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Political Turmoil as Militants Sweep Iraq; White House Warns Russia about Ukraine Interference; High-Risk Mission to Iraq; Interview with John Kirby; Vice President Meets with Guatemalan Leaders; CNN Crew Attacked; GOP Rising Star Tied to Criminal Scheme; Landslide Threatens Hillside Hospital

Aired June 20, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks very much. Happening now, on the brink. Iraq's prime minister clings to power as militants overrun his country, and his support at home and abroad plummets. Now a potential blow from a top religious leader. Can Nouri al-Maliki survive? Dangerous assignment. A CNN crew, including our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is caught up in an angry demonstration and roughed up. The frightening incident caught on camera. So what led to this violent encounter?

And an unfolding disaster. Relentless rain triggers a massive landslide, leaving a major hospital precariously perched on top of a crumbling hill. Will it go tumbling into the Mississippi River?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following fresh and deadly fighting in Iraq where the government says clashes between its forces and ISIS fighters near the Syrian border now have left at least 17 militants dead. And in northeastern Iraq, ISIS forces launched an attack on a military outpost in the autonomous Kurdistan region, killing two Kurdish soldiers.

With ISIS now controlling huge swathes of Iraq, including its second largest city, calls for the ouster of the prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, are growing louder and louder, and some of his most critical support is clearly crumbling.

We're covering all angles this hour with our correspondents and our guests. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, begins our coverage. What's the latest, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're going to see the U.S. troop presence in Iraq build up very quickly. The first teams will come from American troops already in Iraq, stationed at the U.S. embassy there will take on this new mission. Other troops from outside Iraq will be sent in, we're told, quote, "very, very soon" from elsewhere in the region.

And now we have Secretary of State John Kerry dispatched to the Middle East to the carry out the other part of the administration's strategy, a diplomatic and political push to rescue Iraq from civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): The first of 300 U.S. troops will soon be on the ground in Iraq, and U.S. air strikes may follow. The military offensive now in place, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the region to launch the diplomatic offensive with a goal no less than keeping the country together.

Officials inside and outside Iraq agree Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki's Shia-dominated government has furthered a deep sectarian divide among Shiites in the south, Sunni Muslims in the west, and Kurds in the north, threatening to tear the country apart.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: We cannot defend Iraqis from themselves. Only if Iraq's leaders begin to show evidence of unity can we help them.

SCIUTTO: Though few see Maliki as an architect of such unity, U.S. officials have been careful not to explicitly call for his ouster. Not so for Iraq's most revered Shia leader, Ayatollah Sistani, who may have sounded the death knell for al-Maliki when he called for an inclusive government without mentioning the prime minister's name.

AYATOLLAH ALI AL-SISTANI, IRAQI SHIA LEADER (through translator): It's also important that winning (ph) blocks open dialogue to help form an effective government largely acceptable to all in order to surmount past mistakes.

SCIUTTO: Even as violence continues to flare, three candidates are already raising their hand, including one familiar to many Americans, Ahmed Chalabi who lobbied the U.S. to launch the 2003 invasion. The challenge for Iraq now is finding not only a more inclusive prime minister but also a cabinet and power-sharing formula for the future.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: There are a lot of sectarian problems in Iraq. No question. But not every one of them can be laid at the doorstep of Maliki.


SCIUTTO: After its recent elections Iraq is actually in the midst of forming a new government now. This gives the opportunity for leadership changes. Ambassador Hill and others who dealt with Prime Minister Maliki closely say pressuring him to leave will require a very difficult, delicate effort in Baghdad as in Washington, Wolf, politicians are loath to be told that they're part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution. This is a problem going forward. A challenge going forward for the administration.

BLITZER: So how serious is this possibility that Ahmed Chalabi -- many of our viewers will remember him. He was controversial back in 2002, 2003, Bush -- pushing the Bush administration to go ahead and invade, get rid of Saddam Hussein. Many of what ==the thoughts he was then saying turned out to be, shall we say, false. How serious is the possibility he could emerge as the successor to Nouri al-Maliki?

