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Trump's Tax Plan; Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Interview With Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired September 29, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Why is the United States failing to stop the flow of foreign fighters overseas?

Putin's battle plan. After his tense face-to-face meeting with President Obama, the Russian leader may be ready to launch military action in Syria at any moment. What is driving his aggression?

Paying a price. Critics are blasting Donald Trump's new tax plan, saying it could saddle the nation trillions of dollars of additional debt. I'll ask rival GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for his take on Trump's promises.

And Bill faces Donald. Wait until you hear the former President Bill Clinton's response to Trump's criticism of his wife and the Republican's campaign of insults. Stand by for his new interview with CNN.

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

Tonight, dangerous new losses to ISIS and other terrorist entities of the United States. A new congressional investigation confirms the U.S. is largely failing to stop ISIS from recruiting American fighters. It reveals more than 25,000 foreigners, including 250 U.S. citizens, have traveled to Syria and Iraq in the past several years to join up with Islamist terrorists.

The report warns dozens are those Americans are now back in the United States and may be plotting to launch acts of terror, this as U.S. aircraft support Afghan troops battling to try to retake a key city that's now fallen to Taliban fighters.

The warfare and the turmoil may be helping ISIS gain ground in Afghanistan, where so many Americans spilled blood to combat terrorism. I'll ask Senator James Risch about the terrorist gains. He's a top member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. And our correspondents and analysts they are standing by to cover all the news that is breaking right now.

First, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the very latest -- Barbara.


There are nearly 10,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, most scheduled to come home some time next year. But now, with this latest attack, the question, will the Americans be asked to stay longer?


STARR (voice-over): Afghan forces in all-out combat against the Taliban in Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan, trying to retake the city from Taliban fighters in their biggest victory since they were driven from power in 2001, police and security forces on guard.

PETER COOK, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, this is a setback for the Afghan security forces. But we have seen them respond in recent weeks and months to the challenges they face.

STARR: Afghan forces were surprised by the Taliban attack, according to a senior U.S. official. When the Taliban grabbed control of a battle tank and threatened Afghan and coalition troops, a U.S. aircraft rolled in and dropped a bomb. The coalition issuing a statement saying it was to protect coalition groups in danger of attack.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We have seen U.S. aircrafts supporting the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces because they can't do it alone just yet. You are also going to see U.S. special forces, special operating forces supporting the commandos in Afghanistan as they attempt to reinforce Kunduz.

STARR: U.S. and German forces regularly operate in the area advising Afghan troops. They remain there now. The fighting is very tough. The Taliban freed jailed prisoners and took over a hospital. Taliban fighters are digging in by taking positions in civilian buildings.

The Taliban offensive comes as a new report from the House Homeland Security Committee warns of another threat, the growing ISIS presence in Afghanistan. The report notes, ISIS is reported to have a mass hundreds, if not thousands of fighters in the country already.

COOK: It's certainly something we have been keeping an eye on. But we have concerns about any terrorist group making safe haven in Afghanistan.


STARR: One assessment is that ISIS may actually be trying to take advantage of a leadership vacuum in the Taliban organization that's making it easier for them perhaps to move in and take control in certain areas of Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A truly disturbing development in Afghanistan right now. Barbara, thank you.

Tonight, also, a threat of Russian military action in the ISIS stronghold of Syria. It's only been 24 hours since President Vladimir Putin shared a rather awkward handshake with President Obama at the United Nations. The White House urging Moscow to help find a political solution in Syria. But Putin is moving forward with his own provocative plans.


Let's go to Brian Todd. He is working this part of the story for us.

Brian, what are you hearing, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is moving forward quickly, Wolf, continuing his military buildup inside Syria, forcing the U.S. to go into read and react mode, as they say in football.

We have new information tonight on Vladimir Putin's motivations for going into Syria and new warnings from U.S. officials that he's jumping into a potential quagmire.


