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Trump, Bush in War of Words Ahead of New Hampshire Primary; CNN/WMUR Poll: Trump, Rubio Cruz Lead Pack in N.H.; Bill Clinton Slams 'Sexist' Sanders Supporters; Source: Five Cities Targeted in ISIS Plot; U.S. Weighs Anti-Missile System for South Korea. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 8, 2016 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Rubio's rebound -- rebound? He's the favorite target of the GOP rivals. Can Marco Rubio come back from a rocky debate performance? Our brand-new poll is just out, showing where the candidates stand right now only hours before the crucial New Hampshire primary.

[17:00:30] Trump taunts. There's no let-up in the verbal slug match between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. Now after being called a loser and a liar, Donald Trump lets loose. Wait until you hear my interview with the frontrunner.

ISIS sleeper cells. Are terrorist hit teams in place in major cities ready to strike? Chilling new details about the intelligence that western security agents -- agencies have received even before the Paris massacres.

And missile defense. As North Korea celebrates a rocket launch, will the U.S. deploy an anti-missile system to protect its allies? And how great a threat does Kim Jong-un show -- now pose to the United States itself?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news: with only hours to go before the nation's first primary begins, our brand-new CNN/WMUR poll is just out. It shows Donald Trump well in front of the other Republicans in New Hampshire.

Marco Rubio is in second place, despite a much criticized debate performance, and Ted Cruz is alone in third place. But as the clock ticks down, almost a third of the Republican voters now say they are still -- they are still undecided.

As the Republican candidates campaign frenetically -- frantically, I should say, there's a vicious war of words between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. After a Bush tweet calls Trump a loser, a liar and a whiner, Trump fires right back, calling Bush desperate, sad and pathetic. You'll hear my interview with the Republican presidential frontrunner.

And there may be a huge new wild card in this presidential race. The former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, now says the tone of this campaign is an insult to the voters. And he says he's now looking at all the options for getting into the 2016 race.

We're also getting chilling new details on the ISIS plan to attack major population centers. Even before the November slaughter in Paris, western security agencies received intelligence that dozens of ISIS terrorists had been sent to carry out attacks in five cities.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they have full coverage of all the day's top stories.

As the clock ticks down in New Hampshire, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, they're stepping up their war of words. CNN's Jim Acosta is on the scene for us in New Hampshire.

Jim, they're certainly not holding back right now. What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. For months, top Republicans have begged Jeb Bush to step up his attacks on Donald Trump. Well, that day has come as Trump and Bush seem to be locked in a vicious personal battle, from the town halls to Twitter.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have a lot of respect for Jeb. You know, he's -- Jeb is a lightweight, let me tell you.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Something unusual is happening the day before the New Hampshire primaries. When Donald Trump attacks Jeb Bush...

TRUMP: He's on every show. "Donald Trump said this. Donald Trump said that." And then he's, "See, I'm the only one taking on Donald Trump. I'm not afraid of Donald Trump."

He's like a child. He's like a spoiled child.

ACOSTA: The former Florida governor isn't just turning the other cheek.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump, you're the loser.

ACOSTA: He's hitting back hard, in what may be a last-ditch effort to slam the brakes on Trump's fast-moving campaign and save his own.

BUSH: Donald Trump organizes his campaign around disparaging people as a sign of strength. It's not strong to insult women. It's not strong to castigate Hispanics. It's not strong to ridicule the disabled.

ACOSTA: The two men are at war on Twitter, Trump tweeting, "Everybody is laughing at Jeb Bush. Spent $100 million and is at bottom of pack. A pathetic figure."

And Bush swinging back, reminding voters of Trump's attacks on John McCain, a former New Hampshire winner. Bush tweeted, "You aren't just a loser. You're a liar and a whiner."

Trump told Wolf, Bush is losing his nerve.

TRUMP (via phone): He doesn't even use his last name in his ads. He's a sad person who has gone absolutely crazy. I mean, this guy is a -- he's a nervous wreck. I've never seen anything like it.

ACOSTA: Their brawl comes as a new CNN/WMUR poll shows Trump still way out in front.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing.

ACOSTA: One key question heading into the primary is how much damage was done to Marco Rubio after his shaky debate performance over the weekend.

