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Obama Blasts Republicans Remarks; Safe Zone or No-Fly Zone?; ISIS Threat Prompts Emergency NATO Meeting; Interview with Senator James Risch; Turkish Jets Bomb Kurds As Well As ISIS Targets; New Clues in Lafayette Theater Shooting . Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 27, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, ISIS on the march. As terrorist forces launch more attacks seeking more territory, a key U.S. ally is asking NATO to step in and help protect its border against ISIS. What extraordinary step is the alliance about to take.
Firing back. President Obama unleashes on Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and those running for president, calling their controversial remarks ridiculous and sad. I'll talk to a top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee who says the administration is now being duped by Iran.
Secret pictures revealed. Stunning images of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their top aides taken during the 9/11 terror attacks. The horror and the emotion captured on camera, also revealing the top secret location where Cheney was hidden. Why were these photos hidden from all of us for so long?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following major new developments in the war against ISIS including a rare emergency NATO meeting to take place tomorrow. Turkey has called for the extraordinary session as it faces a growing threat from ISIS forces, disturbingly close to its border with Syria. The danger is so great that the U.S. is now working with Turkey to establish an ISIS-free safe zone.
We're also getting a first look at some remarkable pictures taken as the country was rocked by the 9/11 terror attacks. The intimate images captured the shock and the horror of top Bush administration officials in the minutes after the Twin Towers were struck. They also revealed the top secret location where Dick Cheney was whisked away.
We're covering all of that, a lot more this hour, with our correspondents and guests, including Republican Senator James Risch. He's a key member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
But we begin with President Obama. He's traveling in Africa and he's using the international spotlight to slam some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates over remarks he calls ridiculous and sad.
Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now for the Ethiopian capital. He's traveling with the president.
So, Jim, update our viewers on the latest. What's going on?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama is in Ethiopia, about as far as you can get from the 2016 campaign trail, but he unloaded on the GOP field. The president saved his toughest comments for Mike Huckabee, although the former Arkansas governor was hardly the president's only target.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In his first real dive into the 2016 race for the White House, President Obama blasted one of the Republican field's top candidates, former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, who said the nuclear deal with Iran threatened another holocaust.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are I think part of just a general pattern that we've seen that would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad.
ACOSTA: Huckabee ignited the uproar when he told Breitbart News the president was ignoring past Iranian threats of wiping Israel off the map.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is so naive. He would trust the Iranians. And he would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.
ACOSTA: Responding in a news conference in Ethiopia, the president sounded disgusted, accusing Huckabee of desperately trying to play catch-up with the more sensational Donald Trump.
OBAMA: Maybe it gets attention and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines.
ACOSTA: But there was more, as the president aggressively denounced Trump.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's not a war hero.
ACOSTA: For his comments on John McCain.
OBAMA: That arises out of a culture where, you know, those kinds of outrageous attacks would become far too common place and get circulated nonstop through the Internet and talk radio and news outlets.
ACOSTA: The president painted the GOP as being in a race to the bottom, slamming Senator Tom Cotton for describing Secretary of State John Kerry's role in the Iran deal as Pontius Pilate, and Senator Ted Cruz, for saying the nuclear agreement would make the White House a leading financier of terrorism.
OBAMA: I mean, we've had a sitting senator called John Kerry, Pontius Pilate. We've had a sitting senator, who also happens to be running for president, suggest that I'm the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party.
ACOSTA: Refusing to back down, Huckabee jabbed back at the president in a statement saying, "What's ridiculous and sad is that President Obama does not take Iran's repeated threats seriously."
The president signaled this is hardly his last comment on the campaign.
[17:05:02] ACOSTA: The president's comments today signaling he may be taking on a greater role in the campaign as surrogate-in-chief. But one White House official said it's also about the nuclear deal with Iran, adding the president wants the debate to be on the facts, Wolf. We'll see if he gets that debate.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
We're also learning new details of a so-called safe zone to prevent ISIS forces from attacking across the border of a NATO ally. We're talking about Turkey.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is standing by.
