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Ferguson Protestors Prepare for Grand Jury Announcement; Secretary Hagel Stepping Down

Aired November 24, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The grand jury decides. The deliberations are over. We'll now learn very shortly whether the officer, Darren Wilson's, fatal shooting of Michael Brown will be treated as a crime.

Ferguson on edge. Michael Brown's family is notified about the decision, and months after protests has a request for demonstrators. Businesses are boarded up. Authorities say they're prepared for anything.

Hagel resigns after less than two years on the job. The defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, is stepping down. Sources say he was forced out by President Obama. We're going to find out why.

And holiday storm. Thanksgiving travelers will face some nasty winter weather just as they hit the highways and head to the airports.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And let's get right to the breaking news. The grand jury has reached a decision in the fatal police shooting of Ferguson, Missouri, teenager Michael Brown. We're now awaiting a public announcement, which is expected soon.

The key question for the 12-member jury has been whether the officer, Darren Wilson, will face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder or whether the jurors would choose not to indict.

The August 9 shooting of an African-American teen by a white police officer led to violent protests and a very tough response. Ferguson and the surrounding areas in Missouri have been on edge ever since, and amid appeals for calm, authorities say they're ready for whatever comes next.

The NAACP president, Cornell William Brooks, is standing by live along with our correspondents, our analysts, our newsmakers.

Tensions has been building ahead of this grand jury decision. And very shortly the people of Ferguson will know the outcome. Let's go straight to Ferguson right now. Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, has the very latest -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, I'm standing on West Florissant Street. This is the area in August where we saw so much of that unrest.

In talking to the people out here now, people are basically calm for now. But as you can see, if you look around, you can see buildings here are boarded up. In fact, they've been boarded up, Wolf, here for weeks in anticipation of that grand jury decision.


CARROLL (voice-over): The decision by the grand jury has been more than three months in the making. Twelve members of the community poring over documents, interviewing key witnesses, including Darren Wilson himself, all in an effort to decide whether the Ferguson police officer should be indicted for shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9.

While the seven men and five women have operated largely in secret, the community has voiced its anger in public. Overnight, graffiti was discovered on this archway in St. Louis, reading "If we burn, you burn with us," a line from the popular "Hunger Games" series.

The community is on edge, concerned that the grand jury's decision could spark violent protests like those that erupted in August after Brown was shot. Police and community members in the Ferguson area have stepped up security, building barricades around the police department in nearby Clayton while boarding up local businesses in Ferguson.

CAPT. RON JOHNSON, MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL: We're just making sure we have all the resources that can make people safe and make our businesses safe and that those rights of freedom, the protests, are maintained.

CARROLL: Overnight, a reporter for "The Los Angeles Times" was injured when he was hit in the head during a protest.

MATT PEARCE, REPORTER, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": I didn't see anybody throw anything. I didn't see what it was. It just felt like a conk on the head.

CARROLL: Michael Brown's parents have urged protesters to remain calm. His father recorded a public service announcement, asking people not to riot. And on Saturday, his mother joined area demonstrators to encourage peaceful protests.


CARROLL: And I spoke to Michael Brown's cousin earlier today, who is not optimistic about the grand jury's decision. As you heard there in the piece, everyone from Michael Brown's parents actually to the president of the United States urging for demonstrators to be nonviolent. Just within the past hour or so, Wolf, I received a text message from

some of the -- some of those who are out here on the ground organizing protests. They are already getting ready to organize over at the police station there in Ferguson. Once again, the hope is that all of the demonstrations, whatever they may be tonight, will be peaceful -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope they are peaceful. Demonstrations are fine; protests are fine. But let's hope they are peaceful. Jason, thank you.

We're getting new details on what's been happening behind the scenes. Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, has been at the justice center in Clayton, Missouri, not far away. So what else are you learning, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been officially notified that they plan to have a press conference in a couple of hours. The state prosecutor, the county prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, has officially notified the media that he plans to hold a press conference.

For security reasons, he's not saying where that press conference is going to be held. I am one of the reporters that's been told to be ready and to go watch this and go witness this press conference where he will make the grand jury's decision official.

