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Interview With Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton; Truth or Trump?; Runaway Bomber. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired November 23, 2015 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A fugitive terrorist's cell phone tracked to the same location immediately after the attacks. Is Europe's most wanted man now himself a target for not carrying out his mission?

Lockdown, a major European capital gripped by fear of an imminent attack, a flurry of new raids and arrests and now a travel restriction for U.S. military personnel and Pentagon employees. How safe is this key American ally?

Worldwide alert. The State Department issues a global caution to U.S. citizens, warning of an increased threat from ISIS, al Qaeda and other terror groups. How great is the threat to Americans around the world?

And truth or Trump? Donald Trump says he saw thousands of people in New Jersey cheering on 9/11, retweets an inaccurate racial crime statistic. Tonight, critics are calling out the Republican presidential front-runner, asking if Trump is deliberately distorting the truth. We will check.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, a chilling discovery and potential new clue in the Paris terror attacks, a possible suicide vest just found in a garbage can outside the city.

CNN affiliate BFM is reporting it contains bolts and the very same explosive found in the suicide belts used by the attackers. BFM also reporting that fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam's cell phone was tracked to the same area right after the attacks.

With the manhunt for Abdeslam continuing, Brussels is now on lockdown for a third day, with the city on maximum alert amid a series of new raids and new arrests. So far, there is no sign of Abdeslam, who was detained trying to enter Belgium after the attacks, but actually released by police who are unaware of his terror connection.

Also, the State Department has just issued a worldwide travel alert. It's urging all American citizens to use caution due to increased threat from ISIS, al Qaeda and other terror organizations. It notes the danger posed by members of ISIS returning from Iraq and Syria, as well as the threat of lone terrorists.

We're covering all angles of the breaking news this hour with our guests, including Congressman Seth Moulton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, a Marine Corps veteran who served four tours of duty in Iraq.

Also, our correspondents and expert analysts, they are standing by.

Let's get straight to Paris, though.

CNN's Martin Savidge is there on the scene for us tonight.

Martin, you're learning more about this possible suicide vest found in a Paris suburb.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

Yes, the Paris bomb squad has given the all-clear in the Montrouge area. This is part of the southern area in the city of Paris. And it's an area where late this afternoon trash collectors made an unbelievable discovery that once again has put Paris on edge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The streets of this Paris suburb sealed off after the discovery of what cn affiliate BFM said is a possible suicide vest similar to what was used in the terror attacks, the affiliate reporting the neighborhood is the same location law enforcement traced a key suspect's phone after the attacks.

That suspect, Salah Abdeslam, still on the run, as Belgium remains on high alert, its capital city, Brussels, at the highest security level. Nearly two dozen raids launched by Belgian security forces over the last 24 hours, fielding one suspect authorities believe is connected to the Paris attack, but still no sign of Europe's most wanted man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Salah Abdeslam is not, not among the persons arrested during the searches.

SAVIDGE: Abdeslam vanished. But Belgian authorities have arrested the two men seen driving with him near the Belgian border with France.

(on camera): The two men say hours after the attacks, they received a phone call from Salah Abdeslam and that he sounded very upset, saying that his car had broken down and he needed a ride back to Belgium. The two friends came to Paris here and picked him up. The attorney stresses they had no idea that he was involved in the attacks.

But the attorney also says the men noticed he was carrying something.

(voice-over): "A big jacket and other things, maybe like an explosive belt or something like that."

His family believes Abdeslam changed his mind at the last minute and didn't carry out his attack like the others. They point to a rental car in his name found abandoned on a Paris street. Meanwhile, French authorities have released this photo said to be from the travel documents of one of the suicide bombers who blew up outside the stadium in Paris.

They believe he used a fake name, so they're asking if anyone recognizes him. Also today, Britain's prime minister joined with French President Francois Hollande to pay respects at the Bataclan concert hall, where most of the Paris victims were murdered.

[18:05:10]

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I firmly support the action that President Hollande has taken to strike ISIL in Syria. And it's my firm conviction that Britain should do so too.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We are going to intensify our strikes. We're going to choose targets that will make as much damage as possible to this terrorist army.

