Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; Selling the Iran Nuclear Deal; Fourth Man Charged in ISIS Recruitment Plot; Pilots Grounded After Reported Cockpit Brawl; Hillary Clinton 2016 Announcement Expected Soon. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 6, 2015 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Obama and the Israeli prime minister reengage in a war of words over a tentative agreement with Iran. Will the nuclear deal be sealed or scuttled?

ISIS in America. We're learning more about the arrest of two New York City women now facing terror charges. Could one of them have been set up?

Cockpit brawl. We're looking into reports of an angry face-off between two pilots just minutes before takeoff and the potential danger to passengers.

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

Breaking now: new calls for the U.S. to evacuate its citizens from an urban battlefield now that the first American blood has been billed in Yemen's civil war. Tonight, the crisis is growing more dire and deadly by the hour. There are new warnings about al Qaeda's resurgence as it feeds on the chaos.

Another terrorist threat unfolding tonight, reports that ISIS fighters have seized a refugee camp in Syria, trapping thousands of Palestinians, including more than 3,000 children.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is here. She's an Iraq War veteran. She's a member of the Armed Services Committee, Also, our correspondents and analysts, they are standing by with all the news that's breaking right now.

First, let's go to our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He has got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the challenge for U.S. officials following Yemen is finding the bottom. It doesn't appear we have seen that yet, as the situation continues to deteriorate.

Americans under threat with no official plans announced yet by the State Department to evacuate them. The U.S. now watching if those Houthi rebels backed by Iran plan to spread the violence across the border into Saudi territory.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): This is Yemen in collapse. Running gun battles on the streets of the key port city of Aden and now, desperate attempts to escape.

CNN's Nima Elbagir flew into the capital Sanaa on a rare commercial flight, witnessing residents run for their lives. The flight crews nervous to get off the ground within minutes of landing.

Caught in the crossfire today, American Jamal al-Labani, killed by mortar fire as he tried to evacuate his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter to their home in California. Countries from India to China and Russia have now evacuated their citizens but the U.S. has not. The U.S. embassy closed and special forces no longer on the ground. U.S. citizens looking to leave the country are seemingly on their own.

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: We are very clear with American citizens that this is not a place they should go, that we have limited ability, particularly now.

SCIUTTO: The departure of all U.S. forces, diplomats and many intelligence gathering resources leaves a one time counterterrorist success story in utter disarray. A U.S. counterterror official calls the situation, quote, "dire", and warns the terror group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stands to gain greater ability to carry out terror attacks as U.S. counterterror pressure has weakened.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: Very concerning to have the U.S. operating blindly in Yemen. One of the organizations that has been most interested and capable of conducting strikes in the U.S. homeland, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has increased its control of territory.

SCIUTTO: Also standing to gain, Iran. Houthi rebels who have U.S. allied government forces on the run are backed by Tehran. The U.S. is now monitoring whether Iran is sending arms to them, even in the midst of progress on sensitive nuclear negotiations.


SCIUTTO: I'm told by a U.S. counterterror official that AQAP in Yemen is communicating, sharing know-how with Al-Shabaab in Somalia, as al Qaeda-affiliated groups normally do. They have not carried out to this point joint operations.

But that's considered a credible next step. Keep in mind that's two failed states right across from each other, Yemen here, Somalia here, with two growing terror threats taking advantage of the chaos in both places now. That's AQAP here, Al-Shabaab here, both of them with aspirations to attack abroad.

BLITZER: Yes, two failed states indeed. Jim Sciutto, thank you.

Now to the fate of thousands of refugees, including more than 3,000 children trapped and threatened by ISIS terrorists.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us. She has this story for us.

This is more awful news, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another place on the ground where the U.S. has almost no intelligence, no ability to influence events.

Outside Damascus, Syria, the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp now almost completely captured by ISIS. The estimate is they control 90 percent of the camp. There are 18,000 Palestinians refugees, including 3,000 children, as you say, who have been living there, already in dire circumstances due to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

[18:05:10] Tonight, the United Nations says the hour has never been more dire for these people. The running gun battles across the neighborhoods, there is no food, water, medicine. No ability to get aid in. The United Nations calling for a halt to the fighting. But let's be clear. There's absolutely no indication that ISIS is listening to anybody, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's definitely true.