TODD (voice-over): Russian airstrikes inside Syria could start at any moment, according to a U.S. official. The latest intelligence shows Russian drones have been collecting potential targeting information. A U.S. official tells CNN tonight, Vladimir Putin's buildup in Syria is up to more than 600 troops. He's got advanced fighter jets on the ground, helicopters, massive transport planes, what appears to be some T-90 tanks, all captured on satellite imagery on the tarmac at a major airport in Latakia on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UKRAINE: He will start out with airstrikes. I don't think yet he's made that decision about how far he wants to go in on the ground.

TODD: What is Putin's real motivation for the buildup? Publicly, he says it's about fighting ISIS. But he's worried about more than 2,000 jihadist fighters from Russia and the former Soviet republics who he says are inside Syria.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We cannot allow these criminals who already tasted blood to return back home and continue their evil doings.

TODD (on camera): Does he really want to fight ISIS on the ground in Syria?

PIFER: I think if you have an ISIS attack on the Russians and the Russians are going to be exposed, and you have 20 or 30 Russian casualties, by his nature, I think Putin will then respond by doubling down.

TODD: NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove points out Russia sent sophisticated antiaircraft weapons into Syria. And ISIS, he says, doesn't fly planes that require that kind of firepower. Breedlove's warning on Putin's motives? GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think

that Russia very much wants to maintain warm water ports and airfield capabilities in the Eastern Med. And they saw that possibly being challenged by the progress on the ground of those opposing the Assad regime.

TODD: Putin makes no bones about wanting to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. U.S. officials tell CNN Syria is Putin's only "client state" left in the Middle East. Analysts Andrew Tabler says the personal connection isn't strong, but Putin needs Assad.

ANDREW TABLER, FELLOW, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Putin is betting on Assad, but he is betting on Assad because he has to. And he wants to look strong. And he wants a state at least, even a rump state, a small state, to deal with in the Syrian quagmire. And he's picked Bashar al-Assad and all of his flaws to get involved with.


TODD: A U.S. intelligence official tells CNN the bottom line for Putin in Syria, he wants to build his prestige on the world stage. But that same official warns tonight that at some point Putin may be tempted to escalate, but that he's jumped into a messy conflict with both feet and this official says Putin has doubled down on a failed dictator in Bashar al-Assad, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, I understand you got a blunt assessment from a U.S. intelligence official how things might go wrong quickly between Putin and Bashar al-Assad.

TODD: That's right.

This official told me, Wolf, despite his support for Assad right now, Putin might be inclined to push Assad out at some point. Assad has lost a lot of territory and had a lot of setbacks on the battlefield. This official says Putin may push Assad to the side if Assad's ongoing failures in this conflict threaten to trip up Putin's ambitions in the Middle East. No personal love loss between these two.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Let's bring in a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

What are you hearing? Could Russia strike at any time?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, they could strike at any time.

I think the analysis that was just done was clear, and concise and to the point, although I would say that Putin does not need Assad. He needs Syria. And if Assad is still in power in Syria, so be it, he will work with Assad. But if indeed he sees that Assad is not what -- who is going to stand up in the country, then he will go a different direction and it won't bother him at all. He needs Syria, though.

BLITZER: You heard the NATO supreme allied commander, Philip Breedlove, say that the Russians are putting equipment there in Syria right now, equipment you don't need to fight ISIS, air-to-air defenses, for example, surface-to-air missile batteries. ISIS doesn't have warplanes. They are doing something there that has other objectives.

RISCH: I think maybe they are planning for the second step.

There is another school of thought that they think that Assad is not going to survive very long and they want to be to take advantage of the situation. Here is the problem for them, Wolf. If Assad goes, it is very, very hard to game out where this thing goes, because there will be a vacuum, as there always is in these kinds of situations. There's already chaos with all the different groups and all the different tribal connections, and religious and ethnic groups there in Syria.


And how this all shakes out afterwards is very difficult and where do the Russians land in this? Do they land as being a player in it or not?

BLITZER: Senator, we have more to discuss, including this new Homeland Security report. It's pretty shocking, eye-opening. No U.S. strategy in dealing with these foreign fighters who are traveling back and forth between Syria and the United States.

Much more with James Risch when we come back.



