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Obama: Stepping Up the Fight Against ISIS; Iran Nuclear Talks Deadline Approaches; Behind the Scenes at the Secret Service. Aired 5- 6:00p ET

Aired July 6, 2015 - 17:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: massive show of force. The U.S. directs punishing airstrikes against the ISIS capital in Syria. Ad President Obama make a rare visit to the Pentagon, is there a shift in strategy in this terror group?

Inside the Secret Service. After months of blunders, including an intruder in the White House, the Secret Service gives us behind- the-scenes access. As a new boss battles to clean up the mess, I'll talk with a leading congressional critic.

Flag fight. South Carolina lawmakers debate whether to remove the Confederate flag, protesters rally for and against the divisive symbol. Will the flag come down?

Keeping their distance from Donald. After a series of outrageous statements by Donald Trump, his Republican rivals back away from the billionaire, but is a San Francisco shooting adding fuel to his fire?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The U.S. and its allies have launched waves of new airstrikes against ISIS, pounded dozens of targets in Iraq and Syria, including the city which ISIS has turned into its capital and command center. But at the same time ISIS has recaptured a key town from Kurdish forces, and is on the move elsewhere.

President Obama has just made a rare visit to the Pentagon, conceding that the fight against ISIS will not be quick, but stressing that the terror group has suffered heavy loss, and can be pushed back. At the same time the president warns there is concern about lone-wolf attacks in this country, and the U.S. is working to, quote, "smother new ISIS cells." I'll speak with Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz. And our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's big stories.

We begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, here at the Pentagon, the president said a short time ago that the U.S. is intensifying its efforts in Syria, but the question, of course, is will it make a difference? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Coalition warplanes pounded ISIS positions around Raqqah, to the group's declared capital, here just one of 16 ISIS-controlled bridges destroyed. It's the kind of progress President Obama wants to talk about.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sure ISIL's recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated.

STARR: A total of 18 airstrikes on July 4, several airstrikes in populated areas. The Pentagon insists no change in policy, but could there be new flexibility?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what the strikes on Raqqah over the weekend show is that they've relooked at the rules of engagement for those airstrikes, and they're willing perhaps to take a little bit more risk with collateral damages and civilian casualties.

STARR: The U.S. hope: the strikes will force ISIS leaders to reposition troops and weapons. Syrian Kurdish fighters are on the ground, now less than 50 miles from Raqqah, working with the Americans to pinpoint more ISIS targets for bombing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you put pressure on a force with ground forces, with offensive action, it forces the enemy to move, to communicate, and to mass to defend its positions. And then it becomes vulnerable to airstrikes.

STARR: U.S. officials say one of the dead may have been an aide to Janaid Hussein (ph), an ISIS hacker, believed to have communicated with an attacker in the Garland, Texas, assault on a cartoon contest. The U.S. still looking for top ISIS leaders, including Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, who the U.S. believes could be in Raqqah.

ASHTON CARTON, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: With respect to leadership, they were not subject to these particular tactical opportunities that rose over the weekend north of Raqqah, but we continue to take action.

STARR: But a setback in Iraq, seven killed and eight wounded when an Iraqi military jet accidentally dropped a bomb on a residential neighborhood in Baghdad.


STARR: And Pamela, you mentioned a town that ISIS had apparently taken back from the Kurds in Syria. These are the kind of areas that are going to see a lot of fighting, a lot of battling back and forth. ISIS wants that town to keep its supply lines flowing. The Kurds want the town back -- Pamela.

BROWN: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

So what's behind the sudden show of force against ISIS and the strikes at its self-declared capital? Let's bring in CNN chief national correspondent Jim Sciutto for more on that.

[17:05:04] So, Jim, with this current campaign against Raqqah, explain ISIS's hold there. How key is that city?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we talk a lot about how in Iraq Mosul is ISIS's stronghold. In Syria, it is certainly Raqqah. Really more important, because it goes back to before ISIS swept into Iraq from Syria.

