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THE SITUATION ROOM

Christie Endorses Trump, GOP Battle Intensifies; Rubio and Trump Trade Nasty Insults for Hours; Dems Make Final Push Before South Carolina Primary; Controversy Over Accusing ISIS of Genocide. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired February 26, 2016 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. Thank you so much for watching. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, who's right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Jersey shoring up support in the middle of an all-out political brawl. Donald Trump brings in a veteran slugger to help him battle his GOP opponents. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former rival, is now in Trump's corner.

Spelling it out. Marco Rubio scoffs at Trump's misspelled insults, saying that, like Trump Tower, he must have hired a foreign worker to do his own tweets.

No holds barred. Mudslinging isn't enough. Now Trump and Rubio have gone from hurling insults to throwing water. What's next? And how will all of this look to voters?

And Carolina clash. While all eyes are now on Super Tuesday, Democrats are just hours away from the South Carolina primary. Bernie Sanders trails Hillary Clinton there and is ramping up his own rhetoric. Is their race about to get nasty?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news. After a tag-team brawl in which he Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Donald Trump brought in some back-up today.

Just hours after CNN's raucous Republican debate and days before the critical Super Tuesday contest, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie showed up in Texas to show his support for Trump. The former candidate called Trump the best person to beat Hillary Clinton and said no one is better prepared to lead the country.

The sparring continues today in hours' long insult sessions, Trump calling Rubio a Nervous Nellie, a choker and Mr. Meltdown. Rubio calling Trump a con artist, saying it's time to pull his mask off.

While Super Tuesday looms large, Democrats take their turn tomorrow in South Carolina. Hillary Clinton has a big lead there. And Bernie Sanders is already focusing in on other states. He's also stepping up his attacks on Clinton, taking a much harsher tone as he ties her to Wall Street.

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

It's the day after the night before, and they're still at it. We begin with CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, could this GOP fight be any nastier? Trump is calling in some help.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so, Wolf, but we'll see. Donald Trump scored a big endorsement today, as you said, landing the support of Chris Christie. I'm told by aides to both Trump and Christie that this endorsement was discussed yesterday at Trump Tower in New York City.

But with Super Tuesday just days away, Trump and now Marco Rubio are engaged in a locker room brawl. The fight for the GOP nomination has gotten so ugly, it's descended into name calling over who sweats the most and who can control their bladder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump tried to turn the page after CNN's fiery Republican debate, rolling out a jaw-dropping endorsement from Chris Christie.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was an endorsement that really meant a lot.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: There is no better fighter than Donald Trump. He's going to fight for the American people.

TRUMP: Other than that, I rest my case.

ACOSTA: It was a deft move for Trump after he seemed rattled by a newly aggressive Marco Rubio at Thursday's debate.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he hadn't inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be?

TRUMP: No, no, no, no, no.

RUBIO: Selling watches.

TRUMP: That's wrong, that's wrong. That's so wrong.

ACOSTA: Christie, who skewered Rubio on the debate stage in New Hampshire, said the Florida senator is resorting to taunts for one reason.

CHRISTIE: Desperate people in campaigns do desperate things.

ACOSTA: Rubio said it's Trump who's desperate.

RUBIO: Donald probably needs a life line after last night, so he called in Chris Christie.

What we are dealing with here, my friends, is a con artist.

ACOSTA: Rubio has decided the only way to take down the GOP front- runner is to match insult with insult.

RUBIO: Let me tell you something. Last night in the debate during one of the debates, two of the breaks, he went backstage. He was having a meltdown.

First he had this little make-up thing, applying, like, make-up around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don't know why, because the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full-length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know.

ACOSTA: In Texas, Rubio ridiculed Trump' misspelling of the words "lightweight choker" in his post-debate tweets.

RUBIO: Here's the first one. "Leightweight [SIC] Marco Rubio was working hard last night." This is true. "The problem is, he is a chocker [SIC]. And once a chocker [SIC], always a choker." I guess that's what he meant to say. He spelled "choker" C-H-O-C-K-E-R, chocker [SIC].

TRUMP: He was sweating so badly.

ACOSTA: Trump mocked the Florida senator as drowning in sweat backstage at the debates, badly in need of TV make-up.

