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THE SITUATION ROOM

Jeb Bush Speaks Out; Trump Lashes Out; Interview With Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired November 3, 2015 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: With another national poll showing he's no longer the leader, the Donald lashing out at the new front- runner, Ben Carson, and urging his other rivals, many of them, he wants them to quit.

And the son stumbles. In a new CNN interview, Jeb Bush opens up about fears that he's letting his parents down as he struggles to jump-start his presidential campaign and distance himself from his brother's legacy.

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

Tonight, conflicting evidence about whether a bomb blast or some other type of explosion ripped apart a Russian airliner in flight. A U.S. official tells CNN a military satellite detected a midair heat flash before the jet went down, suggesting a possible explosion.

But there's also a new report out of Russia that crash victims' bodies showed no sign of blast-related trauma. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is warning all American employees not to travel to the Sinai Peninsula, where the plane went down, as investigators try to determine if this was an act of terror, mechanical failure or something else.

And, tonight, ISIS is repeating its claim of responsibility for the crash and warning Vladimir Putin he will pay a high price for Russia's military action in Syria. We have our correspondents, our analysts and newsmakers. They're standing by as we cover all the news that's breaking right now.

First, let's get the very latest from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issuing an advisory, warning all embassy employees not to travel to the Sinai Peninsula until further notice, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Now investigators there are beginning to wrap up their field work and are looking at the data recorders to try and figure out what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Investigators examine the wreckage of the Russian Metrojet Airbus, looking for clues about what brought the plane down, killing all 224 on board.

Before the plane crashed, a U.S. military satellite detected a burst of heat consistent with an explosion. The satellite detected the heat flash while the plane was still in flight, raising a number of possibilities about what may have happened, ranging from mechanical failure to a bomb on board.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're interested in understanding exactly what happened. And so we have offered them our advice and any resources that they would find useful in conducting that investigation.

STARR: The airline denying it could have been caused by mechanical failure.

ALEXANDER SMIRNOV, METROJET (through translator): There are no such faults like engine failure or system failure. There is no combination of systems failure that could lead to a plane breaking up in the air.

STARR: Russia's privately owned Interfax agency, citing an unnamed source, says the cockpit voice recording reveals a nonstandard emergency that happened instantly.

Investigators are now looking closely at the passenger manifest, what was in the cargo hold, and the identities of anyone who had access to the aircraft and could have tampered with it, or planted a bomb.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: This would be the classic airport insider threat. They would come in, they would either pay off or subvert the ground crews that maintain the airplanes, and use them or put their own people in place and move a device, potentially, onto an airplane.

STARR: But mechanical or structural failure also possible. Aviation experts say it's just too soon to jump to conclusions.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: In Pan Am 103, which was brought down by a terrorist bomb, it took weeks to fine the pieces that had the plastic explosive residue on it and it took many months to test it out. So it's too early to say it can't be terrorism, but at this point, taking lessons from TWA 800, it looks mechanical until proven otherwise.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, of course, the reason the U.S. wants to know very quickly about what really happened here is they need to determine what measures need to be taken to continue to keep American skies and American airliners safe -- Wolf. BLITZER: And getting back to this U.S. Embassy in Cairo advisory

telling all U.S. Embassy employees, civilian and military, not to go to Sinai right now, what is the impact? What about those 750 American troops who are based in Sinai right now? They have been there since 1979 and the signing of the Israeli/Egyptian peace treaty. They're still there right now. It's a very dangerous environment.

Are they staying in Sinai or getting out?

STARR: Tonight, Wolf, there is no indication, we are told, of any change in their status. They are continuing with their mission. And, of course, as everyone will recall, security for them and their protective measures were recently beefed up after several weeks ago they had an explosive device -- a suspected explosive device and four of them were injured.

[18:05:05]

So, they're already at a very high state of security and alert -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's not forget those 750 American troops in Sinai right now, a very, very dangerous environment, all sorts of terror groups roaming around there.

Barbara, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, in Russia tonight, the bodies of 19 crash victims have been identified as investigators try to figure out how they were killed.

Let's check in with our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance. He's joining us live from Saint Petersburg.

