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Conflict in Syria; Sanders and Clinton Debate; Trump's Rivals Stepping Up Attacks; Cease-fire Deal Reached in Syria. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 11, 2016 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tweaking their messages ahead of the primary, unleashing on each other and especially against Donald Trump.

We're standing by for a Trump campaign event. We're watching him roll out a new campaign strategy. Will it work?

Truce or dare. Secretary of State John Kerry pressing for a cease- fire in Syria, a potential make-or-break moment as troubled peace talks threaten to collapse, government troops slaughtering the opposition with the help of Russian airstrikes. Are Bashar al Assad's forces on the verge of a decisive victory in Syria's brutal civil war?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking political news, a high-stakes debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Take a look at this. Live pictures coming in from the debate hall in Milwaukee where the Democratic presidential candidates will soon face off for the first time since Sanders' overwhelming win in the New Hampshire primary.

Their next battlegrounds, Nevada and South Carolina. We're counting down to the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential debate, which we will be carrying live right here on CNN.

And we're standing by for a Donald Trump campaign event. The Republican presidential front-runner trying on a new campaign strategy just ahead of the South Carolina primary, going positive instead of negative. But will it last as Trump faces increasingly heavy fire from all sides of the GOP field?

And we're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guest, including Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon, and our correspondents and our expert analysts. They are also standing by live.

Let's begin with tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, he is in Wisconsin for us.

Jeff, this will mark the start of a new phase for both campaigns.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the start of a new phase indeed and a chance for Hillary Clinton to regain her footing after the New Hampshire victory by Bernie Sanders this week that's shattered the confidence of her once front-running campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): A showdown in Milwaukee.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are the reason we are here.

ZELENY: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the same stage tonight, their first face-to-face meeting since tables turned in the Democratic primary fight.

CLINTON: I want to begin by congratulating Senator Sanders on his victory tonight.

ZELENY: Sanders suddenly in the driver's seat after a commanding win in New Hampshire.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, New Hampshire. And now it's on to Nevada, South Carolina and beyond.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: But Clinton is well-positioned for a long battle ahead, winning a key endorsement today from the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: And there is no question that the person that has obtained the most results and benefits for communities of color and everyone in America, in my opinion, it's not even close. It's Hillary Clinton.

ZELENY: Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march, was asked about the civil rights record of Sanders, who as a student played a far less visible role in the 1963 March on Washington.

SANDERS: I was way, way back there, one of the several hundred thousand people who was here.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I never saw him, I never met him. I was involved in the sit-ins, the Freedom Ride, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed the Voter Education Project for six years.

But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.

ZELENY: Not all members were on board. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman and Sanders supporter, said on Twitter the endorsement was "without input from CBC membership, including me."

In a battle of endorsements, the Sanders campaign weighed in with one of their own today, Harry Belafonte.

HARRY BELAFONTE, ENTERTAINER: Just use your platform and your power to do some good for social welfare.

ZELENY: With Iowa and New Hampshire in the books, the Sanders-Clinton contest is now playing out to a far more diverse electorate. The Nevada caucuses, just nine days away, is a state where 20 percent of voters are Hispanic.

The South Carolina Democratic primary is the following week; 55 percent of Democratic voters in 2008 were African-American. Sanders, who says he raised more than $6 million since New Hampshire, took a victory lap on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert."

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Why do you think the younglings like you?

SANDERS: I think for two reasons. By definition, young people are idealistic, and they look at a world with so many problems and they say, why not?

ZELENY: The Clinton campaign is struggling to keep pace raising money, sending an appeal today. "We just can't allow our team to be outraised and outspent like this. This team is bigger, more diverse and more enthusiastic than Bernie's team. It's time for us to show it."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:05:00]

ZELENY: Now, the time for Clinton to show it is tonight. It comes with their latest debate here, Wolf.

And the challenge here is one of the biggest worries is fund-raising. The Clinton campaign for the first time believes they will have less money than Bernie Sanders going forward. And that matters as this campaign goes to Nevada, South Carolina and then quickly spreads all across the country, some 15 contests so key in March -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst Brianna Keilar. She's also in Milwaukee for us tonight

Brianna, you have been talking to your sources and getting a little more sense of Hillary Clinton's strategy going forward. What are you learning?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As you know, Wolf, she did spend a couple of days down preparing for this debate tonight. We may be in Wisconsin, but this is very much a battle for Nevada and for South Carolina and for the important constituencies for Democrats in that state, namely African-Americans and Hispanics.

