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Attacking ISIS; Can Rubio Survive?; Democrats Square Off; Clinton: Sanders Set to Debate after Michigan Shocker; Key ISIS Operative Providing Chemical Weapons Intel; Iran Fires Missiles, Likely Violating U.N. Resolution. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 9, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: Trump on top, Donald Trump gaining new ground in his march toward the Republican presidential nomination, winning three states in the latest round of primaries, but losing one to Ted Cruz, who is gaining in the delegate race. Is the GOP now looking at a two-man contest?

Raising the stakes. Trump defending his business record, displaying Trump products at a news conference that seemed more like an infomercial. Was Trump telling the truth about his line of steaks and why did they have another company's name on them?

Clinton's wakeup call. A surprise defeat for Hillary Clinton in Michigan and a shot in the arm for Bernie Sanders, his unexpected victory giving him new momentum as the Democratic candidates prepare to debate tonight and battle for the next round of primaries. How vulnerable is Hillary Clinton in next week's contests?

And chemical weapons chief. The U.S. military secretly interrogating a man believed to be the head of ISIS' chemical weapons program. The questioning giving American commanders enough information to order airstrikes on suspected manufacturing sites. What kinds of deadly chemical weapons is ISIS making?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer on the campus of the University of Miami, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the eve of the CNN Republican presidential debate. The former candidate Jeb Bush meeting with all of Donald Trump's remaining rivals ahead of tomorrow night's face-off.

A Bush spokeswoman saying Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich each asked to sit down with Bush, who has not made any endorsements since dropping out of the race. We will hear from Donald Trump later this hour. He sat down just a little while ago with CNN's Anderson Cooper talking about his latest primary victories and the slew of delegates he picked up on Monday, winning Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii, losing only Idaho to Ted Cruz. And Trump now predicting a knockout victory in the next round of

primaries and ultimately securing enough delegates for the Republican presidential delegation.

We're also watching the Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they will be debating tonight right here in Miami with CNN simulcasting the Univision event. The Clinton campaign shaken by Sanders' unexpected win in the Michigan primary and now facing a tougher battle in critical states like Florida and Ohio.

And there's breaking news in the war against ISIS. New details of secret interrogations by U.S. forces of a man believed to be the ISIS chemical weapons chief. CNN is learning some of the information the detainee is providing has already led to U.S. airstrikes on suspected ISIS chemical weapons plants.

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

Let's begin with the latest political developments.

Our CNN political reporter, Sara Murray, has got more.

Sara, more than ever on Donald Trump's latest wins setting the stage for the big Republican debate. What is the latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf. Donald Trump will be the man in the middle. But, interestingly, he's predicting a softer debate, all this as he notches even more victories and looks more and more like he might be the presumptive nominee.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was watching the news in one of the rooms, and every single advertisement was about me. And it was during my tournament. I'm turning my tournament. I go from tournament to horrible lies, every -- the most vicious ads.

MURRAY (voice-over): In the face of an onslaught of attacks, Donald Trump is triumphing, notching three more victories Tuesday night and nudging the party to rally behind him.

TRUMP: The bottom line is, we have something going that's so good. We should grab each other and we should unify the party and nobody is going to beat us. OK?

MURRAY: The billionaire businessman celebrating with a surreal election night event, responding to a drumbeat of criticism about his failed ventures with an evening designed to showcase Trump-branded products.

TRUMP: And we have Trump steaks. And, by the way, if you want to take one, we will charge you about, what, 50 bucks a steak? No, I'm only...

MURRAY: According to these reports, Sharper Image no longer sells Trump Steaks.

TRUMP: You will absolutely love Trump steaks.

MURRAY: And Bush Brothers provides Trump steaks to Trump hotels and golf clubs, so it's unclear where the slabs of meat Trump touted came from. Now that the fight for the nomination is looking more like a two-man race, Ted Cruz isn't letting up.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have any steaks to sell you. I don't have any wine. I don't have any cleaning products.

MURRAY: The Texas senator emerging with a victory in Idaho Tuesday and today getting another boost with an endorsement from former presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina.

CRUZ: Carly's being with us today is just one more manifestation of what we have been seeing playing out over the last several weeks, which is Republicans uniting, coming together behind our campaign.

MURRAY: But for Marco Rubio, a brutal night, another winless evening and even steeper odds as he pins all his Florida.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You believed in me once. I am asking you to believe again. We can win this election, and we will. I need your help next Tuesday because we're not just going to win the Florida primary. We're going to win Florida in November.

