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Republicans Make Final Push For South Carolina; Cruz To Attend Scalia Funeral; Elijah Cummings States Benghazi Investigation Needs To End; Interview With Trey Gowdy; Gowdy States He Needs Cooperation; South Carolina Republican Primary And Democratic Caucuses In Nevada Tomorrow; Sanders And Clinton Campaign In Nevada. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 19, 2016 - 13:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Harper Lee dead at 89. Thanks to all of you for watching. It's been a pleasure being with you this week. Wolf starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Tripoli, Libya. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We're following two developing stories this hour. First, it's the race for the White House. Republicans are spread out across South Carolina as they try and reach undecided voters in tomorrow's primary.

Saturday is also caucus day in Nevada for Democrats. We'll check in on the latest with the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns out there.

And in Washington, right now, people are streaming in to pay their last respects to the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He's lying in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court. These are live pictures you're seeing right now.

President Obama and the first lady, they're expected there some time later today. We're going to talk more about justice Scalia's life and legacy, that's coming up later this hour.

Meanwhile, Ohio Governor John Kasich called the Republican race a demolition derby, of course referring to the running battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. But are they willing to keep up the pressure and the attack on this, the last day before the South Carolina primary?

Our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash is joining us now from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. That's where Donald Trump was holding a rally just a while ago. And Sunlen Serfaty's in Charleston, South Carolina following the Cruz campaign.

Dana, in New Hampshire, as you know, Donald Trump, he lightened up a little bit on the day before the primary there which he won overwhelmingly. Are we seeing the same sort of Donald Trump today? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Remember just a few

days ago when Donald Trump said that he was going to run a positive campaign here in South Carolina? Well, that was so a few days ago. Here, at this rally which just wrapped up just a few minutes ago, he is clearly taking nothing for granted. These would be the people who are right behind him, especially Ted Cruz.

He's continuing to really pummel him and even talked about a controversy that erupted yesterday. It was kind of overshadowed by Donald Trump's back and forth with the pope. But a controversy over Ted Cruz and his campaign photo shopping a picture of Marco Rubio and President Obama and putting it up on the Web. Listen to this --


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They can say I'm not a true conservative. I watch Jeb Bush. He is not a true conservative. These people. Where do they come from? Where do they come from? These people are not going to get you to the promise land. This Ted Cruz, this is the biggest liar I've ever seen.

Even -- I'll tell you what was good. Even Marco Rubio said, he's a liar. And when a politician says another politician's a liar, I never heard that before. I felt so good. And then he doctored up a picture last night of Marco Rubio. I'm not sticking up for Marco Rubio, but I looked at this picture. Marco Rubio looked like he was about four foot two tall. He was shaking hands with Obama. It never took place. This guy, Ted Cruz, is really a liar. I'll tell you what.


BASH: So, as per usual when Donald Trump holds a big rally, this was pretty successful, visa vi the crowd size. There were thousands of people here at this -- at this rally in Myrtle Beach. And a lot of them are all in for Trump. No question about it, Wolf.

But I talked to several voters, more than a handful, who said that they were coming to check him out. Truly undecided. That they want to see Marco Rubio. That they want to see Ted Cruz. And they just aren't sure who they're going to vote for. They're going to have to make up their minds soon. It's, of course, tomorrow that they go to the polls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Polls open early tomorrow morning. Dana, stand by.

Sunlen, Ted Cruz, he will be attending the funeral of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia here in Washington tomorrow after first saying he couldn't leave the campaign trail to attend the funeral. Talk about the decision, what it could mean there in South Carolina.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. And, you know, Ted Cruz is former clerk for the Supreme Court. He said he knew Scalia very personally. He was someone who was very influential in his own life. So, certainly wanting to get back to Washington to pay respects. But, of course, this carries a big potential political risk for leaving the campaign trail to go back to Washington, especially on primary day for Republicans here in South Carolina. That is the time that's usually typically reserved for corralling last-minute votes.

