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Hawaii Military Helicopter Crash; Iran in Line for Multi- Billion Dollar Windfall; Trump, Cruz Trade Jabs at Bruising Debate; Clinton and Sanders Battle Heats Up; Aired Sean Penn Speaks Out on El Chapo Interview. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 15, 2016 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Happening now, mid-air collision, a desperate search underway right now for any trace of survivors after a horrific accident off the coast of Hawaii.

A dozen marines are missing after two military helicopters collider in the dark. What went wrong? I'll ask a Congressman whose district includes the helicopters base.

Faking smiles? New details emerging about Iran's treatment of 10 U.S. sailors captured, then freed this week. They say they were told to act happy for Iran's propaganda videos. All this comes as Iran is about to get a multi-billion dollar windfall it's leaders can spend, basically, anyway they want.

New York Nicked. Ted Cruz insults New York values, Donald Trump fires back. The New York tabloids pile on, and even Hillary Clinton is on Trump's side.

And, tainted tequila? As movie star Sean Penn breaks his silence about meeting the fugitive Mexican drug lord, El Chapo, CNN learns investigators are looking into whether El Chapo provided any funding to a Mexican actresses tequila venture.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: We now have these first daylight pictures of the ongoing search for survivors after two U.S. military helicopters went down off the coast of Hawaii. Twelve Marines are missing, the inflight collision happened in the dark. Some witnesses say they saw a flash in the sky, others heard a loud boom over the water. So far, no signs of survivors.

We're also learning, now, about some new details how the Iranians treated the 10 U.S. sailors captured this week. Among other things, the now freed sailors were told to act happy when Iranians put them on camera. I'll speak with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. She's in Hawaii, she's monitoring the search.

And, our correspondents, analysts, and guests, they'll have full coverage of today's tops stories.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr is working her sources, what's the latests, first of all, Barbera, on those missing -- missing marines?

STARR: Wolf, the search has been underway both with ships and aircraft for many hours, yet -- so far, about seven miles off the North Shore of Oahu, and even the video that we're getting in shows that the surf is picking up there.

So far, no sign of the 12 souls that were on those two helicopters, six marines on each of the CH-53 helicopters. So, the search goes on now, but, indeed, the Coast Guard and the military now asking people to stay out of the water, and off the beaches due to the heavy surf. There may be very large pieces of dangerous debris in the water moving around, and they don't' want people to get hurt if that debris comes ashore. Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbera, what are you all learning about the U.S. sailors who were held by Iran, later released? There's new information emerging.

STARR: The initial debriefs are revealing some new details, Wolf. We are learning from Defense officials that the sailors are reporting indeed, they changed course as they were moving up Northward through the Persian Gulf. They were -- apparently felt they were running tight on time to make it to a refueling point, so they changed course, and cut a corner somewhere to be able to get to that refueling point on time sooner.

Not clear that they even knew this course might let them drift into Iranian waters. They were trying to fix an engine leak at the same time, and apparently not paying attention, by all accounts at this point, to exactly where they were.

What about that video of them when we see them smiling, getting food, water, a meal? We are told that the sailors have now told the investigators they were ordered by the Iranians to put on a happy face for those Iranian t.v. cameras. It is not clear yet whether the commander, Lt. David Nartker, who we saw apologizing was directly order by the Iranians to apologize. But, the initial reports are that the Lieutenant felt that he had no choice at that point, but to utter those words.


BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you. We're also awaiting an announcement that Iran could be collecting billions, and billions of dollars that it's leaders could use, basically, any way they want. It's part of the controversial nuclear deal the Iranians negotiated with Secretary of State John Kerry, and other global partners.

Our Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto is joining us now with more on the Iranians multi-billion dollar potential windfall they're about to get. That could happen pretty soon.

SCIUTTO: That's right. In fact, we learned just a few moments ago that Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Vienna tomorrow to meet with his Iranian counterpart, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Geervard Sharif (ph). He wouldn't be going there if the implementation of this deal wasn't imminent, and here's what happens if the deal goes through.

basically, you're going to have the lifting of these punishing economic sanctions that have been in place for years against Iran's economy, and that will unleash, not necessarily on that first day, but over time, an enormous economic windfall for Iran.

