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ISIS Battered in Iraq and Syria; New Security Warning for Europe; Bill Clinton Ready to Campaign for Hillary; Video Showing Raging Solimar Wildfire. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 27, 2015 - 06:30   ET


ERROL BARNETT, CNN ANCHOR: The National Weather Service has warnings for snow and flash floods in several parts of Texas.

[06:30:02] And that we'll have much more on this breaking story at the top of the hour.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: New for you this morning. ISIS is being battered in both Iraq and Syria. From Iraq, we have new video to show you of the deadly street fighting in Ramadi. Look what's happening there. Government forces are just 550 yards from an ISIS-held government compound and they hope to retake that key city within the next few days.

Also I want to share with you new pictures from Syria. Look at this. This is where U.S.-backed rebel groups have seized a strategic dam north of Raqqa, an ISIS stronghold, of course. Meanwhile, ISIS leader, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, allegedly released a new audio message that seemed to focus on boosting the morale of ISIS fighters. He tells them to, quote, "be patient because God is with you." CNN cannot verify the authenticity of that message, but we do want to bring in CNN correspondent Robyn Kriel and CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Robin, I wanted to start with you here. So, we know they are 550 yards from this compound. Do we know, based on that, how close Iraqi forces are to retaking Ramadi as a whole?

ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does sound like in terms of distance, Christi, that they are close. However, the issues that they are facing on the ground such as booby traps, the sniper fire and, of course, the threat of injuring civilians in this fight that could be caught in the cross-fire is what is slowing them down so much. We do know that they have captured a high-level member of ISIS on the ground, Abu Bakar, not to be confused with Abu Bakar Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. And according to Iraqi defense officials, he is providing information on exactly how many fighters are left inside. We did understand from initial information there were 300 to 500 fighters. We also know that he is a foreign fighter. He is not Iraqi, so we are not sure where he is from Iraqi defense official haven't said, but we also understand that a number of those fighting to the death we believe, are foreign fighters in Ramadi.

PAUL: All right. I wanted to ask you, General Hertling, about the rebel groups in Syria who have seized this dam. Is it better in the rebel group's hand than in ISIS and what do we know about this group, I guess, is the question?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, absolutely. Well, this is a combination of both the YPG from the Syrian Kurdish forces as well as some of the Syrian Arab fighters, which is very fascinating. They have taken this Tishran dam which will not only affect the water supply to Raqqa, the key city that what ISIS is calling their caliphate. But it will also affect their electricity. Critical point, Christi, this is going to shut down that city, which will cause more problems, indicators to all the fighters in that town that they are, in fact, on the wrong end of some of the fighting.

So a combination of both the Ramadi fight, which is interesting because it's mostly Sunni forces, not only in the Iraqi security forces, but tribes fighting against ISIS in Ramadi. You also have Syrian Sunnis and Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS near the Tishran dam. Both of them are tremendous defeats for the ISIS fighters.

PAUL: Is there a sense, Robyn, that ISIS is really losing significant ground in this fight? And I don't just mean that literally in terms of the geography of it. I mean, do we have any indication that their forces are actually weakening?

KRIEL: I guess I couldn't say as to whether they are being weakened, but I know that in Ramadi, this would be a huge propaganda loss for ISIS, because it was such a propaganda gain when they took the city back in May. It was a huge humiliation for the Iraqi defense forces and a real blow as well to the U.S. Who had spent billions of dollars training the Iraqis and equipping them. In fact, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter saying that it seemed that the Iraqis had lost the will to fight. Now, Iraqis took - to that saying that they ran out of ammunition and didn't have the support from Baghdad and the United States.

So, it was a lot of back and forth back then. But in terms of ISIS gains, this would likely be a propaganda blow. They will also lose a number of key fighters who will likely die in this fight, the 300 to 500 left, foreign fighters as well. And we also understand they are calling for reinforcements, but because the Iraqi defense forces and the U.S.-led air strikes have been pounding that -- the city and really strangling it from all angles and it is also surrounded by canals and bridges, that ISIS themselves had blown up. That they will not be able to get those reinforcements very easily.