SCIUTTO: Wolf, by a number of accounts, he's one of the leading three. He's a possibility, in part because he has some respect among the other groups, the Kurds and the Sunnis, something that Maliki does not have. From an American perspective, though, it would be an amazing irony; someone who, as you said, he underplayed the costs of the war in Iraq; he overplayed the risks of weapons of mass destruction. But, what, 11 years later to have him return to political life, that would be a pretty amazing prospect.

BLITZER: That would be an amazing comeback indeed, although he has played a significant role all these years, but not clearly as the leader. Stand by, I want to bring you back into this conversation. There are fast-moving developments not only in Iraq. Those fast- moving developments they are clearly overshadowing other crises, including the one in Ukraine. And now the White House is issuing yet another new warning to Russia.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us from the White House. So what's going on, on this front, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Russia headache is back. While officials say there is once again mounting evidence of a buildup of Russian troops on the border with eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin has said those forces are moving in for border security exercises, but the White House is not buying that. Earlier today, senior administration officials told reporters Ukraine is confident that Russia is sending tanks and rocket launchers to separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In the past, the president has warned Russia further provocations would be met with tough sanctions on whole sectors of its economy. But today, officials said the next step could be more narrow, what they call scalpel sanctions.

So I asked incoming White House press secretary Jay Carney [SIC] if the president is giving up on sectorial sanctions. Here's what he had to say.


JOSH EARNEST, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, sectorial sanctions remain on the table. We've already seen that the sanctions that have been put in place so far in a cooperative fashion, again with our allies in Europe, has had an impact on the Russian economy and has had an impact in terms of isolating them in the international financial markets.

ACOSTA: They don't seem to be deterring their behavior, though. Is that fair to say?

EARNEST: Well, I'm not -- no, I'm not sure that that's a fair thing to say. I think what we are seeing is -- I think we're seeing a lot of mixed signals from Russia right now about what their intentions are.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Now, one other big development one day after President Obama announced he's sending military advisors to Iraq, Russian President Vladimir Putin had his own phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The readout from the call said Putin had offered his support to the Iraqi government. Of course, it's not lost on administration officials that Putin may once again be trying to assert his influence in a global hot spot where the U.S. is involved.

Wolf, we should mention that today was Jay Carney's last day at the White House. He's the outgoing press secretary. Josh Earnest, who you saw there, he will be the official White House press secretary starting on Monday, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a moment, Jim. I want to bring Jim Sciutto back into this. So is this a situation where Putin, who supports Bashar al-Assad in Damascus is now going to emerge as a big supporter of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, even though so much of the world, so many people inside Iraq, including officials here in Washington, would like to see Nouri al-Maliki move on?

SCIUTTO: Putin's a cagey character. Right? He has this phone call today. He expresses support for Maliki. Of course, he knows that others, the U.S. included, have lost confidence in him.

It's -- you know, it's hard to know, is that an actual expression of support or is he looking to maintain influence with Maliki and influence in in this debate as they decide and all the many players decide who the next leader of Iraq is. It's a possibility.

But he's always tough to judge. Just as Jim Acosta was saying there, the administration having trouble judging what exactly Russia's intentions are in Ukraine. Difficult to judge here, as well.

BLITZER: Let me ask Jim Acosta. Do they have a good sense, Jim, over there at the White House, what Putin is up to as far as Iraq is concerned?

ACOSTA: Very curious, Wolf. I just talked to or tried to talk with a senior administration official about this, asking whether or not this official had any thoughts on Putin having this phone call with Maliki. Because obviously, it raises all sorts of questions, as we saw with Syria.

You know, the White House has really deemed Russia and Vladimir Putin to be serious proxies, to be Syria's, you know, partners almost in that country. And -- and what I heard back from this official is no thoughts at this point yet. They don't want to weigh in. They know obviously that the Russian president, he can talk with any world leader that he wants to.

But to come one day after the president announced this somewhat risky military action in Iraq, it certainly got a lot of people's attention over here at the White House.

BLITZER: Certainly does. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Jim Sciutto, you're going to be traveling with the secretary of state. Thanks to you, as well.

Still ahead, a nerve-racking waiting game as a hillside crumbles from underneath a major hospital. We're going live there. Stand by for that.