What's been happening in recent weeks is that the YPG. These are Syrian Kurds who are mostly up here in the northeast, they've been advancing on Raqqah, as well as areas on the border here. And as they advance, you get better intelligence about possible targets inside that capital city of Raqqah, and that's what you're seeing now from the coalition, able to strike more targets there. Really, the most intense periods of airstrikes around Raqqah that we've seen in some time by the U.S.-led coalition.

BROWN: And we heard what the president said today. Explain, if you would, the U.S. strategy and where might the U.S. expand bases.

SCIUTTO: Let's look at the map now of U.S. bases currently in Iraq. So you have five U.S. bases in Iraq right now. Baghdad, the capital; Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish areas of North, as well as Basmayah (ph), just at the south of Baghdad.

You've recently added two bases here in Taqaddan, and al Assad. These, you could say, are the first lily pad of this new strategy. But the Pentagon has made clear, the chairman of the joint chiefs, Martin Dempsey, has made clear that they might expand that further. These are two areas that he's mentioned. One spot perhaps on the path between Baghdad, in the key city of Tikrit, also a possibility between Kirkuk and Mosul, both of those key, because these are areas that the Iraqi forces, with the backing of the U.S.-led coalition, they want to reestablish control, particularly as getting close to Mosul.

But listen, Pamela, we've been talking for a long time about when Iraqi forces are going to be ready to re-take Mosul. There was some talk of springtime this year. Then it was the fall of this year, but really, no one is saying no one believes that Iraqi forces are capable of an operation like that until sometime next year.

BROWN: Did the president announce any changes today, Jim, with the strategy against ISIS?

SCIUTTO: He did not announce any major changes. I'll tell you, the one thing I noticed, really, was his sobriety on this, just how sober his assessment is of the threat from ISIS, saying that, one, it's going to take time. This battle is not going to be quick.

Two, that there are going to be setbacks, and frankly, Pamela, he has to acknowledge that, because we've seen those setbacks. They've been very visible. For instance, the loss of Ramadi very recently. But also this expanded assessment of the threat from ISIS today. It was a year ago the president called ISIS a JV threat. It was only a few months ago from the administration they talked about ISIS being a local and regional threat.

He made very clear today that it is a threat, in his words, beyond the region right up to the U.S. homeland.

BROWN: Yes, hardly. That was a year ago, and now they're considered the No. 1 terror threat against the U.S., right up there with al Qaeda. Thanks so much, Jim Sciutto.

Meantime, the tense negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are in the final stages. A deadline for a deal was just hours away, but it's not the first deadline, and it may not be the last in this marathon effort to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

Let's turn to CNN global affairs analyst Elise Labott for more on that.

So Elise, what are you hearing?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Pamela, today was the first day that the parties had gotten together in the same room since these talks began, but it was clear that there were still major differences on key issues like Iran's past nuclear weapons program, the lifting of sanctions.

Asked today if the deadline would slip, the White House said nothing is certain. Take a listen to press secretary Josh Earnest.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I wouldn't set any expectations at this point. I would say that it's certainly possible, but at this point, I don't have an expectation to share.


LABOTT: I think everyone is laying the groundwork for the parties to work past tomorrow's deadline.

The question is can they get a deal to Congress by Thursday? If they don't, the period Congress has to review the deal doubles from 30 to 60 days.

You heard this weekend Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called Secretary Kerry personally, warned him not to rush. He said it was more important to little a tough agreement that meets all the U.S. red lines than trying to jam one through before the deadline.

You also heard today Prime Minister Netanyahu, one of the most vocal opponents of this deal, warning that the U.S. is making too many concessions. He said the deal is even worse than the deal North Korea had, which it used to go nuclear. So a lot of fearmongering by the Israeli prime minister.

BROWN: Some strong words there. So there's a question of whether a deal will be reached by the deadline, but what if there is no deal at all?

LABOTT: Well, I think it depends how close they are by the deadline. If they are close, they could go an extra few days. I don't see a full break-down. But both sides say they're prepared to walk away.

