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Ferguson Protests; Is ISIS Leader Dead?; Iraqi: Minister: ISIS Leader Hurt, Deputy Killed; Decision Expected Soon from Michael Brown Grand Jury; Asia Trip Tests Obama's Influence; Battle Brewing Over Immigration Reform

Aired November 10, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news: ISIS casualties, new reports of high-level injuries and deaths, including the terror group's leader and a top deputy. Were they among the victims of an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition?

Day of protests. Demonstrations announced in dozens of American cities to coincide with the release of the grand jury report on the shooting death of Michael Brown, will they turn violent?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we're following the breaking news, reports that the leader of ISIS has been wounded and a top deputy killed in an airstrike as the first U.S. troops arrive in ISIS-held territory.

We're also learning new details of North Korea's surprise release of two American captives, and not one, but two mechanical failures that delayed the mission by the United States' top spy to bring those Americans home. We're covering those stories and a lot more this hour with our correspondents and our guests.

Let's begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He has some surprising new details about the release of the two Americans held by North Korea.

What are you finding out, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we learned today that this lofty diplomatic mission ran into a very down-to-earth problem, the flight delay.

James Clapper's Air Force jet, it was up there before, a jet military version of the 737, delayed twice on the way to Pyongyang, once in Honolulu, the second time in Guam. The Americans Bae and Miller might have been home free by Friday, otherwise, regardless, a remarkable moment in the long troubled U.S.-North Korea relationship.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): The mission to bring Americans Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller home was the result of elaborate behind-the-scenes planning and ultimately a risk. North Korea approached the U.S. two weeks ago asking for a high-level U.S. envoy.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: We had an indication that there was the possibility of the release of these two hostages, prisoners, and we pursued it.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. responded with James Clapper, the nation's top spy, but not a diplomat who might signal the opening of a broader negotiation, carried a letter addressed to the North Korea leader Kim Jong-un stating he was traveling as the president's envoy solely to bring the two Americans home. Clapper, who did not meet with Kim himself, did not know he would succeed in his mission until he, Bae and Miller were on their way back.

KENNETH BAE, FORMER NORTH KOREAN DETAINEE: It's BACON: amazing two years. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. Lost a lot of weight, in a good way. But I'm standing strong because of you.

SCIUTTO: So why now? For one, North Korea is under enormous international pressure following a damning U.N. report on human rights violations in its prison system. An effort is now under way through the International Criminal Court to charge senior North Korean officials, including Kim himself, with crimes.

More immediately, the world's leaders, including President Obama, are now gathered in China, North Korea's neighbor and sole ally, with a growing consensus that North Korea and its nuclear program must be dealt with firmly.

OBAMA: It's going to take a broader understanding on part of the North Koreans that all the countries in the region consider this to be their number one security priority, making sure that we do not have a nuclearized Korean Peninsula.

SCIUTTO: North Korea's leader is under pressure at home as well, following a month-long disappearance explained only after the fact as a result of an operation on his foot.

JOSEPH DETRANI, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY ALLIANCE: North Korea is always looking for something, and they use that something for their domestic audience to show that Kim Jong-un and know and North Korea itself is such an important player.


SCIUTTO: Receiving America's top spy would likely give North Korean leaders' face, that is to say, respect at home. But for the U.S., dispatching the man who oversees the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, many of which keeping a very close eye on North Korea, also sends an important message.

If North Korea was expecting a reward for the release as world leaders gather for the APEC summit in Beijing, that is unlikely. This will one U.S. diplomat telling me be a very tough week for Pyongyang -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

The release of those two Americans caught the world off guard, but there may be some very specific reasons why the North Korean regime decided now is a good time to free these two men.

For more information, some new information we're getting, we're joined by our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

What are you learning about why Kim Jong-un made this decision to release these two Americans?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. officials have a myriad of thoughts, just like Jim mentioned. First of all, that damning U.N. human rights report, detailing widespread abuses by the North Korean abuses by the North Korean regime, starvation, torture, execution.

