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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Confirms Death of Senior al Qaeda Leader; Interview with John Kirby; Putin Will Add 40 Missiles to Nuclear Arsenal; Donald Trump Joins 2016 Race for President; Rachel Dolezal Says She Identifies as Black; Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 16, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:57] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, terror strike. The White House confirms the death of al Qaeda's No. 2 leader and calls it a major blow to the terror group, with a series of successful strikes. Is the U.S. getting good at taking out terror leaders, or is it just getting lucky?
Going ballistic amid rising tensions with Russia. The U.S. and its allies stage a major show of force as Russia's President Putin vows to add dozens of new ballistic missiles to its country's nuclear arsenal.
After being outed as white by her parents and stepping down as the head of an NAACP chapter, Rachel Dolezal says, "I am black." But is that enough to make her black?
And Trump card. After two decades of teasing, Donald Trump jumps into the race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All of these politicians that I'm running against now -- it's so nice to say I'm running as opposed to "if I run, if I run." I'm running.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We have breaking news this hour. Federal agents have arrested a U.S. citizen, an aeronautics student who is allegedly behind an ISIS-inspired plot to build and detonate a bomb in the New York area.
Officials say that more arrests are expected. And this follows what may be the biggest blow to al Qaeda since Osama bin Laden was killed. The White House confirms the death of the terror group's No. 2 leader, a former bin Laden aide. He was the head of the branch that posed the biggest threat to the United States.
And the new Cold War with Russia may be heating up. With tensions growing over Russian aggression in Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO allies have staged a dramatic show of force, a landing exercise on the Swedish coast.
And while the U.S. weighs storing armored vehicles in Europe, Russia's President Putin says he'll add dozens of new intercontinental missiles to his nuclear arsenal. I'll talk with State Department spokesman John Kirby, as well as our correspondents, analysts and guests who are standing by with full coverage.
We begin with the fight against terrorism and CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, who's been working his sources and joins us live outside the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.
I just interviewed the director of the NGA. This is the agency that analyzes/controls the nation's spy satellites and says that the impact of this strike is significant. Wuhayshi was a leader in terms of command and control, with some of the most threatening plots against the U.S., but also a very charismatic leader. He had very loyal followers. And they're going to be watching the organization for disruption following this strike.
But again, this is also an organization where one replaces the other. They can say that the threat from AQAP will continue to be severe.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Today, the White House claimed a major blow to al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate. Wuhayshi's death removes from the battlefield an experienced terrorist leader, the White House statement read, and brings us closer to degrading and ultimately defeating these groups.
One of al Qaeda's last heavyweights, Wuhayshi, Nasir al-Wuhayshi was a charismatic figure adored by many of AQAP's fighters. He was believed likely to one day take over al Qaeda from its current global chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Under his leadership, AQAP grew into a terror affiliate capable of planning sophisticated attacks abroad, including the underwear bomb designed to bring down a U.S. airliner; the plot to blow up planes with printer bombs, one that nearly succeeded; an attack on the U.S. embassy in Yemen; and the Paris attack on "Charlie Hebdo" earlier this year.
Once bin Laden's personal secretary, the United States recognized al- Wuhayshi's significance in 2010, offering a reward of $10 million for information on his whereabouts, the same price they put on the head of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi.
He was last seen in public with dozens of jihadists in a video released last year, telling the group, "We must eliminate the cross. The bearer of the cross is America." PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wuhayshi was really the
leading light of the al Qaeda network. He wasn't even 40 years old, but already he had established a really impressive jihadi track record.
SCIUTTO: AQAP acknowledged al-Wuhayshi's death in a video released today and named AQAP's military commander, Qasim al-Raymi, as his successor. Most agree he's a formidable one.
CRUICKSHANK: Somebody who is seen as the brains behind the AQAP operation, somebody who played a key military and operational role in the group and not somebody to be underestimated.
SCIUTTO: One thing that will not change under the new leadership. That is AQAP's rivalry with ISIS. AQAP has been losing some recruits, some followers to ISIS inside Yemen. It will be priority going forward, keeping those recruits. It's going to be a real challenge going forward, Brianna, as ISIS takes away some of the steam from these other groups. But certainly, AQAP's still a tremendous presence in Yemen, this a tremendous blow to that group.
KEILAR: Jim Sciutto reporting. Thank you so much.