Secretary Kerry has said if there is not a tough agreement, there will not be an agreement at any price. The Iranians say they'd rather go home empty-handed than sign a deal that didn't respect their deadlines. So in the last couple days, we've been calling it a game of chicken. It's just a question of who's going to flinch first.

BROWN: All right. We will have to wait and see. Elise Labott, thank you so much for that.

And joining me now to discussing all of this, Republican Congressman Chaffetz of Utah. He's the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Thanks so much for being here with us, Congressman Chaffetz. As I said, a lot to discuss. I do want to ask you about the Iran negotiations. But first, we saw today the president make a rare appearance from the Pentagon. He said that this fight against ISIS will not be quick. But he did not mention a war authorization from Congress.

[17:10:26] Congressman, if this is going to be a long fight, in your view, does the president need to get that authorization?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Well, he should. He should make the case for the American people. I really -- I sense more resolve from him, a more realistic view, but I'm concerned that he doesn't have a strategy. He talked about some topics -- or some tactics, but in a topical way. But I didn't sense that he had a really rock-solid strategy on how to deal with this and defeat it. Not just in Iraq but across the globe.

BROWN: So what changes do you think need to be made then, if you don't think that he had a strategy that he laid out today?

CHAFFETZ: Well, he -- he is getting a sense of the severity of the problem. It bothered us a year ago and even a few months ago that I don't think he understood the gravity of the situation.

I think he's starting to do that. That's just my impression from seeing him and from listening to him.

But look, the United States military can do anything. They can accomplish anything we set them to do, but if the more handcuffs we put behind their back, the more -- the more tethered they are to doing it a certain way, then they won't be able to get the job done.

But it's not just Iraq. I really do worry about North Africa, Libya. I worry about those areas. Because we don't have the type of intelligence that we should and that we have had in the past. And we've got to make sure that we're taking the fight not just

to Mosul and other places where we should have never lost control, but we have got to make sure that we've got the fight going on in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya and other places, to make sure that they're held back and that they're defeated.

BROWN: What's taking so long, in your view, with this fight?

CHAFFETZ: Well, the president hasn't had a sense of urgency. I mean, the fact that he was at the Pentagon talking about this is a good sign. I'll say thank you, Mr. President, for doing that, but let's unleash the United States military to defeat this enemy in its totality.

And thus far, I have not heard that resolve, and the president is starting to get there. I think the American people would be behind him if he would talk about it more often and explain the threat to the homeland in the United States of America. I do believe it is a clear and present danger, but we've got to unleash our military to get it done. And they will get it done.

BROWN: As he said, the fight against ISIS will not be quick.

Moving on to another big story we're following today, the ongoing negotiations with Iran for a nuclear deal. Our Jim Sciutto reported that the Iranians are saying that there is no agreed-upon deadline for a deal. What would you need to be included in a deal in order for you to support it, Congressman?

CHAFFETZ: Well, if they can't even agree there's a deadline, and if the United States is not -- looks at Thursday as just a suggestion, then there really isn't a deadline.

I'd want it to be crystal clear. The -- Iran should not get a nuclear capability. If they want to come into the real world, to the developed world, they cannot develop a nuclear capability. Iran with a nuclear bomb is one of the biggest threats to the history of this planet, and we can't let it happen.

And there are a series of other things and points that I think the president should insist upon. But I've got to tell you, these concessions that I hear that the president is considering is just not going to fly. It's a nonstarter, at least for this representative and the vote that I get.

BROWN: All right. Congressman Chaffetz, I have a lot more I want to ask you, particularly about the Secret Service. I mean, I know that you have a lot of opinions about this.

Stay with us. We're going to be right back with more of our interview.


[17:18:16] BROWN: We're back with House Oversight Chairman, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, but first, after a series of blunders and security lapses, including a fence jumper who made it inside the White House residence, the Secret Service has a new boss, who is on a mission to fix the agency. CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta got a behind-the-scenes look.

Jim, how was it?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Pam, the Secret Service invited us out to their training facility here in Maryland, outside the nation's capital, in part to reassure the public the agency has what it takes to protect the president.

