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Polls: Clinton Sliding as Sanders Surges; Trump Dominates, Bush Falls in GOP Polls; U.S. Warns Russia on Military Build-up in Syria. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired September 7, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, kickoff. As the political season gets under way, Donald Trump is already leading Jeb Bush by a couple of touchdowns. As Hillary Clinton stumbles in New Hampshire, will Joe Biden try to get into the game and play quarterback for the Democrats?

Warning to Moscow. Amid signs that Vladimir Putin is sending troops and military equipment to Syria, is he getting ready to fight ISIS or to prop up the Damascus regime? The U.S. warns Russia not to make a bad situation worse.

Exploiting a crisis. As tens of thousands flee the war zone and try to find refuge in Europe, the humanitarian nightmare is also a major security concern. Will ISIS try to sneak terrorists in among the refugees?

And inside the regime. A new CNN exclusive. A defector linked to North Korea's elite tells why Kim Jong-un's inner circle is terrified of their leader.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On this Labor Day, we're looking at a stunning change in the 2016 political landscape. New polls show Donald Trump is the clear favorite among Republican voters in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and some surprising new faces that are jockeying for second place.

Democrats getting a shot, as well. The latest polls show Hillary Clinton falling into second place in New Hampshire behind Senator Bernie Sanders.

We're also following very disturbing new events in the Middle East. U.S. military officials tell CNN Russian military personnel and equipment, they are on the ground inside Syria. What are they up to? We'll ask a key member of the House Armed Services Committee, and our correspondents and analysts, they're all standing by to bring you all the news on this very busy Labor Day.

Let's begin with our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's following Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. He's on the scene for us. What's the latest, Jeff? JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can

tell you Hillary Clinton is starting this Labor Day campaign in a much different place than she and perhaps any Democrat would have expected, even Bernie Sanders.

His summertime campaign has blossomed throughout the summer, and it's now turning into a full-blown fight for the fall.



ZELENY (voice-over): A Labor Day wake-up call for Clinton. The Democratic presidential contest is now a real race.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a people's campaign, and we will win this campaign.

ZELENY: A new poll in New Hampshire shows Bernie Sanders leading Clinton by nine points.

SANDERS: I want your vote. I want to win here in New Hampshire. I want to win the Democratic nomination, and I want to become president of the United States.

ZELENY: It's still a stretch to call Clinton the underdog. She leads Sanders by 11 points in Iowa and still carries tremendous muscle in a party long loyal to the Clintons, but she's lost the luxury of running out the clock and focusing only on her Republican rivals.

CLINTON: We've got to have a Democrat in the White House come January 2017. And that's -- that's not just because I am one, and not because I'm running to be the one.

ZELENY: A long summer has taken its toll on her campaign, and on this visit to Iowa, her voice.

CLINTON: My voice is a little raspy, but don't let it bother you. It still works. So I've been talking a lot in the last few days.

ZELENY: And she'll be talking a lot more. She ratcheting up her campaign, appearing on "Ellen" and doing policy speeches every week, including one Wednesday on Iran.

CLINTON: I believe I've got the vision, the policies, the skill, the tenacity and the determination to get us back on the right track.

ZELENY: She's even opening the door to more debates, as Sanders and rival Martin O'Malley have called for.

CLINTON: I would certainly be there with lots of enthusiasm and energy if they decide to add more debates. And I think that's the message that a lot of people are sending their way.

ZELENY: At a Labor Day picnic, some supporters were nervous. Others were not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have the magic wand. I don't have the crystal ball. But I'm wishing her the very best and I'm backing her.

ZELENY: Even as Clinton addressed the crowds, Bernie Sanders' fans were standing by their man.

(on camera): What is it that he has that Hillary Clinton does not have, in your view?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he has a proven track record and authenticity. He doesn't need a poll to know where he stands on an issue.


ZELENY: Now, Wolf, when you talk to supporters of Sanders, like the Pences there, you don't hear the e-mail controversy come up at all. You hear much more pro-Sanders talk than anti-Clinton. And that is the challenge for the Clinton campaign, because voters are being drawn to his ideas, his excitement, his candidacy. That's something they have to contend with this fall -- Wolf.

[17:05:02] BLITZER: The crowds, are they big crowds? Little crowds? What's the attendance looking like?

