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Interview With Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; Bill Clinton on Campaign Trail; Trump Leading. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired December 23, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped and explosives are planted almost everywhere.

Muslims barred. A family heading to Disneyland for the holidays is prevented from boarding a flight from London to Los Angeles, capturing the confrontation on video. Did U.S. homeland security target them because of their religion.

Total domination. CNN's exclusive poll shows Donald Trump holds a commanding lead over Republican rivals after last week's debate. Can Ted Cruz or anyone else, for that matter, stop his momentum?

And the comeback kid. Bill Clinton is about to return to the campaign trail as a powerful and popular surrogate for his wife. Will he help Hillary as much as her supporters clearly hope?

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

This hour, coalition forces may be getting closer and closer to dealing a new blow to ISIS. The Iraqi military says its troops are gaining ground in the captured of city of Ramadi. We're told they're about a mile from the government compound held by ISIS.

As the war on terror escalates, members of a Muslim family were barred from boarding a plane from London to Los Angeles. They captured the incident on cell phone video. The relatives say they weren't given any explanation as to why they were prevented from leaving on their trip to Disneyland, but they suspect they were singled out because of their religion.

Also tonight, new evidence that Donald Trump's controversial stand on Muslim immigration isn't hurting his campaign at all. CNN's new poll taken after the latest Republican presidential debate shows Trump tops the field with 39 percent support. That's more than double his nearest rival, Ted Cruz.

We have our correspondents, our analysts, all of our guests standing by, including Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, a member of the House of Representatives. We will get to her in a moment.

But, first, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you learning about this new military offensive,

the latest details in the war against ISIS?


The Iraqi forces are on the move inside Ramadi and they are beginning to edge closer to the government compound in the center of the city that is still the ISIS stronghold, but sources are telling us it is very tough going. That is a city literally wired to blow up. ISIS for months now laying bombs, booby traps, barricades, whole buildings wired to blow. The Iraqis moving through the obstacles very slowly, very methodically, but the concern for civilians still trapped in the city is growing.

This is a real test case for the Iraqi military and for the U.S. Has months of U.S. military training of Iraqi forces finally paid off? Will they be able to get Ramadi back and will they be able to hold it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're learning new details about the suicide attack that killed six U.S. service members outside the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

STARR: Wolf, some heartbreaking video just into CNN a short time ago as the remains of those six Air Force members are returned to the United States.

Their families there, the government officials, Pentagon officials there as the caskets are taken off the plane. Bad weather on the East Coast tonight, a very difficult situation out on that airfield at this holiday time. We are learning more details about what happened to those who fell.


STARR (voice-over): Fellow troops mourn the lives of six U.S. Air Force members killed by

a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. The devastating attack happened on a security patrol outside of Bagram airfield. Their mission: to talk to local Afghans in nearby villages looking for any signs of the Taliban.

A U.S. official tells CNN the suicide bomber used an old motorcycle instead of a suicide vest packing the internal spaces of the bike full of explosives. The motorcycle detonating as the troops were on a narrow path where surrounding walls confined the blast and made it even more powerful.

The Taliban taking credit as the group makes a resurgence in the southern part of the country. In Helmand Province where U.S. forces fought for years, Afghan security forces are now locked in an intense battle with Taliban fighters. Afghan reinforcements have been sent to help.

MASOOM STANEKZAI, ACTING AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Building an army is not the work of two years, three years or four years. It is a young army. It need maturity. It need enablers.

STARR: Years of U.S. military training still may not be enough.


COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET. ), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's one of those areas where during the daytime, the government controls territory. During the nighttime, a lot of that same territory is actually being controlled by either the Taliban or in some cases potentially even ISIS.

STARR: ISIS has been making radio broadcasts as a recruitment tool. And some in Afghanistan are listening.

ISIS also has Russian President Vladimir Putin's attention. Moscow says it will share intelligence, but not weapons, with the Taliban to counter ISIS.


STARR: So, tonight, is the U.S. facing a new Putin agenda? Is Russia going back into Afghanistan nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union pulled out after a devastating war there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thanks very much, Barbara Starr reporting for us.

Tonight, U.S. authorities are warning of a terrorist threat inside this country as ISIS extends its influence around the globe.

Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is with us.

Evan, we have seen a huge jump in the rate of federal prosecutions. What have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really is an extraordinary year, this year, Wolf. And John Carlin, the head of the National Security Division of the Justice Department, calls it an unprecedented terrorist threat, far exceeding even what we saw right after 9/11.