[17:05:01] TRUMP: I will not say that he was trying cover up his ears.

"I need water. Help me, I need water. Help."

When you're a choke artist, you're always a choke artist.

ACOSTA: It was a continuation of the alley fight that broke out during CNN's debate. On Obamacare, Rubio got the last word over who repeats himself the most.

RUBIO: So that's the only part of the plan? Just the lines, the intrastate competition?

TRUMP: The nice part about -- you have many different plans. You'll have competition. You'll have so many different plans.

RUBIO: Now he's repeating himself.

TRUMP: No, I'm not repeating. I don't repeat myself.

RUBIO: You don't repeat yourself?

TRUMP: Here's the guy that repeats himself.

RUBIO: You repeat yourself every day. TRUMP: I watched -- talking about repeating, I watched him repeat

himself five times four weeks ago.

RUBIO: I watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago.

ACOSTA: Ted Cruz joined the fray, hoping to draw blood on immigration.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In 2013, when I was leading the fight against the Gang of Eight amnesty bill, where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on "Celebrity Apprentice."

TRUMP: You don't have the endorsement of one Republican senator, and you worked with these people.

BLITZER: Senator Cruz.

TRUMP: You should be ashamed of yourself.

CHRISTIE: "Was stupid, da, da, da, da." OK, I get it.

ACOSTA: As for Christie, he poked fun at Trump himself just last month, warning voters in New Hampshire what could happen if he wins.

CHRISTIE: We could wind upturning over the White House to Hillary Clinton for four more years.

Trump wondered whether Rubio will now land the support of the last GOP nominee, Mitt Romney. Romney, Trump joked, was never going to win in 2012.

TRUMP: When you walk onto a stage, you cannot walk like a penguin. He walked like a penguin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now Trump is so furious with Rubio, he rolled him out today as vice president.

As for Chris Christie, Trump left the door open, saying he's certainly got the talent. But Wolf, as you heard, Chris Christie seemed to rule that out, saying he wants to go into the private sector. But it's hard to turn that job down once it's offered to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Our political reporter, Sara Murray, is covering the Trump campaign.

Sara, you were there in the room when Donald Trump surprised everyone with a Chris Christie bombshell endorsement. How did this come together?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was kind of amazing. Donald Trump just strolling into his press conference with Chris Christie in tow. No one really breaking the news ahead of time. And look, yesterday when the other candidates were cramming, they were

doing their last-minute debate prep, Donald Trump was in New York. He was meeting with Chris Christie in Trump Tower. He was already preparing to change the narrative, to come into today this big splashy endorsement.

And there's a reason that it was so tightly held. I was just meeting with a Christie adviser. He said he did -- it was only a small group of aides who heard about this ahead of time, and they did not find out about it until last night when Chris Christie was boarding the plane to Texas to meet Donald Trump here.

So it's clear they wanted to keep this very tight to the vest, very quiet so it could be a big event today. And I think, at least in that respect, it was a big surprise and probably a good step for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: By all accounts, Sara, Christie and his fellow governor, John Kasich, they don't have any bad blood. Did Christie give Kasich a heads up?

MURRAY: That's right. And it's not just that they don't have any bad blood. These two guys are actually friends. They're both governors. And a Christie adviser said it's really nothing personal. It was just that they felt like John Kasich didn't have a path forward.

But I think the Kasich folks are feeling a little bit bruised today, because one staffer told me that Chris Christie did not call John Kasich ahead of time to warn that it was coming. And I was just speaking with another staffer a little while ago, and they're say they still have not heard from Chris Christie. They feel good, of course, about their own endorsements and about the billionaires they've been picking up to back their campaign, but a little bit of a tough day, I think, for the Kasich camp.

All right, Sara, thank you. Sara Murray reporting.

Joining us now, Alex Conant. He's the communications director for the Rubio campaign.

Alex, thanks very much for coming in. Is this endorsement a major setback for the Rubio campaign?

ALEX CONANT, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RUBIO CAMPAIGN: I think Donald Trump had a really tough night last night. What we saw Trump doing on the trail today. Clearly, the wheels are coming off that campaign as we speak, splashing water around the screen -- the stage. Like, you know, he's losing all control of the campaign.

