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State Department: 22 Clinton Emails Contain 'Top Secret' Info; Escaped Inmate Turns Himself in, Two Still on the Run; CNN Goes Inside an ISIS Ghost Town. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 29, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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. Will Rubio see a last-minute surge in Iowa? I will ask his campaign spokesman.
Also, breaking news: Clinton controversy -- 22 e-mails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton being withheld from release by the State Department, citing classified information contained in those e- mails. The move a potential blow to Hillary Clinton just days before the Iowa caucuses. Did she break any law? I will ask her campaign press secretary.
And more breaking news: manhunt. One of three fugitive inmates turns himself in following a stunning escape, two others still on the loose as we learn new details about one's relationship with a jailhouse teacher. Who helped the inmates break out?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Donald Trump claiming victory tonight in his boycott of the presidential debate, his rival event cutting into FOX News' ratings, his absence leaving his closest competitor, Ted Cruz, in the crosshairs of the other GOP hopefuls. And now Trump is lobbing new attacks at the Texas senator.
The presidential candidates from both parties are furiously campaigning across Iowa tonight with just three days to go before the caucuses.
We're also following breaking news. The State Department announcing it will not release 22 e-mails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's e-mail server because they contain top secret information. The Clinton campaign calling the decision, and I'm quoting now, "overclassification run amok."
Clinton's press secretary is standing by to talk about that and more.
And there's other breaking news. One of the three inmates who made a spectacular break from a Southern California jail is back in custody, turning himself in just miles from where he escaped. The manhunt for the other two fugitives continues right now.
We're covering all of that, much more this hour, with our correspondents, our guests, our legal analysts and much more. They're all standing by.
But let's begin with the Republican race for the White House.
CNN political reporter Sara Murray is in Iowa for us tonight.
Sara, Donald Trump says he's glad he skipped the debate. What's the latest?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Donald Trump isn't shedding any tears today about missing that GOP debate and in fact he seems pretty pleased with himself that he left Ted Cruz on stage and right in the crosshairs of all of their GOP rivals.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz is an anchor baby in Canada.
MURRAY (voice-over): After a tough night for Ted Cruz, Donald Trump is piling on.
TRUMP: Cruz is in second place. He got really pummeled last night. Actually, I'm glad I wasn't there, because I guess all of that -- he got pummeled. Wow. And they didn't even mention that he was born in Canada, right?
MURRAY: Sharpening his attacks on Cruz's citizenship and delighting in his decision to skip Thursday night's debate.
TRUMP: I did something that was very risky, and I think it turned out great, because I'm on the front page of every paper. I'm getting more publicity than if I -- you know, I don't know.
MURRAY: Cruz is coping with a rockier reception, after sparring with debate moderators.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.
MURRAY: And facing incoming fire from his GOP rivals.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign, you have been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes.
MURRAY: Cruz woke up to this front page in Iowa and tried to get back on offense by taking shots at his opponents.
CRUZ: It's easy to 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: Cruz isn't the only one drawing scrutiny, as Rubio's rivals put him on defense over his shifting stance on immigration.
RUBIO: You changed your position on immigration because you used to support a path to citizenship.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So did you.
MURRAY: Meanwhile Trump's opponents predicted his debate stunt could undercut him in Iowa.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the disdain and arrogance that Trump showed by not coming may well turn off Iowa voters.
MURRAY: But Trump told CNN's Brianna Keilar it was a show of strength.
TRUMP: I think you're going to find that a lot of the voters and a lot of the caucus-goers, I think they're going to say he's the one person that will stand up for himself.
MURRAY: And, tonight, Iowa conservatives seem to believe it won't do much damage.
(on camera): Did it hurt him? Did it not hurt him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it hurt him at all. His nearest competitor kind of bloodied, but I think the headline of "The Des Moines Register" which says rough night for Ted Cruz says it all.
MURRAY: Now, today, we're seeing Ted Cruz try to shrug off this negative media coverage. Both he and Donald Trump will be hunkering down here in Iowa trying to make the final push over the weekend before the caucuses -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara, thank you.
I want to get some more now on Ted Cruz.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is with the Cruz campaign in Iowa tonight.
Sunlen, Donald Trump says Ted Cruz, you heard him say it, got pummeled last night. What are you hearing from the Cruz campaign?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Cruz campaign is trying to put on a brave face, so to speak, really disputing the notion that Cruz had a tough night. But clearly this is not the position they want to be in right now.
