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Interview With Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin; Ray Rice Fallout; Fighting ISIS; NFL Commissioner Under Fire Over Rice; Inside Obama's ISIS Attack Plan; No Mention of Missile in MH17 Report; Poll: Voter Enthusiasm Low

Aired September 9, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And suspended NFL player Ray Rice speaking out to CNN. His wife is sending a message as well after shocking video surfaced of him punching her in an elevator and knocking her out.

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

Right now, President Obama is on the brink of launching a more aggressive military assault on ISIS terrorists. He just briefed congressional leaders about his new long-term battle plan that he will unveil formally 9:00 Eastern tomorrow night in a nationwide address.

This hour, we're learning more about what he will and won't say in his televised address to the American people, who now see ISIS as a very serious threat. We have our correspondents and analysts and newsmakers standing by to bring you all the new developments.

First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, for the very latest -- Michelle.


We just heard from the White House on this meeting the president had today with congressional leadership. They called it productive and said the president told them he already has the authority he needs to move forward with his plan. That's likely telling us that it is not going to be a lot farther in scope than what has already been put out there, even though the White House is calling this a new phase in fighting is, a next more offensive phase.

They say that is what the president will announce to the American public and the world tomorrow night. Of course, how much detail will be included is another question here.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): The president today meeting with congressional leadership, what the White House again called consultation, one day before he lays out to the American people his plan against ISIS.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will make his case based firmly on what he believes is in the best interests of the United States.

KOSINSKI: The White House says this week's formation of a more inclusive Iraqi government plus progress from U.S. airstrikes now equals a turning point, a reason to map out what the plan now is in this new phase. Not a minute too soon for Republican leadership.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: He needs to identify military objectives and explain how those ends will be accomplished.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Until we know what the strategy is, we don't know what is going to be involved. And so it is critically important that we take these in some organized steps, and the first step is, what's the plan?

KOSINSKI (on camera): Where's the big disconnect there? Why do you think Congress still doesn't even know what the plan is?

EARNEST: Well, Michelle, I won't speak to or try to assess the motivation of some critics of the president who may suggest that he doesn't have a strategy. That will not deter this administration's commitment to consulting with members of Congress and describing to them the strategy that the president is pursuing and has been pursuing for some time to confront this threat. Failing that, I assume that each of these members of Congress has televisions.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): An address that will be one year to the day after this prime-time address on Syria's use of chemical weapons.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.

KOSINSKI: Those airstrikes never happened, but as to prolonged or open-ended in this situation now, the White House acknowledges the president will not be telling the nation how much approximately his plan will cost or how long it will last.

EARNEST: I wouldn't expect something that is quite that detailed. He will talk about the risks that the --


KOSINSKI: So will the detail be there to reassure the public and to satisfy Congress that this is a comprehensive strategy? That's what we will be looking at.

In the latest polls, a large majority of Americans do agree with some of the elements the president has already laid out, the airstrikes, humanitarian aid, no boots on the ground, the international coalition. But a large majority of Americans also see ISIS as a direct threat to national security and feel that the president has not yet laid out a clear plan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thanks very much. There are many, many challenges for the president when he reveals his

new ISIS strategy to the nation, including the fact that he once seemed to downplay the danger from this terror group by likening it to a J.V. team. He is trying to walk back from that comment. We may see more of that tomorrow night.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, it was in January of this year when he compared ISIS and some of these other al Qaeda spinoffs as really the J.V. team.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And since then, you have heard the administration's argument on this, that he was speaking about all groups in this area, as opposed to ISIL specifically.

There are organizations, "Washington Post," PolitiFact, who check that and say that's just simply not accurate. When you look at the transcript, he does seem to be answering that question in that context. But it is not the only comment about this that has changed over time and I don't think it will be lost on people that tomorrow when he speaks at 9:00 on September 10, it will be exactly a year after last year, September 10, 2013, when he spoke about not taking military action in Syria.

It's interesting. There was a particular comment in that speech that we came across in how he described the threat from extremist groups inside Syria at the time. Let's have a listen.


OBAMA: It's true that some of Assad's opponents are extremists. But al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.


SCIUTTO: Here we are, a year later, where those extremists that he mentions there that might have profited from airstrikes against Assad, actually now those extremists, ISIS in particular, are the target of the campaign that he is expected to detail tomorrow, one year later. And of course a year after deciding not to take military action, he is taking military action.

