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Iraqi Forces Retake Ramadi, Danger Remains; Trump Targets Bill Clinton; Trump: Hillary Playing "Woman Card"; Mayor Emanuel Cutting Vacation Short Amid Turmoil; Peyton Manning Calls Doping Report "Garbage". Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 28, 2015 - 16:30   ET


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, there's been a lot of praise today for Iraqi forces by the U.S.-led coalition, calling retaking of the center of the city a significant accomplishment.


But the U.S. is cautioning the Iraqi government its next steps are equally important to hold Ramadi and build upon those gains.


LABOTT (voice-over): Claiming a -- quote -- "epic victory," the Iraqi army announced the liberation of Ramadi just 60 miles west of Baghdad. Drone surveillance footage shows the moment Iraqi troops raised the national flag over the government complex.

BRIG. GEN. YAHYA RASOOL, IRAQI ARMY (through translator): The city of Ramadi has been liberated.

LABOTT: U.S.-led coalition airstrikes aided newly trained Iraqi forces who called in ISIS targets. Today, the coalition, though not ready to declare the city liberated, called the success a "proud moment for Iraq. "

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iraqi forces have made great progress over the last week or so.

LABOTT: The celebrations could be short-lived. Pockets of resistance remain, along with hundreds of explosives planted by the terror group. Also still unclear, whether Iraqi forces can hold the city and stop Shia militias who are not included in the operation from reigniting sectarian tensions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This needs to be an inclusive governmental approach.

LABOTT: Retaking the capital and largest population center of the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, a strategic and symbolic victory for the Iraqi army, the city's fall to ISIS in May an embarrassing defeat that had Defense Secretary Carter questioning their resolve.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: They failed to fight. They withdrew from the site.

LABOTT: But just weeks ago, Carter urged Iraq's prime minister to move north toward Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate more than a year ago.

After a recent string of defeats in Baiji, north of Baghdad, and Sinjar Mountain, where their fight against ISIS began, Baghdadi warned in a new audio recording that, despite the setbacks, ISIS remains strong, promising an epic final battle.


LABOTT: And, today, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi tweeted what he called complete confidence that Iraqis are now going to liberate Mosul. But a spokesperson for the coalition says first the Iraqis have a lot of work to retake and secure all of Anbar Province, including Fallujah.

The coalition also needs to finish training the remainder of the Iraqi army and resupply forces after those last few months of fighting, but Mosul, as you know, Jim, considered the big prize in freeing Iraq from ISIS, coalition determined to help Iraqis make that happen.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Mosul, much bigger than Ramadi. Elise Labott, thanks very much.

Joining me now is retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He's a former assistant secretary of state for political military affairs. I should also note that General Kimmitt is a security and defense adviser to a number of U.S. and foreign firms.

General Kimmitt, thanks very much to have you here.

So let's look at the map to gauge coalition progress against ISIS. I will admit I look at this map all the time. I always have a little trouble seeing it visually. This is where we stand today. Let's really focus on the red areas here. Those are under ISIS control, the yellow areas with an ISIS support zone.

Tell me what we see here and what's important about these areas.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY: Well, the important thing to note is that everything is along the river. This is Euphrates River here. This is the Tigris River here.

The fight that is going on right now is along the Euphrates River from Baghdad to Ramadi. But the real prize, as you said earlier, is up in Mosul. And that's going to be a much tougher fight.

SCIUTTO: Moving up the riverbed, in effect.

And just to be clear, let's go back to January of this year where they stood. So they were further down along here. So we can call that a success, Iraqi forces pushing them further up the riverbed, in effect. I'm going to go back to where we are now. And this is where they were beginning of the year. KIMMITT: Yes, the river valleys along the Tigris, they have taken

back Tikrit, they have taken back Baiji, now the prize up in Mosul. Along the Euphrates, Baghdad to Ramadi is now clear.

SCIUTTO: You noted to me earlier Mosul is five times the size of Ramadi, so five times as difficult?

KIMMITT: Well, it's going to be five times more difficult because not only that. Taji is the main supply base for the Iraqi army, and so for them to be able to fight up the river valley all the way to Mosul on extended logistics line, it is going to be much more difficult than Baghdad to Ramadi.

SCIUTTO: Sixty miles from the capital.


SCIUTTO: OK. This is Iraq and Syria. That is of course the ISIS home base, the Islamic State, as they call it.

Let's go regionally, though, because even though they have been fought back a bit in their home base, they have expanded largely by getting affiliates in effect around the region.


In fact, that's probably the most important thing, that we can't stay focused simply on Iraq and Syria. They're now starting to move out of the Islamic State, around the region and quite frankly around the world.