So, first of all, you have $150 billion dollars in frozen Iranian assets overseas that are going to be freed up. Now, Iran's not going to get all $150 billion dollars because a good deal of that money is owed to creditors, it's going to be, basically, paid paying off debt. Other things tied up because it's still difficult for Iran to work in the international banking system.

The U.S. treasury estimates they'll net about $50 billion dollars from those frozen assets. Still a big chunk of money.

You have other things happening as well with its economy. They're going to be able to sell their oil and gas on the international markets. Now, granted, that the price of oil is way down from where it was a couple of years ago, but this is something that Iran has really not been able to do for a number of years. That means more income for the Iranian government.

Finally, all these international firms, whether European, or even including American. Firms that were barred by law from doing business with Iran will start to be able to do business with Iran. And, trust me, I've been to Iran a number of times, Wolf. These companies have been going in there for years waiting for these moment -- for this moment, so they've done a lot of leg work. When those restrictions are lifted, there's going to be money made, deals made, and that includes U.S. firms. It doesn't necessarily mean they're going to rush in there, but it means that U.S. foreign firms as well are going to be able to do things like sell cars there, you name it.

It's going to mean a lot more money for the Iranian government.

BLITZER: The critics, as you know, they point out that if the Iranians do wind up cheating, Jim, it's going to be hard to get back those billions of dollars. Hard to turn around all the business ventures that are about to start to go back to where Iran is right now. What are you hearing about that contingency?

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's a fair criticism. You heard from Secretary of State, John Kerry, the President, throughout these negotiations that there would be so-called, "snap-back" provisions in this deal, so that if Iran breaks its agreement on the accord that you could quickly re impose these sanctions so that you're again punishing the Iranian economy.

The trouble is it took years to build this international coalition, and the sanctions work because they're international. To get them all together on the same page, you know, frankly, it's not going to happen overnight.

Now, the administration is confident it could find ways to do that, and they have a lot of power by blocking companies, for instance, from using the U.S. financial system, but you're not going to be able to turn back on what you have today necessarily quickly tomorrow, or the next day when this deal is implemented. It's going to be hard to do.

BLITZER: All Right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committee, she's also an Iraq War veteran. Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.

That Marine Corps. base, the location where these helicopters crashed, I take it, correct me if I'm wrong, they're both within your district. I know you're concerned, everyone is concerned. What's the latest you could tell us about this crash?

GABBARD: Wolf, this is such a sad, sad day to have seen this accident take place, over night. You're right, both the Marine Corps. base where these Marines were operating from, as well as the site of the accident, this helicopter crash that took place, are both in my district. We've got everyone from the Honolulu Fire Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Navy, the Marines, all resources have been deployed ever since to try to conduct this search and rescue mission, which is really difficult because of the place that it took -- where it happened.

This is happening on the North Shore of Oahu, which is famous for it's huge waves, and we've got a North swell coming in right now there, making it so that you've got anywhere from 20, 40 foot swells -- waves, coming in, making this search and rescue mission even more challenging than it normally would.

So, you know, as the families are notified, the Marines, and the community, are just stepping up in support of them during this very, very difficult time, and our heart and prayers go out to all of them.

BLITZER: I take it these kinds of mid-air collisions by military helicopters very, very rare. We're looking at some video of the squadron training from the base. I'll show that video to our viewers. This is a serious -- I assume it was some sort of accident. Have they given you a basic preliminary read out on what happened?

GABBARD: Well, you know, they're looking at everything that's been going on, and I think there are a number of things that could have attributed to this, but I know that the effort right now is absolutely focused on the search and rescue mission.

I know a lot of questions will be asked, and hopefully answered as we look at what caused this accident. But, you know, Wolf? I think that this is an important reminder that we, as Americans, should never forget that whether our service members are training here at home, or whether they're fighting abroad that their lives are on the line. They've sacrificed so much for our country, and that's something that we've got to honor, and always remember, and be grateful to them for.