So they had to pull out the big guns, and Chris Christie is a very talented communicator. That's why they brought him out on the stage today. They needed to change the narrative after last night's devastating debate for Donald Trump.

I was in the spin room with you afterwards. I've never seen Team Trump look that shell-shocked after a debate as they did last night. I think, obviously, Christie was there, in an attempt to turn the page on that. We're going to stay focused on Donald Trump and exposing him for what he is: a con man who's trying to take over the conservative movement. Marco Rubio's not going to let him do it.

BLITZER: Chris Christie minced no words in going after Marco Rubio, just as he did when he was running. He continues that assault right now. Are you surprised?

CONANT: We have a lot of respect for Chris Christie. Obviously, he's a very gifted political communicator. Right now, this race is about two men. It's about Marco Rubio and Donald Trump and who is going to lead the conservative movement and this nation in the 21st century.

[17:10:04] Donald Trump is a con man who's trying to take over the Republican Party. We're not going to let him do it. We're asking people, if they want to -- if they want to stop Donald Trump, now is the time. People are voting now. These elections matter a lot. Starting on Tuesday, Super Tuesday, people need to go to our website, MarcoRubio.com. Join our campaign if they want to prevent Marco -- prevent Donald Trump from becoming the Republican nominee.

BLITZER: You say it's a two-man race. What about Ted Cruz? What about John Kasich?

CONANT: Well, obviously, they're still running. I think there are only two candidates, Trump and Marco Rubio, that at this stage have a viable pathway to the nomination. And you saw that at the debate last night. The two of them really clashed on issues like eminent domain; issues like health care, where Donald Trump doesn't have a plan; issues like Planned Parenthood, which Marco Rubio wants to defund and Donald Trump was arguing that we should continue to fund. These are big issues.

And if Donald Trump is our nominee, the Republican Party will cease to be the conservative party of Ronald Reagan. It will become something very different. We cannot let that happen to this party; we can't let it happen to this nation.

BLITZER: Rubio really did not go after Cruz, and Cruz really didn't, a little bit did, but didn't really go after Rubio. And we saw them shaking hands when they came back right behind Donald Trump. Was there some sort of agreement behind the scenes going on that the two of them were going to combine their forces on Donald Trump?

CONANT: No, obviously not. There's no agreement. They're both conservatives, and I think they both see what's happening, which is Donald Trump is now the front-runner, and Donald Trump is not a conservative. And we need to stop Donald Trump.

That's why Marco Rubio focused on Donald Trump last night. That's why they had the debate, as I said, over Obamacare, over eminent domain, over Israel, issues where Donald Trump is not with the Republican Party. He's more in line with Hillary Clinton on all those issues. He's in line with Hillary Clinton on Planned Parenthood. Marco Rubio is a conservative on these issues. That's why -- that's why they contrasted last night. BLITZER: If Marco Rubio doesn't carry his own state of Florida, is it

over for him? Because the polls -- the most recent polls -- you've seen them -- show Trump ahead in Florida.

CONANT: Yes. We're going to win Florida. There's no question about it.

BLITZER: What happens if he doesn't?

CONANT: We're going to win Florida. I'm not even going to speculate on the alternative, because it's not going to happen. We're going to win Florida. We feel very good about the state. Nobody understands Florida better than we do. Nobody sees more data from Florida than we do. We're in a really good position there right now. We feel good about where we're going to be there.

BLITZER: What about this coming Tuesday? There are 11 Republican contests. Super Tuesday, are you going to win any of that?

CONANT: We're going to win delegates on Tuesday. All of...

BLITZER: Delegates. What about a state?

CONANT: All the states are -- award delegates proportionately, so that's the most important thing. We want to win states. We're competing everywhere.

BLITZER: Which one do you think you might be able to win in?

CONANT: I'm not going to single out any specific state right now, other than to say we are competing everywhere. We're going to be in Virginia all day Monday. We were in Texas and Oklahoma today. We're going on keep barnstorming every moment between now and Super Tuesday, because there's so much at stake. The time for choosing is now, whether you want Donald Trump or Marco Rubio to be our nominee.

BLITZER: Marco Rubio, over all these months, he laid back. He didn't really go after Trump, but all of a sudden, last night he came in that debate strong. What happened?

