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Interview With Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton; GOP Presidential Race; Russian Plane Crash Investigation; Poll: Trump Has Slight Led Over Carson; Rubio on Defenses Over Personal Finances. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired November 5, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Obama's theory. The president is talking openly about the Russian plane disaster and whether he believes there was a bomb on board, this as we learn more about the ISIS communications that grabbed the attention of U.S. intelligence agents.

Inside threat? Security is ratcheting up at the Egyptian airport where the Russian plane originated. What, if anything, is the U.S. doing to respond to concerns that ISIS may be targeting American airplanes?

Putin pushes back. Russia says theories about a bomb on board are merely speculation, but the White House says it doesn't trust Kremlin officials to tell the truth.

And owning the airwaves. The two Republican presidential front- runners release unconventional TV and radio spots, including a controversial tease by Donald Trump and a rap song promoting Ben Carson's record.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight in the Russian plane disaster, President Obama now publicly acknowledging the possibility that a bomb brought down the jet. The British prime minister, David Cameron, is going farther, saying it's more likely than not that a bomb was on board.

Although the investigation is still under way, CNN has learned that very specific terrorist chatter, chatter, as it's called, led U.S. intelligence agents to believe that ISIS may have planted explosive devices on the aircraft. Tighter, there is security in place at the Egyptian airport where the Russian flight originated. So Britain says it will resume flights from Sharm el-Sheikh tomorrow.

And there's also enormous concern that ISIS may be capable of pulling off an attack on a commercial jetliner and that airports here in the United States, indeed around the world are vulnerable. I will ask Senator Tom Cotton what he is learning. He's a key

member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by to cover all the news that is breaking right now.

Up first, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, you have new details about why U.S. intelligence now believes this was a bomb plot. What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, technically, the intelligence community will tell you they have still not come to a conclusion. They hold open the possibility it was some kind of mechanical or structural failure of the aircraft.

But in fact shortly after the crash of the Russian airliner, the U.S. intelligence community did monitor chatter from an ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula to some other entity and a terrorist organization, not telling us who, and that chatter discussed the attack on the Russian airliner, discussed it in terms of a bomb, the airplane crashing, some details about all of it.

That is what got the attention of both U.S. and British intelligence services so quickly after this plane crashed. That is one of the key pieces of intelligence they are looking at. Why can't they say definitively? Why are we still talking about maybe a structural failure?

Because neither the U.S. nor Britain has any access at the moment to the wreckage of the Russian airliner. The Egyptians and Russians essentially still control the wreckage and until everybody shares what they know and everybody gets a good look at all the evidence, it may be very difficult for any of the governments involved to come to a firm conclusion, a growing worry inside the Obama administration that the Russians may not, and this is a feeling they have, the Russians may not readily come forward with what they know -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We have learned today Russia has been carrying out a new string of airstrikes against ISIS, ISIS targets in Syria. What are you finding out?

STARR: Earlier today, Wolf, the Russian Defense Ministry announcing in the last two days some 80 missions against ISIS in Syria. One, of course, caught our eye. Russian warplanes -- and you see some of the video there they have released, Russian warplanes striking the city of Raqqa in Syria. That is the stronghold, the self-declared capital of ISIS.

People will be looking to see if this is the beginning of the Russian answer back to ISIS for the airplane attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: An important new development. Barbara, thank you.

Now that President Obama is publicly acknowledging that a bomb may have brought down the Russian plane, should the United States be tightening airport security? Tonight, we're learning more about the new security measures in place in Egypt.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, what changes have been made at the Sharm el-Sheikh Airport?


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that before entering Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, before even getting on the ground, travelers have to stop at a vehicle checkpoint.

Armed officers are checking the inside of those vehicles and they're also checking for proof of travel as well as I.D. And then once they are inside of the airport, before even checking in for their flight, their luggage is screened and we also know the passengers go through metal detectors.

Once they are then checked in on their flight, passengers go through a second set of metal detectors and carry-on luggage is screened once again. If the measures are in place, the question is, did someone surpass them? TSA is paying close attention to the investigation. If there was a bomb on board, it's critical for aviation security in the United States and overseas that they find out how it got there.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but because it's a strong possibility, it's right to act.