BLITZER: We are back with Senator James Risch. He's a top member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

Senator, we are learning more about what these jihadists do. American citizens, this new report that just came out, final report of the Task Force Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel put out by the Homeland Security in the House, they go over there, maybe 250 Americans. Some of them are now back here in the United States.

RISCH: That's right.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. law enforcement community all over them? Do they know who these people, who these people are, or have they just melted away?

RISCH: Well, Wolf, I can't really talk about the details of this.

But you can well imagine that anybody who's traveled to Syria, and particularly where they have determined that they have fought with ISIS, those people are of deep, deep interest to the United States government and our security agencies.

So, there are, as you point out and as the report points out, a number of them that have come back. And it -- when you are doing this kind of thing and you are doing the kind of look at that what needs to be done with these people, it does strain resources. There no question about it. It is a top, top priority.

BLITZER: I understand that, but are all of them under surveillance? Are any of them out there and about and ready to do whatever they want?

RISCH: The numbers are classified.

But, again, as you can well imagine, it's difficult to keep every single one of them -- keep track of them all the time and, for that matter, any time.

BLITZER: Because I read this report, and that's a worrisome part of this.

RISCH: It is. It's very worrisome.

BLITZER: Potentially, there's not enough law enforcement or whatever to get the job done.

It also says this. And here is a damming indictment. It says the U.S. lacks a national strategy for combating terrorist travel and has not produced one in nearly a decade.

RISCH: That's true. We have pressed the administration on that particular issue.

BLITZER: But Congress has a role in this as well.

RISCH: Well, we do, but that kind of thing is part of the executive. We give money to the administration and they are supposed to oversee it and develop the strategies for that.


BLITZER: You can fund a strategy, too, right?

RISCH: That's absolutely correct.

And this strategy is very important because, as you point out, just one of these people getting lost within the population is a serious problem that can cause difficulty.

BLITZER: The so-called train-and-equip program to train moderates in Syria to go out there and fight ISIS, and the U.S. appropriated about a half-a-billion dollars, maybe $50 million already spent. And for that, the U.S. got four or five rebels who are now fighting ISIS. What a waste of money.

RISCH: Incredible waste of money. And there were a lot of us right at the outset that were very,

very reluctant to grant that authority, if you would, or think that it had any chance of success. The problem is, is the complexity of the ground in Syria. These people really want to fight Assad much more than they want to fight ISIS. So, it's difficult to train them and do all these things and say, OK, now go fight ISIS.

BLITZER: Who is going to lead the fight against ISIS in Syria?

RISCH: Obviously, to have any success at all, it's going to need to be Syrians do that. It can't be foreigners.

BLITZER: But they are not ready do it, apparently.

RISCH: Some are. Most aren't. The vast majority are not.

BLITZER: Four or five rebels, that's not a whole lot.


BLITZER: Here's the question. Russia -- can Russia be helpful to the United States in fighting ISIS, even though it supports Bashar al-Assad's regime?

RISCH: The answer to that is yes. Will it? That remains to be seen.

We have differences, in fact, deep differences with Russia on a lot of fronts. But it's not a secret that we do work with other governments, even ones we have issues with. A good example, you recall, on the Boston bombers. There was an exchange of information on the Boston bombers.

It wasn't enough and it wasn't good enough what came to us. But, nonetheless, the agencies were working together when you have a common interest. We have a common interest with Russia. Indeed, we have a common interest with everyone in the world. There's nobody who wants ISIS to prevail, other than ISIS itself.

BLITZER: You could see the U.S. working with Russia to fight ISIS. Could you see the U.S. working with Iran, which also opposes ISIS?

RISCH: I can see that. Again, a little bit more difficult situation.

But, look, when you are trying to accomplish beating a foe like ISIS, you do what you have to do and team up where you have to team up to do some good. Like I said, there's nobody that wants to see ISIS prevail. The Russians, certainly, they have got all kind of issues with their own terrorists at home. They have got the Chechen territory that they have to do with.

The Iranians, they view themselves as the leader of the jihad, not ISIS. They're dedicated to eliminate ISIS also.


BLITZER: There's an alarming report in the U.K.'s "Daily Express."

