Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: 'I'm Glad I Wasn't at the Debate'; Ted Cruz Under Siege in Iowa; State Department Withholding Top Secret Clinton E-Mails; Clinton, Sanders Deadlocked with Three Days to Go in Iowa; Airport Mechanic May Have Placed Bomb on Russian Jet; North Korean Rocket Launch May Be Imminent; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 29, 2016 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: ... but Omalu is confident Simpson suffers from the disease and that its effects could have played a role in the football player's actions that fateful night.

[17:00:09] Don't forget to tune in this Sunday at 9 a.m. for "STATE OF THE UNION." I'll be in Iowa here, talking to Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders, and Marco Rubio and maybe some others.

That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, trumping FOX. Donald Trump declares victory, saying he's glad he did his benefit for veterans and skipped the Republican presidential debate. So who was the biggest winner and loser on the debate stage? Can any of them stop Trump? I'll talk with a key official from his campaign.

Top secret. The State Department drops a new bombshell about Hillary Clinton's e-mail. Her campaign immediately starts doing damage control, calling it over-classification run amuck. How will the news, though, impact her momentum just three days before the Iowa caucuses?

Inside job. Tonight we're seeing new information about how a bomb may have gotten on a Russian passenger jet that was blown out of the sky over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Could a mechanic for another airline have had something to do with it and why is Egypt issuing denials?

And nuclear moves. We have new details about North Korea's apparent preparations for a rocket test. U.S. officials say it could be imminent. Is this just a screen to mask Kim Jong-un's quest to have a ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. with nuclear warheads?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight we're using the full resources of CNN to follow the presidential candidates as they head into a weekend of nonstop campaigning just before the Iowa caucuses.

Donald Trump says he's glad he skipped last night's debate on FOX News. He's pointed to the ratings as proof he was right. Is Trump's big gamble going to pay off, though, with Iowa voters, or will it backfire and help Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio? The Trump campaign's national spokeswoman is standing by to take our questions.

Also, new information emerging about the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner that killed 224 passengers and crew members. Reuters now reports suspicion is falling on several people, including an airline mechanic whose cousin joined ISIS. We're looking into that report, which Egyptian officials already are denying.

Our corporates, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of all the day's top stories. Let's start with the race for the Republican presidential nomination. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in Des Moines for us with the latest -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight Ted Cruz finding himself on the defense, having to respond to repeated questions today about missed opportunities in the debate. Ted Cruz facing this onslaught at exactly the same time that he needs to make his final pitch to Iowa voters.


SERFATY (voice-over): A dueling split screen with a clear result. This was the image Iowa voters woke up to today.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did the right thing. I did the right thing.

SERFATY: Donald Trump rejoicing in Ted Cruz's tough night.

TRUMP: Cruz is in second place. He got really pummeled last night. Actually, I'm glad I wasn't there, because I guess -- well, he got pummeled.

SERFATY: And intensifying his attacks on Cruz over his eligibility to be president.

TRUMP: Ted Cruz may not be a U.S. citizen, right? But he's an anchor baby. No, he's an anchor baby. Ted Cruz is an anchor baby in Canada.

SERFATY: The Cruz campaign hitting back, saying, quote, "The only anchor here is the one being dragged behind the S.S. New York Values."

And on the trail today in Iowa...

CRUZ: Now, next week he may have a different position, but that's the position today.

SERFATY: Trump's big gamble, boycotting the debate, seems to have caused him no harm so far. FOX scored the second lowest ratings of any debate this season. Trump's counter-programming event stealing attention and energy.

TRUMP: You have to fight for yourself, and you have to fight for your country. And a lot of people are saying, "I really respect Trump, because he took on the establishment," which in this case is FOX.

SERFATY: And by skipping the debate, Trump avoided taking any hits, coming out unscathed. In Trump's absence, Cruz took center stage and tried to make light of it.

CRUZ: I'm a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon. Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way...

SERFATY: As the de facto front-runner, he became the top target of the moderators and his rivals on stage.

CRUZ: Gosh, if you guys say -- ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.

SERFATY: Facing attacks from all directions.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted, you worked for George W. Bush's campaigns. You helped design George W. Bush's -- you helped design George W. Bush's immigration policy.

