Return to Transcripts main page


Iran Releases Sailors, and Images of Their Capture; King Abdullah: Lifting of Sanctions "A Concern"; Interview with Senator James Risch; FBI Investigating Philly Cop Ambush as Terrorism; Republicans Brawl, S.C. Governor Faces Backlash; Clinton Hits Back as Sanders Gains in Polls. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 13, 2016 - 17:00   ET



TAPPER: You can follow me on Twitter, @jaketapper.

I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, who's right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, forced apology -- U.S. sailors held overnight by Iran are freed, but not before one of them is shown apologizing. As Iran enjoys a propaganda victory, new details emerging on the high stakes negotiations that led to the release.

King Abdullah -- my exclusive interview with the Jordanian monarch.

I'll ask one of America's best friends in the Muslim world about Donald Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslims coming into the United States.

And he also speaks frankly about what he calls "a global war against the outlaws of Islam." Obama's big night -- the president lays out a lofty agenda for his last year in office, including launching a moon shot to cure cancer.

But can he reach any of his goals?

And a party divided -- even as President Obama calls for fixing politics, there's a growing war of words within his own party over guns and health care.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Iran has released 10 U.S. sailors, but it's also released stark images of their capture by Revolutionary Guards. It showed one of the sailors apologizing for straying into Iranian waters. Secretary of State John Kerry has thanked Iran for its prompt release of the sailors and their boats, stressing that things went relatively smoothly because of recent nuclear diplomacy with Iran. The incident comes days before a full activation of the deal which freezes Iran's nuclear program and eases sanctions. In my exclusive interview, Jordan's King Abdullah voices his concerns over Iran's behavior in the region, especially as it stands to gain $100 billion in sanctions relief. He says Jordan wants to hit ISIS harder, and insists ISIS can be defeated quickly in both Syria and Iraq.

But the king is also warning that the global war against outlaws of Islam, like ISIS, could take a lot longer, maybe a generation.

I'll speak with Senator James Risch of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of all the day's top stories.

Iran has freed 10 U.S. sailors and their patrol boats, but the fallout over the incident is continuing.

We begin with our Pentagon correspondent.

Barbara Starr -- Barbara, what is the very latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this hour, we are more than a day into this incident. And so far, the Obama administration revealing very few details. A lot of diplomatic congratulations all the way around. But just one problem -- 10 sailors were held in Iran.

How did it happen?


STARR (voice-over): An apology from a U.S. Navy sailor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a mistake that was our fault and we apologize for our mistake.

STARR: And it's not clear from the video that the sailor was speaking voluntarily. The U.S. government has not yet said under what circumstance the statement was made, or if it was made under duress.

But no formal apology from secretary of State John Kerry during his multiple phone calls with Iran's foreign minister. Kerry offering a diplomatic view of Iran's release of the 10 sailors.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I also want to thank the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response. These are always situations which, as everybody here knows, have an ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control.

STARR: Iran's foreign minister Tweeting, in part, "Happy to see dialogue and respect, not threats and impetuousness."

If the U.S. Navy investigation shows the boats did drift into Iranian waters, the Obama administration knows it has little to complain about.

CHRISTOPHER HAMER, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: From a military perspective, what the Iranians did was completely appropriate. Had the situation been reversed, we would have done exactly the same thing.

STARR: But there are these provocative images of U.S. Navy sailors on their knees surrendering to a boarding party of armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops, hard-liners in the region, broadcast on Iranian television for the whole world to see. The U.S. sailors seen stripped of their weapons, clearly uncertain what will happen next.

After spending the night ashore, at 12:13 local time, Iranian forces released the American sailors from Farsi island. They departed on the same two boats they'd been captured on and headed to the USS Anzio, a naval missile cruiser positioned in international waters in the Persian Gulf.

From the Anzio, the sailors were transferred to USS Truman aircraft carrier and then flown to shore. The pressure now on the U.S. Navy to explain how all of this could have happened.

HAMER: The fault here is not that the Iranians took Americans into custody, the fault here is that the U.S. Navy somehow got two small, lightly defended, lightly manned, only 10 Navy sailors on board these two boats together.


How did these two boats wind up inside Iranian territorial waters?

This is a question the U.S. Navy has to answer.


STARR: And those questions have not yet been answered. In fact, there are some who are wondering if the Pentagon is taking too light a tone on all of this.

