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Putin Bombshell; Blizzard Warnings; Presidential Poll Numbers; Official: Putin Likely Approved Murder of Ex-Spy; Wolf Blitzer: "The Person Who Changed My Life"; New ORC/ORC Poll: Sanders Soars Past Clinton in Iowa. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 21, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: state of emergency, the Eastern United States bracing for a potentially record- setting winter storm, millions of people under blizzard watches and warnings right now. Who will bear the brunt? I will ask the director of the National Weather Service.

East Coast shutdown -- schools, businesses, governments preparing to close, along with subways and airports, hundreds of flights already canceled, with thousands more likely to follow. Which major cities will be paralyzed by the storm?

Unrelenting assault. Donald Trump hammering away at his rival Ted Cruz, as our new poll shows them in a two-man race in Iowa, but with Trump, Trump now holding a double-digit lead. Can Cruz turn it around with less than two weeks to go before the caucuses?

And Putin bombshell, stunning new evidence that Vladimir Putin personally signed off on the murder of a Russian defector poisoned by radiation in London. What pointed British investigators to the Russian president?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, 75 million Americans now in the path of the very dangerous winter storm. States of emergency have been declared along much of the East Coast, with weather warnings posted in 19 states.

The nation's capital bracing for blizzard conditions and as much as 2.5 feet of snow, the city now preparing for a virtual shutdown.

We're also following breaking political news, our new CNN/ORC poll just out and showing Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders leading their respective races in Iowa, which will hold its closely watched caucuses in just 11 days.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini. And our correspondents and our expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with the blizzard expected to hit the East Coast tomorrow.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, you're beside the Capital Beltway here in the nation's capital, one of the spots always hit hard by these snowstorms. What are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can feel it out here. The temperature is dropping significantly. We're at one of the really problem areas of the Capital Beltway as far as traffic is concerned along the American Legion Bridge connecting Maryland on this side to Virginia on that side.

Look at the kind of volume that we're looking at. There is not even a snowflake on the ground yet and look at this volume at rush hour here in the D.C. area. Now, last night, there was less than one inch of snow on the ground, just a dusting, but a thin layer of ice also developed, and you saw cars sliding off the side of this road. Traffic monitors were telling us they saw people sleeping in their cars overnight.

That is why, tonight, officials are really hoping they do not see nearly this kind of volume 24 hours from now.


TODD (voice-over): Even before it arrives, it's being called epic, historic, comparable to the so-called snowmageddon that crippled the Mid-Atlantic in 2010.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R), MARYLAND: This is predicted to be the worst storm our state has seen since snowmageddon.

TODD: Officials say possibly more than two feet of snow will fall in some places starting late Friday. About 75 million people from the Carolinas to New York are in the path of the storm.

MURIEL BOWSER (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Blizzard conditions in Washington, D.C., bringing up to 20 inches of snow over the weekend.

TODD: The Washington region showed how easily it can be paralyzed overnight, when about one inch of snow fell, what was predicted to be only a dusting. It hit in the early evening. Then streets and highways quickly froze. There were multiple accidents, vehicles abandoned everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was pretty rough driving home. And it took a while. It took him an hour to get four miles.

TODD: In Virginia alone, 767 accidents were reported, more than three times the daily average. Even President Obama had trouble getting from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House. A van in the president's motorcade slid into a median.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would have hoped that they would have anticipated this a little bit and treated the roads.

TODD: In Maryland, a man walking in the road was killed by a snowplow.

JIM BATTAGLIESE, WTOP RADIO: As soon as the snow started to fall and there was no treatment on the road, it immediately froze. And once it froze, everything seized up traffic-wise. If this was a test, we failed. And we really needed to be prepared for this, and we weren't.


TODD: So, a day-and-a-half before the colossal storm was to hit, D.C.'s mayor, Muriel Bowser, was already apologizing.

BOWSER: We don't believe that we prepared adequately.

TODD: In preparation for the big storm, public schools will be closed Friday. States of emergency have been declared in D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York also getting snowplows and sanders ready.

In Maryland, this warning:

HOGAN: Make sure you have food and supplies at home, not just to last for the weekend, but enough to last up to an entire week.


