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Sanders vs. Clinton; Supreme Fight; Trump Attacks; Trump on Cruz: He Lies; Interview with Donald Trump. Aired 4:00-4:30p ET

Aired February 15, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump goes off.

THE LEAD starts right now.

He's calling Ted Cruz a lying basket case and threatening to take him to court for more than just campaigning while Canadian. Is he just trying to steal another candidate's thunder, as Jeb Bush recruits W. to deliver a W. in South Carolina?

And it's hard to think of a death that could shake up the political landscape more, President Obama and GOP senators already battling out over who will replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Plus, he's the former New York governor forced out of office after being caught on a wiretap paying for prostitutes. Now the NYPD wants to know if Eliot Spitzer choked a woman in a hotel on Valentine's weekend.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with breaking news in our politics lead. Donald Trump just wrapping up a rampage against his Republican opponents. The businessman and presidential candidate lashing out at former President George W. Bush, his brother Jeb Bush and, most of all, Senator Ted Cruz. Trump calling his Texas rival a liar and unhinged and threatening to bring a lawsuit against Cruz over his citizenship.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins me now.

So, Dana, what's behind all of this? What's he trying to do here today?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, what is going happen in a couple of hours in South Carolina is what the Jeb Bush campaign tells me, a senior adviser told me earlier today, their best press day they hope since he announced on June 15.

Donald Trump is very, very savvy. He understands the media. He understands kind of the ebbs and flows of a news cycle. So what does he do best to get into that news cycle is goes off, not just on the Bushes, both Bushes, but also on Ted Cruz. Listen to part of it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have heard for years he kept the country safe after 9/11. What does that mean after? What about during 9/11? I was there. I lost a lot of friends that were killed in that building, the worst attack ever in this country.

It was during his presidency. And I must tell you one thing about Ted Cruz that I can say that only to a minor extent by comparison for the other politicians. I haven't been doing this long. I have been in it since June 16. But I will tell you I have never, ever met a person that lies more than Ted Cruz. I have never, ever seen anything like it.


BASH: And it went on and on and on. I should say while we were talking, Jeb Bush tweeted a response to what Donald Trump said.

By the way, he was doubling down on the 9/11 comments from what he said over the weekend at a debate.


BASH: Exactly.

And what Jeb Bush said, "Donald Trump is trafficking 9/11 conspiracy theories. I'm offering detailed plans to defeat ISIS. We need an experienced commander in chief."

SCIUTTO: Obviously, that one tweet can break through all the attention being focused on this.

But how about Ted Cruz, is he taking this lying down?

BASH: No, not at all. You saw on Saturday night the debate. They were pretty intense.

Our Betsy Klein, our producer with Ted Cruz, just e-mailed that apparently Cruz was watching Donald Trump's presser. He said he thinks it's the most rattled he has seen Donald Trump in a press conference. He said, we're not in a grade school where you get to say liar, liar, pants on fire.

Earlier today, Ted Cruz said similar things not just about Donald Trump, but about another front that he's fighting on, Marco Rubio. Watch this.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two of the candidates in this race, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, both have the very same pattern.

Whenever anyone points out their record, they simply start screaming liar, liar, liar. It's a very odd dynamic. You're right. It brings -- name-calling is not a positive thing in politics.


BASH: But just to give you -- our viewers a little context, I'm sure they have been paying attention, but South Carolina's primary just a few days away. Donald Trump is pretty high in most polls. Ted Cruz is below him. And below him is Marco Rubio. So what Ted Cruz is trying to do there is trying to pull Donald Trump down, but also trying to keep Marco Rubio down as well.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you a question, though, on this and certainly this is about getting attention and it's a smart campaign move probably. But there are -- I mean, Ted Cruz in terms of the record has a point because Donald Trump's issues he says evolved, others have said changed over time.

Donald Trump in the past has said that he's in favor of abortion rights. Now he has changed. In the past, he said he's in favor of an assault weapons ban. Now he said he has bona fides on the Second Amendment.


BASH: That's right.

SCIUTTO: In South Carolina where you have very conservative voters, particularly evangelicals, an issue like abortion, is this a sign the Donald Trump is worried about Ted Cruz's attacks on his positions?