MURRAY: And today John Kasich is still holding on, outperforming Rubio last night and fighting for victory in his home state of Ohio next Tuesday.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And with those states that have not yet selected a delegate, basically the three, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and I, are dead even going into the last half of this whole match. So don't be thinking it's over yet.


MURRAY: Now, our CNN debate stage tomorrow night is of course where the candidates will make their closing arguments before this round of states vote on March 15.

And the stakes may not be higher for anyone than Marco Rubio and John Kasich, who need to prove to voters they aren't just waiting their votes by casting ballots for those two gentlemen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Sara, thank you very much.

Let's go to the Cruz campaign right now.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is inside the debate hall here at the University of Miami, where the remaining Republican candidates will face off tomorrow night.

Sunlen, how is the Cruz campaign feeling about, first, how they did last night and second about the path forward?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Cruz campaign, Wolf, has always been desperate to push this into a two-man race with Donald Trump.

The main core of their message is that Ted Cruz is the only one that can beat Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup. So they largely feel that the results of last night strengthens that argument. Yes, they did lose three states to Donald Trump, but they did pick up a win in Idaho and most importantly they added to their delegate totals.

And that's why we saw Senator Ted Cruz today really push this message right out of the gate. He argued because of the math, he is the only candidate right now that has a shot at beating Donald Trump. Here's what he told reporters earlier today in Miami.


CRUZ: If conservatives continue to unite, yes, we can win in any state in the union. And the more this gets down to a two-man race, the more decisively we win, because in a two-man race, Donald Trump has a hard ceiling of 35 percent to 40 percent that he can't get above. Now, Donald benefits when there are multiple candidates.


SERFATY: Embedded in that message of course is the not-so-subtle message calling for other candidates to essentially drop out of the race and basically let this be a two-man race between him and Donald Trump.

It's been interesting. Cruz on the campaign trail recently has really shifted focus exclusively on attacking Donald Trump, Wolf, almost ignoring that there are other candidates still in this race.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you.

The pressure is on Marco Rubio right now. And that pressure may be higher than ever tonight. He didn't pick up a single delegate in yesterday's contests at all.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is with the Rubio campaign right now.

Jason, a very difficult time for Marco Rubio right now. What's the latest where you are?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, difficult and disappointing, as you say, Wolf.

Last night, they weren't expecting any wins, but they were certainly expecting to pick up at least some delegates. So, disappointing night last night and somewhat disappointing day in terms of where we are in terms of the crowd. We're here in Hialeah, Florida, South Florida, an Hispanic community.

This is Marco Rubio's home turf. But I want you to get some perspective to see just how many people showed up for this event. We're in a football stadium, high school football stadium. We have got some pictures to show just how many showed up for this event here now just five days away from the Florida primary.

Just a couple hundred people out here, Wolf. Just to give you some perspective, in Virginia, we saw much larger crowds. In Atlanta, Georgia, again, much larger crowds and an even larger crowd in Dallas, Texas. This crowd much, much smaller than we have seen in the past. Somewhat disappointing in the terms of the number of folks who showed up out here today.

But even having said that, Marco Rubio saying some of the things we heard him say again yesterday. He still believes despite two polls showing him trailing behind Trump that he has a chance here in Florida, telling the crowd he will win the state if people get out and vote. In fact, he said, I need you to come out and vote. in fact, when this is over, I want you to go right around the corner and vote and tell people who support me to go out and vote.

He's pushing that very hard. His campaign knows that this is his final stop in terms of trying to make a stand here in the state of Florida before that debate tomorrow night, where he must have a good performance, but once again, Wolf, a disappointing night last night and taking a look at the crowd here today, once again somewhat of a disappointment as well -- Wolf.


BLITZER: So, basically, what you're saying, Jason, it's a big stadium over there, a football stadium, relatively small crowd. I couldn't get a good sense. Just how many people approximately showed up for this event?

CARROLL: Well, let me tell you, this football stadium seats a couple thousand, right? It's just a high school football stadium. It seats a couple thousand.

But what we're seeing here is just a couple hundred, basically not even filling the end zone. And so in terms of one would think, you know, again, this is his home turf here in Florida. You would think perhaps there would be a larger turnout to come and see him, but that's not what we're seeing here, not tonight.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll with the Rubio campaign, all right. Jason, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us, our CNN political executive editor Mark Preston, CNN political commentator Kevin Madden, he's a Republican strategist, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Our CNN political reporter Sara Murray is still with us as well. Also joining us, our CNN political commentator Peter Beinart, a contributing editor for Atlantic Media.

