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Interview With Rear Admiral John Kirby; Chris Christie Running for President; ISIS Threat. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired June 30, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also tonight, a community is being bombarded with Ku Klux Klan propaganda.

And building bridges. Chris Christie jumps into the presidential race despite the scandal that faded his star power. Now the governor's wife is talking exclusively to CNN about the clouds hanging over his candidacy.

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: Breaking news tonight, we're getting new information about the rising level of concern about a July 4 terror attack by ISIS sympathizers.

Sources tell CNN that unusually tight security measures are now being put in place in New York and here in Washington. And, tonight, terror fears are growing around the globe.

London is in the midst of holding a frighteningly realistic rehearsal for a possible after terrorists struck in three countries last week. The top State Department spokesman, John Kirby, he is standing by live, along with our correspondents and analysts. They're all covering the news that is breaking right now.

First, let's to go our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, with more on the terror threat here in the United States -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning tonight more police are being deployed to prominent locations in the U.S. because of concerns of terrorist threats around the July 4 holiday.

And this concern is heightened because of recent terrorist threats around the world, including the brazen beheading in France.


BROWN (voice-over): New gruesome details about the ISIS-inspired beheading in France at an American-owned factory are raising fears about a similar attack in the U.S. around the July 4 holiday. Today, a French prosecutor said the suspect hung the victim's

head from a fence surrounded with two Islamic flags. He also posed for a picture with the body.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS beheading has been a tactic of choice for them in Syria and Iraq. But we're now seeing this tactic spread throughout the Middle East and also to Europe. The worry is the United States is next.

BROWN: In the wake of the near simultaneous attacks in France, Kuwait, in a beachside attack in Tunisia that killed at least 38 people, here in the U.S., the FBI made its ninth ISIS-related arrest this month.

Authorities say 23-year-old Alaa Saadeh planned to go to Syria to fight. He is part of a group of ISIS supporters in the New York City area, including a Queens college student arrested recently for allegedly plotting bombings in New York.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: I anticipate you're going to see more and more arrests as we lead up to the Fourth of July holiday. And that's to get these people off the streets, so they can't conduct a terrorist attack.

BROWN: U.S. counterterrorism officials fear the symbolic July 4 holiday celebrations coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan will further embolden ISIS supporters in the U.S. to unleash attacks, a threat taken so seriously, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI sent out a warning to law enforcement officials a week in advance of the holiday.

CRUICKSHANK: Terrorist groups have historically been interested in targeting the United States on the July 4 holiday, because they see that holiday as being very important to Americans and if something were to happen, that this would inflict additional psychological trauma.


BROWN: And ISIS also encouraging supporters to attack during the holy month of Ramadan.

Also important to note FBI and DHS say that there's no specific credible threat for the holiday, but as one counterterrorism official I spoke with today said, with the evolving ISIS threat of supporters rapidly going from aspirational to operational, it is very tough to have credible intel of an attack before it happens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tough indeed. Pamela, thank you.

Let's bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez, who is working his sources.

Evan, what are you learning about these July 4 fears?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is very real for officials that I have been talking to.

Just today, I was at the CIA headquarters. And one of the things that I noticed was just going in, employees going in had to go almost through an obstacle course to be able to go in through all these barriers simply because they want to make sure that nobody can just walk in or drive in to those headquarters, which is obviously one of the -- would be one of the top targets.

I talked to an official, top counterterrorism official in Los Angeles today and he told me, one of the problems is among all of these ISIS recruits that law enforcement is watching, many of them are just -- quote -- "looking for an excuse to go operational" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a serious, serious threat. And they're making it clear. They may not have a specific plot in mind, but there is enough so-called chatter out there that they're strengthening security on all sorts of high-value targets.

PEREZ: The thing that worries them, Wolf, is the fact that although they can see some of their communications, they have been -- the FBI has been monitoring a lot of communications. And that's one reason why they have been focusing on this week and on some other events coming up.


There is a lot of peer-to-peer encrypted communications that some of these ISIS supporters are using. They know it, but they can't see it. And that's what worries them. Who are they not catching on? Who are they not watching? That's what they're worried about.

BLITZER: All right. Evan, thank you very much.

Even as the terror threat grows, we're also learning about a significant new setback in the fight against ISIS. A U.S. program to train thousands of Syrian rebels to battle the ISIS terrorists is way, way behind schedule.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He is looking into this.