SERFATY: Getting hammered by both Marco Rubio and Rand Paul on his immigration views.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is the king of saying, "Oh, you're for amnesty." Everybody is for amnesty except for Ted Cruz. But it's a falseness. And that's an authenticity problem.

[17:05:08] SERFATY: An argument trying to cut into the very core of Cruz's candidacy.

RUBIO: This is the lie that Ted's campaign is built on, and Rand touched upon it. That he's the most conservative guy, and everyone else is a -- you know, everyone else is a RINO.


SERFATY: And Cruz today on the trail really recalibrated his message a bit, really started to sharpen his attacks, much more so on Rubio's record. This reflects the feeling right now inside the Cruz campaign that they are growing increasingly nervous, Wolf, about Rubio's challenge.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much. Donald Trump's decision to skip last night's presidential debate turned Senator Ted Cruz into the Republican candidates' main target. That was clear.

Let's get some more on the fallout from our political reporter, Sara Murray.

So what's Cruz telling Iowa voters today on all of this, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think, you know, what Sunlen was getting at is absolutely right. I think we're seeing Ted Cruz try to go back on offense today. He's really been shrugging off the negative media coverage he's been getting and saying he wants to talk right to Iowa voters. And today that meant casting Donald Trump as a guy who would say anything to get elected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not to be offensive, I'll stand a little bit over here so I'm not photographed with the Trump sign.

CRUZ: When you come to Iowa and propose, as Donald Trump did, "Let's expand the ethanol mandate. Now next week he may have a different position, but that's the position today.


MURRAY: Now, ethanol has been kind of a tricky issue for Ted Cruz, of course as you know. You can see him trying to turn it around on Donald Trump, saying we don't really know what this guy stands for. And I think we're going to be hearing a lot more of that from Ted Cruz and his staffers as we hit these last couple of days before the caucuses, Wolf.

BLITZER: So basically from the Ted Cruz campaign, Sara, are they acknowledging that it was a tough night for them last night?

MURRAY: No. I think the surrogates that they are putting out right now publicly are saying it was a great night for Ted Cruz. They're touting how much money they have raised. They're touting -- talking to Iowans who are moving over from Trump's campaign to Cruz's.

But the interesting thing is, is when we've sent our CNN embeds who are all over Iowa today talking to Iowa voters, most of them say, "Yes, like, maybe Donald Trump should have been on that debate stage, but we don't really think it will hurt him."

So you're really seeing two very different campaigns here. Ted Cruz is running a very traditional Iowa campaign, trying to convince evangelical voters that he is authentic and they should turn out for him.

And Donald Trump is doing something we've never seen before, which are these big rallies and these really untraditional, unorthodox supporters. And so in just a couple of days we'll see which one of those wins out.

BLITZER: We'll see Monday night. Won't be long from now. Sara, thanks very much.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Trump campaign national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, thanks very much for joining us. As you know, Donald Trump says he's glad he wasn't there last night on the debate stage. He says Cruz got pummeled. Was not showing up on the debate stage a strategic move by Donald Trump to avoid what, obviously, from the FOX moderators, were going to be very tough questions?


You know, I've got to say that this was not calculated. I mean, obviously, we've all figured out that FOX News targeted Mr. Trump in a press release that was very upsetting not just to Mr. Trump, his campaign but also to the supporters, which is 40 percent of the Republican primary voters today. And as Mr. Trump said in his own words, "Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself."

BLITZER: No regrets today. He's convinced he did the right thing, right?

PIERSON: He absolutely did the right thing. There was an amazing event last night with veterans and Iowans that came out in the cold to weather that storm, and it was a really great event, very emotional night. And Mr. Trump is very proud today.

BLITZER: What did he mean, Donald Trump today, when he called Senator Ted Cruz an anchor baby in Canada?

PIERSON: Well, he's always been talking about Senator Cruz being born in Canada, and then forgetting the fact that he was a Canadian citizen when he ran for Senate. So it's just a reminder, because Senator Cruz is out there slamming Donald Trump; and Donald Trump is responding in kind.

BLITZER: And just on that whole issue, and he's increasingly talking about the Canadian birth, obviously.

