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White House: Obama Moving Ahead on Scalia Replacement; George W. Bush to Campaign for Jeb in S.C.; Clinton, Sanders Battle for Votes in Nevada; CIA Chief Says ISIS Terror Attempts Inevitable; Former Governor Spitzer Denies Assault Claims. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 15, 2016 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:15] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Supreme battle. The partisan fight over replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia heating up tonight. The White House moving forward on a nomination and accusing Republicans of bluster as they insist President Obama let his successor do it. How long will this critical seat on the nation's highest court stay vacant?

Trump versus Cruz. The Cruz campaign responding tonight to Donald Trump's blistering new attacks. The GOP front-runner calling Cruz unstable, a liar and questioning Cruz's faith. Trump is even threatening to sue the Texas senator.

Bush brothers rally. George W. Bush campaigning publicly tonight for the first time since leaving office. The former president taking the stage in a state that helped propel him to the Oval Office. With just five days to go before a critical primary, can he lock up South Carolina for his brother, Jeb?

ISIS attack inevitable. A chilling new warning from the head of the CIA, saying he believes that terrorists will try to strike inside the United States. Officials now on heightened alert. With ISIS and its sympathizers now known to be communicating using encrypted messages, is a terror plot against the U.S. in the works right now?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. President Obama moving ahead with a nomination to replace the late Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, who died in his sleep over the weekend.

We've just heard from a White House spokesman who says the president is talking with his senior team, and his aides have been in touch with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. The White House insisting there are, quote, "no exceptions" for a Supreme Court nomination in an election year as a growing number of GOP lawmakers now say they'll block any effort to fill Scalia's seat this year.

We're also following the fierce fighting between Republican presidential rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The front-runner, Donald Trump, now calling Cruz unstable, unhinged and the most dishonest politician Trump says he's ever met. And first on CNN, we've just learned the Cruz campaign will have a new

ad debuting any time now. Sources tell us it's a direct response to Trump's allegations.

And we're also standing by for George W. Bush to speak at a rally for his brother, Jeb. This marks the first time the former president has campaigned publicly for anyone since he left office eight years ago. The Jeb Bush campaign hoping South Carolina voters can be swayed to support their candidate as they did -- as they did George W. Bush, who won the state's primary in his first campaign.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our correspondents, our expert analysts and our guests. They're all standing by.

But let's begin with the escalating partisan fight over the vacancy left by the death of the Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia. Our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is traveling with President Obama. She's in Rancho Mirage, California, for us right now.

Michelle, the White House standing firm on this. What is the latest?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, now we know the president has been in touch with his team on this, and there's already been some preliminary White House reach-out to congressional offices, both Democrats and Republicans.

At the same time, though, the White House just minutes ago here blasted Republicans for stonewalling, saying the Constitution tells us what to do in this situation, and it's iron clad.

This is clearly shaping up to be the president's last big battle with Congress, and the outcome will shape both politics and the legal landscape in this country for decades.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): The White House today now leveling its own blows at Republicans in the deep political stand-off that started only hours after Justice Antonin Scalia's death.

ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This is a Republican Congress that has a lot of practice saying no. But I also want to point out that this is not the first time that Republicans have come out with a lot of bluster, only to have reality ultimately sink in.

KOSINSKI: President Obama vows to fill that Supreme Court seat by constitutional duty.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote. These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone. They're bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy. KOSINSKI: But a defiant Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell,

seems unwilling to budge: "The American people should have a voice. This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

OBAMA: Tonight we honor his extraordinary service to our nation.

KOSINSKI: White House officials are now discussing the process for vetting the president's potential picks. Names circulating include federal judges, some senators, even Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was approved by the Senate last year, but only after a record months-long delay. Senator Claire McCaskill calling it then...

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Base politics at its ugliest.

KOSINSKI: But this fight could be worse, with so much at stake.

CRUZ: We're one justice away from a radical five-justice liberal majority.

KOSINSKI: Ted Cruz bringing it to the campaign trail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We're just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.

KOSINSKI: On past Supreme Court choices, the president has often mentioned an element of compassion.