Barbara, let's turn the corner to the deadly terror attack in Kenya. You are now learning more about the hunt for the mastermind behind that attack at the university killing, what, about 147 students, mostly Christians.

STARR: Indeed, Wolf.

The Kenyan government now putting a $250,000 reward on the head of a man named Mohamed Mohamud, an Al-Shabaab commander in the region along the Somali-Kenyan border, who they say is one of the masterminds -- you see him there -- behind this attack. He has such a vast network of operatives.

It stretches into some of the teeming refugee camps in that region which also house thousands of people. He is able to recruit from there. A good deal of concern about what Al-Shabaab's next moves may be. They have already vowed to make other Kenyan cities red with blood, in their words. A lot of concern in the United States. Al- Shabaab may not be able to conduct a massive scale attack in this country, but the concern always that they can recruit see Somali- Americans, young Somalis living here to their cause and recruit them and inspire them to conduct lone wolf attacks, but no indication Al- Shabaab planning to stop their reign of terror in East Africa any time soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

Tonight, the debate is also raging over whether a new nuclear deal with Iran will ease the danger in the Middle East or make it worse. President Obama is actively defending the agreement. He just gave another interview as he faces a barrage of criticism from Congress and from Israel.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He has the latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president says this nuclear deal with Iran fits perfectly into the Obama doctrine. His critics say that's the problem. By the way, there's a key portion of this agreement that's in limbo.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The full-court press has begun, as the president sells a nuclear deal that will define the Obama doctrine. He told "The New York Times" in an interview that the negotiations with Iran are proof that diplomacy even with longtime adversaries can pay dividends.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This goes back to the early point that you asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is, we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.

ACOSTA: Especially, the president said, when engagement is backed by the threat of military action.

OBAMA: The truth of the matter is, Iran's defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us.

ACOSTA: But the president's critics say he's undercut that position of strength by allowing Iran to keep too much of its nuclear program.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, my view is probably the best deal that Barack Obama could get with the Iranians, because the Iranians don't fear or do they respect him and our allies in the region don't trust the president.

ACOSTA: It's a message Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all but repeated on CNN when he declined to say he trusts the president.

(on camera): Do you trust the president, Mr. Prime Minister?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I trust that the president is doing what he thinks is good for the United States. But I think that we can have a legitimate difference of opinion on this, because I think Iran has shown to be completely distrustful.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president revealed he takes that criticism to heart.

OBAMA: It has been personally difficult for me to hear the sort of expressions that somehow we don't have -- this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel's interests.

ACOSTA: Part of the reason there is so much skepticism is the fact that a big portion of the framework agreement touted in the Rose Garden last week is hardly settled.

The White House conceded the U.S. and Iran have yet to agree on just when economic sanctions on Tehran will be lifted. (on camera): Does that mean there was no framework agreement last



JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jim, there's a four-page document.

[16:05:00] ACOSTA: That's a pretty key pillar, it would seem, of this framework agreement.

EARNEST: Well, Jim, I think we have been very clear about the fact that there are still important details that need to be locked down.


ACOSTA: And the sales pitch continues. This afternoon, the president explained to NPR why he didn't make the nuclear deal hinge on Iran's recognition of Israel's right to exist. The president essentially said Iran would never agree with such a deal, calling that suggestion a fundamental misjudgment -- his words, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jim Acosta. By the way, good interview with the Israeli prime minister yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION," Jim Acosta reporting for us.

[18:10:03] Joining us now, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She's a Democrat of Hawaii. She's a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also an Iraq War veteran.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to get what's going on with the Iran nuclear deal. But let's talk about the first American believed to be killed in the Yemen fighting, a man by the name of Jamal al-Labani from Northern California. Had a gas station there. He went back to Yemen to bring home his pregnant wife and child. But while there, he got caught in the crossfire, if you will.

And there are hundreds, if not thousands of American citizens, many Yemeni-American dual nationals, who are still there. Is there anything the U.S. can do to get those Americans out?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: I think it's definitely something that the United States should be looking at, that the Department of State should be looking at to see, how can we make sure that our U.S. citizens who are there still can be evacuated?