Gloria, it's a pretty depressing sight right now. You see Marco Rubio showing up in his home turf for what they assumed would be a big crowd only a few days before the Florida primary, and a couple hundred people show up.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is what happens when you lose momentum in a campaign. People like to go to rallies for somebody they think is going to win.

We have just gotten a FOX News poll this evening in Florida where Trump is at 43 percent and Rubio is at 20 percent. Wolf, that's not good news for Marco Rubio, if these polls are accurate, which, by the way, they were not last night in Michigan, I might say.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will be doing some postmortems on those polls.

There have been several major races in recent years, shall we say, where the polls didn't prove to be all that accurate.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: Mark Preston, you're familiar with that. They will do a little postmortem on all those polls going into Michigan.

But let's talk about what, if anything, these Republicans can do at this late moment to stop Donald Trump's momentum.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Last week, Wolf, they were looking at two scenarios. One scenario was, could they deny Donald Trump the path to the nomination?

He needed 1,237 delegates in order to become the nominee. Was there a way to stop him from doing that? At the same time, they were talking about running a third-party candidate as well potentially to give a safe haven to Republican candidates, senators and House members that would not have to be associated with Trump.

What I have to tell you, in the last 72 hours, a couple of things happened. One is there is talk about trying to force Marco Rubio, John Kasich, maybe force is a strong word, cajole them to stay in the race if -- even if they lose Ohio and Florida next week to Donald Trump, the reason being is if you look at the calendar as we go ahead, having them stay in the race, they could potentially snipe off votes from Donald Trump and that they could prevent him from getting to 1,237.

But on top of that, there is now talk -- and I have heard this from three different quarters -- of the Republican Party right now -- there's now talk about trying to pressure Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz together into a unity ticket, which would be amazing if this would ever happen certainly in this day and age. Ted Cruz, of course, leading right now, would be the president or at least he would take that slot.

Marco Rubio would be the V.P. A couple of things to note on here. There have been no formal discussions, from what I understand. A Cruz spokesperson told me they'd not even speculate on that, that they feel like they have the path to win, as we have heard earlier. And Marco Rubio was asked this on NBC today. And he said he's not looking to be anyone's vice president, but certainly a lot of intrigue going on heading into tomorrow night's debate and certainly into next Tuesday.

Kevin, if Trump does win Florida, where we are right now, and Ohio next week, is it all over?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, those two states, Florida and Ohio, they represent the other campaigns' best chances to slow Donald Trump's momentum.

If he were to come out of those two big states, which essentially are microcosms of the country, you can argue, that's the reason that people talk about Ohio as essentially the 50-yard line of American politics. Trump -- you know, to Mark's point, Trump would need approximately right now about 54 percent of the remaining delegates in order to reach that 1,237.

He'd very likely have the momentum that he needs to do that. I think to Mark's other point, I think they will -- a number of the other campaigns will try to stay in to bleed as much support as possible in order to prevent that. But it would be very hard to stop that momentum. Momentum is such a valuable commodity in campaigns.

BLITZER: Sara, you cover Trump. He says he wants to be the uniter now of the Republican Party, take the high road. He wants a softer tone in tomorrow night's Republican presidential debate that CNN is hosting.

Is either one of those two scenarios realistic?


MURRAY: Well, it's very hard to predict if Donald Trump will do what Donald Trump suggests he might do, which is to play nice.

But, look, we have seen him trying to appear more presidential. I think we see that in the news conference he's having on these election nights. We hear him talking about wanting to work with Congress and the leaders in Congress.

But the reality of Donald Trump is when he's criticized, when he's attacked, it's almost like he can't help himself. He has to hit back. And that's why his press conference was surrounded by slabs of meat and Trump wine and Trump water because his business record has been under attack and he can't help but respond to that.

BORGER: Can I just -- to your point, Mark, what would stop Donald Trump from going to a John Kasich or a Ted Cruz and looking for his own unity ticket?

PRESTON: Look, there's no question about that.

And John Kasich is still very much in play as well. Could you imagine that if Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio -- if this were even to be presented to them and they were asked to do so and they said no, would you then turn to a John Kasich? Would a John Kasich/Ted Cruz do something? Could a Marco Rubio/John Kasich do something?

Who knows? But clearly they are flailing right now and they're trying to figure it out.

BLITZER: Let me bring Peter Beinart into this.

