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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With North Carolina Senator Richard Burr; Manhunt; ISIS Threat. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired June 17, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, new details on the charges and the suspect's alleged attempt to kill a federal agent with a knife.
Banned weapons. Will ISIS terrorists get their hands on powerful chemical agents? New warnings from the U.S. about the danger from Syria's arsenal of chlorine gas.
Sex triangle. We're learning more about a prison worker's relationship with two escaped killers. What did her husband know about that and an alleged plot to kill him?
And strange politics. Donald Trump isn't the only Republican adding some spice to the presidential race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I determined that now was the right time to launch my campaign for the Republican nomination. Oh, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news tonight, chilling new details about a terror attack plot by ISIS sympathizers right here in the United States.
A second New York man was arrested today in an ISIS investigation, allegedly attacking an agent with a kitchen knife as the FBI closed in, the suspect now charged with planning to bomb landmarks and tourist attractions in the New York area, along with another man who was arrested within the past few days.
We're also learning that officers are on alert for potential terror threats around the July 4 holiday and other major events this summer. I will ask the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, about all of that and a lot more.
Our correspondents, our analysts, they are all standing by, as we cover all the news breaking right now.
First, let's go to our justice reporter, Evan Perez, for the very latest -- Evan.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, this man, Fareed Mumuni, is facing charges of attempted murder of a federal officer.
Mumuni is 21 years, and the FBI says that he admitted to being an ISIS supporter and being part of a broader plot to carry out bombings in New York. Now, early this morning, the FBI went to his family's home in Staten Island to conduct the search. As investigators began their work, he walked downstairs and lunged at an FBI agent, stabbing him several times with a large kitchen knife.
The agent was wearing a protective vest and wasn't seriously hurt. But, according to the FBI, Mumuni told them that he had plans to travel to Syria to join ISIS and he knew the FBI was watching him and had plans to attack law enforcement if they tried to arrest him.
He was also involved with a plot with a 20-year-old college student from Queens who was arrested in the bombing plot on Saturday. Possible targets included New York landmarks and the George Washington Bridge. And, Wolf, the FBI says these men were researching how to make pressure cooker bombs.
BLITZER: You're also learning, Evan, about some disturbing so- called plots gaining some momentum leading up to the July 4 holiday and other major events coming up.
PEREZ: That's right, Wolf.
We hear from law enforcement officials that they believe the threat level has never been this high in a long time. And part of the problem is, they believe that there's hundreds of ISIS supporters who are ready to carry out attacks in this country, if they cannot get overseas to join the fight over there.
A couple of things are on their mind, including the Fourth of July holiday and the upcoming visit by the pope in September. These are things that authorities are looking very closely at to see if there's any possible plots that are in the making.
BLITZER: Yes, the pope will be here in Washington. He will be in New York. He will be in Philadelphia. And I'm sure security will be intense for all of that.
PEREZ: High security.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Evan Perez, reporting. Also tonight, there are growing fears that ISIS terrorists will
get hold of a very dangerous chemical weapon that's banned under international law. Chlorine gas is being used against civilians with stunning frequency in Syria, as Bashar al-Assad fights to hold on to power against rebels and the ISIS onslaught.
We have a report now that contains graphic images.
Let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott -- Elise.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, doctors working in Syria say the U.S. preoccupation with ISIS is ignoring Assad's systematic gassing of civilians and provided heartbreaking and gruesome accounts of his chemical warfare.
A warning to our viewers: You may find the images you're about to see extremely disturbing.
LABOTT (voice-over): Today, doctors working on the ground in Syria shocked Congress with horror stories of chlorine attacks and fresh evidence the regime continues to gas its own people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a doctor and I'm very familiar with death. But I have never seen a more obscene way to kill children.
LABOTT: Syrian doctors have documented 31 chlorine attacks in the past two months, many targeting civilian areas, all conducted by barrel bombs from helicopters.
President Assad calls it propaganda by the opposition. But the U.S. has no doubt he's responsible.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The preponderance of those attacks have been carried out by the regime.
LABOTT: A U.S.-Russian deal two years ago rid Assad of most of his chemical weapons and scrapped plans for U.S. military strikes. But U.S. officials say chlorine is now one of his weapons of choice and want Russia to stop him from using it.
KERRY: I think everybody's patience is wearing thin with respect to the extraordinary depravity of the weaponry and mechanisms for delivery which Assad has used against his own people.
