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THE SITUATION ROOM
Clinton Under Fire; Trump's Immigration Plan; Firestorm; Fires Raging Out-of-Control Across Western U.S.; Toxic Fears in Wake of Deadly Explosions; Obama Weighs In On Race and Justice; Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond Remembered. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired August 17, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Firestorm. We're tracking the danger as blazing heat and scorching drought fuel a red-hot disaster across the West. More than one million acres have already been destroyed. Is there any relief in sight?
And toxic secrets. Oozing puddles of mysterious chemicals raising fears that millions of people are at risk of contamination after a series of massive explosions. Is rain making it worse?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the 2016 campaign tonight, Donald Trump is passed over for jury duty, but he's giving voters new material to reach a verdict on his presidential bid. The Republican front-runner's newly released immigration plan is as controversial as he is. It includes a crackdown on legal immigrants and a change in citizenship rules written into the Constitution.
Also developing, the widening investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Intelligence officials are reviewing the Democrat front- runner's private server for classified information. Tonight, court papers show that more than 300 documents have been referred for additional investigation.
I will talk with the former U.S. attorney general in the Bush administration, Michael Mukasey. He's accusing Clinton of defying the law and common sense. Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we cover all the news that's breaking right now.
First, let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, with more on Trump and the Republican presidential race.
What's the latest, Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, now everywhere Donald Trump goes, he's swarmed by crowds and treated like more of a celebrity than a candidate for president.
He's both and that's something many Republicans are trying to grapple with. Party leaders have now given up on the idea that his star will fade at the end of summer. They're settling in for the long haul, even as some worry his new immigration plan could keep the GOP from ultimately winning over the voters they need to win back the White House.
ZELENY (voice-over): Donald Trump arrived for his civic duty in a black limousine, reporting for jury duty today in New York.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Something we have to do.
ZELENY: A Trump-sized spectacle outside, but far quieter inside, as captured on Snapchat by a prospective fellow juror.
A break from the campaign trail, where Republicans are rendering a winning verdict on Trump. He's leading another national poll, solidifying his role as the GOP front-runner. In a whirlwind weekend stop at the Iowa State Fair, he said he would spend $1 billion of his own fortune on the campaign.
TRUMP: I make $400 million a year, so what difference does it make? What I want to do is I want to make the country great.
ZELENY: Trump is also offering new read for conservatives, a hard-line immigration plan. His six-page proposal calls for an end to birthright citizenship, a provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that grants citizenship to those born in the U.S.
He and other political outsiders are turning this race upside- down, leading an insurgency against their Republican rivals. A new FOX News poll shows Trump leading with 25 percent followed by Ben Carson at 12, Ted Cruz at 10, and Jeb Bush falling into fourth place.
BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that we, the American people, have the ability to solve the many problems that face us.
ZELENY: Carly Fiorina is getting another look, too.
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was asked on a national television program whether a woman's hormones prevented her from serving in the Oval Office.
ZELENY: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has led the way in Iowa for most of the year. Today, he was heckled by labor activists at the state fair.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there. I will fight for the American people over and over and over and over again.
ZELENY: But Walker and other top Republicans are being tested by an anti-establishment electorate, driving their poll numbers to single digits.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I'm so worried. No, none of this. It's a long haul.
ZELENY: A long haul now overtaken by Trump on land and now in the sky.
TRUMP: Let's give them a helicopter ride. OK?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Mr. Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Are you Batman?
TRUMP: I am Batman.
ZELENY: Now, those rides on that $7 million Trump helicopter will surely never be forgotten. But it's an open question whether all of the people who turned out to see him at the state fair will actually turn out and support him in February, when the Iowa caucuses officially start the 2016 voting.
The people I talked to at the fair were intrigued. Some said they would support him for sure. Others said they liked how he was shaking up the race, but they needed to wait and see. Wolf, we will have to wait and see how his candidacy evolves. And one quick note. He was not picked for jury duty today.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm not surprised. All right, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny.
Now to the Democratic presidential race. Tonight, there's new hand-wringing over at the White House about what might happen if Joe Biden, the vice president, jumps in as Hillary Clinton's e-mail controversy is growing.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is on Martha's Vineyard right now. That's where President Obama is taking his August vacation.