Let's take a couple -- take a look at a couple statistics from the Justice Department, including at least 80 people charged in the U.S. in 30 different jurisdictions for the last two years on terrorism-related charges. About 60 of those charges were made this year alone, Wolf; 55 percent of those charges -- of those people charged are under 25 years old and a third are under 21 years old, really giving you a picture it's trending younger and younger.

And this year also saw, Wolf, a couple of firsts, including the first time the Justice Department has been able to bring a combined cyber-terrorism case. This is the case of Ardit Ferizi. He's a national Kosovo who lives in Malaysia. He was hacking into companies, stealing the person information of U.S. military members, passing it on to ISIS, which then posted it online urging its members to carry attacks against these U.S. military members. Another case we had just recently, Mohamed Elshinawy, he was

charged with receiving $9,000 from overseas ISIS supporters in Egypt, Wolf. That was the first time we had seen a case where someone was receiving money overseas. The U.S. Justice Department believes that this money was intended to carry out some kind of terrorist attack in the United States.

We don't know just what yet. President Obama before he left on his vacation to Hawaii mentioned he thought perhaps the fear of ISIS had been stoked by media attention. And I will tell you, if you look at the statistics, it really shows you that his own Justice Department has been bringing these cases at an unprecedented rate and that explains why the public concern is there.

BLITZER: Yes. One thing U.S. officials said to me repeatedly, money for ISIS, no problem, they have hundreds of billions of dollars, the oil exports, the banks that -- they have stolen, the gold that they have stolen. Cash, plenty of that.


PEREZ: Exactly.

BLITZER: Evan, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She's member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, also an Iraq War veteran.

Congresswoman, thank you very much for joining us.

I want to talk about what Evan just reported in a moment, but, first, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, he is the spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition's operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. He says there is still a long way to go, in his words, before we can declare Ramadi completely clear.

You served in Iraq. Realistically, what are we talking about in terms of the Iraqi military getting the job done and liberating Ramadi?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Oh, there's a few things that I think are happening there right now, as you have got the Iraqi counterterrorism forces, which are the Iraqi army's most talented and most sophisticated fighters, and they're saying that they have pulled in some of the Sunni tribes to be a part of this offensive effort, as well as using the United States Air Force for air cover as they conduct these attacks.

But I think one of the challenges they are having -- and this is something, a tactic that we're seeing in Iraq being used by ISIS, al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists groups, as well as in Syria, is planting these IEDs or threat mines that are making it difficult both for these -- this offensive attack to continue at a high rate of speed, but also it makes it difficult for the civilians who, you know, may try to go back into this town after this battle is won. I think the key thing here, as we have seen in other battles

previously in Iraq, is, what's the plan next? What's the governing plan? What's the security plan for Ramadi? Who will be in charge of that? How will the people there be treated?

We have seen previously how in the Sunni territories, how critical it is that you have a plan for Sunni tribes to be a part of this or actually take the lead on this security and governing plan.


Otherwise, we will end up in a situation like we saw in Tikrit, where the people who lived there were persecuted, their homes were burned down by the Iraqi army and Shia militia who came through there. That's going to be the key to being able to sustain this battle and this victory once it's won.

BLITZER: Yes. And let's see how long that takes and even if the Iraqis do retake Ramadi, if they can hold it for an extended period of time without ISIS coming right back in.

Congresswoman, stand by. We have much more to discuss. Let's take a quick break. Our coverage continues in a moment.


BLITZER: We're back with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

And a developing story we're following. Congresswoman, stand by for a moment.

Members of a family say they were barred from boarding a flight from London to Los Angeles and they fear they were targeted because of their religion.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is looking into the story for us.

Rene, this family was planning a visit to Disneyland. What happened?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they were denied boarding. As you mentioned, the family says they haven't been told why and that's fueling frustration overseas.


Couple that with what some see as an anti-Muslim climate here in the United States, as presidential candidates call for a ban on Muslims entering the country. Now some are wondering if that's why this family was denied boarding.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know why you've been taken off the flight. MARSH (voice-over): Inside London's Gatwick Airport, nine

members of a British Muslim family were denied boarding of a flight to California. They captured cell phone video of the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's to do with you guys and the USA.

MARSH: Norwegian Airlines tells CNN it acted on instructions from U.S. Homeland Security.

TARIQ MAHMOOD, FAMILY DENIED BOARDING: Even though you haven't done nothing wrong, you feel like you've done something wrong.