OBAMA: The judge who is sympathetic enough to those who are on the outside, those who are vulnerable.

KOSINSKI: Now, though, politics will be pivotal. Does the president choose someone very moderate, whom Republicans will feel great pressure to at least bring to a vote, criticism if they don't, or a liberal to rally Democrats, potentially sending more voters to the polls in November?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I believe that many of the mainstream Republicans, when the president nominates a mainstream nominee, will not want to follow Mitch McConnell over the cliff.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If the Republican leadership refuses to even hold a hearing, I think that is going to guarantee they lose control of the Senate, because I don't think the American people will stand for that.


KOSINSKI: So the timeline, there's going to have to be vetting, interviews. The president will want to speak to the finalists. The White House is indicating it could take up to a month to name a nominee as it has in the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Michelle. Thank you. While the battle unfolds, the high court's business continues with the remaining eight justices, four conservatives, four liberals. Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, how will the U.S. Supreme Court move forward with only eight members?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Supreme Court will continue to hear oral arguments and vote on cases, but Scalia's death causes a monumental shift on the court. Without Scalia on the bench, the eight remaining justices could find themselves in a 4-4 split in their decision. And if that happens, two scenarios could play out here. Either they could decide to delay the decision until a new justice is named, and the case would have to be reargued, or the 4-4 tie would mean a lower court's ruling is upheld, which could mean, Wolf, big losses for the Obama administration on some big cases.

BLITZER: Certainly could. So what cases might this particularly impact?

BROWN: Well, it could have a big impact on dozens of cases, particularly the immigration case and the Texas abortion case that limits -- limits access to abortion clinics in the state.

The lower courts ruled against the government in both of these cases, so if there's a 4-4 tie, no Supreme Court precedent is set, and the lower court's ruling stands, meaning, of course, as I said, big losses for Obama, especially on his signature immigration policy.

Worth noting, Wolf: in the affirmative action case, another huge case this term, Justice Kagan recused herself, so a tie would not be an issue for that one, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Pamela.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, our CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel; our senior political reporter, Manu Raju; and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jamie, the GOP, according to most analyst, they have a risk here if they -- if they get too tough and simply avoid any hearings, simply avoid doing anything, just delay, delay, delay.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. First of all, there's just the point of seeming to be completely lying in the sand, not willing to compromise.

But here's something. What if the next president is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? Will they be any happier with that appointment than now?

They have an opportunity here -- maybe I am being a cock-eyed optimist -- but to pressure the White House into perhaps coming up with a candidate that would be more palatable to them. They're not even giving that the chance with this kind of rhetoric. BLITZER: Most people are working, Manu -- and you know the Hill well

-- on the assumption that the rips would use the filibuster to prevent even a final vote, if you will, an up or down simple majority. That means you need 60 votes. The Democrats, what, they have 46. So they would need 14 more, which right now seems highly, highly unlikely.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a pretty heavy lift if you look at the moderates. The few moderates in the Republican conference. The Democrats don't have many choices to go to.

You have the members who are up for re-election in some of these key blue and purple states, who are uncertain about what they will do right now, although they are siding -- several of them are siding with Mitch McConnell, saying that we should wait until the next Congress before moving forward on a -- on a potential nominee.

But, you know, Wolf, I was speaking to Senate Democrats, who are actually urging President Obama to name a Supreme Court justice nominee who would actually put Republicans in a difficult political spot. They believe, if there's a consensus nominee or a mainstream nominee, in their view, it will be much harder for a lot of these Republicans to stand in their way. But that may be wishful thinking.

I also spoke with Lindsey Graham, who voted for two of the president's nominees in his term, and he said that it would be very difficult to support any nominee, no matter what, given the stakes, given the election year circumstances, and given the fact that he believes Obama and the Democrats poisoned the well by changing filibuster rules just a couple of years ago.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, you're an expert on the Supreme Court. What are you expecting the president to do? When will he presumably nominate someone, and what are some of the names you're hearing?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think he will definitely nominate someone in the next month or so. And put me down as believing Jamie is a cock-eyed optimist. I don't think there is any chance that the Senate will act on this -- on this seat. It's too big -- it's too big a gift to the Obama administration. To change this court from a majority Republican to a majority Democratic appointees, it's just something that this Senate, this modern Republican Party is not going to do...