What's the latest over there, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as Joe Biden might say, it would be a big deal if the vice president decides to run for the White House. But there is one major obstacle potentially standing in the way beyond Hillary Clinton.
A well-placed source tells CNN there are worries inside the White House a Biden candidacy won't end well.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): He could be the straight-talking "shoot
from the lip" candidates many Democrats are craving as an alternative to Hillary Clinton.
JOSHUA ALCORN, SENIOR ADVISER, DRAFT BIDEN: Joe Biden is the original authentic candidate. He is the guy who can walk around and talk to people like you and me and talk to people in Iowa and South Carolina and all over the country and really connect with them on a visceral level.
ACOSTA: A movement to draft Joe Biden for president is gaining momentum, collecting some 200,000 signatures. And the vice president is fueling speculation himself, considering a run while on vacation in the early primary state of South Carolina.
Potential rival Bernie Sanders, who is gaining on Clinton, said he would welcome Biden to the race.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is a very decent guy. He's a friend of mine. If he gets in, that's great. If he doesn't get in, that's great. That's his decision.
ACOSTA: But not everybody in the Democratic Party is on board. At the White House, a well-placed Democratic source said there are concerns a Biden candidacy would end badly, damaging his image as an elder statesman, adding, "I'm not getting any sense of a Joe Biden caucus inside the White House."
But Biden is also seen by some as a safety net for a party growing nervous about Clinton's use of her private system as secretary of state. Before the Clintons and the Obamas linked up for golf and galas on Martha's Vineyard over the weekend, she accused the GOP of ginning up controversy.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have just provided my server to the Justice Department, but here's what I won't do. I won't get down in the mud with them.
ACOSTA: Then she joked about her new favorite social media app, Snapchat.
CLINTON: I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves.
ACOSTA: Still top Democratic sources say Clinton remains the party's best hope for protecting and expanding President Obama's legacy. There is also deep affection for the vice president at the White House, where it's clear officials are giving Biden time to grieve his son Beau's recent death and weigh his own political future.
ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president and the vice president are very close. And the president has said that he believes his best political decision, the smartest political decision he's ever made was choosing Joe Biden to be his running mate.
ACOSTA: Now, a source familiar with the vice president's thinking says Biden's decision is expected at the end of the summer, adding, don't think August, think late September.
And if Biden runs, it would be a huge dilemma for the president, Wolf. After appointing a team of rivals, the president may have to choose between two of them. That's, of course, a big if, though, if Vice President Biden gets into the race -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He could of course be neutral too, right?
ACOSTA: That's right.
And what the White House has said repeatedly, we have heard this in recent weeks from officials, is that the president would very likely stay neutral all the way to the convention next year. But, privately, he could send signals. Many of those signals are already being sent by top officials inside this White House, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you.
Biden's decision may depend in part on the Clinton e-mail controversy and how it plays out. We're getting new information tonight about the federal investigation that's under way right now.
Let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, who's been digging on this story.
What are you learning, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have learned 305 documents from Hillary Clinton's private server have been referred to various intelligence agencies for consultation to determine whether the contents are classified.
This is according to a court filing from the State Department today. And this is after intelligence officials from five different agencies joined the review process of Clinton's e-mails. Here's what the court filing says. "Out of a sample of approximately 20 percent of Clinton's e-mails, the intelligence community reviewers have only recommended 305 documents, approximately 5.1 percent for referral for their agencies for consultation."
This filing is an update for a federal judge on review efforts in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Hillary Clinton has denied sending or receiving information marked as classified through her personal server. It's unknown, Wolf, at this point if any of the 305 flagged e-mails contain classified information.
But this does come at a time when the FBI's investigating her private server. We know it is in the FBI's hands. This is a private server she kept as her own, and we know the intelligence community inspector general, Wolf, identified two e-mails at least among a sample of 40 work-related e-mails that should have been marked top secret -- Wolf. [18:10:03]
BLITZER: Others should have been marked secret, top secret, a higher level of classification. All right, thanks very much, Pamela, for that.
Let's bring in a former Bush administration Cabinet member with very strong views on the Clinton e-mail controversy.
