Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Democrats Get Ready for High-Stakes Showdown; Trump & Sanders' Stunning Similarities; 'Outsiders' Grabbing Most Attention in 2016 Races; Sanders' Secret Weapon: His Wife; U.S. Drops 50 Tons of Ammunition to Syrian Rebels; U.S. Slams Iranian Long-Range Missile Test; Freeing Americans Held in Iran. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 12, 2015 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, high stakes. As the clock ticks down to CNN's Democratic presidential debate here in Las Vegas, two new polls suggest Hillary Clinton's luck is running strong. But her rivals are now hoping to narrow the odds. Do they have any aces up their sleeves?

[17:00:25] Secret weapon. She's a key adviser to Bernie Sanders and plays a major role in his campaign and is helping him prepare for the Democratic debate. We're going to hear from the candidate's wife, Jane Sanders.

Illegal missile test. Iran says it's launched a missile that could reach targets as far as Israel. An Iranian court convicts an American reporter. Is Iran thumbing its nose at the U.S. after a controversial nuclear deal?

And devastating massacre. A key U.S. ally suspects ISIS carried out horrific bombings which killed close to 100 people. As the U.S. carries out an urgent arms drop to Syrian rebels President Obama is taking more heat over his policy.

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

The excitement is building here in Las Vegas as the clock counts down to the first Democratic presidential debate on CNN. The stakes are huge. Hillary Clinton is the favorite in the Democratic campaign, but her four rivals, led by Senator Bernie Sanders may have some surprises in store when they play their cards in the debate.

Clinton may be building a lucky streak. Two new CNN/ORC polls show that she has sizable leads in key states, the key states of Nevada where we are, as well as South Carolina.

And there's a new wild card in the presidential running. That would be the vice president, Joe Biden, the non-candidate. He outpolls Sanders in South Carolina. President Obama's record may be a big factor in the debate as he struggles to defend his national security policies.

ISIS is being blamed on a massacre to an allied capital. The U.S. fight against ISIS is resulting in more arms being sent to so-called moderate rebels in Syria.

Meanwhile, Iran has tested a long-range missile. Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they have full coverage of the day's top stories.

We're live from the Wynn Hotel, the beautiful Wynn Hotel here in Las Vegas, where the Democrats will square off. Three trailing candidates will be trying to hit the jackpot. Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee desperately need a strong showing here tomorrow night. But this will be a showdown between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, to be sure.

Let's get the very latest.

CNN's John Berman is with us here in Las Vegas. The showdown could be intense.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. I just came from the debate hall. CNN just began our own rehearsal. Our team rehearsing for the debate right now, much as the candidates are, too.

For these candidates, this will be their first chance to face each other on the same stage at the same time in front of the biggest audience they will have to date. And for two candidates in particular -- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders -- this the big chance to draw differences between each other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): He comes buoyed by big enthusiastic crowds, this the most recent 13,000 in Tucson. She comes backed by big new poll numbers in key early states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our next president, Hillary Clinton.

BERMAN: tonight, CNN/ORC polls in Nevada and South Carolina show Hillary Clinton with sizable leads over senator Bernie Sanders. A big difference from New Hampshire, where he has led since this summer.

High stakes as they prepare to take the stage for the very first Democratic debate of this campaign. High stakes, but today senator Sanders suggested keeping the dialogue on a higher plain.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's treat each other civilly. Let's treat each other respectfully. And let's not try to demonize people who may have disagreements with us.

BERMAN: Civil? Maybe. But sharp, definitely. The 74-year-old self- proclaimed Democratic socialist has gone out of his way to draw contrasts with the frontrunner. Contrasts being a loaded word that means "vote for me, not her."

SANDERS: I know what I stand for. Hillary Clinton knows what she stands for. Let's have that debate.

BERMAN: Sanders has yet to do a mock debate, but today for the first time, he practiced hypothetical exchanges with the other candidates and moderator. Hillary Clinton has been practicing with heavyweight Washington lawyer Bob Barnett, playing the role of Bernie Sanders. She took a break to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary, and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never sweat, like, physically...

BERMAN: And have some fun with Buzzfeed podcasters.

CLINTON: You guys are the first to realize that I'm really not even a human being. I -- I was constructed in a garage in Palo Alto.

[17:05:08] BERMAN: As for the man they all want to replace, President Obama gave his most complete answer yet on the lingering e-mail questions surrounding his former secretary of state.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She made a mistake. She's acknowledged it. I do think that the way it's been ginned up is in part because of politics.