I did ask the White House if the idea that this was on the one-year anniversary of last year was at all a factor in scheduling, decision making or planning, and they said, no, it was not.

BLITZER: What did they say about that he is speaking on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11? Is that a factor?

SCIUTTO: They did not say that was a factor in particular, but I think it is impossible to separate those two dates in light of, well, just importance, but also as we know what happened two years ago in Benghazi on that day as well. BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Some members of Congress are urging a vote on military action against ISIS, even though President Obama told lawmakers he has the authority to strike without any formal Congressional approval.

Several senior members from both parties tell CNN they don't expect a vote to actually happen.

Joining us now, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland.

He's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, it's a pleasure to be with you.

Thank you.

BLITZER: In the statement that the White House put out, you heard Michelle Kosinski report it, the president told the leader, this according to the White House statement, he has the authority he needs to take action against ISIS in accordance with the mission he will lay out in his address tomorrow night, so there's no vote really needed to allow the president to expand the war against terrorism right now.

Are you with him on that?

CARDIN: First, I want to hear what he has to say. I want to see what action he wants to take or --

BLITZER: Well, let's say he says that the United States is about to try to destroy ISIS in Syria and the U.S. is about to launch airstrikes in Syria.

Does he need a vote for that?

CARDIN: The president has also said, and I agree, that the United States acts in a stronger way when Congress and the administration work together on foreign policy. So I hope that we can have a united administration and Congress on how we take action against ISIL.

BLITZER: But does that mean you want the president to seek formal Congressional authorization?

CARDIN: I want the Congress working with the president. He may have the authority to act on what he's trying to do. I want to hear what he has to say, what he wants to do.

But I want to make this also clear, we also -- military action in and of itself will not get rid of ISIL. We need to also make sure they're marginalized as far as their support network is concerned, and as when we're working in Iraq, to make sure that there is an inclusive government, that also cuts off the support for extremist groups like ISIL.

BLITZER: Do you want the U.S. to starting targeting ISIL not only in Iraq, but in Syria?

CARDIN: I want us to take action with the international community to marginalize and hopefully eliminate ISIL --

BLITZER: Does that mean airstrikes --

CARDIN: You know, I --

BLITZER: -- against ISIL in Syria?

CARDIN: -- I -- I don't want to be drawn into a long military campaign. I don't want to be drawn into other countries where their problems are internal and they're not really going to be resolved by U.S. military involvement.

So I am very cautious about a military involvement. I voted against the 2001 authorization for force in Iraq. I don't want to see us revisit that type of an authorization again.

However, I do want to work with the international community. I think we can have a plan that includes both military strikes and marginalizing their support network. That is perfectly acceptable.

BLITZER: But military strikes in -- in Syria, you're with that?

CARDIN: No, I didn't -- I didn't say in Syria. I said dealing with ISIL --


BLITZER: Because ISIS -- ISIS or ISIL, whatever we call it, they have a huge amount of land. You heard it, about the size of Great Britain, not only in Iraq, but in Syria, as well. There's no border, really, between what ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq.

CARDIN: There's no question, they're -- they're not a -- they're not a country. They -- there's a different situation when you're invited into a country, as we were in Iraq and dealing in Syria.

Syria is a little bit more complicated. And, of course, the Syrian government also has its issues in regards to -- to ISIL. So it -- it's not as -- quite as simple.

My -- my view is that, look, I want to work with the international community. It's appropriate that we take action against the extremists. We've got to be very cautious to think that we can do this in a military way and we've got be very cautious with our military.

BLITZER: Well, the only way the U.S. and the other international partners are going to not only degrade ISIS, but destroy or defeat ISIS, is with military action. You can have some diplomatic effort, some political effort, but if you're not going to go in there and kill them, they're going to expand.

CARDIN: I think there's a matter of -- for military action. But I must tell you, you're not going to get rid of them still -- solely by military action. You're going to have to deal with their support networks. And the support networks mean you've got to cut off their financial support, which is in -- in several of the Muslim countries and Arab countries.

And you also need to deal with the representative governments that deal with moderate Sunnis so that they are not drawn to support of ISIL.

BLITZER: Do you support targeting the ISIS or ISIL leadership for assassination?

CARDIN: I believe we have to marginalize the ISIL leadership, so I'm not that concerned about how we go about doing it, but we have to marginalize their capability.