Joining us now, there he is, the former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. He's joining us from New York.
Attorney General, thanks very much for joining us.
I want to quickly get your reaction. I read your strong article in "The Wall Street Journal" over the weekend; 305 e-mails now being referred for further consultation by intelligence officials. Your reaction to the scope of this investigation?
MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, my reaction is I'm not really surprised that the number is 305. And please note though that these are only the ones that she turned over to the State Department. This is not based on a search of the server, which, according to her, was wiped.
I would think that a search of the server, if it ever is made, or a search of the thumb drive or drives that David Kendall has would yield a higher number still.
BLITZER: David Kendall is her personal attorney, longtime personal attorney.
Based on what you know, Attorney General, do you think the FBI, other experts can retrieve that information she says was wiped from that personal server?
MUKASEY: I don't know how the wiping took place. And I know that the FBI's ability, its forensic ability in this area is unexcelled.
And if anybody can do it, they can do it. But it depends in large measure on how the server was wiped, whether she simply pressed delete, in which case they can probably retrieve a lot of information, or whether somebody went to the trouble of writing over the hard drive with gibberish, in which case it would be very difficult.
BLITZER: She also says -- and you heard a little clip in Jim Acosta's piece, she says, "I won't get down in the mud with them, I won't play politics with national security."
That's her reaction to what's going on, a bunch of Republicans basically trying to score political points against her. That's her accusation. Your response?
MUKASEY: That's very odd, Wolf, because the disclosure of the information is not coming from Republicans. It's coming from the Justice Department and the State Department
and the FBI, all of which, I believe, are run by Democrats. The notion that somehow it's Republicans who are leaking the information is totally misplaced.
BLITZER: What would investigators have to find to determine that Hillary Clinton actually committed a crime?
MUKASEY: Well, they'd have to find a whole lot more than would be disclosed simply by a search of the server, although that would be a good start. They really need to find what she knew about what was going into that server and what she did not know.
And in order they might -- if they could simply find that she knew there was classified information going in there, that's enough to prove the same offense that General Petraeus pleaded guilty to. That's a misdemeanor. But if you go up the scale a little bit, if they can show that she then purposely destroyed federal records, that's a more serious violation.
If they can show that any this material related to the national defense and that she destroyed it or let it be destroyed, that's higher still. If they can show that she ordered it destroyed in the interest of obstructing even a potential proceeding, and that would be the proceeding before the Benghazi committee, that's a very high level.
BLITZER: So you say potentially she could be facing not only a misdemeanor charge, but, what, a felony charge? Is that what you're saying?
MUKASEY: One or more, yes. But understand that a lot has to be shown in order for that to happen, including her acts and her guilty knowledge.
Now, you don't have to be too cynical to suspect that there will be a lot of people within her entourage who will step forward and say, no, no, she didn't know anything. I did it, or somebody else did it.
BLITZER: If there was, in other words, secret or top secret information that was going in that personal server, that would be a violation of the classification rules, right?
BLITZER: And that's a serious potential violation.
When you took office as the attorney general of the United States, your staff made sure you stopped carrying a BlackBerry in case you inadvertently sent confidential information. What questions about Hillary Clinton's suitability for the Oval Office, the decision she made to have a private server do all of her communications during her four years as secretary of state, what does that say to you? Because you're very concerned about that and her common sense, if you will.
MUKASEY: I think, as what I said in the article is it really raises judgment questions. How do you, as the highest-ranking foreign relations official, not understand that the material that you're dealing with is enormously sensitive and has to be put at the highest level of security, and instead put on it a personal server for personal convenience, or out of personal motive?
That's the real question. And it's a serious question. And that's one that has to be answered, I guess in the first instance by Democrats, who are in the process of selecting their presidential candidate.
BLITZER: And I just want to remind our viewers you served in the Republican administration of President Bush as the attorney general of the United States.
Attorney General, stand by with me for a moment. I want to take a quick break. We have more to discuss, including what the current attorney general, Loretta Lynch, the current FBI director, James Comey, what they presumably are doing.