LABOTT: While chlorine is not considered one of the most deadly chemical agents, its use as a weapon is banned under international law and makes a mockery of a U.N. resolution passed in March condemning such attacks and threatening military action if they occur.
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Just because chlorine is a household product doesn't make it not a chemical weapon when it's put in a barrel bomb and dropped on civilians.
LABOTT: With Assad facing continued losses on the battlefield, new fear civilian attacks will increase without a U.S.-supported no- fly zone toe protect Syrians from Assad's deadly skies.
ANDREW TABLER, FELLOW, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: It seems Bashar al-Assad has read from President Obama that he can systematically use chlorine gas against his own people and get away with it.
LABOTT: And, tonight, the State Department made clear there will be no U.S. military action to prevent Assad from launching further chlorine attacks. They say only a political solution will end Syria's civil war.
So, Assad can continue with impunity for now, but the danger is, if he falls before that political settlement is reached, those chemical agents could fall into ISIS' hands -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Elise Labott at the State Department, thank you.
Now back to the possible terror threat here in the United States this summer.
Listen to what the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said on CNN just a little while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: I believe as we approach the Fourth of July, that we're probably going to see a lot more of these attacks, small-scale, ramping up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now is the chairman the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you make of what Representative McCaul just said? There is going to be, in his words, more attacks coming up, relatively small-scale, but they're going to be coming up with more frequency.
BURR: Well, Wolf, in 14 years serving on either the House or the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can't remember a time that we had more threads of threats across this country than we do right now, none of them with the magnitude of a repeated 9/11, but clearly an understanding that there are a lot of individuals tied to a lot of different terrorist groups that have at least the intent to carry out an attack. And some of them, as I like to say, they have dumbed down
terrorism to a person with a knife. We have seen that now twice.
BLITZER: And you believe there are hundreds of these ISIS sympathizers or supporters here in the United States who might get -- almost every day, there seems to be an arrest of some ISIS supporter here in the United States, but there are hundreds of these people out there?
BURR: Wolf, I don't know that any of us know exactly the number. But clearly it's the largest number of threats that I have seen in the time that I have been involved.
And I think what's gone maybe unpraised is the work the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force across this country, where we have been ahead of every attack. We have been on every person. And in a lot of cases, arrests have made before any action has been taken.
BLITZER: You heard Evan Perez, our justice reporter, say they're worried about the upcoming July 4 holiday weekend. They're worried about Pope Francis, his visit to the United States in September, major events along those lines.
What can you share with us about that concern?
BURR: That those people who have the intent to carry out attacks here look at holidays as a big event, look at it as a big opportunity where it would be high-profile and publicized in a big way.
And in many cases, they're left up to the decision of an individual terrorist or a small group of terrorists that may not be as patient to wait for July the 4th. And that's why we have got to be on these people and understand what their actions are every day, 24/7.
BLITZER: What can you share with us about these two guys in New York in recent days who have now been arrested, 21-year-old Fareed Mumuni and the 20-year-old Munther Omar Saleh?
Supposedly, they were planning to detonate some sort of bomb in the New York area.
BURR: That the FBI had good coverage on them and that it was indicative of what we have seen is a couple times with the actions of the individual with a knife who knew he was being surveilled and went to attack the surveillance officers.
We're in a different type of terrorism than what we have been used to. And it's not limited to New York City, but, clearly, New York, Washington, other areas are high targets.
BLITZER: Because in the documents released by the Justice Department, this knife potentially, it was a big knife, could have been used to behead someone.
BURR: Well, it could have been.
And, as you remember in Boston, it was a big knife. It was a hunting knife and the intent was to behead a police officer in Boston.
BLITZER: And then there was another suggestion maybe they were planning to use a car to drive over, to kill people with a vehicle. You have seen that.
BURR: Well, this is a very unconventional terrorism that we're involved in. And, as I said, this is dumbed down from what we have been accustomed to looking for big events, and high-profile, high coordination.
These are acts by in many cases lone individuals or small groups.
BLITZER: Well, is there any indication these two guys were part of some bigger terror cell?
BURR: Well, I think we continue to look at those operatives in Syria, especially in Yemen, whose intent it is to carry out acts in the United States and in Europe.
