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Interview With South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; Terror in Ohio; ISIS Blood Money; 911 Call of Man Trapped in Plane's Cargo Hold; Copter Pilot Who Landed at Capitol Charged. Aired 18-18:30p ET

Aired April 16, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: ISIS blood money. The terrorists boast about their battle to control a crucial source of power and wealth, while the U.S. appears to downplay ISIS gains on another fronts where tens of thousands of civilians are now in danger.

Terror in Ohio. U.S. officials say an American citizen was ordered by al Qaeda's allies to return home and launch an attack in the United States. We're learning why this arrest is the first of its kind.

Pilot charged. The mailman who violated the no-fly zone over the nation's capital goes to court, as new video emerges showing his shocking path over some of the most protected airspace in the world.

And cargo hold call. We now have the 911 cry for help from the aviation worker who was trapped in the belly of an airplane as it took off.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm inside a plane. And I feel like it's moving in the air.


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

Breaking now, terrorists claim new prizes to advance their murder assault on the U.S. and the world. Tonight, ISIS is posting dramatic new video of its fight to win control of a major oil refinery in Iraq. Top Pentagon officials are warning about the strategic importance of that battle and acknowledging that ISIS may be on the brink of a victory on another front in the Iraqi city of Ramadi.

At the same time, al Qaeda fighters have now seized a potential asset in their goal of attacking U.S. airplanes and they're now claiming control of an airport in Yemen.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, he is standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts and they're all covering the news that's breaking right now.

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

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was a stark assessment from the defense secretary, Ashton Carter, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, of the many national security challenges facing the U.S. right now.

The two of them basically granting that ISIS may very well take over the city of Ramadi in Western Iraq, talking about more reckless encounters in the air with Russia and in Yemen reduction in the U.S. capability to counter the immense terror threat from AQAP.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Fighters from the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, overrunning an airport in southeastern Yemen, chaos engulfing the lawless country with deep implications for safety on the U.S. homeland.

The new American defense secretary conceded that the fall of the U.S.-allied government, the withdrawal of U.S. special forces, and the closing of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen have all reduced America's ability to fight the terror threat.

In Iraq, it is the terror group ISIS that is on the advance with the punishing assault on Ramadi. Iraqi officials inside Western Iraq's largest city tell CNN it is on the brink of falling to the terror group, adding desperate calls for reinforcements from the Iraqi army and are more airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

Today, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey conceded that Iraqi forces may very well lose Ramadi to ISIS.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won't be the end of a campaign should it fall. We got to get it back.

SCIUTTO: Coalition airstrikes on Thursday appear to have cut some resupply routes used by ISIS. Residents have given up on rescue, tens of thousands having fled the city in just two days. Ramadi is in Iraq's Sunni heartland. Today, the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, expressed concern that the Iraqi government is still relaying too much on Shiite dominated militias.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: A lasting victory over ISIL requires inclusive governance in Baghdad and respect for local populations in all areas liberated from ISIL control.

SCIUTTO: And as ISIS continues to push on the Baiji oil refinery, a critical piece of infrastructure for the Iraqi economy, the terror group released new propaganda video showing their rapid assault on the city.

DEMPSEY: Once the Iraqis have full control of Baiji, they will control all of their oil infrastructure, both north and south, and deny ISIL the ability to generate revenue through oil.


SCIUTTO: We also pressed the defense secretary on Russia's sale of advanced missiles to Iran, the defense secretary saying that the U.S. still has military options on the table with regard to Iran's nuclear program.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, saying those plans are in his words still intact, even with the sale of missiles to Iran -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

Let's go to Iraq right now, where, as Jim mentioned, tens of thousands of civilians have now been forced to flee their homes. They're leaving the city of Ramadi. Elsewhere in the Anbar province, they don't view the onslaught by ISIS the same way apparently as U.S. military officials do.

Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon. She has been there. She's seen the exodus. She's watched the fighting firsthand. She is back in Baghdad relatively safe right now.

Arwa, when we hear the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staffs saying, yes, Baiji, that's strategically important, but Ramadi not so important strategically, just bricks and mortar, if you will, you have seen what's going on there. What's your reaction?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That statement is not going to go over well here, Wolf. That is for sure, and downplaying Ramadi's strategic importance is not necessarily the most productive way to view the current dynamics of Al Anbar province because it is a strategic city, not to mention the humanitarian toll that the fighting is taking on the civilians there.

