Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Death Toll Up to 9 in South Carolina Flooding; Dam Breach Leads to Mandatory Evacuation; Officials: Russians Deploy Troops, Weapons in Syria; Power Struggle Could Lead to Shutdowns, Default; Killer's Father: Gun Laws Need to Change. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 5, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Thousand-year flood, historic and catastrophic flooding in South Carolina. Twenty- four inches of rain have fallen in parts of the state. Nine people are dead. Hundreds have been rescued. And now a dam breach is bringing new dangers.
[17:00:28] Putin's gamble. Even as its war planes strike from the air, Russia's now moved troops and heavy weapons onto the battlefield in Syria. Will they be used for a ground attack against the few allies the U.S. has left in Syria?
And Special Operations. An exclusive interview with the commander of America's most elite troops. How they could have been involved in the mistaken U.S. strike on a hospital in Afghanistan, which a prestigious aid group is calling a war crime.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. The death toll is now up to nine in South Carolina, facing its worst flooding in its history. What officials call a thousand-year storm has dumped up to two feet of rain in parts of the state.
The flooding could continue for many days, and fears of a new dam breach are leading to a mandatory evacuation. Emergency crews have carried out hundreds of water rescues. And there have been dozens of helicopter rescues. Hundreds of roads are closed. Tens of thousands of people are without power and water. Officials are warning that the danger is far from over.
I'll speak this hour with Republican presidential candidate Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and our correspondents, analysts and guests they'll have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with the catastrophic flooding and CNN's Boris Sanchez, who's in Manning, South Carolina.
What's the latest, Boris?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been tracking the developments on that dam breach you mentioned just a few moments ago. It is the Overcreek Dam, and it is in Columbia, just one of at least nine dams that have breached over the past few days because of these flood waters.
We've been told that residents are being evacuated to a nearby high school. And officials are keeping an eye on it. That Columbia is about 52 miles west of where we are now. This is the town of Manning, South Carolina. It's a relatively small town, but as I get out of the way you can see it has been pounded by these flood waters.
Behind me is Highway 301. And you can't see how far the water goes here, at least a mile of flooding here. It is surrounded by businesses. We have a convenience store, a church, several restaurants nearby. One of them was helping to feed the National Guard.
But most of these businesses are flooded. Dozens of cars are submerged, and tonight the town of Manning is blacked out. There's no power here. And officials aren't sure when this water is going to go away.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Emergency search-and-rescue operations in rain- ravaged South Carolina. More than 200 rescues and counting. Heroic scenes playing out one after the other after an historic storm.
The Coast Guard air-lifting a mother and her 15-month-old child from their flooded home. In Columbia, good Samaritans forming a human chain to save the stranded from chest-high water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just made a mistake. There he goes.
SANCHEZ: This truck driver mistakenly thought he could traverse a flooded road.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to kick out the back window of the truck.
SANCHEZ: A rescue team eventually pulling him to safety. Another man was found clinging to a tree after driving through a road barricade.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy could have lost his life. Luckily, we were able to get manpower down here.
SANCHEZ: Roads and bridges throughout the state remain damaged and unpassable. About 550 roads are closed.
GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is dangerous. This is very real.
SANCHEZ: Governor Nikki Haley urging residents safe in their homes to stay put.
HALEY: We don't want to have to come out and rescue. Much worse, we don't want to have you added to this number of fatalities.
SANCHEZ: Forty-thousand residents are without water. More than 26,000 have no power. The Red Cross has opened about 25 shelters to take in victims.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I got on my body is what we have. Pretty much everybody down that hill there has lost everything this morning. Our vehicles, our clothes, everything.
MAYOR JACK SCOVILLE, GEORGETOWN, SOUTH CAROLINA: What we continue to go through is unlike anything any of us has ever seen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that this challenge is not over. And the danger to life and property does not end when the rain stops.
SANCHEZ: Wolf, to give you an idea of how residents are feeling here, people keep coming up to us asking how we got here, because so many roads are closed. A lot of people feeling like they're on an island.