But up next, we'll get the latest on the U.S. plans to send more military advisors to Iraq. The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama's plan to send military advisors to Iraq, possibly a few hundred of them, is not only controversial; it's highly risky, as well. Pentagon planners are well aware of what could go wrong in a deadly danger the advisors potentially could face. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, joining us.

What are you picking up, Barbara, over there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, now that there's been the big announcement, the hard work begins. The Pentagon working out all the details.


STARR (voice-over): At the White House podium, it sounds easy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're prepared to send a small number of additional American military advisors up to 300.

STARR: But 24 hours later, could the plan already be in trouble? The Pentagon acknowledging it doesn't have a legal agreement with the Iraq government to send in those advisers but insisting they are certain they will get one.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're pursuing something in writing. The secretary is absolutely committed to making sure that our troops have the legal protections, and he would not do that on a nod and a wink.

STARR: For now the first troops will be drawn from those already in the country.

As the fighting rages, U.S. officials already know plenty else could go wrong. One senior defense official telling CNN the whole mission is not without risk.

If the legal problem is resolved, some U.S. troops will go to northern Iraq, the stronghold of ISIS Sunni militant fighters. How much will small numbers of U.S. Special Forces really be able to see?

And the big concern? U.S. troops are not supposed to be in combat, but what if they are attacked? CNN has learned F-18s flying off the carrier George H.W. Bush would be authorized to drop bombs on ISIS positions if U.S. lives are at risk. Classified rescue plans call for troops to quickly fly from ships in

the Persian Gulf or nearby Kuwait, but it could take hours to get on scene and no guarantee any wounded would get to medical care in that golden hour typical in a war zone.

KIRBY: If somebody gets hurt, wherever they get hurt in the world, we do what we can to get them care to the medical care as quickly as possible.

STARR: U.S. troops are supposed to be collecting intel on what ISIS is doing inside Iraq, but a senior administration official says potential action is not restricted to a, quote, "specific geographic space."

In fact, U.S. reconnaissance flights are now closely watching the Syrian border for movement of ISIS personnel and weapons, as well as the Iranian border for their troops moving in.


STARR: Now, Wolf, what obviously comes to mind is back in 2011, the U.S. could not get an agreement with the government of Nouri al-Maliki to allow U.S. troops to stay at that point. So they left.

Now, the question really is, can they get Maliki and the Iraqi government to deliver and sign on the dotted line on an agreement so U.S. troops can go in at the Iraqi request and act as military advisers.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, stand by. We're going to get some answers right now on those two specific questions you just raised.

The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Admiral, thanks very much for coming in.

KIRBY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Will these American troops, 300 that the president spoke about yesterday, have immunity from Iraqi prosecution? That's the big issue that prevented the U.S. from keeping a residual force in Iraq at the end of 2011.

KIRBY: We're working that very hard right now. And I can tell you, they absolutely will have the legal protections that they need. The president, the commander in chief and secretary of defense wouldn't order them into these missions without those protections, and they'll get them.

BLITZER: So let's talk about that. You say -- how long will it take? Because some of those troops we told as early as tomorrow could be arriving.

KIRBY: Well, we're going to -- the first couple of teams are going to probably be formed from troops that are already in Iraq right now. And they have not been formed into assessment teams right now. That could happen very, very soon. And I think follow-on teams for a total of about a half a dozen to

start with probably over the next week to ten days. But again, I think we're working this very hard, and we're not -- we're not concerned we're not going to be able to get those legal protections in place.

BLITZER: When you say some of those troops are already in Iraq right now, are you referring to Marines who protect the U.S. embassy?

KIRBY: I'm talking about the folks that were already working in the embassy before and in an office called the Office of Security Cooperation.

BLITZER: Don't they have diplomatic immunity, if they work in the embassy?

KIRBY: They do. Through the embassy, they do have the legal protections they need. So again, I don't think this is going be a showstopper at all. We're working...

BLITZER: Let's just be precise, because it's a sensitive issue. The 300 Special Operations Forces, the Delta Force, the Navy SEALs, the Green Berets, the president spoke about yesterday. Will they have diplomatic immunity, or will they have the immunity provided visiting U.S. military personnel as part of a status of forces agreement, based on what you know?

