Return to Transcripts main page


Airport Security Tightened, Bomb '99.9% Certain'; Poll: Trump, Carson Neck and Neck in Key Early State; Carson Bristles at Media Scrutiny; Hot Ratings, Cool Reviews for Trump on 'SNL'. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 9, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, terror hunt. U.S. officials are 99.9 percent certain that a bomb brought down that Russian airliner over Sinai. The search is now on for who planted the bomb, who built it and who ordered it. I'll speak with the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.

Security lapses as precautions are stepped up at Middle East airports. Are employees and contractors being properly vetted? Does ISIS have insiders at other airports?

Missile misfire. Millions along the Pacific coast are shocked to see a missile streak overhead. Should the military have announced the test of a nuclear-capable missile? Was it a public relations blunder?

And bling or bust. Donald Trump draws good ratings as he dances to a new video on "Saturday Night Live." But will the former reality show's return to TV help or hurt his presidential campaign?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

U.S. and British officials are now convinced that Russia's Metrojet airliner was brought down by a bomb planted by ISIS or its Sinai affiliate. We're learning that crucial information was actually provided by Israel. And now intelligence agencies are also scrambling to learn how and where a device could have brought the plane down, killing all 224 people onboard.

The working assumption is that ISIS had help from an insider at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. That's raising serious concerns about the security at other airports abroad and right here at home, as well. I'll speak with the visiting British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond. He's joining us live this hour and our correspondents, analysts, and guests, they'll have full coverage of all the day's top stories.

Let's get right to the Metrojet airliner investigation and the growing conviction that the plane was brought down by an explosive device. Let's begin with Brian Todd.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we're getting more indications that this may have been an inside job at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. Investigators are poring over evidence as we speak.

And there are new concerns that, if this was a bomb, planes bound for the U.S. are also vulnerable.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight a U.S. official tells CNN it's, quote, "99 point 9 percent certain a bomb was placed on the Metrojet plane. And some of the critical clues came from Israeli intelligence.

British foreign secretary Philip Hammond says, if it was a bomb, there are serious security problems at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, where the plane departed. House Intelligence member Adam Schiff, who's received classified briefings on the investigation, says ISIS, which claimed responsibility, may have gotten to someone at the airport.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: ISIS may have concluded that the best way to defeat airport defenses is not to go through them but to go around them with the help of somebody on the inside.

TODD: Former top Israeli airport security official Rafi Ron goes further, pointing to certain areas of that airport that he says investigators need to focus on.

RAFI RON, FORMER ISRAELI AVIATION SECURITY OFFICIAL: The center of attention will be on what happens on the ground at the airport, meaning on the ramp since the aircraft landed at Sharm el-Sheikh until the time it took off. Look at who had access to the aircraft, identify any suspicious involvement around the aircraft.

TODD: An Egyptian official calls allegations of poor security at the Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, quote, "unsubstantiated and false." Egypt's top investigator now says the plane's cockpit voice recorder captured an important sound.

AYMAN AL-MUGADDAM, HEAD OF EGYPTIAN COMMISSION OF INQUIRY: A noise was heard in the last second of the CVR recording.

TODD: He didn't say what the sound was. European investigators told CNN affiliate France 2 the voice recorder indicates an explosion. Experts say the sound of a bomb would stand out on the recorder.

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, FORMER AIRLINE PILOT/AVIATION CONSULTANT: They have a very, very distinctive sound pattern. And that's what they'll be looking for.

TODD: A key concern tonight: that ISIS, if it's really behind this, will try to replicate it.

RON: The fact that this attack was a successful from the terrorist point of view would certainly encourage the terrorists to continue pursuing this avenue and trying to look at other opportunities possibly in other airports. Keep in mind, there are many airports around the world that fly to the United States. The -- and the loyalty of local employees at airport is in many cases questionable.


[17:05:04] TODD: U.S. officials are so concerned about that that they're enhancing the screening for items on planes coming into the United States from a number of different airports worldwide. A source with knowledge of that tells CNN that three of those airports are the ones in Amman, Jordan, Kuwait City and in Cairo, Wolf.

BLITZER: Speaking of Cairo, are Egyptian officials basically in denial about the likelihood that this was a bomb?

TODD: Many experts we talk to, Wolf, believe that the Egyptians are in denial at this point. That they don't want to acknowledge at the moment that it's a bomb because of the hit that it will take on their tourism industry.

