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Dick Cheney Slams Obama Administration; Reid Fires Back At Cheney For Op-Ed; Iraq Claims Key Victory Against Militants; Iraq Crisis Intensifies; Libya Wants to Try Benghazi Suspect; Clinton Town Hall

Aired June 18, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, as fighting continues on the ground in Iraq, President Obama faces an increasingly fierce political battle right here at home. Today, the former vice president, Dick Cheney, launching a scathing attack against the president's foreign policy.

Also right now, Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala is on a slow boat trip to the United States. But once he arrives, what kind legal battle does he face? And was the U.S. capture legal to begin with?

And right now, a new ruling hits the Washington Redskins where it hurts in the wallet. Will this be enough to finally convince the team to change its name?

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We start with the breaking news, the new details on a possible American response in Iraq, as the Pentagon is now reviewing a list of potential ISIS targets in Iraq.

Let's bring in our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, does this mean the U.S. is closer to deciding on air strikes in Iraq?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: By all accounts, Wolf, the president has not made a decision. Officials across the administration telling Jim Sciutto, our White House team and here at the Pentagon no decision has been made about air strikes.

But here's what we do know at this hour. A draft list of targets has been drawn up. It is being reviewed at the highest levels of the U.S. military. Very important to say draft list of target. It will be reviewed. It will be analyzed. It will be tweaked. It willing changed. And all of this depends on the president, of course, giving any order to go ahead with air strikes.

But the military has to be ready in advance of any presidential order. So, what they are doing is trying to find ISIS targets in Iraq that they could strike that would make a difference on the ground. Very tough to do. This is basically a target list of personnel and vehicles and weapons, almost constantly on the move. No fixed sites. No command and control centers. No intelligence headquarters. No regular military air bases or airfields. None of the traditional targets.

The Pentagon saying it would be very tough. The target list would be tough. But they are assembling it. They are looking at it. The options, if they decided to go kinetically, if the president chose to do that, it could be bombs from fighter jets, cruise missiles from Navy ships, drones, any of that.

But important to say, there are other options besides the kinetic option for the military. They are also looking at upping the number of U.S. Special Forces in Iraq to train and advise the Iraqis. Trying to look at whatever they can do that would make a fundamental difference to breaking ISIS's grip, ISIS's current momentum -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We know the president will be meeting with top Congressional leaders, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, over at the White House, presumably to review various options. Let's see what he has to say, if anything, about that, after that meeting.

Political pressure certainly is mounting on the president. The new NBC News "Wall Street Journal" poll released overnight. It shows only 37 percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling foreign policy. A whopping 57 percent disapprove. That's an all-time low for this poll. So, we should also note, it does not necessarily reflect all the latest developments in Iraq. In Iraq, the president clearly is facing a disillusioned American public.

Let's discuss what's going on with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. A lot at stake here, Gloria, for the president, right now. 37 percent in this new NBC news poll on foreign policy. That's not a good number.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And, look, second- term presidents often turn to foreign policy to kind of solidify their legacies. And this has become a problem for this president, whether it's the question of what he did in Syria, the question of the deal for Bergdahl and, of course, now Iraq and who got us into these problems in the first place.

You know, Republicans charge that the president didn't try and negotiate with Maliki enough to get a status of forces agreement. The president says, no, no, no, we did, and we couldn't. And now, questions are being raised, of course, about the withdrawal from Afghanistan and whether we should actually leave a residual force there.

So, he's got a lot of problems on the foreign policy front. It's a leadership issue front and center. And that has to spill over, Wolf, into questions about whether he's going to get anything through on his domestic agenda.

BLITZER: It certainly will. I want to play two sound bites. One from Dick Cheney, the former vice president. One from Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. Dick Cheney, as you know, wrote a scathing attack on the president with his daughter, --

BORGER: Shocking. BLITZER: -- Liz Cheney, in "The Wall Street Journal" --


BLITZER: -- today. I'm going to play this little clip from the former vice president.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We stand at a critical moment in the life of our nation. The policies of the last six years have left America diminished and weakened. Our enemies no longer fear us. Our allies no longer trust us.


BLITZER: They were announcing a new conservative grassroots organization. So, the scathing criticism of the president's Iraq policy resulted in this statement from Harry Reid.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Just to remind everyone, the former vice president of the United States who clearly was the chief architect of the war. Mr. President, if there's one thing that this country does not need, it's that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars. Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is to be on the right side of history.