We don't know what the decision is. We know that the grand jury has finished its work. They've been sent home. We know that local and state officials are getting ready to hold a briefing in which they're going to urge the community -- you know, to have -- for calm in this community because of concern, obviously, back in August when there was some violence after the shooting, Wolf. You know that they're very concerned of what the public reaction will be to this -- to this decision by the grand jury.

We also know that law enforcement around the country have been put on alert. We know they've activated their command centers, because they know that there also is likely to be public protests, not only here in the St. Louis region but around the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So we'll stand by. Evan, I want you to stay with us. I want to bring in also CNN's Don Lemon along with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, our CNN political commentator, Donna Brazile, is here as well.

Don, you've been there for a while. You just -- you know, you're there from the beginning. You're now back. What are you seeing, what are you hearing on the streets?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you remember when we -- I was here reporting with you. There is Canfield Drive. Down that street is where Michael Brown lost his life.

We have been seeing protests, sporadic protests, usually in the evening, maybe 40 or 50 people on most nights, not every night. And as far as violence, not a lot of violence. Those protests are mostly peaceful. A lot of the video that you're -- we show sometimes is from August or from earlier times. But pretty much it has been fairly peaceful.

Last night, no one was arrested. The night before that, two people arrested. The night before that, a handful of people arrested. But it's usually just people standing in the middle of the street, nothing -- not breaking windows or looting, what have you.

And we've been seeing some of the businesses -- here you go -- since we've been here, still boarded up. That's Red Barbecue. That was boarded up. And then if you go just to the left here, Wolf, there is a QT (ph) here on West Florissant that was burned down during the height of all the demonstrations. And as we come back around here to -- to where you can see some of the businesses here still boarded up along West Florissant.

But again, you know, mostly peaceful protests. And we have been talking to people. What they want, obviously, they want this to be over with. But they also want some sort of resolution, and they want the relationship between the community and the police department to improve. That's really what they want, beyond an indictment for the officer and a jury trial.

BLITZER: It's clearly, though, a tense situation as we await this grand jury decision.

Don, stand by. Donna Brazile is here with me. Donna, you've been told the highest federal officials, they're monitoring what's going on very closely right now.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The Department of Justice has been on the ground, the community relations division, as well as five or six other divisions of the Justice Department. They have two separate investigations.

Clearly Eric Holder, the attorney general, is someone the president has dispatched to Ferguson to meet with officials, to talk to the governor, the president himself talking to the governor just a few weeks ago. So there's clearly a coordination between what's happening with the federal government and the state and local officials.

BLITZER: As it should be right now, the tension obviously being significant.

Jeffrey, give us an idea of the possibilities if -- and we don't know what the decision of the grand jury is. But if an indictment is handed down, could the officer, the police officer, Darren Wilson, face first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, none of the above? Give us a range of options.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think you provided the five -- the five options that are available, Wolf. There is first- and second-degree murder, which are basically versions of intentional, deliberate murder; and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, which are murder through, essentially, reckless behavior. They are homicide through reckless behavior.

And of course, the other possibility is no charges at all. But the same issue underlines all of the charges, which is, was Officer Wilson's decision to shoot Michael Brown reasonable under the circumstances? That's the core of this case. You know, you can get confused thinking about the different charges.

But fundamentally, this entire grand jury investigation has been about the decision that Officer Wilson made and was it one that was reasonable, legal or so reckless, so wrong that he deserves to be criminally prosecuted?

BLITZER; We should know fairly soon about that decision.

Don, you know that Michael Brown's parents, they've been notified that a decision has been reached. They're urging calm. They're also requesting 4 1/2 minutes of silence before protests begin if, in fact, there will be protests, symbolic for the 4 1/2 hours that Michael Brown's body lay on the streets of Ferguson following the shooting.

Here's the question to you, because you're speaking to a lot of people there in the community. Do you think their requests -- and they have been emotional requests -- for peace, if you will, will be heeded?