What exactly would this safe zone be?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the big question tonight, Wolf. Military planners here at the Pentagon scrambling to explain it, scrambling to figure out what exactly they can and will do with the Turks after President Obama and his Turkish counterpart appeared to have informally agreed to this in a telephone conversation. Now the hard work begins.
Officials are telling us what they are looking at is the possibility that U.S. warplanes flying out of the southern Turkey, keeping a watch over the border with Syria, will be able to do a better job of keeping the area safe, the border area where ISIS is. Because they will be there, because they will be close by, they will be able to strike ISIS targets, keeping civilians safe and also keeping Syrian rebel forces safe.
The U.S., however, doesn't want to get dragged into this too deeply. They are resisting, calling it a no-fly zone. That's something the Pentagon doesn't want because that would put them in the air 24/7. They're willing to do the airstrikes, they're willing to keep watch. We'll have to see how far this goes and if they really can come to an agreement on how to make it happen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: How much, Barbara, does the use of Turkish airbases, Incirlik, some of those other Turkish airbases, help the U.S. operation against ISIS?
STARR: Well, look, the U.S. had wanted those airbases for months now because it will put U.S. warplanes much closer to those critical ISIS targets in the ISIS strongholds in northern Syria and northern Iraq. Now they'll be a few hundred miles away instead of coming all the way up from the Persian Gulf bases that they had been limited to. So this puts them overhead much quicker. They can stay aloft longer, they don't have to stop to refuel. They don't have to go back to base. They can keep watch. They can look for ISIS targets.
So U.S. commanders say this is a real advantage in the war against ISIS, and by the way, Wolf, we checked the numbers today. This is now a war that has cost $3 billion -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Since when? The $3 billion figure. When --
STARR: Since -- in the last year, Wolf.
BLITZER: In the past year alone.
STARR: Yes. Since the airstrikes began, latest Pentagon tally, $3 billion. And when they do sit down at NATO tomorrow, as you mentioned, the Turks will make their case for more help. The U.S. will be listening very carefully and deciding just how far it wants to go -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Barbara Starr, for that.
Let's bring in our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon. She's joining us from Istanbul, in Turkey.
Arwa, Turkey called for this emergency NATO meeting. They're walking a fine line right now. Tell us what's going on?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Turkey is in a fairly vulnerable position at this stage. And it does seem that a lot of factors have come together at the same time. Turkey's policy of wanting to sit out this war with ISIS on the sidelines, not wanting to get actively involved, not wanting to officially join the anti-ISIS coalition have failed.
And Ankara is right now changing its policy and has set aside some of the conditions that it had to allow the U.S. to use its bases and its airspace. Among them, for example, the insistence that Bashar al- Assad also be removed from power and that this campaign somehow also go after the regime elements.
And Turkey is also not just fighting ISIS at this stage. It has reopened the front that it has with the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, that it deems to be a terrorist organization. This meeting with NATO is an attempt by Turkey to on the one hand lay out its current strategy, but on the other also ensure that it has the capital, that it has the support from NATO, as it does move forward along these two front lines against ISIS and against the PKK.
And additionally to all of this, Wolf, Turkey has realized that to remain relevant in the region, politically relevant in the region, it has to take an active and aggressive role in the war against ISIS -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa, we also heard now a rare speech from the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and he admitted some setbacks. What did he say?
DAMON: Well, he is basically saying that the Syrian military, in justifying why the Syrian military had withdrawn from some strategic key areas in the country and conceding that yes, his forces were stretched thin, that they were struggling when it came to logistics, when it came to manpower. Remember when you look at this from the Syrian regime's perspective, they've been embroiled in this war for well over four years now.
[17:10:16] The president also was saying that he would be open to dialogue, but as Assad has said in the past, this would not be dialogue with any terrorist organization since he deems all elements of the Syrian opposition, all of the rebel groups to be terrorist organizations, it's difficult to see exactly whom he thinks he would be holding this dialogue with, but yes, we are seeing the president at this stage acknowledging that they are struggling throughout this battle, that their forces are stretched thin.