BLITZER: The Senate majority leader on the Senate floor. I read that article in "The Wall Street Journal." I didn't hear or see any contrition --


BLITZER: -- from the Cheneys --


BLITZER: -- that they got it wrong in 2003. There were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and 911. None of the blunders.


BLITZER: There was no nuclear program that was really underway --

BORGER: Nothing.

BLITZER: -- in Iraq or anything like that. There was none of that mentioned --

BORGER: So, --

BLITZER: -- in that article.

BORGER: -- there were -- so, there were two fights going on. One is, sort of, the American public has decided which is two-thirds of the American public believe that we shouldn't have been in Iraq, and we didn't need to be in Iraq. And so, it was kind of useless for Cheney to even mention that, because it's a lose argument with the American public.

The question now has turned to who lost Iraq? OK? Aside from the fact that the public believes we shouldn't be there, who lost Iraq? And what Dick Cheney is saying is that it's the administration's blundering that lost Iraq.

And let me read you something else from that op-ed. He said, Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help security the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

The White House will say, we did not abandon Iraq. We tried to negotiate that agreement. We couldn't get the agreement we needed. Maliki wasn't doing what we wanted. He was your guy, Maliki, George W. Bush, and that's why we had the problems. You're the American public sitting here. You're, like, here they are, squabbling over who lost Iraq. And the American public is going to throw up its hands and say, you know what? Honestly, we don't care would lost Iraq. We just don't want to go back to Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, stand by because we'll see if we hear -- actually hear from the president --


BLITZER: -- later today. We'll, of course, be monitoring what's going on at the White House.


BLITZER: Gloria Borger, thank you.

Now to the battle that's happening right now on the ground in Iraq. The Iraqi military claims it has successfully repelled a bloody attack by ISIS forces on the country's main oil refinery in the town of Daesh (ph). Control of that refinery is critical because Iraq's economy certainly is dependent on oil production and oil exports.

Iraq's prime minister said, today, the militants will be defeated despite government forces being hit with, quote, "the initial shock of the ISIS offensive." But his government is still facing major challenges as militants fight to take over Baqubah, that's a city just 37 miles from the capital of Iraq, Baghdad.

Our Arwa Damon is joining us now live from the northern Iraqi town of Erbil. Arwa, does the prime minister, Nuri Al Maliki's, assessment really match up to what you're seeing and hearing on the ground? ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not necessarily,

Wolf. Now, those battles are quite fierce, centering around the strategically located city of Baqubah. Difficult to determine, at this stage, exactly what's happening there. But it doesn't seem as if the Iraqi security forces have managed to gained significant territory.

When it comes to Beiji where the company to the country's largest oil refinery is located there, the government says it has the situation under control. But CNN spoke to two employees that used to work at the refinery. A number of police (ph) sources based in the city of Sumatra, not too far away.

And they say that the battle is still ongoing. That it's ISIS that actually controls the refinery itself. If ISIS manages to hold onto the refinery and somehow gets oil flowing once again, that's just going to add even more money to what is considered to be the world's richest terrorist organization.

What the prime minister really needs to do, at this stage, is stop making these types of inflammatory statements and really try to reach out, not just to the population, but especially to the Sunni opposition. This is a problem that has plagued him throughout both of his positions as the country's prime minister, his inability to reach out to the Sunni population, his ongoing policies, very polarizing policies, that continuously alienated the Sunni population are one of the key factors that have contributed to the disastrous scenario the country finds itself in right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is a disaster that's going on right now, among other things. Arwa, as you well know, there are reports that about 40 nationals from India, who have been working at a construction company in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, they've been kidnapped. Some Turkish construction workers in Kirkuk, which is full of oil, they've also been taken captive. What do you know about these reports?

DAMON: Well, it does seem that ISIS, when it was first sweeping through Mosul and some of these other areas, did manage to kidnap dozens of Turkish citizens. Also, dozens of Turkish citizens that were actually based at the Turkish consulate in Mosul. The Turkish government, at this stage, asking the media, the Turkish media, to back off from reporting too heavily on this because there are concerns for the safety of those who have been held hostage, Indian workers as well.

There is a lot of third-country nationals spread out throughout this country, Wolf. People who used to work in the oil refineries, people who used to work in various other positions, trying to support numerous projects that were unfolding on the ground here. We're talking about a complex battlefield, one that does not have very defined front lines, where any group is going to seize upon an opportunity to try to kidnap westerners, kidnap foreigners and wreck even more havoc.