What we're expecting from the campaign and certainly from Hillary Clinton tonight is for her to really give what one aide told me are compelling contrasts on a series of issues that they think will motivate African-American and Hispanic voters, for instance, Bernie Sanders' support of the 1994 crime bill.

The complicating factor of course for Hillary Clinton is she, while not in the Senate at the time, she was first lady, she did voice support for this. It was a bill that her husband signed into law. But we also expect that the campaign and certainly in some way Hillary Clinton will be targeting Bernie Sanders on immigration.

He voted against several procedural bill -- procedural votes in the Senate in 2007 for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. And we expect that she may take some aim at him on that. Now, he really did side with labor, not so much with immigrant right activists. But his campaign says, look, that was something you had a number of immigrant groups who were not in favor of. Perhaps we will hear a defense of that.

But I think most clearly what we're going to hear her take on Bernie Sanders about is going to be guns, because of his more moderate stance on guns compared to her. And that's going to be done, we think, very much with an eye to South Carolina, where, as you know, last year, nine African-American parishioners were killed by a gunman in that church attack in Charleston, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar in Milwaukee for us getting ready for this debate as well, Brianna, thank you.

Let's get more on all of this.

Joining us now, the Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon.

Brian, thanks very much for joining us.

So, Hillary Clinton's coming off the loss in New Hampshire. What does she need to do tonight?

BRIAN FALLON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Well, we always knew that New Hampshire would be a challenge for us. Senator Sanders led there pretty consistently dating back to the summer.

But I think, Wolf, as you said a few moments ago, we're entering a new phase of the campaign. From this point forward, the map gets much more diverse in terms of the electorate that you will see in Nevada and in South Carolina. And then come Super Tuesday, on the 1st of March, you will see electorates that are much more representative of the Democratic Party and the nation as a whole.

And I think that, as a result of that, there will be more conversation about who has been there, who has the track record, who has gotten results on behalf of some of these underrepresented communities that are over-represented in these states that are coming up? And I think you heard it from the CBC members, whose endorsement we were very proud to collect today. When it comes to fighting for African-Americans and for Hispanics on issues that are most important to them, Hillary Clinton has been there for decades and Bernie Sanders just hasn't.

BLITZER: Are we going to see a different strategy, a different side of Hillary Clinton tonight going after Bernie Sanders and his record on various issues?

FALLON: Well, Wolf, I don't have any details to read out from today's debate preparations. But I think that all the debates are important. She enjoys debating. That's why we sought to add several more of them.

But I do think going forward over these next six weeks, as we enter this critical stretch, at the end of which, by the end of March, I think, 60 percent of delegates will have been awarded and probably we will have a clear front-runner whose lead probably can't be caught, in the six-week stretch that we're entering now, I do think that there will be three points of contrast that will emerge in this contest.

Number one, who can get results? You heard Senator Sanders very strangely criticize President Obama today over his failure of leadership over the last seven years. That's an absurd criticism coming from someone who has been in Congress for 25 years and has very little accomplishments to show for it.

Number two, who can pass the commander in chief test? We're now five debates into this campaign;. Senator Sanders has continued to fail the foreign policy test each time. He owes it to Democratic voters tonight to do his homework and show up prepared to have a serious conversation about foreign policy.

And, thirdly, as I said, as we enter these states that are going to be more diverse and where there will be communities that face systemic barriers to making progress, the real question becomes, who has been there fighting the fights on behalf of these communities for the last several decades? It's Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders.

BLITZER: She tweeted today this, picking up on something you just said. Let me read the tweet.

She said: "Let's dispel with this fiction that President Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing."

[18:10:03]

She then linked that to a story quoting Bernie Sanders, who said in an interview that the president had not closed the gap between Congress and the American people. Will she continue to defend the president strongly tonight and go after Sanders specifically on this issue?

FALLON: She was proud to serve under President Obama in the first term of his administration. Obviously, she had a very hard-fought contest with him in 2008. But he respected her judgment. They came together and they made history in terms of improving our relations around the globe with her as secretary of state serving under him.

And she has so much pride in the accomplishments that we have seen under President Obama on issues from the Affordable Care Act to his brave executive actions to help keep families united here, immigrant families in the United States. It's absurd for Senator Sanders to be criticizing President Obama.

Unfortunately, the comments we heard today are not new from him. He's previously called for a course correction from the Obama administration. He's endorsed a book suggesting that President Obama has been a letdown to progressives. Nothing could be further from the truth.