BERMAN: And as for the elephant in the room, or more specifically the vice president not in the room, Vice President Joe Biden consulted with family over the weekend, but no leaks from the White House.

OBAMA: I'm going to let Joe make that decision. And I mean what I say. I think Joe will go down as one of the finest vice presidents in history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Berman: All right. Tonight a new endorsement for Senator Bernie Sanders. Keith Ellison, Democratic congressman from Minnesota, African-American, one of two Muslims in Congress. He has come out in support of Sanders. The second member of Congress over the last several days to endorse Sanders. Raul Grijalva of Arizona endorsed him on Friday.

So two members backing Bernie Sanders. Of course, the Clinton team says they have more than 100 members of Congress backing her -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, John Berman, with that report.

Republican hopefuls may take some time out from their constant attacks on one another to watch the Democrats go at it.

Let's go to our political reporter, Sara Murray.

Sara, Donald Trump is already sounding off about this showdown tomorrow night. What's he saying?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. All eyes will be on the Democrats tomorrow. And that includes Donald Trump's. He says he's going to be tuning in for the debate. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not rooting for anybody. I mean, I just want to see what they have to say. There are a lot of bad ideas out there, but I want to see what they have to say.

I think it's going to be interesting to see. You have three of them that are, you know, registered very low. But I think it's going to be interesting for at least the first ten minutes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now, Trump said he'd be willing to go up against any one of those Democrats on stage, but because he's not in the debate, like you heard him there, he's probably only going to tune in for the first ten minutes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara, how will the Republicans try to capitalize on this Democratic debate?

MURRAY: Well, I think we can expect to hear a lot from the Republicans' war rooms tomorrow night sort of contrasting their stances with the Democrats. I'm sure we're going to see a number of candidates fundraising off of that. We could even see some tweets if Donald Trump is inspired. But you have to remember, the candidates will be right back on the trail on Wednesday. Half a dozen Republicans have events planned, so I'm sure we will get their take on the debate very quickly that next morning, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sara, thank you. For more on what we should be looking for in this first Democratic presidential debate, let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar; and our CNN political commentator, Michael Smerconish.

Gloria, you're getting some new reports on what Sanders' -- Bernie Sanders' strategy might be going into this debate.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Sanders' people say that he's not going to go out there and attack Hillary Clinton. That he's going to wait for her to attack him. Of course, the Clinton people, right, Brianna?...

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Pretty much the same. Right?

BORGER: Pretty much the same. They're not -- but I'm told what she's really going to emphasize is something they're calling the rigged economy, which is that all the money in this country goes to the very wealthy few and that it is held in place by a corrupt political campaign finance system that only makes it worse.

He's going to continue to talk about the consistency of his views as compared to Hillary Clinton, of course. We'll talk about climate change. And if she says to him, you know, "Your proposals sound great, Bernie, but they're not really realistic," he's going to say back to her, "You know what? They need to be realistic. We need to figure out a way to do this, because we need a revolution in this country."

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Brianna, about Hillary Clinton's strategy going into this debate?

KEILAR: One of the -- one of the big strategies for Hillary Clinton, I'm told by a senior aide, is really to cut through the politics. We've seen Hillary Clinton in the last few months, these early months of her campaign, so much of it has been this sort of slog for her of dealing with the e-mails and the server. And that's something she wants to move past.

We've heard her sort of go on the apology tour. And now she wants to seize this moment with so many eyes watching in this debate and talk more about the issues and make an impression on that instead of these other things that she has been talking about.

I do think -- and to the point of whether she will attack Bernie Sanders or not, she would -- we don't really expect that. At least, maybe if her views she feels are misrepresented she could do that, but she hasn't at times even talked about him by name. I think we'll continue to see her do that.

But one issue where I do think she's going to try to draw a big contrast is on guns, especially with them being so in the news at this moment in time with the school shooting a couple weeks ago.

Bernie Sanders, of course, at one point voted to restrict gun violence victims from suing gun manufacturers. This is a key point of Hillary Clinton's gun measure that she just unveiled last week. And I really expect that we're going to hear her talking about that.

[17:10:06] BLITZER: I suspect you're right. Michael, there's no doubt that, with this debate, there's a new phase in the Democratic contest.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there is. And to put it in some context, think about the fact that, in the last cycle, where we had competition among Democrats, 2008, by this stage there had been a dozen or so face-offs. This is the first. So it's a total reset.