Now, for their part, the Egyptians say that all scenarios right now are on the table. They also deny that security is lax at Sharm el- Sheikh Airport. But experts are telling us that -- they point out this one thing that you have to remember. Sixteen years after the fact, Egyptian officials are still saying, about that Egypt air crash in 1999 that killed 217 people, that it was a mechanical failure when the probable cause, as released by U.S. investigators, NTSB and others, was that that was a suicide by the first officer of that plane. Sixteen years later the Egyptians are still denying that.

BLITZER: That's one of the reasons there's some soreness in that U.S.-Egyptian relationship when it comes to aviation.

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

The increasing likelihood that a bomb brought down the Russian airliner has very worrisome implications for international air travel.

Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Jim, you've been reporting on the intelligence sharing in this international investigation. Have Russians come any closer to admitting it was a terror attack?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you note there, the U.S. did share some of the crucial intelligence that indicated questions about whether this was a terror attack, this is intelligence, intercepted communications by the Israelis shared with the Russians.

You did have today the Russian prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, go further than any Russian officials have so far by tweeting the following: He said that the Russian plane crash in Egypt may have been the result of terrorist attack, so all flights to Egypt have been suspended since Friday. That's certainly further than any other Russian official has gone but not saying anything definitively.

And keep in mind, as well, that the U.S. has offered further help to the Russians, the FBI offering its services. And they said they could be particularly helpful looking at this recording from the cockpit voice recorder, that sound that was heard on that tape in determining what that sound is.

BLITZER: A top Egyptian ISIS affiliate terrorist, as you know, Jim, was just killed. Does this have any direct significance to this current investigation?

SCIUTTO: No direct tie to the investigation. It could be relevant. This is a group that was known as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, has since become known as ISIS in the Sinai, declared its affiliation with ISIS in the last several months. It started a few years ago after the Egyptian revolution.

But it shows you that this is an ongoing fight for the Egyptians in Sinai. This is a group that has shown great capability, including in bomb making, although no capabilities so far into placing a bomb on a plane. But they have this capability. They have attacked pipelines. They've even attacked Israeli soldiers, Sinai of course, bordering with Israel in the south and in the east there, as well.

It's a very capable group. This is part of an ongoing fight for the Egyptians. Any operation that takes down a leader in this group certainly significant, but no direct tie to the bombing so far.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thank you.

Joining us now is the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond. He's one of the first public officials to link that Metrojet explosion to terrorism. Thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Are you convinced this was a bomb?

HAMMOND: We think it was more likely than not an explosive device on the aircraft. Obviously, we won't know absolutely for certain until the final analysis of the wreckage has taken place. That could take some time.

But in the meantime, we acted on a precautionary basis, using all the evidence available to us. And we suspended all British flights to Sharm el-Sheikh last Wednesday.

BLITZER: But not to Cairo.

HAMMOND: Not to Cairo. This is specific to Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. If there was a bomb on that plane, then that represents a failure of security at Sharm el-Sheikh.

BLITZER: Specifically because the Russians suspended all air traffic not only to Sharm el-Sheikh but to Cairo, as well.

HAMMOND: Yes. Well, we took the decision that it's Sharm el-Sheikh that we need to focus on. It's Sharm el-Sheikh where we have a very significant tourist traffic from the U.K. So that was the principle focus of our concern.

BLITZER: If it was a bomb, do you believe it was ISIS? ISIS have claimed that they are responsible for bringing down this

aircraft. We've seen a history of ISIS claims tending to be borne out by facts. There's got to be a high probability that ISIS was involved.

That doesn't mean that it was a directed attack from ISIS headquarters in Syria. It may have been an individual who was inspired by ISIS, who was self-radicalized by looking at ISIS propaganda and was acting in the name of ISIS without necessarily being directed.

BLITZER: The so-called lone-wolf theory. Some lone wolf potentially, an individual working, let's say, at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport could have built that bomb and planted the bomb on that plane?

[17:10:01] HAMMOND: That is a possibility.

BLITZER: Is that the working assumption you're working on? Or was this more of a coordinated, organized event by ISIS, maybe not in Raqqah, in Syria where they're headquartered, but ISIS in Sinai, that other group affiliated loosely with ISIS?

HAMMOND: If it's a bomb, there's -- both possibilities are equally valid. We have to investigate and understand both.

BLITZER: And the assumption was that, because U.S. officials have spoken about chatter that they've picked up various ways, was the chatter done that was significant in this particular case before the explosion and after, or just after?