MARSH (voice-over): Following a stunning assessment by the British prime minister, activity at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Airport has slowed significantly, as British aviation experts are on scene assessing security.

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: You're talking about a system which is highly vulnerable to those who wish to corrupt it by money. And, again, you have a natural system of these folks, of these expediters who are on a daily basis skating in and out of the system trying to push people through.

MARSH: With U.S. intelligence pointing to a bomb on board, many here are asking if it could happen on American soil. Congressional testimony detailed an undercover operation where TSA failed 95 percent of the time detecting fake explosives at U.S. airports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Failures included technology, TSA procedures and human errors.

MARSH: But the larger threat may be beyond the security checkpoint.

SHAFFER: You may have someone who has gone through all the security checks, has passed all the background checks, but has been successful in hiding their true loyalty or allegiance to al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood or ISIS. And this is the ultimate threat, the insider threat.

MARSH: Chad Wolf, the former head of TSA security policy, agrees.

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: What we have seen over the past six months to 12 months is a number of alarming security incidences here domestically in the U.S., whether it be Atlanta Airport or others, where you have seen guns being smuggled on board passenger aircraft.

MARSH (on camera): Right. If you can smuggle a gun, you could smuggle a bomb, one would argue.

WOLF: And I think that's still what's alarming to a lot of folks, that so far so much time has passed after 9/11 that we would have shored this up.

MARSH (voice-over): Another concern, while airports that fly into the United States are supposed to abide by TSA policy, Wolf says there's little oversight to make sure those rules are followed.

WOLF: The TSA's going to be driven by the intelligence that comes out of the investigation. So, how is -- if it is an explosive device, how was it put on board the aircraft? Was it smuggled? Is it an insider threat? Was it a passenger?


MARSH: Well, if this was a bomb on board, what happened and how it happened will inform TSA's decision on how to enhance security if need be.

We know conversations are ongoing behind the scenes with TSA at this point. So what else is happening behind the scenes is that TSA is talking with many of its embeds at embassies in different regions to try and find out what the security structure is at the worldwide airports to determine if there are any soft spots there as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, if they get the cooperation of the host governments in those international airports, not always all that easy. Rene, thanks very much.

While the United States is leaving the door wide open to bomb theories, Russian President Vladimir Putin insists mechanical failure is still a very real possibility. The White House says it's not confident Putin will be entirely truthful about this investigation.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is joining us now live from Moscow.

Matthew, Russians are knocking down claims of a bomb. Have Russian investigators provided any explanations for their doubts?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to be clear, they are not ruling out the possibility that this was a terrorist act, that it was a bomb. They are just saying that at the moment the investigation has not

given us the evidence, not given them the evidence that sustains that theory and what the Russians are saying is we want the evidence to come from the investigation and then we can start to draw conclusions.

The problem is with that is that the Russian federal aviation agency says that, look, it could be several months before the investigation is complete and the conclusions have been drawn. Meanwhile, you know, the United States and the U.K. of course have come up with their own sort of assessment of the situation.

The Russians are being quite indignant at that. The Foreign Ministry is saying, look, we're shocked if there is any intelligence information at the U.K., I think they're referring to specifically -- this would refer to the U.S. as well -- we're shocked any information you have got has not been shared with the Russians.


And so, look, it's politically sensitive, of course. The Russians hate the idea this could be a bomb because it would imply this is blowback for their campaign in Syria and that's something the Kremlin I think feels very, very uncomfortable about.

But it is an international investigation, Wolf. They are not going to be able to hide the truth.

BLITZER: As you know, Russia today announced they were grounding all their Metrojet A-321s. But why didn't they do this immediately?

CHANCE: I don't know is the short answer to that, why they didn't immediately -- perhaps it is some kind of inertia in the system here.

The Russians have always been really bad at, you know -- at solving the problem, making sure that these kinds of air crashes don't happen in the future. There has been something like 20 complete, whole losses in Russia over the course of the past 20 years. It's got one of the worst records for aviation safety in the entire world.

And one of the reasons for that is they're very good at apportioning blame. They're not very good at addressing the root causes. Hopefully, on this occasion, whatever the outcome of the investigation is, they will take adequate steps to stop so many planes from Russia crashing.

BLITZER: Key word, hopefully. Matthew, thanks very much.