But at the same time one has to remember that they do still have the solid support of some very strong regional allies that have in the past and will once again come to their assistance. And that is namely Iran and the various different militias that it supports.
BLITZER: Yes. Led by Hezbollah from Lebanon as well.
Arwa, thank you very much.
Let's talk about all of this and more with Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's a top Republican on the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R-ID), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Hey, Wolf.
BLITZER: And lot to discuss. But let me quickly get your thoughts on some of these Republican presidential candidates and other senators, Republican senators, what they're saying about the president of the United States, the secretary of state.
You were relatively mild in your criticism last week before the Foreign Relations Committee. You said Secretary of State John Kerry had been bamboozled by the Iranians, but Mike Huckabee now is saying that the president of the United States is leading the Israelis, the Jews in Israel to the door of the oven, a reference to the holocaust. Is he going too far, Governor Huckabee?
RISCH: Well, I don't want to get between Governor Huckabee and the president, but let me say this, with all of this rhetoric that's going on, Wolf, you can see that this is a serious, serious matter. And the people on each side are dug in. Each side has positions that they think are the right positions. And that very frequently causes the war of words that we're seeing right now. So it is serious. And I --
BLITZER: I'm just saying, because when the governor -- Governor Huckabee seems to be making this comparison between the president of the United States and Hitler, Hitler who took the Jews, as we know, to the doors of the oven, that seems to be going way too far.
RISCH: Well, again, like I say, when you get into these kinds of situations, people will say things that perhaps on reflection they wish they hadn't ratcheted that up quite that much.
BLITZER: But he's not backing away. He's reiterating -- he's standing by those comments.
RISCH: As time goes on, perhaps he will have a different view of it. But again, like I say, I think the takeaway here is the fact that people feel so strongly about this on both sides. I mean, this is a serious, serious matter.
BLITZER: Right. No, I totally agree. You can make criticisms.
RISCH: I agree.
BLITZER: There are arguments on both sides.
RISCH: I agree.
BLITZER: You can make it, but you don't have to start throwing holocaust into this, you don't have to start saying that the Jews in Israel are about to go to the door of the oven.
RISCH: When I train young legislators, I always told them words are like bullets. You can never take them back. And you always want to be careful about the words that you use.
BLITZER: You wish Governor Huckabee had not uttered those words?
RISCH: That's a matter between Governor Huckabee and the president. I'm not going to get in the middle of that and I come back to the fact that this is a serious issue that really demands serious debate and serious consideration from the people on all sides.
BLITZER: And very quickly before we move on, Ted Cruz calling this Iran nuclear deal a jihadist stimulus bill. Senator Tom Cotton, your colleague from Arkansas, saying John Kerry -- comparing him to Pontius Pilate, if you will. Are they going too far?
RISCH: Well, again, like I said, people feel very strongly about this. And when they do, they will ratchet it up. The kind of words that are used. Words are important and we all need to debate this, I think, civilly, and at the end of the day we're going to have to vote on it. There's a lot of pressure on the people in Congress, mostly pressure on the people who are thinking of voting to affirm this.
And I think these people are using language that they want to underscore. For instance, the fact that there's going to be a tremendous amount of money that goes to Iran that will go directly to the various terrorist organizations. It has, we know that's going to happen, and people are upset about that.
BLITZER: So when you say the secretary of state was bamboozled, what do you mean by that? RISCH: What I mean by that is I thought that at the very beginning
those guys gave away the farm before they ever sat down at the table. Before they ever sat at the table, they should have required that Iran give up the financing of terrorists and give up their ambitions to produce a nuclear weapon. And that means stopping enriching. Both of those were given away before they ever sat down.
And after those things were given away and they sat down, they continued to give and give and give. The U.S. kept moving towards Iran's position. Iran never moved towards the U.S. position. And those of us who watched it thought that it was handled very poorly.
[17:15:11] BLITZER: I know the administration strongly disagrees with you.
