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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Demands Swift Action on Terrorist Tracking; ISIS Claims Responsibility for Deadly Hotel Bombings; U.S.-Trained Counterterror Commander Defects to ISIS; New Calls for U.S. to Directly Arm Sunni Tribes; Interview with Rep. Ryan Zinke; Sources Say Hastert Paid to Hide Alleged Sexual Misconduct; New Storms and Flooding in Texas, Oklahoma; Blinding New Threat to Airplane Pilots. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 29, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, blaming Congress -- President Obama sends a blunt message to lawmakers -- don't endanger the country for forcing the shutdown of crucial Patriot Act programs.
Will terrorists be emboldened if the NSA servers are switched off this weekend?
Sights on Baghdad -- ISIS takes responsibility for a pair of deadly bombings in Iraq's capital city.
Is this the beginning of a reign of terror aimed at capturing the Iraqi capital?
Plus, the State Department tells CNN a terrorist featured in a new ISIS video received counterterrorism training right here in the United States.
Also, breaking, stunning allegations in a major extortion scandal against a man who once was second in line to the presidency. Sources now tell CNN former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been attempting to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct.
And city underwater -- massive flooding brings one of the most important highways in Dallas to a standstill. Instead of coming to the rescue, even police cars are caught in the rising water.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including President Obama's last ditch effort to save programs for tracking potential terrorists. They go dark this weekend unless Congress reauthorizes parts of The Patriot Act. And just now the president demanded swift action. We'll go to the White House in just a moment.
Also, breaking now, ISIS claiming responsibility for a pair of deadly bombings at hotels right in the heart of Baghdad. And a mosque bombing in Saudi Arabia again. We've seen ISIS do this before -- terrorize a city with bombs, then send in fighters once people are paralyzed by fear.
Could Baghdad be next?
Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke here to take our questions. He's a former Navy SEAL commander, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Our reporters and experts, they've been working their sources. They're ready to bring you the very latest.
Let's get the very latest from our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski -- Michelle.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
This is a last push for the White House to persuade what may be now only three remaining senators to vote to keep these parts of The Patriot Act up and running. We've heard more rhetoric from the White House, saying that the Senate is playing Russian roulette with security; saying that something needs to happen to keep this going; and calling what's been going on in the Senate like a feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.
And just now, we heard from the president laying out what is at stake for national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want us to be in a situation in which, for a certain period of time, those authorities go away and suddenly we're dark and, heaven forbid, we've got a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity, but we didn't do so simply because of inaction in the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: And even though the White House has not or cannot produce even one case where some of these Patriot Act programs saved the day and thwarted terror, they make two arguments. First that these are important tools and just because they may not have cracked any one particular important case doesn't mean they won't be vital in the future. And also, they say, why let any risk come into play here, if the Senate doesn't vote?
I mean the argument really is that, first of all, for -- for privacy. If the Senate would vote for this bill that the House has already passed on a largely bipartisan basis to take the hands of bulk phone data collection out of the government and put it in the hands of the phone companies, that would settle that question and would still protect national security. Not all senators, including Rand Paul, who's really been leading the fight, see it that way, though. They feel like, OK, they want national security in place, but they want certain amendments to at least be considered that would further protect privacy rights.
Not sure if that's going to happen. This could go straight to a vote. And that's the big question mark here -- will they pass that bill, that the House has already passed, that would prevent these programs from expiring -- Wolf?
BLITZER: What do they think over there at the White House -- Michelle?
Do they think it will pass?
KOSINSKI: Well, they're not saying anything. I mean it could only be down to three senators whose votes are needed. That never means, though, that it's going to happen. But I did just hear from a spokesperson for the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said that they may not get full support, but they do think they will pass legislation on Sunday before the expiration. It just remains to be seen what exactly that legislation looks like, because if it's not exactly the House bill, then it's going to have to go back to the process. And these things will expire -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Michelle, thanks very much.
Also, breaking now, ISIS claiming responsibility for a pair of deadly bombings at hotels right in the heart of Baghdad. Both hotels popular with the city's elite, as well as foreigners, including journalists.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been working her sources.