And joining us now, Senator Tom Cotton. He's the Arkansas Republican. He's a key member of both the Armed Services and the Intelligence Committees. He's a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Yes. Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: What are you hearing? What's the latest specific

information you're hearing why that Russian airliner went down with 224 people on board?

COTTON: Wolf, I have received several briefings this week about the Russian airliner going down.

Much of that is classified information. But let's just look at what has been said publicly. Senior U.K. officials say there is a significant possibility that was a bomb planted on the plane. Islamic State officials or leaders in the Sinai say they took the plane down. They do have a history, though, of making exaggerated claims.

And, as you were just saying, Russian officials have been denying that there's any conclusions you can draw. I think, for the time being, we should wait for the investigation to be completed. We should especially work with our Egyptian partners before we jump to conclusions.

But it does raise a couple important points. One, Vladimir Putin is a former KGB spy. He will use this incident however he can to solidify his control at home, to continue to get more support for his policies abroad.

There is no doubt about that. And, two, the Islamic State is present in the Sinai of Egypt. America has hundreds of troops there as part of our multinational forces observer team. And Egypt is a critical country in the Middle East; 80 million people live in Egypt. And the presence of the Islamic State there, the threat that they pose to tourism, whether it's in Sharm el-Sheikh or at the pyramids and the sphinxes, which is an important part of Egypt's campaign, raises real, real doubts about the president's policy for countering the Islamic State, because it's metastasizing all across the region.

BLITZER: It's going through North Africa, throughout the Middle East into South Asia as well.

Here's what President Obama just said about this attack, whatever it was, on this Russian airliner.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board. And we're taking that very seriously.

You know, we know that the procedures we have here in the United States are different than some of the procedures that existed for outbound and inbound flights there. And we're going to spend a lot of time just making sure that our own investigators and our own intelligence community figures out exactly what is going on before we make any definitive pronouncements, but it is certainly possible that there was a bomb on board.


BLITZER: Certainly possible there was a bomb on board. That's pretty specific.

COTTON: He's right. No, he's right. It's certainly possible, but we do have allow our own intelligence professionals, investigations to reach their conclusions before we jump to any conclusions.

BLITZER: As far as you know, is the British government and the U.S. government on the same page as far as this downing of this plane?

COTTON: Well, the United States and the United Kingdom are two of the closest countries in the world, part of the so-called Five Eyes partnership where we share a lot of intelligence. I wouldn't say that we're on the same page yet where our senior elected officials are reaching the same conclusions.

But our intelligence professionals always work very closely, hand in hand together.

BLITZER: All right, Senator stand by. We have much more to talk about.

We're getting more information coming in as well, much more with Senator Tom Cotton when we come back.



BLITZER: We're back with Senator Tom Cotton.

We're following the breaking news, President Obama now acknowledging publicly that it is certainly a possibility that a bomb downed a Russian airliner, killing 224 people.

Senator, as we look at all of this that is going on, the concern is if it could happen there, could it happen here? Do you know if the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, the FAA, are they taking steps to tighten security right now, whether involving planes in the United States or planes coming into the United States?


COTTON: Well, Wolf, I don't want to comment on specific procedures, because those are obviously very sensitive.

But, obviously, the TSA and DHS and FAA work very closely with our law enforcement professionals, as well as our intelligence community. They take lessons learned from what we see overseas. And they apply them here at home as well.

You're right, though, that if it could happen in Sharm el-Sheikh, it could happen in a lot of places. As we were talking earlier, it could happen in Cairo and American aircraft fly into Cairo as well. And we're talking about one of the largest countries in the Middle East that sits across a strategic waterway, the Suez Canal. And the fact the Islamic State is even present in the country and

can claim something like this, whether that claim is true or not, goes to show that our strategy to counter the Islamic State is not making process.

BLITZER: Because ISIS is did in fact blow up this plane, viewers who are watching us here in the United States, all over the world, they are worried if they're going to be traveling, let's say, overseas right now.

Should they be worried?

COTTON: I think that's a reasonable worry if it turns out that there was in fact a bomb aboard this aircraft, especially when we're going -- when aircraft are going from the United States into those countries or more likely coming out of those countries.