But when we look at Ramadi's importance, this is the capital of Iraq's Sunni heartland Al Anbar province. If the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition do not do their utmost best to try to help save that city, it is going to send a very negative message to the country's Sunni population that the Shia-dominated government at this stage cannot afford to alienate further and that is why it is so important that Ramadi not fall to ISIS.

It's critical, Wolf, that the government be able to reach out to the Sunni population. And the first stage to doing that is going to be helping them to drive ISIS out of Ramadi.

BLITZER: As you point out, you were there. This is not just the city of bricks and mortar. There are a lot of people there. You have told us, what, 150,000 refugees already they are fleeing their homes because ISIS is moving into this area? Describe what you saw.

DAMON: It's absolutely heartbreaking, Wolf, and it's a tragedy that unfolds over and over and over again.

You see refugees fleeing an ISIS onslaught, grabbing their children by their hands. We saw an old woman in the back of a metal cart with a baby in her arms clutching the child's ragged doll in another one of her hands. We saw the elderly bursting into tears as we were approaching them trying to talk to them about what had happened. And there are still around 150,000 to perhaps 200,000 people still inside that city.

This is not a scenario like Tikrit where the vast majority of the population had left. The people of Ramadi didn't have that choice. They are stuck there. And this is their home, no matter how it is that the U.S. views it. There are human beings living inside this city who have to be able to get out, yes, but also have to have a home to return to and now we're talking about ISIS being inside Ramadi.

Removing them from Ramadi is going to require street-to-street gun battles, potential airstrikes inside the city, and sheer and total devastation potentially is what lies in the future. So this is much more than just bricks and mortars. We're talking about people's lives at this stage.

BLITZER: We certainly are. It's a shocking, shocking situation. What's especially shocking after all these years, the U.S. investments in that Iraqi military, they are simply MIA right now. They're not even protecting their own citizens in this town, in the city of Ramadi. It is shocking indeed. Thanks very much, Arwa, one of the courageous journalists we have here at CNN.

Tonight, meanwhile, another U.S. citizen charged with aiding terrorists. Federal authorities say he was ordered by an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria to return home and attack targets here in the United States.

Our justice reporter Evan Perez is joining us with the details.

A formal indictment now of this individual.


His name is Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud. He's 23 years old. He is from Columbus, Ohio. He became a U.S. citizen only just over a year ago in February of 2014, and a couple months after that he left, in April of 2014, he left to go get explosives training, arms training, combat training with al-Nusra Front, which is the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and he came back home to the United States last year again in June.

According to the FBI, according to the Justice Department indictment, he says he told a friend that the al-Nusra Front, a cleric there told him to come back to the United States to carry out attacks here domestically. He said he wanted to attack cops, military, execution-style is what he said to his friend, according to the FBI.

BLITZER: We see a lot of Americans now charged, arrested on these terrorism allegations, but this one is different, right? PEREZ: Well, it is, because we have spoken so many times on this

program about the warning from counterterrorism officials, the fear that all these foreign fighters going overseas, coming back and carrying on attacks.


PEREZ: This is that person. This is the person that we have been warned about and he didn't carry out the attack. They arrested him before he could. But this is the fear that they have been speaking of.

BLITZER: Now he's accused of wanting to join forces, actually was trained by an al Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra group in Syria, but he was toying with the idea of joining ISIS, right?

PEREZ: Right. It goes to show you how the allegiances are kind of malleable. They just want to go over there, and he talked about supporting ISIS. He posted things on Facebook, pictures and glorifying ISIS, and then really talked with his friends as to which one was better, as if he was trying to decide which baseball team he wanted to follow.

This is the danger for people like this.

BLITZER: It's a huge danger indeed. Evan, thanks very much for that report.

Meanwhile, let's turn back to those two huge battles. ISIS terrorists, they're waging war right now in Iraq. They're trying to fight to control a major oil refinery, to seize the city of Ramadi. That's in the Anbar province. It's only about an hour-and-a-half drive from Baghdad, only about 70 miles or so.

Let's bring in a leading voice in the United States Senate on military matters. Senator Lindsey Graham is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee. He is also thinking of running for the Republican presidential nomination.

We will talk about that later.


BLITZER: Senator, let's talk about what's going on in Ramadi. Were you upset when you heard the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff basically saying Ramadi, bricks and mortar? He seemed to be downplaying the fact that there are 150,000 refugees, and then you heard Arwa say -- she was there -- there may be another couple hundred thousand people who are fearful of their lives if ISIS takes over.