President Obama has translated our progressive values into results over the last seven years and in the course of doing so, he has built out the Democratic Party. Senator Sanders has done nothing on either of those two fronts.

BLITZER: Did the Hillary Clinton campaign underestimate Bernie Sanders?

FALLON: Absolutely not. We said back in the spring that we always knew that this race would be close.

I don't think everyone believed us back in the spring when we said that, but it's turning out to be the case. And, look, this is going to be a spirited contest. It's growing the party. What Senator Sanders is doing in terms of motivating young people to come into the Democratic Party and participate in these elections is a very important thing.

And -- but I do think that over the next six weeks, there will be a sorting out and by the end of March there will be a candidate that has a lead in terms of the pledged delegates that will be hard for the challenger to overcome. I think that candidate that will have that lead at the end of March will be Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: End of March, you're now saying.

What is the biggest weakness in your opinion that Bernie Sanders has?

FALLON: The clear contrast in this race, Wolf, is who has actually gotten results on the progressive values that Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton share.

When it comes to affordable health care, Hillary Clinton was the one that waged that fight back in the early 1990s, and when we couldn't get universal health care, despite a big effort that she waged on Capitol Hill, she got results by getting eight million kids insured.

Senator Sanders has introduced the same single-payer legislation for his 25 years in Congress, and in the Senate, he wasn't able to get a single co-sponsor for it. When he was in the House during all those years, he wasn't able to bring it up a single time for a vote. And now he's telling us he's going to achieve it as president?

It just doesn't add up. We need somebody that can get results. Hillary Clinton is that person, not Bernie Sanders.

BLITZER: But he's getting a lot of support, especially among young people, including young women. What can she do to change that?

FALLON: Well, Senator Sanders is promising a lot. And I guess when you put out there that you're going to be able to deliver free health care and free college, that's going to have some appeal. That's quite natural.

But we need to be -- we owe it to the voters to level with them about how you're actually going to achieve what you are proposing. Hillary Clinton has put out serious plans that would build on the progress we have made under President Obama.

Look, with respect to young people, she's acknowledged that Senator Sanders right now has demonstrated wide appeal with young people. And she wants to make inroads with those folks. And as she has said on numerous occasions, including the speech that she gave the other night in New Hampshire, even if they are not for her right now, she's always going to be there for them.

And over time, I think, especially as we communicate her work early in her career coming out of law school working for the Children's Defense Fund, her work on behalf of an idealistic campaign in 1968 that ultimately didn't capture the nomination, this was a woman from an early age that channeled her idealism and passion into progressive causes and she's lived out those values for the rest of her life.

We need to tell that story more. The more we do, I think more appeal that we will encounter in terms of those young voters.

BLITZER: The former White House Press Secretary under President Obama Jay Carney, who is a CNN commentator, and he said this. He said this the other night.

He said: "I don't think there's any doubt that he," referring to President Obama, "wants Hillary to win the nomination and believes that she would be the best candidate in the fall, the most effective as president in carrying forward what he's achieved."

I assume Hillary Clinton has heard those words. What was her reaction?

FALLON: Well, I don't think there's any doubt that there's deep mutual respect and admiration between Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

And I think that Hillary Clinton is the one that is best posed to continue the Obama legacy, continue to protect the gains we have made under President Obama, historic achievements that Senator Sanders too often has belittled or dismissed. We need to protect those accomplishments from health care to executive actions on immigration to Dodd-Frank financial reform.

And we need to go further. And she's laid out plans for how to do that. But she has deep pride and admiration in having served under President Obama, and it's very strange and peculiar that Senator Sanders continues to criticize him to deploy surrogates out on the trail who have been said very harsh things about President Obama.

BLITZER: Brian Fallon, we have more to discuss. Stand by.

We're getting ready for tonight's big debate, the presidential debate in Milwaukee. You are looking at live pictures, the "PBS NewsHour" Democratic debate.

[18:15:03]

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they will be there. It will be simulcast here on CNN starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Stick around. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're looking right now at live pictures coming in, the site of tonight's high-stakes debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidates getting ready to face off soon on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

We're back with Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon.

Brian, thanks once again for sticking around.

Quick question. Some are saying that it may be a mistake for Hillary Clinton and the campaign to be using the former President Bill Clinton so much out there on the campaign trail. Is he going to continue to be very visible?