A journalist supposedly embedded with ISIS saying they are trying, ISIS, to get hold of a nuclear weapon to kill hundreds of millions of people potentially. Here is the question. How concerned are you that ISIS could get its hands on a nuclear weapon?

RISCH: Well, I'm probably not as concerned that they would get themselves -- get their hands on an actual nuclear weapon.

They could get material where they could make a dirty bomb. More importantly than that, they could much more easily get their hands on biological or chemical material, which could be very disruptive and very damaging. A nuclear weapon itself, is it possible? Yes, it's possible, but you don't go down to the arms store and just buy a nuclear weapon off the shelf. But these other things that -- you can get your hands on.

BLITZER: Senator Risch, thanks very much for coming in.

RISCH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Risch of Idaho.

Just ahead, Donald Trump, he is out selling his new tax cut plan, while his opponents are slamming it. Would it come with a $10 trillion price tag? How would Trump pay for it?

And one of Trump's rivals standing by live. I will ask Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee -- there you see him -- we will talk about the taxes, we will talk about the firestorm going on in Washington right now over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the group's president accusing conservatives of waging a smear campaign.

Much more right after this.



BLITZER: Tonight, there's mounting criticism of Donald Trump's new tax cut plan. The Republican front-runner's opponents are pouncing, and even a conservative group is warning that the proposal could cost the nations upwards of $10 trillion.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us from Oklahoma right now, where GOP candidate Carly Fiorina has been taking on Donald Trump.

What is the latest over there, Sunlen?


What we see now on the campaign trail today is many of the candidates trying to capitalize on the perceived gaps in Donald Trump's tax plan, which he is still trying to explain tonight.


SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump making a hard sell for his tax plan, but still not offering much detail.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to be reducing corporate taxes. Jobs will be created. The economy is going to expand tremendously, like it hasn't since Reagan, but probably even before that. This will be a rocket ship for the economy.

Bye, everybody.

SERFATY: Not revealing the overall cost of the plan or how he would pay for it without adding to the debt or deficit.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: How do you get the money then to make up for the trillions of dollars in tax cuts? Because carried interest isn't going to do it.

TRUMP: Right. I agree with that.

We are bringing in tremendous amounts of money into the country. And we are going to create jobs. We are going to have an economy that is going to be robust. Right now, there's no incentive for companies.

SERFATY: Some of his GOP opponents have pounced, eager to draw policy distinctions with the front-runner.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think my tax plan is better. I get rid of all 70,000 pages of the tax code. I have one single rate, 14.5 percent for individuals and 14.5 percent for corporations.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All I caution people is to remember that anything that you propose as a presidential candidate, you have to be able to deliver on. We have had too many empty promises in this country over time.

SERFATY: Carly Fiorina has yet to release her own tax proposal, but in Oklahoma today blasted the status quo for failing to act sooner.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How long have we been talking bipartisan tax reform? Forever. And yet our tax code is now 73,000 thousand pages long. And every election cycle, politicians roll out tax plans, and yet they never happen.

SERFATY: Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, who released his plan a few weeks ago, which broadly resembles Trump's, mocked his rival for the similarities, tweeting: "Looks familiar. I'm flattered," and today, trying to separate himself from the pack by rolling out a series of policy proposals, unveiled his energy plan in Pennsylvania.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And as president, I would approve the XL pipeline, for crying out loud. That is lowest hanging fruit I have ever imagined.


SERFATY: And two separate studies done today by two separate tax foundations, one conservative and one left-leaning, they both estimate that Trump's tax plan could cost between $10 trillion to $12 trillion over the next decade.

So, certainly, these questions over his claims, Wolf, will continue.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much.

Let's talk about the race for the White House with one of the Republican candidates. The former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is joining us right now.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Have you taken a close look at Donald Trump's tax proposal?

HUCKABEE: There are some fascinating things about it.

It certainly simplifies the rates, the number of rates, has some incentives for growth. Look, this is part of what we do. We all put some ideas out there. I still personally think that we need something bolder than some of the tinkering tax plans that we have seen.