BLITZER: Isn't there someone, Jeffrey -- isn't there...

TOOBIN: ... even if it's a nominee like Sri Srinivasan, confirmed unanimously; Jane Kelly, confirmed unanimously; Paul Watford, confirmed with bipartisan support on the 9th Circuit. All of them, I think, will be rejected, because the Republicans are going to reject everybody.

BLITZER: Even though they're highly respected, and they were almost unanimously approved in their -- in their earlier confirmation process? TOOBIN: Absolutely. This is too important to the base of the

Republican Party to give this seat to Barack Obama, no matter who he appoints.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that?

GANGEL: I always agree with what Jeffrey Toobin says. But I do think there are some risks here. Who is going to be the next president?

You know, one of the ironies here is in January. And I think, Wolf, you asked Hillary Clinton, would she ever consider appointing Barack Obama to the Supreme Court?

BLITZER: She said yes.

GANGEL: And she said yes. What a great idea.

RAJU: But then some Republicans don't believe that there's actually a political advantage in this, too, because they could rally the base by making this an issue going into an election year, particularly if the top of the ticket starts tanking in these Senate races. They could say, "Look, the Senate is the firewall. Reelect a Senate majority. We could prevent a liberal justice from getting to the Supreme Court."

BLITZER: But the question is are there enough moderate Republicans like Susan Collins, for example, who might at least be open to the idea of approving someone who is considered reasonable, moderate, if you will?

RAJU: There may be some, but I'm not sure if there's enough. Susan Collins actually issued a statement today, a more nuanced statement than a lot of her colleagues, saying, you know, "This is hypothetical. Let's wait and see who the nominee is." So this debate will change once there actually is a nominee.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, guys. We have a lot more coming up.

We're also awaiting the former president of the United States, George W. Bush. He's going to be attending a rally for his brother, Jeb Bush. The first time the former president is actually going on the campaign trail since leaving office. We'll have live coverage of that. You'll want to hear it and see it, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:17:39] BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from former president George W. Bush, who's courting South Carolina voters for his brother, Jeb Bush. It's the first time the former president is publicly campaigning for anyone since he left the Oval Office.

Also tonight, the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, is dramatically upping his attacks on both of the Bushes, as well as his Republican rivals.

CNN's Jim Acosta is in South Carolina for us tonight. Jim, this all comes just, what, five days before the South Carolina

primary. Jeb Bush has a lot at stake right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And a lot for Donald Trump as well, Wolf.

Donald Trump is not backing down from his comments on the Bush family. He is doubling down, confident there won't be any damage to his campaign down here in South Carolina.

But Trump is also fighting a battle on a second front with Ted Cruz that is just as explosive. Trump calling Cruz today a liar and unstable.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The first shots were fired in South Carolina, a civil war that will shape the future of the Republican Party. And in his battle against Jeb Bush, Donald Trump is blasting away.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His brother is coming into town, which is, of course, lovely. Ever ask yourself why his brother went silent for all these years? No bad blood.

ACOSTA: At a news conference Trump insisted there's no bad blood between himself and the Bush family, and he offered a new rationale for why he opposed the Iraq war.

TRUMP: You know, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. The one thing about him, he killed terrorists. Now Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to become a terrorist? You go to Iraq.

ACOSTA: But Trump got defensive when asked exactly when he was quoted as being against the war.

TRUMP: I said many things for a long time, but I wasn't a politician, so I'm not getting publicity is I say about -- I said for a long time don't go into the war, don't go into the war.

ACOSTA: Trump's all-out assault on former president George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War drew loud boos at last weekend's GOP debate.

TRUMP: They lied. There were no weapons of mass destruction.


ACOSTA: The fiery exchange then took a jaw-dropping turn. Trump suggested the former president is responsible for the attacks on 9/11.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am sick and tired of him going after my family.

TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down during his brother's reign.