BLITZER: And, as you point out, the wind conditions, weather conditions, the waves. What, 20 to 40 foot waves, right now? That makes the job of those searching for these Marines so much more difficult. What's the forecast as far as weather is concerned?

GABBARD: You know, right now, it seems like the winds are relatively calm. As I mentioned, the swells are growing. These waves are very, very big, and can be dangerous if you're out there in the water. But, also, there's kind of a vog, a haze that's in the air that's been in the air since yesterday when I got here that's caused by the volcano on the Big Island. The Volcano is active, the wind brings this kind of volcanic haze which we call, "vog".

Whether or not that had something to do with it, I don't know. But, that's another, kind of, weather situation that we're dealing with here right now.

BLITZER; Congresswoman, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including the imminent start of billions of dollars flowing to Iran. What exactly happened to those 10 American sailors aboard those two little vessels that were taken by Iran. Much more with Tulsi Gabbard right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii as we learn new details about how Iran treated the ten U.S. sailors they captured then freed this week.

[17:15:49] Among other things, the captives were told to act happy when their pictures were taken for propaganda videos. This new information comes just a day before Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, in Vienna. The meeting could pave the way for the lifting of international sanctions and a multibillion dollar windfall for the Iranians starting in the coming days.

Congresswoman, as you know, Iran will soon be flush with a lot of money as a result of this deal. They could basically spend this money any way they want. Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser, last year told me they could do with it basically whatever they want. Does that worry you?

GABBARD: It points to the need for enforcement and the need to really keep a very close eye on what Iran is doing. Before implementation day can occur, which you mention Secretary Kerry is traveling there to do there, were some very key things that Iran had to do in order to get here.

One of them was to get rid of 90 percent of their uranium stockpile. They had to completely destroy their Iraq heavy water nuclear reactor by pouring concrete into it. They had to get rid of and remove over 13,000 centrifuges and put them under the IAEA's constant surveillance. And other actions. And the results of these actions has been we've gone from just several

months ago a two to three-month breakout time for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to now having finished these actions, we're now over a year of breakout time, which really is what we should be looking at.

Secondly, as we look at how Iran may spend this money, we've heard a few different ways that they may be spending it. But one of the key things that I think we should really be focusing on is their ballistic missile tests, their violation of the international agreement by testing just a few months ago and, really, the fact that there's been no consequences levied against them ever since.

If we expect them to comply with these agreements, it's important that we enact sanctions, that we ensure that these consequences are put in place.

BLITZER: I know a lot of your colleagues, Democrats and Republicans in the House have urged the White House to go ahead and impose sanctions because of those Iranian ballistic missile tests, which -- which the U.S. says was a violation of their agreement. So far no new sanctions posed by the administration. They're delaying. Have you checked into that, why the delay?

GABBARD: You know, we haven't gotten any real clear answers on why that delay has occurred. But I and some of my colleagues in Congress are taking action nonetheless.

I co-sponsored a bill last week called the Zero Tolerance for Terrorism Act, which really goes in a pointed way at Iran and allows Congress to enact these further sanctions, specifically for Iran sponsoring further acts of terror against the U.S. or its allies and also specifically for these ballistic missile tests that have clearly violated international agreements.

I think that this is a nonpartisan issue where you've got Democrats and Republicans standing clearly and strongly, saying that there must be consequences, not later down the line, but now for Iran in order to send a strong message. That these actions, this ballistic missile development not only threatens our allies like Israel, but it poses a direct threat to Europe and the United States should they be allowed to continue to develop this capability. So it's something that we've got to take very seriously.

BLITZER: You're a military veteran. There's been a lot of condemnation by U.S. officials, certainly Republican presidential candidates, John McCain himself. The way the Iranians forced the ten American sailors to put their hands over their heads, get down on their knees, make those statements, apologizing, if you will. They say this was a violation of the Geneva conventions. When you see those pictures, Congresswoman, as a military veteran who served in Iraq, what goes through your mind?

