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Interview With California Congressman Ed Royce; Officer Suspended; Hostile Waters. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired October 27, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hostile waters. China sends an angry warning to the United States after an American warship sails near islands Beijing claims as its territory. And, tonight, tensions are rising and the U.S. isn't budging.

An officer suspended, new fallout from that shockingly violent arrest of a high school student all caught on videotape. We're getting new information about the investigation and another video of the incident that surfaced.

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: The breaking news tonight, new signals the United States is on the brink of a significant military escalation in both Syria and Iraq, going beyond airstrikes to ramp up the battle against ISIS.

The defense secretary, Ash Carter, acknowledging the Pentagon is now prepared to face direct action on the ground, his words, direct action on the ground. President Obama reportedly is weighing recommendations to put American forces close to the front lines in a very dangerous corner of the world, where Russia and Iran are both flexing their muscles and expanding their influence.

Also breaking, another major shift. CNN has learned that Iran has now been formally invited for the first time to join the United States, Russia, other countries in talks on Syria's civil war, the future of President Bashar al-Assad. A meeting is set for this Friday in Vienna.

I will talk about all of that and more with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce. He's standing by live. And our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by as we cover all the news that's breaking right now.

First, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what is the defense secretary, Ash Carter, planning on doing?


Well, Pentagon officials will tell you this Carter plan begins with White House dissatisfaction with the campaign in Syria and Iraq. The White House wanting to see more action, so Ash Carter's come up with a plan, which he pretty much presented today on Capitol Hill, more airstrikes, but much more significant perhaps, ground action, direct action.

That means U.S. special operations forces on the ground in Iraq and potentially in Syria. Let's get right to it. Here is part of what the secretary had to say.


ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.


STARR: So, direct action on the ground.

Now, President Obama would have to sign off on this. This could take U.S. troops well beyond this standard construct, train, equip, advise and accompany local forces into the field. That was how they explained the raid in Northern Iraq last week that killed Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, that they were accompanying Kurdish commandos into the field.

This looks to be opening the door to something quite different. Carter saying he also wanted to press for more action in Raqqa, Syria, and Ramadi, Iraq, two ISIS strongholds. It's hard to see how this could lead to anything but taking U.S. troops closer to that line of combat, it being a combat mission and putting U.S. troops on the ground in combat, no matter how reluctant the Pentagon is to say it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

Let's get to the other breaking story we're following. U.S. officials now say Iran has been invited to join the next round of international talks on Syria. It's a major shift in the Obama administration's diplomatic strategy, as Iran's military intervention in Syria grows more deadly.

Brian Todd is joining us. He's looking into Iran's moves on the battlefield right now.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, new information from U.S. military and intelligence officials, who tell us Iran's military involvement in Syria is growing and they're watching it closely. Images like this one, the very public funeral for a legendary

Iranian general, show that the Iranian government can no longer play down its role in Syria. There are simply too many so-called advisers returning home in body bags.


TODD (voice-over): A massive, emotional funeral procession for a decorated Iranian commander, General Hossein Hamedani, killed on the battlefield in Syria, a symbol of mounting casualties which Iran's leaders now openly acknowledge.

A top general of the Revolutionary Guard says Iran has sent more troops into Syria and it's led to more deaths. A U.S. defense intelligence official tells CNN tonight no fewer than eight senior Iranian commanders have been killed in Syria over the past two years, and at least six of them were generals.

MATTHEW MCINNIS, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: This could be their Vietnam, just like others are expecting, is this going to be Russia's next Afghanistan?

DAVID SCHENKER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: This is enormous high-level losses for the Iranians, for the Revolutionary Guards.


TODD: By comparison, in its more than 10 years in Vietnam, America lost a dozen generals. But only one U.S. general has been killed in the 40 years since Vietnam. Most Western forces now place their top commanders in bunkers far from the front lines.

Analysts say Iranian generals are getting gunned down in battle because they're directing Hezbollah fighters, other militias, and an undisciplined Syrian army that's been pummeled.