What are you finding out, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's many years since the administration announced plans, a $500 million program, in fact, to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. Today, fewer than 100 have been trained.

And the vast majority of recruits have shown no interest in taking on ISIS, but instead want to fight the regime of Bashar al- Assad, this from a senior U.S. military official. Now let's look at this administration's original goal was to have 5,400 trained in the first 12 months, the first calendar year. The training started in May of this year.

Then it came down to having 3,000 by the end of 2015. But here we are, end of June 2015. And you have fewer than 100, a company- sized division, this from really a $500 million program. Now, military officials now acknowledging that the administration's goals will not be met this year and adding to the decline, they say, a large group of recruits that were already trained, in fact, they have been through weeks of training, recently quit en masse.

Other have been removed do a range of shortcomings, from being underage to being physically unfit. Military saying the Pentagon still has not give up on this program, but say the focus is on quality over quantity. And they add that there's been no shortage of volunteers, including more than a thousand in just the last 10 days, Wolf.

But a key problem there, those volunteers, they don't want to fight the fight that the administration wants to fight, which is against ISIS. They want to fight Assad.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point indeed. Things clearly going no better across the border from Syria into Iraq.

SCIUTTO: That's right.

In Iraq, keep in mind, you have a functioning government there. You don't have that on the ground in Syria, and yet this U.S.-led effort to train and equip Iraqi forces facing its own delays and obstacles. Keep in mind, that's a $3 billion price tag since the start of military operations last August, $9.2 million a day.

Iraqi forces, and we have seen this, Wolf, we have talked about it, fought to a stalemate against ISIS in Baiji, routed in Ramadi, and that's even as they outnumber the ISIS fighters and were backed by the U.S.-led air campaign. And, again, Baghdad still overly dependent, U.S. officials say, on the Shiite militias. They alienate the Sunni minority and they have also been accused of their own atrocities even as they have been battling ISIS, particularly in those Western areas of Iraq.

BLITZER: A bleak picture unfolding both in Syria and Iraq, indeed.

All right, thanks, Jim Sciutto, for that.

We're also getting breaking news right now.

I want to go immediately to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been in the works for months. But now the reality of ending decades of Cold War tensions with Cuba is fast approaching. Senior administration officials tell us tonight both the and U.S. Cuba will announce tomorrow that they have reached an agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in both Havana and Washington. For now, both governments have only had small interests section

offices. But those offices will now become full-blown embassies. Wolf, the president and Secretary of State John Kerry will have more to say on this tomorrow.

BLITZER: Will they make a formal announcement, the president of the United States? Will he go out there and declare the full resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba?

ACOSTA: That's what we're expecting.

Now, as for the details, as to when those embassies will be reopened and how and all of that, those are the details we expect tomorrow.

BLITZER: Yes, a major announcement.

As you know, the president's approval rating in our exclusive new CNN poll up to 50 percent right now, first time in two years that it has been that good for the president. He had a very good week last week, with the United States Supreme Court helping him out big time. I know you asked him about that today at his news conference. Tell us what he told you.

ACOSTA: Right. That's right. Wolf, as you mentioned, that poll was taken right after what was regarded one of the president's best weeks in a long time. He's coming off of those two Supreme Court decisions on health care and same-sex marriage, not to mention his speech down in Charleston last Friday.

The question now is what the president plans to do next with all of that political capital, now that he has the wind at his back, instead of in his face, as it had been for months. Here's what he had to say.


ACOSTA: It seems that you have built up some political capital for the remaining months of your presidency. I'm curious how you want to use it. What hard things do you want to tackle at this point?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the list is long. And my instructions to my team and my instructions to myself have always been that we are going to squeeze every last ounce of progress that we can make when I have the privilege -- as long as I have the privilege of holding this office.



ACOSTA: Now, the president cited issues like infrastructure and criminal justice reform on his to-do list, but not some of the bigger goals that have eluded him like immigration reform and gun control.

Wolf, we also asked him about the Greek financial office. The president tried to reassure Americans that the worries about Greece won't damage the U.S. economy. That comment could come back to haunt him if Greece triggers some sort of global panic. The president doesn't think that is going to happen.

BLITZER: What about Iran? The U.S. and Iran, other world powers, they have now pushed back the deadline. Supposed to be today. The deadline for a deal, it is now July 7, the new deadline. Does that mean this nuclear deal is in trouble?

ACOSTA: Well, here at the White House, officials like to remind us that the interim deal was end at the end of March. It came a couple of days after that. They think same thing is playing out now.