MARSH: Tariq Mahmood traveling with his family including seven children were waiting to board when they were stopped.

MAHMOOD: They don't give us an explanation as to what was the problem because the kids are asking, what is the problem, why we're not going?

So, we have to ask them, what should we tell our kids what's going on?

MARSH: The families say they had valid U.S. immigration documents and had been planning and saving for a trip to Disneyland with their children for months. The more than $13,000 they say they spent will not be refunded. British government officials are now fighting on their behalf.

STELLA CREASY, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: The family was simply further told to go home. No further contact has been made with them. No explanation has been provided. I have to also say this is not the only case that I have had raised with me of somebody traveling to America being stopped at the last minute.

MARSH: Mahmood's wife, who asked we not show her face, says she thinks their religion played a role.

SADAF MAHMOOD, FAMILY DENIED BOARDING: My 10-year-old daughter said to my husband, is it because we're Muslim? And my husband said, why would you say that? And she goes, well, because we were the only Muslim people in that line.

MARSH: U.S. Customs and Border Protection told CNN, quote, "The religion, faith or spiritual beliefs of international traveler are not determining factors."

For flights in or out of the United States, passenger security checks happen long before travelers get to the airport. Even before the airline accepts payment, names are run against the government's no-fly list. If there's a hit, the sale is denied.

For those who've bought a ticket, names are continuously checked against other government databases, searching everything from past itineraries to law enforcement and intelligence information. If there's a problem, the airlines deny boarding at the airport. But it's not just terrorism. There are other reasons a passenger could be denied boarding, like incomplete documents or health-related issues.


MARSH: Well, we know some members of this family had dual citizenship in the U.K. and Pakistan.

And it's believed a family member's e-mail address could be associated with a suspicious Facebook page that mentions al Qaeda. But the family denies this. Now, we don't know if any of that had anything to do with why they were not cleared to board.

Meantime, Wolf, CAIR, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights organization, is asking the Department of Homeland Security to probe whether Trump's Muslim ban is being implemented informally -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Rene Marsh reporting for us, thank you very much.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is still with us.

Do you have any idea why this family was turned away at the airport? See that little girl's drawing of Mickey Mouse. Pretty heartbreaking when you see that.

GABBARD: Yes, Wolf, I don't have any further information on this and really am not in a position to second-guess the decisions that were made by our security folks on the ground.

I think this does raise a few issues though that we have got to take a look at, the first one being, as you know, I have called for a temporary visa waiver suspension in particular from these countries that have thousands and thousands of foreign fighters who have gone or traveled into Syria and are fighting alongside ISIS.

If that were in place, then people who want to travel to the United States from these countries would just apply for a visa, and if there were issues, they would have been raised long before they are in a situation where they are at the airport and about to board a plane, as this family was.

Secondly, I think we have got to be concerned about any potential blowback that may occur for our homeland security folks, those who are doing this job and saying, hey, if there is a red flag, will they be afraid to speak up and say something about it? Will they be afraid to do their job?

And that's what we want to make sure that we prevent, because it's something that we saw that happened in California in San Bernardino with the neighbors of those shooters who knew that there were some things going on, but didn't speak up about it soon enough to prevent that attack.

BLITZER: You heard Evan Perez's report that more than half of those charged here in the United States with terror-related conduct are under the age of 25 and a third are under the age of 21. These are really, really young people who are either inspired or

motivated or whatever by ISIS or other terror groups. Those are pretty alarming statistics.


GABBARD: They are alarming, Wolf.

And when you look at how many of these people are being influenced or recruited, a lot of it is happening through social media. And the way that I like to think about it is, you look at these recruiters on social media reaching out. Just imagine ISIS recruiters walking around in our neighborhoods, walking around in the mall, talking to people, trying to share their radical Islamist ideology with them and recruit them to go to battle for ISIS.

This is exactly what is being allowed to occur since our government is not taking action to shut these recruitment social media accounts and Web sites down. We're basically allowing them to have free rein and access to be able to influence and draw more people in into this radical ideology that's driving ISIS, al Qaeda and their terrorist activities.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.

GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Hillary Clinton isn't holding back anymore. She's responding for the first time to Donald Trump's newest attacks against her, including this one.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm watching the debate and she disappeared. Where did she go? Where did she go? I know where she went. It's disgusting. I don't want to talk about it.

No, it's too disgusting. Don't say it. It's disgusting.