Much more with the former attorney general right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the former Attorney General of the United States Michael Mukasey. He served during the Bush administration. We're talking about the federal investigation under way right now of Hillary Clinton's use of private e-mails while she served for four years as the secretary of state.
The investigation obviously involves the Justice Department, U.S. attorneys, I assume, the FBI. Here's the question, Attorney General. Do you have confidence that the attorney general, the current attorney general, Loretta Lynch, the current FBI director James Comey, both of whom were nominated by the president of the United States, will conduct a fair, responsible investigation?
MUKASEY: I certainly have no reason at this point to question it.
The investigation I believe is being conducted in, according to the report that I saw, within the National Security Division, which is a very well-respected division of the department, and I think has remained apolitical. So I'm -- at this point certainly have no basis to question the way the investigation's being conducted, insofar as it's being conducted in the Justice Department.
At the FBI, again, you're dealing with an institution that is not simply one person. It's an institution that's been around for a long time. And they have got, as I said before, enormous technical capacity and a lot of integrity on the line. So, again, I'm not questioning either them or the National Security Division of the Justice Department. BLITZER: You have confidence in these career professionals?
MUKASEY: I do.
BLITZER: Michael Mukasey, thanks very much for joining us.
Let's bring in our CNN political contributor S.E. Cupp, our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and our CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston.
Jeffrey, give us some legal context. What's your analysis? How serious potentially is this violation, this investigation of Hillary Clinton and her private server on those e-mails?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly a serious political problem and it's not going to go away any time soon. These investigations take time.
But I really think the former attorney general is hyperventilating a bit talking about felonies and what the evidence might show. There is absolutely no evidence here of any sort of criminal conduct. Criminal conduct has always involved giving or allowing people who don't have access or shouldn't have access to classified information, giving them that information.
Here, Hillary Clinton clearly made a dumb mistake in using this kind of server. But there's no allegation that she gave or allowed this information to go to people who weren't supposed to have it. She was dealing with her staff. These are people who are entitled to see classified information. So it's a political problem. It's not going away. But I don't see it as any sort of criminal problem.
BLITZER: Even when the FBI, Jeffrey, gets involved? As you well know -- and you served as -- the U.S. attorney's office, once they start these kinds of investigations, you clearly don't know where they wind up.
TOOBIN: You absolutely do not. And they take a long time. They don't take weeks. They tend to take months. And the other thing that's a particular problem for her is we talk about classified information as if it's easy to define. It's not.
And it is a certainty, I think, that there is going to be classified information found on her e-mails because these agencies are always erring on the side of saying material is classified. So even if it's not marked as classified, certainly, some of this information is going to be regarded after the fact as classified and that's going to be a problem for her politically.
BLITZER: But, Mark, let's talk a little bit about how Hillary Clinton's rhetoric, if you will, her explanations, have evolved over these past several months. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material.
I did not send nor did I receive material marked classified.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: She's now saying she did not send or receive material marked classified. Is this a big significant change or a minor little rhetorical change?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, she's certainly parsing the words right now and then she understands there has been this bright spotlight now that is being shone on her.
Let us say, through all this Donald Trump hoopla, and all the focus on Donald Trump, one of the big winners in all this is Hillary Clinton, certainly in the short-term, because the focus hasn't been as much on her. But as Jeffrey said, this investigation is not going to get finished next week. This is going to go on for months and months and months and months. And that is going to dog her politically.
I think for Republicans, specifically congressional Republicans, they have to be careful not to overreach. If they overreach too fear, then it is going to appear as a partisan witch-hunt.
BLITZER: You agree, S.E.?
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Republicans really haven't had to do much. The Obama administration is now pushing this.
The FBI is investigating it. "The New York Times" is pushing this. So Republicans I think have been very smart to kind of let this play out. And you're right, we hope that they don't overextend on this. We haven't really needed to so far.
BLITZER: Here's a question for you, S.E. Would Republicans rather run against Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden?
CUPP: Oh, I think they'd rather run against Joe Biden. But let me say that Joe Biden is a formidable candidate. I was talking to a Republican presidential candidate recently, off the record, who said, oh, I hope he gets in, he'd be a disaster for the Democratic Party, he's such a gaffe machine.