SCHENKER: There's a huge amount of coordination that goes on. The Assad regime forces can't be relied on, have to be controlled by the Iranians in a very hands-on way. So, you have to be close.

TODD: Among those killed, according to Iranian state media, a bodyguard for former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With its top ranks decimated, the Revolutionary Guard may have to take more steps to protect its most valuable general, Qassem Suleimani.

The shadowy, ruthless commander of the elite Quds Force is considered the architect of Iran's campaign against ISIS. Suleimani is now regularly being spotted on key battlegrounds in Syria, this picture from Iran's semi-official news agency showing him seemingly posing with troops there.

Analysts say with his right-hand commanders falling, there's now enormous pressure on Suleimani.

MCINNIS: I think Suleimani knows he has to win the fight. You will see more of him. But at the same time, he has also got to deal with Iraq, which is -- that fight is in a stalemate, and he should be worried that the Islamic State is going to use this period of time when they're distracted in Syria to make another push in Iraq.


TODD: Experts say expect Iran to sustain more casualties in Syria. They say the Iranians believe they cannot back down now, they have to prop up the Assad regime. It's the only way they can maintain their pipeline of weapons and aid to the terror group Hezbollah and counter the influence of their archrivals in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you getting information, Brian, on whether the Iranians' presence over there has really changed the game on the battlefield? Have Bashar al-Assad's forces, for example, made any kind of significant comeback?

TODD: Analysts are telling us tonight, Wolf, the Iranians have not changed the game against ISIS, significantly. They have enabled Assad's forces to push back and recapture some territory from the al- Nusra Front and some other rebel groups, but not yet against ISIS.

But they say one of the main reasons they have been able to push back against al-Nusra is because of Russian airpower. That's significant as well. We will see what the Iranians can do on the ground.

BLITZER: And the Russians are helping Bashar al-Assad's regime. So are the Iranians. Brian, thanks very much.

Joining us now is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did a specific event prompt this shift in U.S. tragedy, now for the first time formally inviting Iran to participate in talks on the future of Syria and the Bashar al-Assad regime?

ROYCE: I do not understand the calculus that impacted this decision, but I do think it's very concerning that the Iranian Quds Forces and now the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces are on the ground with Hezbollah fighters.

This has complicated the situation and will lead to more refugees fleeing out of Syria.

BLITZER: Because the argument that the administration's supporters make and those inside the administration, outside the administration, is it's reality. The Russians have a lot of influence on what's going on in Syria, the Iranians have a lot of influence there. You have got to bring them into the talks if you're going to resolve this thing, and this fight against ISIS, whether or not that bolsters Bashar al-Assad or not.

ROYCE: Well, the difficulty is that some of the administration's actions have, in fact, empowered the Iranians in this theater of operation, and now they have cut a deal with the Russians and invited them in.

So, this is not good news for the region and not good news for U.S. foreign policy. I hope we can do some damage control over the nature of the situation that we now find the region in.

BLITZER: Because I know the rebels, the opponents of Bashar al- Assad, the rebels who have been working with the United States, they're deeply disappointed that the Iranians are brought into the negotiations. So are the Saudis and some of the other Sunni Arab states.

ROYCE: Right.

BLITZER: The implication of the announcement, though, that Iran will participate Friday in the talks in Vienna is that the U.S. has effectively, for all practical purposes, accepted, at least for the time being, Bashar al-Assad will stay in power. Is that correct?

ROYCE: The first four airstrikes were against the Free Syrian Army, which we have -- which the administration have been supplying and advising -- the first four Russian airstrikes.

That does not sound like coincidence, does it? So, I think sort of the plan is in tatters, and now the administration is trying put together a fallback position, but we are not dealing with a situation here which is likely to have a happy outcome.


And my real concern is that, by not working with some of our other allies and friends in the region, we now have a situation where ethnic cleansing is going on and the Shia are pushing these Sunni majority population in Iran out of the country, and, frankly, this is causing a crisis in Europe, and certainly, in Turkey, in Jordan and Lebanon. So, this is a major problem right now.