RUBIO: Here's the bottom line: this notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not...

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech.

RUBIO: That's the reason why the campaign...

CHRISTIE: There it is, everybody.

ACOSTA: Rubio seemed glued to anti-Obama talking points as he fended off punches from Chris Christie.

CHRISTIE: When the lights get that bright, you either shine or you melt. We cannot afford to have a president who melts.

ACOSTA: Rubio had no regrets.

RUBIO: People keep -- you know, in the press anyway, "Oh, why do you keep saying the same thing about Obama trying to change America?" I'm going to keep saying that a million times, because I believe it's true.

ACOSTA: Also unclear is how well John Kasich and Ted Cruz will do. They're part of the fight for second place, looking to pick up any Rubio defectors.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Listen, Marco had a tough night. There's no doubt about that.


ACOSTA: Now, the Trump campaign is sounding much more confident about New Hampshire. Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Iowa was about explaining the caucus process to supporters, whereas New Hampshire is about getting voters to the polls. And Lewandowski told me over the phone earlier this afternoon, Wolf, you're not hearing Ted Cruz brag about his ground operation here in New Hampshire -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get to the breaking news. Our brand-new CNN/WMUR poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, it shows Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz running 1, 2, 3. But a lot of New Hampshire Republicans still have not yet made up their minds.

Our CNN political director, David Chalian, is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM going through those numbers. So tell our viewers what they show.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Let's just look at where the race stands heading into primary day tomorrow.

Our latest tracking poll shows Trump at 31 percent, Rubio 17 percent, Cruz at 14 percent. You see John Kasich there at 10 percent in double digits and Jeb Bush at 7 percent.

So what you see here is, obviously, is Donald Trump way out in front, and a real battle for second place between several candidates there and then sort of who gets a ticket out of New Hampshire.

Look at how it changed over time. If you look at where our tracking poll was a couple days ago, you see Trump is down a couple points. That's from February 6. You see Marco Rubio up a point, Ted Cruz holding even, John Kasich just a tick down, Jeb Bush holding even.

What is important to note here, Wolf, is that 75 percent of this poll was taken before the debate on Saturday night, which obviously Marco Rubio had a rough time that night. Not great news coverage thereafter. Twenty-five percent of the poll respondents were interviewed after the debate.

But even in that small group of people that we interviewed after the debate, Marco Rubio did not drop. So we're not seeing an effect, a negative effect on Rubio's numbers since that debate.

BLITZER: There's another story, and that potentially could be a huge story. Michael Bloomberg, the former two-term New York City mayor, all of a sudden he's saying publicly what has been rumored, I guess, for a while, that he's seriously thinking of running for president of the United States. If he ran as a third-party independent, that would be a potentially huge deal.

CHALIAN: It would be a huge deal. I'm not sure we're there yet that he's sort of ready to launch a campaign, but he gave this interview to the F.T. (ph). He clearly said he's watching the primary race on both sides very closely, what the candidates are saying, and he is distressed by the rhetoric. He just said it's distressingly banal, is how he described it. And he said it's an outrage and an insult to voters in this interview in the F.T.

So this is somebody who's had his eyes on the White House for many years, has never pulled the trigger. He thinks maybe this might be an opportunity to sort of come up the middle as an independent and do so, but you know Michael Bloomberg, Wolf. He is a data-driven guy. Unless his team can put together an electoral map that gets him to 270 electoral votes as an independent this late in the game, I don't think he would take the chance.

BLITZER: I've spoken with some people who are close to him. They say he has to make a decision, basically, by early March, March 1, around that time. He's worth, according to "Forbes" magazine, $36.6 billion. Trump says he's worth $10 billion. So he's worth a lot more. He could spend a lot of money if he wants.

I'm also -- I originally thought -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that he would only run if Bernie Sanders, let's say, got the Democratic nomination. He wouldn't run if Hillary Clinton got the Democratic nomination. But I'm now told he's irritated with the fact that Hillary Clinton is not doing that well. He also doesn't like her position opposing charter schools right now.