And as the agency's director told us, there is no room for error with the influx of threats coming in.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's supposed to be one of most elite law- enforcement agencies in the world: from the canine squads guarding the White House to armed agents protecting the president from a potential ambush.

The Secret Service conducts year-round training for all possible threats, but lately the agency itself has been in the line of fire for allowing a fence-jumping intruder inside the White House last fall, a low light in a barrage of embarrassing headlines.

(on camera): What is your short answer to that?

JOSEPH CLANCY, SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR: Well, it should not have happened, and it won't happen again.

ACOSTA: That will never happen again?

CLANCY: That won't happen again.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Secret Service Director Joe Clancy was tapped to fix the troubled agency. A longtime agent who came out of retirement, Clancy is an insider that a job many in Congress say only an outsider could do.

CLANCY: I do think it helps to have some kind of a baseline education in what this job, and it's a -- it's a difficult job. Every day is a challenge. I'm going to be honest with you.

ACOSTA (on camera): Is it a cultural problem that you're dealing with now?

CLANCY: I don't think it's a cultural problem. I think that we certainly have an element that has had some difficulties in the past, but we've honestly moved on from that. We've learned from our mistakes.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Clancy is rebuilding the agency from the ground up, dramatically boosting the number of recruits.

[17:20:08] (on camera): During this basic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) drill, 80 miles per hour. The purpose, they say, is not just to protect the integrity of the vehicle, but also the occupants.

(voice-over): But Clancy knows the Secret Service also has to be prepared for more modern threats, whether it's ISIS...

(on camera): Is it something that you're training for?

CLANCY: Yes. Absolutely. We're training towards them. But also we're training towards the lone wolf.

ACOSTA (voice-over): ... or drone flying over the White House fence.

(on camera): Can the Secret Service ever stop a drone from flying over the White House?

CLANCY: I'm not going to get into specifics here, but we have included some new technology there.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But catching up takes time. For jumpers, the Secret Service installed spikes along the White House fence just last week, more than nine months after last fall's incident.

CLANCY: We're hoping it will give us some time to react. A little more time.

ACOSTA: It's not going to stop every jumper.

CLANCY: It won't stop every jumper.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And Clancy wants a taller fence.

(on camera): Almost anybody could jump that.


ACOSTA (on camera): Do you feel the same way?


ACOSTA (voice-over): But after a career inside the presidential bubble, the director understands restoring the public's trust must come first.

CLANCY: We've got to do better. Every day is a new day, and we've got to be prepared.


ACOSTA: Now, later this year the Secret Service says it will face one of its biggest challenges in years. That's when Pope Francis comes to the U.S. to meet with President Obama just as the president will be traveling to the United Nations to address diplomats from around the world there. The Secret Service, they want more money to build a mock White House here on the grounds of this training facility. They still have to wait for Congress to address that request -- Pam. BROWN: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. Jim Acosta,


And we are back with Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

So we just heard this interview with the new director of the Secret Service. In your view, hearing what you heard from him, seeing this kind of training that happens with the Secret Service, do you believe that the president, that the White House are safe?

CHAFFETZ: Well, I hope so. The more I looked under the hood, the more worried I got about it.

The thing that the director said that concerns me is he doesn't believe that there's a deep-seated cultural problem. Because there is a deep-seated cultural problem. That's what's led to a lot of these -- a lot of these issues.

And I think it's Elijah Cummings, my Democratic counterpart had looked at this. I think we would agree that there is a cultural problem that needs to be addressed. Into the training, it looks great on television, but as we uncovered in the oversight committee, the average training time for over the course of a year for both agents and officers, if you average it out, it's 25 minutes. Twenty-five minutes!

BROWN: OK, you talk about this cultural problem. So training is one thing, but you're saying the bigger problem is not a lack of training, but rather this culture problem. How do you change that? What would you do to change that?

