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Trump Arrives for Rally, Skipping FOX Debate; Republicans Prepare For Showdown Without Trump; Interview with Jerry Falwell, Jr. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 28, 2016 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:09] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Donald Trump about to land in Iowa. He is staging a rival rally against the FOX debate. We'll be there live.

And Trump winning a major endorsement from a leading evangelical figure. An OUTFRONT exclusive interview with Jerry Falwell Jr. tonight. Will he help Trump win Iowa?

And more breaking news, health officials warning the Zika virus is spreading, quote, "explosively" four million cases expected and more coming to the United States. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin OUTFRONT with the breaking news. Donald Trump just moments away from arriving in Iowa on his private plane. Going to be landing there and perhaps taking questions from reporters on that plane. A big night in Des Moines. Trump hosting his own event to honor veterans snubbing FOX News GOP debate. Now at the colossal gamble, part politics, part theater, all Donald Trump. And this is the line. A huge crowd has been waiting in line to get into the event. People waiting there for hours. Thousands of them. And there are many more of them than there are seats inside that theater.

In fact, Trump's veterans fundraiser is at Des Moines's Drake University and is literally about two miles away from the Iowa events center and that is where the FOX debate is going to be held in two hours. So, you're looking at that map right across town. Thousands waiting to get into the Trump event. The high stake showdown comes as Trump and Ted Cruz are neck and neck in the latest Iowa polls. The caucus is there are now only four days away. Trump obviously thumbing his nose at the debate, taunting FOX, tweeting today, "The debate tonight will be a total disaster. Low ratings with advertising rates dropping like a rock." Trump continued, "I hate to see this."

Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT outside the Trump event. And Sunlen, you've been talking to voters who actually changed their minds about Trump based on his decision to skip the debate. What did they tell you?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. This is just fascinating. I have spent a lot of time with the people here waiting for hours here for Donald Trump. He is set to arrive here in Des Moines at any moment. And what's interesting, I talked to a woman, she said, she was on the fence before. She was one of those coveted undecided Iowa voters. She said, she liked a few candidates, she was interested in Donald Trump, but just not convinced.

She said, after he made this boycott of this debate, that's what solidified her vote for Donald Trump, she said. He showed boldness. And she wants that in a presidency. And that's what the word that I heard from so many people here in line tonight. Bold. They said that this move by Trump really appeals to them, that they want that in their president and that's why they're coming out here tonight. And a lot of people saying, you know, I'm not going to miss the debate. I'm here to see Donald Trump -- Erin.

BURNETT: I mean, that's pretty incredible, Sunlen. And you've actually talked to someone, I mean, you know, one voter of many, but still talking to someone who said this changed their mind and in favor of Donald Trump, which may surprise many people, you know, who think, oh, this just couldn't have been a good idea. When you talk to people in that line, I mean, are they -- what are their views on good idea, bad idea that he's skipping this debate tonight?

SERFATY: Well, it's interesting. I think of this as in the category of Donald Trump being Donald Trump. It's how a lot of people are lining it. People said this, you know, this is his personality. This is why some people like him. This is why some people dislike him. I can tell you, these people have been out here for hours. The first person in line we talked to came out here at 11:30 this morning. Have been waiting in the cold for many hours. Drake University where this is being hosted tonight said that the event has been significantly over sold, that many people will not be able to get in tonight. There's 700 seats inside. The Trump campaign understanding this have set up some big jumbotron television screens where there will be an overflow crowd of people watching outside. Although there is a debate going on just three miles away from where we're standing. It sure it doesn't feel like it right here -- Erin.

BURNETT: That's pretty incredible. Sunlen, all right, thank you very much. And as Sunlen talks on more people on that line, we're going to be going back to her through the hour.

Now I want to go to our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, she joins me, along with the executive editor for CNN politics Mark Preston who is also at the Trump event. And editor in chief of "The Daily Beast" John Avlon.

John, let me start with you. You know, we have been told FOX didn't have a podium standing by. That wouldn't have been protocol and you know, who knows. It wouldn't have been a -- professional, well, guess what. Now they have a podium standing by. I don't know if they're going to use it or not use it, but this battle is just escalating even in the final moments here.

JOHN AVLON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: This is the most fascinating political theater. The circus has come to town, but it's a one-man band. They're waiting in line for Donald Trump, not the other crowd of folks running for president. And it's fascinating, it goes right to the heart of our Achilles hills culture. It's celebrity. It's strength. To the extent they're picking a president about countering the incumbent. Republican-based voters see Donald Trump everything they don't see in Barack Obama. And this brash bold decision some may call -- there's other words to describe it, you know, has really seemed to play well as Sunlen just said as some folks waiting in line.