CHALIAN: Right. I don't know if just that issue alone would be enough to get Michael Bloomberg into the race. But I certainly think that seeing Hillary Clinton eke out a victory in Iowa, you know, be behind in New Hampshire, we'll see what happens there tomorrow night, does not make her sort of a position of strength right now, of unbridled strength in the Democratic race. So seeing potential weakness there, I'm sure, is also what is attractive to Michael Bloomberg.

BLITZER: Certainly is. I'm sure you're right. All right. We'll see what Michael Bloomberg decides. He's got a few weeks to make that decision, but he certainly has a lot of money, and he's got the ambition, I suspect.

CHALIAN: No doubt about that.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, David Chalian.

[17:10:08] Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Trump campaign national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, thanks very much for joining us. So what's your reaction to the "Financial Times" report, the interview that Michael Bloomberg gave, acknowledging the headline Bloomberg says he is eyeing a run for the White House. What's your reaction?

KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN: Well, Wolf, you know, I think it is interesting, because somebody like that getting in the race will pretty much ensure a Republican landslide when you're going to have two people, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, competing over the progressive vote; and it makes the Republican look a lot better.

When we're talking about government regulations, we're talking about the economy or even education for that matter. So it is going to be interesting to see what happens moving forward with Mr. Bloomberg.

BLITZER: Would you welcome his decision -- a decision by Bloomberg to run? PIERSON: Oh, absolutely. With Mr. Trump as the nominee, with whether

it's Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders with Michael Bloomberg, absolutely. Mr. Trump has a vision for this country for the American people and their families. And he wants to make the priority be America, Americans and their families.

Whereas on the progressive side, that's simply just not the case. It's more programs. It's more spending. It's more government involvement in everyone's lives. And I think right now at this point, as we can see on both sides of the aisle, people are tired of the status quo.

BLITZER: Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, they're really going back and forth with accusations against the other. You heard some of that in Jim Acosta's report.

You see our brand-new CNN/WMUR tracking poll. Trump is at 31 percent. Bush is only 7 percent. So why is he spending so much time attacking Bush?

PIERSON: Well, he's just responding to the attacks on himself. And you know, Mr. Trump is right, Jeb Bush is extremely desperate. He is trying to show his donors that he does have energy, which has been coming across the last couple of times that Jeb Bush has tried to take on Mr. Trump.

Even though he's factually incorrect on some of the things that he's been saying about Mr. Trump, he's got to keep those money people there. He is trying to hold on and wait this out so that all the other candidates, at the end of the day he's the last one standing to compete. But that can't happen if he continues to be a low-energy candidate.

So Mr. Trump is right. This is just Jeb Bush's attempt to keep his name out there, to pretend that he can fight. Because we've never seen these Republicans attack Democrats the way they do other Republicans.

BLITZER: As you know, some have pointed out in recent days they've seen two Donald Trumps out there: one on the campaign stump, if you will, taking a very serious discussion about foreign policy issues, other issues, not directly blasting his Republican rivals.

On the other hand, in some of the interviews really going on the attack. Is there a double strategy under way right now?

PIERSON: Well, of course. I mean, Mr. Trump is in a position to where he's had to essentially fend off other candidates, as well as the media, and try to continue to get his message out there.

Mr. Trump is taking this campaign very seriously, as we've seen here in New Hampshire, stepping up the campaign stops. The family is out surprising folks at restaurants, and he's having a really good time.

This is something that's very important to Mr. Trump. He's built an empire in this country, and it's important to him to be that person to help other people be able to build an empire, as well.

BLITZER: Who does he see as his biggest threat among the Republicans?

PIERSON: Well, that's a great question, Wolf. I'm not quite sure. You know, as we've been hearing, that it's always a competition between second place, not necessarily first. He takes all candidates seriously that are polling high. You've got Marco Rubio; you've got Ted Cruz. Kasich is even in and out here in the state of New Hampshire. He considers them all competitive but not taking anything for granted.

BLITZER: Katrina, I want you to stand by. There's more to discuss. There's more information coming in. We're getting more reaction now to Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, actively thinking of running for president of the United States as a third- party candidate. Much more right after this.


[17:18:19] BLITZER: This hour's breaking news, today's just-released CNN/WMUR tracking poll shows Donald Trump still holding a very significant lead in New Hampshire with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz further back.