If you look at what some of these other countries who have large numbers of their own citizens there still in Yemen have done, I think there are opportunities for us which we should exploit and pursue to make sure that our American citizens are given the opportunity to evacuate, especially during this time of chaos and great unrest in Yemen.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the U.S. abandoned the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, the capital. All the U.S. military personnel, they got out quickly.

And you're right. India, a few other countries, Russia, they are sending in planes to try to get some of their citizens out. Would you recommend -- and you are a member of the Armed Services Committee, you're an Iraq war veteran -- that the U.S. launch emergency aircraft to fly to see if some of those American citizens can be gotten out of there?

GABBARD: I think we have to look at what the risks are and what the situation is on the ground to make sure that we're not causing more danger, both to those who would go into rescue in the situation, as well as those who are being evacuated.

You mentioned India as an example. I think just in the last day or so, India sent in some of their navy ships or one of their navy ships and rescued over a couple of thousand people. And you are seeing coordination between these various countries to make sure that they are working together to get their citizens out.

So, yes, I do think that we should look at what are the options that are available to us as the United States to make sure that our U.S. citizens are -- have the opportunity to be evacuated from Yemen.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, listen to what President Obama said last September, not that long ago, about the U.S. efforts in Yemen and Somalia. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.


BLITZER: That exactly hasn't worked out well. Both of those countries are failed states right now, the U.S. embassies evacuated. All U.S. military personnel, they got out of there quickly.

Here's the question. And I think it's a fundamental question. How did the Obama administration get it so wrong only last September in discussing the U.S. counterterrorist strategy in both Somalia and Yemen?

GABBARD: Well, I think if you look at what's going on in Yemen now, you are seeing still a relatively young country that is working out some very difficult differences in essentially what is a sectarian war.

And we're seeing this play out in different parts of the Middle East especially. And we can see this actually with what's happening and the importance of recognizing the fact that this is -- these are sectarian-fueled conflicts with what we just saw in Tikrit, in Iran.

We saw this military offensive strategy to drive ISIS out of Tikrit. And as I said before this offensive started, in order to do that and make sure it's successful, you have got to recognize the sectarian conflict at play and make sure that you have a plan for the Sunni people in this Sunni community in Tikrit to have governance and to be responsible for the security.

What we saw was, there was no plan for that to take place. And as a result, you saw these Shia militias who are basically led and being trained by Iran burning houses down, erupting in chaos and looting this town, which is creating more of a reason for the Sunni people there to turn away from this Baghdad central government and towards ISIS, who is offering them protection from Iran and from the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

So, this points to the necessity to recognize that what's fueling these conflicts, these sectarian-driven longstanding conflicts.

BLITZER: And even as we are speaking right now, Congresswoman, we are getting word the U.S. now saying that the government of India, which has been flying these emergency planes in to try to get some of its citizens out, other international citizens out, the government of India is now telling the United States, they will help get some American citizens out of Yemen right now.

What does it say to you that India is capable of doing this, but maybe the U.S. isn't?

[18:15:02] GABBARD: Well, I would not say that the U.S. is incapable.

I think that we have tremendous capabilities. And I think it's a matter of our leadership making a decision to either go and work directly or work with some of our friends such as India to be able to make sure that the American people who are in Yemen right now have the opportunity to be evacuated to safety.

BLITZER: Is there a concern right now -- and you are privy to sensitive information -- that AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, is being given some new breathing room? Saudi Arabia is launching airstrikes. But the U.S., for all practical purposes, got out of Yemen. No military personnel there. Drone strikes, for all we know, not necessarily going on.

Is AQAP likely to get a whole lot stronger at least in the short-term?

GABBARD: I think it's a concern that the United States should maintain, in its focus on fighting against these Islamic extremist radicals, such as AQAP, such as Al-Shabaab, who we have just seen conduct this slaughtering attack in Kenya, such as ISIS, et cetera, et cetera, and seeing how we can continue to focus on taking them out.

With the conflict that's happening in Yemen, I think it's complicated and it's continuing to evolve. I know that in the past these Houthi rebels have fought against AQAP themselves. And so the unrest there in Yemen I think will continue to evolve in ways that might be difficult to determine at this point.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, I want you to stand by. We have more to discuss, including the Iran nuclear deal, also what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much more with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard right after this.


[18:20:56] BLITZER: We're back with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the Armed Services Committee, an Iraq War veteran.