CONANT: Well, I think prior to this moment, you had a lot of people trying to be the alternative to Donald Trump. You had Jeb Bush spending tens of millions of dollars attacking Marco Rubio. You had other candidates, including Chris Christie attacking Marco Rubio on the stage. And last night, I think, was the first time where you had two candidates on the stage. Everyone watching the debate understood that one of the two of these men, either Marco or Donald, were going to be the Republican nominee, and that was -- that was the debate we saw unfold last night.

I think that's what you'll continue to see in the coming weeks. This is a long campaign. We won't pick the nominee on Tuesday. We won't pick the nominee on March 15. This is going to be a long campaign. There's a lot at stake here, and it started last night.

BLITZER: Do you need Cruz to drop out? CONANT: I think ultimately we need the field to continue to winnow.

Absolutely. And I think there's only two candidates, as I said, that have a pathway right now. Marco and Donald Trump so hopefully as this campaign goes, we can attract more of Ted's supporters.

BLITZER: Alex, stand by. We have much more to discuss. We're going to take a quick break. Much more coming up

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:18:14] BLITZER: We're back with Alex Conant, the communications director for the Marco Rubio campaign.

Why is Donald Trump doing so well? He's won three major contests in row by big numbers.

CONANT: I think obviously, he's tapped into some of the anger. But he also hasn't been exposed. This man is a conman. He's trying to con the Republican Party into nominating him as the head of the conservative movement when he isn't really a conservative, if you look at his positions.

So I think that he hasn't been challenged to date. I think what Marco Rubio did last night was the beginning of that. And that's why you've seen all this erratic behavior from Donald Trump today, just acting like -- you know, like he's never been hit before.

BLITZER: You're saying Rubio is going to carry his home state of Florida. I just want to put these numbers up. This is the Quinnipiac poll, which I'm sure you've seen. Right now, 44 percent for Trump; 28 percent for Rubio; 12 for Cruz; 7, Kasich; 4 for Carson. Those are pretty impressive numbers. Your internal numbers are different than this poll?

CONANT: Let me make three observations, quickly. One, yes, we've seen other data that suggests it's a much closer race. Two, that same Quinnipiac poll had Trump winning Iowa the day of the Iowa caucuses. Of course, he came in a distant second there, almost tied with Marco Rubio in Iowa.

And then third, we just feel really good about Iowa. I mean, we have -- we have 19 days to go -- excuse me, about Florida. We have 19 days to go, two debates, millions of dollars of TV commercials. About 15 contests, elections between now and Florida. So a lot's going to happen. And I think just what you've seen in the last 24 hours, you know, we have a long way to go.

BLITZER: Because the concern among the establishment, so-called establishment Republicans, a lot of whom are turning to Marco Rubio right now is why didn't he do this three months ago, four months ago? Why has he waited this long? Their fear is it might be too little too late.

CONANT: Well, obviously Marco is the underdog right now. But he's been an underdog his whole life. He didn't inherit millions of dollars like Donald Trump did. He's had to -- he's had to work for everything he has in life right now. And he loves being the underdog. He's always been the underdog. He won as an underdog in 2010. And you know what? In America, underdogs win.

[17:20:08] So we feel good about where we're at in this race. Why didn't we do it sooner? We were fighting with Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, all these other Republicans that have since dropped out. Now it's a one-on-one race. Now is the time to take the fight to Trump.

BLITZER: You take a fight to Trump. You punch him. You know what he does. He comes slugging right back. You saw what Marco Rubio did to him at the debate last night. You saw what he did today to Marco Rubio.

Are you concerned, potentially, he could do to Marco Rubio what he basically did to Jeb Bush?

CONANT: Well, I mean, the wheels were coming off the Trump train today if you looked at his rallies earlier. He's splashing water around the stage like an erratic person. I mean, can anybody really imagine that guy, the way he reacted to the debate last night, giving him nuclear weapons? I mean, seriously? I mean, that's scary.

He obviously does not have the temperament to be president. What we've seen over the last 12 hours, how he responded to not doing well in the debate, that is not somebody who should be commander in chief and be given America's launch codes to our nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: A lot of Republican voters like him, though, as you've seen by the results so far.

CONANT: Yes. Obviously, he's the front-runner. That's why there is such a sense of urgency in this campaign right now. That's why there's -- the ratings for last night's debate were so -- were so high.

