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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Tries to Sell Congress on Iran Nuclear Deal; Hunt for ISIS Leader Goes Cold; Interview with Rick Perry; President Obama Plans to Visit Prison and Call for Reforms; Prison Video Shows Drug Lord's Escape. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 15, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Now over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, cnn HOST: Happening now, president defiant -- President Obama holds a sweeping news conference pressuring Congress to sign off on a nuclear deal with Iran, scolding a reporter for his question, and even weighing in on Bill Cosby.
Can the president persuade skeptical lawmakers to back his landmark agreement with Iran?
Terror leader lost -- the hunt for the leader of ISIS goes cold. After weeks of promising leads, including intelligence indicating his approximate whereabouts.
Did the U.S. miss a chance to take out one of the world's most dangerous terrorists?
Vanishing act -- new video emerging of Mexico's most notorious drug lord just minutes before his stunning escape from a maximum security prison. But some are now questioning how hard Mexico is really trying to recapture him.
I'll talk about it with the former Texas governor, the Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama in a rare form today during a wide-ranging press conference in which he vigorously tried to sell skeptics on his landmark agreement to contain Iran's nuclear program. The president was tough and candid, as he spoke at length not only about the deal with Iran, but also about race in America, justice in America, even allegations -- the rape allegations against the comedian, Bill Cosby.
We're also learning new information about the hunt for the leader of ISIS. Sources now telling CNN a flurry of solid intelligence on his whereabouts has now dried up, leaving the United States scrambling to find new sources of information about his movements.
We're covering all of that and more this hour with our correspondents and our guests, including Republican presidential candidate, the former Texas governor -- there you see him -- Rick Perry. We'll get to him shortly.
But let's begin over at the White House.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is there -- Jim, you were in the East Room of the White House for the president's news conference.
Update our viewers on what he said.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama came out swinging, blasting his opponents, even scolding a reporter he thought was out of line, as he insisted his nuclear deal with Iran was never designed to solve every problem with Iran, only the big one, stopping one of the world's most dangerous regimes from getting the bomb.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please have a seat.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Sounding supremely confident, President Obama brushed aside all of the criticisms of his nuclear deal with Iran, demanding that opponents in Congress simply read the agreement.
OBAMA: I think that if Congress does that, then, in fact, based on the facts, the majority of Congress should approve of this deal. But we live in Washington and politics do intrude.
ACOSTA: Even though he is under fire, the president relished the opportunity to answer his detractors.
OBAMA: I really am enjoying this Iran debate.
ACOSTA: Mr. Obama praised the agreement's convoluted inspection process, dismissing doubts that Iran would get away with cheating.
OBAMA: If suddenly, something is missing on the back end, they've got some explaining to do.
ACOSTA: And he insisted that the agreement is more than just postpone Iran's nuclear ambitions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're not just holding out hope that they'll change their behavior? OBAMA: No. Look, I'm always hopeful that behavior may change for the sake of the Iranian people, as well as people in the region.
ACOSTA: But one question did get under the president's skin -- why Americans currently detained in Iran were not freed as part of the deal.
MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content with all the fanfare around this deal to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?
OBAMA: The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that -- that's nonsense. And you should know better. I've met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody is content.
ACOSTA: The deal's biggest skeptic, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is blasting the agreement's inspection process, which could take 24 days to look at suspicious sites.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: That's a long time. You can flush a lot of evidence down the toilet. That's like telling a drug dealer, we're going to check your meth lab in 24 days.
ACOSTA: Warning what the world would look like without a deal, the president asked his critics where is their plan?
OBAMA: For all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu, or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that's already spoken, none of them have presented to me or the American people a better alternative.
ACOSTA: Now besides the Iran deal, the president raised some eyebrows when he conceded he won't defeat ISIS or settle the Syrian civil war while he's in office.
And when pressed on whether he would revoke the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Bill Cosby, the president said he did not have that authority -- Wolf, it was quite a news conference.
BLITZER: It certainly was.
All right, Jim, thank you.
Let's get some more on what's going on.
Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott is joining us -- Elise, as you know, there's deep skepticism about trusting Iran.
Did the president really answer his critics on this front? ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so, Wolf, because the president's argument that he's making is not really answering the argument of the critics, because the president's argument is all about the science of the deal.