TODD: Now, officials are, of course, telling people stay off the roads, especially during the height of the storm overnight Friday into Saturday. In Virginia and Maryland combined, they have more than 15,000 pieces of equipment for snow removal. That means snowplows, spreaders, salt trucks.

Thousands of crew members will be operating that equipment, but they are going to be struggling 24 hours a day just to keep up with the volume of this storm. One Virginia official told me, Wolf, they could spend about a million dollars an hour on snow removal.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, be careful over there. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: The travel nightmare has already begun. Hundreds of flights already have been canceled, that number certain to climb into the thousands in the coming hours, as airlines try to get ahead of the coming chaos.

CNN's Rene Marsh is over at Reagan National Airport here in Washington.

Rene, travel will be difficult, if not impossible. What are you hearing over there?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that these numbers are changing by the minute. We now know that over 2,000 flights canceled Friday and Saturday.

That's according to flight-tracking Web sites. We're talking about all the major airlines. They're pre-canceling these flights ahead of the storm, because they simply do not want planes to get stuck.

And, Wolf, I can tell you at this airport, Reagan International, as well as other airports in the bullseye, it's not a matter of if, but when airport operations will come to a complete halt.


MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, preparations under way at airports in major cities up and down the East Coast. One of the airports in the storm's crosshairs, Reagan National, just outside Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that it could be disastrous for a lot of people trying to get out of town. I know, If you look at the lines, that I'm not the on one who is trying to get out a little bit early.

MARSH: Long lines are forming at ticket counters and security checkpoints.

(on camera): What is happening behind the scenes at an airport like this one?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, right now, we're preparing for the winter storm. We're checking our chemical levels, our equipment and also calling in our snow removal teams, so that we're prepared to clear the runways and roadways.


MARSH: Airlines are already canceling some Friday and Saturday flights along the East Coast and also allowing passengers to change their flights for free, as the storm threatens to ground all flights in some major cities.

In 2010, a holiday blizzard forced airlines to cancel nearly 10,000 flights. The approaching storm could ground thousands of flights as well. Passengers are warned to make alternate plans now.


MARSH: So, if you're flying, the question that you want answered is, what does this mean for me? If you're flying out tonight, you will be OK. You should be OK.

If you have a flight early tomorrow morning, first flight out, you should be OK, but you should call your carrier. But the later you get in the day on Friday, the slimmer your chances are that you will get to your destination. Saturday, forget about it.

We know here at Reagan National Airport, American Airlines, this is a hub for them. They say they have canceled all flights out of Reagan. We expect to possibly be the only ones here at Reagan National Airport on Saturday -- Wolf. BLITZER: It looks like that is going to happen. All right, Rene,

thanks very much.

Let's get more on all of this.

Joining us is the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini.

Mr. Uccellini, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: I know your hurricane hunter aircraft have been out trying to gather data. How much snow are we going to get?

UCCELLINI: Well, the areas across the Appalachians through Washington, D.C., up towards New Jersey. We're pretty confident, as your forecast said, we're in that two-foot range or beyond.

There is a certain area in there that could get 30 inches. And that's last up against the mountains, very heavy snowfall. There is uncertainty with respect to New York City. Last week, we had the east-to-west gradient, and which way that shifted determined how much snow they get. This year, we have a north-to-south gradient. So, that is adding to the uncertainty of the forecast.

BLITZER: When will we know if New York City, for example, that New York City area is going to get two inches or going to get 20 inches?

UCCELLINI: Well, we're looking at the sequencer models between now into tomorrow morning. And I think we will probably have a better handle on it by tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: By tomorrow morning, they will know, the people in New York, what to prepare for, because we know here in the Washington, D.C., area, we're preparing for, what, at least 20 inches?

UCCELLINI: Yes, it's in that range. That 20-inch is a good average across this city.

BLITZER: Give us some perspective, because you have been studying weather for a long time. How historic will this storm be?

UCCELLINI: Well, if this storm materializes the way all the models have been predicting since Sunday, it will be a storm of historic proportions.