SAVIDGE: As he spoke, the just-arrived Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier was beginning its first day of flight operations, sending more French jets against ISIS targets in Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: And getting back to this vest that has now been discovered and the fact that authorities seem to have traced the cell phone of the now missing man to that same area, it seems too great a coincidence.

If Salah Abdeslam had dropped it off there, then what exactly does it mean? Does it support what his family has been saying, that he somehow had a change of heart, dumped the vest and abandoned the mission and then fled back to Belgium? We don't know. It's certainly a question authorities are trying to figure out. You can bet they are looking at surveillance video and everything else in that area that might give them some kind of clue, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly are. Martin, thanks very much.

France, meanwhile, is launching its first airstrikes against ISIS from its aircraft carrier the Charles de Gaulle now in the Eastern Mediterranean. CNN is learning top ISIS leaders are fleeing their self-proclaimed capital in Syria as the aerial bombardment increases daily.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, this ISIS stronghold in Raqqa is now clearly under a major assault. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.

Raqqa continues to be pounded by coalition aircraft and ISIS leaders are well aware. They are making some changes to their own security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is long believed to be hiding inside ISIS' Syria stronghold of Raqqa, but the U.S. has intelligence showing some ISIS leaders are trying to get out of Raqqa, CNN has learned, leaders moving their operations to safer locations outside the city.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It shows the effect that our airstrikes and the pressure that we're putting on ISIL is having.

STARR: The hunt is on for Baghdadi and at least six other senior ISIS officials, including this key man, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, an ISIS commander the U.S. believes may now be directing attacks outside Syria and Iraq.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think they have become more decentralized outside of Syria and Iraq because they know they are getting beat in those two countries. So, they have given the word, conduct attacks on your local soil.

STARR: Attacks outside Syria and Iraq perhaps ordered or inspired by ISIS include Paris, Beirut and possibly the downing of the Russian airliner in Sinai, U.S. officials say. The French sending their own response. The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle launched its first airstrikes against ISIS targets.

ISIS released a video showing what it says is damage inside Raqqa. CNN cannot independently verify the images. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is to meet with his French counterpart Tuesday. In the wake of the Paris attacks, the Pentagon is hoping allies will increase their efforts in Syria all in an effort to break ISIS' grip on Raqqa.

The U.S. will press for France and Britain to send special forces to join with U.S. commandos due to arrive in Northern Syria at any time. The U.S. also hopes Turkey will agree to let allies, not just the U.S., fly out of its Incirlik air base to challenge ISIS' international networks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The Pentagon also stepping up the targeting of ISIS' oil infrastructure assets inside Syria over the weekend, bombing nearly 300 oil smuggling trucks. Those are -- that's a capability that earns ISIS millions of dollars every month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they also bombing the storage depots, the refineries where that oil comes from or just the trucks?

STARR: Well, right now, they are focusing on this -- some very specific areas in Eastern Syria where these oil smuggling trucks have been assembling. But both in Syria and Iraq, they have gone after various elements of the infrastructure. It's a delicate problem because the U.S. actually wants to leave some elements intact so if Syria does come back, the people will have some resources, some financial capability there, but right now a lot of focus on making sure ISIS can't earn money off of that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You don't want to be a truck driver driving with those oil tankers at this time. All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

[18:10:07]

Let's talk about all this with Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. He's also a Marine Corps veteran. He served four tours of duty in Iraq.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

You suspect that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, could already have been moved out of Raqqa?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It sounds like that is a good possibility. And the fact that ISIS essentially has freedom of movement not just Syria, but Iraq as well, is a real problem for us in bringing their organization down.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. be taking out all of ISIS' oil capabilities right now, not just bombing the trucks, if you will, but going after the refineries, these storage depots? As you know, Donald Trump has been recommending this for a long time.

MOULTON: Well, I think this is an example of where it's very hard to have a specific military strategy without a broader political strategy, without a plan for what's going to take the place of ISIS after we defeat them militarily, because it's the political vacuum that's existed in Syria with the civil war and has existed in Iraq and allowed ISIS to sweep into Iraq that's the fundamental problem.

We can defeat ISIS militarily, but unless we have a political plan for the aftermath, we are going to find ourselves back in Iraq again five years after today's action, just like we're coming back now, five years after President Obama pulled the last troops out.