What's the Pentagon's reaction to the ISIS claim that it struck right inside Baghdad?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Wolf, technically, the White -- the Pentagon says it cannot confirm the ISIS claim. They have no intelligence to confirm it. But I think the reality is people accept that claim on its face value. ISIS has been conducting terrorist attacks in Baghdad for some time.
What's the concern right now, though?
Well, look, ISIS has been making progress across Anbar Province, to the west of Baghdad, on that western approach to the capital.
So the question facing the U.S. intelligence community, could ISIS put its gains together?
Could it really make a run for Baghdad?
Could it take the city?
The conventional wisdom right now in the intelligence community is ISIS won't even try to go for the whole city. It's a Shia led city to a large extent. It would take everything they have. They don't -- ISIS doesn't really like to risk that much is the thinking. They like to go after the targets they know they can get, the vulnerabilities.
So their strategy, perhaps, is what we are seeing right now, tactical strikes, terrorist attacks, suicide car bombs in Baghdad, unsettle the population there, unsettle the government. They get a good deal of publicity and propaganda out of this. They cause mayhem and death.
And in terms of Baghdad, for now, that may be enough, but it is something the Iraqi government is clearly going to have to deal with -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara, what are you hearing about the possibility that the Obama administration might start arming moderate Iraqi Sunnis in Anbar Province, maybe elsewhere, directly, and not go through the central government in Baghdad?
STARR: Well, we know Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been focusing on this. His view is, along with others in the administration, you have to get those Sunni tribal leaders out in Anbar Province, again, into the fight. You know, several years ago during the war in Iraq, that so-called Sunni uprising worked. It was key to pushing al Qaeda out of that region. They want to do that again.
But how do you do it right now?
The U.S. policy, you have to work through the Iraqi government in Baghdad.
But what they're looking at, is there some kind of wiggle room?
Coordinate with the Iraqi government, get it authorized by them.
But is there some way you can potentially distribute weapons directly to the Sunni fighters in the West?
Of course, the big problem, will they use those U.S. weapons if they get them to fight ISIS or will they turn on the Shia-led government -- Wolf?
BLITZER: It's a huge, huge issue.
Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.
ISIS, meanwhile, is making a chilling threat against America tonight in a new video posted online. But what worries officials even more, the man on camera was trained in the United States as a special counterterror commander before defecting to ISIS.
CNN's Brian Todd has been tracking the story for us.
What are you learning -- Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this man's name is Gulmurod Khalimov. He is a former colonel for the counterterror police of Tajikistan.
We have just learned tonight this man was trusted enough to be allowed inside the United States at least five times for extensive counterterror training. And he was on American soil as recently as last year.
TODD (voice-over): Donned in ISIS black, he confidently carries a long sniper rifle, a bandoleer of ammunition. He picks off a tomato to show his skill.
This is an ISIS video and CNN has just learned this man trained on American soil.
The fighter says he's Gulmurod Khalimov, a former commander in a special police counterterror unit in Tajikistan, a key U.S. ally.
GULMUROD KHALIMOV, ISIS FIGHTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): From 2003 to 2008, I received specialized training in America, on the military base of Blackwater.
TODD: Blackwater, a controversial U.S. contracting company which sent private security personnel to Iraq and trained other countries' fighters at this compound in North Carolina.
Contacted by CNN, Academy, the company that purchased Blackwater's training facility, was unable to confirm that Khalimov was there. The State Department tells CNN Khalimov participated in five counterterrorism courses in the U.S. and Tajikistan between 2003 and last year.
We spoke with former Army sniper, Paul Scharre, about what he might have learned.
(on camera): What skills that he would have learned do you think might hurt allied forces on the battlefield?
PAUL SCHARRE, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: So the types of training that he's likely have received would have been basic tactics and maneuvers, the ability to say move through a building, move through an urban area in a tactical way, maybe basic marksmanship.
TODD (voice-over): Scharre says U.S. contractors wouldn't have trained Khalimov to be a killing machine like Rambo. But if Khalimov was a top commander in Tajikistan's counterterror forces, there's another worry.