As you know, Katrina, the State Department just a couple hours or so ago said they won't be releasing 22 documents from Hillary Clinton's e-mails, because they're upgrading them now to top secret. The Hillary campaign calls this over-classification run amuck. Has Mr. Trump responded to this as of the last few hours?

PIERSON: Well, Mr. Trump has been saying the same thing with regards to Hillary Clinton and the corruption and how she should be in jail. He always compares this to how General Petraeus was treated and how others have been, you know, imprisoned for far less.

So we're going to have to see what the FBI ends up doing with Mrs. Clinton, but this is also one of the reasons that Bernie Sanders is resonating. Because young people don't like corruption either. And it's showing now that Mrs. Clinton the truth about the information on her personal server.

[17:10:06] BLITZER: General Petraeus never went to jail. He was convicted.

PIERSON: Others.

BLITZER: He pleaded guilty. But you're saying that Hillary Clinton belongs in jail? Is that what you're saying?

PIERSON: Well, what I'm saying is if it is true, and she did have top secret information on her server and then lied about it, then, yes, she should probably be in jail.

BLITZER: What is Donald Trump going to do with the $6 million he says he raised for veterans last night? Which veterans groups specifically are going to get that money?

PIERSON: I'm so glad you asked the question. There's actually a list now on the website, There's 22 organizations that have been identified that will be receiving the $6 million.

BLITZER: Because as you know, at least one or two of the veterans groups say they don't want his money. They feel he's being -- that these veterans groups are being used for political purposes by Donald Trump. What do you say to those veterans groups?

PIERSON: Well, I think those veteran groups are entitled to their opinion. Any time Donald Trump does anything good or bad, there's always detractors. Some of these groups are funded by George Soros as well so we're not surprised to hear that. There are veterans groups who are very happy to receive a lot of these funds. A lot of them are a lot smaller organizations that can get that out to help veterans.

BLITZER: At the veterans event that he hosted last night, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, the respective winners of the Iowa caucuses four and eight years ago, they were there in attendance. Does Mr. Trump see that as sort of an unofficial endorsement?

PIERSON: No, not at all. Again, this simply was to do a benefit for veterans. And I am very happy that Senator Santorum and Governor Huckabee joined. They have met many of these veterans before, having campaigned across this state, so I think it was very important to show solidarity among the Republican party. Mr. Trump was able to bring some folks together and have a really good night for veterans.

BLITZER: Katrina, I want you to stand by. We have more information coming in. We'll get your reaction to the latest, including Hillary Clinton. She's increasingly getting more vocal in her condemnation of some of the things that Donald Trump has been saying.

Much more with Katrina Pierson when we come back.


BLITZER: Donald Trump says -- and I'm quoting now -- "We have a big day coming up." The Iowa caucuses are Monday night. But Trump made that prediction this morning in New Hampshire which holds its own primary on February 9.

We're talking with the Trump campaign national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, I spoke with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, yesterday. She's increasingly getting more, let's say, tougher on Donald Trump right now. She's complaining about what she calls the kinds of insulting remarks he makes about groups of people in the United States right now. What's your response to Hillary Clinton?

PIERSON: Well, I think that Mrs. Clinton's attacks on Mr. Trump really shows that she believes that that's who she's going to be facing in November, pending she becomes the Democrat nominee. Even her super PAC will turn their fire on Mr. Trump, as well.

But I think you'll find across the nation that a lot of people are really upset with the way things have gone, not just in the economy but with regard to border security and illegal immigration. We have a war going on with radical Islamic extremists, and Hillary Clinton doesn't want to talk about that. But Americans care about that, so we're looking forward to taking that fight in the general.

BLITZER: Do you think he wants to revise his comments about not allowing Muslims to come into the United States, at least on a temporary basis?

PIERSON: Well, it was Muslim immigration, not all Muslims or American Muslims for that matter. But this is at a time where we have the FBI even telling us that we cannot properly vet individuals coming into the country from those nations. And so we have to put American citizens and their families first. And it may not be the politically correct thing to say, but it's the right thing to say.

BLITZER: Why was he in New Hampshire today instead of campaigning in Iowa, only three days away from the caucuses?