BLITZER: Are you saying that the president, the Obama administration does not have a political strategy in place?

MOULTON: I don't think we have a serious enough political strategy.

I think that we have really been leading with bombs and leading with troops. If you think about what happened when ISIS had this dramatic expansion from Syria into Western and then into Northern Iraq, they didn't just sweep in and defeat the Iraqi army.

The Iraqi army put its weapons down and went home because they had lost faith in their own government. And that tells us that fundamentally it's a political problem in Iraq today that has allowed the rise of ISIS.

But what was the president's response? He sent 500 military trainers to Baghdad. You don't fix Iraqi politics by training Iraqi troops. I think the military piece has got to be part of the solution. There are a lot of ISIS guys who frankly need to be killed and that's the only way to defeat them.

But unless we have an overarching political strategy to guide our military plans and to make sure we have a plan in place to fill the vacuum that will be left after we defeat ISIS, then this that's not a long-term solution.

This example with the oil infrastructure, maybe it makes sense, but let's come up with a political plan so we understand who is going to take the place, who is going to take over that oil infrastructure once we get ISIS out of there. Then we can have a better idea of whether it makes sense as a shorter-term military strategy.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people make the point, when the U.S. went into Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein, that was relatively easy. But there was no real strategy what to do afterwards. That became the big problem, why the U.S. was stuck there for so long.

Congressman, stand by. We have more to discuss.

We're about to go to the front lines, as close to Raqqa as you could possibly get -- much more with the congressman when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:00]

BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He's also an Iraq War veteran.

Congressman, stand by, because we're following the breaking news.

A new worldwide travel alert has just been issued by the State Department warning all Americans around the world of an increased terror threat.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's in Northern Iraq right now.

And, Nick, you just returned. You were embedded with Kurdish fighters on the front lines of the ISIS battle. You got very close to the self-proclaimed ISIS capital in Syria of Raqqa. Tell us how that went.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is remarkable to see almost unnoticed how much progress those Kurdish forces, the YPG, have made.

They have basically isolated ISIS territory from the Turkish- Syrian border quite effectively and are pushing down south to within 20 miles, as you said, of Raqqa, where they have a substantial trench network, an outpost close by.

Now, there's a lot of open ground between them and the outskirts of Raqqa, but they have a lot of coalition air support. In fact, just 24 hours ago in the very place we were, the pictures you're seeing of now, there were a bid by ISIS to attack them. And in fact four coalition airstrikes hit the town of Ain al-Issa, but those Kurdish fighters, they are high in morale.

One of them said he wants to avenge upon ISIS for what happened in Paris. Another said they would very happily welcome French, Russian or even American troops there as well, feeling they have what they refer to as a duty for humanity to get rid of ISIS.

But their weapons are very light, one of the fighters there actually carrying one which used to belong to his friend who died eight months ago who also fought for the YPG. They don't necessarily have the numbers either. They seem to be being boosted by some Sunni Arab fighters, Syrians, too, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They're a vital part of the American strategy to try and make sure that any Kurdish attack against Raqqa has got some Sunni Syrian Arabs in the mix, too, because Raqqa is a Sunni Syrian Arab town.

[18:20:03]

But while they are optimistic about moving in a ground offensive, too, as I say, they don't necessarily seem to have the weapons in place just yet, although under their breath, off camera, they did talk about how there may have been some Americans in their mix, too, suggesting perhaps special forces that Barack Obama announced in the last month may already be in play there, Wolf.

BLITZER: He said about 50 of them would be deployed inside Syria in this battle for Raqqa as advisers.

All right, thanks very much, Nick Paton Walsh, on the ground for us doing important reporting

Congressman Moulton is back with us.

Congressman, the Kurds, these fighters and Nick was with them only about 20 miles outside of Raqqa. Could they actually liberate Raqqa, though, with as few troops as they have?

MOULTON: That remains to be seen.

If is truly pulling out of Raqqa, as it sounds like they might be, then maybe they have a good chance. But, if that happens, then what have we really achieved? And are they prepared to actually hold the territory and take over administratively where ISIS left off?

