER: But here what also is irritating to me, as a United States taxpayer. I wonder if it's irritating to you.
The U.S. has given all of this hardware to the Iraqis right now. Iraq is a major OPEC member, an oil-exporting country. Why are they not reimbursing U.S. taxpayers for the stuff that we're sending over there?
RISCH: Before they do that, Wolf, they need to also reimburse us for the other stuff that...
BLITZER: Well, that was a trillion dollars or hundreds of billions of dollars. Forget about that. But I don't understand. At a time when we have got our own budget issues here in the United States, I'm sure you and your constituents could use some of those dollars in your state right now. But why don't we at least even ask them to reimburse the United States?
RISCH: Definitely should be done. We're spending our kids and our grandkids' money there. And that should not be done.
But the administration is convinced that they need this so badly to have the Iraqis stand up, that they are willing to take some risks here. I have to tell you, I have serious reservations about it. They ought to bring the Kurds in. You have heard me say this before. These guys know how to do this. And they haven't lost any U.S. weapons to...
BLITZER: I spoke to Adam Kinzinger in the last hour, Republican member of the House. He thought that the U.S. was sort of in competition with the Iranians right now, because the Iranians, through the Revolutionary Guard, they are providing a lot of weapons to the Iraqi military, and those Shiite militias in Iraq. That sounds pretty awful to me.
RISCH: Well, it does.
But when you're in the position as the fledgling Iraqi army is, you look for help wherever you can get it. When you're desperate, you take desperate measures. So, they will take it from whoever is willing to help.
BLITZER: Senator, I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including the abduction of nearly 100 Christians, 100 Christians in Syria by ISIS.
Stay with us. Much more when we come back.
BLITZER: We're back with Senator James Risch talking about ISIS, the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group that unleashed 21 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq over the past day.
Tonight, there are new questions about a key partner in this situation as well. We're talking about Qatar right now.
Are they are a friendly -- I mean, are they a reliable ally? We know the U.S. has a couple air bases, one air base, one military base there, about 8,000 or 9,000 American troops, but there's still deep suspicion that elements in Qatar are supporting some of these terror groups.
RISCH: Well, remember, Al-Jazeera is also headquartered in Qatar.
But we have things that we have a common interest in with Qatar. There are other things that we don't have a common interest in. As with many countries in the world, even our best allies, we occasionally have differences over what our national interests are. Having said all that, certainly Qatar has been helpful to us in many regards. And we have a base there that is very helpful to us.
BLITZER: Yes, we have 8,000 or 9,000 U.S. troops at the Al Udeid Air Base, Camp As Sayliyah, the ground troops, so it's been helpful on that. But there's suspicion that they are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and some other terror groups out there as well. RISCH: When you say they...
BLITZER: Elements in Qatar, not necessarily the emir or his government, but very rich people are.
RISCH: Exactly. Or the government. That's exactly right.
And that's one of the problems is there are some people that are very rich there who are clearly sympathetic with elements that are radical and that they shouldn't be.
BLITZER: Could the government there be doing more to stop that from happening?
RISCH: Those are always hard questions to answer, because they have their own internal political issues as to how that works. Certainly, we would want them to do more than what they are doing.
BLITZER: What's going on with this abduction of nearly 100 Christians now in Syria by ISIS? These aren't just Christian men. These are women and children as well. What's their game plan here?
RISCH: Well, I think what you have to do is back up and look at this and look at, what is their objective? What is their bottom line?
RISCH: Their objective is to establish a caliphate. And a caliphate, of course, is a parcel of ground which they control, which they use Sharia law, and which is under the control of people who are radical Islamic followers. And that means you exclude everyone else.
BLITZER: So they want to convince these Christians to abandon their homes and become refugees and escape, or do they want to kill them?
RISCH: Whichever. I don't think they particularly care which way you go, as long as these people are gone from their caliphate that they are attempting to establish.
And this is certainly a brand of terrorism where you do what they have done. It makes people think that they should move. And I would think that it is probably pretty effective if you're a Christian living in that area.
BLITZER: Yes. And Christians have been living there for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And a lot of them are now becoming refugees, because they're fearful for their life, not only in Syria, but in Iraq as well.
RISCH: Right, and along with a lot of other Syrian people.
BLITZER: The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan issued a statement today. And it said this. "As of late February 2015, militants in Afghanistan plan to conduct multiple imminent attacks against an unspecified target or targets in Kabul City, Afghanistan."
What's going on here?
RISCH: Well, first of all, this kind of information is common to come in the hands of the intelligence community. Generally, they don't act on it unless they can confirm it in ways I really can't talk about here.
