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Russia Pulling Out of Syria; Surviving Super Tuesday; Sanders, Clinton on Super Tuesday Warpath. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 14, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The big question, who will survive Super Tuesday, the three-quel?

THE LEAD starts right now.

It is the final, last chance for the stop Donald Trump Republicans, campaigns in overdrive ahead of Super Tuesday III, and the two states everyone is watching, Ohio and Florida.

Donald Trump and Chris Christie sit down for a fireside chat in front of a fired-up crowd as the violence and volume continue to trump the issues.

Plus, breaking news, all of a sudden, Vladimir Putin ordering Russian troops to pull out of Syria. Where does this leave the battle against a brutal dictator and the war against ISIS?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Two of Donald Trump's Republican rivals are now hedging on whether they could ever support him as the candidates prepare for their last big chance tomorrow to derail the Trump train.

Meanwhile, Trump pulled together his biggest-name supporters, Chris Christie and Sarah Palin, for a high wattage primary eve appearance. Five states vote tomorrow and today each candidate's campaign stops reveal their strategies. Senator Ted Cruz looking to pick up delegates in Illinois. Senator Marco Rubio making what could be his last stand in his home state of Florida, and Ohio Governor John Kasich going all in, in his home state, the Buckeye State, where he stands a real chance of grabbing all of the winner-take-all delegates.

Trump made a last-minute change to his schedule and will end his day in Ohio, a state even Trump acknowledged he could lose to Kasich.

We have some breaking news just into CNN. That intense Trump rally where one man has already been charged for violence, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office in North Carolina now says they are investigating if Donald Trump incited a riot.

The statement from the sheriff's department reads in full: "Our investigation is not complete as to the incidents of Wednesday, March 9, 2016. We are continuing to look at the totality of these circumstances, including any additional charges against Mr. McGraw, including the potential of whether there was conduct on the part of Mr. Trump or the Trump campaign which rose to the level of inciting a riot and including the actions or inactions of our deputies" -- close quote.

That's where we find CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, on the Trump campaign, where Donald Trump will speak shortly. He's in Ohio.

Jim, Ohio, of course, could be the key to these Republicans trying to stop Trump.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Donald Trump is closing in on perhaps the most critical moment of this campaign tomorrow as he is looking to drive more of his rivals out of the race and ease his path to the nomination.

But Trump is also defending himself against mounting criticism that his events are out of control.


ACOSTA (voice-over): One day before what's likely to be the biggest Super Tuesday yet, Donald Trump insists his rallies are misunderstood.


ACOSTA: As more protesters were removed from another Trump rally, this time in North Carolina, the GOP front-runner blamed Democrats for the chaos at his events.

TRUMP: The Democrats are seeing what's happening and they try and disrupt what's happening, but it's not a big deal. They stand up, they shout for a couple of seconds. Then they get whisked out.

ACOSTA: And Trump told Wolf Blitzer the media is also at fault for hyping the protests.

TRUMP: There's not much violence. Let's not even use the word violence. There's very little disruption, generally speaking.

ACOSTA: Sarah Palin had some choice words for the demonstrators, labeling them as thugs at a Trump rally in Tampa.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: What we don't have time for is all that petty, punk-ass little thuggery stuff.

ACOSTA: But after a near riot when Trump canceled his rally in Chicago, that protester who tried to confront Trump in Ohio and the police pepper-spraying demonstrators in Kansas City, the other Republican candidates are warning their party could face a grim future.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Donald Trump is our nominee, we're going to lose. A lot of Republicans won't support him. And every day that he behaves like he's behaving now, inciting anger and frustration, he's making it harder and harder.

ACOSTA: But Republicans may not have a choice if Trump sweeps the five big states up for grabs Tuesday. Slowing Trump's momentum in Florida won't be easy for Marco Rubio, who's predicting an upset win.

RUBIO: Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow is the day where we're going to shock the country.