KIRBY: They'll have something different than the protections that are given to State Department personnel. But it will be -- it will be something unique, something different and tailored to their mission and what they're doing in the country.

BLITZER: Nouri al-Maliki is on board?

KIRBY: We were asked to come in by the government of Iraq. This is a discussion we're having. Right now we're confident we're going to get there.

BLITZER: Will the U.S. also be involved, not only going after ISIS forces in Iraq but also in neighboring Syria? Because there's a lot more ISIS forces in Syria. They're moving into Iraq. There's a lot more in Syria right now. If you start attacking positions of ISIS forces in northern Iraq, will you also go after ISIS positions in Syria?

KIRBY: The mission right now is not to go after ISIL. The mission is really threefold: one, assess the state of the Iraqi security forces; two, assess the security situation on the ground. We need to get better intelligence before the president can make any kind of kinetic decisions.

And No. 3, we need to assess the advising mission itself: how many advisors total we need, where do they need to go. And we have to stand up these two joint operations centers.

So the mission of these folks right now is really to do some good assessment and advice.

BLITZER: When you say how many, I thought the number was 300. Are you suggesting it could go up?

KIRBY: The president said up to 300. We don't anticipate it going any higher than that, but it may not go that high. We're just going to have to see what -- what these folks find when they get on the ground.

BLITZER: Are you ruling out attacks on ISIS forces in Syria?

KIRBY: Well, it's not time to rule anything out. The president has made it clear he's going to reserve that option for strikes in the future. But we need to know more before we can get to that point.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what General David Petraeus, retired U.S. general, said in an interview in the "Telegraph" in London: "If ISIS is seen as a terrorist organization with the potential to engage in terrorist acts beyond the Middle East" -- beyond the Middle East -- "then that could warrant the targeting of high-value targets."

Is he on board with you? Are you on board with him?

KIRBY: Well, I think the general has -- he's absolutely right in his assessment of ISIL. Again, the president, secretary of defense noted that they're not just a threat to the people of Iraq. They are in our national interest. They are -- they are a threat to our own national security.

But we're going to take this in steps. We're going to do this the right way. The first thing to do is to get on the ground and learn more about what they're doing, where they are, how they operate, and also get a better sense of the Iraqi security forces and their capability of countering these terrorists themselves inside their own country.

BLITZER: Is the stay of the 300 U.S. personnel who are going, military personnel who are going to Iraq, right now up to 300, is that open-ended or is there a target date how long they should be there?

KIRBY: Well, it's neither. Right? I mean, I don't have a deadline here for you. But it's also -- it's going to be a temporary, a short- term duration mission. But we haven't put a date certain on the end of it. But it's very clear that the direction we've been given is that this is -- this is an immediate step, a near-term step. And then we'll take it from there.

BLITZER: I don't know if you watched the CNN documentary on "The Sixties." It aired last night on the Vietnam War and how a few hundred U.S. advisors went in in the early 1960s into Vietnam; supposed to be just a few hundred. And as you well know, hundreds of thousands of American troops eventually were in Vietnam. Fifty thousand American troops were killed. That creeping -- that mission creep, as they like to call it.

A lot of Americans are concerned about that when they hear about these 300 -- initial 300 going back in.

KIRBY: I'll tell you, the commander in chief couldn't have been more clear: We're not going to introduce ground troops in combat action in Iraq. We've been given that guidance. That's the direction we're following.

BLITZER: Will U.S. taxpayers pay for the introduction of these troops, or is the Iraqi government going to reimburse the United States for the cost, whatever this cost will be?

KIRBY: I don't think there's been any discussion about reimbursement. Clearly, we're going to facilitate the movement of these advisors into the country. I don't believe there's been a discussion about reimbursement right now.

BLITZER: So you have the USS -- USS aircraft carrier the George H.W. Bush now. Is it already in the northern part of the Persian Gulf, close to Iraq?

KIRBY: It is in the northern part of the Arabian Gulf, yes.

BLITZER: And so they're standing by. They haven't done anything militarily yet, right?