PIERSON: Well, he has one event in New Hampshire today and then he's coming back to Iowa. He's got three events tomorrow, events Sunday and Monday. Mr. Trump has been all over this country, because he's taking this race very seriously.

BLITZER: One final question, Katrina, before I let you go. He said today, and I'm quoting him, "I don't have to campaign anymore. I'm wasting my time." What does that mean?

PIERSON: He was probably joking, Wolf. I mean, we know Mr. Trump is always out there talking to his friends that he considers as his supporters and he says things like that all the time. Mr. Trump is having fun. His supporters are having fun for a change.

The Republican Party dynamics have changed since Mr. Trump has been in this race. The base is finally being brought in. We finally have a candidate that's not beholden to special interests, which means we can finally get things done in D.C.

BLITZER: Katrina Pierson is the national spokeswoman for the Donald Trump campaign. Katrina, thanks very much for joining us.

PIERSON: Great to be here. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So only three days to go until the Iowa caucuses. There's a lot to keep up with.

Let's bring in our CNN Politics executive editor, Mark Preston; our CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp; and CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.

Gloria, first of all, the FOX war with Trump. And he has said he's made peace with them, although he refused to go to the debate. Who won that war?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: In the end, I think Trump may have dodged a really big, fat bullet at this debate last night. When you saw those video clips that were run against Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, showing how they had evolved, so to speak, on certain issues, can you imagine the video clip that they would have used against Donald Trump?

And I presume they had one ready to go on health care, where he had supported Obamacare, abortion and even whether Hillary Clinton was a good secretary of state, because then they would have put him on the spot, just like they put Cruz on the spot and Rubio on the spot. And I think it would have been a tough position.

BLITZER: Some people say he's a brilliant politician. He suspected they were going to gang up on him, if you will, so he found an excuse not to show up.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And by moving out of the way, guess who he left open to all the incoming, Ted Cruz. I mean, Ted Cruz on the cover of the "Des Moines Register," it was "Ted Cruz had a rough night" and then a small picture of Donald Trump and sort of a story about his event with veterans.

I thought this was a brilliant master stroke from him. These voters in Iowa are going to get all sorts of data points going forward about Donald Trump. There will be commercials and all that stuff, but I think it was brilliant.

BLITZER: S.E., I'd like you to listen to this. This is Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. They called out Ted Cruz's character. Listen to this.


PAUL: He can't have it both ways. But what is particularly insulting, though, is that he is the king of saying, "Oh, you're for amnesty." Everybody is for amnesty except for Ted Cruz. But it's a falseness. And that's an authenticity problem, that everybody he knows is not as perfect as him because we're all for amnesty.


CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CUPP: Expect a lot of that. You know, especially if Ted Cruz continues to surge, if he does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, expect a lot of those very personal barbs coming his way from people who have had to work with him.

Look, I mean, you could say that he came in in 2012 and did exactly what he promised his constituents he would do. Kept his word. He, you know, wanted to shut down the government, he wanted to shut down Obamacare, and he did it. But I think if you were a senator working across from Ted Cruz, you

found him to be very difficult. So when you have that kind of reputation, I expect a lot more of that if he becomes, you know, the front-runner.

BORGER: But Rubio called him a liar last night. He said, "You'll say or do anything to get elected." It doesn't get worse than that.

CUPP: On immigration, no one on that stage's hands are clean. I mean, immigration is...

BLITZER: From the Republican...

CUPP: From the Republican side, it's a tough issue. A lot of them have changed positions. And if they haven't, they have held completely untenable positions that are out of line with either the Republican base or the rest of the country. So every single one of them had a problem with immigration.

CUPP: And Jeb Bush was the only one to say, "You know, listen, this view might not be popular to conservatives," but he's embracing his fans.

BLITZER: At one point he was for citizenship, now just legalization. You know, Mark, Marco Rubio had a key phrase he used last night. Listen to this.


RUBIO: When I'm president, we are going to reorganize our intelligence capabilities. When I'm president, unlike Barack Obama, we will keep this country safe.

When I'm president, we are rebuilding the U.S. military.