I want to turn now to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
So, Barbara, you have this virtual collapse of order in Yemen that we've been seeing in the past few months. Could taking out the head of al Qaeda there have this unintended consequence of strengthening ISIS?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to tell you, we've been talking to a number of analysts, like Seth Jones at the Rand Corporation, and he says, "Yes, you know, the intelligence community needs to take a long, hard look at how this resets the terrorist table of leadership around the world."
AQAP may be in a tough position right now. They have new leadership again. And as part of al Qaeda, al Qaeda has a perception, at least, of being in decline in some key areas around the world.
Absolutely, AQAP, the al Qaeda in Yemen at the top of its game. But how is it playing around the world with terror affiliates, with terror organizations?
Right now, ISIS appears and is very skillful at making itself appear to be in the lead, to be stronger, to be appearing to be invincible after months of allied coalition bombing, fighting in Iraq, fighting in Syria.
ISIS very skilled at that propaganda game of making that aura of invincibility appear to be true, getting a lot of recruits around the world, getting people to come to the battlefield and fight on its behalf. How is al Qaeda measuring up right now? Ayman al-Zawahiri, their
leader, an aging jihadi, the leadership in Yemen under attack, the killing of Wuhayshi not the only kill in recent months. The U.S. has taken out a number of those leaders. The intelligence community is going to have to take a close look and decide where it goes from here.
KEILAR: Very good points. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon.
And joining me now to talk more about this, we have the State Department spokesman, John Kirby.
Thanks so much for being with us today. And I want to ask you about that point that we were just discussing with Barbara. This taking out Nasir al-Wuhayshi, not the only AQAP top leader who, although he is the highest so far that's been taken out in recent months, there have been a number of them. Could taking out -- could taking out this leader as well as the others have some unintended consequences of helping ISIS?
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Oh, I don't know that we're looking at it from that perspective, Brianna. I think clearly, AQAP is very much under pressure and greatly being diminished in terms of their leadership command and control capability, but we aren't looking at it from one versus the other. In fact, the pressure being put on ISIL, not just in Iraq and Syria, but elsewhere, is also increasing.
KEILAR: OK, so you don't necessarily think that it helps ISIS, that it creates a greater space for them?
KIRBY: No, I don't think we would sign up to that characterization at all. The pressure is being applied to ISIL elsewhere. And the fact that, you know, AQAP suffered a significant blow here with the death of this individual, we don't believe is going to open up space for them in Yemen that maybe wasn't there before.
KEILAR: AQAP has already named a successor to al-Wuhayshi. And certainly, the -- some of the hallmark, I guess, of AQAP, these very -- these creative bomb-making...
KIRBY: I lost the audio.
KEILAR: OK. Unfortunately, I think we've lost some audio. John, can you hear me?
KIRBY: Sorry, I can't hear you, Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. OK. So we're going to be right back with John Kirby. We have a lot more to ask him about AQAP and this attack there or this strike on an AQAP leader.
But we also want to talk to him about a 20-year-old New York man who was arrested on Saturday, charged with conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. We'll have all of that in just a quick moment.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:14:02] KEILAR: We have State Department spokesman John Kirby with us, but I want to first turn to another major story that we're following before we ask some more pressing questions of him.
As tensions rise between the NATO allies in Russia, the U.S. and its partners have staged a powerful show of force, and the U.S. is considering storing armored vehicles now in Europe.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin is firing back, saying that he'll add dozens of ballistic missiles to Russia's nuclear force. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into all of this -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, the potential confrontations between Vladimir Putin's forces and U.S. and western forces, they keep moving. They've been in the skies. They've been at sea. Tonight they're building in eastern Europe.
The Pentagon is looking at moving possibly hundreds of tanks. They're looking at moving Bradley fighting vehicles and howitzer cannons into Eastern Europe. Many of them are going to be moving into places that the Russians used to occupy, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.
You know, one U.S. official tells us this equipment is going to be enough for up to 5,500 troops. Those plans and recent U.S.-led military exercises in this region have prompted the Russians to issue a serious warning.
TODD (voice-over): A dramatic amphibious landing. A U.S. Navy hovercraft glides onto the beach. Troops storm ashore and fire their weapons. This is a NATO landing exercise in Sweden.
Further south, soldiers move through trench lines, deploy from helicopters. These are U.S. and NATO troops battle-testing themselves as a possible confrontation with Russia looms in Eastern Europe.
STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: My big worry here is the possibility of accident miscalculation when you have military forces operating in close proximity.
TODD: The Pentagon is considering sending hundreds of tanks, artillery and other weapons to Vladimir Putin's doorstep, to the Baltic nations and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. A U.S. defense official tells CNN it will be enough to outfit a brigade up to 5,500 troops.
The soldiers themselves won't be permanently stationed there, but the official says the equipment will be there to use in these kinds of training exercises. It's prompted a warning from Russia, its foreign ministry saying this could slide into, quote, "a new military confrontation with destructive consequences." Putin has just announced he's adding over 40 new ballistic missiles to his nuclear arsenal. VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): If someone
threatens some of our territories, we will have to aim our armed force's modern attack capabilities at those territories which threaten us. What else can we do?
TODD: As both sides build up their forces, it's putting the region on edge.
PIFER: Given the tempo of Russian military operations over the last year, you have more of those interactions, more possibilities for things to go wrong.
TODD: Putin's jets have played dangerous Cold War-style games with western forces recently, one jet flying within ten feet of a U.S. aircraft.
Coming off an escalation of fighting in Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces and Putin's aggressive deployment of weapons into Ukraine, the Baltic countries, NATO allies of the United States, are terrified that Putin will target them next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have every reason to be concerned that if Russia wants to gobble up some more perceived threats on their flanks, that they would be the first ones attacked.
TODD: Tonight, Secretary of State John Kerry says he is very concerned with the Russian president's military flexing, saying if this continues, it is a huge challenge and that no one wants to go back to a Cold War standoff. But Brianna, it looks a lot like we are right back to those days tonight.
KEILAR: Yes, it sure does. All right, Brian Todd. Thank you so much.
We are back now with State Department spokesman John Kirby.
And I want to talk to you first about Russia. You just heard that report. And I think what's interesting is that we're talking about 40 long-range, nuclear missiles. And these are missiles with new technology. They replace old missiles.
We heard from Vladimir Putin today. He said these are able to overtake antimissile defense systems. That message is loud and clear to the U.S. But what do you see, John, his end game to be?
KIRBY: Well, it's difficult to get inside Vladimir Putin's mind here on this. But what I can tell you is that what's putting the region on edge is not NATO's naturally collective defense operations and activities, but in fact, President Putin's aggression in Eastern Ukraine and in the region.
And this announcement of his today does nothing to de-escalate that tension and to contribute to more stability. And I think as you reported, Secretary Kerry has expressed our concern over this. There is no reason for it. The activities that we are doing there with our allies have been, A, long planned, and B, totally defensive in nature and driven, in fact, by the tensions that Russia itself has been causing.
KEILAR: OK, but I sort of wonder how you see this at the State Department, how you see this in the administration. Is this the U.S. versus Russia, or is this more the U.S. versus Putin?
KIRBY: This is the United States in support of our Article V commitments to the NATO alliance and to our allies on the European continent. That's really what this is about.
KEILAR: When you see the tension, I guess -- let me rephrase this. When you see the tension right now between the U.S. and between Russia, do you think that this is very personality-driven with Vladimir Putin? Do you think that Russians are behind him, or do you think that you're dealing more with the issues created by this leader?
KIRBY: Well, I think, clearly, look, President Putin is the one who's making these decisions. He has -- he has choices to make, and so far, he has not chosen to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Russian people.
So, clearly, as the president of Russia, these decisions fall on his shoulders. And we've said before that he does have choices he can make: better choices, more stable choices. And all he does by continuing to do these sorts of things, like this deployment, is further isolate Russia. Russia has no friends in this endeavor, and those are being driven by decisions that the president himself is making.
[17:20:14] KEILAR: I want to ask you now about a 20-year-old New York man who was arrested on Saturday. He was charged with conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. He was planning to detonate an explosive device in the city. How close did he come to seeing this plot through?
KIRBY: Well, I would be loathe to get into intelligence and law enforcement matters, Brianna, so I don't want to get into particulars on this case.
That said, I can tell you that this idea of radicalization, self- radicalization, self-identification with ISIL remains a big worry, not just in the United States but around the world. And we try to address this issue with foreign fighters, people that are becoming radicalized and inspired by this group as best we can.
And I would say that, again, some 30-some odd organizations in the coalition are taking action, legal and administrative, to try to get at this problem.