KIRBY: Well, they've -- they have flown a few what we call ISR, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.

BLITZER: So they are flying full reconnaissance? F-18s?

KIRBY: They're doing some reconnaissance flights off the aircraft carrier, yes.

BLITZER: And what about the support ships, because it comes with a whole carrier battle group. What are they doing?

KIRBY: Well, there is a cruiser and three destroyers, as well, in the Arabian Gulf. We also have an amphibious ship, the Mesa Verde, who's been moved in. They are with or near the carrier. Certainly, they act to help protect the carrier, and they can be called on -- called upon for other missions as required. But right now, there is no kinetic, what we'd call an active military option being pursued other than these advisors.

BLITZER: So they're on stand-by, just as U.S. troops in Kuwait or elsewhere in the region are on stand-by, if necessary?

KIRBY: That's right. And I'd like to remind you, I mean, we have more than 30,000 troops in the region. The Middle East remains a heavy focus for the United States military. We are well-postured, well-prepared, and we've been doing the necessary planning that we need to do, should the commander in chief need additional resources.

BLITZER: On an unrelated matter, "The Washington Post" now reporting that more than 400 large military drones have crashed since 2001. U.S. military drones. Is that true?

KIRBY: I've just -- first time hearing about it, Wolf. I honestly don't know. I haven't seen that report.

BLITZER: That just moved, like, a couple hours or so ago. You'll find out; you'll let us know.

KIRBY: I'll find out and let you know.

BLITZER: Let us know if it's true or not. We're on for two hours.

KIRBY: I will. I will.

BLITZER: Rear Admiral John Kirby. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the men and women who are involved in this. We're all very, very worried about the -- you heard Barbara's worst-case fears, and those are realistic fears. We appreciate your coming in.

KIRBY: Thanks, Wolf. Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, the vice president, Joe Biden, makes an urgent trip to Central America, trying to stop the flood of children, unaccompanied children trying to cross into the United States illegally.

And later, an angry demonstration turns to chaos as security forces attack. Members of a CNN crew were caught right in the middle of it and kept their camera rolling. You're going to see what happens.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We've all seen the dreadful pictures of children warehoused along the U.S. Mexican border after they crossed that border illegally without any parental accompaniment. The vice president, Joe Biden, he's in Guatemala today. He's trying to help ease the crisis.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Paolo, you're just back from that border area. Tell our viewers what's going on.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I can tell you with every day, we see a new chapter and a new page in the story that continues evolving right now about 1,300 miles from Washington.

The very latest numbers that we obtained from our congressional sources now showing the situation along the border is, in fact, getting worse. That's one of the concerns here in Washington.

Now today the president announcing a potential fix to help deal with the surge of children that are crossing the border right now.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden meeting with leaders in Guatemala today as the Obama administration struggles to deal with the growing immigration crisis. Thousands of unaccompanied children, like the ones we met along the Texas/Mexico border, are risking their lives to enter the U.S. illegally.

Biden's visit is part of President Obama's response to a growing problem. The administration hoping to quash rumors driving families and children north chasing a dream.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So much of what we're seeing on the southern border is the result of a deliberate misinformation campaign that is propagated by criminal syndicates in Central America.

SANDOVAL: Nearly 10,000 undocumented and unaccompanied kids are being housed in facilities throughout the U.S., according to new congressional figures obtained by CNN. Their concrete holding cells constantly full.

From October to June, 52,000 unaccompanied children have been caught at the U.S. border with Mexico. Double the number recorded in the same period last year. Today a two-prong approach from the president. He's ordering the Department of Homeland Security to revamp its efforts to process and handle the flow of undocumented kids. There's also promise to tackle the problem at the root of the crisis. The U.S. is pledging to partner up with Mexico and Central American countries providing millions of dollars in support.

EARNEST: It is not a good idea for people to make the trek through Mexico and to appear at the southern border in the Rio Grande Valley of the United States and think that once they are detained by Customs or Border Patrol personnel that they will be allowed into the country. They will not.

SANDOVAL: Back on the Texas stretch of the Rio Grande, the stream of people seemed endless. Some of the youngest border crossers come with their families. Others by themselves.