As you heard just now from Dana Bash, her saying they're so many undecided voters out on the table. There are and they're still looking for their candidate. So, potential risk there.

But, you know, Ted Cruz making that decision to go back to Washington for the funeral after really laying into President Obama for missing the funeral himself, saying president Obama has time to visit Cuba, but he doesn't have time to attend this justice's funeral.

[13:05:06] And it's been interesting to see how -- in these final days, how much Antonin Scalia and his death and the vacancy that has been left on the court has really honed Ted Cruz's final closing message here in South Carolina. Here's Ted Cruz earlier this morning in Myrtle Beach.


TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president's going to get one, two, three, maybe even four Supreme Court justices. We will have one of two outcomes. Either a president who nominates and confirms principle constitutionalists that will protect the rights of our children or a president who fritters away the Supreme Court and gives away the bill of rights for the next generation.


SERFATY: So, you saw there, really a ratcheting up the warning, so to speak, from Ted Cruz. Really warning South Carolina voters of what the stakes could mean, what the ramifications of their vote are.

And talking about Donald Trump here on the stump in these finals days, Ted Cruz is really trying to make a very direct pitch to voters. He said, yesterday, look, I understand why you would potentially support Donald Trump. I get it. But you have to look at the records here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much. Dana, thanks to you as well.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is also making his final plea to voters in South Carolina. He's trying to finish -- trying to finish strong in the first southern primary.

By his side, at some of the events, has been South Carolina's Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy. He's joining us now. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. And, very quickly, what's your big pitch to the people of your home state why they should vote for Marco Rubio?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, Wolf, thank you for having me. He's a principled conservative who communicates in an aspirational way, and he can win in November.

BLITZER: So, when --

GOWDY: That's my quick pitch.

BLITZER: -- Ted Cruz says he supported amnesty for illegal immigrants in the United States, when he support -- went with Chuck Schumer to support that legislation which was never approved, you say?

GOWDY: Everyone on that stage has altered his or her opinion on immigration in the last three years. I'm much more interested in where Marco Rubio is today on immigration than where he was three years ago. And he's a solid as anybody in the field on immigration. And, oh, by the way, Senator Cruz, you've changed your mind on a number of things as well.

BLITZER: Senator Rubio has repeatedly called Ted Cruz a liar. Donald Trump calls him a liar all the time as well. Cruz defends his actions and simply says Rubio can't handle the scrutiny of his own record. What's your response to Senator Cruz on that?

GOWDY: Well, let's start in Iowa where I think he blamed your network for a decision he made to suggest Ben Carson was getting out of the race when he was simply going to get dry cleaning, or the voter guides, or the fact that he's had an ad pulled down that couldn't pass muster with the FCC, or fake Facebook postings, or the most recent, a photo shopped picture.

You know, the thing I like about Marco, the reason Tim Scott, Niki Haley and I are so supportive of him, is he really focuses on himself. He does believe in self-defense. So, if you attack him, he's going to defend himself. But Ted Cruz's record, he has an unusual relationship with the truth in the last month or so.

BLITZER: That photo shopped picture of, supposedly, showing Marco Rubio smiling very deferential to President Obama, it was widely seen, almost immediately, as photo shopped. It didn't take a whole lot of effort to find out the original sort of stock footage where it came from. What do you think should be done by the Cruz campaign, in terms of apologizing, firing some staffer for doing that? How far should they go? They've acknowledged it was a photo shopped picture?

GOWDY: Well, I knew -- I knew it was photo shopped immediately. Marco would never spend that amount of money on a watch. That's what I told him. As soon as I saw the watch, I knew it wasn't you.