BLITZER: Tonight, the seemingly endless controversies swirling around the presidential race only seem to be strengthening Donald Trump.

A exclusive brand-new CNN poll shows Trump with a huge lead over his Republican rivals after their last debate and heading into 2016.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more on the poll, Trump's war of words that's ongoing with Hillary Clinton right now. He is, Sunlen, making significant gains.


Trump is now more than 20 points ahead of the entire Republican field. And even more revealing, this poll shows that Republicans are coming around to the idea that they have the best chance of potentially winning the White House by nominating Trump.


SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump dominating the GOP field. A new CNN/ORC poll shows Trump on top with 39 percent support, more than double his next closest opponent, Ted Cruz.

Trump's lead is even more definitive when measured by the depth of his support on issue after issue. On handling the economy, ISIS and immigration, voters all deem Trump the best equipped candidate by commanding margins.

TRUMP: She was favored to win and she got schlonged. She lost.

SERFATY: The front-runner though still embroiled in the controversy over his comments about Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: I'm watching the debate and she disappeared. Where did she go? Where did she go? I know where she went. It's disgusting. I don't want to talk about it.

SERFATY: Now Clinton for the first time is responding.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really deplore the tone of his campaign and the inflammatory rhetoric that he is using to divide people.

SERFATY: Saying she thinks Trump has a penchant for sexism.

CLINTON: I don't know that he has any boundaries at all. And his bigotry, his bluster, his bullying have become his campaign.

SERFATY: And Trump is hitting back, tweeting, "Be careful, Hillary, as you play the war on women or the women being degraded card."

Meanwhile, as they battle it out...


SERFATY: ... Ted Cruz takes on "The Washington Post" for this cartoon depicting his children as monkeys.

CRUZ: When I saw that cartoon, not much ticks me off, but making fun of my girls, that will do it.

SERFATY: This came after Cruz's daughters appeared in a TV ad. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know just what I will do, she said, with

a snicker. I will use my own server, and no one will be the wiser.

SERFATY: Kids are generally considered off-limits in politics. Cruz now using the cartoon to raise money and the opportunity to take on his favorite foe.

CRUZ: Everyone expects the mainstream media to be liberal, to be biased. Folks want to attack me, knock yourself out. That's part of the process. I signed up for that. That's fine. But my girls didn't sign up for that.


SERFATY: And many of Ted Cruz's Republican opponents have come to his defense, chastising The Washington Post, but Cruz, today, he called out his Democratic rivals for not speaking up.

Now, "The Washington Post," meanwhile, they have pulled the cartoon and editors acknowledging that they should have never published the cartoon in the first place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much.

Joining us now is the national political director for Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Michael Glassner.

Michael, thanks very much for joining us.

As you know, Donald Trump was tweeting about Hillary Clinton once again today, saying to Hillary Clinton, "The Hillary Clinton-staged event yesterday was pathetic. Be careful, Hillary, as you play the war on women or women being degraded card.

In an interview with "The Des Moines Register" following the campaign event, she said Trump demonstrated a penchant for sexism.

What's your reaction to that?

MICHAEL GLASSNER, NATIONAL POLITICAL DIRECTOR, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: You know, I think it's ironic that Hillary Clinton is playing the sexism card, considering the record of her husband and his term in the White House.

He was impeached by the House of Representatives for his behavior. So, I think, again, she's expert at playing the victim. The Clinton reign over the Democratic Party has been dominated by series after series of scandal. So I think it's hard to believe an attack like this coming from Hillary Clinton based on the record of their family.

BLITZER: Because, only moments ago, Donald Trump tweeted what you basically just said.

You said, "Hillary, when you complain about a penchant for sexism, who are you referring to? I have great respect for women. BE CAREFUL," all in capital letters.

So, that is a reference, what you're saying, to Bill Clinton's behavior in the White House; is that what you're saying?

GLASSNER: Only Mr. Trump speaks for Mr. Trump. All I can do is refer you to the history that's known about the Clinton family, about his behavior in the White House. Again, the Clintons are -- you know, they -- I don't think they have any standing to cast aspersions for anybody else based on their past history.

BLITZER: Do you -- do you think Donald Trump would like to sort of revise the remarks he made at that -- I mean, the speech the other day, when he was sort of making fun of Hillary Clinton for going to the ladies' room during a commercial break during that Democratic presidential debate?

GLASSNER: Again, Mr. Trump speaks for himself. I do not speak for him. You know, he speaks very frankly from his heart. That's why his message has resonated so powerfully with the American people. He'll continue to do that as the most effective communique tore around the world, and I think you'll see his success continue.