GRAHAM: Not only was I disappointed. I was disillusioned, because your reporter understands it apparently better than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

This is a test of the new government in Baghdad. If they will not fight for Ramadi, if they will not send the Iraqi army to protect the Sunnis, why should the Sunnis try to get back into the government? This is a test of the new Iraqi government. She understands it apparently better than General Dempsey.

BLITZER: That's Arwa Damon. She's been in Iraq obviously for a long time.


BLITZER: All right. He made the point, in fairness to him, that the Baiji oil refinery, that is strategically very important because a lot of oil, a lot of wealth, and they have got to really devote their energy to protecting the oil refinery, as opposed to necessarily protecting the people of Ramadi.

GRAHAM: I would argue that the oil refinery is more a tactical win. We will take it back. We can blow it up.

Taking the capital of Anbar province, where the Iraqi army fails to defend Anbar province and the people in Ramadi, destroys any ability, I believe, long term, to bring the country back together.

BLITZER: They're here, the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. I don't know if you met with him while he was here.


BLITZER: It's shocking. He's asking for hundreds of millions of dollars, asking for Apache helicopters, tanks, other sophisticated artillery, Humvees or whatever, this after the Iraqi military abandoned all this U.S. equipment that the Americans left behind.

Do you trust the Iraqi military right now to have control of additional U.S. weapons, that it won't wind up in the hands of ISIS or Shiite militias or Iranians, for that matter, Revolutionary Guard forces, who are there helping them?

GRAHAM: Well, number one, I wouldn't give him a bunch of money or equipment until I got a commitment from him to reconcile the country.

And I wouldn't do this until we had more American presence on the ground to make sure it doesn't become a win for ISIL or the Iranians. For a J.V. team, they're doing pretty good.

BLITZER: You're talking about ISIS.


BLITZER: That's what the president called them.

GRAHAM: Well, all I can say is that you will never fix Iraq without dealing with Syria. The Saudi ambassador told me today two things I thought was very important. You will never destroy ISIL until can you deal with Assad, because he's a recruiting tool and he allows the fracturing of Syria. And you will never fix Iraq until you have political

reconciliation, thereby never destroying ISIL. So I don't see reconciliation in Iraq and I don't see any plan to destroy Assad.

BLITZER: And as bad as it is in Syria, bad as in Iraq, it's awful in Yemen right now as well. AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they now have control of an airport there. I want to you stay with us, Senator.

We have more to discuss, much more with Senator Lindsey Graham right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. We're talking about new advances by terrorists in two countries where the U.S. has an enormous investment. We're talking about Iraq and Yemen.

Let's talk about Yemen for a moment. All of a sudden, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they take control of a major airport over there. This is a real threat to the United States, you will agree?

GRAHAM: Oh, yes. They planned the Paris attack. They have threatened to attack us, probably the most lethal group in the region, including ISIL and traditional al Qaeda.

BLITZER: What can the U.S. do? The U.S. evacuated the embassy. all military personnel are out. There are still several hundred, if not a few thousand U.S. citizens trapped in Yemen right now. And a lot of them have complained to our reporter, why can't America help us get out? These mostly dual Yemeni-American citizens.


GRAHAM: To fix the problem, you have got to take the Houthis and dislodge them and try to get a political reconciliation.

We're negotiating with Iran over their nuclear program. They Houthis are supported by the Iranians. They have taken down the pro- American government. Our counterterrorism forces have been kicked out. It's directly related to Iran. The Houthis couldn't survive 15 minutes without the Iranians. We need to help the Arabs dislodge the Houthis supported by Iran to get a pro-American government back in charge of Yemen so we can get on the case.


BLITZER: But the Saudis are trying to do that.

GRAHAM: Yes. The whole region is trying to do it and we're sitting by doing virtually nothing. BLITZER: You heard the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi,

here in Washington yesterday say -- he condemned the Saudis basically for doing what they're doing and he raised the specter Saudi Arabia could not only invade Yemen, but also Iraq, which is right next door.

GRAHAM: He gave the Iranian talking points toward Yemen and he is not helping the Sunnis in Anbar province. He is failing miserably to resurrect any hope of bringing Iraq back together.

I had high hopes for the guy, but the fact that he's allowed Ramadi basically to be taken by ISIS is going to be seen by the Sunnis that you can't trust him any more than Maliki. And we're sitting around twiddling our thumbs.