ZELENY: Well, out here across this Labor Day picnic, I just finished one here just a little bit ago. We were covering Hillary Clinton here. She had a couple thousand people at this rally. Not all of her supporters were here. Some of them were for Senator Sanders. A few of Martin O'Malley's tickers (ph) in the crowd.

Wolf, I can tell you Democrats and Republicans, of course, as well, are going to be tuning into this race much more now that the summer is over, Labor Day is here. That's why the next five months, leading into the Iowa caucuses in the first part of February and then onto New Hampshire, this is when the race essentially resets; and anything can happen in this next stretch of time.

BLITZER: Five months indeed.

All right. Thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny reporting for us. Don't go too far away. We're going to continue our conversation shortly.

But on the Republican side on this Labor Day, a spate of new polls shows Donald Trump continuing to dominate the races in Iowa and New Hampshire. They also show some very interesting jockeying for second place, because Jeb Bush's numbers are in a free fall, at least for now.

Let's bring in our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Let's talk about this Iowa poll, Suzanne. Trump is clearly the frontrunner, but there are a lot of other developments going on, as well.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump dominating in both Iowa and New Hampshire now, even as he lays low this Labor Day.

The latest NBC News/Marist poll showing that even before Trump publicly pledged his loyalty, Iowa's Republicans put him squarely in the lead with 29 percent.

But right on Trump's heels, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson just seven points behind. Now his non-confrontational style is clearly making him the Trump alternative.

Those losing momentum in Iowa, well, we're looking at Jeb Bush, slipping into third place at 6 percent, and Governor Scott Walker falling 14 points since July, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, tell us a little bit more about these GOP numbers in New Hampshire. Trump leads, but there's a new second-place contender right now.

MALVEAUX: Well, that's right. So Donald Trump is the clear front-runner, as well, in the NBC/Marist poll for Republicans in the Granite State. But look at this: we're talking about Ohio Governor John Kasich. He has jumped ahead now the rest of the pack. So Kasich is up five points since the last poll, possibly due to a heavy dose of the town halls that we've been seeing and paid television ads by a pro-Kasich super-PAC.

Also gaining support is Carly Fiorina. Both are in New Hampshire today. They are working those Labor Day parade crowds. She is now up four points.

Jeb Bush, despite his nearly $100 million super-PAC money, well, he's now sinking. He dropped six points, and now we're also seeing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He is on this two-day voter cycle campaign swing, trying to project confidence, despite only single- digit support. He dropped eight points in this poll. And this week, we're going to see Jeb Bush. He's going to be on "The Late Show." Trump back on the trail on Wednesday.

BLITZER: All right. Lots going on. All right. Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux.

Let's get some analysis of what's going on. Joining us now, Rebecca Berg. She's a national political reporter for Real Clear Politics. Also joining us, our political commentator, Ryan Lizza. He's the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine. CNN politics senior digital correspondent Chris Moody, and our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is still with us, as well.

Ryan, does the rest of the Republican field really know how to run against Donald Trump?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So far, no. Right? I mean, there have been sort of fits and starts of attacks against Trump, but nobody yet has made a sustained argument, right? Nobody has spent a lot of money on the air, which we know is a way to bring down a candidate.

Voters don't have a lot of seriously negative information about Trump yet, and the way to do that is to spend a few million dollars in Iowa and New Hampshire and really offer a sort of counter-narrative about who Donald Trump is.

And we saw Jeb Bush start that last week, but really was not a big paid media campaign. That's when we know these candidates are seriously threatened by Trump, and they've decided that it's time to offer alternatives.

BLITZER: He's got $100 million super-PAC that supports hmm, and so far it's not making much difference. Right?

LIZZA: You know, the leader of that super PAC said publicly that they're not going to waste their money going after Trump. But a few weeks after he said that, they did start making an argument against him. But the test will be when they spend big money. We're talking millions of dollars on a sustained campaign against him.

BLITZER: What's impressive about Trump is he not only dominates in these recent polls, Chris, but in Iowa and New Hampshire, all the other polls we've seen in recent weeks, whether in South Carolina, Florida or nationally for that matter, he's clearly dominating this Republican field. So the question is, who can make him less dominating, if you will?

CHRIS MOODY, CNN POLITICS SENIOR DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he certainly is, but we're entering a new phase of the campaign, and as Ryan talked about, this is the phase where people spend money to put commercials on your television.