Matthew, Russian state news agencies putting out a preliminary conclusion that there were no signs of an explosion, while the Russian airline Metrojet, as it's called, ruled out technical problems or humor error. It seems that there are a lot of conflicting assessments coming out of Russia right now.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly a conflict between what the company, Metrojet, is saying, saying it wasn't anything mechanical, and the emphasis the Kremlin is trying to put on this. They're trying to distance themselves and, of course, this crash from any kind of act of terrorism, saying it's premature to even talk about that, and certainly not to draw any parallel between this crash -- and any linkage between this crash and the intervention in Syria.

But the fact is, it's going to look bad for the Kremlin either way, because if it does turn out to be terrorism, then they're going to be open to the allegation that the intervention in Syria, they have been bombing for the last month or so, has exposed Russian citizens to that kind of danger.

But if it's a technical failure, they're equally going to be accused of not doing enough to ensure the safety of air travelers in this country. There have been so many accidents here over the past 20 years that, you know, people just really want it to stop.

BLITZER: Russian officials, Matthew, they have joined the Egyptians at the crash site in Sinai. Explain Russia's role in this investigation. Where do we expect it to go from here?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, Russia, alongside Egypt, it was invited by Egypt to take part in the investigation. Obviously, it's a disaster which affects Russia more than anyone else. All the citizens -- all the people on board the plane were obviously Russian with a few other nationalities as well, just a handful.

But it's a big national tragedy for this country. The Russian experts along with the Egyptians and representatives from Airbus in France are also going to be looking at the black boxes to try and glean what information they can from those -- cockpit voice recorder and the data recorder to see what the circumstances were in this crash.

At the moment, we're sort of leaning towards, with all the reporting we have been seeing about the heat flash and about the various other things that have been coming out on the Russian news agencies, leaning towards the idea that this was some kind of a terrorist attack.

But, of course, no one's ruling out mechanical failure at this stage either. At this point, the focus, though, in Russia very much on the human catastrophe. It's been announced tonight that on Sunday there will be a big memorial service here in Saint Petersburg at a cathedral here, and the process is still under way of identifying the bodies. Only 19 have been identified so far. They have got a long way to go, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do, Matthew. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, terrorists are celebrating the Russian plane crash tonight. And they're making new threats against the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. What would it mean for Putin if this disaster is proven to be a terror attack?

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Questions about whether or not this could be the terrorist payback to Putin for his military strikes against various targets in Syria.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Well, Russian President Vladimir Putin sold his military intervention as necessary to make the Russian people safer, but speculation terrorists could have brought down the plane and fresh threats by extremist groups are raising fears Putin's actions could spark a new way of terrorist attacks against Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight, in this new propaganda video, ISIS is again claiming credit for downing the commercial airliner, calling Russian leader Vladimir Putin a pig and warning he will pay a -- quote -- "high price" for his actions in Syria.

The group offered no proof, and intelligence analysts tell CNN they don't find the claim credible, but sources say the U.S. has not ruled out the possibility of terror. Several competing groups have threatened Putin since Russian troops began pouring into Syria, something Secretary of State John Kerry warned in a recent interview with CNN might happen.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If he's going to side with Assad and with Iran and Hezbollah, he's going to have a very serious problem with the Sunni countries in the region, and that means that he could even become a target for those Sunni jihadis.

LABOTT: Two weeks after Kerry's warning, Russia's security service claimed it foiled a terrorist attack linked to ISIS on Moscow's subway system. Days later, both ISIS and al Qaeda Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front called for jihad against Russia for a spate of airstrikes aimed at anti-Assad groups.

[18:10:03]

And while he didn't mention the crash in the Sinai, overnight, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri issued this call to arms, ordering lone wolves to attack all countries fighting Muslims, including Russia.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: The Russian intervention in Syria has turbocharged the global jihadi movement. Historically, nothing has unified this movement more than their shared confrontation with Russia.

LABOTT: And, tonight, despite U.S. sources saying there is satellite evidence suggesting an explosion could have brought down the plane, Russian state media, controlled by Putin, said Russian experts have found no trace of explosives or any kind of evidence that a bomb went off.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: Now, if terrorists did have a hand in bringing that plane down, how would Putin respond? If the war in Chechnya is any guide, analysts say he will double down in Syria, intensifying his bombing campaign, and they say a grieving and fearful Russian public will likely support him for trying to neutralize the terrorist threat before it reaches the homeland, Wolf.