The president is still hopeful for a final deal. But he did offer some tough talk today, maintaining he will not be satisfied with an agreement that allows Iran the kind of flexibility needed to build a nuclear bomb. And here's what he had to say about that.


OBAMA: I have said from the start I will walk away from the negotiations if in fact it is a bad deal.


ACOSTA: Now, the president said he won't be satisfied with a deal that amounts to what he said would be few inspectors walking around, looking at sites.

Instead, he said he is insisting on rigorous inspections. The president's defenders, Wolf, they may think his legacy was sealed last week, but Iran and ISIS, as you have been talking about today, they may have a greater impact on how the Obama presidency is remembered, more than last week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's bring in the top spokesman at the United States Department of State. John Kirby is joining us.

John, thanks very much for coming in. Lots going on in your world.

Let's talk about this, the breaking news, Jim Acosta's report that the U.S. and Cuba have now reached a formal agreement. They will formally announce they are reestablishing diplomatic relations at the embassy level as early as tomorrow. I take it your boss, the secretary of state, and the president, for that matter, they may make this announcement as early as tomorrow. Tell us what to expect.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, I'm not going to get ahead of announcements that haven't been made, Wolf, and I won't get ahead of the schedule here.

But I will tell you this is something that Secretary Kerry has been working very, very hard here at the State Department. There's discussions and talks are still ongoing. This is an important policy objective to pursue. And we're looking forward to continuing that. But I won't get ahead of any announcements that haven't been made yet.

BLITZER: Will the secretary go to Havana for the formal reopening of that U.S. Embassy?

KIRBY: Well, we're looking at the secretary's schedule. Clearly, that is something that we're entertaining right now. But I don't have anything specific to talk to you on in terms of his travel right now.

What we're focused on is less the travel schedule and more the effort here in achieving the president's objective of restoring diplomatic negotiations with Cuba, what that looks like, how that's processed, how we do that over time.

BLITZER: So, I take it, if the announcement is tomorrow, does that mean the U.S. flag goes up right away? There will be full diplomatic relations as of tomorrow, an American flag flying at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, a Cuban flag flying at the Cuban Embassy here in Washington?

KIRBY: Well, again, without getting head of announcements that haven't been made and timing, I would just tell you that there is a process here.

And the reestablishment of embassies here in D.C. for the Cubans and for the United States in Havana is something that we still have to get to. So, I don't know that I would be expecting that as early as tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right. We are going to take a quick break. John, I want to get to ISIS, what's going on right now, these threats against the United States.

A lot more with the top spokesman at the State Department, John Kirby, when we come back.



BLITZER: We're back with the top spokesman at the State Department, John Kirby.

We have been talking about the growing U.S. concerns about a terror attack around the July 4 holiday weekend.

John, I want to you stand by for a moment.

Our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, is joining us. She's getting some new reporting on these terror concerns.

Deb, what are you hearing?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're hearing, Wolf, is that it is not just these lone wolf attacks that have officials very concerned.

They're also deeply concerned about what they call ISIS-directed plots that are both complex and centrally planned. Now, a warning went out to law enforcement agencies across the country last month specifically citing the attack -- or the planned attack in Belgium. That was disrupted back in January.

You may remember that, a dramatic shoot-out. During that time, more than 10 individuals were arrested as part of that extensive plot and counterterrorism police found uniforms, as well as small improvised explosive devices and small firearms. The plot there was allegedly targeting Belgian landmarks.

Now, as an example, another source I spoke to said that there was recently the arrest of four individuals here in the New York/New Jersey area, those individuals all talking about a planned attack and how they would get to ISIS-controlled territories in order to join foreign fighters.

Now, one of the men was overheard telling a co-conspirator -- quote -- "I'm in New York trying to do an op," which authorities took to mean an operation. Now, those men were arrested. Two other individuals, however, they were able to successfully leave the United States, but all of this sort of an example of why it is not just these lone wolf attacks, but it may be a coordination among individuals who were all planning to do something together.

And that's a big concern right now as we approach July 4, Wolf.

BLITZER: Court documents said some of these guys in New York and New Jersey were actually searching, what, tourist attractions, landmarks in the New York City area? Is that right?


FEYERICK: Yes, that's exactly right. And that was one of the big concerns.