It's why I still believe that we need to get rid of the entire tax code, replace it with the best-researched tax plan that is out there, which is the FairTax, which would put the tax on our consumption and we would eliminate tax on productivity, because what we do now, Wolf, is, we punish the producers, we punish workers, who -- whether they are working in a factory or whether they're people saving for retirement. We punish them for doing the things that make for a strong economy.

[18:30:18} BLITZER: Well, what would your tax proposal, your so- called far tax, wind up costing, if Trump's is estimated to cost taxpayers some $10 trillion over the next decade in lost revenue, shall we say, to the U.S. Treasury? What would yours cost?

HUCKABEE: Well, that's just it. The fair tax is based on the assumption that it wouldn't cost. It would replace. It doesn't raise or lower taxes. It brings in the revenue that we currently bring in.

But what it would do is stimulate manufacturing, job creation. It would address some of the serious reasons we have illegal immigration growing at such a clip. And it puts the country on a whole new track, in which people who are working are not going to be penalized for working; and people who are making bad decisions aren't going to be subsidized for it. I mean, this goes -- again, the current tax code goes against

common sense, which says if you have good behavior, well, that's behavior you ought to reward. If you have bad behavior, that's behavior you ought to consequence. And what we're doing is the opposite of that. We reward bad behavior, whether it's a bad investment decision or not working, and we punish good behavior: savings, making good investments, working, the things that we ought to encourage people to do and the thing that makes America very strong and capable.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the battle over federal funding of Planned Parenthood that's under way in Washington today. Right now, the president of Planned Parenthood, she defended her organization before a congressional committee. Listen to this.


CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: The latest smear campaign is based on efforts by our opponents to entrap our doctors and clinicians into breaking the law and, once again, our opponents failed.


BLITZER: I understand, Governor, that you think Planned Parenthood does immoral things. But do you have any evidence that Planned Parenthood broke the law?

HUCKABEE: You know, only what my lying eyes tell me when I watch the videos.

I mean, when you see, with your own eyes and hear with your own ears, someone talking about the selling of baby parts, I don't know how somehow that's, you know, unfair to Planned Parenthood. I think Planned Parenthood has been pretty unfair to unborn children. Planned Parenthood has been pretty unfair to those mothers who thought they were going in for a very traumatic decision to have an abortion, and what they didn't know was behind the scenes, parts of their unborn baby were being auctioned off like they were parts to a car.

I don't know how Cecile Richards can sit there in front of that committee and defend the actions of Planned Parenthood, except that, look, I'm kind of given to the point that people who are on that side and push this, clearly don't have much sense of perspective about why many of us find that it is savage and uncivilized behavior to sell baby parts.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the funding, though. Would you, if you were a member of the Senate or the House, vote to continue government spending right now, even though there's a half a billion dollars, $500 million in there for continued funding of Planned Parenthood?

HUCKABEE: The thing that amazes me most is that President Obama considers the funding of Planned Parenthood a hill to die on. If there is a government shutdown, it's not because Republicans are somehow stubborn. It's because the president is so obstinate that he would protect an agency that's not even a government agency. This isn't protecting the V.A. He's not protecting the EPA. He's not protecting Social Security. He's protecting a private entity with taxpayer funds that have been caught, red-handed, hacking up baby parts and selling them.

And if that's his hill to die on and if this Congress doesn't have any ability to either stop the funding or to exercise its congressional capacity to get rid of it, then we really do have a dictatorship in this country.

What else is the purpose of Congress other than to control the power of the purse, which is their constitutional authority? And for the president to say, "I will not discuss this. I will not negotiate it," if this is his hill to die on and he's willing to shut the government down, it won't be the Republicans who do it. It's going to be a very stubborn, obstinate president who shuts the government down.

BLITZER: The legislation, the temporary measure, the continuing resolution has passed the Senate, expected to pass the House. Tomorrow, the president will sign it. At least the federal government will have money for three months, and that money will include, at least for three months, the federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Let me get your quick reaction to this latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll. It has you only at 2 percent right now. Donald Trump still at 21. Ben Carson -- what happened, Governor? Why are you only at 2 percent among Republicans nationwide?