But if they -- if it rises to the level where they think that there is it a serious consideration and people ought to think about it, they will issue this kind of a statement. So they obviously have taken the steps to do the confirmations that are necessary and feel that it rises to that level.
BLITZER: All right. I want to get your quick thought on funding for the Department of Homeland Security. It looks like a clean bill, it's called, without any connections to immigration reform or anything is going to come up for a vote. I think the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is ready to do it, whether tomorrow or Thursday or Friday. I assume you will support him on that?
RISCH: Well, it will depend on some of the details of it, but I very well might.
The Texas judge that has ruled that the president can't do what he's trying to do has really taken the argument out of this thing. And so there's no doubt we will pass a bill for Homeland Security. It should be done. After all, all of us were elected to govern, not to not govern. And we all want to see a smaller federal government. But when it comes to homeland security, all of us are very, very concerned right now about the security of America.
BLITZER: All right, so you don't want to play around with homeland security.
RISCH: That's not a good thing to do.
All right, Senator, thanks very much for in.
RISCH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to have more on the U.S. weapons heading to fighters on the front lines against ISIS. Will those weapons though wind up in the hands of terrorists?
And can George Zimmerman claim a new legal victory after numerous skirmishes with the law since he shot and killed Trayvon Martin? We're going to talk about the new findings, the new rulings from the U.S. Justice Department. Stand by.
BLITZER: We're back with one of the breaking stories we're following this hour. A Pentagon official now telling CNN the U.S. military has spent another $17 million sending more weapons to the Iraqi government since the beginning of this year. Those weapons will be available for use in the upcoming battle to try to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul. Let's talk about this and more.
Joining us, our CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Also joining us, our counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd; our intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer; and our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.
Here's the concern a lot of people have, General Hertling. A lot of these weapons winding up in the hands of the Iraqi military. They may use them, but you know what? Their track record is not very good. They may wind up going into battle and once they face a rough battle from ISIS, drop all those weapons, run away and ISIS winds up with those U.S. military equipment. How concerned should we be about that?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm not concerned at all with it, Wolf. I know what happened last summer. It was a cause we repeated over and over again. It had to do with not only the leadership but the training of the Iraqi force.
These guys will fight. I fought with them. In fact, I fought with them in Mosul. And if given the right leadership, which they seem to have now, they will take the fight to the enemy, not only in Mosul but in other places.
So we're helping them out. I mean, this is the front effort against the war against ISIS. We have to help them.
And when you talk about the numbers that Barbara cited before, we're talking 10,000 weapons, 10,000 scopes, 23,000 magazines. That -- that outfits less than two brigades' worth of soldiers, and they're trying to generate a force not only of the national guard but also the regular army to take the fight against the enemy in both the north and in Anbar province, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. She's reported also, what, an additional 250 MRAPs, these mine-resistant vehicles and another 232 Hellfire missiles in addition to the 1,572 shipped last year.
Here's the question for you, Philip Mudd. This is an oil- exporting country. They've got money in Iraq. It's an OPEC country. Why should American taxpayers be paying for all this equipment that is being sent there?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Because they're spending their forces and their troops, and we're not. Look, we're talking about $17 million, Wolf. That is a chump change check. I'll go down in Miami, in downtown Miami tonight and buy a beer. The equivalent of what we're spending for the U.S. government is less than $17 million.
Secondly, General Hertling says he's not all concerned. I'm less concerned than he is. Let's go through our options here. We've decided that ISIS is a problem. We can, A, do nothing. We can, B, provide some military support that might go to some of the ISIS adversaries. We can, C, send in U.S. forces. When you get out of fantasy and get into reality, this choice, if you're in the National Security Council, is not that difficult. Write the chump change check; give them the 17 million bucks. This ain't hard.
BLITZER: Well, I hope both of you are right. I'm a little bit more concerned given the awful track record of the Iraqi military over the past year or so. Let's hope this new Shiite-led government is better than Nuri al-Maliki, but I'll believe it when I see it.
Bob Baer, let's talk a little bit about what's going on in Kabul, Afghanistan. The State Department warning that there's an attack that looks like it's imminent, could be at the U.S. embassy in Kabul or wherever. They just issued a strong statement. What's going on over there?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the country is still fragmented. The Taliban is not a unified force, but they can hit Kabul. You know, this is why the president at this point is saying we're going to be staying there longer.
We've got Special Forces operating there. We're sending weapons there. We are not done with Afghanistan. That is an open wound, which is -- you know, it could get a lot worse. And if they say there's going to be attacks in Kabul, it wouldn't surprise me.