I think that the main critics of this deal are not necessarily about Iran's nuclear program anymore. I think it's about the fact that they feel that this deal gives the Iranians a bigger largesse to do their other nefarious activity. They're going to have a lot of money to be able to spend it on their proxies, like Hezbollah and Hamas. And they feel that while this -- they feel that this doesn't necessarily keep the Iranian program in check beyond the length of the deal, Iran is going to be much more dangerous to the allies in the region, particularly Israel.
BLITZER: During that nearly 70 minute news conference, the president also said it's not the job of the president of the United States to solve every problem in the Middle East.
What's your read on that?
LABOTT: I think you're going to get a lot of raised eyebrows from allies in the Middle East, because they feel that this president created a lot of the problems in the Middle East.
Don't forget President Obama came to office in 2009 pledging to engage the Muslim world, to engage the Arab world. All that time you saw the Arab Spring, these countries felt the president was slow to answer that, particularly in the civil war in Syria. They feel that he didn't get involved early enough. And now you have this bigger problem with Syria, with ISIS.
And now for him to say he's going to leave office without solving the Syrian civil war, without solving the problem with ISIS, I think they had always felt, a lot of the Gulf allies, in particular, and also Israel, that this president kind of abandoned them and took a step back and wasn't as interested in protecting their interests. And I think those kind of comments are only going to fuel that criticism.
BLITZER: Elise Labott, thanks very much.
We're also following the hunt for the leader of ISIS sources telling CNN that after some promising intelligence on his whereabouts, the trail has now gone cold.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us.
What are you learning about this effort to locate the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we know is that over the last several weeks, there has been a stream of intelligence that U.S. officials have monitored indicating Al-Baghdadi was in and around the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS. Now, the intelligence was never solid enough and timely enough for the U.S. to order in an airstrike to try and kill him. Officials are very adamant about that. It was a stream of intelligence that they were following.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, by all accounts, according to sources we've talked to, the intelligence essentially dried up.
Not very surprising. These kinds of things usually revolve around intercepts of cell phone conversations, intercepts of electronic communications. This kind of covert activity comes and goes.
You can certainly assume they are trying to pick up the trail again. But all eyes are on the city of Raqqa because several officials now telling us, over the last many days and weeks, ISIS is moving around a lot in and around that city -- ISIS leadership, weapons, personnel, equipment on the move. They are getting pressure from Kurdish forces to the north. U.S. airstrikes are picking up. So this is the place that the U.S. is looking at around the clock to see what intelligence they can pick up on Baghdadi -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.
Let's talk about all of this and more.
Joining us, the Republican presidential candidate, the former Texas governor, Rick Perry, joining us from Austin, Texas.
Governor, thanks very much for joining us.
RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's an honor to be with you.
BLITZER: Let's talk about this Iran nuclear deal. You've called it -- and I'm quoting you now -- "one of the most destructive foreign policy decisions in my lifetime."
Give us an analysis.
Is it more destructive than the Vietnam War, for example?
PERRY: Well, since 1968 to '70, we have worked with the non- proliferation of nuclear weapons concept. And that's been our policy for decades. And this president has turned it on its head 180 degrees, in my opinion. That's the reason I said that this is one of the most destructive policies that I've seen.
This is truly a major change from the U.S. Policies historically.
BLITZER: Why is that?
PERRY: And I think it does send...
BLITZER: I mean what...
PERRY: -- a...
BLITZER: The president says it stops virtually all areas, opportunities, for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
PERRY: The president and I obviously disagree that you can trust the Iranians. This is the country that killed a substantial number of our Marines in Beirut. This is the country that delivered weapons that killed our soldiers in Iraq. This is the country that delivered weapons that killed our soldiers in Iraq. This is the country that literally, less than 90 days ago, we had a naval blockade to keep them from delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
And somehow or another, this president very naively believes that they're going to live up to these agreements. I don't. I think Bibi Netanyahu is spot on, that the untrustworthiness and the clear challenges to being able to look into those facilities and know what they're doing, all of this sends a terrible message to our allies.
And, again, the president may be the most naive individual in the world to think that he can trust the Iranians...
BLITZER: You know...
PERRY: -- I don't.