When I am the president of the United States of America, we don't know who you are and we don't know why you're trying to come to the United States, you are not going to get in.

When I'm president, we are keeping ISIS out of America.

When I am president of the United States of America, there will never be any cap and trade in the United States.

When I'm president, I can tell you this: my faith will not just influence the way I'll govern as president; it will influence the way I live my life.


BLITZER: He's obviously trying to drive home a point here. Explain his motivation.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: What was the point he was trying to make there, Wolf? No, look, Donald Trump has had an incredible amount of influence over

this campaign. Probably the most important, though, is that Donald Trump has never backed down from anything he has said, and all he has shown is confidence.

And what we saw last night from Marco Rubio, who has been criticized now for not being as forceful, as not being as outright as he should be on the campaign trail. And last night what we saw in that debate is that that is what Marco Rubio was trying to do. "When I am president, when I am president, when I am president." We haven't heard him say that before. Quite frankly, we haven't heard that from the other candidates.

On the other side, we have heard that from Donald Trump. Donald Trump has shown his confidence that in many ways has been the fuel that has really driven his candidacy to this point. Marco Rubio trying to take a little bit of that away from him.

BLITZER: What did you think of Marco Rubio's performance?

HENDERSON: I think Marco Rubio is a one-term senator who's 44. He looks very boyish. He looks much younger, for instance, than Ted Cruz, even though they're only five months apart. And so I think this is him trying to conjure in voters' minds the idea of him in the Oval Office. Conjure in voters' minds the image of him as president.

He knows that when you talk to voters, sometimes they say, "Listen, we like Marco Rubio," but they feel like maybe he's not ready. So I think it's him really trying to pass the gravitas of commander in chief.

CUPP: But you know what's so fascinating is you never hear Hillary Clinton say that. She's very careful. She says, "If I have the honor..."

BORGER: She's a woman.

CUPP: No, because she cannot seem entitled. She cannot seem like it's a coronation. So she's very careful to say, "If I have the pleasure of getting the honor, of getting your vote and becoming president," whereas Marco Rubio, this is why he's such a good contrast to her. He can summon all of that -- that energy, that not arrogance but that sort of confidence.

BORGER: Well, you know, and the rap...

CUPP: That she can't.

BORGER: The rap on Rubio is that he hasn't waited his turn, right? Jeb Bush thought, "OK, sit this one out. This is my turn." And Marco Rubio says...

CUPP: That's why he's not doing so well, though.

BORGER: No, no, no. And so what he's saying now is, "OK, when I am president and I decided not to wait, so look at me now." BLITZER: Eight years ago there was another freshman senator who was

in his mid-40s who supposedly was not waiting for his turn either and became president of the United States, twice elected president of the United States. All right, guys, stand by. There are new developments involving

Hillary Clinton's campaign. We're going to update you on that. Stay with us.


[17:30:25] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following some breaking news in the controversy over Hillary Clinton's e-mail account from her time as secretary of state. The State Department today announcing that 22 of those e-mails will not be released because they contain top secret information.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has got the details on this breaking story. What are you learning, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is what we know right now. Seven e-mail chains, adding up to 37 pages of e-mails that were upgraded to top secret at the request of the intelligence community. This is what the State Department says.

Keep in mind top secret the highest classification level. So far to this point this hasn't happened before. Other e-mails that have been talked about having classified information, they were at lower classification levels. This is the first time at the top secret level.

Now the State Department says these e-mails were not marked as classified information, that's a key distinction, but it's still an open question as to whether the information contained in those e-mails was indeed classified at the time that it was sent.

Here's how the State Department John Kirby answered the question as to how the decision was made to upgrade these to the top secret level.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You guys were prepared to release it until the intel community came in and said, hey, wait a second?

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: No, I wouldn't say -- I wouldn't say that, Matt. As I said, we had an ongoing discussion about this traffic with them. At their request we have decided to make this upgraded. It's a State Department decision, we're doing it, but we're doing it at the request of the intelligence community.


