Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Congressman Darrell Issa; Rand Paul Announces Bid For Presidency; Selling Iranian Nuclear Deal; Sources: Russians Hacked White House; Policeman Charged with Murdering Unarmed Man. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 7, 2015 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Has the attack put national security at risk?

Ally on fire. A critical U.S. partner is descending into deadly chaos, with air strikes killing an increasingly number of civilians. Now the U.S. is sending weapons and intelligence to assist in the air campaign. Is Washington getting involved in another terror war?

Losing support. A key Senate Democrat breaks with President Obama on the Iran nuclear deal, joining Republicans who are demanding Congress approve the final agreement. Is the president losing support for a historic deal?

And Rand stand. First-term Senator Rand Paul slams Washington as he joins the GOP in the race for the White House? Is he the future for the Republican Party?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following major breaking stories this hour, including a disturbing online attack on the White House.

Sources telling CNN that hackers working for the Russian government have accessed the White House computer system and obtained sensitive information about the president. Also, the deadly fighting in Yemen, which had been a critical U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda. Saudi-led air strikes on rebel forces have reportedly hit a school, injuring students. The civilian death toll now in the hundreds and the U.S. involvement is increasing as the Pentagon steps up military and intelligence assistance for the Saudis.

We're covering all of the breaking news with our correspondents and guests, including Republican Congressman Darrell Issa. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

We begin, though, with CNN justice reporter Evan Perez. He has more on the breaking news about the White House hacker attack.

Evan, you broke this story. Tell our viewers what your sources are saying. EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those Russian hackers

got access to sensitive parts of the White House's e-mail system. They even could see the president's schedule, nonpublic parts of it in real time. They got access to this all in a clever way through the State Department.

Once they got in there, they used that access to trick someone to get into the executive office of the president. Now, investigators tell me, Wolf, this is one of the most serious cyber-attacks they have seen against the U.S. government and it's something that it's one reason why they have increased warnings about the threat from Russia.

BLITZER: Was the information that the Russians presumably obtained from the State Department and the White House classified information?

PEREZ: Well, it wasn't. When the White House first disclosed this back in October, they described it as suspicious activity and they said it affected an unclassified e-mail system. Ben Rhodes in the last hour addressed that saying this was not a new hack, this was something that they had previously addressed.

Our story today details who was doing this, how they got in through the State Department and the kinds of things they saw, including the president's schedule and other sensitive things, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because we interviewed Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, in the last hour. He really didn't want to get into a lot of the details specifically. He didn't want to specifically say that Russia was responsible for this hack. But that's your information. That's what you learned?

PEREZ: That's right. You know, there's a lot of sensitivity in the government right now because of the threat from Russia. They don't know what really to do with it and it's something that took them frankly by surprise.

When this attack first took place against the State Department, I was told that officials looked at it as, you know, the Russians owning the State Department e-mail system because they were all through it and despite, you know, any efforts to try to get them out of the system, it took forever and they still don't know whether they have eradicated it.

BLITZER: Because some intelligence experts say even if you only have access to what is described sensitive information, not formally classified information, but sensitive information, if you penetrated that wall, either at the State Department or the White House, it's not all that difficult to get involved in fishing expeditions and might penetrate classified information as well.

PEREZ: Well, you know, what I was told by some of the investigators who have been working on this is they were shocked to see the kinds of stuff that's shared on this unclassified e-mail system.

There's a lot of stuff that is not technically classified, but it is things that even in law enforcement that they are doing, that they are preparing to do that is discussed in these e-mails and which, you know, is very valuable for foreign spies. It's not just about the classified system. It's the unclassified that is very much a national security issue.

BLITZER: Especially the president's whereabouts, if you will. It may not necessarily be classified but it's sensitive information and you don't necessarily want the Russians or anyone else to know it.

PEREZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting for us, Evan. Thanks very, very much. We will have more on this story coming up later.

But there's another important story that we're following right now, the crisis in Yemen. It's growing and the U.S.' role, as the Pentagon -- is growing as well. The Pentagon now increasing aid for the Saudi- led air war against the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.

[18:05:03] Our chief security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us right now.

What's the latest on this crisis in Yemen, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest today is that U.S. is getting more involved in the military conflict in Yemen.