HAMMOND: Well, I don't know if I'm more fastidious than U.S. officials, but we never talk about intelligence, and there clearly is a variety of intelligence sources around this issue, as well as a lot of open-source material. We looked at all of the material available to us, but we can't discuss the intelligence.

BLITZER: Are you sharing this intelligence with Russia?

HAMMOND: We're sharing what we can with partners, including Russia. But some intelligence is sensitive, and clearly, we don't share the most sensitive intelligence.

What people like the Russians, the Egyptians will very clearly be able to see is the conclusions that we have reached. They know that we would not have made the decision we made on Wednesday lightly. We have President Sisi visiting London on Thursday. Clearly, that was not a comfortable decision for us to make. We made it on the basis of the information, and I would expect that others would have drawn conclusions from the fact that we made the decision we did.

BLITZER: The Egyptians publicly are complaining that the U.K. and the U.S., for that matter, are not sharing relevant intelligence information with them, and that's hindering their investigation.

HAMMOND: Well, I don't believe it would be hindering their investigation. We will work closely with them. But they will understand as everybody in the intelligence community understands that there is some intelligence that can be shared and some that cannot.

BLITZER: This is a war against ISIS right now. And Britain is involved. Is that right?

HAMMOND: It is, yes.

BLITZER: How are you involved? What is Britain doing in this war? Well, we know the U.S. has airstrikes. The Russians have troops and airstrikes. What specifically is Britain doing? I know you're here to meet with Secretary of State Kerry to talk about the British role in all of this. What is that role?

HAMMOND: Well, we're active in Iraq. We've carried out more than 1,500 combat sorties over Iraq and Syria. We're flying over Syria, combat reconnaissance. We're not carrying out strikes in Syria at the moment. We've carried out more than 300 strikes in Iraq. We have some capabilities which add significantly to the coalition, some specific capabilities. We're flying predators. We're flying surveillance aircraft, and we're flying fast jets carrying out strikes in Iraq.

BLITZER: In Iraq, not in Syria.

HAMMOND: In Iraq but not in Syria. Why is it OK to launch airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS but not in Syria?

HAMMOND: Because the legal basis is different. We have a difference from the U.S. here in terms of the legal basis for years. In Iraq we're operating at the request of the Iraqi government. To move into Syria would require a different set of permissions for us. And we've made clear that when we're confident that we have a consensus in our House of Commons, we will get authority from the House of Commons, and we will extend our activity into Syria.

BLITZER: Is the British government OK with what Russia is now doing in Syria?

HAMMOND: No, we're not OK with it. If Russia wants to join in the attack on ISIL, we're very happy about that. But so far 85 percent of Russian airstrikes in Syria have been against non-ISIL targets, whatever the Russians say. What they are doing in practice is bolstering the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And that is likely to polarize the situation in Syria and strengthen ISIL, not weaken it.

BLITZER: What would the ISIS motive have been in destroying this aircraft, this airliner with 224 people on board, tourists, Russians mostly just going on vacation to Sharm el-Sheikh? What would have been ISIS's motive have been in destroying this aircraft, this airliner with 224 people on board, tourists, Russians mostly who are just going on vacation to Sharm el-Sheikh? What would have been their motive in destroying this.

HAMMOND: Well, the Russians have, although they're not carrying out many strikes against ISIL in Syria, they have been very tough in their rhetoric against ISIL. And I think most analysts accept that the Russians have a general intention to go after ISIL, where we differ with the Russians is that they believe the way to do that is, first of all, to strengthen the Syrian regime, bolster its position, and then work with it against ISIL.

That is not our assessment of the best way to proceed. But I can understand why the Russian intervention would have prompted ISIL to want to strike back against Russia.

BLITZER: But doesn't -- wouldn't ISIS appreciate that Putin -- Russian President Vladimir Putin is a tough guy. They go after Russia. He's going to go after them with all his strength?

HAMMOND: Well, I'm not sure. There are some indications that the Russians really are wary of getting drawn in too deeply into this conflict. They remember the Afghanistan experience. They've got 13 million Muslims living in the Russian federation, most of them Sunnis.

President Putin will want to bolster Russia's position. He'll want to make sure that Russia is a big player in any eventual settlement of the Syria crisis. But he will also, I think, be wary of getting drawn in too deep. And this air crash, if it turns out to have been an ISIL, planted bomb is a nightmare for him.

