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THE SITUATION ROOM

Ben Carson Under Fire; Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Did Terrorists Bring Down Russian Jet?. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired November 6, 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: American security. The United States is now responding to concerns that an airport insider may have planted a bomb in that Russian jetliner. We're going to tell you about new screenings being ordered, as we get an unprecedented look inside the airport where the Russian jet took off.

Payback for ISIS? If the terror group blew up a commercial airliner, should the U.S. join with Russia to retaliate? I will ask Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul.

And pushing back. One of the GOP front-runners, Ben Carson, is dismissing questions about his past as pathetic, but, tonight, there are more doubts being raised about certain accounts of his personal history. We're standing by to hear this hour from Dr. Carson.

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: The breaking news this hour, European investigators reportedly are now convinced a bomb brought down a Russian airliner. We're learning what was found on the plane's black boxes now for the first time.

CNN affiliate France 2 says the cockpit voice recorder captured the sound of an explosion and the flight data recorder reportedly showed no sign of any technical malfunction, confirming the explosion was not an accident.

Tonight, the Department of Homeland Security is stepping up screenings of U.S.-bound flights out of the region and Russia has grounded all flights to and from Egypt. CNN has learned that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order after the U.S. and Britain shared their intelligence. The two countries reportedly have information suggesting a bomb was put in the jet's cargo hold before the plane took off likely by ISIS or ISIS affiliate.

I will ask Senator and Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul what he's been learning as a member of the House -- the Senate Homeland Security and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by with all the news that is breaking right now. Up first, let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, there is now considerable evidence there was a bomb on that Russian plane.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And now we're learning European investigators, Wolf, have listened to the black boxes. They tell a French broadcaster everything seemed normal for 24 minutes and then suddenly there was a noise that sounded like an explosion they believe was not accidental, meaning all 224 people on board that flight may have been doomed before the plane even took off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Investigators analyzing the plane's black boxes say sounds of an explosion can be heard on the cockpit voice recorder, and according to French media, those investigators say with confidence those sounds did not stem from technical failures.

As Russian drones scour the debris field in the Sinai Peninsula, focus remains on Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Airport where the aircraft departed. British intelligence officials believe an insider at the airport may have planted a bomb in the plane's cargo hold, right next to the aircraft's fuel line, according to the BBC.

ROBERT LISCOUSKI, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: We have food service workers, baggage handlers, maintenance personnel, all sorts of folks that do have legitimate access to it. And if you look at it statistically, working on those folks, somebody is going to be a bad actor someplace. They may not have a terrorist intent, but somehow perhaps they can be exploited.

BROWN: U.S. satellites captured a midair flash over the Sinai Peninsula, indicating a potential explosion in the sky.

U.S. and British intelligence officials say chatter coming from ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula suggests the terrorist group could be behind the potential plot. Russian officials say that intelligence has been shared with them. But Egypt says it knows nothing about it.

ASHRAF EL KHOLY, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.K.: We would have liked the U.K. not to make a decision until the full reports concerning the crash has been published.

BROWN: Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin made the bold announcement that Russia is suspending all flights to Egypt. Officials in Egypt continue to push back, saying it's still too early to know what caused the crash.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And we have learned that Russia made the decision to pull flights to Egypt after it reviewed U.S. and British intelligence. Officials I have spoken with say that intelligence is concerning, but inconclusive.

What will be key here is whether there is a blast pattern or bomb residue on the wreckage, Wolf. Until those results are released, no final assessment will be made.

BLITZER: We will see what those results show, but clearly the evidence seems to be mounting right now. Pamela, thanks, very, very much.

With more evidence pointing to a terror attack on that Russian jetliner, killing all 224 people on board, the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington has now taken action.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is joining us.

Rene, tell us about the new security measures that have just been ordered.

[18:05:01]

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, U.S. transportation officials are tightening security at airports around the world where U.S.-bound flights originate.