The Islamic State also claims to have anti-aircraft weapons as well. Now, sometimes, those claims have been proven false. But it goes to show that we can't let a group like this continue to metastasize across the Middle East because of the threat they pose to American citizens, as well as our allies.

BLITZER: At a minimum, they have shoulder-fired weapons that could -- surface-to-air -- but do they have major surface-to-air missiles that could be launched from a truck, for example?

COTTON: Wolf, I don't think we have any reporting that shows they have that yet.

But even heavy machine guns that are mounted in the back of a vehicle can be used to bring down aircraft.


BLITZER: If the aircraft is flying low, but if it's flying at 33,000 feet.


COTTON: Well, then you have to have pretty advanced anti- aircraft weaponry.

BLITZER: Right. They don't necessarily have that specific information.

COTTON: Hopefully not.

BLITZER: What should the U.S. be doing right now to deal with this new threat?

COTTON: I think we have to be more aggressive in taking the fight to the Islamic State.

The acronym ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But increasingly we see that it's not limited there. We see it in Egypt. We see it in Libya. We see it in Afghanistan. And until we get back on offense, until we increase the pace of our bombing in Iraq and Syria, until we actually address the crisis in Syria as well that's giving fuel to the Islamic State because of the sectarian warfare, the Islamic State is going to continue to attract adherents.

We can only kill them at a certain rate, but they are going to continue to attract more adherents until we show the world that they are losing.

BLITZER: The U.S. -- you served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm really worried. Tell me if you think I'm overly worried about those 700 American soldiers who are in Sinai right now, part of this multinational peacekeeping peace observer force.

COTTON: Any time we have American troops abroad, Wolf, I'm concerned about their safety.

But this multinational force that we have in Sinai, with several hundred million Americans -- or several hundred Americans, may be particularly vulnerable because of the Islamic State's presence on Sinai.

But I have consulted with senior officials in our government, as well as in the government of Egypt and Israel. And I can tell you I'm confident that they both have the security measures in place they need to protect themselves, but also the contingency plans in place in case there were to be a major pitched battle with the Islamic State.

BLITZER: Our Brian Todd just did a report, though. These guys who are there, 700 Americans, they have machine guns basically. That's about it.

COTTON: But they have two very good partners in the government of Egypt and the government of Israel, who want them there because it's part of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which is an important cornerstone of our foreign policy in the Middle East.

And between the United States government and the governments of Israel and Egypt, I'm confident that we have all the plans in place we need to keep them safe.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Cotton, thanks very much for joining us.

COTTON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Cotton from the U.S. Senate.

Just ahead, we will more on the fears that an airport insider may have played a role in the Russian jet disaster. Are airport workers undergoing new scrutiny right now? We will go live to Egypt.

And just when you thought the Republican presidential race couldn't get more unusual, it does, including, get this, a new rap song to promote low-key candidate Ben Carson.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, President Obama weighing in tonight on that Russian airliner disaster in Egypt, acknowledging the possibility that a bomb was on board.

Also tonight, sources are telling CNN that specific chatter led U.S. officials to conclude that the crash was likely the result of a bomb. A counterterrorism officials says U.S. intelligence detected people associated with an ISIS affiliate talking about the bomb's origin and bragging about it.

CNN's Ian Lee is joining us now live from Sharm el-Sheikh. That's in the Sinai Peninsula, where the doomed flight originated.

Ian, tell us about airport security there. What is the vetting process, specifically for airport workers?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when you look at the surface, Egypt has what appears to be tighter security than what -- the United States.

Here, when you check in at an airport, you go through many layers of security, starting from before you get inside the terminal. There's -- here in Sharm el-Sheikh, you have a bomb-sniffing dog. They are searching bags. Then you get inside there. You're going through at least a couple of metal detectors. They are going to X-ray your bags. They will eventually pat you down.

[18:30:10] But the real question is behind the scenes. Are the people there being trained to the level that they need to be to detect this sort of bomb or any other things that could be trying to sneak in.

Now, the British have been here. They've been working with the Egyptians. We've been told that it's been in the spirit of cooperation, that things have been going well. And we are seeing those flights resume tomorrow.

But mind you, also, Wolf, that this is an airport that also sees -- a city that also hosts international functions, where you have world leaders coming here, too. We've had Secretary of State John Kerry come here recently, as well. So they do know how to put on enough security to bring in those caliber of people, those high-level dignitaries.

