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Huckabee Joining Trump Tonight; Veterans' Event Tonight; Trump's Rival Event; GOP Rivals Rip Trump For Skipping Debate; Freed American Gets Emotional; Zika Virus Spreading; Freed Reporter Jason Rezaian Expresses Gratitude; Zika Virus Linked to Birth Defect. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 28, 2016 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's noon in Des Moines, Iowa. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, D.C., 4:00 p.m. in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We begin with breaking news. Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, has announced he will be joining Donald Trump at his event tonight for veterans. An event that directly competes with tonight's Republican presidential debate that Donald Trump is boycotting.

Governor Huckabee is joining us live from Des Moines, Iowa. Governor, thanks very much for joining us. You're taking part in this so-called undercard Republican presidential debate first, and then you plan on going over to Donald Trump's event for veterans. Tell us why you made that decision.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's to honor the troops. You know, it's not an endorsement of Donald Trump's candidacy. I'm still running for president. We've got the caucuses Monday night. But I'm delighted to join with Donald Trump in an effort to salute veterans.

And you know what? I didn't have anything going on at 8:00 tonight. I'll be done. So, I figured, why not? Let's show the veterans our support.

BLITZER: 8:00 central, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Was there a phone call from Donald Trump or one of his aides to you? Did you make the phone call to them? Walk us through how this decision came about.

HUCKABEE: Well, I didn't talk to him. I don't know if some of our folks maybe mentioned to him or their folks reached out to us. I know that there were some conversations over the past day or so. And, you know, we said we'd love to come and be part of an event that honors our veterans. They're some of the most under-appreciated, under- supported people in the country. And when we found out that Donald was going to be having an event for them, sure, we're ready to come and be part of that.

BLITZER: Are you worried, Governor, that attending this Trump event at the exact same time that the Republicans' presidential candidates are having their prime time debate that it could be seen as an affront to those Republican candidates on the main stage?

HUCKABEE: No, not at all. Because, you know, I'm not invited to the main stage. I would love to have been on that stage. I think I should have been on that stage. But, you know, I'm going to be on a stage earlier. You know, if they're not sitting out in the audience watching me, I don't feel any compulsion that I, you know, have to be there for that debate. And, quite frankly, as I say, I'm free at 8:00.

So, I offered, by the way, Wolf, I would take his podium at the 8:00 debate and, you know, that was rejected. So, I said, OK, well, I'll find something else to do at 8:00 and that's exactly what I've done.

BLITZER: What's your opinion, I guess that's the word. What's your opinion of Donald Trump's decision to boycott that main prime time Republican debate because of his ongoing feud with Fox News?

HUCKABEE: Well, look, I worked at Fox News six and a half years. Those are my friends. I love those folks. I love Megyn Kelly. So, I'm not going to get into the middle of whatever issue he has with them. It's not my issue. I don't have an issue with them. But I have an issue with veterans. I really feel like that these guys are getting hosed. And they're coming back with PTS, and they're waiting months, months to get treatment they deserve. Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. And every American out to be outraged over that.

So, if in some small way my going to that event will just give a little more interest and focus to the fact that this is an important part of what our country ought to be doing for vets, then I'm happy to stand with Donald Trump tonight on that.

You know, to be honest with you, I'm not sure that I would be willing to do this with every one of the Republican presidential candidates to go to one of their events but I'll do it with Donald Trump. I respect him. I like him. We've had a great relationship. And we're competitors in this race, but we're still colleagues towards some issues and veterans is one of them.

BLITZER: I was just reading a little item by David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. You know him. I know him. He's well plugged in with you, with Donald Trump. He's already speculating you as a possible vice presidential running mate if Donald Trump does get the Republican nomination. What do you think of that?

HUCKABEE: Well, gee, I thought you were going to ask me would I pick Donald Trump to be my running mate when I get the nomination. That's how that is supposed to be worded, Wolf. So, let's back that up and talk about would I name him?

BLITZER: Would you?

HUCKABEE: He's be on the list, sure. Look, as I say, I like him. I think he struck a nerve with a lot of people. We have different issues and different emphases. But, you know, when I'm looking at my options, if Donald Trump gets the nomination and he goes up against Hillary, you know, we're all with Trump. If he's against Bernie, we're with Trump. That's not a hard one. I've been saying all along that I'd go with Donald Trumps every day of the week, twice on Sunday, rather than any of the Democrats that are running against any of us Republicans.

[13:05:08] BLITZER: You seem to be more comfortable with Donald Trump, correct me if I am wrong, than Senator Ted Cruz. Is that right?