Several other residents are not heeding the governor and other officials warning to stay out of this water. Just about an hour ago there were people walking around in it and also kayaking in it. Not a good idea to be out in this water. It's frankly filthy and full of dangers. So it's best to stay home if you can.
[17:05:16] BLITZER: Boris Sanchez in Manning, South Carolina. What an awful story unfolding over there. Boris, thanks very much.
Take a look at this. CNN is live inside a U.S. National Guard helicopter flying over the flood damage in Columbia, South Carolina. These are live pictures coming in from this Blackhawk helicopter. It's heading to one of the areas where there's been a dam breach. We're going to continue showing you these live pictures. This is coming in from this U.S. National Guard Blackhawk helicopter.
Representative Beth Bernstein of South Carolina -- the South Carolina legislature lives right near that breached dam and was forced to evacuate. She's joining us now on the phone.
Representative Bernstein, tell us what it was like. I see you were personally affected by this historic flooding.
REP. BETH BERNSTEIN, SOUTH CAROLINA LEGISLATURE (via phone): Yes, Wolf. I have been affected by this personally. As we were actually in clean-up mode. Yesterday I felt like we -- I was just telling a friend that I felt like I was on a houseboat in the middle of a river flooding on the back on the lake side and the front from the overflow of the lake surrounding us.
My home is -- I live on Forest Lake, but the Overcreek Dam, which we're referring to here, locally at the Overcreek spillway, was compromised. And that lake feeds into my lake. And we were forced to evacuate less than an hour ago.
BLITZER: By all accounts, Representative, this is the worst flooding your state has ever seen. Is that a fair assessment?
BERNSTEIN: It is a more than fair assessment. This is destructive. It is something that I've never seen. I have lived in this area my entire life. And it has been a tragedy. We have been forced to evacuate. There's been lots of flooding. People have lost their homes. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who are affected and particularly those families of those who have lost their lives.
BLITZER: Based on what you can see, Representative, does your state have the resources it needs to deal with this human tragedy?
BERNSTEIN: Yes. I'm very proud of our first responders. And the governor in how we have responded to this tragedy. We have, as you can tell, through our -- what we've been through as a state in the last several months, we have come together. And we rise to the occasion. We really do. And the first responders have been terrific.
BLITZER: Beth Bernstein is a South Carolina House of Representatives official. Beth Bernstein, thanks very much. Good luck to you.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The flooding is likely to continue long after the rain stops. Let's go to our meteorologist, Tom Sater, at the CNN Weather Center. What's the forecast, Tom?
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's light rain right now, Wolf, which just plays more to the psyche and, of course, the nerves. But I want to show you the only flash-flood warning now in effect is for this dam breach. It's just to the east of the capital of Columbia.
As we go in a little bit closer, you get an idea those who live here know what we're talking about. Here's the flash flood warning. This means there is flooding that is occurring because of this breach. We're not sure what that breach exactly means. Is it an overspill? Is there a fracture in this dike or dam? We believe it's more of a dike.
Now, you're going to see here in the middle of the screen there are some rivers here. We're going to get in a little bit close -- lakes that is. Rocky Ford Lake makes its way in towards Forest Lake.
Now you can see the community surrounding this lake bed and of course eastward. We believe this road here to the south is where they're having the evacuation. We believe this is the dike or the dam that they're calling it. It looks more of a built-up roadway. Again, we're not sure if the breach means an overspill, if there's been a shift in the pavement, make leakage from underneath in the soil. But there is flooding with this. So the river -- the lakes -- actually, the waters flow southward.
So what we're going to find here is not just the homes along the lake beds, but all the communities that actually make their way toward the east. So again, quite concerning.
Now, the next problem is we have heard reports that there have actually been as many as 30 breaches in the last several days. Again, some of these are minor. Some of these are dikes, Wolf, that have given way. And the water's spilling into countryside and other communities.
Take a look at the rivers. Small tributaries, some were at historic levels the last couple days like Gill Creek near Columbia, rising seven feet in just a matter of hours. They will fill into the larger tributaries.