BLITZER: I assume -- you're the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- the administration has briefed you on this new shift. What did they say to you?

ROYCE: I'm hearing more from the ambassadors in the region who are concerned about it at this moment than I am from the administration on their shift on policy, and perhaps that's simply because I have not had the same -- I don't share the same viewpoint as the administration with respect to Iran becoming the hegemon in the region.

I'm a stern critic of allowing Iran to run the tables on us, both in terms of the Iranian nuclear agreement, and now in terms of these foreign policy machinations. And I think it's going to compound the difficulties that Europe and we will have in bringing stability in Syria.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, stand by. We have more to discuss, including another apparent shift in U.S. strategy, boots on the ground, not only in Iraq, but maybe now in Syria as well.

Much more with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee when we come back.



BLITZER: We're back with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce. He's standing by up on Capitol Hill.

Congressman, I want you and our viewers to know there's a very tense and potentially dangerous confrontation unfolding right now. China is accusing a U.S. warship of illegal passage, threatening its national security.

Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us right now.

Jim, you were there in the South China Sea flying over this area not that long ago, and it's incredibly tense right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question, extremely sensitive, and sailing a U.S. warship within 12 miles of these islands is the most serious U.S. protest to date.

In response, China is threatening to -- quote -- "expand its capabilities," in the words of the Foreign Ministry, raising concerns about an expansion of military assets there and also possible escalation.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): The voyage of the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sparked immediate outrage from China and a warning.

LU KANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): If relevant parties insist on creating tensions in the region and making trouble out of nothing, it may force China to draw the conclusion that we need to strengthen and hasten the buildup of our relevant capabilities. I advise the U.S. not to create such a self- fulfilling prophecy.

SCIUTTO: But Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifying on Capitol Hill today made clear the missions will continue.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits in whatever -- whenever our operation needs require it.

SCIUTTO: The USS Lassen sailed within 12 miles of five reefs claimed by China as sovereign territory, including Subi Reef, where China has constructed one of several manmade islands.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said Chinese navy ships and aircraft trailed the USS Lassen at all times. During the transit, one of the Chinese vessels contacted the Lassen's bridge, standard procedure when entering a country's national waters. But the U.S. doesn't recognize China's territorial claim as legal or the manmade islands as territory as all.

And this isn't the first time the U.S. Navy has delivered that message. In May, we flew exclusively on a U.S. P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft as it flew over the same islands, a demonstration the U.S. considers the airspace international as well. During the flight, the Chinese Navy warned the U.S. aircraft away eight times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perimeter aircraft, this is Chinese Navy. You are approaching our military alert zone. Leave immediately.

SCIUTTO: The growing international dispute was on the agenda for Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Washington earlier this month. The confrontation on the high seas makes clear the two sides have made little progress towards resolution.


SCIUTTO: The Pentagon is drawing up plans to make these so- called transits routine, but where and how often is still the subject of debate inside the administration, and the ultimate question is what the administration can do not only to express its dissatisfaction, Wolf, but to get China to reverse building land 600 miles from its shores, and that is certainly not clear at this point.

BLITZER: And claiming it's their territorial...

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Their territory and the territorial waters around it as well. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

Let's bring back the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce.

Mr. Chairman, Chinese, you can see they're pretty upset about the voyage of this destroyer, the USS Lassen. We have seen conflicts between the U.S. and China over the South China Sea before. But this -- but is this -- I will ask you the question -- is this different?


ROYCE: It's not different, in the sense that it's the same claim.

The claim is -- that China's making is that the entirety of the South China and East China Sea is Chinese territory, you know, up to the 12-mile limit of a half-dozen countries to the east and south of China. And, clearly, since there's some $5 trillion in trade every year, Wolf, that traverses the South China Sea, there is no way that the international community can take that seriously.

International law is very clear, and it's also clear that you cannot build an island on a reef and then lay claim to it. So, China has no standing internationally on this. And what the United States is doing is simply reasserting international law by treating these as international waters.