What I think Senator Cruz needs to do is he's running for the highest office in the land, so people have the right to judge what kind of president you're going to be based on what kind of candidate you are. And if you engage in shenanigans like photo shopping pictures or fake Facebook postings or having ads taken down because they can't pass muster with the FCC, I mean, what kind of president are you going to be? If that's the kind of candidate -- in South Carolina, we do not mind tough politics, Wolf. We do not mind it. But it has to be fair and it has to be rooted into fact. And most of what Senator Cruz has been accused of lately has been neither. BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction while I have you. Yesterday,

I spoke to Elijah Cummings, the Congressman who's the ranking Democrat on your select Benghazi Committee. We spoke about where the hearings stand right now. Listen to this exchange I had with him.


BLITZER: Are you learning new information that's going to be useful to the American public?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, BENGHAZI COMMITTEE: No, it's the same rehashing of information we already know. Period.

[13:10:03] I think the Republicans are trying to draw this out into the election. And I think that they'll try to go probably until August or November, if they can. But this has been dragged out too long. Again, $6 million dollars we spent already and counting. And so, it needs to be shut down and we need to move on.


BLITZER: Are you trying to drag it out until November, as he suggests?

GOWDY: No, Wolf, we'd like to get it done as quickly as possible. If he would help just a little bit. He spent more time talking to you than he has the agencies trying to get us the documents we're entitled to. We have interviewed 50 witnesses that no other committee of Congress bothered to interview. So, Elijah may not have learned anything new but all the rest of us have.

And keep in mind, Wolf, they voted against the committee. They put up an ask and answer website before we even started. They can't think of a single witness to interview. They can't think of a single document to ask for. We gave up negotiating with Elijah and went straight to the White House to talk to Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes. No other committee of Congress had talked to them. They're both very, very critical witnesses, and no other committee of Congress bothered to talk to them.

So, I can't help the fact that Elijah closed his mind two years ago. My fellow citizens have not closed their mind, and we're going to produce a good report.

BLITZER: And when will that report come out?

GOWDY: We have about a dozen more witnesses to interview and we're waiting on two tranches (ph) of documents. But I would love to have that report out in April. And it would have been sooner if we'd get just a little bit of help from Elijah. If he would spend as much time asking the Department of State to give us e-mails as he did talking to you. That's all I'm asking. You don't have to show up for the hearings. You don't have to show up for the interviews. Just -- your party is in power. Help us get the documents we need to finish our job. BLITZER: Trey Gowdy is the chairman of that select committee on the

Benghazi investigation. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. We'll be watching the South Carolina primary together with you tomorrow.

GOWDY: Yes, sir. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And for all the latest information on tomorrow's South Carolina Republican primary, the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, tune into CNN. I'll be anchoring our live coverage. That live coverage will start tomorrow, 2:00 p.m. Eastern all day coverage of Nevada and South Carolina.

Coming up, Hillary Clinton got a big endorsement just a little while ago in South Carolina. Bernie Sanders picked up some endorsements in Nevada. Will they really make a difference, though, to Democratic voters?

And dignitaries come to say good bye to the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. His casket is at the U.S. Supreme Court right now. You're looking at live pictures. We'll remember his legacy with one of his close friends when we come back.



BLITZER: This is just coming in to CNN. The White House now says President Obama has called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader, Harry Reid, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is the chairman of the Judiciary committee, the ranking member of that committee, Democratic Senator Patrick Lahey, to discuss potential nomination process to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

We don't have details on how those conversations went, but the initial phone conversations from the President to those four senators just reported right now.

I want to go out to Nevada right now. Bernie Sanders is speaking. He's got caucuses tomorrow in Nevada against Hillary Clinton. Let's listen in briefly.


SANDERS: ... throughout our painful, painful history, with regard to race is hundreds of years ago incredibly brave African Americans and their white allies. Began planning and saying how do we end this horror of racism and segregation? And, many of those people whose names we will never know were beaten, were lynched, were killed and then more and more people began to stand up and say, you know what? America is not about segregation, it is not about racism.

And, hundreds of hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington. And, finally we made some significant progress in ending segregation and racism in America. From the bottom on up.