Under international maritime procedures, mariners in distress are supposed to be rendered aid and then sent on their way, not held in detention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point.

Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

You're talking to top U.S. officials.

What are you hearing about what may have happened?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials are saying unequivocally there was and has been no official apology from the U.S. to Iran for this incident. John Kerry did not call Javad Zarif and apologize. You have the problem now in the midst of this, on camera, one of the U.S. sailors apologizing, taking responsibility for having moved into Iranian waters.

But what U.S. officials are doing in conversations, they're raising questions about the substance of that apology, because they're saying that when they're in detention, in effect, of the Iranian authorities, that you would consider that apology, Wolf, to be under duress. And regardless, it does not represent the position of the U.S. government.

BLITZER: This incident took place, as you know, just days before what's called a final implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, lifting of sanctions, other steps that will aid Iran.

What role, if any, do you think that played in releasing these Americans?

SCIUTTO: A lot of people watching this Iran deal see -- say we may have seen a pragmatic streak in the supreme leader, Ali Khomeini. This deal is the result of two years more of difficult negotiations with the US. Iran has an enormous amount to gain, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, unfrozen assets, lifting of sanctions on trade with the international world. To have this crisis bleed into what could very well be the weekend, when that deal is implemented and those sanctions are begun to be lifted would have enormous costs, and, really, for all factions. We talk about divisions in Iran, but for all factions in that government. And that's something that it appears they weren't likely to sacrifice.

BLITZER: You can only imagine the reaction if those American sailors were still in custody, as we speak right now.

SCIUTTO: That's the question.

BLITZER: It would have been very angry.

Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

In an exclusive interview, I sat down today with one of America's closest allies in the Arab and Muslim world, Jordan's King Abdullah II.

I asked him about the seizure of those 10 U.S. sailors and about his concerns over Iran's behavior.


BLITZER: As we speak, 10 American sailors have been freed from Iranian custody. It was a brief incident.

Does Jordan trust Iran?

KING ABDULLAH II, JORDAN: Oh, we have relations with Iran. But we obviously see their involvement beyond their borders in Yemen, in Africa. Obviously, they're involved in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan. So we have to contend with their presence beyond their borders.

BLITZER: As you know, in the coming days, the U.S. and other international partners are going to lift sanctions. And $100 billion, maybe, will flow into Iran very, very quickly.

They can do with it whatever they want.

Is that a source of concern to Jordan?

KING ABDULLAH II: It's a concern to a lot of us in the region and I think further afield. And so that's what I said, there's linkages between the nuclear deal and how Iran performs on the other portfolios.

And so I think they're going to be held up to how they perform, also, on those other sectors. And we'll have to see how that happens and where we hold them accountable on what other potential mischiefs may be found.


BLITZER: Much more of my interview with his majesty, King Abdullah. That's coming up later this hour.

Right now joining us is Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho.

He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees. Senator, thanks for joining us.

What can you tell us about how these 10 American sailors, nine men, one woman, were detained, the conditions?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, Wolf, I think pretty much what I can tell you has been in the news. It is pretty straightforward. There's no admission, at this time, in any event, that the vessel was in Iranian waters.

What a lot of us -- how a lot of us view this is the sailors were very lucky. They were only a few days away from the Iran deal that the president negotiated going into effect, which would cut loose about $100 billion.

Everyone knows, it is the worst kept secret in the world that Iran is very, very desperate for cash. They're going to get their hands on about $100 billion or more in cash. I don't think that they wanted to see that held up for one minute. And I think that that's the reason this thing ended the way it ended. [15:10:00]

The way this ended is not typical of the way Iran does things.

BLITZER: But you've got to give the secretary of State, John Kerry, I assume you give him some credit for that quick phone call to the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to get these sailors out of there?

RISCH: Of course. BLITZER: And the criticism that we heard yesterday from some of your Republican colleagues that the administration should have been more forceful, the president should have addressed this directly in his State of the Union Address, the administration fearing if they would have done that, that would have elevated it and it could have made it even more precarious for those American sailors. With hindsight, certainly those admonitions, do you believe, were misguided?

RISCH: Well, I think in hindsight right now, the thing -- first of all, the sailors never should have been taken in the first place.

Secondly, they shouldn't -- certainly shouldn't have shot propaganda film. They certainly shouldn't have interrogated them.

