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THE SITUATION ROOM
Strongest Hurricane on Record Nearing Landfall; FBI: Majority of Extremist Probes ISIS-Related; American Killed in ISIS Hostage Rescue Op; Hollywood Director's Son in Terrorist Video; Trump Falls to Number Two in Crucial State; Hillary Clinton Heads Back to Campaign Trail with New Confidence. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 23, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: All the beavers were believed to have survived that.
[17:00:03] That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake today. I'm going to turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. As always, he's in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Center of hell. The strongest hurricane ever recordeda is about to slam into a popular tourist hot spot. Hurricane Patricia, described by weather officials as a catastrophic Category 5 storm. Millions of people, including many Americans, are in the path. I'll talk to one man who flew into the center of the storm.
American extremists. The FBI director reveals that, of its 900 investigations into suspected homegrown violent radicals, the majority are ISIS-related. And now CNN has learned that the son of a leading Hollywood director has joined terrorist forces. How many Americans has ISIS already recruited?
Hill tops. Hillary Clinton strengthens her lead in the Democratic race for the White House rising in the polls as Joe Biden opts not to run and more competitors drop out. And now, she's back on the campaign trail, fresh from her grueling appearance before Congress. Did her marathon testimony boost her campaign?
Trump flops. Donald Trump falls behind in the polls in a key early state, while Jeb Bush is forced to cut salaries and campaign staff. But Ben Carson is gaining in the polls and out with some powerful new ads. Is he now the man to beat in the GOP race?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The strongest hurricane on record, barreling right now toward one of the most popular Pacific resorts Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Patricia is a monstrous Category 5 storm packing sustained winds of 200 miles an hour. Officials are warning the storm surge alone could be catastrophic. And Patricia also could dump as much as 20 inches of rain, triggering flash floods as far away as Texas.
And there's more breaking news. A disturbing revelation by the FBI director, who now says the vast majority of the 900 investigations into suspected homegrown violent extremists here in the United States are ISIS-related.
And now we've also learned that the son of a well-known Hollywood director has joined terrorist forces. I'll speak with the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot Engel, he's standing by. We'll also touch -- get into the other top stories with our correspondents, our analysts and our guests. But let's get straight to Puerto Vallarta right now.
CNN's Martin Savidge is there in Patricia's path. Martin, how have conditions so far worsened?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can feel it, Wolf. It's almost a minute-by-minute incremental thing. The rain now is beginning to really start to come down. You can tell that the temperature is dropping and the winds are beginning to pick up. Most of all, what you can feel in this town is the sense of fear.
And there's very good reason for it. Just because of what you describe, a storm like no other that has been seen in this area and many other places. They're trying to be prepared, but they've had so little time to get ready.
That's the problem. This storm intensified from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in about 24 hours or so. For an emergency planner, it's the worst nightmare. A huge city full of tourists, full of people right on the waterfront and now facing a storm the likes of which it hasn't seen. This community, this town, this area holding its breath and many people just praying it won't be a direct hit, Wolf.
BLITZER: Martin, talk about the evacuations. Have the tourists been able to get out?
SAVIDGE: They have, to some extent. I mean, I can't say for all tourists. What I can tell you is that they began closing down the hotels and evacuating tourists.
In fact, originally we were going to be in a hotel. We found out early this morning that they were evacuating everyone there. They're either being taken to places like larger cities away from the coast, such as Guadalajara, or they're being taken to shelters and schools that have opened up, reportedly, in the mountains.
So in theory, yes, the tourists are being taken care of. There was very little time, if they wanted to fly home, because the airport began to close down and the weather began to move in.
They are standing by. They are ready. Federal police are in the streets. The streets are pretty much deserted at this point. The stores are closed. Nothing's open. People are just waiting, Wolf, to see what's going to happen. And this storm is getting incredibly near -- Wolf.
[17:05:01] BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there, Martin. We'll stay in close touch with you.
Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is tracking this monstrous storm for us over at the CNN Hurricane Center.
Jennifer, obviously a very serious situation unfolding. How close to landfall is it?
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, this may make landfall during your show in the next two hours. It's very close to making landfall. And this storm, when it makes landfall, will be -- have stronger winds than Andrew, Katrina, Camille. This is going to be historic. And it's going to possibly be catastrophic for whatever area, whatever village is right in the path of that eye when this makes landfall in the next couple of hours.
Winds right now 190 miles per hour. That is from the latest advisory that came out about five minutes ago. Gusts of 235 miles per hour. That's stronger than an F-5 tornado or just as strong as an F-5 tornado, I should say. It is moving to the north-northeast at about 14 miles per hour.
This storm is going to push inland very quickly by 11 p.m. tonight. It is going to be well inland. And it is going to be a Category 3.
Look how far inland it is, and it's still maintaining Category 3 status. And then, once it enters this real mountainous terrain across Mexico, it is going to weaken to a tropical storm.
This is going to be devastating in form of winds, also storm surge, as well as the rains. The mountainous terrain, we are going to be looking at major flooding and possibly landslides across Mexico.
So the forecasts of rainfall totals, Wolf, we're looking at anywhere from 10 to 20 inches right along the coast. And then, once you head inland, Wolf, we'll look at about 6 to 10 inches give or take, some areas even higher, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just for comparison's sake, Jennifer, if it's 190 miles an hour when it makes landfall in the next couple hours or so, remind our viewers what Hurricane Katrina when it made landfall along the Gulf Coast in the United States.
GRAY: Well, we know the Gulf Coast was devastated. You know, and not only because of the winds. We had the major storm surge. And we know that in New Orleans those levees were breached, and so that just added to the flooding.
But if you remember, all across the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, we saw devastation. We saw brick homes that were completely flattened. And so not only the winds, but when you have that wall of water come through, as well, it can be the same type of damage that we see from very strong tornadoes. And so that's why you don't want to be along the coast right now.
I know, as Martin was saying, that people didn't have a lot of time to evacuate, but hopefully people are away from the coast and they are in a very, very sturdy building, because we're going to be looking at damage similar to a very strong tornado right around that eye, Wolf.
BLITZER: Patricia eventually is going to make some -- is going to hit Texas in the United States. What do they expect there?
GRAY: Well, Patricia will hold onto that moisture. And as you can see from the water vapor, moisture's already streaming into portions of Texas. It will no longer be tropical. It's not going to be a tropical storm. It's not going to be a hurricane. But we will hold onto a lot of that moisture. We've already seen a lot of rain in Texas. We are going to continue to see additional rainfall as this moisture is pumped in to south Texas.
So anywhere from Houston all the way through Dallas, even the hill country of Texas and then pushing into portions of Louisiana. We could be dealing with flooding. In fact, already are seeing flooding around the Dallas area, even south of Dallas. We've seen a flood emergency in place in the last couple of hours. And so we're going to be dealing with very heavy rain across the south for the next several days, Wolf.
BLITZER: A real disaster unfolding. Let's hope for the best, Jennifer. Thank you. We now have someone on the phone who flew through this hurricane, Hurricane Patricia. Captain Chase Allen of the U.S. Air Force Reserve is joining us on the phone. You were the pilot for this mission, Captain. Have you ever flown through a storm of this intensity?
CAPTAIN CHASE ALLEN, U.S. AIR FORCE RESERVE (via phone): Personally no. I've flown through storms that had some pretty bad turbulence, but none to this caliber. This was probably the worst for me. Definitely a bumpy ride the whole time for us there.
BLITZER: Well, describe, Captain, what it was like inside your aircraft.
ALLEN: Well, you know, when it's a big storm like that, we're anticipating a lot of turbulence. And strong winds like that, especially with the storm being closer to land. It's all business. And we really utilize all of our crew members, work together, and whatever task we're working at hand, we try to focus on what's going on at the time and just back each other up the whole time, really.