BLITZER: All Right, we're going to continue to monitor Bernie Sanders. He's obviously campaigning. This the day before the Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada. All the polls indicate it's neck and neck right now between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Let's get some more now on the race for the White House. For the Democrats, as I said, Nevada next to caucuses there tomorrow. But, while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are reaching out to voters there, Hillary Clinton scored a victory back in South Carolina with the endorsement of a very influential U.S. Congressmen, Jim Clyburn. Listen to this.


CLYBURN: I had the opportunity to work up close and personal with Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. My experiences with both have been pleasant, and enjoyable. But, in spite of how it may sound sometimes, campaigns are, and should be, about the future.

And, I believe that the future of the Democratic party, and the United States of America will best served with the experiences and knowhow of Hillary Clinton as our 45th president.


BLITZER: Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar is in Las Vegas, Jeff Zeleny is also in Nevada -- in Sparks, Nevada.

Briana, how critical is this endorsement by Jim Clyburn for Hillary Clinton, and tell us why?

KEILLAR: It is really important. You know, we talk, Wolf, sometimes about how endorsements only have a little bit of impact, or even no impact. But, this really is a big one. Jim Clyburn actually did not endorse a candidate back in 2008. Of course, the Clintons felt he sort of put his finger on the scale for Barack Obama, but officially he didn't endorse. He remained neutral.

He is one of the longest serving African Americans in Congress. Obviously, a South Carolina congressman, and it's significant where he chose to give Hillary Clinton this endorsement. In Allen University, a historically black college. This is him really sending a message, and he talked about VCU's, and what Hillary Clinton will do for them because while Bernie Sanders is proposing free college, free public college, Hillary Clinton has a carve out for historically black colleges and universities. Something that Sanders doesn't do.

And so, he's sending a message not just to African Americans in his state who are key to a Democratic win, but also to African Americans who are key wins for a Democrat on Super Tuesday when you have a lot of Southern states that are also in play. BLITZER: Jeff, in their town hall last night, Hillary Clinton promised to introduce immigration reform legislation during her first 100 days as president, assuming she's elected. Bernie Sanders, though, refused to offer a specific timeline. Is that potentially going to hurt him there in Nevada where there is a very large immigrant voter population? A lot of hispanics?

ZELENY: Well, Wolf, there's no question. The Latino electorate here in Nevada are very, very important. Some 27% of the population overall in this state here.

But, both were pressed with last night in that town hall meeting to say what they would do on immigration reform, and the Secretary, she said she would introduce it. It would be her top priority. But, when pressed a little bit, she said I would need the help of Congress as well.

And, Bernie Sanders just did not put a specific time frame on it. But, the reality here is they need a Democratic Senate. They need some partnerships to work this out here, so any promises that either one of them are making on this issue are coming right up against all the rhetoric we've heard on the Republican side of this contest here.

Specifically on the Latino vote here, they're both going after that very, very, very aggressively, and she did say it would be her top priority if she's elected, if she becomes the president, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, they not only would need a Democratic Senate, which may be possible in this election cycle, but they'd also need a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to get that legislation through. That seems a lot more problematic for the Democrats.

Alright, guys, stand by. I want to talk a little bit more about the Democratic race, the caucuses in Nevada tomorrow, and beyond.

Joining us is Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, she's also the Chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks, as usual, for joining us. First, your quick reaction to Jim Clyburn, a man you know well. The endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well, yes, I do know Congressman Clyburn well. I serve, and was appointed by him as one of our Chief Deputy Whips for the Democratic caucus. Jim Clyburn is one of the most significant historic civil rights leaders, and really the part of a conscience of the Democratic caucus in the congress.

So, his endorsement, his opinion, certainly is very significant in South Carolina, but significant all across the country. For me that's not a commentary on our primary per-say, but certainly Congressman Clyburn weighing in is significant.

BLITZER: And, as the chair of the DNC, you're remaining neutral, right? WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Oh, of course. Our requirement is for the DNC chair, and all of our officers to remain neutral, and that's all of us are remaining neutral through the primary. We'll support the nominee, and we're preparing very aggressively to make sure that we are ready to launch our nominee to the White House.