BLITZER; So the bottom line, high probability it was a bomb. High probability it was a bomb planted by ISIS?

HAMMOND: That's the way it looks at the moment.

BLITZER: Thank you very much for joining us.

HAMMOND: Thank you.

BLITZER: Stand by. We're going to have much more coming up. We're getting new information. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:20:34] BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story. We just heard from the British foreign secretary in his own words, saying that there is a high probability that ISIS is directly involved in the downing, the bombing of that Russian jetliner that killed all 20 -- 224 people onboard.

Let's bring in our CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, the former FBI assistant director. Also our aviation analyst Peter Goelz, a former NTSB managing director, our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and our CNN aviation correspondent, Richard Quest.

Richard, authorities are investigating airport workers at Sharm el- Sheikh. They're going through closed-circuit video cameras, evidence that they have -- someone may have put something onboard. Is there a feeling that whoever did this could still be there at that airport doing the same thing on the same job?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We don't know, Wolf. They're looking at to see how it happened first of all. They haven't quite worked out, as we understand it, what happened, or at least how this allegedly got onboard the plane.

What is very interesting, of course, is that the Egyptians have said today almost angrily and certainly defiantly that the allegations that somehow Sharm el-Sheikh Airport is rife with security breaches and on security availabilities is simply not true. They call them mass generalizations.

But of course, that begs the question that, clearly, something did go wrong. We've had a warning today, speaking to CNN, Sir Tim Clark, who is the president of Emirates Airlines of Dubai. Sir Tim has said there are probably many airports around the world where there are vulnerabilities and issues of safety and security that have to be looked out by authorities, by governments and airlines.

BLITZER: And Richard, you heard the British foreign secretary say it's possible this was an individual, a lone wolf, as they say, who could have built that bomb and planted that bomb on that airliner. First time I've heard someone suggest maybe an individual did that, inspired, let's say, by ISIS.

QUEST: I think he's probably floating a balloon there more than that. I mean, obviously, it is a possibility. But, you know, getting the bomb, making the bomb, getting the sort of -- it wasn't a very sophisticated -- we believe it doesn't have to be very sophisticated to do what it did.

But it still has to require a certain level of knowledge. So, yes, it could have been, but then that doesn't really explain all the chatter that people have been talking about afterwards, that this was supposedly the intelligence that Israel picked up and all these other people. So the truth of the matter is, and this is the worrying part: more than a week after, we don't know.

BLITZER: That's a good point. Peter, what is the screening process at airports here in the United States for baggage handlers, for caterers, for others who have access to these kinds of commercial airliners?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, when they say this event could be a game changer if it's a bomb, that's what they're referencing. These workers, the thousands of workers behind the security lines, have minimal background checks at the beginning. Some of them, the turnover rate is 100 to 200 percent. So they don't have time to do the kind of in-depth background checks to keep the work moving.

So they do temporary checks. And these workers have access to secure areas. It's going to be a real challenge if this bomb is proven out.

BLITZER: So it's a game changer potentially right now?

GOELZ: That's why people are calling it a game changer. It will change how the back of the house is run at airports.

BLITZER: Because there's always been that vulnerability. Does it sound like this could have been, Peter, a lone individual who

could have done this? Built a bomb that could have blown up a plane like that 23 minutes into that flight at 30,000 feet?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I doubt it. Based on previous bombings of aircraft or attempted bombings, I mean, usually it's an organization with multiple people involved in the planning.

But to go to Peter Goelz's point, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found 73 people in the United States just six months ago who were working in American airports who were in a database of possible terrorists. That's a pretty sobering finding, which by the way, TSA has not denied.

So, you know, we're not immune here in the United States. Obviously, we have a much better system, but you look at airports around the world. British Airway have had people who have been plotting with al Qaeda to get a bomb on an American-bound plane. So that's -- I think that's why it is a game changer, because this vulnerability has clearly -- is baked into a lot of airports around the world.

[07:25:08] BLITZER: And the nightmare scenario -- and you're a former FBI assistant director, Tom -- is that maybe someone wasn't necessarily politically or religiously inspired by ISIS or another terror group, but they may have been bought off with money. They -- potentially, they could have been threatened, family members could have been endangered. That's a nightmare scenario, as well.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Oh, it's true. I mean, it could be just a garden variety psychotic that wants to, you know, do something famous and blow an aircraft up. And we have all kinds of possibilities.