CHAFFETZ: That's where I believe they need to cross the board, and their senior management really need to change that about it. I disagree with the president's choice, but I think Mr. Clancy is a good person. He's got a good heart. He's got a host of experience. I wholeheartedly support him. I want and need him to be successful in every step of the way, but that's not my role as the chairman of the oversight committee to just pat him on the back. It's to hold him accountable.

The fact that they don't have a mock White House, something he's asking for now that they hadn't asked for in the past, I support it. It costs something like $8 million to do it, but that's a lot better than drawing, literally, spray paint on a ball field and pretending that they knew how the White House worked.

I mean, we had agents and officers -- not agents but officers who had never been in the White House before, and yet they were guarding the White House. We had a guy in Crocs hope the fence and get in the White House. So there are a lot of fundamental challenges there. There are concentric circles that are supposed to work to prevent these types of things, and they all failed. That's -- that's why I think they have a more systemic problem. BROWN: So you're talking about this systemic problem, the

cultural problem. But in all fairness, the director, Joe Clancy, has only been on the job for, what, six months or so? I mean, don't we need to give him a little bit more time to do the job?

CHAFFETZ: Well, hey, like I said, I want him and need him to be successful in a no-fail mission, but they have not necessarily made the systemic changes to the senior leadership. They put out press releases, said that they dismissed and let some people go, but it ends up we found out later that they didn't actually let these go.

So I want to see some changes. They did bring one person that is specifically from the outside, but they have got to boost up the training. They have got to be able to deal with management problems and issues. You've got to be able to hold people accountable. They have a financial audit system that doesn't work. You've got agents and officers that don't know if they're going to work the next day, excessive overtime. And I could go on for an hour. He's got his hands full.

BROWN: And he did talk about a security vulnerability that exists right now at the White House in his view. He says he thinks the White House needs a taller fence. Do you agree with that?

CHAFFETZ: Well, I think the spikes are really going to slow them down, and I've had a number of briefings. Those of us on Capitol have had a number of briefings.

There are other things you could do to slow people down. I don't know that necessarily added a few more inches or a foot or two is actually going to totally solve that problem.

[17:25:13] Many of the people that got over the fence were actually on the watch list and probably should have been detained before he even got to the fence. So there are up -- the canine teams. They need to be increased but I don't know that necessarily making the fence taller will be the end-all, be-all solve-it problem, solution that they need.

BROWN: So what else will be the solution? I mean, we know the drone poses a significant security threat to the White House. Do you think we should be doing more, and drum that? We heard Clancy say that there is new technology. Didn't say more than that. But do you think enough is being done on that front?

CHAFFETZ: I think they're trying, and there's a concerted effort. There are some technologies in place that is surprisingly good that I think could take care of this threat if it does arise again.

But they need more training. They need more manpower. They need a mock White House, so they can do better training. They have a severe staffing problem. You can't just go grab some guy who, you know, applied through somebody on a pizza box.

But you now, we've got to make sure that we've got the elite, the best of the best, that are there serving, and that they're treated as such. Right now, I worry that they're not.

BROWN: Congressman Chaffetz, thank you very much.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you.

BROWN: And coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as demonstrators gather at the South Carolina state capitol, lawmakers take a dramatic vote on the future of the Confederate flag.

And later, a new blast from Donald Trump. Despite growing pressure from his fellow Republicans to tone it down.


BROWN: Our top story: as the U.S. steps up the air campaign against ISIS, President Obama has just made a rare visit to the Pentagon. He made note of some successes but warned of a hard, long fight ahead.

[17:31:26] Let's dig deeper with CNN's terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank; CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA official Phil Mudd; and CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Great to have you along with us. Talk about this. General Hertling, I want to start with you. We heard the president speak today. But it didn't sound like he said anything new in terms of the strategy. In your view, is the president doubling down on a strategy that isn't working?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't know about doubling down or a strategy that isn't working, Pamela. I'd say that he has confirmed that he's going to continue with the strategy right now. And I think during his presentation, he also reminded people that, even though we may be focused in some areas where the war isn't going so well, like Ramadi, there are a lot of areas -- the north against the Kurds, and some of the areas even around Baghdad -- where things are going quite well, and ISIS is reeling a little bit. I think he pointed that out quite well.