LEMON: I think every little bit counts. And I think they are, the people at the center of this as well as Officer Darren Wilson. So I think they will have some impact on what can happen here, as well as the captain of the Missouri Highway Patrol, Ron Johnson. As you know, Wolf, he has -- as we've been watching television here and listening to the radio here, there are public service announcements from him, from the family of Michael Brown and from other city officials and from community leaders here in the area urging there to be calm and to be level heads.

So, yes, I do think the family's wishes will be met in some ways. But people are upset, and there's a level of frustration. You don't know what's going to happen. Everyone is urging calm, but, again, we don't know what's going to happen, because we don't know what the decision is, Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan, do you know why they're waiting? I mean, we learned, what, about three or four hours ago that the grand jury has reached a decision. Why are they waiting to make the announcement?

PEREZ: Well, Wolf, there's a bunch of procedures that are now going on behind the scenes. They have to notify the judge, who is overseeing this case. They have to -- as you know, Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor, had planned to release all the evidence that's been presented to this grand jury. That is something that he is going to have to get a judge's OK to do, based on what the grand jury in the end decided.

He's also -- the procedure that they were trying to give notice to law enforcement not only here but around the country. And the message is whatever the grand jury decided, Wolf, they want to make sure people understand that it goes beyond this case, that there's reform of the Ferguson Police Department. Police departments in this entire region are also going to be reformed. So whatever the grand jury decides, this story is not over.

BLITZER: Not over by any means.

All right. Stand by. Everyone, stand by as we await the announcement of the grand jury decision. I want to bring in the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.

Mr. Brooks, thanks very much for joining us. First of all, have you heard anything from Ferguson about a decision?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: I've not heard anything regarding a decision, other than a decision is forthcoming. And like much of the country, the NAACP, along with young people in this community and families in this community and across the country, are awaiting that decision.

BLITZER: So you've got -- you're obviously -- any protests that might erupt, you obviously want them to be peaceful, right?

BROOKS: We obviously want them to be peaceful. The NAACP stands with a generation of youthful practitioners of democracy, who have been on the streets for week after week, days on end, seeking justice for a grieving family and justice and systemic reform for an outraged community. So we stand with those protesters who are simply protesting under the American Constitution. But we expect and we hope and believe that those protests will be nonviolent.

BLITZER: Have you been concerned as a lot of other people have been in Ferguson and St. Louis County, that the St. Louis County prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, the way he's been dealing with the grand jury, has that been a source of concern to you or do you have confidence in this process?

BROOKS: We have concerns about this process. The NAACP filed five complaints with the Justice Department concerning police departments in St. Louis County before Michael Brown was killed.

The county prosecutor did not respond to those complaints. This grand jury process has been unusual, to say the least. And so we have concerns. We have concerns where you have a process where it appears that the county prosecutor has dumped a lot of evidence into the laps of the grand jury. So we have concerns. But we are looking for both justice for Michael Brown's family and systemic reform for this community and the country as a whole.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Mr. Brooks. We have a lot more to discuss. So we have more questions. We're going to get to those questions in just a moment. We'll take a quick break.

You see what's happening over there. This is not far from Ferguson. This is near Ferguson. This is the justice center. This is where the announcement will be made, the decision of the grand jury. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. The grand jury has reached a decision in the fatal police shooting of the teenager, Michael Brown. An announcement is due shortly on whether that means charges for the police officer, Darren Wilson.

We're back with the president and the CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. Mr. Brooks, once again, thanks very much for joining us.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLITZER: You were critical of the governor of Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon, for declaring a state of emergency in advance of a decision being announced, suggesting it was presumptuous to assume there would be violence. What do you think of his decision now?

BROOKS: I still believe it's presumptuous as to the intent of the protestors and premature with respect to any violence.

What we've seen is that 99 percent of the protesters have been nonviolent. The family has appealed for nonviolence. And so where we have seen militarization and a pervasive presence of the police force escalating, precipitating unconstructive behavior, I believe it's important here to treat this not as a security crisis but as a social justice crisis.

So in other words, to the extent the governor can talk about reforms, making sure that no more tragedies like this happen in the future, those things are calming. Those things speak to the needs of this community and people across the country.

BLITZER: Tell us what you meant, Mr. Brooks, when you called the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a generational assault?