BLITZER: If they can confirm that it was, indeed, terrorists responsible for the downing of this plane, 224 people on board.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Elise, thanks very much. Joining us now, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. He's a leading

Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, as well as the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Absolutely, Wolf. Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: It's pretty alarming to me, the U.S. Embassy issuing this advisory, telling all American employees at the embassy, all diplomats, don't go into Sinai right now, pending the outcome of this investigation into the tragic crash.

It suggests that they fear that the terrorist rampage, if it's going on in Sinai, it potentially could have been responsible for this plane crash.

KAINE: Wolf, it really is too early to tell. And, you know, we hope that that's not the case.

But there has been an ongoing battle between Sunni extremists in the Sinai and the Egyptian government and others. And so it's a possibility, and we just have to do our best to get to the bottom of it. So, I think the caution is warranted. But, again, I hope that it's not the case.

But what it demonstrates is the -- is, you know, the challenge. Russia getting into the theater in Syria, you know, Hezbollah decided to go from Lebanon into Syria to back up the regime of Bashar al-Assad a few years ago, and then Sunni extremists started to bomb Hezbollah- connected and Shia-connected sites in Lebanon as payback for it.

So, the threat that Sunni extremists will take it out on you if you go into Syria to buck up Bashar al-Assad is a very real threat.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And let's not forget -- and you know this -- you're a member of the Armed Services Committee -- there are still 750 American troops right in the middle of Sinai right now. They have been there since 1979.

But this is an extremely dangerous environment. And as Barbara Starr just reported, four of them were injured in September when an improvised explosive device hit them. Are you comfortable with all those American troops in Sinai right now?

KAINE: Wolf, I'm really glad you brought this up.

The multinational force of observers that was put in place in the Sinai to help guard the Egyptian/Israeli border has actually been quite successful as a multinational peacekeeping operation. I went and visited them in February of 2014, saw a lot of American Army troops, but also working in tandem with Colombians and troops from Fiji and troops from all around the world.

But you were already seeing at that point a spike up in Sunni extremism in that area. There had been a bombing of a tourist bus near Sharm el-Sheikh that killed a number of Japanese tourists at that time. And then, of course, you have seen other activities like this one that raise significant concerns.

I do believe that the American troops that are there have the ability and the materiel to take care of themselves and defend themselves, but we don't want to see that area destabilized, so we have got to work with our partners in Egypt and elsewhere to see that we protect our folks, but also do what we can to continue this peacekeeping mission that for 35 years has been pretty successful.

BLITZER: It's been very successful. Let's hope they do have the proper force protection, as it's called, to make sure that those 750 Americans and the other international observers from Fiji and some of the other countries are protected as well.

Senator, we have much more to discuss. You're up on Capitol Hill. Stand by.

KAINE: Great.

BLITZER: We will continue our conversation with Senator Tim Kaine in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:35]

BLITZER: We're back with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. He's a leading Democrat on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee.

We're talking about U.S. special operations forces now heading to Syria, under 50, but, still, the first ground combat troops heading to this very, very dangerous assignment.

You believe the president should seek formal congressional authorization to upgrade, to move to this new phase in the war. He says he has that authorization based on the votes back in 2001. Why isn't that good enough?

[18:20:06]

KAINE: You know, Wolf, if you look at the 2001 authorization, it's very specific.

It allows the president the ability to go after the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. ISIL was formed two years after 9/11. ISIL is actually engaged in a battle with al Qaeda now in Syria and elsewhere. So, to claim that the authorization that allowed us to go after al Qaeda also covers ISIL basically would turn the authorization into a carte blanche for the president to wage executive war without ever coming to Congress.

I think that is highly, highly troubling. And since the president started the war against ISIL in August of 2014, I have been urging Congress to do the job we're supposed to do under Article I. Remember, the president has actually given us a proposed authorization. Didn't do it until February.

But it's been crickets up here since he did that. It's time for us to have the debate and shape an authorization for what is a growing and mutating war that is now encompassing not just Iraq and Syria, but many other nations as well.

BLITZER: Do you support his decision to send 50 ground combat special operation forces to Syria?