But he's not doubling down. He's confirming, he's continuing with this strategy. And I don't think he believes in his joint force commanders or commanders who were with him don't believe it's a failed strategy.

BROWN: Phil Mudd, what do you have to say about that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, here's the gamble the president's making. There's language here that's confusing.

We talked about defeating al Qaeda. The strategy we're employing is not a defeat strategy. It's a contain strategy. That is, give some equipment, some assistance, some training to the Iraqi military in support, while they try to take the fight to ISIS in places like Anbar province. The gamble here is that we don't have enough resources to defeat,

but the containment will be good enough. That's the double down that's going on here.

BROWN: And we know that there are airstrikes that have been happening in Raqqah, the stronghold of ISIS.

Paul, we've heard that ISIS's leader, al Baghdadi, is in Raqqah. Makes you wonder if perhaps there's intelligence that suggests that that's why they're amping up the airstrikes there. But you monitor these jihadi websites. What is being talked about on these websites?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it's just a theory. It's a lead theory of U.S. intelligence right now that he might be somewhere like Raqqah, hiding in a civilian neighborhood, so the United States would find it more difficult to strike him.

But wherever he is, he's taking exceptional measures to protect his own safety from these U.S. strikes, limiting or eliminating his electronic footprint, only telling a few of his followers where he is at any one time.

But I think what they're going to monitor is whether he will make some kind of appearance during Ramadan. You'll recall that a year ago he made that appearance in a mosque in Mosul to announce the foundation of this so-called caliphate. That may give the United States an opportunity to target him.

BROWN: And Phil, do you think that the airstrikes were ordered in part to take out Baghdadi?

MUDD: I don't think so. If you look at the pace of operations compared to, for example, August/September last year, operations in both Syria and Iraq, the pace of operations is very high in terms of air operations.

What that tells me is we're not targeting a specific individual with one strain of intelligence, but we have a range of intelligence that's giving us pattern of activity, pattern of life on what ISIS is up to in Raqqah. This is about taking out ISIS infrastructure in Raqqah. It's not about one specific individual.

BROWN: And it also raises the question, too, you think of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda: is al-Baghdadi, would it be as much of a setback for ISIS if al Baghdadi was taken out?

CRUICKSHANK: I don't think it would be as much of a setback, because bin Laden was the founder, the charismatic driving force behind al Qaeda. But it would be a big setback, nonetheless.

Clearly, from the ISIS point of view, he runs the day-to-day operations of the organization still, the U.S. intelligence believe. He has a sort of religious pedigree, a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, he claims. It's not entirely clear who would take over. There could be some factional infighting if he were to be taken out. So clearly, a very high priority of the United States, if they

can get intelligence on where he is, to take him out.

[17:35:11] BROWN: A high priority, but the command and control structure that we used to see with al Qaeda is no longer in play like it used to be. So I think that's also part of the equation.

I want to go to you, General Hertling. Over the weekend, an Iraqi fighter jet accidentally dropped a bomb over a neighborhood outside Baghdad and killed 12 people. These fighters are supposed to be deemed trained by the U.S. How does something like that happen?

HERTLING: Well, it's because it's combat, Pamela, and things -- bad things sometimes happen in combat. It's not surgically precise 100 percent of the time. You don't always hit the target, especially if you're a new pilot.

There may be the potential for lasing a target and dropping a bomb, but truthfully, when you're in a jet that's flying 600 knots over a targeted area, and sometimes human beings make mistakes. And that's what happened, unfortunately this time.

But if I could go back real quickly to the targeting in Raqqah, I think, you know, having been a guy that's planned operations with my Air Force brothers and sisters, what you have to understand is there's a lot more targeting, a lot more kinetic strikes going on primarily, not because we wanted to start pulling more triggers, but because we have intelligence. There are things going on. We're getting greater intelligence feeds, and we're able to bomb more targets. And I think that's what you're seeing across the board now.