Kim Jong-un wants to present a kind of kinder, gentler face and a more reasonable face. That's why U.S. officials and many experts believe perhaps that's why. Also, he has been facing a lot of pressure at home. By getting a top cabinet official, that's what the North Koreans asked for, a Cabinet-level official -- this could show obviously North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in charge and he's the one making those decisions and he's meeting with this -- of course, the North Korean people don't know he didn't meet with James Clapper. They just know he came at the request of Kim Jong-un.

And also U.S. officials and experts say, listen, Kim Jong-un is not -- and North Korea looks very closely at the U.S. political calendar. Wolf, they are always looking at these kind of things. And they know in the last two years of the Bush administration, of the Clinton administration, they did a lot better with a deal with the United States nuclear talks and perhaps this is how they want to have an opening. They know that President Obama has two years left and he's really trying to burnish a legacy.

You can't ignore that President Obama is in China right now and the Chinese are very frustrated with Kim Jong-un. This could be giving the Chinese a little carrot.

BLITZER: It's a strained relationship between China and North Korea right now. Elise, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with two guests, the North Korea expert Tony Namkung. He played a key role I believe in this drama. Also joining us, professor Victor Cha, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

Tony, you and I were there together. You were an adviser to Bill Richardson when he made that visit to North Korea four years ago, December 2010. I was on that visit. You were just there a few weeks ago, and I know you appealed for the release of these Americans. What were you told?

TONY NAMKUNG, NORTH KOREA EXPERT: Well, I made a direct appeal for the early release explaining that this had become a major irritant in U.S.-DPRK relations and that the sooner we got rid of this, given the fact that the president only has two years left in his term, the better for both sides.

I believe that we were able to reach an understanding with respect to a lower bar -- lowering of the bar for the release of these three individuals that paved the way for their eventual release.

BLITZER: Were you as surprised as most of us were that these three Americans, one a couple weeks ago, now two more, were released as quickly as they were following your visit there?

NAMKUNG: No, I expected this would take place before the end of the year. I was a little surprised at how quickly it evolved since my visit.

I should point out, too, that I don't want to take credit for being the primary driver of this. I know that many others, notably the State Department itself, has been talking about the need for their release for many, many months and years. But it came as something of a surprise, but I did expect that it would happen before the end of the year, as I explained to a number of people on my return.

BLITZER: I remember. When we were speaking, you said that to me, and the time I remember hearing you thought they would be out before the end of the year. I thought you were a little optimistic, but obviously you were right.

Victor, let's talk a little bit about the timing of this, why the North Korean regime wants to do it, what they get out of it. Is it a big enough deal for them that the head of the U.S. intelligence community, the director of national intelligence, went over there on a U.S. jet to bring these Americans home? Was that a powerful signal to Kim Jong-un?


They had wanted a senior Cabinet-level official. They did want anymore formers, former presidents or former basketball stars or anything like that. They wanted someone in this administration. I think the administration chose to send the top intelligence official as opposed to a policy guy to keep these two lanes separate, the humanitarian lane and the nuclear talks lane.

So I think it certainly accomplished the task and it did give the North Koreans a bit of face, and they were able to accomplish, the North Koreans were, in advance of the president's trip to APEC so that this would put pressure on the president certainly behind closed doors with Xi Jinping saying basically the North Koreans had done you a good deed, so maybe you can return it.

But I think all the statements coming out of the administration have said very clearly these are two separate lanes and I expect that that's going to be the case going forward.

BLITZER: I assume, Tony, you have looked at the pictures of the individuals with whom that General Clapper met over there, and the photos are top leaders. He didn't meet with Kim Jong-un, as you know, but are these people familiar to you?

NAMKUNG: No, they're not, except for one individual. I believe they are members of the ministry for state security, which would be the equivalent of DNI in the intelligence apparatus in our case.

So they brought out the people who would match, as it were, the level and rank of the visitor from the U.S.

BLITZER: How sophisticated are the North Koreans, and I will ask this to both of you, about the political calendar, about what's going on? This happens right after the midterm elections here, the final two years of the Obama administration. Tony, first to you.

NAMKUNG: Oh, very sophisticated. They do their homework all the time.

In some respects, they are much more careful about the political calendar in the U.S. than other countries with which we deal in the region. And I believe that with an eye the end of the Obama administration now in sight, very much like the last two years of the second Bush term, when Ambassador Hill carried out a very active round of diplomacy, I think they're hoping we will see something similar.