BLITZER: When you say marginalize, kill them?

CARDIN: I think we've got to take them out. There's no question you've got to take out these extremists and these extremists are extremely dangerous people. This is a brutal organization. This is an organization that is -- is not just a terrorist organization, it's a barbaric terrorist organization.

BLITZER: Because most of the leadership are in Syria, they're not in Iraq.

CARDIN: Well, I think they're in several countries. There's no question there's a problem in Syria. There's no question there's a problem for Syria itself, the fact that they have ISIL in their country.

But I -- I want to be just cautious about this. We heard this -- some similar language in 2001. We were drawn into a long conflict. I opposed that authorization.

BLITZER: 2001 was the authorization for the war in Afghanistan, right after 9/11 --

CARDIN: And Iraq. And Iraq.

BLITZER: -- in 2002 --

CARDIN: And Iraq.

BLITZER: -- in 2002, the end of 2002, there was authorization that Congress voted to authorize the president to go into -- to -- to liberate Iraq, if you will, to get rid of Saddam Hussein. That operation started in March of 2003.

Did you vote against both of those operations, the Afghanistan authorizing the president to take military action, President Bush --


BLITZER: -- in Afghanistan and then authorizing President Bush, in 2002, to take action against Iraq?

CARDIN: I voted for the actions in Afghanistan --

BLITZER: In 2001?

CARDIN: In 2001. And I voted against the actions in Iraq.

BLITZER: That would be at the end of 2002?

CARDIN: Yes. I voted against that authorization. There was no evidence, to me, that there was a reason for U.S. military to be in Iraq.

BLITZER: So right now, you're undecided how you would vote if there were a formal resolution authorizing the president to go to war against ISIS in Syria?

CARDIN: I hope that when it comes to time for Congressional action, that Congress and the administration will be together. I think we need to be together.

But I want to make sure that any authorization I vote for is not open- ended, could lead to long U.S. involvement, particularly in an internal conflict within a country.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

CARDIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Ben Cardin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, from Maryland.

Still ahead: behind the scenes of the president's ISIS strategy. I will speak with a former U.S. congresswoman, Jane Harman. She was at a dinner with the president last night over at the White House. I will ask her what advice she gave to the president and what she heard.

Plus, we're also hearing for the first time from Ray Rice and his wife after he was suspended by the NFL because of a video showing him punching her out. Rice has reached out to our Rachel Nichols. Rachel is standing by, along with Don Lemon and Jeffrey Toobin. We will discuss. That is coming up.


BLITZER: A newly released report contains very chilling new details of the downing of that Malaysia Airlines jumbo jet over Ukraine in July.

But there is one thing shockingly missing from the preliminary Dutch investigation.

Our aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, is working the story for us. He will have much more in just a few moments.

But, first, CNN's Diana Magnay is in Ukraine at the crash site. She says it is still effectively a war zone.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this really does feel like a godforsaken place. It is not two months since MH-17, and the wreckage is still strewn across these fields, alongside fresh craters from mortars and ground rockets.

Even though there's meant to be a cease-fire, it doesn't feel like a cease-fire here. This area, just as many others in Eastern Ukraine, you can still hear the artillery shelling. When you speak to the locals and ask them, what do you think of the cease-fire, they laugh in your face them. They say, what cease-fire? This is a very pro- rebel area.

In the days after MH-17 came down, Ukrainian investigators did manage to come here to investigate the crash. But since then, because of the security situation, none of the international investigation team under the auspices of the Dutch safety board have managed to visit the site. MH-17 for the Donetsk People's Republic, as they call themselves, which controls this area, has not and is not a priority.

So this wreckage looks like it is here to stay for the duration of this war, which seems depressingly far from being over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Diana Magnay in Ukraine for us.

We will have more on this story, more on ISIS and the president's speech coming up.

But there is other news we're following, including the suspended NFL star Ray Rice and his wife. They are now both speaking out one day after Rice was fired by the Baltimore Ravens following the release of this surveillance video showing him punching his then fiancee, knocking her out.

Today, Rice is defending her husband, calling the situation a nightmare. And Ray Rice reached out directly to CNN's Rachel Nichols by text, telling her -- and I'm quoting now -- "I'm just holding strong for my wife and kid. That's all I can do right now" -- direct quote.

Also speaking out, the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. Listen to what he told CBS News about the video showing Rice striking his fiancee.