RISCH: No question about that.
BLITZER: But they will continue, but we've got to keep it civil as much as we possibly can.
RISCH: I agree.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Senator. We have a lot more to discuss.
Much more with Senator Risch when we come back.
[17:20:04] BLITZER: Following the war against ISIS and their proposal for a so-called safe zone, along Turkey's border with Syria to prevent ISIS terrorist forces from attacking a critical U.S.-NATO ally.
We're back with James Risch, top Republican on the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee.
I know you've been briefed, Senator. What does a safe zone means?
RISCH: Well, a safe zone is an area that, in essence, Turkey and the world wants the United States to guard and keep ISIS out of and be able to put what they want there.
BLITZER: So will U.S. forces have to go into that safe zone to prevent ISIS from moving in?
RISCH: I don't think that that -- they know that there is very little appetite on the U.S. part to put boots on the ground there, but airpower is incredibly important in that part of the world.
BLITZER: Is that a no-fly zone? Is that what this is about?
RISCH: That's what they're talking about. They want a no-fly zone. And as you know, the White House and the administration have really pushed back on the no-fly zone for many, many months, but now they've softened up on it and they are talking about. Turkey is --
BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt you, Senator.
BLITZER: Turkey is a key NATO ally.
BLITZER: They have a huge military. They have a significant air force. Why can't Turkey do that by itself? Why do they need U.S. airpower, potentially ground forces to help?
RISCH: Well, Turkey probably could do it by themselves, but look, there is no substitute for U.S. airpower anywhere in the world. It is that simple. And we have ways and means available to us that no other country in the world has. We are much more efficient at it. We're better at it. We have experience with it.
It's interesting to see Turkey now also changing its attitude. They have tried their best to stay out of this fray. I was in Turkey once when they were shelling, when Assad's people are shelling, and they did very little to push back on it, but did back them down.
Now, of course, things are blowing up on them. They got ISIS actually crossing in, doing things. The -- interestingly enough, the Kurds have been very effective in creating mostly a buffer zone in Syria, between Syria and Turkey. And --
BLITZER: So how do you feel about the fact that the Turks now not only going to go after ISIS forces in Syria, but are going after Kurdish forces as well?
RISCH: Yes, generally they don't go after the Peshmerga. They are concerned about PKK. The PKK has been a torn on their side for a long, long time. There is a clear difference, I think, at least in our mind, if not in the Turks' mind, between PKK and between the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga are incredibly efficient fighters. They've been very successful where they have fought.
And I think PKK, and this is my judgment, and I suspect probably some in Turkish judgment, the PKK is using the current state of affairs and the turmoil there to take advantage. And they've been fairly quiet over the last 18 to 24 months, but now again, they're stepping forward. Turkey doesn't like that. They're concerned about it and they're now having to take a second look at what's going on in their border and what they're going to have to do and how they're going to engage us and other countries to assist them.
BLITZER: It's potentially a turning point. Let me --
RISCH: It is. That's a good point. That's true.
BLITZER: I want to get -- I want to get your reaction to what the FBI Director James Comey told me last week. He said ISIS is now the major terror threat to the U.S. homeland, even a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than al Qaeda. Do you agree with him? RISCH: I agree with him 100 percent. Al Qaeda has always looked for
the great big iconic kind of things that they could do here to make a statement. ISIS has much lower target than that. They're happy to take these lone wolves that go out and do the -- do these things where they will kill a handful of people or what have you. We are much more vulnerable to that than we are to the big iconic type of attacks.
And as a result -- and on top of that, they work differently than al Qaeda. Al Qaeda was really hung up on command and control and titles and who's in charge. ISIS is much more spread out than that. They're not nearly as hung up on the chain of command and that sort of thing.
BLITZER: Senator Risch, thanks very much for joining us.
RISCH: Wolf, thank you. Glad to be here.
BLITZER: All right. Senator James Risch, joining us from Idaho.