BLITZER: I was going to say, Governor, the president says he doesn't trust the Iranians, that's why he's got all of these other contingents -- all these other contingencies included, these IAEA inspections, precisely because he says he doesn't trust them. Their line now is don't trust, but verify. Ronald Reagan used to say when negotiating these arms deals with the Soviet -- the former Soviet Union, trust but verify. He says don't trust, but verify.
PERRY: Well, I think the president believing that these safeguards that he says are put in place to be able -- for the inspector toss go in, for instance, I mean the idea that we're going to give them 24 days notice?
I mean this was a -- I don't want Barack Obama -- I don't want President Obama negotiating for me. He gave away the farm before we ever really sat down. I mean the idea -- we had Iran in a very tight position on the sanction side of this. I think we could have brought them to the table with the sanction pressure that we had in place. We could have insisted upon the stopping of terrorism being exported out of that country.
But he takes the position of all he wanted was this nuclear agreement, which my takeaway from that, Wolf, is that the president knew that he couldn't get any of these other things and he kept getting narrower and narrower and narrower with this agreement, to where he got one thing that he thought he could sign off on.
The good news is that the United States Senate is going to have the last say on this. And I hope that senators, Democrats and Republicans, do use some very good, thoughtful observations before they agree to an agreement...
PERRY: -- that could literally put the Middle East in great chaos.
BLITZER: So what would you do, Governor, if you were president of the United States on day one, assuming this deal goes into effect?
What would you do?
PERRY: Well, number one, I don't -- I think we're putting the cart before the horse here to say that the deal is going to get done.
BLITZER: I said assuming.
PERRY: But obviously sending...
BLITZER: Assuming it would get done.
PERRY: Sending the message now to Iran, to our allies in the Middle East that on day one, Rick Perry, if the president of the United States, would do away with that and clearly put sanctions back into place, put back an ability to be able to squeeze Iran.
I mean that country wants to be, clearly, the leader of the Middle East. They will do anything to take that position.
And I think the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Turks, the Egyptians, obviously, the Israelis, as well, that's the making of a coalition, along with the United States, that can put Iran in the position of being of being a good neighbor, of being a country that can, indeed, not be exporting terrorism, that doesn't try to create chaos in that part of the world.
I think we just missed an extraordinary opportunity with the Arab Spring, a number of opportunities to get Iran to be a legitimate, decent neighbor. And today, they are celebrating in the streets.
There are two people that are happy today, obviously, the leadership in Iran and Mr. Assad, President Assad.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Governor.
There's a lot more to discuss.
I want to pick up on that thought.
I also want to talk about the race for the White House.
Donald Trump, he's doing amazingly well right now. We're going to get your thoughts on what's going on.
Much more with Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry, when we come back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're back with Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry. He's the former governor of Texas. He's joining us live from Austin.
You know, we just learned a few moments ago that your senator, your junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, he just entered Trump Tower in New York for a meeting with Donald Trump. What do you make of what's going on?
PERRY: Well, everybody gets to pick with who they hang out with. So I have no idea what's going on. I'm focused on talking to the American people about the only person that's going to be standing on that stage that actually has done something about border security, not just talked about it.
And the deploying of our National Guard last summer after I met with the president and looked him in the eye and said, Mr. President, if you don't secure the border, Texas will, along with our Texas Ranger Recon teams and our Parks and Wildlife wardens that we literally had in the river, along with our National Guard. We saw a 74 percent decrease in the apprehensions that we're occurring. So if you want to talk about border security, there's only one individual in this country that's actually been engaged with it and had some success with it.
[17:20:07] And I know how to do this, Wolf. You put the personnel on the ground, you have the strategic fencing, you have the aviation assets from Tijuana to El Paso to Brownsville, looking down 24/7 with quick response teams to those activities that are either clearly illegal or suspicious. That's how you secure the border.
We know how to do this. We just did not have the will in Washington, D.C. to do that. I tell people on a regular basis, if you want to secure the border, elect me president of the United States and the will to secure the border will reside in Washington, D.C.
BLITZER: Well, Donald Trump says he's got the best ideas on securing the border. He sayd he's build a huge fence. He'd built it right away and he would get Mexico to pay for it. Your reaction?