KEILAR: There are reports that the Palestinian Authority President Abbas, that he says that the Palestinian government could resign within 24 hours. What can you tell us about that? Is that true?
KIRBY: I haven't seen that report, Brianna. Obviously, you know, we want the issues between the two parties to be resolved diplomatically, peacefully moving forward. We still favor, obviously, a two-state solution. I don't have anything more on that particular threat. KEILAR: OK. Let's talk about Iraq. I want to ask you about Iraqi
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. We know now that he may visit Iran for ISIS talks. Iran, obviously, very important to Iraq in its fight against ISIS, as is the U.S. It's sort of a strange situation where the U.S. and Iran are working not together, but maybe to the same purpose.
Knowing this and knowing that there's this allegiance, do you trust al Abadi as he's working so closely with Iran?
KIRBY: Prime Minister Abadi is the leader of a sovereign nation, Iraq, and they have a long border with Iran. I think that we should expect that he's going to want to have a dialogue with a neighbor like Iran and that he would be visiting, we would anticipate, a routine sort of occurrence.
Our message to Iran has been our message to all the neighbors in the region that want to participate in this effort against ISIL, and that's not to do anything that's going to further enflame sectarian tensions.
The other thing I'd say about Prime Minister Abadi is he's made it very clear that it is his policy and his government that all the forces fighting against ISIL will be under his command and control. And that's a policy that we support.
KEILAR: But where do you get concerned when it appears that the U.S. strategy for taking on ISIS at this point, training some of these moderates, certainly, in Syria, and then also moving, but somewhat slowly, I guess, in dealing with ISIS in Iraq -- where do you get concerned that Iran becomes more influential with Iraq, or it already is, perhaps, but where do you get concerned that the U.S. gets edged out there?
KIRBY: Well, this isn't about us being edged out. Again, our presence there in training and equipping is at Prime Minister Abadi's request specifically. The additional advisers that we're putting in Anbar province. I mean, that is part of Prime Minister Abadi's plan, and his plan called for...
KEILAR: But it's at his -- it's at his request, but it's also at the -- at America's interest, right?
KIRBY: Of course it is. It's in our interest to help the Iraqi security forces fight this fight on their ground...
KEILAR: So -- so isn't there concern for the U.S. to preserve its influence here and concerns about Iran?
KIRBY: It's not about preserving our influence. I think we certainly have some influence there. We are -- obviously have a good relationship with Prime Minister Abadi, but that's not what this is about, Brianna. It's about helping the Iraqis deal with this problem on their soil.
Iran has been involved. We know that. They've had advisers. They have supported some, not all, but some of the Shia militia. We understand that.
Our message is the same: whatever they do, we'd ask that they don't -- we urge them not to have any -- do anything that would further enflame sectarian tensions.
The other thing I'd say is, you know, we get wrapped around the actual on these popular mobilization forces, the Shia militias, if you will, and most of them have no direct ties to Iran. So, I think we need to keep this in perspective.
KEILAR: All right. John Kirby, State Department spokesman. Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
KIRBY: My pleasure. Thank you.
KEILAR: And coming up, Donald Trump thunders into the 2016 presidential race, bragging about his successes, hurling insults at, really, just about everyone, including Jeb Bush. Will those jabs like this one make a difference?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Bush is totally in favor of common core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favor of common core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Breaking now, newly-declared presidential candidate Donald Trump is headed to his first campaign stop in Iowa. Trump is the 12th -- count them, 12 -- 12th candidate in the Republican field. Today's announcement speech -- equal parts bluster, equal parts insult -- may rank as one of the most bizarre political events of the 2016 campaign. Take a look.
TRUMP: I beat China all the time. When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? When do we beat Mexico at the border? They're laughing at us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime, their rapists.
[17:30:15] The big lie, Obamacare. Five billion we spent on a website. I hire people, they do a website. It costs me $3.
"Are you running? Are you not running?" I am officially running for president of the United States.
We need a leader that wrote "The Art of the Deal."
I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.
Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid.
I like China. I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. They have bridges that make the George Washington Bridge look like small potatoes.
I don't need anybody's money. It's nice. I'm really rich.
I love the Saudis. Many are in this building.
Obama, a year ago, Yemen was a great victory. Two weeks later the place was blown up.
We're dying. We're dying. We need money.
Thank you, darling.
"But Mr. Trump, you're not a nice person."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't need nice!