There are more than 275 airports we know that have direct flights to and from the United States, more than 275 of those airports, but we know tonight that fewer than 10 of those airports will see that heightened security. That's according to the White House and the focus will be on the Sinai Peninsula, also airports within the Middle East, as well as possibly some other European airports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, international carriers flying stranded passengers out of Egypt have triggered dramatic new measures based on British government guidelines. Several carriers have banned passengers in Egypt from bringing anything but carry-on bags on board, forcing them to leave checked luggage behind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're glad that the government are putting security measures in place for us.

MARSH: Overseas airports with direct flights to the United States are preparing for increased security measures. Today, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced expanded screening of items going onto the aircraft. Travelers will also likely see random searches, extra hand swabbing of passengers, and possibly more bomb- sniffing dogs. DHS will also assess security at select foreign airports.

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: When we talk about the shoe bomber, underwear bomber, the printer cartridges, these all happened overseas, but they were flights coming into the U.S. And so that's really, from my perspective, where the concern is.

MARSH: U.S. officials stress there are already multiple layers of security to screen passengers before they ever get on a plane bound for the U.S., including checking all passengers and crew against the U.S. terror watch list. But vulnerabilities still exist. The insider threat is a major concern.

REP. JOHN KATKO (R), NEW YORK: Employee vetting needs to be beefed up. And ones of the things they need to do in addition to it, once they hire these individuals, they need to keep continuing to vet them on a recurrent basis to make sure that if they go bad during of their time as an employee, we catch that before it's too late.

MARSH: Intelligence officials say if the downing of Metrojet was an insider job, authorities worldwide must zero in on airport and airline workers with secure access.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: And, tonight, travelers flying domestically may be wondering how this impacts them. At this point, TSA has not announced any changes to airport security domestically.

It appears they are confident with the current system in place, but it's entirely possible, Wolf, to see increased hand-swabbing, possibly more officers and canines domestically as well.

BLITZER: We will keep an eye out for all of that. All right, thanks very much, Rene.

Let's go to Sharm el-Sheikh Airport right now for an update on the investigation into this apparent terror attack.

CNN has gotten an unprecedented tour behind the scenes of that airport.

Our senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, is on the scene for us at the airport.

Nima, reports point to an explosion on board the plane. You're there. How closely are investigators probing airport employees right now and other contractors?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the avenue that many of the Western intelligence agencies that are currently looking into this issue would like to be followed, but at the same time, the airport officials we have been speaking to here on the Egyptian side insist and continue to reiterate, Wolf, that they don't think there is anything wrong with their security.

We actually asked the head of the security sector for ports and airports in this entire region what they were doing differently and he told us, nothing, because we are also operating at optimal capacity.

But in spite of that, they do acknowledge they are allowing the British military personnel team to oversee the security regarding the British carriers that are taking off to the U.K. from here. They are giving them that option, and the understanding we have here is that a lot of other nations are going to be looking for that same kind of facility, Wolf.

In the meantime, those restrictions on all but hand luggage continue to be in place, giving broader credence to that concern and those reports coming out of the U.K. today that this perhaps could have been where that security infrastructure, where that security cordon fell down here.

BLITZER: Nima, is there a sense that at the airport where you are there in Sharm el-Sheikh that there is at least mass murderer or several mass murderers on the loose right now?

ELBAGIR: Well, the Egyptians are just absolutely not countenancing any debate about this. They are saying wait until the investigation is over.

And we understand that there could be some kind of announcement about that investigation within the next 24 hours. So, morning Cairo time, we might actually have something about where the investigation is as it stands, because even though they are putting forward this very strong front that we believe that our security is absolutely up to the task, at the same time, the pressure is becoming overwhelming.

[18:10:15]

You finally have the last domino there falling, with Russia now saying actually we need to start looking at getting our people out until we have something concrete from the ground as to what exactly happened here, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nima Elbagir at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport for us, Nima, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Senator and Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

And I want to get your reaction to this France 2, our CNN affiliate, reporting that investigators are now convinced it was a bomb that brought down the plane. Are you similarly convinced?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't know if I'm enough of a bomb expert or have enough of the details to know.

