Guns in America; Paris Attack Averted; Interview With Oklahoma Senator James Lankford; Law Enforcement Training to Confront Active

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[18:00:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Police kill a knife-welding man trying to rush their station wearing a fake suicide vest and carrying an image of the ISIS flag.

Fresh fear gripping the French capital tonight on this, the one-year anniversary of the magazine attack that killed 17 people. Are other plots being hatched in Paris right now?

Ghosts of scandals past. A decades-old rape allegation against former President Bill Clinton resurfaces as he campaigns for his wife. Donald Trump seizing on the former president's scandals on social media. What impact will renewed focus on Bill Clinton's alleged misconduct have on Hillary Clinton's campaign?

Guns in America. President Obama tackling one of the most divisive issues facing the country in the live CNN town hall tonight. As the president orders stricter gun control, law enforcement trains to take on active shooters. Will any of it reduce soaring numbers of gun massacres terrorizing the U.S.?

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

It may or may not have been a hydrogen bomb, but whatever North Korea detonated this week is sending shockwaves right now of a different kind around the world. There is growing condemnation of the Kim Jong- un regime, tonight, growing fear of his nuclear capabilities even as so-called sniffer planes are testing the air around North Korea right now for signs of increased radiation. We will get an exclusive live update from Pyongyang in just a moment.

We're also following developments in Paris right now, where a terror attack was averted today on this, the one-year anniversary of the massacre of the offices of the "Charlie Hebdo" magazine. Police shot and killed a knife-welding man outside their station. He was later found to be wearing a fake suicide vest and carrying an image of the ISIS flag.

We're covering all of this, much more with our guests, including Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He's a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. And we have our reporters covering the race for the White House across the country tonight. Our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by. Let's begin with North Korea's alleged test of a hydrogen bomb.

Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story.

Jim, there's lots of diplomatic fallout, but so far apparently no radioactive fallout. Who do we know?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Still no radiation directed -- detected, rather, in the atmosphere in and around North Korea. Doesn't mean they won't find it. It could take some time, but on the ground already finger-pointing.

The U.S. blaming China for not pressuring North Korea enough and China blaming the U.S. for not reaching out to North Korea enough. What all sides agree on is alarm at possible advances in North Korea's nuclear program.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Japanese military planes take off on a mission to test the air around North Korea, looking for clues on the country's claimed hydrogen bomb blast. This U.S. Air Force jet designed to sniff out radiation may soon join the search, say U.S. officials, to discover exactly what kind of device Pyongyang tested in its underground nuclear facility.

PETER COOK, ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: We're using as many resources as we can to try and get a better picture exactly what took place.

SCIUTTO: So far, Japan and other countries in the region have not detected a change in radiation levels in the atmosphere. That has done little to calm fears of further advances in North Korea's nuclear program.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: They are kind of bragging, inflating themselves to be more powerful than they are. Even though they probably didn't detonate an H-bomb, they may be getting an H-bomb reaction, which is, enough is enough.

SCIUTTO: Many South Koreans are furious, protesters burning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in effigy. Seoul now says it will resume propaganda broadcasts over the border into the North, a step that Pyongyang has in the past declared an act of war.

CHO TAE-YONG, SENIOR SOUTH KOREAN SECURITY OFFICIAL (through translator): Our military is at a state of full readiness. And if North Korea wages provocation, there will be firm punishment.

SCIUTTO: Today, Secretary of State John Kerry rebuffed suggestions that the nuclear deal with Iran diverted the administration's attention away from North Korea's nuclear program.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: North Korea has never been left unattended to, not for one day. SCIUTTO: Still, Secretary Kerry and other U.S. officials argue that China, as North Korea's longtime ally and economic lifeline, must apply more pressure.

KERRY: Now, China had a particular approach that it wanted to make and we agreed and respected to give them space to be able to implement that, but today in my conversation with the Chinese, I made it very clear that has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Wolf, this is the closest we will get to real-time images of North Korea's claimed hydrogen bomb test.