SANDOVAL: And today more indication that Washington now recognizing part of the problem, Jae Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, in the Lone Star State right now. He toured the detention facility in Mckellen, Texas, this morning and now currently at Lackland Air Force Base, that's a temporary holding facility in San Antonio.

And, Wolf, really, these numbers that we mentioned in the piece are really just a small portion of them. Our sources on the ground telling us that there are so many more that are actually bypassing immigration authorities there on the ground. And eventually making it to their relatives up north. They simply don't want to be on the radar.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, this is a heartbreaking story.

Polo, I want you to stand by a moment. I want to bring in our colleague Rosa Flores. She's in New York now but she's just back from Central America.

Rosa, you were just in Honduras. A lot of these kids were coming in without their parents, what, they've been told that if they make it to the United States, they can stay? Give us a little sense of what's motivating this exodus of young children unaccompanied from Honduras, other countries, El Salvador in Central America through Mexico on to Texas?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we kept on hearing the same story over and over again. And there's three prongs. They say, first of all, they want to reunite with their families. We kept hearing that from a lot of people on the ground that that is the vision, a lot of them have their mom or their dad in the United States and they want to reunite.

And then there's crime. There's violence. There's ruthless violence in Central America right now. A lot of it because of La Mara Salvatrucha, the MS-13 gang, that is in a lot of these communities. The stories that we heard over and over is that their neighborhoods that you just do not go to because if you do go in, you don't know if you are going to come out.

And then of course, the poverty. There's a lot of poverty in this area. A lot of unemployment. A lot of the people there either work in agriculture or they can't find a job. And so they are pretty desperate.

And then also, Wolf, just to add, the rumors that had been spread by coyotes. Now these are human smugglers that make a lot of money when people are moved from one country to the other. They're the ones we hear that are disseminating these rumors telling people, you know, pay me X amount of dollars and I will take you into the country. Once you get into the United States, those gates are open. The U.S. is going to be welcoming you. And do it now before the doors close.

And we of course, Wolf, know that that is not true. That's a lie. But that's what they're using to fuel this and, of course, to motivate people to come to the United States illegally.

BLITZER: Yes. Hold on a moment, Rosa, because I want to bring Polo back into this.

You spent a lot of time on the border in recent days speaking to these kids, their parents if there are parents there. They don't necessarily see themselves as illegal immigrants. They see themselves as refugees fleeing that horrible situation described by Rosa.

SANDOVAL: Rosa put it exactly as we heard it in Texas which is these people are leaving the drugs, the gangs, the guns. And so what we're seeing now is a lot of these people, they're desperate and so in our interaction, in our conversations that we had along the border is a lot of these people, they were really holding on to faith and to each other. And these are the people that the administration specifically wants to address, especially with today's vice presidential visit there in Central America.

They want to make sure that their message is heard loud and clear at the source of the problem here which are families that are coming from Central America that if you do make it into the United States, chances are you will not stay in the country.

BLITZER: You spoke, Rosa, with some top government officials. Do they believe if the U.S. increased foreign aid to their countries, that would make a difference?

FLORES: You know, I talked to a lot of people on the ground about that particular issue, Wolf. And I heard two things. First of all, I heard that OK, yes, you know, aid always helps. They'd be able to build buildings perhaps whenever they receive the flood of children, they'd be able to house them, they'd have beds, they'd have food. And then that would be pretty much it. They say, you know, a lot of this is the roots are so deep in the problems of these communities and these countries that you would have to tackle the economics.

You'd have to provide jobs. You'd have to fix the violent situation in these particular countries and then the parent situation. These families, they're in two different countries. You know, some family members are in Central America. The other ones are in the U.S. And so what I kept on hearing was, yes, it will help. But will it solve the issue? No, because the other big problem they tell me is that it has created a culture, Wolf.

There's this culture of immigration, these kids grow up thinking that in order for you to become something, in order for you to succeed, you've got to migrate north. And until you change that culture, this is going to continue.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Rosa, thanks very much.

Rosa Flores thank you. Polo Sandoval, thanks to you, as well.