BURNETT: It has. I mean, who knows, right? But I mean, so far from what we know, we'll know the ultimate answer here come Monday. Mark Preston, you're actually there outside with the thousands of people who've been waiting. The university says the event was significantly over ticketed. Seven hundred seats obviously, thousands standing outside where you are.

[19:05:18] MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes. You know, I have to tell you this is something, as John said, the circus has come to town. I have never seen anything like this, Erin. And if you were to look all the way down here, we're talking about two or three blocks right now of people standing in line trying to get into this event. And someone who'd said, if they're not able to get in, they have a large jumbotron set up to watch. I have to tell you, this is Iowa cold right now. It is very, very cold out here right now.

If Donald Trump is able to keep these folks watching, I think that says something. You know, the big question has been, will this really hurt Donald Trump not being at the debate. I have to tell you for the last 48 hours certainly here in Iowa, the only talk has been about Donald Trump. And of course, tomorrow when we see a new cycle kick in, a new cycle will kick in, Erin, we will certainly see what Donald Trump had to say tonight. Interestingly enough, he will be on stage, but he won't be taking any tough questions tonight. That is very much frustrating the opponents that he's running against -- Erin.

BURNETT: And Gloria, I mean, who wins the battle? If you put a podium on there and they make a big preamble about how he's not there. And then let's just say, they make it personal or nasty. Who knows what they're going to do? Maybe they want. But let's just say they did all of those things. And everyone piles on him and they leave the empty podium. Is even all of that going to hurt Donald Trump or does that actually have people say, why are you doing that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, nothing seems to hurt Donald Trump. I think he made an emotional decision in reaction to a press release from FOX News that he didn't like. And what he's done as he always does is he's turned it around into something that could actually work for him. And on the debate stage tonight, you're going to see a lot of candidates trying to take on Donald Trump without sounding whiney about it, right, because he is not there. And that's going to be a difficult task for them to do.


BORGER: And if one of those candidates shines, like a Ted Cruz or a Marco Rubio, this will be good for them because there is more oxygen for them in that room. But Donald Trump is a showman and it looks like his show is pretty sold out, right?

BURNETT: I mean, it certainly does. As we said, thousands of people showing up in the Iowa cold. BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: Only 700 tickets. John, there's something else here that I think is important for people to know. Right? There's an undercard debate on FOX with the candidates who aren't in on the, quote-unquote, "Top polling tier." All right? Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are on that list. They're going to finish the undercard debate and they're going to go across town and they're going to Donald Trump's rally.


BURNETT: OK. Sure, they get publicity, but isn't that effectively once we're out of this, which both of them eventually likely will be, were going to be for Trump?

AVLON: Well, I don't know if it should be read for endorsement Trump but here's what extraordinary.


AVLON: Not only did that expect more reflected glory at Donald Trump's event than the undercard, these are two guys who won Iowa in the past. Mike Huckabee won Iowa. Rick Santorum won Iowa.


AVLON: The fact they can't get arrested in Iowa this year, that all the oxygen is gone from both the evangelical lane despite their past is significant. And the fact that they're aligning themselves with Trump tonight even visually also could send a sign to evangelicals much like Jerry Falwell Jr.'s endorsement, that this is a guy that's OK to back if you can sure yourself a faith based voter.

BURNETT: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: They have nothing to lose. They have nothing to lose, right? They're going to go be with Donald Trump and get all this attention. And it also shows the sort of civil war in the Republican Party because they're going to be saying, oh, those people on the debate stage, they're establishment, right? We're outside of all of that. And that's not a bad place for them to be. Either now or in the future.

BURNETT: Gloria, doesn't it also show, even if it is not the preamble to an endorsement, it shows something like, look, Donald Trump is not a third rail. He is not toxic. We will appear with him. We do not think that what he has done is despicable. I mean, there is something significant in that, isn't there?

BORGER: Right. Particularly since these two guys used to work for FOX News. Yes.

BURNETT: Fair point.

BORGER: Yes. I think there is something significant in it. And it is about the Republican Party right now. You know, you have the establishment Republicans, and I think, you know, you've got the Wall Street Journal, FOX News maybe in one category. And they're saying, you know, that is not us anymore. We have changed. That's George Bush, but it is not us. That might be John Kasich. It's not us. So, you know, this is just getting sort of a wound that is getting open and open and open further and further.

BURNETT: So, Mark, when you're talking to people in that line where you are, all right, they're just coming because Donald Trump is a celebrity? Are they coming to say, we're happy about the decision you've made about this debate specifically? I mean, what are their feelings about his decision to, as some say, quote-unquote, "snub Iowa voters" and do this instead? They obviously still want to vote for him.