All day today on the campaign trail, Ted Cruz faced persistent questions over missed opportunities, missed chances to command that debate stage last night. And in trying to recover from this, what we saw from Ted Cruz today is really a recalibration in strategy, almost turning a blind eye to the Donald Trump factor and really focusing his fire on Marco Rubio.
Unprompted at multiple points during the day today, he brought up Marco Rubio's record on immigration. This also is in line to a strategic move from the Cruz campaign. They're now reshuffling money, taking money from negative TV ads devoted to Donald Trump, putting that money to negative TV ads for Marco Rubio. It really is in line with the feeling within the Cruz campaign right now, this growing concern, nervousness over Rubio's challenge here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Apparently, they are concerned about Rubio moving up. And he's apparently moving up, at least according to the polls. Sunlen, thanks very much.
Let's get more on all of this.
The communications director for the Marco Rubio campaign, Alex Conant, is joining us.
Alex, thanks very much for joining us.
You noticed that Ted Cruz, they are devoting more energy to going after Senator Rubio now than going after Donald Trump. Listen to this latest ad they're putting out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not, and I will never support, never have and never will support any effort to grant blanket legalization amnesty.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Marco Rubio was part of the Gang of Eight trying to secure amnesty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the architects of the plan, Senator Marco Rubio. You are giving legal status to people who have broken the law.
LIMBAUGH: It was Marco Rubio that was a member of the Gang of Eight and Ted Cruz that wasn't.
CRUZ: I'm Ted Cruz, and I approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Alex, you want to respond to that ad? It's a pretty tough one on Marco Rubio.
ALEX CONANT, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RUBIO CAMPAIGN: Yes, let me just make two observations.
One, I think that ad, well, first of all, it's just false. When Marco Rubio is president, he's going to oppose amnesty. He opposes amnesty now. As president, there will be no amnesty. He will secure the border with 700 miles of new fencing. He will have 20,000 new border security agents.
We're going to deport criminal aliens and we're not going to have sanctuary cities. And voters understand that. Voters here in Iowa, where Marco spent the last week campaigning town to town, meeting thousands of Iowans, he's talked to them about immigration. They understand his position.
And we're moving up in the polls. And we saw that again last night. One of the best moments in the debate was when Marco talked about immigration and talked about how he opposes amnesty and then contrasted that to Ted Cruz, who used to support legalization, has changed his position during this campaign in a very cynical and calculating way.
BLITZER: Eighteen percent -- 18 percent right now likely Iowa caucus- goers say they would vote for Rubio in this new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll. He's up five points over last month. He's just seven points below Cruz.
You think it's possible Rubio could beat Cruz in the Iowa caucuses and come in second, let's say, to Donald Trump?
CONANT: In a word, no. We don't expect that to happen. We're running against the greatest show on earth in Mr. Trump and then the greatest ground game that we have ever seen here in Iowa with Ted Cruz.
And this is -- Ted Cruz a couple of weeks ago was over 40 percent in the polls and he was telling people he hadn't peaked yet. He has 12,000 -- his campaign claims to have 12,000 volunteers on the ground here in Iowa. He's gone all in, in Iowa. We expect Ted Cruz will win Iowa.
What we're hoping for is a very strong third place. Traditionally, there's three tickets out of Iowa. We'd love Marco to have one of those. But either way, we're expecting a long campaign ahead of us.
BLITZER: Is Marco Rubio now directing most of his firepower against Ted Cruz?
CONANT: We're directing most of our firepower against Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton cannot be president of the United States. And as I know you are going to have someone from her campaign on later on, you should really challenge them on the report today that the State Department says that there were top secret e-mails on her server.
She is disqualified from being president of the United States. That's what's Marco Rubio is focusing on talking about, because we need to unite the Republican Party, defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Marco president of the United States, because when Marco is president of the United States, we are going to get to the bottom of this e-mail scandal with Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: I'm going to definitely going to talk to him about that, the Hillary Clinton press secretary, when he comes on. That's coming up a little bit later.
Do you think Donald Trump helped or hurt his campaign last night by skipping the FOX News presidential debate?
CONANT: Oh, I don't know. I can tell you, it helped Marco's campaign.
We had more time on the debate stage last night than we have in any of the previous debates. And whenever Marco has extra time on the debate stage talking to millions of people, I think 12 million tuned in last night and saw Marco speaking about his vision for the country, why he's running for president, his agenda for a new American century. Whenever he has that much time, that's a really good night for our campaign.
BLITZER: All right, Alex, I want you to stand by.