QUESTION: To be clear, did you know that a second tape existed?

ROGER GOODELL, NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE COMMISSIONER: Well, we had not seen any videotape of what occurred in the elevator. We assumed that there was a video. We asked for video. We asked for anything that was pertinent. But we were never granted that opportunity.


Let's bring in Rachel Nichols, the host of "UNGUARDED with RACHEL NICHOLS," and Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

All right, Rachel, walk us through the text exchange you had with Ray Rice today.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I reached out to him and that's what he said back.

When you match it next to Janay Rice's comments on Instagram today, talking about her husband and her feelings, they certainly match up and it matches up with the dialogue that they have had through this whole process.

Look, Janay and Ray met when they were in high school. They are very enshrined in each other's lives. They have known each other for a long time. They have both maintained throughout out that this is not an abusive relationship, that this was one incident. It is up to everybody outside of that to decide if they think -- how they feel about that, but this is consistent with what they have been saying the whole time.

And certainly they have a daughter together. They certainly intend to stay together through this, whatever comes next.

BLITZER: What do you think of what we just heard from Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner? He said: "We have not seen any videotape of what occurred in the elevator. We assumed there was video. We asked for video. We asked for anything that was pertinent. But we were never granted that opportunity."

What is your reaction, Rachel, when you hear that?

NICHOLS: Well, first, I do worry that we are overfocused on this video just because it is so graphic and shocking and visceral and I understand that.

But you didn't need to see this video to make a different ruling than Roger Goodell initially did. There was video available of Ray Rice dragging his wife out of the elevator unconscious. Both Ray and his wife have given full accounts of what happened in that elevator to police and to NFL investigators and to Roger Goodell when they met with him.

So the video is certainly shocking. Watching him throw that punch sort of tears your heart out, but the question of when they saw the video and could they have done more to see the video, I personally think they could have done more to see the video. TMZ obtained it. They certainly could have obtained it.

But it doesn't take away from the central point that the video, while graphic, is not the key thing here. The key thing is that a woman was punched unconscious and the NFL needs to take more responsibility with its players, because Ray Rice is not the only one.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, the company that owns the casino, they say that elevator video, not the video outside of the elevator, the elevator video, they say cooperated with local law enforcement. They made that video available. But for some reason the NFL didn't get it? It is sort of weird to hear that the NFL didn't get this video which was made available to law enforcement. They asked for all the video.

They got the other video, but not this. How unusual is that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It is often the case that prosecutors say to outside investigators, look, here the NFL, look, don't interview our witnesses whale our case is still active.

But that doesn't explain why they didn't get the video here, because this isn't a witness. This is a video. It will not change depending on how many people look at it. Also, they could have gone to Ray Rice whose lawyers had the right to see that video, who presumably had the video and say if you want to make a deal, you have to turn over to us all the evidence that you have gotten.

So it certainly seems at best a very passive attitude on the part of the NFL in this investigation. One could plausibly say, they didn't want to know any more than the bad outside-the-elevator video.

BLITZER: Because you and I know, Jeffrey, and Rachel knows this, you go to one of those casinos, there are video cameras, closed-circuit cameras all over the place, especially in elevators. And you think anybody working for the NFL would say we want all the video, they would specifically ask for any video in that elevator, since the other video we saw, he was dragging her out of that elevator.

TOOBIN: It certainly shows that it was not a very rigorous investigation on the part of the NFL.

It is possible -- and I do want to say. This it is possible that the prosecutors said, look, don't mess with our evidence. Don't tamper with our witnesses. That's fairly common. But when you know for a certainty that there is video in the elevator, if you're the NFL, you really want to get that video.

And it certainly doesn't seem like they tried very hard to get it.


NICHOLS: We're talking about seeing the video, Wolf. You don't even have to go get your own copy. You can just make sure a high-ranking NFL official walks into the casino not that far away from their New York offices and asks to see it in the security offices and walks back out. They don't even need to get their own little iTunes copy.

They could have gone over there to see it. There's just a lot of reasons why this is disturbing. But, again, I do want to stress as much as this video is, as much as of a concern it displays possibly an overall lax attitude of the NFL in investigating this, they shouldn't have needed to see it. This is a problem we knew existed. This incident, we had all the information ahead of time.