TRUMP: That's true. But actually, I am. I think I am a nice person.
We have losers. We have losers.
I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump.
We won't be using a man like Secretary Kerry, who goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old and falls and breaks his leg. I won't be doing that.
The American dream is dead, but if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
KEILAR: Why do things like this happen when "SNL" is off for the summer, right?
Well, joining me in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk politics, we have CNN politics senior digital correspondent Chris Moody. We have our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. And we're also joined by Republican strategist and CNN political commentator Ana Navarro. She's a friend and supporter of Jeb Bush, we should say, full disclosure.
OK, so I want to talk a little bit about style and demeanor here, because this is unlike anything that we've seen from any of the other candidates.
So, I think you are in a particularly unique place to talk about this, Chris Moody. Let's put this up on the screen. This is what Donald Trump sent to you. Keeping in mind -- you may not be able to see this -- 49 minutes after your story posted. And it said, "Chris, bad reporting, bad reporter, Donald Trump. No
'why'." This is like a spot story that you were doing as news was breaking.
OK. So knowing that, knowing that this is the kind of thing that he does and other candidates, no way do they do this, what does it tell you about kind of, if he's on the debate stage, what kind of thing he could bring with it?
CHRIS MOODY, CNN POLITICS SENIOR DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I want to say one thing. It's unlike the other announcements that we've seen, this was the first one where reporters had no idea what he was going to say, whether he was going to announce what he had for lunch or if he was running for president. He announced he's running for president.
He knows he's got the name I.D. He knows he's an entertainer. He's got a lot less to lose. He can lose this election and then, oh, well, it entertained him for a while.
What's funny about the insults is he's notorious for doing this. He talked about, "Well, some people say I'm not a nice guy." If you look at his Twitter feed, almost every day he calls someone a loser, a dummy or an idiot, including, actually, Ana Navarro, who he did a couple of months ago, and myself as a bad reporter.
KEILAR: Talk to me about that.
MOODY: Ana and I have this in common.
KEILAR: All right, so, Ana, you worked on Jeb Bush's immigration policy. Trump took some swipes, multiple, at Jeb Bush today, amongst others. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Bush is totally in favor of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favor of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So, a lot of people say, Ana, he won't win. They say Donald Trump doesn't have a shot at winning. But could he do some damage to the Republican field, do you think?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, look, he's going to be a distraction. If he is on a debate stage, he's going to be a very big, televised distraction.
As a friend of Jeb Bush and as a friend of Marco Rubio, I just want to sincerely thank him for having attacked them today, because I think anything that he can do to contrast himself with them makes them look that much more substantial and that much more serious. And I want to remind my Republican brethren that we want to win.
We've been out of the White House for a long time. We need to focus on what the best way of doing that is. And certainly, entertaining Donald Trump is not that.
[17:35:08] So, I can tell you, I'm leading the dump Trump movement. You know, if we want entertainment, go watch TV. But what we want is a president, and he just does not have the qualifications, though I will tell you...
KEILAR: I do think people will be watching...
NAVARRO: I will tell you...
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Every Shakespeare play has a fool. And the fool is, in part, a fool, like Donald Trump is a fool. But the fool also sometimes raises questions that people don't want to answer.
You know one thing Donald Trump said today? He said, "You know, we spent $4 billion -- $4 trillion in Iraq, and Iraq is now part of Iran. Why is that? We lost 4,000 people. Why did we spend all that money, all those lives, and now it's under the control of Iran?"
You know what that is? That's a good question. I'd like to hear the answer to that. And that's the kind of thing that Donald Trump is going to do, is he's going to make people uncomfortable. And those are -- and some of the questions he asks are really tough.
MOODY: But one thing Republicans will say is that Donald Trump, because of his name I.D. and popularity on television, may make the cut to be on a debate stage, thereby knocking off perhaps a governor or a senator. And that's something that I think a lot of Republicans say is possibly not fair or not right, at least.
KEILAR: And let me ask you this, Ana. At the end of his speech, he lays out his platform: repeal Obamacare, wall in Mexico and make Mexico pay, keeping in mind that that may not be the same way that a lot of Republicans would phrase it, but border security, they would say.
ISIS, take on ISIS. Stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. End President Obama's immigration order. Support the Second Amendment. End Common Core, which Jeb Bush has been in favor of. And save entitlements, bolster the military, protect veterans.