PERRY: Well, I know how to secure the border. And the idea that you're going to build a wall, I think a wall is a what he calls this. And you know, the bottom line is we know how to secure the border and rhetoric is not going to do it. Action is what's going to be required. You put the personnel on the border. A wall without personnel there means nothing. You build a 30-foot wall and the 35- foot ladder business gets good. The rhetoric is one thing, action and clearly having a plan and having the executive experience of having done this before I think is what the American people are really going to look for.
BLITZER: You know, he's doing really well, Donald Trump. This new USA-Suffolk University poll that has him at 17 percent, Jeb Bush is down at, what, 13 percent or so. Could you see Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee? PERRY: I think we're a long way from being able to have any faith
that a poll is going to hold up between now and into when the primary season is over with. So there's a lot of good men and women that are going to be standing up, and talking about their vision for this country. Mine is going to be a very positive vision about the great opportunities economically.
The fact is America is not going to be secure until we have an economy that allows us to bring the resources into this country so that we can rebuild our military, so we can send a message to our allies that America is going to be strong again, is going to stand up with our allies. So it's a long time to the primary. I suspect the polls are going to ebb and flow.
BLITZER: Do you think he's qualified to be president of the United States?
PERRY: Well, I think there are a lot of people that are qualified to be president but --
BLITZER: What about Trump?
PERRY: I think the real question is, who's the most qualified? And at that particular point in time, whether it's my life experiences of having grown up on that tenet farm out in Texas or whether it's having worn the uniform of this country, whether it's been the chief executive of the 12th largest economy in the world for the last 14 years, and I think inarguably a record of job creation that nobody else even gets close to.
That's what the American people are going to look for. Not whether there's a long list of people who may be qualified. Who is the most qualified.
BLITZER: All right. Here's a hypothetical question. If he did get the Republican presidential nomination and asked you to be his vice presidential running mate, would you say yes?
PERRY: I think that is a way premature question to be asking me. We're running for the presidency at this particular point in time.
BLITZER: Let's talk about El Chapo's escape from prison in Mexico. This is the second time he's escaped from a so-called maximum security prison there. He's arrested last year, the U.S. requested to have him extradited. Mexico refused.
What's going on in Mexico? You live right there on the border.
PERRY: Yes, it's not passing the smell test, that's for sure. There's some real challenges with corruption in Mexico. We've known that for a long time. This goes right to the heart of why Washington, D.C. must live up to its constitutional requirement to secure the border. The drug trafficking, the transnational gangs. I mean, we've been dealing with this for lots of years here. We see the impact of it and it doesn't just stop in Texas.
Obviously county attorneys and sheriffs in New Hampshire came up to me last September and said, Governor, thank you for what you're doing to secure that border down there because we're being impacted by people coming into this country who are, you know, pushing their drugs, committing crimes against our citizens, so this entire example of a lack of being able to keep this very, very dangerous man in prison is a great example of why America needs to get serious about securing that border.
And again I go back to one person, only one person who's asked to be the president of the United States who has actually had the experience of dealing with this, and that's me.
BLITZER: What I hear you're saying is that you believe Mexico is a national security problem for the United States.
PERRY: I think there are people in Mexico that are a national security problem. We've known that for a long time and we've been saying that for a long time. The idea that we've got this porous border, and people who would do harm to Americans, whether they're Mexicans or whether they're OTMs, these other than Mexicans as they're referred to, know that that border is secure.
[17:25:13] And we're going to continue to be exposed to individuals that will do harm to us, whether they are terrorists or whether they're drug cartels or whether transnational gangs, until that border is secure. Put the personnel on the border in the right places, have the strategic fencing in place, and use the aviation assets that we have at this particular point in time with the technology that is available to look down 24/7, identify what's going on, and send those quick-response teams and secure the border. This is not -- this isn't rocket science. There's just no will in Washington, D.C. to keep the America people safe.
BLITZER: Governor Rick Perry, thanks very much for joining us.
PERRY: You're welcome, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, I'll be joined by the "New York Times" columnist Tom Freidman. He said down for an exclusive interview with the president yesterday. We'll discuss what's going on with the Iran nuclear deal.
And later, astonishing new video of the moment a Mexican drug lord disappeared from his prison cell. We'll take a closer look at the tunnel he used, a mile-long tunnel, a sophisticated tunnel to break out of that prison.