BLITZER: Finish your thought. Go ahead.
CONANT: I was just going to say, if Mr. Trump wants to skip the next couple of debates and keep letting Marco have extra time, that's fine with us.
BLITZER: Stand by. There's more to discuss.
Alex Conant from the Rubio campaign, he is with us. A lot more coming up. We're getting more information. Stay with us.
BLITZER: The Iowa caucus is only three days away. Donald Trump is still leading by double digits in most of the polls. But now we're seeing the battle for second place heating up.
We're back with the communications director for the Marco Rubio campaign, Alex Conant.
Alex, his numbers, Marco Rubio's numbers are heating up. But you yourself say don't expect him to come into second place. How do you think he's going to do in New Hampshire?
CONANT: Well, we have get through Iowa first.
We feel very good about New Hampshire. And as soon as the caucuses close here Monday night, and we visit with our supporters here, we're going to get on our plane and fly to New Hampshire. And then I expect he will be campaigning every day in New Hampshire until the primary there.
Traditionally, the Iowa caucuses, whoever wins here is going to get a little bit of a bump. Whoever is in the top three here is going to get a little bit of a bump. We feel very good about New Hampshire. We feel good Carolina, feel good about Nevada.
It's going to be a long campaign. We're ready for the long haul. And the fact that we're gaining momentum at the right time just shows that we're doing something right, that people are connecting with Marco's message for a new American century.
BLITZER: How bitter is the relationship now between Marco Rubio and his one-time mentor, the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush? It got a little testy last night.
CONANT: Marco has a lot of respect for Jeb Bush. They are friends before this campaign started. They're going to be friends after the campaign started.
I think it's sad what has happened to Jeb during this campaign and I think it's sad what kind of campaign he's running. He said it was going to be a joyful campaign when he entered, but now he's running almost $1 million or over $1 million of negative ads every day against Marco Rubio.
And that's not joyful. That's sad. But he's going to do what he's going to do. And obviously it hasn't had much of an impact on Marco as we continue to rise in the polls, see our crowds grow, raising a lot of money at MarcoRubio.com, and continuing to go into the caucuses with increased momentum.
BLITZER: Is it true, what Jeb Bush said in that debate last night, that Marco Rubio as a senator, as a member of that so-called Gang of Eight working for comprehensive immigration reform, actually called up the Florida governor and asked him for his support for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States?
CONANT: Well, it's true that Jeb did support the Gang of Eight bill that Marco worked on.
What happened after that bill passed the Senate is that it went on and died in the House. And Marco has said that that bill is dead. That bill is never going to become law. And what we need to do is approach immigration reform from a sequential perspective.
First, we need to secure the border. And once we have secured the border and put into place E-Verify and an entry-exit system, then we need to modernize our legal immigration system. And only after you have done those two steps can you deal with the issue of the 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.
And we think that people will be very reasonable about what to do with those. But first you have to secure the border. Apparently, Jeb Bush still doesn't understand that. At least at the debate last night, he seemed very confused over what his current position is, since Jeb has switched on it so much.
BLITZER: Well, he at one point supported a pathway to citizenship. Now it's a pathway to legalization. CONANT: That's right.
BLITZER: But I just want to be precise. Did Senator Rubio make a call and ask Jeb Bush to support that Gang of Eight legislation? Because you heard Jeb Bush last night say, he wound up supporting it because he was influenced by Marco Rubio.
CONANT: Well, obviously, when we were working on that legislation, we reached out to a lot of people in the Republican Party. We wanted as much support as we could. It passed the Senate and then died in the House.
And we recognize that that bill is dead. It's not coming back. When Marco Rubio is president, we're not going to pursue a Gang of Eight- style legislation. Instead, we're going to secure the borders first. We're going to -- as I said in the previous segment, we're going to secure the border, 700 miles of new fence, 20,000 new border agents, an entry-exit system, E-Verify. We're going to make sure that we have illegal immigration under control when Marco Rubio is president.
BLITZER: All right, Alex Conant from the Rubio campaign, thanks very much for joining us.
CONANT: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's some get more on all of this with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political commentator Hilary Rosen, CNN senior political analyst, the editorial director of "The National Journal.," Ron Brownstein, and our political commentator Kevin Madden.
Gloria, how was the debate different without Trump there last night?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there was a lot more breathing room for all of these candidates.
You saw this epic battle on immigration that without Donald Trump there who says he's the only reason immigration was raised in this campaign, turns out not to be true, that you saw Rubio and Cruz go after each other, and now you saw Rand Paul actually get some moments on the stage.