BLITZER: Yes. It looks like a really ominous warning that the State Department just issued.
Tom Fuentes, you saw the pictures, file footage we have of these drones flying across Paris near the Eifel Tower, flying over the U.S. embassy there. The French are investigating, French authorities. What's going on over here, because there's deep concern that this is terror related, as was the case with the attack on that magazine a month ago, the attack on that kosher supermarket. These drones -- these drones flying over Paris could be worrisome.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: They could be worrisome everywhere, whether it's Washington, D.C., or any other place, any other capital, because, you know, someone could figure out, put explosives on them and have a dangerous attack by way of drone.
Now we see where they're using some kind of a net system that they'll throw over the top of the drone, but I'd be skeptical about that; because in order to guide that in, the net would be hanging. It would get caught up in power lines and trees and everything. So I don't know how effective that will be. Obviously, jamming the radio signals in the long run is probably the best thing.
But, you know, you thought I was joking at the time of the Super Bowl when I said it might take 1,000 guys with butterfly nets. Well, now we're seeing them.
BLITZER: I mean, it's a worrisome development. Let me ask General Hertling: What do you think -- what do you think is going on, first of all, and how worried should people be in Paris right now? HERTLING: Certainly, Wolf, across Europe they're much more
concerned than they were before the "Hebdo" attack. So I think you're seeing some after-effects of all that. There's more intelligence sharing, more concern about small things that might happen.
I mean, we saw the drone on the White House lawn, as you said, a little while ago, and it was just a little Radio Shack device. These things are ubiquitous; they're everywhere. So yes, people should be concerned, but we shouldn't overblow these things.
Certainly, a flight over the U.S. embassy is not a good thing, but it's something that I think the European nations are addressing much more diligently than they have in the past.
BLITZER: And Bob Baer, what's your analysis? Why are these ISIS terrorists going, rounding up Christians right now, men, women and children, and abducting them in Syria?
BAER: Well, Wolf, this is Islamofascism. They want to drive the Christians out of their territory. They want to purify it and get rid of all, you know, the Shia, the Yezidis, everybody, and the Christians are part of this. And if they were to execute these people, they would hope that the Christians would flee Syria, as well as Iraq.
And there are a lot of them, as we've talked about. It's a very old religion. And as crazy as this is, this is their intention. And it's clear now, just as they killed the cops [SIC] in Libya, it's an attack on Christianity.
BLITZER: Yes, The Cop [SIC] Christians in Libya, 21 of them were massacred, beheaded if you will. That resulted in Egyptian airstrikes.
A quick final thought from you, Philip Mudd.
MUDD: This is pretty simple. Notice they don't just call them Christians. They call them crusaders. They want to portray themselves as the defenders of Islam, the defenders of Iraq, Libya, et cetera. So what they're trying to say is all of these people -- Christians, Jews, et cetera, crusaders -- are here to attack us. We are your protectors; get behind us.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by, because we're following more breaking news, as well. The train crash near Los Angeles. The driver of the truck involved is now telling investigators how that truck wound up on the tracks.
Also coming up, a new twist in the Trayvon Martin case as the U.S. Justice Department makes a controversial decision about George Zimmerman.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The Justice Department has announced it will not bring
civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, the man acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of the unarmed African-American teenager. Trayvon Martin. Let's get some more with our justice reporter, Evan Perez. He
first broke the story for us. Once again, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, is joining us.
Evan, so tell us what happened here.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, they -- the FBI started looking at this, and the Justice Department, civil rights division, started looking at this immediately after the shooting. That's something that we didn't know how much of this they had actually done.
And then they stopped when the state of Florida decided to prosecute George Zimmerman and began again after he was acquitted in 2013. So they've had this case now for three years. They interviewed 75 witnesses. They reviewed everything the state looked at before they failed in securing a prosecution, and in the end they just couldn't get enough evidence to find that he knew he was breaking the law, that he -- beyond a reasonable doubt is what the standard here is, that he knew he was breaking the law and he intended to violate the civil rights of Trayvon Martin.
BLITZER: The Trayvon Martin family, they issued a statement, Tom. They were disappointed, although grateful to the Justice Department for going through this process. But it is a very high bar the Justice Department has to cross over in order to file civil rights charges after an acquittal in the case.
FUENTES: That's true, Wolf. And you had the local police and the local prosecutor conduct the first investigation and not feel it was a strong enough case to prosecute.
So then the state bring in a special prosecutor with a political mandate prosecute; and they do, and he's acquitted. He's not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Then you have the third look by the Justice Department, and they just felt there wasn't enough there to commit a hate crime. I think the problem politically is, this has gotten lumped in with Garner and with Michael Brown and other cases.