PAUL: General, I want to go to you now. About this 24-minute clip that was released on ISIS-related social media accounts by Baghdadi. One of the things he said that was interesting to me, he mocks the U.S.-led coalition and says Western countries wouldn't dare send ground troops to ISIS strongholds because of previous failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.


We have heard from analysts that ISIS wants U.S. ground troops in there. They want to face them. Do you think that he is taunting the U.S.? HERTLING: oh, absolutely. And we don't know when this tape was made,

if it was recent or long ago. He does not make mention of some of the things that have occurred in the last several weeks, the bombing of the Russian jetliner out of Egypt, some of the attacks in other places. But, yes, he is certainly attempting to goad Western forces in the coming in. He wants them there. He wants to prove that this is East versus West, Christianity against Islam. And truthfully, the strategy so far has been counter to that, striking them from the air and now we are seeing -- and that is why I mentioned it earlier -- Sunni forces. The same religion, the same beliefs as ISIS that is on the far extreme of that and is an Islamist way fighting against them, trying to claim back Islam for those who believe. So that is all critically important.

PAUL: So, General, I just had a second. But I wanted to ask you if you think there is any chance that -- OK, I'm told we have to go. We will talk about it. I have one other question about whether this might actually strengthen ISIS because the recruiting has been so strong. If you have supporters who are seeing that they might be faltering, might this actually bring in more supporters? So, we will try to talk about that in the next hour. Thank you so much, both of you. Robyn Kriel and General Hertling. Appreciate it.

BARNETT: We've got some new information into CNN this morning. Police across Europe, they are on a high alert and have ramped up security measures. Well, why is that? Vienna police say they've received a warning from a friendly intelligence serviced that sites - or I should say cities could be attacked between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Let's call on once again our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes. Tom, you know, time - the holiday season, times of mass public transportation are more popular for people to make threats, but this specific warning coming from a friendly source. What exactly does that mean and what difference does that make?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Errol, the problem is that it's not all that specific of a warning. The intelligence services received the warning before Christmas saying that there might be an attack in a European capital sometimes during the week between Christmas and New Year and that it would involve explosives and - or firearms. But that is so vague. And that threat where that kind of warning has already been standing ever since the attacks in Paris, you know, the encounters with the police in both Paris and Brussels against these groups recently. That threat level has already been issued and already been there.

So, in a way, it's more of the same and the difficulty is now that we are in the middle of winter, you know, especially in Europe, it's a little bit colder, I think, than the East Coast of the United States. People are out with heavy coats, jackets, you know, can easily hide a suicide vest or firearms under winter clothing. So, it makes it more difficult. But the warnings have already been out there.

BARNETT: And the fact that the officials there in Vienna, they have investigated names of potential attackers, that they have come up with nothing. What does that tell us? FUENTES: That tells us that it might just be a hoax. It might be, you know, something that someone decided to call in or phone in. You know, a particular threat naming names, which, in the beginning, would lend it credibility until they find out that maybe the names aren't real and then it makes you wonder about the whole threat in the first place.

BARNETT: All right, so it's very vague. It could very well be a hoax. We will stay on top of this. Tom Fuentes, thanks very much.

FUENTES: You're welcome.

PAUL: Ahead, we continue to get new pictures in of the raging fire in southern California. It is something to see, isn't it here? You're going to see a news crew in the thick of it. That report straight ahead.

BARNETT: And scandal this morning for one of NFL's biggest names. Peyton Manning, an explosive report accuses the superstar quarterback of doping. He is denying those claims. Sports working this story for us and update for you coming up.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just super intense. You can barely see.


BARNETT: Embers everywhere in this incredible video. It shows the hellish scene of the raging Solimar wildfire. This is in California. Remember, we covered this as breaking news yesterday. The good news here is that firefighters are now gaining the upper hand containing about 60 percent of the wildfires so far.