And in many cases, we see direction and certainly intent. Whether there's direct communication, that's something we will determine as we go through the forensics of this case.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more to talk about. I would like you to stand by, Mr. Chairman.
We will take a quick break -- much more coming up with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina.
Let's get to another breaking story that we're following right now. This -- and you heard Elise Labott report about it, that absolutely certain that the Syrian government is using chlorine gas to kill its own people. You have no doubt about that?
BURR: I have no doubt.
BLITZER: You believe Bashar al-Assad's regime is doing that, using chlorine gas to kill Syrians?
BURR: Absolutely, indiscriminately. They don't distinguish between adults or children. They have used it as a force multiplier for an army that in many ways is not fighting.
BLITZER: How worried are you that some of those chlorine gas launchers, if you will, could get -- could wind up in the hands of ISIS? BURR: Well, I think most of the chlorine weapons that we have
seen of late have been barrel bombs or some hybrid of that original barrel bomb that are dropped out of helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft.
And that's why it begs -- should we or coalition forces make sure that there's no a no-fly zone in Syria, for the purposes of protecting the Syrian people, the civilians? But, clearly, there's reason to believe that ISIL or other terrorist organizations within Syria might begin to use similar types of weapons or that they might find a cache of Syrian military weapons that they can use.
BLITZER: And they would not hesitate either to use that kind of chlorine bomb.
BURR: Not for one minute.
BLITZER: ... bombs or whatever .
BURR: Not for one minute.
BLITZER: You heard the defense secretary, Ash Carter, today testify before the House Armed Services Committee. And he said -- quote -- "Hope is not a strategy in the fight against ISIS."
Do you understand the U.S. strategy in degrading and ultimately defeating ISIS?
BURR: I don't think there is a strategy to defeat ISIS.
I think the president has said that our strategy is so much a patchwork. And the region is in chaos. I'm not sure, Wolf, that Iraq or Syria can ever be put back to what it looked like. I think that the borders are going to be changed in the future. And it may be aligned more based upon Sunni and Shia and Kurd conclaves, more so than what those historical borders or colonial borders looked like.
BLITZER: Because what really worried me is when I heard General Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Ash Carter say, look, they tried to recruit about 24,000 Iraqi troops for training by the U.S. military personnel who are already there. About 3,000, 3,500 are there, on the way.
And maybe only 7,000 showed up. And of those 7,000, who knows how many of them desert after they get some training. Can the U.S. get the job done without the Iraqi military stepping up to the plate?
BURR: Well, I don't think we can. I think the only force that fights in Iraq today is the Shia militia. They're controlled by Iran, not by the United States. The Kurds put up a tremendous fight within a geographical region
that is not clearly defined and it's not really targeted every day at ISIL. But the Iraqi special forces and Shia militia are the ones who are going up against ISIL. And so far, ISIL has dominated because of really the battlefield strategies that they have got.
ISIL actually pays their fighters. ISIL has a recruiting mechanism that is almost as good as the U.S. ISIL has special forces like the U.S., so not to call this an army is a real mistake.
BLITZER: A lot of these are trained officers under Saddam Hussein's regime. They were Baathists, many of them.
BURR: They are, but they have mirrored battlefield operations like a U.S. military general would put together.
And in many cases, Iraqis have turned and run actually before the fight has begun because of the shock of awe that they create with the use of special forces.
BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, who this week is going to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials?
BURR: I have got real concerns about whether Iraq, with our help, can hold off of ISIL. And I'm extremely concerned with how committed we are in the region with what Shia militia might do to U.S. forces.
BLITZER: And those Shia militia, a lot of them are clearly backed by the Iranians?
BURR: Backed by the Iranians and governed by the Iranians.
BLITZER: You're privy to the most sensitive information on this emerging deal with Iran to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. Are you with the president on this?
BURR: I'm not exactly sure where the president is going to end up, but what I saw, the interim step, the interim agreement, and what I have just heard from Secretary Kerry of late, that we're no longer interested in knowing everything about their nuclear program prior to this, these are game-changers.
These are deal-stoppers, I would think, not just for the United States, for everybody in the region. And I can't believe the direction they have turned in the last month of these negotiations.
BLITZER: Because he said yesterday said, the secretary of state, that don't be fixated on the past, what their nuclear program was all about in the past. Let's look ahead, although Lindsey Graham was here in THE SITUATION ROOM last hour. He said, he got a call from Secretary Kerry today, saying he had been misunderstood in what he was saying.