I need to point out that the U.S. has not been sitting still here, despite the fact that we put these two issues on separate tracks, humanitarian and political or policy. The U.S. has not been sitting still. It's been making some -- dropping some hints and making some noises about possibly lowering the bar itself for a resumption of nuclear talks.

So this helped a great deal and it helped also to know that the president would be sending a letter with General Clapper. So there are a number of factors that figure into this situation.

BLITZER: It's a complicated situation and very sensitive situation, but a critically important situation.

Victor, I will have you weigh in, in a moment. I want both of you to stand by. We have much more to discuss. When we come back, we're going to get more on the behind-the-scenes drama that led to the release of the two Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.

Also, there's breaking news ahead. There are reports that the leader of ISIS may have been wounded and the top deputy killed in a U.S.-led airstrike.


BLITZER: Dramatic new details are being revealed about the surprise release of two American men held by North Korea. We're back with the North Korean expert Tony Namkung, who played a key

role, even though he tries to play down that role, and professor Victor Cha, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Victor, I know the North Koreans want attention, they're on the so- called charm offensive. But do you really believe they might ever make any substantive changes in their nuclear program in order to get better relations with the U.S. and the West?

CHA: I certainly think, Wolf, that that's been the hope in the last two agreements, the 1994 agreement with the U.S. and then the 2005 agreement in which I participated as the White House rep.

The problem is, under this new leadership, the North Koreans have declared this Byungjin strategy, which says they want economic benefits and political benefits and they want to keep their nuclear weapons. So the basic core quid pro quo the past 25 years, the nuclear diplomacy has now been thrown out the window, which I think is very discouraging.

I don't think that the United States is going to lower the bar in terms of the negotiations just because of the release of these three Americans, although I think the president really appreciates it. And the notion that North Korea thinks they can get an easy win because President Obama got thumped in the last midterm elections is just ludicrous.

There's no one in this White House or in any White House that believes that the North Korea issue is somehow going to win them political points at home. I think the real thing driving all this, Wolf, is really what's happening in New York, in the U.N., with regard to this resolution that's being drafted by the European Union and 50 other members that would refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses.

The North Koreans have never seen anything like this before. It's really freaking them out, and I think they're quite concerned and that explains the timing of why they have reached out in humanitarian ways to the United States, to South Korea with regard to family reunions and to the Japanese with regard to resolution of kidnappings that took place in the 1970s.

BLITZER: When you and I spoke when you got back from North Korea, Tony, a couple, few weeks ago, you made the point that Pyongyang at least, what they allow you to see has changed rather dramatically in the four years since you were there with Bill Richardson and I was there in December of 2010. Take us behind the scenes a little bit. What's going on in North Korea right now?

NAMKUNG: Well, the so-called Byungjin Line of pursuing both economic growth and nuclear weapons is very much alive, as Victor has just pointed out.

And on the economic side, one could fairly say that the city of Pyongyang today is jumping. There's a construction boom under way, three million cell phones, cars, vehicles all over the place, people rushing, bustling, busy doing this and that in ways that I have not seen in my 25 years of travel to North Korea.

Clearly, the standard of living has gone up, and there's a greater air of freedom, one might say. I was startled one morning in my hotel to hear an American Christian group of about 10 people singing loudly so that everybody in the hotel could hear "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," both in English and in Korean, obviously for the benefit of the Korean staff.

That, I submit, is an example of the greater openness that we're seeing in North Korea today.

BLITZER: Here's what worries me, Tony. I'm anxious for you and Victor to weigh in. Look, the North Koreans, they got something out of holding these three Americans. They got the director of national intelligence to fly over there, deliver a letter from the president of the United States, they got a lot of publicity.

What's to stop them, Tony, first to you, from going ahead and picking up some other American in the weeks to come, hold that American, and squeeze some more, I don't know if you want to call it concessions or some movement from the U.S.? What is to stop them from doing that?

NAMKUNG: Well, that's entirely possible, of course, especially as tourism rates have increased and many more Americans are visiting North Korea today than ever.