U.S. officials say they are accelerating military aid to Saudi Arabia, increasing intelligence sharing to help better Saudi war planes better strike targets on the ground and they have even set up a joint command center with the Saudis. The U.S. now a partner, in effect, in the Saudi-led effort to take Yemen back from Iranian-backed rebels.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Fire and explosions as Saudi air strikes rain down on Houthi rebels in Yemen. Now the U.S. is a partner in the air campaign, stepping up its military and intelligence support to Saudi- led forces.

In the Saudi capital today, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the campaign is sending a strong message.

TONY BLINKEN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have expedited weapons deliveries, we have increased our intelligence sharing and we have established a joint coordination planning cell in the Saudi operation center.

SCIUTTO: American aid to the Saudis further expands the U.S. military footprint in a region increasingly plagued by war. And while the U.S. won't be flying warplanes over Yemen, it may not own the consequences.

JON ALTERMAN, MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: If you give targeting intelligence or they don't use it or they misinterpret it and something bad happens, you're still going to be blamed for it. There's a way in which the United States will bear the consequences of either the success or the failure of the Saudi air campaign.

SCIUTTO: And already today, Saudi strikes destroyed tanks belonging to friendly forces on the ground and hit a school, injuring at least half a dozen students.

For Americans caught in the violence, their safety remains largely in their own hands. The State Department is still not evacuating American citizens, instead, alerting them to escape routes offered by other countries and organizations.

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Each individual needs to assess their security situation and determine whether it's better to shelter in place or try and take advantage of one of these other opportunities that we are alerting people to.

SCIUTTO: The human toll of the fighting is mounting. The U.N. estimates casualties of 540 killed and some 1,700 wounded.

ALTERMAN: The Saudi air strikes are certainly contributing to the possibility of widespread humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. And were that to happen, it would be hard for anybody to put a lid on things.


SCIUTTO: I just want to connect the dots here as conflict spreads in the region. Look at the wars now in surrounding key U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia here. War in Syria, Iraq, Yemen getting worse, Somalia for a long time a failed state and keep in mind the U.S. now involved in all of these wars on the ground and in the air in Iraq and in the air over Syria.

Now increasing U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia here in Yemen, as that situation deteriorates and ongoing drone operations in Somalia, strictly counterterror there in general, but, again, U.S. involvement in all of these wars as they surround key U.S. allies. And just one more point I would make, as you have the sensitive nuclear negotiations and progress on those nuclear negotiations going on with Iran, you have the U.S. on opposites sides with Iran in two of these wars.

In Syria, the U.S. against Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran, and here in Yemen the Houthi rebels backed by Iran, the Saudis on the other side backed by the U.S. here, although, of course, in Iraq, as it happens, the U.S. and Iran on the same side against ISIS. It's that complicated a region. It's that war-torn a region today with deep U.S. involvement, Wolf.

BLITZER: Don't forget, Jim, not that far away, Kenya, you see what is going on with Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate in Kenya, not that far away, Libya, a failed state. The U.S. got rid of Gadhafi but look what is going on there. That whole region seems to be on fire.

SCIUTTO: No question. You have the continuing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as well, and as we heard recently, U.S. forces not going to draw down as quickly there as originally planned, Ashton Carter asking to keep more troops in there for longer. BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us, thank you.

The deal to restrain Iran's nuclear program is facing a new hurdle with a key Democrat now siding with Senate Republicans, demanding that Congress sign off on the final agreement. And that has the White House working overtime to convince skeptics.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Michelle Kosinski has more on what is going on.

What are you hearing over there, Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right, there is more work to do here. The White House now has Congress and even some Democrats, it has Israel, some Arab countries, all of these criticisms and questions to contend with, so they have been doing this big push to show that in their view this deal is the best option available, though there are things that the president has been saying that are causing some to just jump all over it again.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Congress now appears to be extremely close to a veto-proof majority to make sure it would have the final say on an Iran deal, legislation they will start working on next week.

[18:10:04] The White House now on a full-court press to try to win over more Democrats, even some Republicans, talking to worried Arab nations, to an adamantly opposed Israel.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This sales pitch has only just begun.

KOSINSKI: But some top Democrats now are siding with Republicans. Senator Chuck Schumer, poised to be Senate minority leader, telling Politico, "I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement."