[17:30:52] BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story. The Iran nuclear deal. After President Obama announced the nuclear deal with Iran yesterday, first thing he did was sit down with the "New York Times" columnist Tom Freidman for a lengthy interview. Tom is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I watched the whole 46-minute interview with the president. Did he --
you've been skeptical in some aspects of this, Tom. Did he convince you he knows what he's doing?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, OP-ED COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think the president made a strong argument for his argument, which is at this stage where we're at, there is really no other choice. There is no other -- there is no other realistic way to bring Iran's nuclear program under control, put distance between its ability to make a weapon than this verifiable agreement.
BLITZER: Because the argument as you've heard it and you talked to the president about it as well is that the price that the U.S. and the others are paying, let's say, $150 billion in sanctions that are going to be lifted is a huge price for a country that the U.S. regards as one of the leading if not the leading state sponsor of terrorism.
FRIEDMAN: And exactly Iran is going to this injection of capital.
BLITZER: And there's no restrictions on what they can do with that money.
FRIEDMAN: There's really tension -- there's really a tension, if you look at Israel's interests and America's interests. Both Israel and America have a fundamental interest in that Iran not acquiring a nuclear weapon. I think the world has that interest because we don't want to see the end of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. But if Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon, America can live with a strong Iran or -- we don't want an overly powerful Iran, but we don't want -- we don't necessarily want a weak Iran.
Israel, if it can't give an Iran that has no nuclear weapons or Israel does not want a strong Iran under any conditions. And that's where the tension is between the two, because America wants to see a balance of power in that region, Wolf, between Iran and the Sunni states. It doesn't want to see one side totally vanquishing the other.
BLITZER: Take us a little bit behind the scenes because I watched the entire interview that he gave you 46 minutes. And I watched, first, the entire 68-minute news conversation. I think most of which was on the Iran nuclear deal. He seemed a lot more at ease, confident, talking to you than talking at that news conference. I don't know if you agree with me.
FRIEDMAN: You know, I didn't see all of the news conference, but, you know, the president has clearly thought about this whole issue. But not just, I would say, Wolf, in its strategic dimensions. You know, at one point there are two things that sort of jumped out at me from what he said. One is -- one was how much Putin had been a help in the end. That was something I was really curious about.
BLITZER: Turns out he was really kind.
FRIEDMAN: Yes. But he went out of his way to -- BLITZER: Said basically this deal couldn't have been done without
FRIEDMAN: Had they not stepped up and kept the pressure on Iran. The other is, you know, because the president spent a lot of his life living overseas, he's a person who knows what the world looks like from -- what America looks like from the outside in. And at with one point he said in a very guarded way, but nevertheless in a pointed way. You know, let's remember that back in the 1950s, the United States CIA toppled the democratically elected government in Iran.
Let's remember that the United States supported Iraq using poison gas against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war --
BLITZER: In the '80s.
FRIEDMAN: -- or tacitly accepted it. And therefore even paranoids have enemies. And what he was basically saying is that there's -- you know, there's no excuse for Iran's anti-Semitism, no excuse for its hostility to Israel, but the kind of paranoid nature of that regime isn't entirely out of context. That even paranoids have enemies.
BLITZER: You know the president well, you have interviewed him several times, and you've obviously covered him. I want to play the exchange he had with the White House correspondent from CBS News, Major Garrett, because it was -- there was a sensitive moment there involving this Iran nuclear deal and four Americans who are being held prisoner in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS: Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans? And last week the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons.
It is perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations, making the Pentagon feel you've left the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff hang out to dry. Would you comment?
[17:35:13] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content? As I celebrate? With American citizens languishing in Iranian jails?
Major, that's nonsense, and you should know better. I've met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody is content.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What did you think of that exchange?
FRIEDMAN: Look, you know -- BLITZER: I asked you not only as a columnist, but you're a former --
we were both White House correspondents during the Clinton administration and we both stood up and asked presidents of the United States questions.
FRIEDMAN: Right. Undue press criticism. I think I would have framed the question differently, you know, Wolf, if you wanted to get a real answer. I think the real question, the real point is there's some real tradeoffs here. Who is holding -- who is behind, who do we believe is behind this holding of Americans in Iran, arresting "The Washington Post" journalist. It's the people who don't want this deal.