ACOSTA: Looking better in his home state is Ohio Governor John Kasich, who's also railing against Trump with the help of former GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Leadership is not encouraging a toxic environment where we blame one group because of the failure of another. This country is not about us tearing one another down or having fist fights at a campaign rally.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real quotes about women from Donald Trump about women.

ACOSTA: An anti-Trump super PAC is piling on with this new ad portraying the real estate tycoon as offensive to women voters.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Donald Trump is the nominee, he is a disaster.

ACOSTA: Ted Cruz is in agreement on the Trump effect on the GOP. He just differs on how to stop him, arguing Kasich and Rubio just don't have a shot at the nomination.

CRUZ: With John Kasich, it's real simple. It's mathematically impossible for him to become the nominee. He cannot beat Donald Trump. So a vote for John Kasich or a vote for Marco Rubio is a vote that's thrown away.


ACOSTA: Now, as for Sarah Palin, the Trump campaign had said she was on her way back to Alaska to check on her husband, Todd, who was injured in a snow machine accident, but Sarah Palin later said in Tampa that he's doing just fine and recovering.

Now, as for tomorrow, the stakes are enormous. A Rubio win in Florida and a Kasich victory in Ohio would rewrite the narrative in this campaign, signaling for the first time that Trump may not have the delegates necessary to clinch the nomination, but a clean sweep tomorrow for Trump could clear away much of the field, leaving a wounded Ted Cruz in the race as the last anti-Trump standing -- Jake. TAPPER: Jim Acosta with Trump in Ohio, thank you so much.

Joining me now are representatives from each of the four Republican candidates, Trump campaign national spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, Cruz campaign communications director Alice Stewart, Kasich campaign spokesman Trent Duffy, and Rubio campaign communications director Alex Conant.

Katrina, let me start with you and get your response to this Cumberland County sheriff's press release that I read from. Is said that they are investigating or looking into the totality of the circumstances of that assault at the Trump rally in Fayetteville -- quote -- "including the potential of whether there was conduct on the part of Mr. Trump or the Trump campaign which rose to the level off inciting a riot" -- close quote.

What's your response?

KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: I think it's important that law enforcement does a full investigation in situations like this. However, I'm not concerned with the idea or concept that the campaign or Mr. Trump had anything to do with inciting any type of violence for that matter.

We are in a situation where we do have thousands and thousands of people who show up to Mr. Trump's rallies. Mr. Trump cannot control the actions of an individual. And I think everyone would agree with that.

TAPPER: Well, I don't know that everybody would agree with that.

Let's turn to some others on our panel.

Alex Conant of the Rubio campaign, Senator Rubio out there on the campaign trail talking quite a bit about Mr. Trump's responsibility at these rallies.

ALEX CONANT, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RUBIO CAMPAIGN: Yes, I mean, look, maybe he doesn't condone the violence, but he certainly hasn't condemned the violence.

When he says things like I would like to see the protesters taken out on a stretcher or that he will cover his supporters' legal fees, that's just not responsible language. You can't just say whatever you want and then not be held accountable when things start happening like we have seen the last couple of days at his rallies.

It's very troubling. And it's why I think a lot of Republicans have pause when it comes to Donald Trump if he were to win the nomination if they could even support him in a general election.

TAPPER: I have to admit, Trent, Trent Duffy with the Kasich campaign, I don't know the internal politics in Fayetteville, North Carolina, or Cumberland County, but I have to say I'm a little taken aback that they would put this in a press release, that they're investigating whether or not a presidential candidate incited a riot. TRENT DUFFY, SPOKESMAN, KASICH CAMPAIGN: Well, as John Kasich said

over the weekend, this is creating a toxic environment, and it's not good for the party. It's not good for the country.

John Kasich is running a positive campaign based on the issues, talking about his jobs record in Ohio and how he's been able to bring people together. And that's what we need to do, not divide people. I think that's why you see him rising not just in Ohio, where we have a six- to seven-point lead and look like we're going to win there, but in states like Illinois and nationally.