You saw the poll numbers that you just showed. He's -- his total in the polls now equal all three of the next competitors combined. Obviously, he's got a powerful message, and it's working.

BLITZER: Right now Senator Cruz says he thinks he'll be the Republican nominee, but he also says it seems to be boiling down to a two-man race right now, Cruz and Trump. Does your campaign agree with that?

GLASSNER: You know, again, I said this when we spoke last week. Mr. Trump has created his own lane. I don't think he has a competitor.

He's going to pull new participants from across demographic demographics: Democrats, independents, disaffected Republicans who haven't been participating at elections.

So again, I don't think he has any competitor. He's his own revolution, and he's driving this campaign and has since the day he announced.

BLITZER: Is it only a matter of time before the gloves come off between Cruz and Trump?

GLASSNER: Again, that's -- you know, I can't speculate as to Mr. Trump's communication strategy. He drives that himself. He's done that extremely effectively for the balance of this campaign. So again, I don't -- I can't speak for him on that.

But I do know that he'll continue to tout his solutions for the Americans' future and he will continue to be. I have no doubt of that.

BLITZER: You're the national political director. Take us a little bit behind the scenes. Does he have meetings? Does he consult with you? Or does he just basically go out to a rally and says what's on his mind?

GLASSNER: No, Mr. Trump consults with many people across the spectrum of life. He has policy advisors in a number of areas, but again he speaks his mind. And I think that's why he's so effective. It resonates strongly, because people know he speaks from the heart. He speaks without notes, without teleprompters and talks about the issues that are important to him, to the American people. You see those results in the polls you just cited.

BLITZER: I want to get your reaction to what we reported earlier, that Muslim family of London barred from boarding a plane to Los Angeles to go to Disneyland with their children. The father of one of the men on that trip told CNN -- I'm quoting the father now -- "We've been Trumped."

Mr. Trump clearly wasn't responsible for that family not being able to board the plane, but does that kind of rhetoric, when he speaks about barring, at least on a temporary basis, Muslims from coming to the United States, does that contribute to what's going on here?

GLASSNER: Again, I can't speak to the details. I'm not familiar with exactly what the local authorities have investigated or are reporting right now.

But I do know that his -- Mr. Trump suggested that we have a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States who are not American citizens until we determine what's going on within our own country. If that raises height, that raises the heightened security at our airports, I'm for that. I think the American people agree with that.

BLITZER: Michael Glassner, the national political director for the Donald Trump campaign. Michael, thanks very much for joining us.

GLASSNER: Thank you, Wolf. Have a great weekend.

BLITZER: Thank you. You, too.

Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our CNN political commentator, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile; and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Let me get, Dana, your reaction first to what we just heard.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, there is no reason why the Trump campaign should be anything other than ecstatic right now. I think that hearing from Mr. Glassner was kind of very typical of what we see from the Trump camp, which is they are very reluctant to say anything on his behalf, because he very much does speak for himself. And I think my impression or my sense and my experience is that nothing that he says is not completely vetted -- vetted through the candidate himself. BLITZER: What do you think of this warning, in effect, not only

for Michael Glassner, the political director for the Trump campaign, but in that tweet from Donald Trump himself to Hillary Clinton. You better be careful, all caps, about raising the sexism issue, as far as he's concerned referring, of course, to the former president in the White House.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: As Secretary Clinton said today, you know, no amount of bullying, bigotry or the bluster of Donald Trump is going to prevent Hillary Clinton or any other female candidate out there from getting that message across to a voter.

That being said, this is a mark of a man, of a candidate who has no respect for women whatsoever. It's not just Hillary Clinton. If it was Hillary Clinton, maybe you can play, this is Hillary versus Donald.

This is Donald Trump and his criticism of Carly Fiorina's physical appearance; Donald Trump taking on Megyn Kelly, because she asked him a tough question; Donald Trump taking on Rosie O'Donnell, criticized the head of the Democratic Party.

Donald Trump will go to the end of the world to try to find someone who challenges him to hit back. His language was course, derogatory, incendiary and vulgar. And that is what the Trump campaign refuses to answer to.

BLITZER: Let me let -- let me let Leslie Sanchez weigh in. Go ahead, Leslie.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, it's hard to disagree with Donna on that point. And she's exactly right.