HUCKABEE: Well, you know, there are some positions Senator Cruz has taken that I can't figure out, because I feel like there are different ones he takes in Marshal Town, Iowa than ones he takes in Manhattan. And that's disconcerting to me. I want people to be straight up, stand up. I don't want them to change their view because of geography.

And I also worry that Ted Cruz's financing comes from the same corporate big business Goldman Sachs, Citibank hedge fund billionaire circle that gives us the politicians that we always have. And that's why the policies never change. We get the same kind of results whether it's Democrats or Republicans.

And I think there are a lot of Americans who need to understand that if you continually elect people who are essentially financed by the corporatists and by big business, you're going to have the same results every time. Doesn't matter what the speeches are, the political ads are. And I think there comes a time in this country where we need to fight for those folks standing on their feet all day working hard.

BLITZER: I'll take that as more in line with Donald Trump than Ted Cruz.

On the veterans' issue, which I know is very important to you, Trump has set up a Web site, Donald Trump, for, inviting people to donate. Do you -- have you checked into that? Do you know where that money is usually going to go, to which veterans' organizations?

HUCKABEE: I'm not sure. I will know by tonight. And I will be making a personal contribution to veterans' organizations to be part of the event. That wasn't something that was required of me. It's something that I would believe just the right thing to do because standing up for veterans is something we all should do as Americans.

BLITZER: One veterans' group says they want nothing to do with Trump's money or the event. And I'll read to you, this is an organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. They tweeted this. We need strong policies from candidates not to be used for political stunts. That's from Paul Rieckhoff, the head of that veterans' organization. Your reaction?

HUCKABEE: Yes, I haven't read it. I'm not familiar with the organization. And so, I would simply say, you know, to each his own. But I feel like it's a sincere effort on Donald Trump's part. He has been outspoken in his support for veterans as I have.

And, you know, I'm not going to question his integrity about making this (INAUDIBLE) all the money. Donald Trump doesn't need the money. I'm pretty sure he's not going to take a cut. I'm confident all the money will go to help veterans' organizations and ultimately to help veterans.

BLITZER: You sound like you're getting closer and closer to actually endorsing Donald Trump. But I know you're not ready to do that yet. You're still in the contest Monday night. How well do you have to do in the Iowa caucuses? Eight years ago, you won the Iowa caucuses. How well do you have to do this time in order to keep on going in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond?

HUCKABEE: You know, Wolf, sometimes you'll say there are three tickets out. But it really has to do with where people place. If first place is 20 points ahead of second and that's 20 points ahead of third, it may be there are only two tickets. But if first, second and third and fifth place even are within 10 points of each other, you know, there could be five or six tickets out of Iowa.

So, it has more to do with who sort of exceeds expectations. And I know a lot of people feel like Ted Cruz is going to win. That's what the pundits seem to say. So, if somebody gets close to him or beats him, I think people have as much to lose as they have to gain in the Iowa caucus.

And we never know. Iowa people don't typically take their voting instructions from the pundits on the east coast. And every four years, they come out and surprise people and they vote in ways that nobody was looking for. That's what we're still hoping for on Monday.

BLITZER: And one final question before I let you go, just to be precise. On the issue of the two front runners, at least according to polls in Iowa, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, is Ted Cruz -- he was born in Canada. But do you believe he is a natural-born citizen eligible to run for president?

HUCKABEE: I mean, the honest answer is, I don't know. I think that there are legitimate questions that have been raised, not by people like me because I'm not a constitutional scholar. But people who are legitimate constitutional scholars have raised this as a legitimate issue. And, look, for his sake, it needs to be settled.

But the one thing I know is having been born in Hope, Arkansas, it is absolutely with certainty that I tell you that we've already established that a person can be born in Hope, Arkansas and serve as president. So, that much we're clear about.

BLITZER: Well, Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas. A lot of our viewers will remember that as well. And I assume you believe in a place called Hope as well.

[13:10:05] And, Governor -- the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. Thanks very much for joining us.

HUCKABEE: My pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN Political Commentators, Democratic strategist Donna Brazil, Republican, S.E. Cupp. S.E., what do you think? Your reaction to the decision by Governor Huckabee to actually forego watching even the prime time Republican debate, instead heading over to Donald Trump's veterans' event.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let me say, I know Governor Huckabee a long time. I love Governor Huckabee. And I do not question nor should anyone question his sincerity when he talks about caring about the troops.

In addition to that, though, there's a lot going on right now. Governor Huckabee is not on the main stage. So, as you said, he's got nothing to do at 8:00. There is no loss for him by going over to Trump's event which will get some of the share of viewers from the Fox debate. He'll get on television. And that's good for governor Huckabee.