[18:05:03] These are satellite images obtained by DigitalGlobe and assessed by the Institute of Science and International Security taken just one hour after that blast. And here is what ISIS noticed in these photos.

This is the entrance of the underground tunnel where the blast took place. All four of North Korea's nuclear explosions since 2006 have taken place underground. They identify two possible instrumentation vehicles going in, as well as four objects which they assess could be instrumentation equipment as well, which is exactly, they say, what you would see after a nuclear blast, that they would send that equipment, have it deployed outside, send it in afterwards to measure the yield in effect of this explosion.

What they did not see is huge disturbances or noticeable disturbances among the snow or the ground here, which they might have seen if this was a larger blast. They are still putting this in the category, the same size, rough size of previous North Korean nuclear tests, which would indicate not a successful hydrogen bomb test, but again, as we said earlier, they're still testing the air for radioactive signatures. There's a lot more they have to learn about exactly what happened underground here.

BLITZER: We will see what they learn. Jim Sciutto, thank you.

Here in Washington, the House of Representatives will vote next week on new sanctions against North Korea, but inside the country, there is defiance and celebration right now.

CNN's Will Ripley is in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

Will, it's Friday there already, Friday morning, and it's Kim Jong- un's birthday. What's the latest over there?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just after 7:30 in the morning here, Wolf.

Behind me, I can hear the city coming to life. We will be venturing out within the next few hours visiting a science center where we are told that we will meet with experts with close knowledge of what North Korea has claimed is a hydrogen bomb, despite all the skepticism internationally. They say they will explain to us the science behind their test, the test that they say was conducted very deeper into that mountain and the launch site that Jim was talking about to prevent radiation from skewing into the atmosphere, which may explain why China, South Korea and Japan are not detecting a change in radiation levels right now, even though that could take weeks before it's detected in the environment.

You talked about those sanctions. And last night, I met with some North Korea officials and asked them specifically about the possibility, the very real possibility of additional sanctions against this country. They said, frankly, they expect more sanctions from the United States and the international community as a result of this fourth nuclear test.

And they say they have lived under crippling sanctions for so many years that as a nation they will collectively tighten their belt, as they have in the past, and continue to invest very aggressively in developing these nuclear weapons, which they feel are their only defense against the threat of imminent invasion from the United States and its allies, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Will, Donald Trump told me that in his assessment China has total control over North Korea. What's the reaction to that from officials in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, where you are?

RIPLEY: When I informed them about the comments made by Donald Trump, the response was very strong that nobody has total control over North Korea except for the Workers party, which is led by the supreme leader, Kim Jong-un.

They also told us that they feel other countries, other entities including the U.S. are trying to drive a wedge between North Korea and China, because China is North Korea's most important and most powerful friend. They provide economic assistance to this country and trade with China has essentially been partially fueling, in a great part, fueling this country's economic growth.

And you do see some small signs of economic growth. There are more cars on the streets here in Pyongyang. People have electronics, people have smartphones and other goods, many of which are imported from China. The North Koreans, of course, want to maintain that relationship, but then again, the Chinese government obviously infuriated about this test.

I was in Beijing yesterday when officials said they received no advanced warning about this, unlike the previous three nuclear tests. Another potentially volatile situation, and we will have to see how the regime here in Pyongyang reacts, would be if the South Koreans turn on those loudspeakers.

Over the summer, when that happened, when there was propaganda coming across the border, they fired back. They launched artillery at the loudspeakers and called it an act of war and they assembled troops to the border.

And given that many people feel this regime truly is unpredictable, nobody knows what their move will be in the coming hours if the loudspeakers are turned back, especially considering they will be turned on, on the supreme leader's 33rd birthday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will Ripley in Pyongyang for us with exclusive reporting, Will, thank you very much.

We're learning new details tonight about a thwarted attack in Paris, man armed with a knife carrying an image of the ISIS flag shot and killed by police as he tried to rush their station. This comes one year to the day after the attacks began on the "Charlie Hebdo" magazine and a kosher market that left 17 people dead.

[18:10:08] Our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank, is in Paris right now.