All of the rivers in South Carolina, Wolf, flow from the northwest to the east-southeast. So the same communities that were inundated and submerged are now going to find a higher river level, make their way over into the same communities.
Many of these rivers as they merge together, they're going to be trouble spots. We believe that the pressure from Columbia toward Eastover, toward Cross, toward Charleston could actually cause more in the way of levees breaking, dams giving way.
[17:10:13] So again, it could be a concern not just for more evacuations, possibly more water rescues, but if you look at the state and all of the roads and bridges that are closed, we may be looking now at a billion-dollar disaster once the waters recede, and we'll start then to find out what damage has been left in its wake.
BLITZER: Did you say a billion dollars, Tom? You said a billion dollars, right?
SATER: I'm sorry, Wolf. I just lost you there. We believe this is easily going to be a billion-dollar disaster, one of several we've had in the U.S.
I mean, think about this. Residents not just for weeks but for months are going to have to reroute their way to work, to school and back because of the roads that have given way, the bridges that are washed out and the sinkholes that are in place.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Tom Sater, with the latest forecast. An awful forecast it is.
Let's bring in Republican presidential candidate, Senator Lindsey Graham. He's from South Carolina.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
BLITZER: A billion dollars this is going to cost you guys in South Carolina?
GRAHAM: Well, we're going to need your help and everybody else's help. It's probably going to be more than that. A lot of folks don't have flood insurance. There's a bridge between Charleston and Georgetown that I very much worry about. If that bridge goes, then you really cut those people off from traveling. So this is -- the worst is yet to come, I'm afraid.
BLITZER: That's a lot of money. So you want federal aid to help your state? GRAHAM: Yes, I was just on the phone with the vice president. And he
called, you know, we're all working as a team. I think we really don't know yet. Now is the time -- the next couple days there's more water coming down our state. These people, the communities you see, there's more water coming from the upstate. So rather than putting a price tag on it, let's just, you know, get through this thing; and whatever it costs, it costs.
BLITZER: The -- your critics are already saying you want federal funding to help the people of South Carolina, but correct me if I'm wrong. You voted against that federal funding package for the folks of New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy.
GRAHAM: Oh, I'm all for helping the people in New Jersey. I don't really remember me voting that way.
BLITZER: There was a big relief package, apparently, that you and a lot of other southern senators and representatives voted against.
GRAHAM: Yes. Well, anyway, I don't really recall that. But I'd be glad to look and tell you why I did vote "no" if I did. Pretty kindhearted fellow. Folks in South Carolina -- Chuck Schumer calls, and we try to be there for other friends and neighbors. So hope they'll be there for us.
BLITZER: Yes. We did check, and you did vote against that Hurricane Sandy relief package.
GRAHAM: I might have. I'll look at it and tell you why.
BLITZER: Yes. You're -- have you ever seen -- you're from South Carolina. You've lived there your whole life. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
GRAHAM: No, no. I mean, really, I cannot describe it to you. It is just like a river rain has come over South Carolina. And I've never seen anything like it. My sister lives in the Columbia area. It took us two days...
BLITZER: Is she out?
GRAHAM: Yes, she's fine. Took two days to get home. But, you know, these dams breaching and the bridges being washed out, it would be terrible.
BLITZER: What did they say? This is just a fluke? Or is this global warming? I mean, you've heard all the explanations.
GRAHAM: I think it's a fluke. You know, I'm not a meteorologist. I believe that climate change is real. I think CO2 emissions are heating up the planet.
But this is not about global warming. This is a coming together of unique events that funneled a river of water over South Carolina for two days. Twenty-four inches in the Charleston area -- 22 inches where I was staying. There were alligators in the parking lot. It was unbelievable. I cannot describe it to you. And our governor, everybody's doing great. Vice president's called me. We'll do what we need to help South Carolina.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Senator, these live pictures.
BLITZER: They must be very painful to you. These are pictures from this U.S. National Guard Blackhawk helicopter flying over Columbia, South Carolina. That's the capital.