But they are wondering, on the lull times, when it's just tourists coming here, are they well-trained enough to prevent something from happening, Wolf?

BLITZER: What's the Egyptian reaction, Ian, to U.S. suspicions, U.K. suspicions, as well, that a bomb took down the plane?

LEE: From the beginning, the Egyptians have downplayed any terrorist threat. They have been saying it is likely a mechanical issue. But we've had some very strong statements from the U.K., from the United States pointing it to more of a bomb that took down this.

And we just heard from Egypt's foreign minister, who was just on your show. He said that he would like to see this intelligence that the U.K. and the United States has, that they would use that in their investigation. But so far, he says and the Egyptian government has said, that they believe that this is a mechanical issue.

And it does serve in their favor to be a mechanical issue, as Sharm el-Sheikh is a hub of tourism. It brings in the money for Egypt, and the last thing they need is a terrorist attack originating from here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ian Lee at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport for us. Thanks, Ian, very much.

Let's get some more now. Joining us, the former FBI assistant director, our CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes. Also joining us, our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. The former Homeland Security Department official, Robert Liscouski is joining us. And the former CIA operative, the CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer; and our aviation correspondent Richard Quest.

Paul, I know you've been speaking with your sources. What are you hearing about the confidence level that this was, indeed, a bomb?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, British Prime Minister David Cameron today said more likely than not, and I don't think he would have said that unless they have some very strong intelligence pointers towards the idea of a bomb.

And this intelligence coming into the United States and to the United Kingdom is separate from that investigation, that forensic investigation on the ground in Egypt. And there are stands of intelligence suggesting an insider at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, who placed the device on a plane. And also that chatter that Barbara Starr has been reporting about, suggesting that ISIS in Sinai may have had responsibility for this attack.

If they did get a conventional bomb onto a plane through an insider, that would be within their capability. And this is a group that has a track record of recruiting insiders inside the Egyptian police and the Egyptian military. There was an attack in Cairo in January 2014 where a senior colonel in the police force actually -- actually helped the group, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's pretty chilling when you think about it. Richard, what are you hearing from your sources?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the long and short of it is that the Americans and the British authorities are still saying that they believe it's a bomb, but even the president seems to be sort of just rowing back marginally.

But the Egyptians and the Russians are not budging. And they are saying -- and everybody I've spoken to says there's simply not the evidence yet. So you're left with the Americans and the British basically

falling back on their very close intelligence relationship.

Now you've got to remember, Wolf, the U.K. and the U.S., when it comes to signals intelligence, pretty much operate as one under the U.K.-U.S. agreement. An agreement, incidentally, that was so secret it wasn't even admitted until about ten years ag.

And then if you add in the various fly-bys in all the different other countries, what you're left with, Wolf, is a situation where the Brits and the Americans are pretty sure that this is the way it happened. Everybody else remains to be convinced.

BLITZER: Tom, we heard the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry -- I spoke with him the last hour -- say that he would like to see that intelligence from the U.S. and the U.K.

But I asked him specifically, are you going to invite the U.S., the U.S. investigators to go into Sinai and do some checking themselves? He said there really is no role for the U.S., because it was a Russian plane; and this is Egypt territory. Is that a source of frustration for the FBI, specifically?

[18:35:11] TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No. I mean, that's a legitimate excuse on their part. They've got five countries involved already. And besides Russia and Egypt, he said Ireland, France and Germany. And they have excellent capabilities of investigation.

It's going to be hard. If this was actually a bomb that brought this plane down, they're not going to be able to hide it. They have all these countries with forensic experts. The explosive residue will be on a number of the pieces of that plane. They'll be able to pinpoint exactly what type of bomb and where it was sitting on that aircraft when it exploded.

So they're not going to be able to hide this for the long run, if that's, in fact, what happened, and they don't need the FBI to come in and...

BLITZER: Let's not forget, the engines of that airliner, that Airbus are U.S.-made. And the black boxes, as they're called, the flight data recorder, Honeywell makes those. That's another U.S. company. So there is an excuse they could give to bring in American investigators, because there was U.S. technology that was part of this, as well.