Coming up, investigators find new clues about the gunman on the mass shooting in Louisiana movie theater. We'll update you on what we know.
Also newly released photos from the White House at the September 11th terror attacks unfolded. They finally reveal Vice President Dick Cheney's secret, undisclosed location.
BLITZER: We're following important new developments in the war against ISIS. Turkey, a key U.S. ally, has now joined the fight, bombing ISIS targets, raiding suspected hideouts and opening its airbases to U.S. and coalition jets. It also wants an emergency NATO meeting.
Will it draw U.S. forces closer to the fighting including in Syria's civil war?
Joining us now are CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, our counterterrorism analyst, the former CIA official Phil Mudd, and Joshua Walker, he's a former State Department senior adviser under both Secretaries John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in. This new so-called safe zone. They don't really want to call it a no-fly zone, but it's got elements of that. What's your understanding that this is going to drag the U.S. even closer in to a combat role along that Turkish-Syrian border.
[17:30:00] PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think it will drive us into a combat role yet. It will drive us into some anti-ISIS operations.
Look, we had the president of Syria this week talking about his inability to project power all across the country. Very interesting speech where he acknowledges that the Syrian military is not doing that well. Now, we have the Turks and Americans say in this northern strip for humanitarian reasons, we will take care of ISIS for you. So, I think until the Syrians and unless the Syrians decide to confront the Turks and Americans, I don't think they'll do that now, I think we'll be OK for the moment.
BLITZER: Josh, you're an expert on Turkey. You spent three years there. You speak the language.
A lot of us are wondering, they have a pretty large military, a significant air force, ground troops. Why can't they get the job done themselves?
JOSHUA WALKER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER: They do have the second largest military NATO, but the problem here is the domestic politics in Turkey. You've had the June 7th elections. There's no government in Turkey right now. So, it's a caretaker government.
Any kind of movement in terms of going against ISIS will also be about PKK, the terrorist organization. So, what Turkey is trying to do here, what the United States is trying to do here, what the larger coalition is trying to do here are at different areas. So, this is a real problem here.
BLITZER: So, that's why Turkey is asking for this emergency NATO meeting, so they don't have to do it, they can get other allies to do it?
WALKER: I think that the Turks do not want to be the only one going in. They have shown time and time again they're willing to go in whether it's in northern Iraq, or even in Syria, to protect their own interests. And given the attacks we saw last week, horrific suicide bombings, et cetera, Turkey will step in, but to have an entire safe zone, in terms of what -- the capabilities will be there, it needs the United States, it needs NATO behind it.
BLITZER: Is that OK with you, Peter?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, yes. I mean, it is what it is.
BLITZER: That Turkey deferring to other NATO coalition partners instead of doing it themselves? They have the second largest NATO military.
BERGEN: Yes, but Turkey is going to look after its own interests. I mean, you know, we wanted them to allow us to go in in 2003 through -- and they said, no, it wasn't in their interests. They feel -- that's how all countries behave. They do what's in their own interests, how they perceived them, not how we see them.
BLITZER: But isn't in their interest, interest of Turkey, the people of Turkey, to keep their people safe from ISIS, and to go in there and crush ISIS. They've got the capability.
MUDD: They have some capable, but we've got a lot of experience. I was at the CIA when we were doing no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, before we took out Saddam Hussein. We've got a great capability to do this, great air power to do this. I think we can complement the Turks in this effort. I think they need our assistance. I think we're fine here.
BLITZER: The other criticism I'm hearing is that, yes, we love the fact that the United States and Turkey is finally allowing the U.S. to use Incirlik, other major NATO air bases, to launch U.S. F-16 fighter jets go after targets against ISIS in Syria. We love the fact that Turkey has launched with these kinds of air strikes against ISIS.
But there's concern about what Turkey is doing to the Kurds. The Kurds are friends of the U.S. The Kurds have taken a leading role in going after ISIS themselves.