BROWN: All right. Good point there. General Hertling, Phil Mudd, Paul Cruickshank, thank you so much for coming on to discuss.

And coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as demonstrators wait outside South Carolina, lawmakers take a showdown vote on the Confederate flag. Were there enough votes to take it down?

And later Donald Trump fires back, accusing his critics of deliberately distorting his words about Mexico.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't talk about Mexico, and I love Mexico, but every time I talk about it, they accuse me of being a racist.



[17:41:29] BROWN: Breaking now, South Carolina lawmakers take an important step toward removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol.

As protesters for and again the flag gathered outside, members of the South Carolina State Senate tentatively approved a bill to take down the flag. Today's 37-3 vote is more than the two thirds that will be necessary tomorrow to give the bill final approval. It then goes to the State House of Representatives.

Joining us now to discuss this in THE SITUATION ROOM, South Carolina State Senator Marlon Kimpson.

Nice to have you on with us, Marlon. Bring us up to speed. How is the debate progressing?

SEN. MARLON KIMPSON, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: Well, I think we had a great day in South Carolina. The vote, as you just announced, was 37-3. The vote speaks volumes. We passed a clean bill, and we will be back here in the morning for a third read.

But what is important to note is this has been a process, one of rules. And largely, sometimes those rules prohibit us from expediency, but it's important to operate within the legal framework.

And a resounding message was sent today to the world. The gravity of the nation was with us, and a resounding message was sent that it is time for South Carolina to move forward into the 21st Century and put symbols that divide us behind us and focus on a progressive agenda for the state.

BROWN: and we know the bill has to get final approval from the House, as well, but do you believe that, ultimately, the legislature will get the two-third consensus needed to remove the flag from state grounds, and if so, when do you expect that to happen?

KIMPSON: Well, Pam, I'm optimistic, but everyone needs to continue to work and remain focused. I anticipate that we will give a third reading to the bill in the Senate, and then the process is simply as follows.

That bill can make it to the House of Representatives early tomorrow. They can begin debate. It will be read across the desk, and then they have to have three readings, as well.

The first time it's read across the desk constitutes the first reading. The substantive debate will occur on the second. And so most favorable, in light of the most favorable, the governor should receive a bill, if all things go well and people keep working, stay engaged, contacting their legislators, the governor -- the governor should be able to receive a bill by Thursday or Friday this week, and the flag should come down in front of the statehouse. But we must remain vigilant and focused.

BROWN: That flag over right your shoulder, we should note. And also, I've seen the live shot. I don't know if those are protesters against taking the flag down or not, but I do know they have been out there, and some have said that this flag represents history and heritage. They do not want it to be taken down. What would you say to those protesters?

KIMPSON: Well, first of all, the flag is history, but it's a history that we are not so proud of. The cause of the Confederacy is well documented. And this is the 21st Century. There are museums that honor history, and that's the appropriate place.

Let me also say that they have a right, people have a right to exercise their First Amendment rights. And so what you heard today in the Senate is just that. People are very emotional about this issue. It is a process we must work for. But we have to recognize that everyone may not agree and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns.

I'm on the side of removing the flag permanently, forever, and putting it in a museum, and I think the 37 senators spoke volumes today to honor the legacy of the Charleston massacre and those who died, those nine lives, as we move forward to bring some type of unity to the state in recognition that those individuals who passed away will be remembered for something positive, as well as the work that they've done that speaks volumes for them.

BROWN: State Senator Marlon Kimpson, thank you very much.

KIMPSON: Thank you.

BROWN: And coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Donald Trump firing back at his critics and reaffirms what he calls his great respect for Mexico.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love Mexico. I love the Mexican people. Two waiters came up to me tonight, Mr. Trump, we love you. I said, where are you from? Mexico. I said, that's great, I love you, too.