Well, that's true. But next to Trump, is there anything Joe Biden could say that would be disqualifying? I doubt it. Not to mention Democrats have been bleeding a certain kind of voter, an older white male blue-collar voter that Joe Biden looks and talks like. So I actually think he would help the Democrats shore up a particularly constituency that they have been losing in past cycles.
BLITZER: He's got to make a decision and make that decision quickly, obviously if he's serious about this. Certainly at this point, he's considering it. We know that for sure. But he hasn't made a final decision. Jeffrey, on the Republican side, Donald Trump, he's continuing to
solidify his lead. Over the weekend, he released his immigration plan which includes, among other things, changing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, doing away with that so-called birthright clause that grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
Does his plan seem feasible to you?
TOOBIN: It could be done.
I mean, we could fill boxcars with people who are in this country illegally. We have 11 million people who are in the country illegally, many of them who have American citizen children under birthright citizenship. And we could fill enormous boxcars full of people and deport them all at once.
The question is, do we want to live in a country that does that sort of thing? Do we want to live in a country that does mass deportations? Historically, that has not been the way the United States operated. But immigration is something that inflames a lot of people, especially in the Republican Party. You could change the Constitution. You could deport 11 million people.
And the question is, is there the political will to do it? So far, the answer is no.
BLITZER: S.E., I spoke with Lindsey Graham, who is a Republican presidential candidate, in the last hour. He says he agrees with Trump on doing away with the so-called birthright citizenship.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I don't changing that law. I think it's a bad practice to give citizenship based on birth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is this going to fly, you think, among Republicans?
CUPP: Yes. Scott Walker also chimed in to say he would do away with that law. I think Harry Reid has also said that that's a bad law. And 54 percent of Americans, according to one poll that I saw today, think birthright citizenship is a bad idea. I don't know that it's actually as politically controversial or toxic as Democrats are suggesting.
BLITZER: But it would require an amendment to the Constitution.
CUPP: Which among Republicans is always a big sort of no-no. Let's be cautious about changing the Constitution. I think, in the world of worlds where Donald Trump is president and having to deal with this new legislation, he'd have trouble among Republicans.
BLITZER: All right, guys. We will continue our analysis of what's going on. Thanks very much.
Coming up, you're going to see a lot more political coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're also going to see the next Republican presidential debate right here on CNN. That's coming up on September 16 at the Reagan Library out in California.
And the first Democratic presidential debate will also air here on CNN. That's October 13. That will be live from Nevada.
Just ahead, wildfires burning out of control across the drought- stricken Western U.S. We're going to get a live update on the disasters unfolding right now in several states.
Plus, the potentially toxic aftermath from that series of explosions that rocked a major port city.
BLITZER: We're following multiple wildfires burning out of control right now across the western United States. Thousands of firefighters are battling the flames in conditions that could hardly be worse.
[18:38:59] CNN's Paul Vercammen is joining us from Montebello out in California. What's the latest on these fires, Paul?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, firefighters able to hold the fire in Montebello to a little more than 200 acres. But a federal fire official telling me right now they have never seen so many simultaneous and spread-out fires since 2007.
VERCAMMEN (voice-over): In the west, triple-digit temperatures, wind, the ravages of drought, creating the perfect firestorm. More than 25,000 firefighters now battling blazes in 10 states.
The national fire preparedness level at 5. That's the highest. Almost two dozen fires scorching Washington state alone. Near Chelan, a relieved resident praised crews for sparing his home in the face of roaring flames.
DAVID D'ARMOND, RESIDENT: They came quick. It came hot and heavy. And the winds kicked up, and it just was unstoppable.
VERCAMMEN: Other residents not as fortunate. Dozens of structures and more than 50,000 acres burned, 1,000 residents evacuated.
NORMA CERVANTES, RESIDENT: We thought it was a little fire. Then it started spreading and the wind got faster and faster. [18:35:00] VERCAMMEN: In California over 13,000 firefighters are
trying to extinguish almost two dozen stubborn blazes. A Southern California heat wave fueling this fire in Castaic, where firefighters tried to save a fully-engulfed lodge.