We've all been paying very close attention. But I think for the American people, it's probably the first time that they're truly focused and looking in.

So it's an opportunity for all of these candidates to distinguish themselves from one another in a way that, up until now, they haven't had that chance.

BLITZER: My own suspicion is, Gloria, it's going to be a lot more lively than a lot of people think. Because three of the other candidates, the lesser known candidates, this might be their last chance to show themselves that they are credible Democratic presidential candidates.

BORGER: The strategy is, what do I have to lose?

KEILAR: Nothing to lose. BORGER: I don't have anything to lose. So Jim Webb, who's

unpredictable to begin with, right? I mean, who knows what he's going to do. Lincoln Chafee, same amount of unpredictability. And Martin O'Malley, we know he's going to run to the left of Hillary Clinton.

But the other two candidates can just sort of inject some issues that maybe Bernie Sanders doesn't want to take on Hillary directly, but they have no problem doing that. I wouldn't think. And then perhaps Bernie Sanders would join in.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment. We're going to have a lot more coming up, including President Obama's national security foreign policy record. How much will that hover over this presidential debate here in Las Vegas? We're live here at the Wynn Hotel. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:16:32] BLITZER: We're counting down to the first Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN. Hillary Clinton will be front and center right next to Senator Bernie Sanders. The other three Democratic candidates are hoping tomorrow's debate will be their big chance to break through.

And even though the vice president, Joe Biden, won't be here in Las Vegas, his hovering on the sidelines no doubt will be felt by all the candidates.

Let's bring back Gloria Borger, Brianna Keilar and Michael Smerconish. President Obama, Brianna, he was asked about Hillary Clinton's e-mail server issue on CBS. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: She made a mistake. She's acknowledged it. I do think that the way it's been ginned up is in part because of politics. And I think she'd be the first to acknowledge that, you know, maybe she could have handled the original decision better. And the disclosures more quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Brianna, how's that going to play out tomorrow night here on the stage?

KEILAR: I do think, for Hillary Clinton, I think this is a good thing, especially in that the president also said she didn't pose a national security risk, so she's got some backup there.

He's also repeating some of what she said. But what took a long time, Wolf, for her to come to, I think that apology, and that she's going to continue to explain to the American people. I think this is him in a way sort of keeping her on track with that as her strategy going forward.

But I also think that something you're going to see perhaps Hillary Clinton focus more on and certainly her campaign focus more on is this congressional staffer to the Benghazi committee, who is no longer a part of the committee, the research and everything on that end, and that he said it has really been a bit of a partisan hunt.

And so I think that's something the campaign thinks works more to their advantage as they try to push away from some of the politics involving her e-mail server and her use of a private e-mail.

BLITZER: And Gloria, the president did get a bit testy in that interview when he was asked about his foreign policy, national security leadership. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If you think that running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in order to prop up your only ally, is leadership, then we've got a different definition of leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was talking about Russia's strategy in Syria right now.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: But everything as far as the president's national security issues could impact on Hillary.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: She was secretary of state for four years.

BORGER: Well, and she has been distancing herself to a degree, Wolf. You heard her on Syria. She already wrote in her book that she was for arming the Syrian rebels. Now she's for a no-fly zone in Syria.

You saw the president the other day kind of swat her and say, well, it's different when you're a presidential candidate than when you're sitting in the Oval Office. So you see the distance opening up.

Remember, it was Hillary Clinton who famously pressed the reset button, literally, with Russia. And I think that will come back to haunt her if she's the general election nominee.

BLITZER: Well, the Republicans, Michael, certainly believe Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee. The RNC, Republican National Committee, already putting out this ad in advance of the debate entitled "Stop Hillary."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please join me in welcoming Hillary Rodham Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Used her personal e-mail account to conduct official business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not really working out well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Potential catastrophic news for Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking millions of dollars from foreign governments.

CLINTON: What difference at this point does it make?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just par for the course for the Clintons. They're always a little bit secretive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[17:20:14] BLITZER: So, Michael, does this represent a new phase in the Republican strategy against Hillary Clinton? They assume she's going to be the nominee.

SMERCONISH: I think the GOP feels it has to do this with regard to Secretary Clinton, because nobody on that stage can be relied upon to do it. Think of the contrast between the Republican primary caucus process thus far and where we are with the D's: the type of sniping, the type of contrast between the candidates, the way they went after each other at the Reagan Library. This debate, I'd be shocked if we saw any of that.