But I have said for a long time that I think one of our biggest threats is really coming in from outside the country. We need to be careful with domestic flights, but really I think our biggest threat is that I don't think airports around the world will ever have the degree of security we have and that we do need to be concerned about international flights and we do need to spend time on manifests of who is coming to visit our country.

But, really, as you mentioned in the piece leading up to this, some of it is also employees, the people handling baggage. We have had some lapses in this country on who is actually in the baggage handling area. I think in foreign countries, I can't imagine they have nearly the sophistication of security we have.

So, yes, we do need to be concerned.

BLITZER: How should the U.S. respond, Senator, if this was an ISIS attack?

PAUL: I don't know if there is one response to say this is what we're going to do.

I have said all along that we shouldn't be arming radical jihadists around the world, that we never should have armed al Qaeda in Syria or al-Nusra in Syria and/or ISIS in Syria. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of our Humvees. They have a billion dollars of U.S. cash they are paying their soldiers with.

We have made some real mistakes in that area. And now I think there really can be a concerted effort to wipe out ISIS. It's going to involve the Shiites in Baghdad, the Iraqi government, probably will involve Iran, probably will involve Russia in some way or form, regardless of what we want, and it may well involve Assad as well.

But the thing is, is that we do need to unify and say enough is enough. Let's stamp out this barbarity.

BLITZER: And you say the U.S. armed these terrorist groups, al- Nusra or ISIS, because it was arming Iraqi allies, if you will, or others who simply abandoned their weapons, fled and as a result the terrorists got the weapons? Is that the point you're trying to make?

PAUL: Well, we did it twofold.

Some of the arms came in through Syria, where we armed allies of ISIS and ISIS either took the weapons, or in some cases I think Qatar and Saudi Arabia may have given arms directly to ISIS. And then some of the weapons came from Mosul, where we had given them to our Shiite allies who turned out to be not so good with holding onto their weapons.

And so really it's a compilation of mistakes, but every American ought to wonder about -- we fought a war. We lost nearly 5,000 of our young men and women and we spent a trillion dollars in Iraq. And now Iraq looks at us and says, oh, Iran is our friend and Russia is our friend. You really got to wonder how ungrateful Iraq is for us liberating them.

BLITZER: We are going to have much more, Senator. Stand by. I want to get your thoughts on U.S. airline security right now, what needs to be done, also the security of those 700-plus U.S. soldiers in Sinai right now, very volatile region. How secure are they? Should they stay there or should the U.S. pull them out?

Much more with Senator Rand Paul when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:18:51]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in the Russian airliner disaster.

The first analysis of the jet's black boxes reportedly confirm that the jet was brought down by a bomb. And, tonight, the United States is stepping up security for some U.S.-bound flights out of the Middle East.

We're back with Senator and Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul.

Senator, in the past, and correct me if I'm wrong, I believe you said you think it's time for the U.S. to end that TSA, the Transportation Security Administration. If you were president, would you do away with the TSA?

PAUL: You know, I would privatize it.

And I think if you direct security to the monetary success of companies, they do a pretty good job. We have a lot of security that is done by private agencies. In fact, we did until 9/11 have this.

I think the breakdown has always been not so much airport security, but it's the directed intelligence towards trying to stop people. We had evidence that two of the hijackers were in the country, and the CIA didn't tell the FBI this.

We captured one of the hijackers a month in advance. So I think it's doing a better job with targeted intelligence and not spending so much of our time with blanket intelligence of everyone.

[18:20:00]

The Boston bomber, we were tipped off by the Russians. We didn't keep track of him. Because of some kind of screw-up with the way his name was spelled, we didn't know that he flew back to Chechnya.

We need to spend much more time, less on the security theater, and more time on actually examining manifests. Who is visiting us from Saudi Arabia? Who is visiting us from Egypt? Who is coming from anywhere in the Middle East? And we need to do thorough background checks on all of those people, even if it delays their entry into our country, because that's where our biggest threat is.