FUENTES: They're not looking for an excuse.

BLITZER: They don't want the U.S., clearly, to get involved.

Bob Baer, is there a legitimate reason why the U.S. and the U.K. wouldn't share their intelligence with the Egyptian government?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: No, absolutely, Wolf. We don't know how sensitive it is. We don't know if it involves encryption. We don't know what sort of sources and methods are involved. And we simply can't trust the Russians or the Egyptians. We could just tell them -- we could give them leads, so- called tear lines, from this investigation, say, "We believe this person was involved. Go look into this." But the raw intelligence is too sensitive to give it to either Russia or Egypt.

BLITZER: Robert Liscouski, you worked at the Department of Homeland Security. What steps should the U.S. be taking right now, presumably to beef up security if, in fact, this was a bomb that got on that plane?

ROBERT LISCOUSKI, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: Well, Wolf, there's a couple of things. As Tom mentioned, the first thing is to try to get the information out of these -- out of the Egyptians to understand exactly what happened, because that may dictate different types of tactics.

But without knowing that, I'd argue that the TSA has already stepped up their inside tactics. There's -- or their operations internally to the airport operations.

The checkpoint operations where passengers typically go through are relatively secure, and I say relatively, because you always have to work to ensure you're doing the right thing. So you don't want to take that for granted.

But it looks like it was an inside -- insider threat here that actually had access, legitimate access to the airline that could have secreted a device in the airport. Those -- there is a back, behind- the-scenes operation that the TSA is engaged in, as all security forces are, to ensure that they're constantly vetting, constantly checking people who are -- have access legitimately that might be able to do something.

BLITZER: The TSA could do that for American airports. What about foreign airports?

LISCOUSKI: Well, foreign airports, they don't have jurisdiction on. But clearly, with the U.S. airlines going in there, they have significant influence with the foreign authorities to be able to ensure that the right security procedures are there to meet their standards. There are conventions existing between the United States and all of our foreign partners to ensure that we all have the equal level of security. It's a network. So consequently, if there's a hole in one part of a network, it clearly provides a vulnerability to the entire network.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, has this always been a soft spot, the security, the background checks for these airport employees?

QUEST: Yes. And it's a soft spot in the United States, as well. If you remember the case of the gun-running in this country, you've also have -- that was where guns were being transferred from one person who'd already gone through security to another person. It is the weak spot. It is the soft underbelly, whatever phrase you want to use. And the problem of course, is how you deal with it. I mean, you

can put more resources in. You can clamp down.

But never forget, Wolf, an airport has to function and that by definition means large numbers of people going in one area and going out the other. So it's not as simple as just sort of clamping down and making it more difficult.

We've seen what happens when you ramp up security. Things grind to a halt. It happened after 9/11, obviously. It happened after the shoe bomber. It happened with liquids and gels. So it's getting that balance, and that's going to be the really hard part.

BLITZER: If in fact, this was a bomb that brought down that plane, killing 224 people, it's a game changer. There's no doubt about that.

All right, guys, stand by. We're going to have much more on the latest information coming in.

Also, other news we're following: Donald Trump, he's poised to host "Saturday Night Live." So why are the steaks so high for this Republican presidential candidate?

Plus, his rival, Dr. Ben Carson, he's rolling out -- get this -- a campaign rap.


DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Freedom is not free, and we must fight for it every day. Every one of us must fight for it, because we're fighting for our children and the next generation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (RAPPING): If we want to get America back on track, we got to vote Ben Carson, the matter of fact. Go out and vote.



[18:44:29] BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the investigation into the downing of that airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. President Obama now saying there's a -- there's a real possibility that there was a bomb on the plane. Much more on that coming up.

There's other news we're following, as well. Donald Trump and Ben Carson, they lead the Republican presidential pack in the latest polls, which gives Trump -- the latest poll gives Trump a slight lead. But now both candidates will be getting Secret Service protection, their request just approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

Our CNN political reporter, Sara Murray has all the latest on the GOP race. Sara is with us. They are working pretty hard right now to become No. 1, Sara. [18:45:01] SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right,

Wolf. Both of them are vying for the top slot and they are not taking any chances. Both of them coming up with new ads trying to solidify their support with voters.


