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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - Sanctions Against Iran and NSA Surveillance Program

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much, Kevin, for helping us better assess what's going on. What a story that is.

We will go back to London and get an update on what's going on, that theater collapse. We are waiting for authorities to brief all of us. More than 700 people were inside the Apollo Theater in London. There are serious injuries, many so-called walking wounded. An update when we come back.

Also, a new and bipartisan move to authorize new sanctions against Iran. Why the White House is so deeply worried that will hurt the nuclear agreement with the Islamic republic.

And powerful Republican congressmen, a possible, just possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Peter King, is here to talk about that, about the controversial new recommendations to cut back on spying by the NSA.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Quick update on the breaking news we're following right now. Massive collapse at London's Apollo Theater which has left roughly 80 people injured, seven of them seriously. Officials say more than 700 people were inside the theater at the time of the collapse which apparently took down parts of the balconies with it. We are getting more reaction from people who were inside during the performance. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a sold-out show as far as I know. I actually bought the last two tickets. As far as I know the show was sold out. But by the time we were out, emergency services had already arrived. The staff ushered us out very well, certainly from where we were. They say the worst hit area was actually down in the stalls. Back in the balcony, we were kind of OK. But it was hard to see anything down stairs, really. There were a lot of people coming out with cuts and bruises. There were a couple people, not sure if -- there were people taking quite serious medical attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We are standing by for a news conference. We are going to update you with the latest news as soon as we get it. A pretty serious collapse there at the Apollo Theater in London.

As the White House tries to nurture a new deal with Iran aimed at slowing its nuclear program, have lawmakers just thrown a wrench into the works? Senators from both parties today moved to authorize new sanctions on Iran if, if it breaches that agreement.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, who has already indicated he's running for president potentially in 2016. We'll talk about politics in a little while. But let's talk about sanctions first, Congressman.

What do you think, these senators, Democrats and Republicans, they say that if there's no deal, if it doesn't work out, they are going to give the president in effect a year to reach an agreement, but if Iran cheats, doesn't do the deal, then they are going to tighten the sanctions. I assume you would vote for this, right?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Wolf, absolutely I would definitely support these sanctions. The fact is that if Iran is serious about the agreement, they should have no problem with the sanctions, because the sanctions only kick in if they don't comply with the agreement.

Secondly, the president should want these sanctions as a weapon to hold over the Iranians so I don't see why the president is so opposed to these sanctions. I don't understand why the Iranians, I can understand why they say they're opposed but if they're serious about this agreement they should be able to accept the sanctions.

BLITZER: I assume it will pass. I think they have the votes in the Senate. They almost certainly have the votes in the House of Representatives. The president, though, White House today said if it does pass, the president will veto that legislation, actually veto it, which would require a two-thirds override in the House and the Senate. Do you think you have those kinds of votes?

KING: I think we certainly would in the House. I think the president is making a serious mistake by threatening to veto this bill, because to me, for this to go forward, there has to be strong bipartisan support. If he wants to engage with Iran, if he is right now saying he's going to veto a bill that the overwhelming majority of both Houses want, to me that is really a breach of faith and the president is really getting off on the wrong foot here and hurting himself and hurting whatever chance he has to go forward with this agreement he wants with Iran.

BLITZER: But apparently, the agreement with Iran was that there would be no additional sanctions imposed during the course of this interim six-month agreement. They would presumably view this, these additional sanctions, which would only kick in after a year, if there's no deal and if Iran cheats. They would see that as a breach of the agreement, they would immediately end their cooperation and then what?

KING: Well, Wolf, if they're serious about the agreement, they wouldn't breach it. They would realize that these sanctions are in keeping with the spirit of the agreement. So if Iran is opposed to the sanctions bill, then to me it shows that Iran is not serious about going forward with compliance. So, I don't think the president should allow them to say that this is a breach of the agreement. Otherwise he is basically taking the side of Iran against the United States Congress.