Let's get some insight from our experts.

Joining us, our CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp; our CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel; our CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director of "The National Journal." And our CNN political commentator, Peter Beinart, a contributor editor -- contributing editor for Atlantic Media. Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

Marco Rubio is taking some tough times right now as a result of the debate the other night. Listen to what he said.


RUBIO: Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. He is trying to change this country.

Here's the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not...

CHRISTIE: There it is.

RUBIO: He knows exactly what he...

CHRISTIE: There it is. The memorized 25-second speech.

RUBIO: That's the reason...

CHRISTIE: There it is, everybody!

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Based on your reporting, Jamie, how much damage did that debate do to Marco Rubio?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it could have done quite a bit. I know someone who's very high up who was ready to endorse Rubio, and he has pulled back.

That said, no one has voted in New -- in New Hampshire yet, so let's wait and see.

But you know, hell hath no fury, as Chris Christie. Jeb Bush keeps saying it's not personal on his part with Marco Rubio. But for Chris Christie, he was furious when, in early January, Rubio put out these -- his super PAC put out these attack ads that went at Christie. Christie's numbers fell. You're seeing the results.

BLITZER: A little payback.

[17:20:01] S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Marco Rubio was up in the polls, we should point out, since that moment. And I think anyone who would withdraw an endorsement because Marco Rubio repeated a good message three times in a debate probably should check his priorities.

BLITZER: Peter, you've been reporting in New Hampshire. You actually took a photo of protesters wearing some sort of outfits. Marco Roboto -- Roboto, something like that. Is that resonating out on the campaign trail?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, not at the event I was at. I mean, it was -- I think there were a thousand people at the event where I was, and the response seemed very strong.

I mean, I don't think the danger here is as great for Marco Rubio as people think. I think the media likes the -- likes the shift in narrative of Rubio having been built up now falling.

But in reality, even if Marco Rubio doesn't finish second, as long as he decisively beats Christie, Kasich and Jeb Bush, making it difficult for them to continue in this race, then the consolidation of mainstream establishment, whatever you want to call it, support of people who will not support Donald Trump and will not support Ted Cruz -- and there are a lot of them -- that continues for Marco Rubio. So I think he's in pretty good shape.

BLITZER: What do you think, Ron Brownstein?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't agree. I don't agree with Peter. I don't agree with S.E. I think that Marco -- the message may have been fine, but the message had nothing to do with, really, what Christie was accusing him of.

And I think for him to repeat it over and over does, in fact, give pause to Republican insiders about how he handles pressure. He seemed to get rattled under the attack, went back to a message that may have been fine for a Republican audience, wasn't directly relevant. In fact, was confirming the argument that Chris Christie was leveling against him. He relied overly -- he was overly scripted.

CUPP: Ron, it was completely relevant. The attack from Chris Christie was that he was inexperienced and unready. And what Rubio was saying was everyone said that Obama was inexperienced and unready. And I think he knew exactly what he was doing.

And you have to understand, Marco Rubio is running as the candidate who can win. So he knows he's not running against Cruz and Trump and Jeb. He's running against eight years of failed liberal policies. So I think he's absolutely on message to keep hammering the point that he's running against Obama...


CUPP: ... and the Democratic nominee.

BLITZER: But he said it not twice, not three times. Hold on. He said it four times. He was answering questions, and he immediately went to that talking point almost verbatim.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes. Right.

BLITZER: And Jamie, I've heard from some people who like Marco Rubio make the comparison that that could be like a Rick Perry moment four years ago when he said, "Oops" in one of the debates. That was the beginning of the end of one of his campaign.

GANGEL: I agree with Ron. I will tell you that people within his campaign felt it was a, quote, "cringe-worthy moment." It went to exactly the concern that this is not about disciplined message; this is about not being able to handle himself in the debate. And they're concerned if he's up against Hillary Clinton that she can clean his clock.

CUPP: Hopefully, he can count on people in his campaign to vote for him. It's voters that he's going to have to win.

BLITZER: I want to play for all of you. Listen to this. Then we're going to get back to this clip. I had a chance to speak with Donald Trump earlier today and asked him about some of the attacks directed against him from Jeb Bush. Listen to this.