BLITZER: Ash Carter, the defense secretary, Mr. Chairman, made it clear today the U.S. won't back down. So, what's the plan should the Chinese make good on their warnings to the United States?

ROYCE: Well, one of the things I looked at today, as the coverage was coming in on this incident, was the fact that the Chinese destroyer was following at a safe distance. It wasn't closing in on the U.S.-guided missile destroyer.

I think that the fact remains that if the United States is going to be engaged in international trade, and if the international community upholds the same worldwide standard, and we have but one country that doesn't recognize it, we have to keep those sea lanes open. So, we will continue to have, on and off, ships in those waters.

BLITZER: All right, I want to quickly, because I know your time is short, go back to the situation in Syria and Iraq right now.

ROYCE: Sure. Yes.

BLITZER: If the U.S. does expand its ground capabilities, not through the air, but ground capabilities, not only in Iraq, in Syria, put boots on the ground, as they say, to fight ISIS, is that something that would be smart, from your perspective?

ROYCE: Well, from what I have seen so far, none of this has to do with bringing in the 82nd Airborne or putting brigades on the ground.

What is already on the ground is special operations, special ops. And what is being considered here is basically allowing them to participate, for example, in the operation you just saw where they found that a bunch of prisoners held by ISIS were about to be slaughtered. And they participated.

The Kurds did the attack. And we did lose a U.S. special operations person in that effort. But, likewise, if we're going to hit ISIS positions -- and they have been expanding in the last year their reach -- then having special ops on the ground to call in the airstrike, that's the kind of thing we're talking about here, or having, within the brigade, the Kurdish brigade, a special operations officer, not to be involved in the attacks themselves, but to help coordinate and plan and communicate with our spy satellites on this, this will help U.S. forces be more effective.

I think the important point is, we're not talking about putting brigades into the battle. We're using special operations forces that are already in place more effectively, and I think that's the crux of the discussion here.

BLITZER: And, very quickly, would this require congressional authorization to expand the use of force? Adam Schiff, the Democrat, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, told me he believes they should -- it should require formal authorization by Congress.

ROYCE: Well, remember, from the standpoint of the administration, that authorization has already been given.

BLITZER: What do you think?

ROYCE: And I think the administration can operate under existing authority, but, if they bring in brigades, if they bring in the 82nd Airborne, then we are going to have to authorize it in Congress and debate it, because people like me don't agree with that, don't agree with putting, you know, those brigades on the ground.

We do agree with special operations, because it will help save lives and it will help defeat ISIS, and it can help the Kurds in their battle against ISIS.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

ROYCE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a sheriff promises a quick decision on what will happen to the deputy seen throwing a student across a classroom. The outrage is growing right now. Stand by for the latest.

And does President Obama believe that the racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, is having a chilling effect on police officers across the nation? He just weighed in on this controversy.



BLITZER: Tonight, there are new developments in that violent arrest of a 16-year-old girl by a school resource police officer that was caught on camera, the deputy seen throwing the girl from her desk, slamming her to the ground after she refused orders to leave the classroom.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, has new information for us tonight.

Jason, the FBI, the Justice Department, federal prosecutors, they are now -- they have been brought into this investigation.


You know, the school district superintendent called what he saw on the video reprehensible and unforgivable, Wolf. Now there are several investigations that are going on to determine what happened and whether or not this sheriff's deputy should keep his job.


BEN FIELDS, RICHLAND COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA, SHERIFF'S DEPUTY: OK. Are you going to come with me, or am I going to make you?

CARROLL (voice-over): Tonight, South Carolina's Sheriff's Deputy Ben Fields suspended without pay after his violent takedown of a 16- year-old high school student was caught on camera Monday. You can see the deputy tossing a female student to the ground after she refused to get up from her desk. Then throwing her across the classroom floor.

FIELDS: Hands behind your back. Give me your hands. Give me your hands.

CARROLL: According to authorities, the Spring Valley High School student was asked to leave the classroom. When she refused that request from her teacher and a school administrator, Fields, who was also a school resource officer, was called to arrest her.