Another one of the individuals actually had e-mailed himself plans on how to build a pressure cooker bomb. So, the FBI has been on top of this and the number of people who have been arrested really in the last couple of weeks and last couple of months is a significant number, but national security officials very concerned about this.

BLITZER: They have arrested about 30 alleged ISIS sympathizers in the last few weeks.

All right, thanks very much, Deb Feyerick, for that.

I want to bring back John Kirby, the spokesman for the State Department.

I will get your reaction. What do you think, John? Is it accurate that these ISIS cells are a little bit more complex, more detailed than just some sort of lone individual, if you will, going out there, being inspired, getting a weapon and killing people? KIRBY: Well, look, without getting into intelligence matters,

certainly, this is a group that we're very concerned about. And we have been talking about this for a long time, this idea that people can become self-radicalized and go join the fight and then maybe come back or just people that may come back as foreign fighters in general.

And it is something that not just the United States is worried about, but 30 other countries in the coalition now who have taken administrative or legal actions to try to get at this problem. So, speaking broadly, Wolf, this is something that we have been focused on since almost the onset of the campaign against ISIL.

BLITZER: So heading into the July 4 holiday weekend, is it just out of an abundance of caution that the preventive measures, the terror level is being intensified, new precautions are being taken around high-visibility sites, or is it more? Is there something more concrete, a greater fear?

KIRBY: Well, I don't -- I think the law enforcement community and the Department of Homeland Security has already talked about this in terms of no specific credible threat.

But certainly it is an opportunity and a chance for us all to be a little extra vigilant here when you approach a holiday weekend like this. We know this group is still lethal, they're still agile, and I think it just makes good common sense for everybody to keep their head on a swivel and to look out and to be vigilant, to be aware.

BLITZER: I think you're absolutely right.

You also heard Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent, report, and pretty dismal, that the U.S. effort to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS in Syria, it is sort of pitiful right now. Less than 100 have actually been trained. What's going on with this program?

KIRBY: Well, Wolf, I don't know that I would call it pitiful. We have said from the outset that this was going to be a difficult effort and that it was important and critical. We still believe that. You have got to have capable partners on the ground in Syria.

That's what this program is all about. But we said from the very beginning that this was going to be a tough thing to effect, to implement, because we didn't have a lot of information about the groups and how to properly get them trained and into the field.

So, yes, it is smaller numbers than I think people anticipated at the outset. But, again, I think we have been pretty honest with the American people about the scope of the effort and the importance of doing it.

BLITZER: I know the U.S. has budgeted half-a-billion dollars in taxpayer money to train these guys. What part of it so far is working?

KIRBY: Well, look, I think we're fixated on the numbers here, which may be smaller than what we may have anticipated or planned.

But let's focus on what is happening and that you do have opposition members that now are vetted and are now in the program. And they're getting training. And they're going to get equipment. And maybe that success will build on more success. It can be a cumulative effort here.

The importance is that we do this right and not try to do it fast. And we have always said that. It is an important program. We are going to stick with it. We are going to pursue it, even through the challenges.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this Iran nuclear negotiation that is under way in Vienna, Austria. That's where your boss, the secretary of state, is right now.

They have extended the deadline. As you know, it was supposed to be today. Now it's been moved to July 7. What's your analysis? What's the likelihood that they will get a deal?

KIRBY: Well, I don't know. I truly don't know.

And I don't think Secretary Kerry or the negotiating team knows right now. They're focused on what's going on inside that room and that's where their heads ought to be. I think it is certainly possible that we could get a deal. It is also possible that we may not get a deal. And I think everybody just needs to kind of focus on what's going on in that negotiating room.

This is a technical extension, and it is to allow for the parameters of the joint plan of action to be extended for another week, and we will see where they get.

BLITZER: As you know, several former Obama national security officials, military personnel, including General David Petraeus, among others, they have signed this letter the other day saying this deal, at least as it is shaping up right now, doesn't go far enough. They're deeply concerned.

Do they have a point?

KIRBY: Well, look, there's going to be voices in this process. There have been. There will be. We certainly respect that people have all kinds of people one way or the other.


But, again, our focus is on getting a deal that does one thing. And the one thing is that Iran cannot pursue nuclear weapons capability, that their -- a pathway to fissile material is halted. That's the goal.

The president talked about this today. That's what we're focused on. And I don't want to negotiate here in public. There's lots of things we still have to come to conclusion on. And, if we can't, if we don't, then there will be no deal. And as we have always said, Secretary Kerry has made clear that no deal is going to be better than a bad deal. We're not going to accept a deal that won't ensure that outcome.