Peter, as you know, it was a good night for Donald Trump last night. Cruz did win in Idaho. He came in second twice. Rubio had a very bad night. Can Marco Rubio recover politically?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It would really take a miracle at this point.

There have been strange zigs and zags so far. But he'd need to come up with some message, some rationale that would make people look at him anew. I think it's dangerous. He's already gone ultra hard at Trump. That clearly didn't work. So it's not clear what other kind of paths he could take at this point.

He's tried to argue these more electable. For reasons we're I think going to be trying to understand for a long time, there's been a basic kind of disconnect between a Republican elite that was very, very excited about Marco Rubio, saw him as really the right face for the Republican Party at this point, and a group of Republican voters who at this moment in time just weren't buying.

BLITZER: Good point.

Stand by. Everybody, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. We're getting more information coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM at the same time. Our coverage continues in just a moment.



BLITZER: Donald Trump telling CNN he expects to knock his remaining rivals out of the race for the White House in the next round of primaries. That takes place on Tuesday.

He spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper about his most recent victories. We are going to hear some of that one-on-one interview in just a few moments.

But, first, we're joined by key Trump supporter, Tea Party leader Scottie Nell Hughes of the USA Radio Networks.

Scottie, thanks very much for coming in.

He's beginning to sound as if he wants to be what he calls a uniter. And he says he spoke by phone with House Speaker Paul Ryan. He said it's very, very important as a Republican that our senators and congressmen get reelected. Does he want to mend his relationship with that Republican

establishment leadership, because, as you know, it's been frayed?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, USA RADIO NETWORKS: Absolutely, he wants to mend it.

But you have to remember, Mr. Trump is being elected by the people. And so if our House is not properly representing the people, then maybe our House needs to be changed.

BLITZER: Is the speaker not representing the House?

HUGHES: Well, the speaker is right now. But you have got comments coming out of like Senator's Mitch McConnell mouth saying, you know what? You can disavow Donald Trump if you think he's going to hurt your ticket.

If we have record turnout within the Republican primaries like we're seeing and Republicans in elected office right now feel like that they're not going to be reelected, maybe they should have done a better job of taking care of the people they are supposed to be representing.

BLITZER: Because Donald Trump this morning, when he spoke to Chris Cuomo on CNN's "NEW DAY," was very conciliatory toward the speaker and he thought it was a really productive conversation that they had. And he was glad they had it.

He's beginning to sound as if he's moving on from the vitriol, if you will, the angry exchanges, and now he sees himself as almost the nominee, if you will.

HUGHES: Well, Wolf, we have had this conversation for the past few months now.

We started off with 17, including everybody and their grandmother. And he had to make himself differential from the others. And the number one way that he stood out was that he was not a politician. And we have seen that time and time again.

He also had to be consistent. We have not seen a change in personality. I think that's what's possibly leading to Marco Rubio's downfall right now, is we saw him change. He was this nice guy. He was not sticking with his stereotype.

In the last three weeks, he's decided to switch manners. And I think that's why we're seeing him fall.

BLITZER: You think that has hurt him?

HUGHES: I think it is.

What people want right now is to have faith and trust in the people they elect. They don't have it when people are all over the place. Donald Trump, while some of his comments have been crazy and out there, they have been consistent and they have been getting the different crowds and the people he's been talking to.

BLITZER: Because there are new polls that came out today in Florida, which is next Tuesday, Ohio next Tuesday, critical states.

Our CNN/ORC poll, the Quinnipiac University poll in Florida, Trump at 45 percent, Rubio only at 22 percent, Cruz 18 percent, Kasich 8 percent. In Ohio, Trump 38, Kasich 32, Cruz 16, Rubio 9.

You are smiling. I know you want Trump to be the next president. Why are you smiling?


But how incredible is that that these two guys -- we have people from their own state literally looking as their last stand has to be their own state. I will give Senator Cruz this. At least he's up to seven states. Other people outside of Texas are the ones supporting him.

And we have said this time and time again. Go to the folks who actually know you the best and those are the ones you want to trust. If the people of Florida don't even trust putting their representation into Senator Cruz -- or Senator Rubio come next Tuesday, why should the American people?


BLITZER: You think it's going to be a very calm debate, a Republican presidential debate tomorrow night that CNN is hosting, or is it going to be pretty angry?

HUGHES: You know what? Unfortunately, I think it's going to be pretty angry, except I will say this. The one thing that happened that was good last night on the Democrat side, when you have -- Hillary Clinton thought she was going to tie up her win last night in Michigan and that she was going to be able to just start barreling against Donald Trump or whoever the front-runner from the GOP was going to be.