BLITZER: Because Iraq's whole economy, as you know, really depends on oil production and oil exports. If that goes away, that country further deteriorates into chaos. And that possibility clearly exists, doesn't it, Arwa?

DAMON: It does. And there's also great concerns about the oil fields that exist in the southern part of the country. Yes, that is predominantly Shia, yes, compared to the rest of Iraq, that has been relatively secure. But great concerns the Sunni insurgency could begin to make its way down there. Or even if they were just to launch one significant impact against one of the western oil companies based here, that could potentially send everyone for the exit doors out of Iraq. And without that critical oil revenue, upon which the vast majority of the Iraqi economy, the government's budget is dependent, this government would find itself in even more trouble than it's in right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And if that Iraqi oil export revenue dries up, if Iraqi oil production dries up, that's going to raise the price per barrel and people are going to be paying a lot more money for gasoline here in the United States and around the world. Arwa, thanks very much.

Bringing the Benghazi suspect to justice in the United States. Republicans are calling for a detour to Gitmo. Up next, we'll take a closer look at the legal issues. Our own Jeffrey Toobin is standing by.

And later, Hillary Clinton opens up on a wide range of issues during that exclusive town hall event with CNN. The moderator, Christiane Amanpour, she is standing by live. We'll discuss the ramifications and the highlights. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Right now, the man accused of taking part in the Benghazi consulate attack is heading to the United States. Ahmed Abu Khattalah is aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean where he's facing integrators. Abu Khattalah was captured over the weekend in Libya in an operation that included the U.S. military and the FBI. Libya has called Abu Khattalah's capture a kidnapping and says he should be tried in Libya, not in the United States.

Let's discuss the legalities. Joining us from New York, our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

So, Jeff, if Libya wants him, is it OK for the U.S. legally to send in special operations forces, FBI agents, go into Libya, snatch him, put him on a boat in the Mediterranean and bring him back to the United States?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's up to the United States. The -- Libya and the United States can have a diplomatic dispute about this. But a defendant himself cannot go to court in Washington, D.C., where this case is going to be prosecuted, and say, oh, I prefer to be prosecuted in Libya. He is -- he has no standing to challenge this. This could be a dispute, as I say, between Libya and the United States about whether this was appropriate. But once the case is underway, as it is now, he has no - he has no right to object. BLITZER: Yes, the fact is that there's so much chaos in Libya right

now, there's a semblance of a government but not much, as we all know, those of us who watch what's going on in Libya.

Also, you know, U.S. officials say Abu Khattalah hasn't -- has not been read his so-called Miranda rights on that ship or after he was captured. Republicans say he shouldn't be read his Miranda rights so he can be integrated. How does all fit -- this fit in, since he's not going to Guantanamo, there won't be a military tribunal. He's supposedly coming right here to Washington, D.C., where he will appear in a federal court. Explain the Miranda rights issue and what's going to happen to him.

TOOBIN: Well, people need to understand that Miranda warnings have a specific purpose. All they mean is that if you don't get Miranda warnings, those statements that you make can't be introduced against you in your criminal trial. But what the Obama administration has said is, we question these terrorism suspects without Miranda warnings and we use that information to search for other terrorists, to develop information to build other cases. All of that is completely permissible.

The only thing you can't do with statements obtained without a Miranda warning is use it against this defendant. So anything he says can be used by law enforcement, can be used by our intelligence officials, it just can't be introduced in court against him until he gets his warning.

BLITZER: You're a former federal prosecutor. Why was the decision made to file this complaint here in Washington, D.C. district court in Washington? Presumably he'll be brought here.

TOOBIN: Well, because we now have a fairly established history of prosecuting acts of terrorism against American targets which are overseas in the United States. The embassy bombings in Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole, all of that was prosecuted inside the United States. Now, sometimes they're prosecuted in New York, in suburban Virginia, in Washington, D.C. This case will be in Washington.

But it's well established now that if you attack an American target abroad, you can be prosecuted over here. And, frankly, the record of the Department of Justice in prosecuting these people is a heck of a lot better than the record of prosecutions in Guantanamo, in military tribunals, which are hopelessly vollexed (ph) up with procedural objections. And these cases in the Justice Department go smoothly, efficiently and so far very successfully.

BLITZER: And he will certainly have legal representation through a public defender or others. Jeffrey, thanks very much for that.