BROOKS: Absolutely. Where we've seen one out of every three African- American men expect to spend some time in prison. One out of every four African-American men reporting in the last month that they've been mistreated at the hands of the police.

Where we see statistics along the lines of African-American men being 21 times more likely to die at the hands of the police than white men. There's an empirical basis for people to be concerned about how they're being treated by the police.

And so we have a generation of people -- of young people who, in the midst of the lowest crime rate in 20 years, feel like they're in the midst of a pandemic of police misconduct.

So the point being here is that we have young people who walk beside police officers whose jobs it is to protect them, to serve and protect them. And they are, in fact, afraid of them.

The reality is, we can police our communities in ways that are respectful and that also protect those communities; and we can do a much better job than we have done.

BLITZER: If no indictment is handed down, and the only people who have seen all the evidence, as you and I know, are the 12 members of that grand jury and the prosecutor in this case, but if no indictment is handed down, would you be among those who would say there has been a miscarriage of justice?

BROOKS: I think it's safe to say that, if no indictment is handed down, there will be a great deal of disappointment. But I believe that there -- that disappointment will be exceeded by a sense of determination, a sense of determination in terms of bringing racial profiling and police misconduct to an end.

We have to be clear here. Before Michael Brown, there was Eric Garner. Going back 20 years, there was Rodney King. We have seen over and over again young people who are suspected in the most underwhelmingly minor of offenses, meeting overwhelmingly major and often lethal use of force at the hands of police.

Michael Brown, think about this, was suspected, at worse, in terms of the initial interaction with the officer, of jaywalking. We have a teenager who is suspected of jaywalking who ends up dead. This is a problem. This is a major and fundamental challenge in our country. It has to be addressed as such.

BLITZER: Would it make any difference, Mr. Brooks, if he's charged with murder, first-degree or second-degree murder, or of the lesser charge, manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary? You think the community would react differently?

BROOKS: I think the community is looking for the charge based upon the evidence. And if there's an indictment that's based upon the evidence that holds this officer accountable, I believe the community will be satisfied with that.

But this officer has to be held accountable. And that's what people are looking to. In terms of gradations of response based upon the charges, that's hard to predict. But people want this officer held accountable. This young man has his hands in the air. He was killed, and his body was lay on the ground for 4 1/2 hours. We want accountability, and that is not an unreasonable expectation.

BLITZER: You're a lawyer. You know if he's not charged right now, he's still open to a federal investigation. There is a Justice Department investigation into the civil rights part of this entire -- this entire development. Or private lawsuits, if you will, civil lawsuits. Those are still options, right?

BROOKS: Absolutely. So there is certainly the possibility of a civil rights suit with respect to Michael Brown. There's also the matter of the Justice Department monitoring this police department and the St. Louis County Police Department. We've seen settlements in Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey, where these police departments have some federal oversight.

Clearly, there's a basis for that here. There are various avenues for accountability. But right now at this moment, on the eve of this grand jury announcement, we have a family and a community looking for justice for Michael Brown's family, in particular, even as we press toward systemic reform beyond that. And that reform includes legislative responses, both at the federal and at the state level.

We have to address racial profiling, because before Michael Brown was killed, it is our belief that he was, in fact, profiled.

BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Mr. Brooks, thanks very much for joining us. And we, of course, hope that everyone heeds your words, heeds the words of Michael Brown's family. Go ahead and demonstrate; go ahead and protest; but keep it peaceful, no violence in the best traditions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well. Thanks very much for joining us.

BROOKS: Indeed. We hope and pray for that.

BLITZER: We certainly do.

All right. Coming up, we're going to have much more on the breaking news as we await an announcement on the grand jury decision in the fatal police shooting of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown. Tensions are rising. Authorities say they're ready for anything.

And we'll also get a closer look at the police officer, Darren Wilson. He has stayed silent in the months since the shooting, although we've learned he did get -- did manage to get married recently. We're going to have details on that.