PRESTON: Yes. Certainly. You know, there's certainly people here tonight that are here because this is such a spectacle. This is something again that has never, ever happened before. However, there are a lot of people here, though, that are supportive of Donald Trump. What we are seeing is we're seeing veterans now that are being escorted to the front of the line. And they're being brought in. I was able to talk to one volunteer who's been with Donald Trump for six months. He has traveled the country with him, and he told me that Donald Trump is somebody who can get things done for veterans and that he is really frustrated at the lack of oversight and the lack of care and attention that he thinks Washington has given to veterans right now.

[19:10:38] So what we are seeing now is we are seeing veterans starting to stream in here right now. What is interesting, we are spending a lot of time focusing on whether Donald Trump is going to win the day or lose the day tonight by not going to the debate. But really what it does come down to is Donald Trump is getting huge amounts of people at these rallies all across Iowa and New Hampshire. We see it all across the country. The big question is, though, will these people come out and caucus for Donald Trump on Monday night.


PRESTON: If this is any indication, perhaps they will, but we just don't know that yet. And really, Donald Trump a celebrity getting a lot of people out there to see him. Question is, will they show up on a cold night to caucus for him on Monday? And that really remains to be seen, Erin.

BURNETT: And continuing to do what nobody ever thought could be done, defying, rising in the polls. Will it actually work this time or not? That is the huge question the whole world frankly is going to be watching at this point. Very fair to say.


BURNETT: Thanks to all three of you.

And next, the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses less than two hours away. Couple miles away from the big Trump event. With Trump a now show, does Ted Cruz become the top target?

Plus, we're waiting Donald Trump's arrival in Des Moines. This is the airport. His plane will land any moment now. It is in the air. We were told, very near. Going to be landing. And then, he's going to be holding a live event at the same time in the same city as the Republican debate. Brilliant or huge mistake? And Trump winning a major endorsement from the head of the world's largest Christian university. In an OUTFRONT exclusive, Jerry Falwell, Jr. will be my guest tonight.


[19:15:53] BURNETT: Breaking news. We're awaiting Donald Trump's arrival in Des Moines, Iowa. He's about to stage a rival event against FOX's presidential debate. This is a live picture of Trump's supporters inside the event. It is about two miles away from the FOX debate and let me just note that's inside the event, outside the event there are thousands of people who have been waiting since this morning to get into the Donald Trump event. Without Trump Ted Cruz will take center stage, almost certainly be under serious fire at the last Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses. Can Cruz survive?

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Donald Trump off stage, Ted Cruz could be the GOP's new top target.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This race is a dead heat between Donald and me. We are effectively tied in the state of Iowa.

MURRAY: Trump skipping tonight's debate to hold a rival campaign event. That leads GOP candidate arrows aiming straight at Iowa's other frontrunner. Cruz -- Rubio previewing one of his lines of attack, calling Cruz a flip-flopper on issues like immigration.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Time and again, I think you're seeing Ted a very calculated political operative. He says one thing in one place and does something very differently.

MURRAY: While Chris Christie has slammed both senator's resumes.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are candidates in our race who are first-term United States senators. Senator Rubio. Senator Cruz. Good people, but not prepared to be president of the United States.

MURRAY: In past debates even with Trump on stage, other candidates like Rubio were eager to pile on Cruz. Tonight the biggest punches may come from Rubio.

RUBIO: I saw you on the Senate floor flip your vote on crop insurance because they told you it would help in Iowa. And last week we all saw you flip your vote on ethanol in Iowa for the same reason. That is not consistent conservatism. Every single time that there's been a defense bill in the Senate, three people team up to vote against it. Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I appreciate your dumping your Oppo research folder on the debate stage.

RUBIO: No, it's your record.

MURRAY: As for Cruz, he's still looking to face off with Trump head to head, challenging Trump to their own debate.

CRUZ: We'll do 90 minutes linking Douglas mano o mano. Donald and me. He can lay out his vision for this country and I can lay out my vision for this country in front of the men and women of Iowa.

MURRAY: And the Super PAC supporting Cruz raised the stakes offering to donate $1.5 million to charity if Trump takes Cruz up on his offer. Trump who has made an issue of whether the Canadian born Cruz if even eligible to run for president shot back on twitter, asking can we do it in Canada?


MURRAY: Now, I was just talking to a couple of Cruz's campaign staffers. And they say they are kind of worried about tonight. And they're sort of hoping Donald Trump will show up at the last minute at this debate after all because they are fully expecting that without Donald Trump on the stage, Senator Ted Cruz could be right in the middle and the center of so many other candidate's attacks -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to the national co-chair for Ted Cruz's campaign Bob Vander Plaats along with Republican strategist and director of Black Outreach for former President George W. Bush Paris Dennard.