That's really the missing point here. I would ask, what is the mission of our 50 special forces that are going in there? Are they there just to defeat ISIS, or are they going to force a transition from Assad's leadership? Or are they going to overthrow Assad militarily or politically?

These are the kind of fundamental questions that we have to answer to give our troops the guidance that they need and to make sure that we have a real plan for defeating ISIS, not just in the short term, but in the long term as well.

BLITZER: And as they say, as General Colin Powell used to say, you also need not only a strategy, not only a plan. You need an exit strategy down the road as well.

And what I'm hearing from you, Congressman, correct me if I'm wrong, you're not hearing any of that.

MOULTON: No, I'm not. I'm not hearing nearly enough.

The fundamental thing that has led to the rise of ISIS, that led to the rise of al Qaeda before it are these political vacuums in the Middle East. It's a political vacuum that allowed ISIS to sweep into Iraq from Syria. It's a political vacuum that in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 that allowed the establishment of training camps that were used against us in the 9/11 attacks.

So we have got to have that piece of the plan in place. It doesn't mean there is not a role for the military. A lot of these ISIS thugs need to be killed. And so dropping bombs and at some point perhaps even sending in advisory troops is needed. But we have got to have a serious long-term strategy, a serious political plan if we're ever going to see this through.

And, by the way, we also have to talk about things like social media. ISIS is recruiting people around the globe, including right here in America, using the Internet, using social media. And I don't think we're meeting that threat either.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly aren't.

Congressman, Germany's "Der Spiegel" reporting that a third Paris attacker may have entered France as a refugee. It's interesting. You brought your Iraqi translator back home from Iraq. Do you think the U.S. has a good enough vetting system right now in place to handle thousands potentially, let's say, of Syrian and Iraqi refugees?

MOULTON: Yes, I do.

And I received extensive briefs on that system this past week. And it's worth pointing out that the Republican bill to hit pause on Syrian refugee immigration really does nothing substantive to improve the process, to improve the screening.

We already have the most intensive screening process for any traveler coming to the United States reserved for these refugees. It's totally unlike what happens in Europe. It takes 18 to 24 months for an individual to be approved as a refugee to come from Syria to the United States. And that person cannot set foot in our country until fully approved. It includes extensive background checks, checks against numerous

different databases, and interviews with counterterrorism and immigration officials. In Europe, that doesn't happen at all. They're just flowing across the border.

It's a very different situation. And I think if we focus on refugee immigration, not only are we betraying our values in saying that American values only apply with caveats to certain religions or certain nationalities. We're also really missing the threat.

BLITZER: Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

MOULTON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues.

We're going back live to Paris for the latest on the discovery of that possible suicide vest. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:29:02]

BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, the discovery of a possible suicide vest in a Paris suburb reportedly containing bolts and the very same explosive used by suicide bombers in the Paris terror attacks.

CNN's Martin Savidge is joining us. He's in Paris tonight.

Martin, a terrorist's cell phone was traced to the area where this device was found. What's the latest?

SAVIDGE: Yes, this is the cell phone belonging to Salah Abdeslam.

And the concern is, well, how did this suicide vest get to this neighborhood? This is Montrouge. This an area, say, southern Paris suburbs, and apparently that cell phone was traced on the night of the attacks. That's Friday the 13th in this area. In the prime suspect's hands, the cell phone was.

So, does that mean he dropped the vest off? Was it his vest? Did he back out of what was his mission? No one seems to know at this particular time, because he is still on the run. He's the most wanted person right now in all of Europe.

But this does raise serious questions. We do know that it had TATP. That is the same kind of explosive that was used in the attacks in the other vests. So, there are so many connections here. And this comes, what, nine, ten days after these attacks, and this is another mysterious thing. It's in the trash? Someone hasn't picked up the trash in the time in between? So many questions, Wolf, tonight, and this falls at a time when many in Paris were just starting to let their guard down, and this brings it all back. Could there be someone else? That's another issue that has to be in the minds of many people tonight here, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they're worried, very worried. Understandably so.

Martin Savidge in Paris, thanks very much.