We still need to have a threat assessment in our airports for domestic flights, but I think really that we need to try to target it. And I like the frequent flier program. It's made traveling a lot better in our country. And thousands and thousands of business men and women are not a threat. Get them out of the line, so your actual attention being paid to potential threats, you can spend more time.

But the frequent flier program is a good program and I think it has made it easier to look and try to do threat assessment. BLITZER: You're talking about the pre-screen or the global

entry, but that's done by the TSA. How would a private contractor, for example, do that kind of screening?

PAUL: You could have any of this.

We still have some airports that do have private screening. So I guess it's just a question of who does a better job. The reason I tend to distrust government is, they are not very good at doing a lot of things.

For example, we're talking about the White House being hacked into. We're talking about the head of our intelligence agencies getting his e-mail hacked by a teenager. We're talking about a government that lost 21 million records from the Office of Personnel.

This is a government that's not very good at keeping secrets. And so I don't know. I tend to think that the private marketplace is protecting themselves all of the time. I don't think they could do worse. Look, they tested the TSA recently. What was it? Over half the time, the bomb got through when they tested them.

I would also arm our pilots. Instead of a small percentage being armed, I would say 100 percent of our pilots ought to be armed. I think having the air marshals be involved is a good idea, and having more air marshals and maybe less of the thousands of people in the TSA that may not be as necessary or as good as an air marshal on board.

There are a lot of things we can do, but the bottom line is, I think we ought to be very careful about people coming in from other countries, particularly the Middle East.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. military keep 750 or so American soldiers in Sinai right now, the dangerous part of Sinai? We're showing some video of these Americans troops there. They are so- called peacekeeping observers. Would you keep them there?

PAUL: I'm trying to remember how long they have been there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They have been there since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed here in Washington in 1979.

PAUL: Yes, a long time ago.

So, probably that we ought to transition away, where there are more local people doing it. They have been able to have a pretty secure peace for a long time. And I thought that's when they had been stationed there from.

But I think the bigger question right now is, I think the foolhardy notion that we are going to put 50 people in a war in Syria and that somehow is a good idea, talk about an underwhelming show of force. Putting 50 people or sending 50 people to war, I think it is probably one of the dumbest things I have ever heard of. And I hope tragedy doesn't come from that. But that's the most

underwhelming use of force I have ever heard of. I would say you either go in with overwhelming force or maybe you don't go in at all.

BLITZER: Final question on the U.S. economy. As you know, the job numbers came out today, 271,000 jobs created in October. The unemployment rate is now at only 5 percent. That's a seven-year low. In President Obama's first year in office, you remember, the unemployment rate was as high as 10 percent in October of 2009.

Does President Obama deserve credit for the economic turnaround?

PAUL: I think some of the unemployment numbers still underestimate those not working.

The other way we measure this is by labor participation rates. And there is still probably the highest number of people not working that we have ever had in our history. So what happens is, when people are no longer looking for work, when they are just permanently on assistance, all of a sudden, they are not counted anymore.

And I think the numbers are underestimated. I know, in Kentucky, we're still struggling. We have lost thousands of jobs in the coal industry. And the president's new regulations on clean power act I think threaten to bankrupt the rest of our coal industry in Kentucky, so, in Kentucky, we're still hurting very much from President Obama's policies.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks very much for joining us.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, for the first time, investigators now say the explosion aboard that Russian airliner was no accident. Our experts are taking a closer look at how they reached that conclusion and whether Russia will now go all out against ISIS.

[18:25:00]

And as more questions are raised about his autobiography, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is strongly defending his life story and he's attacking the news media.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.

European investigators reportedly are now convinced that a bomb brought down a Russian airliner in Egypt, that based on information from the jet's so-called black boxes. It's the first time we're hearing officials reach such a firm conclusion.

Let's bring in our aviation analyst, Peter Goelz, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank, and our aviation correspondent, Richard Quest. Peter, France 2, our CNN affiliate there specifically saying for

the first 24 minutes, everything was quiet according to the flight data recorder, the cockpit, voice recorder, all of a sudden they heard on the cockpit voice recorder this huge explosion and they have now concluded it was a bomb.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think that that's more conclusive than anything we have had so far. With a very short, sharp explosion on the voice recorder, that could confirm that this was an explosive device. And then it came from the French, they were the ones who are looking at the data recorder and the voice recorder. So I think it's pretty significant.