I think -- what I do think, from a strategic perspective, though, this falls exactly where Hillary Clinton wants it to. She wants to raise the gender card issue. It benefitted her in the New Hampshire primary in 2008 against Barack Obama. She realized that and kind of lessons learned of her 2008 primary loss, is that she did not engage women early.

This is really a holiday gift for her to do something and get women motivated. You see her staff tweeting, you know, hashtag #Imwithher. So it falls in her sweet spot. It does not help Donald Trump.

BASH: Except, let me just throw some data out there. Certainly, that might be your feeling and the feeling of some women, particularly on the Democratic side, but when it comes to the polls of Republican women, the people who he's going to need to win in Iowa and New Hampshire and so forth, he's doing quite well.

So even though we've had this series and string of issues and sort of explosions in the media, whether as you said, Megyn Kelly or Carly Fiorina hasn't seemed to hurt him with Republicans.

BLITZER: And his poll numbers keep going up. Hold on a second, Leslie, Donna. We're going to get back to you in a moment.

Let's take a quick break. Lots more to discuss. We have a poll showing the race -- latest numbers on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. We'll be right back.


[18:40:54] BLITZER: Our political team is here, looking ahead to Bill Clinton's comeback on the presidential campaign trail. He'll be out rallying support for his wife once the election year begins.

Let's go to CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns. Joe, obviously, Hillary Clinton hopes Bill Clinton will be a huge political asset for her, but that hasn't always necessarily been the case.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It really hasn't, Wolf. Bill Clinton's role in his wife's campaign, at least so far, has been mostly low-key, unlike back in 2008 when he was front and center all the way into the South Carolina primary and now he is expected to head back out on the campaign trail, again trying to become the first presidential spouse who once held the office for himself.


H. CLINTON: Starting in January, I will have my not-so-secret weapon.

JOHNS (voice-over): When Bill Clinton was a candidate running for the White House, he told voters, "You get two for the price of one." Now the only former president to have a spouse running for office is getting ready to join her as she makes her second run.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have noticed, and in my studies of history, I noticed most successful presidents are those who get elected at a time that they're suited governor, and she's the best qualified person for the time.


B. CLINTON: Thank you very much.

JOHNS: But the last time the former president stumped for his wife, the results were mixed.

B. CLINTON: I highly recommend her.

JOHNS: In 2008 amid a tight race with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton played a prominent role, campaigning for Hillary in key early primary states, but along with the large and enthusiastic crowds came a series of verbal miscues, including a harsh assessment of Obama.

B. CLINTON: Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've seen.

JOHNS: And days later an off-the-cuff comment in South Carolina, suggesting that skin color was a key factor in winning the primary there.

B. CLINTON: Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina twice in '84 and '88.

JOHNS: Questions quickly arouse whether Mr. Clinton was doing more harm than good, and though he remained on the trail through the later primaries...


JOHNS: ... he was tightly guarded, kept on script and away from the media. But how do you say no to the man who was revered among Democrats, popular among all Americans and whose penchant for delivering a memorable line cannot be understated?

B. CLINTON: What new ideas do we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer. Arithmetic.

JOHNS: A lot has changed since Bill Clinton's successful run more than two decades ago, when Hillary was credited for standing by her man as charged of infidelity dogged him. This time Hillary is the candidate, Bill is the spouse, and Chelsea is a mom.

H. CLINTON: Now it's a little bit more complicated with him, because people still call former presidents Mr. President.


H. CLINTON: So I have to really work on this.

KIMMEL: I know what to call you. The first president lady would be a nice thing to be called. The first lady, doesn't the first lady.

H. CLINTON: First dude, first mate, first gentleman. I'm just not sure about it.

KIMMEL: Does the first lady typically pick out a new china pattern in the...

H. CLINTON: Typically, yes.

KIMMEL: So would Bill do that while you're actually in China, will he be selecting it?


JOHNS: Bill Clinton has not been invisible during his wife's run. He attended a handful of campaign events and been quietly raising money for the campaign. But now, as we enter the final stretch to Iowa and the primaries, you can expect to see the former president back in the spotlight.

BLITZER: We certainly can. All right. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Dana, he could be an extremely important asset for Hillary Clinton going into Iowa and New Hampshire, et cetera.

PERINO: He is in a class of his own when it comes to, I mean, I think in both parties, I think Republicans would admit this, his ability to communicate a political message and to rally the Democratic base. He's simply beloved in a way that others are not.

So yes, I mean, it's a no brainer for her to use him, as long as he kind of stays in the lane that he just heard in Joe's piece, that he's the spouse.