Up next, prosecutors, the one prosecutor's tie one of the Republican Party's rising stars to what they're now calling a criminal scheme. We're taking a closer look into the allegations.

And later, incredible pictures as part of a hillside collapses, threatening to take a hospital with it.


BLITZER: A CNN crew was caught in a dangerous confrontation between angry demonstrators and a heavy handed response by some Palestinian security forces.

Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman and his colleagues, they are OK. Ben is joining us now live from Jerusalem.

Ben, tell us what happened.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Essentially Wolf, what we were doing was covering a protest by Hamas members and supporters calling for solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers in prison. And what happened was the Palestinian authorities security did not like our presence there. And as we were shooting this event, I heard one of the plainclothes policemen say to another, grab that camera and grab that cameraman. So they went after our cameraman Joe Sheffer. There was quite a

tussle as we struggled to keep the camera. But they insisted on taking it away. And in the process, they broke the camera. Eventually we got the camera back. And of course, the footage as well because one of the most annoying things about this sort of event is to lose all those pictures you fought so hard to get.

But certainly, this is indicative of the sort of rising tensions, Wolf, in the West Bank as Israel continues its eight-day operations to try to find these three young Israelis who were kidnapped on the 12th of June.

Now, today, in fact, we had an opportunity to sit down in an exclusive interview with Racheli Frankel, the mother of 16-year-old Naftali Frankel, a U.S.-Israeli citizen, who is one of those three boys who was kidnapped. And this is what she told me when I asked her if she has a message to those holding her son.


RACHELI FRANKEL, MOTHER OF KIDNAPPED TEENAGER: I have a message to anybody in the world that's listening. They should do anything they can to get our children back home. We just want them back in our homes, in our beds. We want to hug them. Any decent person would do anything they can to get them back.


WEDEMAN: And, of course, this massive operation in the West Bank by Israeli forces actually the biggest in the West Bank since Operation Defensive shield in 2002 when Israeli forces reoccupied the West Bank, it's left more than 330 Palestinians in detention for questioning, two Palestinians have been killed so far in clashes. These searches, these operations are not just intended to find the three boys but Israeli officials are quite clear the other purpose is to crack down on Hamas in the West Bank -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There seems to be a real split developing between Hamas on the one hand and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian authority president on the other hand. What worries me and I'm anxious for your input, you're there on the scene, how worried should we be about the possibility of another all-out war, if you will, emerging between Israel on the one hand and Gaza, the Palestinians Hamas, for example, on other, what we saw a few years ago?

WEDEMAN: It's a very dangerous situation, Wolf, because on the one hand, if these three boys are harmed, there will be hell to pay in the Palestinian territories. And given that the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pointed directly at Hamas saying they are the ones behind it, there could be a major operation against Gaza and against Hamas further in the West Bank.

On the other hand, if these operations continue throughout the West Bank and these boys are not found, the level of friction is getting so intense, you have nightly clashes, daily clashes, you have casualties on the Palestinian side, fatalities. So either way, the situation is becoming extremely tense, extremely dangerous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman on the scene for us as he always is. Appreciate it, Ben, very much.

Other news we're following here in the United States, a prominent Republican governor who's on many people's wish lists as a possible presidential candidate is facing legal questions right now. It's only generating bad publicity right now. But things could get a whole lot worse.

Brian Todd is looking into these accusations.

What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these allegations against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker were just unsealed. He has not been charged so far, but prosecutors say Walker committed some serious campaign finance violations when he was fighting off a bruising recall campaign.


TODD (voice-over): His back was against the wall. Protesters occupied the state capitol sparking an attempt to boot him out of office in a recall. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker marshaled every resource he could and fought it all off. But now prosecutors say he broke the law in doing that. Was involved in a, quote, "criminal scheme." The allegation? That Walker helped coordinate fundraising between his 2012 recall campaign and outside conservative groups.

That's illegal because outside groups can spend what they want to help a campaign only if that campaign isn't working directly with them.

KEN GROSS, CAMPAIGN FINANCE ATTORNEY: But once they coordinate with a campaign, they lose the freedom to operate without rules as an independent entity. And their spending becomes treated as contributions which would go over the limits.