BLITZER: And so you basically say, until he proves himself, no more U.S. aid, no more economic assistance, no more military hardware.

GRAHAM: The only problem I have is that scenario that ISIS wants to attack us, too.

It's in our national security interest to degrade and destroy ISIS, to defeat AQAP. So we have a stake in the game. If I thought this was just about Iraq, I wouldn't sent them 15 cents. But it's also about us.

BLITZER: What about that gyrocopter that landed right near the U.S. Capitol yesterday? We laugh about it because the guy wanted to deliver a letter protesting all the money that goes into politics, but this is a dangerous situation.

GRAHAM: It shows you how much our ability to take seriously the threats of the homeland have deteriorated.

At the end of the day, can you imagine this happening in 2003? We're losing the sense that we're are at war. This guy should have been forced down or shot down. The likelihood of attack on our homeland goes up every day by all these groups out there. The fact he could fly through Washington and land on the Capitol, somebody should be fired.

If you are of a military officer in charge of controlling the airspace, you should be fired.

BLITZER: Somebody should be fired.


GRAHAM: Somebody should be fired. Somebody at the Capitol Hill Police should be fired.

BLITZER: Is Capitol Hill safe? Is the White House safe right now?

GRAHAM: I would argue that, no, we're not safe when somebody can land a helicopter on the lawn of the Capitol, and the Capitol Police not know about it until he lands. Where are the people who are supposed to be protecting our

Capitol? We're losing a sense of urgency. I blame the president for a lot of this. He never -- he always downplays the threats. ISIS is a J.V. team. We can pull out of Iraq. Everything is going to be fine. We don't need to get involved with the no-fly zone in Syria. Draws a red line with Assad, does nothing about it.

Everything you see playing out is the direct result of bad choices by the president. And here at the homeland, the threats to our homeland are going up and the Congress is allowing our budgets to be cut. By the end of this decade, we're going to have the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915.

The FBI and the CIA's budgets are being cut dramatically as the threats increase. So the Congress has got blame here, too.

BLITZER: You want to be president of the United States?

GRAHAM: I will make that decision by May. If I run, the answer will be yes. But I got to put the financing in place. If I do run, it will be because I think I would be the best person running to be commander in chief at a time when we need a commander in chief that knows what the hell they're doing.

BLITZER: What do you think of the current field of Republicans?

GRAHAM: Good candidates. They are going to have to prove they are ready to be commander in chief on day one.

It's just not enough to beat on President Obama. You're going to have to say, what would you do differently? How would you deal with the threats? Could you bring Democrats and Republicans together to do the big things that need to be done? It's not just enough to beat on President Obama about his foreign policy, his failures to lead back here at home.

You have to show what you would do. I think I have a pretty good case to show what I would do as commander in chief in being able to work with Democrats and Republicans to do big things. If I run I will say here's my record.

BLITZER: Which way are you leaning?

GRAHAM: More likely than not to run.

BLITZER: All right. You will let us know?

GRAHAM: You will be the first.

BLITZER: It's going to be in a matter of a few weeks.

Appreciate it very much, Lindsey Graham joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

GRAHAM: Thank you. BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on al Qaeda's takeover of

an airport in Yemen. Will that help the terrorists launch attacks on the United States? Our terrorism experts are standing by.

And an airport worker's panic when he found himself trapped inside the cargo hold of a plane that had just taken off. Stand by. You will hear all -- all of his 911 call.



BLITZER: We're getting word of a very disturbing developing involving al Qaeda. Terrorist forces are now in control of a major airport in Yemen.

A senior U.S. official -- a senior official there says terrorist fighters overran the facility near a provincial capital in the southeastern part of the country, which is collapsing amid a deadly civil war.

Let's dig deeply with our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. He's the author of the brand-new book "The Head Game." Also joining us, our intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer, our CNN military analyst Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and Middle East expert Robin Wright of the Wilson Center and the U.S. Institute for Peace here in Washington.

Bob, these fighters from AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they overran this airport in Yemen today. How much ability do they have, AQAP, to launch attacks against the United States to the U.S. homeland?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: It's never a good idea to let a group like al Qaeda have any base at all. This is sort of the first time for them. It's going to give them more status throughout the Middle East. It will give them more leisure, if you like, more room to attack the United States.

But right now, what concerns me in these provinces, Shabwa (ph) and Hadramouth (ph), is the threat to Saudi Arabia. Today as you've seen the Saudis reinforced their border both by sea and by land, because they're worried that instability in Yemen, especially al Qaeda, is going to move up into Saudi Arabia and could be a serious threat to them. So this is a terrible setback for I guess the war on terror.

