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THE SITUATION ROOM
Explosions, Gunfire Echo During Terror Raid; New Terror Raids, Arrests Across Europe; Interview with Representative John Garamendi; ISIS Second in Command Killed in Syria; Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Fight Intensifying. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 25, 2016 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: On Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Senator Bernie Sanders will be Jake's guest.
That's it for "THE LEAD." LI turn you over to Brianna Keilar in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Terror raids, arrests in three countries and a shootout in the street as police hunt for suspects in the Brussels massacres and try to foil more ISIS attacks that may be in the planning stages.
Mystery suspect. U.S. officials say they know the identity of the man in the hat who fled after the airport bombing. Could it be the mastermind of the Brussels attacks?
Takedown. The Pentagon says U.S. forces have killed a top ISIS leader. Experts say he was the terror group's second in command. But if the raid in Syria was aimed at taking him alive, did something go wrong?
And tabloid smear. Ted Cruz calls a shocking tabloid story about him complete and utter lies saying it was planted by Donald Trump and his, quote, "henchman." Trump firing back claiming innocence but also adding innuendo. What does it say about the state of the GOP race?
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
KEILAR: Breaking news, explosions and gunfire echoed today in Brussels and there were raids in other European cities as police urgently try to head off more terror attacks, which officials say are in the planning stages. There have been multiple arrests in Belgium and one man was arrested in the same district where taxi driver picked up the three Brussels airport bombers and when an earlier raid turned up high explosives and information about ISIS plots.
Police in two German cities have arrested two men allegedly tied to the Brussels terror cell. And in a Paris suburb, police seized explosives and arrested a man in what's being called an advanced plot there. He's been linked to the ringleader of last November's Paris attacks. While ISIS poses a growing threat in Europe, it's suffering setbacks
in Syria. The Pentagon says U.S. forces have killed a top terror figure there, describing him as the ISIS finance minister. Many analysts call him the terror group's number two overall leader.
And a stunning turn of events in the Republican presidential race. After a feud involving their wives, Ted Cruz is now accusing Donald Trump and his henchmen of smearing him in a sensational and salacious story in the "National Enquirer." He calls the tabloid story garbage. Trump says he had nothing to do with it.
I'll be speaking with Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Service Committee and our correspondents, analysts and guests have full coverage of the day's top stories.
We begin with those terror raids and arrests and plots apparently thwarted in Europe. CNN's Brian Todd has been digging into this.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, there is serious urgency to all of this tonight. Right now counterterror officials in Belgium and France are scrambling to roll up anyone involved in Tuesday's bombings but also to prevent the next attack.
French President Francois Hollande says the cells behind the Brussels and Paris attacks are being wiped out but he also says their networks are still very dangerous.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight scenes like this across Brussels, as police work to take down alleged ISIS cells related to Tuesday's attacks, arresting at least nine potential terrorists, including this suspect seen here shot and wounded as a police robot moves in. Moments later, police drag the man away. A witness says just before the shooting, the suspect had been sitting with a little girl at a bus stop.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In one moment, two cars coming very speedily or three cars very speedily and they shoot one guy. Shooting behind me. I was watching him. Was with a little girl. And that was very, very fast. And he looked at the bag, and after robots come to take the bags.
TODD: That man is in custody tonight, shot in the leg.
Since the bombings, the city is on edge as police continue major operations in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek. The same neighborhood where a taxi driver picked up three terrorists and brought them to the Brussels airport on Tuesday. Two of them blew themselves up inside the terminal.
This video obtained by CNN shows the apartment where at least two of the suspects apparently planned the attacks. Inside police found TATP, the unstable explosive believed to have been used in the Brussels and Paris attacks, as well as chemicals and an ISIS flag. Meantime overnight in a separate operation outside Paris, French officials captured another man suspected of planning his own attack.
BERNARD CAZENEUVE, FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER (Through Translator): To foil a planned attack in France which is at an advanced stage. The individual in question holding French nationality is suspected of being involved at a high level in this project.