TODD: Prosecutors suggest Walker not only coordinated but micromanaged. They released an e-mail from Walker to GOP strategist Karl Rove in which they say Walker is bragging about his office's role in working with those outside groups.

Quote, "We are running nine recall elections and it will be like running nine congressional markets in every market in the state."

A rising star in the Republican Party, Walker is considered a serious contender for president in 2016. So with a sniff of legal trouble for the governor, Democrats are pouncing.

MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: He violated the public's trust. He's not the victim. The people that he betrayed are and that's the voters.

TODD: But Walker has not been formally charged. He calls the accusations categorically false and points to the fact that this investigation has been blocked more than once.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: You got two judges, both a state judge and a federal judge, who said that they didn't buy into the argument that has been presented at this point. I think their words speak pretty strongly.

TODD: Experts say it will be hard to prove these allegations but they could be politically damaging.

TIM ALBERTA, NATIONAL JOURNAL: There's no doubt that Republicans in 2016 who are competing against Scott Walker for the presidential nomination, they will make hay of this just as they're already making hay of his friend Chris Christie up in New Jersey.


TODD: Analysts say Walker's political rivals may well accuse him of engaging in a pattern of this kind of behavior. They point to his term as Milwaukee County executive when several of his aides were convicted, some of them jailed for doing campaign work on state's time. A Walker campaign official told us he wasn't charged in that case either and there's no pattern here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, just stay on top of this story for our viewers.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next, a landslide right underneath a major hospital following pounding rain. Now there's growing fear of flooding and the worst may be ahead for millions of people. We'll take you there live.


BLITZER: Very frightening scene in Minneapolis. The hillside beneath a major hospital has been giving way in a massive slide triggered by rain as much as half a foot falling on parts of the region.

CNN's Ana Cabrera is there for us.

Ana, what's the latest? What are you seeing?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can see a break from the rain right now, Wolf, but the rivers are still rising. There's more rain in the forecast and that's a big concern because the ground is already so saturated. You can see just on the other side of the river where that hillside crumbled. You can see all of that, about 100 yards of dirt, trees, shrubs, just crumbled and up there on top is the University of Minnesota Hospital building.

Right now we're told engineers have take a look, it's stable but with more threatening weather in the near future, no one is taking any chances.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CABRERA (voice-over): In Minneapolis, this entire bluff came crashing down along the banks of the Mississippi River, creating a massive hole below the University of Minnesota Medical Center Thursday. The collapsed hill fell on to a roadway that runs along the river. Employees in the building that sits on the bluff were evacuated but officials say hospital buildings where patients are remain safe.

Days of pounding rain have saturated much of the upper Midwest, leaving hundreds of homes flooded.

GOV. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA: It's everywhere. And that's what part -- makes it complicated a bit to -- you know, total all of the damage from everywhere. But it's all one -- part of one storm system.

CABRERA: Across the region people living in flood prone areas are working around the clock building walls of sandbags to protect their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All we can do is what we can do. Yes. Are you nervous?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. So I don't know. We just have to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it floods, it floods.

CABRERA: The big concern now rivers that are expected to crest several feet above flood stage in the coming days. And many area's neighbors are helping each other prepare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're really close. So it's kind of like another block party except maybe a little less fun.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I've seen the resilience of the people of Minnesota and what you see every time you go to these things is Minnesotans helping other Minnesotans.

CABRERA: And in a bit of irony, Governor Mark Dayton visited parts of southern Minnesota Friday. He had originally planned to visit due to drought conditions on farms. He has now declared 35 counties disaster areas due to the flooding.


CABRERA: Just how wet has it been? Well, up to a foot of rain fell in parts of the region this past week, four inches alone yesterday here in the twin cities.

And unfortunately, Wolf, the wet weather pattern is supposed to stick around.

BLITZER: Unfortunately indeed.

Ana Cabrera, thanks very much. Coming up, two views on Iraq, my interview with a former U.S.

diplomat, Ambassador Joe Wilson. He accused the Bush administration early on of exaggerating the case for war.

I'll also talk with one of the early supporters of the war to tell us what's different, what hasn't changed in that ravaged country.