Of course, we're 24 hours away. The storm is forming now. It's forming with the intensity we expected. Severe weather is part of that. It's looking like all the ingredients for a major snowstorm along the East Coast is coming together as predicted.

BLITZER: What worries me, it's not just the snow. Snow is one thing.

UCCELLINI: Right. BLITZER: But the winds, the blizzard condition, people are going to

be losing power along the East Coast presumably by the millions.

UCCELLINI: So, and this blizzard condition is really focused on the area from D.C. up towards New Jersey. We have got the watches out there. We have got the warnings here, right where it could have the most impact, the I-95 corridor, which is why you're seeing many transportation agencies, city officials taking actions now, preemptive actions, to try to mitigate the impact of this storm.

BLITZER: Do you think the federal government here in Washington should shut down tomorrow?

UCCELLINI: That's not my decision.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people are going to be going to work, but by 4:00, 5:00 in the afternoon, the snow is going to start and there could be havoc on the roads.

UCCELLINI: So, that's one of the factors that they take into account.

Our National Weather Service office in Sterling, Virginia, will be part of that call. But they factor in a whole bunch of factors in terms of making their final decision.

BLITZER: Any final words of advise for viewers who may be affected by this disaster?

UCCELLINI: Well, people, whether it's ice storm, the snowstorm, the high winds, along the coast, we got have coastal flooding possible. People ought to be aware of what is happening, have a personal plan, and listen to their local officials, because they really are trying to make decisions to protect their lives and mitigate property damage.

BLITZER: Yes. This is a life and death issue. There's no doubt about that.

Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service, thanks very much.

UCCELLINI: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of this story, the weather story.

There's other breaking news we're following as well, our new just- released poll showing a two-man Republican race in Iowa, where the caucuses are only 11 days away, and Hillary Clinton unleashing sharp new criticism of Bernie Sanders. Can she chip away at his lead in two critical early voting states?



BLITZER: We're following breaking political news. Our new CNN/ORC poll is showing Donald Trump with a double-digit lead

in Iowa, just 11 days ahead of the caucuses which begin the presidential primary season. But a victory over his closest rival, Ted Cruz, could depend almost entirely on turnout.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us now from New Hampshire.

Sunlen, the race between Trump and Cruz may be closer than it appears.


These are both significant numbers for both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz tonight, and both candidates tonight really claiming the other is getting nervous, is getting rattled, setting up in Iowa a fierce race to the finish.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to win Iowa, folks, because, look, I love the people.

SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump's dream looking more and more like it could become reality, the GOP front-runner opening up an 11-point lead over Ted Cruz in a new CNN/ORC poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers, but a significant reshuffling when only those who caucused in 2012 are polled.


Trump's lead disappears, and the race is in a dead heat, showing how critical it is for campaigns to turn out their supporters. The battle between the two lighting up the campaign trail today.

TRUMP: Guys like Ted Cruz will never make a deal, because he's a strident guy. No, you cannot have that.


SERFATY: Trump in Nevada hammering Cruz.

TRUMP: Here is a United States senator, Republican, doesn't have support of one other Republican senator. There is something wrong there.

SERFATY: Cruz today combat-ready, receiving a lightsaber in New Hampshire, bringing new lines of attack, lumping Trump in with establishment Republicans.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are seeing the Washington establishment abandoning Marco Rubio. I think they have made the determination that Marco can't win. And they are rushing to support Donald Trump.

SERFATY: Trump responding right back today.

TRUMP: He's trying to paint me as part of the establishment. There is a point at which let's get to be a little establishment. We got to get things done.

SERFATY: Cruz now also arguing that Trump is all talk and no action on issue after issue, from health care to immigration reform, labeling Trump absent from past fights.

CRUZ: And missing from the entire battle was Donald Trump. If he cared about this issue so much, where was he when the fight was on the verge of being lost? And if millions of us hadn't risen up, Barack Obama would have granted amnesty to 12 million people here illegally.

SERFATY: Cruz's offensive comes as he's under attack from establishment Republicans, in the last 48 hours alone, takedowns from Iowa's Republican governor, former Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, and former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole warning of -- quote -- "cataclysmic and wholesale losses" for the GOP if Cruz prevails, a piling on that is being celebrated by Cruz as proof of his own outsider status.