And the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sounds like he will also back Republican Bob Corker's bill that would give Congress that vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Congress has the right to review this.

KOSINSKI: And the president's latest interview with NPR sparked more criticism when he talked about worrisome possibilities down the road even with this deal.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A more relevant fear would be that, in year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that can enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and, at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.

KOSINSKI: That's what critics are worried about, as well as what recourse there would be if Iran did break out towards making a nuclear bomb. Today, the latest Republican contender for president, Senator Rand

Paul, weighed in.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Any deal between the U.S. and Iran must be approved by Congress. Not only is that good policy. It's the law.

KOSINSKI: The administration stridently opposing a vote in Congress while defending the deal.

(on camera): As confident you are in the points that you have laid out, don't you have some confidence, then, that those members of Congress, especially after talking directly to the White House, would vote along with a deal?

EARNEST: Well, but that assumes, Michelle, that they are -- well, that's a good question, Michelle. And I think this is -- I'm going to try to find a diplomatic way of characterizing this. This is a partisan football, and that, frankly, they are not willing to consider the deal on the merits.


KOSINSKI: Apparently, that goes for the Democrats, too, who feel Congress ought to vote on something so important.

The White House calls this Corker bill unrealistic and they point to this provision that would make Iran renounce terrorism. And that might not seem like much to ask given Iran's long history of supporting terror, but the White House insists that Iran with a deal is far, far safer than Iran without a deal because of the rollbacks to its nuclear program and the intense monitoring that it would require, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The skeptics of this deal say that's the least the Iranians could do, given about $150 billion in revenue they can expect once the sanctions are suspended. It's going to really generate a lot of economic growth in Iran. They would like Iran to suspend its terrorist support, but that's not part, specifically part of this nuclear deal.

Michelle, thanks very much for that report.

Let's talk about all of this and more. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California is joining us,. He's member of the House Foreign Affairs committee.

We have a lot to discuss, Congressman.


BLITZER: Let's off with the CNN reporting. You heard Evan Perez, our justice reporter, break the news here. We knew there had been a hacking job done over at the State Department, but today we learned that the hackers were working for the Russian government.

The hackers also, through the State Department, managed to penetrate White House computers, not necessarily getting classified information, but sensitive information, including the president's private travel activities, stuff like that. Were you aware of this?

ISSA: Only recently and from the same reports.

Ultimately, it's more than just sensitive. Who the president meets with, where, when, even if it's retrospectively, quite frankly, is material that is kept from Congress in many cases. So this is very sensitive information. And it's indicative of the fact that Russia is reassembling its evil empire in many ways.

It's expanding, it's involved in espionage and, of course, it's backing countries that are destabilizing other countries like Iran.

BLITZER: So is this a new Cold War? We are on the verge of a new Cold War, the U.S. and Russia?

ISSA: I think we have been in a new Cold War, actually, since Putin and Bush times.

What is different now is that Iran and other proxies are actively involved in wars. Obviously, we're working with Turkey to a certain extent, we're working with Saudi Arabia. We have put a lot of money into other countries, including Lebanon, to try to stabilize them. Well, as we speak, with the limited resources Iran has, they are destabilizing the same countries.

If they get that $150 billion bonanza, will it go to their people or will it go to all-out war in the region?

BLITZER: Is the U.S. really vulnerable to these kinds of cyber- attacks?

ISSA: We are. We are.

Unfortunately, one of the challenges with cyber is, once you open a door and you provide a port, the most insidious little things can get you. And the best way to look at it is, if I only took e-mail from people I knew and places I knew and they only took e-mail from people they knew and so on, you wouldn't have a problem.

[18:15:08] But as soon as you open the world up to port 8080, to Web surfing, everybody is likely to pick something up. And quite frankly -- and this came out publicly so it's no longer classified -- the fact that you can embed into a hard drive the basic malware necessary to read and send means in some cases the real trick is to be involved in the equipment when it's delivered.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Congressman. We have much more to discuss, as we mentioned, the whole region and whether North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia seems to be on fire right now, especially in Yemen.

Much more with Congressman Darrell Issa right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:20:10] BLITZER: We're following the violent collapse of Yemen.

It was a critical ally to the United States in fighting the al Qaeda affiliate in that country before the government was ousted by the rebel Shiite forces, the Houthis.