Let's also not forget that Governor Huckabee and Ted Cruz are running for the same kinds of voters in Iowa. So, any time Governor Huckabee can contrast with Ted Cruz or put himself on the opposite side of any issue or any moment as Ted Cruz, that's good for Governor Huckabee. He's right that Ted Cruz has changed his mind on a lot of things. I find it very suspicious that suddenly, since this race, Ted Cruz is like the same old-same old politician. I don't think anyone would have called him that just less than a year ago.

But I think this is more about Governor Huckabee positioning himself against Ted Cruz and eating into some of the spotlight that he otherwise can't really get right now.

BLITZER: Donna, what do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, it's a new bromance so I'm very excited to see the Republicans have found a new couple. But, look, the truth is without Donald Trump being on the main stage tonight, the other candidates will finally have an opportunity to get their message across and perhaps be the center of attention. This is a key moment for our caucus voters, and they are known to throw banana peels in front of the -- in the path of the front runners.

So, I think it's a mistake for Donald Trump. Maybe this is another unconventional rule that he's trying to establish. But, truly, the veterans deserve a lot of praise, a lot of support, a lot of resources. I don't know if Donald Trump new-found love for veterans will last, but clearly he's going to make a contrast tonight with the other guys who are on the stage.

BLITZER: Clearly, not Governor Huckabee but some other rivals are really ripping into Donald Trump's decision --

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: -- to not attend the Republican debate. I want you to listen to some of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he's very much afraid of questions about his bankruptcies. Maybe afraid about the fact that he's actually never voted in a Republican presidential primary.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Apparently, Mr. Trump considers Megyn Kelly very, very scary.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not a show. This is serious. We cannot lose this election. We have to turn this country around now. We cannot wait --


BLITZER: So, S.E., is that a little preview of what we might be hearing tonight at that Republican debate?

CUPP: I sure hope so. I mean, just because Trump isn't there, I still hope that the Republican candidates, in addition to, you're right, finally getting to talk substantively about their policy differences, do take shots at Trump. I mean, the whole idea that Trump is a victim in this is so preposterous, and frankly, it's so against brand. I mean, his whole modus operandi is to be, I am the tough talker.


CUPP: I am the one who's not going to back down from a fight. Everyone else, they're soft. They're too nice.


CUPP: And he's crawling away from this Fox debate because Megyn Kelly hurt his feelings. I just think it looks really petulant and childish. And I hope every candidate on stage tonight says just that.

BLITZER: But it wasn't just Megyn Kelly.


BLITZER: It was a statement or a few statements that Fox News put out public relations wise really demeaning Donald Trump.

BRAZILE: Well, why don't -- he -- normally, he says, stupid, how stupid people are, how stupid the press release. I'm surprised he's decided -- that he's decided not to show up. Wolf, as you well know, there are a lot of undecided voters that could go either way in the closing days.

CUPP: 40 percent in Iowa.

BRAZILE: And the closing days of --

CUPP: Right.

BRAZILE: -- the campaign, to avoid, what, a Fox News debate? Well, at CNN, I wouldn't have avoided that either. But to avoid it at a time people are making up their minds, I think is a risky strategy.

But, look, the other candidates should take advantage of the moment --

CUPP: Yes.

BRAZILE: -- that Donald Trump will be not sucking up all of the oxygen, so to speak.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, S.E. Cupp, guys, thanks very much. We'll watch all of that later tonight.

Up next, a very different story we're following. The "Washington Post" reporter, Jason Rezaian. He gets emotional in his first comments after being released by Iran. You're going to hear what he had to say.

Also, the Zika virus spreading now in nearly two dozen countries. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is devising a plan to fight the virus. Stay with us.



[13:19:14] BLITZER: The "Washington Post" reporter Jason Rezaian spoke publicly today for the first time since his release from an Iranian prison earlier in the month. An emotional Rezaian joined "Post" executives and Secretary of State John Kerry at the "Post" grand opening of its new headquarters here in Washington, D.C. Rezaian briefly described his time in an Iranian prison before thanking those who worked for his release.


JASON REZAIAN, FREED FROM IRANIAN PRISON: I'm honored to be a part of this ceremony marking the next chapter in the history of "The Washington Post." For much of the 18 months I was in prison, my Iranian interrogators told me that "The Washington Post" did not exist, that no one knew of my plight, and that the United States government would not lift a finger for my release. Today I'm here in this room with the very people who helped prove the Iranians wrong in so many ways. Each day since my release, I learned more about the efforts to gain our freedom, which began the moment Yegi and I were taken from our home and continue on in support of our reintroduction into the world. There are so many people to thank.