[18:20:03]

FALLON: Wolf, I don't know what to tell you except that this campaign feels strongly that any day that we have President Clinton out there on the trail advocating for Secretary Clinton, that's a good day for our campaign. So, yes, you are going to continue to see him out there.

BLITZER: And quick reaction to "The Washington Post" story that moved today reporting that investigators from the State Department issued a subpoena to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation last fall seeking documents about the charity's projects that may have required approval from the federal government during Clinton's term as secretary of state.

They also reportedly, according to "The Washington Post," asked for records related to her top aide Huma Abedin. What can you tell us about this?

FALLON: Well, Wolf, I saw that report, but I really can't tell you much more than what's in it.

The foundation has been quoted in that story noting that the request that came from the I.G. does not concern Hillary Clinton or the foundation, but it's very hard, to be honest with you, for me personally to keep track of all the fishing expeditions that this I.G. office has conducted.

Remember, Wolf, a couple of years ago, this was the same office that launched an investigation into one of Secretary Clinton's top aides over maternity leave. And when the Justice Department refused to go along with that fishing expedition, they had to give it up. And so now, ever since, they have been looking for other things.

In the last few weeks, we have seen reports of who works in that office, that State Department I.G.'s office. You have the number two official there, Emilia Di Santo, who is a former eight-year aide to Senator Chuck Grassley, who last month said his number one goal this year is to defeat Hillary Clinton.

The number three official in that office, David Seide, we just learned a few weeks ago conducted a failed prosecution of a former campaign aide to Secretary Clinton back when she was running for Senate in 2000. They took that all the way to trial. The gentleman was acquitted.

You have these individuals that have a history of targeting Hillary Clinton. And, strangely, we have seen a pattern of leaks emerging on the eves of primary elections and debates. I think it's a very troubling phenomenon and I it's just more of the same. The voters see through it, and I don't think that it will actually figure into the voting that is going to happen in the next six weeks.

BLITZER: You say this fishing expedition or whatever you are calling it that there's a plot inside the I.G., the inspector general's office at the State Department, to get Hillary Clinton?

FALLON: All I know is that they have mounted several different fishing expedition-style investigations since she decided to run for president.

There's no basis to any of them and I think that it's intended to create headwinds for her campaign. It's not going to work. She's a fighter who has spent decades encountering resistance from those who want to defend the status quo. She keeps fighting for progressive change. I think Democrats voters see through it.

BLITZER: But the inspector general himself was appointed by the president of the United States, confirmed by a Democratic majority in the Senate. You aren't suggesting that the I.G. himself, maybe other aides in that office, you are accusing them of something...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But go ahead. Tell us what's you think about the I.G., the inspector general himself. I think his name is Charles McCullough.

FALLON: That's the inspector general for the intelligence community. There's also an inspector general for the State Department.

And it's just a fact, Wolf, that two of the top aides in that office have a background in terms of targeting Hillary Clinton. You see the number two official in that office, a former top aide to Senator Chuck Grassley, worked for him for eight years.

And strangely, coincidentally, Senator Grassley seems to come upon possession of many of the details of the State Department I.G.'s office's reviews, and strangely, just coincidentally, they end up leaking out. People should draw their own conclusions from that. I think Democratic voters see it as quite transparent.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I just want to be precise, because you are making a serious accusation about a potential witch-hunt inside the inspector general's office at the State Department. You aren't making a similar accusation against the inspector general for the intelligence community?

FALLON: There are serious questions that need to be asked about the independence of that office.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Which office?

FALLON: The inspector general's office within the State Department.

It's gone back to e-mails, now the foundation, according to this report, and then going back two years ago, a fishing expedition into a top staffer's maternity leave. That was ridiculous. And the Justice Department laughed at it when the State Department I.G.'s office made a referral over there, rightfully so.

These were partisan fishing expeditions. You have a number two official there again that worked for eight years for Senator Chuck Grassley. And it happens to be Senator Grassley that comes upon all the details of these reviews that this office is conducting.

And, again, three weeks ago, you heard him attend a Trump rally and say that his goal is to defeat Hillary Clinton. He's using taxpayer dollars as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then it just so happens to have a top aide working in the same office.

BLITZER: Wrap it up, but I just want to make sure that you aren't making a similar accusation against the inspector general's office for the intelligence community.

FALLON: Well, Wolf, I think that, in that case, you know, motives need not be partisan. Right?

What you have happening in the intelligence community with this dispute over e-mails and whether they are classified is you have very strong differing views, and you had a bureaucratic turf battle where different agencies within the government had completely different, 180-degree opposite opinions about what's classified and what's not.