GABBARD: You know, Wolf, when I saw those pictures, it gave me a very sick feeling. It was a terrible thing to see how these sailors were being treated there. [17:20:08] I was very relieved, however, to see them return home or

return back from that position of captivity so quickly. And the fact that they were unharmed. And I am very interested to learn more and to get more of our questions answered about how they got there in the first place. What was the reason for this? Because something like this really should not have ever occurred.

BLITZER: The State Department says it was not a violation of the Geneva conventions, they argue, because technically, the U.S. is not at war, in a state of war with Iran, although others say putting these images on Iranian state television was, in fact, a violation of the Geneva conventions. Have you looked into that?

GABBARD: You know, that's something that I think these legal experts are arguing right now. It's clearly something that Iran should not have done. It was something that they did to further their own narrative, especially amongst the hardliners in Iran.

And, you know, it's again for us, I think, we've got to be very happy that our ten sailors are safe. They are out of any kind of harm's way. And we've got to make sure that we look at what happens so that no other sailors or service members operating within this region are put into that kind of position again.

BLITZER: Lessons learned. Got to learn the lessons to make sure, you're absolutely right, that it doesn't happen again. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Thank you very much for joining us.

GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf, aloha.

BLITZER: Aloha to you, as well.

Coming up, the actor Sean Penn is defending his meeting with the Mexican drug lord known as "El Chapo." He insists his interview didn't lead to "El Chapo's" capture, but Mexican authorities say otherwise. Is Sean Penn's life in jeopardy right now?

Plus, with just a little more than two weeks until the first caucuses, Donald Trump says Iowa voters will soon tire. Will they be tired of him soon?


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to be here a lot. I'm going to be here so much in the next two weeks you're going to be sick of me. You're going to say, "Oh, I can't stand him. I don't want to see him anymore." Look at those beautiful hats. Make America great again. Make America great again, hottest thing.



BLITZER: Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail today, following a bruising Republican presidential primary debate. The Republican frontrunner repeatedly clashed with his closest rival, Senator Ted Cruz.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is following the Trump campaign for us today in Des Moines, Iowa.

What's the latest, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, two weeks and some change to the Iowa caucuses. Donald Trump is now setting his sights on winning the state. He's urging voters here to show up on caucus night, a sign that after a lot of talk, Trump wants to deliver.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump supporters in Iowa crammed inside this Pizza Ranch got a slice of the GOP front-runner that voters don't see every day.

TRUMP: So we have to get out. We've got to win.

ACOSTA: Looking to close the deal in this state, Trump is now doing the kind of person-to-person retail campaigning that Iowans crave.

TRUMP: I'm going to be here so much in the next two weeks you're going to be sick of me.

ACOSTA: No big arena event on this trip. Instead, Trump took questions from a small crowd and warned them the conventional wisdom that his supporters won't show up on caucus night.

TRUMP: People say, "Just say you want to do well in Iowa. Just say you want to do well. That way at the end, if you come in second or third or fourth, you know, you can say" -- I say, "I want to win Iowa." I've really -- we have a great relationship with the evangelicals, like fantastic. And with the Tea Party and with everybody in Iowa.

ACOSTA: Pointing to the positive reviews of his debate performance, Trump made no mention of Ted Cruz and their clash over the Texas senator's eligibility to be president.

TRUMP: The fact is there's a big overhang. There's a big question Mark on your head. And you can't do that to the party. You really can't. You can't do that to the party. You have to have certainty.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, listen, I've spent my entire life defending the Constitution before the U.S. Supreme Court. And I'll tell you, I'm not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump.

TRUMP: You don't have to.

ACOSTA: When Cruz slammed the billionaire tycoon's New York values, Trump was reading for it.

CRUZ: Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. TRUMP: When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no

place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York.

CRUZ: Trump suddenly had some unlikely defenders, "The New York Daily News" telling Cruz to "Drop Dead, Ted" to Hillary Clinton who tweeted, "Just this, once Trump's right."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Cruz going to beat you here?

TRUMP: No, no.

ACOSTA: Back at the Pizza Ranch, Trump sounded confident and seemed finished with Cruz.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to counterpunch Ted Cruz after what happened last night?