We're back with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The fact that the U.S. now has no diplomatic civilian presence, no military presence in Yemen, this is the home of AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, how much has that undermined this opportunity, this ability, in effect, to prevent AQAP from launching terrorist strikes against U.S. interests?

ISSA: It's not just U.S. interests.

And you're right. We're blind there. Obviously, even the CIA had to pull out or substantially pull out. Except for drones, we have no eyes there. It means that a large area that we could operate from on land now has to be moved to 40 acres aboard an aircraft carrier that is already overtaxed.

Look, the reality, though, is you said the United States. This is an existential threat to Saudi Arabia. If they move from where they are into Mecca, Medina, it's a win for Iran. And that's what will happen if they consolidate their power.

Now, obviously, you have got both al Qaeda and the Houthi. So you have a civil war even if the government falls, but, quite candidly, this is a Shia country predominantly enough that they will win out if they topple the government.

BLITZER: Because I spoke yesterday with the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir. He says Iranians and Hezbollah fighters, they are directly backing these Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. What do you know about that?

ISSA: Hezbollah are the best-built, best-backed militants anywhere in the world.

They have been hardened. In '06, they fought against Israel relatively successfully on their own turf and they have been fighting in Syria in large numbers. Quite candidly, that's one of our challenges, is to stabilize Lebanon and, at the same time, recognize that we have got to keep Hezbollah from crossing freely across the border, resting in Lebanon and fighting in Syria and other places such as Yemen.

BLITZER: Where do you stand on this proposed nuclear deal with Iran?

ISSA: A real nuclear deal, one that absolutely stops their ability for the foreseeable future to start again, would be of great value.

Anything less than that, less than a disarmament, creates a situation in which we will be hoping that they are not cheating, while all along, you will see that, quite candidly, going after Iran for other wrongdoing will be impossible. And I think that's where Iran has been very smart. They realized that they could stop at this point and get all the benefit of a nuclear weapon when it came to continuing their terrorism.

And I think that's where Senate Republicans and Democrats are saying, no, you can't have a terrorist nation that gets the equivalent of a nuclear weapon, may cheat to get a nuclear weapon. That's not a good deal for America, not when Americans are dying because of those terrorists that they are backing.

BLITZER: Because the administration says, and I'm paraphrasing, obviously, don't let the perfect be the enemy of a good deal.

ISSA: And that's a good statement.

But when you're going to give $150 billion of funds very quickly released that can buy tanks, that can buy all kinds of weapons and technology, just as a decade ago you and I saw Iran improving the ability to kill Americans in Iraq with better IEDs that came from Iran, Iran can fund and support terrorists who cause Americans and their allies to die.

So you can't just separate the two. I think that really saying nukes are off the table is a good start. That's not what the deal seems to do. And certainly no pushback from terrorism of the sort that Iran has been guilty of around the world, I think it's worth the Senate saying it's a package and we at least need to talk about it and be sold on it. The president needs to sell, not order the Senate to do this.

BLITZER: So you're not yet convinced to support, because you want more information; is that what you're saying?

ISSA: I think that the negotiating process will make it better. If the president says to Iran, I have got to get a good enough deal to get through my Senate, he gets a better deal in these last few, eight weeks or so than he's going to get if he says, what does it take to get this deal done? I need it for my legacy.

This isn't about legacy, because the president and Secretary Kerry will leave in less than two years. Those senators and members of the House will be a sustaining body that have to worry about Iran for decades.

BLITZER: But the administration says this is strictly a nuclear- related deal. They are not talking about other issues, like Iran stopping its support for terrorism or recognizing Israel's right to exist or freeing American prisoners who are still being held in Iran.

Those are separate issues. They deal separately with that. This is strictly a deal to prevent Iran for the foreseeable future from having a nuclear weapons capability.

[18:25:00] ISSA: And I believe that Senator Schumer and Senator Grassley and Corker and others, if this were like it was in Libya, where they backed up a boat and they took the nuclear components right out of Libya, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

BLITZER: During Gadhafi's regime right after the war in 2003.


ISSA: Exactly. We caught him red-handed. He capitulated.