Up until now everyone has been playing on Donald Trump's playground. This is his turf, the media fighting wars on social media, earned media. But now when you start talking about paid media, running ads, we've already seen Jeb Bush's super PAC put an ad just on YouTube, with no money behind it. It was very slick. That's not something you just make and don't tell anybody about or pay to tell anyone about. And that compared Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton.

[17:10:17] And we've also talked with a lot of Republican consultants who said that there are attacks coming, so prepare for it. This is going to be the test of if the game is going to change now that we enter into the fall.

BLITZER: Well, if you know Donald Trump, if they start attacking him, he's going to start attacking them right back. He's not a shy guy, as we know.

In New Hampshire, Rebecca, as you know, John Kasich, the Ohio governor, twice elected, doing remarkably well, moving up, Jeb Bush not so much. What's going on?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: John Kasich, and we're talking about the difference that spending money can make in a campaign. John Kasich is a great example of that, because he has already invested, even though he just got into the race, essentially, he's already invested roughly $4 million in New Hampshire trying to get his message out and establish a baseline for people's knowledge of him there. And that's worked so far.

That's a big part, at least rival campaigns say, a big part of why John Kasich is doing so well in New Hampshire right now.

But another part of it is he is kind of the charismatic alternative to Jeb Bush. So within the establishment, within the sphere of Republicans who want to get things done, who think Washington still can work, if you send the right people, John Kasich is the straight-talking charismatic Jeb Bush, essentially, a governor who has a great record that he can tout on the trail. And that's another part of why he's doing really well.

BLITZER: He's also a very smart guy.

BERG: He is.

BLITZER: I covered him going back to when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee. He really knows his stuff, so he's presumably doing well in part because he's a smart guy.

Jeff, what about in Iowa and New Hampshire, these top candidates, the ones right at the very top of the GOP -- GOP field, for example: Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, none of who have ever held elected office. How do lifelong politicians contend with that?

ZELENY: Wolf, it's confounding to them. It's confounding that it's gotten to this point. Everyone, of course, knows that our trust in government and institutions is done, our sort of distaste for Washington is up, but people did not expect this. So it's really over the next four of five months, it's going to be interesting to see which lanes, if there's any consolidation in an establishment lane, because right now the Donald Trump lane suddenly looks crowded. He initially sort of had it all to himself.

But I can tell you, Wolf, talking to voters here, Ben Carson's candidacy is more serious in Iowa than any Republican would have expected. He is tapping into the support of evangelical Republicans, those key Christian conservative activists, who are important to the Iowa caucuses, the home-schoolers, others like that.

So Donald Trump knows that he has to keep an eye on Ben Carson. So, you know, there definitely will be some, as there's squabbling among who's going to try and break out of the establishment camp, my eye is on sort of what could be an upcoming fight between Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

BLITZER: But so far, Jeff -- correct me if I'm wrong -- neither one have been very critical of the other, right?

ZELENY: Neither one has been very critical of the other. That's why this is so interesting. How long will they be able to stay as positive?

Donald Trump has taken on virtually anyone who has taken him on first, but Ben Carson is coming up very strongly in these polls, and it's very difficult to win the Iowa caucuses without support for the evangelicals.

So my eye is on what happens between Trump and Carson at that debate in a couple of weeks, our CNN debate, and then as the fall goes forward.

A lot of Republicans here wonder if Ben Carson will start questioning the morality, the character of Donald Trump. They don't know that, but that's what many Republicans here that I've talked to suspect might start happening.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss, including what's going on on the Democratic side. Why is Senator Bernie Sanders all of a sudden such a huge threat to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination? We'll be right back.


[17:18:49] BLITZER: On this Labor Day, we're seeing a rather stunning, vastly different political landscape in the 2016 presidential race. Among Democrats, stunning new poll shows Hillary Clinton nine points behind Senator Bernie Sanders.

We're back with our political correspondents and our analysts.

Jeff, you're out there watching what's going on. Is there some sort of panic mode setting in, into the Hillary Clinton campaign, given Bernie Sanders' uptick in New Hampshire? That's a state critical, crucial for Hillary Clinton back in 2008 when she carried.

ZELENY: No doubt. And I don't think panic is the word at all, Wolf. I think heartburn and angst is more of the word after this, you know, kind of the complicated summer for the Clinton campaign.

Look, the Clinton campaign has done a lot of focus grouping before all this happened. They knew where the heart of the party was. They knew that the message that Bernie Sanders was going to be out there campaigning on across the summer, going against Wall Street, against billionaires. That's the same message that Elizabeth Warren has been giving.