So I think it was a very different kind of debate. However, I do think in the questions about Muslims, for example, you did see the influence of Donald Trump on the stage, even though he wasn't there. A lot of the questioners were reflecting things that he said in the campaign.
BLITZER: Did Trump do the right thing by dropping out of that debate, Kevin?
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there was a lot of risks involved.
I think if you look at the fact that one-third of Iowa voters right now are still open to changing their mind, and, you know, Iowa voters are very fickle. They expect -- a big part of the job is showing up. Not showing up, and sending potentially a message of disrespect was a huge risk.
But if you look at the headlines today out in Iowa, Donald Trump got exactly the headlines he wanted. One of his main opponents in second place there, Ted Cruz, got bloodied up and got an awful headline this morning in "The Des Moines Register."
And at the same time if you look at some of these other newspapers in places from everywhere from Sioux City all the way to Davenport, he had equal billing. He was on the front page of every single newspaper saying that he was raising money for veterans.
So it was a lot of risk involved, but I think he got the desired effect.
BLITZER: Yes. He showed up at a rally for veterans in Des Moines only a few miles from where that debate was.
BORGER: With his rally.
BLITZER: Ron, you say the candidates continue to try to take each other down instead of devoting energy for making a case against Trump. How much will that hurt them in these early races?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I thought last night's debate really encapsulated in two hours the huge strategic gamble all of the other campaigns are making in this race.
When you talk to them one by one, they are all more focused on emerging as the last alternative to Trump, and we saw that very clearly last night, than they are on stopping Trump himself. In fact, the Rubio campaign has been letting out they would prefer Trump to win Iowa, and the assumption of all of them is that Trump still faces a ceiling and that in a one-on-one race, they would ultimately be favored against him.
The risk is that, Wolf, is that if Trump's momentum continues, and he does something that no Republican has done in the modern primary era of winning Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in that order, then the momentum he acquires may make being the last alternative kind of like being the last speed bump.
I think they are all taking a very calculated risk by focusing their energy mostly on each other and only to a lesser extent on the front- runner who is leading them all.
BLITZER: Listen to what the front-runner, Donald Trump, Hilary, said about Ted Cruz today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 anchor baby in Canada. But Canada doesn't accept anchor babies. They just waited a long time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Your reaction when you hear that kind of talk?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, it doesn't even make sense because that's not what the anchor baby term was.
But I think Trump is actually doing something else that people aren't paying enough attention to, which is by distancing himself from the other Republicans in many ways, he's sort of setting himself up for a large amount of independent voters, for a large amount of folks who were just disenchanted with the Republican Party, who knows, maybe even disenchanted with the Democratic Party.
And we have to be careful about this, because particularly in Iowa, you can -- anyone can caucus. You can have independent voters. New Hampshire has a very significant independent voter bloc. There are a lot of these primary states now where independents will matter. And Donald Trump is saying, I'm not going to be one of you guys, I'm going to do my own thing, actually is crazily strategic.
BORGER: I want to take issue a little bit with Ron says, although I hardly ever disagree with Ron, but I think...
BROWNSTEIN: How dare you?
BORGER: I'm sorry, Ron.
But I do think that a lot of these candidates have tried to take on Trump. Particularly, look at Jeb Bush. You know, Jeb Bush accused his colleagues of being in the witness protection program, right when it comes to taking on Trump? He has been taking on Trump and it's gotten him absolutely nowhere. And everybody else who has taken on Trump...
MADDEN: Yes, but the argument could be that he took Trump on too late.
BORGER: Right. And Cruz is -- well, and same with Cruz.
BORGER: They started late, because they thought he would implode. But he didn't. And so...
BORGER: Go ahead.
BROWNSTEIN: And certainly Jeb has. And this is what they call the tragedy of the commons. Right?
They all recognize that something has to slow down Trump. But they are afraid that if they are the one who goes out on that limb and Trump turns all their firepower on them, they will be hurt and someone else will benefit. Everybody is waiting for somebody else to do it.
What I'm saying is, if you go through a two-hour debate right before Iowa where no one really makes anything approaching a case against the front-runner, who if he wins Iowa would be very well-positioned to then take New Hampshire and potentially South Carolina, which no one has done, I just think there's a lack of urgency in the field about what that might mean for the rest of the race.
They are still assuming that if they can be the last person standing, he will hit a ceiling. But sooner or later, they have to find a way to make an argument against him.