I was there and got to see some of the nuclear assets. The fact is, he totally capitulated. The nuclear fissile facilities left the country. That's not on the table. So, we're not talking about somebody backing away. We're talking about somebody who says they won't continue as fast.

BLITZER: Congressman Issa, thanks very much for joining us.

ISSA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Darrell Issa, member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Breaking news coming up next. We have more on the revelation of the attack on the White House by hackers working for the Russian government.

Plus, Rand Paul officially now running for president of the United States. How does he distance himself from some of his father's more controversial positions?


BLITZER: We have some breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[18:30:51] Sources telling CNN hackers working for the Russian government broke into White House computers, seizing sensitive information, including the president's schedule.

Let's get some more with our CNN intelligence and security expert, Bob Baer; our counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd; our national security analyst, Peter Bergen; and CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Phil, how shocked should we be that Russia managed, apparently successfully, to hack into the State Department system and then indirectly hack into the White House system, as well, not necessarily getting classified information but sensitive information?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I would say zero shock. Look, spying is the second oldest profession on the planet. A hundred years ago, you'd have human sources. Twenty-five years ago, you might be intercepting telephones. In the 21st Century, you're going over -- after electrons. Everybody knows this.

The surprise really would have been if somebody said the Russians are making no effort and have had no success penetrating unclassified or not very classified systems at State and the White House. I look at this and say, this is what spies do. It's just James Bond, 21st Century. It's the same thing.

BLITZER: Bob Baer, Russia was able to hack into the State Department and White House computers. What other countries are capable of doing the same thing?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there's a lot of them. And you can do this privately, as well. We are all vulnerable on our cell phones, our e-mail systems. Any time you go on the Internet, you are vulnerable.

I would imagine the Chinese are into a lot of places they shouldn't be. The French could. You know, South Africans, it doesn't matter. Anybody that has the money to put towards it can get into our communication system. And Washington is notoriously slack about keeping classified information out of public channels. And I think a lot of people know that, and they're going after it.

BLITZER: And there's another great fear, Peter Bergen. You studied the cyberterrorism. The terrorists can get into that system, penetrate the U.S. system, and basically bring a lot of the U.S. infrastructure to a halt.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Terrorists don't have the capabilities yet. I mean, the states we're talking about are Russia, China, Iran with the ability to do substantial damage to an institution like Sony or to, you know, steal the F-35 plans as the Chinese did. Terrorists aren't at that point, but the, you know, rules of law (ph) suggest that they could get there. I mean, we've seen ISIS, you know, sort of get into the CentCom Twitter feed, which is, you know, insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But certainly, that's the trend, you know, where we're seeing terrorists experimenting with these kinds of attacks.

BLITZER: I assume, General Hertling, they could get into the State Department system. They can get into the White House computer system. They might be able to get into the Pentagon system, as well. You used to work there. What do you think?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. This all has to do with the unclassified servers. You know, again, you have the classified servers, which a lot of the communication is -- that's where the root is. The unclassified systems are just like any other Internet system. It's got a server that can be hacked.

BLITZER: General Hertling, let's talk a little bit about what's going in Yemen. The place is in chaos right now. The Saudis are launching air strikes. They say they have partners from some of the other Arab Sunni Gulf states. The U.S. is providing some aid, some intelligence. This situation, though, is a real disaster right now, isn't it?

HERTLING: It is, Wolf. And it's changing the approach, I think, the command -- the Central Command is having on the ground in three basic areas. First of all, the focus for an air campaign, to assist in an air campaign is very different than a counterterrorism campaign. It's just tougher on a command to watch those number of airplanes go over from Saudi Arabia into Yemen.

Secondly, the number of resources that you have. As Jim Sciutto pointed out earlier, there's not that many drones that can cover all of the areas that we currently are fighting in or supporting fighting in.

And the third piece is resources. It's one thing to have special operations and intelligence analysts to go after terrorism, but it's another thing to have targeteers, analysts, supply technicians and all those sorts of things to help an ally like Saudi Arabia conduct operations in Yemen.

BLITZER: And Phil Mudd, there's word now that it's not just the Iranians who are supporting those Houthi rebels, or Hezbollah fighters come in from Lebanon, supporting the Houthi. There's now word that they're getting some support from Russia, as well. Have you heard that?

MUDD: I've heard that. But let's take a step back to understand that.