We also have these live pictures. Look at Manning, South Carolina. I'm sure you're familiar with Manning, as well. These are awful -- these are just two pictures coming in. You can imagine what's going on in your state.
Senator, I want you to stand by. We're going to continue our conversation. We've got other major issues to discuss, as well. Much more with Senator Lindsey Graham when we come back.
[17:18:44] BLITZER: We're talking with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a presidential candidate. We'll get back to him in a moment.
But first as its warplanes carry out strikes from the sky, Russia has apparently been moving troops and weapons into Syria for a possible ground attack. It may have little to do with ISIS, a lot to do with protecting the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the very latest information. What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, several U.S. officials are now telling me that observations have been made by U.S. intelligence that Russian artillery and rocket systems, heavy weapons essentially, are on the move in western Syria.
Let's go to the map. Let me show everybody where this is taking place. Everything landed at an air base called Latakia near the coast. Now all of this is on the move in two places. It's going on these corridors, Homs, the city of Homs, and then north to the city of Idlib. All of this is an area where anti-regime forces are very strong, the Assad regime fighting them.
The thinking at the moment is that the Russians are on the move here, putting this equipment out in these areas, in these corridors, so they will be ready to support Assad's forces in ground combat. The Russians not ready yet. Not enough equipment to do something on their own on the ground, but putting themselves in place to support Assad. This equipment is not in any area where ISIS is located. The group that the Russians continue to insist they are fighting -- Wolf.
[17:20:20] BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you. Let's get back to the Republican presidential candidate, Senator
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. What's the Russian strategy here?
GRAHAM: Well, one, they're lying about what they're trying to do. Their strategy is to preserve Assad's regime. They're doing sort of what I wanted us to do. They're getting a regional force of Syrians, Iranians and Russians, and they're going after the opposition of Assad, not ISIL. They're going to destroy what's left of the Free Syrian Army and make sure that their guy, Assad, stays in power; and it's going to be a nightmare for us.
BLITZER: Lebanese Hezbollah forces are still involved, as well.
GRAHAM: Yes. That's part of the regional.
BLITZER: That's part of that coalition that's been put together.
GRAHAM: Shiites and Russians. Shiites and Russian. Syrian Alawite Army. You've got...
BLITZER: Which is a branch of Shia.
GRAHAM: Yes. And you've got Hezbollah. So you've got a ground force. Now an air force.
BLITZER: What do you want the U.S. to do about it?
GRAHAM: Well, I wanted to get a ground force of regional like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan.
BLITZER: But we had four years to do that. That hasn't exactly happened.
GRAHAM: No, but that's what I suggested we go on the ground. You're not going to destroy ISIL from the air, and they're not going to destroy the Free Syrian Army from the air.
So this is an attempt by Russia to destroy everything we've worked for, to destroy all the people who rose up against Assad demanding their freedom. This is an attempt by Russia to put a brutal dictator in power, to their advantage at our expense. And we're sitting on the sidelines not doing a thing about it.
BLITZER: So when the president says he's ready to work with everyone including Iran and Russia to defeat ISIS. You say?
GRAHAM: They're not trying to defeat ISIS, Mr. President. They're trying to prop up Assad.
You said two things I agree with. Degrade, destroy ISIL, push Assad out because if you don't, the war never ends. Well, the Russians have said to you, "Assad's not going." And they're putting teeth behind what they're saying, and you're not.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Benghazi. This House select committee's going to be having hearings October 22. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican majority leader in the House, wants to be the speaker of the House. He said some pretty controversial words, basically saying take a look at the creation of this select committee and look what it's done to Hillary Clinton's credibility.
She responded to that today. Listen to this on "The Today Show," the town hall meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look at the situation they chose to exploit, to go after me for political reasons. The death of four Americans in Benghazi.
I knew the ambassador. I identified him. I asked him to go there. I asked the president to nominate him. There have been seven investigations, led mostly by Republicans, in the Congress; and they were nonpartisan. And they reached conclusions that, first of all, I and nobody did anything wrong but there were changes we could make.