We're talking about the terrorist threats that are breaking right now, including the hunt for the mastermind in the slaughter at that university in Kenya; 147 students were massacred, mostly Christians who had been separated from the Muslims.

As you know, Congresswoman, the president, President Obama, told Tom Friedman of "The New York Times" in that interview over the weekend, in his words, alienated youths, youths that are unemployed can be most vulnerable to the allure of terrorism.

But the suspect, one of the key suspects in the Kenyan terror attack at that university was a law school graduate, the son of a Kenyan government chief. How are these accomplished individuals recruited by these ISIS, Al-Shabaab, al Qaeda terror groups?

GABBARD: Wolf, you and I have spoken about this a number of times about the need to recognize really what is the true motive behind these groups like ISIS and like Al-Shabaab, like AQAP, as we just spoke about?

It's not about people who are alienated. It's not about people who are living in poverty. It's about people who are being recruited and attracted by this pseudo-religious ideology that these terrorist groups are motivated by as they conduct these killings like we just saw in Kenya.

Really, when you look at it, what they did there at that university, separating Muslims from Christians and then slaughtering people, simply because they are Christians, really is a clear example of what this is really all about, what their motivation really is. As we look at yesterday was Easter, we look at what Jesus Christ's teachings were, to love God, to love your neighbor, you look at Hinduism, you look at religions all around the world, the real meaning of religion is really about love. It's about caring for others.

It's about loving God and having respect and compassion for all people, regardless of their own religious practice, their own ethnicity, their own race, wherever they come from. This just points exactly again to this radical ideology that is really false religion. It's pseudo-religion that is fueling these terroristic activities.

BLITZER: And we also see now these images of fighters in Afghanistan showing their allegiance to ISIS with the ISIS flag. Does the U.S. need to rethink its strategy of eventually pulling out? There are still about 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now. There you see some video of these ISIS thugs who are now in Afghanistan with that ISIS flag. Does the U.S. need to stay there or just get out?

GABBARD: No, I think we have got to look again at what our goal and what our mission is and what we're trying to accomplish.

And our goal, as it should be, to be able to defeat this radical Islamic ideology-fueled groups like ISIS -- you see these other groups who are pledging their allegiance to ISIS. We have got to be able to work with partners on ground. We have got to be able to work with partners in the region to be able to root that out, not only militarily.

Obviously, that's a hugely important component, but also we have got to address the sectarian political conflicts that were happening there and we are seeing not being addressed right now in Iran. And we have got to again look at this ideology component and have a strategy to be able to defeat these groups simultaneously in all three elements.

BLITZER: On the Iran nuclear deal, the tentative framework as it is being called that was worked out, eventually, do you want the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to hold a formal role call vote to either approve or disapprove of whatever agreement emerges?

GABBARD: I think we will have to look and see what legislation comes forward.

But, absolutely, I think that Congress does have -- Congress and the American people have a role in expressing their opinion on this negotiated agreement and the opportunity really to look at the details of this framework that we have seen released so far and the ultimate agreement, which we will see in the next few months, because we have many questions.

[18:25:15] I have got many concerns, specifically about this agreement and how it will affect what our real basic interest is, which is making sure that Iran does not have the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: So, you are not convinced yet that this is a good deal?

GABBARD: There's not enough information to be convinced that it's a good deal.

And I think that there's not enough information that's been released. But also there's not enough information that I can see that's actually been worked out, not only between the United States and Iran, but the other countries that are involved in these negotiations.

And I think it goes to core elements of it like inspections. There has to be the ability for inspections not only to these declared sites that we have heard that Iran has declared, but the bigger concern is what about the undeclared sites? The bigger concern is having the ability to have inspectors go in anywhere at any time to inspect and make sure that Iran is holding up its end of the agreement. We have got concerns about the sanctions. We have got concerns about

how quickly they will be rolled back. And the president is talking about sanctions being snapped back if Iran does not comply. But the reality is, these sanctions have taken quite some time to be able to have the effect that they have had. And they can't just be snapped back into place so quickly.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, thanks very much for joining us.

GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf. Aloha.

BLITZER: Aloha. Thank you.

Just ahead, after a series of terrorism cases, including two New York City women charged, we are getting some breaking information about yet another arrest. Stand by for that.