SCIUTTO: So the intelligence community made the request, the State Department in effect cooperating with the request. But this is a very key issue here, Wolf, because to this point you heard from Hillary Clinton, from her surrogates saying that a lot of this was retroactively done. They had no idea that it was classified or would be classified at the time it was sent. But the State Department says that's still an open question with some of this information as to whether it was classified information at the time that it was sent. It has its own separate investigation under way to determine the answer to that question and that investigation has already started.

BLITZER: Jim, what is the Clinton campaign saying about all of this?

SCIUTTO: Well, their reaction was extremely quick, Wolf. I mean it felt like it was within seconds of the State Department announcement. But a very strong response from the State Department saying, one, we still believe that these e-mails should be released. Hillary Clinton still believes they should be. And then this in even stronger terms. Hillary Clinton campaign saying that this appears to be over- classification run amok. We will pursue all appropriate avenues to see that her e-mails are released in a manner consistent with her call last year.

This has also been a criticism you've heard from the Clinton camp. Listen, a lot of this stuff isn't really state secrets. They brought up the example of some of these e-mails relating to a "New York Times" article, something obviously in the public domain. But to be clear here, there are still open questions, Wolf, one of which as to whether information contained in these e-mails was indeed classified, whether it was marked or not at the time it was sent. That's still an open question, still something that the State Department is looking into.

BLITZER: Yes. The last thing Hillary Clinton needs now only days before the Iowa caucuses.

All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Gloria, I'm going to speak soon with Brian Fallon, the spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign. We'll go in depth and get his analysis, his reaction to all of this. But it's awkward, to put it mildly, coming only three days before the Iowa caucuses.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's very awkward but let me make this clear. The Democrats don't care. The people who vote in Democratic primaries trust Hillary Clinton by 2-1. This is not a huge problem for her among Democrats.

Do they trust Bernie Sanders a little bit more? Maybe. I just spoke with a senior Sanders adviser. I asked him, are you going to raise those damn e-mails? Is that going to become an issue for you? He said no. So Sanders is not going to take her on.

In a general should she become the nominee, absolutely. Does it give Republicans who are running now an opportunity to talk about how she's going to get indicted and all the rest? Of course. Is this an awkward moment? You bet. But Democratic primary goers don't really care.

BLITZER: Well, Mark Preston, you're out there in Iowa right now. It's very close and the polls show it will be close in Iowa between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. This potentially could affect some of those undecided Democrats. MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, I think as

Gloria said, that the Democratic Party has basically moved on from the e-mail issue. They see this as a witch hunt against Hillary Clinton. And as Gloria says, if Bernie Sanders doesn't raise it, if we don't see a television ad, if there isn't doubt casted by her chief opponent, then I don't know if it's really going to have any effect, if at all, on Hillary Clinton.

[17:35:00] But to the point of the general election, we are going to see the Marco Rubios of the world, the Ted Cruzes of the world, the Donald Trumps of the world, make hay out of this. But what I really think we should be looking at, Wolf, is what is Congress going to do. What are the investigative committees that are run by the Republicans in the Senate and the House, are they now going to re-up their investigations and try to go after Hillary Clinton a little bit more? That is what could be problematic for Hillary Clinton. If she gets pulled before another committee hearing. She did very well the last time but who knows what's going to happen in the future, certainly if she's the nominee.

BLITZER: Yes. Very quickly, S.E., your thought?

S.E. CUP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, you don't have to think anything nefarious was going on or you don't have to think that she -- you know, intentionally hid this, but you can, I think, make the case, and I'm sure Republicans will in a general, that this was very bad judgment for all of these reasons.

BORGER: Yes. Right.

CUPP: For all of these reasons. Politically bad judgment, because this was sensitive information, classification aside, bad judgment. And I think Republicans would be wise to hammer that point and not overreach for the more -- you know, stronger language.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And in Iowa, Marco Rubio is essentially running an ad that says that about Hillary Clinton, this idea of judgment, it's basically cut from something that he said in a debate so this will be out there going into Iowa.

CUPP: Sure.


CUPP: For sure.

BLITZER: Once again, we're going to speak for the spokesman for the Clinton campaign.

BORGER: Overreach?

CUPP: Never.


BLITZER: . That's coming up. We'll get his reaction as well.

Also coming up, we have more on the deadlocked race for the Democratic presidential nomination. We're going back live to Iowa for an update.