This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans. I would have never done that.
And if I were president and there were Republicans or Democrats who were thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.
I've said I made a mistake. Obviously, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't. It was allowed, and everybody has confirmed that. But it's also, as we now know, very clearly the way that the Republicans are trying to bring my, as they admit, poll numbers down. Excuse me.
So, you know, I'm very committed to answering questions, to being as transparent as possible. I'm scheduled to testify before their committee. Which we now know is nothing but a partisan exercise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So your reaction when you hear that kind of talk. Because it looks like Kevin McCarthy, who might be the next House speaker, basically offering her a little help in this going into this important hearing.
GRAHAM: Offering her a lot of help. And she's smart to take advantage of it.
Her problem is she's self-righteous and indignant -- indignant toward us. Madame Secretary, where were you at when they made five requests for additional security? How could you not know on August the 15th the ambassador that you love so much was begging your headquarters to reinforce the consulate because al Qaeda flag was flying everywhere?
Why didn't you go on TV five days after the attack, not Susan Rice? And how could you let her tell the entire world this consulate was significantly, substantially and strongly secured? And how could you tell the family when the bodies came back we'll get the guy who made that video? Her problem is her behavior.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in. You're staying in this race, at least for the time being?
GRAHAM: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: Despite the poll numbers?
BLITZER: OK. Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.
Coming up, the man at the center of Washington's latest power struggle is raising the possibility of more confrontation and a possible government shutdown, even a default on the national debt.
Also, the father of the man killed who killed nine people at an Oregon college calls for tighter gun laws. Do stricter laws really mean fewer deaths?
[17:29:48] BLITZER: An influential congressman who isn't ruling out the possibility of government shutdowns, the possibility of national debt default, is shaking up the race to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives.
Our senior political reporter, Manu Raju, is here with a little bit more of this struggle that's going on. You had a chance to sit down with this influential lawmaker.
[17:30:07] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I did, and he really was trying to take a confrontational line. What he's trying to do is tap into that unrest in the House Republican Conference which does not believe that these -- that the current leadership team has taken the fight to the White House and to Senate Republicans, particularly on the issues of these big fiscal clashes that are coming down the pike in the next coming weeks.
You had talked about the debt ceiling fight in particular, which we're very interested in following the next -- into November 5, when they need to raise the national debt ceiling.
And he waited on other controversies, as well, in addition to the Secret Service, leaking information about his personal background.
Here we have some sound from our interview from earlier today.
RAJU: You've been saying you want to take the fight to the Senate. Of course, the Senate is run by Republicans. The Republicans have a 54-46 majority. Senator Mitch McConnell runs the place.
He has been saying all along there will be no government debt default. We're headed up to a key deadline November 5 to raise the debt ceiling. Is Senator McConnell right in saying that there will be no debt default?
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I'm running for the speaker of the House of Representatives. We're going to have to figure out where to hold the line.
But I have no interest in just simply raising the debt ceiling without changing the trajectory of spending. The debt under President Obama has gone from $9 trillion to almost $20 trillion. We can't keep doing that. We pay more than $600 million a day in interest on our national debt. It's silly for the president to say he's not even going to have this discussion.
RAJU: But should Senator McConnell be saying there will be no default?
CHAFFETZ: I think the Senate majority leader is wrong. I disagree with him. I think it's wrong to signal that you're going to cave at the end. That's not what I'm interested in doing. And you're not going to see me doing that.
RAJU: And he said the same thing about the shutdowns. No shutdowns. You think he's wrong about that too.
CHAFFETZ: The shutdown decision is the president's. Our role and responsibility is to put the bill on the president's desk. Then he has to decide if he wants to shut down the government.
RAJU: So you obviously think McConnell's wrong about the shutdown.
CHAFFETZ: I do. I think one of our challenges is we are not working together to put a bill on the president's desk.
RAJU: Is Senator McConnell a good leader for your party?
CHAFFETZ: I have the greatest respect for Senator McConnell and look forward to working with him.