CRUZ: Who Bob Dole is effectively saying and the establishment is saying is the one guy that scares the heck out of us is Cruz.


SERFATY: And that has been such a core part of Ted Cruz's strategy from the start, that he is this anti-establishment candidate.

So, although he has taken a significant amount of hits this week, Wolf, he's been able to really reframe it and make that part of his closing message to voters going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you, Sunlen Serfaty reporting.

Let's dig deeper with our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and Republican strategist, our CNN political commentator Ana Navarro. She's a good friend of Marco Rubio and she's a supporter of Jeb Bush.

These numbers for Trump right now, Dana, very impressive, 37 for Trump, 26 for Cruz, Rubio down at 14. Your reaction?


The good news for Donald Trump is that he's on top with likely caucus- goers. The bad news for Donald Trump is that the expectation at this point now is that he's going to win. And it really does -- I mean, as we have been talking about the cliche, in this particular case is truer than ever, that turnout does matter, because these are numbers based on people who say they are going to caucus.

And saying you're going to caucus and actually getting there in the freezing cold, potentially the snow, standing there for hours in a room, which is very different than pulling the lever, is quite different, so that it's really going to depend on the turnout. And the Trump campaign, they are very secretive about what kind of operation they have. BLITZER: But getting those people out there, the ground game, that is


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Also, you know, we take it for granted that this is what the Iowa caucus is.

Isn't it an outrageous way to pick a president, that you can't just go vote, that you have to stand there for hours in the cold? That's the system we have in Iowa, but it's pretty outrageous.

BLITZER: It's tradition.


TOOBIN: Well, you know what? We shouldn't...

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You really shouldn't run for anything in Iowa.

TOOBIN: No, you know what? We don't have to worry about that.

But you know what these polling numbers show is that the birther argument that Trump has made in the last couple weeks really had an impact, because that's the only real difference from when the race was virtually tied. This natural-born citizen thing does seem to have had an impact, and it's helped Trump a good deal.

BLITZER: And he's not going away from that issue at all, Ana. He's hitting and hitting and hitting.

NAVARRO: Listen, you know, this guy is a pit bull with a bone. He knows when he's hit upon something that is working. He's proven to be very good on the attack.

And at this point his attacks are laser-focused on Ted Cruz, who he sees as his closest competitor. I agree with Jeff. I do think it has a lot to do with the citizenship issue, where he did strike a nerve. He has created a question. And that question has hung over Ted Cruz's head now for, what, three weeks and it's having a definite effect in Iowa.

BLITZER: When Cruz says that Donald Trump is now -- that people who are supporting Marco Rubio are now moving to Donald Trump, he's now the establishment Republican candidate, have you seen evidence of that?


BASH: No, of course not. He's not the establishment candidate, by any stretch of the imagination.

I think what you're seeing is the establishment moving from shock to kind of understanding and acceptance that, wow, Donald Trump could be the nominee. And, more importantly, it's what you said at the beginning of the segment. It is a two-man race. So, picking between the two, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, that's when

they prefer Donald Trump over Ted Cruz, not that they would prefer Donald Trump over anybody else.

NAVARRO: Dana is absolutely right.

As the resident Republican establishment here, I can tell you that I think for most of us, it's getting asked whether we want to cut off our right arm or our left arm. It is not about liking Donald Trump.


NAVARRO: It's about, frankly, how much folks dislike Ted Cruz, who has made his entire reason for being, being disliked in Washington. Well, he's been very successful at it.

TOOBIN: And you have to give Cruz a certain amount of credit, to turning unpopularity with the people who know you best, your colleagues, the fact that they all hate him, apparently, is a reason to vote for him, and he's doing that pretty effectively.

BLITZER: Lindsey Graham, who has endorsed Jeb Bush, he said today -- he said it's like -- whether he prefers Cruz or Trump, he says: "It's like being shot or poisoned. What does it really matter?"


BLITZER: He's obviously very blunt about that.

TOOBIN: Well, and, you know, look, he's a long-term senator, someone who looks on paper like a pretty good presidential candidate.