BLITZER: And when you're flying through the storm, what's your altitude?
ALLEN: We flew it at 10,000 feet for this mission.
BLITZER: Is that low or high, given the enormity of this storm?
[17:10:03] ALLEN: That's as high as we normally fly a fixed mission storm. We can do it as low as 5,000 feet, but with the winds being where they were, our criteria is if they're over 80 knots, then we're going to plan to be 5,000 at least. And then when you have that moderate turbulence or above, then we're required to be at 10,000 feet for -- for safety issues.
BLITZER: This hurricane has developed so quickly; 24 hours ago it was a tropical storm. Now it's a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 200 miles an hour. So I assume that makes this even more dangerous, because there really was no great preparation for this.
ALLEN: Right. Absolutely. And even we weren't expecting the winds to be that high when we were coming up for the storm and even -- even when we were briefing prior to the flight time. So we were caught off-guard a little bit, but we were able to handle it. And I guess it all worked out.
But we were -- we were definitely caught off guard with the amount of turbulence and the 200 knot winds. That was a surprise for us.
BLITZER: Captain Allen, you're with the U.S. Air Force 53rd Reconnaissance squadron. Will you be able to complete more missions like this, as far as Hurricane Patricia is concerned?
ALLEN: Are you talking about just in the future?
BLITZER: No, no, I'm talking about in the next few hours.
ALLEN: Our squadron is not currently tasked to fly this mission. I think NOAA's out there flying it again. And after that, I think it's going to be close enough to landfall where they won't be tasking any more planes to fly.
BLITZER: Well, I'm glad you did it safely. And I'm sure you got important information for all the folks down in Mexico. Captain Chase Allen of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, thanks very much for joining us.
ALLEN: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Up next -- we'll have more, by the way, on this hurricane later this, hour, but there's other major news we're following, including U.S. commandos. They've been battling ISIS forces on the ground in Iraq now for the first time, saving dozens of people who faced an imminent mass execution but losing one of their own.
Plus, the son of a well-known Hollywood director joins an al Qaeda- related group. What role is he playing in their brand-new video?
[17:17:03] BLITZER: Breaking news about ISIS and the terrorists' ability to inspire and recruit violent extremists right here in the United States. That threat now dominating the FBI's investigations into homegrown terror threats.
Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, has been working the story for us. Evan, what did the FBI director, James Comey, reveal about the amount of homegrown terror cases that are in the United States right now, ISIS-related?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's saying that there's nine -- about 900 investigations nationwide that are focused on individuals who are suspected violent extremists. And of those 900, the vast majority are ISIS-related.
That just really goes to show you how much ISIS has come to really dominate the conversation for extremism in this country. Al Qaeda used to be the top worry for the FBI. And it has really transformed now. The fact that ISIS is using social media, all kinds of other ways to get its propaganda into the pockets of just average people.
And so there's 900 investigations and ISIS investigations we're talking about everything from people who are suspected of perhaps thinking of plots to carry out in the United States, to people who are simply just consuming and sitting and consuming this poisonous propaganda. And the FBI's keeping an eye on them, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. As Comey told me last summer, ISIS is now the main terror threat to the U.S. homeland by far.
BLITZER: Are they able, the FBI, other law-enforcement authorities, are they able, Evan, to keep track of all of these people?
PEREZ: Well, he said that right now things are OK. There was a period, which you and I covered very much in June and July, where the FBI really was having to move resources. We covered that story, as well, really, because they were having a hard time keeping up with the amount of surveillance that they needed. Twenty-four-hour surveillance on a number of people that they were very, very worried about in June and July. That has died down a little bit.
Another thing that he talked about, Wolf, is the fact that they've noticed perhaps a dissipation in the number of Americans who are trying to travel overseas to join ISIS. He talked about, for a period there, there was nine Americans a month who were trying to travel overseas to join ISIS. In the last three and a half months, it has gone down to about six.