We're likely to see a continuation of these starry-eyed individuals, idealistic individuals who think they can change the world through their single visit to this very closed and secluded country. I think that the State Department, in issuing a travel advisory, should also state that it's very important to remember that they have their own laws.

We may not agree with their laws, but they are their laws and we should be very careful about violating them. That's about all you can do, and these incidents will continue to occur. But once the diplomatic process gets under way, these things will not be the irritants that they have been.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it there, but a good conversation with who guys who are smart about North Korea.

Victor, thanks very much, Victor Cha. Tony Namkung, thanks to you as well.

There's other breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have new details of ISIS casualties, including the terror group's leader, reportedly wounded in an airstrike that also killed his top deputy. Plus, we have new details on the grand jury report on the shooting of Michael Brown and what protesters have planned once it's released.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're following breaking news, the arrival of some 50 U.S.

troops in ISIS territory, Iraq's Anbar province, to advise and assist Iraqi forces in their fight against the terrorists.

We're also following reports that the ISIS leader may have been wounded in a U.S.-led airstrike.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working the story for us.

What are you picking up, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those 50 troops back in Anbar province some three-plus years after U.S. troops left Anbar province, one of the deadliest sites for U.S. troops during the Iraq war, now they ARE setting things up so even more U.S. troops can go there as advisers.

Even as that is happening, Wolf, there is confusion and uncertainty, the Pentagon trying to sort out what happened with some airstrikes over the weekend.


STARR (voice-over): Confusion about the fate of the elusive leader of ISIS. Iraqi TV broadcast a statement that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of ISIS, was wounded in an Iraqi airstrike on Saturday at the town of al-Qaim on the border with Syria. A senior U.S. intelligence tells CNN the Iraqis did have intelligence that he was in that border town.

U.S. officials now believe it's less likely Baghdadi was wounded or killed 250 miles away in Mosul, where coalition warplanes hit a convoy of 10 ISIS armed trucks. Rumors surfaced soon after that that Baghdadi was there. The U.S. said the strike targeted a meeting of ISIS leaders, but the outcome was unclear.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We cannot confirm if ISIL leader Baghdadi was among those present.

STARR: The U.S. is now scouring phone intercepts, reports from locals on the ground, anything for intelligence confirming Baghdadi may have been killed or wounded. Even if the coalition wounded or killed him, the war against ISIS still is far from over.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It will morph and new leaders will emerge. In fact, bear in mind that ISIS leadership originated from Saddam's military. These are very conventionally trained, very professional leaders.

STARR: President Obama says his decision to send 1,500 more troops to Iraq to train Iraqi forces is about getting them on the offense against ISIS.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops that can start pushing them back. STARR: But even some of the president's own Democrats skeptical the

Iraqi government is up to the essential challenge of winning back Sunnis who have turned to ISIS out of distrust with Baghdad.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: These 1,500 troops are ultimately just going to be a temporary Band-Aid if there isn't a fully inclusive government inside Baghdad.


STARR: Now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, will appear before the House Armed Services Committee, a Republican panel, on Thursday. Expect to see lots of questions about all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper now with CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, CNN military analyst retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and CNN national security adviser the former CIA operative Bob Baer.

Paul, you have been looking into the Iraqi coverage of all of this. You have seen several inconsistencies. You say they raise doubts al- Baghdadi was even struck. Explain. Are the Iraqis, first of all, whatever they say, the Iraqi regime in Baghdad credible?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think there's significant skepticism about these claims.

Different parts of the Iraqi government have said that this strike occurred in different parts of Iraq, Wolf. So there's a lot of skepticism about this at this point.

And you'll recall that back in September that Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister of Iraq, was in New York, and he made a claim about an ISIS plot against New York. Well, that turned out not to be credible. It's a lot of doubt whether Baghdadi was indeed struck.

BLITZER: Bob, if Baghdadi were, for example, taken out, and we don't believe he was taken out at least right now. Explain how it functions, ISIS, through these cells, the demise of ISIS. That wouldn't -- that wouldn't occur, would it?