BURR: I heard the quote, and it's hard to misunderstand that quote. And it was backed by individuals within Iran that said the same thing.
BLITZER: So, you will demand that everything about Iran's nuclear program in the past be made evident as part of any deal?
BURR: Wolf, without a baseline to work from, how in the world can we enforce a way forward?
BLITZER: So, that's a game-changer for you...
BURR: Game-changer, absolutely.
BLITZER: ... if they don't -- because the Iranians say they're not going release that information.
BURR: I think it's absolutely essential. And I think most in the region believe it needs to be essential.
BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
BURR: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Richard Burr is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Just ahead, the manhunt for two convicted killers on the loose. Police release new images and new information about their spectacular prison escape.
Plus, the deadly warning from the woman accused of helping the convicts. Was she in on a plot to kill her own husband?
BLITZER: More twists tonight in the hunt for two killers on the run after a bold prison break allegedly aided by a woman that worked at the facility and had relationships with the men.
Sources are telling us Joyce Mitchell, now in custody, warned her husband the convicts were planning to kill him. And now investigators are hoping her cell phone may yield new clues.
Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is working the story for us. He's up on the scene.
Jason, what's the latest?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, about that cell phone, I can tell you that a source with knowledge of the situation tells me that Joyce Mitchell's cell phone records have been subpoenaed. And so far, Wolf, so far, those records have not revealed and
given them the lead that they so desperately need.
CARROLL (voice-over): Tonight, the search expands. Law enforcement is now releasing progression photos to show what escaped murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat would look like after more than 10 days on the run, as the search runs cold.
CAPT. ROBERT LAFOUNTAIN, NEW YORK STATE POLICE: We are concentrating our efforts not only in this vicinity, but throughout the nation and beyond.
CARROLL: CNN has learned Joyce Mitchell, the woman accused of helping the escapees, warned her husband, Lyle, of a murder plot, telling him, "Your life is in danger."
Mitchell apparently became so worried, that she warned her husband, Lyle Mitchell, that Sweat and Matt were planning to kill him.
ANDREW WYLIE, CLINTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: As of today, we had no information whatsoever that he had prior knowledge of the escape, or that he participated or actively assisted in the escape of the two inmates.
CARROLL: Officials say Joyce Mitchell is watching the new coverage of the manhunt from her jail cell.
And more news of a bizarre love triangle: Joyce Mitchell had relations, allegedly, with both David Sweat and Richard Matt. In 2013, Sweat was removed from the tailor shop when his inappropriate relationship with Mitchell was discovered. Later in that same year, a sexual relationship took place inside the tailor shop between Mitchell and Matt.
It's the only known place the two were together, according to a law enforcement source -- all of this unknown to Lyle Mitchell, who worked in the same tailor shop. Investigators are also looking at other prison employees and their possible role in the escape. One thing they are considering is whether or not any of the other prisoners may have created some type of diversion before, during or after Matt and Sweat escaped.
TED CONOVER, FORMER CORRECTIONS OFFICER: I really don't get how no staff person heard the steel being cut in the back of both of cells, but let's assume no officer heard it. A prisoner heard it. And, in a well-run prison, they would have ratted them out.
CARROLL: And, Wolf, I wanted to give you some updated information about that honor block.
You remember that special section of the prison where both Richard Matt and David Sweat were housed, when other prisoners for good behavior are housed, where they are given extra special privileges, extra freedoms that other prisoners do not have.
Well, since the escape, Wolf, CNN has learned that Clinton Correctional Facility has indeed shut down the honor block section of the prison and has returned it to a regular cell block -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, probably a good idea over there. Jason, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on what's going on.
Joining us, the former ATF special agent in charge, the security expert Matthew Horace, and the former FBI assistant director, our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.
Tom, they've got her cell-phone records. Presumably, they're going to look at that. She's making statements to the law enforcement over there. What else could they use her for to try to get maybe some indication of whether these two guys may have fled to?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think they've had all the time in the world to get as much as they could from her. We're hearing all these stories that she puts out. They were going to kill her husband. They were going to drive 700 miles. She was going to pick them up. But we don't know if she's lying. And then, depending on what they told her, we don't know if they were lying when they told her something.
So this is -- all of these statements that are coming out as just pure fact shouldn't be, because it's all just guesswork on everybody's part that it's the truth.