Now, it's not known whether this is a long-term trend, whether this is something that's just temporary or whether people are hiding better. And that's one thing they're focused on, Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan Perez reporting for us. Evan, thank you.
We're also learning new information about the first U.S. ground operation against ISIS forces in Iraq. A daring hostage rescue mission, and it left one U.S. Special Forces commando dead, but also saved the lives of dozens of people believed to be facing imminent execution by the terrorists.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this story for us.
Jim, the Pentagon is now releasing new details about what was a very, very complicated operation.
SCIUTTO: No question. And Defense Secretary Ashton Carter saying that he was proud of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler. He was the Delta Force commando killed in that raid. He said, in Secretary Carter's words, that he ran to the sound of the guns. He ran into this fire fight. He lost his life for it.
[17:20:17] But Secretary Carter also making clear there will be other -- in the future other deadly, risky -- or potentially deadly -- risky raids like this by U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq. He said they will continue to be in harm's way.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Faced with the first U.S. combat death in Iraq in four years, today Pentagon Secretary Ash Carter made clear that U.S. troops will continue to face danger there.
(on camera): The administration has taken great pains. The president in various permutations to say it's not a ground combat. It's not a major combat role.
ASH CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: They will be in harm's way. There's no question about it. I don't want anybody to be under any illusions about that.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): A U.S. military official confirms to CNN that Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma, a 20-year military veteran, was a member of the elite Delta Force.
The deadly battle was the first time U.S. forces have directly engaged ISIS fighters on the ground in Iraq. In a joint operation with Kurdish commandos, U.S. Special Operators from the Delta Force raided an ISIS compound to rescue hostages thought to be in imminent danger of execution.
U.S. warplanes bombed makeshift ISIS training camps, staging sites and bridges in the area. And five helicopters brought in nearly 30 U.S. Special Forces and 40 Kurdish troops.
The U.S. forces were not meant to enter the walled compound or directly engage the ISIS fighters. But when Kurdish forces inside the compound were overwhelmed, the U.S. commander made the decision to enter the fire fight. Master Sergeant Wheeler was shot inside the compound and died later after being transported to a military hospital in Irbil.
When the mission was over, the U.S. aircraft overhead destroyed the compound.
U.S. troops are deployed to Iraq on a train, advise and assist mission; however, under current rules of engagement, they are allowed to return fire when they or their partner forces come under attack. CARTER: When a fire fight ensued, this American ran to the sound of
the guns, and all the indications are it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound.
SCIUTTO: This risky mission was launched, say U.S. military officials, after U.S. surveillance spotted freshly-dug mass graves inside the compound. U.S. officials say that 70 prisoners were rescued, 20 Iraqi security forces, as well as Iraqi civilians, and interestingly, ISIS fighters accused by their own group of spying. Missing, however, were the Kurdish captives they were originally sent in to rescue.
SCIUTTO: Master Sergeant Wheeler's remains will come home tomorrow. They'll be welcomed by his family and Secretary Carter and his wife. Those images of those flag-draped coffins, we haven't seen them for four years from Iraq, Wolf. We'll see them again tomorrow.
BLITZER: And our deepest condolences to Sergeant Wheeler's family. What a sad story, father of four.
Let's talk about all of this with the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Democratic congressman, Eliot Engel of Colorado. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
Let me get your quick reaction. It looks like the U.S. is engaged now in combats. It's not just training, advising, assisting. This is real combat. This is real war. Are you supportive of this?
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), COLORADO: Well, it's not combat like when we had nearly 200,000 troops in Iraq. This is a terribly unfortunate incident, but we do have business in Iraq. And from time to time, this is what's going to happen. I don't think it reflects any desire to get back into a war, a large-scale war. But there will be times like this, unfortunately, where there'll be casualties.