BLITZER: Richard, do you agree because it is a major development that all of these intelligence agencies now seem to be almost 100 percent convinced it was a bomb?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is extremely significant. The consensus view you've had the British, you have had the Americans, you have now had the Russians on board as well and you have the BEA or at least you have the French authorities.

But what we are really talking about here, if we're going to be strictly accurate, you're talking about the noise being that of an explosion and the experts going on to say it has -- it was a bomb.

Well, you know, one can go both ways on this. You have to take the totality as it stands at the moment and as we look at it, it does appear that explosion was not mechanical, was not the fuel tanks, but was a bomb. And that's where we have to leave it. But we are waiting to hear from the Egyptians who I believe are going to make a statement in the next 12 to 16 hours. And they will of course, have the very tricky task of whether or not they actually start moving towards a bomb.

BLITZER: Paul, the BBC is reporting that the bomb was placed in the cargo hold of the Metro Jet airliner. I know you have been speaking with your sources. What are you learning?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, that BBC reporting, they were in CNN's own reporting a couple days ago, that the intelligence chatter suggested that an insider at Sharm el-Sheikh airport got conventional explosives onto the plane perhaps onto the hold of the plane. And this is a group, Wolf, which has a track record, ISIS in Sinai recruiting people inside the Egyptian police forces, the Egyptian military. So I think it's quite plausible that they could have recruited an insider at Sharm el-Sheikh airport to do this.

BLITZER: As you know, Tom, the U.S. and Britain, they decided to share intelligence, sensitive intelligence with Russia. And as a result of that, the Russian president Vladimir Putin, he suspended all flights with Russia, not only with Sharm el-Sheikh, but with Cairo as well. Obviously, the Russians were convinced what they learned from the U.S. and the U.K. TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think we

painted them into a corner because at that point, if the next plane that is Russian takes off from there and blows up and they ignored what would appear to be great advice from the U.S. and Britain, you know, shame on them. So I think that no matter what, once we gave them information leading to believe that it was probably a bomb, they were pretty much going to have to do.

BLITZER: And supposedly, it was chatter, if you will, communications that have been intercepted presumably. And this is the concern if the Russian suspended all those flights to Egypt. There was something in that intelligence suggested this is not necessarily the end. More is on the way.

FUENTES: Well, probably. But you know, the chatter, I'm always suspicious of chatter.

BLITZER: Why you always suspicious?

FUENTES: Well, because, you know, in a case like this, ISIS did take credit right away. Well, that means that all the ISIS members in the neighborhood are going to be cheering and calling each other and look what we did. Isn't that great? Aren't we wonderful? Did they get actual specifics how that bomb, if it was a bomb, was placed on there? Who did it? Which cell? You know, if they have something more than chatter, those are interceptions that's are soft to bid, that what I would be looking for.

BLITZER: All right. I want all four of you to stand by for a moment.

We are just now getting in some new reported ISIS video. Stand by. We are going to assess the video when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:39:08] BLITZER: We are following the breaking news, getting information right now including some new video that said to be from ISIS as the terror group continues to claim responsibility for the downing of that Russian airliner killing all 224 people on board.

We are back with our aviation, terrorism, and law enforcement experts.

Let's go first to our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.

Paul, you had a chance to look at this video. Tell us about it.

CRUICKSHANK: Wolf, this video has just come in to me, ISIS branch in Aleppo again are saying responsibility for this attack. Congratulating the ISIS affiliate that in Sinai for the attack. They are saying that they launched this attack because of those Russian airstrikes in Syria. And they are also promising more attacks like this in the days and weeks ahead, Wolf.

The developments of today have really electrified the online global jihadi community. They are very mobilized right now. And I think they are disturbing implications for all our security.

[18:40:10] BLITZER: Very disturbing, indeed.