BLITZER: John Kirby, thanks very much for joining us.

KIRBY: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, how is the president handling race relations in this country? There are some striking divisions on that question tonight between African-Americans and whites. We're digging deeper. We have got a brand-new exclusive poll.

And an in-depth look at the newest Republican presidential candidate, Chris Christie. His wife is now opening up about the Bridgegate scandal and more. An exclusive CNN interview, that is coming up.


BLITZER: Just days after one of President Obama's most passionate speeches ever on race in America, we have a surprising new snapshot of his political support and the racial divide in this country.

As we told you earlier, our exclusive new CNN/ORC poll shows the president's approval rating has now climbed to 50 percent. That's the first time in two years it's been that high.

But look at this. He has a 91 percent approval rating among African-Americans, while only 39 percent of white Americans approve of the way he's doing his job.

After a series of racially-charged shootings and other acts of violence from Ferguson, Missouri, to Charleston, South Carolina, 43 percent of Americans say race relations in this country have gotten worse since President Obama took office.

Let's talk all about all of this with our CNN anchor, Don Lemon; and our CNN legal analyst, the former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin.

Don, what's your analysis? What's behind that number?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think the president is susceptible to the news cycle, just like we are. He's had a very good run. There's been very good headlines about the president. And so I think that just like most people, he is susceptible to the news cycle. Most people say, "You know what? He's gotten a lot of things accomplished." And so they figure he's doing his job well.

And so I mean, I think the president has done a good job all along throughout his presidency, and I think that, you know, these numbers can be snapshots into -- sometimes they mean a lot. Sometimes they don't.

But I also think that it has to do with the president is free now. He doesn't have to run anymore. He doesn't have to worry as much about, you know, being a politician. And I think that shows. I think the American people see that. And they sort of like this, you know, Obama 2.0, 3.0, whatever you want to call it. So I think that's what's behind it.

BLITZER: The "L.A. Times," Sunny, is reporting that the Ku Klux Klan has actually distributed fliers in a suburban area of Los Angeles. They did it over the weekend. What's going on with the issue of racism? Supposedly, if you believe this poll, maybe on the rise in this country.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know so much that it's on the rise, but I do think that, certainly, it has been there, sort of underbelly of America. It's something that people don't want to talk about.

And this -- you know, President Obama is coming off of this, what I think is a transformative week, quite frankly, in his presidency. We're talking about the Supreme Court rulings in terms of gay marriage; the Supreme Court rulings in terms of, you know, his key legislation, the Affordable Care Act; and we're talking about that just incredible, what I felt was a life-altering experience that I experienced during his eulogy for Reverend Pinckney's funeral.

And so coming off of that, I think what we are seeing is perhaps a sense of hopelessness for those people that are subscribing to white supremacy. And so we're seeing that uptick in response to this transformative week. But I don't think that racism, certainly, is exploding all of a sudden. But I think it's being highlighted by the fact that we've had this president having such a transformative week.

BLITZER: And Don, as we've been showing, 43 percent in this new CNN poll believe -- 43 percent of Americans say that race relations have taken a turn for the worse. Race relations under President Obama have gotten worse since he took office. He's our first African- American president. When you see that number, what do you think?

LEMON: I'm going to say something that's going to completely shock you and all of our viewers. I completely, 100 percent, agree with what Sunny said.

HOSTIN: That is a shock.

LEMON: That is a shock. Because I don't think that racism has gotten worse under President Obama. I think that it has been revealed by him, you know, his presidency. I think he's sort of been the mirror for what's already out there.

And so I think people are just showing themselves now, and I think Sunny is right. I think that people see the country is changing. It's a more diverse country. You know, there are more Hispanics. There are more African-Americans and more people of color in the country now.

And gay people now have equal rights when it comes to marriage under the Constitution. And I think certain people don't like that and are afraid of it. And it intimidates them. And they think, "Oh, our country is changing."

Well, the country has been changing, and they have just not been keeping up with it. So I think that's what's behind it. I don't think that racism has gotten worse under the presidency. I just think that you're seeing what was there.

BLITZER: Because Sunny, some have suggested that President Obama's presidency has unmasked some of the existing racism that clearly has always been there.

HOSTIN: Yes, I think that's true. I mean, we're talking about the first African-American president. And many people, when he was initially elected, thought that, you know, there would be attempts made on his life. He's had more security than any other president.