BLITZER: The U.S. has about 4,000 troops in Iraq right now. They're supposed to be advisers or trainers. Are you OK, though, with 4,000 American troops in Iraq right now? And occasionally, having to get involved in deadly combat.
ENGEL: Well, I think that Iraq, like Afghanistan, we need to have some troop presence there. We don't want all the hard-fought gains to really go out the window. And we're going to need it. I think we have to have it.
What I don't want to see are boots on the ground in terms of large numbers of troops so we get sucked back into a war. But I think that missions like this are in the U.S. national interests, and from time to time, again, unfortunately -- very unfortunately -- there are going to be some casualties.
BLITZER: You have confidence in this Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that he can get the job done? They still haven't been able to regain Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. A city of nearly 2 million people came under the control of ISIS, remains under the control of ISIS. The Iraqi military simply ran away and left behind all that U.S. military equipment, that armor that was given to them.
[17:25:06] ENGEL: That's all true. And I don't have much confidence. And we're all pretty much disgusted. But it is in the U.S. national interest. ISIS needs to be destroyed. We cannot turn our backs and put our heads in the sand and pretend that it's not going to harm us, our allies and our friends around the world.
So we have to make a major mission in terms of destroying and degrading ISIS. And in doing that, unfortunately, we're going to have some casualties from time to time.
BLITZER: Because this Iraqi government increasingly is relying on the Iranians, and now the Russians as opposed to the United States, despite all the blood and treasure the U.S. invested in Iraq going back to 2003. You must be concerned about that.
ENGEL: I'm very concerned. And I think, as you're stating it, it's quite correct. It's very galling, particularly so much American blood was lost and shed in Iraq. Of course, Putin is running around with his mischief in Syria and every place else. He's coordinating things with the Jordanians. He's doing all kinds of things.
He's going to keep doing it. He's going to keep poking fingers in our eyes and trying to do what he perceives to be in Russia's national interests. That's another worry we have.
BLITZER: The FBI director today -- and you heard Evan Perez's report -- said there are 900 current investigations in the United States under way, surveillance, total terror investigations, a vast majority of them ISIS-related in the United States.
I knew ISIS was a problem recruiting Americans here. I didn't know there were 900, the vast majority ISIS-related. That number is pretty shocking to me. What about to you?
ENGEL: Well, it's shocking, but the reports also say that the number has died down as of recent. It was even probably greater.
Look, I can't figure out why any American would join ISIS. It's not just either a matter of people living in poverty. You have middle- class kids who are growing up in the suburbs who think it's, I don't know cool, or whatever it is to join ISIS. We have to figure out why that is and try to combat it. It certainly doesn't make sense to the average person. It makes no sense to me.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on this coming up. Brian Todd has an exclusive report coming up in a few minutes about one American who did, in fact, join one of these terror groups.
Stay with us, Congressman.
Don't go too far away. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:31:57] BLITZER: We're back with ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic congressman Eliot Engel of New York.
We'll get back to him in a moment. I want to talk to him about the son of a well-known Hollywood director who appears in a new video from an al Qaeda affiliate.
Let's get some more details now. CNN's Brian Todd has been working this story for us.
Brian, what are you finding out about this young man?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a short time ago we spoke to a relative of this man. The family member says the al Qaeda militant you see on the near right of your screen is actually Lucas Kinney, the young man on the far right as he was photographed a few years ago. We've learned that at one point Lucas Kinney's parents moved with the most powerful people in Hollywood.
ABU BASIR AL-BRITANI, AL-NUSRA FRONT FIGHTER: In the northern countryside of Aleppo --
TODD (voice-over): It's a slickly produced video featuring a militant who knows a little something about making a good film.
AL-BRITANI: These are the houses of your brothers, of your sisters, of your fathers, of your children.
TODD: Heavily armed with a distinct British accent the man says he is with the Al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda's branch in Syria. And in the video he slams the competing terror group ISIS for decimating a village in northern Syria.