He did no business. And no one with traditional qualifications is doing well.

BASH: Right, but the one thing that I will add here, and it will be interesting to see how it turns in the next 11 days, is the fact that Donald Trump is suddenly embracing the fact that it's OK to be a little establishment.

And Ted Cruz is seizing on that big time, because the whole birther thing, one of the reasons why it may have hurt Ted Cruz is because he was seen as such a purist, like sort of one of us, within the conservative base, especially in Iowa. And Trump's argument pierced that.

If Cruz can turn this establishment thing on Trump, it might put him back in this.


NAVARRO: Well, and because nobody likes him, unlike when the same issue was brought up with John McCain, and his colleagues in the Senate passed the resolution giving him support on the citizenship thing, Ted Cruz has been standing out there all alone, because, yes, he is the skunk in the Republican Party. BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we're going to take a

turn when we come back, talk about what is going on in the Democratic side, the race for the White House, an amazing race over there as well.

Much more right after this.


BLITZER: There's breaking news in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Our brand-new CNN/ORC poll shows the Vermont senator now soaring past Hillary Clinton, holding an eight-point lead in Iowa.

[18:32:36] Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has the latest in the Democratic race.

Brianna, these are troubling numbers for the Clinton camp.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly are, Wolf. Although the Clinton campaign will clearly be banking on the fact that some of those folks who say that they will come out for Bernie Sanders are first-time caucus goers and may not be reliable in terms of showing up and delivering on February 1.

But as Bernie Sanders getting good news about Iowa while being here in New Hampshire, which is more likely to be his key success in these early contest states. He is here, actually, about to start his fourth event. He just left this one, his third event of the day a short time ago.

And he is heading -- he is leading over Hillary Clinton in the polls, according to our latest CNN/WMUR poll, by almost 2-1.


KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton doing something she wouldn't for the first several months of her campaign, calling out Bernie Sanders by name.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders and I share many of the same goals, but we have different records and different ideas about how to drive progress.

KEILAR: In Iowa painting the Democratic socialist from Vermont as extreme and unrealistic.

CLINTON: "In theory" isn't enough. A president has to deliver in reality.

KEILAR: But the once presumed Democratic nominee is fighting off an insurgent push by Sanders, who is delighting in the change of fortune.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, the inevitable candidate does not look quite so inevitable as she did eight and a half months ago. KEILAR: Taking a page out of Donald Trump's playbook, Sanders

emphasizing his standing in New Hampshire polls.

SANDERS: Hillary Clinton defeats Mr. Trump by 9 points. We defeat him by 23 points.

KEILAR: In Iowa, where the first-in-the-nation nominating contest is just days away, a CNN/ORC poll shows Bernie Sanders besting Clinton by eight points among Iowans who say they're likely to caucus, but many of those folks are first-time caucus goers. Democrats that turned out in 2008, Clinton holds a 17-point lead.

Sanders is out with an evocative new ad, set to air in Iowa Friday, where he's opened up a lead in the latest CNN/ORC poll and a profile in "People Magazine," where his now-wife Jane describes how he proposed to her after a year-long break up.

[17:05:06] As Sanders focuses on his softer side, the Clinton e-mail controversy continues to dog her, after a letter from an independent government inspectors revealed her e-mails contained information about highly classified defense and intelligence programs. Clinton defending herself in an interview with Wolf today.

CLINTON: I want this to be resolved and, as the State Department has said repeatedly, I will repeat, I did not send or receive classified material.

KEILAR: She's hitting Sanders on national security, an area where voters give her much higher marks.

CLINTON: Senator Sanders doesn't talk very much about foreign policy, but when he does, it raises concern, because sometimes it can sound like he hasn't really thought it through.


KEILAR: Clinton taking aim at Sanders for having said that he was open to working with Russia and Iran when it comes to fighting ISIS in Syria. Bernie Sanders, though, has a criticism, Wolf, of Hillary Clinton when it comes to national security, that standby of his: her Iraq vote back that, arguably, back in 2008, cost her the Democratic nomination.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much.