ACOSTA: Marco Rubio, who's clashed with Jeb Bush, came to George W. Bush's defense. SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The World Trade

Center came down, because Bill Clinton didn't kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.

TRUMP: And George Bush...

ACOSTA: Jeb Bush, who's campaigning today with his brother, the former president, told "STATE OF THE UNION" he's had enough.

J. BUSH: I do think that he would not be the proper nominee for our party.

ACOSTA: As the pro-Bush super PAC is piling on with negative ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look past the boasting, and you'll see right through him.

ACOSTA: Ted Cruz is seizing on a different moment from Saturday's debate on abortion.

CRUZ: Said Planned Parenthood does wonderful things, and we should not...

TRUMP: It does do wonderful things but not as it relates to abortion.

ACOSTA: After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Trump's comments on abortion are now the Texas senator's No. 1 target.

TRUMP: I'm very pro-choice.

CRUZ: Donald Trump, if he were president, would appoint liberals to the court. We know this for a fact. Why? Because Donald has been a liberal his entire adult life.

ACOSTA: Trump once again called Cruz a liar and threatened to sue in response to his attacks.

TRUMP: I think he's an unstable person. I watch him. I see him. And I always say he's a good debater, but he can't talk.

CRUZ: And we're not in grade school where you just get to say, "Liar, liar, pants on fire," and not respond to the substance.


ACOSTA: Now, Trump is also firing off on all of those boos he received at the GOP debate, arguing they are proof the Republican Party was stacking the audience Saturday night with supporters of the other candidates. Trump suggested that would be a violation of his agreement with the Republican Party that they reached last year.

The last thing that the GOP wants is for Trump to lose this nomination fight, Wolf, and then go rogue as a third-party candidate. And the RNC, we should point out, is saying that, in terms of last Saturday night that all candidates were fairly represented in terms of who was in that audience -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Jim Acosta reporting for us.

Let's go to that Jeb Bush rally now, where former president George W. Bush will be campaigning for his brother very, very soon. Athena Jones is on the scene for us.

Athena, George W. Bush certainly has a lot of loyal supporters in South Carolina. Tell us what we should expect at this rally that's coming up.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, he certainly does. We're seeing the crowd growing by the minute. People are still coming in, and this is still a little under an hour until this event is set to start.

It's a much bigger crowd than we're used to seeing at Jeb Bush events. The reason is that George W. Bush will be here. He's very popular in this state. This is the state that, as you know, handed primary victories to both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush.

I talked to a couple of folks in the crowd who said they're big fans of "W." And they're here to give Jeb a look. They're here to listen to what both of them have to say.

We expect this to get under way at 6 p.m. We'll see George W. Bush on stage with the former first lady, Laura Bush. We'll hear from Senator Lindsey Graham, who will introduce the president. President Bush will speak, and then Jeb will take the stage.

We expect -- Jeb Bush has said he expects his brother to make the point that Jeb Bush has the skills to be commander in chief and that he, as former president, knows what that takes. So that's what we'll be listening for here tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have live coverage of all of that. Athena, thank you very much.

Let's bring back our panel.

Manu, the Trump comments about Ted Cruz were amazing. He said Ted Cruz is totally unstable. Not just unstable, totally unstable. And he went on to say, quote, "He is the single biggest liar I have ever come across in politics or otherwise, and I have seen some of the best of them. His statements are totally untrue and completely outrageous. It is hard to believe a person who proclaims to be a Christian could be so dishonest and lie so much." What a dramatic escalation in the rhetoric.

RAJU: It's really remarkable. Just a few weeks ago these two pretended to be friends.

BLITZER: There was a bromance.

RAJU: There was a bromance, and you know, it's all gone, obviously. Now it's pretty remarkable. What will be interesting to see, Wolf, is the extent to which this has

an impact on Donald Trump. Of course, we have thought the things that he said would bring him down in the polls for months and months and months, and they have not.

But the way that this type of rhetoric over the last several days, particularly if South Carolina voters don't look too kindly on that, where does that support go? Will it fall to Ted Cruz? Will it fall to Marco Rubio, who's waiting in the wings? Will it help Jeb Bush? I don't think we really know that quite yet. But who knows? At the end of the day it may end up helping Donald Trump.