I think you are going to see that support continue to grow in the coming days and weeks.

TAPPER: Alice Stewart from the Cruz campaign, I would like to give you the opportunity to weigh in here.

ALICE STEWART, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: I agree 100 percent the fact that we need to raise the tone of civility in the conversation here. We need to stay away from insults and focus on the issues as Ted Cruz has been doing from the very beginning and stick to policies.

That's what he has been doing. He has not -- there's been a lot of the candidates in this race that have exchanged insults and barbs at each other. Ted has remained above that level. He has not resulted to insults of other candidates and focused on the issues. That's what people want to hear.

He's at five events in Illinois today talking about what's important to them and that's jobs and the economy. And that's definitely what the people want to hear. We have heard that from Ted on the campaign trail as well as on the debate stage. And that's resonating with people and that's why he's doing so well and why we expect to have a good day tomorrow, because people are tired of the intolerance.

And it's important for all of us, for all of us to focus on the real opponent here. And that is Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. It's important to get through this, show the contrast and focus on the real opponent, Hillary Clinton.


TAPPER: Katrina, I'm coming to you in a second. Katrina, I'm coming to you in a second. But I want to play some tape.

Mr. Trump called into Wolf Blitzer's show earlier today and I want you to take a listen.


TRUMP: If one person gets up and starts shouting and the police walk that person out, they try and make it like it's a violent thing. It's not violent. It's a protester that stands up. But there's no violence. I mean, nobody's been hurt.



TAPPER: With all due respect, Katrina, and I'm coming to you right now, that's demonstrably untrue. Here's video of a man with a bloody face being put into an ambulance outside a Trump event in Saint Louis. Here's video of people being pepper-sprayed outside a Kansas City event on Saturday.

Here you see people shoving a black female protester as Mr. Trump shouts get out, get out. This is video of a Black Lives Matter protester who said he was tackled, punched and kicked by Trump supporters, and this is another fight that broke out during a Trump rally.

How can the Trump campaign deny that anybody has been hurt?

PIERSON: Well, I think this is exactly what I wanted to talk about, in all honesty, Jake, because the one thing the media does not show is what happens prior to these events, where you do have these Black Lives Matter protesters go out there, whether it's pushing people out to these things or not.

They go into these Trump rallies and they start swinging and kicking, they throw themselves on the ground, start throwing themselves into people and then expect to not be pushed off of them? That's what you see happening.

Unfortunately, the media doesn't want to show that part. And I will say this. If we want to talk about inciting violence, where is the interview with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when they're talking about bringing a gun to a knife fight, what they're inciting violence against police officers?

Today, we have police officers called out to fake calls so they can be ambushed and potentially assassinated. And we're talking about protesters, paid protesters going to disrupt a Republican rally? If it wasn't Donald Trump, it would be any of the other candidates on this panel, and they know it.

TAPPER: The line from "The Untouchables" about bringing a gun to a knife fight, I think people recognize that that was an allusion to...


PIERSON: I don't think so. I didn't. I didn't recognize that. Absolutely not.

TAPPER: OK. Well, you should check out the film "The Untouchables."

But, Alex, I want you to let you respond to Katrina and then we're going to take a quick break.

CONANT: I mean, where to begin?

The video you showed is obvious and it's very troubling. This election is about choosing the leader of the free world, the next commander in chief of our army and somebody that needs to be able to bring our country together. And you see Trump's campaign just dividing our country further.

I think Marco is the one candidate in this race who continue to unite the Republican Party. And that's what it's going to take to defeat Hillary Clinton this fall.


We're going to talk about many more issues after the break, but let's take a quick break.

Coming up, it's the new attack ad designed to energize anti-Trump voters and it's coming from Republicans.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real quotes about women from Donald Trump about women.


TAPPER: Do Republican voters care about any of this? We will talk about that after the break.


[16:16:38] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's stay with our politics lead and get right back to our panel of advisers from each of the four Republican presidential candidates.