KAINE: Wolf, to the extent that we have had the briefing about why he is proposing it, I could certainly see myself voting for it as part of a strategy.

But I don't think the president should be doing this without a vote. You probably noticed that, about 10 days before, the president deployed 300 forces to Cameroon and sent us a war powers notification. These are forces to battle Boko Haram, and Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to ISIL.

So, now what we have is ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and an affiliate in Cameroon. We're stretching ourselves thin, and Congress still won't have a debate.

BLITZER: The Russian role in all of this potentially very dangerous right now, with Russian warplanes flying around over Syria, U.S. warplanes flying around over Syria. They coordinate, but they're potentially -- there could be a disaster up over the skies of Syria.

KAINE: There could be a disaster, Wolf. You're right. And, again, it's just an indication of how complicated this is.

It's not just the growing number of nations, the growing number of troops. We have spent $4.75 billion. But you have Russia coming into the theater. You have the Syrian refugee crisis that has become the worst displaced persons crisis since World War II. There is one aspect, though, of Russia being on the ground in Syria that we need to really explore.

They're there because Assad was getting ready to topple, and they want to try to promote some stability. At least that is one overlap we have with Russia. We don't overlap them -- with them on much, and even we would define stability a little bit differently. But, remember, Russia has been in Syria for 50 years. The only military base they have outside the former Soviet Union is in Syria on the Mediterranean.

So, they have an interest in stability, and so do we, and, hopefully, in that small overlap of our goals, we might be able to help promote more stability there.

BLITZER: I spoke with Senator Rand Paul earlier today. He's with you. He says the administration needs formal congressional authorization to go to this, to escalate this war against ISIS right now. And he goes one step further. He says, what the president is

doing is basically illegal, it goes counter to the Constitution. Do you go that far?

KAINE: I would say this, Wolf. I do not think there is a legal authorization for this war, but I put more of the blame on Congress' shoulders than the president's, because it's Congress that has an Article I responsibility. Whether or not you like what the president is doing, that doesn't change our responsibility.

And the congressional leadership, both parties, both houses have been kind of sending this weird message to the president, don't trouble us with this, because we don't want to get our hands dirty. It's politically challenging.

And so what you have in Congress is, we're the branch that's supposed to authorize war, but what Congress has decided to do is, it wants to criticize, but it neither wants to authorize nor stop what the president is doing. I'm faulting the president for not articulating a clear Syria strategy, but the blame for the unauthorized war is squarely on Congress' shoulders, because it's Congress' job under Article I to do this.

BLITZER: Yes, it's not exactly a profile in courage right now.

KAINE: Absolutely not.

BLITZER: These members are worried about a vote that could be controversial going into the next election, so they'd rather not have to raise their hand or vote yea or nay, for that matter.

I know you're taking leadership on this. Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

KAINE: But, Wolf, the thing that's so important is, yes, people are afraid of a vote, but we're making people risk their lives. Since we started this war, there have been American hostages executed, then American service members killed, not in direct combat, but who were deployed in the theater.

[18:25:00]

And now we have the first combat death. If we're going to ask people to risk their lives, we ought to be willing to have a debate and a vote about whether this mission is worth it. And if we're not willing to do that, we shouldn't force 3,700 people and growing to be over there thousands of miles from home risking their lives every day.

BLITZER: Yes, 3, 700 U.S. troops in Iraq right now.

All right, Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

KAINE: Absolutely. Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next: an ominous warning from al Qaeda and ISIS threat of payback. Was the crash of that Russian airliner actually a terror attack?

And Donald Trump slips to second place in a new GOP presidential poll, and now he's taking new swipes at the new front-runner, Dr. Ben Carson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are new developments tonight into the investigation of the crash of that Russian airliner in Egypt. A source telling CNN that a heat flash, possibly an explosion, was detected by a U.S. military satellite just before the plane broke up in midair over the Sinai Peninsula.

[18:30:41] But Russian state media, they are reporting that the victims' bodies don't show signs of an explosive impact.

Let's get some more. Joining us, "The New York Times" Washington correspondent Charlie Savage. He's got a brand-new, very important book that has just come out, entitled "Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 Presidency." We're also joined by our CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

Charlie, I'll get to your book in a moment, but I want your take on this plane crash. ISIS, al Qaeda, they're warning of retaliation against the Russians for their airstrikes in Syria. You've covered this region extensively. How likely do you believe it could be that some terror group, whether al Qaeda or ISIS or some other terror group, specifically attacked this plane for retaliation against the Russians?