Also breaking tonight, a new worldwide travel alert just issued by the State Department, warning all Americans of an increased terror threat around the globe, comes during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year in the United States. Law enforcement agencies across the country, they are bracing themselves right now.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is working this part of the story. Rene, Americans traveling this week, they are going to see, I assume, a lot more increased security measures.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This Thanksgiving, we'll see the highest volume of travelers since 2007. You see the map behind me. Those are all the aircraft in the air in real time as we speak.

And as people are on the move, cities nationwide are on alert. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson just put out a statement, acknowledging the anxiety people are feeling but ensuring Americans law enforcement is working around the clock, ready to thwart any potential attacks.

The frightening scene played out at an abandoned New York City subway. Two active shooters, one wearing a vest rigged with explosives. This was only a drill, but it's a scenario police around the country have to prepare for.

CHIEF JAMES WATERS, NYPD COUNTERTERRORISM UNIT: Obviously, suicide belts in Afghanistan and Iraq and now most recently in Paris. So I thought it was most appropriate to introduce that.

MARSH: The Department of Homeland Security tested first responders and NYPD's response to a terror attack on mass transit. The results of the training will be shared with law enforcement nationwide.

Nearly 47 million Americans are expected to travel by car this Thanksgiving, and an additional 25 million will fly on U.S. carriers. As the volume of people on the move increases, more officers and canines have deployed to potentially vulnerable sites. At train and bus stations, there are increased patrols. In major cities like New York and Washington, riders should expect random bag checks. Bridges and tunnels are also being closely monitored.

There's also concern ahead of New York's Thanksgiving Day parade and the city's tree-lighting ceremony.

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We know of no specific credible threat of a Paris-like attack directed against the U.S. homeland. We are, and we continue to be, and we have been, concerned about copycat-like attacks. MARSH: Outside major concert venues and stadiums, there's also

more security. In Atlanta this weekend, bomb-sniffing dogs and officers patrolled the WWE wrestling match at Phillips Arena.

JOHNSON: As long as terrorist organizations are calling for attacks in the homeland, we've got to all be vigilant and work overtime.

MARSH: Passengers traveling by air should expect longer than normal wait times. Expanded screening of items on planes began Friday at overseas airports, with direct flights to the United States.

At domestic airports, expect TSA to spend more time inspecting passengers and luggage. Random checks, hand swabs to test for explosive residue, and additional checks at the gate.

Even pre-checked passengers may be required to remove their shoes and laptops.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: An as cities are on high alert and running their own drills, CNN has learned today that 13 passengers who got off of a flight from Mexico to New York's JFK Airport Friday bypassed U.S. customs screening. Customs and Border Protection is still trying to track down three of those passengers. We understand an airline worker at the gate didn't realize it was an international flight, allowed the passengers to enter the domestic terminal.

We should point out, though, Wolf, all of the passengers had been checked against the terror watch list before they boarded that U.S.- bound flight.

BLITZER: Still, that's a pretty serious mistake that was made.

MARSH: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Rene, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper into all of this. Joining us, the former assistant FBI director, our CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank; retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks -- he's our military analyst.

Tom, what are the major challenges facing law enforcement, if you will -- homeland security, the FBI -- going into this big holiday weekend?

FUENTES: The challenge always, Wolf, in these cases are to kind of read the mind of people that might carry out an attack. It's one thing if they're trying to organize a cell, if they've intercepted conversations, or an informant has told them that there's going to be an attack at a certain place and time.

[18:35:16] But if they have cells that they're monitoring, which they have 900 cases right now in the FBI, in those cases, when is the person going to go operational? The only way to know in some cases is to read their mind, and that's asking a lot.

BLITZER: And we've got the Macy's Day parade in New York City, got major football games coming up on Thanksgiving. These are all big, big events, but there's also deep concern about soft targets, if you will, by lone individuals.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The soft targets, I think, are the big deal. When you look at the big events that are taking place, security around those are paramount. They are obvious, and they are in layers. You've got the inner core, and you have the outer core. And most of that outer core is very aggressive intelligence collection and a lot of good forensics by law enforcement. It's those soft targets where you don't expect it, where you become that much more vulnerable.