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


BLITZER: We're just getting this in to CNN. The Ferguson School District will be closed tomorrow. A statement put out on the district's website saying, "Due to the anticipated and increase in traffic and possible demonstrations in our area as a result of the pending grand jury announcement this evening, and in consideration of the safety of all students and staff, the Ferguson-Florissant School District will be closed on Tuesday, November 25. All after-hour -- after-school and evening activities will also be canceled." So that's just coming in.

We're following the breaking news, the grand jury reaching a decision in the fatal police shooting of the Ferguson, Missouri, teenager Michael Brown. An announcement revealing that decision expected soon.

The police officer, Darren Wilson, has largely kept out of sight since the shooting. Our Brian Todd is standing by; takes a closer look at the man at the center of this extraordinary drama -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we've gotten information that Officer Wilson got married recently.

But you're right: very little is known about this young man. He's kept out of sight, has not spoken out publicly since the shooting occurred in August. So it remains a mystery tonight just how Darren Wilson and those close to him really feel about that horrible day in Ferguson.


TODD (voice-over): His city and his police department became embroiled in one of America's most explosive conflicts over race in recent years, while the teenager he shot became a household name. But tonight Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, the man at the center of conflict and controversy, still remains largely a mystery.

While CNN has learned Wilson did testify before the grand jury, neither he nor his attorneys have ever offered a public account of what he says happened the day he shot Michael Brown. There've ignored repeated requests for comment. There's been no trace of him on social media and friends say he remains in hiding.


BLITZER: And he really can't go out there because --

ROORDA: Not known to me either.

BLITZER: -- he can't -- he can't walk around freely, go to a store, go to a movie or anything like that. Is that right?

ROORDA: I can't imagine that he can, no.

TODD: CNN has learned the 28-year-old is an eight-year police veteran, spending six of those years in Ferguson. Just this past February, he was given a commendation by his department, seen in this video. Wilson, seen here in surveillance video leaving the police station the night of the shooting, has never returned to active duty. And CNN has learned once the grand jury decision is announced, he plans to resign.

Still, tonight it appears he has maintained a personal life. A source close to Wilson says he and his fiancee, another officer with the Ferguson Police Department, were married in recent weeks. A friend of Wilson's who didn't want to be named tells CNN Wilson was divorced last year and has a child.

For the most part, those who know Darren Wilson, including his fellow officers, have also stayed silent, refusing to share photos or memories. One longtime friend who has spoken says he once played youth hockey with Darren Wilson and that Wilson is a good man who was not motivated by hate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He never talked about minorities. I mean, he was of the moral virtue where he would never bring something like that up. I doubt he even with his closest friends talked about stuff like that.


TODD: So what is next for Darren Wilson? Well, depending on what the grand jury's decided, he of course, could face murder or manslaughter charges. He could go free but would still face a Justice Department investigation for possibly violating Michael Brown's civil rights, and he faces an internal investigation by the Ferguson Police Department.

Analysts also say Michael Brown's family will probably file a wrongful death lawsuit against Wilson. And we know he'll never -- likely never wear a badge again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

Let's go in depth right now with our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes; our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; and the community activist there in Missouri, John Gaskin.

What's your advice here to this police officer? Let's say he's not indicted right now. He presumably is worried about his safety.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think so. And not only that but the safety of his fellow officers, other policemen who might be on the street if he gets led into an ambush.

But I think as Brian Todd just mentioned, I would seriously doubt that he'll ever wear a badge again, if for no other reason than it's going to be -- everything he does is going to be questioned, no matter what the outcome of the grand jury or these other investigations.

BLITZER: So John, what do you think? If he's not indicted, what's the mood out there? What's going to happen?

JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, if he's not indicted, I believe and I know that the protests will continue, because someone has to be held accountable for an 18-year-old young African-American man that was shot with his hands up and laid in the street for 4 1/2 hours.

The people within this community, Wolf, want accountability. They want transparency. And they want the prosecutor and that grand jury and the judicial system to hold Darren Wilson accountable for his actions.