BLITZER: You're getting some word on what we might expect to hear from the former president of the United States and Jeb Bush at this event that's coming up. It's an important event.

GANGEL: Right. Guess what? Former President Bush wants you to vote for his brother. That's the headline. He's going to talk about what characteristics he thinks makes a good president, and then he's going to say my brother has those characteristics.

Something we just found out. There was a little lobbying of a very important governor. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley we've been told met with former President Bush and former first lady Laura Bush today at that veterans event. And I am told that the former President Bush will talk about Nikki Haley during his comments.

Everybody wants Nikki Haley's endorsement. Her phone has been ringing off the hook. Her staff told me today she's undecided as of this morning, but maybe this will make the difference.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember her reply on the State of the Union to the president's State of the Union address. She had some implicit criticism of Donald Trump.

RAJU: Yes, I don't think that endorsement is going to Donald Trump. But certainly, Marco Rubio's campaign, the rumors last week that potentially she could come up for him. They batted those down. She's still undecided as you say.

But this is really -- there's a big endorsement hunt going on among those establishment candidates, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio really pushing hard for members of Congress, in particular, to hope to coalesce support. I think South Carolina will go a long way in determining whether or not those big-name endorsements will come their way to showcase that they are actually the party establishment favorite, and they could take on Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Why has it taken Jeb Bush so long to get his brother out there on the campaign trail?

GANGEL: We all saw at the beginning he said, "I have to be my own man." And if he had had his family, his mother, his brother come out early, we would all be saying, "Oh, he needs them to do this."

So I think that this was always going to be tricky, but the reality is he's not doing well in the polls. He has nothing to lose now. I think everybody agrees it's now or never.

RAJU: And "W" Is still popular among Republican voters in South Carolina.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have live coverage of that coming up, so stand by, guys. I want all of you to stand by.

Meanwhile a unique two-night event on CNN. This week Wednesday and Thursday night, 8 p.m. Eastern, both nights. All six -- all six Republican presidential candidates, for the very first time in this entire campaign will answer questions from the voters of South Carolina in a live televised town hall moderated by Anderson Cooper and seen only here on CNN.

Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, they kick it off Wednesday night. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, they will field the voters' questions live Thursday night. All, again, that live coverage begins 8 p.m. Eastern Wednesday and Thursday nights right here, only on CNN.

The breaking news ahead, we're standing by to hear George W. Bush stump for his brother, Jeb, in South Carolina as the former president's first time out there campaigning publicly for anyone since leaving office. We'll go there live. Look at the crowd that has now gathered.


BLITZER: We're only five days away from the Nevada Democratic caucuses, the next big contest for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

[17:32:12] Clinton is trying to reignite her campaign after a blowout loss in New Hampshire, and the senator's campaign sees Nevada as a crucial test of his efforts to attract minority voters in a state with a large Latino population.

Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is following this Democratic contest, the entire Democratic race for us. Brianna, this is a major development. Give us the latest.


Hillary Clinton was actually planning to be campaigning in Florida today. She stayed in Nevada, and she sent her husband instead, a sign that that was once a big Clinton lead over Bernie Sanders in Nevada has become a much more competitive race.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not a single-issue candidate, because this is not a single-issue country.

KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton sharpening her message for voters that Bernie Sanders is a one-trick pony, focused only on the economy. 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?


KEILAR: It's her latest attack line since Sanders won big in New Hampshire.


KEILAR: His populist message resonating with voters.

SANDERS: Together we're going to create an economy that works for working people, not just billionaires.

KEILAR: He calls Clinton's offensive stunning and a sign her campaign is coming unraveled, but her barbs may be working. At a forum on race and the economy in Minneapolis Friday, attendees challenged his proposals for jobs and free public college.

SANDERS: That money will go into those communities who need it the most to rebuild their own communities.


KEILAR: Asking how he's going to accomplish his lofty goals.

But enthusiasm is still in Sanders' corner. "Saturday Night Live" making fun of Clinton's struggle to match him.