And dispute in the cockpit. Was there an all-out brawl between two pilots? And what would have made them so angry?


BLITZER: We have some breaking news now on ISIS and its recruitment right here in the United States. Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us. What are you learning?

[18:31:38] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have had a fourth member of this ISIS recruitment group that was -- that was arrested in Brooklyn in February. They've now added a fourth member to this group. His name is Dilkhayot Kasimov. This is a group of Uzbek and Kazakhs who were arrested in Brooklyn, Wolf, with the intent to travel to Syria and also helping fundraise for the recruitment of people to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

The prosecutors, federal prosecutors say that this group falsified travel documents. They basically said that they were going to Syria for vacation. And instead, they were going to join ISIS. And so now, they've added a fourth member to this indictment.

BLITZER: You're also getting new information about those two women in New York City who were arrested last week seeking to build some sort of explosive device. What are you learning?

PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. Well, one of them, the husband did an interview with New York One over the weekend. In it, he accuses the federal government of framing his wife and says this was all something that she was being led into by the FBI.

And I've got to tell you, you know, we see these indictments now almost daily. We've been covering these stories here on THE SITUATION ROOM. And the criticism is growing against the FBI for doing some of these sting operations.

Now, in their defense, the FBI says that if they don't do this -- and one of these people carries out an attack -- it will be on them for not stopping these. And they believe that this is the only way -- because even unsophisticated people can kill people with carrying out attacks. We saw what happened in the last two days in Kenya where, you know, people with not a lot of money can carry out deadly, deadly terrorist attacks.

BLITZER: There was shocking news coming out of Britain. But a 14- year-old and a 16-year-old picked up for suspected terror activities?

PEREZ: Right, exactly. And the British authorities have not said exactly what those activities were going to be. But they said they picked them up over the weekend. Now, this is in Manchester, which has also been the scene of several other ISIS -- young people who are trying to travel overseas to join ISIS, Wolf. So this has been the center of recruitment in Britain, which reports up to about 2,000 people who have tried to travel to Syria and Iraq to join with these terrorist groups.

BLITZER: Evan, stand by for a moment. I want to bring in our panel: our national security analyst, Fran Townsend; our national security analyst, Peter Bergen; CNN military analyst retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling; and our counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. He, by the way, is the author of an important brand-new book just coming out this week, entitled "The Head Game." There you see the cover right there.

Phil, let's talk a little bit about these two British teens, a 14- year-old and a 16-year-old, presumably wanting to go support -- fight for ISIS. What's causing these teens to join a terror group, allegedly, like this?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think naivete. Look, it's almost like we're in the third stage of this war, Wolf.

We started with the core of al Qaeda, the guys who were the architects of 9/11. Ideologues for the movement. We move to the homegrowns starting in, I would say, 2007, 2008, 2009. People who are not al Qaeda members, maybe even not ideologues, but people who are emotionally driven to go to a place like Iraq.

Now we have naive 14-year-olds who say, "Hey, I've been told by somebody that if I want to go live a perfect life, there's a place I can go."

One comment on this, Wolf. It's an interesting debate. The Brits in some of these cases, the Brits have said -- and they have a lot more cases than we do -- that they will not charge people this young. I think there's an interesting question for the White House and the Department of Justice.

If you get a 14-year-old, my judgment is the Department of Justice should be coming out saying, those individuals would not be charged, not just because we're soft and fuzzy but because you want a message to families that says, "If your kid is in trouble, don't worry. Call us. There won't be a federal charge."

BLITZER: And we see these young women also arrested and charged in New York, Fran Townsend. The surveillance that's going on, now you're hearing from the defense lawyers, entrapment by the FBI. What do you make of this?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Wolf, we hear this whenever there's a sting operation. And first of all, if you just stick with kind of the pure facts and numbers, the FBI has gotten quite sophisticated with these sting operations. They have -- they're getting legal advice very early on in the investigation. The lawyers who are with them step by step about what they can and cannot say.

And by and large, these cases are upheld when they get a conviction, like in the 90th percentile. And so it's very rare -- it's frequent that the defense lawyers make this allegation, rare that they actually win it with a defense in court.

BLITZER: Are we seeing more of these arrests now because more activity is going on? Or more young people simply want to join forces with the terror organization?