Fortunately, the election is not tomorrow. We have a long way to go. Voters still have a chance to decide to nominate somebody other than Marco Rubio. That's why we're asking people to go to our website, join MarcoRubio.com today, because the time is of the essence.

BLITZER: One final question, Alex, before I let you go. If Donald Trump does get the Republican nomination, Marco Rubio, all the other Republican candidates, they pledged to support him. After all this bad blood, the ugly words, all the con man stuff, could he do that?

CONANT: I refuse to believe that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. I've been a Republican my entire life. I fought -- I fought for every campaign in the last couple cycles. I refuse to believe that his party is going to nominate a con man like Donald Trump as our nominee.

I believe Marco Rubio will be our nominee. He will unite the Republican Party. We will bring more people into the conservative movement than ever before, and we will defeat Hillary Clinton in November. BLITZER: Or maybe Bernie Sanders.

CONANT: Or maybe Bernie.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Alex Conant, for coming in.

CONANT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, the highlights and low lights of today's back and forth on the Republican presidential campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don't know why, because the podium goes up to here. He wanted a full-length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet.

TRUMP: But the one time I'm right next to him, and I looked at the puddle on the ground. And I said what is that? What is it? I wanted to know what is that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Last night's raucous Republican debate on CNN was just for starters. Donald Trump and Marco Rubio have been trading insults all day long. Is there any mud left to sling? Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: The charade is up. This is a con job. He's going to Americans that are struggling, Americans that are hurting, and he's implying "I'm fighting for you, because I'm a tough guy." A tough guy? This guy inherited $200 million. He's never faced any struggle. He's never faced -- the other day he told somebody, a protester, "I'm going to punch you in the face." Donald Trump has never punched anyone in the face. Donald Trump was the first guy that begged for Secret Service protection.

TRUMP: But I saw with Rubio, I saw -- and he's a nervous wreck. Because here's a guy -- he's a nervous basket case. Here's a guy -- you had to see him. You had to see him backstage. He was putting on make-up with a trowel. No. I don't want to say that. I will not say that he was trying to cover up his ears. I will not say that.

RUBIO: So you want to have a little fun? All right. What does Donald Trump do when things go wrong? He takes to Twitter. I have him right here. Let's read some. You'll have fun.

All right. No. 1. Here's the first one. "Leightweight [SIC] Marco Rubio was working hard last night." This is true. "The problem is, he is a chocker [SIC]. And once a chocker [SIC], always a choker." I guess that's what he meant to say. He spelled "choker" C-H-O-C-K-E-R, chocker [SIC].

TRUMP: Think of this. So we have Putin, and Putin's going to meet our president. And let's assume it's Marco. And -- let's assume it is Marco. No, I agree with you. We don't want him. Boo, boo. And Putin is sitting there waiting for a kill. And he knows all about Marco, because when they put Marco on to refute President Obama's speech. Do you remember that catastrophe? And he's like this, and we will -- "I need water. Help me. I need water. Help." This is on live television.

RUBIO: He called me Mr. Meltdown. Let me tell you something. Last night in the debate during one of the breaks -- two of the breaks -- he went backstage. He was having a meltdown.

First he had this little make-up thing applying, like, make-up around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then -- then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don't know why, because the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full-length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know.

Then -- then I see him pacing back and forth. And then he's huddled in the corner talking to somebody. He's, like, waving his arms up and down, and the person is trying to calm him down.

[17:30:00] TRUMP: We look at this, and he goes in to see Putin. And he walks in and he is soaking wet. And Putin looks at him and goes, what's wrong with this guy? This is going to be easy pickins. And believe me, it will be.

RUBIO: Next tweet, "Light weight chalker Marco Rubio looks like a little boy on stage. Not presidential material. He meant to say lightweight but he spelled it L-E-I-G-H-T. So he got that wrong. "It looks like a little boy on stage." It's not that I look like a little boy. I wouldn't even be that youngest president but he would be the oldest president ever elected. And it's like an eight-year term. So you start to worry.