But having said all that, it ended quickly, it ended peacefully. And always, after a prayerful fashion, this is how you want something to end.

Again, I come back to the fact that I think that the $100 billion has a lot more to do with it than anything else surrounding this.

BLITZER: Because some experts, naval experts have pointed out -- and you heard it in Barbara Starr's report from the Pentagon -- that if the situation had been reversed, if Iranian -- two Iranian patrol boats strayed into U.S. territorial waters with 10 Iranian sailors, the U.S., presumably, might have done the same thing to them that the Iranians did to the Americans.

Do you buy that?

RISCH: Maybe. It would depend upon the circumstances, where it happened and how it happened and whether or not they were able to resolve whether it was accidental immediately.

So I'm not sure that you can compare one to the other. Certainly, it's a legitimate speculation.

BLITZER: Senator, I want you to stand by.

There's much more news we need to discuss.

Let's take a quick break.

More with Senator Risch, right after this.


BLITZER: We're talking to Senator James Risch. Senator, stand by. There's breaking news we're following.

[17:16:50] The FBI now investigating the ambush shooting of a Philadelphia police officer as a terrorist attack.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is following the story for us. What's the new information, Pamela? What's the latest? PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FBI director,

James Comey, said today in Pittsburgh, while he met with the field office for the first time, that this was a terrorist attack. This attack against the police officer in Philadelphia by this suspect, Edward Archer, who walked up and shot at that officer 13 times in the name of ISIS, according to officials. That attack is exactly what the terrorist group has been encouraging. And it comes a month after San Bernardino, the terrorist attack there.

I had an exclusive interview today with the attorney general, Loretta Lynch. And I asked her about these terrorist attacks recently, asking if this is the new normal. She said that is a big concern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have some of that interview coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Pamela, stand by.

I want to bring back Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees. I assume you agree with the FBI director that this was, in fact, a terrorist attack, or is it simply being investigated as a terrorist attack?

RISCH: Well, obviously it's under investigation. But you don't have to be a rocket scientist or a Philadelphia lawyer, I guess, to figure it out. When you heard what he was saying about promoting ISIS and doing this in the name of ISIS and doing exactly what ISIS has been calling for on the Internet. It needs to be looked at as that.

And it's just another one of a series of these that we're having that are becoming way too frequent and it needs to be prosecuted as such.

BLITZER: You heard President Obama in his State of the Union address say ISIS doesn't pose an existential threat to the United States. Serious threat, but not an existential threat. Your response.

RISCH: Well, clearly he's correct in that ISIS is not going to bring down the United States. We're more likely to do that ourselves with our spending habits.

But having said that, are they a danger individually? Of course they are. You can go out and talk to any of the victims now, and there's been a number of them across the country over the last year, either as survivors or people who have been injured by ISIS-inspired attacks. And they would beg to differ with the president, as far as the -- as far as the level of concern about this. This is something to be concerned about.

ISIS is so much different than al Qaeda in that regard, in that they have been very, very successful in inspiring these attacks, and indeed, in some cases, directing these attacks.

BLITZER: As you know, some say this will be a generational war, this battle against ISIS and the other terror groups out there. A generation is, what, 20 years? You think it is going to be a 20-year war? RISCH: Well, your -- your interview with King Abdullah was, I think,

very instructive in that regard. You have to remember that this man, the king, is viewed and regarded in his culture as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, I think 41st generation.

And he is very clear, and he uses an Arabic term to describe all of these various groups, whether it's ISIS, or al Qaeda, or DAISH, or ISIL, or Boko Haram, or al Nusra, as outlaws within the Islamic religion. And given his -- his standing, people should listen very carefully to what he has to say.

Having said all that, also he is a great friend of the United States. He shares, really, our view of what these people are doing in the name of Islam and that it is not something that the -- that people of Islamic faith do support or should support. And he should be listened to carefully in that regard. He's very optimistic. In the short run, obviously, he wants more help. But in the long run, he feels that this is a struggle that's going to go on for some time.

BLITZER: He is a great friend of the United States. I totally agree.

RISCH: He really is.

BLITZER: Everybody who knows him agrees with you on that point, as well. Senator, thanks very much.

And by the way, we're going to have more of my exclusive interview with Jordan's King Abdullah. That's coming up later this hour including his eye opening take on Donald Trump's call to keep, at least on a temporary basis, Muslims from entering the United States. What's the king's reaction? Much more on that. Much more on the war on ISIS when we come back.