MICHAEL BREEN, THE TRUMAN REPORT: The real problem is he knows how to plan counterterrorism operations. So he knows how the people who protect a high value target will be thinking. He knows how the people who protect an embassy will be thinking.
And so that puts him in a position to, as we would say in the military, to red team that, to -- to think very intelligently about how to disrupt those plans. That's a dangerous capability.
TODD: Another ominous signal, Khalimov's threat against what he called American pigs.
KHALIMOV: God willing, we will come to your cities, to your homes and we will kill you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: The State Department says all appropriate vetting of Khalimov was done before he came to the US. Tajik officials have so far not commented on this man or this video.
Khalimov has another dangerous skill that goes beyond what he can do with a sniper rifle. In this video, he speaks Russian. Analysts say that's a marketing decision by ISIS, to use him as a tool to recruit more fighters from Central Asia -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, he also claims to have been trained by the Russians, as well, right?
TODD: That's right. And another ominous skill, Wolf, he says he was trained by Spetsnaz. Those are elite Russian commando forces. So if he's got training from them and from U.S. Special Forces, he probably has considerable skill to use on the battlefield against the allies, and, of course, to train other ISIS fighters.
BLITZER: That's a pretty disturbing development, as well.
All right, Brian, thank you.
With us here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana.
He was a Naval SEAL -- a Navy SEAL commander.
He's now a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. RYAN ZINKE (R), MONTANA: Great to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: You served in Iraq so you know Iraq well. You served in Anbar Province. I'm really concerned about what's going on in Baghdad right now, because all of a sudden today, two more explosions at elite, very, very prestigious hotels.
There seems to be a pattern that the ISIS troops use. In Mosul, first, they had a lot of terrorist explosions. They scared the Iraqi military. They dropped their weapons and ran away.
In Ramadi more recently, a lot of terrorist bombings, improvised explosive devices. The Iraqi military, they were there in bigger numbers than the terrorists. They dropped their weapons and ran away.
It looks like they're trying to do the same thing in Baghdad right now.
ZINKE: Well, I think we're seeing a freefall in policy in Iraq. You have disenfranchised Sunni tribes. You have the Kurds up north that are just holding on. And now you have the Shia militias backed by Iran.
I'm not sure at this point we can put Iraq back as we know it. I think the big player has been Iran.
You have these Shia militias that appear to be coming from nowhere that are now in the 20,000s, led by Republican Guard senior military commanders. And when they're assaulting in the Anbar Province, which is Sunni, they're yelling out anti-Sunni war cries.
So the centralized government, from a Sunni perspective, is no longer a legitimate power.
And that's a huge problem.
BLITZER: So you say it's a freefall right now?
You're not sure...
BLITZER: -- that Iraq can -- can be [you the back together?
Is that -- those were your words, right?
ZINKE: I think -- I think we're seeing a freefall of a policy gone wrong. It's a nightmare for the next president to inherit this -- this policy.
BLITZER: So what should the U.S. be doing?
ZINKE: Well, I think -- I think looking at it, we do need to arm the Kurds, solidify...
BLITZER: Directly, without...
BLITZER: -- going through Baghdad?
ZINKE: And the same thing with the Sunni tribes that will fight. You know, my experience as the deputy and acting commander of Special Forces in Iraq, I served in Fallujah. And the Sunni tribes that rose up and fought with us, they'll rise again, because they are also against ISIS.
But to ask the centralized government to give arms and coordination is simply not going to happen.
BLITZER: Because the centralized government says if you do that, if you start -- the United States -- if you start arming the Kurds directly, which is, of course, what the Kurds want, because they don't trust the government in Baghdad either -- you start providing weapons directly to moderate Sunni tribes in Anbar Province and elsewhere, they say they're -- forget about the United States, they're going to basically align almost completely with Iran.
ZINKE: Well, look at the -- look at the challenge the Kurds have up north.
If they assault Mosul, you're looking at as much as 700,000 refugees.