Paul, the man was also wearing a fake suicide vest. What more can you tell us?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, it appears tonight that this may have been an ISIS-inspired attack, that this man would have been inspired by all that ISIS propaganda with that flag, a picture of an ISIS flag that he had.

He also appears to have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We have seen that in other lone wolf plots before, notably in San Bernardino, California, last year. And this attempted attack took place at exactly 11:30 a.m. this morning. Why is that significant? It's significant because the Kouachi brothers exactly a year ago, they launched their attack against the "Charlie Hebdo" offices at exactly 11:30 in the morning.

And it seems no coincidence likely there that this was perhaps an individual who wanted to attach himself to the cartoon cause, these jihadists very angered by some of these cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that have been published. Perhaps he believed that that was a way he could get to the afterlife.

Why a fake bomb? Perhaps that was a way to make sure that he was shot dead by police to get his wish.

BLITZER: Paul, you're also reporting on a very concerning development in the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Police now hunting for two terrorists operatives they say are armed and dangerous and still at large.

What role do officials believe they played in the Paris attacks?

CRUICKSHANK: They have evidence, strong evidence that they were playing a coordinating role in the Paris attacks, that they were in touch by phone before, during and after the Paris attacks with the Paris attackers, issuing orders, that they played a more senior role in this conspiracy than Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and that in the months leading up to the attack they played a key role in preparations, that they traveled in September with Salah Abdeslam to Hungary likely to go and fetch some of these attackers who had come from Syria, that after the attack, they wired money from a Western Union office in Brussels -- and that's why we have some of these CCTV images -- to the female cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, so that he could get lodgings in Paris.

They also, it is believed, arranged for a safe house for the plotters that they arranged in the south of Belgium in a place called Auvelais. They actually rented a villa there where they prepared the attack.

We're also learning that they made the bombs, all of these plotters, in a safe house, in an apartment right in the center of Brussels in Schaerbeek very near all those European headquarters buildings. And the police have actually found a sewing machine that was used to stitch up those vests, which were then transported all the way to Paris for the attacks.

BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank in Paris for us, thanks for that information.

I want to dig deeper into all of this right now.

Joining us, Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He's a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

Senator, thanks for joining us. I want to get to the thwarted attack in Paris shortly.

But, first, you have been briefed on the situation, very tense situation in North Korea, remember, a million North Korean troops along the DMZ, almost a million South Korean troops along the DMZ, nearly 30,000 U.S. soldiers in between. It's a very tense situation right now. First of all, what kind of nuclear test was this?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Yes, we don't know fully yet what kind of nuclear test this was.

Obviously, North Korea says it's a hydrogen bomb. The reason they brag about that and say that is what it is, it would be a more powerful weapon, it would be a smaller weapon that they could carry on their existing ballistic missiles a longer distance.

We know they have done multiple missile tests of late. This is their third test of a nuclear device just in the past six years, so they have ramped up their number of tests that they have done. It's very important that we actually know what type of weapon it is so we know kind of capability and what type of missile that would be.

That's why this becomes so provocative.

BLITZER: As you know, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on new sanctions as early as next week, but North Korea is already sanctioned brutally, if you will, tough sanctions. Do you think even more sanctions are going to make much of a difference?

LANKFORD: You have to find the leverage point on it.

As has been mentioned multiple times, China does two-thirds of the trade with North Korea. It's incredibly important that we work with China to be able to shut down the access to some of the trade and some of the things that are coming in. North Koreans are incredibly poor at this point.

[18:15:00] Their average total amount of income is about $1,200 a year for a North Korean. It's an incredibly poor country and the reason they have had such great poverty is because their leadership continues to make poor decisions, not only in their economy, but with their military activity and continue to isolate them from the rest of the world.

It's incredibly damaging to the Korean people. And they have suffered a tremendous amount. The challenge is, we can't allow a rogue nation to continue to develop nuclear weapons and be this provocative right on the border of South Korea and so many nations that are allies of ours in Asia.

You have to continue to use the leverage of sanctions, work with China in coordination with them and to be able to shut off many things that are actually coming through North Korea right now.