The Richland County sheriff was troubled by what he saw on the video and says an internal investigation should be completed by tomorrow.

SHERIFF LEON LOTT, RICHLAND COUNTY: Again, just like anybody else who saw it, I'm very disturbed by it. We're going to handle it appropriately, and we're going to handle it very quickly. This is not something that should drag out. This is a priority for our internal affairs division.

CARROLL: The sheriff cautioning, it is still unclear what occurred before cameras started rolling. The school board calling the video extremely disturbing and has banned the deputy from all of the district's schools pending an investigation.

Parents also stunned by what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most school resource officers are great people. They do awesome work in our schools. But this is a shame. To get a phone call that that would have happened to my daughter, I don't know how I would have responded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you see a video like what we've seen earlier today, it certainly alarms you, and it makes you a little bit afraid of what is actually happening within our schools.

CARROLL: Deputy Fields has been the subject of two lawsuits in the last ten years. In 2007, a couple claimed he used excessive force when questioning them about a noise complaint. The plaintiff says Fields slammed him to the ground, cuffed him and began kicking him, but the jury ruled in Fields' favor in 2010.

In 2013, a student claimed Fields falsely accused him of being involved in a gang, the school expelling him. That lawsuit's still ongoing.

The deputy has been working for the school district for seven years and was recently awarded the Culture of Excellence Award in 2014 for proving to be what they say was an exceptional role model to the students. He also serves as a football coach at the school.


CARROLL: And Wolf, that 16-year-old girl who you saw being tossled (ph) there in the classroom faces a charge of disturbing schools, but she's not the only one. A second student who was also there in the classroom stood up and protested. She, too, was arrested, facing a charge of disturbing schools. Her family says she plans on fighting those charges -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jason, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper with our CNN anchor Don Lemon; the former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin; and the former assistant director of the U.S. Marshal's Office, our CNN law enforcement analyst Art Roderick.

Don, yesterday, you were in THE SITUATION ROOM 24 hours ago when the story first broke. You said you wanted to learn more about the circumstances surrounding this incident. What do you think of what we've learned over the past 24 hours?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It's exactly what I said. I wanted to learn more about what happened. More information. That is our job here. That's our duty here as journalists, to learn more information about what happened.

If at -- I think we were on yesterday at three minutes to 7 -- if we had stopped gathering information then, we would not have known about what the chief said today, which is a third videotape. We would not have known that the officer had two other incidents that are related -- relatable to this incident. We would not have heard from other students who were in the classroom at the time.

What I was saying yesterday is that the flow of information needs to continue for the officer, the people who are in charge of his destiny, but also for the young lady, who is now charged with -- with charges, and with the family of this young lady, who need to have -- to be armed with knowledge so that they know everything, if they have to go into court, or if they're going to fight this. That's what we need.

We are a news network which provides context and information and knowledge to our viewers. Knowledge is power. The more information you have, the better it is. I am glad that everyone is coming forward now so that we do now have some context as to what happened. And I hope more information comes about, and the flow of information does not stop at this point.

BLITZER: We've seen two videotapes. You're absolutely right. The third one, the police chief over there, the sheriff says exists. We haven't seen that yet, but he does say the sheriff, he's seen it. He says it shows this young 16-year-old girl actually resisting, hitting this deputy sheriff himself.

Sunny, let me let you weigh in on what's going on. A student who taped the altercation shows the video, says the girl at the center of it, the 16-year-old girl, hadn't done anything wrong. WLTX, one of our affiliates there, says she only took her phone out for a quick second, says she was apologetic. Hearing this side of the story from someone who was inside the room, obviously, presents more context.

[18:35:24] SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does present, certainly, more context, but it doesn't change my opinion from yesterday, which was, we didn't really need additional context to this question, Wolf, and that is whether or not this officer used excessive or unreasonable force in arresting this young girl.