With last night, bought us some more time, Wolf. Now you are going to see -- I think tomorrow night, you are going to see these positions. You have two people that are fighting for their last stand. What scares me about that, it's kind of like when you put a rabid dog in the corner, when they know it's their last stand before they get put in the kennel, they are going to tear at everything they can get a hold of.

That is what worries me. The only thing that is good is that Senator Rubio is young. He has a political future. He doesn't want to do any more damage, especially here in his home state of Florida, than he already has.

BLITZER: You saw the Trump speech last night at his news conference. He's getting a lot of grief because some of it, at least the open, seemed like an infomercial. Then he was selling his steaks, his wine, his water, going through his magazines. Were you comfortable with all of that? HUGHES: OK. Well, I think this is in response this whole -- this

concern -- or this whole anti-Trump University. He's trying to show, listen, I have had 515 products, companies that I have started with my name on them.

Five of them have gone bankrupt, corporate bankruptcy. And only 1 percent to 2 percent more have questionable reputations. Why are we sitting here focusing on the negatives when they are so small and not the positives?

Here's something that nobody has really thought about, Wolf. When you look at the states Mr. Trump has won, these are states that have Trump properties in them. Last night, we saw Hawaii. There's supposed to be a good ground game state. I thought it actually going into might be Senator Cruz.

You have Nevada. You have here in Florida. These states are going to Mr. Trump. The best billboard you can have when you have millions of dollars being spent against you is actual employees going out there and saying, I respect, I like working for the Trump Organization.

BLITZER: But the steaks, for example, that he showed apparently weren't really Trump Steaks. They were somebody else's steaks that he showed off that had been delivered to him.

HUGHES: Listen, I don't even have the Trump brand on me officially at this point. Once he puts your brand on you, I know he has vetted it, he has made sure it's perfect, he has made sure it's great.

It's not just something that you just send in and he just puts his name on and sends off. I guarantee it's gone through a vetting process and can't expect everybody to have the perfect product. It's hard to get a good steak. We have had this conversation before, Wolf.

BLITZER: You eat a lot of steak?

HUGHES: I'm a Southern girl. Of course.

BLITZER: Of course you do.

OK. Stand by. We have more to discuss.

There's other information coming in on this important day before the Democratic presidential debate tonight, the Republican presidential debate tomorrow night right here in Miami.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: We're just hours away from the Democratic presidential debate, hosted by Univision, simulcast here on CNN. You'll see it here live.

[18:32:45] The stakes very, very high right now. Hillary Clinton hoping a strong performance tonight will help shake off a stunning loss in the Michigan primary. For Bernie Sanders, the goal is to keep defying expectations and give his campaign a chance to whittle away at Hillary Clinton's delegate lead.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, reports on the very latest -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you, this is a different moment in this Democratic campaign. We've had so many debates through the course of these last several months. But tonight is a different time, largely because of that Michigan win for Bernie Sanders.

The Clinton campaign had been expecting a win. They'd been expecting to sort of move along with this nominating fight. That did not happen in Michigan. So Bernie Sanders' win there last night ensures this race will go on and get even more complicated.


ZELENY (voice-over); A shot in the arm for Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are a beautiful crowd. You are a loud crowd.

ZELENY: It's a wake-up call for Hillary Clinton.


ZELENY: Sanders's victory in Michigan on Tuesday night keeps him squarely in the race. He's trailing in delegates, but the momentum and money is on his side. And the Democratic race rolls on.

SANDERS: It's a little bit too late.

ZELENY: Tonight Clinton/Sanders come face to face again for a Univision debate on CNN, setting the stage for a five-day fight to the next round of contests that will test Sanders' staying power.

SANDERS: What we have done is created the kind of momentum that we need to win.

ZELENY: Mississippi only added to Clinton's dominance across the South, a strong win that made up for the delegates lost in Michigan.

But the symbolism of Michigan looms large, exposing Clinton's struggle to win over white working-class voters. Her arguments of saving the auto industry...

CLINTON: I voted for the auto bailout. He voted against it.

ZELENY: ... falling flat as Sanders played up her ties to Wall Street.

SANDERS: What I did not vote for was a middle-class bailout for the crooks on Wall Street. CLINTON: I am very excited to be back here in Cleveland.

ZELENY: Ohio is the next big battleground for Democrats and shares many similarities with Michigan. The state has rescued Clinton once before, and her relationship runs deep, going back to her victory over Barack Obama eight years ago.