BASH: Probably.

No question, because not only are you seeing Donald Trump do this in his news conference. To your point, Ted Cruz, he was just talking there about how negative everything is. Well, guess what? He and the super PAC that supports him, they're running negative ads. Everybody is.

It's not just him, but specifically on what you were just talking about, on the issue -- just after Antonin Scalia passed away, on the issue of what kind of Supreme Court justice Trump would put out there and reminding everybody about his now infamous or famous quote from back during a Tim Russert interview where he said he is absolutely pro-choice.

So, of course, he's worried about that kind of thing hurting him.

SCIUTTO: No question. Great to have you on the story, Dana Bash. Thanks very much. We will continue to follow this.

BASH: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: On the Democrat side, fireworks as well. The fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders intensifying, as the two target the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary, both aiming to win over minority support and prove that they alone are the candidate with the wider appeal and approach. CNN's Jeff Zeleny joining me now live from Columbia, South Carolina,

where Sanders will be heading later tonight.

So, Jeff, Clinton showing no mercy in attacking Sanders. Do you anticipate Senator Sanders firing back tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, what Senator Sanders has been saying is he's been telling voters he's stunned that he's been under attack like this at all.

He said he's not a single-issue candidate. He points to health care, minimum wage, climate change. But he has been increasingly saying the Clinton campaign is unraveling. It might be more accurate to say they are reloading for this tough Democratic fight ahead.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton has three words for Bernie Sanders.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not a single-issue candidate. I am not a single-issue candidate. I am not a single-issue candidate.

ZELENY: A single-issue candidate, that's how Clinton is trying to brand Sanders, hoping to slow his surge before voting begins in Nevada and South Carolina.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are feeling really, really good about the campaign here in Nevada. We surprised a lot of people in Iowa. We surprised a lot of people in New Hampshire. We're going to surprise a lot of people here in Nevada.

ZELENY: Sanders still riding momentum from his commanding win in New Hampshire, prompting Clinton to go back to the drawing board. At every stop, she's telling voters Sanders is focused on Wall Street and Wall Street alone. Her campaign made a video to drive home the point.

SANDERS: The disastrous and illegal behavior on Wall Street.

ZELENY: But so far, it seems to be working, Sanders exceeding even his own expectations.

SANDERS: The idea that I am a single-issue candidate, we're the only nation, major nation on Earth that doesn't guarantee health care to all people. We have got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. It's not one issue.

ZELENY: As their fight intensifies, Clinton is trying to regain her confidence by showing Democrats she's the well-rounded candidate in the race.

CLINTON: Not everything is about an economic theory. Right? If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will -- would that end racism?

ZELENY: Their fight, subject to frustration to Clinton and humor on "Saturday Night Live."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I love Bernie's whole vibe.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I'm obsessed with his vibe.

ZELENY: But Sanders is facing more scrutiny and questions of whether he can expand his appeal to a diverse electorate as the contest moves to Nevada and South Carolina.

A weekend audience kept asking how he would accomplish his agenda. One issue Clinton and Sanders agreed on today, the Senate should consider President Obama's nominee to fill Justice Antonin Scalia's vacancy on the Supreme Court.

CLINTON: The only reason to block this is pure partisanship.


ZELENY: And it's no question that partisanship is going to continue, regardless of who wins this Democratic primary fight. This will remain a central issue from now until November -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question, Jeff Zeleny in South Carolina.

So will Donald Trump's threat to sue Ted Cruz if he does not stop running those negative ads about Trump resonate at all with voters or could even backfire on the billionaire businessman?

Joining me to discuss, Katie Packer. She was Mitt Romney's deputy campaign manager in 2012. Also with me, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.

So, Katie and Jamal, you may have seen a little press conference, Donald Trump talking about Ted Cruz.




SCIUTTO: Just a little bit, low volume.

From a short time ago, liar, liar, et cetera. Let's play a clip from that, because I want you both to respond.



TRUMP: I have never seen anybody that lied as much as Ted Cruz. I think he's an unstable person. He just comes out and boom, boom, boom. Absolute lies.