TRUMP: Out of nowhere, he goes on live television, here's our response, he choked. Just like he did with Christie. He is a choker. He choked with Chris. And I watched it both times. But the one time I'm right next to him. And I looked at the puddle on the ground and I said, what is that? What is it? I wanted to know what is that? But this time, this wise guy, this lightweight, is going over. And all of a sudden, he is being drained. And he goes like this. Remember?

He said where is he? And then he comes back with water. And honestly, water is fine. But it should be in a glass. He's got the label of the company here. And he is drinking. And I've never -- honestly, I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen anything like it.

So we are going to beat guys like that. See, it's guys like that, and he's a nasty guy. I called him a nasty little guy but I wouldn't say that.

TRUMP: Last one. Wow. Every poll said I won the debate last night. Now this is him about himself, OK? Great honer. I think he meant to say great honor. I don't know how he got that wrong because the E and the O are nowhere near each other on the keyboard. Great honer. All right. So here's the -- yes, that's what I'm thinking. So how

does this guy -- not one tweet, three tweets misspell words so badly? And I only reached two conclusions. Number one, that's how they spell those words at the Wharton School of Business where he went. Or number two, just like Trump Tower, he must have hired a foreign worker to do his own tweets.

TRUMP: I thought the deal of the night was when I looked over to Rubio. And I said, you remember, you're a choker. And we don't want chokers in our administration. I said you're a choker and you're a liar. And I've had -- you know, I've had a lot of difficulties with Ted because he just lies. You know, I've dealt with much tougher. A guy like Rubio is a baby. But a guy like Ted is tougher. I will tell you. Actually he is tougher. And he's actually smarter, in all fairness. Ted is actually smarter. I have to give that to him. He is a smarter person than Rubio.

RUBIO: Guys, we have a con artist as the frontrunner in the Republican Party. A guy who has made a career out of telling people lies so that they come in and buy his product or whatever he does. Did you ever heard of Trump vodka? You have? Well, it isn't around anymore. Or Trump mattress? Or Trump air? Or Trump ice? Or Trump water? Those are all business that are gone because they were disasters. OK? Trump hot air. Yes. So we cannot allow the conservative movement to be taken over by a con artist. Because the stakes are too high.

TRUMP: It's Rubio.

(CHEERS AND LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Unbelievable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our experts. Our CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, our CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Came out swinging, Marco Rubio last night. Continuing today. Is it, though, too late for him?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think somebody needs to give these boys a time-out a little bit because it's getting a little heated. Look, I think it may be too late for Marco Rubio. If you look at the states coming up on Super Tuesday, Wolf, Donald Trump has the lead in most of these states. The only outlier might be Texas which Ted Cruz could win. Marco Rubio has to win somewhere. He says he's going to win his home state of Florida which is very important.

But it's down the line, March 15th, and it is a winner-take-all state so it was all the 99 delegates. But he's got to prove that he can win. The thing Marco Rubio has going for him is that those late deciders, as we've seen in the last couple of contests, tend to break from Rubio. OK. [17:35:04] But Donald Trump's supporters are with him. No matter

what. No matter what kind of shots Marco Rubio is going to take or has been taking. Donald Trump, they're going to be with Donald Trump. So Rubio has to sort of convince those people who are on the fence. And my question is, how many people after what we've been through are really on the fence anymore?

BLITZER: Ann, as you know, the Trump counter attack today has been intense. We just saw it. The Rubio attack continues. Some of Trump's supporters say Trump is going to do to Rubio what he did to Jeb Bush, eventually make him quit. Do you see that happening?

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There's no doubt that Donald Trump is a very effective counter attacker. He is very good at this. He's got the New York bluster. He's very good with a, you know, quip and a comeback. But so is Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio is from a different generation, from a different upbringing than Jeb Bush. He was raised in the streets of Las Vegas and the streets of west Miami, Florida. And I can tell you that's not a place where, you know, where you play nice the entire time.

I think Marco showed last night that he is very capable of landing a punch. Very capable of getting under Donald Trump's skin. Now I will also tell that you Donald Trump is very savvy. When the narrative was nothing but Rubio won the debate. Rubio got under Donald Trump's skin today, Donald Trump turned it around and threw out the Chris Christie endorsement and turned around the entire media narrative for the rest of the day.

The guy knows how to play the media. The guy knows how to play the game. But I think in Marco he's going to find a much more even match for this back and forth. It is a little sad, though, I must also say, to see the GOP primary deteriorate into a contest where we are talking about sweating, choking, lying and wetting your pants.