I want to go back to our panel right now. All right, Dana, these numbers, these CNN/ORC poll numbers, Sanders 51 percent; Hillary Clinton 43 percent; Martin O'Malley 4 percent. This is bad for Hillary Clinton, because she lost Iowa eight years ago, as well.

BASH: Right. She came in third behind not just Barack Obama but John Edwards. Some people forget that.

But it's also bad because of how quickly her fortunes have changed in Iowa. It was just last month that the roles were reversed. She was doing much better than Bernie Sanders, but there's another number inside the poll that, if I were the Clinton campaign, I would be most worried about, which is asked Democrats in Iowa whether they think Washington represents their views.

Sixty-three percent said not too well or not at all. That to me seems to be the core of what is driving Bernie Sanders. Obviously, he has been in Congress for 25 years, but his whole message is "I know it. I'm here. It doesn't work."

And these are Democrats looking at Barack Obama's Washington for the past seven years, the one that Hillary Clinton says she's going to take the baton from, saying, "We don't think it works."

TOOBIN: And it's just such a remarkable transformation. Remember November, in the same week, you had a very successful appearance by Hillary Clinton in front of Congress. You had Joe Biden announcing he wasn't going to run for president. It looked like all the stars were aligning in her favor. And there is no way for her campaign to spin these latest poll numbers. The totally disastrous one in New Hampshire and now this is in Iowa. It's just bad.

BLITZER: Because in New Hampshire, the poll we released yesterday had Bernie Sanders at, what, 60 percent, Hillary Clinton at 33 percent in New Hampshire. If he wins in Iowa in New Hampshire, this thing is going to go on and on and on, presumably.

NAVARRO: He comes out of there with enormous momentum if he wins one state. If he wins one of the states, he comes out also with what is known as momentum. This was not supposed to be happening again to Hillary Clinton, and it tells you that you can repackage, you can reinvent, you can rebrand, but if it's the same old product inside that can, people will react to it the same old way.

You know, we can't blame her campaign. She's now got some of the top professionals from the Barack Obama campaign that won in Iowa in 2008. You know, at some point you've got to just accept that it's the candidate, that she's got a problem with, you know, with the product she's trying to sell to the American people.

BLITZER: You know, something Hillary Clinton supporters have said to me, I'm anxious, Jeffrey to get your reaction. The reason that Bernie Sanders, in these hypothetical matchups with Donald Trump and other Republicans, does better, at least right now, than Hillary Clinton does is because the Republicans really haven't started going after him and his socialist perspective. Once they do that, paint pictures of hammers and sickles and all that kind of stuff, communists, then those numbers are going to change.

TOOBIN: Yes, I think the Democrat-Republican horse race numbers at this point are almost meaningless. If you go back, you know, four years, eight years, these numbers are almost insignificant. They change a great deal.

However, the head-to-head numbers among the Democrats, especially just a handful of days before these primaries, those are not meaningless. Those are actually very significant. And if, in fact, she loses both of these primaries, as the polls suggest she will, she's got a big problem.

BASH: And now the Clinton campaign, Democrats who are aligned with her are looking ahead to South Carolina. That is supposed to be, they hope, her firewall, because there's much more of an African-American Democratic base. They hope that that will help her, because she's -- the Clinton name is more familiar there. Less so to Bernie Sanders, who comes from lily-white Vermont.

But you know, he's in there now. He's got a big ground operation or at least a growing one. So I'm hearing concern from the Clinton sort of team and people who want her to win about South Carolina and even beyond March 1.

BLITZER: Remember, eight years ago, they went until June, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A lot of us remember that.

NAVARRO: Eighteen million...

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.

We want to let our viewers know about a big event that's coming up Monday night in Iowa. It will be seen only on CNN exactly one week before Iowa chooses. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley, they will face Iowa voters in a CNN Democratic presidential town hall live from Des Moines. And Chris Cuomo will moderate. It's a unique opportunity for Iowans to ask questions of the three Democrats. That's Monday night, 9 p.m. Eastern live only here on CNN.

Coming up, more news we're following. Did the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally give the go-ahead for the murder of a Russian defector in the heart of London? A British investigation is sending out shockwaves.