BLITZER: And, Robin, as you know, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they want to use planes to go after the U.S. They now have an airport. They have a plane there. This is potentially a disaster.

ROBIN WRIGHT, AUTHOR: That's the biggest threat. I've actually been to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there, which is the place they took over these facilities.

I think the bigger threat is the collapse of Yemen and the danger that we'll actually, have a Saudi ground offensive, which would lead to, I think, a very complicated conflict, whether it's against the Houthis or against AQAP.

The problem is we've all been focused on one conflict, and we find that in a country where you create a vacuum and there's no authority, there's no army as in Iraq, that there's nobody to fight off whether it's the Sunni bad guys in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula or the Houthis who are the Shiites.

BLITZER: Less than a year ago the president was citing Yemen as a success story in the war against terrorism, the counterterrorism war. I assume he was saying that as a result of intelligence he was given from the U.S. intelligence community, Phil. Was the intelligence community wrong on Yemen?

MUDD: Let me take you inside the situation room at the White House for a second. I was with the president. I agreed with him, because I thought we had a change in leadership, a change in the president in Yemen. He was more aggressive than his predecessor in prosecuting the fight. Drone operations were effective.

The problem in cases like this is pretty straightforward. Even if the intelligence were perfect, predicting, for example, that the Houthis were going to move. When you're sitting at the White House you've got Libya. You've got change in Egypt. You've got Syria, and you've got Iraq. People overestimate what the Americans can do if they don't want to put troops on the ground, which we obviously don't want to do.

So if you go to the president and say, "The Houthis are coming," you've still got to sit back and say, "Wow, we have a government that's not particularly effective. What are we going to do about it?" Sometimes not much.

BLITZER: General Hertling, let me turn to Iraq right now. You heard -- I don't know if you did, but Lindsey Graham, the senator, you just heard him say no more U.S. aid, no more U.S. military equipment to this current Iraqi government if they can't even protect their own people in Ramadi. And hundreds of thousands of people, potentially, are in danger now if ISIS takes control of that major city in the area.

What's your analysis right now of what's going on? We've seen already 150,000 people in the past few days escape, trying to get out of there.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, as both Chairman Dempsey and Secretary Carter said this afternoon, Ramadi is certainly a humanitarian crisis. But if I could give a little bit of military interpretation, what was also said this afternoon, I did not hear General Dempsey say that Ramadi isn't important. And I think that's a reflection of what Prime Minister al- Abadi is attempting to portray in Washington right now.

He is trying to rebuild his forces. He's desperate in trying to get an army that really represents Iraq into both Tikrit and Anbar province. He can't do that right now. Ramadi is important. It certainly is. But Baiji is also critically important, because there's 13.5 million barrels of oil that come out of that facility every month.

And I heard what Senator Graham said, and I don't agree with him saying we could tactically bomb Baiji and be over with it. This is all about building Iraq back up, and Prime Minister al Abadi is attempting to do that.

BLITZER: Yes, and I listened to what General Dempsey said, General Hertling, and what he said was Baiji, that oil refinery there, strategically, that's very important. He then used the phrase "bricks and mortar" as far as Ramadi is concerned, suggesting the Iraqi military, whatever capability they have, they have to really worry about the oil refinery right now. The people in Ramadi, he seemed to suggest very bluntly, comes in second.

HERTLING: I didn't hear that, Wolf. What I heard had him say was, "I would prefer not to see Ramadi fall, but if it does, it's not the end of the campaign." And when he says "campaign," from military speak, that means a series of the battles. He realizes, as does Prime Minister al-Abadi, that they've got to protect that Baiji oil refinery. That's critical to the infrastructure. But he didn't say it doesn't matter if Ramadi falls. He just said that's not as important.

BLITZER: No. He said that's not as important; what's really important is the oil refinery. And he said that was strategically important, and he contrasted that had to what's going on in Ramadi.

Let me get Robin's analysis of what's going on, because it sounds to me like a disaster is unfolding. If you lose Lindsey Graham, if Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, says, "I'm not going to vote for any more aid, military aid, economic aid to Iraq if they don't go in there and protect the people in Anbar province, in Ramadi," if you lost him, forget about it.

WRIGHT: Well, that's the politics of the problem. The bigger reality is we have -- we do have an investment in fighting ISIS. We can't not be engaged in Iraq. That's not a viable alternative.

