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RNC Suspends February Debate On NBC; Rubio Opposition Research Finds Its Way To The Press; Recovery Team Investigating Plane Fire; Film Staircase Recognized As D.C. Tourist Attraction. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 30, 2015 - 16:30   ET



[16:30:33] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper. And our Politics Lead, no debate for you. That's what the Republican National Committee told NBC hours ago.

The RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, telling the peacock network that what was supposed to be NBC's February debate is still going to happen, just not with them.

Priebus said he could not risk a repeat of what he saw Wednesday night after CNBC's moderators asked what he called "gotcha" questions that were, quote, "inaccurate" or downright offensive.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is trailing the Rubio campaign today in Sioux City, Iowa. Sunlen, the Republican brass telling in effect they're fed up and simply not going to take it anymore. Is that sincere anger that you are hearing from that side?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems to be, Jim. You know, this is an unprecedented move by the Republican committee to suspend involvement in a debate. Now, NBC says that they will try in good faith to resolve this, but tonight there is no resolution yet and a lot of anger.


SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight the partnership is off.

REINCE PREIBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: I was very disappointed in the moderators. I'm disappointed in CNBC.

SERFATY: The chairman of the RNC telling NBC brass in a letter they are suspending the partnership for February's debate claiming the CNBC debate had been conducted in bad faith.

Writing, "The moderators engaged in a series of gotcha questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone designed to embarrass our candidates. This comes after days of fierce and relentless criticism over the format and questions.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What it's turned into is a, gotcha! That's silly.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All about trying to figure out the gotcha question to make people look bad.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't like the questions. So they're a little tough.

SERFATY: Over the format and questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?

TRUMP: No, it's not a comic book and not a very nicely asked question the way you say that.

SERFATY: And this weekend in Washington, a handful of campaigns will meet trying to combine forces to make changes the next debate up, hosted by Fox Business in two weeks, this as the candidates try to get back to work.

Marco Rubio changing his campaign schedules today to cast a vote in the Senate after facing criticism for missing votes.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't like missing votes. I hate it and we do our best effort to make it. We've cancelled campaign events especially for important votes.

SERFATY: Off of big debate performance.

RUBIO: Why don't you wait in line? Wait for what?

SERFATY: Rubio is about to enter a much more intense period of scrutiny, renewed questions over his messy finances.

RUBIO: I'm not worries about my finances.

SERFATY: Which he said was due to a lack of bookkeeping skills. Just one of the many lines of attack the Bush campaign is now stacking up against him.

According to a 112-page leaked strategy memo, the Bush campaign's goal, to paint Rubio as a risky bet, someone who misuses state party credit cards and taxpayer funds, a candidate with no accomplishments and no credible experience beyond government. All of this as Jeb Bush attends to concerns about his own campaign.

BUSH: It's not on life support.

SERFATY: Having to personally convene a conference call with worried donors and campaign chairs acknowledging according to those on the call that he did not have a great debate.

BUSH: It's going fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SERFATY: And to help him reboot a little bit, the Jeb Bush campaign will launch next week a Jeb can fix it campaign. He will start in Florida where he'll highlight his record as the governor there. Go to South Carolina and New Hampshire as well -- Jim.

[16:35:11] SCIUTTO: Sunlen Serfaty on the campaign trail, thank you. I want to talk now about the debates and everything else with 2016 CNN political commentator, Paul Begala, and Republican strategist, Sabrina Schaeffer. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Sabrina, I want to start with you, most basic question. What's wrong with asking tough questions in a presidential debate?

SABRINA SCHAEFFER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INDEPENDENT WOMEN'S FORUM: There is nothing wrong with it. I'm actually sort of appalled that there's been so much concern over it from the GOP. I think the number one thing a candidate has to do is being willing to engage.

You have to be willing to engage with people who don't necessarily agree with you. Otherwise, how do you get votes? So I think the worst thing Republicans can do is to try to alienate any one network. I think they have to go back out there and they have to give some better responses.

SCIUTTO: Paul, I want to ask you, one of the questions I suppose is, is there something that crosses the line? Look at for instance, John Horowitz question, he asked Donald Trump if he was running a comic book version of a campaign.