WALKER: This gets directly to the real conundrum we have in the region. The Kurds are America's closest allies. They're the boots on the ground that we need to defeat ISIS. They're not necessarily the top priority for the Turks. If anything the Turks and Syria look at Assad as number one problem, Kurds as number two and ISIS number three. The U.S. reverses that order.
So, the way in which Turkey will be going in, it will be going after not just ISIS, but also the PKK, which is closely aligned in some areas with the Kurds on the ground, which makes our job the United States even more difficult going in.
BLITZER: Because the Kurds, they're taking a leading role, all the various splinter groups, of the Kurds, and there's a lot of them and the Peshmerga and the PKK and these other groups, they're fighting ISIS big time.
BERGEN: Yes. But -- so the Turks' principal goal is to make sure there's not an independent Kurdistan. I mean, that's been a goal of Turkish foreign policy.
BLITZER: Even if the Kurds are helping to destroy ISIS, they're going to go after and start killing Kurds?
BERGEN: Well, I don't know about -- well, certain Kurds. I mean, not all Kurds. I mean, there's ones that they regard as terrorist groups. But I mean, this is probably for the last century one of Turkey's main goals is to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state. And that's their principal concern.
BLITZER: Well, that goal, you know this as well as anyone, Phil, that independent Turkish state is basically Kurdistan all but there, and still technically part of Iraq, but for all practical purposes, it's pretty independent.
MUDD: It is, and this is one reason the Turks have finally decided to go in. There's a little bit of a shell game going on here. We want the Turks to go after the ISIS troops up there in the north, and other places in Syria.
The Kurds just in the past couple of days -- pardon me, the Turks just in the past couple days have proven that once they made that agreement with us to use air bases, to use their power to go after ISIS, they're also going after Kurdish targets. I think we would prefer that not happen, but we got the whole ball of wax. If they're going after ISIS, they're also going after Kurdish groups. We like not to see that happen, but I think it's inevitable.
BLITZER: Josh, who is winning in this war against ISIS right now? Is ISIS winning or is the coalition fighting ISIS winning?
WALKER: Well, they're still around. So, in terms of winning, in terms of who still is on the battlefield, they're there. But I'm cautiously optimistic. Turkey was the last major player. They've been always been on the side here, right?
[17:35:00] They've always been on the U.S. side. But they focused their effort on humanitarian and on the Syrian refugees. They have not taken a military step until this last week.
So, the fact they're in the game now, whether or not they go after the PKK as well. They have decided that they're going to go after ISIS. ISIS directly targeted them, these killed the Turkish soldier. The operation that's being launched from Turkey is in the name of that dead Turkish soldier.
BLITZER: So, you see this potentially as a turning point?
WALKER: I do see this as a game changer. The question is, what type of game changer? It may not be the way the United States wants.
BLITZER: What does that mean? Why wouldn't that be the United States wants?
WALKER: Because the U.S. if it had its druthers in this case, it would simply be able to kind of protect the Kurds and be able to defeat ISIS. I don't think the Turks are going to play in that way. We've already heard the fact that there's different viewpoints here and what the U.S. is willing to give to the Turks and what the Turks are willing to give to the U.S. ultimately will determine the shape of this region.
BLITZER: Let's not forget. Bashar al Assad's regime in Damascus, they're still in power and it doesn't seem like they're going anywhere anytime soon, right?
BERGEN: No. I mean, Syria is effectively run by al Nusra, which is an al Qaeda affiliate, ISIS and the Syrian regime. And I think the de facto position of the American policy for some period of time is the maintenance of Assad in power, as uncomfortable that may be to say, because the alternatives are ISIS controlled, or an al Qaeda controlled ISIS, or some combination thereof.
BLITZER: I interviewed the British defense secretary, Michael Fallon. And we spoke about what's going on right now, potential turning point. I want you to listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL FALLON, BRITISH DEFENCE SECRETARY: We're seeing ISIL spread its wings now right outside Iraq and Syria. We're seeing it appear on the shores of the Mediterranean. We've seen it in the Far East, in Indonesia, in countries right across the globe now, various franchises that might have been part of al Qaeda, now seem to be attracted towards ISIL.