[13:20:30] BLITZER: Very emotional.

Joining us now, our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

You're there at "The Washington Post," the new building. Jim, the first insight we're really getting from Jason Rezaian. We're thrilled he is out. And he spoke about his treatment. He spoke a little bit more about his treatment in Iran.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you heard him there saying that his captors did their best to remove any hope, saying to him that "The Washington Post" didn't exist anymore, that the U.S. government wasn't doing anything to gain his freedom, which, of course, we know is not true, but he inside that prison in (INAUDIBLE), often in solitary confinement, did not. This is a very powerful method of psychological torture in effect that I've heard Iran used with other captors, as well. We heard this from Amir Hekmati, him being told the same.

And the pride, you heard Jason expressing that pride as he was on this podium here saying that, in fact, I know that you were fighting for me. And that borne out, of course, as we see him come out today. These his first words since he was freed from Iran. But him also doing his best -- you saw him, to even poke a little fun at it with a sense of humor. As he stood in front of the crowd here he said that this is, of course, the first time I've been in front of a crowd in a while. Something of a reference to his solitary confinement. Of course, a very painful time, physically and mentally taxing, but doing his best to put a smile on.

It was a happy moment here, but as you saw there, Wolf, an emotional one too. And he wasn't the only one fighting back tears. Secretary of State John Kerry on stage, he had a couple moments as well fighting back those tears.

BLITZER: He got emotional at one point, didn't he?

SCIUTTO: He did, no question. And he's a veteran, of course. We know that. John Kerry, a Vietnam, a decorated veteran. And he described it in those terms, saying that just like in the military, you don't leave any soldier behind, as America, this country doesn't leave an American behind. Here's how the secretary of state put it.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Obviously, this is particularly sweet for everybody now that Jason is home. In the military, as you all know, and in other dangerous calling, the most sacred pledge that you can make is to never leave a buddy behind. Like most pledges, it's a lot easier to say than to do.


SCIUTTO: Secretary of State John Kerry also gave some details about those final hours in Iran. You and I have talked about it, Wolf. CNN's reported it. That that plane was meant to take off on Saturday, a week ago, but then they had this 12-hour period which the secretary described as nerve-racking when they couldn't find Jason's wife, Yegi, or his mother. We learned later that they were being held by the Iranian military, the Revolutionary Guards, in another part of the airport. They didn't want them to go. Secretary of State John Kerry, I believe this is the first time we've heard a U.S. official say this, that he was only told that by the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who called him and said, we can't find Yegi and Mary, Jason's mother. Of course finally they did with some last-minute maneuvering. Another 12 hours, that plane took off. But even up to the final moment, no one involved was sure that this was going to end as it did. And, thankfully, it was a happy ending, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's why the president of the United States waited until that Sunday to address the American people. He didn't want to speak while that plane -- that Swiss plane -- was still on the ground in Tehran. Well, we're thrilled that Jason Rezaian and his family, they are out -- out of Iran. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Up next, an explosive outbreak of a dangerous virus now as a health official is issuing new warnings. We're going to find out what they're saying about the spread. Stay with us.


[13:28:23] BLITZER: The Zika virus is spreading explosively across the Americas, according to the World Health Organization. Twenty-three countries and territories are now on high alert for the potentially deadly virus. Transmitted by mosquitoes, it's blamed for a sometimes crippling birth defect. Some doctors are even going so far as to tell women to postpone getting pregnant. CNN's Shasta Darlington spoke to the mother of one of the 4,000 babies affected across Brazil.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was so excited, but the birth of her second child left Rafaela Oilveira more alone than she could have imagined. At three months, Luis Phillippe (ph) has a big appetite, just like her first baby, but he was born with a small head and brain damage, microcephaly.

"People here react like he's got some contagious disease," she says. "People look at him when they're in the street."

There was no warning. Doctors only detected the disorder after Luis Phillippe was born.

"What gives me strength is the love I feel for him," she says.

Luis Phillippe will need to be cared for his entire life.

DARLINGTON (on camera): So she's doing this three times a week right now, taking her son to physical therapy, and yet she goes back to work in March. It's not clear how she's going to do this. And she's the only person in her family who has a job.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Here, in the state of Farnamoko (ph), we've seen the heartache and the financial burden this is putting on families. More than 4,000 cases of newborn microcephaly have been reported in Brazil since Zika was detected less than a year ago. A third of them are here, where babies and moms face endless jabs and tests.

[13:30:10] Dr. Angela Hosha (ph), one of the first to make the link between Zika and microcephaly.