RAJU: Let's talk about the speaker's race now. You've been saying for the last couple of days that Kevin McCarthy has a majority of support within the conference right now.
RAJU: So Thursday there's a key vote to determine who the Republicans are going to nominate for speaker. So it appears that Kevin McCarthy will get that if he does have the majority support within the conference.
At that point what will you do? Are you going to actively support Kevin McCarthy and push him over that 218 level on the floor?
CHAFFETZ: I'm going to make my best case in five short days to my colleagues and hope that I am victorious on Thursday. If I'm not, whoever the nominee is, I'll support the nominee.
But it still doesn't change the math question. Because I think there are too many of our members who will not vote for a member of our existing leadership team to simply get a promotion now that Speaker Boehner has stepped down.
RAJU: Last week was when the Secret Service appeared to be trying to embarrass you by releasing certain information about you. What do you think needs to be done now? Do you think there should be a criminal investigation into the perpetrators who allegedly leaked this information?
CHAFFETZ: I put the onus on the attorney general. Why isn't the department of justice investigating this?
You had 45 -- 45 Secret Service agents misusing their computers, accessing classified information of personnel records, I should say, in violation of federal law. I think there needs to be a criminal probe. We don't know how far, wide and pervasive it was. What other snooping did they do? Did they go look at my e-mail? Did they go -- what did they go and look for?
I feel violated. And I feel like it was meant to intimidate. And quite frankly, it is intimidating to have Secret Service diving into your background. I didn't do anything other than do my job.
BLITZER: So Manu, Jason Chaffetz, he's challenging Kevin McCarthy for the speaker. That's a big challenge. By all accounts Kevin McCarthy will get a majority of the Republican members to support him on Thursday.
RAJU: Yes. It seems that way. There's going to be a big meeting tomorrow night. House conservatives are calling for all of the candidates for speaker to address them, make their pitches to them on why they think they should be the next speaker.
That's going to be a big test not just for Jason Chaffetz but also for Kevin McCarthy. Because there is that pocket of conservatives who are very uneasy about simply elevating an existing member of the leadership team to take the top job in the House.
The question for Jason Chaffetz will be if he does not get that majority support on Thursday in the conference, how far does he take the fight on the House floor? He suggested he would not lead to take a big battle on the House floor later this month, but if he does that could throw things into question October 29 during that big speaker election.
BLITZER: Could get really ugly. And remember Kevin McCarthy, even if he gets the majority of Republicans, still needs 218 on the floor during that final vote. There's no guarantee he'll get that. Given some of the opposition to the establishment Republicans from some of the so-called renegades.
RAJU: That's right.
BLITZER: All right. Manu, thanks very much. Good work.
Coming up, his son killed nine people before turning his gun on himself. Now a killer's father is calling for stricter gun laws. But do they work?
Also, a U.S. airstrike kills nearly two dozen people, including hospital patients and caregivers. We're getting new information about what may have gone wrong.
[17:40:14] BLITZER: We're hearing new firsthand accounts from survivors of the mass shootings at an Oregon college and also from the gunman's father, and it's raising serious questions about the effectiveness of gun laws.
Let's go to Brian Todd. He's been looking into this, found some answers. What have you discovered, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Oregon gunman's father acknowledged that his son had mental issues, but he was also quick to blame American gun laws for the shootings. Does he have a point?
We took a look at how gun laws in the states correlate to gun-related deaths.
TODD (voice-over): The father of the Oregon shooter tells CNN he doesn't know how his son could have built an arsenal of more than a dozen firearms. And says gun laws in America have to change.
IAN MERCER, FATHER OF OREGON SHOOTER: If Chris had not been able to get ahold of 13 guns, it wouldn't have happened.
TODD: Just hours after the shootings, President Obama angrily pushed back against a Congress reluctant to take action.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths.
TODD: Is the president correct?