BLITZER: And as tensions escalate in Asia, they are dramatically escalating in the Middle East right now, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Senator, stand by. We have more to assess. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fresh fears of terror tonight in Paris, where police shot and killed a man who tried to storm their station wearing a fake suicide vest, carrying an image of the ISIS flag. The thwarted attack came year to the day of the deadly attack on the "Charlie Hebdo" magazine.

We're back with the Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

[18:20:03] You have been well-briefed on these terror threats in Europe, as well as here in the United States. Should we be bracing for more ISIS-inspired attacks?

LANKFORD: We should, actually, and that's one of the things that's the most challenging in this current environment is ISIS is trying to both inspire attacks through social media, telling people come join the caliphate, come fight in Syria and Iraq. If you can't come join us here, kill people where you are and just tell them you're with us.

So, what has happened in Paris today is exactly the type of thing that ISIS is trying to inspire around the world to say you don't have to be connected with us, be around us, take the ISIS logo, go kill someone, tell them you're with us, because their goal is to create this kind of terror and this kind of instability in the every part of the Western world.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you're right. And the fears here in the United States are significant. Let's talk about the escalating tension in the Middle East right now. As bad as it is, seems to be getting worse by the day, and now there are these claims by the Iranians that the Saudis hit the Iranian Embassy in Yemen today. The Saudis are denying it. What can you tell us about that?

LANKFORD: There is a really proxy war going on both in Syria and in Yemen right, but especially in Yemen, right on the southern border of Saudi Arabia, where Iran has supported the overthrow of the government there.

For a short period of time, the leader of that country was kicked out. Now he's back in country. The Saudis and the UAE, they are trying to support the return of that leader, but this becomes a Sunni-Shia fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Yemen, very similar to what is happening in Syria as a whole, as Iran is propping up Syria, and the Saudis and multiple other Sunni nations are trying to actually be able to push back on that.

It's been a giant mess and continues to get worse. We see it in North Africa as well, with ISIS attacking some of the oil facilities, trying to destabilize the very young government trying to be formed in Libya as well and a cease-fire that's occurring there. There are a lot of issues that are happening there.

But I tell your viewers, it extremely important to watch the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. They have not gotten along well at all. They do have very different perspectives of the future of the Middle East and both of them want to be the key player in the Middle East.

The hard part for us is Russia is the one stepping in now, due to their position in the Middle East, trying to broker that relationship and it's important that the United States stays in the lead to be able to help in that area.

BLITZER: Senator, you're -- I want to switch gears and talk about guns for a moment while I have you.

You're on the subcommittee that funds the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. What's your take on the president's recent proposals to try to do something about the 30,000 Americans who die because of gun violence in the United States every year?

LANKFORD: Yes, Republicans and Democrats alike, you don't have to be any party at all. We're incredibly grieved about gun violence in the United States.

The challenge is the things that the president has proposed at this point, even Josh Earnest, his spokesman, has come forward and said it doesn't stop mass shootings. We have to deal with family issues. We have to deal with the influence of drugs in our society, which is one of the major drivers of gun violence of every type.

We focus a lot on the mass shootings that happen, but really the drug gangs and the drug violence that is happening in many of our cities drives a lot of the gun violence. That's incredibly important for us to refocus as a nation on drug use and on the key family issues.

There are key issues that we need to deal with, for instance, the National Instant Criminal Background Check. Some of the states are not submitting their information fully. The federal government has made it so difficult to submit that information that they just don't do it. That needs to be fixed.

It doesn't matter if you are going to do a background check if the states haven't submitted a full record of all those that have committed a felony in their state into that background check. It is important some of those things get resolved.

But I would tell you, Wolf, this seems to be an issue that just is a presidential politics-type year issue to kind of distract from other things. There are ways to be able to work to solve this, but really what's happening right now is every time the president talks about more gun control issues, more Americans go buy guns; 24 million guns sold last year, 111 million were sold the year before the president took office.

He's been a tremendous salesman for firearms in the United States, because every time he talks about another executive action, there is an additional increase in gun sales. The Constitution is pretty clear on this issue. You cannot remove this basic Second Amendment right, but we should be able to do criminal background checks, as is already in the law, with full complete records.