And when it comes to the humanitarian crisis, there are over 3 million people of interest. But Ramadi is, in many ways, more important than Baiji, because this is the provincial capital of Anbar, the western belly of Iraq. That if you lose Anbar province, then you, in many ways, have lost the state or the potential of keeping Iraq together. And so there's a lot more at stake than -- than just an oil well or...

BLITZER: Phil, you agree, right?

MUDD: I do but, look, we've got to look at this a bit more long term. Every week or so, we're seeing changes on the battlefield. Last summer it was ISIS advances. This is a multiyear war, and we can't be making decisions, politically or analytically, based on whether ISIS made progress this week or last week. We're going to be at this for years.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bob Baer?

BAER: I think it's going to be generational. This is a civil war. I think the state of Iraq is gone, and the sooner we get to redrawing the borders and separating the Sunni and the Shia, as different (ph) as they'll be, the closer we'll be to solving the problem of ISIS. But Iraq is not coming back together in our lifetimes. You can count on it.

BLITZER: That's a pretty -- that's a pretty depressing thought over there, unfortunately. We're going to take a break and we'll continue our coverage of what's going on. Guys, stand by.

Just ahead, we also have some new video of a copter landing on Congress' front door as the pilot appears in court today for the first time.

Plus, new audio of the 911 call for help from a man who awoke to find himself trapped in the belly of a plane in midair.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm inside a plane, and I feel like it's moving in the air.


[18:41:57] BLITZER: We now have a recording, a very unusual recording. It's a 911 call from an airport worker trapped in a plane's cargo hold. The man says he fell asleep as the plane was being loaded, and he awoke in horror as it was taking off.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is joining us now. She has more. What's the latest, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, now we have more on this very bizarre story. There's audio of the 911 call made by a panicky baggage handler trapped in the cargo hold of a plane that took to the sky. Police releasing the calls just a short time ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. I'm trapped in this plane, and I called my job but I'm in this plane.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm inside a plane, and I feel like it's moving in the air. Flight 448. Can you please, can somebody stop it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are you in the plane at?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm inside the plane, Alaska Airlines Flight 448.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you at the airport?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not in the airport. I feel like it moved, because...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you by yourself or are you with somebody?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm by myself, please!


MARSH: All right. You can hear there extremely panicky, especially in comparison to the dispatcher there.

I'm told the investigation is still under way. At the heart of the investigation is figuring out whether it was only a breach in policy that allowed this to happen or whether there's a need to enhance existing procedures to close a safety loophole.

We know that there's more than one investigation: the airline as well as the company contracted to hire that baggage handler, Wolf.

BLITZER: The plane eventually -- the pilot and others, they heard his screams from the cargo.


BLITZER: And they turned around. They landed, and he's OK. But what a story that is. All right, Rene. Thanks very much.

The pilot who sparked a massive security scare here in Washington has been charged and released. Douglas Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn as part of a protest against campaign finance laws.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us. He has details of Hughes' court appearance today. What happened, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this gyrocopter incident is prompting new security concerns across the nation's capital, especially here at the White House, where aides to the president are keenly aware that security upgrades are sorely needed on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.


ACOSTA: In this new video tonight, buzzing past the Washington Monument and across the National Mall in this gyrocopter, before touching down at the Capitol in this A.P. video, Florida political activist, postal worker and pilot Doug Hughes just made his latest landing in federal court are, where he may soon be grounded behind bars.

Dressed in his mailman uniform, Hughes learned he is now facing federal charges of violating national defense airspace and violating registration requirements involving aircraft, a felony, in a stunt aimed at protesting campaign fund-raising, a plan he shared in advance with "The Tampa Bay Times."

DOUG HUGHES, PILOT/POSTAL WORKER: I don't believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 60-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle.

ACOSTA: Up on Capitol Hill, the outrage was bipartisan.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Why weren't there alarm bells that went off? Why wasn't it intercepted? Did we know about it? How far from the White -- Capitol grounds did we know?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: What we need to prosecute him, set a very strong example. We don't want any more stunts like this.

ACOSTA: The Secret Service denied reports that it was given a heads-up that Hughes was about to fly into Washington. But agency officials confirmed they did talk to Hughes 18 months ago when they first heard about his plans. The Secret Service forwarded the information to the Capitol police.

The agency's director, Joe Clancy, briefed lawmakers who are demanding answers.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We have to come up with the appropriate technology to be able to know about these things.