I remember a certain campaign that Donna Brazile might have run, Al Gore's campaign, that did not use Bill Clinton. Maybe it's not so certain --

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We used him strategically because --

BASH: That was in 2000.

BRAZILE: Absolutely, because we understood that President Clinton has the ability to not just communicate complicated stuff, but also, he's a crowd pleaser. People like Bill Clinton. They know that Bill Clinton understands how to run a first rate economy and they know Bill Clinton has enormous friends, but also, they're looking at Hillary Clinton. They're looking at her values, her vision and I think he will provide a wonderful asset to the campaign.

BLITZER: Let me ask Leslie.

What do you think, Leslie?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think he will be a wonderful asset to "Saturday Night Live" and all the skits they were going to get out of it. I mean, there's a long -- you're right, it was a mixed review when you bring President Clinton back on the campaign trail and there is another big kind of under current that's going on here.

If you look at the fact the last ten years, there is massive uptick in dissatisfaction with Washington establishment and dynasty families. You're seeing it now. Thoughts that Congress and, you know, members of Congress and political elite are more corrupt, they're out of touch. That's no going to help when you bring back somebody from two decades ago.

So, that's why this populism with Donald Trump, and this conservatism is having such a strong appeal because people are tired and very suspect of people that know Washington that well.

BLITZER: Dana, in our brand-new CNN/ORC poll among the Democratic presidential candidates, among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is at 50 percent, Bernie Sanders 34 percent, Martin O'Malley 3 percent. But take a look, she's gone down from 58 to 50. Sanders has gone from 30 to 34, O'Malley is still way, way down there.

Should she be worried? BASH: I don't think so. Look, she's taking a lot of incoming.

I mean, you got a dozen Republicans who are ripping her to shreds pretty much every day and they done so on national stage. What I thought was interesting about our poll is that the first couple days were taken before the Democratic debate on Saturday and she was much closer to Bernie Sanders.

After the debate, she was, what, like 12 or 15 points ahead of Bernie Sanders which suggestions she does well on the debate stage and maybe your friends at the Democratic National Committee should have done more debates and not put them on Saturday nights before --

BLITZER: She's a very, very polished excellent debater. We know that.

BRAZILE: She was great in 2008, as well, and you know what happened. Barack Obama had more delegates. Look, we still have a competitive primary. I'm not here to pronounce somebody has won.

Dana mentioned that the Republicans are doing a lot of incoming and super pacts. I'm surprised she's standing so strong given all the negativity that's been out there.

BLITZER: What do you think, Leslie? Why don't you weigh in?

SANCHEZ: I think it falls into trying to play Hillary Clinton as a victim. It really doesn't work. There's -- she's certainly somebody with such high negatives that people have a strong understanding, a lot of suspicion about her personally, certainly her husband. It's going to be very difficult when you talk about independent women, economic conservatives who will maybe be looking for some movement and conservative Democrats. It's really hard to see them getting enthusiastic about her.

BRAZILE: Leslie, Democrats like her, independents like her. You know, we cannot please all you Republicans but we like you and wish all of you a merry Christmas.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly do. We wish all of you a merry -- and a happy New Year. Donna Brazile, thanks as usual. Leslie Sanchez, thanks to you. Dana Bash, all hard-working ladies here THE SITUATION ROOM.

Much more news coming up after a quick break.


[18:52:43] BLITZER: Tonight, as heroin addiction explodes across America, a police chief is trying a radical response. He's offering to help users instead of arresting them.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is covering this deadly epidemic.


It is a mystery, why exactly in this tiny fishing community of Gloucester, Massachusetts, has heroin addiction become an epidemic.

It could be the long winters. It could be the stigma of addiction, and lack of resources for treatment. Whatever the exact cause is unclear.

One thing Gloucester has is pills. Lots and lots of pain pills.

CHIEF LEONARD CAMPANELLO, GLOUCESTER POLICE: A lot of this addiction came from a very legal and very accepted way to deal with pain. And that's a big problem.

GUPTA: Now, chief of police, Leonard Campanello, tells me we could leave the station, walk anywhere, up the north shore and come back with heroin in just ten minutes.

CAMPANELLO: We're finding it in teenagers, all the way up to legislatures, police officers, sons, daughters, you know, family members. This has no boundary.

GUPTA: So, the chief decided on a radical approach, probably best described as the opposite of a war on drugs. He used Facebook to make an offer to the citizens of Gloucester.