Plus, a new report makes a stunning claim about a passenger jet that exploded over the Egyptian desert. Was an airport mechanic able to plant a bomb onboard?


[17:41:13] BLITZER: The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is just three days away from its first big test, the Iowa caucuses. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they're storming the state today making their final pitches to potential supporters.

Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is following the campaign for us. She's joining us live from Des Moines.

Brianna, what's the latest?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some reaction from the Clinton campaign about this news that some of her e- mails from the time that she was at the State Department are so highly classified they will not be released at all. A campaign spokesperson saying this is a case of over-classification, plain and simple, but certainly this isn't ideal for the Clinton campaign as they make the final push, along with Bernie Sanders, into the Iowa caucuses.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I know how to get that done.

KEILAR (voice-over): A mad dash around the Hawkeye State just three days before Iowans pick their candidates.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's going to be a very, very close election. It will depend on voter turnout. If we win, it will indicate that this country is ready for real significant change.

KEILAR: Emotions are starting to show on the campaign trail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband had a heart attack. Ten years later, he had cancer.

CLINTON: I hear so many stories like this. And you think about raising five kids and then illness hits, and you do the best you can. It's just not right. It's just not right. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.

KEILAR: As Bernie Sanders tries to push ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa, where polls show them running neck in neck, he is highlighting his rival's ties to Wall Street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does Wall Street get away with it? Millions in campaign contributions and speaking fees.

CLINTON: I'm telling you, I will say it tonight.

KEILAR: Sanders agreed to Clinton's demands for another debate next week, on the condition they will hold additional debates later in the spring.

SANDERS: We are willing to say if she's willing to do a number of debates later on.

KEILAR: Clinton noncommittal about debating beyond next week in New Hampshire where Sanders is leading in the polls and she stands to gain politically from an extra chance to make her case.

CLINTON: I've said we should start looking for dates and working to get those scheduled. I'm perfectly fine with that. But first things first. We have to agree that we're going to debate in New Hampshire.

KEILAR: After President Obama this week praised Clinton in an interview --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She can govern and she can start here day one.

KEILAR: He gave both candidates a boost last night while rallying congressional Democrats.

OBAMA: Everyone is scouring my every word to find some deeper meaning, see if I'm trying to put my finger on the scales. So let me simplify things. Democrats will win in November and we will have a Democratic president succeeding me.


KEILAR: Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton with full days of campaigning going into the evening hours tonight, Wolf. Hillary Clinton will be in Davenport, Iowa. She will be alongside her husband as well as her daughter, Chelsea.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much.

Coming up, a new report claims an Egyptian airport mechanic may have planted a bomb aboard a doomed passenger jet. The Egyptian government issuing strong denials. We're going to bring you the latest.


[17:48:48] BLITZER: We're learning new information about a Russian passenger jet that exploded over the Egyptian desert. The new report from Reuters claims a mechanic of the airport may have helped place a bomb on board.

Let's turn to our correspondent Brian Todd has got more details for us. What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we are learning there is growing friction tonight between Egyptian officials and their accounts of this investigation and many others, including CNN's own sources inside the U.S. and Russian governments. The new report from Reuters of a possible inside job has Egyptian officials on the defensive tonight.


TODD (voice-over): A grisly scene, the wreckage of a Russian passenger jet strewn across 10 miles of the Sinai Desert. All 224 people on the plane killed.

Tonight, new information on how a bomb may have been placed on board. Reuters citing sources familiar with the matter reports a mechanic for Egypt Air, not Metrojet, the company which operated the plane, but a mechanic for Egypt Air is suspected of planting a bomb on the aircraft. Reuters' sources saying the mechanic had a cousin who had joined ISIS.

RAFI RON, FORMER ISRAELI AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICE: Many of those local workers are people with connection and possibly with connection to people that are involved with the local ISIS operation.

[17:50:04] TODD: ISIS had already claimed responsibility for the downing of the plane in October.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS is making a drive to recruit people in sensitive positions who can do a lot of damage, do a lot of damage at airports. Recruiting an insider at an airport is the holy grail for terrorist groups.