[18:35:07] Back when I joined the agency as an analyst, you had a constellation of camps. The U.S., with countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt. And then you had Russia allied with countries like India and, significantly for this case, Iran. Iran obviously is in with the Houthis, the Shia organization.

I think what you're having here is a bigger picture that has to do with global power politics and Putin's power plays. Around the world, I'm wondering if we're going to go back to an era where we start to define the world of camps. Who's in with Putin? Who's in with the United States? And I think this might be evidence that that's starting to happen.

BLITZER: An awful echo from the Cold War, which we all thought was over with.

Guys, stand by. We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[18:40:20] BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. A white police officer in South Carolina is now being charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed African-American man.

In a cell-phone video obtained by "The New York Times," North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slater is seen firing eight shots at Walter Scott as he runs away from him. Scott was hit in the back, and he died.

We're going to show you part of the video. It goes without saying, it is very disturbing. Watch this.




BLITZER: Scott had been stopped because his car had a broken taillight. Officer Slater reported he fired his gun after the two men scuffled over the policeman's Taser.

However, the video shows Scott running away, and when the policeman pulls his gun and opens fire. Let's bring in "The New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt has been reporting on this as well as our justice reporter, Evan Perez.

Michael, what are you learning about this incident?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, this video was taken by a bystander who came to the family of the victim in recent days and said he had this. He didn't actually go to the police. He actually was scared away from the scene at the time of the incident, because the officers looked at him and said, "Why are you taking video of us?" So it was only after the fact that the family got it.

BLITZER: Evan, the North Charleston mayor, Keith Summey -- I think that's how he pronounces his name -- said at a press conference that this police officer, Michael, would be charged with murder as a result of that video and the bad decision made by our officer. He said at a press conference that this police officer, Michael Slater, would be charged with murder as a result of that video "and the bad decision made by our officer."

BLITZER: Are you surprised at how quickly all of this unfolded?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's actually very shocking that this is happening so quickly, Wolf. We've seen many of these incidents in the last couple of years, and they always take a long, long time of investigation. For the state officials to be moving so quickly is very unusual.

We also have a statement that we just received from the Justice Department, saying that their -- the FBI in South Carolina, along with the Justice Department civil rights division, are also going to be launching their own separate investigation to look into this. Obviously, this shocking video that Michael and "The New York Times" were able to obtain is what made the difference here.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a pretty shocking video. Let me show the video once again. Michael, stand by. Because I want you to tell me how Walter Scott's family is reacting to all of this. Let's watch it closely.



(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Michael, you see him, Walter Scott, clearly running away, his back to the police officer that opened fire. Eight shots and killed Walter Scott. What's been the reaction from the family and others? What are you hearing?

SCHMIDT: I was told the family was very relieved and actually joyous but obviously incredibly sad when they heard the announcement. But to piggyback on the point before, I think the difference here is that the authorities had the video. They were eventually given it by his lawyers who had gotten it. I think that put an enormous amount of pressure on them. They knew that the video was going to be coming out and they saw what happened in Ferguson, and they knew that if they acted quickly, they could really get out in front of the story. And that's if you talk to Mr. Scott's lawyer. That's what they would say. They say they really think that the game-changer here was the video.

BLITZER: The officer in question says he believed his life was in danger because Scott took his Taser, his stun gun. Is that right?

SCHMIDT: Well, the video doesn't really -- really back that up. What you see in the video is that Mr. Scott really doesn't have anything in his hands when he's -- it doesn't appear like he does when he's running away from the officer. It appears like the stun gun may have been -- may have gone off behind the officer. Actually, fallen or gone off in a different direction. So it doesn't look like it actually backs up the officer's statement.

Now later in the video, you see the officer go and pick up what appears to be the stun gun. And he moves it over towards where Mr. Scott's body is lying. And then he later picks that up in front of another officer and puts it on his belt. It's curious behavior at a crime scene.

BLITZER: And officials -- you've been talking, Evan Perez. You've been talking to the Justice Department officials and others, and they're saying it's extraordinary, but the video, obviously, the cell- phone video is extraordinary. About the fact that the mayor (ph) has moved so quickly to charge with police officer with murder. That's pretty extraordinary, as well.