TRUMP: I think I've already done that.


ACOSTA: Now, Donald Trump didn't actually sit down and eat any pizza at that Pizza Ranch, but his campaign was quick to note that he had some slices waiting for him on his plane. And even though Trump is gone for the day, he is renting out a movie theater here in Des Moines for his supporters to watch a showing of the new Benghazi film, "13 Hours." The GOP frontrunner is expected to be back in Iowa next week.

Wolf, Donald Trump looked like he was on cruise control out here.

BLITZER: Yes. He's going to spend a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, for that matter, in the next few weeks. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now in today's top political news. Joining us, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston; and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Your take, Gloria, on last night's debate.

[17:30:01] Who was the big winner?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Trump. I thought it was the best debate that he has had. He seemed the most comfortable. He -- I don't think Cruz touched him on the so-called birth question, the natural born citizen question. He had a couple of lines pointing out that Trump was political, shocking. But, you know, I believe on the New York values issue Trump did very well.

As Mark was pointing out before we went on the air, it may play well in Iowa, but to a national audience eventually if Cruz were the nominee I think it would be a problem.

BLITZER: Is the birther issue between Trump and Cruz only getting started? Is it over? Where does that issue stand right now?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: I think there's no question that it's only getting started. For the mere fact it's what Donald Trump is using to just batter back at Ted Cruz who is his biggest rival right now for this nomination. I mean, if you talk to people out in Iowa or New Hampshire, they're torn between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And the reason why is because they see them both as outsiders and anti-establishment folks.

But even if Ted Cruz does win the nomination, OK, if he does go through, we've already seen one lawsuit filed by a Democrat today. There are going to be a slew of lawsuits all across the country. Who knows what happens.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And you know, just being out this week, earlier this week with Donald Trump in New Hampshire, at that point I just kind of worked the crowd and asked people if they thought it was a big issue or not. The idea that Ted Cruz was born in Canada. And I didn't get anybody telling me the answer is yes. Everyone said, no -- and these are Trump supporters.

But, you know, that might be the case. But that combined with now Donald Trump reminding people that Ted Cruz got a loan from Goldman Sachs, these are kind of buzz words that Iowa caucus goers and potential Cruz voters in New Hampshire are not used to hearing about Ted Cruz. Even though he -- you know, is, you know, Ivy League educated guy who clerked on the Supreme Court, they kind of think of him as he's sold himself as one of them and as a pure conservative outsider.

BORGER: Well, an anti-elite.

BASH: An anti-elite and establishment.

BORGER: And if you look at his whole resume, it's elite, elite, elite, you know, Princeton, Harvard, clerked on the Supreme Court, worked for George W. Bush, his wife worked at Goldman Sachs.

BLITZER: He worked at Morgan Lewis which is a very elite law firm.

BORGER: He works -- exactly. So, you know, he may play a non-elite on the campaign trail.

PRESTON: But he's definitely elite.

BORGER: But he's got the pedigree, absolutely.

BASH: But, you know, can I just add one thing that is just again to some sitting here thinking about this, it's because Ted Cruz is judged by traditional political issues. You know, like -- you know, we're thinking and we're talking about Ted Cruz and all these things that could hurt him. Donald Trump -- he's a billionaire. You know, he's somebody who is Ivy League educated and it just doesn't matter. I mean, there's nobody more elite than Donald Trump.

BORGER: Right. BASH: The rules don't apply to him. And they apply still really to

everybody else.

BLITZER: On the issue of Ted Cruz lamenting New York values and Trump's very passionate, very emotional response, which was pretty effective, I thought, last night. You saw -- we showed you the "New York Daily News" cover basically among other things, there it is, "Drop Dead Ted." The bottom line says, you know, go back to Canada, if you will. Tough words. Hillary Clinton's tweet, "Just this once Trump's right, New Yorkers value hard work, diversity, tolerance, resilience and building better lives for our families."

This issue like the birther issue I assume is going to play out for a little while longer as well.