And where are they going to go?
They're not going to go into ISIS-held territory. They're certainly not going to go to Baghdad. Turkey already has to million refugees and they're campaigning for jobs.
So the only place they can go is Kurdish-held territory.
And they don't have the resources. So the Kurds right now are holding ground. I don't see any significant movement from the Kurds. I think the Sunnis are now deciding whether they're going to side with ISIS or be on their own. But certainly going back to a centralized government that is now Iran influenced, if controlled, I don't think is a possibility.
BLITZER: Right now, the U.S. has about 3,000 troops in Iraq. Some, like Lindsey Graham, Senator McCain, they say bring it up to 10,000, maybe even more.
ZINKE: Well, you know, what we've done is we've -- we've played a card game by giving cards out and we have very few options left. We watched ISIS go from a few hundred to as many as 30,000 or 40,000. We watched Iran enter. Our play was air operations alone, which is not effective. We've seen the results.
So I think at this point we shore up the Sunni tribes who are willing to fight against ISIS and provide support in terms of intelligence and ground forces, provided that we support our ground forces.
[17:30:12] Sprinkling a few isn't going to be enough, because we know what happens, would happen, if one of our soldiers or sailors, airmen or Marine is captured. He's going to be burned alive in a cage. So you need sufficient force, medical. So we're talking as many as 10,000 if we are going to degrade and destroy ISIS.
BLITZER: Stand by, Congressman, because we have more to discuss. We're only just beginning with Congressman Ryan Zinke. He's a former Navy SEAL. He served in Iraq. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. Much more when we come back.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Just now over at the White House President Obama demanding swift action from Congress to prevent key terrorist surveillance programs from going dark this weekend. Senators will convene in a rare Sunday session. The president called on them to follow the lead of the House of Representatives in reauthorizing provisions of the patriot act.
We're back with Montana Republican Representative Ryan Zinke. He's a former Navy SEAL commander. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee. I want to get to the NSA programs in a moment, but let's just wrap up what's going in Iraq -- going on in Iraq right now.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard, she's also an Iraq war veteran, Democrat from Hawaii, member of the Armed Services Committee, she says, "You know what?" Iraq is not Iraq anymore. Basically, she calls for a three-state solution: Kurdistan, Shia state and a Sunni state. Are you with her on that?
ZINKE: We're headed that way. Clearly, this is what happens when you don't have action. Inaction has consequences, too. What we've seen is, I think we're in a free-fall and unless we act now, the situation to try and dictate three months from now, it's going to be a different situation.
I think you can count on Iran to continue to expand their influence. They're in eastern Iraq, and they'll push as far as -- until they're stopped.
BLITZER: You served in Ramadi. You served in Fallujah. Ramadi now in the -- controlled by ISIS. Fallujah, there's a battle going on, but ISIS is pretty powerful there.
I was in Fallujah back in 2005 when the U.S. was in control of Fallujah at that time, thanks to a lot of Marines who were there. When you see what's going on right now and you're an Iraq war veteran, what goes through your mind? Was that war worth it?
ZINKE: Well, certainly, there's a lot of pain and agony, and Ramadi was the center of the Anbar province, Ramadi. It's the center of the Sunni part. And to see inaction and all of a sudden we're fighting and even in the Pentagon saying that the Ramadi doesn't matter. It does matter. It matters to the veterans. It matters to the Marine Corps that lost lives. I have friends that I've lost, you know, in that battle.
So I think the symbol of Ramadi, it runs deep in the American psyche, especially for those who fought.
BLITZER: I think about 1,200 or 1,400 Americans died in the various battles in the Anbar province over those years. And who knows how many came home severely injured, as well.
ZINKE: There's a lot of pain. And again, I think what we've seen is a lack of policy and a lack of -- we're in freefall. In ISIS, we still don't have is a foreign policy on what we're going to do about Syria: whether to have a regime change, whether not to. We're not even there yet and, of course, we watched Iraq fold and these different entities rapidly. We've made mistakes in the first war. Probably dismantling the army,
probably not showing up, the Sunnis leaving too early. There's been a number of mistakes, and now we're at a critical point whether Iraq itself can maintain itself as a federation or are they going to be a semiautonomous region divided into three.