BLITZER: All right, guys, I want everybody to stand by, because there's a lot more coming up, including on the Democratic side, new information coming in.
We will take a quick break. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: We're also following breaking news in the controversy over Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while she served as secretary of state.
The State Department now says it will not release 22 of Hillary Clinton's e-mail exchanges because they contain top secret information. It's potential fodder for Hillary Clinton's political rivals just days before the Iowa caucuses.
Our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story for us.
Jim, we don't know yet if this information was classified at the time or retroactively. Is that right?
[18:30:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is a key open question. Here's what we know.
Seven e-mail chains, 37 pages of e-mails which the State Department says that the intelligence community decided to upgrade to this top- secret status. The highest classification status. That is new. This is the first time that these e-mails have involved the top-secret status as opposed to lower levels of classified information.
Now, the State Department says these were not marked as such at the time that the e-mails were sent, but to that question you brought up, Wolf, was the information in there, whether marked or not classified at the time that it was sent? The State Department says it doesn't know the answer to that yet, but it has launched its own inquiry to answer that question. That inquiry underway.
Here's how the State Department spokesman answered questions on how these -- these e-mails came to be determined to be top-secret classification.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 that. As I said, we had an ongoing discussion about this traffic with them at their request. We've decided to make this upgrade. It is a State Department decision. We're doing it, but we're going it at the request of the intelligence community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Here's another key question, and we asked the State Department about this today. Even if the information is not marked as such, does the State Department employee or official have an obligation to look out for it?
And the fact is -- and John Kirby confirmed this today -- that, yes, the State Department employees are trained to handle classified information very carefully. And if they see something, even if it's not marked as classified, they do, in his words, have an obligation to do something about it. Whether that's a legal obligation, that's a question for someone else. But there is, it appears to be, a positive obligation to protect classified information -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks for that explanation.
I want to get some more now from our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's out in Iowa for us tonight. So what's been the reaction, Jeff, out there?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question, Wolf, the campaign pushed back aggressively on this, even within minutes saying that they would like the State Department to release these e-mails. Wolf, I can tell you, that is the sentiment from Democrats, as well. They do not want the specter of this hanging over her campaign.
But it's interesting to point out, Senator Bernie Sanders, her chief rival here in Iowa and New Hampshire, he is not touching this. A senior adviser to his campaign told me that they are not going to comment on this or weigh in on this at all. He believes that the e- mails is a nonissue.
Now, among Democrats, it is a nonissue. They believe that -- this is sort of much ado about nothing, in the words of Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, a top Clinton supporter. But as this moves forward to a general election campaign, should she become the nominee, this is an issue at that point among independent voters, among others. The campaign realizes this. So they want this to be dispatched with as soon as possible here.
There's so much chatter going on about these e-mails, about the potential criminal review. And there's deep suspicion about why this is happening, three days before the Iowa caucuses, Wolf.
So I don't think it's going to affect the vote here or in New Hampshire, because again, these are Democratic primary contests going on, and Democrats aren't holding this against her. But as this race moves on, it could still be a big factor here. It is a big question mark hanging over the campaign.
The campaign wants to be done with this, quite frankly, and it is not happening in that respect.
BLITZER: All right. Jeff Zeleny out in Iowa for us, thank you.
Let's get some reaction from the Clinton campaign. The spokesman, Brian Fallon, is joining us.
Brian, thanks very much for joining us.
The Republicans, they're not wasting any time. They're basically accusing her of breaking the law. Criminally negligent and irresponsible.
Your reaction to the State Department decision today to not release any of these 22 documents the State Department itself now says they've upgraded to being top secret.
BRIAN FALLON, SPOKESMAN, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Right. Well, as you heard Admiral Kirby say at the briefing today, they did it at the behest of the intelligence community.
I think the reality is, Wolf, many people saw this coming, because there was an interagency dispute that has been going on for months. And some of the more aggressive actors within that inner agency have been broadcasting publicly their feelings that some of this material should be treated as very sensitive, even as other agencies in the government have said that they don't have any basis to believe it to be classified.
So it seems like some of the more aggressive, louder and, in fact, more leak-prone agencies involved in this review of her e-mails have gotten the upper hand here and were disappointed in that. We disagreed with the finding, and we think that these e-mails should be released, as she called for a year ago when she provided them. She provided them for the purpose of being made public, because she wants the public to have an opportunity to read them and view them and learn about her tenure at the State Department.