PRESTON: All right. For viewers out there that can hear my accent, I'm clearly from Boston and I have my own issues with New York when it comes to sports teams.


PRESTON: However, listen, a lot of people said Donald Trump won the fight. I think overall the macro sense he won the fight, people saw it, Donald Trump coming out acting grown up. The dog whistle, though, was blown and it was blown really loud from Ted Cruz to the voters in Iowa, the voters in New Hampshire and the voters in South Carolina. And he was very specific last night when he said no, Donald, when I'm talking about New York, I'm talking about socially liberals, pro- abortion and pro-gay marriage.

BORGER: Right.

PRESTON: And you know what, those are the folks who are going to help decide who the winners out of Iowa, who the winners out of New Hampshire and who the winners out of South Carolina.

BORGER: But more than anybody else Cruz has really run a tactical campaign. He's kept his eye on the ball. Right now that ball is Iowa. And you're right. I mean, that -- those are the people he is talking to right now. I think in the debate setting however, you know, I think that Trump did well.

PRESTON: Yes, he did well. No question.

BORGER: How it plays in Iowa we're going to have to see.

BLITZER: Even Ted Cruz, while he was being bashed very discreetly, not so discreetly, but, you know, he was being bashed by Donald Trump, you saw Ted Cruz start -- we saw Ted Cruz applauding, you know, as he was being hit hard by Donald Trump. I know that's a pretty unusual moment when one candidate is hitting another candidate and the candidate being hit starts applauding.

BASH: Well, he was clapping for the people of New York.

BLITZER: Right. BASH: And he was clapping --

BLITZER: But Donald Trump was supporting the people of New York.

BASH: No, no. But there's no question it was a weird moment.

BORGER: Weird?

[17:35:01] BASH: And the other moment that was even more weird I thought was when Donald Trump was finished, Ted Cruz who is a master debater, he was speechless. He had nothing to say. He just sort of sat there with a smile saying, OK, you know what -- in his head you could see the wheels turning. I'm just going to let this go.

PRESTON: Right. He said what he had to say to the voters of Iowa.

BASH: Exactly.

PRESTON: Then he let it go.

BASH: You're exactly right, Mark.

PRESTON: But you know what, when it comes to strategy, though, Ted Cruz knew he was in a split screen.

BASH: Yes.

PRESTON: Ted Cruz has done enough of these. So when that moment came up and he started applauding, he was pro-American.

BASH: You're right.


BLITZER: Applauding New York values at that moment.


BASH: The response to 9/11.

BORGER: Can I just say, when your wife has worked at Goldman Sachs and when you have a loan from Goldman Sachs, which is in New York --

BLITZER: And Citibank.

BORGER: And Citibank. Let's talk about Goldman Sachs sort of iconic in New York, Wall Street investment banking, it's hard to derive New York values when your income sort of comes from there, or used to until she left her job.

BASH: And donations.

BORGER: And donations.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. There's a lot more politics to discuss. BORGER: Big donations.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:40:38] BLITZER: The race for the Democratic presidential nomination room is growing tighter by the day. Polls show Senator Bernie Sanders is now within striking distance of Hillary Clinton in Iowa, pulls a significant lead in New Hampshire.

We're back with our political experts to discuss.

Gloria, it's a very tight race. And it looks like the rhetoric is heating up dramatically on some sensitive issues.

BORGER: You think so? I think they took a look at the polls which are tightening. Hillary Clinton is a little scared. And I think that you see the number of people who say they're uncommitted is almost doubled for example in the state of Iowa. And so the rhetoric is heating up. And I think that Hillary Clinton got a bit of a boost from Vice President Biden when he said that Bernie Sanders had credibility on --

BASH: Thanks to your interview.

BORGER: Well, on the income -- thank you, on the income inequality issue. And she's changing the subject now to the question of, how is Bernie Sanders going to pay for his health care proposal? And so she's trying to kind of just, you know, assert differences between them and make it clear that she's, A, electable, and, B, has more solid proposals that are actually more doable in the real world.

BASH: I think it's dangerous what she's doing.