BLITZER: Or just will be chaos like in Libya, which is the situation now over in Yemen.
ZINKE: Lawless. Lawless and dangerous state.
BLITZER: Libya is a failed state.
ZINKE: A failed state, and this is what happens.
BLITZER: Yemen, too.
ZINKE: We took out Gadhafi, and then what? Well, wait and see. Well, unfortunately, the wait and see part has been a tremendous failure.
BLITZER: Where do you stand on the extension of the NSA surveillance programs, because Sunday there's a deadline?
ZINKE: Well I don't think it's a crisis, per se. I think there's probably bigger threats: Iran having a nuclear weapon, our southern border, certainly cyber security. You know, the world's not going to shut down. The question is metadata and to say -- Senator Paul brought up some good points. Having metadata OK to be stored by phone companies and not OK to be stored by the government agencies, is either safer? Not really.
BLITZER: So you're with Senator Paul on this?
ZINKE: Well, I respect his opinion. I think we need to move forward. You know, certainly, cyber security looking at how the enemy is evolved, we need to have a discussion. Protecting civil liberties, our personal rights, is immensely important.
My view is that metadata is fine until you get to a name. The moment you get to a name, you better have a warrant and judge at that point. But gathering data. I think the -- storing the data needs to be in a safer place. Just having the data moved to a phone company, so 2,000 different phone companies is like pushing it in a closet. And is that closet safe? Well, the answer is no. It's no safer than the government.
And so we need to make sure that we protect civil liberties, and make sure we protect our nation's security. And I think we can do that, but I appreciate the senator's, you know -- he's steadfast in his position about civil liberties, which are important. Our Constitution shouldn't be trampled on.
BLITZER: Representative Zinke, thanks very much for coming in and thanks for your service.
ZINKE: Thank you. Always a pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll have you back for sure. Ryan Zinke, he's from Montana. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.
We'll have much more breaking news. It's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for new details on what's turning into a sex scandal involving the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert.
We're also following new flooding as dangerous new storms move across Texas and Oklahoma. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:30:06] BLITZER: There are stunning new allegations tonight against the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER (voice-over): Authorities now say the man who was once second in line to the presidency was lying to the FBI about his role in a major extortion scandal and there are now new questions tonight about what he was trying to cover up.
Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is here with us. She's got new information.
What is going on?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First came the indictment yesterday, Wolf and Justice Department officials said then that Dennis Hastert lied to FBI. We've learned from sources that alleged misconduct with an underaged former student several years ago was the reason behind the hush money that FBI authorities were talking about in this indictment.
Federal sources tell CNN that Hastert, the longest serving U.S. House Speaker, was paying this hush money to a student at a high school in Illinois, where Hastert once taught and where he was also a wrestling coach, more than $1 million for this former student to keep allegations of sexual misconduct quiet, according to sources.
Hastert has not commented publicly. We've been reaching out to him but he did abruptly resign from a Washington, D.C., law firm as well as from a Chicago derivatives firm.
This indictment focuses not on this misconduct, but more on the former wrestling coach's money and how he moved that money and allegedly paying off this former student, prosecutors saying he agreed to pay an unnamed individual, quote, "$3.5 million to cover up his past misconduct," according to these court records.
The investigations started two years when the FBI started investigating mystery transactions made by Hastert and bank withdrawals of more than $950,000. The FBI is alleging that several of these withdrawals were less than
$10,000 so that he could evade IRS detection. Prosecutors say when the FBI asked Hastert about this pattern of large withdrawals, what he said, he was keeping the cash for himself. He was later charged with lying to the FBI because as I mentioned, the FBI says he was paying off this other individual as hush money.
BLITZER: And we're hearing now there could be a court appearance as early as next week, right?
BROWN: Absolutely. We're hearing that and it's important to point out that he was not arrested.