[18:35:03] CLINTON: Enough with the speeches and the big rallies. Meet me in Ohio.

ZELENY: Sanders says he'll do just that, taking his criticism of trade agreements and his populist economic message across the Rust Belt, where people are still searching for an economic lifeline.

SANDERS: The political revolution that we are talking about is strong in every part of the country, and, frankly, we believe that our strongest areas are yet to happen.

ZELENY: Tonight, former President Bill Clinton is already in Ohio, gently urging Democrats to scrutinize Sanders's plans.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got beat on health care, because we didn't have 60 votes in the Senate. You remember that when somebody tells you they're going to do this all over again.

ZELENY: The narrow loss in Michigan shattered the Clinton campaign's hope of quickly brushing Sanders aside.

The night before the Michigan primary, she projected an air of confidence.

H. CLINTON: The sooner I could become your nominee, the more I could begin to turn our attention to the Republicans.

ZELENY: For now, her attention is back on Sanders, trying to win the Democratic primary first.


ZELENY: And that starts tonight on this debate stage behind me here, Wolf. She's going to try and point out differences. We've seen Hillary Clinton make some -- some adjustments along the way. She had been criticizing him, and then she kind of dialed it back to focus on Republicans. At this point she's going to be squarely focused on the differences with Bernie Sanders, Wolf. But as this goes forward, Ohio is the central place here where the Sanders campaign believes they can make a stand here. So for the next five days, all eyes, of course, will be on Ohio and the Rust Belt states where Bernie Sanders seems to have a bit more appeal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, they certainly did it in Michigan. Let's see what he can do in Ohio.

All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much. Let's dig deeper right now into tonight's breaking political news.

Joining us, our CNN Politics executive editor, Mark Preston; CNN political commentator Kevin Madden -- he's a Republican strategist; also our CNN political commentator, Peter Beinart, a contributing editor for Atlantic Media.

Peter, what do you think? Can Bernie Sanders' surprise win in Michigan be good news for him next week, shall we say, in Ohio, maybe Illinois, maybe Missouri, three of the five states?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, possibly. I mean, those states, especially Ohio, looks fairly similar demographics. I think Ohio even has a smaller African-American percentage in Michigan, and we know that Sanders does better with -- with white voters.

He is running a different campaign than Barack Obama did. He's showing real strength in the working-class white voters. He did that in Michigan, and so he has a real chance in Ohio, as well.

But it's important to underscore how different this is than the Republican contest. We do not move to winner-take-all states in these contests. So Sanders could win Ohio by a narrow margin again, get a lot of people like us talking about all the momentum he has. But in terms of delegates, Hillary Clinton would still maintain a pretty significant lead.

BLITZER: Yes. The Republicans next Tuesday move to winner-take-all, not the Democrats, which is a good point.

Kevin, is it more than just a psychological win, that Bernie Sanders upset win in Michigan last night? Could it have an immediate impact, for example, tonight, as to how Hillary Clinton performs in this debate?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it is a psychological win. I also think it becomes a bit of a psychological blow for Hillary Clinton in the sense that now we have this additional scrutiny on questions like, why is it that Hillary Clinton is continuing to struggle in states that are traditionally battleground states? Struggling in Michigan, struggling in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

And also whether or not she can sort of get past some of the demographic problems she has with younger voters and whether she can ever really start to build a rapport of trust with a lot of voters.

I think Bernie Sanders has continued to win solidly on that question of honesty and trustworthiness. And that -- every time that we see one of these contests where he comes out on top there, it continues to expose that vulnerability that Hillary Clinton could have in a general election.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. Anderson Cooper just sat down with Donald Trump. We're going to have some of that interview in a moment. Let's take a quick break. Anderson Cooper and Donald Trump right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:43:57] BLITZER: The breaking political news tonight: Donald Trump telling CNN he expects to knock his remaining rivals out of the race for the White House. He spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper about this remarkable presidential campaign.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Huge night last night. Did you have any idea that you were going to win as big as you did?

DONALD TRUMP (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I felt good. Mississippi, I was there three or four times, and it was like a love fest. So I felt very good about it. Michigan has been great. It's been great for me for a long time. I have so many friends there. And I had no idea it would be that big.

COOPER: Do you think it's the message on trade, particularly in Michigan, that was effective? Sanders winning, as well, there. Very similar message on trade.