[18:35:13] HUCKABEE: Well, gee, the CNN poll that you guys did had me much better. So I'll take your poll and dismiss the one from NBC.

Every day or two, a new poll comes out. Every day or two, the rankings are usually different. We don't get all panicked about it. I've been through this before. At this stage of the game, what we've got to do is stay on our feet, keep the message out there. And one outlier poll that comes out is no cause for a great sense of alarm.

BLITZER: If in the next Republican presidential debate, you were included in the undercard, the earlier debate, would you accept that?

HUCKABEE: Well, I wouldn't be real happy about it, but, you know, quite frankly, those guys who were on the undercard last time got a whole lot more time than I did. So maybe there's a hidden benefit in it. We'll see.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Governor, because we have a lot more to talk about.

We also had an opportunity to hear from Bill Clinton today, another Arkansan. He spoke to our own Erin Burnett. We're going to show you what he told Erin. We're going to get reaction from the governor. Much more with Mike Huckabee when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:41:00] BLITZER: We're back with Republican presidential

candidate, Mike Huckabee.

Governor, I want you to listen to Bill Clinton, your fellow Arkansan, coming to his wife's defense against attacks by Donald Trump, the former president accusing the Republican presidential frontrunner of blatantly ignoring the facts. Clinton sat down with CNN's Erin Burnett only hours after she also interviewed Donald Trump. Watch this.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: You say you can't insult your way to the White House. You say Donald Trump could be the nominee. So I have to play this for you. This is something he said in the interview yesterday about your wife. And I want to play it for you and get your reaction. Here's Donald Trump in my interview yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I always respected him. I've actually liked him over the years. But when we look at what's going on in the world, when we look at the job that Hillary did as secretary of state, she goes down as the worst secretary of state in history.

And when I run against her evenly in the polls, I'm doing very well against Hillary and beating her. Erin, if you look throughout the world, during her reign, and the reign of Obama, the whole world is blowing up. We've lost our friendships; we've lost everything.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: Well, the thing about branding is you don't have to be -- you can be fact free. And I think -- so even the Republicans admit that the sanctions on Iran were well done and that it was a major achievement to get Russia and China to agree to sign off on these sanctions and to enforce them. She did that. That's what made the talks possible. So even people that don't like the Iran deal like the sanctions.


BLITZER: All right, Governor, your react to what former President Clinton said about Donald Trump, "fact free."

HUCKABEE: One of the things you've got to love about Bill Clinton is he always has a great rejoinder. And there's a good example of why he was so successful politically, all those years. No matter what was going on around him, he was able to rise to the occasion and speak to the point.

I think he's right that the sanctions on Iran worked. I think the problem is, is that Hillary supported the Iranian deal, which I think is a disaster. And she's going to have a hard time defending that. And people will forget about any sanctions. What they're going to remember is that we essentially surrendered to the Iranians and gave them everything they wanted, and we got nothing. We got nothing.

BLITZER: Are you surprised to hear Bill Clinton say that Trump, potentially, could be the Republican nominee? Do you agree with him?

HUCKABEE: Well, I mean we don't know who it's going to be. I still hope it's me. But we're so far away from picking, we haven't even had a vote cast yet.

And I know that, in every election, when we are at this stage, in September, the person who is leading is never the person who ends up becoming the nominee.

So, if I were to be overly panicked, if I were one of the candidates, it would be one of the people at the very front because, typically, whoever is the summer blockbuster is not the Oscar winner in the spring. And I would be very surprised if this were the first time that didn't happen again.

BLITZER: You're devoting your energies largely right now to Iowa, not necessarily New Hampshire; but then you're looking forward to South Carolina, some of those other southern states. Is that right?

HUCKABEE: Well, it is, because this is like March Madness in the NCAA. You may be unbeaten in Kentucky, but you're not going to be in the Final Four in the tournament if you don't win early games.

And so, for all the talk about who's doing well nationally and what the polls are, it comes down to are you going to be able to win some of the early contests? If you do, you keep going. If you don't, it doesn't matter how much money you have, who you are. You're done.