BLITZER: Senator Lankford, thanks very much for joining us.

LANKFORD: You bet. Glad to be able to do it.

BLITZER: And we're only about an hour-and-a-half away from the CNN town hall tonight with President Obama. He's going to be addressing the issue of guns. That airs 8:00 p.m. Eastern. He's going to be with Anderson Cooper in a live town hall, 8:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight.

Just ahead, it's Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz in a so-called birther battle launched by the billionaire businessman, as Cruz surges in Iowa just weeks out ahead the caucuses.

And old scandals resurfacing, as Bill Clinton campaigns for his wife, including a decades-old allegation of rape.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:28:58] BLITZER: The battle Donald Trump launched against his closest rival in Iowa right now, Ted Cruz, is raging tonight, with more Republicans weighing in on whether Cruz is even eligible to be president of the United States because he was born in Canada.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us from Burlington, Vermont, right now, where Trump is getting ready to hold a rally.

Jeff, this is Bernie Sanders territory in Vermont. What's the latest there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're in the heart of the Bernie Sanders territory. Not only is the senator from Vermont. Of course, he was the mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989.

You may be wondering why Donald Trump is here. Vermont has one of those Super Tuesday primaries. On March 1, the voters of Vermont will be coming out to cast their ballots in the Republican race. Wolf, I can tell you hundreds and hundreds upon thousands of people are gathered here.

Some Bernie Sanders supporters as well are mixed in this crowd with Donald Trump supporters. But Donald Trump may focus on Bernie Sanders, but for now, he spent all day focusing on Ted Cruz.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Donald Trump isn't letting go, fanning the flames about Ted Cruz's citizenship.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's got this cloud over his head. I don't think it's going to be possible for him to do very well.

ZELENY: Today, Trump sent a message to his rival, saying: "Ted, free legal advice how to preempt the Dems on citizen issue."

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to be taking legal advice any time soon from Donald Trump.

ZELENY: Never mind Democrats. It's Republicans raising questions, all over whether Cruz could face a legal challenge. He was born in Canada, but his mother was a U.S. citizen.

Trump told Wolf Blitzer that Cruz's birthplace raises constitutional concerns.

TRUMP: There's this doubt. People have doubt. I want to win this thing fair and square. I don't want to win on this point.

ZELENY: John McCain, who has tangled with Cruz in the Senate, once calling him a whacko bird, added legitimacy to Trump's wording. McCain himself, who was born outside the United States, was quick to distance his case from Cruz's, as McCain was born on a U.S. military base.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think there is a question. I'm not a constitutional scholar on that, but I think it's worth looking into.

ZELENY: In Iowa tonight, Cruz brushed aside McCain's comments, saying he's pulling for Marco Rubio.

CRUZ: It's no surprise that people who are supporting other candidates in this race are going to jump on with the silly attacks that occur as we get closer and closer to election day.

ZELENY: Cruz, who has emerged as one of Trump's biggest threats, said the talk was nonsense.

CRUZ: The legal issue is straightforward. The son of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen.

ZELENY: He told CNN's Dana Bash he was done addressing it.

CRUZ: I'm not going to engage in this. And the reason is simple: There are far too many serious issues facing this country.

ZELENY: One more sign the fault lines in the Republican primary are becoming clear. Just watch who's feuding with whom. It's not only Trump versus Cruz but Chris Christie versus Marco Rubio.

Christie said Rubio's too weak to be the party's nominee.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via phone): That's the kind of person we want to put on the stage against Hillary Clinton? I don't think so. We'll pat him on the head and then cut his heart out.

ZELENY: Rubio fired back, comparing Christie and his record as New Jersey governor to Barack Obama.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chris has a very liberal record for a Republican. Our next president has to be someone that's going to overturn all the damage Barack Obama have done to America, not continue it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now in the middle of all this back and forth today, a spokesman for Senator McCain said he is, indeed, not endorsing anyone at this point. He's not supporting Marco Rubio.

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