BLITZER: He says, "You aren't just a loser. You are a liar and a whiner. John McCain is a hero, over and out." That's the tweet that Jeb Bush put out just a little while ago. I want to get your reactions specifically to those very tough words.

TRUMP (via phone): Well, he's a desperate person. Wolf, he's a desperate person. He's a sad and -- he's a pathetic person. He doesn't even use his last name in his ads. He's a sad person who has gone absolutely crazy. I mean, this guy is a nervous wreck. I've never seen anything like it. And he's saying things like that.

I get along very well with John McCain. I was on John McCain's committee for his election to try and help him get elected. Didn't work out for him, but that's OK. He was -- you know, John McCain, he's fine. I like John McCain. And I know he says that I called John McCain all sorts of names. I call everybody names.

Actually, the person I called the names is Jeb because Jeb is in favor of Common Core. In other words, children have to be taken care of from Washington. He's weak on immigration. I mean, just look at these things. Remember he said -- it was on your show, I saw -- they come as an act of love, immigration.

On -- you remember the thing on -- let's see, I just wrote down one other thing here. The Texas stadium. When he talks about the taking of land, well, they used -- the Bush family used the taking of land privately, eminent domain, on Texas stadium. So you look at this guy, and it's absolutely amazing. And...

BLITZER: But he says specifically...

TRUMP: He didn't know that they used -- no, Wolf, he didn't know that they used private -- that they used -- that they privatized it. He didn't know that, but they used it on Texas Stadium. Having to do with eminent domain. And he didn't even know that.

[17:25:07] And on top of it, Wolf, he spent over $100 million, and he's a failed candidate. I mean, he's a laughing stock.

BLITZER: Well, he says you aren't just a loser -- he says you aren't just a loser, you are a liar and a whiner. I mean, those are pretty tough words he's saying.

TRUMP: No, I'm not a whiner. I get things done. You know, I get things done.

Look, Jeb is the kind of a guy if you weren't in government, nobody would give him a job. Couldn't get a job. You look at what he says. I mean, he lies so much.

I'm very strong on Second Amendment. You know that. You've been on my speeches. I'm very strong on low taxes. I've got a huge tax cut for everybody. He says I want to raise taxes on everybody. I mean, you know, how do you do that? A guy goes out and he says he wants to raise taxes.

The guy is -- you know, he's got a failed campaign. He's a nervous wreck. He's probably going to be the last of the governors, I would say. Certainly, he's the least talented of the governors. And you know, he's done very poorly in the debates over the period of time.

And what he does is he goes around saying, "I'm the only one to have the courage to go after Trump. I'm the only one." What courage is it? He says nasty things. I always put him down on the dais, and he goes away like a little sheep. And the guy is just not a man -- he shouldn't be -- he should speak much more positively.


BLITZER: I suspect that's not going to happen. Peter Beinart, let me get your reaction. Go ahead.

BEINART: I don't really understand what purpose this serves for Donald Trump to be in a fight with Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush is basically out of this race.

The challenge for Donald Trump is the rise of Marco Rubio and the rise of Ted Cruz. I mean, if he wants to bloody someone, he should be bloodying them.

I think this reminds everyone of the fact that Donald Trump is petty and obnoxious, and it doesn't do him any good. It seems to me he's been lured into a fight by Jeb that serves him no purpose.

BLITZER: What do you think, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I think Donald Trump gave you kind of a short, concise version of what is holding back so many Republican voters from moving toward him, and particularly among that white-collar center- right mainstream conservative. They simply don't think he has the temperament to be president.

I was at a Rubio event on Sunday in Nashua, an affluent suburb, you know, south of here in Manchester, and that was the biggest concern they had about Trump. And he kind of validated that.

Having said that, post-New Hampshire, Trump has a lane. He has that blue-collar support. Cruz has a lane. He has that evangelical support. And the big question going in here was going to be does is anyone going to consolidate that mainstream white -- conservative white-collar side and it looked like Rubio had a chance. I would say that is less likely as a result of that debate, because whatever we say about it, I think there are going to be Republicans who are going to be more skeptical of putting all their eggs in the Rubio basket after he seemed to get that rattled under pressure.