And Rudy Giuliani, who was on fire, had $60 million, never got a delegate, because by the time we got to the place where he first wanted to play, which was Florida, the race had been set; he wasn't in it.

BLITZER: Governor Huckabee, thanks very much for joining us.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: By the way, you can hear a lot more of Bill Clinton's interview with Erin Burnett. That's coming up at the top of the hour, only minutes from now, only here on CNN.

Another programming note: we're now just two weeks away from a critical moment in the presidential race. CNN is hosting the first Democratic debate. We are going to bring it to you live from Las Vegas on October 13th.

All right. We are getting some breaking news coming to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, the secretary of state, John Kerry, revealing a change in the administration position on the Syrian strongman, President Bashar al Assad, and speaking out about Russia's military moves inside Syria right now.

Secretary Kerry just sat down with our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, who's joining us from New York.

Elise, what did he tell you?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a very candid interview by Secretary Kerry. He talked a lot about the Russian military option in Syria, which U.S. officials have told us, have caught the U.S. by surprise. But in the interview, Secretary Kerry tried to accentuate the positive.


LABOTT: A lot of talk this week about President Putin's actions in Syria creating new realities on the ground. And some have said that it's kind of boxed the U.S. into a corner a little bit. Is that true?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I couldn't disagree more. I don't see how it boxes us in the least. It opens up more options. It makes life more complicated for Putin, for President Putin. If he's going to side with Assad and with Iran and Hezbollah, he's going to have a very serious problem with the Sunni countries in the region. That means we could become a target for those Sunni jihadis.

So, this is very complicated for him. He needs to work something out.

LABOTT: But his --

KERRY: I think it's an opportunity, to be honest with you. It's an opportunity for us to force this question of how you actually resolve the question in Syria. The bottom line is, you cannot resolve it without including the Sunni in the political solution, political agreement, ultimately. And that will mean that you're going to have to have some kind of transition, some kind of timing, because as long as Assad is there, you simply can't make peace, period.

LABOTT: For years, we've been saying -- you have been saying Assad should go.

KERRY: Yes, but no, the argument --

LABOTT: Now you are saying that he's going to choose his successor?

KERRY: We have not been saying it for years. We have said for the last year that he has to transition out over a period of time. We have not said --

LABOTT: How long are you talking?

KERRY: Let me finish the one thought. For a period of time, all the coalition were saying he had to leave immediately. That was the original statement, way back when. We have changed that over a period of time. We said, no, that's

not going to work. We need to have an orderly transition, a managed transition so you don't have fear for the retribution, loss of life --

LABOTT: A vacuum?

KERRY: You don't have a vacuum, you don't have an implosion, all of these things. These are all legitimate concerns.

So, we concluded that it would be better and perhaps stand a better chance of reaching a mutual consent if it was done over a reasonable period of time so that you have a strong, sustaining of the delivery of, you know, whatever government services are left. There aren't many, frankly.

But to hold the institutions themselves there, so you have something to build on unlike Iraq, years ago, where you can actually begin to put together government and a future for Syria.


LABOTT: So, in effect, Wolf, really acknowledging lessons learned from Iraq and Libya where you overthrew a dictator which really led to extremist, saying that may be it is more important to secure ISIS right now and clearly sees Assad as having a role in trying this, what he calls now a managed transition.

The problem, Wolf, is, you have to get the anti-Assad crowd, the Saudis and the Qataris, the Turks, the UAE, all of them have been adamant about Assad going. And then there's the opposition on the ground and the rebels fighting.

So, really, the U.S. has a lot of work ahead of it. That's what Secretary Kerry is trying to do. He is holding meeting tonight with allies to try to get everybody on the same page about how they can live with the so-called managed transition.

BLITZER: That managed transition sounds like a shift over these years toward Bashar al Assad.

Listen, for example, to what Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser, told me in an interview in 2012 when I asked her to send a message directly to the Syrian president.


SUSAN RICE, THEN-U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Your days are numbered and it is time and past time for you to transfer power responsibly and peacefully. The longer you hang on, the more damage you do yourself, your family, your interest and indeed, your country.