AL-BRITANI: The followers of this so-called Islamic State decided that in the middle of Ramadan that the best worship they could perform was to bomb the houses of innocent Muslims.
TODD: According to the Site Intelligence Group which posted the video, the militant goes by Abu Basir al-Britani. But tonight CNN has learned his real name is Lucas Kinney and his family once moved in Hollywood's top circles.
A distraught family member tells CNN Lucas Kinney is the son of Patrick Kinney, an assistant director who worked on blockbusters like "Brave Heart." Kinney's father also helped direct a "Rambo" sequel and worked with Steven Spielberg on "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
Now it appears Lucas Kinney is on his own terror crusade. PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This is a guy that had every
advantage in life yet still ended up with al Qaeda, with the terrorist group in Syria. Somebody who appears to have traveled to Syria because he believed it was his religious duty to fight jihad.
TODD: CNN has learned Kinney's father and his mother, a British national, divorced years ago. He attended the best schools in Cairo, Saudi Arabia and Britain. One relative says Lucas was a rock and roller who once played in a band called Hannah's Got Herpes.
Tonight it appears Lucas Kinney is using those performance skills to aid a brutal terror group. And experts warn he could exploit his familiarity with Western culture to deadly effect.
CRUICKSHANK: Some of these recruits are becoming suicide bombers ready to give up their lives. The worry is that they could be sent back to the West to launch attacks, that they could trained inside Syria by al Qaeda. Right now the group's focus is on Syria. The worry is that could change.
TODD: Neither British nor U.S. officials we contacted would comment on Lucas Kinney. The family member we spoke with doesn't know when, where or why Kinney became radicalized. His father, a dual U.S.- British citizen, hasn't had contact with Lucas for at least for a few years according to the relative. This person said of the family, quote, "This is not our proudest moment and there are broken hearts all over."
[17:35:14] The relative said of the terrorist group that Lucas is with, quote, "I hope they find them all and blow them all to hell," and that included Lucas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Brian, Lucas Kinney could be especially dangerous because he's trusted by al-Nusra, this terrorist group, as a committed recruit, right?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. Paul Cruickshank says al Qaeda is paranoid of spies in its ranks, and it screens Westerners even more carefully than others. Now, for Lucas Kinney who have gotten this far he probably got a strong recommendation he was someone they could trust. Still, experts are telling us it may be more difficult for him than other Western militants to return home because his face is now so recognizable but still someone that Western officials have to watch out for -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you.
Congressman Engel is still with us. I know you spent a lot of time studying these terror groups. The guy comes, he's educated, comes from a prominent family. What makes someone like this join al-Nusra, one of these main terror groups in Syria?
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I don't think we really know and I think we really have to try to find out. People who get disaffected doesn't mean that they should be radicalized. You have the Internet, you have all kinds of social media. And it's appealing, I guess, to somebody who feels that he doesn't belong anywhere. He finally finds a group that he belongs and he uses it as a part of a terror campaign. I mean, it's just shocking. And again, it's not for people, it's people who come from middle class families.
BLITZER: Who are educated.
ENGEL: Who are educated.
BLITZER: And it sort of coincides with the fact that Comey, the FBI director, now saying there are now 900 ongoing investigations right here in the United States on various terror affiliated groups, mostly ISIS right now. As I said before, that's a shocking number. But I mean if you take a look at these numbers that are actually going over there, Americans who are going over there, the numbers seem to be increasing, not decreasing.
ENGEL: Well, I don't know if it's increasing or decreasing, but it is a shocking large amount. The one good thing is we seem to be on top of it. And we seem to be following it. And we seem to be monitoring these individual cases, but it's not easy. It's just not easy. You can have a situation where you have kids growing up in the same household, one becomes radicalized and one doesn't. We've got to figure out why there's such an allure to such a horrific group.
BLITZER: Congressman Engel, thanks for joining us.
ENGEL: Thank you, Wolf. Always a pleasure.