That really is the legal question before us, and that's the legal question that the FBI is going to be looking at. That's the legal question that prosecutors are going to be looking at. That's the legal question that, quite frankly, the sheriff's office is going to be looking at -- were his actions excessive or unnecessary?

All we need for that in terms of that information is the video. I think it's clear, from an objective, reasonableness standard, which is what the standard is, anyone looking at this should know that that takedown that we are all seeing and have seen over and over again is excessive and unreasonable, per se, just by its very nature.

And I think that all the information that we're getting, additional information, really just supports what my initial observation was, my legal observation, which is this is an excessive takedown.

BLITZER: Well...

LEMON: Sunny, that may indeed be the case, but even the FBI has not decided yet. The people who are actually doing the prosecution of this have not decided. It maybe -- indeed be the case what you're saying, but those people have not thoroughly investigated; they have not come to a conclusion yet.

So, I don't want to rush to judgment about a conclusion of what should happen to this officer. Yes, what the officer did speaks for itself. It is horrific. Anyone who looks at that -- no one can say -- I hate looking at it. I hate that it repeats so much on television. When you look at this video.

But they have not decided how to deal with this and if the officer is guilty. And I just -- I just don't want to jump the gun about that and have people become emotional about something that may not play out the way that we think it should play out.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Art Roderick, our law enforcement analyst, former assistant director of the U.S. Marshal's office. The way the deputy sheriff, he put his arm around this young girl's neck. Even if she was protesting, even if she had may have hit him a little bit, he was a big, strong guy. He was a football coach. He taught the football players over there with weights. He was a powerful guy. Was that appropriate, to put his arm around her neck, for example?

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think that's yet to be determined. I agree with Don that there's still more information coming in.

We've got, actually, three different investigations going on. You have the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, commonly known as SLED, that's going to do this investigation. You heard the sheriff talk about his investigation hopefully being completed by tomorrow. Then you have the FBI and DOJ.

This is a horrible video to look at, I agree. If I put myself in that situation, and I did -- I was a uniformed police officer for several years, and I've got to tell you, as tough as that job was on the street, I can imagine what it's like in dealing with in teenagers in the school setting.

BLITZER: Because even if she took out a cell phone and disrupted the class...


BLITZER: ... she represented no threat physically to that police officer.

RODERICK: I agree with you. There doesn't -- I mean, I think -- what the difference will be here is when he places his hand on her shoulder, and she does reach out and strike him, as the sheriff talked about, were his actions after that particular point, was use the force that he used really necessary? And that's what this whole thing...

BLITZER: Do you think it was?

RODERICK: It doesn't look like it to me at this point, but again, I don't think we have all the information in yet.

When you look at what the other students said there, there seems to be some conflicting statements as to, then why was the principal called in? This person was told to get out of the classroom by not only the teacher, but also by the principal. And then the law enforcement officer was called in to do one thing, and that was to remove her out of the classroom.

BLITZER: Yes, and the sheriff...

HOSTIN: Wolf, can I...

BLITZER: Hold on, Sunny, because the sheriff himself, the county sheriff says it may have been better, with hindsight, to take all the other kids out of that classroom, let that student, if she didn't want to leave, stay there, and then maybe have a little conversation with her without all the other students present.

Go ahead, Sunny.

HOSTIN: And that's the thing. You know, when you look at this situation, we've been advocating -- or at least I have for some time -- for body cameras on police officers, for dash cam on all police cars, because we want to be able to see what happened. Well, in this case, we can see what happened. And I think it's

really fascinating to me that so many people are saying, we need more information. We need, you know, what we're seeing, our eyes must be deceiving us.

Well, guess what? From a legal perspective, I think it's very clear that this officer used force that was unnecessary and excessive. I don't know what other evidence one would need to make any sort of different, you know, conclusion.

And so, again, it's fascinating to me that we're hearing over and over again that we need more information. Well, the information is right before your very eyes.

[18:40:22] BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we have a lot more to discuss. President Obama today weighing in on some of these sensitive issues himself, the relationship between police, local police, communities that they serve. Much more with our panel right after this.