CAMPANELLO: If you're a user of heroin or opiates, let us help you. We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the city that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a static.

GUPTA: We won't arrest you. We will help you. He had no idea if it would work, if anyone would listen. He didn't even know if it was legal.

(on camera): Did you hesitate? Did you have any concerns about this sort of strategy or putting it out there so boldly?

CAMPANELLO: No. I think the worst thing they could do was fire me.

GUPTA: Did you talk to your wife or anybody else before you hit "send"?

CAMPANELLO: No. This was, you know, plausible deniability for everybody sometimes.

GUPTA: I want to give you an idea of how this remarkable program works. We're here at the Gloucester Police Department.

If you're someone addicted to heroin, you would walk through these doors over here and right away, you would notice something is different. First of all, would you pick up the phone and tell them that you're here because you're a heroin addict.

[18:55:03] And that would start the whole process of getting an angel assigned to you.

But also, take a look over here, your needles, your sharps container, your paraphernalia, your drugs, they go over here. When you start to walk through these doors now, you're not going into the police station to get arrested but to get help.

CAMPANELLO: When we first started this program, it was an end of the war on drugs. As we started thinking about it, was it really ever a war on drugs? Was it a war on addiction? And I think that we made a statement at least for our Gloucester residents that seems to have resonated in a lot of different places that we are back to working for people who need help.

So, they will come in here.

GUPTA (voice-over): And the people are showing up. So far this year, almost 300 people have come through the doors and are now in treatment. And the patients aren't just from Gloucester. Unable to get the help he needed in California, Steve got on a plane and came knocking on the chief's door.

STEVEN LESNIKOSKI, RECOVERING HEROIN USER: I showed up here at 3:30 in the morning and the officers, they treated me with respect and dignity and like I was a normal human being, not any kind of stigma that society has attached to addicts and I got the help that I needed.

GUPTA: The story that led Steven here was all too familiar. Pills.

(on camera): Did you break your ankle?

LESNIKOSKI: No. I tore my Achilles heel.

GUPTA: It was very painful I imagine.

LESNIKOSKI: Yes, it was pretty painful. I couldn't walk for a couple of weeks. I was -- I don't have a cast, but, you know, I had to prop my leg up and that just kind of persistently got worse. I was prescribed Vicodin painkillers for that.

GUPTA: How long after you first got that prescription to Vicodin before you were taking heroin?

LESNIKOSKI: Eighteen months.

GUPTA: Eighteen months?

LESNIKOSKI: Give or take a month or two, less than two years.

GUPTA: I want to make a really important point. These are FDA- approved doctor prescribed pills. This is heroin. They both virtually have the same effect on the brain. The most typical course is someone starts with pills like this, they get caught off, they turn to heroin, which is an illegal drug but it works fast. It gets you high and it is very, very cheap.

We now know that 20 percent of heroin users started off with pills like this.

The question always arises I think with these sorts of programs, does it enable people to keep doing heroin because they think, look, I'm not going to be criminalized, I've got a safety net, I can keep doing this?

PROF. DAVID ROSENBLOOM, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Nobody wants to keep doing it. They want to get better. They haven't had the help to get better.

This is a chronic, relapsing condition. People need help lots of times. We have, as a society, told them that if they relapse, they fail. We send all the wrong messages. So, people don't want to continue to suffer.

GUPTA (voice-over): The chief knows this because he lives this.

(on camera): You were a plains-clothed narcotics detective for sometime. You saw this people. I mean, you still see this people, but you really saw them up close, people who are addicted to heroin who were living that life.

CAMPANELLO: We had a mom hooked on it for two years. She had a 2-year-old son in her care. We routinely did search warrants if we knew that she was selling out of her house. We came in one night, and in the corner was a crib, and it was the 2-year-old and walked over just to check if that kid was all right. And he immediately put his arms out and grabbed me around the neck and he would not let go. And he stayed like that for three hours.

And so, here is this guy coming in, you know, back in the day when, you know, armed to the teeth, ready to go, ready to sniff out drugs with a team of law enforcement who spent the night, you know, cradling a child, and that stuck with me for a very long time in terms of, you know, where is that child now? You know, the atmosphere that they grow up in, can something be done to stop this next generation? And where do we stop?

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Gloucester, Massachusetts.


BLITZER: A very powerful, powerful report from Sanjay.

And you can see more of the special series "Primary Concern: Heroin," later tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be anchoring, filling in for Anderson tonight. That's only here on CNN.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

To all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world, have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.