PAUL: A spark from a down power line. It's what started this fire near the 101 freeway. The good news is that is reopened now. But CNN affiliate KEYT takes us to the middle of what emergency crews have been fighting throughout the night. It's riveting. The pictures here. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brutal. Look at this. Listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A volcano like eruption lit up the hills above Solimar Beach in Ventura County on the eve of Christmas Day. 40 to 50-mile-an-hour winds shot embers and flames across the 101, drivers racing to escape. Our news crews were in the thick of the fire zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I head back to my car. And I parked along this. You can see just ashes flowing everywhere. It's just super intense. Can you barely see. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Despite the intense winds, helicopters made

water drops in thick smoke under the cover of darkness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we got two helicopters here right now. One is being - in fact, stand by. We are going to get hit with the water here. And they are going to come back around here. Here he comes again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Solimar Beach residents packed up and left as they stared down an inferno inching closer to their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 of us now. We are probably going to head to Santa Barbara. I think our house will be OK. It was built not too long ago. I don't think there has been a fire here. I'm 29 years old. I don't think there has ever been a fire at this hills side here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In fact, this area hasn't burned since the 1970s, with a nearly five-year drought, feeding the flames.


PAUL: My goodness. And thank you so much to our affiliate there KEYT.


Authorities we understand have lifted those mandatory evacuations in the area and more than 400 firefighters, though, are still trying to control this thing.

BARNETT: Brave firefighters, too. I've covered some of those wild fires in California. They are strong.

PAUL: People, yeah.

BARNETT: Change direction any moment.

Still to come this hour, in politics, as Bill Clinton prepares to hit the campaign trail for Hillary, Donald Trump unleashes a flurry of nasty comments about the former president's marital infidelity. What does the feud escalation do to both campaigns? We will explore that coming up.

PAUL: Plus, look at this video. Keeping an eye on the aftermath of the tornado in Texas. We have a live report for you as the sun will start to come up soon and we will see what it left.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is this over here behind us?


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BARNETT: 48 minutes past of the hour. And new this morning in the race for the White House, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is escalating the war of words between him and Hillary Clinton. Trump slamming Clinton by citing her husband's history of marital infidelity and alleged sexual misconduct. Take a look at what Trump tweeted overnight. Quote, "Hillary Clinton has announced that she is letting her husband out to campaign, but he's demonstrated a penchant for sexism, so inappropriate." We will talk more about this tweet and the feud in just a moment.

First, CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns has more on the Clintons hitting the campaign trail together.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENRIO WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Errol and Christi, Bill Clinton's role in his wife's campaign has at least, so far, than 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.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Starting in January I will have my not so secret weapon.


JOHNS: 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: I have noticed, and in my studies of history, I have noticed that most successful presidents are those who get elected as a time that they are assuming ...


BILL CLINTON: And she's the best qualified person for the ...



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

BILL 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.

BILL CLINTON: Give me a break.


BILL CLINTON: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever 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.

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

JOHNS: Questions quickly arose 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 is revered among Democrats? Popular among all Americans, and whose penchant for delivering a memorable line cannot be understated.

BILL 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 charges of infidelity dogged him. This time, Hillary is the candidate, Bill is the spouse and Chelsea is a mom.


JOHNS: And while Bill Clinton has not been invisible during his wife's run, he has attended a handful of campaign events and he's 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. Errol and Christi.

PAUL: Joe, thank you so much.

How does, then, former president Bill Clinton either help or hurt Hillary Clinton? Let's talk about it with CNN political commentator Errol Louis. Errol, I mean that's a big question. Is he a help, is he a hindrance? What do you say?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he is a great help just for the raw political skills. And it is just thrilling, just to see some of the footage that you showed and thinking back to the 2012 campaign when President Obama looked like he was in a little bit of a trouble, who did he bring in at the convention? And that was electrifying in the arena that night to see Bill Clinton take the stage. I mean the numbers all show that, not just Democrats, but Americans of all political persuasions like and revere and respect the guy. And so he is just an asset, just, you know, just pure and simple. Somebody on the campaign trail who knows what he is doing.