CHARLIE SAVAGE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, you know, Wolf, I don't want to speculate without more evidence. We want to see what's on those black boxes.

But obviously, the coincidence in timing, with Russia starting to escalate its campaign against ISIS and now this, makes one very suspicious that this could be just the latest sign of how bad things are getting in that part of the world and that, in fact, they're going to get worse before they get better.

BLITZER: Paul, you've studied this region at the same time. It might not be is, but al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP as it's called, or some other al Qaeda group, al Shabaab. They do have capabilities to put a bomb on a plane, don't they?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Absolutely right, Wolf. Al Qaeda in Yemen, as we know, have that capability. We saw that with the underwear bombing attempt over Detroit in 2009, and since then, their master bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, has been trying to develop new generations of explosive devices, the kind of devices you might be able to get through security at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport.

Also worries about the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria developing these same kind of capabilities. And of course, Russia is hitting al Qaeda in Syria. But what we haven't seen so far is any al Qaeda claim whatsoever.

And in this age of social media, that's very, very surprising, if they, indeed, carried out this attack. You'd expect them to get the claim out by now, especially because this ISIS affiliate in Sinai has already put out a claim.

So, the fact that al Qaeda has not put out a claim so far, I think, suggests perhaps it's not them responsible. I think there's a lot of skepticism at this point that this is any kind of terrorist event whatsoever.

The ISIS organization in Syria and in Iraq, they've not really got massively behind this claim of al-Afiya (ph). It seems more like they hope that their affiliates in Egypt carried this out more than they know they carried it out. This would be the biggest terrorist win since 9/11. The fact these terrorist groups are not having a full court press right now, I think is quite suggestive, Wolf.

BLITZER: Charlie, in your new book, "Power Wars," you say this. You say, "The president is the most lawyerly of American presidents in his approach to these policies." You heard Senator Tim Kaine say he should get Congressional authorization to start sending U.S. troops to Sinai for these airstrikes. Does he need authorization, formal authorization? You've studied this extensively.

SAVAGE: I have. You know. So this book is based on 150 interviews, or interviews with 150 current and former Obama officials and documents. And I'm tracing these behind-the-scenes legal policy debates as national security dilemmas arise in the world, and these officials are arguing with each other. And they can't figure out what the rules are even, because so much is different about the 21st century. The rules were not written for these situations.

And one of the most interesting arcs of it has to do with this very issue: how Obama evolves, and it evolves back in some ways on his war powers.

As a senator in 2007, he said the president does not have the authority to bomb another country without prior congressional authorization, absent an imminent threat. In 2011, he does just that in Libya. And the reason he does is because Congress can't get its act together. This is right after the Tea Party takeover of the House. The government is about to shut down, and they just don't have time to move when the U.N. authorizes force to protect Benghazi against Gadhafi.

By 2013, when he's thinking about attacking Assad over crossing the red line for chemical weapons, everyone thinks he's going to do it again without Congress. And all of a sudden, he changes course and he says to his advisers -- it's because he said that in 2007, he still agrees with that guy. He wants to go to Congress this time. Obviously, that ended up not happening. He goes to Congress, but they don't bomb.

And then in 2014, when he decides to attack ISIS in first Iraq and then Syria, as well, he could either say that's a new war, in which case he would need authorization from Congress eventually, or he could say this is the existing war. This is the 9/11 war, splintering al Qaeda has become -- a faction of it has become this entity, but the old authority still applies.

[18:35:22] And because you can't trust Congress to move, he decides he's just going to make this sort of strained theory. And Senator Kaine just before the break was talking about why it's strained, just because he thinks that Congress is dysfunctional at this time. It seems like Senator Kaine also thinks that Congress is not capable right now of doing its constitutional function.

BLITZER: You write in the book, "Surveying Obama-era counterterrorism policies, a range of people across the ideological spectrum would voice with escalating intensity what became a defining accusation, not just of the moment, but of the entire presidency. Obama was acting like Bush." Certainly words the president and his supporters don't necessarily want to be able to read in your book.