How is that not kind of a standard, almost boilerplate Republican platform?
NAVARRO: Can I just tell you, Brianna, I think you need some sort of award for having been able to boil down some platform out of that rambling, ridiculous stream of consciousness that we saw him deliver today. I heard it for as long as it went on, and I couldn't figure out what
he was talking about. It's the same speech that I've heard from him at some of the Republican cattle calls.
So, I just -- you know, I can't treat it as a serious Republican platform, and I can't treat it as if it's coming from a serious Republican candidate.
NAVARRO: He's not. And we've got to stop addressing it as if it was.
KEILAR: OK. Well, we will leave it there. We have some disagreement, which is always interesting. Ana Navarro, Chris Moody, Jeff Toobin, thanks so much to all of you.
And coming up, former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal finally breaks her silence, but her answers to questions about her racial identity spark even more controversy.
[17:42:30] KEILAR: Breaking now, former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal finally opens up about her life, declaring, quote, "I identify as black." This comes despite her parents going public to say that Dolezal is white and new revelations that raise even more questions about her background and her honesty.
CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the latest on this.
This was a very interesting day on this story.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Every day is actually an interesting day on this story.
Rachel Dolezal, she's pulling no punches here, making no apologies for identifying as black, suing Howard University for allegedly discriminating against her in the past for being white, or rising through the ranks of the NAACP. Well, today she explained how her journey from white to black began, starting when she was 5 years old.
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": Good morning. Nice to see you.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Rachel Dolezal is calm, cool and unapologetic in her interview with "Today Show" host Matt Lauer.
RACHEL DOLEZAL, FORMER HEAD OF SPOKANE NAACP: I identify as black.
MALVEAUX: A far cry from the deer in the headlights look the 37-year- old civil rights activist had last week in the gotcha moment with a local reporter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you African American?
DOLEZAL: I don't -- I don't understand the question.
MALVEAUX: The question now asked and answered, frustrating Dolezal's estranged white parents, Lawrence and Ruthann, telling CNN...
RUTHANN DOLEZAL, RACHEL'S MOTHER: We hope that she will come to terms with truth and reality, and she will make an apology.
MALVEAUX: Dolezal says she began identifying as black as early as 5 years old.
RACHEL DOLEZAL: I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon, and the black, you know, black, curly hair, and you know, yes.
MALVEAUX: Her parents say that's not true.
RUTHANN DOLEZAL: She did not ever refer to herself or draw pictures or say anything that indicated she thought of herself as black.
MALVEAUX: Dolezal says she tans and specializes in black hair- styling, but rejects the accusation she's in blackface.
RACHEL DOLEZAL: This is not some freak "Birth of a Nation" mockery blackface performance. This is on a very real, connected level.
MALVEAUX: In another NBC interview...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you a con artist?
RACHEL DOLEZAL: I don't think so.
MALVEAUX: Dolezal says she failed to correct articles that referred to her as transracial, biracial or black, because her situation is more complex. She married and divorced an African-American man with whom she had a son. She's also taken custody of one of her adopted black brothers, Isaiah, whom she now considers her own.
[17:45:02] DOLEZAL: He said, mom, racially, you're human, and culturally you're black.
MALVEAUX: Ezra, one of Dolezal's other adopted siblings, says he just wants his real sister back.
EZRA DOLEZAL, BROTHER OF RACHEL DOLEZAL: It doesn't really matter about any of this. Like I guess the only person that really this has affected really that negatively would probably be her.
MALVEAUX: But many disagree.
MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CULTURAL CRITIC/WRITER: She owes an apology to her parents, to her family, to Howard, to the NAACP and to the scores of black women who are now having to negotiate her madness in addition to our daily lives of negotiating our blackness.
MALVEAUX: And Dolezal says, in retrospect, she might have done interviews a little bit differently, but overall, her life has been about survival and the decisions that she's made along the way have been a part of that. Now she also defended her decision to claim Albert Wilkerson -- he is a black man who is a friend of hers -- as her dad, saying anyone can be a father. Not everyone can be a dad.
So, clearly, this is a family that is very much divided that has led to this national conversation about race -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Great report, Suzanne Malveaux. Thank you so much.
And I want to get some additional insight on these developments and I want to bring in Jamelle Buoy, he's a staff writer for "Slate," along with CNN anchor Don Lemon. We will talk a whole lot more about this after a quick break.