Should he be allowed to be a police officer anymore? I certainly hope not, to be quite frank with you. I don't know what type of law enforcement organization would even allow him to serve under these types of circumstances.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, under what circumstances can a police officer shoot and kill someone, assuming that those eyewitness accounts are accurate, those people testified before the grand jury, with someone having his hands up?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: well, I think the short answer is, if it is a reasonable act of self-defense. Now, that is not a term that defines itself. It is a term that ordinary people, grand jurors, perhaps jurors ultimately, will have to decide. But it is really about whether the grand jurors believe that Officer

Wilson was facing a genuine immediate threat from Michael Brown. That is the gist of the decision they have to make. It's actually a fairly simple standard. It's just very complicated and difficult to apply it in a fast-breaking, life-and-death situation like this one.

BLITZER: We suspect that, Tom, this police officer, Mr. Wilson, he told the grand jury he was acting in self-defense. Presumably, he will argue that inside that car, Michael Brown sought to get his gun. A shot went off. There was a struggle, he started running away. Would he still be, under those circumstances, justified in going ahead and shooting him?

FUENTES: Well, I think, Wolf, there's going to be so much nuance as to what happened at that car. And the forensic science applied to that investigation, I think is almost more important than what Officer Wilson said or what other witnesses have said about that.

You know, we've heard people say that Wilson was trying to pull Michael Brown through the window of the police car and that that's how Brown was inside struggling for the gun. No police officer is going to try and pull somebody through the window of their car, especially if they weigh 300 pounds. So that's suspect in and of itself. There are many aspects of this.

I think -- I'd like to make one more mention. The idea that Michael Brown's body laid in the street for four hours has been portrayed as a complete act of disrespect on the part of the police. And it was not an act of disrespect. That's the law. And Ferguson police were not allowed to touch that body. Once Michael Brown was pronounced dead by a paramedic and the medical examiner's office was notified, they can't touch the body --

BLITZER: But they could have put some protective devices, shields around there so that it wouldn't be visible --

FUENTES: No, they really couldn't. And the reason is --

BLITZER: They can't even put it around?

FUENTES: The reason is because you'd have to be walking through the crime scene to do that. You don't know where the bullet casings are lying. That could be kicked out of the way. Because that's going to matter, Wilson's position as he's firing and the empty casings are being ejected from the pistol.

So all of that crime scene -- you know, we're normally used to having these type of crime scenes indoors or in a black alley where that could be blacked off. But this is in the wide open street. People were on balconies looking down on this from the apartments. So there really was no real way to shield it. You can't cover the body, because that disturbs the hairs and fibers and other physical evidence.

So it's -- but if you're going to hold somebody to task for that, discuss that with the medical examiner, because the medical examiner releases the body only after the crime scene investigation.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

All right. Tom Fuentes, stand by. John Gaskin, Jeffrey Toobin, stand by, as well. Much more of the breaking news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: -- in Ferguson, Missouri. Shortly, the grand jury there has reached a decision, and we're waiting for word of that decision. But there's other stories we're following, including a major development here in Washington.

The defense secretary of the United States, Chuck Hagel, is stepping down. And despite all the hugs and the handshakes over at the White House, today sources are telling CNN Hagel was basically pushed out by President Obama.

Let's get the details from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all day long, the conversation that has been, was Hagel pushed out or did he jump? Either way, the president, the White House, making it clear it was time, in their view, for a change.


STARR (voice-over): After less than two years on the job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned, saying it was a decision he did not make lightly.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's been the greatest privilege of my life, the greatest privilege of my life to lead, and most important to serve, to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department.

STARR: The White House offered words but no real explanation.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Over the course of the last month or so, the president and secretary have had a number of conversations. They determined that it would be best for the Pentagon to transition to new leadership.

STARR: All indications are Hagel was forced out, though Pentagon officials say it was a mutual decision by Hagel and President Obama after a series of conversations since late October. Just last week, Hagel hinted change was coming.

HAGEL: I don't get up in the morning and worry about my job. It's not unusual, by the way, to change teams at different times.

STARR: Senior Hagel aides for weeks have complained about White House micromanagement.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I can tell you he was in my office last week, very frustrated.

STARR: Hagel had also warned the White House that its Syria policy was in trouble if Bashar al-Assad was left in power.

Hagel came into office trying to downsize the military, which has now racked by the war on ISIS, the Ebola crisis and a looming fight with a Republican Congress on defense spending.