I asked why that was; the Department of Justice says because he wasn't a flight risk or a danger to the community. He was not arrested but we do expect him to appear before a federal judge as early as next week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. I want to bring in the former assistant director of the FBI, Tom Fuentes, our law enforcement analyst and CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
The story really broke, Tom, last night. You told us this information was coming out, maybe officials were trying to, in your words, "tickle the wires."
What did you mean by that?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I meant that they didn't put out the full story and they knew that more people would come out if they were aware of what was going on in this.
One thing going back to the $10,000 transactions, you know, banks are required for cash transactions more than $10,000 to report that in a suspicious activity report. But they can report less than that if the whole pattern is continuous.
So if somebody constantly came in and withdrew $9,000 and it was suspicious, they can report that to Treasury and the later that could be reported to the FBI, if it's a former public official and it has the appearance of some type of corruption.
So that's what would lead to the beginning of the investigation.
Why all these transactions and then later in that process, apparently he made false statements to the FBI.
BLITZER: And the phrase "tickling the wires," where does that come from?
FUENTES: That just means start, you know, trying to get other people to talk, try to get people that may have been involved in this maybe to say something, just to get information moving. Normally that's a term used in a wiretap, that the authorities will
put out something with the idea the subjects will start talking to each other, then exchanging information which can be intercepted.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what strikes you the most?
You read the indictment. You read the formal papers. I don't know what kind of penalty potentially he could be facing.
But what strikes you?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what struck me was this very clear insinuation in the document that we have now confirmed through our -- through Pamela's reporting that this was a sexual offense underlying it.
And what I thought on reading the document was -- this was in essence a threat to Dennis Hastert, if he wants to go to trial, which is, you want to go to trial on this case?
You are going to have this story played out in an extremely public proceeding of the reason you were paying all this money, which would be, you know, beyond embarrassing to Dennis Hastert as well as just horrendous.
I mean, you know, the idea that someone this important could have done something so awful.
So this struck me as an indictment designed to yield a guilty plea and I still think that's likely how this case will end.
BLITZER: What are you hearing, Pamela, also, that maybe there could be some sort of extortion charge against the so-called individual aide who was receiving the money?
[17:35:03] What are you hearing about that?
BROWN: That's been a big question, Wolf. And from talking to federal sources along with my colleague, Evan Perez, we've learned that that was something they were looking at. They were looking at whether there is an extortion case, whether Individual A was using blackmail.
But what we've been told is that federal authorities at this point do not want to pursue extortion cases. I was told that this indictment, if this was an extortion case, it would be written very differently.
It made it clear, if you look through language in the indictment, it made it clear there were several discussions between Hastert and this individual and that they had reached an agreement. I think that's key here and an indication that federal authorities are not going to be pursuing extortion in this case.
BLITZER: What do you think, Tom?
TOOBIN(?): Well, I think the same time.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Tom.
FUENTES: I think the same, that at this point they're not looking to pursue that. And if it was a business arrangement between Hastert and whoever he's paying these millions of dollars to, then, you know, what kind of threat was being made against him?
Just to expose him to embarrassment publicly, does that qualify as maybe a physical threat or a threat of, you know, we'll kill you if you don't pay?
You know, that type of thing. So I think that so far we don't know that there's an indication of charges against the person receiving the money.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.
TOOBIN: Well, if this case does go to trial, the defense almost certainly will be extortion. That Hastert's lawyers will argue, look, Denny Hastert was confronted with someone coming up with a horrible, old, false accusation.
So to protect his family, he gave him all this money. Now, that's a, perhaps, plausible defense. It's got a lot of problems.
Why did you lie to the FBI?
Why didn't you just go to the police like David Letterman did in a roughly, not exactly, roughly parallel situation?
But that almost certainly will be the defense, if the case goes to trial.
Another reason why the FBI certainly wouldn't want to prosecute this person is they appear to believe this person is a victim of sexual abuse by Denny Hastert. That certainly doesn't make him a very appealing defendant. You don't want, by and large, to be prosecuting people who are victims of horrible crime.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Tom Fuentes a key question, this individual A -- and we don't know the identity of Individual A, received, what, already about $1 million in cash.