[17:50:53] KEILAR: Now that Rachel Dolezal has resigned as president of Spokane, Washington's branch of the NAACP she's breaking her silence on the controversy surrounding her racial identity. She said she never corrected reports that called her transracial or biracial. In an interview on NBC "Today" she did not deny that both of her parents are white, but she went on to say, quote, "I identify as black."
And we're back now with Jamelle Bouie of "Slate" as well as CNN anchor Don Lemon.
Don, there was no apology. I'm not sure that you would -- I wonder, do you think, and we heard from the head of the NAACP yesterday, he said she needs to acknowledge the pain she's caused. Do you think that she should have apologized?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. That's a tough one. Do I think she should have -- I think she -- one should always apologize for lying. If she truly feels that she identifies as a black person, then I don't think she has anything to apologize for, but I think she should apologize, though, for being disingenuous and because on the surface she's not what she appeared to be.
So, you know, I don't like to jump on the bandwagon with everyone apologizing all the time for everything, but I think that for being disingenuous and for lying she probably should apologize.
KEILAR: OK. But, Jamelle, today she said I didn't correct news reports that identified me as black, but she also identified herself as black when she was applying to the city commission in Spokane. She identified herself as African-American. So I don't know. She seemed like she was lying a little bit even today, not playing with all of the facts, to that question that Melissa Harris Perry asked her, do you think she's a con artist?
JAMELLE BOUIE, STAFF WRITER, SLATE: So two days ago I may have said no just out of simply sympathy, but the more we learn about this story, the more we learn that she filed this lawsuit against Howard University.
BOUIE: The more we know that --
KEILAR: Saying they discriminated against her for being white.
BOUIE: For being white. Right.
KEILAR: For also being pregnant. For life choices. Yes.
BOUIE: And then we hear her today say, you know, when I was 5 years old I was drawing myself with brown crayons, her parents say that's not the case. It raises this question when exactly is Rachel Dolezal black or when is she white? Is she white when it's opportune? Is she black when it's opportune? And if I think those questions exist, I think for me it brings me to that she's probably a con artist.
KEILAR: Yes. You're right about that. You call it a la carte blackness. A very interesting point you bring up. I want you to respond, both of you, to what she said on MSNBC today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOLEZAL: It means that I have really gone there with the experience in terms of being a mother of two black sons and really owning what it -- what it means to experience and live black -- blackness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Do you think she owns it, Jamelle?
BOUIE: So --
LEMON: I'm glad you got this question first.
KEILAR: She goes there? What do you think of that?
BOUIE: So I think it is perfectly possible to be white, to be Latino, to be Asian-American and be part of a black community and be attached to by people and be integrated into the black experience in some way, shape or form, but I think that to be racially black actually does require this tangible connection to the history of discrimination, particularly of Jim Crowe and slavery. And I think that her claiming that is dishonest.
I have no problem with her saying, I'm a member of the black community. I married a black man. I have black children. My professional life is centered around black issues but to take that and to then say I am black, that's a step that very few people ever made despite the fact that many, many people in our history have had that same kind of tangible connections to the community.
KEILAR: What do you think, Don?
LEMON: I think he's expressing that's the bridge too far that I think people are having trouble with. You can be empathetic, you can empathize especially if you're, you know, she has a black husband. She, you know, has black kids. I understand that, she is -- you know, if she wants to identify as black as I've said, then fine. That's fine. And then she can do that, but she -- one must take what goes along with that every single day and she just can't be black when she wants to be black.
[17:55:01] KEILAR: Yes.
LEMON: So -- yes. And I don't know if, you know, I don't know if this is a real issue. Psychologists tell me that it is, so I'll take it at their word, but I don't know if Rachel Dolezal is a perfect example of being transracial.
KEILAR: OK. Thank you, guys, for joining me, Don and Jamelle. Both great insight.
You can check Don out again later tonight. He's going to be back here on CNN at 10:00 Eastern. Make sure to check that out.
Thank you so much.
And coming up, the White House says that the killing of al Qaeda's number two leader is a major blow to the terror group. It's the latest in a series of successful strikes.
Is it a case of good intel or is this just good fortune?
[18:00:02] KEILAR: Happening now, critical kill. Al Qaeda scrambles to replace a top terrorist leader taken out by a U.S. strike. Is America's secret drone program getting more successful or just lucky?