And so the Republican Party can't count on the negatives to be kept alive by her opponents. They feel they've got to do it themselves.

BLITZER: It's going to be a lively session, I believe. We'll see what happens tomorrow night.

Coming up, the stunning way Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump sometimes actually wind up sounding exactly alike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Real unemployment is not what you read in the newspapers once a month. That's the official unemployment rate, which is now around 5 percent.

TRUMP: You know, the statistic of 5.4 percent, it's a phony statistic. Doesn't mean anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They spoke to the same group today. We'll have more examples when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:26:32] TRUMP: Our roads are falling apart. Our bridges, our tunnels, our airports.

SANDERS: Our roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, our airports, in many ways our infrastructure is crumbling.

TRUMP: We have to create jobs. We have to take jobs back from all of these countries that are ripping us.

SANDERS: We need trade policies which create jobs in America, not just China or Vietnam.

TRUMP: Secure Social Security they have to do it. People have a contract.

SANDERS: We have got to figure out how we can extend the life of Social Security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So who'd have thought that Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders would sound so much alike on this day? Both men spoke to the No Labels Problem Solvers Convention in New Hampshire, although Senator Sanders wasn't there in person, because he's getting ready for the Democratic presidential debate here in Las Vegas. He spoke remotely via video satellite.

I'm joined by three of our political commentators. Ana Navarro is a Jeb Bush supporter. She's also a friend of Marco Rubio. Dan Pfeiffer is a former senior advisor of President Obama. Van Jones was a special adviser to President Obama, as well.

Bernie Sanders, Dan, who would have thought they're both sounding very much alike, and they're trying both to run as outsiders. And it seems, from their respective perspectives, it's working.

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think CNN just cut a very effective attack ad for the Jeb Bush campaign on Donald Trump. But I think, look, two things. I think it's unfair to compare Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is someone with a lot of government experience. He's running as an anti-establishment candidate. He's not running to sort of offend every group he can find, saying every ridiculous thing and sort of campaign via Twitter. He's running a legitimate presidential campaign.

I will say that, in this set of clips you have here, that the things they said were the things that every politician who wants to win should be saying. Improve our infrastructure, pro-job policies, et cetera. And so that's where the heart of the economic policy in this country is. And you're seeing a merging of the populist right and the populist left in some ways.

BLITZER: We didn't mention the hedge fund guys, that Donald Trump doesn't like hedge fund guys. Bernie Sanders doesn't like the hedge fund guys. We could have gone on and on -- Ana.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, you know, given that Donald Trump used to be a Democrat, I'm not surprised that they sound a lot alike. You know, I think Dan is right. Yes, they've got some things in

common. They're both white men from -- you know, who live on the East Coast. But, you know, I think they are very different candidate. Bernie Sanders has been running for office and has been in office for decades. He's not an outsider. He's an outsider within the inside. Donald Trump is an outsider.

BLITZER: Having said that, Donald Trump acknowledges, he boasts that he's a capitalist. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn't consider himself a capitalist. He considers himself a Democratic socialist. So there's a major difference there.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And you know what, you would have thought that that would just be completely disqualifying. You know, you say "I'm a socialist," especially in a country like this. But you look at the numbers, it turns out half of Americans say they would never vote for a socialist, but 47 percent say that they would. So you're about half and half on socialists in America? That's bizarre. He may have tapped into something there.

The other thing is that the younger voters, under 30, they say -- 36 percent say they like socialism. Thirty-nine say they like capitalism. So you're neck and neck on capitalism and socialism with young people.

So it's weird, but you actually have not knocked him out with the label. I think what you're seeing is his ideology is not popular, Sanders, but his ideas are popular. And there's just something happening where you would have thought that a bigoted, braggart billionaire could get anywhere. You wouldn't have thought that a socialist could get anywhere. Something's happening where these labels just don't matter as much.

[17:30:14] BLITZER: Well, interesting, the group No Labels, that was the group that they were speaking to earlier today.

Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they seem at least recently, to try to distance themselves on sensitive issues from President Obama. Is that a smart strategy?

PFEIFFER: I think each candidate needs to chart their own course for how they would be president. But the path to the Democratic nomination runs through Barack Obama supporters. He has an 87 percent approval rating among Democrats. And for any Democrat who wants to win the White House, the key is you have to be able to mobilize the Obama coalition. The people who came in in 2008 and 2012 for President Obama and sat out in 2010 and 2014.