[18:45:31] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Did Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorize the radiation murder of a Russian defector in the middle of London? That's the stunning conclusion of British investigators and details are even more extraordinary.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has been digging into this.

Jim, the shockwaves are spreading in this case.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. I covered this murder as it happened in London. Very early on, there was evidence tying it to Russia, including tracing the radioactive material used to kill Alexander Litvinenko to a particular nuclear reactor in Russia. But the question has always been, did the murder have authorization from the very top? And British authorities believe they may have their answer.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): It was the shocking murder of a prominent Russian seen here dying in his hospital bed and an act of nuclear terrorism say British officials in the heart of London yards from the U.S. embassy.

Now, a British investigation found the two Russian secret agents accused of murder, quote, "probably acted with the approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin."

ROBERT OWEN, CHAIRMAN, LITVINENKO INQUIRY: The FSB operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr. Patrushev, then-head of the FSB and also by President Putin.

SCIUTTO: Alexander Litvinenko was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, accusing President Putin of orchestrating the deadly bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999 to justify a second Russian invasion of Chechnya. Another potential motive, the report sites an article Litvinenko published that accuses Putin of sexual involvement with underage boys and that Russian intelligence had video evidence.

Litvinenko blamed Putin for ordering his poisoning and authorized this statement from his death bed.

ROBERT TAM, LAWYER FOR THE LITVINENKO INQUIRY: You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protests from around the world will reverberate Mr. Putin in your ears for the rest of your life.

SCIUTTO: Today Litvinenko's widow Marino welcomed the British findings.

MARINA LITVINENKO, WIDOW OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO: I'm of course very pleased that the words have been spoke on his death bed when he accused Mr. Putin of his murder have been proved.

SCIUTTO: The details of the case seems stolen from a spy novel. Surveillance video shows the Russian agents at the London hotel where they allegedly injected a powerful dose of the highly radioactive element polonium 210 into Litvinenko's tea during a meeting there.

Litvinenko died a slow painful death and the radioactive polonium contaminated dozens of other people who had direct or indirect contact with him.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: This was a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and of civilized behavior.

SCIUTTO: Today, one of the accused killers, Andrei Lugovoi, now a Russian politician, vehemently denied the accusation.

ANDREI LUGOVOI, ACCUSED OF MURDERING ALEXANDER LITVINENKO: An outrageous lie and I can't find any other word to describe it.

SCIUTTO: Russian officials dismissed the findings as politicized.

ALEXANDER VLADIMIROVICH YAKOVENKO, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED KINGDOM: This gross provocation of the British authorities cannot help hurting our bilateral relations. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: This was a crime with more than one victim. In fact, British authorities were able to trace this radioactive element contamination not just to Litvinenko who's the only person who died, but to dozens of other people. His wife contaminated, his son, even people who might have passed them in a subway and they study it in fact as the first radiological attack on a city, which, of course, we talk a lot about in terrorism terms, they say it's already taken place in London at the hands of Russia.

BLITZER: What a story that is.

All right. Thanks very much. Jim Sciutto reporting.

Just ahead, a very different story, life-changer, my personal story of a mentor and friend that helped shape my career, the former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw. How his influence and guidance changed my life.


[18:53:58] BLITZER: This Sunday night, many of us here at CNN will be sharing personal stories about individuals who had an outsize influence on us. The special is called "The Person Who Changed My Life."

Mine is someone many of you will recognize.


BLITZER: Happening now --

(voice-over): After years of reporting live for CNN, I like to think I've finally gotten the hang of it.

But for me, it wasn't always easy. Twenty-five years ago, I was the new kid on the block, a reporter who was new to television.

(on camera): One, two, three, four, five. Is that better or worse?

(voice-over): And a little over my head.

(on camera): He said he will support the plan.

As far as Israel is concerned --

(voice-over): My career on air started by happenstance. I was a print reporter and author in Washington working in a building right next door to CNN.

BERNARD SHAW, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Middle Eastern stories were a staple in our daily news coverage, and you would come out of your office, walk across the alley, through a side door and you'd be reporting.