So voters just basically transferred, you know, their feelings for Elizabeth Warren to Bernie Sanders. So they knew that, but they sort of thought it was a temporary thing, that people thought that Hillary Clinton, it was sort of her turn, her time. They know that they have to ratchet up their activity. They know that they have to start making a stronger case for this. Wolf, that's why we're going to see more of Hillary Clinton in the coming weeks than we have seen yet so far in this campaign.

She's going to be taping the Ellen DeGeneres show tomorrow. She'll be doing another network interview. She'll be giving an Iran speech on Wednesday. They're trying to put her out there more to try and compete with all this noise about her controversy.

BLITZER: Not a good time for her to have a raspy voice. It sounded earlier like she was losing it a little bit, the voice. She should drink some hot tea with honey, I guess. That's what my mother would say.

Ryan, all right. So Bernie Sanders doing well in New Hampshire, moving up in Iowa, but does he have the base in some of the states that follow, in South Carolina, Florida, Nevada? How's he doing there?

LIZZA: You know, that's the problem. Traditionally, for candidates like Bernie Sanders, they sort of top out at 20 or 30 percent nationally. They can do very, very well in the two early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which have a similar Democratic electorate. It's very white, college-educated progressives, and a candidate like Sanders, you'll remember is from neighboring Vermont. They live right next door to New Hampshire. So people in New Hampshire know him anyway.

They could do well. He could probably -- he could win Iowa. He could win New Hampshire, but when you move on to that next set of states, he has to expand that Democratic base outside of the sort of, you know, what they call in the Democratic Party the wine track. He needs to appeal to working-class voters, young voters, women and non- white voters. That historically has been the problem with candidates on the left, to challenge the frontrunners. They can't break out of that. The person to do it last was Barack Obama in 2008.

BLITZER: Chris, let's talk a little bit about Joe Biden. He seems, at least today -- watch this exchange he had with Brianna Keilar out there on the campaign trail, even though he's not a formal candidate. He seems more enthusiastic, maybe about running. Listen to this.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Mr. Vice president, it sounds like you have a rationale for running.

JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to run part of this parade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that a declaration?

BIDEN: No, I'm going to run part of the parade.


CLINTON: He may not be a candidate yet, but he certainly looks like a potential candidate.

MOODY: That's the kind of answer that politicians always give you when they don't want to tell you what he's thinking or what's on their mind. But he's not going to be able to do that for long. Joe Biden is going to have to make a decision sometime, at least before the first presidential Democratic debate. And if he decides to run, that's going to really put Hillary Clinton, I think, on the offensive in a way we have not seen before.

BLITZER: Does he help Hillary Clinton? Is he taking more votes away from Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, if he decides to run?

BERG: It's hard to tell right now, because a lot of people when you poll aren't really taking Joe Biden seriously as a candidate. A lot of people are still skeptical that he would run.

But there was in this latest NBC News/Marist poll a question, that eliminated -- they asked, you know, the question with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. And then they took away Joe Biden. And most of his supporters in that poll went to Bernie Sanders.

So it's interesting. You see a lot of people potentially taking their support from Bernie, supporting him as the Hillary Clinton alternative candidate, but we'll have to wait and see.

BLITZER: Let's see what he decides to do. He should make up his mind very, very soon.

Guys, thanks very much.

Remember, to stay with CNN for the second Republican presidential debate. It will air right here on CNN, September 16, a week from Wednesday, live from the Reagan Library in California. CNN will also host the first Democratic presidential debate on October 13 in Nevada.

Coming up, is Russia getting ready to fight ISIS in Syria? Or to prop up the Damascus regime? The U.S. warns Moscow against the military buildup that could escalate the Syria conflict.

And an inside look at the North Korean regime from a defector who was tied to the country's elite. We'll learn why Kim Jong-un's inner circle is now terrified of their leader.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:28:29] BLITZER: There are now some new signs that Russia is moving toward a military buildup in Syria, caught in the grip of a horrific civil war, a ruthless regime, and the terror onslaught of ISIS. Could Russia be getting ready to battle ISIS or to defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad? The United States now warning Moscow not to make a bad situation a whole lot worse.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is covering the story for us. It's a dramatic and important story, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. And the U.S. watching Russian movements very closely. And in satellite photos they see what could be preparations for a sizable Russian deployment, in the hundreds.