I mean, does that get into -- this is issue, you have all the time, a tough question, what's gets a little too personal? Did you hear anything there that struck you -- been around a while?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They need to toughen up. I mean, as you know, but as our viewers should know, I advise a pro- Hillary super PAC, right. So I've got a stake in Hillary winning. When CNN hosted the debates with Democrats, this is Anderson Cooper's first question to Hillary, quote, "Will you say anything to get elected?"

Did I whine? No. Did Hillary whine? No, because it was a tough question, but it was a fair one, right. He hit her hard. It was a long wind up and a hard punch. She gave a good answer.

Trump could have knocked that out of the park. He is a very talented guy. Here's what I want to do. I love what Reince Priebus is doing. I think it's great to pull out of NBC and our super PAC will help sponsor it. He'll be the moderator.

SCIUTTO: Good for you or good for Republicans?

BEGALA: Good for me, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity. They could be the moderators. I want people to see Republicans unfiltered, uncensored. I want them to say, yes, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. We should turn over to Wall Street and Medicare should be vouchers controlled by insurance companies and woman shouldn't have access to for abortion if they are raped. I want unfettered conservatism to come out. I think I'm on the same page as Mr. Priebus.

SCIUTTO: And the word "whining." Is this whining in your view?

SCHAEFFER: I think it is. Sort of in contrast, the RNC, there were softballs. There are a few. For instance, they started the debate asking like your greatest weakness, right.

SCIUTTO: You should have that prepared, like favorite book, and --

SCHAEFFER: What's on your iPad, you know? And also, I thought there were some real questions that they failed to actually engage properly on things like when they asked about the wage gap. All we heard about was sort of, I mean, sort of this convoluted answer. There wasn't really a direct answer to women.

Republicans still have a long way to go with some of these things and I was sort of shocked to see that. They were whining tab rather than taking it on head-first.

SCIUTTO: There is a question you say my only weakness is I worked too hard. Care too much about the American people. I do want to ask you about, somebody talked about leaked Bush campaign document with this opposition research on Marco Rubio intentionally leaked obviously.

But do you think there is anything wrong on that particular question asking Rubio about his campaign finances? That was another one of those questions that fell, supposedly into that category as going too far?

SCHAEFFER: No. I don't think it's not going too far necessarily. I think actually this could be a benefit for Rubio, right? I think most Americans have some trouble with their finances. I think most Americans find our tax system convoluted and difficult.

I think most Americans will in some way identify with the fact he had school loans and getting ahead is difficult. I think actually he could use this to his advantage.

SCIUTTO: And I imagine, understand buying a fishing boat, right? I was one of the things --


SCIUTTO: -- christened for. Paul, as a Democrat, let's say you are advising, but you'd love an intraparty war.


SCIUTTO: But if you were advising Bush, I mean, would you be telling him to unfurl this opposition research going after his Florida native son? Does it make him look -- increase that death spiral? BEGALA: It might. I don't think -- I'm probably wrong, it's not my party. I don't think his path is made clear by attacking Marco. In fact, I think you're right. Makes him look weak and Marco got the better of the exchange in the debate. If I were Jeb, I would attack one of the outsiders.

If you want to win the establishment primary, be the best establishment candidate by attacking the insurgents. The insurgents should be attacking -- that's the cross fire, literally.

SCHAEFFER: Used to be the outsider, right? Now he's --

BEGALA: Very much now the establishment guy and -- because Marco's answer was so human, which is like you're my best friend a few months ago now --

SCIUTTO: Who doesn't have trouble balancing their checkbook?

BEGALA: I think it's hugely vulnerable -- not his personal finances so much but just a lot of -- going to be a lot of time to answer.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you both. We don't have much time. You have a decision now for the U.S. to put ground troops in Syria. As you know, Sabrina, a lot of Republican candidates had been hitting the Democrats, and particularly President Obama for not being tough enough, not standing up to Russia, to China, a credible strategy in Syria. Does this take away from that line of attack?

[16:40:11] SCHAEFFER: I think it's interesting because I feel like this is an administration that originally thought that they could disentangle us from the Middle East by simply closing Guantanamo. And now it's clear that guess what? That's not the case.

We have to be much more aggressive. I don't think that people are going to necessarily feel confident enough just with this because there is not really a whole strategy or a sense that we really know where we're going next.