PEREZ: I think the way Michael was (INAUDIBLE). It's definitely one of the things that makes a difference is the video and, you know, if it wasn't for the video, you know, if it wasn't for this video -- if it weren't for this video, you'd have the officer's word against whatever -- you know, any witnesses could say happened and we have -- you know how that usually ends, Wolf. The officer gets a lot of the benefit of the doubt. Especially when he can claim that he feared for his life.

BLITZER: We're told, by the way, that the family of Walter Scott will be having a news conference later tonight. We'll, obviously, here in CNN have coverage of that.

Michael Schmidt, very quickly, the original incident occurred because what he was driving a Mercedes and he had a bad taillight, a broken taillight so the police officer stopped him for that? Is that what happened?

SCHMIDT: Yes. Taillight was out. They stopped him and he got out of the car and he ran. There was a warrant out for his arrest for not paying child support payments. Several warrants, actually, on that. And he took off and the officer eventually went after him, tackled him.

He went out to get his taser, he tased him. It looks like the taser went in to Mr. Scott. Mr. Scott got up and when Mr. Scott got up, the taser goes one way, Mr. Scott goes the other and then the officer shoots him.

BLITZER: It's a pretty disturbing -- very disturbing video, I must say.

All right. Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times" and Evan Perez from CNN -- guys, thanks very much.

Much more in the story coming up later. We'll take a quick break.


[18:51:08] BLITZER: Republican Senator Rand Paul is out on the campaign trail tonight, starting a four-day swing through early primary caucus states, just hours after announcing he's running for president of the United States.

Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is there. She's joining us now live from Louisville.

Dana, he's already on the campaign trail, isn't he?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is. He should be arriving as we speak in the first of the nation primary state of New Hampshire. He's traveling with a prominent African-American, J.C. Watts.

He's going to a fund-raiser tonight. It's not going to be with fat cats, though. It's going to be with karaoke singers. That's right. Karaoke singers are meeting all over the country to raise money for Rand Paul. He's going to join in -- proof they say in the Paul campaign that he's a different kind of candidate.


BASH (voice-over): In many ways, Rand Paul's platform for president sounds like the 2010 Tea Party credo he used to snatch his Senate seat from the GOP establishment.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Too often when Republicans have won, we have squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine. That's not who I am.

BASH: But any successful presidential run would require a much larger coalition. And Paul insists he will build it by bringing what he calls opportunity through liberty, through minority communities who usually vote for Democrats.

PAUL: This message of liberty is for all Americans -- Americans from all walks of life.

BASH: Paul is also inheriting throngs of young, enthusiastic activists inspired by his father and fellow libertarian, former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

PAUL: I say the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business.

BASH: But his father's appeal had limits. For Rand Paul to win the White House nomination now, he's been moving towards mainstream GOP positions. No doubt why here, Ron Paul was seen but not heard.

While some rhetoric mirrored anti-intervention views of his dad like opposing foreign aid --

PAUL: I say it must end. I say not one penny more to these haters of America.

BASH: Much of his foreign policy talk was aimed at proving to GOP hawks he's no isolationist.

PAUL: The enemy is radical Islam. You can't get around it.

I will do whatever it takes to defend America from those haters of mankind.

BASH: But even before he announced, the man who made infamous swift boat ads against John Kerry released one against Paul for his stance on Iran.

AD NARRATOR: Rand Paul is standing with him.

BASH: In an unusual move for an announcement speech, Paul let into the weeds to explain his Iran positioning, saying he would oppose any deal that doesn't end Iran's nuclear ambitions. But --

PAUL: Trust but verify is required in any negotiation, but our goal always should be and always is peace, not war.


BASH: And, Wolf, in an effort to show that he is continuing to evolve on issues of national security and defense, in his stop in South Carolina, the southern first primary state, he's going to appear before the historic USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, again, trying to appeal to those who are traditionally with him, libertarians, young people, but also tries to stitch together patch work that does include the more traditional Republican constituents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, standby.

I want to bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and our senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, who has just joined here at CNN.

Nia, welcome to CNN.

Gloria, on to Rand -- Rand Paul, he didn't waste any time. He said he would oppose, in his words, any deal that does not end Iran's ambitions.


[18:55:01] BLITZER: He said he would insist that any final version be brought before Congress.

Are you surprised he took such a deep dive on Iran today?