BAER: Absolutely not. The leadership would regenerate and very quickly. We would get some lieutenant would step up immediately. Whether he'd go public or not we don't know. But you would really have to hit ISIS over many, many years to truly decapitate this organization. So one assassination is -- is not going to do it.

BLITZER: General Hertling, you know that the top military commanders of ISIS, these are not just a bunch of terrorists. These are trained military officers who served in Saddam Hussein's military. They're Sunnis. They hate the Shiite-led regime in Baghdad. This is a pretty sophisticated army structure that ISIS has, right?

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Very different, Wolf, from what we saw in al Qaeda. Because it's a combination of -- in fact, when we had the fight in Iraq, in northern Iraq, we always used to classify it into Sunni rejectionists and Sunni extremists. And I think al-Baghdadi has taken both of those groups together. The rejectionists are certainly the former Ba'ath Party officials, the Ba'ath generals who are there. They're older generation folks, for the most part, but they do have some military training and some knowledge to be sure.

BLITZER: They certainly do. Bob Baer, I want you to comment on what Rand Paul wrote in "The Daily Beast." He said this, the senator from Kentucky, "Obama's commandeering of Congress' powers from making war to remaking our healthcare system has to stop." He said, "Taking military action against ISIS is justified. The president acting without Congress is not."

Does the president need new military authorization from Congress to continue this war in Iraq and Syria against ISIS?

BAER: I think Rand Paul is right. We're going to be going in, in a big way. It's starting to look like mission creep. Sending troops into al-Anbar province, as advisers, is still mission creep. This is going to be a long war. It's not going to be settled in some spring offensive or even a year or two. And if we are truly going to engage in Iraq, the American people need to talk about this, and Congress needs to vote on it, no question about it.

BLITZER: As you know, Paul, the administration's argument, the president's argument is he has the authority going back to 2001 right after 9/11 to go after al Qaeda. ISIS is an offshoot of al Qaeda. If the Congress wants to give him more authority, that's fine, but he says he really doesn't need that right now, to which you say?

CRUICKSHANK: ISIS is not technically an al Qaeda affiliate. Al Qaeda threw ISIS out of the global al Qaeda network back in February for insubordination; also because of their brutality. So the fact of the matter is, it's not part of al Qaeda anymore. In fact, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, spent much of the last year fighting ISIS, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So you don't believe that necessarily is ISIS, even though a lot of people believe that ISIS is the option of al Qaeda in Iraq, and just changed its name to ISIS and then found itself in a split with the core al Qaeda, if you will, with Ayman al- Zawahiri. But that's a discussion we could have.

Let me pick your brain, General Hertling, on this. Our Reza Sayah, our correspondent in Tehran right now, he says that Iran's shadow commander inside Iraq, General Qassem Suleimani, is there. He's had a lot of -- he's going after ISIS, as well. This is a guy who fought U.S. troops in Iraq. What do you make of what's going on right now?

HERTLING: Well, that's troublesome, Wolf. And he has been there for a while. We've had reports of him leading Quds Force and other Iranian forces in the northern part of Iraq. And I think that's part of the contention of the Sunni tribes. They see -- they saw a central Baghdad government as being almost inextricably linked with the Iranian government.

I think that's beginning to change now. You see the new defense minister of Iraq saying that he will not put up with interference from the Iranian forces. But that's something we've got to watch very carefully. Certainly, Iran has interest in what's going on in Iraq, but to send forces into Iraqi territory is not a good thing.

BLITZER: Yes. And there are Iranian forces in Iraq as we speak right now. I know the U.S. is not happy about that.

All right. Thanks very much, General Hertling, Bob Baer, Paul Cruickshank. Thanks very much.

Just ahead, we have new information from prosecutors about the release of that grand jury report of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

Plus, multiple challenges facing President Obama as he arrives in Asia. We're live in his first stop in Beijing.


BLITZER: Protests have now been announced in more than two dozen cities to coincide with the release of the grand jury investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And with speculation swirling about the timing, St. Louis County prosecutor said just a little while ago, his office will notify the public and the news media before the report is released.

Let's get some more now with CNN's Don Lemon, community activist John Gaskin and CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey -- excuse me, Tom Fuentes is here with us, as well.