So, you're going to need to run with Obama, have your own course, but if you beat, any Democrat who runs against Obama will lose this election.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a very delicate balance. On the one hand, you don't want to be seen as the third term of Obama's presidency, which is more of a challenge for Hillary Clinton, who was part of that administration, and would be a challenge for Vice President Joe Biden, should he get in.

But on the other hand, you need to also be your own person, your own candidate. And for Hillary Clinton's purposes, she needs to run away from things like TPP if she's expecting to get the Democrat nomination.

BLITZER: Take a look at these numbers. This is our newest CNN/ORC poll in South Carolina. Van, Bernie Sanders, he trails Hillary Clinton among African-Americans. Look at this. Without Joe Biden in the race, she would get 84 percent among the blacks supporting Hillary Clinton. He would only get 7 percent. That's pretty -- pretty lopsided, the numbers.

JONES: He's getting destroyed with black voters by Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Why is that?

JONES: Well, I'll tell you why. It's because the Clintons -- we don't just say Hillary Clinton. We have to say Bill Clinton. We always say the Clintons. The Clintons have been there.

You can imagine Hillary Clinton in a black church. It's hard to imagine Bernie Sanders, if would know what to do in a black church. So that long relationship is there.

But he does have room to grow, especially if he focuses on these criminal justice issues, these issues that are really mobilized and motivated these younger African-American voters and their allies. If he comes in hard on criminal justice reform, where Hillary Clinton was not there until recently, he may be able to grow. But he's going to have to grow.

BLITZER: But one thing -- one thing that Bernie Sanders does have in common with Donald Trump, huge crowds that he -- that come out to see him: 30,000, 20,000; it's amazing what's been going on. People want to hear what Bernie Sanders, Democrats want to hear what he has to say.

NAVARRO: It is amazing. When you see the images, when you see the pictures come out on Twitter of just a sea of people showing up in all sorts of places, everywhere from, you know, Boston to Oregon, it really is amazing.

And I think that they -- you know, he's been able to galvanize great enthusiasm. The question is how will he translate across the TV screen to the millions of people that will be watching tomorrow night? It's a very different mode, and we'll see how that...

BLITZER: All right. We're going to pick up that thought, guys. Stand by.

Also coming up, she's a decade younger than her husband, and could be a secret weapon for him. You're going to meet Jane Sanders, the senator's wife, his adviser and possible -- possible if he gets his way, the first lady of the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:38:05] BLITZER: We're here in Las Vegas. We're counting down to the first Democratic presidential debate. We're getting ready. We're here at the Wynn Hotel. Everyone certainly knows Hillary Clinton's husband is the former president, Bill Clinton.

Senator Bernie Sanders also is married to a very politically savvy spouse. Let's get some more on this woman from CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's joining us live -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Jane Sanders is very hands on in this campaign. She's 64 years old. She's much younger than her husband, who is 74. She shares an office with him at their campaign headquarters, travels to nearly every campaign event, is included in senior staff meetings. And right now she is with a thick briefing book of her own, helping her husband prepare for tomorrow's debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Jane Sanders' campaign job is unofficial, but her role is critical.

JANE SANDERS, WIFE OF BERNIE SANDERS: Anything that Bernie needs. Basically, throughout his career, he'll pull me in and say, "I need -- I need this new area that I need some research on. Or I need you to go change my airline tickets, because I'm running late for..."

SERFATY: Her influence extends well beyond support. It's unusually focused on substance.

J. SANDERS: I've always been very interested in policy and always doing a lot of research and thinking and writing. And so we have a -- we have that kind of a relationship, where we really discuss things.

I offer advice all the time on almost anything. And he'll say, "OK, good. Good." And then I'll know when he goes up to give a speech or he's in a debate whether or not he agreed or not.

SERFATY: She actively participates in internal meetings, hashing out policy positions, giving him political advice in the toughest moments.

When Black Lives Matter protesters took over at Sanders' campaign event in August, it was Jane who stepped up on stage, whispered in his ear, directing him how to diffuse the moment.

In his message when asked about her potential future as first lady.

[17:40:02] (on camera): You are vying, in a way, for the same job as Bill Clinton.