TODD: Recovered in a related operation, a Kalashnikov rifle and more TATP. And tonight German authorities say they arrested a 28-year-old Moroccan man. A source briefed by German officials tells CNN the man allegedly received two text messages before Tuesday's attacks in Brussels.
[17:05:04] One text had the name of Khalid el-Bakraoui, the man believed to have blown himself up at the Brussels train station. Later the source says there was another text containing the word "fin," the French word for end. Three minutes after that text, the source says, Khalid el-Bakraoui detonated his bomb inside the train station. German authorities don't know who sent the text to the Moroccan man.
TODD: Also tonight a U.S. official tells CNN U.S. authorities believe they know the identity of this man, the man seen on surveillance footage at the Brussels airport just before the bombings. He is, of course, wearing a hat and light-colored clothing. He allegedly left the bomb behind then took off. U.S. officials have shared the information on his identity with Belgian authorities, according to our source. His name has not been made public -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Brian, what about one of these suspects at the train station, the metro station attack that happened after the airport. Do we know anything about him?
TODD: Well, yes, the man appears in surveillance footage at the Brussels metro station standing near the other bombing suspect at that location. That suspect Khalid el-Bakraoui. Now this other suspect is seen holding a large bag, according to a Belgian TV station, but it is also possible, Brianna, that he, like el-Bakraoui, did not survive that subway explosion.
KEILAR: All right, Brian Todd. Thanks so much.
New arrests in Germany are being tied to the Brussels attacks. I want to go live now to Brussels and CNN's senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward.
So, Clarissa, first tell us what else are you hearing about this suspect who is nabbed in Germany?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as you just heard there from Brian, police found these two text messages on his phone. One of them mentioning the name of the subway bomber, Khalid el-Bakraoui, the other one saying simply end. That was three minutes, three minutes, Brianna, before the metro bombing attack. Now we're learning a little bit more about how police found this man, though. Reportedly this was a random check at a train station in Germany. The man aroused some suspicion with his behavior.
And when they went and looked at his passport, they found that there was a ban for him on traveling freely inside the Schengen, that's the sort of border-free area of Europe, because he was involved with a string of robberies previously.
Now they also found a medical bill. That medical bill indicating that he had received treatment for injuries to his torso. And one German investigator is telling CNN that they believe that he may have sustained these injuries in Brussels, in one of the raids that took place last week. All of this, Brianna, I think really giving our viewers a sense of the difficulty that authorities are dealing with here in trying to contain this situation just within Belgium. We've seen now it's spreading to France, we've seen it's spreading to Germany.
And even in cases like this one where there was a ban, where this man was not allowed to travel freely through the Schengen area because there are not border controls within these countries, it is very easy still for people even who are on the radar to move freely between these different countries. So at this stage a manhunt still very much active here in Brussels. Nine people arrested in the last 24 hours. It appears that three of them have been released, but six of them still detained.
And again, as we said before, seeing this operation now fanning out to neighboring countries, to France, to Germany. And authorities across this continent trying to drill down on the different nodes of this network before another attack can take place, Brianna.
KEILAR: So amazing that they were able to find this man in really just a random check.
All right, Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.
Joining me now to talk a little more about this, we have Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Sir, thanks so much for being with us. And you know what we're hearing now. I think so many people are looking at these attacks in Brussels, the previous ones in November, and they're concerned about Americans being targeted, especially now that we know two Americans are dead. There's a bomb that went off near the Delta counter. This was two hours before most flights to America were set to take off.
Do you think that Americans were targeted?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Probably everybody at that airport was targeted and the Americans were just part of the crowd that was there. I suspect that maybe Delta Airlines but in all probability they're going after innocent people wherever they may be. We saw the same thing in Paris and we certainly saw it years ago in Madrid.
And so what is happening now is the final, the authorities are going on the offensive, gathering of information which has been slow to gather. The sharing of information even slower. All of that needs to be put together and do exactly what the authorities are doing now, and that is to play offense, no longer defense. Play offense, go get them wherever they may be, round them up. And then from that, find the next step along the way. And probably it will head right back to Syria and Iraq. We had some good news there today.