[18:45:13] BLITZER: President Obama's wading into the controversy over the so-called Ferguson Effect. He's questioning whether increased scrutiny of police in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, has had an impact on law enforcement across the country as the FBI director, James Comey, has suggested.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.

Jim, the president spoke about this before a crowd of law enforcement officials today. Tell our viewers what he said.


Today, President Obama warned against cherry-picking data, as he called it, to show that there's a so-called Ferguson effect on policing. That sure sounded like a response to complaints from top law enforcement across the country, as well as comments made by his own FBI director.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With concerns growing among top law enforcement officials that clashes between police in minority communities are having a chilling effect on officers on patrol, and perhaps fueling a spike in higher crime -- President Obama called on all sides to work together to avoid the next Ferguson.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've talked to enough chiefs and beat cops around the country to know you care about these issues, you want to do the right thing.

ACOSTA: Standing before the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the president also blamed the messenger. OBAMA: I reject any narrative that seeks to divide police and

communities that they serve.


I reject a story line that says, when it comes to public safety, there's an us and a them. A narrative that too often gets served up to us by news stations seeking ratings or tweets seeking retweets or political candidates seeking some attention.

ACOSTA: Tell that to FBI Director James Comey, who has wondered aloud in recent days --

CROWD: Black Lives Matter!

ACOSTA: -- whether social media scrutiny of law enforcement and Black Lives Matter protests, after high-profile cases of alleged police brutality --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't breathe.

ACOSTA: -- are making cops thinks twice before doing their jobs. That reluctance, Comey suggested, could lead to more crime.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through law enforcement over the last year, and that wind is surely changing behavior.

ACOSTA: While the president said he wants more evidence --

OBAMA: What we can't do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy.

ACOSTA: Top White House officials are making it clear they disagree with Comey.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The available evidence at this point does not support the notion that law enforcement officers around the country are shying away from fulfilling their responsibilities.

ACOSTA: But the former head of the president's own 2 21st- century policing task force told CNN the FBI director may have a point.

COMMISSIONER CHARLES RAMSEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: I don't think we're at odds with the director's comments. We just don't know what's taking place right now. Certainly, there could be some officers that have been impacted that way and a little reluctant to be proactive out there on the street.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House says there's no better place than Chicago for the president to address this issue, but consider what former White House chief of staff and now Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, recently said about his own city's police force. He reportedly said the intense scrutiny of law enforcement has his officers in the, quote, "fetal position." So, they're feeling it there as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very strong words from the mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's bring back our panel.

Don Lemon, we know the president in his speech today also pushing for an overhaul of the U.S. criminal justice system. He's sort of walking a fine line. I know he had a very detailed, carefully prepared speech. He's calling policing issues in urban areas deeply troubling.

What actions do you think he needs to take?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I think he needs to continue to do exactly what he's doing, and I think he needs to go in even harder. I thought his speech today was brilliant, and he was very natural in saying that, you know, people aren't -- African-Americans aren't making these things up. He said that over the past couple of days.

And today he said, you know, similar things. But I think that he needs to, while he has the executive power, while he is the chief executive, he needs to figure out what to do next and how he can make a difference.

I'm not the president of the United States. I don't know exactly what powers he has as a president to make a difference, but I think he needs to continue on the vein that he is now.

And one more thing, the commissioner -- the last commissioner that spoke in Jim Acosta's piece, I also think that we need to listen to what he is saying about, you know, whether it's Rahm Emanuel or what Comey is saying, not that it's right for police officers to be doing that, to be backing off their jobs, if that is, indeed, happening.

But if it is happening, we need to listen and figure out how we all come together and make this better, how to make law enforcement want to be proactive again and how to address those people who are, indeed, are angry out there in the streets and the community because they feel they are being brutalized by police officers.