Bob, you just heard Sara say she's talking to people inside the campaign. They're still hoping maybe Donald Trump does show up Bob because they think that this could be a tough night for Ted Cruz. Look, he's the frontrunner on the stage tonight whether they put the Donald Trump there for pomp and circumstance and they made a big stink or not. Ted Cruz is the frontrunner that's there tonight. Is he ready?

BOB VANDER PLAATS, NATIONAL CO-CHAIR, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: I think he is ready. It's a great opportunity. What a great position to be in that you're the frontrunner. I think even if Donald Trump was on stage, Ted Cruz will be the frontrunner tonight. The issue is that Donald Trump doesn't want to defend his record, so he's going off to another venue to hold a rally. So, when he says that, well, they're attacking me and they didn't give me a chance to defend his record, there's no way he can defend his record. The people of Iowa are going to hold Donald Trump accountable for missing the final job interview before the caucus vote on Monday night. I really do believe that. BURNETT: All right. Bob, so I want to get Paris here first. But let

me just ask you one question. The lines -- let me just show our viewers the lines again. These are the lines outside of the Donald Trump event. Thousands of people have been waiting since this morning to get in. As you know, there's only 700 seats, Bob. Thousands of them have been waiting. That seems to really give the momentum to Donald Trump. Does that shock you, thousands of people waiting in the freezing cold to get into Donald Trump's event? These are the people who are supposed to be so offended by the fact that he's skipping the debate.

[19:20:22] VANDER PLAATS: Well, he's definitely tapped into an emotion, an emotion with the American people that Washington is broken and needs to be fixed. If that's the case, the next logical question is who is best to fix it. And I think ted Cruz is going to make that case on the debate stage tonight. I still believe Donald Trump is making an unforced there by skipping tonight's debate and no American should reward a candidate for skipping a job interview with the American people.

BURNETT: Paris, do you think this is going to end up being a huge mistake for Trump? I mean, who else is going to shine tonight?

PARIS DENNARD, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is not a mistake for Donald Trump. Nothing that he does has deterred his voters. What has happened is that you've seen Senator Cruz go on the offensive against Donald Trump. En route here tonight a long-term friend of mine who is a conservative, college educated, lives in Texas who is a constituent of the senator. He said, Paris, I'm so fed up with Ted Cruz. I have cancelled my eight-month $100 automatic contribution because it's the tax on Donald Trump. We're fed up and we're not watching the debate tonight.

And if CNN watches it, we'll watch Donald Trump's event because we're tired of it. So, this is the energy. This is the momentum that Donald Trump has. It's not a mistake. And Senator Cruz is on the offensive because I believe he's nervous because I don't know what polls Bob is reading, but Donald Trump is leading in Iowa and all of the national polls, especially in Iowa. So, it's not going to be a good night for Senator Cruz because people like Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and others will look at him as the number one target. Not because he's leading, but because when you have the establishment versus the outsiders, he's going to be the number one target there because Donald Trump is not present.

BURNETT: Now that's a pretty tough anecdote that Paris just shared.

VANDER PLAATS: What a horrible line. To say I'm not going to show up at the game, I'm going to skip the game, but I expect to win anyhow. But therefore the guy that has shown clear difference to my record, he's the bad guy? I used to coach. You don't show up to play the game. I mean, you don't get to win.

DENNARD: Bob, it's not that he's not showing up to play the game. He's going to another event supporting the veterans.

VANDER PLAATS: He's not showing up.

DENNARD: He will be there in Iowa.

VANDER PLAATS: He's wimping out against Megyn Kelly. He's wimping out against Megyn Kelly.


BURNETT: Hold on. Hold on. Paris finish and Bob respond. Go ahead, Paris.

DENNARD: Let's be accurate. It's not about Megyn Kelly, it's about the press release that FOX news put out which was in poor taste that was sent out by Robert Ailes. That gave him enough cover to say there's no way that FOX News can be fair and balanced as it relates to this debate. NBC was pulled out by the RNC for the very same reason about them being fair and balanced with respect to national review in that magazine. And so, let's not make this about Megyn Kelly.

Let's make this about what it was. It was a FOX News press release. And when he goes to the veterans and when he's there before the people of Iowa, I believe they're going to come out in support of him and he's going to have a better play, just like when Rand Paul decided not to go to the undercard debate, he's at media, did a separate debate and you know where he is tonight, on the main stage. And so, Donald Trump is going to continue to lead and that's unfortunate for you.

VANDER PLAATS: All right. Whether it is FOX News --

BURNETT: By the way, Donald Trump has arrived. He is going to attend his rally, Bob. He's arrived right now. You're looking at his plane. We'll see if he takes questions.

DENNARD: And nobody is looking at Ted Cruz, Erin. We're not watching ted Cruz tonight. We're looking at Donald Trump.