TOOBIN: If I could just add, the other question that really needs to be asked here, you know, putting aside the NFL, how the Atlantic County prosecutors gave Ray Rice such a sweet deal of a completely clear record, if he just went to some ridiculous counseling sessions, why that video, which they clearly had, everybody knows that, doesn't lend that to an actual prosecution, that's really shocking.

BLITZER: That's the question I wanted to ask you, Jeffrey.

Celebrity justice, if you will, is there one standard for average people out there? If some guy is seen in an elevator slamming his wife in the face, knocking her out, his fiancee then, soon to be his wife, dragging her out of the elevator, punching her right in the face, so she is out cold, is there one set of justice for an average guy who would do that as opposed to a multimillionaire NFL running back star?

TOOBIN: I have a piece up at about a federal judge named Mark Fuller who punched out his wife in a hotel in Atlanta just in August. And last week, he got an almost identical sweet deal that Ray Rice got.

And Judge Fuller, amazingly enough, thinks he is going to go back on the federal bench in Alabama. I certainly expect that the federal judicial council won't allow that. But it is true. And, frankly, I don't know that it is just a matter of powerful and not powerful. I think it is more often a question of men and women, that men get away with domestic violence a lot in this country.

Powerful men get away with it more, as illustrated by the Rice case and the Judge Fuller case. But this is a crime that's not prosecuted as vigorously as it should be. And both these cases in Atlanta and Atlantic City illustrate that.

BLITZER: And you know there's a lot of pressure mounting, Rachel, on Roger Goodell to step down as the NFL commissioner. The argument is, the NFL, you know what? They didn't really want to know, because there was too much money, too much reputation for the NFL at stake. They just wanted this to go away. You have heard those arguments. Your reaction.

NICHOLS: Yes, I don't see that happening. Certainly, "The Kansas City Star" called for that in an editorial. I have seen TV commentators call for that.

I just don't see that happening. Roger Goodell answers to 32 NFL owners who he's made a tremendous amount of money over the last few years. And I think he knows that he does have a chance to right the ship. They have put out a more stringent domestic abuse policy. That is a good first step. But now they need to be leaders in applying it.

I want to talk about two cases that are in the NFL system right now. You have Greg Hardy, who plays for the Carolina Panthers. He was convicted, not just charged, but convicted of domestic abuse. What he did according to a police report was hurl his girlfriend to the bathroom floor, pick her up and then hurl her on to a couch that was full of assault weapons and other rifles.

So I want to you picture that scene. He was convicted. He appealed for a jury trial and during his appeal, he is being allowed to play in the NFL. You have Ray McDonald of the 49ers, who got into an incident with his pregnant girlfriend a couple weeks ago. The police found enough evidence that they charged him with felony domestic assault. He went and played a week later.

The NFL needs to take a stronger stand and that is where I see Roger Goodell facing the most pressure. I don't see him stepping down, but he is going to have to take these cases more seriously. And he can start with the two that are currently on his desk.

BLITZER: Let me quickly get your reaction, Rachel, to Janay Rice, now the wife of Ray Rice. She Instagramed a statement today.

In part, let me read it: "No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you have succeeded on so many levels."

Explain her role in all of this, because a lot of people are focusing in on her reaction as well.

NICHOLS: Well, look, first of all, Janay Rice is entitled to say and think anything that she wants. I think people judging her have not walked in her shoes. I think it is important that we allow her to feel what she wants. She doesn't want to be seen as a victim. That's certainly understandable.

And she has a complex relationship with the father of her child. She is right. None of us are in that relationship. Obviously, when she came to the stage that you guys are showing now, and apologized for her role in the incident, that upset a lot of people, because a woman cannot cause her own beating.

That just isn't something that can happen. And it was frustrating to see her fit into that role. But that being said, it is understandable to see her doing this, because we see this with domestic abuse quite often, frankly.


BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, if could I just add. You know, we often use the phrase, does the woman want to bring charges? It's not a matter of a woman bringing charges. Domestic violence is a crime against the community, as well as against an individual.

And if she wants to stay married to Ray Rice, that's certainly her business. But Ray Rice committing an assault is something that the state, here the state of New Jersey needs to prosecute, regardless of what she wants. And that's -- that's a big difference.

BLITZER: Well, let me get a quick reaction. Hold on one second. I want to get Jeffrey's quick reaction to the statement the White House put out last night on this case. This is from the press secretary, Josh Earnest: "Hitting a woman is

not something a real man does. And that's true, whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye or, far too often, behind closed doors."