BLITZER: Do you think they've gotten, Matthew, everything out of her that they could get out of her so far? Is there more stuff she might be able to share that could help find these guys?
MATTHEW HORACE, SECURITY EXPERT: I would absolutely agree with my colleague Tom Fuentes. What we don't know is the information that they're garnering from speaking to other prison guards, other cell mates, friends and others. I think there's a lot of other information out there.
And it looks right now as though these suspects may have compartmentalized their information and their plan in a way that leaves her plan as the Plan B or C and not the Plan A.
BLITZER: You also heard, Matthew, Jason Carroll say that this honor block where these inmates, these two inmates, they were part of the so-called honor block. I still don't understand why they were part of an honor block after having been convicted of murder. That honor block has now been shut down. Your reaction?
HORACE: Too little too late. Listen, this whole thing represents a serious security breach from the moment this thing started to be planned to the time these guys escaped.
And I have to agree with Tom: There are other people involved with this that are unknown to us at this time. But law enforcement is running down those leads with those 800 people and 1,400 leads that they have to work with.
BLITZER: Do you understand why two murderers are put in an honor block? Do you understand that, Tom?
FUENTES: No. That's why I'm not running the prison. It makes no sense whatsoever.
FUENTES: The other -- the other issue that, you know, Matthew is talking about is, the small tools that she confesses to bringing them aren't what cut through a wide block through the steel, through all of that. I liken that to cutting down a tree with a steak knife. Somebody else helped them with more powerful tools. That's what they need to find out. Is that a prison employee, a contractor, a corrections officer? But somebody else besides her is involved in this.
BLITZER: I want your reaction to that, Matthew. I assume you also believe somebody on the outside was helping, helping this escape, which seemed to be pretty elaborate. These two guys are still on the run.
HORACE: Well, remember, aside from the manhunt, which we're all focused on, there are several other elements of this investigation.
There's the planning and execution: who, what, and who knew; who helped them; and who got those tools into that cell?
There's the planning of the breakout. Who knew that that was going to happen? What other prisoners? What other guards? Who turned a blind eye while pipes and steel walls were being cut?
And then there's the escape plan. Whoever's plan they used, Plan "A," "B" or "C," they are still out there, and we still have a major issue.
BLITZER: Tom, the police have now released two images of what these guys might look like after, what, ten days or so on the run, unshaven. There you see them with some stubble, a little bit of a beard. What's the point of releasing these kinds of pictures? I assume these guys, if they're out there, they could shave if they wanted to.
FUENTES: They could shave. They could be wearing turbans, baseball hats, sunglasses. I think their eyes give them away, especially Matt. He has dark -- dark, evil eyes that would be hard to conceal, whether he has ten-day growth or one-day growth. So I don't know about that.
But another issue I wanted to bring up hampering the investigation is they need to find out if somebody else was in that tunnel helping them. And that crime scene was obliterated when the governor chose to take a camera crew and go crawling through there last Saturday before crime scene investigators could get in there, look for other people's hair, fibers, clothing samples, other evidence. That was a very important crime scene that was just wiped out, basically, by that.
BLITZER: Well, let me get Matthew to respond. Was that a blunder by the governor of New York, Matthew?
HORACE: It certainly was an ill-advised move. But you know, at the end of the day, as the sort of commander in chief, I guess he thought it was a good thing. But Tom is absolutely right: that crime scene could have been compromised by anyone going through those tunnels and through those areas.
BLITZER: Matthew, this is now the longest that prisoners have been on the lam from a maximum-security facility here in the United States since at least 1990. What does it say about this escape? Why has it apparently been so successful, in your opinion?
HORACE: Well, I think there are several elements that we know, and then there are several elements that we don't know.
[18:35:02] But keep in mind, whether it was escaping from a facility or just being on the run. Looking at the Eric Frein case, he was in the woods in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania for 48 days before we captured him.
So complex investigations require resilience and patience. And law enforcement has that. You're going to see the scene expand the longer it takes to find them in the area controlled now. It will expand out -- and it already has -- nationally and internationally.
BLITZER: These guys could be anywhere. Matt -- Matthew Horace, Tom Fuentes, thanks very much for joining us. We'll stay on top of this story.
Just ahead, our correspondents are working their sources. They're getting new information about the manhunt for the escaped prisoners and the plot to break them out.