[17:26:58] BLITZER: I sat down here in Washington today for an exclusive interview with one of America's closest allies, Jordan's King Abdullah II. I asked him about the war on ISIS and the fallout from terror attacks in this country, which has led some very heated rhetoric -- let to some very heated rhetoric out there on the campaign trail.


BLITZER: What's your reaction to Donald Trump saying that there should be a temporary ban on Muslims coming into the United States until the U.S. can figure out what's going on?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I think that's the same challenge that we're being pushed to at the moment with -- with the group that we're talking about. We're saying to those, you know, we've had this comment given to us by the United States, that you need to allow these refugees into the country. So we're going back to the United States, where these comments have been made saying, "Look, we understand. We are trying to bring these people in. But we're trying to make sure that the mechanisms that we put in place, make sure -- it's never going to be foolproof, but we're going to try and make it as sterile as possible."

You know, we're accepting 50 to 100 every day from an area that we know there's a major danger. Obviously, it's those that are ill, the elderly, women and children. I know some people could be callous and say, "Well, let all the women in," but as we saw in California and we've seen in Paris recently, women unfortunately, have been part of terrorist organizations and terror strikes.

But we can't ignore and just keep refugees isolated. So you've just got to be smart. And you've got to think with the heart.

BLITZER: Because Donald Trump isn't just talking about refugees. He's talking about all Muslims on a temporary basis not being allowed to come into the United States. You're a major Muslim leader of a Muslim country. You hear these comments. Your reaction.

KING ABDULLAH: You're into election cycle, so I don't think it's fair for you to ask a foreign leader to express his opinion on candidates in your country running for election.

BLITZER: In President Obama's State of the Union address, he said that the fight against ISIS should not be labeled another World War 3, because that, he says, plays into the hands of ISIS propaganda.

You've called this war against is almost like a world war 3. Do you see this war against ISIS almost like a World War 3? Do you see this war against ISIS now as World War 3?

KING ABDULLAH: I've said that the war against the outlaws of Islam is a Third World War by other means, which is probably slightly different. How I explain it, it's not just ISIS. All these groups, whether they're from the Philippines, or Indonesia, all the way to Mali, these are all the same, whether it's ISIS, Boko Haram, Shabaab, al Nusra, wherever you find them around the world, and again, as I said, from Asia all the way to the African continent.

There is either a full-out war of counterinsurgency warfare. This is a global struggle that brings, as I've said, many times, Muslims, Christians, Jews, other religions fighting alongside us as we fight our civil war inside Islam.

BLITZER: The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, says ISIS can be defeated this year. In the president's State of the Union address, he says this is a war that's going to go on. It's going to be a generational war. What's your assessment?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, again, let's make the differentiation. When we say ISIS, Syria or Iraq, or if we're saying this global war against the koharis (ph), the outlaws of Islam, so ISIS, Syria and Iraq can be defeated fairly quickly.

But the global war, what I call the Third World War by other means, is one that is a generational one. Hopefully, the military security aspect is a short-term -- or the military part is the short-term. The midterm is going to be the intelligence and security aspect. The long-term is the ideological one and the educational one. BLITZER: And that's a generational war.

KING ABDULLAH: That's a generational one, not only inside of Islam as we regain, we as Muslims, regain the supremacy against the crazies, the outlaws of our religion, but also reaching out to other religions that Islam is not what they have seen being perpetuated by 0.1 percent of our religion.

[17:30:20] BLITZER: And the U.S. says most of the airstrikes against ISIS -- U.S. airstrikes, the coalition, other countries, whether the Europeans, Jordan, UAE, Saudis, maybe 6 percent of the airstrikes. And the suggestion is you, the coalition, is not doing enough.

KING ABDULLAH: I know the figures or the amount of airstrikes that we did, not counting the amount of air patrols and reconnaissance flights that we did, we've been hitting tremendous amount of non-targets. We've always wanted to hit more.

And I think that having a good relationship with a secretary of defense and there's a couple of new generals in the Pentagon now that I think want to fix (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and go over the parapet. I think that you'll see an increase in tempo.

There's been -- there's been some good operations. I can say that, from the Jordanian perspective, we want to see a bit more. And that's one of the reasons why we've visited D.C. It comes down to this issue of synchronization.