Is he going to be allowed to keep that money?
FUENTES: I don't know, Wolf. I don't know -- and I don't know if we really have, to what degree, let's say, of sexual misconduct occurred between Hastert, if it did occur, you know, the allegation that it may have occurred or is he just being falsely accused and that was enough to politically want to avoid the embarrassment for somebody in public office with and with you know, a high public position as well as being a lobbyist now.
So I don't know the answer to that.
BLITZER: Do you have the answer to that, Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: I think it's likely he will be allowed to keep the money. I mean, one of the many peculiar things about this case is that if Denny Hastert had simply written a check to Individual A, there would have been no crime, no -- no harm, no foul and I don't think anyone would have even known about this whole situation.
What made this criminal was his structuring, allegedly, of the transactions to avoid the bank reporting requirements and then lying to the FBI. If he had simply written a check, no one would have known. And this story would not be -- would not be public at all.
BLITZER: Pamela, you wanted to weigh in?
BROWN: Well, just to Jeffrey's point. You know, if you read through the indictment it only says misconduct; it doesn't go any further. One of the questions I have been asking is, why is that?
And I'm told that's because the charges that he's facing, they don't really have anything to do with the actual misconduct. Federal authorities are saying it's what he did after that to cover it up. So just a point to make there.
BLITZER: And why now, Jeffrey, the indictment coming now?
TOOBIN: Well, because these currency transactions reports or the failure to file them go up to 2014, as I recall from the indictment. So this is a crime that took place -- if it took place -- well after his tenure as Speaker of the House. So it seems entirely appropriate that it would be brought now.
BLITZER: You agree, Tom?
FUENTES: Yes, I agree. I mean, here's somebody so close to the presidency when he was Speaker of the House. And we're talking about a very high public official. They'd want to get it right and not be pursuing this haphazard.
So you know, they would be more diligent in the questioning of him, in the fact pattern that they were able to develop when they went to question him. And it is a federal violation during an official investigation to lie to the FBI.
BLITZER: Pamela, the information you're getting is one individual, supposedly, one of his students allegedly, when he was a high school teacher, a wrestling coach, has now basically made this accusation.
Is there any evidence any other students, anybody else from the past has come forward and said, you know what, I was a victim as well?
BROWN: As far as we know -- we just don't have that information, Wolf. That is something that, of course, people are asking right now.
Are there more victims out there?
[17:40:01] But, as of now, federal authorities are only talking about this Individual A and that's really what they're focused on now.
And I just want to go back to what we were just talking about, why now?
We know in December, according to the indictment, that he allegedly lied to federal authorities about the money and that he was keeping it for himself.
But it's interesting to me that there's a seven-month gap of time from there until now. It makes you wonder whether there were any negotiations or anything taking place in that time.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by because we're going to have more on the story. It's developing at the top of the hour.
There's other news we're following, though, including severe storm and flood warnings as communities across the Southwest remain paralyzed after historic flooding. We're going to go to the Storm Center when we come back.
Also, five, yes, five, passenger planes, planes come under assault by laser pointers.
What threat do they pose to pilots?
BLITZER: Breaking news: new and dangerous thunderstorms forming over Northern Texas and Eastern Oklahoma. Those are the same areas paralyzed by flash flooding today. Rapidly rising water brought highways in Dallas to a standstill. Forecasters say the city could see another round of flooding tonight and tomorrow.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now from Dallas with more.
What's going on? What are you seeing over there, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, people here, as you mentioned, bracing for another night of expected storms and exactly where these flash floods are going to pop up again.
You know, authorities around the North Texas area warning people that the ground is extremely saturated, that it will not take a heavy amount of rain to create the dangerous flash flooding that we've seen.
Here on this road, in the suburb, the northeastern suburb of Dallas, Garland, it was on this road where, earlier this morning, you saw the dramatic video of a police officer being rescued and pulled out by helicopter from his patrol car that was on top of that bridge there.
From where we're standing, all the way into the distance, where you can see beyond as the road bends into the trees over there, from here to there was flooded with water this morning.