BLITZER: In politics we're seeing something we haven't seen before in this race for the Republican presidential nomination. Guess what, Donald Trump isn't winning. He's falling into second place in a crucial state. We're going to tell you who's beating him, where and why.
Stay with us.
And we also continue to watch for updates on the monster storm that's putting millions of lives across North America at risk.
[17:42:25] BLITZER: New polls show Donald Trump has a big problem, he's fallen to number two behind Dr. Ben Carson in the first of the nation caucus state of Iowa. Right now Trump is getting ready for a campaign rally in Florida, the home turf of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Our political reporter Sara Murray is just outside Miami in Doral in Florida, getting ready to cover this event. Set the scene for us. What's going on right now?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just had a lot of excited supporters literally run in here to catch sight of Donald Trump. This is a guy who loves the polls. And for one of the first times since he joins the race the polls are not being very kind to him. As of tonight not one but two showing him trailing in Iowa.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump who lives for the polls.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm leading in every single poll. Reports are amazing. I love polls. I've been at the top of every poll.
MURRAY: No longer leads in all of them.
Today there's a new man on top in the Hawkeye State. Dr. Ben Carson pulling to the lead in Iowa. And it's not a small one. A new "Des Moines Register"-Bloomberg Politics poll shows Carson with 28 percent support, nine points ahead of Donald Trump.
DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm gratified by the fact that so many people are really paying attention to what I'm saying because none of the things that I'm saying are wild crazy things. They are very logical things. And if people really sat down and thought about them rather than allowing themselves to be whipped into a frenzy.
MURRAY: Trump is fresh off the campaign trail in Iowa where he bragged about his lead.
TRUMP: I love these polls. And I say to people when they always say you love to mention the polls, nobody else does. I said that's because they're losing. They're not stupid people.
MURRAY: Now he's struggling to explain two polls in as many days showing he's no longer on top.
TRUMP: I was very, very surprised to see it because I think we're doing well in Iowa. I have a feeling we're doing much better in Iowa than the polls are showing, if you want to know the truth. But we had an amazing crowd. I'm sure you saw it because it was all over television.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did.
MURRAY: Polls show Trump is still in first nationwide. But Carson is looking to solidify his position going up on the air waves with two new ads slamming Washington.
CARSON: Did you know Washington is built on a swamp? Massive government debt, stifling regulation, special interest politics, partisan dysfunction. Now it all makes sense. Washington is broken.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're on the verge of greatness --
MURRAY: Meantime Jeb Bush in fifth place with just 5 percent support in Iowa is trying to regroup. His campaign is cutting salaries across the board and downsizing their staff at headquarters.
[17:45:13] MURRAY: Now you can see here supporters already filling in for this event later this evening here in Florida, the home state of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. We'll be watching to see whether Trump goes after either of them tonight or maybe his closest competitor, Ben Carson -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see what he says and what he does. All right. Sara, thanks very much.
Let's get some analysis. Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, our chief political correspondent Dana Bash, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Guys, stand by. We have a lot to discuss. Let's take a quick break. Much more on the politics involved in this race for the White House when we come back.
[17:50:21] BLITZER: Despite spending 11 hours testifying before the House Benghazi Committee, Hillary Clinton is back on the campaign trail today defending her own record as well as President Obama's.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I agree with what Vice President Biden said the other day in the Rose Garden, Democrats should be proud of that record of achievement and we should defend it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and analysts.
Jeff, does she seem to have a new step? It's been a very good 10 days for her, a good debate performance at the CNN debate, Joe Biden, the vice president, not running and now pretty good performance yesterday before the Benghazi committee.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No question. I mean, this is the campaign -- she hoped that she would have and that most Democrats thought she would have but I think they're also pretty conscious that there -- you know, that there are ups and downs in the campaign. But I was struck by what voters were saying. I was out in Alexandria, Virginia, today just across the river here from Washington, she was doing a big campaign rally. And so many voters said that they weren't sure about her candidacy before, really were won over by her performance yesterday.