But I am sort of comforted in some level to think that we might be a little bit more aggressive in pushing back on ISIS.

SCIUTTO: Paul, very briefly. Hillary Clinton has been pushing for more intervention. Does this in a way validate that point of view?

BEGALA: It may, but should not -- should be discussed in the campaign. It should. I don't believe for a minute the president's doing this for political reasons. He may be right or wrong. He's trying to defend American interests.

SCIUTTO: The situation deteriorating on the ground.

BEGALA: Right.

SCIUTTO: Paul Begala, Sabrina Schaeffer, thanks so much for joining us. Our National Lead, a plane erupts in flames seconds before takeoff. Now troubling new questions about what really happened in the moments leading up to that fire.

Plus remember this scene from "The Exorcist?" On this day before Halloween, Jake Tapper takes the director of that horror film back to the infamous location. That's right after this.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The National Lead, new questions about the airline that saw one of its passenger jets burst into flames yesterday. Dynamic Airways Flight 405 was just seconds from takeoff in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it caught fire.

The crew and passengers did manage to escape by sliding down emergency chutes. You can see them there. Some ended up in the hospital, thankfully everyone is alive. Now federal investigators are looking into what went wrong with the Boeing 767.

CNN's Alina Machado joins me live now from Fort Lauderdale Hollywood Airport. Alina, news conference just wrapping up on the crash, what did we learn today?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, Jim, that the NTSB investigators recovered both black boxes, and that those black boxes are now on their way to Washington, D.C. At this point, the NTSB does not know what sparked this fire, but they are telling us that there is no fire damage inside the cabin of this plane.

Now, this will be a lengthy investigation, and it could be sometime, possibly several months before we even see the factual report for this incident, but we know that they will be looking at every aspect, not just of this incident, but also of this plane, including's maintenance records for this plane.

They also plan to interview the flight crew at some point today. Now, I did speak to a woman who survived this incident. Her name was Magdalena Perez, sitting in seventh row of this plane. At first thought there was a medical emergency on the plane.

Heard a lot of commotion, screaming, and then looked outside and saw flames and she saw smoke and she knew something was horrible wrong. She says at one point there was trouble trying to open one of the emergency exit doors. Luckily, she was able to get out and says it was terrifying, horrifying.

It was a very traumatic experience, but she's very grateful to be alive. Now, we do know that at least 23 people ended up in the hospital following this incident. Most of them have suffered minor injuries, and at last check, two people were still hospitalized and we're told they are stable -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Incredible, no fire damage inside that looking at that, those flames. Alina Machado, thanks very much.

Now to a world tour taking us to a food paradise deep in the jungle on this week's episode of "PARTS UNKNOWN," Anthony Bourdain travelled to the island of Borneo. It's a return trip for him after ten years.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST, "PARTS UNKNOWN": Like a mini mouse logo. Their food is unbelievably good. Yes, black pepper, right here. Reveal yourself to me, my love. Hot, hot, hot! Whew, yes.


SCIUTTO: Mouth-watering here. I'm lucky, you're lucky, because Anthony Bourdain jeans my right now. Anthony, you've been all over the world and it's not often you get to go back to these places to reconnect with people you meet.

I think of my own travels and you'll have that special person, but it's rare you get to go back and reconnect especially when it's so far away and so remote. Why did you choose this place to go back to?

BOURDAIN: Borneo and this particular village was a very special place for me and that it was really as far as I'd ever been from my previous life until I arrived there ten years ago. I never experienced anything like it, and it was a very emotional time for me.

The people there were lovely. I never sat with people who had actually been -- had a tradition of head-hunting. It was an extraordinary experience. I promised them that I would come back, for their rice harvest festival and it's been unfinished business in a lot of ways.

So I went back to the same group of people, and wanted -- intending to see how their lives had changed and to fulfill an old commitment.

SCIUTTO: I'm glad. I'm sure they're glad you kept that promise. One of the craziest parts, of course, is you getting that tattoo in the middle of your chest. Got to say I was shivering as, and jumping as I watched this video. Tell us about -- why you -- went under that?

BOURDAIN: I've had a lot of tattoos in my life and I promised these guys I wanted one of their cool, traditional tattoos that are hand- tapped. My mistake was I thought center of the chest, how bad can it hurt? Answer -- a lot.