All this in the province of Bashar al-Assad, Russia's longtime home -- longtime ally, his home province and a key center of his power.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): New Russian military personnel and equipment on the ground inside Syria. U.S. military officials tell CNN a potentially volatile addition to a bloody civil war already four years old.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to warn such actions, quote, "could further escalate the conflict." An allegation the Kremlin dismissed as premature.

What's unclear is who the Russians intend to fight.

(on camera): Is it to shore up the Assad regime? Is it to fight ISIS? Or do we know?

PETER COOK, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: You know full that the Russians have had a long relationship with the government in Syria, and again, it's up to the Russians to explain exactly what they're up to.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Satellite images show Russia has installed modular units capable of housing hundreds of military personnel, a defense official tells CNN.

And this image broadcast on Syrian state television, identified by analysts as a modern Russian-made armored vehicle, not previously seen in Syria, and painted in Russian army camouflage.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: What the Russians might or might not be doing at the moment, that is of concern to Secretary Kerry, and who would replace Assad? Who would replace any of the other groups that are fighting for power?

SCIUTTO: Syria is Russia's key ally in the Middle East. Moscow also has a strategic naval base at Tardis (ph) in Syria. If the fragile regime of Bashar al-Assad falls, so too may Russian influence in the region. Russia and the United States had been talking about finding a political solution to the crisis. Administration officials until recently expressing hope that Moscow was open to a future without Assad.

Administration officials now making clear there is only one kind of military help the U.S. would welcome.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: There's a 37- some-odd country coalition that's taking the fight to ISIL. We'd welcome Russia to be more involved in that effort.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: One measure of how seriously the U.S. is taking this, a

Greek minister said the U.S. has asked Greece to disallow overflights by Russian aircraft to Syria.

Keep in mind, Wolf, that Russia has its own ISIS problem. Hundreds of Russian citizens have gone there to fight. And you can, as you know, in Syria be against ISIS and for the regime of Bashar al- Assad, but in terms of military intervention, the U.S. would welcome help against ISIS. But they certainly wouldn't expect -- wouldn't welcome an all-out defense of the Assad regime in numbers with Russian military personnel and equipment on the ground.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Thanks very much. Jim Sciutto reporting for us.

Let's get some more. Joining us, a key member of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. What do we know about what Russia is up to in Syria right now? Specifically, what kind of aid are they providing?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think that your report lays it out about as much as is known. What we do know is there's a long, long history of Russian support for the Assad government and for his father, actually, going way back several decades. So this is not a new situation, but it is certainly a new chapter in an old situation.

What's it mean? I'm not sure, but what it could mean -- and I guess it's because it's Labor Day and I want to be hopeful on this day -- it could mean that we could be moving toward some sort of a negotiated settlement in which ISIS is pushed aside, in which there is a formation of a -- some sort of comprehensive government, with maybe Assad out of the government, a new leader in place.

And I think we want to be very, very careful not to have a power vacuum in that area. We saw what happened in Libya with the power vacuum. We don't need that. It would only make a very bad situation worse.

So perhaps -- let's be hopeful. Perhaps this is a step towards that negotiations that this administration has been looking to put in place for some time.

BLITZER: Well, that would be a very optimistic assessment if it holds up. As you know, not only the Russians support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Iranians support that regime. They have strong support from Hezbollah in Lebanon. They've got some significant backing right now.

GARAMENDI: Well, they certainly do. And that's part of the complexity that is in place in the entire area.

I think you've got to keep in mind that you do have this Sunni/Shia schism. That plays big into this entire region. It is complex.

The question for us, is there some way to put in place a legitimate government that would be able to span the differences that exist -- the tribal differences, the religious differences -- that could bring about a resolution of this conflict?

If not, then you're going to see far more refugees streaming into Europe and other countries. There are already 2 million in Jordan, the neighboring country, probably a large number in Turkey, some of whom I'm sure are now leaving for Europe.

But this thing has got to get settled out pretty quick, or this is spinning out of control, has been for some time, and we'll see what takes place there.

BLITZER: Over the last four years, what, 300,000 people have been killed in that civil war in Syria, and 7 million displaced people internally and externally. We see what's going on in Europe right now.

On Russia, there was another disturbing element, according to U.S. officials. A Russian intelligence vessel, as you know, Congressman, spotted near an American ship exploring for oil in the Arctic. What's going on here?