John Gaskin, the grand jury decision could come down any day now. Michael Brown's parents heading to Switzerland today to present a report to a United Nations committee against torture about their son's death. What are you hearing? First of all, what might the parents say to the United Nations?

JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, I think they are going to say what many have said already, is that this has become a human rights issue. They're probably going to talk about the -- the increase in killings of young black men at the hands of law enforcement. They're going to put before them an issue that many are seeing not just a human rights issue, but a civil rights issue, as well, and an issue that obviously needs some global attention, as we've seen with the media coverage.

And so I believe that their message is going to be very firm on what their stance is on this issue, as well as shedding some light on what people within this community are dealing with. There's a good possibility that they may mention how the various police departments here have dealt with peaceful protesters and what the reaction has been to -- to the unrest.

BLITZER: What do you think about this, Don? What's your reaction to this -- the parents' decision to go address this U.N. committee in Switzerland and talk about what happened to their son and the aftermath?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Listen, any time I think that you have, you know, the ability and the platform to bring light to a situation that definitely needs to be talked about, I think that you should do it.

I think John is right: they're going to speak about accountability for police departments, less militarization of police departments. I know they're going to talk about that, and they're going to talk about racial profiling, as well.

And they're concerned that, once the announcement comes about an indictment or lack of -- no indictment, that the protesters' rights may be violated, they feel, a second time, if there are demonstrations and if there is unrest.

So I think, listen, again, as I said, any time you have the platform to do it, to bring light to a situation, I think that they should do it.

BLITZER: Tom -- Tom Fuentes, you're just back from Europe. You were at an Interpol conference over there. What's your reaction when you heard the parents deciding to make this statement before this U.N. committee in Switzerland?

FUENTES: Well, I have a couple issues with that. One is that we don't know that we have a human rights violation here. Everybody is jumping to the conclusion that that's what happened, and there's three investigations still pending and the grand jury still meeting. So we don't know for sure that that's what happened here.

Secondly, to talk about militarization of the police, there's no country in the world that has to contend with the public with 300 million guns. We've militarized our public. So until -- you know, if we had the gun laws that Europe has, there might be a different issue involved here.

LEMON: Tom, I think you're right, but I think this goes just beyond Michael Brown. I understand what you're saying, and in some aspect I agree with you on both. But we don't know if there's a human rights violation in this particular instance. And we should wait for due process. Absolutely agree with that.

But they're also going beyond that. They're talking about Trayvon Martin and other people who they believe have been unrightfully killed by law enforcement and by people in authority. So this goes beyond Michael Brown.

Yes, you're right: we don't know that yet. It has to play out. And so -- but I think even if you don't agree with them, if they have the opportunity and they are invited to go there, why not listen to what they have to say? That's all I'm saying.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on, John. This decision to give the public some notice before the grand jury decision is announced. You welcome that. Do you think it's a good idea? And hopefully, whatever the grand jury decides, it will conclude; it will avoid violence, angry protests?

GASKIN: Right. I -- personally, I think that the announcement will not come until after the 15th of November. The prosecutor has said repeatedly mid- to late November. And there's a good possibility that that's when it will come.

But giving the community an opportunity to get a heads up on this, this puts, you know, public safety as a top priority. This allows business owners, this allows community leaders, this allows people that live within this community and the surrounding neighborhoods to gear up for potential unrest. It allows community leaders to communicate with their coalitions, and with protesters so people can begin to organize and protest in a peaceful way.

And it allows law enforcement -- what they're doing right now is having several leaders with community leaders. This is precious time. It allows them to reach out and to potentially share their strategy and develop some relationships so that there is not the same tension or more of the same tension that we saw back in August. I think it's a great thing to potentially let the community know, at least community leaders and people in authority, ahead of time of the announcement.

BLITZER: I think you're right on that. It's a good decision.

Don, Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, he issued another statement today addressing these rumors surrounding the grand jury announcements, lots of speculation going on. Among other things, he says this, the says,. "I realize that this is a much anticipated decision and that there is daily, if not hourly speculation about when the announcement will be released. Until that notice that comes directly from this office, any and all claims of an announcement date or time from nay source, especially social media, are rank speculation and should be ignored."