And so I think what we are, again, seeing is this underbelly that's coming to light that certainly feels threatened by the change that we're seeing in America. And we certainly are seeing that change.

And I do agree with Don in the sense that, especially when I was sitting there watching the eulogy in South Carolina, we saw this president I don't think we've ever seen. We've seen -- we saw this authenticity that I don't think we've ever seen. This comfort level.

And that is probably also striking to many people. I mean, the swag with which he walked out to deliver the eulogy. I mean, Wolf, he was clapping. He was singing African-American spirituals. He sang "Amazing Grace." That kind of thing I think was probably pretty intimidating to some people, seeing this kind of authenticity coming from our first African-American president.

BLITZER: Authenticity or fearless. Don, he himself said he is now fearless. Go ahead.

LEMON: Yes, I just want -- and I wanted to correct something that I said on Friday after the president. I said that many African- Americans wanted to -- you know, wanted to see him say those words or hear him say those words.

And as I made my way back from Charleston, I don't know if Sunny heard the same thing in the airport. Just people out in the street. They said, "You know, Don, I completely agree with you; but I'm white, and I wanted to hear the president say that." "Well, I'm a conservative, and I was really transfixed listening to the president."

So it's not just liberals. It's not just African-Americans. I think many people in the country see the new president. And they kind of like him, you know, this sort of freedom that he has now. So yes, you know, I just wanted to say that.

BLITZER: All right. Good point. Don, thanks very much.

Sunny, thanks to you, as well.

To our viewers, be sure to join Don later tonight, 10 p.m. Eastern, on "CNN TONIGHT." Always has a strong show.

Just ahead, more on the breaking news. New security in place amid growing concerns about a terrorist attack around the July 4th holiday weekend.

And Chris Christie's wife now responding to criticism that her husband is brash, even a bully. She's speaking exclusively to our own Gloria Borger as the governor joins the Republican presidential race.


[18:47:00] BLITZER: Tonight the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, says he's running for president, because Americans are tired of weakness in the Oval Office. He's the 14th Republican to formally publicly enter the race. And he comes with his own set of baggage.

This hour, Christie's wife is opening up to CNN about the so- called Bridgegate scandal, her husband's temperament and a whole lot more. She spoke exclusively with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, who's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Excellent conversation you had.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I did, Wolf. You know, Mary Pat Christie recently left a very lucrative job on Wall Street to become a partner in the Christie presidential endeavor. And she says it's time for an authentic leader in the White House, one who doesn't use a teleprompter.



BORGER (voice-over): Chris Christie didn't stick to his script today.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean what I say, and I say what I mean.

BORGER: But he did stick to his brand. A straight-talking, take-no-prisoners leader...

C. CHRISTIE: I'm going on give the answer to the question that's asked.

BORGER: ... not afraid of ruffling a few feathers.

C. CHRISTIE: Did I say on topic? Are you stupid?

Your rear end is going to get thrown in jail, idiot.

Get over it.

BORGER: After this traffic jam became a national scandal, the candidate who was once the man to beat is starting his campaign behind.

C. CHRISTIE: We are going to go and win this election.

BORGER: An unusual spot for a political star who for most of his career has been at the top. From New Jersey's hard-charging U.S. attorney...

C. CHRISTIE: Justice has finally been done.

BORGER: ... to an even higher perch as the deal-making two-term Republican governor in a Democratic state.

C. CHRISTIE: You think you know what it's like to be governor. You really don't.

BORGER: A tough job, says Mary Pat Christie, but her husband was the perfect guy for it.

MARY PAT CHRISTIE, CHRIS CHRISTIE'S WIFE: He's a very complex person like any executive, leader is. He thinks four or five steps ahead of most people and just comes up with all sorts of solutions. He plays things out in his mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's got more natural ability than any politician I've seen since Bill Clinton. He's that good.

M. CHRISTIE: Former New Jersey governor, Tom Kean, has known Christie for decades, ever since the 14-year-old Chris knocked on his door while his mother waited in the car after hearing Kean give a political speech.

KEAN: And he said, "Sir, I heard you talk. I'd really like to get involved in politics. How do I do it?"

And I thought for a minute, and I said, "I'm going up to speak in Bergen county tonight. Get in the car, come with me and see if you like it."

BORGER: Christie is now 52. And Kean, who's had his own ups and downs with Christie, has watched his fellow Republican become a political force, navigating tough partisan terrain with a lot of backroom skill.