BLITZER: And Jamie, it's not just that Jeb Bush is going after Trump, but he's also going after Rubio. He's going after John Kasich, the Ohio governor, as well. Is there a new strategy? Should he have been doing this long ago?

GANGEL: I think people, including his mother -- I interviewed Jeb and Barbara Bush this weekend. And Barbara Bush says, "I don't give him any advice, but I don't think he should be so polite." I think he's listening to his mother.

BLITZER: He's certainly not as polite as he used to be, S.E.

CUPP: No. And yes, I think if you're team Bush, you kind of wished you'd seen this a little bit -- a little bit earlier. I think he had a really strong debate performance over the weekend. And going into South Carolina, he's rising in the polls there. That's a very friendly place for someone like Jeb Bush. So I think he's better positioned than he was, say, two weeks ago.

BLITZER: And he's making it clear, no matter what happens in New Hampshire tomorrow, he's going to South Carolina and beyond. All right, guys, stand by. There's a lot happening on the Democratic

side, as well, including the former president Bill Clinton. He's getting increasingly feisty out there. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The Democratic race in New Hampshire is being rocked by an angry blast at some of Senator Bernie Sanders' supporters from former president Bill Clinton.

Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is covering the Democratic race. Ron Brownstein and Peter Beinart are still with us.

Brianna, Bill Clinton certainly went on the attack against Bernie Sanders and his campaign, in part criticizing online commentators. Listen to this.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People who have gone online to defend Hillary and explain, just explain why they supported her have been subject to vicious trolling. And attacks that are literally too profane often, not to mention sexist, to repeat.


BLITZER: All right, Brianna, what does the timing of this tell you? Bill Clinton certainly hasn't been this negative until now.


I think it reveals, Wolf, some frustration, certainly, with the state of the race here in New Hampshire. Even people who support Hillary Clinton really think that it would be quite a feat for her to pull off victory here. And certainly, that's something that's very frustrating for her husband, where New Hampshire historically has been so important not just to him but also to Hillary Clinton back in 2008.

But I also think, Wolf, Bill Clinton really gets mad when he feels like his wife is under attack. This is when, historically, we have seen him really push back and give his sharpest attack against her opponents, be it Barack Obama or in this case Bernie Sanders.

And I also think that some of his criticism reflects what many people in Hillary Clinton's corner feel. They feel -- you hear this over and over -- that Bernie Sanders has gotten a bit of a pass. That he's sort of been this dictator of what purity is on the Democratic side of this race. And, you know, they want to see -- they certainly want to see Bill Clinton and others go after him on that.

[17:35:16] BLITZER: Ron, how effective is Bill Clinton on the stump right now? Because we know in the past, some of these attacks have backfired. Back in 2008 when he called the Obama campaign the biggest fairy tale, as you remember at the time. So how effective is he now? BROWNSTEIN: You know, it is a very human emotion to want to defend

his wife and not only in 2008 with Barack Obama, but if you recall in 1992 in a debate in Illinois with Jerry Brown, he looked like he was going to get up from behind the podium and slug Jerry Brown, when he raised questions about the Rose Law Firm.

Look, I think Bill Clinton is raising some reasonable arguments. In particular, challenging this idea that, unless you are for the most liberal possible solution to every problem, you are, in essence, bought and paid for by special interests.

But I don't think he is the right messenger. I don't think Americans, by and large, like their former presidents this engaged in the hurly- burley of daily politics.

But even more importantly, I think it's kind of a mismatch of scale. I mean, I think when you have a former president weighing in, it gives some credence to the Bernie Sanders argument and to the Bernie Sanders supporters that they are a movement working against this giant power structure that is grinding against them. So while I think he's raising some important issues, I don't think he's necessarily the right person to be raising them.

BLITZER: And Peter, let's get back to the other breaking news this hour. The former city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, now publicly saying he's considering a run for the White House in an interview with "The Financial Times." He said this. He said, "I'm looking at all the options. I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal, and an outrage and an insult to the voters. I'm listening to what candidates are saying and what the primary voters appear to be doing."