And I think that, in terms of it being a game-changing event, even if it's proven to be a bomb, I don't know if we're ready in this country to spend the tens of millions of dollars necessary to establish security measures for employees arriving.

And we have the busiest airports in the world here, Atlanta- Hartsfield, Chicago O'Hare. So are we ready to put magnetometers where thousands of employees that go in and out of that airport every day are going to go through the same checks that passengers go through? I haven't heard anybody even propose it.

BLITZER: If you're a caterer or baggage handler, you don't have to go through a metal detector?

FUENTES: No. Most of the airports, no.

BLITZER: Is that OK with you?

GOELZ: Well, it's OK if they've done an in-depth background check on it. But the problem is these are minimum-wage jobs. They turn over. And they don't have the time to complete the in-depth background checks, so they do a minimal check. And as Peter pointed out, 73 people on a watch list. FUENTES: The food carts are prepared offsite. They're not even done

at the airports. And somebody could load something into any of those carts that then are brought to the airport, loaded on the aircraft, put in the galley before the flight takes off. They're not checked.

BLITZER: We've got to do some re-examination. I assume they are doing that as we speak.

Guys, stand by. We have much more coming up. We're getting some more information, as well.

Also coming up, millions of Americans are stunned by a flash of light along the Pacific coast. The U.S. Navy is now explaining the mystery, but that explanation is raising some new questions.

And Donald Trump dances to Drake's new video on "Saturday Night Live." He gets good ratings, very good ratings for "Saturday Night Live." But will that actually help or hurt his presidential campaign?


BLITZER: Donald Trump is campaigning in Illinois tonight, but a new poll suggests he may need to pay more attention to a key early state in next year's primaries.

[17:32:23] Let's go to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She's joining us from Wakashan, Wisconsin. What's the latest, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that 24 hours from now Ben Carson and Donald Trump are going to share center stage at yet another Republican debate.

But Wolf, it's really clear right now that the two of them are facing off for the top spot, at least at this moment in time. And then there's everyone else. Ben Carson is surging in South Carolina, now running neck and neck with Donald Trump.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not particularly getting under my skin...

BASH: Carson is on the rise, even as questions persist about his life story, defined by tales of personal struggle and redemption central to his appeal.

CARSON: You're asking me about something that happened fifty years ago. And you expect me to have the details on that? Forget about it. It's not going to happen.

BASH: Carson says he's a victim of unfair media bias. Frustrated over CNN's reporting that found no one from Carson's youth willing to corroborate his story of stabbing a boy, only saved by his belt buckle. Or "The Wall Street Journal's" reporting about inconsistencies in his autobiography. A story about a psychology class at Yale, one designed to paint himself as the most ethical student.

CARSON: It's just stupid. And I mean, if our media is no better at investigating than that, it's sick.

BASH: Carson declines to identify individuals involved in his violent outbursts, but today he did point to a 1997 story featuring his mother, Sonya, who told "Parade" magazine about the attempted stabbing and said, "Oh, that really happened."

Carson's top adviser sounds a different note from the candidate, telling CNN the questions are fair game.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, DR. BEN CARSON'S BUSINESS MANAGER: I think it's a very good thing that Dr. Carson is being vetted, that Dr. Carson is being tested. Is he kidding?

BASH: And other candidates listening to Carson complain say welcome to the big leagues.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have a whole lot of sympathy. He should answer the questions forthrightly and directly.

BASH: Marco Rubio was also facing scrutiny for his past, using a Florida Republican Party American Express card for personal expenses. But his campaign is confronting it with a different tactic, releasing the statements this weekend, insisting there's no "there" there.

Donald Trump, a fellow outsider, virtually tied with Carson in key early states, has the most to gain by the controversy and stoked it on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via phone): Ben wrote a book, and the book is a tough book because, you know, he talked about he has a pathological disease. That's a serious statement when you say you have a pathological disease, because as I understand it, you can't really cure it. But he said he had pathological disease.

BASH: Carson did call his temper as a child pathological but not a disease. And Carson isn't the only first-time politician prone to embellishing in the past. Here's what Donald Trump told us this summer.

TRUMP (on camera): Everybody exaggerates. I mean, I guess I do a little bit. I want to say good things.


BASH: And another reminder that this is such a topsy-turvy election year. The guy who was supposed to be the outsider who was doing really well in the polls and is now out of the race, this state's governor, Scott Walker.