AIDY BRYANT, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": I mean I like Hillary's foreign policy experience, but I love Bernie's whole vibe.


KATE MCKINNON, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" (singing): I can't make you love me if you don't.

KEILAR: With Nevada Democrats set to caucus on Saturday, Clinton is keeping her focus on the state, skipping a planned event in Florida today and sending her husband instead. Sanders is trying to cut into Clinton's support from African-Americans ahead of next week's South Carolina primary.

SANDERS: I have just met with seven or eight residents of Flint, Michigan.

KEILAR: He met with families in Flint, Michigan, where the majority African-American population in the city faces lead contamination of the water supply.

SANDERS: It is beyond my comprehension that, in the year 2016, in the United States of America, we are poisoning our children. KEILAR: Clinton visited last week and is raising money for Flint's

children with this web ad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They need to fix Flint.

CLINTON: We need action now.


KEILAR: And those efforts paying off for Clinton. Today, she secured the endorsements of African-American faith leaders for Flint. Her advantage over Sanders in the polls in South Carolina still considerable, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more now. Tad Devine is joining us. He's a senior media advisor for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Tad, thanks very much for coming in. What do you expect to see as a result of the Democratic caucuses in Nevada on Saturday?

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR MEDIA ADVISER, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: Wolf, I think we've come a long way in Nevada. We started off almost 40 points behind. We've closed that gap. We've got a great campaign. We've got 200 paid staff on the ground.

BLITZER: Can you win?

DEVINE: I think we can win. We're going to try to win. She has a huge advantage, but we're going to try to win.

BLITZER: What about the Latino vote?

DEVINE: I think we're going to do very well with Latino voters. Bernie has a very powerful story. He's the son of an immigrant who came to this country barely speaking English, told his biographical story. We've introduced him in terms of issues. I think it's resonating powerfully.

BLITZER: You think he can win in Nevada. What about South Carolina?

DEVINE: I think, you know, we're going to try to win in South Carolina. We've got a great campaign on the ground there. We've got a lot of people on the ground working very hard, making voter contact. I mean, obviously, Hillary Clinton, I think, started off with a much bigger lead there. Still has an advantage.

But, you know, three days after that, we've got a bunch of states, 11 states all across the country. And then we've got big battlegrounds, like Michigan where Bernie was today.

BLITZER: In South Carolina, unlike Iowa or New Hampshire, the Democratic primary voters, a majority are African-American, and that's seen as a sort of a firewall for Hillary Clinton. DEVINE: Well, I don't know -- yes, it is seen as a firewall, but I

don't know if it is. I mean, Bernie has got a very powerful story to tell about his own personal experience. He was a leader as a student in the civil rights movement and the University of Chicago, he was arrested protesting housing policy there.

It's been the cause, really, of his life, the fight against inequality, racial inequality, economic inequality. So I think that's resonating powerfully. And we're going to make that case in South Carolina and elsewhere.

BLITZER: So where do you go from there after South Carolina, after Nevada?

DEVINE: Well, we're on television advertising in Colorado, Minnesota right now, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, in the markets we haven't been on before. We're going to look at other states, Tennessee, Texas. You know, we can win delegates, we think, everywhere in this process, so we're going to compete everywhere.

BLITZER: The biggest criticism he gets is, yes, he wants free tuition at state schools, public schools, for college. He wants universal health care. The big -- the big criticism he gets, where's the money going to come from? Who's going to pay for it? These may be idealistic goals, but they're not realistic given the real world of Washington.

DEVINE: Well, this is who's going to pay for it: wealthy individuals and corporations in America would and have escaped taxation...

BLITZER: You've got to get that through Congress. You've got to get Republicans on board, especially if there's a Republican majority in the House and maybe a Republican majority in the Senate. How does a president Bernie Sanders do that?

DEVINE: A president Bernie Sanders will do that, because the electorate that will turn out to elect him as president is going to be so diverse, so powerful. So many young people, so many independents voting Democratic, so many new people to the process, that we believe not only can we elect him president, but we can elect Democrats to the House and Senate, as well.