SCIUTTO: I can almost see it coming through the airwaves as I watch that.

BOURDAIN: Two hours for that thing, of hammering away like drunk woodpeckers.

SCIUTTO: As we're watching, the pictures are incredible. Your trip upstream, canoeing upstream, lunch by the riverside. That same island is battling huge brush fires and threatening wildlife.

[16:50:08] What can you tell us about the island particularly compared to when you were there ten years ago?

BOURDAIN: Well, a lot has changed. There's been a lot of timbering, taking wood out of the forests, both legal and illegal. It's a very contentious issue in Malaysia. There are accusations that a lot of these groups hauling wood out of the forest and causing all sorts of problems to the water table and to the rivers and to wildlife.

They are, perhaps, close to the ruling party. So -- it's become an environmental disaster with potential to wreck an entire waif of life, and this is -- I have to say this is a beautiful, beautiful part of the world with lovely people who have managed to cling to a, you know, enter the modern age.

But still cling to a traditional lifestyle and long house communities deep in the jungle. So to see pictures like this is, it's heart breaking. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

SCIUTTO: Such a capacity to destroy places like that, don't we? Anthony Bourdain, thanks so much. Look forward to watching the show and you can see his return to this jungle paradise, "PARTS UNKNOWN" in Borneo, this Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Coming up on THE LEAD, we will talk to the director of "The Exorcist," one of the scariest films of all-time to talk about the steps he took to keep us terrified.




SCIUTTO: It was the shocking film that raised the bar for scary movies, and became kind of the gold standard for horror that movie buffs still talk about today. A little girl possessed by a demon in the 1973 thriller "The Exorcist."

One little known fact the director actually didn't set out to spook audiences when the film was written. Now after ten Oscar nominations including best picture, and on this Halloween eve, a new accolade for "The Exorcist" and the iconic staircase it made famous.

A plaque now sits at the bottom of the staircase in D.C.'s Georgetown area, the same steps where the character Father Careus dies. Earlier today, Jake talked to the director about the film's influence these 42 years later.


TAPPER (voice-over): "The Exorcist," one of the scariest and highest grossing films of all-time. Spoiler alert -- it ends in the exorcism of a demon and the famously steep tumbling death of a priest.

(on camera): And now here at the bottom of these iconic steps in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., the director of "The Exorcist," William Friedkin tells me just what is it about the film that has kept us fascinated and terrified for more than 40 years?

Did you have any idea that this would become so iconic and that decades later the film would still be so important?

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN, DIRECTOR, "THE EXORCIST": Absolutely not. You never have any idea. It's the luck of the draw. I always felt that these steps were like a metaphor for the story of the film, the ascent from darkness up into light.

TAPPER: This plaque is a resident of Washington, D.C. and every time I drive by, every time, I think about "The Exorcist" does it mean anything to you?

FRIEDKIN: I'll tell you exactly what it means, Jake. It means more to me than an Academy award. Tens of thousands of people will come up these steps and see that they're commemorated as a scene from a movie that I made.

TAPPER: Even decades later with so many changes to film and films going so much more graphic, it's still terrifying. Just that last 3 minutes. Why do you think that is?

FRIEDKIN: It was constructed that way and I approached it so that the fear sections would grow slowly and then explode. I did not want to shock the audience. I wanted to prepare them for the inevitable conclusion that this girl might be possessed by a demon.

This was based or inspired by an actual case. The front page of "The Washington Post" in 1949 flatly stated, this was a case of demonic possession and exorcism.

TAPPER: Did you have an actual exorcist come to the set before shooting?

FRIEDKIN: We had the foremost expert in the Catholic Church in America on exorcism. He's the guy that took me through all of the steps.

TAPPER: Why do you think this movie is still persevering, still so iconic 40 years later?

FRIEDKIN: Because it refers to these great mysteries. Even if someone is an Atheist, they are certainly curious about, if anything happens after death. It comes down to, why do bad things happen to good people?


SCIUTTO: Crowds are gathering in D.C. right now for a plaque unveiling ceremony at that staircase and the director expects a big turnout at a screening of "The Exorcist" later tonight. More proof of the lasting legacy of this film.

That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer who is, as always, in "THE SITUATION ROOM." WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, U.S. troops to Syria.