[18:45:09] KEAN: He is a little bit Lyndon Johnson. You know, he'll almost grab you by the collar and say, this is what we're going to do together, you know? And he is persuasive and a very strong way.

BORGER: With maybe too much public bravado for Christie's own good.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I can go back and forth with you as much as you want.

KEAN: Has he learned over time, a little bit better self-control to keep the temper under control, to use it. Not have it use him.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: So listen. You want to have the conversation later? I'm happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up.

MARY PAT CHRISTIE, CHRIS CHRISTIE'S WIFE: If you're disrespectful, you may, you know, be called out on it.

BORGER: Too blunt too, aggressive.

MARY PAT CHRISTIE: No, those are not, I really don't think those are faults of his.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: You ask the question. I gave the answer.

MARY PAT CHRISTIE: It's a hallmark of his leadership. I think our politicians kind of don't state obvious. They don't tell the truth. I think America is looking for someone to tell the truthful.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: You give it, you very well may get it back.

BORGER: That's the Christie "Tell It Like It Is" plan. He is proudly New Jersey through and through.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Don't they know I am from New Jersey?

BORGER: Rocking his way to more than 130 Springsteen concerts.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: For those of you hooting --

BORGER: And feeding off the crowds as a candidate, town halling his way to the early primary states.

MARY PAT CHRISTIE: He has a lot of fun with it. He loves the debate.

BORGER: Christie's own outspoken truth telling brand was tested a year and a half ago.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: I worked the cones actually on that.

BORGER: But it wasn't a laughing matter. Stories had surface that had some of his staff had deliberately created a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to extract political retribution on Christie's behalf. He fired them.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: I had no knowledge of this, of the planning, the execution or anything about it.

BORGER: While Christie has not been charged with anything, two of his former staffers were indicted and one former ally has pleaded guilty.

(on camera): People abandoned you, did you think?

MARY PAT CHRISTIE: Well, I think you felt that people were all against you. That you wanted to shout what the truth was. When you're in those situations, you know you can trust your family. And so, we really leaned on one another. In a strange way, I think that it was healthy. I wouldn't recommend it, but it was healthy in some ways.

BORGER (voice-over): It certainly didn't help politically.

MARY PAT CHRISTIE: We're past that. Everybody knows Chris had nothing to do with that. Look, people -- we have to remind people why Chris is such a good leader.

BORGER: Reminding voters of the strength of Christie's leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

(on camera): I remember the fleece he wore nonstop.

MARY PAT CHRISTIE: Yes, I would have to pull it away to wash it at night once in a while. That's because he was working 20-hour days. He would literally go to the shore towns and walk the street. He felt people's pain. And he was able to just hug them.

BORGER: Christie was full of hugs for everyone including President Obama just a few days before the presidential election -- a moment that some Republicans found less than touching.

It's a different picture now. Christie has gotten healthier, undergoing weight loss surgery in 2013 but he's struggling to regain lost momentum.

KEAN: I think he's got big problems. If this was another candidate with similar problems, I might be writing him off. I know Chris Christie too well for that. Never write off Chris Christie.


BLITZER: Good piece, Gloria.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: What is his game plan? He's got a lot of work to do.

BORGER: Town hall, town hall, town hall. He's going to try to win back those vote here's have clearly lost confidence in him. You see him in the lower tier of candidates. New Hampshire is a big part of his plan. He believes those independent voters, those more moderate voters, those vote here's care about entitlement spending run amok, which is one of his key themes, will listen to him.

And he has done so many town halls in the state of New Jersey. He wants to take that, use that as a model in the state of New Hampshire. And when each voter back face to face, which is clearly what Mary Pat Christie believes he can do.

BLITZER: So, he's going to focus in on New Hampshire. Not necessarily Iowa.

BORGER: Absolutely. I think, look, everybody is competing in Iowa. I think you'd have to say, that the Iowa caucus-goers are a lot more conservative. I wouldn't say he's given up on Iowa, but I do think New Hampshire is where he needs to really do well. BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Gloria. We have a lot more to


A stinging new attack on Chris Christie's character. Stand by for more on the race for the White House when we come back.


[18:54:27] BLITZER: Take a look at this. Live pictures of Chris Christie in a town hall meeting happening right now in New Hampshire. The New Jersey governor jumped into the presidential race formally today, but some of his toughest critics are speaking out, as well.