Peter, how's this going to impact this race if by, let's say, March 1, the first week in March, he decides he is going to run as a third- party independent candidate?

BEINART: I just really don't -- don't see it. I mean, if Sanders were to win the nomination, yes, then Bloomberg really, there's some equidistance between him and the Republican nominee.

But I think the chance of Sanders winning a nomination is still very slim. And he and Hillary Clinton just agree on much, much more than they disagree about. Yes, there are some differences I heard before mentioned. Charter schools is a potential difference.

But essentially, they are really cut from largely the same ideological cloth. So does Bloomberg really want to go out there, take these votes from Hillary Clinton, and hand the race to a Republican? I just can't believe people would let him do that.

BLITZER: Some of his sources close to him suggest that he's lost a lot of confidence in her ability to win. That there may be too much baggage out there. That's why he's toying with this idea seriously.

BEINART: But he would ensure her loss if he ran. BLITZER: Well, he doesn't necessarily believe that. He presumably

would run if he thinks he could win, so that would be his rationale. Let's see what he does, but he's getting closer and closer presumably.

All right, guys, stand by. Coming up, there's other major news we're following, including a new warning about possible ISIS sleeper cells in major western cities.

Also global condemnations rain down on North Korea's Kim Jong-un after North Korea launches a powerful rocket. Will the U.S. help its allies deploy anti-missile defense systems?


[17:42:50] BLITZER: We're getting chilling new information on ISIS plans to attack major population centers. Even before the November slaughter in Paris, western security agencies received intelligence that up to 60 ISIS terrorists had been sent to carry out attacks in five major cities.

Our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank, broke the story for us.

Paul, tell our viewers what you're learning.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, western intelligence prior to the Paris attacks received information, intelligence indicating that up to 60 ISIS operatives had actually come back to Europe to launch attacks on European soil against five cities across Europe, including Paris, where there was eventually an attack, but also London, Berlin, Brussels city or another city in Belgium, Wolf. But this intelligence was fragmentary; it was too vague for them to take specific action.

BLITZER: Where are these 60 ISIS fighters now?

CRUICKSHANK: They just don't know where they are, because the intelligence was too vague. And so they're very, very worried that they could strike.

If, say, 20 were involved in that wider Paris conspiracy, that could mean that 40 could still be at large. That concern was expressed to me by my source.

And ISIS itself just yesterday threatened simultaneous terrorist attacks inside Europe in multiple locations at the same time in their French language magazine. And there's real concern now, Wolf, from European officials that ISIS may try to mount a European 9/11 attack as devastating as 9/11 on European soil.

BLITZER: Pretty chilling. What a story. Let's -- I know you're working your sources, and you have really good ones. Thanks very much, Paul Cruickshank, for that.

Let's take a quick break. When we come back, there are also scary new developments involving North Korea celebrating its rocket launch. An outraged global community views it as a cover for a ballistic missile test, a missile which could one day carry a nuclear warhead. So how will the U.S. respond?



BLITZER: North Korea is staging giant rallies and sending off fireworks to celebrate what it says was the launch of a satellite. But the launch is creating fireworks of a different kind.

A furious world reaction to what's seen as a test of a ballistic missile in North Korea.

CNN's Brian Todd has been tracking the latest developments for us. What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have an update on that tonight from a senior U.S. Defense official who tells us that that satellite is, quote, "tumbling in orbit." It is in such an unstable orbit according to this U.S. official that it is incapable of functioning in any meaningful way.

Still the concern tonight, Wolf, is that the North Koreans got this satellite into space in the first place using missile technology that could enable them to eventually launch a nuclear warhead toward the United States.

[17:50:04] The U.S. and its allies are warning tonight that they are going to respond strongly to this, but they also know that they're dealing with an unpredictable violent dictator who is likely brimming with confidence tonight.


TODD (voice-over): It took nine minutes and 46 seconds to get into orbit. On the way up, it dropped debris in four locations in the seas off the Korean Peninsula and Japan. But tonight the military and political fallout is resonating around the world from North Korea's rocket launch.