[18:50:04] BLITZER: Sounds like a significant shift over these past few years. LABOTT: It certainly is, Wolf. She was right that Assad staying

in power has caused a lot of chaos in the country, but with the Russian realities on the ground and the fact that they feel that now ISIS is the devil that they don't want on the ground, it definitely seems that he's going to be around for some time to come.

BLITZER: All right, Elise, good work. Thanks very much.

We'll take a quick break. More news in a moment.


BLITZER: A CNN exclusive, and an update on a story that shocked the world that started with a desperate escape from ISIS forces and a young girl whose life was turned upside down.

[18:55:06] Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson first brought us the story last summer. Ivan is joining us now.

What's happening right now as far as this story is concerned, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been a little bit more than a year since ISIS sent more than 400,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority running for their lives. And we've been following the story of one family from this flood of humanity fleeing the jihadi militants. I've been following one of these families and bring you this story.


WATSON (voice-over): It was a rescue from hell. In the mad dash to climb aboard a flight to safety, families scrambled to stay together. These desperate people spent nine days trapped on a barren mountain under siege from ISIS militants who chased them from their homes.


WATSON: Amid the chaos and gunfire, terror frozen on the face of a girl in purple, 14-year-old Aziza Hamed.

More than a year later, we found Aziza and her family in this refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.

(on camera): I'm looking forward to this. We're going to meet some old friends that we encountered in very dramatic circumstances more than a year ago. And they're right up here.

Dunia, how are you?

WATSON (voice-over): Aziza and her older 18-year-old sister, Dunia, are here along with their elder brother, Thabet, his wife and his three children. Their situation now much better than the unfinished construction site where they lived for the first seven months after ISIS made them flee their homes. The girls tell me they go to school here and they say the camp

has started to feel like home.

(on camera): Aziza, you've gotten a little taller than Dunia since I saw you last.

WATSON (voice-over): But it does not take long for terrible memories to resurface.

(on camera): What's making you sad right now?

(voice-over): "When I see you," Aziza says, "I remember what happened."

AZIZA HAMED, RESCUED FROM ISIS (through translation): We saw ISIS with our own eyes, how they were capturing people. If we drove down the wrong road that day, we would have ended up in ISIS hands, but we took a different road and made it to the mountain.

WATSON: In the year since their narrow escape, their father's health has deteriorated, and he can no longer walk. No one knows what happened to two elder brothers, who were captured by ISIS last year and haven't been heard from since.

And another brother, 23-year-old Karem, smuggled himself to Europe on the migrant trail taken by so many other people fleeing the Middle East.

(on camera): Hey, Karem.


WATSON: Hey, how are you? Where are you?

HAMED: Deutschland.

WATSON: Germany?


WATSON (voice-over): I ask Karem if he misses Iraq.

HAMED (through translation): No, that's gone. Iraq is gone for me. I lost it. I want to build a new future for myself. There's no future in Iraq.

WATSON (voice-over): That hopelessness, shared by so many people we talked to in refugee camps in northern Iraq, where people like Aziza and Dunia's older brother, Thabet, still struggle to deal with the trauma they endured.

"I just want to start a new life," he says. "And I want my family to stay safe and to stay together."

One of the few times 15-year-old Aziza really smiles is when I ask her what she'd like to do to the men from ISIS who attacked her family.

"I would stomp on their heads and kill them," she says.

This girl may have escaped to live another day, but her innocence has been forever lost.


WATSON: Now, Wolf, all these people that I spoke to, none of them believe that there is any future for them in Iraq. And they all say if they had the ability, if they had the money or the visas, they would gladly follow their brother and move to Europe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Great story. Thanks very much. Good reporting for us by Ivan. Appreciate it.

And, by the way, that was a great example of CNN's global reach and the kind of in-depth reporting that was encouraged by this network's founder. Ted Turner was honored last night in New York City at the Emmy Awards for news and documentary programming. He received a lifetime achievement award for being the inventor of 24/7 cable news.

I was proud to be there as my former boss accepted the award saying he enjoyed every minute creating and running CNN.

Congratulations, Ted.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.