COL. PETER MANSOOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): He wanted a loyal team player who was also a strong secretary of defense. And I think what he got was a loyal team player whose skill sets as a senator never fully translated into being the secretary of defense.

STARR: Even at his confirmation hearing, Hagel told of his doubts to the president.

HAGEL: I didn't try to sell him on the job, that I can do it. In fact, when he asked me about why am I qualified or why would I be uniquely qualified, I said, I'm not. There are a lot of very qualified Americans who could do this job.


STARR: Now one of Hagel's closest aides tells me it is just a cold, hard fact, he was pushed out by the White House potentially for reasons of political expediency. Hagel has said he will stay on until a successor is confirmed. And that could keep him at the Pentagon until early next year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

So let's go over to the White House right now. Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is standing by.

What are you hearing over there, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you heard the president say earlier today that this was Chuck Hagel's decision. But the White House all but acknowledged today that this was not all Hagel's doing. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this all started about a month ago when the president and Hagel began having some conversations about the direction Mr. Obama wants to take the Pentagon and then realized it was time for a change.

But White House officials, Wolf, have made it no secret. They have problems with Hagel's message discipline, starting with his rocky confirmation hearing only a year and nine months ago when he mishandled a whole slew of questions. Then there was Hagel's assessment of ISIS that the group was, quote, "way beyond anything the U.S. had seen." That's after the president had described ISIS and other terror groups as the JV team.

And then there was Hagel's critique, as Barbara mentioned, of the president's Syria policies. So it was clear that he was not on board with the president's policies and had to go. But White House officials insist the president took a lot of pride in the fact that Hagel was the first enlisted combat veteran to serve as defense secretary.

And both Mr. Obama and Vice President Biden developed a kinship with Hagel in the Senate when they're back -- the Nebraska Republican criticized the Iraq war surge when they were all in the Senate.

So, Wolf, the question now is whether the White House and the president can find somebody who will be on that same page for the last two years of this administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And can get confirmed by the United States Senate.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you.

Coming up, much more of the breaking news out of Ferguson.

Also, the holiday storm is now on the way, Thanksgiving travelers here in the United States will face some really nasty winter weather just as they hit the highways and head out to the airports.


BLITZER: Thanksgiving travelers could be facing some pretty rough winter weather just as they hit the highways and head out to the airports.

Let's bring in our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's at the CNN Weather Center.

What should we expect, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Rain along the coast, winds, maybe 45 miles per hour, and snow inland. Depends on what computer you believe right now. The European model, over a foot of snow. All along the Berkshires in Massachusetts into Connecticut. The U.S. model not quite so white. A little bit more wet along the coast. Either way, we're going to see massive airport delays. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., all the way up and down the East Coast.

Even with the wind and rain, it's still going to be a mess on the highways, as well. It is nor'easter, that is going to run up the East Coast. Now we say that, the nor'easter in the winter time, and we go oh, no, we're going to get three feet of snow. This is going to be more of a rain maker than a snow maker.

This storm a month or a month and a half from now is a major snow maker but it isn't quite cold enough to make that big snow event. Yes, there will be snow and you'll see snow in the Alleghenies, in the Poconos, and all the way up to the green-white mountains of Vermont but along the I-95 corridor, I believe it's going to be a rain snow even, mixed together, with temperatures around 35.

You can drive through it. It's not pleasant. And it will be slow no matter how you get to your destination. Whether you're driving or flying, it's going to be a slow Wednesday for sure, Wolf, by more tomorrow.

BLITZER: Just be very, very careful if you're driving for sure.

All right, Chad. Thank you.

Coming up, much more on the breaking news coming out of Ferguson, Missouri. We'll update you on what's going on right after this.


BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. A decision in the case that sparked months of unrest. At any moment we'll learn whether the police officer, Darren Wilson, is being charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

The Brown family reacts. They've just issued a special request to anyone who might protest the decision, and we're standing by for a news conference by the Missouri governor.

Bracing for violence. Officials say they're prepared for all possibilities. And law enforcement is standing by in case appeals for calm go unheeded.