BLITZER: It's pretty amazing, I must say that.

Jeffrey, Marco Rubio went after Trump for hiring illegal workers. For the Trump University fraud case that's underway right now. For the audit that Trump is facing in this IRS tax returns. Will any of these legal questions, though, resonate with Trump supporters?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Based on what we've seen so far, it doesn't seem that way because none of those claims are exactly new. I mean, yes, the audit is new. But the problems at Trump University have been well known for some time.

And remember, every time Donald Trump is confronted with some problem in his business, he says, I've hired thousands of people. I've been a successful businessman. What have you ever done, Marco Rubio? What have you ever done, Ted Cruz? Both of whom are career politicians. I mean, so I think the whole idea of attacking him, at least in the Republican primary based on his business record, it looks unpromising to me based on what I've seen so far.

BLITZER: Yes. So far nothing really has hurt Trump with those -- that key group of supporters that he has. And it's an impressive group of supporters.

Gloria, why did Chris Christie all of a sudden today decide to endorse Donald Trump?

BORGER: Well, I don't think the timing first of all is a coincidence. I think it was very smart, as Ana was saying, that he kind of block the momentum that Marco Rubio had coming out of the debate with this endorsement but I think it was really a combination of reasons. First of all, I think Chris Christie believes that Donald Trump is going to be the inevitable nominee. And why not get out ahead of it rather than follow all the people are going to be rushing to endorse him when he becomes the nominee.

Also, I don't think ideologically he fits with Ted Cruz at all. I think -- I was talking to one Kasich adviser. And this is not a happy day for them because they were hoping that Christie might have endorsed them but he didn't. But he said -- this is what Kasich adviser said to me. He says, it's about Marco hate, as he put it because Christie doesn't like Marco Rubio. We remember when he first took him on that debate, and that was a tough time for Marco Rubio. So I think you put all of these together at the top of the list, is that he believes Trump will be the nominee.

I think there is a little problem here. People are going to look at this and say, wait a minute. I went back and looked at some stuff that Chris Christie was saying about Donald Trump in New Hampshire. And he said he has no business running for president of the United States. And now he's endorsing him.

BLITZER: I remember some things that Donald Trump said about Chris Christie.

BORGER: Same thing. You bet.

BLITZER: And called bridgegate and all of that but now they're best friends and they're working together against Marco Rubio on that matter.

All right, guys, stand by. We have more coming up, very dramatic exciting day in the world of American politics. Our coverage continues right after this.

[17:40:00]

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BLITZER: We're counting down to tomorrow's South Carolina Democratic primary. Both Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, they are looking to boost their momentum heading into next week's Super Tuesday contest.

Let's bring our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's in South Carolina for us. What's the latest there, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. We are on the eve of a big primary contest here in South Carolina tomorrow. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders squaring off at two historically black colleges and universities tonight just blocks away from each other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Bachelor parties aren't your usual campaign events.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is exciting, isn't it?

KEILAR: But that's where Hillary Clinton unexpectedly found herself at a Charleston bakery one day before the South Carolina primary. Trying to convince voters to walk down the aisle with her.

[17:45:07] HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I need your vote tomorrow.

KEILAR: Instead of Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She has this super PAC. $15 billion of which came from Wall Street.

KEILAR: He's in South Carolina today after a stop in Minnesota where he targeted Clinton's big dollar speeches to Wall Street firms.

SANDERS: What she said behind closed doors is a little bit different than what she's saying to the American people. I am prepared to the release all of the transcripts. I got the secret meetings in Wall Street. Here they are.

KEILAR: Clinton is resisting, saying Tuesday at CNN's town hall --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Why?

CLINTON: Why is there one standard for me and not for everybody else, Chris? I mean --

KEILAR: The "New York Times" editorial board backing Sanders on the issue, saying "Voters have every right to know what Mrs. Clinton told these groups." Clinton is urging voters to examine her public record.

CLINTON: To have people say, we don't trust her. We don't know why she's doing it. And it suddenly struck me, well, you know, maybe there is this underlying question. Like, is she doing it for herself? Or is she really in it for us?