[18:25:08]

And so you can have an agency like the inspector general for the intelligence community, Mr. McCullough, fighting fiercely within that interagency tussle to try to get his opinion upheld. And that's -- need not be a partisan motive. It may just be trying to get the better of a bureaucrat turf battle that is going on.

BLITZER: Brian Fallon is the press secretary for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Brian, thanks very much for joining us.

FALLON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will get some reaction to this. We're going to assess what's going on.

Right now joining us, our CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. We're also joined by national political reporter for RealClearPolitics Rebecca Berg, and our CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent "The New Yorker" magazine.

Ryan, those are pretty serious accusations we just heard.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Look, I don't know how to litigate who is right on this because I don't know the full story with the I.G.'s office.

BLITZER: At the State Department.

LIZZA: At the State Department. But they are turning this into a partisan fight. Right?

They are attacking Obama's I.G. at the State Department, trying to turn that office into, according to them, basically saying they are on a partisan witch-hunt. The one thing that comes to mind is, if Hillary Clinton is the president, if as a candidate she's having -- she's already at war with Republicans in Washington over these issues, boy, she's going to have a tough time as president getting an agenda through, isn't she?

BLITZER: Gloria, that's the first time I heard such strong words coming from the Hillary Clinton campaign about the inspector general's operation at the State Department.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, I think they are naming names now, and I think that this is a real indication of how serious the campaign thinks these charges could be if they get out of control.

So what they are trying to do is hit them with a blunt instrument, which is to say, you know what? This is political. There's a history here. You ought to look at this history, and then you ought to judge this and then they go on and on and say, look, Hillary, you know, has done nothing wrong and she's being victimized by a partisan witch- hunt.

You have to see if that flies. But I think it's a really clear indication that they think these are serious charges, and they have to get rid of them pretty soon.

BLITZER: Sunny, you are a legal analyst. What was your reaction when you heard those very strong words from Brian Fallon?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I agree with Gloria. I was surprised, but I certainly think that the Clinton campaign is trying to get ahead of this.

They must think that this is serious. They must think that. And, remember, Hillary Clinton is a lawyer. And so I think they are trying to somehow blunt the edge of these accusations. I think it's very significant.

BLITZER: Yes.

And, Rebecca, the inspector general's office at the State Department, like inspectors general Defense Department, other agencies of the U.S. government, these are independent operations, not -- they are not subject to the secretary of state or the secretary of defense. They are brought in to be a watchdog.

REBECCA BERG, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Exactly.

And so this says to me that the Clinton camp is trying to impugn the integrity of this independent office in an administration, by the way, that is a Democratic administration, and call this a political witch- hunt. That to me seems a little bit desperate and like the other commentators have also said, shows they are taking this very, very seriously.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

All right, guys, stand by. We're going to continue to watch what's going on.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they are getting ready to face off just a little while from now, two-and-a-half hours or so from now in the "PBS NewsHour" Democratic presidential debate in Milwaukee. That will be simulcast. You will see it right here on CNN, as well as your local PBS stations, tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

We will be back with much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Live pictures from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are preparing to face off in a high stakes debate tonight.

[18:33:54] We're also standing by for Donald Trump at a campaign event he's about to have, as well. This one in Louisiana. Trump's Republican rivals stepping up their attacks on the front-runner tonight, as well. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in South Carolina for us.

Sunlen, the battle for that state is getting very intense. SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, it is, Wolf. And

while Donald Trump is in Louisiana tonight, the attacks are flying against him here on the ground in South Carolina.

CNN has learned that Ted Cruz is set to unleash a brand-new ad tomorrow here in South Carolina, taking on Trump in a brutal way. The ad will claim that Trump uses power for personal gain and ask South Carolina voters point blank to imagine the damage Trump could do as president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nine days, actually, until the big event.

SERFATY (voice-over): The Republican field is now a six-man race, and a southern slugfest is under way.

TRUMP: You vote for Trump, we win here, we're going to run the table.

SERFATY: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on a collision course.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the state of South Carolina, I don't think people are interested in someone, a Republican candidate who's pushed partial birth abortion, who won't defend marriage and who supports big government bailouts.

[18:35:08] TRUMP: Boom. Certified, done.

SERFATY: Trump is taking to Twitter to blast his rival for, quote, "doing very sleazy and dishonest push polls on me."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of man talks from both sides of his mouth?