Plus, the Trump wildcard. The newest Republican presidential candidate keeps trying to pick a fight with Jeb Bush. But instead of punching back, Jeb Bush is slow-jamming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know we can fix the problems facing our nation, because I've already done it during my eight years in Florida.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Mm-hmm. You got the message from my man, Jebediah.
[18:40:47] BLITZER: After decades of political scandals in this country, there's still none that compares with Watergate. Tomorrow night's episode of CNN's original series, "The Seventies," focuses in on what former White House counsel John Dean called a cancer on the presidency that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.
Dean was admittedly involved in the Watergate cover-up. But he went on to cooperate with prosecutors, became a star witness in the Senate hearings that exposed all the shocking details of the scandal to the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're fully aware, Mr. Dean, of the gravity of the charges you have made under oath, against the highest official of our land, the president of the United States?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Yes, I am.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And being so aware, do you still stand on your statement?
DEAN: Yes I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: John Dean is joining us now live from Denver. He's the author of "The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It."
Thanks so much for joining us. So you were obviously right in the middle of the Watergate scandal. You knew about the cover-up being launched. How difficult -- reminder our viewers -- how difficult was it for you, John, to admit your own decision to -- of guilt, if you will?
DEAN: Well, first of all, I admitted it internally, Wolf. Where I tried to persuade my colleagues, including the president, that we -- the only way to deal with it was to come forward with the truth. I couldn't sell that internally. And as a result of the president still pushing me to do a bogus report and the cover-up going on, that's when I broke rank. So by the time I broke rank, it really wasn't a difficult decision to admit my guilt.
BLITZER: Why do you think your White House colleagues refused to publically admit their guilt? They fully understand what was going on.
DEAN: Well, you know, I've speculated on that. We'll never know fully what's in their own minds. They, until they were convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, claimed they were innocent men.
I did note later in documents they supplied to the court, they told Judge Sirica, indeed, who was their sentencing judge, that they had committed the crimes they'd been charged with. So, it took them a while to come around to that point, though.
BLITZER: If not for "The Washington Post" reporting, Woodward and Bernstein, as you well remember, do you think the American public would have actually have known the truth? DEAN: Well, I think they would, for sure. What "the Washington
Post" did -- and I've known Bob and Karl much better. I didn't know them before Watergate, but afterwards. What they did, and Ben Bradley, is they kept the story alive. They kept it alive in Washington, inside the Beltway, where judges, members of Congress, prosecutors were reading about it. The rest of the country wasn't informed about it, because they just didn't seem to care.
It's really not until the spring of 1973, after the election, after Nixon has been overwhelmingly re-elected, that it breaks wide and becomes a national story, followed quickly by the resignation of the chief of staff, Bob Haldeman; and his top domestic advisor, John Ehrlichman; my resignation, or forced resignation, as well. And that's when the press really picks it up.
They also look at it during January of 1973, when there's a trial of the original Watergate burglars.
BLITZER: You've written an important op-ed for CNN.com now called "Why Watergate Endures." Explain what the country, the American people, can still learn from the Watergate scandal.
DEAN: Well, I recently did a book, as you mentioned, and you know, there wasn't a page of that book that I didn't learn something new about that bit of history that so affected the nation for so long.
We still have the legacy. It's still -- we have a suffix "-gate" for every scandal, as you well know. And so it's been ongoing. And I think people don't ever want to repeat that history. So understanding it -- and that's why what CNN and Playtime HBO have done is really an excellent job of presenting that history.
BLITZER: Our documentary on the '70s.
You've also said that, John, that for political reasons, some are now trying to, in your words, recast the whole Watergate story. You believe that's dangerous, don't you?
DEAN: Well, I think it's inappropriate. It's a very difficult thing to do. You can only do it by ignoring the truth.
The record of Watergate, in fact, of the Nixon presidency is so vast and so complete, we'll never have anything like that again, Wolf, including the president's own secretly-taped conversations.
[18:45:10] So, you know, as the years have passed, we know everything there is to know about Watergate. So, it's very dishonest for people to try to create another version that has nothing do with history.
BLITZER: John Dean, you can read this article on CNN.com, "Why Watergate Endures." John Dean, thanks very much for coming.