PEREZ: Well, I think what's happened is that once you saw ISIS came on the scene, the FBI started doing investigations. They saw a lot of people going online to learn more about them. The full investigation sometimes takes a year, a year and a half to get to this point.

And you know, a lot of them never get to this point. Because people change their minds or, you know, they -- like Phil was talking about, you know, parents intervene. And that's what I think the Justice Department hopes happens. By doing these arrests, they can dissuade more of these young people from doing this.

BLITZER: How hard -- and Peter, you study terrorists all the times -- is it to track these young people? They may be thinking of doing something. They may be online, social media saying nice things about ISIS. And then somebody from the FBI comes in and starts talking to them, pretending to be an ISIS supporter. What happens then?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, according to FBI officials I've talked to, I mean, social media is a great boon. I mean, there's a disadvantage that it's recruiting people. But it's perfectly legal for the FBI to monitor Twitter and Facebook. And these are kids, and they seem to not understand that what they're doing is very public.

So I think most of these cases are actually emerging out of social media postings. Not all of them but most of them.

BLITZER: How worried should U.S. officials be right now, General Hertling, that so many of the U.S. counterterrorism capabilities in Yemen have disappeared with the collapse of the regime there; the U.S. leaving its embassy, abandoning the embassy, all U.S. military personnel out? What's going on over there, that this is the home of AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has a lot of capabilities. They're making no secret of their desire to strike the U.S. homeland.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a combination of two things, Wolf. First of all, you do have the lack of capability now because of the -- giving up of embassy and having all the forces drown out of there.

But there's also the factor of having the civil war between the forces of the Houthis and the Hadi government is distracting both of them from going after AQAP itself.

So they're in a free roaming condition right now. They can go around and cause a lot of damage without a whole lot of people paying attention to them. And you add to that the fact that we now have an economy of force in that region where we're putting the priority in helping the Saudi Arabians hit Houthi targets. And we've taken our eye off that ball, too.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, the U.S. government has basically told hundreds if not several thousand Americans who are still stuck in Yemen right now that they're on their own. But now we're told that India has offered to help. They're sending some planes in once in a while. Do you expect other countries to join the effort? And why can't the U.S. send in a plane or two to try to get some American citizens out of there?

MUDD: Well, I think at some point when you warn people again and again in a civil -- in a civil war environment, they have the responsibility personally to leave.

You know, I feel for these folks. But you can't sit there in Yemen and say, "Hey, I didn't know that something bad was coming down."

When you're asking foreign governments, including the Indians, to help, which I think is one thing you have to consider. I hope they do. But every time you're go into that environment, if you're the Indians, the Saudis or somebody else, you're also putting your own forces, all of your special forces, at risk. That's asking a lot for a foreign government to say, "Hey, we don't want to get our own folks, but if you choose to put your forces at risk, we'd be happy to see that happen."

I think we're going to see some tragedy here soon. It's not like we didn't have any warning.

BLITZER: We also saw, Fran, what al Shabaab did at that university in Kenya, slaughtering 147, mostly students, most Christians. They separated out the Muslims. They were also threatening to attack U.S.- Canadian shopping malls. Is this a serious threat based on what you know?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely. And Wolf, it's not really new. You know, al- Shabaab has been under tremendous pressure. They lost a leader. There's another leader that's at the top of the wanted list. But these cross-border operations -- remember going back to the Westgate Mall. And so this has been an ongoing threat, particularly to our allies in Kenya.

And I think you're going to continue to see it. I know that the White House is very focused. Sources are telling us that they've been meeting about this, that there's a target list in terms of the leadership of al-Shabaab that is continually updated.

But I expect you're going to see the administration looking to put additional pressure and working with the Kenyans to put pressure on al Shabaab.

BLITZER: Peter, you want to respond to that?

BERGEN: Sure. I mean, al Shabaab has been losing ground in Somalia quite a lot over the last several years. But they're certainly capable of doing what they did at this university, at Westgate Mall. That's quite within their capabilities going forward.

PEREZ: It cost no money. It costs no money and very little manpower to do it.

BLITZER: It's very limited what the U.S. can do right if, in fact, they're going to -- if they want to die in the process of doing something like that. But obviously, it's a great trick.

Stand by.