J. SANDERS: I think they're both tremendous. They've done a lot in terms of public service. I think what we're trying to do is move the country in a more progressive way. SERFATY (voice-over): Their love story has roots in politics.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jane and I have been married for 27 years. All right. I don't know how she did it. I really don't. Tough lady.

SERFATY: They first met in 1981 in Burlington, Vermont, at his victory party the night he won his mayoral race. She, 9 years his junior, was an activist involved in local politics. He hired her in his office, and they fell in love. Seven years later they were married with four children, all from each of their previous marriages. They now have seven grandchildren.

Over the years she's remained engaged in policy, focusing on education, working in his congressional office at times, and was a former president at Burlington College.

J. SANDERS: I have a background that really is very people-oriented. What I bring always is the human factor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And while she may be her husband's top sounding board, it is very clear that she intends to make some noise of her own if she becomes first lady. She revealed to us that she'd focus on K through 12 education as part of her platform, Wolf. That's, of course, if they move to the White House.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much.

Let's get back to our political commentators: Ana Navarro, Dan Pfeiffer and Van Jones.

Ana, your reaction to this woman, Jane Sanders. She's obviously very intelligent, very savvy, a good -- obviously, a good wife but also a good adviser.

NAVARRO: Wolf, I had the chance to meet her during the pope's visit at the White House. This woman is terrific. She is a secret weapon. She is grounded. She is disarmingly nice. She's engaging. She's smart. She knows her stuff. And she is a complete and absolute supporter of her husband.

I think -- I'm glad we did this piece. I think we need to talk more about her, because she is part of the secret weapon in the artillery that has -- that Bernie Sanders has.

BLITZER: And as you well remember, Dan Pfeiffer, at this point eight years ago, a lot of people didn't think Michelle Obama was going to be the first lady of the United States, did they?

PFEIFFER: No, absolutely not. It was up until the October debate where Barack Obama finally broke out and had made his run. And so for all the trouble that you see for Bernie Sanders in the recent polls today, look, he's a long shot, but long shots have won before. Barack Obama's case in point. BLITZER: How important is a spouse? I'm talking about Bill Clinton.

He's a spouse, as well, to a presidential candidate.

JONES: Well, listen, I think it's a part of the package. It goes to the judgment. I think in the minds of voters, you know, who you marry says a lot about who you are. You can't do anything about your parents. Can't do anything about your sister or your brother. You can do something about who you marry. I think it goes to judgment.

Also, sometimes you need that person to step up and take a bullet for you. Hillary Clinton, when she was in the spouse role, she took some bullets for Bill Clinton, probably saved his career. Certainly, Michelle Obama is probably more popular than the president.

NAVARRO: I might remind you of that you can't do anything about your brother line a little later on in this election.

JONES: I don't have any brothers.

BLITZER: We don't know if Bill Clinton is going to be here tomorrow night to watch this debate in person, do we?

PFEIFFER: I have not heard that.

BLITZER: Let's see if he is. Let's see if he shows up.

All right, guys, thank very, very much.

Coming down, we're counting down to the Democratic presidential debate. CNN is using its global resources to follow other important news, as well. Coming up, the U.S. drops tons of ammunition to so- called moderate Syrian rebels, but will it end up in the hands of ISIS fighters?

Plus, why the U.S. suspects Iran may have just violated an important U.N. resolution.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:48:05] BLITZER: We're counting down to tomorrow night's CNN Democratic presidential debate. But we're also following some other important news right now.

U.S. aircraft, they've just dropped 50 tons of ammunition to rebel groups in Syria. That follows the failure of the U.S. training program. And it comes as U.S.-backed groups are now under fire by Russian warplanes.

President Obama is under fire himself for his policy on Syria and ISIS. Repeatedly challenged by an interview he strongly defending his efforts.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, this conflict seems to be growing more difficult by the day. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. And people

in Turkey the latest victims. An important U.S. ally, the government there says they believe they know who is responsible for the attack against their people.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): It was all caught on camera. Bombs killing at least 97 people and wounding nearly 250 at a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey. The Turkish prime minister saying his government suspects ISIS is behind it. Russian President Vladimir Putin offering his condolences to the Turks and taking a swipe at the Obama administration.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (Through Translator): Let them name for us the specific places where terrorists are hiding, where their headquarters and warehouses with weapons and equipment are, give us the targets.

STARR: But Russian-backed attacks finding their own targets. Mostly far from ISIS in the latest clashes in northwest Syria. Anti-regime forces and civilians targeted with more than 500 missiles and hundreds of shells according to an observer group. CNN could not independently verify the video.