That's a pretty strong statement from the prosecuting attorney.

LEMON: And he's right on, because that's so many rumors and there's so much speculation out there that it is ridiculous. So, I think that everyone should just take a breath, wait for the prosecutor to make the official announcement before jumping to conclusions.

It doesn't do anyone any good to spread rumors to say it's going to be announced, and this is going to happen, that's going to happen. Let's let the process play out, as the prosecutor said, and see what goes from there. And I agree with John. It should be peaceful protesting, if anything happens. If there is no indictment or if there is an indictment and you don't like that there's an indictment, whatever side you're on, the protests should be peaceful.

BLITZER: They should be peaceful.

One of the problems, though, we'll discuss this down the road, there will be outside agitators. That's what everybody anticipates, who may not necessarily want to see this peaceful. But let's hope it remains peaceful and cooler heads prevail, irrespective of the decision.

Guys, thanks very much for that conversation.

Just ahead, big challenges for President Obama in Asia. We're going live to Beijing. That's the president's first stop. He's there on the ground right now. Stand by.


BLITZER: A week after Democrats took a pounding at the polls, President Obama is in China right now, the first stop on an Asia trip that poses some big challenges for his leadership.

Let go live to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, he's traveling with the president. He's in Beijing right now.

How did this day go, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after a bruising week in Washington, President Obama is back on the road, traveling for the second time this year in Asia, where he is finding his influence on the world stage challenged once again.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With China staging a dazzling summit to showcase its economic might, President Obama is eager to prove for a lame duck in Washington, all is not foul on the world stage.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There should be no doubt the United States remains entirely committed when it comes to Asia.

ACOSTA: The president is walking a diplomatic tight rope, both competing for business in Asia, and pressuring China over its human rights record, in places like Hong Kong.

OBAMA: We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in freedom of association. We believe in openness in government.

ACOSTA: But Mr. Obama started this three-nation journey with a new foreign policy notch on his belt, the release of American prisoners from North Korea, a top secret operation he insisted was no diplomatic missions. Administration officials said it was the North Koreans who control the timing.

OBAMA: We have an indication there was the possibility of a release of these two hostages, these prisoners. And we've pursued it.

ACOSTA: Flexing his own muscle in Asia, Russian President Vladimir Putin is cutting deals with China to bolster his economy after sanctions stemming from the crisis in Ukraine. But Putin was a little more than a distraction for Obama, who was lining up more support for the battle against ISIS, after he doubled the number of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.

OBAMA: We are recognizing the need for us to ramp up Iraqi capabilities.

ACOSTA: The key question for the president on this trip is whether his standing on the world stage is diminished by his shrinking status back in Washington. As one Chinese newspaper said, the lame duck president will be further crippled by the midterms. A political defeat the president now concedes is on him.

OBAMA: I think we have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we're trying to do and why this is the right direction. So, there is a failure of politics there that we've got to -- we've got have to improve on.


ACOSTA: The president and Putin did meet briefly here at the APEC Summit, according to senior administration officials, but they didn't have much time to talk. So, they'll try once again down at the G-20 Summit in Australia later on this week. The president did announce some loosened travel restrictions for Chinese tourists and business leaders going to the United States. But that's a modest accomplishment for a trip that may be well-remembered as just getting the president out of Washington, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

The president certainly will face a changed political landscape when he gets back home.

Joining us now to discuss, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza. He's the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine. He has a future piece on politics in the new issue article I recommend highly.

Once he gets back, there is a stand-off right now, Gloria, on immigration. The president says if the Republicans, and the Congress, and the House and Senate, don't pass legislation before the end of this year, changing the status, if you will, of immigrants who are undocumented here in the United States, he's going to take unilateral action before the end of the year.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and I think you're headed for a showdown. It is pretty obvious what it's going to be. Mitch McConnell, the new majority leader in the Senate, has said that he is going to use the power of the purse as a way to stop what the president wants to do on immigration. In Washington speak, that's defund whatever it costs to implement the president's executive action. In real life, what that means that Congress will refuse to pay for it.

So, you're kind of headed towards a showdown on that. The question is, can these people who might disagree on one thing become adults and say, we disagree on that but maybe we can agree on some kind of tax reform, or something else down the road. We don't know the answer of that.