So, we're dealing now with an international phenomenon, a poisonous ideology, with this terrorist organization, combing to pose a very real threat to our democracies and our way of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Strong words for the British defense secretary. It comes on the heels of the FBI director telling me that ISIS now represents a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than al Qaeda.
MUDD: Boy, this is a two-edged piece. Look, when you're looking out in the Middle East, you're talking about the Turks being the last big card, the Saudis are in, the Qataris are in, the Egyptians are in, the Iranians and Iraqis. ISIS is not making gains across Iraq as it was last year.
That said, if you look at Europe and North America, what the FBI director is concerned about in Iraq, ISIS versus al Qaeda, ISIS leadership, ISIS ideology, recruitment of Westerners with good papers, that is kids out of Western Europe and North America, control of geography, which al Qaeda has very limited access to in Pakistan. Every one of these cards, ISIS can play better than al Qaeda. I would agree with the FBI director, this game has changed.
BLITZER: Do you agree, Phil -- Josh?
WALKER: I do that this is a different area. And I think the real question here is, will Turkey kind of take the same stance? Because I don't think Turkey, despite having the longest border, sees ISIS as being as big of a threat as PKK, which is totally different from the United States and the coalition.
BLITZER: All right. Good discussion, guys. Thanks very, very much.
Coming up, we have new detail about a drifter's deadly plot to attack a Louisiana movie theater.
Plus, never before seen images of the tension, the disbelief over at the White House in the hours after the 9/11 attacks, where was Vice President Cheney's secret undisclosed location? We now know.
[17:43:04] BLITZER: At separate funerals today, mourners remember the two women killed during a mass shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater. Investigators are uncovering new information about how the gunman who committed suicide as police closed in carefully planned the attack.
Our national correspondent Ryan Nobles once again joining us from Lafayette with the very latest.
Give us the very latest, Ryan.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, this theater behind me is no longer an active crime scene. And the owners have started the cleanup process. Police tell us they say they vow to reopen.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the attack here continues.
NOBLES (voice-over): New details tonight shed like on John Houser's checkered past. In the final minutes preceding his deadly rampage, surveillance video from the day of the shooting shows Houser at the motel where head had been staying since early July. Houser is seen walking down a hallway and talking with a front desk employee.
Investigators say this is Houser pulling out of the motel parking lot at 6:41 p.m. Thursday. CBS News shot this video of Houser's trashed motel room. Among the items recovered by police, Houser's journal denoting the 7:15 start time of "Trainwreck" at the Grand 16 Theater.
COLONEL MICHAEL EDMONSON, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE: This man was certainly of sound mind because, you know what, he wrote it down. He said he's coming to this movie theater at 7:15 on Thursday night.
NOBLES: Edmonson also told CNN that Houser had swapped the license plates on his car, another indication of premeditation. Authorities still don't know why he chose Lafayette. Prior to the shooting, authorities now say he visited other theaters in Lake Charles and Baton Rouge, while disguised in a wig.
Investigators have gathered police records and court documents which show Houser had a history of domestic violence, online rants and mental illness.
Despite this, police say the .40 caliber pistol he used in the shooting was purchased legally.
[17:45:00] As the investigation continues, the Lafayette community mourns the victims. Hundreds gathering for the funerals of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson, both shot dead by Houser as they settled into their theater seats to take in a summer comedy.
MAYOR JOEY DUREL, LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA: Your final contribution to earth is your funeral, where you bring a lot of people together that haven't seen each other maybe in a long time. In this case, the positive if there is such a thing, in this sort of tragedy is that the victims brought the communities together as one.
NOBLES: And there are three victims still recovering in three area hospitals, all three of them are improving -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ryan Nobles in Lafayette for us -- Ryan, thanks very, very much.
Once again, our deepest, deepest condolences to the families.
Coming up next, dramatic never before seen pictures inside the White House during the hours immediately after the September 11th terror attacks. They also reveal Vice President Dick Cheney's previously secret, undisclosed location.