BLITZER: Dangerous for Hillary Clinton.

BASH: Yes. I mean, look, you know, I understand and I've talked to some Hillary supporters who agree who think that, you know, I mean, obviously they got -- in fact one said to me this afternoon, they got to throw everything out there and see what sticks because the numbers are changing in Bernie Sanders' favor. But, you know, to kind of potentially push away the very liberal voters you're trying to bring in by disparaging him for, you know, wanting to expand health care which a lot of liberals want to do to build on Obamacare, certainly not do away with it, it's curious.

BLITZER: Because some --

BASH: We'll see if it works.

BLITZER: Some of her aides are worried that if she does get the Democratic nomination, and she's still the frontrunner, let's be honest nationally, she's going to need that progressive wing, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to actually show up on Election Day to make sure that she wins. And if she overly antagonizes the Bernie Sanders supporters, there's a problem.

PRESTON: Right. And she has to win cleanly so as not the types or the real progressive part of the party doesn't look at her and say you know what, she's really not one of us and maybe stay home. Look, in the end I think that they will come out and they will vote for the Democratic nominee. But to Gloria's point and to Dana's point here, the Clinton campaign is worried about a snowball effect. They're worried that in Iowa, which is a state that they were leading in, that they are now not leading in.

Yes, she is still a frontrunner, but if Bernie Sanders were to win Iowa, he is up 14 points right now in New Hampshire, there's a snowball effect. And then it starts to go really, really fast.

BORGER: But to Dana's point about, you know, getting your voters out and alienating the progressives, I keep saying this. This is not a persuasion election. It's a mobilization election.


BORGER: Because the Republicans are never going to agree with the Democrats and that's just the way it is. And you've got to get your people out. And if she says to progressives, OK, I think -- and turns them off by the way she's criticizing Bernie Sanders, it is dicey. She's got to do it in the short term. But in the long-term strategy it's tricky.

BLITZER: Let me play a clip. This is the president of the United States, he was doing some YouTube interviews today. And he was asked about the Republican presidential race and specifically Donald Trump. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This early in the contest a lot of times you'll have people who are seen as frontrunners.


OBAMA: Because they're noisy, they get a lot of attention.


OBAMA: Over time voters take a careful look, the closer you get to actually deciding on a president everybody gets a little more sober. It's less entertainment and it's a little more -- you know, this is serious business. This person's going to have the nuclear code.


BLITZER: This person's going to have the nuclear code, raising, you know, the notion, Dana, that Donald Trump could have the nuclear code, if you will. BASH: Sure. And -- but he's also talking about the traditional

parameters of politics, which Donald Trump just defies all of them. So he's absolutely right which is why I think everybody especially and including Republican leaders here in Washington and establishment Republicans across the country could not believe, would not believe that we would be where we are two and a half weeks out of Iowa and Donald Trump is still ahead.

[17:45:05] BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more politics coming up, guys. Stand by.

BORGER: I think we should sign Obama on as a contributor.


BORGER: He has really great analysis.

BLITZER: We're also getting new reaction from the actor Sean Penn on his controversial interview with the drug lord known as El Chapo. Also tonight, CNN has learned that authorities are investigating whether El Chapo provided funding to a tequila company owned by the Mexican actress who helped facilitate the meeting.


BLITZER: The actor Sean Penn is finally breaking his excellence, defending his trip to Mexico to interview the drug lord known as El Chapo. El Chapo was captured by Mexican authorities just one day before Penn's article was published.

[17:50:09] Brian Todd has been following this developing story for us. You're getting some new information, Brian. What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight Sean Penn's comments are upsetting Mexican officials. One official telling me some of Penn's assertions are absurd, nonsensical and, quote, "childish." The actor does vigorously defend his secret meeting with El Chapo, saying he was trying to start a conversation about the futility of the war on drugs.


TODD (voice-over): The actor Sean Penn breaking his silence about his secret meeting with Mexican drug kingpin, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, facilitated by Mexican soap opera star Kate Del Castillo.

SEAN PENN, ACTOR: We all want this drug problem to stop.