BLITZER: The president makes the point, the Senate long ago, they passed bipartisan legislation for comprehensive immigration, but it stalled in the House. The House can take it up on a vote between now and the end of the year, and this crisis would be over presumably.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. But we all know that that's not going to happen. The House wants to do a peaceful version of the bill. They want to do security first. And the Senate version is security and a pathway to citizenship together. And Boehner's caucus has already ruled that out.

I mean, this is what happens when Congress is dysfunctional, right, when White House and Congress can't agree, what happens? The White House looks for ways to expand its power.

Look, I -- you know, I think the critics of what Obama is about to do have a really valid point here. Democrats should tread carefully. What happens when a Republican comes in and he decides that he's going to change the enforcement of a major law that Congress wouldn't change. So I think Obama is really pushing the envelope with this executive.

BORGER: But I -- you know, I think what we're going to see over and over again is Republicans trying to use the budget, attaching things to the budget, which only needs 51 votes, not 60 votes, try and get things done or stop things in that way. And I think you're going to have an awful lot of showdowns over all kinds of things.

LIZZA: He does this and then they try to defund, it pushes the Republicans into not just legislation but actively taking away something from a community that's very important to their future.

BLITZER: In your new article in "New Yorker", a major article, the inevitability of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Is she going to face serious challenges assuming in the next few months she's going to announce?

LIZZA: Look, I think we have to assume she's very likely to run. And the history of these things, the dominant front runner always gets challenged. The only question, is it going to be Howard Dean who sort of challenges but then loses? Or is it a Barack Obama who actually overthrows her?

And I don't think we know that right now. I don't think any of us see the sort of Obama-like figure on the horizon who can actually eating into her constituencies that she's strong with. But she is going to be challenged. It happens every time. BLITZER: Do you agree?

BORGER: And she will be, and I think she will. You know, the question is whether it is like a Gary Hart that could really challenge --

BLITZER: What if it's the Vice President Joe Biden?

BORGER: -- Walter Mondale.

I don't think, having spent some time with Joe Biden. I don't think that's likely to occur. Although he says --

BLITZER: He told you he is thinking about it.

BORGER: Yes, he is thinking --

BLITZER: And he said it didn't make any difference.

BORGER: And he said all of that, duly noted. He did say all of that, but I still believe it's unlikely.

She's got such a fundraising advantage in every way, shape or form. However, do I think she would benefit as a candidate from having a challenger, as you point in your piece? Absolutely.

LIZZA: And, look, the two ways to challenge her are one, ideologically from the left, or two, as a new versus old. And those are two ways that Joe Biden cannot challenge her.

BLITZER: A challenger from the left --

LIZZA: He's older.


BORGER: If you want a change candidate, it's not going to be Joe Biden against Hillary Clinton. She can make the case that she's changed, even though she's been around for a while, because she's a woman.

LIZZA: Look, the last time we had these dominant frontrunner is Mondale, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton '08. We didn't necessarily know the name of the challenger this far out, right? We didn't know who Gary Hart was going to actually give Mondale a challenge in '84. We didn't know in 2000 that Gore would get Bradley as his main challenger.

BORGER: Bill Bradley.

LIZZA: Bill Bradley, the senator from New Jersey. Now, look, those front runners --


BORGER: Elizabeth Warren?

LIZZA: That's why people are talking about Elizabeth Warren -- who by the way, is less than two years younger than Hillary Clinton. So, it's not like she represents a new generation.

BORGER: But she has a different message.

LIZZA: She represents an ideological challenge.

BORGER: Right. BLITZER: See if the independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

LIZZA: Bernie Sanders --

BLITZER: He's spending a lot of time in Iowa.


LIZZA: He's actually 73.

BLITZER: He's seriously thinking about running.

BORGER: But all of this raises the question, if it weren't for Hillary Clinton, where is the young blood in the Democratic Party?

BLITZER: We've got to go.


BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much, Gloria and Ryan.

BORGER: He's not young blood.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Remember, you can always tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

Join us tomorrow live or DVR the show. You won't miss a moment.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.