President Obama adamant on CBS's "60 Minutes" that Putin's moves into Syria were closely watched.

[17:50:01] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We knew that he was planning to provide the military assistance that Assad was needing because they were nervous about a potential imminent collapse of the regime.

STARR: Rebels may have been getting stronger with the help of anti- tank missiles like these. Missiles many reports say were provided through the CIA. A U.S. air drop of 50 tons of ammunition, a boost to the Pentagon's program to arm other anti-ISIS rebel groups and drones operated by the U.S. Special Operations Command flying over Syria looking for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other top operatives.

The head of Special Operations, General Joe Votel, in an exclusive interview with CNN said drones are just one crucial tool to get more intelligence about ISIS.

GEN. JOE VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: We very carefully study what ISIS does, what they say about themselves, what they purport through their ideology and I think that gives us some pretty good understanding of that organization.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now the Iraqi government announced over the weekend that it believed it had killed Baghdadi in a raid inside Iraq. U.S. officials said however that did not appear to be the case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you. Meanwhile, an American journalist accused of espionage has been

convicted by an Iranian court and could face a 20-year prison sentence. That word from Iran's state-run media. It comes just a day after Iran said it tested a long-range missile. All of this follows a U.S.-led agreement that would curb Iran's nuclear program and ease sanctions.

Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, American officials can't be very happy about this Iranian missile launch.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question, Wolf. And in fact, an administration official tells me that this launch this weekend of a new surface-to-surface ballistic missile is a likely violation of existing U.N. Security Council Resolutions that ban Iran from ballistic missile activity. Now to be clear, the administration saying that does not mean this is a violation of the nuclear agreement announced in July. That agreement focused on preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

And also just to add to the complication here, there is a new U.N. resolution that is yet to take effect and there is some debate, Wolf, as to whether that new U.N. Security Council resolution might allow a little more wiggle room for ballistic missile tests by Iran. That's still a subject of debate, but this test this weekend, the administration saying a likely violation of the existing U.N. Security Council resolutions.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about the conviction of the "Washington Post" journalist, Jason Rezaian? It's a very disturbing development.

SCIUTTO: It's disturbing and it's confusing as this whole case has been from the beginning. Yesterday the announcement from Iran was that a verdict had been released in the case. Today the word changing to conviction, of course that's key because it would say that it seems to say that the court has decided that he is guilty. The trouble is he's facing more than one charge including espionage, all the charges viewed by the State Department in their words as absurd but I spoke to his brother today and he said as well that they do want resolution.

They know that at some point there is going to be resolution to this case and if it is a conviction, then that at least gives him the opportunity to appeal the conviction and to be clear when that statement came out from Iran yesterday they did noted in a statement that it can be appealed. What the family really wants is to move this process along.

And as you know, Wolf, there is also a discussion of a possible swap of prisoners. Jason Rezaian, some of the other Americans held in Iran, for Iranians held here, convicted of crimes including arms smuggling but that is something that's not been confirmed, neither government speaking openly about who exactly would be involved in any exchange.

BLITZER: Well, the Iranians have thrown out, at least they've hinted at this possible swap. Iranians held in U.S. prison in exchange for the Americans who are being held inside Iran. What are U.S. officials saying about that?

SCIUTTO: Well, they're not saying, and as you say, for instance, President Rouhani has mentioned this is a possibility, but they haven't said who the players would be. We do know in the past that this has happened sometimes quietly, sometimes unannounced when Americans have been released from prison in Iran. So it is a -- it's a possible way to get Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, other Americans held there and then of course there's the open question as to what's happened to Robert Levinson. There are four Americans held in Iran today or missing in Iran today.

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

Coming up, as the clock ticks down to CNN's Democratic presidential debate here in Las Vegas, new polls suggest Hillary Clinton is on a lucky streak right now but her rivals are hoping to narrow the odds. Are they holding any aces?

[17:55:03] And did the Democratic leadership disinvite a key Democratic lawmaker from the debate? I'll speak live with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq war veteran, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Hillary Clinton's gamble. T Democratic presidential frontrunner prepares for a verbal battle with her main rivals in a high stakes showdown here in Las Vegas. Can she put to rest concerns about her candidacy and seal the deal with Democratic voters or will her closest rival Bernie Sanders steal her spotlight?

Trump's shadow. Donald Trump's domination of the GOP contest continues.