Wolf, he just had the first appearance on the campaign trail since he did drop out. He appeared with Jeb Bush moments ago, talking about education. It's just a reminder of what a wild election year it is that the debate will happen in his home state, and he will not be on the stage, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is he endorsing Jeb Bush?

BASH: He is not endorsing Jeb Bush. He's also going to help Marco Rubio out with raising some money here. He's staying out of the race, but he wanted to come together with Jeb Bush to talk about their mutual interests in charter schools and sort of alternative education.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by.

I want to bring in S.E. Cupp, our CNN political commentator. S.E., let's talk a little bit about is there any real damage to Senate -- to Dr. Ben Carson's campaign as a result of these accusations that are going out there?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes and no. We have to always remember not to underestimate the willingness of voters every election cycle to put their hands over their ears and say, "La, la, la, la, la, I don't care."

I mean, Hillary Clinton has, on more than one occasion, exaggerated, if not lied about parts of her biography. She claimed she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary after he climbed Everest. Of course he did that after she was born. Taking fire in Bosnia.

Obviously, the power of her personality makes it so that her supporters don't care. And I don't think Carson supporters are going to really care if he's exaggerated parts of his biography.

That said, because he doesn't have a legislative record for us to pore over, his life story is everything. It is his campaign.

So if all of these rich stories about redemption, about, you know, a tough upbringing, about these moments of heroism and courage, if it turns out that some of them are fabricated or even just exaggerated, I would imagine that most voters, not his die-hard supporters, but most voters would be really concerned and turned off by the fact that he had exaggerated about, you know, the most colorful aspects of his life.

BLITZER: But, you know, Dana, what is beyond any doubt at all is he's got an amazing story to tell, coming from a single-family home in Detroit, very, very poor; going through high school; being the top ROTC cadet in high school; then getting that full scholarship to Yale, the only university he applied. And then becoming one of the great preeminent pediatric neurosurgeons at John Hopkins University.

I mean, that, in and of itself, is an amazing story that he has not embellished on. That is an amazing story to begin with.

BASH: no question about it. He is -- he does have an American story. A story that really can only happen in this country.

And as S.E. was saying, that is absolutely not just part of his appeal; that is the main thrust of his appeal.

But when you kind of get down to the specifics of some of the anecdotes that he talks about in his book and elsewhere, particularly in the speeches he gives, that is what appeals to the evangelical community, especially in key states like Iowa and South Carolina, where that vote is very important.

The idea of redemption, the idea that he had a terrible temper as a kid, and he found a way to overcome that, that beyond just the kind of rags to riches story, has a very special appeal for the voters that he's trying to reach out to.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. We have more to discuss, including Donald Trump and his performance on "Saturday Night Live." The impact of that. Much more right after this.


[17:43:51] BLITZER: We're following developments in the presidential race ahead of tomorrow's fourth Republican presidential debate.

Donald Trump certainly helped NBC's "Saturday Night Live" chalk up its best ratings in three and a half years. He took part in several sketches, including this one with his daughter, Ivanka.


TRUMP: How is the White House? How is everything going? And how are the renovations doing?

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: Actually, and not surprisingly, we are ahead of schedule and under budget. The private swimming pool and cabanas are already completed. And now if you'll excuse me, today we are covering the Washington Monument in gold mirrored glass.

TRUMP: Wow, that's going to look so elegant.


JON RUDNITSKY, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Mr. President, the president of Mexico is here to see you.

TRUMP: That's great. Send him in.


TRUMP: Enrique.

BENNETT: I brought you the check for the wall.

TRUMP: That's so wonderful. Oh, thank you. This is far too much money.

BENNETT: No, I insist. Consider it an apology for doubting you. As history shows us, nothing brings two countries together like a wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Although Trump's appearance was certainly a ratings hit, reviews of his performance are better -- let's say some are better than lukewarm. But one of his most talked about moments is his spoof of Drake's music video "Hot Line Bling."


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You used to call me on the cell phone. Call me on the cell phone.


BLITZER: I thought it was very, very funny.

We're back with Dana Bash, SE Cupp, Ryan Lizza is joining us right now. Is it going to help or hurt his presidential campaign?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: I think every time that Donald Trump is in front of a camera it helps him. That's been the history so far. The more the media focuses on him the better he does in the polls. That's been a pretty well established pattern. Ratings for "SNL" were, you know, very high. It was promoted --

BLITZER: As he predicted.