BLITZER: You agree, Paul?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Absolutely. And this is the ISIS playbook: they can get automatic weapons, and there's concern that these terrorists can get weapons quite easily in the United States and very powerful weapons at that, and concern that ISIS could send over some of these European extremists it's recruiting and training in Syria and Iraq. And the evidence from this past pall (ph) in Paris suggests at least some of these attackers could have got to the United States. That's the most likely way, I think, ISIS can get a plot through against America.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. We're getting more information on that suicide vest that was found in that Paris suburb. We'll take a quick break. More of the news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:41:27] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news: the discovery of a possible suicide vest in a Paris suburb where investigators traced the cell phone belonging to the fugitive eighth terrorist, Saleh Abdeslam, immediately after the attacks.

Paul Cruickshank, BFMTV, our affiliate in Paris, reporting that that suicide vest was found today in a trash can near that -- near the area. The vest contained the same type of explosives found in the suicide belts used by the other Paris attackers. So how significant, potentially, is this discovery?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Wolf, it's very significant for two reasons. One is there's been a lot of concern about this missing suicide vest that they believe perhaps belonged to Saleh Abdeslam. And the fact that his cell phone was traced to this address in Montrouge is highly suggestive of the idea that this is, indeed, the missing suicide vest that he didn't end up using that night. That will be somewhat reassuring to investigators but, of course, the warriors, he could have access to other weapons, Kalashnikovs, that that kind of thing.

But the second thing it's significant is because this suicide vest didn't blow up. So from a forensic point of view, they're going to be able to extract a lot of information, Wolf, about the bomb maker, the signature of the device, so on and so forth.

Remember, the bomb maker in this plot is believed to be still at large, according to European security officials. So this will be a very valuable find, indeed, from the forensic point of view, because this device didn't blow up.

BLITZER: Is it possible, Tom, this suicide vest could have been sitting there in that garbage can for ten days?

FUENTES: I think it's possible. They may have kept the trash removal companies out of the area while they did forensics. But we don't know. It would be a good question to learn what the schedule was for pickup and had that trash already been removed since that time.

BLITZER: The Belgium prime minister today said they're going to continue this high state of alert, this highest state of alert in Brussels, the capital, for another week until next Monday. They have to have, Spider, some specific information to cause this kind of major dislocation.

MARKS: This is a major shut down. There are probably some really good targetable, actionable intelligence that we don't know about, they're not going to share. If they did, it wouldn't become actionable. You display your hand.

So I think we're going to see here in the next couple of days an action that would take place that would lead us to the reason, the raison d'etre, if you will, for locking the place down.

BLITZER: The assumption, Paul, is that ISIS may be targeting a location in Brussels, right?

CRUICKSHANK: That seems to be the information coming in and the worry that the Belgians have, and this worry really emerged on Friday is there could be another attack team a bit like you saw in Paris on Friday the 13th, that could launch a simultaneous attack in crowded spaces in Brussels.

That does seem to be some specific information coming in. But I don't they have a really good handle on who's behind this, when this is going to happen, what direction this is going to come from.

Otherwise, I don't think you would have seen this massive alert being put out. And I think back to that plot which was thwarted in Eastern Belgium, in Veljier (ph) in January. There was no security alert they put out before that, even though that was a very major ISIS problem.

The reason was they had all the suspects that they felt were responsible on the 24/7 surveillance. And they had a real handle on that one. They do not have a handle, it would appear, on this threat stream, Wolf.

BLITZER: You think, Tom, that the Belgium authorities may be overreacting right now because they misread what was going on, leading up to the Paris terror attacks.

FUENTES: I'm not sure if they're overreacting, but I agree with Paul completely on that. Normally in a case like this, if you have specific information against a certain group, who they are, where they are, what they're going to do, you go get them. You don't make the major announcement and shut your capital city down for a week on end. So, I think if they had that kind of information, they'd go get them. But the fact they haven't and they are afraid that this unknown cell is out there and is going to attack and we don't know how they got that information.

BLITZER: Spider, the fact they are on this highest state of alert in Brussels, which some people call the capital of not just Belgium but all of Europe, and a terror attack is, quote, "imminent", that means they have something specific.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I truly believe they do. And to Tom's point, I don't know that it's purely binary, that they got enough, let's act. They could be developing this situation. There could be some additional steps they have to go through.