Just ahead, we're following other breaking news on the terrorist threats. New information about an angry dispute between two pilots in the cockpit only minutes before takeoff.


[18:45:49] BLITZER: New tonight, two pilots reportedly have been grounded after getting into an apparent dispute in the cockpit that some are describing as an all-out brawl.

Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with details.

Disturbing information.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It is. And it's also alleged that the co-pilot who reportedly picked the fight is a repeat offender. Pilots I spoke to today say this is more than a simple cockpit quarrel. They say tension in the cockpit can lead to a catastrophic end.


MARSH (voice-over): We have seen passengers behaving badly. Even a pilot having a midair melt down in the cabin.

But onboard Air India Flight 611, the problem was in the cockpit. "The Times of India" reports two pilots went blow for blow in an all out cockpit brawl, just minutes before taking off from Darfur to New Delhi.

FRED TECCE, COMMERCIAL PILOT/ATTORNEY: The break down in the relationship between pilots can have deadly affects. When you are nay cockpit, it's kind of a team effort. Everything from one pilot reads a checklist to the other pilot responds and does the items on the checklist. So, you need this kind of cooperation.

MARSH: CNN cannot confirm "The Time of India's" account. But according to paper's unnamed sources, the pilots were fighting over preflight paperwork. The captain reportedly told his co-pilot to write down critical information like the number of passengers on board weight and fuel. The co-pilot took offense and reportedly, quote, "beat up the captain." Although 10 minutes delayed, the flight still took off.

Commercial pilot Fred Tecce says it shouldn't have.

TECCE: If you have a problem with an airplane, you need to address that problem before it pushes back from the gate. If there was really like a physical fistfight between these two, then, yes, that compromises passengers' safety.

MARSH: Air India denies a fistfight, saying, quote, "It was just a minor argument."

Following the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash, pilots' mental health is in sharp focus.

The Air India co-pilot reportedly had other altercations. Three years ago, he told a captain of a flight to exit the cockpit, remove the stars on his shirt collar and fight him. In another incident, a captain reportedly questioned the co-pilot's mental health.


MARSH: Many pilots say when there is tension or an ongoing dispute in the cockpit, the proper procedure is to report the problem before takeoff so that a different crew could take over. We do know in this instance, the captain of this Air India flight reportedly did not do that in order to prevent the flight from being canceled. We should note, Wolf, that India has a whole, they have struggled with aviation safety issues. The FAA just last year downgraded their safety rating.

BLITZER: I didn't know that.

All right. Well, that's interesting. Thanks very much, Rene, for that report.

Just ahead, more news that's breaking right now. We'll be right back.


[18:53:23] BLITZER: Tonight, Hillary Clinton is adding to the staff of her yet-to-be formally announced presidential campaign, expected to become official any day now.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and our CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza. He's Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine.

Brianna, what -- do we have any idea? It could be tomorrow -- the next day, next week. It's going to be soon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be soon. It's in the window. You have much of her staff or her staff in waiting, I guess you could say, that's already up in New York. They have signed a lease in Brooklyn on the office.

And as Jeff Zeleny and our colleague Dan Merica have been reporting, they have told her staff to be ready starting today.

So, we're in the window.

BLITZER: And there's going to be a new and improved version of Hillary Clinton running for president this time, according to your new article on

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We'll see how improved it is. But it's going to be new. I mean, she's definitely trying to make the case that she's fighting for every vote, not a coronation. And it would be so easy to do that because she does not have as much competition as she had eight years ago, but she's trying to go one-on-one with voters, that she really is trying to fight for this. We'll see if it works.

But one of the key differences this time from eight years ago, her staff is so different. She's surrounding herself by a lot of advisers who advised the then-Senator Obama at the time. So, a different set of advisers around her, which means a different campaign.

BLITZER: Yes, you reminded me earlier today, she came in third in the Iowa caucuses back in 2008.

ZELENY: John Edwards got second.

BLITZER: John Edwards, second. And Barack Obama first. She's got work to do learning how to deal with those caucuses specifically.

ZELENY: That's right.

BLITZER: Let's see if she's learned some of those lessons.

[18:55:03] What do you think of, Ryan, of Hillary Clinton's new strategy that seems to be emerging, even before the formal announcement?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the strategy was not to have any competition and she's done a pretty good job of that so far. Reminds me of her Senate when she didn't really have a primary.