Peter, the TSA as you know is ramping up security at international airports, at least trying to do for flights bound for the United States. What should they be doing here inside the United States?

GOELZ: Well, it is disturbing. Remember, it was only last July that homeland security person Johnson, Jeh Johnson as secretary, had to fire the head of TSA because of a very poor evaluation. Ninety- five percent of weapons and fake bombs got through. We have a real problem in our check points and we still have that problem. But I was happy that Johnson was able to do that.

BLITZER: Richard, the enhanced security measures now being added to flights coming into the United States. Is that enough, though, to stop another potential bomb?

QUEST: Well, what they are going to do is they are going to look and try and see exactly where the weak points may be. There are more than 200 potential destinations, only 10 are considered to be significant in the sense of needing these extra measures and that's where the attention is going to be focused. I suspect it's all going to be behind the scenes. It really is getting into the plumbing, if you like, right down into the drains of these airports to see where the weak spots may be.

Interestingly, Wolf, on that video that ISIS has just released, that you are just been showing, slightly, I'm not sure what to make of it. But in that video, right in the middle you've got the Metro Jet, jet they do simulations of what happens but then they show an A-380. There it is. The A-380 right in the middle of it and I'm not sure what the purpose -- I think it is A-380. It's certainly four engine. And I'm not sure what purpose that they serve by putting a much larger plane, what sort of warning in there by putting that plane when all the other pictures and graphics that they perversely used are of Metro Jet.

BLITZER: Tom, don't you think the FBI should be involved directly in this investigation, that the Egyptians and the Russians for that matter should invite counterterrorism specialists at the FBI and other experts to come in and for participate.

FUENTES: Well, they may be getting intelligence report behind the scenes from the FBI.

BLITZER: It is not like being there.

FUENTES: No. They are not going to invite them come into the scene.

BLITZER: Why?

BLITZER: Well, because they want to be able to kind of put their own spin on what happened and they are not going to trust the FBI to go along with their program. The FBI is going to say this is what we discovered from our investigation. They just not going to really allow it.

One other thing on the TSA, I fly a lot internationally, the TSA effort concerns hand checking passengers at the gate as they board a plane bound for the U.S. It does nothing about those airports and the employees that work in those airports, the background investigation which is up to the host country. So again, if you have employees putting bombs in the cargo or in the catering service and food trays, there is nothing that those hand checks for passengers is going do to stop that.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by because we are going to continue to follow the breaking news.

There is other news we're following as well. Just ahead, Dr. Ben Carson lashes out in attempts to verify some of the claims he has made about his past. There is new fuel tonight for questions about his personal history.

But first, this impact your world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER (voice-over): Barbara Massad has a way in the kitchen. So after a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, the cookbook author and photographer knew there was a special recipe she needed to whip up.

BARBARA MASSAD, COOKBOOK AUTHOR/PHOTOGRAPHER: I just had to do something. I didn't know what. But I just wanted to get closer to these problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Lebanon is overwhelmed with more than a million Syrian refugees, many live in the valley refugee camp and struggle to provide for their families.

MASSAD: This whole adventure started when I went up to (INAUDIBLE), not knowing that I was going to do a cookbook. I started taking photographs of the refugees. I have a friend of mine, her name is Tina and she called me one day and said I want to cook soup for the refugees, you know, like in America they have soup kitchens and that's what we did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Massad began collecting recipes from chefs, foodies and friends to create a cookbook called soup for Syria. All proceeds go to the U.N. refugee agency to help Syrian refugees. Massad says her work must continue to support children like 6-year-old Aya (ph) who has been at this camp for two years.

MASSAD: I became attached to them. This is my drive and my motivation to continue the project.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:49:31] BLITZER: Tonight, Republican presidential candidate

Ben Carson is dismissing questions about his past as a, quote, "bunch of lies". CNN has been looking into Carson's claims about his violent acts when he was a young man, he was a teenager.

We're standing by to hear from Dr. Carson momentarily. There you see the microphone. He's about to take questions from reporters in Florida. We'll have that for you.

In the meantime, I want to go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's on the scene for us in Florida, as well.