BLITZER: And Darren Wilson in Ferguson.
FUENTES: Where a police officer has been the shooter, not some local, untrained, unprofessional alleged idiot carrying a gun who, when he called the police, the police said don't follow him. He does it anyway. They get in this altercation, and ultimately, Trayvon Martin is shot and killed.
But he wasn't killed by a police officer. This is just, again, an alleged idiot with a gun.
BLITZER: And the Justice Department decided apparently that they are not filing civil rights charges against the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the former police officer, Darren Wilson. What about in the Eric Garner case, the NYPD Police Officer
Daniel Pantaleo? What are we expecting on that one? Because we know Justice has been investigating that as well. They're looking --
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Exactly. Wolf, we always talk about the high bar these cases have. Well, this case actually might end up being a bit of a surprise to everyone.
BLITZER: The one in New York?
PEREZ: In New York. Simply because what I'm told is, you know, the FBI is looking at this very seriously, not that they don't always do it, but in this case they are looking at all of the video evidence that they have and what they are honing in on is whether or not the video of the evidence that they have indicates whether this officer's life was in danger, whether he had a reasonable -- it was reasonable for him to act the way he did. And so, that's the question that this is going to turn on. Not saying that they are going to bring a prosecution. This one is not nearly as clean cut as some of the others.
BLITZER: Because in that one, there's that one and the videotape where Eric Garner keeps saying, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe."
BLITZER: So, that's what they're looking at I assume right now.
FUENTES: Right, and they are also going to have to talk to the other witnesses. You know, there's gaps in the other videos that we saw that were being taken at that time. You know, you have an officer initially confront Garner on the sidewalk and then suddenly half a dozen officers at the scene. That takes time and that part we haven't seen either, what was going on.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, thank you very much. Good work.
Coming up, more breaking news. Federal investigators are now at the site of the fiery California train derailment. We've got a live update from the disaster scene.
Also, the Veterans Affairs secretary is talking to CNN about why he said he was with the Special Forces when he wasn't.
BLITZER: The U.S. Veterans Affairs secretary is apologizing for what he calls a misstatement about his own military service. Robert McDonald was caught on camera saying he had served in the Special Forces, but that is not true.
Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us with details.
What's the latest on this controversy, Suzanne? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, McDonald was
a West Point graduate. He finished in the top 2 percent of his class. He was brought on as the new V.A. chief for his business savvy as the former head of Procter & Gamble than for his five years of military experience. So, I asked him today, why would he misrepresent his military record?
MALVEAUX (voice-over): The embattled Veteran Affairs secretary Robert McDonald tonight admits he made a mistake.
ROBERT MCDONALD, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I incorrectly stated that I too had been in Special Forces. That was wrong, and I have no excuse.
MALVEAUX: McDonald was caught on camera exaggerating about serving in the Special Forces during a CBS News taping of a story, about his department's effort to help homeless vet. A homeless veteran told McDonald he served in the Special Forces and McDonald enthusiastically replied --
MCDONALD: Special Forces, what year? I was in Special Forces.
MALVEAUX: It turns out McDonald completed Army Ranger and graduated, but was never assigned to Ranger battalion, nor a Special Operations unit. Instead, the West Point graduate was assigned to and served in the 82nd Airborne Division until his retirement in 1980.
MCDONALD: With veterans, my common ground is my veteran experience. And so, what I was trying to find way to connect with that veteran. As I said, I made a misstatement. I apologized for that.
MALVEAUX: Veterans groups are disappointed. The American Legion said McDonald has a long way to go to repair the damage and rebuild trust.
MICHAEL HELM, AMERICAN LEGION NATIONAL COMMANDER: The secretary has made an apology. The apology I don't think restores our -- the American Legion's complete trust in him or perhaps veterans that are being served.
MALVEAUX: Others are using McDonald's trouble to pile on more criticism.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Sometimes, I don't understand why people would want to do that. I'm much more concerned about his failure to implement the legislation that we passed.
MALVEAUX: For now, the White House seemed to be committed to McDonald.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But there's no reason to think that the mistake that he made should interfere with his ability to continue to lead the fight for our veterans. MALVEAUX: President Obama chose McDonald, a long time Procter
and Gamble executive to replace former Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned in disgrace last May, following CNN's extensive reporting on corruption in the department.
MALVEAUX: Since McDonald's apology, this is his third since the story broke. I heard from a number of veterans organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America who all say they accept McDonald's explanation and they now, Wolf, are ready to move on.
BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. Thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, the editorial director of "The National Journal".