SERFATY: While his campaign says they're swapping out an attack ad directed at Cruz for a sunnier spot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants to make America great.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Public power, private gain.

SERFATY: But Cruz is employing a different approach, releasing a new ad slamming Trump's business dealings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump bankrolled politicians to steamroll the little guy. A pattern of sleaze stretching back decades.

SERFATY: Trump and Cruz both on the hunt for the same bounty: evangelicals, a powerful voting bloc in South Carolina.

TRUMP: It's going to be such an unbelievable week and a half. I'm going to be with you almost all the time.

SERFATY: Trump is hammering away at a familiar rival, Jeb Bush.

TRUMP: He's a low-energy person. I said -- no, I said he's a stiff.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why this election year...

SERFATY: And Bush is punching back at Trump as he spent his 63rd birthday on the campaign trail.

BUSH: I don't care how popular he is. He's wrong. And you better believe that, if we elect him, that we're not going to win. Other than that, I'm having a great birthday.

SERFATY: Others in the field are bracing for the attacks.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to be a pin cushion, though. I don't take crap from anybody.

SERFATY: John Kasich is eyeing Bush.

KASICH: I'm worried about Jeb. It's all negative. How the heck can you sell negative?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The choice we have is incredibly important.

SERFATY: Marco Rubio is debuting a more aggressive tone following his disappointing finish in New Hampshire, launching an across-the-board attack, calling out three of his rivals by name.

RUBIO: Donald Trump has zero foreign policy experience. Negotiating a hotel deal in another country is not foreign policy experience. Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience, period. Ted Cruz has a little bit of foreign policy experience.

SERFATY: Meanwhile, the Rubio campaign is signaling they are digging in for the long haul, even if the fight leads all the way to a brokered convention.

RUBIO; We're ready for that. We're ready for a long primary process. We're ready for it to end in a more traditional way. No one can predict this year. It's completely unpredictable.

SERFATY: The Cruz campaign is trying to frame the nominating fight as a two-man race with Trump, but the campaign's latest television ad in South Carolina has a different target, Senator Rubio.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe you should vote for more than just a pretty face next time.

SERFATY: A sign the southern brawl is just getting started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys have room for one more?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And Jeb Bush will get a little help from his older brother here in South Carolina next week. George W. Bush is set to hit the campaign trail on Monday in North Charleston with him. He is still very popular in this state with Republicans. The Bush campaign really hoping that will inject a little extra energy next week going into primary day -- Wolf.

All right, Sunlen, thanks very much.

Sunlen is in South Carolina.

We're going to dig into all of this and a lot more. Sunny Hostin is still with us, as is Gloria Borger, Rebecca Berg, Ryan Lizza. In fact, guys, stand by. There's a lot to talk about.

Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:43:00] BLITZER: We're following the breaking political news. You're looking at live pictures. The final preparations right now for tonight's high-stakes debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in Milwaukee. You see the pictures coming in. A little bit more than two hours from now. That's the "PBS Newshour" Democratic debate, which you'll see right here on CNN.

We're also standing by for Donald Trump at a campaign rally that's about to begin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Trump is eyeing later contests. His rivals, they're battling it out in South Carolina right now.

Gloria -- Gloria Borger is with us, among others. But Gloria, I want you to watch. This is a new Ted Cruz ad just that's just coming out. It will air in South Carolina. Really going after Donald Trump. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vera Coking's (ph) home was all she had left. But it stood in Donald Trump's way and the limousine parking lot he wanted for his casino. To him, she was a nobody, so Trump schemed with Atlantic City government to force Coking (ph) from her home using eminent domain.

JOHN STOSSEL, FORMER ABC NEWS REPORTER: You're bullying these people out because they're...

TRUMP: Excuse me. This is a government case; this is not Donald Trump.

STOSSEL: Yes, it's Donald Trump. It's you and your cronies in government working together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Public power, private gain.

TRUMP: I offered her a lot of money out of this, a little thing called heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't have no heart. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump bankrolled politicians to steamroll the

little guy. A pattern of sleaze stretching back decades. Worse: Trump still supports eminent domain today.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Do you support taking private property for private use?

TRUMP: I am for that. Eminent domain is wonderful.

Yes, we have to use the power of eminent domain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump uses power for personal gain. Imagine the damage he could do as president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A pattern of sleaze. You heard those words, Gloria. If Trump is trying to take a positive high road, that's probably not going to last for very long after he sees that ad.