She's basically cleared the field. I mean, right now, you have token opposition out there. No role serious candidates going after her. If she wins, that will be why she won, is because the Democratic Party completely closed ranks around her and there's no competition of the like that she had in 2008, at least not yet.

Maybe one of these candidates like Martin O'Malley or Jim Webb will emerge, but they are not looking so hot right now.

BLITZER: Jeff, you are also getting information about the role that former President Bill Clinton might play in the Hillary Clinton campaign?

ZELENY: That's right. And at least at the beginning, not much of a role, definitely behind the scenes. Of course, he's one of her top advisers, and who wouldn't want his advise, a great strategist in his own right. But he's not going to be front and center. He's not going to be out there in any announcement video or in Iowa or New Hampshire. He's going to be fundraising, primarily, I'm told.

BLITZER: Also, there's going to be tomorrow, as you know, Brianna. Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, he's going to make his formal announcement that he's running for the Republican presidential nomination. Today, he released a little video. I want to play a clip.


SUBTITLE: On April 7, a different kind of Republican will take on Washington --

CANDY CROWLEY: There is probably few candidates for 2016 that are more interesting than Rand Paul.

NEWT GINGRICH: Rand Paul has been the most consistently principled person.


BLITZER: They used a lot of clips in that 2 1/2 video from journalists, including not only Candy Crowley but Jon Stewart among others to show what a great guy he is.

KEILAR: And it's not just that. There's this heavy metal kind of music running through it. That was just the prelude of it.

But you get the sense through some of the clips but also just the ambience that it's trying to create that it's going for a music video feel, that it's going for some younger voters out there. I think the question and you go to some place like CPAC where you see young conservatives, they get so excited over Rand Paul over other candidates.

But the question is really going to be, does Rand Paul have this broad appeal? And we've seen some topics pop up lately, he's not commenting on them. So, we're also, you know, waiting to see where he comes down on some issues and whether he can pull any more people than just being this kind of niche player.

BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, you've done a lot of reporting on Rand Paul. He's got thoughts on everything. And if you're running for president, you are going to be asked and you have to answer a bunch of questions about everything. LIZZA: Look, I think he's probably had the toughest years of all the

top tier candidates. The foreign policy in the Republican has really changed with the rise of ISIS and that has really been a struggle for him to deal with.

And -- but I do think that if you look at the races that he ran here in Kentucky, his primary and general election, he took on the establishment and beat them. So, if you're Jeb Bush, or one of the other more establishments, you should be a little bit worried about Rand Paul.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

ZELENY: I think that's right. But Ryan hit the nail on the head there. So much has changed within the Republican Party with the rise of ISIS. His isolationist views, which he didn't call them that, but that's what they've seen like and look, were much more popular a couple of years ago. Not, the case now.

So, he's going to have to reconcile with the early version of Rand Paul. That's his biggest challenge coming out of the gate tomorrow.

BLITZER: Jeb Bush had a little blunder, he's acknowledged, Brianna, that in 2009, voter registration, he listed himself as Hispanic. Now, he says that was a mistake.

KEILAR: That's right. And he sort of tried to treat it with humor, "My mistake, don't think I fooled anyone," he said in a tweet.

So, this was something that obviously was a mistake and there are some who have said this is going a bit far because this is someone who speaks Spanish, is trying to appeal to the Hispanic electorate, but at the same time very obviously not true. And he's saying it was his mistake.

BLITZER: Well, his wife was born in Mexico. His kids are Hispanic.

Ryan, is this going to hurt him at all or is this going to be passed over here, if you will?

LIZZA: I don't think -- I mean, I don't think it will hurt him. I find it psychologically interesting if he really -- you know, he has a Mexican wife and he very much speaks Spanish and relates to the Hispanic community, I wonder if -- you know, not to put him on the couch, psychologically he's sort of relate so much to that community that he made that error when he's filling out the form. It's kind of fascinating.

BLITZER: He is totally bilingual. He can give speeches in Spanish. That made him pretty popular in Florida, presumably elsewhere as well.

Guys, thanks very much. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Just go ahead, tweet @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Pleasure be sure to join us again right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. You can always watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION


"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.