[17:10:10] KEILAR: And I know as well that you were actually just in Brussels on congressional business, so I do want to note that because certainly I think you have some insight there. But this man in France, we're learning that he was in this advanced stage of planning. Police recovered the same kind of explosives that were used in Brussels and Paris, these TATP explosives.
KEILAR: And you heard Clarissa's report there. How many more people and how many more countries could be out there plotting these attacks?
GARAMENDI: Well, they're probably spread throughout Europe. They certainly are in the Middle East. They're certainly in Turkey and the surrounding regions of the Middle East. And so this is a network. But the good news is when you find one, usually you get clues to the next one. And as you said earlier they're beginning to roll them up. And that's what we have to do, we have to be on the offensive.
I know when I was at that airport in Brussels a little over a month and a half ago, it was just a huge crowd. And you know, here we go. So let's play offense. Let's use the tools that are available to us, our various surveillance tools, that some of which actually prove to be useful in the subway bombing in Brussels as well as in Paris. Use those tools, capture one, get the information. It will lead to somebody else, just as is happening now.
And we've got to work across the countries. The various countries of the European Union together with the United States and our neighbors here in the western hemisphere, all of us need to be sharing information. There's no good in holding information private. Share it, it will be useful somewhere down the line, and probably we'll be able to prevent some other attacks, just as is happening in Paris today.
KEILAR: What kind of -- what kind of information are you talking specifically about? I've heard about --
KEILAR: -- people who have been turned away at the border at one country and because they may be a suspected terrorist and then that isn't communicated to a neighboring country. What else do you think?
GARAMENDI: Well, certainly that. We do know that Turkey gave a heads up to the European countries about these two of the bombers in Brussels a couple of days ago, that they were being returned from Turkey. So that was a piece of information that apparently was not acted upon. So that's one kind of information. The other is we're listening. The United States and other countries are listening to various communication that's going back and forth.
There was talk of this e-mail or this text message that was out there. So use our appropriate listening technologies. Sometimes you have to do that internationally. You don't need a court order. But if it's within this country, yes, you do need a court order. But even so we can use those pieces of information but they are of no value unless they are shared. And so this becomes very, very important that the agreements, one just signed about three months ago between the United States and the European Union, to share certain types of information.
That is just now going into effect. My guess is it will be ramped up and much more quickly put into effect so that the flow of information from the United States to those countries in Europe and back into the United States, that's really one of the things that's very, very important.
The other thing is to work with the neighborhoods. Don't wall these neighborhoods off. Don't build a wall, don't bring them into the community so that you're able -- the police and others are able to work with the community. In most cases, at least in the United States the -- not in most cases, but in many cases in the United States, information that is critical for law enforcement comes from members of the community.
KEILAR: Yes, it's essential. All right, we have many more questions for you. We'll have --
KEILAR: Be right back in a moment with Congressman John Garamendi on the latest details in this investigation of the Brussels terrorist attacks.
KEILAR: We are talking with Congressman John Garamendi but first we have some more breaking news today. The Pentagon has announced that U.S. forces have killed one of the world's most wanted terrorists. The veteran ISIS figure known as the finance minister but many analysts view him as the terror group's number two leader.
I want to go live to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. How big of a deal is this, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: From the Pentagon point of view, Brianna, a very big deal. This guy's name is Qaduli. We have a picture to show everyone. He had a $7 million price tag on his head from the U.S. government. That's how bad they wanted to get him.
Now there was a mission to go after him. What we do know is that U.S. special operations forces secretly moved in to Syria. The idea was they were going to capture him, bring him back to Iraq, interrogate him for everything he knew about ISIS, finances, operations, external attack planning, but we're not clear, the Pentagon not exactly saying why it didn't go as planned.
When they moved in by helicopters, the commandos were not able to get to him. He was in a vehicle. Something happened, they weren't able to complete the mission, so the next step that appeared was they opened fire on the vehicle, killing him. That is what we now know, that these U.S. special operations forces went into Syria, killed this man, not able to capture him, but nonetheless the Pentagon today saying a very big get.
[17:20:02] The secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, talking about dismantling the ISIS cabinet one by one. Baghdadi, the number one of ISIS, still remains at large -- Brianna.
KEILAR: That would be certainly the most important one.
All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much.
We're back now with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee. And obviously you know about this, what Barbara just reported, this number-two ISIS leader taken out.
KEILAR: How significant is this or does someone else just fill his role?
GARAMENDI: Well, it's very significant. First of all, this has been a long-term strategy, frankly a very smart strategy. Go after the head of the snake, snap that head off. It's a hydra so there are going to be multiple snakes and multiple heads but we're getting them one at a time. And that's very, very important because it disrupts the operation.
And also consider that there are military operations going on simultaneously. And when you knock out the leader, you degrade that military operation and quite possibly you can seriously disrupt it. And so all of this is very important. This fellow probably the financier. Money is critical to them. If you can break that network or slow it down, that gives your military operations a better chance to succeed.
And keep in mind that it's the Kurds, it's the Iraqis, all of these pressing in on ISIS, with some success. We've taken 40 percent of the territory back. There are major cities that are going to go into play over the next several months. And if you can eliminate the leadership, as we are doing successfully, it will make it that much more likely to be a successful military operation when that time comes.
KEILAR: I want to ask you quickly before we let you go on your way this Friday, you were just in Belgium. We talked about that. GARAMENDI: Right.
KEILAR: I wonder if you think in a place like Belgium and also here in the U.S. that there should be more security beyond that first security checkpoint at the airport. Should there be a buffer zone even beyond that as people approach the airport?
GARAMENDI: Well, this is a tough question. This issue actually came up in Los Angeles when there was a shooting at one of the TSA check-in counters. They carefully analyzed it at LAX and came to the conclusion that it would be virtually impossible to do that, and still maintain any kind of a normal, even a subnormal operation at the airport. It is clearly a zone of risk.
And I think here, one of the really important things is to watch carefully and if you see something, say something. There's not much else that can be done. This taxi driver apparently was suspicious. Could he have said something? Well, I suspect next time he would say something and the rest of us should be just as aware.
And it might prove to be a little embarrassing, but not nearly the kind of consequences that would come from a devastating attack. So I don't believe we'll see much more. There may be some checkpoints, some random checkpoints when the situation calls for it and we have some indication that something might be going on. You can certainly check the cars coming into the airport.
It's a very, very difficult thing because you're moving tens of thousands of people every hour.
KEILAR: It is a very difficult problem.
All right, Congressman Garamendi, thank you so much.
Now coming up, anti-terror raids across Europe after the Brussels bombings. Did a man arrested in Germany receive a text from one of the attackers? Our experts are standing by.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:28:15] KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, he's a former CIA official, we have CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.
We look at this raid in France, Phil, that apprehended this man. He was in an advanced stage of a plot. He had an AK-47.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes.
KEILAR: He had this TATP explosive material. Is this one of many? When you see something like this, do you think there are so many more potential plots like this out there?
MUDD: I do. But we're using old-school terms for a new-school problem. That is, when we faced the 9/11 plot, you had a closed cell of people trained and owned by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, directed against a single target. Fast forward to these kinds of operations you have loose confederations or clusters of people. They don't have to get into a highly secured area. They have access to a Kalashnikov, a weapon or maybe TATP, that they're not getting into a plane, they're just rolling it into an airport.
I would think of this as groups of people who can operate any time. Not the kind of formal plots necessarily that we've seen in the past.
KEILAR: That is so alarming to hear that description. It's such a challenge for law enforcement beyond what we've seen before, or do you think it isn't?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, yes and no. I mean, after all on 9/11, 3,000 people were killed in one morning and in Brussels while 31 people being killed, of course that's a tragedy, but it's not a national catastrophe on the scale of 9/11. So, you know, pick your poison. I mean neither are good, but I mean, an al Qaeda-directed own plot with very tight cell structure, that caused a huge amount of damage.
Here we're seeing, you know, a lot of these cells are being taken down. Right? There are arrests in Germany, in France, in Belgium. I mean, there has some success even though, I mean, obviously, there was a tragedy that was not averted.
KEILAR: So it's the idea in the way of the terror of it, right, that people obviously think this could happen any place. We see this happening so frequently at this point.
KEILAR: Is that the --
[17:30:07] BERGEN: Yes, 51 percent of Americans are very worried about terrorism, even though the likelihood of any one of them being killed by terrorists is infinitesimally small. And it's the idea that it can happen anywhere, that's why they attack the restaurant in Paris, that's why they attack, you know, in these places where anybody can assemble.
KEILAR: It seems the raids, Evan, have accelerated some of these plots, obviously. And it seems like there's so many more of them perhaps waiting in the wings. Police, of course, are not going to stop pursuing these terrorists. But is there this concern that it has this domino effect on these plots that are waiting in the wings?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's one reason why you see the Belgians acting a lot more quickly. They were accused of perhaps holding back a little bit, waiting for more evidence. I think what you're seeing is a lot more quick action. There is this concern. We saw that the arrest of Salah Abdeslam they believe accelerated this plot to attack the airport and the metro. And so now what they're doing is they're not waiting. You get information and you try as quickly as possible to get the next raid to make sure you catch those guys before they go and do something.
KEILAR: Do you worry that when you're -- and you make a very important distinction. These attacks, while terrible, perhaps don't cause as much damage as an al Qaeda-style contained attack. Do you worry that this could lead to something like that or that this could become so wide spread that then you're looking at an increased casualties or do you think that police will -- law enforcement will have the upper hand?
BERGEN: 6900 westerners have gone for training in Syria by the account of the House Homeland Security Committee, and 1900 have come back. Now even if that is a kind of over count perhaps, and we're looking at several hundred people who have come back.
BERGEN: All of them are people who are trained. All of -- you know, we could have a persistent Paris-Brussels style attack for the foreseeable future, and when I say the foreseeable future I mean the next few years because, you know, they're not -- they're clearly not tracking everybody that has come back.
Interpol has 5,000 names, not all of them Westerners, but if you don't actually know who the foreign fighters are who've got the training, you literally don't know who they are. It's very hard to know when they come back and are plotting.
PEREZ: And what about the people that they come back and they are hanging out with and they're associating with people who never went.
PEREZ: They're inspired and are thinking the same way. I mean, what about those people. Those people are not even on the radar.
BERGEN: That's a very good point because, you know, so the Syrian veteran becomes a force multiplier for these people who haven't even gone.
KEILAR: It's a really important point. So how do you contain a terror cell like this that is more dispersed?
MUDD: You've got to do what's never going to happen in Europe, and that is if you're dealing with a content of this size, where national boundaries aren't respected by the adversary, the counterterrorism business is a human hunt. I want to hunt people and I want to do them in one command center with multiple data streams that are not divided by national boundaries. So I want one place where every -- where the Belgians, the French, the British are saying, they're real-time saying, we've got these guys in Netherlands, these guys in the U.K., but we've seen even in a country like Belgium, they can't break down walls. And forget about Europe. I think information sharing is a key to this and it's not clear that will happen.
KEILAR: And that's the struggle. I mean, even the Belgians are admitting that this is an area that they have a lot of trouble with, but there seemed to be some really obvious examples. We've been talking about potential -- suspected terrorists who are turned away at one border and then that information isn't shared about the identity of that person.
BERGEN: Yes, and you know, each European country has different laws. And, you know, there's also privacy issues. And I think -- I mean, this is not to excuse the lack of information sharing.
KEILAR: But is there too much emphasis on privacy or is there a possibility that there's a way to thread that needle?
BERGEN: Yes, I mean, surely that has to change, you know, in the light of these events.
PEREZ: And you know, you've traveled to Europe in the last few months. And the thing that struck me certainly from being there this year has been that prior to the arrest of Abdeslam and this attack in Brussels, you didn't hear about him. He was at large, he was wanted. He was a wanted man after the Paris attacks and it really didn't seem like there was much urgency. I mean, you know the officials, the intelligence officials, the law enforcement officials certainly were working hard at this, but certainly the leadership of the country, certainly in Belgium, didn't seem like it was very much -- it was a top priority for them.
They had other political issues. Privacy is definitely one of the more controversial issues in Europe. Certainly in light of their knowledge of what the Americans do.
KEILAR: What do you think about that? Even the Interior minister in Belgium sort of saying, you know, he would resign, ultimately did not, but there seems to be this admission now that maybe we didn't see before that we messed this up.
MUDD: Boy, the brotherhood and sisterhood of security services, which is the world I came from, you do not criticize your colleague. That said, in conversations with my friends here in this country, four months after Paris, it's not an unknown target. Those are the ones you always worry about, people who weren't on the radar. These are people who are on the radar and have already conducted an operation, and you've got 120 days? 120 days in my world is Forever. So I think you do have to sit back and say the justice minister is on the hook. This can't happen.
[17:35:03] PEREZ: And the fact that you finding this guy, Abdeslam, you find him a block away from his childhood home, from the neighborhood where you would think they would have been --
KEILAR: He's right there.
PEREZ: They would have been everywhere.
KEILAR: Right there all along.
All right. Phil, Evan, Peter, thank you so much.
Coming up, we are getting some new details and pictures from today's anti-terror raids and arrests. We're also following breaking news in the presidential campaign. Ted Cruz is furious about some newly published accusations and listen to who he is blaming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a tabloid smear, and it is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:40:15] KEILAR: We continue watching the anti-terror raids in Europe. Officials now say a man picked up in Germany received a text message from one of the Brussels killers just before his suicide bombing. But there's also some breaking news in the presidential campaign.
Just when you thought it couldn't get more bizarre, Senator Ted Cruz today slammed Donald Trump and his associates for a tabloid story that Cruz calls a smear, garbage and completely false. Trump is firing back, insisting he has nothing to do with it.
Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju to break all of this down. And Cruz brought this up himself today. He clearly wanted to confront this and try to push it out of the way.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed he did, Brianna. This comes all just 11 days before the next Republican context takes place in the state of Wisconsin, where it's unclear right now just how close the race is between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. But anti-Trump forces are dumping a huge amount of money into the state to stop Trump and today in Wisconsin the personal feud between the leading candidates got even uglier.
CRUZ: Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him. And this garbage does not belong in politics.
RAJU (voice-over): Ted Cruz today accusing Donald Trump and his allies of planting a tabloid report to hurt his campaign and embarrass his family. But not offering any proof to back up his claim.
CRUZ: Let me be clear, this "National Enquirer" story is garbage. It is complete and utter lies. It is a tabloid smear. And it is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen. It's not surprising that Donald Trump's tweet occurs the day before the attack comes out.
RAJU: Trump responding in a statement saying, "I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Did not know about it and have not as yet read it," adding, "Unlike Lyin' Ted Cruz, I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchmen and then pretend total innocence."
The feud even leading Cruz for a second straight day to refuse to say if he'd support Trump as a nominee.
CRUZ: I don't make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family.
RAJU: The nasty tone has been escalating for days.
CRUZ: Donald should stick with attacking me, because Heidi is way out of Donald Trump's league.
RAJU: Trump re-tweeted unflattering photo of Cruz's wife, Heidi. Trump's response, Cruz started the fight after an anti-Trump super PAC released an ad showing his wife, Melania, posing nude for "GQ" 16 years ago. The ad meant to turn off socially conservative voters in Utah was not affiliated with the Cruz campaign, but Trump supporters aren't buying it.
SAM CLOVIS, TRUMP CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIRMAN: I haven't heard anybody talk about all of the outrageous acts of the Cruz campaign.
RAJU: The exchange spotlighting Trump's problem with a key voting bloc -- women. While a new CNN-ORC poll finds that 59 percent of Republican women say they have a favorable view of Trump, the survey also shows that an overwhelming 73 percent of all registered women voters view Trump unfavorably. Comments like these could be a big reason why.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She wanted to breast pump in front of me, and I may have said that's disgusting. I may have said something else. I know where she went. It's disgusting. I don't want to talk about it.
RAJU: In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, today Cruz hitting Trump for more than the personal attacks. Blasting the GOP frontrunner on his lack of policy specifics.
CRUZ: And I'm going to wave a magic wand and it's going to be great. Well, I'm sorry, Donald, we don't live in Wonderland.
RAJU: And on Trump's refusal to debate.
CRUZ: Trump is scared. It ain't complicated.
RAJU: The ugly back-and-forth giving Democrats hope that they will win the White House, especially if Trump is the nominee.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he's the nominee, I look forward to debating him, yes, absolutely.
RAJU: Now as we've seen that Cruz-Trump battle erupt in recent days, Kasich, too, is trying to get into the mix. His super PAC updated an ad today running statewide to question Cruz's electability and saying that a vote for the Texas senator is the same as a vote for Hillary Clinton. And tomorrow, Brianna, Clinton herself has her own test as Democratic voters in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington could end up handing big wins to her rival, Bernie Sanders.
KEILAR: Yes, we'll see how all that plays out.
Manu Raju, thank you so much.
Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, one of Donald Trump's key supporters, Scottie Nell Hughes of USA Radio Networks.
I have many questions for you, Scottie, but hang with us, we're going to get to those after a quick break.
KEILAR: We are getting in some new details about the breaking news that we're following. Anti-terror raids and arrests across Europe including a man who sources say received a text message from one of the Brussels suicide bombers just minutes before the attacks. Right now, though, we are back with Donald Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes of USA Radio Networks, as we follow the latest accusations and denials between Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Cruz today accused Trump and his associates of being behind a tabloid story that Cruz denounced as a smear. Trump said that he has nothing to do with it.
And Scottie, as I read this, I am struck between these two stories that we're following, this very serious nature of these terror attacks in Europe. A lot of Americans concerned what that means for their safety abroad and here at home. And then we have this back and forth going on between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump putting out a statement sort of riling up the situation.
[17:50:03] Is this what we would see in a Trump presidency if there's something very serious going on and then he also is going to indulge in this side show?
SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, NATIONAL POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, USA RADIO NETWORKS: Well, I think you're absolutely correct, Brianna. I think that's what the majority of Americans are seeing. They're seeing this horrible thing that happened across seas and then this horrible thing that's happening here domestically with the two frontrunners of the GOP sitting here and fighting like they are.
This past 48 hours has been very disheartening because I've watched the actions of both sides, of both groups. I'm very saddened because we're not just talking about politicians involved with this. We are talking about families and we're talking about people on these campaign staffs that will be affected forever by some of the accusations that are being thrown back and forth. And I don't like that.
I think that's a reason why a new Gallup poll came out today that said, in January, 46 percent of Republicans were very excited about the process and thought it was happening responsibly. As compared to today, we're only 30 percent of Republicans felt this was a fair process in electing their next presidential -- their next president. And that is disheartment right there, I think it actually what leads to disenfranchisement and what goes on forward. So when I look at these accusations that happened today.
KEILAR: But do you think -- so do both of these candidates bear responsible for this discourse that seems to be leading to what you think it's leading to?
HUGHES: Honestly, I think they do. We've taken the drama that we saw in these debate stages early on and now we brought it to the campaign trail for every day. And I don't think it speaks well for either candidate in the long term. That being said, I do think Senator Cruz today poured kerosene on the fire in his statement when he sat there and threw the accusation that Mr. Trump was behind this and like your story pointed out, produced no truth to that. Produced no proof.
And if you're going to put out that kind of slander and continue to build this Grand Canyon between the two groups who actually when you talk to the people that follow them are a lot alike. You have to wonder, what is this -- who is really behind this? Who's really causing the hatred between these two candidates and these two candidate groups. And you can only think because we are headed more and more -- it looks like towards a brokered convention that these establishment folks are acting like a Trojan horse and looking for Senator Ted Cruz to ride them all the way into Cleveland in July.
KEILAR: It sounds like you're still very much behind your candidate, your guy, Donald Trump, but you are also not really liking the tone or where the discussion is and where he is sort of driving it as we are seeing these very serious issues overseas?
HUGHES: Absolutely. But I don't think he's necessarily driving it. I think he's responding to it. He's doing exactly the same thing he's done the entire time. He is responding back to these accusations. Remember This was started by a super PAC who their whole goal is to create turmoil within the GOP right now. And hatred for the frontrunner. And while Senator Ted Cruz could have had a great chance of stopping this by not only condemning the actual ad that came against Melania Trump but also condemning the actions of this PAC. And instead of saying you know what, why do you keep putting money into creating turmoil? Why don't you put that same dollar and invest why people should vote for me, not why they should vote for Donald Trump.
And it's why I look at Jeb Bush's endorsement, it's why I look at Mitt Romney's endorsements and I'm real skeptical of them because they want Ted Cruz right now to win in these primaries but none of them have sworn their loyalty to him when they go to the convention, which really makes me think their whole -- their whole goal right now is to create this negative sense within the GOP and that people will turn against each other. And I just don't think that's good for our party and it's definitely not good for our country. KEILAR: If you were talking to Donald Trump, if you were giving him
advice or you are imploring him, I hear what you're saying. You definitely are taking aim at Ted Cruz and those who have supported him and have endorsed him. But if you are talking to Donald Cruz who is your candidate what do you -- sorry, Donald Trump, what do you say to him when it comes to this back and forth that we're seeing?
HUGHES: What he's really good at is when he rises above the fray. Don't take the bait. Ted Cruz is continuing to take the bait and get used by these anti-Trump PACs who have no loyalty to him whatsoever that just prior to even two weeks ago these folks were sitting there and trashing him behind his back and in front of the television cameras. So I would sit there and tell Donald Trump go back to what you're good at.
This is a great opportunity right now with the unfortunate events that have happened across seas, let's talk about national security and why we need to secure our border, why we need to beef up funding within our military and why we need to bring our economy back here at home instead of encouraging companies to go across the border. That is why Mr. Trump is number one in so many polls and why folks on both sides of the aisle are taking the chance and going with an outsider as their nominee for president.
KEILAR: Does he need to show he's serious by giving a foreign policy address in the wake of these attacks? I know he spoke Monday at AIPAC. That was before these attacks in Brussels. Hillary Clinton spoke on Wednesday, a lot of details in her speech. Is that something he should do?
HUGHES: And I think he will, if given the opportunity. If we can get through these middle school, schoolgirl tactics --
[17:55:02] KEILAR: What do you mean if given the opportunity, Scottie? I mean, all we has to do is say, hey, I'm giving a foreign policy speech. Everyone shows up and he gives it. I mean, what do you mean if given the opportunity?
HUGHES: And he might just do that. But unfortunately right now with all of this brouhaha and these black clouds that continue, we know that the second Mr. Trump opened it up for questions, they're not going to ask him about his opinion of NATO. They're going to ask him about his opinion about Ted Cruz or any of this other stuff. Unfortunately we live in a time where it bleeds, it leads. And these people are giving us lots of opportunities, giving "Saturday Night Live" lots of material for their sketches and unfortunately when they try to get to the serious stuff, many Americans sometimes don't choose to pay attention.
KEILAR: All right, Scottie, I'm going to leave it there. I will say if he gives a speech, he does not even have to take questions. And we would certainly cover it. But we will see. We know where you stand on this, Scottie Hughes, thank you so much.
And coming up, we do have some more breaking news. Terror raids and arrests across Europe.