ACOSTA: After a small drone crash-landed on the White House grounds earlier this year and a man hopped the White House fence last fall, the Secret Service is already working on security upgrades, such as adding temporary steel spikes to the fence to deter jumpers.

But it seems nobody ever thought a man with a gyrocopter like something out of a James Bond movie would ever pose a threat, least of all the president.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So I didn't see his initial reaction, it might have been, "What's a gyrocopter?" I know that was my reaction.



ACOSTA: After his court date today, Hughes was released but will be placed under home detention and barred from operating any aircraft while he's awaiting trial. As for the protocols that are supposed to be in place for protecting the White House and the Capitol from aviation threats, they say the gyrocopter was flying so slow and so low that it was difficult to be detected and, Wolf, the U.S. Postal Service put out a statement this afternoon saying, just reminding everybody that a gyrocopter is not authorized to deliver the mail -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a good reminder.

All right. Thanks very much for that.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Our justice reporter Evan Perez is with us, as is our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, the former assistant FBI director.

It would be funny if it weren't so serious, Tom -- as you know, because we know this guy had a political motive but it could have been a terrorist.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It could have been, Wolf. I don't know what will change to prevent a possible terrorist in this incident. You know, after 2001, the attacks, there was a network established, a domestic event network, which consists of about 100 agencies and there's supposed to be this callout system that it immediately goes out.

So, the question here is, was that call made, did that happen here? Now, a GAO report in 2005 came out and said that there had been over 3,400 incidents of pilots flying into controlled airspace like that, restricted airspace, finding most of them were commercial pilots flying a little bit off course, asking the agencies or demanding that agencies step up the coordination. And apparently now, we're seeing where this many years later, it hasn't been upgraded.

BLITZER: So, Evan, as you know, what if it's a big plane or if it's a missile, they can deal with that. If it's a tiny little gyrocopter, as it's called, flying low underneath the radar, it's hard to detect.


But, you know, one thing that's being forgotten here is that this guy did not make a secret of where he was going. You don't need any fancy, you know, electronic equipment. You don't need new types of radar to detect this guy. He broadcast it. He told everyone what he was planning to do.

And so, the question is, did the Secret Service, did the Capitol police, not heed what basically were his warnings, plenty of warnings? Then that's the big question, right? If -- you know, if indeed, they had shot him down, right, and he had made all these warnings, we'd be dealing with the opposite question. This guy posed no threat, you know, you shot him down. So, that's --

BLITZER: The technology that's out there, you have a blimp constantly flying over the nation's capital to deal with a threat like this.

PEREZ: Well, you know what, I live in the district. I live just blocks away from the Capitol. We get annoyed by the helicopters buzzing by. You'd have to deal with residents who'd wondering why you have a blimp hovering over their heads all the time.

BLITZER: I remember when I was a White House correspondent for CNN back in 1994, a little Cessna actually flew onto the south lawn of the White House and there's some video when it landed right below the residence area where then-President Bill Clinton and his family were living and you can see what happened then.

After that incident, I said to myself, that could never happen again. You remember that, right?

FUENTES: Right. Oh, absolutely.

The question I would have even separate from this, we had this incident with the Germanwings pilot crashing a plane on purpose. You know, the planes -- we watch the commercial planes heading for Reagan Airport coming up the Potomac every day, and I think that if one of those planes was diverted by a pilot that went awry like the one in Germany and France, what would stop them? You would have about 20 seconds' notice before that plane hit one of the government buildings here. I don't think they have an adequate way to prevent this.

BLITZER: They've got to learn some lessons and fix it.

All right, guys. Thanks very, very much.

Breaking news just ahead, the fierce battle to keep a key Iraqi City from falling to ISIS. There is now new information coming in.


[18:54:26] BLITZER: Tonight, Hillary Clinton is preparing to make her second campaign swing since officially becoming a presidential candidate. Just days after her road trip to Iowa, she'll head to another critical early battle ground state. Next week, she'll be in New Hampshire.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Hillary Clinton evolved her positions on two sensitive issues over the past few days -- the issue of same-sex marriages and driver licenses for undocumented immigrants, right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: She did. I mean, she is sort of cleaning things up as she begins her campaign.

[18:55:01] You know, the times have evolved, to be fair, to put things into context. Politically, 2008 was a long time ago. But there's no question that she has work to do with her left flank. So, that's what she is trying to do early on here, and that's what she is trying to remind these liberal voters that she is one of them, because there are some questions about that.