DEAN: Always a pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. The legacy of Watergate this week on "THE SEVENTIES". It airs
tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Just ahead, he may not be a trump card, but he's definitely a wildcard for the Republican race for the White House. Donald Trump, he's campaigning right now in New Hampshire. He's taking particular jabs at one rival. How is Jeb Bush responding to Donald Trump's attacks?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need smart leadership. We don't need a leader that takes Sergeant Bergdahl, traitor, Sergeant Bergdahl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:51:03] BLITZER: Take a look at this. You're looking live at simultaneous campaign events. Jeb Bush now campaigning in Iowa. On the left, newly announced presidential candidate Donald Trump, he's campaigning in New Hampshire, his first campaign event in the first primary state.
Trump has come out swinging, taking some especially sharp jabs at Jeb Bush.
Let's go to our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's got more on what's going on.
Dana, what's the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeb Bush is focused on Jeb Bush and his own campaign. And today, he took it to Washington -- Washington, Iowa, that is.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I'm humbly here to ask for your vote and ask for your support.
BASH (voice-over): This kind of intimate neighborhood Q&A session is exactly what voters in the first caucus state expect. And Jeb Bush has his work cut out for him in Iowa, lagging far behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and trailing others like Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee.
During his appeal, he turned a voter question about religion in schools into an attack on Hillary Clinton.
BUSH: And she said something to the effect of, if you -- if your religious belief comes in conflict with a woman's right to choose or some other social issue, you're just going to have to get over it.
BASH: But never mind Hillary, first there's the enormous Republican field to battle, including a new wild card.
BUSH: There are a lot of people running for president of the United States. Last time I checked, another guy showed up yesterday.
BASH: That guy, Donald Trump, clearly wants to pick a fight with Jeb Bush.
TRUMP: He is weak on immigration. He is in favor of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy?
BASH: On immigration, Trump called for a wall on the southern border.
TRUMP: And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.
BASH: And Bush is trying not to take the bait.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that something that sounds rational?
BASH: In fact, he is laughing it off.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Donald Trump took you on in a speech today about Common Core and immigration. I want to ask you --
BUSH: Sorry. I shouldn't have done that.
BASH: He kept the laughter going on "The Tonight Show." Bush joined Jimmy Fallon to slow jam the news.
BUSH: Whoever we choose will be tasked with changing the course of our country and whipping America into shape.
JIMMY FALLON, THE TONIGHT SHOW: You hear that America? Jeb bush has says he wants to whip you "50 Shades of Grey" style.
BUSH: Jimmy, I think I speak for all Americans when I say, ew.
BASH: Fallon, who has a young audience that Bush is trying to reach, ribbed him about the logo with an exclamation point.
FALLON: Do I pronounce it, Jeb? Do I shout it?
BASH: Now, Jeb Bush's father and brother did quite well in the Iowa caucuses. But in today's times, caucus goers tend to be more conservative and skeptical of some of Jeb Bush's positions, like on education and immigration. But Bush's senior adviser is actually a veteran Iowa strategist. Wolf, he is wired in a way that could help Bush that may not be apparent now but remember, the Iowa caucuses are still more than six months away -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much. Six months, not very long, indeed.
Let's get some more now, joining us, John Sununu. He's a former New Hampshire governor, he's a former chief of staff to the first President Bush, he was an adviser to Mitt Romney. He's also the author of a brand new book entitled, "The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush".
There you see the book cover. We're going to talk about the book in a few moments.
Let's talk about politics, Governor. First of all, Donald Trump, he is in this race. He has threatened to jump into the presidential race. He is in it right now. He is a Republican presidential candidate.
If he were to get the nomination, could you support it?
JOHN SUNUNU, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I will support whomever the Republicans nominate. But I don't think Donald Trump is going to get the nomination. He's a great showman, a great promoter. He's going to have a good time doing this.
But the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are a lot more discerning. And I think you're going to see a lot of winnowing down, and he'll be part of the winnowing.
BLITZER: But what do you think of his going after Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor?
[18:55:02] You're very close to the Bush family. When you hear him talk like that about Jeb Bush, what do you think?
SUNUNU: Jeb is a big boy. He's going to be able to handle that. I think he is handling it just right, low key.
Look, the best way to get visibility is to attack a big dog. That's what Donald Trump is doing.
BLITZER: Who is the front runner for the Republican nomination right now? I ask you this. You are a former co-host of "CROSSFIRE" here on CNN as well. So, you're a political pundit.