SCIUTTO: Of course, Egypt, it is a key U.S. ally. You have U.S. forces based in these places in Afghanistan.



SCIUTTO: You certainly have them operating at times in Yemen as well. So there's danger there for Americans.

KIMMITT: There is. There is.

SCIUTTO: Now, they move out of their home base, in effect, establish bases elsewhere. But another way they projected power is through acts of terror. Let's look where they have been able to carry those out just in the last month, really. Of course, you had the attack in San Bernardino, claimed loyalty to ISIS, those attackers there, the horrible attacks in Paris that we were at just about a month ago, suicide bombings in Beirut, and then that Russian airliner brought down by an ISIS or at least ISIS claims to have brought it down by a bomb.

Do you expect to see more attacks like this outside, not even just the region or just -- well, not even their home base, but outside of the region as they get squeezed in their home there? KIMMITT: I really think they do, because, number one, they have got

to continue to show victory to bring in more and more recruits and also to get more and more money as well. So they're going to continue these spectacular attacks around the world, in my estimation, primarily to show that they continue to be viable and they continue to be strong.

SCIUTTO: To show their power.


SCIUTTO: General Kimmitt, always great to have you on. Thanks very much.

The politics lead. Just five weeks until the Iowa caucuses, but Republican front-runner Donald Trump seems to be looking well beyond primary season. He's going after Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and calling her campaign tactics sexist. Does Trump have a point, or is his claim completely off base?


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our politics lead, Donald Trump is showing no signs of slowing down this holiday season. This time, he's going after his old friends, the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill. Trump says Bill Clinton had 'a terrible record of woman abuse."

Not sparing Republicans, the GOP front-runner tour into the Virginia Republican Party, calling a recent decision there stupid.

Let's now bring in CNN political reporter Sara Murray. She is following Donald Trump in New Hampshire today.

Sara, it looks like Donald Trump hoping to end 2015 on, shall we say, a strong note?


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think you're absolutely right, Jim.

And he is doing that by going hard against Hillary Clinton. And he's really holding nothing back, even going after her husband Bill's infidelities.


MURRAY (voice-over): Just weeks before the Iowa caucuses, it seems nothing is off-limits.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She was favored to win and she got schlonged. She lost. I mean, she lost.

MURRAY: Now Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are trading charges of sexism.

TRUMP: She's playing the woman's card and it's like give me a break.

MURRAY: And Trump is upping the ante, taking aim at Bill Clinton over his past infidelities and allegations of sexual harassment.

TRUMP: I think he is fair game, because his presidency was really considered to be very troubled, to put it mildly, because of all of the things that she's talking to me about. She's mentioning sexism.

MURRAY: Today, Trump tweeting, "If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband with his terrible record of women abuse while playing the women's card on me, she's wrong" -- all of this after Clinton accused Trump of having a penchant for sexism.

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

MURRAY: Targeting Bill's behavior may fire up Trump's backers. But attacking Hillary over her husband's indiscretions could fuel her own supporters.

Meanwhile, Trump is waging war on other fronts, today facing sharp criticism from Jeb Bush.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is not serious about being a candidate. He's a great politician. He fills the space. He's the chaos candidate. And he'd be the chaos president of the United States.

MURRAY: And launching a flurry of tweets slamming the Virginia GOP for requiring voters to declare they're Republicans, saying, "Straighten out the Republican Party of Virginia before it is too late."

Trump's getting a frosty welcome in New Hampshire today, too, as "The Union Leader"'s publisher releases an editorial slamming Trump as a crude blowhard, today, Trump firing back, calling publisher Joe McQuaid a lowlife.

TRUMP: He's a real lowlife. There's no question about it.

MURRAY: And taking a shot at Chris Christie over Bridgegate right as his fortunes are improving in the Granite State.

TRUMP: Chris can't win because of his past. And I don't believe you have heard the last of the George Washington Bridge, because there's no way that he didn't know about the closure.


MURRAY: Now, those are the harshest attacks we have seen so far from Trump against Chris Christie. And it gives you a sense that even though Trump might like to be in a general election fight with Hillary Clinton right now, first, he has got to make it through these Republican primaries and, of course, New Hampshire is a vital state for that.

We will see if those shots against Chris Christie were a preview of what he will have for voters here in Nashua tonight, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray in New Hampshire, thanks very much.

Joining me, CNN contributor political contributor Hilary Rosen, also Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief at He's a conservative syndicated columnist.