BURNETT: We're looking at a live picture of Donald's plane. Go ahead, Bob.

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I just say it's going to be a great night for Ted Cruz who is actually on the stage. He's not running away from FOX or Megyn or anybody else. If you're going to take on people like Putin or China or nuclear Iran, you have to be willing to go up with FOX News and Megyn Kelly as well. I think the voters in Iowa are savvy enough to see what's going on. The first vote is going to be Monday night. Let's let that vote happens, to see how Iowans speak. I think Iowa are going to send a resounding message that they're going to stand with Ted Cruz because he's a principled pro-family conservative through and through.

BURNETT: Bob, do you have on that any internal polling you're doing or anything that gives you that confidence? I mean, you say that with great confidence. What sort of numbers or internal research are you looking at?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I say it with great confidence. Yes, I take a look at polls. I take a look at the Iowa State University poll. WHL poll who is taking a look at what's going on in the ground in Iowa. They've got Cruz ahead 26 to 19. I also take a look at the turnout game that Cruz has, the number of doors that are being knocked. The phone calls that are being made. The volunteers, Erin. He has got an exceptional ground game to produce and he's on the debate stage tonight. The debate stage is the frontrunner. I think he has got an exceptional chance to perform exceptionally well tonight. And if he does, it's going to bode very well. This is a risk by Donald Trump. You might be right, it might play into his favor. But I don't think it's a risk that should be rewarded by skipping a major piece of the interview.

[19:25:08] DENNARD: Erin, you asked him about polls. He named one. If you look at the Real Clear average polls, every single one of them has Donald Trump leading in Iowa. And then they go on to have him leading in national. You can pick and choose one little poll here, one little poll there, but it is inaccurate to say that Ted Cruz is leading. Actually he'd been on a downward trend about a week and a half. And so, it's not a good night for Ted Cruz. He's nervous, I believe, because he knows he's going to be target number one. And Donald Trump and his counter programming is going to steal the spotlight. And the more Senator Cruz focus on Donald Trump there, the less time he's going to be spending talking about his own recording and defending his own flip-flopping record that Marco Rubio and others have attacked him on. So, no matter how he tries to spin it, Erin, this is going to be Donald Trump's night no matter what.

BURNETT: And Bob, is there anything in your mind that makes you think twice here or wonder if you're right here? I mean, Donald Trump, all right, he's coming in. It's a media circus. You have got all these SUVs. We're expecting him to get off that plane any moment. We don't exactly know who he might have with him if there is anyone special otherwise coming for this event. But the truth is, Bob, he's not just not showing up. He is doing something else. And he says he's going to give the money to veterans groups. We don't yet know which ones, they weren't able to identify that today. But if he's able to go ahead and do all that, isn't he doing some good and aren't there some people who might say, hey, you know, that statement Roger Ailes put out was pretty nasty and Trump was in the right?

VANDER PLAATS: I still don't think it does anybody good to skip the interview. This guy wants to be commander-in-chief and yet he's going to be AWOL from a debate. I'm glad he's going to do a veterans event, I hope he gives a lot of money to the veterans. But the fact is, he needs to show up and answer the tough questions a few days before the Iowa caucuses. And to the other point, I've been in Iowa all my life. I've been with the last two Iowa caucus winners. I can see and sense what's happening on the ground. I will grant you this. Donald Trump is an unprecedented candidate, one that we've never had before, so he might prove all of us wrong. But right now, I do know that Ted Cruz is a full spectrum conservative. He's united Iowans, he's united national leaders. And he has got the ground game that can turnout and perform on caucus night. So, I think it's game on. Let's play. I love this. I can't wait for Monday night.

BURNETT: All right. Well, we are going to take a pause then. Thank you both very much. As we wait and see, Donald Trump is talking to some people on the plane. We're going to see him when he gets off. We'll see who he's with. We have a little bit of time here, so we're going to take a break.

And when we come back, we're also going to be interviewing Jerry Falwell Jr., major evangelical endorsing Donald Trump. We'll be back in just a moment.


[19:31:40] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The breaking news: Donald Trump has just arrived in Des Moines, Iowa. In just 90 minutes, he's going to be holding a sold out televised event to counter the FOX News Republican debate.

There are 700 seats in that auditorium. There are thousands who have waited for hours throughout the day. Donald Trump, as we said, has landed. He is on that plane right now.

He is doing interviews. One of them with our Brianna Keilar here at CNN. You're going to see that at the top of the hour, speaking and interviewing Donald Trump ahead of this rival rally that he is hosting in Des Moines across town from the GOP debate at the exact same time.

His fundraiser, the podium that you see there is going to be veterans. And it is taking place literal about two and a half miles away from where he was supposed to take center stage and that, of course, is the debate site.