TODD: Reuters' anonymous sources say the Egypt Air mechanic had been detained, along with two airport policemen and a baggage handler suspected of helping to place the bomb.

What kind of access could a mechanic have had to that plane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have access to the entire aircraft. Whether, you know, depending on where they want to put it and who is with them. Usually more than one mechanic doing it. Usually a team.

TODD: Russian and U.S. officials are confident this was terrorism. And ISIS even published this photo of what it claimed was the bomb itself. A soft drink can and two components appearing to be a detonator and a switch. But Egyptian authorities have consistently said they found no evidence of terrorism in the crash. And tonight, there's strong pushback.

Egypt Air Egyptian police have denied the Reuters report. An official with the company which manages Sharma el-Sheikh airport where the plane took off tells CNN no airport employees have been arrested in connection with the incident.

A CNN source at Egypt's Aviation Ministry also denies any arrest of Egypt air or airport workers.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Would those workers have had their relatives screened for is connections? An Egyptian airport management official told CNN their security procedures are better than those at many European airports but it's not clear if relatives there are screened.

Former TSA official Chad Wolf says in the U.S., he can't say that all relatives of airline or airport workers are screened, but he says there is a watch list flagging people who the workers are associated with and any known connections they might have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. It's not necessarily, though, air tight. There was one case of a possible ISIS connection at a U.S. airport, right?

TODD: That's right. Our analyst, Paul Cruickshank. points out in the U.S. there was a case of at least one person who joined ISIS who had previously worked at a U.S. airport. The man had worked at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport as a cleaner and he had access to planes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you.

Meanwhile recent activity at a top secret North Korean facility now has American intelligence authorities concerned that Kim Jong-Un's regime is moving closer to launching a rocket and may be just days away.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been talking to the U.S. officials about this developing story.

What are they saying, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the North may be moving closer. And that is leading the U.S. to keep its eyes on the peninsula around the clock.


STARR (voice-over): The latest highly classified U.S. intelligence shows North Korea may be ready to launch a three-stage rocket as soon as next week, according to two U.S. officials. It would give the regime valuable knowledge of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, missiles capable of reaching the United States. Concerns were elevated after U.S. spy satellites detected the movement of people, rocket related equipment and fuel into a secret facility in the north of the country.

Still, U.S. officials will not detail what about the newest intelligence indicates a launch may be imminent. It comes just as U.S. intelligence agencies are revising the initial thinking about North Korea's underground nuclear test this month. Sources now telling CNN, it's possible the regime did try to test components related to a hydrogen bomb.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: North Korea's pursuit of a larger nuclear weapon stockpile and potentially more dangerous nuclear weapons stockpile only serves to destabilize the broader region.

STARR: If there is a missile launch, the North Koreans are expected to say it's just a satellite. In other words, peaceful. But giant rocket boosters like these are the same technology used in a three- stage Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. If North Korea fulfilled its goal of putting a nuclear warhead on this type of missile, it would upend security calculations across the world.

MARCUS NOLAND, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: The preparations are actually very disturbing. Coming on the heels of a nuclear test less than a month ago, this shows that this regime is completely unchastened and is basically willing to engage in whatever provocations with very little concern for what the outside world thinks or may do.

STARR: It's exceptionally difficult for the U.S. to spy here. The launch facility was built with concealment in mind. Missile parts are delivered to this building via an underground rail system. The parts are unloaded out of view of spy satellites. Then the whole structure is moved to a covered launch pad hidden until the last minute.


STARR: And North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un so unpredictable. U.S. officials say the bottom line right now is they cannot be certain what he has planned -- Wolf.

[17:55:09] BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr reporting.

Coming up, Donald Trump says he's glad he skipped the FOX Republican presidential debate. And he thinks Senator Ted Cruz got pummeled. Did Trump win by not showing up?


BLITZER: Happening now. Win, lose or draw after Donald Trump and FOX News staged dueling television events. Questions about who won and who lost. Trump back on the attack tonight more confident than ever apparently that he did the right thing.

Do Iowa conservatives, though, agree?

Battle for second. Ted Cruz now under siege from all sides after taking what Trump is calling a pummeling in the debate especially from Marco Rubio who now sees a chance to overtake Cruz.