With us now to discuss the massacre report and its possible affect in the Vegan government is Wolf Blitzer. [18:55:03] BLITZER: If that wasn't nerve-racking enough, the man who was interviewing me was Bernard Shaw, CNN principal Washington anchor, who, in those days, was already a legend.

SHAW: Shots were fired at the president.

BLITZER: Bernie grew up in Chicago. After attending college there, he joined the Marine Corps where he became interested in journalism. After leaving the service, Bernie went back to his hometown and began his career.

After Chicago, he landed the White House beat, reporting for CBS and ABC News.

By the time he arrived at CNN in 1980, he was already one of the most prominent reporters and anchors in the country. Little did I know when I would watch him back then, he would become both a mentor and a friend.

(on camera): I knew that he brought a tremendous amount of depth to covering news from the television perspective that I certainly didn't have and I sort of relied on him.

SHAW: What is the latest over there in Israel?

BLITZER: To gain some insights, I watched him closely to see how he was doing and what he was doing.

SHAW: In fact, the entire national economy will be stimulated.

BLITZER: I really didn't understand the difference between writing for a newspaper or a magazine as opposed to writing for a television.

SHAW: You were an excellent writer. Still are, by the way. My charge was to assist you to be a better reporter in a visual medium.

BLITZER: I started on May 8th, 1990. On August 1st, 1990, only a few weeks later, Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait.

SHAW: Baptism by fire.

BLITZER (voice-over): The First Gulf War put CNN on the map and me, well, in front of it.

As the network's new Pentagon correspondent, I watched Bernie, along with my colleagues, Peter Arnett and John Heilemann, reporting from Baghdad in the lead-up to the war.

After interviewing Saddam Hussein in the past, Bernie returned there for another interview. When that fell through, he chose to stay. And then the bombs began falling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated.

BLITZER (on camera): The first thing that went through my mind is, I hope they are going to be okay because I knew that this air campaign, the bombs were coming in big time. You really were scared for your life?

SHAW: Yes, very much so. In war, one moment, you're alive, the next moment, you're dead.

BLITZER (voice-over): Watching Bernie during those days of crisis taught me a lot about how to do my job better, about how what we do is a team sport.

What we didn't know at the time was how big a toll this took on Bernie.

(on camera): I only found out recently that he came out from Baghdad with some post-traumatic stress and that he was suffering.

SHAW: And there were times when I could be walking down a street and hear a sound and I would jump. There would be times when I would go into mild depression when I thought about everything that had happened and that could have happened in a negative sense.

BLITZER (voice-over): Bernie never told us because, for him, the news always came first. He taught me about the balance between showing emotion on air and being in control. To better help viewers understand what's happening.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A powerful car bomb shears off nine stories of a federal building in Oklahoma's capital.

SHAW: That story was almost too emotional for me. It required a lot of self-control.

I have tried not to look grim, sound grim or think grimly, for that matter. But you know it's hard under these circumstances.

BLITZER (on camera): During the commercial breaks, I said to him, I remember vividly saying, Bernie, this is not easy, is it? And I remember watching you and learning from you, I said, wow, he really knows how to convey the moment to the American people.

SHAW: Always remember that less is more. And less is better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not going to be the same without you here.

BLITZER (voice-over): When Bernie retired in 2001, I never thought I'd take his seat in the anchor chair.

(on camera): Good evening.

One thing I always remembered was how generous you were to reporters like me.

SHAW: For the latest, we turn to our senior White House correspondent Wolf Blitzer.

Far be it for me to, because of egoistical reasons, actually tell the viewers what you have to report.

BLITZER: You would always compliment me at the end of that report. Nice work. Good job. Strong report.

And my parents, who were watching, would always say something like, "That Bernie Shaw is such a nice man. He complimented you so nicely."

Because of our schedules, Bernie and I don't get to see each other as much as we once did, but when we do, time melts away. I always walk away having learned something.

That's just what happens with a mentor. And there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the doors he opened for me and for so many others.


BLITZER: Tomorrow morning on "NEW DAY", Chris Cuomo will reveal the person who changed his life and you'll see similar stories from many of colleagues in our special Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.