And we're confident if people actually saw what was in the e-mails, they'd realize that this an example of over-classification, where you have the gray area of different agencies having different definitions of what's classified and what's not. That's what's at issue here.
BLITZER: Do you know, Brian, what is in these specific 22 e-mails, these exchanges, what's kind of information?
FALLON: Well, I would note, Wolf, that it's quite remarkable, that unlike all the other e-mails, because there's been so many agencies involved in reviewing these things, that it's almost guaranteed or inevitable that some agency is going to raise their hand and say, "Hey, actually out of an abundance of caution, I'd like to pull that back and think we should not release that as part of the monthly production."
It's almost inevitable that that's going to happen. And that has happened several hundred times over the last few months. But at every opportunity the State Department has said, actually, that e-mail was not classified at the time it was sent. It's being classified retroactively.
Now we know that there's a decision to be made about these e-mails because you have entities like the inspector general from the I.C. who has been leaking out or transmitting information to members of Congress who have been leaking out his opinions that these e-mails have been classified. And because there's been so many leaks, we actually have a decent window into what's contained in these e-mails.
And among other things, we know that this I.G. has gotten it wrong in his judgment about several of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. There was one e-mail that he judged to be classified that it turned out was actually marked unclassified. The exact opposite of what he thought.
And we've learned also that there was another e-mail that was one of the ones that initially caused him to ask the FBI to conduct a review. And today the State Department told us that actually, in the final analysis, they determined he was dead wrong. There were no actual concerns to that e-mail.
So there's been multiple instances where some of the loudest voices on the intelligence committee have actually misjudged whether this material is classified or not.
BLITZER: This inspector general for the intelligence community, though, was nominated by President Obama, confirmed by Democrats in the U.S. Senate. A career former FBI agent, someone with an enormous amount of experience. Are you saying this inspector general for the intelligence community is a partisan, trying to undermine Hillary Clinton right now?
FALLON: Wolf, you -- his motives need not be partisan for him to be behaving inappropriately. In fact, what I think is going on here is you have a bureaucratic turf battle, where you have agencies duking it out with each other. And they all strongly believe in their own opinions about these findings that they've made.
And this inspector general, I think, is quite proud of the -- has a lot of pride in terms of valuing his ability to recognize classified material. So he went out on a limb back in August and said that four of these e-mails that he looked at he thinks are classified.
Today one of them, the State Department, has actually rendered a final judgment and said he was wrong about that. And at various points along the way, some of his other e-mails he has flagged have been judged as not -- not sensitive at all.
And so I think that there's been a desire by he and some others that have been involved in this process to try to bolster their case. And share with members of Congress their rationale and explain the justification for why they thought this last August.
And that has armed Republicans on Capitol Hill with the ability to help bang the drum, that this is very sensitive material. Even as you have other agencies in the government that are saying, "Actually, we routinely traffic in this information on unclassified e-mail. This is not bothersome at all."
And so they've been duking it out over the last several months. And I think the loudest voice has prevailed. That's unfortunate, because I think if the public had an opportunity to look at them, they'd think that this was much ado about nothing.
BLITZER: Except in this particular case, the State Department has agreed, at least for now, with the inspector general for the intelligence community. These 22 documents, these exchanges weren't simply redacted for sensitive information. They weren't released at all.
They just said, "We're going to deny any opportunity to even see these documents, because they're top-secret at this high classification." I think that's the first time they've completely avoided allowing any piece of these documents to be released. Is that right? And I ask you that question as a former spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department.
FALLON: That's right, Wolf. You're absolutely right about that. And, to me, that is another very questionable aspect of what happened today. Because even in the worst scenario, even if you believed certain members of the intelligence community that have strong feelings that some of this material is sensitive and should be redacted, the "to" field, the "from" field, the date of it being sent, the idea that these documents in full had to be fully held back and withheld, I think, is suspect, given that in every instance to date, even when they've wanted to redact a whole document, with the benefit of hindsight, wanting to exercise caution, they have at least released the paper and allowed people to see...
BLITZER: Why did the State department this time even refuse to do that?
FALLON: Well, I think the State Department is in a tricky position here, Wolf. They are the entity that is on the receiving end of the Freedom of Information Act request from the reporter. So they are sort of the tip of the spear and having to respond to the inquiries here. They're the party that's involved in this FOIA lawsuit.
[18:40:17] But they can't take steps unless half a dozen or so other agencies that are looking over their shoulder agree.
So even though it is an announcement that came out of the State Department today, it actually reflects a lot of jostling that's going on behind the scenes amongst a bunch of other agencies.