KEILAR: She and Sanders are fighting for the key support of black voters ahead of the South Carolina primary and the other upcoming southern contest Tuesday. Both on defense of their support for the 1994 crime bill that helped lead to increase African-American incarceration.

CLINTON: There were some positive features. However, I think that the consequences of some of what was done are serious. And we have to take action as quickly and broadly as possible to try to reverse those. KEILAR: And Sanders at an event in Chicago where Secret Service

stepped in when a woman holding a sign charged the stage.

SANDERS: Please. No, right there.

KEILAR: His remarks included a critique of Clinton for backing her husband's 1996 Welfare Reform Bill.

SANDERS: The result of that bill is that extreme poverty, the poorest of the poor in America, those numbers doubled as a result of that legislation. I opposed that legislation. Hillary Clinton supported that legislation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And we did just wrap up here at Hillary Clinton's event in -- at South Carolina State University, Wolf. There were protesters actually about that very thing that Bernie Sanders was highlighting, or actually it was about the crime bill that he supported and Hillary Clinton supported as well. A couple of protesters speaking out against her support for her husband's bill with the hash tag on one of those signs. #whichHillary?

Supporters of Clinton's, though, Wolf, pointing out that these protesters were not African-American. But certainly their rallying cry was something that we've seen from Black Lives Matter supporters.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting, thank you.

Coming up, we'll have much more from today's insults and name calling as Senator Marco Rubio tries to stop Donald Trump's momentum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: First of all, he runs on this idea --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[17:52:33] BLITZER: Falsely accuse ISIS of a particularly heinous crime now proving very controversial.

Brian Todd is here. Brian, what are we talking about here?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight there's growing pressure on the Obama administration to formally accuse ISIS of genocide. We're told that inside the White House and State Department there's been intense debate over making that call given what it might compel the administration to do if ISIS is given that label.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Groups of Christians in orange jumpsuits lined up on beaches in Libya beheaded at the hands of ISIS. It's happened at least twice. ISIS has crucified people in the center of Raqqa, Syria. In Iraq, the group has killed thousands of Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority.

This 15-year-old Yazidi described what happened to his family in Sinjar Province.

SABAH MIRZA MAHMOUD, FORMER YAZIDI PRISONER (Through Translator): ISIS killed my dad, my uncles. They kidnapped 25 relatives, including women.

TODD: Then ISIS has enslaved Yazidi women and girls. Militants bragging about it in videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): Where is my Yazidi girl?

TODD: Tonight, members of Congress are pushing the Obama White House to formally accuse ISIS of genocide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time for America to act.

TODD: Religious freedom advocates say it's past time.

TRAVIS WEBER, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: You've got killings by a number of barbaric methods, beheadings, rape of young girls, a number of actions with the intent to inflict violence, death and other forms of mental stress which will drive those communities from the Middle East.

TODD: U.S. officials tell CNN inside the Obama administration a debate has been going on since last year over whether to accuse ISIS of genocide. Tonight under pressure from Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry says he's close to making the call.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I share just a huge sense of revulsion over these acts, obviously.

TODD: But Kerry says the administration's lawyers have to first make a judgment that what ISIS is doing meets the standard of genocide. Advocates say it should since ISIS appears to be targeting Yazidis, Christians and others based on their religions. This 19-year-old Yazidi woman tells a horrific story of being handed over to an ISIS militant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): He put me in a room and put a gun to my head, and I was on the ground. And he said, I will kill you because you won't convert to Islam.

TODD: If atrocities like that are labeled as genocide by the U.S., the Obama administration wouldn't be legally compelled to do anything, but morally and politically, they would come under pressure to take actions that might not be popular with many Americans.

[17:55:12] ROBERT MCKENZIE, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It will certainly mean more protection of minority communities on the ground, which will mean more military engagement. It will also mean more resources in terms of identifying and resettling refugees.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Would being accused of genocide put any more pressure on ISIS? Analysts say it might result in more investigations, possible trials at the International Criminal Court. It's not clear if it will mean stepped up bombings and other military operations and it likely won't change ISIS' behavior given its apocalyptic view toward anyone who's any different from them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you.

Coming up, let's get back to politics here in the United States. Name calling, insults and a major endorsement as Donald Trump and Marco Rubio push toward Super Tuesday.

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