DR. ERIC FLEEGLER, BOSTON CHILDREN'S HOSPICE: We showed that states with the most firearm laws are those states that have the lowest fatalities from firearms. Whereas states that have the least amount of regulation are the states that tend to have the highest fatality rates.
TODD: Dr. Fleegler of Harvard Medical School led a team of researchers who studied firearm related deaths and state gun control laws between 2007 and 2010. They looked at the number of gun deaths in each state per 100,000 people.
They found that states with the fewest gun laws on the left of this chart like Louisiana and Alaska, had the most gun deaths, high up on the left. Over 17 deaths per 100,000 people.
They found states with the most gun laws, on the right of this chart, like Massachusetts and Hawaii, had the fewest gun deaths, around three per 100,000 people. Fleegler got the number of deaths from the CDC. And he got the evaluation of the state gun laws from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
But this study just shows a correlation. It doesn't address whether more gun control laws directly led to fewer deaths. And there are other factors, which some experts say are not accounted for in Fleegler's study.
DANIEL WEBSTER, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR GUN POLICY AND RESEARCH: There are cultural factors. What does the drug situation look like? What does the gang situation look like? There are many factors that differ from one state to another.
TODD: And in some states, suicides make a huge difference. Suicides account for most of the gun-related deaths in Alaska, according to Fleegler. But even when you exclude suicides from the statistics, states with the most gun control laws still tended to have fewer deaths.
FLEEGLER: When we look at homicides alone, there is still a 40 percent reduction in fatalities from firearms.
TODD: Now, what about overall gun violence? Not just deaths. Do states with more gun control laws have less gun violence overall?
Well, experts we spoke to say there's just not enough information to tell one way or the other. The reporting from law enforcement officers and from private citizens on gun incidents is just too inconsistent.
For instance, when someone gets shot at and not actually shot, that often doesn't get reported, but it's still an incident of gun violence, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Let's get some more -- some insight into what's going on from our experts, our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes; and our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is a former federal prosecutor.
Tom, if it's true, this correlation that Brian just reported on, the NRA seems to have an enormous amount of political clout here in Washington on the law. What's going on?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think the first question is whether it's true or not, Wolf.
But the second question is, you know, there are other factors, environmental factors. You know, why is it people in Alaska want to commit suicide? Are they isolated with the cold weather and get cabin fever and that causes it? Compared to other states that are warmer in climate.
I mean, there's a lot of causal factors and environmental factors, cultural factors. They all need to be analyzed. I'm not saying that the data's wrong. I'm just saying we need to analyze what's actually at the root cause.
BLITZER: You spent your whole career in law enforcement. Do you believe the greater the control on the availability of guns, the better off the public is as far as gun violence is concerned?
FUENTES: Yes. Yes. I personally believe that. Yes, it's a personal opinion. But there's other factors involved. And a lot of these cases, people have said that they wouldn't have been prevented by the gun laws that were proposed. Well, that's true. If this individual had his mother's guns, they were all bought legally, and he went into the classroom and shot people with handguns, that's not even on the table to limit handguns. We're talking about assault rifles and some of the other more powerful weapons that we can't even have a logical discussion about those.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, the big loophole out there is that, if you go ahead to a gun store or registered licensed gun store and want to buy a gun, you need to go through a background check of sorts.
On the other hand, if you go to a private gun dealer or a gun show, you buy it on the Internet, you don't need any background checks. You can just go buy the gun. And a big percentage of the guns sold in America are sold that way. That, presumably, is a common-sense problem that should be resolved.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And what was interesting today is that Hillary Clinton, who has generally been pretty cautious about gun control and certainly her husband was as president, has said that as president she will close the gun show loophole by herself, by executive action. Now I don't even know if that's possible legally, but I think it's an interesting evolution of the politics.
You know, the NRA used to be kind of a bipartisan organization. It used to have lots of Democratic supporters and lots of Republican supporters. But they have essentially abandoned the Democratic Party. And so a lot of Democrats now even in states like Virginia say, you know what, we don't care about the NRA. And Hillary Clinton is doubling down on gun control which is something that national Democrats have not done, including even Barack Obama for quite some time.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jeffrey, Tom, guys, appreciate it.