BLITZER: Well, just the bottom line, is there a group in there, a cabal or whatever, that's trying to hurt Hillary Clinton among U.S. officials?
FALLON: I think that what could very well be going on here is you have a good-faith dispute because we have a problem of over- classification in the United States government today.
Just this week, actually, John Bolton, a conservative Republican who served in George Bush's administration, said that, "if anyone tells you that we have a rational system for classifying things, that I'd like to meet that person," because he disagrees.
I think that's the reality here. You can have one agency of the government that redacts a document one way and another agency within the same government that looks at the exact same e-mail and redacts it completely differently, because they have dueling interpretation of what's classified and what's not.
And so when you have six or seven agencies that all get to weigh in you're going to more likely than not have somebody raise their hand and say that "I think that we should hold it back."
So that's what's playing out here. It's a good-faith dispute. But the State Department that has stood up for the last several months each time redactions have happened and said, "We don't believe that information is classified," that speaks to the fact that this is a gray area. And the career foreign service officers that were often the originators of this e-mail, they know the difference between what's classified and what's not.
A lot of people, I think, are mistaken to suggest that Hillary Clinton originated many of these e-mails. In fact, they are chains that are ultimately forwarded to her after being bandied back and forth by career foreign service officers in the State Department. And these are people, like I said, that know the difference between what's classified and what's not.
So by the logic of what today's announcement suggests, then there would be dozens of officials in the State Department that were completely negligent. Does anyone really think that's what's going on here? I don't.
And in fact, Wolf, just in closing, if you look back, the State Department has a very good FOIA website on its website, where you can look back at FOIA productions that have been done across the years.
And you can go back and look at e-mails from the Bush administration under Condi Rice, where e-mails were redacted after the fact for classification reasons. Did anyone suggest that Condi Rice's state department was negligent in putting sensitive information into e-mail? No. This is a routine matter that happens when a FOIA request is granted, and documents are released to the public.
BLITZER: Here's a question: If it's routine, if there's nothing really classified in these documents, Hillary Clinton can go to the president of the United States and say, "Please declassify these e- mails." He can do that on the spot. Is she asking him to do that?
FALLON: We are -- we want the e-mails to be released. So that is our position. And that the decision today to withhold them in full was the wrong one.
Unfortunately, because we are cooperating in full with this process, we don't retain any copy of the e-mails. So some people have said, "Well, why don't you release them yourself?" Well, we've gone through the process the appropriate way, but we disagree with the way that this process played out .
BLITZER: Why not ask the president?
FALLON: We're asking the government to reconsider the judgment that was made today in terms of the loudest voices from some circles within the intelligence community that have apparently prevailed in withholding too many of these e-mails.
BLITZER: But the president easily could declassify all of these e- mails if she asked him, and if he agreed, right?
FALLON: Wolf, I'd really be surprised if this has risen to the president's level, because again, this is a mundane matter of fulfilling a FOIA request. And I think only because the -- in this case, the subject of the request happens to be running for president of the United States, you suddenly have a proliferation of interest from various agencies across the government who are looking over the shoulder of the State Department.
But I think that, quite frankly, this -- these types of FOIA requests get processed every day. I'd be surprised if the president is actually familiar with what was being redacted today. And I think that any reasonable person, if they were able to see the e-mails, would agree that this was an overly strict definition of what's classified. And what I understand why agencies like the State Department have fought this for the last several months.
BLITZER: Because the inspector general for the intelligence community, Brian, as you know -- and you are familiar with all the various categories of classified information -- he's not suggesting that this is confidential or sensitive or secret or even top-secret. They're saying this is the highest levels of sensitive, compartmented information.
They're saying it's sensitive special projects, all these codes they have for the highest classified information.
[18:45:01] Those are serious accusations.
FALLON: Yes, and I can understand how to the layman's ear, that sounds like an egregious situation. However, that's why it's reckless and irresponsible that these types of findings and allegations have been floated through correspondence with Capitol Hill when no one can judge the content of the underlying e-mails.
If you look at Congressman Adam Schiff, very few members have had an opportunity to scrutinize these e-mails themselves. But there's a handful that have. The chairman and ranking members of some of the committees of jurisdiction have had an opportunity to review many of these emails.
And Congressman Adam Schiff was out today with a statement suggesting a lot of this is being taken out of context and affirming our perspective if people had the opportunity to judge this, they'd actually find it quite less serious than what the statements swirling out there make it seem like.