[17:50:41] BROWN: Just in to THE SITUATION ROOM. As you see, a major fire at a historic part of downtown Louisville, Kentucky. That fire is on the Whiskey Row, a block-long series of old whiskey warehouse buildings. Reports from Louisville say that efforts to fight the fire are blocking rush hour traffic.

And we just heard from officials saying that there was a renovation going on at that building there.

Well, Donald Trump is firing back at his critics, saying that they're deliberately and totally distorting his remarks about Mexico.

For more on this let's bring in CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Pam. I mean, first they tried to ignore him, surely hoping this would all go away. But one by one most of his Republican rivals have now repudiated Donald Trump's controversial comments. He's clearly stung by all the criticism. So he started pushing back on Twitter at Jeb Bush and Rick Perry. And now it's become a circular GOP firing squad.


TRUMP: They're not sending their best.

ZELENY (voice-over): Republicans are racing away from Donald Trump whose controversial comments about Mexican immigrants are roiling the GOP.

TRUMP: I love Mexico but every time I talk about it they accuse me of being a racist.

ZELENY: Jeb Bush was blunt on a weekend stop in New Hampshire.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump is wrong on this. He's not a stupid guy so I don't assume he's like -- he thinks that every Mexican crossing the border is a rapist.

ZELENY: After holding their tongues, GOP candidates are now speaking out.

RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact is, I've said very clearly that Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party.

ZELENY: It's been nearly three weeks since the entertainer- turned-politician set off outrage by saying some Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug runners. The fallout is still dominating the debate and dividing Republicans. Ted Cruz is standing by him.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like Donald Trump. He's bold, he's brash. And I get that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I ain't going to do it.

ZELENY: Chris Christie is not.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've said that the comments he made were inappropriate and have no place in the race.

ZELENY: And Mike Huckabee is blaming the media for stirring the pot.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Honestly, Donald Trump needs no help from Mike Huckabee to get publicity. He's doing a really good job of that.

ZELENY: Trump has not backed down telling CNN's Don Lemon last week that crime is rampant along the border.

TRUMP: Somebody's doing the raping, Don.

ZELENY: And now he's turning to Twitter to fire back at his rivals saying, "Jeb Bush says illegal immigrants breaking our laws is an act of love." Trump is also pointing to a shooting of a young woman in San

Francisco as an example of failed U.S. immigration policies. Police say she was killed by an undocumented immigrant with a long criminal record.

Today, Republican presidential hopeful George Pataki urged all GOP candidates to stand up to Trump.

GEORGE PATAKI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not appropriate to use that to demonize millions of people who have come from Mexico and to try to paint them as all being like that horrible criminal in San Francisco.


ZELENY: Now a short time ago the Trump campaign released a statement here. They were doubling down on his remarks. He says the Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are in many cases criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.

Now he points to that San Francisco shooting and says there are thousands of similar incidents throughout the United States. But it's statements like this that get Trump into trouble.

All of this, Pamela, comes now as the first GOP debate is only one month away.

BROWN: And as of today he is poised to be a part of that debate. And we'll see what happens.

Thank you so much, Jeff Zeleny.

And one more political note to tell you about. Be sure to join us tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM for Hillary Clinton's first major TV interview since the start of her presidential campaign. She's sitting down with CNN's senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar. Watch tomorrow at 5:00 Eastern Time.

Coming up, as the U.S. and its allies step up airstrikes against ISIS, including targets in its self-declared capital, President Obama makes a rare visit to the Pentagon and warns the fight against the terror group will not be quick.



BROWN: Happening now, intensifying attacks as the U.S. ratchets up airstrikes against the home base of ISIS. President Obama acknowledges setbacks but vows the terror group will be defeated. What did he learn from top generals at the Pentagon?

Down to the wire with a deadline just hours away. We're tracking urgent round of clock talks to prevent one of America's most dangerous adversaries from developing nuclear weapons. Tonight, there's new reason to fear failure.

And blood-stained politics. The deadly shooting of a young woman by a repeat felon from Mexico gives Donald Trump more fuel for his rant against illegal immigrants. Are fellow Republicans following his lead or are they fed up?

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