And you also conduct operations to gain intelligence. They might be pushing at it to see what type of a reaction you get so that they can then launch in.

BLITZER: Let's not forget, right outside of Brussels is the NATO headquarters and the Pentagon saying all U.S. military personnel, they have to be very careful, avoid certain areas right now. This is an incredibly dangerous situation unfolding right in the heart of Europe.

Guys, stand by.

There's much more ahead on the breaking news from Paris and the worldwide alert just issued for all Americans traveling around the world, the alert issued by the State Department.

Plus, the new controversy swirling around Donald Trump tonight, doubling down on his claim that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering on 9/11.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:51:14] BLITZER: Amid a steady drum beat of some harsh anti- Muslim sentiments by Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump is sticking to his story that he witnessed thousands of people cheering the 9/11 attack on New York's World Trade Center. Trump is about to speak in Columbus, Ohio.

Our political reporter Sara Murray is on the scene for us.

So, what's the latest on the controversy, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. He's already got a number of controversial statements in the past, including calling for a surveillance of some mosques. We'll see if he ramps up that rhetoric tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (on camera): In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Trump is sharpening his anti-terror rhetoric, with some of those salvos now coming under intense scrutiny. Trump contends he saw thousands of people celebrating in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.

MURRAY: Standing by his claim, even as news organizations and government leaders call it false.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You know, the police say that didn't happen.

TRUMP: There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.

MURRAY: And tonight, Trump is not backing down, even asking "The Washington Post" for an apology. The billionaire is pointing to this sentence in "The Washington Post" story published a week after attacks, in which the paper said law enforcement had detained people allegedly seen cheering on rooftops in New Jersey City.

Today, that city's mayor said the reports were unfounded. CNN has found no evidence of arrests or a video showing Muslims cheering.

Still, despite that lack of evidence, today, Trump's main rival, Dr. Ben Carson, said he saw the same thing.

REPORTER: Did you see that happening, though, on 9/11?

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I saw the film of it.

REPORTER: In New Jersey?

CARSON: Yes.

MURRAY: Trump is also on the defensive for his response to an incident at a campaign event in Alabama this weekend.

TRUMP: Get them the hell out of here, will you please?

MURRAY: Where a Black Lives Matter supporter says he was swarmed by Trump supporters who punched, kicked and choked him.

On Sunday, Trump appeared to condone the crowd's violent response.

TRUMP: Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. MURRAY: Hours after those remarks, Trump tweeted a racially

charged graphic, that overstates homicides by African-Americans, and falsely claims that 81 percent of white homicide victims are murdered by African-Americans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting to us from Columbus, Ohio, where Donald Trump is about to give a speech.

Let's get some analysis -- actually, Sara, do we have you?

MURRAY: Wolf, we're just wrapping up the national anthem right here. I think you hear the crowd applause behind me. There you go.

So, the controversy has moved further today. Dr. Ben Carson is walking back his remarks earlier, saying he does not stand behind the statement attributed to him earlier today, about people celebrating in New Jersey in the wake of 9/11. He said he saw that video coming from countries in the Middle East -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sara, don't go too far away.

I want to bring in our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, he's the editorial director of "The National Journal", and Dave Swerdlick, he's an assistant editor of "The Washington Post".

David, let me your response from your colleagues, I don't know if you were working at "The Washington Post" back in 2001 when all of this uproar developed. But Donald Trump wants your newspaper to apologize. Are you hearing anything whether or not "The Washington Post" is going to apologize to him?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: I'm not hearing anything. And based on what I know, Wolf, we don't -- have no reason to issue an apology. Look, he's right and some readers of ours have pointed that this was mentioned briefly in a news item one week after the 9/11 attacks, that alleged reports were being looked into.

[18:55:09] But none of those have ever been substantiated, and if you -- anybody can go to our Web site and read our fact checker Glenn Kessler's account of the whole incident. He gave it four Pinnochios because as he lays out, Trump is really weaving this together out of scant information.

Look, somewhere in the world -- and definitely we've seen on video, that in other places in the world, people were cheering the 9/11 attacks. And anybody cheering the 9/11 attacks, it's reprehensible. It should go without saying.