How do we bring it all together? This is what's been discussed over the past few months, and this is what we're trying to do now. What is Jordan's maximum effort, and what can we do to really close the circle, the Iraqis do, what do the Kurds do, what do the Turks do in coordination with the rest of the coalition.

Vienna is very important, because how do we deal with the Russians? In my view, if we can get the Russians to be part of the synchronization, even better. That's a problem between Moscow and Washington.

BLITZER: Do you believe that Russia and Iran, dealing with the future of Syria, might abandon Bashar al Assad, the Syrian leader, and allow him to sort of abdicate, move away?

KING ABDULLAH: My discussions with President Putin is we need to move the political process forward as quickly as possible. Obviously, there are those countries that say that Bashar has to move today. And the Russians are saying not before 18 months.

And I'll talk about this from our point of view, because obviously, we have the Free Syrian Army in the south. And we're working with the Russians of creating a ceasefire with our forces in the south.

And I specifically have discussed with Putin you can't expect young men and women to put their arms down and abide by a ceasefire if there's no movement on the political process in Vienna. They're not going to sit there and do this for two or three months and not expect something to happen.

So the Russians are fully aware that, sooner rather than later, we have to have a mechanism that allows the process to move forward. And I think we all understand that that does mean a departure of Bashar.


BLITZER: King Abdullah's visit here to Washington, by the way, included meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, top members of Congress, but there was no meeting originally scheduled while the king was here in Washington with President Obama. The White House communications director, Jen Psaki, cited scheduling conflicts when I interviewed her here yesterday in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Today I asked the king during our interview if he felt he was being snubbed by President Obama. He replied he didn't feel he would be snubbed -- he was being snubbed. He said they would be having another meeting next month. He said they speak all the time.

But this afternoon, suddenly, the White House announced the hastily- scheduled meeting between King Abdullah and the president at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. There you see a picture released by Jordan.

Much more of my exclusive interview with King Abdullah. That's coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has a lot to say.

Also coming up, the Republican brawl. New attacks in the fight between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And now conservatives vent their fury at South Carolina's governor.


GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But first, I want to say a few words about President Obama.



[17:38:58] BLITZER: The long-running truce between Republican presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz appears to be nothing but a memory, at least tonight. Both candidates are going after one another, but that's only one of the fights we're watching inside the Republican Party right now.

Our Jeff Zeleny's in Florida. He's waiting for Donald Trump to appear at a rally there. What's the latest, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you almost need a score card to keep track of all these arrows that are coming Donald Trump's way.

The latest is from the Republican governor of South Carolina, who mentioned Trump in her official response to the State of the Union address. But it is that fight with Ted Cruz that's been intensifying. And it could be behind one of the reasons that Ted Cruz's surge is slowing down.


ZELENY (voice-over): Never mind their fight with President Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. Republicans have a brawl of their own that's brewing hotter and hotter.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz is a problem. I mean, he's got a problem.

ZELENY: Donald Trump tore into Ted Cruz again today, raising more doubts over his citizenship. On Twitter, Trump wrote, "Sadly, there's no way that Ted Cruz can continue running in the Republican primary, unless he can erase doubt on eligibility. Dems will sue."

[17:40:10] Cruz struck back, going beyond defending his U.S. citizenship to questioning Trump's character. In a radio interview, Cruz said it's clear his campaign surge has rattled Trump. He told voters to consider the billionaire businessman's values, suggesting Trump has little in common with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I think he made a shift in his new rallies to play in "New York, New York," because Donald comes from New York and embodies New York values.

ZELENY: For his part, Trump blasts "Born in the USA" at his rallies, a not-so-subtle reminder Cruz was born in Canada. His mother was a U.S. citizen.

A strategy that could explain how Trump has narrowed the gap with Cruz in the latest Iowa poll from "The Des Moines Register" and Bloomberg. From 10 points a month ago to 3 points now. With Trump on top of the Republican field in all national polls, the GOP establishment grows more concerned.

In the party's response to President Obama's State of the Union address, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley challenged the rhetoric of her own party's frontrunner.

HALEY: During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.

ZELENY: Haley told reporters today it was Trump and others she was calling out.

HALEY: Donald Trump was not the only person I talked about. I know people want to say that's what it was. So what I would say to Mr. Trump is don't take it personally.