BORGER: Right. Look, I think what you see Cruz trying to do is get those values voters on his side. When you ask voters about who best shares their values, Cruz does very well and Trump not so well.

And so what he's trying to do is say to those folks, don't vote for him, because there is a character issue out here.

[18:45:07] There is a character flaw with Donald Trump. He cares about the powerful more than he cares about the average person. He will let the government take away your property. That's what this question of eminent domain is all about.

And those are important issues, not only to evangelical voters in South Carolina, but to very conservative Republicans. And I think that's who Cruz is going for with this ad.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Could Cruz, Rebecca, simply be trying to bait Donald Trump to go from this positive moment he's had and now go on the attack?

REBECCA BERG, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, that may be part of the calculation. Trump is in a situation in South Carolina where he leads the rest of the field by a pretty wide margin and he's starting to act like a front-runner, going positive, not attacking some of his rivals. It would behoove Cruz to bring him back into the muck and have the chance to have a real debate with him. So, that's probably part of the calculation.

But we also saw on the debate stage last week this argument worked when Jeb Bush use Tuesday against Donald Trump. And Jeb Bush is not the best at landing punches. Ted Cruz is even better. This could be really good for him.

BLITZER: Cruz, you know, before the last Republican debate, Ryan, he said Donald Trump didn't have the temperament to be commander in chief. When he was asked to repeat at the debate with Trump right next to him, he refused to do so. Trump said he was showing respect for him. Others said he didn't have the guts to go after Trump directly standing right next to him.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think that once you put out an ad like this, Cruz cannot stand next to Trump at the next debate and say, oh, I don't think Donald Trump's position on eminent domain is such a big deal. I mean, he now has to own this.

BLITZER: If he's asked at the next Republican debate Saturday night, do you believe the man standing next to you has a pattern of sleaze, is he going to repeat that?

LIZZA: I would expect him to. You cannot run an ad like this and then disown it during a debate. That would be far worse. I think as Gloria points out, this ad does two things. It's an issue that conservatives really care about and Cruz is the candidate of the more ideological faction in the Republican Party.

And it goes to the heart of the Trump campaign, which is that he'll take care of the little guy. Instead this shows he tried to bulldoze the little guy. The question is, is it too little, too late? It's been months now and --

BLITZER: And, Sunny, you know this issue, eminent domain. Donald Trump says he supports it. He says there wouldn't be bridges, there wouldn't be hospitals, there wouldn't be a Keystone pipeline unless there was eminent domain.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's really unbelievable because eminent domain has been around, that concept, for a very long time and it really is the government taking private property and paying some money for that private property, but for governmental use. And for ages, the little guy, people have been very, very upset about it, very concerned. So, it is certainly an issue.

But, Wolf, I've got to tell you -- having followed this election season, I just can't imagine that Trump supporters really care about that. They are somewhat rabid in their support of Donald Trump. He has been the offender in chief, the insulter in chief for so long, and no one seems to care. His supporters don't care.

He has really mainstreamed the marginalized. Those people are not concerned, I think, with eminent domain. I don't think they are concerned with political correctness. They are still going to be Trump supporters.

BLITZER: Gloria, Donald Trump just tweeted moments ago that Ted Cruz, in his words, is the definition of sleaze. It didn't take very long.

BORGER: I guess the bromance is over. What do you think?

BLITZER: Yes, I think it is.

BORGER: What do you think?

Look, I think -- I think what Cruz is trying to do here is to say to conservatives, it's something Jeb Bush has been trying to do for quite some time, is to say to conservatives, he's not like us. I'm the real conservative in this race. And also to Sunny's point, I care about you, and he doesn't care about you.

So what -- you know, he's trying to differentiate himself here because he believes he is in the same lane for winning this South Carolina primary as, you know, as Trump is. By the way, Marco Rubio also going on the attack. You know, this debate on Saturday night among Republicans is not going to be a pretty thing because in South Carolina, politics gets pretty nasty, as you can see. And these are some of the nastiest ads because the stakes are so high.

BLITZER: They certainly are. Stand by. There's a lot going on.

We're also following we're also following breaking news from one of the world's bloodiest war zones right now. A deal for a cease-fire in Syria has been reached. We're getting new information. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:54:22] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Syria right now.

Sources telling CNN that a cease-fire agreement has been reached, will take effect in a week. This comes as the humanitarian situation in the city of Aleppo is reaching crisis levels right now. Airstrikes are reduced much of the area to rubble, but no one can seem to agree on who bears responsibility for all the carnage.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is following all the latest developments for us.