BLITZER: Newly released pictures are giving us a remarkable behind the scenes look at one of the most traumatic days in U.S. history. The pictures show President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other top U.S. officials amid the tension, the shock, the uncertainty, in the immediate hours after the September 11th, 2001, terror attacks.
CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's got a closer look at these remarkable pictures -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of buzz around these pictures tonight. They have never been seen publicly until now. They capture the palpable tension in the bunker far beneath the White House as Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff scramble to find out what was going on and to make some critical decisions.
TODD (voice-over): Even for a man familiar with high stress, these never before seen photos show another level. Dick Cheney wrapping his mind around the unthinkable. It's the morning of September 11th, 2001. In his office, the then-vice president watches footage of a World Trade Center tower burning, his foot on a desk.
JOHN HANNAH, V.P. CHENEY'S DEP. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: That could well have been after the first tower was hit, at which point everybody I think believed, it's odd, it's strange, but it could very well and most probably is some kind of tragic accident.
TODD: Within minutes, the second tower is hit and the Secret Service tells the vice president his office may not be a safe place.
RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: My agent, all of a sudden, materialized beside me and said, sir, we have to leave now. Grabbed me and propelled me out of my office and down the hall into the underground shelter in the White House.
TODD: Cheney is whisked to a place called "The Bunker", the president's emergency operations center. These newly declassified pictures, taken by Cheney's photographer, as September 11th unfolded, had been held in the National Archives, released for the first time now as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Inside the bunker, the body language illustrates the strain, with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice seated next to him, aides are shoulder to shoulder, crowded around Cheney, taking and giving instructions, desperate for information.
JOSEPH HAGIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEP. CHIEF OF STAFF: The stress was immense. It was very real and could have been debilitating. It was so strong. But people really rallied.
TODD: In those early moments, captured in these images, Cheney and his aides are still unsure of where the fourth hijacked plane is.
HANNAH: There was a possibility that there could be a decapitation strike. They'd gone after our financial centers, our military centers of power, and now we're coming after the political leadership as well.
TODD: From inside that bunker, Cheney orders fighter jets to shoot down the fourth passenger plane, an operation that wouldn't be needed. Later, the president arrives and is seen consulting with Cheney.
Perhaps even more stunning, for the first time, we see Cheney and his wife Lynn boarding their helicopter, Marine Two, on the White House lawn, flown to what for years had been called only an undisclosed location. We now know first location was Camp David.
HANNAH: The president needed to be in Washington, needed to be available to the public, needed to be at the White House. So, the decision was that the vice president was the one who at least for those first several weeks was going to be at a remote secure location.
TODD: John Hannah, who is Cheney's deputy national security adviser, says there were several other secure locations as well. Hannah says the gravity of what happened didn't really start to sink in at the White House until the next day, when information was obtained on who the hijackers were, how many more terrorists may still have been inside the U.S. plotting. The realization of how little they had known about who their enemy was before that horrible day, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, really amazing new pictures. I'm glad they finally released all those pictures. You're also getting some new insight, Brian, I understand, into the stress that these White House staffers particularly felt immediately after but in the days, weeks, months that followed.
TODD: That's right. Even now, 14 years later, Wolf, we're getting nuggets of information that are just fascinating. Joe Hagin, who is deputy White House chief of staff for operations, says in the weeks after 9/11, he said a lot of spouses and other relatives were telling their loved ones who worked at the White House, you need to work somewhere else, it's too dangerous there. He said almost no one left, they all rallied, they all stuck to their guns, stayed at the White House, carried the nation through that horrible time.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm really glad we're getting this information right now. Future historians will have it and they'll assess it and be able to report on it. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
Coming up, the attorney general of the United States now speaking out amid new calls for a federal investigation into Sandra Bland's arrest and jail cell death.
[17:55:02] Plus, Donald Trump, he's topping our brand-new poll. But is this support a movement, as he claims?
And we'll also take a closer look at the so-called Trump factor in this race for the White House.