BLITZER: I guess the question the White House would ask you, and I will ask it to you, what's wrong with giving this a chance? Hold off on passing additional sanctions, give this opportunity, this diplomatic opportunity, you will always be able to pass additional sanctions if there's a collapse. That would zip through the house and the Senate. Why not do what the president of the United States, the secretary of state, are asking you to do? Just hold off, be patient and give these negotiations a chance?

KING: The fact is, we have been strung along by the Iranians before. The Iranians have strung us out and the fact is I think it's important to have this in place now so that after six months, there could be a question are they in compliance or not and then it could be harder to get it through. The president, it would put the Iranians in stronger position. I think right now, we should deal from strength. Our position of strength right now is to put these sanctions in and saying if Iran does not comply, the sanctions come into effect. The president should show strength and say he's standing with Congress and not allow Iran to distort the meaning of the agreement.

BLITZER: You're chairman of the House homeland security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence. What do you think of those 46 recommendations made to the president yesterday to reform the NSA surveillance programs?

KING: Wolf, I am really opposed to them. First of all, there is no NSA scandal. To me, this is -- this commission or this group is caving in to political correctness. The fact is there are no Americans that have had their rights violated, no one's calls -- no American citizens' calls are being listened to unless they're in contact with terrorists. No one's name is on file. No one's address is on file. This is a totally phony issue. And when I say someone like Rand Paul, who is a member of my party, somehow comparing Snowden and General Clapper, what is happening to our country when the United States senator compares a traitor with an American hero like General Clapper?

BLITZER: He said that on this program yesterday. I'm going to play that clip for you. Here's Senator Rand Paul talking about James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. The accusation he makes that he deliberately lied to Congress about the NSA surveillance programs and the comparison to Snowden. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Clapper's lying to Congress is probably more injurious to our intelligence capabilities than anything Snowden did because Clapper has damaged the credibility of the entire intelligence apparatus and I'm not sure what to believe anymore when they come to Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, he is a fellow Republican. What do you say to him?

KING: That is absolutely disgraceful to compare General Clapper with a traitor. The fact is General Clapper was put in an impossible position because the senator who asked the question had already gotten the information in a classified setting. He knew that General Clapper could not give the full answer because it would let our enemies know what we were doing.

The question was wrong. General Clapper gave the best answer he could. And for Senator Paul, to compare that patriot, General Clapper, with someone like Snowden, who is a traitor, who has put American lives at risk, Senator Paul should be ashamed of himself. It's an absolute disgrace. He disgraced to me, he disgraced his office and he owes General Clapper an apology immediately.

BLITZER: Spokesman for General Clapper issued a statement among other things just a little while ago, responding to other Republican lawmakers who have sent a letter calling on him to resign. This is part of the statement. Let me put it on the screen.

DNI, director of national intelligence. Clapper had been testifying before members of Congress for more than two decades and he enjoys a well-earned reputation as a doggedly honest and honorable public servant. He apologized for the confusion caused by his response and is focused on working with the intelligence committees to increase transparency.

A lot of Republicans want him -- apparently there's a letter out there as you well know, including members of the house Republicans who want Clapper to resign. You totally are opposed to all of that.

KING: Absolutely. That comes from the isolationist wing of the party. That goes back to the days of Charles Lindbergh. These are people apologizing for America. That is not the Republican tradition, not the tradition of Ronald Reagan. It's the tradition of Charles Lindbergh radical left-wing Democrats of the 1960s. That is not a Republican decision.

BLITZER: We are out of time. but give me a yes or no, you running for the Republican presidential nomination?

KING: I wouldn't decide that for another year, year and a half. Right now, I'm just meeting with local Republicans around the country to find out what's on their minds.

BLITZER: I'll take that as a yes. All right?

KING: No, Wolf, come on.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman, thanks very much. We will see you out on the campaign trail.

KING: Happy holiday.

BLITZER: Merry Christmas and happy new year to you as well.

Thank you.

KING: Wolf, thank you very much.

BLITZER: Up next, inmates will soon walk free thanks to a presidential pardon. We have details coming up. Also, the legendary lawyer Alan Dershowitz is standing by with his analysis of what this means.

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