And the United States said we're not going to do anything until these guys are out, we would have been playing into the hands of the very Iranian hardliners who don't want this deal. You know, that said we've got to keep the pressure on to get these people out. But you've got to make this -- Wolf, this is one of the most important strategic decisions any president has had to make.
I went into journalism in the Middle East in 1979. I've never known any other than a hostile relationship between the United States and Iran. We are at the beginning, the very beginning of possibly reversing that. It involves huge tradeoffs. Not just over our citizens but the security of our allies. Those are tough calls. Honor those calls.
I think as a journalist we should respect those are hard tradeoffs. The president isn't just sitting there, I don't think, saying, wonderful, let's just toss all these other people overboard, you know, so I can have one good day in Washington, D.C. I kind of don't think so you.
BLITZER: I know you posted the entire interview on the NewYorkTimes.com so people should go and watch it. I think they'll obviously learn something, Tom.
Thanks very much for coming in.
FRIEDMAN: My pleasure. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thomas Friedman of the "New York Times" joining us.
Coming up, President Obama answers a question about the rape allegations against Bill Cosby. Stand by. One of the more -- maybe even the most dramatic moment in today's news conference.
And later, astonishing new pictures of the elaborate tunnel a Mexican drug lord used to get out of prison. Where is he now?
[17:42:11] BLITZER: Tomorrow the president -- President Obama becomes the first U.S. president to visit a federal prison while in office. It's part of his effort to try to spur reform in the nation's criminal justice system. During his news conference today he zeroed in on drug sentencing laws, which he blames for prison overcrowding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This huge spike in incarcerations is also driven by nonviolent drug offenses where the sentencing is completely out of proportion with the crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, is joining us now from Philadelphia. That's where the president spoke at the NAACP convention.
I want to get your quick reaction because today you heard from former president Bill Clinton. He spoke before your convention. And he said that the law he signed as president back in 1994, he said, worsened the nation's criminal justice system by increasing prison sentences. He said, "I signed a bill that made the problem worse, and I want to admit it."
What was your reaction when you heard President Bill Clinton say that?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: I thought it was a window into his character as both a human being and as a leader. On the fact that he could in the family atmosphere of the NAACP convention admit a mistake and going beyond the mistake to speak to the need for reform in the present. So now he spoke about the mistake of the past, but also the need to bring about criminal justice reform in the present.
Really it was an extraordinary moment. A wonderfully moving speech, but a really extraordinary moment because there are not too many people who would be willing to admit that we have 2.3 million people behind bars on these mandatory minimums that have created a class of incarcerated people. It's a rare politician who will admit having anything to do with intensifying a problem.
BLITZER: It was a pretty, pretty amazing moment, I take it, at that NAACP convention today. As you know, President Obama tomorrow will become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Are you disappointed that it's taken this long to start making these reforms? Because I want to put up on the screen some amazing statistics involving imprisoned African-Americans.
Look at this. African-Americans constitute nearly one million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, 1 in 6 black men have been incarcerated as of 2001, and if the current trend continues 1 in 3 black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.
What's going on over here?
[17:45:12] BROOKS: Well, the president came to the -- our national convention and spoke truth to a very powerful problem in our country, namely he rattled off those same statistics, those similar statistics. He also spoke about the fact that there are nearly one million fathers behind bars, 2.3 million people behind bars, an incarceration rate that's quadrupled over the course of generation.
And he spoke about the need for reform and the fact that now is an opportune moment where we have fiscal conservatives, moral progressives, people all across the ideological spectrum coming to the moral, ethical, civic conclusion that now is the time to be smart on crime as well as tough on crime, and not be tough and unwise when it comes to dealing with ex-offenders. And so he spoke to that in a very compelling way, and he spoke about the fact that now is an extraordinary moment to do that.
But the president also did this. He also said it's not enough for politicians to support reform. He talked about the need to have the NAACP marching not only in the days past, but also marching now. And I would note also that President Clinton today talked about America's journey for justice and the need to put boots on the ground as well as laws on the books, so it's interesting, President Obama and President Clinton talking about the fact that this is a challenge that needs to be embraced not only by politicians in Washington, but by people in their hometowns all across the country.