In Montebello, a suspected arson fire caused major traffic jams. Walls of flame exploded over the road. Aerial support on this, the Lincoln Fire, came from Canada. Two super scoopers from Quebec now helping out in Southern California. This plane dipping into the water to reload while residents continued on their quest to cool off in dangerously hot fire weather.
VERCAMMEN: And perhaps lost in all this is the success. A Cal Fire spokesman telling me today that they've been able to keep 96.7 percent of the fires to 10 acres or less. And 95 percent is their goal, Wolf.
BLITZER: Paul Vercammen on the scene for us, thank you. Let's get some more.
Joining us, our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. She's monitoring the conditions from the CNN weather center. Jennifer, these fire crews, they're facing these terrible conditions right now. Here's the question: is there any relief in sight?
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not much. And the problem is when you have the windy conditions, they advance so quickly that the firefighters cannot keep up.
Look at this brown color. That is very dry air pulling into the west. That is going to stick around. It causes the grass and the brush, the trees, to become even drier than they already are because of the drought. So it's just going to allow fuel for these fires.
Also the windy conditions, as we mentioned. The winds not only cause those fires to advance very quickly, but they can carry those very tiny embers long distances. And they'll land in an area that has not been scorched, and all of a sudden you have another fire on your hands. And so that's how a lot of these fires are spreading.
So the windy conditions, dry conditions, as well as the heat, is going to stick around for the Pacific Northwest as well as California.
Not much rain either. Most of the rain is going to stay east of the Rockies, so we're not looking at any rain from Los Angeles all the way up to Seattle and east to the Rockies.
So let's look on the floor, and we can show you what we're dealing with. All of these fires west of the Rockies, look at the concentration in northern Idaho, eastern Washington. There's one fire near Boise, the Soda Fire, that's more than 300 square miles. It's larger than New York City. We have 76 active large fires right now west of the Rockies, 6.5 million acres burning. And you know the drought conditions that we're in in the west.
Eight percent in exceptional drought, 23 in extreme, 42 in severe. Wolf, it doesn't look like much relief is going to come, especially for the Pacific Northwest, over the next couple of weeks.
BLITZER: Horrible situation indeed. Jennifer, thank you.
Meanwhile, a series of massive and deadly explosions has been followed by new fears of a toxic threat in one of China's largest port cities. Entire neighborhoods right now are in ruins. Many residents say they're afraid this disaster isn't over yet.
CNN's Will Ripley is on the scene for us.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With terrifying force, the fireball sent shockwaves through Tianjin, leaving massive destruction, piles of debris, and something else. Small mounds of unknown chemicals emitting heat and what looks like steam when exposed to water, raising fears of what could happen when it rains.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not going to move it until we're sure it's safe. Because there are so many kids in there.
RIPLEY: Shi Wenjian (ph) is one of thousands of blast-zone homeowners now homeless. Families and the government don't know the full list of toxins propelled through this bustling Chinese port city.
(on camera): Do you feel safe going pack home?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no. Because the chemical stuff is all over. It was like a fire, fire ward (ph), you know, exploding, flying to everywhere. Some parts might fall to our yard, to our home.
RIPLEY (voice-over): More than 2,000 Chinese soldiers and hundreds of biochemical experts are working to neutralize the threat: searching up to three kilometers from the immediate blast area; taking air, soil, and water samples.
These stray chemicals sitting in an unsecured area less than a kilometer from the blast zone.
(on camera): Do you know what this is? Do you know if it poses a danger to anybody?
(voice-over): Tianjin's chief environmental officer tells me searchers have not yet entered residential areas due to safety concerns about broken glass. He says they'll begin searching those areas if needed.
(on camera): Chemical experts say it's impossible to know exactly what that is or what, if any, danger it may pose without further testing. But we do know around here there's a lot of it scattered about, and it's sitting close to thousands of homes. (voice-over): Zhao Hui Jun owns an apartment under construction
next door. He takes us through the dark, ravaged building he was supposed to move into in less than two months. He wonders if it will ever be safe.
"After the explosion," he says, "I worry about the pollution, the water and soil, the whole structure of these buildings."
[18:40:15] Like most Chinese homeowners Zhao and his family saved for years to buy an apartment, unaware it was sitting near a hazardous chemical warehouse, now the focus of criminal investigation by China's highest prosecuting authority.