Now, he will apologize, but I don't want an apology after the election. I want the apology before. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So this is -- we heard some of this in the debate as well, Katie Packer. But this goes to issues. And as I was saying with Dana, as we were discussing, Trump's positions have evolved, so to speak, on abortion rights, on gun issues, et cetera.

KATIE PACKER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Virtually every Republican core issue.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough. So the question is, is this calling Ted Cruz a liar, kind of directing the fire at him, does that draw attention away, particularly in a state like South Carolina, where these are very important issues close to heart for voters?

PACKER: Well, when I heard this, I thought this is the definition of irony, this guy calling somebody else a liar. I do think, as Dana mentioned, he's very talented at sort of capturing the media spotlight and he knows big things are happening so he's trying to pull that away.

But one thing Republicans aren't particularly keen on are people that are litigation-happy. They don't like trial lawyers and this is a guy that is talking about suing people left and right everywhere you turn. I don't think you can sue somebody for saying things that are factually correct.

SCIUTTO: Jamal, watching this admittedly from the other side, but the level -- the vitriol is not new in this election frankly on either side, but particularly on the Republican side, but it went to 11, as they say, right, a little bit in the debate on Saturday. Then again, you have this event today.

And, of course, Trump has used his own words against a lot of these candidates, but not by himself. How much does this affect -- how do voters react to this over time? Is there a limit? I mean, we talk about anger. There's a lot of anger from voters out there, but do they want to hear all this anger from their candidates?


I think if I'm a Republican, I'm worried about Trump's press conference today, not just because he went after them. That's what candidates do, but he didn't really go after them in a conservative- vs-conservative manner. He went after them on an attack that I think resonates with people in the middle.



SIMMONS: He said that the RNC is bought and paid for, they're under control of lobbyists. That's going to sting and it's going to keep for a while. He said that I'm the only person here who can make America great again, none of the rest of them can. He went after them on their ability to do a good job as president. I

think that he laid down some markers that Democratic ad makers are going to be able to use in the fall if Donald Trump is not the nominee about him arguing why these other candidates should not be president.

SCIUTTO: So, Katie, Trump brought up the birther issue again on Ted Cruz. I have spoken to legal analysts, including our own Jeffrey Toobin, who said that actually as a candidate running against him for president, he has standing to take up a lawsuit potentially on this issue.

Whether or not you win it, it becomes another distraction from the race. Is this potentially a substantial attack on Ted Cruz over time that can kind of drag, weigh on him as the race continues?

PACKER: It has been weighing on him and I do think it's something that ultimately he will have answer for one way or another.


SCIUTTO: I'm talking about a lawsuit, if there was actually a lawsuit.

PACKER: I don't think so. I don't think he has any real standing.

The really interesting thing about this is these are two candidates who were sort of cozying up to each other just a couple of months ago, and now, all of a sudden, they're at each other's throats and it's sort of an unbelievable turn of events.


SCIUTTO: Jamal, I wonder if I can ask you about the Democratic side, because you have in South Carolina the first state we have a significant African-American population.

SIMMONS: I just got back yesterday. I was down there for the weekend.

SCIUTTO: Well, tell me how they're feeling.

I spoke earlier in the day with the head of the National Urban League and asked him this question because there is a conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton has such an enormous advantage among African- Americans, really Bernie can't break into that. But he said, listen, no one owns the black vote. We're listening.

SIMMONS: I will go further than that. Not just does no one own the black vote. I will say what Bernie Sanders is doing today in South Carolina is outclassing Hillary Clinton on the ground by a level that I had no expectation to see.

The Clinton campaign has a lot of ground to make up if they're going to hold on to the vote that they have. From Uber drivers to barbershop people to reporters I talked to, it's very hard to find a Hillary Clinton supporter randomly walking down the street. Now, if you're talking to people who are older, a 70-year-old guy, he

said he wasn't particularly enthused, but Hillary Clinton was kind of his candidate. She's got to inspire candidates -- I mean, inspire voters, get them excited about voting for her and she's got to get a ground game that's up to the caliber of the kind of campaign and presidency she wants to have.

SCIUTTO: That's an issue for young voters as well and women too some extent.