BORGER: You know, as Dana pointed out, it is unusual to do this in a presidential announcement speech when you're generally more lofty and less specific.

But I think Rand Paul had something to prove here, and he had to prove to the Republican Party establishment that no, he's not sort of out on the fringe, that he has to bring himself sort of into the mainstream on national security and say, you know what, I think we need to defend America. I don't want to approve any deal. I believe what Ronald Reagan believed. They're all invoking Ronald Reagan these days. Trust but verify.

So, I think he had a specific purpose there to establish kind of national security credibility.

BLITZER: His position on several sensitive issues seems to evolve over the years, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Only a short period of time too. He's only been in the Senate for four years. But on, just a few example, one is the funding for Israel. He said that all U.S. aid should be stopped, in 2011 he said that. In 2014, he said, no, I didn't say that. Our foreign aid should continue.

So, civil rights, his opinion has evolved. Immigration his opinion is evolved. And we haven't heard him on the recent issues of religious liberty and gay marriage. He's giving kind of -- some competing views of that.

His biggest challenge or at least in the early part will be the old Rand Paul versus what he is saying right now.

BLITZER: And he's distanced himself, Nia, from some of his dad's positions. His dad was a congressman from Texas -- pretty popular with libertarians, obviously.

But, Rand Paul has distanced himself from some of those positions.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. I think if you look at Ron Paul as a purist libertarian, and Rand Paul is running more as a practical libertarian, as much as he wanted to be Ronald Reagan in this speech. I think he was also saying I am not my father on several issues, NSA,

for instance, you've got Ron Paul's position, which is wanting to end the NSA, and Rand Paul has a more practical view of reining the NSA in, same thing with drug policy, same thing with ISIS. While Ron Paul doesn't want any sort of intervention militarily, Rand Paul does want some military intervention.

So, he is very much trying to do that and distance himself from his father, but he's also got to figure out a way to maintain some of that outsider cred and energy that his father brought in his three presidential campaigns and those young folks as well.

BORGER: You know, his father's supporters are so vehement, and so energetic, and so enthusiastic that if you alienate them at all, and they even think you're libertarian light, forget it.

ZELENY: Right.


BORGER: He could lose them. And so, he's navigating a mine field here between evangelicals and establishment and African-Americans.


BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Let me go back to Dana for a moment.

Dana, how was he received over there and what's the reaction among Republicans, not only libertarians but establishment Republicans?

BASH: Well, very interesting. The day after Ted Cruz, maybe even the day Ted Cruz announced, the only other Republican who has formally announced, Ron Paul went after him, saying that he personally believed Rand Paul is more electable than Ted Cruz.

Cruz issued a very sort of magnanimous statement today, welcoming his friend Rand Paul into the field. So far, that's about all we've heard.

But one thing that I want to point out, because being in the room you really did sense that energy from the young people. The minute Ron Paul came into the room, he came in like 40 minutes before the event started, there was an eruption of applause. There's such affection for Ron Paul among these supporters that Rand does understand clearly that he has to have that balance between distancing himself from his father but also keeping all those supporters in the poll because in many respects, all of those sort of grassroots activists, if they're not going to be with him, they're probably not going to vote. I mean, in many respects, that happens to be true.

So, this is kind of an additional bump that he can get in many of these early primary and caucus states with these people who are just so stoked about the Paul family.

BORGER: But, you know, ironically, he was more popular a year ago before ISIS, before the American public witnessed all in the headings.

ZELENY: Well, things have changed so much since he has started running.

BORGER: Exactly.

ZELENY: But he has to get the Republican conservative base out in Iowa and South Carolina long before the libertarians. They may take the long stretch, but in the short term, it's the Republican base. That's why he talks so much about --

BORGER: Ted Cruz last week announced. Rand Paul today announced. Next week, Marco Rubio. Three freshmen Republican senators, they're all effectively in the race.

HENDERSON: That's right. I mean, that's a great lineup if you're talking about college basketball. All those freshmen senators do prove that last night. But it's going to be difficult for these guys because they got the Obama problem.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We got to leave it there.

Just a note to our viewers: be sure to tune into THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Senator Rand Paul will be right here. We'll have a live interview with him. That's coming up tomorrow.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @wolfblitzer.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.