"Are the officials corrupt or what?" asks homeowner Lu Xi Wei (ph). She and others are demanding the Chinese government buy back their apartments, afraid of living next to what they call a ticking time bomb.
Will Ripley, CNN, Tianjin, China.
BLITZER: What a horrible story that is.
Just ahead, President Obama speaking out about race and justice, making a sobering assessment of what the U.S. needs to do. We'll talk about it with the head of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. He's standing by live. And we'll also talk about how Black Lives Matter is impacting the 2016 presidential campaign.
[18:45:41] BLITZER: President Obama joining the national conversation on race and justice. In his weekly radio address, he said, "The issues are not new, won't be solved by policing alone. The criminal justice reform and early childhood education must also be part of the solution."
Let's get some more on what the president is thinking, what's going on.
Joining us, the CEO and president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. Also joining us, CNN anchor Don Lemon.
Don, very quickly, the president says you need to deal honestly with these issues. You studied this for a long time. How do you do that?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I also heard the president's radio address as well. And what he talked about he said, we simply can't ask our police to contain and control issues that the rest of us aren't willing to address ourselves. So, what -- he's talking about a number of things. He's talking about dealing with systematic and institutional racism, about implicit bias, all of those things that we talk about all the time.
But he's also talking about dealing with issues that we don't like to talk about, that when it comes to dealing with our issues in the African-American community, that we don't like to discuss, the issue of violence and those sorts of things. There are certain things that you can only -- one can only do for one's self. And I think if we're having -- if we're going to have an honest conversation about it, we need to deal with all of those things and not just policing.
And that's why I was so happy, Wolf, I don't know if you saw this 300 men march over the weekend. It was I guess a couple of dozen young men marched from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. They took that 35-mile walk, because they wanted to highlight the violence that happens in communities -- the killings that happen almost every single night in Baltimore and Chicago and other places.
And until we get real about that, until those black lives matter, the black lives that police take won't matter as much until we get real about that. So, I was very proud to see them do that. I think we need to get -- everyone should get behind those young men and we need 3 million young men marching to Washington.
BLITZER: It's a good point.
You know, Cornell, speaking about Black Lives Matter, we see disrupting of presidential candidates. What's your analysis of what's going on? Is this good or bad?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: Certainly, is it polite? No. But the issue is not how polite our protesters are but how responsive our public servants and politicians are.
Make no mistake: it's not kind or polite to disrupt an event. But the point being here is, for someone who's 18 or 19 years old, seeing people killed, being racially profiled, there's a certain kind of urgency and impatience with what is going on. And so, I think the focus needs to be on not only effective protest strategies but also effective responses to real public policy problems.
BLITZER: There are going to be more Republican debates. CNN's going to be hosting the first Democratic presidential debate.
Cornell, what would you like to hear from these candidates on both sides?
BROOKS: Sure. I'd like to have the candidates reflect in their platforms and in their speeches what has been happening over the course of many months. They need to be real responses with respect to racial profiling in this country, a real response to the fact that the African-American unemployment rate is chronically, historically, twice that of white Americans.
There need to be a real response to the fact that the economic recovery has been uncertain and uneven, leaving the African-American community and many others at near certainly pre-recession -- I should say pre-recovery levels in terms of economic recovery. BLTIZER: And, Don, as you know, there was this "New York Times"
report saying the president is already working to shape how we'll take up the issue of criminal justice, reform, race relations after he leaves office. He's got a year and a half to go, though. And certainly, as an incumbent president he can do more than he potentially might do later, right?
LEMON: As the most powerful person in the world, leader of the free world, he certainly does. We've talked about this and discussed this and I'm sure you remember when my brother's keeper, when we were reporting on that, it was an historic day when he launched that. And then also his aides and him basically saying, this is what he's going to take up. And I believe this will be a big part of his legacy.
And certainly, yes, he can have a lot of influence. I think he's seeing that now. And that's why -- that's why you are seeing and hearing him talk more openly and freely about race in the way that he is now.
BLITZER: All right. Don, thanks very much.
[18:50:00] Note to our viewers: Don will be back later tonight with a lot more news. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.