Because we have to build that kind of groundswell of support if we're really going to reform the nation's sentencing laws, if we're going to reform our educational policies, as President Clinton put it today, to ensure that more people are educated behind bars so that they don't return to prison once they leave. This has really been an historic and extraordinary couple of days.
BLITZER: I'm sure it has been. Cornell William Brooks, thanks very much for joining us, Cornell, who's the president and CEO of the NAACP. He's at their convention in Philadelphia. Appreciate it very much, Cornell.
BROOKS: Thank you, Wolf.
Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, one moment he's in a cell, the next month he's gone. We now have new information on the Mexican drug lord's brazen escape.
[17:51:35] BLITZER: While learning new details about a notorious Mexican drug lord's escape from prison. There's even video of the moment he disappears from his prison cell.
CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's getting late-breaking information. What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the anger is still festering over this escape. Just a short time ago I got some new information from U.S.-Mexican officials on this manhunt. And tonight we've got the stunning surveillance video showing just how easy it was for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to get out of that high security prison.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): He paces around his cell, goes into the shower stall, comes back to his bed and changes his shoes. Then goes back into the shower stall fully clothed and disappears. This surveillance video shows how stunningly fast the world's most notorious drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was able to escape from Mexico's Alto Plato Prison.
STEVE DUDLEY, INSIGHT CRIME: He goes behind this wall and then poof, he's gone. And that's what he's done. His whole criminal career.
TODD: Out of the view of the camera in his cell, behind the partition of his shower stall, a hole in the floor. It leads to this elaborate underground tunnel complete with electricity, lights, ventilation and tracks laid along the ground. Authorities say this modified motorcycle was used to transport tools and ton after ton of dirt excavated from all the digging. The tunnel runs for a mile underground, ends up with a ladder leading up a shaft to a half-built house which disguised the exit of the tunnel.
From the safe house the walls of the prison where he was held can be seen in the distance. A Mexican official tells CNN the U.S. and Mexico are exchanging intelligence including some from informants in the manhunt. And the U.S. is providing technical support. Tonight DEA officials say they are on the ground working shoulder-to-shoulder with their Mexican counterparts.
JACK RILEY, DEPUTY DEA ADMINISTRATOR: Chapo was hoping and planning on the fact that the good guys, the cops on both sides of the border don't talk to each other. Don't connect the dots. And I'm here to tell you we're doing that better now than we have ever done it. And if I was him, I'd be looking over my shoulder.
TODD: Deputy DEA administrator Jack Riley says U.S. officials did press for Guzman's extradition after his capture last year. Riley who spent years fighting El Chapo's cartel on the streets of Chicago and El Paso, Texas, says he's personally angry over the escape.
RILEY: And when I got the call at 2:30 in the morning last Saturday, I'm about to pass out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Jack Riley says if and when El Chapo was recaptured the U.S. will press again for his extradition. A motivation for Riley, Guzman's responsibility for the explosion of cheap, potent heroin on the streets of Chicago, where Riley led the battle against Guzman's operations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You're also getting new information from your sources --
BLITZER: Brian, on what the surveillance that he was undergoing, the sort of monitoring bracelet he was supposedly wearing.
TODD: That's right. There is some question tonight as to whether El Chapo actually left that ankle bracelet in the cell when he left or not. But a Mexican official told me that the bracelet he was wearing on his ankle would not have helped track him outside of Alto Plato Prison. That bracelet did not have GPS on it. This official says because GPS does not work inside the walls of that prison, it's for internal use only. Monitoring him as he moved around the facility.
We're also told about that surveillance camera. That's one of 600 surveillance cameras inside that prison. But again those two critical blind spots that it left, out of concern for his privacy we're told, that made the difference. That didn't capture him leaving.
[17:55:07] BLITZER: Interesting enough. All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Coming up, President Obama, he's trying to win over critics of the Iran nuclear deal. A few of them sharper than Israel. The Israeli ambassador to the United States, he is standing by.
Also, disturbing video. An American terror suspect telling interrogators how he was influenced by ISIS and detailing his alleged bomb plot.
BLITZER: Defending the deal. President Obama says there is no alternative to the Iran nuclear agreement other than war. He's laying out his case, scolding critics and drizzling at a reporter. But did he change anyone's mind?
[18:00:10] Nuclear fallout.