There's been some criticism for the use of the phrase "real man," Jeffrey. Hitting a woman is not something any man -- real man, not real man. Any man. No one should be hitting a woman.

TOOBIN: Yes. That's true. I don't know. That seems like a rather overly precise parsing. I don't think anyone could accuse the White House of condoning domestic violence.

I think all that Josh Earnest was saying was simply common sense, is men should not hit women. I don't think anybody is in any doubt about what he meant there.

BLITZER: Final thought, Rachel.

NICHOLS: Just, you know, the one thing I do want to have everyone consider out of Janay Rice's Instagram post. Is that we've now seen this video many, many times. I think anybody who needed to be exposed to it has been exposed to it.

And her comment that the media showing this over and over and over again -- and I don't want to upset the people in the control room over there -- she may have a point about that. And we all need to consider how many times we need to see her husband hitting her and at what point are we victimizing her for our own entertainment.

So I think that is an important thought to take forward. And I think that as we look at all of these cases, again, you don't have to see the video to know how bad the assault was; and you don't need to act accordingly.

BLITZER: But once you do see the video, this powerful video, it just makes you squirm. It is horrendous, indeed. Rachel, thanks very much.

Jeffrey, thanks to you, as well.

Just ahead, President Obama seeks advice before he shares his new ISIS strategy with the world. We'll ask former congresswoman and foreign policy expert Jane Harman what she told the president at dinner last night.

Plus, chilly new information about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Stand by for that report and the crucial detail that investigators left out.


BLITZER: Former vice president Dick Cheney ripping into President Obama's foreign policy. Once again, he met privately with House Republicans today. He'll go public with his criticism tomorrow. Cheney will give a speech here in Washington that may turn out to be a

preemptive strike against the president only hours before the president lays out his new strategy for defeating ISIS.

The president is reaching out to lawmakers, to foreign policy experts as he prepares to address the nation.

Joining us now is former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of the Woodrow Wilson Center. She is in charge of that think tank. She's one of the select group of advisers who had dinner with President Obama last night. Very small dinner.

Congresswoman Harman, did you get a sense emerging from that dinner that the president will announce as early as tomorrow night in his speech that he is ready to launch limited air strikes against ISIS targets, not only in Iraq but Syria?

JANE HARMAN, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: I certainly got the sense that's under consideration, Wolf. And by the way, the group, the small group of us who had dinner with him included prominent Republicans: Steve Hadley, the former national security adviser; Richard Haas, former State Department official who heads the Council on Foreign Relations and others. And I was pleased to see that it was a bipartisan discussion and that the president was reaching out to people in both parties to talk about some of the tough issues.

Yes, Syria, I think, is on the agenda tomorrow. I don't know precisely what he will -- what he will announce, but he made clear that he thinks he has the legal authority to do it and that he's building a broader international coalition to be supportive. And I was very pleased to see the fact that finally people in the region, including the Arab League, are joining this coalition.

BLITZER: Did you get the sense he would also start trying to target the ISIS leadership for assassination?

HARMAN: Well, that wasn't -- I don't recall that being specifically discussed, but we have in the past -- we, the United States, targeted leadership of terror organizations. This is a faux terrorist state, so I think this is an even more dangerous group than some of those where we have successfully targeted and taken out leadership. For example, recently in Somalia with al-Shabad. So I would assume that's under consideration.

The president did not say, "Here are my five points for Wednesday. What do you think?" He said, "I -- I want your best ideas about how to degrade and defeat ISIS, which -- ISIL," which is his point. ISIL meaning the "L" for "Levant." This is a group that has aspirations beyond Iraq and Syria. And he also wanted the best ideas on Ukraine and Russia.

And the group was forthcoming. I talked about the role I think Congress needs to play. And I think that role is to vote to amend the authorization to use military force or to provide other specific authority to the president to act. That's Congress's congressional -- constitutional responsibility. And I think it's a shame that the president is continuing to use

authorities which he has under Article 2 as commander-in-chief and under the 60-day window that's permitted under the War Powers Act.

BLITZER: He's making it clear he's not going to seek such a resolution of authorization, right?

HARMAN: Right.

BLITZER: He thinks he already has it; doesn't need it.

HARMAN: Well, not doesn't need it. He doesn't -- he has the -- all the legal authority he needs. He's correct on that point. But if we're going to engage in a long-term strategy against ISIL, he's going to need more authority.