Coming up right after the break, as all of you know, CNN hosted an excellent town hall meeting with Hillary Clinton to talk about her new book and major issues. But the event sounded a lot like a warm-up for a run for the presidency. Our Christiane Amanpour, she moderated the town hall meeting. She's standing by to join us live. That's next.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says she has not yet decided to run for president in 2016. You wouldn't necessary know that during the exclusive town hall meeting with CNN. Billed as part of her book tour, the event certainly looked and sounded a lot like a campaign appearance as she fielded questions, staked out her positions. Despite the political tone, she said a run for the White House takes a back seat right now to becoming a grandmother.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not making a decision in part because I do have this very exciting, life changing experience coming up in the fall. I want - I don't want to be looking past it, you know? I don't want to be meeting my new grandchild and having somebody calling me and saying, oh, you've got to do this, that and the other in order to make this decision. I'm just not going to do that. So I will make this decision based on how I feel about it and what I believe I can do.


BLITZER: Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour did an excellent job moderating the town hall meeting with the former secretary. Christiane is joining us from New York.

So, what was your takeaway from the event, Christiane? What stands out in your mind, at least one defining moment?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I actually think there are a lot. I think that, you know, she has obviously been interviewed a lot around this book. I think this format was very different. She was asked questions from the audience and that provoked some other questions from me. And on a lot of substantive issues, I thought she made some news. I mean, obviously, we asked her about Benghazi. She was pleased, clearly, that one of the alleged masterminds of the attack that killed Chris Stevens and the other three Americans has now been capture and will be brought to justice.

What she didn't do was - and we didn't have time really to go into the biggest security issues, which actually stem from the fact that America did not lead from the front in this, was in support of French and European missions, therefore had no leverage to create a proper post-Gadhafi plan on the ground for the kind of security that you need. Remember, once you win a war, you have to win the peace as well. That was not done. That is a problem.

Over - on Syria, which we're now seeing bleeding over into Iraq, and that is the story of the moment, the al Qaeda offshoot has taken control of a vast portion of Iraq and, of course, Syria, and now this is being very, very -- it's very, very dangerous. Today in the British parliament, Prime Minister Cameron said, don't you think that we can sit on the sidelines. Don't you think that this won't come back. We know that these people are coming back to want to attack Britain and I know that security officials and other counterterrorism officials here in the United States are worried about that as well.

Hillary Clinton came out and said, listen, a couple of years ago, I suggested that we arm and train the moderate opposition, in part, to isolate these extremists. So she drew a very clear line between herself and President Obama on this. And then on domestic issues, you know, she took on the question about guns. And she said absolutely there needs to be a reinstatement of an assault weapons ban. We didn't get to ask her about background checks, but you know that the vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of gun owners, say that there should be background checks on those kinds of things.


BLITZER: Yes, they can't even get that approved by Congress.

Among the other topic you raised and touched upon, comprehensive immigration reform. She certainly addressed that issue, including the dramatic influx of these young kid, unaccompanied kids coming into the United States crossing the border from Mexico but originally from central America. Listen to what she said, Christiane.


CLINTON: They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are because there are concerns about whether all of them can be sent back. But I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their family. But we have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't meant the child gets to stay. So we don't want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.


BLITZER: All right, so how did that play with the audience over there at the Newseum here in Washington?

AMANPOUR: Well, as you can imagine, that question was prompted as a follow-up by me from a question from the audience who wanted to know the legitimate question about comprehensive immigration reform that has been promised and promised but you know better than I, Wolf, is stuck in the political doldrums and it's not moving anywhere right now. So she said that whether I get into office or not or I run for another office or not, this is something that I will continue to speak out about because that is one of the defining domestic policy situations that needs to be sorted out.

But then when I pressed her on these poor children who we've watched in horror, you know, come over across the border, get shunted off into these makeshift shelter, and I asked her again and again, should they be allowed to stay or not? That was her answer. And it was a very, you know, national security and political answer because that is where she is on that issue right now. No matter what we might think of, you know, the personal and the humanitarian crisis that is being promoted by these kids coming over and, you know, looking so desperate once they get here. BLITZER: Yes, her argument being, as she said, if you let these kids

stay, that's only going to encourage more parents to send their kids by themselves across the border. Simply going to go on and on. It's a very sensitive, a tough issue, obviously.

Christiane, good work yesterday. We'll stay, obviously, in close touch with you as well.

Up next, the debate over what to do with the suspect in the Benghazi attack. I'll ask Congressman Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee about that. Also, about Dick Cheney's attack on President Obama over Iraq.

Then, trademarks sacked. The Washington Redskins lose protection from the U.S. Patent Office. What that ruling could mean for the Washington Redskins franchise.