The question, Sunlen, about Carson's personal history, are they growing right now? What's the latest?

[18:50:04] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf, and so much of Dr. Ben Carson's appeal to voters is really all about his personal narrative that he's told of his life struggles. So, tonight, he is taking a much more combative, a much more defensive tone, pushing back on all these questions about his past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, Ben Carson's past becoming a central topic in the campaign.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): I'm not proud of the fact that I had these rage episodes. But I am proud of the fact that I was able to get over them.

SERFATY: The retired neurosurgeon facing mounting scrutiny over acts of violence as a child.

CARSON: This is a bunch of lies, attempting to say that I'm lying about my history. I think it's pathetic. And basically, what the media does is they try to get you distracted.

SERFATY: And Carson is now lashing out, trying to redirect the fire at the media, blasting CNN's investigation which found no one from the candidate's past to corroborate the incident.

CARSON: Some of the victims were members of my family. I understand that I will not let them be victimized again by the media. And if you choose to believe that I'm incapable of these acts, I guess that's kind of a compliment.

SERFATY: Sensing an opening, Donald Trump unleashing a series of tweets about his rival's background, writing, quote, "The Carson story is either a total fabrication or, if true, even worse, trying to hit mother over the head with a hammer or stabbing friend."

This comes as a new CNN/ORC poll shows the two leading GOP contenders solidifying their top tier place in Iowa, Trump at 25 percent, Carson at 23, with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz battling it out for third place. The rest of the field all trailing well behind in single digits. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No national

polls are going to determine who the next president of the United States is going to be.

SERFATY: Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee meanwhile learning they will be excluded on the main stage at next week's Fox Business debate because of their low national poll numbers.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe, just maybe, I'll actually get some time to talk. I tell you this, if I had as much time to talk in the first three debates as the other candidates, I probably would still be on that stage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And tonight, there is another dustup over his record when "Politico" reported that he fabricated his story about his application and his acceptance into West Point, this despite claiming for years that he got a full scholarship to West Point.

But the Carson campaign pushing back hard on this, saying that he decided not to apply -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen.

Dr. Carson is now at the microphones. Let's go there to Palm Beach Gardens in Florida and listen in.

CARSON: No, I will not clarify and give the names because the person does not want their name revealed.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

CARSON: Yes. And it would be unfair of me to drag them into this when they don't want to be there.

REPORTER: Did you fabricate --

REPORTER: -- scholarship to West Point --

CARSON: Sure.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) to West Point.

CARSON: If you look at one of the Web sites that West Point has today, it says government offered full scholarship to West Point. So, they use that very language themselves.

So, almost 50 years ago, they may have been using that language as well. The situation --

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

CARSON: It didn't go to that extent because they were very impressed with what I had done. I had become the city executive officer in less time than anybody else had ever done that. And they were saying, you would be a tremendous addition to the military, and we can get you into west point with a full scholarship. I simply said, I want to be a doctor. I really appreciate it. I'm very flattered. And I moved on. So it didn't go on any further than that.

(CROSSTALK)

REPORTER: To what extent do you believe your West Point account to the public assessment of you as a presidential candidate?

CARSON: I don't think it's relevant at all. But I think what it shows and these kind of things show is that there is a desperation on behalf of some to try to find a way to tarnish me because they have been looking through everything.

They have been talking to everybody I've ever known, everybody I've ever seen. There's got to be a scandal. There's got to be some nurse he's having an affair with. There's got to be something. They are getting desperate.

So, next week, it will be my kindergarten teacher who said I peed in my pants. I mean, it's ridiculous. But it's OK because I totally expect it.

REPORTER: Can you tell us just clarify your meeting with General Westmoreland and what was talked about.

CARSON: Well, I was invited to a number of events because of my position. There was -- you know, this is almost 50 years ago -- a lot of excitement about some Congressional Medal of Honor winners, at least one of which was from Detroit.

[18:55:07] And there was a big affair that I was invited to. That's the one where I had an opportunity to meet the general. And that was also a time, as I recall, that several of the high brass told me that I would be somebody that they would be interested in in the military.