SAVAGE: Right. Well, obviously -- but they're quite used to it. This is a common refrain. This is, in some ways, the central mystery that the book -- I'm trying to explore with all these behind-the- scenes reporting for the book. Why is it that Obama, running as the candidate who was going to bring change from George W. Bush's global war on terror, ends up continuing surveillance and drone strikes and indefinite detention without trial, and military commissions and secrecy and so much more?

And one of the great insights that arises from all these stories of these behind-the-scenes fights and dilemmas and wrestling that this very lawyerly administration has over how they're going to deal with the world as it is, not as they might like it to be, is the insight that what is clearer to us now than it was during the Bush years was that there were two different kinds of criticism of Bush among the Democrats, mostly, who were criticizing his post-9/11 policies.

There was a civil liberties critique, which says that these kind of policies like warrantless surveillance are inherently wrong as a matter of individual rights. And there was a rule of law critique that says whether or not that's the right policy, given the threat of al Qaeda, you need to go to Congress and get authority for it. You can't just violate a statute because you're the commander in chief.

And Obama, with his lawyerly mindset and the people who became his advisers, overwhelmingly thought the problem with Bush was the legal process of these policies. So that, once Congress fixed them, the policies could continue, and they felt they were not acting like Bush. And that's where this disconnect comes between the expectations created by his campaign rhetoric and how he's turned out to govern.

BLITZER: It's an important book, entitled "Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 Presidency." The author is Charlie Savage. Charlie, thanks for joining us.

Paul Cruickshank, thanks to you, as well. We'll stay on top of this story.

In fact, we're going to have much more on the Russian plane crash and also the evidence suggesting a bomb may have been to blame.

And as Donald Trump tries to sell his new book, his opponents aren't buying his call for them to drop out of the race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:42:36] BLITZER: Tonight, Donald Trump is calling on several of his Republican rivals to simply drop out of the race. He says the candidates who are doing poorly in the polls, who are getting 1 or 2 percent, they are simply, he says, wasting their time. This as Trump's own poll numbers, they're softening a little bit. Dr. Ben Carson is emerging as the new frontrunner in at least two national polls among Republicans.

Our political reporter, Sara Murray, is covering the Republican race for us.

Sara, you were there at Trump's news conference today. Tell our viewers how it went.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I was. And in addition to touting his new book out today, Donald Trump also had some sharp words for his rivals, everyone from Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and even Ben Carson, the latest Republican frontrunner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Ben Carson tightening his grip on his frontrunner status. Twenty-nine percent of GOP voters nationwide support Carson in the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, a six-point lead over Donald Trump.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our strength is in our unity, and we need to stop listening to the purveyors of division, who are trying to make us think that there's a war going on with everything.

MURRAY: Taken together, the two outsiders dominate the field, drawing 52 percent support.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you add Ben and myself, we're beating everybody by a lot. That seems to be the big story.

CARSON: I've continued to do what I've been doing.

MURRAY: Carson's gains coming as he travels the country promoting his book. Not to be outdone, Trump celebrated his own book release today and took a swipe at the man on top of the polls.

TRUMP: He's a different kind of a person. My book is very hard- hitting. You look at Ben, he's very weak on immigration and he wants to get rid of Medicare.

MURRAY: Training his fire on another rival, Trump predicted Jeb Bush doesn't have what it takes to win the White House. TRUMP: Can Jeb make a comeback? I think it's going to be very

hard.

MURRAY: And said it's time for some of his GOP opponents to give up the fight.

(on camera): Do you think it's time for some of the Republicans in the field to drop out?

TRUMP: If a person's been campaigning for four or five months and they're at zero or 1 or 2 percent, they should get out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to go back, if I can...

MURRAY (voice-over): With the candidates now at odds with each other over how to move forward with their debates, President Obama is mocking the entire field.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you can't handle those guys? You know, then I don't think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you.

MURRAY: While Trump complains it's the Democrats that have it easy.

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton, no tough questions. I mean, why didn't they ask about Bill? Why didn't they ask about all of the different things? Hillary had only softballs all night long. It was like this: "Here, Hillary, hit this one over the park."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, it's worth remembering that in 2007, President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all decided to skip a debate that was hosted by FOX News. So, it's clear that complaints about debates really do work across the aisle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do. All right. Thanks very much, Sara, for that report.