TRUMP: I think they want strength. I think they want military. I think they want to take care of vets. I think they hate Obamacare.

But I would say, ultimately it's about jobs and the economy. Michigan has been stripped. You look at those empty factories all over the place. And nobody hits that message better than me.

COOPER: Two new polls out today, Quinnipiac, also CNN. You are way ahead here in Florida, almost I think two to one against Rubio.

[18:45:05] And even in Ohio, leading Kasich at six points and seven points in each poll. If you win Florida and Ohio, is it over?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think so, yes. I think if I win those two, I think it's over.

COOPER: If you win Ohio, Kasich drops out and you win Florida, and Rubio is gone. And it's just you and Cruz, if you don't get all the delegates needed to win by the convention --

TRUMP: Well, I think if I win Ohio and Florida, you have to be pretty assured of doing that.

COOPER: You think you'll get all the delegates?

TRUMP: I think so, yes. I don't see the convention going that route. I see probably getting the delegates. You know, it's like the fighters, that's the ultimate way of doing it. You knock them out. If you knock them out, nothing can happen.

COOPER: You want to go for a knockout.

TRUMP: I'd rather go for a knockout, yes.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You can see Anderson's full interview with Donald Trump later tonight on "AC360" 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I think you'll want to see it.

We're back now with our panel.

Mark Preston, is Donald Trump right if he wins next week in Ohio and Florida, it's over?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, you know, I think Kevin said it correctly the last time. He really needs, what, 54 percent, 55 percent of the delegates moving forward. It would be hard to stop him. That's why, right now, the Republican establishment and even social conservatives are coming together to try to figure out how do you stop Donald Trump.

But again, he won last night in Michigan, he won in Mississippi, he shows he can win in the West, he shows he can win in the northeast. Listen, if he goes in and wins Ohio and Florida next week, that's going to be very tough to stop him.

BLITZER: It's going to be very tough indeed. And these five contests, really, including North Carolina, Missouri, Illinois. It's not out of the realm of possibility, Trump could do a complete sweep.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's right. And the thing you have to remember, too, is the effect that this has on the electorate in the states after, for example, if he were to win Florida or Ohio. There would be a certain level or re -- there is potentially a certain level of resignation by even those opposed to Donald Trump, that Donald Trump, that my guy can't win Ohio, my guy can't win Florida. At a certain point, we have to sort of socialize ourselves with the fact Donald Trump could be the nominee.

Then, you'll see those percentages inch up and potentially by the end of May or early June, Donald Trump could be well on his way to getting that 1,237 that he needs -- 1,237 delegates that he needs to show up in Cleveland uncontested at the --

BLITZER: Peter Beinart, he's showing a lot of confidence. Maybe it's justifiable given the wins he's had so far.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think so. Assuming he knocks Rubio and Kasich out of the race, then he's left with Cruz. And the problem for people who want to stop him is that Cruz has not really shown the ability to win in states that do not have a large evangelical population or in states that are caucuses. And so, when you look at the map going forward, assuming it is Trump and Cruz, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, these are states where Trump has a stronger natural advantage.

Remember, Trump is a lot less ideologically doctrinaire than Cruz is. You saw this in terms of how much he beat him in a state like Massachusetts. So, it's conceivable that there may be a candidate out there theoretically who could beat Trump in a one on one race because he does have a ceiling, but I don't think it's likely Ted Cruz could do it.

BLITZER: Kevin, you think Trump keeps he's the Republican nominee, traditionally Democratic states and presidential elections could go for Trump. He mentioned New York state, his home state, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, New Jersey. He mentioned all those states. Is that realistic?

MADDEN: New York, California, not as realistic. But you look at states like New Jersey, potentially, Pennsylvania, states that have a lot of swing areas in their states that are largely made up of white middle class or lower income voters that may be more aligned with this message that he's promoting. He could potentially put them in play.

I mean, I think one thing I have argued about Donald Trump is the Democrats ought to be careful what they wish for when they look at him because he has brought out a whole lot of new voters in areas of some of these states that traditionally Republicans have had a hard time winning. And he could potentially put into play.

BLITZER: Yes, I think Democrats are increasingly getting nervous about that possibility. Good point.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Just ahead, a key ISIS operative is now in U.S. custody. I mean, may be providing critical intelligence on the terror group's chemical weapons capabilities. We have new details on the secret interrogation.

BLITZER: Plus, an Iranian missile test is rattling nerves across the Middle East right now. How is the United States responding to what's seen as a provocation.