GARAMENDI: Well, what's going on is that the Arctic Ocean is opening, that commerce and maritime nations -- Russia, including China and the United States, and many of the European countries -- are looking for the northwest passage. And they're also, all of them, looking for an opportunity to exploit the oil and other minerals that might be in the region.

What's happening -- and this is what I find very, very disconcerting. I am the ranking member of the Coast Guard, Maritime, and the chairperson of that committee, Duncan Hunter, and I are extremely concerned that the United States does not have the assets to fully patrol the Arctic Ocean. Our one heavy icebreaker is deployed half of the year in the Antarctic. We have no other heavy icebreaker. We are simply short of ships, ice-breaking ships in the Arctic.

The U.S. Navy can't go there in the late spring -- the early spring and late summer as the ice forms. And so China is there with a heavy icebreaker. Russia has a couple of them -- actually, several of them. We need to build up our ability to patrol that portion of the Arctic Ocean that is ours. We cannot do it today.

BLITZER: Congressman John Garamendi of California, thanks very much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up thousands of Middle East migrants desperately seeking sanctuary. They're stuck in primitive holding areas. They're waiting for European countries to let them in. Why this humanitarian nightmare may also potentially become a security threat.


[18:40:57] BLITZER: Millions of people have fled the ISIS reign of terror in Iraq and in Syria, where a catastrophic civil war is raging. As migrants desperately try to find sanctuary, some European countries are now opening their doors. And the United States may also take in some refugees.

But this massive exodus is not only a humanitarian nightmare. It's also raising major security concerns.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's looking into this development for us. What are you finding out, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the priority right now, of course, as European nations open those borders is to get as many people as possible to safety.

But with those borders opening, the question is: is it also being opened to terrorists being able to sneak through?


STARR (voice-over): More than 360,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean, trying desperately to get to Europe. More than 10,000 already stuck on this Greek island, another ship arriving with tales of death and fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come to small boats, so -- so difficult it means, hundreds, about 99.5 is dead.

STARR: And then another harrowing journey to a final destination. Thousands hoping to make it to Austria, Germany, France or the U.K. on foot, trains, and buses.

But growing worry about the unintended consequences of opening borders to those fleeing war and ISIS. The risk to U.S. and European security and the stability of crucial allies in the Middle East.

DAVID MABAND, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: Lebanon and close allies like -- close allies of the U.S. like Jordan are creaking under the strain of literally millions of refugees.

STARR: The U.S. is under international pressure to take in thousands, but the risk that an ISIS militant could slip through remains the top concern.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SECRETARY: There's a lot of terrorist groups operating in that region, in that part of the world. We need to make sure that fundamentally we protect the national security of the United States of America. So any asylum seeker has to go through a thorough background check.

STARR: The potential threat may already be in the works. The American news site BuzzFeed quoted a Syrian ISIS operative in Turkey, saying he is working to sneak fighters into Europe. They are being smuggled into Turkey, he says, hidden among hundreds of refugees in cargo ships, the type of operation that can be tough to detect.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Especially when you have large numbers coming into Europe, I don't know how the governments can really effectively monitor them. The potential for an attack has to be strongly considered.


STARR: Now, so far U.S. officials say they have no specific intelligence that terrorists have been smuggled in amongst these latest refugees. But as the crisis goes, so does the worry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly does. Barbara, thank you.

Germany has now opened its doors to those who are desperately trying to find sanctuary in Europe. The city of Munich, Cologne, accepted more than 17,000 people just this weekend. But elsewhere, thousands of people are stuck in primitive holding areas.

Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is along the Serbian-Hungarian border.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is bitterly cold her right now, and the conditions that the refugees are having to go through caused some earlier in the day to try to take matters into their own hands.



DAMON (voice-over): This is the reaction of a desperate people who just want to keep going, trying to force their way through the police line, but failed. They simply can't take the conditions here anymore.

This is what awaits them when they cross into Hungary. It's meant to be a holding site, but they end up waiting for days for the buses to arrive. Amid the filth, with little to no shelter. And just a small local nonprofit to help.

In the tiny medical tent, a little boy who collapsed, exhaustion and dehydration, we are told.

Most are refugees from the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They fled to save themselves and their children. Fuab Abdul Aziz saw ISIS take over their city. His children exposed to the rotting corpses of their victims in the main square. Still the boys are homesick and confused.