TODD: But instead of bragging that he may have helped bring down one of the world's most wanted men, Penn is adamant that his meeting did not lead to El Chapo's capture. In an interview with CBS News, Penn Calls that assertion from Mexican officials a myth.

PENN: We have met with him many weeks earlier on October 2nd. On October 2nd. In a place nowhere near where he was captured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So as far as you know you had nothing to do, and your visit had nothing to do with his recapture?

PENN: The things -- here's the things that we know. We know that the Mexican government, they were clearly very humiliated by the notion that someone found him before they did. Well, nobody found him before they did. We're not smarter than the DEA or the Mexican intelligence. We had a contact upon which we were able to facilitate an invitation.

TODD: Penn claimed he and Del Castillo had ditched their cell phones and other electronics prior to meeting with El Chapo in the Mexican jungle. Tonight Penn is also leveling his own charge, saying Mexican officials are actually trying to set him up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that the Mexican government released this in part because they wanted to see you blamed? And to put you at risk?

PENN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wanted to encourage the cartel to put you in their crosshairs?

PENN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you fearful for your life?


TODD: A Mexican official tells CNN that claim is, quote, "absurd and nonsensical." The official says the Mexican government would have too much to lose if they put Penn's life at risk. But former DEA operations chief Michael Brawn believes Penn's and Del Castillo's lives could be in danger.

MICHAEL BRAWN, FORMER DEA CHIEF OF OPERATION: I'm telling you right now that one or more of the key leaders within the Sinaloa Cartel are absolutely infuriated by the fact that the visit by Sean Penn and Miss Del Castillo certainly contributed to Chapo Guzman's arrest.

TODD: Meantime tonight CNN has learned Del Castillo is being targeted by another group. Mexican officials. A senior Mexican law enforcement official tells CNN Mexican authorities are investigating whether El Chapo provided funding to a tequila company owned by Del Castillo.


TODD: So far no response from Del Castillo or her representatives to that investigation. And as if this story could not take another bizarre twist, we are also learning tonight of the possible involvement of another popular Mexican actress in this case. The Mexican official telling us, the attorney general's office there is investigating whether actress Yolanda Andrade helped Del Castillo facilitate the meeting with El Chapo. The officials says Andrade and Del Castillo are good friends and Andrade is from El Chapo's home state of Sinaloa -- Wolf. BLITZER: And you're also learning that there is concern among some

law enforcement authorities that there could be some other potential consequences for Sean Penn and Kate Del Castillo.

TODD: That's right. Former DEA operations chief Michael Brawn tells us that even if a top Sinaloa Cartel leader doesn't order a hit on either of those two people, that maybe some low level rogue operative might try to make a name for himself, some operative in the cartel, and try to target them. You know, they spend a lot of time in the United States -- excuse me, Kate Del Castillo is a citizen of the United States. Sean Penn obviously lives in the United States. They are in the open. They may be providing protection for themselves. But they still could be a target even if a top Sinaloa leader doesn't order the hit.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much. Stay on top of the story for us.

Still ahead, we have new details about how Iran treated 10 captured U.S. sailors including asking them to act happy for the Iranians propaganda video.

We also want to give you a heads about some extraordinary people you'll be meeting here on CNN starting this coming Sunday. You'll recognize some of them. Others will be new to you. They're people just like my friend, my mentor, Bernard Shaw, who was the person who changed my life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son helped make me change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people changed lives.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Can you believe we're back here?

[10:55:01] ANNOUNCER: Join the familiar faces of CNN as they share their special someone with you.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The voyage that your suggestion sent me on.

BLITZER: And I learned this from you. You have to ask important questions on the most important issues of the day.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Without my mom I am certain I would not be where I am.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: If you were to ask how important as a mentor and they told you not that important, it probably means they never had a great mentor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that the letter?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: This is the letter.


BURNETT: Willow Bay.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Very few people will tell you the truth. You do that.

ANNOUNCER: "THE PERSON WHO CHANGED MY LIFE," a weeklong CNN event starts Sunday on CNN.