Joining Trump tonight will be two other presidential candidates from the undercard debate. So, they're going to do the undercard debate, but then they are going to go to stand by him, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, by the way, both of whom won the Iowa caucuses. One in 2008, Huckabee, and in 2012, Rick Santorum.

Not an insignificant thing. They're still running, this isn't an endorsement, but it is significant.

Sunlen Serfaty is outside the Trump event in Des Moines. Sunlen, 90 minutes away, Donald Trump is now in Iowa, talking to the press, doing that interview with CNN. What can we expect from him tonight when he comes to where you are?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to say, Erin, there's still a significant amount of mystery surrounding this event tonight and I do think that speaks to how hastily this was arranged by the Trump campaign. It really speaks to the drama of this moment going on at the same time as the debate will happen in just about 90 minutes.

Now, from the get-go, Donald Trump and the Trump campaign have been firm that this is a fundraiser for military veterans, they kept repeating that. But there was no specifics to back that up. The Trump campaign, after multiple attempts, did not -- has not revealed specifically what the money from tonight's event will be donated to, whether it's one specific group or a series of group. But we do have some new information from a tweet from Donald Trump's

son. He just tweeted out that the list of organizations that will benefit from the money raised here tonight will be revealed on stage by Donald Trump tonight.

Of course, we're not clear exactly how this works, talking to people in line when they registered for the event. They say they were not prompted to make any sort of donations to veterans group. Inside, there's no sort of pamphlets or anything prompting people to make donations. So, it's not clear if that is a one to one payment or a fundraising effort.

The Trump campaign directing people to a specific website tonight to donate money. So, that will be a big focus of tonight's events. But certainly, the Trump campaign has been wanting to get out there.

I'm here in the area that will be the overflow area. Behind me you see a big JumboTron, that television, where people who cannot get in to tonight's event will be able to watch from outside. Very cold out here, Erin. Only 700 people allowed inside. There will be plenty of people here later in the overflow room -- Erin.

BURNETT: That is pretty stunning.

All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.

As we await Donald Trump to get off that plane and the interview that you're going to see here on CNN, I want to go to Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. It is the largest Christian university in the world.

This week, Falwell gave his personal endorsement to Donald Trump, a huge coup for the Trump campaign, in its effort to win over that all important evangelical vote in Iowa and around the nation.

[19:35:03] And, of course, it was a blow to Ted Cruz who had been campaigning very hard for his support.

Tonight is Falwell's first TV appearance since his endorsement.

And, Jerry, I very much appreciate you're taking the time. What a night for you to be on. This is something no one ever thought they would see. A stunning development here with that rival rally.

I know your endorsement is your own personal view. It is not on behalf of your school. I want to make sure our viewers understand that. And I want to talk about your reason for supporting Trump.

But, first, with what's going on at this hour and this debate coming up, Donald Trump not participating in that FOX News Republican debate. Is ditching the debate worth the risk for him?

JERRY FALWELL, JR., ENDORSED DONALD TRUMP: You know, I think he's shown throughout this campaign that his decisions are never orthodox. They're never what are expected. His statements are never what people expect him to say, and everybody predicted that many of those statements and many of those actions would be the end of this campaign.

But each time he moved up in the polls. So, I'm not going to second guess any of his decisions because I've been proven wrong before and he just seems to keep moving up with every decision that everybody seems to think is the wrong one. So, that's my feeling about it.

BURNETT: And when we look at those lines of thousands, you know, there are a lot of people who are passionate about supporting him.

Jerry, you know, FOX News put out a statement mocking Trump and that's the statement that he says is the reason he backed out of the debate. And we've reported here at the CNN that the head of FOX News, Roger Ailes, actually wrote and approved the most offensive lines.

And I just wanted to read them to you and again to remind our viewers. "We learned from a secret back channel that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president. A nefarious source tells us Trump had his own secret plan to replace the cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should go to the meetings."

Jerry, should Roger Ailes have said that, have put that in a press release?

FALWELL: I think it's beneath someone of his stature to say something like that. I think that's a petty thing to say. I think he's just -- he's revealing that he's just mad that he lost the biggest draw in his debate. I'm sure it's going to cost his company a lot of money tonight.

BURNETT: And, Jerry, why did you endorse Donald Trump? What was your reason?

FALWELL: Well, you know, I've spent my entire adult life trying to build Liberty University to make it the world-class Christian university that was envisioned to be and I did it as an attorney. I'm not a pastor. I've never preached a sermon. I went to University of Virginia law school after I studied theology at Liberty.

I went right out of law school into practicing law for 20 years at a time when Liberty University was struggling to survive financially. We have over $100 million in debt for a small school. We were struggling to make payroll every week. We would have to stay on the phone many weekends begging and borrowing money to keep the school open, to cover the paychecks that had gone out the Friday before.