RPEORTER: Dr. Carson as being actually offered a scholarship, having somebody say, we can get you in with a scholarship doesn't mean you've been given one.

CARSON: Well, it was an offer to me. It was specifically made to --

REPORTER: You interpreted it as an offer?

CARSON: I interpreted it as an offer.

REPORTER: Who gave it, though?

CARSON: I made it very clear. I don't remember the names -- I don't remember their names of the people. It's almost 50 years ago. I bet you don't remember all the people you talked to 50 years ago.

But anyway, they told me, this was available to me because of my accomplishments and that they would be delighted for me to do it. And I told them immediately that my intention was to become a physician, it always has been, and I was very honored but I would not be pursuing that.

I also made it very clear in my book that I only applied to one college. I only had enough money to apply to one college. And I decided to apply to the college that won the grand champion in college, and that grand championship was between Harvard and Yale.

I'm sure you can go back I'm sure and find the record, and see that it was in fact it was between Yale and Harvard, and that Yale demolished Harvard. So, I mean, anybody associated with Harvard probably wouldn't want you to find the records but it's there.

(CROSSTALK)

CARSON: Go ahead. Right here.

REPORTER: To those who say you may have exaggerated and are using that to build your resume as far as West Point, what would you say to those people?

CARSON: I would say, where's the exaggeration?

REPORTER: Dr. Carson, one of your opponents has said this is the beginning of the end. How do you think this will affect the polls if it will at all.

CARSON: Well, you said the key word there, "opponent". What do you expect?

REPORTER: It was intimated we would get more details about your childhood friends you were involved in violence with, potentially revealing Bob or Jerry. Can you expand on this? Are we going to get their identities?

CARSON: Well, if you want to find their identity, let me tell you where you should probably go. You should go to the incident where it happened, to the place where it happened, Wilson Junior High School in Detroit is where the lock incident occurred. Maybe they still have the records. It was, you know, 51, 52 years ago. But maybe they still have them.

REPORTER: And the other incident, too?

CARSON: Which other incident?

REPORTER: With your mother, all of -- Bob and Jerry, whichever one -- we haven't really (CROSSTALK)

CARSON: Well, the incident with my mother, she and my brother were the only people who were there.

REPORTER: What do you make --

REPORTER: Dr. Carson --

(CROSSTALK)

REPORTER: You don't seem to have a recollection when questions were asked everybody who has been spoken to says, I don't remember these incidents.

CARSON: Why would they remember them? I mean, I think that is -- as a scientist who does investigations, that is the most lame investigation I have ever seen, where you get people, and you find people, random people in the neighborhood who knew me.

Well, you obviously must know about that specific incident. What a bunch of garbage. The only people who would know about that would be the people who were involved.

REPORTER: Dr. Carson, for the first time last night you mentioned --

CARSON: Wait a minute. Let me finish. You would need to talk to the people who were involved in the incident.

Now, I have said, if they wish to come forward and have a barrage of media, they're welcome to do so. I would in no way discourage them or encourage them to do that. But that's a choice that's up to them. It would be very unfair --

REPORTER: The complication that this is causing, you --

CARSON: I don't think it's causing a complication. Here's my prediction -- my prediction is that all of you guys trying to pile on is actually going to help me, because when I go out to these book signings and see thousands of people, they say, "Don't let the media get you down. Don't let them disturb you. Please continue to fight for us."

See, they understand that this is a witch hunt.

REPORTER: Dr. Carson, you mentioned --

(CROSSTALK)

CARSON: This gentleman right here.

REPORTER: How long do you think you can actually rely on that? Maybe through the primaries. But at some point you're going to have to get to the substantive issues.

CARSON: That's exactly what I'm trying to do, get to the substantive issues. This is all substitutes, things that happened 45, 50 years ago, that's all --

REPORTER: Why don't you get them out of the way and move on?

CARSON: As far as I'm concerned --

REPORTER: Running for president.

CARSON: As far as I'm concerned, they are out of the way.