If I could begin with you, Terry, just the method to the madness, as it were. I mean, it's easy to dismiss some of these attacks and say, oh, what the heck's he doing here? But explain to me the political benefit of going after Hillary Clinton on the sexism line, on Bill Clinton, et cetera. Is he rallying the base? Is he trying to draw others in?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CNSNEWS.COM: Well, look, I think there's one thing to criticizing Donald Trump's inelegant and unpresidential rhetoric, which I think is clearly the case.

But I think when Trump says that Bill Clinton will be an issue in the election, I think that's legitimate. I think he's got a good point. Bill Clinton was one of only two presidents in the history of the United States who was actually impeached. He was impeached for perjury and injustice. Hillary Clinton obviously supported him as president. He's supporting her. So, that's a legitimate issue.

SCIUTTO: Legitimate issue, in your view?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, sure, he can try. But, as Bill Clinton was leaving office, an overwhelming majority of Americans said they would have reelected him to a third term if they had the opportunity.

So, you know, you can bring up these other issues if you want to, Donald Trump. But when it comes down to it, Americans actually think that Bill Clinton not only was a good president, had a strong economy, that the policies that he had were good for women and good for families. Hillary Clinton, you know, shares those policy views.

I just think he's going down a rat hole. And he's only doing it, of course, to appeal to the primary voters, the Republican primary voters, because that's who he needs right now. He needs to solidify a base among the Republican voters.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about another line of attack, and that's the sexism...


SCIUTTO: ... allegation against Hillary Clinton, say, hey, by fighting back on this, though, she's pulling, she's raising the sexism card, which actually Carly Fiorina has made the same charge here. Is there any fairness to that?

ROSEN: Well, first of all, the consistent references to looks and, you know, anatomical parts that he does when he talks about women...

[16:45:02] SCIUTTO: Trips to the bathroom.

ROSEN: -- trips to the bathroom, whether it's the menstrual cycles or how somebody looks as a woman that feels sexist. No one is going to change that.

SCIUTTO: He's turning the tables on her.

ROSEN: Hillary Clinton isn't actually the one out there screaming sexism. It's really mostly her supporters. People are offended by Donald Trump doing this. So the extent that he's saying she's playing the sexism card, he's actually the offender. And if people call him on it, agree or disagree, but guess that, you're going to get cold on it.

JEFFREY: Donald Trump right now is not running against Hillary Clinton. I know the national media would like to make it that way. It's not happening.

SCIUTTO: He's the one sending the tweets.

JEFFREY: He's running against other Republicans. February 1st is a key date for Donald Trump. If you don't look at the national polls, if you look at Iowa and New Hampshire, you see Trump trending down, Cruz trending up in Iowa. Rubio trending up in New Hampshire.

I do think Trump's rhetoric and the way he speaks about certain things is a handicap for him including and perhaps especially with Iowa and New Hampshire voters who pay very close attention to what goes on.

And I think very seriously take their role in a primary role in determining who will be the nominees of the party.

SCIUTTO: Here's the question, it's been a constant question, will you see the same support in those difficult and protracted Iowa caucuses that you see in an online poll or in a telephone poll, can you imagine those supporters going through that same process, spending the whole day there or do you see it taper off?

ROSEN: Well, in Iowa in particular you have Republican voters who are going to have a long time at the caucuses because there's a lot of candidates and narrowing that field might be difficult or it could go pretty quickly.

But, you know, this is the thing. I said to Terry before, all of my smart Republican friends, you know, consistently say that Donald Trump is going to go down even eventually.

And it's because it's wishful thinking. They all want him to go down. They desperately don't want him to be the Republican nominee.

SCIUTTO: You think there's a good chance he survives.

ROSEN: None of these other candidates seem to be jumping out of the field. He doesn't need a majority of Republicans to win this nomination. He just needs the plurality and he seems to be solidifying people.

JEFFREY: I think the key is Iowa. If Trump actually can win Iowa, he's surreal. If he loses Iowa, I think his campaign collapses. Right now, the trend is away from him in Iowa.

SCIUTTO: Well, one thing we know is predictions of his demise have been exaggerated many times on this campaign.

ROSEN: I think he will lose Iowa, but he can still win New Hampshire, South Carolina, there's still a path for Donald Trump that doesn't exist for other candidates.

SCIUTTO: Quickly.

JEFFREY: Momentum means a lot in presidential campaigns.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Terry Jeffrey, Hillary Rosen, thank you very much as always.

Coming up, the Sports Lead, star quarterback, Peyton Manning, pushing back after a report dropped him into a doping scandal. He calls the claims garbage, but is there any reason at all to suspect foul play?



SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cutting his vacation short and returning to the crisis in his city after a series of police involved shootings. The latest was Saturday morning, officers killing 19-year-old Quintonio Legrier, and 55-year- old Betty Jones.