And my point, as a former member of Congress who voted for the authorization to use military force in 2001 and 2002, is Congress needs to step up to the plate. And this blame-and-hide game has really run its course here.

BLITZER: We're just getting a statement from the White House. "The president convened his top national security advisers today to review measures of preparedness measures on this, the anniversary, coming up Thursday, of 9/11. The president's national security team is continuing to take measures," the statement says, "to prevent attacks against the homeland and ensure the protection of U.S. persons and facilities abroad, the administration's top national security priority."

Very quickly, did he indicate there was any specific concern about an attack against U.S. interests on Thursday, the anniversary of 9/11?

HARMAN: No. And that wasn't specifically discussed. I'm certainly aware of the preparations we're taking. I'm an advisory committee to the Homeland Security Department, and I talked today with Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security.

You have to understand that there are at least 100 or so U.N. foreign fighters -- this is a publicly known fact -- connected to ISIL, and there are also many more from Europe. And these people have western passports. So there is some reason to worry.

There's no such thing as 100 percent security, but I am aware of precautions we're taking. I hope they're not going to be publicly announced.

But his administration is paying a lot of attention on 9/11, not just in the U.S. but to guard our embassies abroad.

BLITZER: Yes, I think that's one of the reasons he sent 350 military personnel to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to help protect the American diplomats and others there.

HARMAN: You bet. That's our largest embassy. BLITZER: Yes. Jane Harman, thanks very much for joining us.

HARMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on that preliminary report of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. There's something that's missing many people will find shocking.

Plus, troubling poll numbers for President Obama as he prepares to address the nation about the terror threat from ISIS.


BLITZER: We're now in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. A new preliminary Dutch report on the downing of the jumbo jet over Ukraine in July contains chilling new details but one thing is shockingly missing.

Our aviation correspondent Richard Quest has the story.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Falling from the sky.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in the middle of a war zone in eastern Ukraine.

VOLODYMYR GROYSMAN, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think with each new report of the unbiased investigation, we will be closer to the truth.

QUEST: The report by Dutch investigators show it was a normal flight, after takeoff from Amsterdam. The plane was flying legally in unrestricted air space. It was following instructions. It was clearly identified as a Boeing 777 by both Russian and Ukrainian air traffic control.

But, suddenly, the pilot stopped responding to radio calls. The radar showed the plane started falling apart and the flight recorders abruptly came to an end. No warnings, no maydays.

LIOW TIONG LAI, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: No warnings or alerts of aircraft systems malfunctions were heard on the cockpit voice recording.

QUEST: The serial number on the flight recorders found by the rebels at the crash site matched those unique numbers given to the plane. It showed there was no sign of tampering.

Because of security concerns, Dutch investigators have still not had coordinated access to the wreckage.

The photographs taken by others do hold clues. The wide debris field indicates the plane broke apart in the air. Below the pilot's seat, the floor is riddled with holes. And more

shrapnel damage around the cockpit window, and all of it indicating it came from outside penetrating into the plane.

LAI: The aircraft was penetrated by a large number of high energy object from the outside of the aircraft leading to an in-flight breakup.

QUEST: High energy objects as described in the report, the word "missile" is never used. The reason, investigators are looking at the cause of the crash. Not who was at fault. And so far, they don't have the final evidence to prove it was a missile.

TJIBBE JOUSTRA, CHAIRMAN, DUTCH SAFETY BOARD: We are not involved in blame. We are not involved in liability. We have a sole purpose of trying to present similar occurrences.


QUEST: Wolf, why this is a significant report is it is the first official document that does say that it was an external force that brought the plane down and those high energy objects frankly leave little else to be desired, other than a missile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report. Richard Quest, thanks very much.

Just ahead, an important speech tomorrow night, but what are Americans saying about President Obama and his plan to deal with the ISIS terror threat? We have new poll numbers.


BLITZER: Visible numbers for Congress in a new CNN/ORC poll, only 14 percent of those asked approve of how Congress is handling its job, 83 percent disapprove, compare that to four years ago when 72 percent disapprove, more than a quarter of Americans approved. That may help explain declining voter enthusiasm.

Thirty-seven percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Democrats say there is extremely or very enthusiastic about voting. That's a very sharp decline for the GOP from four years ago, more modest decline for the Democrats, which was pretty low to begin with.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our CNN political commentator, the former Obama pollster, Cornell Belcher.