So, they're pointing fingers, Barbara. What's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Everyone pointing fingers at everybody else between Moscow and Washington, Wolf. Moscow making this claim. Washington saying the Russians are engaging in pure propaganda, a lie, and pure fabrication.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[18:55:04] STARR (voice-over): North of Aleppo, homes in ruins after more Russian air bombardment, according to this amateur video. The Russian defense ministry claiming U.S. A-10 warplanes have bombed near here.

IGOR KONASHENKOV, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): Only the aircraft of the so-called anti-ISIS coalition, including planes and fighter drones were actively flying over the city.

STARR: But U.S. military officials say doesn't bomb in Aleppo because ISIS is not there.

MARK TONER, DEPUTY STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We do due diligence on this, categorically can say there were no air strikes in and around Aleppo yesterday or today.

STARR: The U.S. says there may have been hundreds of Russian airstrikes and Syrian regime attacks here aimed at killing civilians and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. It's estimated, some 320,000 people maybe hiding here from the bombs, hungry with no heat and no medical care.

COL. STEVE WARREN, SPOKESMAN, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE: With the destruction of the two main hospitals in Aleppo by Russian and regime attacks, over 50,000 Syrians are now without access to life-saving assistance.

STARR: In Brussels, Defense Secretary Ash Carter focusing on the fight, pressing allies to do more. He said Saudi Arabia is stepping up air strikes in the last few weeks and will offer ground troops in an assisting role.

ASH CARTER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: First of all, there is training of both military forces and police forces. We need forces on the ground that participate in training, and then enabling, including even accompanying partner forces.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: But even as the Russians continue their bombing, the U.S. says it is remaining focused on the fight against ISIS amid growing concern as we've talked about, Wolf, that ISIS could be plotting attacks in Europe and even here in the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

I want to get back to the breaking news out of Syria. Ceasefire agreement supposedly set to take effect in a week.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has been getting details.

What are you learning specifically, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just heard from Secretary Kerry just moments ago. You have these marathon negotiations all day today in Munich with world powers including the U.S. and Russia, really who has changed the battlefield, what's going on in Syria right now.

We understand, there is an agreement for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the besieged cities of Syria. We're talking about ten cities that the U.N. has identified. That will start taking place on Saturday. World powers will start talking about a cease-fire that has been agreed to be implemented in one week.

Now, Wolf, a lot can happen in one week. You've seen the Russians really starting to strengthen President Assad's forces on the ground. They've done a large job in doing that.

And so, a lot can happen in one week and the concern is that the opposition will be further damaged this week. But we do have an agreement for much needed delivery of humanitarian aid. Hopefully, they still have to work out a lot of specifics, but a cease-fire to take place in one week.

BLITZER: This is a cease-fire, correct me if I'm wrong, between the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad backed by the Iranians, backed by Hezbollah in Lebanon, back by, you know, I guess the Russians for all practical purposes, against the opposition, the rebels. But ISIS is not part of this cease-fire.

LABOTT: ISIS is not part of the cease-fire. Al Nusra is not part of this cease-fire. And what Secretary Kerry is saying, he hopes that this will refocus everyone fighting now not against the opposition, including Russia, not against the opposition but against al Nusra.

BLITZER: So, this is a limited cease-fire maybe between the Syrian government and the rebels, but even only part of the rebels of al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate, they're one of the rebel groups. If they're not part of it, who else -- are the Kurds part of the cease- fire?

LABOTT: The Kurds will be part of the cease-fire. Some of the groups that are not considered not necessarily terrorist groups but a little bit on the more extremist side, we don't know if they're going to sign up. We know that U.S.-backed rebels will be signing up to this cease- fire.

But -- and anything could happen. You know, a miscalculation on any side, of course, that cease-fire could fall apart.

But in the meantime, delivery of humanitarian aid, we've been hearing about areas like Aleppo where they're really besieged and needing aid -- some 400,000 people will be needing aid.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a limited, very limited ceasefire. But if they get some humanitarian aide, that will be good. But with ISIS not involved, al Nusra not involved, some of the terror groups, that cease-fire probably won't last very long.

All right. Thanks very much, Elise, for that report.

Remember, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they're getting ready to face off in just a little bit, two hours from now in the PBS NewsHour Democratic Presidential right here. You'll see it on CNN and your local PBS stations. That's tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.