SUNUNU: Yes. I think there's probably four or five that are the serious frontrunners, including Governor Bush, Governor Walker, Senator Rubio among others. It is too early, Wolf.
I know the press likes to have a definition of who is leading. But it's not going to happen in any clear way until after the first debate.
BLITZER: Who would have the best chance of beating, let's say, Hillary Clinton, assuming she gets the Democratic nomination?
SUNUNU: I think it should be a governor or former governor, not only for having the best chance to beat Hillary but to fix the mess this administration is leaving the country. BLITZER: I know a lot of Hillary supporters, insiders, they fear
Jeb Bush. But they also fear John Kasich of Ohio. You know Kasich.
SUNUNU: John's a good governor. He's got to get his temperament under control. I think he knows that. I think he's going to be a formidable candidate. My son is endorsing John Kasich. I think he will.
And he's in that group that I think are serious candidates.
BLITZER: What do you mean his temperament? Because I know John Kasich. I know him when he was a member of the House of Representatives. He's got a temper, is that what you're saying?
SUNUNU: No. He has a style that I think is maybe a good style for campaign as governor. I think there's a slightly different demand that the voters make when you are campaigning for president. I think John understands that. I think he will deal with it quite effectively.
BLITZER: You remember Ross Perot and what he did in that election back then, if you will remember.
BLITZER: Some are already suggesting that Donald Trump, he's got billions, whether he got $4 billion or $9 billion, who knows, but he's got billions. If he wants to run as a third party independent candidate the way Ross Perot did back then, that could have an impact, right?
SUNUNU: Well, that could have an impact. Bloomberg could have an impact, all kinds of -- a third party candidate Ralph Nader could have an impact. It's 18 months to the election. We have got to see what happens.
BLITZER: You think Trump would do that?
SUNUNU: I don't think so. I think he wants to get the -- if you will, the visibility of the primary process. But I don't think he's going to taint his brand all the way.
BLITZER: You think Bloomberg, who's now the former mayor of New York, is thinking of doing that?
SUNUNU: Well, we've heard rumors in the past. They have all the money in the world do it.
BLITZER: If you were advising Jeb Bush, I know you're not, what does he need to do now to get this nomination?
SUNUNU: I think he's got to demonstrate to people how effectively he was as governor. And I think he's got to show them that he is really much more conservative than the current perception is. BLITZER: You have written this book, "The Quiet Man: The
Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush". You were the White House chief of staff.
Viewers might be interested in reading about the first President Bush. What are they going to learn?
SUNUNU: They're going to learn first of all that in addition to his great achievement in foreign policy, he passed more domestic, significant domestic legislation that any modern president, except Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt, legislation that had a huge impact on the environment, on deregulating energy, on dealing with civil rights, Americans with Disabilities Act. But they're also going to find out this was a more conservative president than most people think.
BLITZER: And, remember, after the First Gulf War, when he led the U.S. Operation Desert Storm, liberating Kuwait, Operation Desert Shield, became operation, his job approval was in the 90s.
BLITZER: Ninety-one or 92 percent. Yet he lost his bid for re- election. Why?
SUNUNU: It's what, two things, I call it the Churchill affect. Winston Churchill led Great Britain and the United Kingdom, England through the Second World War. Even before the end of the war, there was an election, and England turned away from Churchill towards a more domestic prime minister. And the second reason is, is you mentioned Ross Perot. Ross got 19 percent of the vote, two-thirds of which should have been George Bush's.
BLITZER: Are you sure about that? Two-thirds?
SUNUNU: Oh, yes.
BLITZER: So, he really hurt.
SUNUNU: Yes, he did.
BLITZER: That's why he lost. Give me one other thought about this book before I let you go.
SUNUNU: I tried to make it an easy read and tell people what goes on in the real White House and the real kind of leadership a president shows in the White House and the way he works with his staff. George Bush really was a great president who listened and worked with his staff and frankly never bragged about himself. I thought it was my turn to brag for him.
BLITZER: You just saw him and Barbara recently. How is he doing?
SUNUNU: He's doing very well. He looked better than a year ago. He was lively, participated in the conversation. I said it on another TV show, Barbara was as feisty as ever.
BLITZER: I'm sure she was.
All right. "The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush" by John Sununu. Thanks very much for coming in.
SUNUNU: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: John Sununu, thank you.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Tweet me @wolfblitzer if you want.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.