MURRAY (voice-over): In a crowded and chaotic field, the top tier is finally coming into focus. A post-debate FOX News poll puts Donald Trump ahead of the pack by a hair, leading Dr. Ben Carson 26 percent to 23 percent nationwide.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't pay a great deal of attention to polls to be honest with you. I would rather be near the top than near the bottom though, that's for sure.

MURRAY: Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tie for third each at 11 percent, while the rest of the field stalls in the low single digits.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our country is in deep trouble because, let's face it, politicians are all talk, no action.


MURRAY: Looking to poll to a wider lead, Trump released his first round of radio ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.


TRUMP: If the people of Iowa vote for me, you'll never be disappointed. I don't disappoint people. I produce.


MURRAY: The ads positive bio spots chockfull of campaign promises ignore Trump's toughest rivals, even as the candidate takes a harsher tone in interviews and a mistakenly released promo for "Saturday Night Live".

TRUMP: So, let me just say this, Ben Carson is a complete and total loser.

MURRAY: As Carson claims, he has no interest in appearing on "SNL".

CARSON: I think the presidency's a very serious thing. And I don't like making light of it.

MURRAY: Carson is up with his own ad promoting his record remix to rap music.


MURRAY: As for Rubio, he's still weathering criticism about using a party charge card for personal expenses in Florida.

TRUMP: For years, I've heard about Marco and his credit cards. To be honest with you, I think he's got a problem there.

MURRAY: Rubio today brushing aside the attacks with a swipe at his billionaire rival's business record.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just find it ironic that the only person running for president that's ever declared a bankruptcy four times in the last 25 years is attacking anyone on finances.


MURRAY: And it's interesting. You see these two political outsiders leading the field. But Donald Trump coming out with that very conventional radio ad while Ben Carson's ad is anything but conventional -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point.

All right. Sarah, thanks.

Let's get more right now joining us our CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston, and our CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

So, Jeff, Trump is going to be hosting "SNL", "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. How important potentially could this be for his campaign?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think it is important. Any time he's in front of an audience that is that unusual, it's not a normal political audience, I think it's very important. But this is something he's excelled in before.

But I think the pressure is definitely higher than other "SNL" appearances because anything you say as a presidential candidate is slightly different. He was on Hugh Hewitt this afternoon and said the cold open is gong to be wild. I can tell you the cold open of the skit soon afterwards is going to make you laugh.

So, you know, teasing this. Donald Trump loves this. He's so good at television here. So, I think it's important but look. People want to know that he's a serious candidate, not necessarily a funny candidate. So, it is a fine line.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: He's very good at self-promotion, right.


BLITZER: And the good thing from his prospective from "SNL", most of it is scripted.

Let's talk about Ben Carson. You've written an extensive piece on Going back to his assertions when he was a young kid, teenager, he was a violent kid and it was only when he became religious that he changed his life. Talk a little bit about what you discovered.

RESTON: We set out to find the people that Dr. Carson talked about on the trail. A kid that he struck over the head with a lock. A kid that he stabbed and he said the knife went into the belt buckle.

So, we went out there to try to find these people, talk to them about their recollections, talk to them about Dr. Carson's temper and whether or not this moment of religious conversion really did cure him of any outbursts from that point forward. We were unable to find anyone, eye witnesses to any of these incidents or anyone who even heard about them at the time except for one person who said perhaps a vague recollection of this.

But nobody could identify the victims in this. So we're still looking for these people to corroborate the stories that Dr. Carson has told.

BLITZER: It's such a compelling story he has growing up in Detroit in Michigan and as a young kid being violent and then all of a sudden, becoming one of the world's greatest neuropediatric surgeons, if you will, neurosurgeons. It is an incredible story. And this is an important of it.

ZELENY: It is incredible but he uses it as a reason to show his faith. He uses it as a way to say he was touched by God and that has been a central part of his campaign.

[18:50:03] I mean, this isn't something that you all went out of the blue. He talks about it so often.

RESTON: All the time.

ZELENY: And so, that's why it's relevant here. That's why it's important because he uses it as an example of how he was saved by God, if you will. So, it certainly raises questions about some of these stories.

BLITZER: And you've written an important article at I want our readers to go there, Maeve, and read it. They're going to learn a lot more about Dr. Ben Carson.