Let's bring in senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson; our Republican strategist, our CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, she's a Jeb Bush supporter, also a friend, by the way, of Marco Rubio; and our CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, he's the editorial director of "The National Journal."

And Sara was right, Ron. You and I remember, President Obama back in 2007, when he was running for the Democratic nomination, he didn't want to do a debate on FOX News either.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and in fact, there was a big push from a liberal group in the Democratic coalition to kind of ostracize FOX. It was much about kind of separating FOX as it was kind of keeping the candidates away from the FOX anchors.

Look, what the president said was a little unfair in that sense, but equally unfair was the underlying accusation that he was responding to, the idea that if we had a president with more backbone, that that by itself would change the way Putin behaves. Republicans think George W. Bush has a lot of backbone, but Putin invaded Georgia during his presidency. So, I think, you know, there's a little bit of a back-and-forth here.

The larger point, though, I think, Wolf, is that this president has a lot at stake in the 2016 election. Every outgoing president has a big stake in the elections that succeed him, but if you think how Obama has been pursuing his goals in the second term, he's largely given up on working through Congress, he's pushed the boundaries on executive authority on climate, immigration, education and health care reform, and that means that all that he's -- much of what he's accomplished is pretty easy to reverse through the stroke of a pen of the next president. He wants to make sure a Democrat is controlling that pen in 2017.

BLITZER: And Donald Trump, Nia, he came out swinging today against several of his rivals, including Dr. Ben Carson, for that matter. I think he sensed the fact that a "New York Times" poll, "The Wall Street journal" poll nationally among Republicans, Carson is now number one, Trump is number two. He doesn't like to be number two.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right.

BLITZER: So, presumably, he's going to get tougher.

HENDERSON: That's right. And he's had trouble sort of figuring out what line of attack to launch against Ben Carson. Today, he talked about immigration reform. In the past, he's talked about him having a wrong temperament and low energy. He's also talked about his faith. He's a Seventh Day Adventist, Carson is.

All of those, especially, the one, the attack on religion didn't work. So, he's got to figure out what he needs to do with Donald Trump. Part of the problem is that Donald Trump has lower approval ratings than Ben Carson. So, I think that affects what he's going to do. He doesn't want to come across as sort of Mr. Mean Guy when it comes to attacking Ben Carson, because a lot of people see him as Mr. Nice Guy.

So, I think that's a problem for Donald Trump. He's not used to being in second place. He's in second place not nationally, but in Iowa as well, which matters more at this point than those national polls.

BLITZER: And, Ana, your guy, Jeb Bush, in the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, he's not doing that great. Carson, we had him at 29 percent, Trump at 23 percent, Marco Rubio 11 percent, Ted Cruz 10 percent, Jeb Bush only 8 percent in this poll.

For a guy who was once a front-runner, he's got a lot of work to do now, doesn't he?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's got a lot of work to do. I think he's got to reset, rebrand, reboot, refocus, re- everything. And, you know, is it possible? Yes, I saw John McCain rise from the ashes of a campaign and defy the political obituaries that were written about him and go on to win the nomination.

I know that Jeb is committed to it. I know he's got the humility, the discipline. I know he's got the backbone to do it. Now he just has to do it. I think, Wolf, the expectations on him right now are so low that, frankly, if he goes out on the debate stage in a week and shows a pulse, hits a triple, it but he has got to do it. He can't have another lackluster debate performance.

And I think Jeb understands that. Jeb has got the, you know, wherewithal to hear the chatter around him, to hear those writing him, e-mailing him, talking to him. And I think he understands that he has got to project more forcefully than he has been doing in the past.

BLITZER: He certainly does. And he knows that as he himself says.

All right. Thanks very much, Ana, for that. Nia, Ron, guys, appreciate it.

By the way, Donald Trump will be interviewed on CNN's "NEW DAY" tomorrow. Tune in during the 7:00 a.m. Eastern hour. Donald Trump on CNN's "NEW DAY."

Just ahead, the newest information coming in to CNN about that Russian plane crash and the possible cause.