And so, from that experience, eventually we brought in the right professionals, attorneys, accountants. Not people who shared our faith, but people who are most competent, just like a parent would select the right -- the best doctor for their desperately sick child. We've healed Liberty University. We've brought it back to health, and now, it's one of the most prosperous and successful and largest Christian universities in the world.

I think our country is where Liberty University was 20 years ago, in the 1990s -- in the early 1990s. And I think that we need somebody who is a professional, who has taken companies, taken them at bottom, turned them around, sometimes had to use the bankruptcy laws. We didn't.

But he's a turnaround expert. I think that's what -- he's somebody who will be tough on terrorists.


FALWELL: The country needs somebody who will protect our borders.

Those are all the reasons. And those are not the typical reasons an evangelical selects a president. But I believe it's our job. I think Jesus when he said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar, he meant that we're supposed to begets citizens and use our God-given brains to choose the best leader for our country, not the holiest of the candidates that happens to be around.

BURNETT: Which is interesting and not what many would expect. And, as you know, there had been -- there's been heavy criticism of your endorsement from some other religious leaders. John Samberger, a conservative activist in Florida, a conservative political leader, said, "The late Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. would be rolling over in his grave if he knew his son who bore his name had endorsed the most immoral and ungodly man to ever run for the president of the United States."

What do you say to that?

FALWELL: That's the same thing they said to my father when he supported Ronald Reagan. They said it's terrible he's supporting a Hollywood actor who's been divorced and remarried, when Jimmy Carter is a southern Baptist, Sunday school teacher who shares his faith.

[19:40:10] And he said, no, no. When I walk into the voting booth, it's my job to choose the best -- not the best Sunday schoolteacher, not the best pastor, but the best leader for our country. This is the president of the United States. We need somebody with the skills to run a country, and I believe it's my job as citizen.

So, whoever said that didn't know my father as well as I did.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Jerry, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

As we said, Jerry Falwell Jr. speaking out for the first time on television since his endorsement of Donald Trump.

And next, Wall Street showering candidates with cash, while the same candidates are bashing the banks. A special report you will see only OUTFRONT.

And does North Korea have the hydrogen bomb? What U.S. intelligence officials are saying for the first time tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Breaking news: Donald Trump going rogue. In a little more than an hour, he's going to skip the Republican debate for a sold out rally of his own -- an unprecedented move by a frontrunner who has been anything but unconventional.

[19:45:00] Trump's self-financing his campaign, something that cannot be said of his opponents. But why is Wall Street lining the pockets of some of the people running against him, people who constantly bad mouth the big banks?

Phil Mattingly has the story you'll see here only OUTFRONT.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the season for Wall Street bashing.

AD NARRATOR: He's taking on Wall Street and a corrupt political system that keeps in place a rigged economy.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going after everybody. They're going to know we can't put anybody at risk through their shenanigans and their manipulations and their abuses like they did before.

MATTINGLY: But Wall Street donors are not taking it personally. A review of federal campaign filings and interviews with more than a dozen financial executives and political fundraisers show that Wall Street donations are flowing in at record high levels, already giving more than the entire 2012 campaign. Most every candidate is on the receiving end of the donations, but some more than others.

Outside political action groups with no limits on donations driving the influx with checks of $1 million, $2 million, even $10 million from industry participants.

While Jeb Bush was expected to pull in big dollars, Ted Cruz is an unlikely favorite of the big banks -- a first-term senator with a reputation for bucking his party and Wall Street.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Would you bailout out the big banks again? Nobody gave you an answer to that. I'll give you an answer: Absolutely not.

Goldman is one of the biggest banks on Wall Street. And my criticism with Washington is they engage in crony capitalism.

MATTINGLY: Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi, on leave from her job at Goldman Sachs, says her husband anti-Wall Street at all.

HEIDI CRUZ, WIFE OF TED CRUZ: Ted doesn't have an anti-Wall Street sentiment. He has an anti-government support of the industry sentiment.

MATTINGLY: But that hasn't stopped Cruz's opponents, namely Donald Trump, from taking advantage of the issue. DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He doesn't want you to know

he borrowed from Goldman Sachs because let me tell you, Goldman Sachs has him.

MATTINGLY: And on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders making the same point about his number one rival.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My opponent is not in Iowa tonight. She is raising money from a Philadelphia investment firm.


Frankly, I would rather be here with you.


MATTINGLY: Clinton's defense against the Wall Street attacks --

CLINTON: I was a senator from New York. I took them on when I was a senator. I took on the carried interest loophole. I took on what was happening in the mortgage markets. I was talking about that in 2006.