Katrina, let's start with you, Katrina Pierson of the Trump campaign. Republican Senator Dan Coats was asked how much he would trust Donald Trump with the nation's nuclear codes. Take a listen.


JOHN HOWELL, RADIO HOST: Do you have more trust in his ability to handle the codes and national security than Barack Obama?

SEN. DAN COATS (R), INDIANA: That's a tough question. I'm waiting for the responsible, calm, serious presidential Donald Trump to appear. He says that's going to happen. We will see. But, man, I don't know how to answer that question.



what, that puts us in the exact same boat that Ronald Reagan was in. So, you know, this is what happens. You have these Republicans who are out there very desperate to try to stop Donald Trump because they know that politics as usual is over if Mr. Trump takes the White House because he will end the gravy train. The lobbyists will be put out of business and all the special interests will have to go elsewhere to get jobs.

So, I'm not really concerned about this. Ronald Reagan was in the same boat. The establishment went after him just the same. I think Mr. Trump is gong to do very well tomorrow and moving forward.

TAPPER: Alice Stewart of the Cruz campaign -- obviously, many members of the Republican establishment have been talking about the best way to stop Trump would be support Kasich in Ohio, support Rubio in Florida, support Cruz wherever Cruz can beat Donald Trump, but Cruz has not been playing along with that. He's been campaigning in Florida and the Rubio campaign would argue that's been hurting the party's opportunity, desire to hurt Trump.

Why hasn't he gone along with the Republican establishment wants him to do?

ALICE STEWART, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CRUZ CAMPAIGN: Well, let me first point out to Katrina that the day Ronald Reagan took office hostages were released so he started off on a good foreign policy front.

In terms of Ted Cruz moving forward, we're seeing tremendous momentum behind our campaign. Just last week we had Carly Fiorina join the team as well as Senator Mike Lee, as well as Ann Wagner. We had the endorsement of "The National Review", as well as Marc Levin. And what we're seeing more and more as they see that Ted Cruz is the only candidate that can take on and defeat Donald Trump, they're galvanizing. They're rallying behind us.

And, look, it's not a matter of whether or not we can trust Donald Trump with the nuclear code because he won't get there. He cannot defeat Hillary Clinton. There's not enough contrast and he will not defeat Hillary Clinton. That's why we're seeing more Republicans from all geographical and ideological backgrounds galvanizing behind Ted Cruz because they realize he is the one that can secure the nomination and win in November.

TAPPER: All right. I have the same question for both of you, Trent Duffy with the Kasich campaign, Alex Conant with the Rubio campaign. And that is -- the math is really tough for you guys. In fact you hear Cruz on the campaign say you can't do it. The only way you can become the nominee for your candidate is at the national convention if there is a contested convention.

So, why should somebody voting tomorrow vote for Rubio and then for Kasich?

ALEX CONANT: Well, in fairness, the math is tough for everybody from this point forward. Nobody is on a trajectory to winning the nomination on the first ballot.

TAPPER: But it's tougher for your guys.

CONANT: I mean, I concede Kasich will be mathematically eliminated tomorrow, even given his best case scenario, but Cruz's trajectory is not much -- is not much different than Marco's in terms of how many delegates they need to win moving forward.

[16:20:05] I think that the odds of a contested convention are dramatically higher than they were just a week ago and I think after tomorrow, they'll be even higher. Why should somebody in Florida vote for Marco? Because he's the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump in Florida and if we want to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination, if we want to stop him from putting him on a trajectory where he could win the nomination on the first ballot, we have to deprive him of those 99 delegates. It's a winner-take-all state in Florida.

Marco, mathematically, is the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump there tomorrow. So, even if you're a John Kasich supporter or Ted Cruz supporter, you should vote for Marco in Florida tomorrow if you want to beat Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Trent, the same question for Mr. Kasich.

TRENT DUFFY: Well, the path does get tough but it starts getting a lot better beginning tomorrow because John Kasich is going to win Ohio and that gives him a springboard to go out and compete in these other states, which have frankly never been part of the Republican primary process for, I mean, all of our lives certainly.