BLITZER: Do you really believe that that's possible...


BLITZER: ... given the current environment right here? You see what's going on. You've been around town for a long time.

DEVINE: I have. I do, Wolf. I do, I think Bernie has the potential to change politics, as President Obama did in 2008. Remember, he won two states only, North Carolina and Indiana, in 2008, only winning 18- to 29-year-olds. He lost every other age cohort. Bernie can do that. We've already seen it in two states, the incredible number of young people coming out, and that's how he wants to change politics. BLITZER: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, she's obviously

very important. Is Senator Bernie Sanders trying to get her endorsement?

DEVINE: Well, listen, they're colleagues. They've spoken together. We obviously welcome her endorsement, but you know, we really haven't been pushing a lot on endorsements. What we want to do is try to prove it with voters first and then convince super delegates to support him on the basis of his support with voters.

BLITZER: Did you see this latest e-mail that was sent out by the Clinton campaign: "We're being outspent by the Sanders campaign, and we likely can't match their impressive level of grassroots support"?

DEVINE: I think that's an accurate e-mail from them. You know, we've seen a lot of inaccurate, but I think they're right about that. We've got tremendous grassroots support. People are coming out in unprecedented numbers. The fundraising that we've done, $27 average contribution, has given us the resources to run a full national campaign.

BLITZER: I don't think anyone is more surprised than Bernie Sanders himself at how this has unfolded over the past six or seven months.

DEVINE: It's been incredible.

BLITZER: All right, Tad, thanks very much for coming in.

Coming up, is an ISIS attack in the United States now inevitable? That's the warning from the CIA director, John Brennan. We'll have a report.

Plus former New York governor, Eliot Spitzer, is denying claims that he assaulted a woman in a Manhattan hotel room. We have details on the investigation.


[17:44:01] BLITZER: The director of the Central Intelligence Agency now says it's inevitable that ISIS will attempt an attack in the United States. That stark warning from the CIA director, John Brennan, comes after months of growing anxiety amid attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with details on this latest terror threat. What have you learned, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we've learned that intelligence officials in the U.S. and Europe are increasingly worried about ISIS plotting more Paris-style attacks. The CIA director says he expects ISIS to put operatives, resources in place inside the U.S. to attempt an assault like the one we saw in Paris.

Tonight ISIS's ambitions to attack the United States are as robust as ever, while its enemies are laboring to figure out a strategy on the battlefield. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Barrel bombing in Syria, as the major powers struggle to put a delicate ceasefire together. While the carnage continues, ISIS fights on, undeterred.

[17:45:01] And a fresh warning from America's top spy. CIA Director John Brennan telling CBS' "60 Minutes" ISIS will try to attack inside the U.S.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: I'm expecting them to try to put in place the operatives, the material or whatever else that they need to do, or to incite people to carry out these attacks. Clearly. So I believe that their attempts are inevitable. I don't think their successes necessarily are.

TODD: U.S. officials tell CNN there's no specific credible threat of a significant ISIS plot inside the U.S. right now, but they say they have been on heightened alert for the past two months since the San Bernardino attack and the brutal ISIS assault in Paris woke up the intelligence and law enforcement communities to what ISIS is capable of.

Why hasn't ISIS launched a Paris-style attack so far inside America?

LORENZO VIDINO, DIRECTOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM: Partially it's geography, the distance between here and Iraq. The fact that you have a very small number of Americans who are part of ISIS, while in Europe you have thousands of individuals. Here you have just a few hundred. You have a heightened attention from the FBI and the intelligence community.

TODD: Analysts say a more realistic scenario is for ISIS to instigate a lone wolf attack from a far, similar to what happened in Garland, Texas, last May. Two gunmen tried to shoot up a Prophet Mohammed drawing contest but were killed by law enforcement outside the event. One of the attackers was believed to have been inspired over social media, possibly even directed by Junaid Hussain, a notorious ISIS operative in Syria, later killed in a U.S. drone strike.

While the Garland attack failed it still served as an instrument for ISIS to instill fear inside America.