PAUL: Well, I want to get back to this tweet from Donald Trump overnight who said Hillary Clinton has announced that she is letting her husband out to campaign, but he has demonstrated a penchant for sexism, so inappropriate. Now, that penchant for sexism, let's get real here. That line goes back to an interview Hillary Clinton gave to the "Des Moines Register" earlier using those very words to describe Trump for a term that he used in talking about her regarding her 2008 primary loss to Barack Obama. He is essentially using her own words against her. What do you make of the tweet, first of all?

LOUIS: It's an answer. As he likes to say, Donald Trump thinks of himself as a counterpuncher. You say something bad about him, he'll turn around and insult you. It doesn't happen to make a whole lot of sense. In this case, it doesn't make any sense at all. Donald Trump, the words came out of his mouth the crude vulgar statements that he has made over and over and over again about women in particular. For him then to sort of reach back and say well, you're married to a guy who was involved in a sex scandal or two. I'm not sure what the connection is or what that's supposed to mean to voters. It certainly has nothing to do with Donald Trump taking some responsibility for a change for the words that come out of his own mouth.

PAUL: Well, let me ask you this.

LOUIS: Many of which are crude and demeaning.

PAUL: We know, kids are off limits, essentially. That's been kind of this unspoken agreement. But what about spouses? Are spouses off the hook when it comes to candidates? And who they partner with? Especially with Bill Clinton, because he has been the president. Does that make him more vulnerable?

LOUIS: Bill Clinton is never off the hook. Bill Clinton is a known quantity. He is probably one of the best known people in the whole world. He'll never be off limits. I think the question is what -- look. Christi, in Republican circles, on Republican conservative circles, on talk radio, Bill Clinton has a punch line that doesn't need any explanation. They say his name and that just means something bad having to do with sex, ha, ha, ha.


For the rest of the world, though, you know, this is a generation ago and whatever went on during the impeachment it was sort of litigated politically, it was litigated judicially. It's over and done and behind us for many, many voters. Maybe even a majority of voters at this point. So, I think Donald Trump may be tapping into a dry well at this point by trying to sort of use these old slams to sort of impugn the Clintons and Hillary Clinton in particular.

PAUL: Already. Errol Louis. Always appreciate your insight. We'll talk to you again next hour. Thanks you so much.

LOUIS: Great, thank you. From one Errol to another.

BARNETT: Thanks, Christi. Great to hear from Errol there.

Still to come this hour, the Chicago police department expressed condolences for fatally shooting a 55-year-old woman. Does this set the groundwork for a legal case against them?

Plus, NFL star Peyton Manning under the microscope this morning. A new documentary about a doping scandal with him as the focus. We will tell you what is behind it, next.


BARNETT: Welcome back. During the commercial break, we were discussing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning who is strongly denying a bombshell report.

PAUL: Yeah, this report alleged that he is involved in a performance- enhancing drug scandal. Andy Scholes is here with us. And Andy was saying, you know, a lot of these reports have credence, this one?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I'm not sure I'm buying this one for sure. You know, Peyton has already come out and said that this report is actually complete garbage. He is one of several athletes named in an al Jazeera documentary set to air tonight. According to the report Manning was allegedly given a supply of human growth hormone in 2011 while he was recovering from his neck surgery. A former employee and an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic claims the HGH was sent to the future hall of famer under his wife's name Ashley Manning. Pharmacists later recanted this story to al Jazeera and ESPN saying that made it all up. Now, CNN Sports received a statement from Manning released by the Denver Broncos that reads, quote, "The allegation that I would do something like that is complete garbage and is totally made up. It never happened. Never.


I really can't believe somebody would put something like this on air. Whoever said this is making stuff up. Now, the NFL did not begin testing for HGH until last year.

And so far, guys, no players have ever tested positive for HGH.

PAUL: Interesting.