ZELENY: The governor's comments touched off a firestorm from some conservatives. Anne Coulter assailed her Indian-American heritage, tweeting, "Trump should deport Nikki Haley."

Trump said Haley, a rising Republican star, was off his short list for vice president.

TRUMP: I wouldn't say she's off to a good start, based on what she has just said. But I feel very strongly about illegal immigration. She doesn't.


TRUMP: And, Wolf, it is another day and another very large Donald Trump rally.

Look behind me here. We're in Pensacola. Thousands of people are expected here. They've been lining up for hours. And the event is not for some two more hours here.

But when you talk to these supporters, they are on Donald Trump's side without question here. They are not supporting the establishment in this fight or Ted Cruz, for that matter. They are true believers, true Donald Trump supporters.

The question is those voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, of course, who have their say first at this. That Iowa vote begins in less than three weeks' time, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's amazing how quickly the days are going by. Thanks very much for that, Jeff.

Let's get some insight from our experts. Our CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp; our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and "The Washington Post" assistant editor, David Swerdlick.

Gloria, these polls that Jeff just cited, the new ones, Cruz 25, Trump 22, within the margin of error. Trump is doing a lot better in Iowa, according to this poll, than he was a month ago. Are his attacks on the so-called birther issue working?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think if you look at the polls you'd have to say that they are having an impact raising questions about Cruz, which is why you see Cruz now kind of frontally attacking Donald Trump. In the past, or at least when Trump first started this "he's not a natural-born citizen" issue, Cruz was kind of more low-key about it. He said, you know, it's settled law.


BORGER: He did. And he did jump the shark. And now he's talking about, you know, "I don't get my national security and knowledge from the Sunday shows," talking somehow -- I don't know what this means -- the New York connection with Donald Trump. So he understands that this is affecting him, so he's punching back at the bully.

BLITZER: Do you think it's working?

CUPP: You know, those polls are so tricky. And Iowa is so tricky. In that same poll, those same people, 83 percent of them, say they are not bothered by the fact that Ted Cruz was born in Canada to an American woman. Fifty-six percent of them say their frontrunner could be changed.

So I don't know. It's really tough to diagnose Iowa voters. And what's working and what's changing the needle there.

If I were Ted Cruz, I would continue to laugh this off. I would just take the high road on this. I don't think Iowa voters in particular -- in particular are scared of Cruz's sort of otherness.

BLITZER: But I've got to tell you, in your newspaper, "The Washington Post," David, had a major article today by a legal scholar at the University of Delaware law school, who says she doesn't like much of what Trump says, but on this issue, whether Ted Cruz is a natural-born citizen, she makes the legal case he is not and, as a result, not qualified, not eligible to be president of the United States. I assume you read that article.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, a lot of people are talking about that piece. It's Mary McManahan who wrote it. She's a legal scholar. And she makes this argument point by point about the fact that Cruz is not eligible.

I have talked to some top legal scholars, though, who strongly disagree. I actually talked to Harvard's Laurence Tribe today, briefly today, and he actually said, you know, he's skeptical of this argument.

[17:45:00] In addition to that, you know, he thinks that Cruz would be a hypocrite to essentially assert that he is a natural born citizen because he's a constitutional strict constructionist, which, you know, is kind of the argument against him.


BORGER: Can I -- can I just say one more thing about Cruz and the polls and everything?


BORGER: If you look at this poll, 23 percent of these potential caucus goers, I don't know what we call them, say that Cruz is their second choice. So he is in a good position, natural born citizen or not. He is in a good position right now.

CUPP: It's a great position.

BORGER: To kind of leapfrog Trump or stay at the top because of this second choice issue.

CUPP: Yes.

BORGER: If you have a lot of undecideds and they're taking a look at Cruz, I think he's still in a really, really good position to just get --

CUPP: Yes. BLITZER: Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, delivering the

official Republican response to the president's State of the Union address, getting a lot of high marks including from the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying what she had to say at least without mentioning Trump by name and clearly referring to Trump, she said -- they said, Josh Earnest, that took some courage. You liked what she said.

CUPP: Well, look, Nikki Haley has made national news twice in the past year. One for taking down the confederate flag on state grounds in South Carolina after that awful shooting in Charleston. And second, last night for calling out Donald Trump.