CHARLIE WINTER, TERRORISM RESEARCH, GEORGE STATE UNIVERSITY: The Texas shootings were very good for ISIS in terms of its international portrayal of itself. It demonstrated that ISIS had tentacles that it wanted the world to see that stretched all the way into the heart of the crusader enemy.


TODD: The Texas attack also reflected an ISIS capability that CIA Director Brennan expected real concern over. The ability of ISIS and its sympathizers to communicate with each other using encrypted messages which Western intelligence cannot break. The FBI says that one of the Texas gunmen exchanged more than 100

messages the morning of the attack with an overseas terrorist. And the FBI still doesn't know what he said. CIA Director Brennan says just days before the Paris attacks, they knew ISIS was trying to do something, but Western intelligence was walled off from those communications.

Wolf, it's a big problem. The intelligence directors complain about it every chance they get.

BLITZER: When they say walled off, do they not have the capability to do it or are they held back from using that capability?

TODD: Law enforcement and intelligence agencies complain that they do not have the capability, Wolf. The tech companies say they no longer hold the encryption keys to anyone's device and they couldn't unlock the data even if they wanted to.

Now FBI director James Comey says he wants the tech companies to figure out a way into the encryption. Comey wants the tech companies to design what they call like doors into their products with a second set of keys, encryption keys for law enforcement. So it's kind of a battle between law enforcement and intelligence on one side, the tech companies on the other. It's kind of a cat-and-mouse game between them.

BLITZER: Yes. I know it's a big, big issue. And Comey and I spoke about it about a year or so ago and it seems to be escalating.

TODD: They complain every chance they get.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting.

Coming up, a 25-year-old woman claiming to be Eliot Spitzer's girlfriend is accusing the former governor of New York of assault. Investigators, they are gathering evidence right now. Are they planning to level any charges? We'll update you.

And we're also standing by for a Jeb Bush rally where the Republican candidate is about to take the stage with his brother, the former president of the United States, George W. Bush.


[17:53:17] BLITZER: Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is denying accusations of assault tonight. Police are investigating claims made by a 25-year-old woman that Spitzer choked her at a hotel in Manhattan.

Our correspondent Jean Casarez is following this developing story for us. What are you learning, Jean?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the latest. We do know that they have executed a search warrant at the Plaza Hotel in New York City at the hotel room where this alleged assaulted occurred. And we also know now with a senior law enforcement official who has been briefed on the investigation tells CNN that the iPhone, the cell phone of this accuser is actually in the hands of law enforcement. They are trying to see if there are any text messages between she and Eliot Spitzer. They do believe that some of them may have been wiped off, wiped remotely which also raises an issue because potentially that is a crime also.

How did this get in the hands of law enforcement? Well, on Saturday there was a call placed from the Plaza Hotel saying there was an emotionally disturbed person in a room. Law enforcement went there. They found the alleged victim with what they are saying were self- inflicted cuts on her wrist. She was transported to the hospital. Once at the hospital, she said Eliot Spitzer, her boyfriend, had tried to choke her.

Now law enforcement sources are telling us that Spitzer went to the hospital with a skull cap on to try to hide his identity, referring to himself as George. And the investigation continues at this point. Spitzer's camp is denying that anything remotely happened like this, but he does admit that he knew her.

BLITZER: Any other comments from the former governor?

CASAREZ: There is a brand-new release from his spokesperson saying that the woman who initially made the allegations was not my girlfriend.

[17:55:02] So we also do know that this accuser has now flown back to her home in Russia. So she's not even in the jurisdiction anymore. The jurisdiction that is investigating.

BLITZER: All right. Jean Casarez, thanks very much for that story.

There's breaking news coming up. We're only moments away from hearing the former president of the United States, George W. Bush, out there campaigning for his brother Jeb Bush in South Carolina.

You are looking at live pictures. We'll have coverage when we come back.


BLITZER: Happening now, Bush brothers. We're standing by to hear directly from the president -- former president, I should say, of the United States. After staying out of politics for more than seven years, George W. Bush is about to make his first appearance at a campaign rally trying to boost his brother Jeb. We're going there live.