But I think that driver's license thing, that dogged her so much in 2008. She couldn't answer the question, if undocumented immigrants should have driver licenses. Now, she is coming out of the gate saying just in a statement that they should. BLITZER: And what she's also done is written an article for

"TIME" magazine, an article praising Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator, from Massachusetts, one of the most 100 influential people, according to "TIME" magazine.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Right. Shocking she would do that right, because Elizabeth Warren held everyone's feet to the fire, and all.

You know, it seems to me everybody is saying that Hillary Clinton is trying to win over the left wing of the Democratic Party. I think what Hillary Clinton is realizing is that it is not the left wing of the Democratic Party anymore. It is fast becoming the Democratic Party.

And if these voters, these younger voters, these more progressive voters don't like her, she is going to have a real problem. It isn't her husband's third way, moderate, Democratic leadership council party anymore. It is more left and progressive.

BLITZER: Has Elizabeth Warren weighed in on Hillary Clinton's candidacy?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She is but in a very kind of stand back/hands off way. She said something like, well, we need to give her an opportunity to champion issues that the senator -- that people feel are important. So, that's not exactly --

ZELENY: What does that mean?

BASH: -- like Hillary. Exactly.

Actually, I was -- I saw Elizabeth Warren in the hallway of the Capitol just today and I tried ask her a question and she went into -- there's a senators' only elevator, which I know you have all been.


BASH: And I said, can I come in and ask you a question? And their prerogative to say no, I have to go vote. Look, I mean, to her, you know, in her defense --

BLITZER: She didn't even let you, Dana Bash, go in the elevator?

BASH: She doesn't talk very much in the hallways, which is the culture most senators actually do, you know. But I get it. She understands that there is such a hunger out there among progressives for her to run and she needs to tread lightly.

BORGER: Right. Well, she doesn't think Hillary Clinton is good on Wall Street. I mean, period. She doesn't think Hillary Clinton's the one to carry the message to Wall Street, but she can't do it because the women's groups in the Democratic Party are with Hillary Clinton. And that's what held her back.

BLITZER: She gets a lot of support from Wall Street, as we all know.

You have got a new article, written on, Gloria, which you say that Hillary needs to escape her fame to a certain degree?

BORGER: She is having a little bit of a hard time, wouldn't you say, because you know, it's very hard to do a soft launch for a superstar politician. And I think that the problem she's having, and we don't know whether it's going to work or not is that she has to have this incredible mix between spontaneity and being on message. And that's very difficult to do when you're at a Chipotle or when you're sitting in --


BASH: Maybe she is -- maybe --

BORGER: She did have to -- does anybody recognize you in your sunglasses?

BLITZER: Sometimes.

Chris Christie, he says now he will make a decision by late spring, early summer. That's getting a little late, though, isn't it?

ZELENY: A little bit but he is waiting on one other thing, what the U.S. attorney in New Jersey is going to do, are they going to have any prosecutions in bridgegate?

He is hearing from donors and others, you know, people have largely put his candidacy on hold until this gets resolved. That's hard for a lot of people to take him as seriously as he would like. So, this summer, I don't think it's too late. There's going to be time for a new burst of energy in the summer, I think, but his decision is based on things out of his control. That is the most damaging thing at this point.

BASH: And remember, Wolf, we also have Jeb Bush, who has not formally announced. He has PACs, just like Christie does. Scott Walker not formally announced, he is in the same boat in that respect. The difference, of course, is that he does have a lot of making up to do which is why he went to New Hampshire, trying to do the John McCain in 2007 route to kind of work his way back using the forum that works well for him, which are town halls.

BLITZER: He also suggested he thought the Republican nominee would either be a sitting governor or ex-governor, sort of a slap at senators who may be thinking.

BORGER: You know, if you look at the polls, Republican voters say they want somebody with experience, but executive experience, not legislative experience. So, he does have a point there. He really does.

BLITZER: You think he does?

ZELENY: I think he does. I mean, like most presidents have been governors. The Senate

argument, it's the hardest thing for any of these three, Rubio, Cruz and Paul, is that they -- the Republican Party has spent eight years bashing --

BASH: I think a senator should be president.

BLITZER: Senator Lindsey Graham saying he is leaning toward running. Earlier, I spoke to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He says he will make a decision with the next --

BORGER: They are going to have a quorum in the Senate pretty soon, people who want to be president.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very, very much.

Remember, you can follow us on Twitter, please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNsitroom. 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 ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.