Let's be very clear, only one of those things took courage. The other was commonsense. And when Republicans are trying to win over more voters instead of fewer, calling out Donald Trump, and there are other Republicans who have done this, too, for alienating those very voters we're trying to get, is just commonsense.

I think it's sad that it was considered brave of her to do. I think it was just the right thing to do and I thought it was a very good message. She spent equal time contrasting Obama's fantasy land version of where we are with Trump's dystopic, you know, doom and gloom version. And told voters there's a middle ground here. It's not all great. It's not all terrible. Let's stay in the same center.

BORGER: My question is, how much of this speech was vetted by the so- called Republican establishment because she also dumped on leaders in Washington by saying we bear part of the blame, right?

Yes -- no, to your point, Gloria, and I agree with S.E. and with you about the shape of the Iowa race. Here's the thing, the way I see it is that Trump and Cruz are both closers, Wolf, right? And so they're trying to get separation from each other. They're trying to go out here and sort of slug it out. Not that they've been clinching all this time.

BLITZER: All right.

SWERDLICK: With -- yes. With -- in terms of Nikki Haley, though, I think the thing is, is that she sort of, you know, she sort of went out there and said, look, I'm going to play in the establishment lane I think because otherwise she would not -- if she wants to be a vice president, she's not going to be a vice presidential running mate for a Trump.

BLITZER: Speculation she could be --

BORGER: Not anymore.


BLITZER: Not necessarily with Donald Trump, but she potentially could be a vice presidential running mate. We'll see what happens down the road. She did get a lot praise right now.

CUPP: Be a great pick.

BLITZER: I got to say that.

BORGER: Not with Rubio.

BLITZER: The Republicans aren't the only ones fighting. The Democrats are at it as well. Much more on that when we come back.


[17:52:40] BLITZER: The once very civil Democratic race for the White House heating up dramatically.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in New Hampshire where former president Bill Clinton just finished a campaign rally.

Sunlen, how did it go?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Bill Clinton telling CNN moments ago that he's not at all surprised at the sharp tone this campaign has now taken saying that he thinks that's exactly where their campaign should be focused right now.


SERFATY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton launching an all out blitz against Bernie Sanders.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As Senator Sanders has some very big ideas, but he hasn't yet told anybody how he would pay for them.

SERFATY: Challenging her rival to get specific.

CLINTON: I've been laying out, you know, very specific policies for months now and telling people how I would pay for them. I'm asking that Senator Sanders does the same thing. We need to move now from generalization to specifics, so people can see what the differences are.

SERFATY: The Clinton campaign alleging Sanders is strategically withholding information from voters on issue after issue to make it through the early state contest.

CLINTON: We have differences on guns, on taxes, on health care and I think people should have that information before they go to the caucus or at the primary.

SERFATY: Clinton also pressing Sanders in a new TV ad to clarify his position on gun control.

CLINTON: It's time to pick a side. Either we stand with the gun lobby or we join the president and stand up to them. I'm with him.

SERFATY: Sanders telling CNN's Dana Bash his stance is clear. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I stand with the

president on gun issues. The idea of expanding instant background checks, the idea of making sure that people have criminal backgrounds or a mentally unstable should not have guns, something I believed in my whole life.

SERFATY: Clinton strategy prompting the Sanders campaign to divulge new details today on how it would pay for some of his proposals.

The escalation of their combat comes as a new poll shows Sanders is closing the gap nationally on the heels of Sanders taking the lead in recent Iowa and New Hampshire polls.

So now even Chelsea Clinton on the attack.

CHELSEA CLINTON, HILLARY CLINTON'S DAUGHTER: I don't want to empower Republican governors to take away Medicaid, to take away health insurance for low-income and middle income working Americans and I think very much that's what Senator Sanders' plan would do.

[17:55:01] SERFATY: A charge that Sanders is brushing aside.

SANDERS: As much as I admire Chelsea, she didn't read the plan.

SERFATY: Bill Clinton campaigning for his wife today in New Hampshire tells CNN the back and forth is a natural part of the primary process.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: All they are doing now, which they should be doing is talking about the differences in their positions. That's good.


SERFATY: And Hillary Clinton insists she is not nervous about where she stands right now even though her focus and her tone and her rhetoric really sends a different message -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, thank you.

Coming up, Iran frees 10 U.S. sailors but not before one of them is shown apologizing.