(On camera): Along the road he keeps telling his daddy I want to go home.

(Voice-over): All Fuab can respond is, God is good. The day will come when we will go back home. His only memento from Syria, tightly wrapped in plastic to protect it during the sea crossing, his barber kit. A trade he could no longer practice in Syria under ISIS.

"It was forbidden. You can't cut beards and your hair has to be one length," he tells us. Home as they knew it is gone.

It's what drives most to make the journey.

"I am an old woman. I ran from Assad's brutality," this woman shouts. "And they put me here in the sun? I lost my home, my everything. All I have left are my sons."

The injustice of all they have been through boiling over. They are both let on, but the bottleneck of humanity intensifies, as others continue to arrive.


DAMON: There having some positive developments to a certain degree. As night fell more aid did come in, in the form of basic medicines, much needed because so many of the children are sick, and also many more tents. All of this donated by people who sympathize with the plight of these refugees.

And there are also blanks, plus UNHR representatives on site tell us that finally over the next few days, we hope they will be setting up something of a structure that would be able to provide shelter for those who are waiting.

And those kinds of improvements to these conditions, Wolf, they cannot come soon enough.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Arwa Damon, what a report. Thanks very much. A heartbreaking story indeed. We'll stay on top of it.

Coming up, why members of Kim Jong-Un's inner circle are now terrified of their leader. We're going to get an exclusive look at the North Korean regime from a defector who was connected to the country's elite.


[17:52:13] BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive. We're getting some extraordinary insight on North Korea from a defector who was connected to the top levels of the regime. He calls North Korea hell on earth, saying that even members of Kim Jong-Un's inner circle live in constant fear of their leader.

Let's go live to CNN's Kyung Lah. She's on the scene for us in Seoul, South Korea.

So what's the latest, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what this defector is telling us, and it is extraordinary insight. He fled North Korea just last year. So very recently. He worked among the Pyongyang's elites. And he says since Kim Jong-Un took control they have lived gripped by fear. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAH (voice-over): To the outside world Kim Jong-Un appears overly young at times a caricature. But to his people, there is little doubt about their dictator's capacity, says this North Korean defector.

They are terrified, he says. The fear grows more intense every day. Fear that drove this defector to dare the harrowing escape out of North Korea. He agreed to speak with us only if we completely hid him in the shadows and altered his voice.

This defector, who worked among Pyongyang's elite, fears the regime would murder his family trapped in the North or hunt him down. But he wants the Western world to know what life under Kim Jong-Un is really like.

(On camera): Do you think he's more of a tyrant than his father?

(Voice-over): Kim Jong-Il didn't kill people in his circle, he says, but Kim Jong-Un killed many of his own. Purging close advisers like his own uncle Chang Song-thaek. His former right-hand man, executed.

"After that, I thought I need to hurry up and leave this hell on earth."

(On camera): Is that how it feels like in North Korea? Hell on earth?

(Voice-over): "Yes, of course."

(On camera): You see these crowds cheering and crying as Kim Jong-Un approaches. Do they believe it?

(Voice-over): "It's blind worship. They're programmed to clap and cheer when they see Kim Jong-Un on TV, but in my personal opinion, upper class elites don't believe it."

(On camera): This number is quite high.


LAH (voice-over): Seoul National University interviewed 146 North Koreans who defected in 2014. The most extensive research conducted with recent defectors. The defectors perceive internal support was highest in 2012 when Kim Jong-Un took control but they believe that support has steadily dropped during his reign.


LAH (on camera): New leader.


LAH (voice-over): Can the new leader earn trust from his elites after the purges, he asks. They could be feeling anxious. Their loyalty weakened. It's already happening, believes this defector.

"I can tell you for sure, upper class North Koreans don't trust Kim Jong-Un."

[17:55:01] (On camera): Do you see the regime lasting?

(Voice-over): "There is no collapse of North Korea while Kim Jong-Un is alive," says this defector. "North Korea will not collapse as long as Kim Jong-Un lives."


LAH: The defector is also making this very bold guess. We need to underscore that this is just his guess. He says because of the lack of loyalty among the elites he believes that this regime will not last beyond 10 years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah, reporting for us. Thank you.

Coming up, Donald Trump stretching his lead. Hillary Clinton slipping into second place on the Democratic side in New Hampshire. We'll have full coverage.