Guys, thanks very much.

There's more breaking news we're following. President Obama speaking about the Russian airliner disaster in Egypt, acknowledging the possibility of a bomb onboard.


[18:55:05] BLITZER: Stand by for more on the breaking news. President Obama now speaking out about the Russian plane disaster, acknowledging the possibility there was a bomb on board. More on that coming up. But, first, Senator Marco Rubio's financial history now under

intensifying attack. The GOP presidential candidate is accused of misusing a Florida Republican Party charge card years ago. And there's now a new demand for Senator Rubio to answer questions about his finances as he rises in the polls and he has been rising.

Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is digging on this story.

Drew, Rubio trying to downplay all of these questions. What's the latest?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Rubio is trying to portray these issues as just a bunch of old news, Wolf, recycled political attacks. The problem is, even after years of questions, the senator hasn't come entirely clean about his records. But that may be about to change.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Marco Rubio insists he's just an average American trying to make ends meet.

RUBIO: I know for a fact how difficult it is to raise children, how expensive it's become for working families.

GRIFFIN: But there is intense pressure for him to come clean about the financial issues which have been dogging him for years. The trouble dates back to when Rubio was in the Florida House of Representatives. He came under fire for using a state Republican American Express card for personal expenses. There were complaints he charged $4,000 to repair a minivan and replace it with a rental car and that he used the card for a $130 haircut.

After the spending was made public, Rubio says he repaid it. $16,052, covering his personal expenses charged to the card.

Rubio is still answering questions about it today.

RUBIO: It wasn't a credit card. It was an American Express card secured under my personal credit in conjunction with the party. I would go to the bills would be mailed to me at home. Every month, I would go through it. If there was a personal expense, I paid it. If it was a party expense, the party paid it.

GRIFFIN: The trouble is, not all the AmEx statements from that time period have been made public. There's a two-year gap though Rubio's campaign with the Tampa Bay times, those records will be released.

Rubio's critics believe he's hiding something.

MIKE FASANO (R), FORMER FLORIDA STATE HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We still don't know what's on those statements of the American Express card prior to him becoming speaker when he had complete control of all of the campaign dollars, Florida house campaign dollars. And if he wanted to make it very clear that he had reimbursed the party, then show us.

GRIFFIN: Mike Fasano, a fellow Republican, worked with Rubio for years. Fasano used to be the majority in the Florida House and Rubio even called him his mentor but not anymore. He now supports Jeb Bush.

FASANO: He has no appreciation for the dollars that are being donated to the party or the campaigns.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Those are pretty strong statements coming from a fellow Republican.

FASANO: If you're going to run for the highest office of the land and the voters not only in Florida but throughout the United States need to know the rest of the story, the whole story, the true story. And how you do deal with finances and how you do spend other people's money.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Fasano says there's only one reason Marco Rubio has failed so far to release all of the records of his Republican Party American Express charge card. It's because the true story of how this presidential contender spent the money has yet to be told.

RUBIO: It is about the future --


GRIFFIN: Marco Rubio's campaign says Mike Fasano, the man you just heard from, Wolf, is a Bush supporter and a Republican-paid for audit cleared of any wrongdoing relating to his charge card use. Both are partially true. Fasano does like Jeb Bush but insists he has nothing to do with the Bush campaign and that audit did clear Rubio of wrongdoing in relationship to his state party credit card but it only covered half of the expenses and years under question.

Rubio's campaign says stand by. The record will finally be released -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Donald Trump is really going after Rubio on all of these -- on all of these issues, stepping up his attacks pretty regularly, right?

GRIFFIN: That's absolutely true. Questioning not just his use of charge cards but questioning his personal finances, which even Marco Rubio says aren't the best. He had some questionable spending in his days. He had to sell a house that was under water. So, there's a lot of finance issues relating to how Marco Rubio manages not only his money but especially in this case other people's donated dollars given to him for political use.

BLITZER: Do we know when he's going to release all of the relevant documents?

GRIFFIN: You know it's a moving target. His campaign said a couple of days ago it's coming out in the next few weeks. We heard it could be in the next few days. We just don't know. Keep in mind, reporters have been asking for these documents, Wolf, since 2010.

BLITZER: Drew Griffin, thanks very much for that report.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.