Coming up, we're going to have a live update on the breaking news in South Carolina's capital where dams are failing, people are being told to leave their homes immediately.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:50:40] BLITZER: Doctors Without Borders is calling the U.S. bombing of one of its hospitals in Afghanistan a war crime. 22 patients and staff were killed. The Pentagon now says the airstrike was called after Afghan forces came under Taliban fire and asked for U.S. support.
U.S. Special Operations forces have been on the ground working with Afghan troops and now in a CNN exclusive, our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr brings us a behind-the-scenes look at America's most elite forces.
Barbara, what did you find out?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I spoke to General Joe Votel in the days before this incident in Afghanistan, but this is the top general in charge of training, equipping and getting Special Operations Forces out into the field. He knows exactly how tough it may be even when they are not in combat.
STARR (voice-over): Special Operations Forces go to the most dangerous corners of the world to rescue hostages and take out terror cells. Nobody may know more than General Joe Votel about what it takes to face down a terrorist.
GEN. JOE VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: We recognize that the American people expect us to be able to do these types of missions.
STARR: Votel, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, previously led the secretive organization called JSOC. Army Delta Force, SEAL Teams 6, and other covert military teams that secretly gather intelligence for raids and hostage rescues.
VOTEL: We want to take those great people that we have and we want to give them the very best capabilities they can operate at the edge.
STARR: That edge means Votel focuses on getting troops the best training and the most advanced weapons like high rate of fire rifles, high-tech drones and Stealth helicopters.
The general took us inside the training for his troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as they learn to patch wounds under combat. He has walked the line between success and disaster doing exactly what he asked his troops do, go where death may be one step away.
VOTEL: It was about the mission that the nation asked us to do.
STARR: Twice he has parachuted into combat in Panama and Afghanistan.
VOTEL: It's both scary and exhilarating.
STARR: Votel commanded Army Rangers in Iraq in 2003 when troops stormed an Iraqi hospital to rescue captured Army soldier Jessica Lynch. VOTEL: One of the big things we learned out of that was our level of
readiness, our level of training really allowed us to adapt to the particular situation that we found ourselves in there and just to really step into that situation and do it.
STARR: Now the next step, sending drones over Syria to track and kill top ISIS operatives but more than drones are at work.
VOTEL: A lot of our intelligence comes to talking to people on the ground and understanding what their perspectives on things and getting their view.
STARR (on camera): Can you take Americans behind the scenes and tell them what one of these missions in reality is like? If they think it's a Hollywood movie, what's the reality?
VOTEL: The reality is this, is that, you know, our operations are built on a solid foundation of intelligence. There is a lot of training and rehearsing that goes into these operations.
STARR: Is there a mission in history that has stood out in your mind?
VOTEL: Well, I'll take you back to the whole reason the organization exists. The failure to recover our hostages in Iran back in 1980.
We recognize that we could not allow our country to fall into that situation again. So you brought up the bin Laden raid. In many regards, that's a very definitive example of just how far we've come.
STARR (voice-over): Sometimes it's still all goes wrong.
(On camera): What was the toughest day you ever had?
VOTEL: Well, the toughest day that I ever had was when we lost a helicopter.
STARR (voice-over): Thirty-seven souls lost when a helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.
VOTEL: It was devastating for me. It was devastating for obviously the units that were involved and I think it was pretty significant for the nation to lose that many people in such a short span of time.
[17:55:03] STARR: Well, Votel will also tell you many of his troops now operate in what he calls the gray zone. That mysterious area between peace and full blown conflict. Many of his troops now working to help train East European militaries to face a potential Russian threat, if one were to come, perhaps no better example of the gray zone of Special Operations Forces -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good report, Barbara, thank you very much.
Coming up, historic and catastrophic flooding in South Carolina. Parts of the state have seen two feet of rain, nine people are dead, a dam breach bringing new dangers.
[18:00:07] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Under water. A flood disaster unfolding right now in South Carolina.