Jamal, Katie, great to have you on. Fascinating race to watch every day.

And don't forget about two Republican town halls that you're going to see only here on CNN this Wednesday and Thursday. All six Republican candidates will answer South Carolina voters' questions in a live town hall moderated by Anderson Cooper. It all starts 8:00 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday nights right here, only on CNN.

And just moments ago, the White House talking about President Obama's plan to nominate a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The fight for the Supreme Court is right after this.


[16:18:58] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And staying with our politics lead, Donald Trump held a marathon press conference just a few minutes ago in which he called repeatedly Ted Cruz a liar. Cruz has just responded at an event in South Carolina and said that he has never seen Trump, in his words, more rattled.

Joining me now on the telephone is Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump, thank you for taking the time today.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): OK, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: So, we listened here to your press conference really laying into Ted Cruz. Now, I just want to ask you this question because Ted Cruz is not the only Republican candidate or voter to point out your changes on positions that are very close to many Republican voters, abortion rights being one, your past support for instance for an assault weapons ban.

How can Republican voters be confident that you will not change or evolve those positions as you described them again?

TRUMP: Well, I've had these positions for a long time. The positions are set. And they have been set for a long time.

He knows what the answer is and he chooses just not to say it.

[16:20:03] I mean, he's just -- and he clearly understands that he's lying. You know, he's an unstable guy. I've watched him and I find him to be a very unstable guy.

What I do in life is ideal with many, many people. I built a great company and I understand stability. He's a very unstable person. I think maybe because of, you know, the pressure of the campaign. I don't know exactly what it is. But he'll take something like Obamacare where I'm totally and absolutely, you know, going to repeal and replace Obamacare from its inception and he'll say that I love Obamacare, which is so ridiculous.

Anybody that's gone to any of my speeches have said, you know, very pointedly and they see it that I will repeal and replace Obamacare. So, he's just saying it.

SCIUTTO: Mr. Trump, to be fair on the health care issue, I'm just quoting from your 2000 book and granted that this is a number of years ago, and granted --

TRUMP: That's why --


SCIUTTO: -- politicians change positions. But you said we must have universal health care.

TRUMP: Yes, long before Obamacare, number one, and all I want to do is take care of the people. It's very important that when you have health care, you may have some that are -- you're not going to let your people die on the street.

I'm not -- if I'm president, people in this country aren't going to be dying in the middle of the streets. So, it's very important to me.

Now, that's not universal, it's not anything, it's common sense. And, you know, somebody was saying at the debate, I said I consider myself a common sense conservative. But you have to take care of your people.

But we will find a replacement, whether it's health care savings plans. You know, there are so many different plans that we can do that are so good.

And the beautiful thing, Jim, is that I'm not controlled by the lobbyists and special interests because I'm not taking money from them. I'm the only one that's self-funding my campaign. Everybody else -- on both sides.

Everybody else is taking money from everybody. I mean, from -- whether it's the oil companies, you take a look at Ted Cruz, you take a look at Jeb Bush with the drug companies, you take a look at all of them, they're all accepting money. They can never straighten out the country because they're obligated to do what their bosses want them to do.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this just in terms of Senator Ted Cruz's response to your press conference a short time ago. In his words he says that you're rattled. This is a sign of you being rattled in this race as South Carolina gets closer.

Are you rattled?

TRUMP: He doesn't mean that. He says that just for effect. He's the one. I mean he's an unstable guy.

You watch him and watch the way that he behaves. I find him -- I find him to be very much that way. He's just using that expression because he likes it. You know, it's just ridiculous. I'm not one that gets rattled, believe me.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you in South Carolina, we're just a few days away from the vote, this is a test for your candidacy as it is for a number of the other candidates. A conservative base, an evangelical base, a lot of the issues that Ted Cruz has hit you on are very close to voters' hearts there.


SCIUTTO: Are you concerned about losing?

TRUMP: Yes, of course, I never want to lose, I want to win. I want to make America great again. Ted Cruz has no clue as to how to make America great again. He has not employed virtually a person in his life, I mean, maybe a secretary.