And so, he goes straight from a win in Ohio to Pennsylvania, his home state, and now to Utah where he is going to do very well. He just announced a new leadership team out there.

But this probably does get to a contested convention which is designed to elect the best candidate to represent the party in the fall against Hillary Clinton. That candidate is John Kasich. He continues to poll far and away the best. He's demonstrating in bellwether states like Ohio, like elsewhere that he can win in a general election.

And this is not just about stopping Trump, this is about starting a new American renewal. That's what Kasich is promising and why his numbers are rising nationally.

TAPPER: All right, Katrina Pierson, Alice Stewart, Trent Duffy and Alex Conant, thank you all. If it doesn't sound too insincere, good luck to all of you tomorrow. Is that possible? Can I say that?


TAPPER: Sticking with our politics lead: tomorrow could prove whether Hillary Clinton could really be the Democratic nominee, but could we see another Sanders surprise in Ohio?

And then a man walks up to Kurdish and claims he is defecting from ISIS and he has a Virginia driver's license. More on the story and who this man is, ahead.


[16:26:20] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

They are the five states that could decide it all, and it is entirely possible that Hillary Clinton could lose three out of five of them. Senator Bernie Sanders is quite competitive in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, with Clinton heavily favored in Florida and North Carolina. The delegate math, however, continues to favor the former secretary of state.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe John is in Charlotte, North Carolina.

And, Joe, Sanders is going to hit the stage there in a few minutes. North Carolina not a state his campaign says he really has a chance at winning, so why spend the time there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the North Carolina visits are all about hammering away at trade deals that some people don't like. There are people here in North Carolina, they're counting on the fact that they remember those days when they lost textile factories and jobs all over this state, all over this region in the 1990s. And now, Bernie Sanders is sort of trying to tap into that anxiety over trade as he comes here to North Carolina, to Ohio, to Illinois, just like he did in Michigan.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope very much that Ohio will be one of the states to lead this country forward toward a political revolution.

JOHNS (voice-over): Bernie Sanders rallying supporters in three states on the eve of the next Super Tuesday, hoping to recapture some of the magic that brought him a big victory in Michigan last week.

SANDERS: We have a good vote tomorrow. People, come out, we're going to win here in Ohio.

JOHNS: Hillary Clinton hitting two states of her own, telling supporters the stakes of the election have her fired up.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am so worried and our country and what can happen if we don't band together.

JOHNS: Clinton is making her closing argument to voters in Illinois and four other states voting tomorrow.

CLINTON: If there's a phone you can make, if there's a door you can knock on, if there's a person you can convince, please do everything you can in the next 24-plus hours to be able to start talking about not only unifying the Democratic Party, but unifying our country.

JOHNS: That talk of unity coming on the heels of violence erupting at recent Donald Trump rallies. Both Democratic candidates, blasting the GOP front-runner for what they call divisive rhetoric.

CLINTON: Love trumps hate.

SANDERS: At the end of the day, love always trumps hatred.

JOHNS: In fact, Trump was a major topic during Sunday night's CNN Democratic town hall.

CLINTON: It's clear that Donald Trump is running a very cynical campaign, pitting groups of Americans against one another. He is trafficking in hate and fear.

SANDERS: I hesitate to say this because I really don't like to disparage public officials, but Donald Trump is a pathological liar.

JOHNS: And in one of the night's most dramatic moments, Clinton fielded a question about ending capital punishment --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came perilously close to my own execution.

JOHNS: -- from a former death row inmate who spent nearly 40 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

CLINTON: I just can't even imagine what you went through and how terrible those days and nights must have been for all those years.


JOHNS: Sanders got another big endorsement today from a public sector union, Amalgamated Transit. That's important because Hillary Clinton has done very with public sector unions. He's about to take the stage, Sanders is, in just a minute here and he started today in Ohio.