Plus, does Jeb Bush feel as though he's disappointing his famous family as his presidential campaign stalls? Stand by for more of his interview with CNN's Jamie Gangel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:54:22] BLITZER: Tonight, Jeb Bush is talking about some sensitive subjects his brother's presidency, his family's political legacy and the possibility he is letting his parents down.

Our special correspondent Jamie Gangel sat down with Bush for a one-on-one interview about his struggling presidential campaign, his new book and a whole lot more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: The book, here it is, 700 pages. This book is Jeb Bush, the policy wonk, good night who likes to talk about budgets, fix things. But I know you say it's the polls, I know you say it's going to change.

[18:55:05] But do you think you waited too long?

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This book is not about policy. This is a book about a servant leader. It's a book about --

GANGEL: Meaning? BUSH: Meaning that there are people hurting in our country.

There are politicians that say, hey, you know, I'm just the big guy in the room. I'm the personality. Trust me.

And then there are people that have a servant's heart that work each and every day on behalf of people, to give them a chance to have prosperity for their children to live a life of purpose and meaning.

And this book, through my emails, is an example of servant leadership, where I move the needle. I fixed things that were broken in my state. And I'm proud of it.

GANGEL: There are e-mails in there. In one e-mail you talk about a word the Bush family hates, the D-word, "dynasty". You talk about your dad skydiving, which you say you would not do, for the record. And you talk about how much you love him.

How are your parents handling this campaign?

BUSH: Well, I'm making a contribution for my dad. I think he stopped watching reruns of "CSI." He's back watching the cable news shows so he can get -- he gets fired up. He wants his son -- he loves his son. I love him more than he loves me, because he's the greatest man alive.

But I'm taking credit for getting him back in the game a little bit. And, mom, who you may remember, talk about being neutral was neutral on the subject of my candidacy is fully onboard.

So, they're all in for Jeb and --

GANGEL: Is your dad still throwing things at the TV?

BUSH: I think he is. You know him. I mean, he's the most loving guy in the world. But he's -- this isn't about policy for him. This is about his boy that he loves.

GANGEL: When they see you struggling, is that hard or do they keep that away from you?

BUSH: I don't know. I feel I never want to let them down, for sure. They don't -- I don't get a sense that they're disappointed in my in any way. They know, if anybody knows about the long haul nature of primary campaigns and campaigns in general, it's George and Barbara Bush. So, they've got the right perspective on this.

So does my brother. I mean, he, of all people, knows about this because he's, by the way, the last Republican and second to last Republican to win elections. He knows how it's done.

GANGEL: So, let me ask you about your brother, because I'm guessing that somewhere along the line, he said to you, don't worry about me. Go out there, say whatever you need to say. Do whatever you need to do. And he does understand this better than anyone else.

BUSH: Yes, he does. GANGEL: You were just with him in Houston. Does he give you

advice?

BUSH: Yes, first of all, I struggle with this because I don't want to say anything bad about my brother. He's my brother. The blood sport is, where do you differ, how you're this, blah, blah, blah, you know?

So, I stumbled in the beginning because I had a hard time saying -- I spent six years being governor of the state where I never was critical of my brother even when I was striving to get the best deal I could get for my state. It was a discipline I was proud of. I haven't cast it aside. So, my bad, not his, because you're right. He'd say, do what you need to do.

His advice is to be patient, stick with it. At the end of the day, people are going to start figuring out who is going to be present, who is going to sit behind the big desk, to use his terminology. And it's encouraging to hear him say that because he knows. He's been through ups and downs. You know, that's just the way it is.

GANGEL: In the Bush family, there is a great sense of responsibility about public service.

BUSH: Yes.

GANGEL: So when you took this on, that goes with the last name. Do you worry about letting your parents down?

BUSH: I have thousands and thousands of people that I want to do well. I want to win though, too. This is not about disappointing people. This is about fixing some really complex things I know I can do. I just know it in my heart that I can draw people together to unify the country around a few really big things.

If we did it, income would grow for the middle class. People would be lifted out of poverty and we would be safe and secure. And that's what I focus on. So, the hardest critic of Jeb Bush is Jeb Bush.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Jeb Bush interview with our Jamie Gangel. By the way, more of this interview coming up later tonight on "AC360", "ANDERSON COOPER 360", more with Jamie's interview with Jeb Bush.

Remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Just tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us here again tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.