He is -- the man has not employed anybody. I've done tens of thousands of people over the years with health care, with education, with everything that you could have. I mean, I've been a massive employer, built a great company. I filed my papers, documents, I built a great company over the years. Far, far greater than anybody ever anticipated. And, you know, a lot of people said maybe he won't file because maybe the company is not as good. It turned out to be much, much better.

And, you know, these are people that will never, ever be able to do the great trade deals that I'll do. We have to make our country rich again in order to make it great again. But guys like Ted Cruz, it's all talk and no action.

SCIUTTO: I have to ask you, as the rhetoric between you and Mr. Cruz and others reaches this sort of vitriolic pitch, I wonder if you're concerned at all that that will hurt you or whoever the Republican candidate is in the general election in the fall?

TRUMP: It probably will to a certain extent, but I think we'll get over it, whoever it is. I think you get over it and you go and have to fight Hillary probably or whoever it might be. Maybe it's Bernie.

I can't believe how poorly Hillary is doing. But probably it's going to be Hillary because she's being protected by the Democrats. Otherwise, she wouldn't even have an option of running. But yes, it's -- I don't say it's a good thing.

Don't forget, I wasn't going to do negative ads. When I saw anything negative ad go up by Cruz, I put up a negative ad. I wasn't going to do.

Remember this, though, the politicians are controlled by the special interests. That's one of the reasons we're doing so badly. It's one of the reasons we have these massive trade deficits. We have the biggest trade deficits -- I mean, virtually, it's inconceivable it could be so much. Hundreds of billions of dollars -- and politicians will never fix it because the people that control them are the ones that are making the money. But that's what's giving us the trade deficit.

[16:25:02] SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about a specific line in your press conference because you seem to be questioning Ted Cruz's Christianity saying that by lying as you allege that he couldn't possibly be a Christian. I wonder if that was what you were charging there?

TRUMP: No. I'm saying this. He lies.

He lied to Ben Carson. He lied about Ben Carson's votes in Iowa. He took his votes away, thousands of votes, most likely thousands of votes.

And he said Ben Carson left the race. He said Ben Carson essentially is not running, give us your vote. A lot of people, thousands of people, which probably affected the end results, by the way, just so you know beyond Ben Carson.

But he took thousands of votes away from Ben Carson by lying and saying essentially that Ben Carson had quit the race. That is disgusting.

He then did a voter fraud -- it was a voter fraud -- it's called voter violation. It's a fraudulent document that he sent out to thousands and thousands of people in Iowa. And then in South Carolina, we found out -- and by the way, that document is a total fraud. And then what we found out is he's doing push polls and absolutely in South Carolina where he's tried to convince people to vote for him by saying things that are absolutely false.

So, he's a very bad guy, he's a very nasty guy. He's got no endorsements from any senators who he works with. He'll never be able to unify anything. And, frankly, he'll never get any support from anybody. Even the people that are very conservative, strongly conservative aren't giving him their support.

So, he can stand in the middle of the Senate floor and let everybody laugh at him, which is what happened the last time, you know. He got nothing out of it, zero. But, you know, that's not the kind of person that you need to turn the country around.

SCIUTTO: Mr. Trump, I want to ask you about one more thing you said. You said of DACA which grants undocumented immigrants who enter the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. You said, quote, "I think it's great". That would be seem against your immigration policy. TRUMP: I didn't say that. Wait, wait, wait. I never heard that question. I never said that.

SCIUTTO: So, you're saying just on the record here you do not think this renewable work program --

TRUMP: Unless somebody asked me a question that I didn't respond to, no, I didn't hear that question. I know nothing about that.


SCIUTTO: OK. So no support, to be clear, what amounts in effect to a worker -- visitor worker program?

TRUMP: I mean, Jim, you're putting the question up that I don't even -- I just left the press conference. I didn't hear that. It must have been a different question that you heard.

SCIUTTO: Donald Trump, thanks for taking the time. We appreciate the time to talk to you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Bye.

SCIUTTO: Donald Trump joining us on the phone now.

In our other politics lead, a lot of Republicans have vowed to block any Supreme Court nominee that President Obama puts forward. So, who would Republicans say yes to? We ask that question after this.