Gloria, you see these polls, they're not very enthusiastic going out there. What does that portend for November?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, nobody likes Congress. You know --


BORGER: News flash, 83 percent disapproved of Congress. And, by the way, they disapproved of Republicans and Democrats at about the same rate.

Enthusiasm, nobody is particularly enthusiastic. This is midterm election, sixth year of a presidency. For the incumbent, it's generally not great. But when you look at this enthusiasm number, Republicans are actually up over Democrats and that's what scares Democrats like Cornell.

BELCHER: That's a very important number.

BORGER: Right, because the administration and Democrats have to figure out a way to tell their voters, there is a stake here for you. We need to get you out there, or else, by the way, the Senate could go Republican.

BLITZER: And remember, Cornell, in 2010, the Republicans were much more enthusiastic. They went out and took control of the House of Representatives.

BELCHER: That's a really good point. Look, to me, this is -- this is the problem with Democrats in an off-year. Look, if you look at 2010, what happened in the 2010, when we get to the voter file data and we look at those sixty-five-plus Republican voting precincts, those sixty-five-plus Democrat precincts getting in the weeds (ph).

When you look at the turnout difference in 2010 --

BORGER: I love it.

BELCHER: -- you're looking at a 16-point turnout difference between those Republican-based precincts, those Democrat-based precincts, Wolf, that moves an election right there. You are talking about millions of votes. So, as opposed as 2010 being a Tea Party wave, it was an ebb. And we're looking at the same to our dynamic right now.

Democrats have to get up the sort of their enthusiasm or their determination. I heard this argument about enthusiasm also in 2012. But we --

BORGER: But it was -- it was a presidential year.

BELCHER: And it is energy with determination. And, by the way, the president is key to a lot of that. The Obama coalition, those younger voters, those minority voters, they still believe in him first and foremost.

BORGER: In fact, they do try to get them out.

BLITZER: But, Cornell, they may not show up and vote.

BELCHER: That's why to a certain extent -- and this is the tricky part for Democrats. We have to put Obama back on the ticket without him really being on the ticket.

BLITZER: Many Democrats don't want him on the ticket.

BORGER: Just keep him raising money. He's been raising money -- (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Gloria, let me add, a lot of these Democrats want to run away from the president.

BORGER: They want to run away with him, but they'd like to take his ka-ching, OK? They want the money that he can raise for them.

There's another number here, Wolf, in our poll, which shows -- and it's an important. It shows that by four-points, voters prefer a Republican Congress.

Now, that's not 10 points. It's four-points and that still means that Republicans have another advantage heading into this, because if people don't know their candidates but they're just going to go down the road --

BLITZER: What is the president -- Cornell --

BELCHER: And also the re-elect number here -- look, here's a problem for the Republicans who control the Congress. The re-elect number in the post-poll is at an all-time low. Only 20 percent want to re-elect their members. I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican --

BORGER: They don't like their members. Why would they want to re- elect for them?

BELCHER: They're going -- I don't think -- I think people think the House is a done deal. Topsy-turvy, anything can happen, when your members of Congress have a 22 percent re-elect.

BORGER: Meaning hat the House stays Republican.

BLITZER: Gloria, what does the president need to do tomorrow night?


BORGER: How much time do we have?

BLITZER: Not much.

BORGER: What the president needs to do is tell the American people why ISIS is important to our national security, why destroying ISIS is important to us. He has to say we've got to destroy them. We've got to kill them. This is why, and this is how I'm going to do it, and this is how I'm going to assure -- because we're doing this in conjunction with our allies -- that we can afford to do it and that there won't be --


BLITZER: A lot of expectations, Cornell, have been raised. He's got to deliver tomorrow night.

BELCHER: Well, look, I never count the president out when it comes to delivery. When the time comes for him to get bigger, he gets bigger. I have, I'm fairly clear that he's going to lay out -- he's going to lay it out, but they're talking about reluctant numbers.

You see the numbers to move a little bit. When you're start killing Americans on television, ISIS is a bad idea because that has galvanized the American public more than anything.

BORGER: The public -- if the president leads on foreign policy, the public will follow. Polls generally show that.

BELCHER: As long as he's not putting troops on the ground.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Good discussion. We'll see what the president has to say tomorrow night.

BORGER: We will.

BLITZER: Nine p.m. Eastern, his prime time address.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

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That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.