But that someone was doing this in New Jersey has not been substantiated, and certainly, he's misleading people if he says thousands of people he's watched do this in New Jersey.

BLITZER: Brianna, does this help Donald Trump, this whole controversy that has now developed, with that base among the Republicans who are going to be voting in the caucuses and the primaries?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It might help. I certainly don't think that it really hurts, because what is he doing here? He's sort of feeding what's really a scary image to a Republican primary audience at a time when there's a lot of anxiety about Muslims, specifically, Muslim refugees, as we saw from the bipartisan House vote last week.

And I've been talking to Republicans today. Republicans who certainly wish that this would hurt Donald Trump and they say this is nonsense. This is bad for the Republican Party.

But look, he's operating in pretty safe space politically. Look at the past. He has offended Latinos, talking about Mexico, sending criminals and rapists. You know, he's even offended Iowans, questioning how stupid they are to support Ben Carson. So, he's made this habit of insulting groups of people and it hasn't really backfired.

BLITZER: Say what you will about Donald Trump though. Four months in a row, he's atop of almost all of the national polls, he's atop all of the early state polls. He's doing remarkably well.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's this nexus of terrorism and immigration that is such jet fuel for him right now. And it is legitimate for Americans -- I mean, this is a shattering event that happened in Paris. Legitimate for Americans to be questioning, you know, all of our preparation and all of our defenses.

But I think you really have to understand what is happening here in the Republican primary and what Donald Trump is saying as a continuation, as Brianna was saying, of months of arguing that undocumented immigrants are a threat, both security and economic. Before that, Ebola and unaccompanied minors at the border.

In essence, you're seeing a series of arguments from Trump and other Republicans that the world outside is coming, it is threatening, we need to build a fortress American that appeals to a portion of Republican base, no question. But I would also continue to point out, that among college-educated Republicans, and more center right part of the party, which hasn't coalesced on an alternative, Trump's numbers are much weaker and I think he does have a little bit of dynamic here where he's feeding his base but at the price of raising more doubts among those who are still skeptical and eventually that may coalesce around one candidate and this race could look different.

BLITZER: But increasingly, a lot of experts out there are saying they could foresee the possibility he could capture the Republican presidential nomination.

BROWNSTEIN: He could. No, he could. I mean, look, his hold on this part of the party is real. The ABC/"Washington Post" poll yesterday again, 14 candidates in the race, he's over 40 percent among non-college Republicans with 14 alternatives. But historically, it's been the other wing of the party that wins

and if they coalesce behind a Rubio/Bush, one of those, more likely Rubio, that will be I think more of a challenge than Trump seeing today.

BLITZER: Let me let David weigh in. What do you think, David?

SWERDLICK: Well, look, clearly, as Ron is saying, he has figured out a way to get this 30 percent of the Republican primary voters to back him and propel him to this position and he'll probably carry this well into Iowa and New Hampshire.

But it's been done, like we've been talking about, with throwing out these statements that really feed the energy of the base, statements like, oh, Obama is proposing 100,000, 200,000 refugees coming to the country when the president has only proposed 10,000. And then he has a way of sort of gradually walking that back and letting it fade, and it's been effective for him.

But I think, for one, it doesn't reflect well on him as the leader of one of the two major political parties in this country, and I also think that, as Ron points out, as you get to a general election audience, this is not going to be as successful, in my view.

BLITZER: His numbers are going up, Brianna, but Ben Carson's numbers seem to be going down.

KEILAR: Yes. But I would add to this, that the Republican establishment, having moved from the summer of Trump into the fall of Trump, and now maybe into a winter of Trump, they thought that there was no chance. How could he be the nominee, they thought? But increasingly, we're seeing this admission on the part of the Republican establishment. This could happen and they are coming to terms with that.

BROWNSTEIN: A big difference from 9/11. This is occurring amid already a blazing debate about America's changing face, its changing demography. Trump drawing so much power from the resistance to them and portions of the Republican base and this just turbo charges at a whole other level.

BLITZER: Ron, Brianna, and David, guys, thanks very much.

Be sure to join us, by the way, for the next Republican presidential debate. I'll be the moderator when the candidates face off December 15th in Las Vegas.

Remember, you can always follow me on Twitter @WolfBlitzer, tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.