[18:50:11] BLITZER: And as you know, Sunny, the sense some police officers are reluctant to get out of their cars because everybody nowadays has a cell phone. The video is going to be out there.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think if you look at what many officers are saying, they aren't saying they are backing off their job. Quite the contrary, and I think the White House made that clear. If it is true that they are concerned about doing their jobs

because there is now more transparency because of videotapes and cell phones, that concerns me because bottom line is if you are an officer given the amount of power officers are given, you shouldn't be reluctant to do your job just because someone is watching. I mean, officers for quite some time the law provided that officers acting in a public place can be videotaped. So, this is nothing new.

Perhaps the amount of cell phones we have out there now is certainly different. But it isn't new that officers can be videotaped. So, I'm very dismayed that officers are saying because people are watching, they can't do their jobs.

BLITZER: Well --

HOSTIN: Guess what? If you're doing your job appropriately, you don't care if someone is watching.

BLITZER: Art, button this up for us.

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, I think that there is a difference between proactive and active policing. I think officers are always out there doing active policing, whether it's responding to 911 calls or witnessing a crime that's occurring, responding to a call for help from the citizen. It's the proactive part that I think is taking a major hit here. That's the part that we have to get back on track.

BLITZER: Art, thanks very much. Sunny, Don, guys, we'll continue this analysis tomorrow.

Don, by the way, will be back with a whole more on all of this later tonight 10:00 p.m. Eastern on this program "CNN TONIGHT."

Up next, a head-on collision on a dangerous road. A fire and a hero who sprang into action, all of it is caught on camera.


[18:56:37] BLITZER: There are the videos that have everyone talking. And tonight, Kyra Phillips will introduce you to the ordinary people who did extraordinary things that a CNN special report "Videos Gone Viral 2." Among them, an incredible rescue by a hero who dressed the part.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Durham, North Carolina, a windy stretch of road that's notorious for speeding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard the explosion and knew it was a bad car accident immediately.

PHILLIPS: Two cars collide head-on. Three people are trapped. Lucky for these neighbors, Army Captain Steve Voglezon is there to help. STEVE VOGLEZON, ARMY CAPTAIN: The car was upside down and smoke

was building. I reached inside because he was hanging from the seat belt.

JOHN SPURRELL, RESCUE WITNESS: Steve reaches down and yanks him out because the car is on its side. We carry him down the road.

PHILLIPS: Steve drags the second person to safety, and the jaws of life rescues the third. A heroic act indeed. But it's what Steve is wearing that triggers this Internet sensation.

(on camera): Why do you think this video went viral?

VOGLEZON: Because of the t-shirt.

PHILLIPS: Not because you actually saved people from burning cars?


PHILLIPS: You think it's the t-shirt?

VOGLEZON: I think it's the t-shirt.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Captain Voglezon was wearing a Captain America t-shirt.

VOGLEZON: It was just a funny coincidence. You just can't make it up.

PHILLIPS (on camera): It really is the perfect story.



BLITZER: Kyra is joining us now from the CNN Center.

Kyra, this is amazing. You've got a lot of these that are unbelievable videos you collected for tonight's special.

PHILLIPS: I'll tell you what, I love the captain. He was so humble and Marvel loves him, too. They sent him action figures, t- shirts, bumper stickers. He's got this whole room now full of Captain America gear. But on a serious note, Wolf, he can't wear the t-shirt. He said he hasn't been able to put it on since because he just keeps thinking about the victims and they are still recovering. He keeps in touch with them to this day.

BLITZER: There are others in tonight's special, other people had an impact on you, right?

PHILLIPS: Oh, big-time. Sarah Cudd, Captain Sarah Cudd. This will give you chills, Wolf. She was going for one of the most elite badges in the Army, the expert field medical badge and she had to do an excruciating 12-mile march. She barely makes it to the end. But what happens those last 50 feet are remarkable. Her

interview is incredible. So, you're gong to meet her, too, and get the behind the scenes story of this video that went viral.

BLITZER: We can rely on you, Kyra. Thanks so much for doing this. Looking forward to watching this special later tonight.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And be sure to join Kyra later tonight. A CNN Special Report, "Videos Gone Viral 2", right here on CNN, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You should definitely check it out.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us right here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.