We're back with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, and our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She was there at Christie's announcement in New Jersey.

Dana, so tell us how it went. Was he typically bombastic? Was he a little bit more muted in this tone? Explain what you saw.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There was nothing muted about Chris Christie's tone, not at all.

[18:55:01] You know, the way that Gloria got his wife, Mary Pat, to kind of set up the presidential campaign that he's going to have was really exactly what we saw. Just the fact that he and his aides made a point of letting us know ahead of time. There would be no teleprompter. There would be no prepared text, which we normally get, kind of what goes on behind the scenes is that presidential candidates, they sent out the actual speech that they're going to give beforehand.

They couldn't do that because it didn't exist. He had music stand on it. He has some outline with some notes and he just went for it and he used language that was certainly not lofty, not that kind of rhetoric at all. A little salty and certainly he tried to give the swagger that he is known for, the kind of swagger he hopes propels him from what is the political abyss right now.

BLITZER: Yes, he didn't hold back in criticizing the president. And Hillary Clinton for that matter, as well.

Gloria, let me read to you a quote from "The New Jersey Star Ledger" editorial board. They write this of the governor, "He is a remarkable talent with a silver tongue. But if you look closely, you can see that it is forked like a serpent's." Wow.

BORGER: Wow, right. Well, if you're dissing out, you have to be able to take it, right? And so, they are dissing it out to a guy who disses it out.

And it's clear, Chris Christie doesn't have great relations with a lot of the press in his state. He's unpopular at home as are a number of the governors who are running for the presidency. His state has had some economic problems. So, you know, there are governors running for the presidency like Bobby Jindal, like Walker who are under water at home, but who have to now convince the American public national public they're going to be a great leader nationally, even though they're unpopular in their own state. It's tough.

BLITZER: There's a new CNN poll that we released, Brianna, today has President Obama's approval rating now at, take a look at this, 50 percent. It's the highest it's been in about two years. What's behind this dramatic increase?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He had a really good week you could say. This is a poll conducted between Friday and Sunday. So, mostly, this followed the two Supreme Court victories both on Obamacare and on same-sex marriage. And then, generally speaking, Americans feel like the economy is doing better and then also on Friday, he had this chance when he went down to Charleston to really show leadership on race relations, which is a huge issue right now, and actually this poll shows of a lot of concern to both African Americans and white Americans.

But just to show the swing, yes, it's at 50 percent. But last month in May, he had a negative 7 percent spread between approval and disapproval. That's pretty big. He's gone up to a positive 3 percent. So, this is something that's good for President Obama, it's good on these legacy -- it's because of legacy issues but it's also very good for Hillary Clinton, isn't it? Because as she looks to try to take the presidency.

BORGER: Third term? I don't think so.

BLITZER: Yes. Let me get back to Chris Christie.

For a moment, some dueling town hall meetings, Dana, underway in New Hampshire right now. Not only Chris Christie answering people's questions but Donald Trump, he's got a town hall meeting going on right now. Neither one of them, Dana, you covered them both, pretty shy. They're pretty outspoken, very blunt. They will both liven up this race for the White House.

BASH: Very much so. The problem with Chris Christie's sort of candor campaign strategy is that he didn't expect to have someone like Donald Trump in there. I should say, Donald Trump is supposed to be having a town hall, but I think it started half an hour ago. I don't believe he's actually taken a question yet. He should just been talking and talking and talking as we've seen him do for a couple weeks.

But it does go to show how important New Hampshire is not just for Donald Trump but especially for the man who announced today Chris Christie.

And one quick thing I want to add, you mentioned Barack Obama's poll showing he's doing much better. Not since George H.W. Bush won the White House back in 1988 has a party kept control of the White House after a president's two terms and that is a big, big deal just as Brianna said, a big deal for Hillary Clinton, for President Obama's numbers to be going up, and a danger zone for Republicans who want to take the White House because history would not be on their side if the numbers keep going up for the current president.

BORGER: Can I just say people are going to pay good money to see Christie and Trump on the same stage together in a brawl. I mean, because neither of them take prisoners and that debate would be something I think that we would all tune in to watch.

KEILAR: Reality TV.

BLITZER: That would be a great debate.

BORGER: Unreality.

BLITZER: Assuming they both make the top ten, there'd be eight other individuals on that stage, as well fighting.

BORGER: I don't think they're going to wind up somewhere together, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see how they do. All right, guys. Thanks very, very much.

Remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom. See you here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.