Police were responding to a domestic disturbance call and say Legrier charged down the set of stairs with an aluminum bat in his hand. Police say the spray of bullets killed the 19-year-old and also accidentally hit and killed Jones who is in a neighboring unit downstairs.

The teen's mother says officers never opted for a taser and shot her son several times ncluding once in the backside. The shooting came after protests against Chicago police officers and other deadly shootings there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is scheduled to arrive back in Chicago tomorrow afternoon.

And now the Sports Lead. Star NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning, is furious over an investigative report by Al Jazeera that accuses him and other big name athletes of taking performance enhancing drugs.

We should mention that the source of the allegations has been identified by the anti-aging clinic at the center of the story as an unpaid intern that worked at the clinic for a short time and the source is now recanting what he said on tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHARLIE SLY, FORMER GUYER INSTITUTE INTERN: The statements on any recordings or communications that Al Jazeera plans to air are absolutely false and incorrect. To be clear, I am recanting any such statements and there is no truth to any statement of mine that Al Jazeera plans to air.


SCIUTTO: It appears Manning, an all-time leader of NFL touchdown passes and yardage calling the accusations completely fabricated, complete trash and garbage.

Christine Brennan, our sports columnist for "USA Today" joins us now. So you've been around sports a long time.


SCIUTTO: You look at this case. Comes out of nowhere for many of us who have long admired him and looked at his career. He's got a clean image as we know. From what you know and what you see here, completely bogus? Or is it worth more examination?

BRENNAN: I think, Jim, we have to look at this in the crucible in the framework of the steroids era, and we are still in that performance enhancing era in sports. It's not even close to being over with.

We know people can get through drug testing and all of these things we've lived with for many years, set of the backdrop of our knowledge of this time period, you have to ask questions, you have to wonder.

That does not mean you're saying Peyton Manning is guilty. We have no idea. The bottom line is I think it's important for all of us to say we don't know. Who can we trust? Can we trust anyone?

How in the world does anyone who's defending Peyton Manning right now? How do they know what he's doing at home? That doesn't mean he's innocent or guilty, but I think it's wise to step back and take a look at it.

SCIUTTO: The key part of the case is that the source involved here who the clinic says was a low level employee, did have some facts correct. One that Peyton Manning went to the clinic, he says only to use the chamber perfectly fine for all sports bodies.

And, two, the clinic did ship something to his wife. And that was part of the allegation that it went to his wife, but it was really meant for him. So he has something right.

BRENNAN: Right, so the question is what else does he have right or maybe better said, does he have anything else that he's been correct about? That interesting because here you have everyone discrediting him.

He's recanting, he was an intern for a few months. Of course, the bottom line on all of these stories, we are not talking about boy scouts and girl scouts who are leaking this information. [16:55:05]We're talking about a rogue's gallery of people, even going back to Jose Conseco with the Oakland A's who was a scoundrel and re- vialed, by the way, it totally was right. No matter how discredited this source might be.

SCIUTTO: Now, part of this you mention the timing of this. So he had a horrible neck injury, right, a lot of folks said you can't come back from. In fact, they said it was dangerous to come back from. Lo and behold he comes back and breaks Tom Brady's single season touchdown record.

This is an amazing thing. Now that's almost guilt by association or guilt by success, but he's a remarkable athlete. He's hard working. We've had remarkable athletes come back from remarkable injuries before. So that doesn't prove anything.

BRENNAN: Well, no. When you think about Lance Armstrong, you think about Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Ben Johnson going back to the Olympics in Seoul in '88, I mean, the steroids era has lasted for decades.

Often mwhen there's an older aging athlete who is injured and starts to panic in the case say of Barry Bonds as he was getting upset about the home run derby and he wasn't a part of it. These are the stories that end up at the end in most cases proving to be true.

That does not mean that Peyton Manning did this, but it means, again, we should be wise and smart. We're consumers, we're journalists, but there's consumers of sports. They pay for the tickets.

They buy the broadcast. They watch this stuff. You should want to know and get to the bottom of this. This is the era we're in like it or not.

SCIUTTO: Sports are about credibility so you want them to have credibility. So worth asking the questions. We know Manning is now considering a lawsuit against Al Jazeera. Do you see this effecting his image as he goes through this whole thing?

BRENNAN: How could it not? Whether that's fair or not now he will be looked at in a little different way by some people for sure.

SCIUTTO: Which could be entirely unfair.

BRENNAN: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Christine Brennan, thanks so much for joining us. That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm turning you over to the capable hands of Brianna Keilar. She's in for Wolf Blitzer today in "THE SITUATION ROOM."