One voter told me, said, I think she was able to deliver over 50 speeches in 11 hours. She was able to get points across and it was really the best most unplugged version of Hillary Clinton or any presidential campaign, you know, that I've ever seen. So it was actually good for her in that moment. So if you can make lemonade out of lemons, I think she's done it with this hearing and certainly over the last 10 days. But important to remember --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Had a great 10 days.
ZELENY: You know, the Clintons know this as much as anyone, this is not forever.
BLITZER: You were there all day yesterday, Dana. She did seem to have a new energy and she was poised, very calm, she didn't let herself getting agitated.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. She was clearly determined not to have one of those "what difference does it make at this point," which is the last time she testified on this she did getting a little bit agitated. I mean, not even close to that despite, you know, attempts at trying to get under her skin a bit.
You know, it was fascinating to watch her yesterday, but also to watch as the day went on, her staff, because she did have -- she had some campaign aides there with her. Obviously, she had her lawyer and her former chief of staff from the State Department, that got more and more, I wouldn't say excited but relieved and really it became clear to them that she did extremely well to the point that they were considering bringing her out after the 11 hours were over to talk to the press and they decided, you know what? We can't top this. Let's just leave it alone.
BASH: Don't do it. Tells you everything you need to know.
BLITZER: And let's talk about the Republican race. All of a sudden, Donald Trump is not number one in at least one poll. No, let's correct it. Two polls yesterday and today two new polls on Iowa, the "Des Moines Register"-Bloomberg poll. Dr. Carson at 28, Trump at 19 percent.
BLITZER: Is this significant, not significant, Gloria? What's your analysis?
BORGER: I think it's important for Trump. He doesn't want to be sinking anywhere and Carson is viewed much more favorably than Donald Trump. What was most revealing to me was if you look at the favorability numbers in this poll, Donald Trump is sixth in favorability in Iowa. Watch Ted Cruz. He's doing pretty well. He's a sleeper candidate here in Iowa.
BASH: No question.
BORGER: If you ask me.
ZELENY: Right. BORGER: Right? OK, we all agree so it must be true, OK. And I think
the voters in Iowa now figure they know Donald Trump. They know who he is. They've looked him over and 78 percent of them in this poll say they are still persuadable. So there's a lot of room there, Trump may be on a little bit of a downward trajectory, people don't like him so much, now they look Carson. Cruz moving up, fits with Iowa voters. There is still a long way to go.
BLITZER: Dr. Carson is doing very well in Iowa right now. He's on a book tour, he's selling a lot of books. He's very well liked. He's got some new ads so this could potentially be a moment for him.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He'll be in Iowa this weekend, probably he hasn't been in Iowa that much. He was there a lot this summer but --
BASH: He's on a book tour.
HENDERSON: He's on a book tour but even if you look at September, he wasn't there, he was there a few days this month but his wife has been there and they've been doing these events, you know, the wife will show up like at a pumpkin patch or something like that. So they are doing these sort of unorthodox events. But it also isn't necessarily -- Carson, they do feel like if he's this far ahead in the polls, he'll be there at some point.
BLITZER: Doing very well.
BLITZER: Right now Trump is doing very well, too. Let's not forget he's ahead in all the national polls and the other polls in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and other states, as well.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more politics coming up. Hillary Clinton's campaign spokesman Brian Fallon, he's standing by to join us live right here in the SITUATION ROOM in next hour.
[17:55:09] We're also following the breaking news, the strongest hurricane ever recorded now barreling toward some of Mexico's most popular resorts packing winds near 200 miles an hour. We're tracking this monster storm.
Plus, the hunt for the fugitive Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo expands right here to the United States. We're learning new details of his deep ties to this country.
BLITZER: Happening now, hurricane horrors. It's being called the most dangerous storm in history that's now barreling toward land packing winds near 200 miles per hour threatening millions of people. Right now CNN is live right in the storm zone.