Cornell, I'm going to have you stand by. We have more to discuss. We'll take a quick break right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
I first want to take a moment to remember the predecessor -- his predecessor, a giant in the civil rights movement whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a few times here on CNN. We're talking about Julian Bond. He died over the weekend after a brief illness.
[18:55:00] He was only 75 years old. President Obama calls him a hero.
BLITZER (voice-over): From the march on Washington to Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Julian Bond was an iconic figure in America's struggle for civil rights. He was a student of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Morehouse College in Atlanta and one of Dr. King's youngest foot soldiers.
Bond helped launch the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, an influential force in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
JULIAN BOND, CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: We got others to join us by demonstrating that we were willing to risk our lives to help them, but they'd have to take a step, too. They'd have to join us. BLITZER: Bond is remembered as a passionate and eloquent voice
for the cause of justice who carried on Dr. King's legacy in a number of leadership roles. He founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, was chairman of the NAACP for a decade, served in the Georgia House and Senate, and taught at various universities, including Harvard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am.
BLITZER: Bond lived to see enormous progress for African- Americans, and troubling setbacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smoke, smoke!
BLITZER: In the aftermath of the Ferguson riots, Bond joined other civil rights leaders in reminding the nation that the fight for equality is still a work in progress.
BOND: This is about years and years and years and years of police miss treatment of back people. There's nothing the people in Ferguson are not asking for that Dr. King and his comrades didn't ask for. This is a continuation of the classic struggle of people of color to be treated decently, to be treated fairly.
BLITZER: And the current president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, is still with us.
You knew Julian Bond well. A great, great man. Thoughts about this loss.
BROOKS: Julian Bond represented a Paul Robison renaissance figure in the modern American civil rights movement.
Think about it: here's someone who was not only a youthful activist but also an elder statesman and chairman emeritus of the NAACP board, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a pioneer with respect to SNCC, a journalist, documentary filmmaker, historian, and more to the point, a role model for a generation of young activists who are following in his wake.
That is to say, he was someone who combined both intellectual acuity and moral clarity with an eloquent voice. And, more to the point, he was willing to walk his talk. He put his body on the line. And I believe he combined several lifetimes' worth of work in the course of one lifetime.
BLITZER: He was always very active in the NAACP. He was president, as you know, one of your predecessors for a long time. He actually interviewed you in order and helped you get this current position.
BLITZER: What was that like?
BROOKS: It was intimidating. You walk into a room full of board members. And Julian Bond waited his turn to ask questions. He asked me a question. I answered it simply. He said, that's all I need to know.
And, of course, that made be nervous as to whether I answered the question sufficiently. But he was a very down to earth man.
BLITZER: What was the question?
BROOKS: Did I agree with the NAACP's position on marriage equality, to which I answered yes. He said, that's all I need to know.
BLITZER: He was a pioneer in that movement as well.
BROOKS: Very much so.
This was someone who was a pioneer with respect to civil rights, human rights, the rights of gays and lesbians, the rights of all Americans. The fact of the matter is, he expanded the constitutional canopy of this country to cover many Americans. Those who were voiceless, those who are on the margins, and he did so with the power of his voice, the power and eloquence of his example.
He will be deeply missed. And we as the NAACP family and this nation grieve for the life that we lost and we're grateful for the life that we were given.
BLITZER: Give me one final thought with the NAACP -- and you're the president, CEO -- needs to do in his memory right now?
BROOKS: And I think we have to double down and commit ourselves to act as he did by putting his body on the line, being prophetic in terms of our voice, and being clear and consistent with respect to it.
Keep in mind, this is someone that gave at least a half century of service to the country. We should endeavor to do more of the same.
BLITZER: He was an amazing, amazing man, did a lot for our country.
BROOKS: Beautiful man.
BLITZER: Certainly was. I had the privilege of meeting him on a few occasions.
Thanks very much for joining us.
BROOKS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Good luck to you. Good luck to the NAACP. I know you guys are in a march as well right now.
BROOKS: Yes. BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow me on Twitter. Go
ahead tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us right here tomorrow on THE SITUATION ROOM. If you can't watch us live, you can always DVR the show.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.