LIZZA: And this thing has been all over the place. I don't know whether to laugh or cry watching these segments. And what's going on in our democracy. But if you ask me the question, will this help or hurt him, this will probably help him.

BLITZER: SE, I was watching. I had a lot of laugh out loud moments during that hour and a half.

SE CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Huh. Well, I thought he was great. You know, he showed he can laugh at himself. And I think he really committed to a lot of the characters most of which were by the way him. But I actually thought "SNL" writers missed some opportunities to be very funny.

BLITZER: What would you have wanted?

CUPP: I mean, I would have gotten out of politics and made Trump really break out of his comfort zone, that Drake dancing video was as close as we got to something completely non-Trump like. I just would have wanted to see him more sort of fish out of water. I think that's really fun.

BLITZER: Dana, how's it going to play out? You're in Wisconsin right now. How is it playing out there?


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I haven't heard a lot of talk about it in here in Waukesha. But I will tell you that I totally agree with Ryan. No matter what -- no matter what Donald Trump does, it's sort of a spectacle and people are going to tune in to it.

SE, I think you didn't watch long enough. You didn't see the laser harp at the end. So I think that was probably the big problem. You should have stayed up until 1:00 in the morning to watch. I do have to say that there were parts where I was doing this, I was sort of watching with like.

CUPP: Yes.

BASH: Can I peek between my hands as I'm watching? Particularly -- you know, and the fact that Ivanka, you know, did that and, you know, as a sort of daughter-dad moment, you know, you sort of have that cringe moment like, dad, I'm sure that she had a few of those backstage.

BLITZER: Ivanka is a wonderful young woman indeed. All right, guys, thanks very much.

We are following another story. We now know what's behind the mysterious light along the Pacific Coast. It certainly alarmed and frightened millions of people when it flashed through the evening sky. Not everyone is satisfied with the explanation.


[17:50:29] BLITZER: New questions are being asked tonight after millions of people along the west coast were startled by a mysterious light in the twilight sky. The U.S. Navy revealed it was caused by a missile test.

Brian Todd is back here in THE SITUATION ROOM with new information. What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was a spectacular looking bright light which shot across the sky in Southern California on Saturday night but people as far away as San Francisco also saw it.

Check out this picture. This is from photographer Abe Blare who snapped this, capturing the streak as it appeared over the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco just after 6:00 p.m. local time on Saturday. Abe Blare told me for a moment he thought the West Coast was under attack from terrorists. It was that frightening. Abe says he saw the streak coming toward him then it banked out over the Pacific Ocean.

Now in Southern California people captured it on video. Take a listen.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What, that is scary. This is like -- oh, my god. It looks like a UFO. Oh my gosh. What is going on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Until it lands --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god, what is going on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god. Do you see that purple line behind it? I think it's like on fire.


TODD: Just something about someone who appears to be a teenager narrating that makes it perfect. U.S. Navy officials tell us tonight there was never any danger to the public. This was a planned test of a trident missile fired from a submarine. The missile is nuclear capable but this missile was not armed. Navy officials tell us they test fired it over the Pacific and have the ability to destroy it remotely if there was a hazard. They say they did warn airmen and mariners beforehand to stay away from certain areas, Wolf. They took care of that safety component -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But they got the public, Brian, got a big scare. A lot of people got a big scare from this. Shouldn't the U.S. Navy have warned the public?

TODD: You know, I pose that to Navy officials because sometimes in this area in D.C., Wolf, we get public warnings that something is going to happen like a flyover or something like that. Now people who saw it including Abe Blare, they complained to us that this was at least for a moment terrifying and the Navy should have notified the public beforehand.

Navy officials are telling us they understand that complaint but this, Wolf, is a classified program, top secret. They say because of operational security, they cannot announce these tests beforehand.

[17:55:01] By the way, Wolf, they just tested another one of these missiles today.

BLITZER: Sure it was a scary moment for a lot of people out on the Pacific Coast.

Thanks very much, Brian, for that report.

Coming up, a U.S. official now says it's 99.9 percent certain that a bomb brought down that Russian airliner over Sinai killing all 224 people on board. The hunt is now on for who planted the bomb, who built it and who ordered it. How vulnerable are American airports?

And another top official of a major state university now resigns after weeks of protest against racial bias at the school. I'll talk to the head of the NAACP.


[18:00:04] BLITZER: Happening now, larger terror plot as intelligence officials grow more confident that a Russian jet was brought down by a bomb.