The officer was on this bridge because he was trying to divert people away from this area, keeping them from standing there. We're told that, within a matter of minutes, the water rushed up around him and started seeping into the bottom of his car. He was able to get away from everything safely.
There have been hundreds of calls just like that across the Dallas-Ft. Worth area of people who were dramatically and quickly captured or stuck inside their vehicles as the floodwaters rushed up in various areas.
But, Wolf, as you mentioned, more rain expected. People will be watching that, a lot of vigilance, the word really, they want the word out for people to be very careful and especially in these low-lying areas, just how dramatically and how quickly these floodwaters can surround you, especially if you're in a vehicle.
BLITZER: Is more severe weather expected?
LAVANDERA: It's severe in terms of tornadoes, it's just the amount of rainfall. And when you consider how much rainfall, it's not just falling here overnight. This is something that rain event that has been going on for several weeks now.
Many of these creeks, you know, just beyond the distance here there is a creek that flows into a large lake several miles away from where we are. And all these little tributaries and creeks are just full; nowhere really for the water to go and rush out as quickly as possible.
So what happens is you get the flooding on these roadways, especially in these low-lying areas. And officials say to expect more of that, especially if it rains anything like it did last night here in the North Texas area.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera on the scene for us, thanks very much.
Coming up, a blinding threat against airline pilots. The FAA now warning about the danger of laser pointers after a scary incident in the skies above New York. We have details. That's next.
[17:52:30] BLITZER: The FAA is warning pilots tonight of the danger to passenger planes -- lasers. The alert comes after multiple planes were targeted by a laser pointer right before landing or after taking off.
Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, has been following this very disturbing story for us.
These lasers, they can be very dangerous.
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And this happened within minutes of each other. We're talking about five commercial passenger planes struck with this blinding green laser. It happened at the most critical point of flight, takeoff and landing.
The flights were not very far from JFK, flying over Long Island, when multiple pilots alerted controllers. Take a listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was just a rogue laser, but they were definitely aiming for us a couple times, because we caught it a couple times into the cockpit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got two aircrafts right over where you are got struck by a green laser. American 185, if you see a green laser, be careful. A green laser might be in your vicinity right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American 185, we just had a laser strike, left side.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MARSH: Well, imagine this, you're in a car that's pitch black and a camera flash goes off. That's exactly what it's like for these pilots in the cockpit. It's a dangerous distraction; these lasers can disorient, even temporarily blind the pilot. In some cases pilots have been hospitalized with burned corneas.
We do know these aircraft were at about 8,000 feet, I should say. At that level they're still communicating with air traffic control. So this is a huge distraction.
Unfortunately, Wolf, we see this happen thousands of times a year. Just last year alone, nearly 4,000 incidents reported to the FAA.
At this point, all those incidents that happened last night, they're under investigation. The FBI is trying to get to the bottom of this. But it's really tough to find essentially a needle in a haystack, who is that one individual shining this light? But this is a felony. So...
BLITZER: It certainly is. And you're also learning of a drone coming perilously close to a passenger plane.
What are you learning? MARSH: Well, this was a Shuttle America flight from D.C. It was
going in for a landing at LaGuardia this morning. It got dangerously close to a drone, forcing the pilot to pull up and climb some 200 feet just to avoid it.
The plane was at about 2,700 feet over Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We do know that police, they searched the area. They did not find the drone. They did not find the operator.
But the potential danger here is, you know, essentially what happens if one of these drones gets sucked into the engine. We saw what happened with "Miracle on the Hudson" when the Canadian geese took out both engines.
[17:55:04] So that's the danger. And so now the FAA is investigating. But there are clear rules. You should not be flying it above 400 feet and you should not be flying it near an airplane or an airport.
BLITZER: All right, Rene, thanks very much. Disturbing information indeed.
Coming up, ISIS on the move.
Could a pair of deadly bombings be the start of a reign of terror in Iraq's most important city?
Plus new revelations that a sex scandal is behind the alleged hush money payments by the former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert.