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Conservatives Plot to Stop Trump at Convention; Cruz Steps Up Campaign with New Ads; Conservatives Plotting to Stop Donald Trump at Convention?; Undercover in Rebel-Held Syria; Alleged ISIS Fighter Says He's From the U.S. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 17, 2016 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, "THE LEAD" HOST: A sensor in the shoe's heel detects when someone puts them on, so they'll tighten around your foot just in case you have to run away from Biff's grandson and his lackeys.

[17:00:12] That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: conservative uprising. The Republican right ignores Donald Trump's warning of riots, mobilizes to stop his march to the nomination. Could the GOP be -- GOP be looking at a nasty battle on the convention floor? Miami vice? Marco Rubio speaks out for the first time since dropping

out of the GOP race after his embarrassing defeat in Florida. Will he try to get on the ticket as the vice-presidential pick? Is he ready to make an endorsement?

Picking his poison. Another Republican dropout, Lindsey Graham, once said choosing between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz would be like choosing between being shot or poisoned. He's now made his choice.

And American jihadi. Kurdish authorities are holding a man they say was captured trying to leave ISIS territory and flee home, to America. We're digging into the background of this mysterious alleged ISIS fighter.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The "stop Trump" movement is gathering steam. A group of conservative leaders met behind closed doors today to discuss how to deny the Republican front-runner the delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. There was talk of a unity ticket and a final battle to be fought on the GOP convention floor.

Trump has warned of riots if he's denied the nomination, earning a sharp rebuke today from the House speaker, Paul Ryan, who acknowledged that an open convention is now more likely.

The anti-Trump effort seems to be coalescing around Senator Ted Cruz. Senator Lindsey Graham, who backed Jeb Bush after his own presidential campaign fizzled, is now backing Cruz. That's the same Lindsey Graham who once said choosing between Trump and Cruz is like choosing between being shot or poisoned.

And even Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said today that at least Cruz, in Harry Reid's words, stands for something. Reid slammed Trump's quote, "vile rhetoric," but he said Trump is a product of what he called the GOP's leadership's resentment and hatred of President Obama.

I'll speak with the Republican National Committee's chief strategist, Sean Spicer, and our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of all the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the "stop Trump" movement and our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, it's picking up steam, but is it too late?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, even Republicans, Wolf, who vehemently oppose Trump admit it may be too late. But that's not stopping them from scrambling for an alternative, and it's making for some very strange bedfellows.


BASH (voice-over): This is how intense the Republican "stop Trump" movement is right now.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm going to be doing a fundraiser with and for Senator Cruz.

BASH: Lindsey Graham raising money for Ted Cruz, backing Cruz for president after years of open disdain for his GOP colleague.

GRAHAM: If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody could convict you.

BASH: I've known you and watched you, particularly with Ted Cruz over the past several years.


BASH: I'm actually waiting for pigs to start flying down the street.

GRAHAM: Well, it tells you a lot about where we're at as a party.

BASH: It sure does.

GRAHAM: It does. I've had many differences with Senator Cruz's tactics and the way he's behaved in the Senate.

BASH: But key for Graham, he's not Trump.

GRAHAM: I think his campaign is built on xenophobia, race baiting and religious bigotry. I think he'd be a disaster for our party. And as Senator Cruz would not be my first choice, I think he is a Republican conservative who I could support. BASH: Graham is hardly alone. Anti-Trump conservative activists met

in Washington today, looking desperately for a way to prevent Trump from winning the delegates needed for the GOP nomination.

Trump is way out ahead with 678. Cruz has 418. Rubio still has 171 and Kasich 145. For Trump to get the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, he would need to win more than half of the delegates left, which is difficult, but doable. Cruz would need to win about 80 percent of the remaining delegates, which would be a big challenge.

As for Kasich, he doesn't even have a mathematical path before the convention. He'd need 108 percent of the remaining delegates.

It all adds up to a likely fight at the GOP convention this summer, which House Speaker Paul Ryan, who will chair the proceedings, admitted today.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I will have to obviously bone up on all the rules and all of those things. My goal is to be dispassionate, and to be Switzerland. To be neutral and dispassionate and to make sure that the rule of law prevails. This is more likely to become an open convention than we thought before.

[17:05:08] BASH: Former House Speaker John Boehner has been floating Ryan as a consensus candidate.

PAUL: I saw Boehner last night, and I told him to knock it off. It's not going to be me. It should be somebody running for president.

BASH: Trump supporters insist that will be the billionaire.

BARRY BENNETT, SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: When we get to Cleveland, he's going to be our nominee. And you know, some of these guys are going to have to decide how much damage they're willing to do to the party, because they're not going to like that.

BASH: Marco Rubio, back in the Senate today, declined to endorse a former rival but did offer an informed opinion.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think in an ideal world you have a nominee, and people coalesce around the nominee; and it gives you a stronger position in the general election. I don't believe Donald Trump will ever be able to do that.


BASH: And then there's John Kasich. Most Republicans consider him the most electable against Hillary Clinton at this point, but if there is an open convention, Kasich will almost surely arrive there well behind in the delegate race, which could make it harder for him to catch up. That is why people who like Kasich are trying to be practical, like Lindsey Graham, for example. That is why he is supporting Cruz.

All the while, everybody who I talk to realized that some of this, most of this may be in vain, Wolf, because the Trump juggernaut is so hard to stop.

BLITZER: Certainly seems that way. All right, Dana, thank you.

With fresh support from fellow Republicans who want to stop Donald Trump, Ted Cruz is now stepping up his push for delegates. Let's go live to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's joining us from Houston right now.

Sunlen, the Cruz campaign just went up, I understand, with a six- figure TV ad buy. What's the strategy here?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Two new ads in two states that the Cruz campaign is really laser-focused on right now in Utah and in Arizona. And in Arizona, this ad all about illegal immigration. It almost takes a page from Donald Trump's playbook in featuring sort of the format hitting an emotional point featuring a father who lost his son to an undocumented immigrant.

Here's that Cruz ad right now.


STEVE RONNEBECK, LOST SON TO UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: Death was completely preventable. I trust Ted Cruz. He believes in our Constitution. He believes in the rule of law.


SERFATY: And going up on these states come before a huge push that the Cruz campaign is making in Utah and Arizona. They feel good about their chances in Utah. It's a caucus state. They have the endorsement of Senator Mike Lee, who was the focus on the other ad that they released today.

They are kind of downplaying their expectations for Arizona. They say Trump is way ahead in the early vote, but they are, of course, making a big go at it. Senator Cruz will visit Arizona tomorrow and is expected in Utah over the weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, what's the Cruz plan to somehow overtake Trump at a contested convention, if it comes down to that?

SERFATY: Wolf, it's interesting. They're kind of running on these two tracks right now. First is a track that they say they still have a real shot. They say over 50 percent to actually win this outright by getting the 1,237 delegates needed. And they'll focus on closed -- closed states and on caucus states. That's their strategy there.

But certainly behind the scenes, they are preparing for the potential contested -- contested convention. They have lined up a team, put a team in place to really go over scenarios. They are making sure that they are -- making sure that their delegates there are already committed to them, stay committed to them. And of course, they are playing offense a bit too, going after Marco Rubio's delegates that are now unbound, all about laying this groundwork in case this gets pushed into July -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much. Sunlen Serfaty

reporting for us.

Let's discuss all of this and more. Joining us is Sean Spicer. He's the chief strategist, communications director for the Republican National Committee. Sean, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: We did some math today. So far more than half of the states, they've already voted in primaries and caucuses. Among Republicans, take a look at these numbers right now. Donald Trump, he has 2 million more votes, actual votes -- these aren't than Ted Cruz. He's got 7,500,000 to Cruz's 5,400,000 or so. Rubio has got his 3,390,000. But that's -- right now he's out of the race. Kasich is down at 2,700,000.

So you've got 2 million more votes for Trump over Cruz. Why isn't the Republican leadership establishment embracing this leader? He's way ahead.

SPICER: Well, because we have a process. That process is you have to get 1,237 delegates to become the presumptive nominee or the nominee, rather. And when that happens, we will embrace that person. We've had 31 of 50 states -- 56 states and territories vote. Just over 1,400 of the delegates have been selected. But we have about a thousand to go.

The process still has a ways to work itself out. And when someone gets to that magic number, whether it's through the process or at the convention, then our job is to then embrace it but not until that point.

BLITZER: The speaker, the speaker of the House, you heard Paul Ryan. He now says a contested convention, an open convention, as some are calling it, is more likely. Is it?

SPICER: Well, mathematically every day that goes by it becomes a little more likely. But we've got -- like I said, we've got 1,400 delegates selected, 1,000 to go. We've had 36 of the 56 states and territories go.

But there's more people that have an opportunity to have their voice and vote heard, and we're going to continue through that process. I still think that we'll go to Cleveland with the nominee. If we don't, then we will prepare like we do for every other contingency. We'll have an open, transparent democratic process where our delegates that were elected will go there and elect a nominee. We'll go out united, and we'll win in November.

BLITZER: As you know, there are anti-Trump movements under way now to try to stop him, even at this late date, from getting the nomination. One anti-Trump conservative faith movement meeting behind closed doors here. Anti-Trump establishment Republicans have been meeting, as you know. Where does the RNC stand on these anti-Trump gatherings that seem to

be gaining some steam, even though it's very late?

SPICER: Our job is plain and simple. It's to provide that playing field to ensure that our candidates have an opportunity to have their voice heard, to get out there, to run a process that gives more states and more voters the opportunity to get their voice heard and let the candidates accumulate the delegates necessary to win the nomination. That's it, plain and simple.

Candidates have an opportunity to go out there and run the strategy that they want to try to attract more people. Some candidates and organizations run some, some are against a particular candidate.

Our job is to wait until the voters decide, our Republican voters decide who that nominee will be, embrace them, provide for them the resources and outreach and the tools that we have been building on the last four years and ensure that they have the capabilities to win.

Some of these anti-Trump elements, though -- you've heard this -- not getting any new information -- they're even going so far as saying maybe they would support a third party. If it's Trump, let's say, versus Hillary Clinton, they would come up with a third-party alternative. Wouldn't that just guarantee Hillary Clinton's election?

SPICER: Almost. And I think that we all Republicans need to do two things. One is unite behind whomever the voters select as the nominee. When that happens, we as a Republican Party need to grow, not subtract. We don't have that option as a party. So we need to bring more and more people in if we want to defeat Hillary Clinton.

But the second thing is when we walk out of that convention in Cleveland united, we need to keep our eye on the prize. Hillary Clinton will take this country in a very different direction than any of the individuals that are still in the race.

We all need to understand that, as much as you may like one of those three remaining candidates, the bigger prize is to stop Hillary Clinton from succeeding Barack Obama in the White House. There are potentially four Supreme Court justices alone. That alone should make every conservative, every independent and certainly even some Democrats take pause and realize what's at stake in this election. To come back and unite as a party.

BLITZER: So from the RNC's perspective, any third-party alternative to Donald Trump would be a disaster?

SPICER: Any third party against anyone. The only way we win with any one of those three candidates is united as a Republican Party and working to grow.

BLITZER: Stand by, Sean. We have more to discuss. I want to get your reaction to what we heard on CNN yesterday from Donald Trump about the possibility of riots erupting at that convention if he's denied the nomination. All right. Stand by.

Much more with Sean Spicer right after this.


[17:17:30] BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. An anti- Trump movement picking up some steam among some Republicans. A group of conservatives met today here in Washington to plot strategy.

We're back with Sean Spicer. He's the chief strategist, communications director for the Republican National Committee.

Sean, there's a lot of focus on some of the rules going into the convention, the Republican convention in Cleveland in July. There's one rule that says the nominee must have a majority of the delegates in eight states. You're familiar with that rule.


BLITZER: Trump has that already.

SPICER: Can I -- if I may, let me correct you. What you're referring to is rule 40-B.

BLITZER: Correct.

SPICER: That rule was from the 2012 convention. At every convention, the week prior to the convention, the delegates elect a rules committee that lays out the rules for the convention that we're about to enter.

So what people are citing right now are the rules the delegates wrote for the 2012 election. There were rules for the 2008 election, the 2004 election, 2000. So when delegates get elected right now, two from every state and territory, a total of 112, will go to Cleveland the week before the convention and write the rules that will...

BLITZER: So in other words, this rule -- you're not going to be able to guarantee that this rule will stay in effect for this convention, because a lot of the Trump supporters are saying you guys are already starting to fiddle around with it.

SPICER: Look, in 2008 the rule was you had to have a plurality of five states. Then in 2008, it was changed to a majority in eight states. Every convention, the group of folks that go write the rules.

Now, just so we're clear: this isn't unique to the Republican National Committee. It's true for, like, a Kiwanis Club, a student government, the House of Representatives. Groups that meet that have any kind of organizational structure, that's how they are governed. They say we're going to write the rules for how -- how this organization that we belong to. So whether you belong to a philanthropic club or civic organization, almost every normal organization follows the same thing.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is this rule may be changed a week before the convention. SPICER: It's not that it may be changed. A new set of rules must

come into play. That's how every organization, including our convention, the House of Representatives is organized so that you write the rules for the session that you're about to go into. It may be the same. It may be tweaked. It may be vastly different. But the elected representatives of the Republican voters will make those decisions.

BLITZER: All right. So the bottom line is let's say Cruz does not have a majority of the delegates in eight states, they change the rules, he'd still be eligible to be the nominee?

SPICER: He'll be -- whoever meets the criteria that the rules committee for the 2016 convention writes will be eligible, plain and simple.

BLITZER: The accusation will be that you'll be accused of changing the rules to hurt Trump and help Cruz.

[17:20:05] SPICER: First of all, we're not changing the rules. They're elected delegates by the voters -- voters. And this is the process that's worked all the way back to the 1800s for every civic organization, convention, the House of Representatives. This is about how every organization works.

BLITZER: All right. All right. So you may change the rules, but that's normal procedure. That's what I hear you saying.

Let's talk about this -- this clip. This is Donald Trump yesterday here on CNN.


TRUMP (via phone): If we're, you know, a hundred short, and we're at 1,100; and somebody else is at 500 or 400, because we're way ahead of everybody, I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically. I think it would be -- I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. You know, we have -- I'm representing a tremendous -- many, many millions of people.


BLITZER: That's pretty serious stuff. Yesterday you didn't think he was being literal when he thought that there would be riots. You thought he was speaking, what, metaphorically or whatever?

SPICER: Yes. There's three points that I make. No. 1, whoever gets 1,237 is the nominee, plain and simple. That's how the process works.

BLITZER: Let's say that he comes in with 1,100, and Cruz has 600.

SPICER: Then we will go to a ballot and have the delegates decide. This isn't a game of horse shoes. This is a nomination that occurs. The same way that a boat doesn't have...

BLITZER: But nobody gets 1,237 on the first round. SPICER: Guess what?

BLITZER: On the second round are all those delegates free agents?

SPICER: It depends. But on the House of Representatives you need 218 votes to pass something. If you get 200, it doesn't count.

A Supreme Court case, it has to win a majority. You don't get, hey, if it's a 4-4 tie, the way that the rules are written is the way every major organization works, which is if you get a majority, you win. That's how this will work.

So in certain states you are bound through multiple ballots. After the second ballot some states start to make their delegates unbound. To the other two points that I'd make, Cleveland has been an amazing host city. They are so welcoming and ready for this convention. We are going to put on a world-class convention. It's going to be for the world to watch how amazing this process works. It's going to be very open, very transparent, very democratic.

We don't have a bunch of super delegates like the Democrats do. All of our folks who are elected will go there in a very orderly, open process and elect the next president of the United States in Cleveland through our nomination process.

BLITZER: When Donald Trump said, "I think there would be -- I think you'd have riots." And then he said it a second time, "I think you'd have riots." That sounds very, very ominous.

SPICER: Well, all I know is that Republican voters and the people of Cleveland are looking forward to an amazing convention that will be done in the most orderly democratic process that the world has seen. And the eyes of the world, the number of people will see this, will have a record number of people that watch that.

You pointed earlier to the number of votes. People are energized, they like what they're seeing. I think our record, our attendance and our viewership for Cleveland is going to exceed everyone's expectations because these people are excited about what's happening on our side.

BLITZER: And if he's the nominee, Donald Trump, will the Republican Party rally around him?

SPICER: One hundred percent.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

SPICER: Happy St. Patrick's Day.

BLITZER: Love the pants. I don't know if we'll show our viewers those pants, but you're a good Irishman, I must say.

SPICER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Sean Spicer of the RNC. We are getting more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right

now. We've got a panel of experts standing by. Stick around. We'll be right back.


[18:42:42] BLITZER: Let's get some more insight right now on the breaking news this hour: the emerging details about the "stop Donald Trump" efforts by prominent conservatives.

Joining us now, our chief political analyst; Gloria Borger; our CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp; our politics executive editor, Mark Preston; and our political commentator, Ana Navarro.

Mark, he's got 678 delegates. We say right now he needs 1,237. How likely is it that Trump reaches that number by the time of the convention?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Listen, he has about a 55 percent chance of doing it, I guess. That it could possibly happen. Look, a lot has to do with his rhetoric over the next few weeks heading into the next few contests. He has got to be a uniter. He needs to get the establishment behind him. If he's capable of doing that, then he'll have an easier road there. If not, then we are heading to a contested convention.

And as you were talking with Sean Spicer earlier, there are going to be riots outside, and it is going to be ugly.

BLITZER: Is there a credible path for Ted Cruz to reach 1,237?

PRESTON: I think it's extremely difficult at best for him to do so. But for him his best play right now is to play it out, himself try to get the establishment behind him, and try to win it on the second ballot.

BLITZER: Gloria, you've been doing a lot of reporting today on this meeting underway in Washington, these anti-Trump faith conservative leaders as they're being called. They're looking at the viability even of a third-party option to challenge Trump. How plausible is that? Is that something that really we could see emerge out of Cleveland?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think the third-party option is the nuclear option for these people. It was a mixture of faith-based conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and I was told that there was a general consensus in the group that they had to do whatever they could to stop Trump from getting to the magic number of 1,237.

There was also some talk, Wolf, about actually recommending kind of a unity ticket of Cruz and Kasich, but they stopped short of doing that, because, I was told, of the egos involved, and so they just sort of stepped back from that a little bit.

But there was discussion and a lot of disagreement I would add, about going to some third party and running a candidate, say, on the libertarian ticket, for example, which they all know would kind of hand the election to Hillary Clinton, so they don't want to -- you know, they don't want to mention it yet. But there are some ardent, ardent anti-Trump people who would even be willing to do that, but they're not there yet.

BLITZER: Well, isn't it a little late, S.E., for any of this to really have an impact?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. These are the kinds of conversations that influential people should have been having months ago, before states started actually voting. Everyone at this table knows the importance of winning and how that builds momentum. Trump getting a win somewhere was the first evidence that he could actually do this thing. Every win just built up and built up and built up and the more people stayed in, the more others consolidated around him. It's too late to be having these conversations about stopping him. You know, the horse is out of the gate at this point.

BLITZER: Ana, Kasich, he has virtually no chance of reaching 1237 before the convention, right?


BLITZER: Given the small number he has right now, he would need more than 100 percent of all the remaining delegates emerging from all the primaries.

NAVARRO: It would have to be a mathematical miracle.

BLITZER: So why is he still in the race?

NAVARRO: Because none of them have got a sure shot of reaching 1237. Look, if Donald Trump reaches 1237 --

BLITZER: Trump does have a good chance.

NAVARRO: 55 percent is a --

BLITZER: That's pretty good.

NAVARRO: Reasonable chance, it's not a good chance.

BLITZER: But reasonable is better than no chance.

NAVARRO: Well, yes, but if you've got -- but listen, if nobody reaches it, everybody is basically on the same level playing field. And I do think --

BLITZER: Is that true, though? Is that true because Trump says --

NAVARRO: I do. I --

BLITZER: If he's close, he's ahead by 500 or 600 delegates, let's say he gets 1100, you need 1237, somebody has 500 or -- he says they got to give it to him because more -- NAVARRO: I'm sorry, Wolf, but that's -- well, that's not -- you know,

that's how Donald Trump may want it to work.

BLITZER: He said that could lead to riots.

NAVARRO: Well, there's a lot of things he says. But that's how Donald Trump may want it to have worked, but it's not. The way it works is that you've got to get 50 percent plus one. That's not a random number. It is 1237. I think John Kasich is the only guy who beat Donald Trump on Tuesday.

CUPP: That's -- I mean, that's what -- we all know the rules and that's the way the party and the delegates will approach it. But if you are a Trump supporter, that means squat to you. If Donald Trump goes in with 1,000 delegates and then the party is seen as wanting to, you know, re-jigger all of the delegates around someone who comes in with, say, 200, I don't think that --


NAVARRO: But what do we do, roll over and play dead?

BLITZER: Hold on.

CUPP: I don't think they're going to take kindly to that.

NAVARRO: You know?

BLITZER: Because, Sean -- you just heard Sean, Mark, say a week before the convention these guys show up and they could rewrite the rules.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Right. And they will and they always have done that, so there's nothing nefarious in the sense that they're going to hold the meeting. It could be nefarious on how they write the rules. But let's just pause for a second and look where we are right now and where we thought we would have been. We had 16 or 17 people running for the president of the United States, many of them governors and we said that this field was so much stronger than it was in 2012. And if they can't choose a nominee and it turns into a big fight on the floor, what does that say about the Republican Party as a whole and the direction the Republican Party --

CUPP: Not to mention the rules last time were changed to avoid this very thing.


CUPP: And let me tell you, I have talked to people in the Trump campaign who said they were looking at this in 2012, 2013, the very changes that he could exploit. Trump didn't accidentally wander into this election.

BLITZER: Stand by. Everybody, stand by for a moment. Gloria, we'll get right back to you. Everybody, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:37:52] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. Following the efforts of some Republican conservatives to deny Donald Trump the nomination.

Gloria, what do you think is going to happen at the GOP convention?

BORGER: I think it's going to be -- probably be a contested convention unless Donald Trump sews it up and wins California and all 172 delegates there, which could, of course, happen. But if I were in a campaign right now and I was talking to a couple of people in opposing campaigns today, I would be looking at these delegates in this campaign and I would be saying after the first ballot, do they love me? OK.

For example, what has Donald Trump done to make sure that his delegates are really his own on a second ballot? That's what the campaigns are doing right now. It takes a lot of organization. There are different rules in different states about when you're -- you know, when you can be unbound and all the rest. It's very complicated. And right now that's what these campaigns have to be doing, Wolf, because it's completely unpredictable so far.

BLITZER: Ana, your friend Marco Rubio said today that he was not endorsing anyone for the time being. Clearly he doesn't like Donald Trump. What happens to the 171 delegates, though, that Rubio has?

NAVARRO: Well, I think most of them are bound to him on the first ballot. Now after the second ballot, they're going to be free agents. The question is how much does what he wants them to do influence what they actually do. And I think some of them are going to go with Cruz, some of them are going to go with Trump, some of them are going to go with Kasich, depends on who courts them the most.

Yes, I was at a fundraiser where I saw some of Marco Rubio's top donors, people like Wayne Berman, and you know, they are now with John Kasich. So I think this assumption that everybody is going to the Cruz camp is wrong. I was really happy to see Marco come back to work today. I think he's now liberated from politics. I hope that as a Florida senator he finishes strong, he works his butt off and he votes his conscience.

BLITZER: You know, S.E., we looked at the numbers, we added them up. Right now Trump, as we've been reporting, he's got two million more votes than Cruz does. Trump has 7.5 million, Cruz 5.4 million, Kasich down with only 2.7 million.

[17:40:07] If he's denied because of some loophole, some new law, some new rule they put into effect, there are going to be millions of Republicans who are going to feel disenfranchised.

CUPP: Well, and you know, he has voters that are previously Democrats, he has voters that are independents, that have now registered Republican to vote for him. It's not just going to be --

BLITZER: Well, they -- those are all legal. That was all open --

CUPP: Absolutely, absolutely. This is the way democracy is supposed to work. And I think he's absolutely right that there will be riots. Now it's very unpolitic of him to say but he is very unpolitic. But he's absolutely right. And look, I would be really upset if I had been as loyal and as committed to a candidate and at the very end, you know, party leaders came in and sort of re-jiggered it for someone more palatable and more desirable to the establishment.

BLITZER: We'll be all set, right, Mark, at the convention. We've got our location, we got all of our seats, we're ready to go.

PRESTON: In fact --

NAVARRO: And the question is, do we have security?

PRESTON: We're moving THE SITUATION ROOM to Cleveland.

BLITZER: There will be a SITUATION ROOM over there.

PRESTON: We'll be safe.

BLITZER: I'm sure. All right, guys, thanks very much.

NAVARRO: Higher than most our agents.

BLITZER: Don't go too far away. Coming up, we'll have more on the conservative revolt against Donald Trump. Can they come up with a way to deny him the Republican nomination?

Also, we're getting new details right now about a man who may be the first American fighter to defect from ISIS in the field.


[17:45:46] BLITZER: Exclusive reporting now as CNN goes undercover inside Syria. Our senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward takes us to the provincial capital of Idlib where rebels have been attacked by ISIS, by the Syrian regime and by the Russian air force. Schools, courthouses and hospitals, they are in the area and they have been hit.

We need to warn our viewers, some of this footage is graphic.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is an all-too-common sight in rebel-held parts of Syria, the moments after an airstrike. Dazed survivors stagger from the rubble. Those still trapped call out for help. The target this time, the courthouse in Idlib City. Activists say the bombs were Russian.

(On camera): When rebels took the provincial capital of Idlib, they saw it as a crucial opportunity to demonstrate that they could build their own state and they believe that's exactly why the Russians bombed this courthouse, to undermine that effort. (Voice-over): Any civilian infrastructure is a potential target,

including hospitals. Last month four were hit in a single day, one in the city of Marat al-Numan was supported by Doctors Without Borders. This is what remains of it now. At least 25 people were killed.

Doctor Maz al-Souad was the general manager. He told us that Russian and regime forces target hospitals cynically and deliberately.

DR. MAZ AL-SOUAD, GENERAL MANAGER OF HOSPITAL (Through Translator): They want to kill the maximum number of people. Also they want to forbid the area from having medical service. If there's no doctor, no nurse, no hospital, then there is no health care for the people and people will flee.

WARD (on camera): Is it possible that they did not know that this was a hospital?

AL-SOUAD (Through Translator): Everyone knows this is a hospital. There was even a sign that said this is a hospital. But if they didn't know, this is an even bigger disaster because if you were bombing a building like this without knowing it's a hospital, it means you are hitting totally indiscriminately.

WARD (voice-over): Against the backdrop of this vicious war, Islamist factions have gained the upper hand here, among them al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. The landscape is peppered with signs, shunning Western democracy and urging all men to join the jihad. One encourages women to cover up completely.

Dr. Feras al-Jundi works at the only hospital still standing in Marat al-Numan. He's no militant but sees this conflict in black and white.

DR. FERAS AL-JUNDI, IDLIB RESIDENT (Through Translator): The whole of the Syrian people is against ISIS and against extremism but we see that the Russians are bombing far from ISIS and they're focused on civilian areas.

WARD: I asked him why he doesn't leave Syria.

AL-JUNDI (Through Translator): If I did that, I would abandon my conscience. This is our country. We can't desert it. If we left, then we have sold our morals. Who would treat the people? I can very easily leave but we will remain steadfast. I am prepared to die rather than to leave and I will carry on no matter what.

WARD: Carry on in the faint hope that for the next generation of Syrians it will be better.


BLITZER: Clarissa Ward is joining us now live.

Clarissa, really an incredible report, thanks so much for doing it. What did the Russians say about all of these -- these atrocities that you eye witnessed? WARD: Well, the Russians, we reached out to the Ministry of Defense

and they have said categorically that they do not target civilian infrastructure, that they had never killed any civilians on the ground.

[17:50:08] But if you look at a report from Doctors Without Borders from 2015, it says that, in fact, 82 medical facilities, 82, Wolf, were hit in the space of 2015 in rebel-held areas. And if you look at the breakdown, there is an enormous spike in the month of October. That, of course, is just after the Russian military intervention began in Syria.

So based on what we saw on the ground and what we heard from people we talked to, it is simply unfeasible that Russia has not been involved in hitting some of these civilian targets --Wolf.

BLITZER: How frequently are hospitals hit?

WARD: Hospitals are hit all the time. As I just said, 82 medical facilities hit just last year. Of those, 12 of them were completely destroyed. And I just want to read you a couple of other figures from this report because they're so staggering.

In northwestern rebel-held areas, 462 children under the age of 5 were killed in 2015. And in rebel-held areas in and around Damascus, 1420 women and children. All of which goes to show you, Wolf, it is civilians who are bearing the brunt of this conflict.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, a courageous journalist. Thanks very much. Doing a great job for us.

There's other breaking news we're following. A man who Kurdish authorities now say was captured trying to leave ISIS territory is speaking out and says he's a U.S. citizen from Virginia. CNN's Brian Todd has been digging into the background of this mysterious alleged ISIS fighter.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Kurdish TV has just aired an interview with this young man while in captivity. He described how he got to Iraq and how he became disillusioned with ISIS. This young man, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, is very likely the first American fighter to defect from ISIS in the field.


TODD (voice-over): The moment of capture. Interrogated by Kurdish forces the man says he is American. That his father is Palestinian and his mother is from Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where you from?


TODD: Kurdish officials say he is 26-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis. They say they captured him trying to leave ISIS territory in Iraq and flee home.

Kurdish TV aired an edited interview with Khweis while he was in captivity. He said he traveled through Europe late last year to Syria then to Mosul, Iraq. Khweis said he was put in a house just for foreign fighters, that life was hard and that the people who command ISIS aren't good Muslims. He said he didn't agree with their ideology and that's why he wanted to escape.

Analysts say he could be a gold mine for U.S. intelligence on the inner workings of the terror group.

SEAMUS HUGHES, PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: What I think is most interesting about this case is how he traveled, what routes did he take and that will give us an insight of how other Americans are trying to travel to Syria and Iraq.

TODD: CNN went to see his father.

JAMAL KHWEIS, FATHER OF MOHAMAD JAMAL KHWEIS: This is wrong information. They talked with their own version.

TODD: But the man clearly seemed upset and later told reporters this.

JAMAL KHWEIS He is old enough. I cannot ask him where he is going, where he's coming from. He is in Iraq, he is not. I know he is -- he will never go there.

TODD: Khweis graduated from Edison High School in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2007. Harrison Weinhold, a friend from high school, recognizes Khweis from the driver's license. Weinhold says Mohamad Khweis was a normal teenager who made fun of people who were religious.

(On camera): What do you make of this news about friend?

HARRISON WEINHOLD, HIGH SCHOOL FRIEND OF MOHAMAD JAMAL KHWEIS: It's really -- it's upsetting. It really sucks. It's something you feel for his family. It's just not something that you would ever think would happen. He definitely wasn't the type of person. He wasn't an angry person. He wasn't a -- you know, an outcast by any means. He was just a normal guy. We did normal stuff in high school.

TODD (voice-over): Another friend who didn't want to be on camera told CNN Khweis was a friendly and goofy kid who often joked around. If Khweis was with ISIS why would he have abandoned them on the battle field and walked into the arms of the enemy?

HUGHES: The main reason was, you know, it wasn't what they told them it was going to be. They thought it would be this great so-called caliphate, and it's just not. And they saw the infighting and the killing of other Muslims.


TODD: Now a primary task for law enforcement tonight might be to find out whether Mohamad Khweis actually acted alone in moving toward ISIS and who might have recruited him. Another key question tonight, is he going to be charged with materiel support for terrorism? Tonight the FBI, Wolf, not commenting on any of that.

BLITZER: On the question of him moving alone or not, Brian, he did say what he had a female companion at one point? Is that right?

TODD: That's right. He said he met an Iraqi woman on the way to Syria while he was in Turkey. But it's not clear if this woman had any hand in recruiting him. She may have helped him get inside the border to Syria at one point but unclear really beyond that.

BLITZER: I suspect we're going to be hearing a lot more about this Mohamad Khweis in the days and weeks to come.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

Coming up, Republican conservatives ignore Donald Trump's warning of riots and mobilize to stop his march to the nomination.

[17:55:01] Could the GOP be looking at a rather nasty battle on the convention floor?


BLITZER: Happening now breaking news. Stealing third. Prominent conservatives meeting behind closed doors plotting an uprising against Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. Panicked Republicans calling for a contested convention of possible unity ticket or even forming a third party. Can any of it stop Trump?

Uphill climb. President Obama's Supreme Court nominee meeting with top Democrats up on Capitol Hill. Republican leaders adamant that Judge Merrick Garland will not get a confirmation hearing. But some GOP lawmakers now saying they are open to meeting with him.

Are there cracks in the Republican wall of opposition?