The assumption out there is it's over with for him. He apologized. He was pretty forthright and pretty quick on this and he can move on. I don't know if you agree with that assumption.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, the Special Forces community is precise about who claims membership in it. He was right to apologize. It was wrong to inflate what he did. But finishing Army Ranger training and certification is no slouch either. That is a very difficult, demanding, elite type -- Special Forces type training. The fact he did that and served in the 82nd Airborne Division I think, you know, makes this less than some of the others we dealt with.
And in the end, he should be judged by his success or not at dealing with real problems with the V.A.
BROWNSTEIN: Exactly right.
BLITZER: I assume he's going to be able to move on. The White House supports him.
Obviously, all of a sudden today, Brianna, we heard from Hillary Clinton. He's been sort of mum for the last few weeks. But you were listening to a speech she gave women tech executives out in California.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. So, she reemerged. We hadn't heard from Hillary Clinton sometime, and this was a speech, a paid speech that she gave.
Basically, this is a women's Silicon Valley event that she was at. And she talked about women in technology, in science and how they're really underrepresented. But she also talked about, in addition to economic issues like income inequality in generally, she really tailored to this -- not just this women's group, but to all women, paid family medical leave. She talked about equal pay. And so, you see a couple of things going on here.
She's playing certainly on the message here to women. She's playing to those folks. She's also in Silicon Valley. She met with a lot of execs before this conference. Big donor money and she's trying to win them over.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But, you know, she was also asked about sort of Google and the problems with national security and the questions of spying because Google and folks out in Silicon Valley have some issues with the NSA and the president on that. She was asked about ISIS. What the president has done wrong.
You can see she's going to have a problem figuring out how far she backs off from the president and in what direction she decides to go because she's clearly more muscular on ISIS. She wanted to arm the Syrian rebels. She may be more on NSA spying. And, you know, she was playing to a Silicon Valley crowd here. That was a bit more difficult.
KEILAR: She was asked twice on ISIS, is the president doing enough? Door wide open to distance herself and she ended up giving what was basically a history of Iraq and staying away from answering that question.
BLITZER: She's running, obviously, at least in part as a woman. She would be a historic figure, the first woman president of the United States if she were to win.
BROWNSTEIN: You know, the reality is, that for all the talk about the gender gap there's a lot of room for her to grow with women. Barack Obama only won 42 percent of white women, according to the exit poll. That was the weakest performance --
BLITZER: In 2008?
BROWNSTEIN: In 2012. That was the weakest performance for my Democrat, as Walter Mondale in 1984. And if you look at in more kind of specific way, Democrats have struggled with those working class white women, what we sometimes call the waitress moms. Barack Obama only won 39 percent of them.
And when you look at polling, I've been scouring them for over a year. Hillary Clinton is not consistently running better with those blue collar white women. But where she is running better with the women most like her, college-educated white women. Obama slumped among them in 2012. She's running consistently, 6, 7, 8 points better. And that matters especially because they are the fastest growing part of the white electorate and that audience today is exactly what could be a course friends for her --
BORGER: But they were already voting and already voting Democratic, right?
BROWNSTEIN: But not as much as they did in '08 or before.
BORGER: Well, but -- and she might inspire more voters to come out.
BORGER: I think it's a fine line you have to walk, which is that the last time she ran she had a problem. She ran on her experience and not enough on being a woman. This time I think she's overcorrecting herself or it seems to be in danger of that and running too much as being a woman and not enough on her experience.
I mean, today, we heard a lot more about being of woman than when I was secretary of state, X, Y and Z. This is how I would handle the ISIS problem. This is what I would do with NSA. She clearly wants to attract women. She can't lose white men. Big problem, Mitt Romney, of course, won with white men. And she's got to be able to get those voters as well.
And as you learned in midterms, Mark Udall campaigned in Colorado --
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right.
BORGER: -- if you only talk about women's issues and you're a woman, it's a problem.
KEILAR: The difference, I think, that some of her advisors might point out is talking more about women's economic issues and not talking about hot button social issues like contraception, which was the case --
BLITZER: Very quickly, they're going to pass, the Department of Homeland Security, funding a clean bill. It will pass the Senate. It will go to the House. They'll pass it. The Department of Homeland Security will have money.
Do you agree?
BROWNSTEIN: There's been a lot of lemon like behavior over the last couple of years. This would take the cake. I still can't imagine the Republicans will allow that to happen. But, look, we've said that before and we've gone over those cliffs.
BLITZER: There will be a little drama.
BORGER: Well, you know, the secretary of Homeland Security said to me over the weekend, he said, it's absurd to even think that we are having this conversation, and I would have to say I agree with him.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very, very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
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