BURNETT: Yet the banks keep doing it, Phil. They keep doing it.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's right, Erin. I think what you're looking at is a campaign financing system that's on steroids. For everybody I talked to in this piece, donors and fundraisers, they said flat out this is just the reality. Candidates need to raise tons of money, more than a billion dollars, Erin, in the 2012 campaign just to compete. The banks, the hedge fund guys, the private equity guys, they have that money and when they donate, they get to play.

Now, I asked about the bashing and most of them said, look, we've got thick skins, particularly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. We've just gotten used to being political punching bags.

But, Erin, there are some repercussions. Bernie Sanders has had more than 2 million donations to his campaign. I went through all of the donations he's been through, zero from anybody who worked at Goldman Sachs, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. So, it shows it can be done.

Phil Mattingly, thank you very much on the campaign trail.

All right. Donald Trump on his plane, as we said, talking to the press, doing an interview with CNN. We have some headlines coming out of what he is saying to reporters on the plane. Breaking news here, as we're starting to get it.

We're going to take a break. We're going to come right back. As we said, still on that plane getting ready to deplane, go to that sold out rally where thousands are awaiting his arrival. We'll be back in a just moment with the breaking news.


[19:52:46] BURNETT: Donald Trump is in Des Moines, Iowa. He is on his plane. He has been talking to the press. He is going to go to an event honoring veterans where he will announce the groups that are going to be receiving money from the event. No one was charged to go. So, we're going to find out a lot at the event. Thousands waiting all day to get inside, only 700 tickets.

He's on that plane and Maggie Haberman, our contributor here at CNN and also reporter for "The New York Times" tweeted out that Trump has said that he spoke to Roger Ailes, the head of FOX News, the one behind the offensive press release that Trump says was the reason he dumped out of the debate. He just spoke to Roger Ailes in the past 15 minutes. But still, Donald Trump is not going to do that debate.

Our executive editor for CNN Politics is with me with those lines and lines of thousands waiting for the Trump event.

That's a pretty significant development, Mark. Obviously, Trump is saying he's still not doing the debate, but the fact that they actually spoke.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, no doubt about that. in fact, Donald Trump said, what we understood, was not going to talk to Roger Ailes. He wanted to talk to his boss, Rupert Murdoch, if he were to come to the debate. It was clear when Donald Trump said he was going to hold this event for veterans he had to attend and do something about it.

As you noted, he's going to say what veterans groups are going to get the money. We still don't know who Donald Trump is going to give the money to and where that money is coming from and how much.

But as you said, Donald Trump now on the ground in Des Moines heading over to Drake University shortly. We'll see a crowd of about 700 people that will be inside that auditorium. As you noted earlier, as we showed, the line is stretching two or three blocks down the road and the university had to issue out a press release telling people, if you are in line there's a very good chance you are not going to get in. This event has been over-ticketed.

BURNETT: Over-ticketed. I mean, massively so. Thousands waiting as you've been talking to people in line -- thousands of them waiting, only 700 tickets. I know that there's going to be a big JumboTron near where you are, where people can watch. It is sub-zero. It's freezing out there, right, as you've been talking.

I guess the question is, are people angry that they can't get in or they're not angry? Is this just a big celebration? I mean, what's the mood?

PRESTON: You know, I don't think -- quite frankly, I don't think a lot of the people in line know that they're not going to get in yet. [19:55:00] I think there's still hope that they will be able to get in

there. You k now, they're not sure how many people have been already.

As we talked about, we've seen veterans who have been arriving here that have been escorted to the front, and they are being let in right now. But, clearly, people are going to be frustrated. Clearly people are going to be upset. The question is, how many will stick around in this really frigid weather right now to sit outside and watch this event on the JumboTron.

We'll know that, you know, shortly in a couple of hours.

BURNETT: And before you go, Mark, Barack Obama, president of the United States, is hosting a retreat with Democrats and just referenced Donald Trump. Let me just play quickly what he had to say a moment ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to strengthen our leadership around the world by allowing politicians to insult Muslims or pit groups of Americans against each other. That's not who we are. That's not keeping America safe.


BURNETT: It's amazing. The president of the United States now weighing in on a Republican candidate. Not even yet the nominee.

PRESTON: Right. You know, no further evidence when you have Barack Obama now talking about Donald Trump on the night when the Republican candidates are all supposed to be on stage together, Erin, debating one another.

Donald Trump now has sucked so much oxygen out of Iowa right now. He is controlling the narrative. Not only here in this state but throughout the country.

BURNETT: Mark Preston, thank you very much.

We'll be right back in a couple of moments as we await Donald Trump getting off that plane and the headlines from our CNN interview with Mr. Trump on board.


BURNETT: All right. Thank you so much for watching. It is time now for "AC360".