BLITZER: I want to play a quick little snippet from that Democratic presidential town hall last night. Listen to this.


CLINTON: I know that Senator Sanders has also attacked President Obama. He's called him weak, he's called him disappointing, he tried to get somebody to run against him in the 2012 election in the primary.

And, I just don't' know where all this comes from because maybe it's that Senator Sanders wasn't really a Democrat until he decided to run for president. He doesn't even know...


CLINTON: ... what the last two Democratic presidents did.

Well, it's true. It's true. You know it's true.


BLITZER: That was a dramatic moment. Hillary Clinton getting booed by some people there in the audience for questioning Bernie Sanders commitment to be a Democrat. As you know, he served in the U.S. as an Independent, although he caucuses with the Democrats. Has he actually -- do you know if he's actually registered now as a Democrat?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: No, my understanding is that Senator Sanders has not registered as a Democrat, but keep in mind in Vermont they don't have party registration. So, he has caucused with the Democrats since he's been a member of Congress. And, we certainly welcomed him when he announced his candidacy, and declaring his intentions to seek the Democratic nomination.

My understanding throughout any of the ballot access qualification requirements, he's not had any trouble, including in New Hampshire where it's a little more strict. He's not had any trouble qualifying as a Democratic candidate.

BLITZER: But, have you gotten a commitment from him that, let's say he loses this contest, Hillary Clinton gets the nomination. When continues his service in the U.S. Senate he will serve as a Democrat, or will he continue to be an Independent?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: We have not discussed that with Senator Sanders, but Senator Sanders has always caucused with the Democrats. As I said when he announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination we welcomed his candidacy, just like I welcomed the candidacy of all of our candidates. And, he has certainly consistently caucused with the Democrats, but I've not talked specifically about what his plans were if he is not successful in achieving our Democratic party nomination.

BLITZER: I want to get your quick reaction to the latest comments. We're hearing from the former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg about the possibility of his running as a third party Independent candidate.

"The list of supposed villains," he says, "we hear about is long. But the actual solutions that Americans seek have been in short supply. You see the current candidates out there doing well, and not the conventional ones."

I ask the RNC, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus about the possibility of Bloomberg entering this race. Here's what he told me the other day.


PRIEBUS: Yeah, I don't really view it as a third party, I just view it as another Democrat. So, you'll have two Democrats running and splitting their vote. I mean, look, he's been fighting and pounding away at Republicans for how long now?

You have to take all the guns away. He wants to tax slurpees and sodas, I mean the guy's a liberal Democrat. So, great.

BLITZER: So, what's your reaction to a possible Bloomberg run?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well, my reaction is the same that you and I have talked about several times on this topic, and that is that when Michael Bloomberg takes a very close look at the two choices that ultimately voters will have he'll see that his issues that he is concerned about, that he's fought for, are really well cared for in the Democratic party.

Now, look at what's happened on the other side, Wolf. You have Donald Trump who has won New Hampshire primary, Ted Cruz who won the Iowa primary, and you know, at the end of the day the most extreme conservative out of touch candidates have been the front runners winning the most delegates in their party's primary.

So, clearly, when Americans go and make their choice in the general election I'm confident that they're going to choose our nominee because like five out of the last six Presidential elections, the American people stand with Democrats who support helping people reach the middle class, not turning the clock back to the failed policies of the past under Republican administrations.

BLITZER: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is the Congresswoman from Florida, she's also the chair of the DNC. Congresswoman, thanks as usual for joining us.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will stand on the same stage Tuesday night, take questions from South Carolina voters during a CNN Democratic presidential town hall. Our own Chris Cuomo will moderate. That's Tuesday night, from 8pm Eastern, only here on CNN.

Up next, U.S. warplanes strike an ISIS camp in Libya where fighters were reportedly training for a possible attack in Europe. We'll have a live report from the Pentagon, that's coming up.