He gave the example the other day on "FOX News Sunday", he was appearing on a Sunday show and gave the example of a news article being forwarded to Secretary Kerry, if he was on an overseas trip. It could be that even though the article was published that if the CIA was coming in and had an opportunity to second-guess whether that should have been put into an e-mail, they might say, hey, we are going to redact that for classification purposes, even though millions of people would have read that article that same day in the newspaper. And that's sort of the irrational approach we have to classification in the government.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, we've got to leave it there. She agrees it was a mistake to have a private e-mail server for four years as secretary of state, right?
FALLON: She does, but that's very different from agreeing with the announcement made today. Very different.
BLITZER: Brian Fallon --
FALLON: In fact, Wolf --
FALLON: By the way, Wolf, it's actually immaterial to this whole announcement today that she had a personal server, because all these e-mails were already on the unclassified State Department e-mail system.
BLITZER: Brian Fallon, thanks very much for the explanations.
FALLON: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.
[18:51:25] BLITZER: There's breaking news in the manhunt for three inmates who made a stunning jailbreak. Pamela Brown reports.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, this man Bac Duong is back behind bars. New chopper video shows the arrest scene where police say he surrendered to authorities outside an auto repair shop in Santa Ana, California.
SHERIFF SANDRA HUTCHENS, ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Bac Duong contacted a civilian on the streets of Santa Ana and said he wanted to turn himself in.
BROWN: Two others are still on the run, including suspected ring leader Hossein Nayeri, who faces charges including torture and kidnapping. Police say Nayeri had an inappropriate relationship behind bars with this teacher at the California jail. Forty-four- year-old Nooshafarian Ravaghi.
CNN has learned the pair exchanged flirtatious handwritten letters, which authorities discovered after the escape.
LT. JEFF HALLOCK, ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: I don't know physically how close and personal, but I can tell you that the correspondence that they had in writing was of a personal nature.
BROWN: Ravaghi taught English as a second language at the jail and investigators say Nayeri attended her classes. But they believe the two Iranian natives bonded over their first language, Farsi.
HALLOCK: Mr. Nayeri speaks English, as far as we're concerned, or the information that we have. And why he was attending that class and again, the connection, whether it is from Iran, we're not exactly sure. That is very much of a concern of us.
BROWN: A law enforcement official tells CNN one inmate was spotted at a Target store buying supplies shortly after the escape. Investigators say the two remaining fugitives are likely still in southern California, possibly living in this white utility van. They say Duong stole a van Sunday after responding to a Craigslist ad. Investigators say the men cut through half inch steel bars, snaked their way through plumbing tunnels, and made it to the roof of the jail.
Then they cut through barbed wire fencing, tied bed sheets together, repelled down an 80-foot wall and disappeared.
BROWN: I want to show a correct picture now of the English teacher who has been arrested. This woman right here apparently had some inappropriate relationship with one of the inmates who are still on the run. Wolf, I'm told, at this hour, right now, the manhunt is really focused on the area where the other inmate turned himself in as authorities search for those two inmates still on the run.
Meantime, the English teacher, we just saw there, she has admitted to providing a map to the facility inmates, but denied helping them out. She has her first court appearance on Monday, Wolf. BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.
Much more news right after this.
[18:58:50] BLITZER: A town recaptured from terrorists but abandoned by its residents.
Our senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward reports.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kurdish fighters are now in control of the town of al-Hul, but the shadow of ISIS still looms large.
The militants left here in a hurry. ISIS documents littered the floor of the Islamic courthouse.
Further up the road, a Kurdish fighter Rina Shamo (ph) showed us a hastily abandoned bomb factory. One room is stacked with landmines and crudely fashioned homemade bomb.
In another building, barrels packed with explosives are still ready to be detonated. All of these are filled with hundreds of pounds of TNT, he says. They load seven or eight of them onto a truck and then make a suicide attack. They can cause massive devastation. These stockpiles just a tiny fraction of munitions scattered across Syria.
The battle for al-Hul didn't last long. Coalition airpower started that.
(on camera): This town was liberated nearly two months ago, but when ISIS fled, so did all of Arab residents and the streets here are still completely deserted.
(voice-over): Kurdish fighters just told us one of the 3,000 inhabitants remains. The rest wary of life under Kurdish control simply vanished, leaving behind shuttered shops and empty schools -- an ominous sign of the deep distrust that haunts every corner of this country.
Clarissa Ward, CNN, al-Hul, Syria.
BLITZER: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.