U.S. and South Korean forces are on high alert. U.S. officials telling CNN tonight additional sanctions and possible military responses are on the table. And they will begin talking to the South Koreans about setting up so-called THAAD defense batteries, capable of shooting down high altitude missiles. Coming on the heels of what North Korea claimed was a hydrogen bomb test, the threat level from the Kim Jong-Un's regime has rarely been higher.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": This shows that North Korea has mastered a very complex technology which are three-stage launchers. So at this point I think North Korea has made a qualitative leap and soon they're going to make a quantitative leap because they can actually start to put these things in production.

TODD: The North Koreans are crowing over the launch with a celebratory display of fireworks. The regime's popular news anchor says this was a gift from their top scientists to, quote, "the great comrade Kim Jong-Un," and she vows there will be more satellite launches. Experts say Kim is doing this to extort economic concessions from the U.S., South Korea and China. But he's also got to show strength inside his regime ahead of a massive gathering of top officials this spring.

BRUCE KINGNER, FORMER CIA ANALYST: The run-up to the May Workers Party Congress, he wants to demonstrate success so that he goes into that party Congress with a great deal of leverage.

TODD: Analysts say Kim is also in a tense position with his top generals after he tried to take power away from them.

CHANG: He's had to execute some senior generals. And I think that essentially there is this friction that remains between the Kim inner circle and the generals and the admirals. So therefore he's got to give the military what it wants, which is a stronger nuclear deterrent, as well as long-range ballistic missile.

TODD: A high-stakes standoff that's got military units jittery tonight on both sides of the DMZ.


TODD: Today the South Korean military fired warning shots toward a North Korean patrol boat after the North Korean vessel crossed their maritime border. Analysts are telling us expect more cross-border skirmishes.

Wolf, we are cautioned tonight it's not going to take much at all for any side to be provoked in this situation.

BLITZER: Really dangerous situation unfolding, Brian. Thanks very, very much.

Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What are your sources saying about how the United States is likely to respond?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, you heard Brian talk about this THAAD missile defense system. And that's something -- talks have really accelerated between the U.S. and South Korea. That could be in place, Wolf, in just a few weeks U.S. officials are telling us. And then there are those talks at the United Nations on a Security Council resolution not just about the launch but about that nuclear test that North Korea took a few weeks ago.

And those talks have not really progressed that far. First of all, it's really hard to -- it's a challenge to get creative with these sanctions because North Korea is already sanctioned to the hilt. The U.S. wants to go further than ever before. Limit North Korea's access to cash and maybe target its energy sector. But the Chinese are very reluctant as they always are. And so I think if you don't see some action at the U.N. in the next few weeks to a month, I think you're going to see the U.S. and its allies start to take some tougher sanctions against North Korea, really putting the squeeze on them.

BLITZER: Well, what exactly is the Chinese role right now?

LABOTT: Well, U.S. might call them the spoiler. And I think the Chinese would say that they are in the horns of a dilemma. I mean, they are angry with North Korea. They have sent some envoys to North Korea in recent months. It didn't stop either the nuclear test or the missile launch. It -- you know, I think that the U.S. wants them to still get tough but they on their side they feel if they do take any actions there could be further destabilizing.

I was in Beijing last week with Secretary Kerry. Some very tough talk with the Chinese. And Secretary Kerry warned them that if they are not willing to step up, use its economic leverage against North Korea, the U.S. could be taking some actions on its own that Chinese might not find so pleasing. And that certainly that missile defense system that the U.S. and South Korea are talking about does not make China happy either because that affects their nuclear deterrence.

So the U.S. trying to say listen, this is as much a threat to you but China feels that any further actions it could take could really get North Korea mad.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: Yes. This is a tense situation. Elise Labott, thanks very much.

Coming up, our new poll shows where the candidates stand just hours before the crucial New Hampshire primary. As the Republican and Democratic campaigns get nastier could a new candidate, yes, a new candidate jump into the race?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news fallout. New poll numbers show how far Hillary Clinton is trailing Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire on this, the eve of that state's critical primary. Bill Clinton lashing out at Sanders' supporters calling some of them sexist. And now there are reports of a possible Clinton campaign shake-up. Why is she struggling?

Racing for bronze. The nail-biting fight among Republicans for third place in New Hampshire. Who will survive? Who will emerge stronger?