[18:54:14] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A recently captured ISIS operative maybe offering American authorities a treasure-trove of critical intelligence about the terror group's use of chemical weapons. But important questions remain, including whether American airstrikes can effectively prevent ISIS from manufacturing toxins like mustard gas.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working this important story for us.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here is what is happening tonight. The Pentagon's one secret 200-man targeting force is now being openly talked about and one of its first jobs in Iraq has been to go after the chemical weapons.


STARR (voice-over): The U.S. military has been secretly interrogating the man it believes is the head of ISIS' chemical weapons program for nearly a month trying to get him to offer up crucial intelligence.

[18:55:04] Top intelligence officials spelling out the threat.

LT. GEN. VINCENT STEWART, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY DIRECTOR: Neither ISIS nor al Qaeda has walked away from their desire to develop chemical or biological capability to use against the West.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: ISIL has also used toxic chemicals in Iraq and Syria, including the blister agent, sulfur mustard.

STARR: U.S. intelligence has confirmed 12 instances of ISIS using mustard agent against civilians in Iraq and Syria, including this attack against Kurds last year. Officials say the detainee provided enough information in recent days for U.S. warplanes to conduct limited airstrikes in Iraq against suspected chemical sites, but there is reason for skepticism. First, ISIS didn't appear to react to a key operative disappearing.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It appears that they didn't miss him. So, this tells me that it's more of a mid level functionary.

STARR: The U.S. says he traveled regularly, making his disappearance into captivity less obvious.

And there's no immediate indication the U.S. that the military goal taking out the entire chemical weapons enterprise.

LEIGHTON: It's very difficult to take out the entire chemical capability of ISIS because the types of chemicals that they're using like mustard agent are ones that can be produced very easily.


STARR: So, here we are again years later, again talking about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Experts tell us the problem with trying to take out this chemical weapons capability is in fact, indeed, yes, ISIS could reconstitute it very quickly and produce mustard agent again at a time and place of its choosing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very disturbing information. Barbara, thank you.

Let's turn now to another story developing in the Middle East. The entire region is on edge after Iran launched two ballistic missiles as part of a military drill. The missiles are capable of hitting Israel and were almost certainly fired in violation of a United Nations resolution, calling on Iran to cease ballistic missile activity.

Let's get details from our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

Elise, what's the latest?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with those two days of back to back tests, and with a direct threat to Israel, Iran's hard liners are sending another message to Washington, that despite the nuclear deal, America is still the enemy.


LABOTT (voice-over): For a second day in a row, Iran test-fired two missiles it says were designed to hit Israel with the words "Israel must be wiped out stamped" on one of them in Hebrew.

There were similar launches on Tuesday, and the White House says it is expecting more. It's a bold show by hard liners that Iran will push ahead with its missile program, despite the threat of new sanctions.

The U.S. says these missiles don't violate last year's nuclear deal, but in Israel today, the vice president put Iran on notice.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to reiterate, which I know people still doubt here, if in fact they break the deal, we will act.

LABOTT: Iran's supreme leader continues to thwart U.S. hopes that the landmark nuclear deal will usher in better relations with Iran. Since the deal was reached, Iran has fired rockets near U.S. warships and in January seized ten U.S. sailors who had drifted into Iranian waters, holding them for 15 hours and releasing embarrassing video of their capture.

Just last month, chants of "death to America" were still the mantra at celebrations of the 1979 Iranian revolution. The chief U.S. negotiator of the nuclear deal says after decades of hatred for the U.S. don't expect a change from Iran overnight.

WENDY SHERMAN, ALBRIGHT STONEHENGE GROUP: Those who are calling for rapid normalization of activities and relationship with Iran I believe are wrong. We have a very long way to go.


LABOTT: And the U.S. says it sees no signs that the gains of reformist and the recent parliamentary elections will moderate Iran's behavior. We also can't forget today is the anniversary of the disappearance of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared nine years ago on Iran's Kish Island. The U.S. again calling on Iran today to make good on its promise to determine what happened to him and end this long ordeal for his family, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there confirmation? I heard from Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, that Iran has $100 billion in the funds that were provided as part of the nuclear deal. Has that been confirmed?

LABOTT: Well, it's been confirmed that the money was to be transferred. There's a lot of banking regulations. And also, not -- Iran -- you know, the U.S. is very clear to note that Iran is not going to get all of that money, Wolf. It has at least half of it tied up in debts to its creditors. And so, the U.S. feels it will get a very small portion of that $100 billion, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Elise, thank you.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.